President Obama last week signed into law the new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), replacing the 14-year-old “No Child Left Behind” school accountability act in what New Jersey School Boards Association Executive Director Dr. Lawrence S. Feinsod called a “milestone” for education.

Obama signed the crucial federal legislation on Dec. 10, paving the way for schools to raise achievement of all public school students in the United States, while giving key powers to states and local school boards.

“For everyone who cares about education, today’s signing of the Every Student Succeeds Act represents a major achievement,” Feinsod said. “The new law provides balance among the roles of the federal government, the states and local school boards. It represents an important milestone in the local governance of public education.”

The Every Student Succeeds Act (S-1177) replaces the previous version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, nicknamed “No Child Left Behind,” which went into effect 14 years ago.

The new Act will transition into schools over the next few years, taking effect with the 2017-18 school year. According to a National School Boards Association FAQ and timetable, key provisions include:

  • States will develop and submit plans for increasing achievement of low-income students to the U.S. Department of Education in order to get Title 1 grants. Each state education authority (SEA) will take the lead in developing its state plan, with “timely and meaningful consultation” with the governor, local districts, representatives of teachers, principals, parents, and others.
  • As with NCLB, states will demonstrate they have “challenging academic standards.” Under ESSA, they must demonstrate they are aligned with entrance requirements to state post-secondary institutions and “relevant” career and technical education standards.
  • Assessments are retained in grades 3-8, and once in grades 9-12, for language arts and math. Science must be tested at least once in grades 3-5; 6-9; and 10-12.
  • Accountability systems will be designed by states. AYP is gone, replaced by state-defined long-term goals that are “ambitious” and include measures of interim progress.
  • Early childhood programs and teacher training and professional development are both addressed, with funding for each authorized.

Following the U.S. Senate approval last week, Feinsod issued a statement, noting the legislation supports local autonomy in school administration, budget development and related district operations. In addition, he said it protects federal investments in Title I for disadvantaged students, and prevents the diversion of public tax dollars for private use.

“Public education is a local function, a state responsibility and a national concern,” he said, citing the philosophy of Thomas Shannon, a former executive director of the National School Boards Association. “The Every Student Succeeds Act ties these roles together judiciously and turns the tide of federal education policy toward the wisdom of local control.”