E S S A
The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) was signed into law on Dec. 10, 2015 by President Barack Obama, updating the former No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) signed into law in 2001. The most significant change in policy brought about by the ESSA was the mandating that “States can pick their own goals, both a big long-term goal, and smaller, interim goals. These goals must address: proficiency on tests, English-language proficiency, and graduation rates” (Klein). Prior to this, the federal government mandated all states’ policies, including those addressing testing, teacher quality, how to identify and support low-performing schools, and more. The ESSA recognizes that different states will require different identifiers and solutions, and allows for more localized policy to be mandated through individualized state ESSA plans.
Did the ESSA change CA public education plans and policies? Yes and no. According to Carrie Hahnel, deputy director of research and policy at The Education Trust–West as quoted by Koran: “The state was working on its own accountability system before ESSA, and they’ve essentially taken their plan and tried to wedge it into the ESSA template.” However, the approval of CA’s plan required three revisions in order to receive approval by the US Department of Education. One of the main changes to the state of CA through the state approved ESSA plan is “The plan prioritizes tracking of suspensions. Each state had to choose a way of evaluating schools that didn’t revolve around academics” (Koran). California also had to shorten its timeline used to identify and provide support to the struggling schools which are identified as the bottom: “Schools will now be eligible for support after two years of low performance” (Koran).
I do think this plan will make a difference and allow for all CA schools to be measured against themselves and each other in a way such that struggling schools can be more quickly identified and supported. Time will tell whether our plan is successful or will require an update in the future. I do foresee a possible problem with the suspension marker just because I wonder if this emphasis will cause schools to not take appropriate disciplinary action out of fear that this number in their report to the state will skew their school’s CA State Dashboard data and bring about adverse effects.
My personal experience of this plan as a music educator is that many schools now have room in their budget to fund music as an enrichment activity that meets the goal of well-roundedness as outlined in the ESSA: “Districts that get more than $30,000 have to spend at least 20 percent of their funding on at least one activity that helps students become well-rounded, and another 20 percent on at least one activity that helps students be safe and healthy. And part of the money can be spent on technology” (Klein). This gives my job stability and means that there is less competition between applicants because there are more music teacher jobs available.
Our Golden State definitely does not want to see any children or schools left behind, but now CA gets a better suited state plan to achieve that commendable and achievable goal through the updated ESSA.