Every Student Succeeds Act Puts States Firmly in Charge of Standards and Accountability


Claims that the Every Student Succeeds Act prohibits federal authorities from requiring states to use certain education standards are not only unfounded, but the law actually imposes comparable standards on the entire country, a Breitbart article alleges.

Emmett McGroarty of the American Principles Project argues that “ESSA actually does the opposite: it keeps states anchored” to comparable education standards. In requiring states to demonstrate rigorous academic expectations aligned to college and career readiness, lawmakers “have simply betrayed their constituents,” McGroarty claims.

However, such allegations are impossible to square with the letter and intention of the new education law – which explicitly prohibits the federal government from requiring states to use any specific set of standards.

Congressman John Kline, the outgoing chairman of the House education committee, called the Every Student Succeeds Act a “huge win for conservatives.” He noted that the “federal government should not be able to tell states what standards they can or cannot adopt,” and that ESSA prohibits the Department of Education from doing so.

One of the primary purposes of the Every Student Succeeds Act, which was signed into law over a year ago and permanently replaces No Child Left Behind, is to put greater control in the hands of state and local officials – especially with regards to education standards.

“States decide academic standards. That has been true for years but was spelled out explicitly in the new federal education law,” conservative columnist Lyndsey Layton wrote in the Washington Post last spring.

States have taken ownership of their education standards, reviewing them and making adjustments to meet their students’ needs. Nearly across the board states have kept the bar high, and most are beginning to see improvements in student performance.

Last year most states made significant improvements in student proficiency in math and reading. Importantly, some of the biggest gains were made by third-graders, who have spent most of their academic careers learning to higher classroom expectations. At the same time, states have become more forthright in reporting student readiness; last year a majority of states significantly narrowed their “Honesty Gap.”

“These findings send a clear message that it’s a mistake to retreat from high standards or go back to low-quality tests,” Hanna Skandera, New Mexico’s Education Secretary, explained recently.

President-elect Trump has pledged to implement the Every Student Succeeds Act as intended by Congress – to limit the role of the federal government. Betsy DeVos, his pick for Secretary of Education, shares that commitment and supports states’ efforts to raise academic expectations.

States have embraced a new, more rigorous baseline of education standards. They are now moving on from any further divisive debate over labels. Instead they are focusing on raising the bar further to ensure students are fully prepared for the challenges of college and to lead in a competitive economy.