ESSA Has Already Given States the Ability to Implement What Parents and Teachers Want


Christine Cooke, an education policy analyst for the Sutherland Institute, argues in a new piece featured in the Salt Lake Tribune that it’s time to “disrupt education by reducing federal power in education and letting states get back to helping kids learn.” As others before her have done, she sees the implementation of high, comparable standards and “federal testing mandates” as evidence that the federal government has too much influence.

To start, it’s important to re-iterate that the writing of the Common Core State Standards occurred free of any federal involvement. No federal officials served on the working teams or feedback groups, nor were any federal funds used to support the creation process at any point.

Cooke goes further to say federal intervention in state’s education policies was “further expanded intervention through letters, regulations, grant competitions and NCLB waivers,” under the Obama Administration. The Collaborative’s post a few weeks back articulates the nuances of the U.S. Department of Education’s Race to the Top funds, School Improvement Grants and high standards. Regardless of what has happened in the past, the passage of the new, bipartisan education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), clarifies the federal government’s role in standards and accountability.

Enacted in December 2015 with bipartisan support, ESSA permanently replaces No Child Left Behind and returns control over education standards and assessments to state and local authorities. Each state is now taking the lead on producing its own plan.

Former Congressman John Kline, chairman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, called the law a “huge win for conservatives,” when it passed, adding “The federal government should not be able to tell states what standards they can or cannot adopt.”

Not surprisingly, Cooke argues that ESSA “doesn’t go nearly far enough” in giving states flexibility and suggests that most Americans “believe in the power of parents and good teachers to help kids meet their potential.” ESSA was passed explicitly to return control over education policy back to states and local officials. At the same time, parents and teachers do not see high standards as an impediment to their children and students’ learning, creativity or classroom experience. In fact, they are calling for high standards.

When it comes down to it – we can’t get any more local than the teachers in the classroom or the parents of the students. If they see the value that high standards bring to the classroom, states should be listening to them as they develop their ESSA plans.