The era of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), one of the most contentious and controversial pieces of education legislation in our recent history, has officially ended.ESSA stock

In it’s place is a new law known as the “Every Student Succeeds Act” (ESSA), enacted on December 10, 2015, reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). While many experts and educational leaders are still analyzing some of the potential implications of ESSA, it’s not too early to ask the questions: what are the key changes in the ESSA, and what are the potential impacts of the new law for workforce development?

What the New Law Changes

The Every Student Succeeds Act responds to some of the key criticisms of NCLB, including that NCLB relied too much on standardized tests and that schools faced harsh penalties when all of their students weren’t on track to reach proficiency on state tests.

Overall, the ESSA removes much of the federal government’s role in monitoring local educational performance, and gives much more discretion and oversight to states. States are still required to test students in reading and math in grades 3 through 8 and once in high school, and segment out data for whole schools, including “subgroups” of students (such as English-learners, students in special education, racial minorities, those in poverty, etc.). Otherwise, however, states have significant discretion in evaluating performance of schools, such as identifying what schools and districts should be held accountable for, and deciding how to intervene in low-performing schools. Although testing will be one criteria by which schools will be evaluated, states must incorporate other factors that get at students’ opportunity to learn, like school-climate and teacher engagement, or access to and success in advanced coursework.

For schools in the bottom 5% of performance, or where schools have less than a two-thirds graduation rate, States and districts will have to use locally-developed, evidence-based interventions to assist in boosting performance. States must also flag for districts schools where subgroup students are chronically struggling.

At over 1,000 pages in length, the ESSA articulates in much greater detail what guidelines and parameters must be followed, but it is also worth considering a broad overview of how some of the new changes will potentially impact workforce development programs.

Collaboration on State Plans

One of the key changes in ESSA is the requirement that state plans must include collaboration with a number of other departments and programs. Some of these include the Perkins Career and Technical Education Act, the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), and the Adult Education and Family Literacy Act (AEFLA). This represents an important change from NCLB where state Education departments typically operated more independently in developing state plans. SCPa Works applauds this increased collaboration under ESSA, and we believe that increased input into the PA Department of Education’s state plan will help develop stronger connections between schools and careers.

Statewide Accountability System

ESSA requires each state to collect a “report card” from each school district, including criteria such as the professional qualifications of teachers, per-pupil expenditures, National Assessment of Educational Progress scores, and (beginning with the 2017 report card) information about postsecondary attainment. Each state must have a statewide accountability system that is based on the challenging state academic standards for reading/language arts and math to improve student academic achievement and school success. SCPa Works believes increased transparency on postsecondary attainment will close the significant and persistent gaps in postsecondary attainment among various segments of the population, and help to identify the best educational programs that increase overall attainment.

New Funding Opportunities for Career Services in Schools

Included in Title IV of ESSA is the “21st Century Schools” section, where funding is available for career and college readiness programs/services to be coordinated between schools and with community-based services and programs. These projects may be partnerships with higher education institutions, business, nonprofits, community-based organizations, or other public or private entities, including workforce development boards. As WIOA youth programs are shifting toward a focus on out-of-school youth, the 21st Century Schools funding may give workforce development boards additional opportunities to collaborate and leverage resources for in-school youth services that workforce boards deem to be important to maintain.

Overall, the ESSA received broad, bipartisan support in its recent passage (359-64 in the U.S. House and 85-12 in the Senate), and while the efficacy of the law will be demonstrated in its implementation, there is considerable excitement about its potential impact. For a more in-depth look at ESSA, the National Conference of State Legislators and the National School Board Association both have a great analysis of the new law.