For nearly 50 years the United States has exerted recurring efforts to design and implement an educational paradigm shift to raise the bar, close the achievement gaps and finally address the need to appropriately prepare all students for both college and career in the highly competitive 21st Century. A number of programs have been implemented since the initial adoption of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in 1965. In 1983, A Nation at Risk reported on the need for high expectations and rigor in public schools to adequately prepare students for college and career in a global economy (NCEE, 1983). The ensuing reform programs included the widely publicized No Child Left Behind Act of 2004, the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education act of 2006, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, and the more recent controversial enactment of the Race to the Top agenda that mandates Common Core Learning Standards (CCLS) and Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR) processes.

Most recently, in December of 2015, new legislation, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) was passed to replace No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and it will affect every public school in the country. ESSA is set to take full effect in the 2017-18 school year.

Because ESSA is fairly new, it may take some time before the impact on our schools and students becomes clear. The most significant change we can expect is that states will have a larger role in holding schools accountable, thereby allowing for greater flexibility in school evaluations and setting goals for student achievement. An initial review of ESSA reveals some good news and not so good news for schools across the country.

First, the good news:

The most notable difference between ESSA and NCLB is the extent of federal influence over public schools. Under ESSA, states will be able to consider more than just test scores when evaluating schools and will have more flexibility in setting goals for student achievement. Prior to ESSA, schools and teachers were evaluated primarily on test scores. According to Thurlow (2016), ESSA will keep in place annual testing with the requirement for 95% participation, but the law encourages states to get rid of duplicate tests. And there’s more discretion on what to do with test results.

ESSA will bring about changes to the way in which states evaluate schools, expanding the criteria to include “school-quality factors” such as college readiness, school climate and safety, or chronic absenteeism which may also be used to determine how schools are doing. Furthermore, student outcomes will no longer be the primary factor in teacher evaluations under ESSA.

ESSA and NCLB also differ in terms of schools setting goals for student achievement. NCLB’s universal goal was that every student in every public school should be proficient in reading and math. ESSA, on the other hand, recognizes that different groups of students require different sets of goals to reach “proficiency” on state assessments. For ESSA, the focus will be on specialized goals rather than a set of standardized goals for all students in all public schools.

ESSA gives parents more information about how their children are doing and more ways to get involved in the development of accountability plans that explain how struggling learners will be assisted.

ESSA has a literacy education grant program. This program authorizes up to $160 million in literacy grants to states and schools. The grants fund evidence-based instruction in literacy skills, including writing, phonological awareness and decoding.

The not so good news:

There are some concerns about how this legislation will impact small city school districts like Hudson. Title I, part A funding is designed to “provide all children significant opportunity to receive a fair, equitable, and high-quality education, and to close educational achievement gaps. The requirement that Title I, part A funds supplement State and local funds, and not supplant them, is a longstanding provision that is intended to ensure that Federal funds provide the additional educational resources that students and teachers in high poverty schools need to succeed.”

The US Department of Education’s (USDE) proposed regulation related to supplement vs. supplant in the ESSA allows the Federal Government to dictate prescribed methods to demonstrate how school districts and schools use Title I funds to meet the needs of students. Although the proposal is well-intentioned, the four suggested methods for ensuring that the supplement vs. supplant requirements are met could upend K–12 school spending and fiscal reporting practices in New York State as it currently stands. Each methodology presents some potential areas of concern for NYS districts and schools.

School districts already target resources to buildings and students with high needs. Balancing the needs of all students is already challenging for most districts in New York State. Adding another layer of complexity will not help to meet that challenge. A lack of flexibility diminishes the ability to use resources across the entire district in a way that is beneficial to that particular population.

While the intent of Title I funds to support educational programs and services for “at risk” students is good, the USDE’s proposed regulation is an egregious overreach and in direct conflict with the underlying statute.

Districts need to have flexibility to meet the funding needs of diverse populations which is the congressional intent of the ESSA. Taking away that intended flexibility will have a negative impact on Districts as we will have great difficulty in allocating state and local resources, managing fiscal reports and ensuring Title I compliance.

Along with other districts in the region, the Hudson CSD has submitted comments to the USDE about the proposed regulation on behalf of all students served in our District. We urged them to take our concerns into consideration as they move to the final rulemaking of ESSA and to seriously consider the financial impact that the law will have in districts like ours given the supplement vs. supplant notion that ESSA carries.