What Will the NCLB Reauthorization Mean For Schools?
Today, in a presentation to a group of South Carolina educators on competency education hosted by the South Carolina Council on Competitiveness, National Center for Innovation in Education Executive Director Gene Wilhoit praised the House for their overwhelming support on Tuesday of ESSA, the Every Student Succeeds Act. The act sailed through the house in a 359-64 vote and is expected to have similar support in the Senate. He stated that ESSA reauthorizes the 2002 No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law in a way that will open the door for innovative, personalized, and student-centered learning to take center stage in state and local school district education reforms in the coming years around the country. His comments were met with applause from the 100+ teachers, administrators, and business leaders who had come together to discuss next steps for South Carolina’s personalized learning reforms. Wilhoit held up the 1,000 page ESSA document, explaining to the crowd that he and his colleagues have affectionately made it the theme of their “book club” meetings as they work to unpack the document and determine what it means for states and schools.
Huffpost Politics reporter Jennifer C. Kerr, in a recent article on the ESSA house vote, quoted outgoing Education Secretary Arne Duncan in his praise of the bill, stated, “It enshrines in law the expectation that where schools serve students poorly or have low graduation rates over extended periods of time, and where groups of students aren't making progress, there will be accountability and action for change." The legislation would continue to require annual reading and math testing of children in grades 3 through 8 and once in high school. Schools would continue to have to make the results public. The biggest difference between ESSA and its predecessor, NCLB, is that states would pick up responsibility for working with schools and local districts to develop achievement goals and accountability plans.
Since its inception in 2002, critics of NCLB have long stated that the legislation has put up many roadblocks and hurdles for schools and teachers who have had to resort to “teaching to the test.” Kerr reported that teachers' unions hailed the vote on the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) as a historic step. "For the first time since No Child Left Behind was enacted nearly 14 years ago, ESSA empowers educators as trusted professionals to make school and classroom decisions while keeping the focus on students most in need," said National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen García.
Earlier this week, the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL) joined many other groups in support of ESSA, calling the efforts a great way to align Federal K-12 education law to support personalized, competency-based learning. “The House-Senate Conference Committee should be applauded for their efforts and shared commitment to do what’s best for kids. The inclusion of the innovative assessment pilot language and policy changes to state systems of assessments will provide a clear path forward for approving state assessments while also ensuring rigor and quality. iNACOL supports the congressional effort to reauthorize ESEA and open opportunities for personalized, competency-based education so that each student has access to a world-class education.”
Gene Wilhoit believes that ESSA support was cemented by the early successes of states like New Hampshire that have been successfully running a school accountability pilot for the past year that makes use of locally-developed classroom performance assessments to measure student academic growth. The NH pilot is called the Performance Assessment of Competency Education (PACE) program, and started with just four school districts that have been deeply involved in competency education and personalized learning work. PACE has now grown to eight school districts with several more looking to join next year.
As the principal of a PACE high school in New Hampshire, I believe that the vote further validates the hard work that teachers and fellow administrators district-wide have poured into our personalized learning plan. I am optimistic that as this legislation moves forward, many other schools will have the freedom to move forward with their plans to develop innovative, highly personalized learning systems for students that have a singular mission: Providing a high quality college and career ready program for each and every student.
This article written originally for MultiBriefs Education