It is a new year filled with change in the education world. The Every Student Succeeds Act that was signed in December provides a very unique opportunity for states to truly define key accountability measures for education outcomes, but that responsibility comes with some significant challenges and risks.
For many states, greater flexibility in how education policies are implemented and measured has been their ultimate goal. At the same time, many state education agencies have undergone significant changes. For example, more than half of the chief state school officers were new in their roles in 2015 and many state education agencies have not seen increases in their funding for multiple years.
Since the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act, I have talked with many governors’ offices and chief state school officers who are eager to focus on improving student outcomes, but also realize there are capacity limitations to overcome. The flexibility that the Every Student Succeeds Act provides states is important and offers a great deal of opportunity to look at unique policies targeting specific student groups that have not been able to achieve necessary outcomes in the past. However, to accomplish these goals, state education agencies need the financial and political support of both executive and legislative branches, a scenario that has not been seen in a majority of states in the past few years.
In 2007, when No Child Left Behind was in its fifth year and implementation was at full power, the Center on Education Policy highlighted a survey of state education agencies that showcased implementation difficulties due to limited staff capacity, state funding in the new accountability system and federal funding. Today, with the new Every Student Succeeds Act, it is likely that similar limitations may impede states truly having the flexibility the law desires to provide.
Whether or not you liked No Child Left Behind, the strong federal law and the waivers that followed the 12-year law had the force of the federal government behind them. The flexibility states now have requires strong leadership and political will to implement and enforce accountability measures that will guarantee that every student does succeed!