15 Pros and Cons of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)

The Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA, was signed into law in December 2015. This legislation was a bipartisan effort to reauthorize the five-decade-old Elementary and Secondary Education Act. This law covers the national educational requirements for American children, representing the government’s long-standing commitment to provide equal opportunities to students from every walk of life.

The goal of the Every Student Succeeds Act is to create continuing progress in the areas of high school graduation, education progress, and improved identification of gifted and talented students. It also works off of the achievement gaps identified by No Child Left Behind to ensure that educational institutions continue to support K-12 students at the individual level.

It also worked to formalize the easing of restrictions from No Child Left Behind placed on the states after 2012. The Obama administration allowed more flexibility in the educational plans in exchange for comprehensive ideas that would increase equity and improve the quality of instruction.

Since the time of its implementation, these are the pros and cons of the Every Student Succeeds Act.

List of the Pros of the Every Student Succeeds Act

1. It continues to advance equity within the K-12 public school population.
Before the 1960s, the best education went to students who had connections, money, or both. After the U.S. government made every child a priority, the goal was to provide equal access to the systems that could help the next generation be able to read and right. The Every Student Succeeds Act works to uphold the critical protections that are in place for students who come from disadvantaged families. There are also supports in place to provide assistance for high-need students who may struggle in the traditional classroom environment.

2. The ESSA requires all students to be taught to high academic standards.
Before the implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act, individual planning for students meant that they would receive an education based on their evaluated capabilities. If you had a child in special education classes, then their requirements to graduate might be entirely different than a student in the school’s gifted program. This legislation mandated for the first time in the United States that all students in the country were to be taught to the same high academic standards. The goal of this process is to prepare more K-12 students for their upcoming career or time in college.

3. It provides a vehicle for better communication between schools and parents.
The implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act meant that the vital information that students produce in the classroom are distributed to families, communities, and educators so that everyone knows where a student’s progress is at any given moment. The K-12 student receives updates about their progress as well. Although this has caused teachers, administrators, and parents to talk more often, the real benefit here are the annual statewide assessments that measure the progress of each child with the high standards that are in place for their future success.

4. This legislation helps to promote local innovative methods.
Different communities must approach education in a way that best suits the needs of their district and the families they serve. The goal of the initial laws passed in the 1960s were to create more equality through civil rights legislation. It provided grants to districts that provided services to low-income students, including money for library books, textbooks, and educational centers.

Now the money goes toward place-based and evidence-based interventions that local teachers, administrators, and leaders create to encourage more educational opportunities. This benefit is consistent with the Promise Neighborhoods and Investing in Innovation programs that support public schools across the United States.

5. It expands the investments made into preschools in the United States.
The historic investments made into the country’s preschools over the past decade are formalized in the Every Student Succeeds Act. This option is a fantastic solution for many families because it introduces young children to a consistent routine and structure. Most of the supported programs teach kids a variety of social, emotional, and cognitive skills. They also get to practice language learning in a safe environment, giving families an opportunity to start getting ready for kindergarten.

The Every Student Succeeds Act provides over $250 million in allocations for preschool grants. Although critics suggest that this amount is not enough to cover all of the needs for students in the birth-to-4 demographic, this figure is still significantly better than what was previously available.

6. The ESSA maintains the same emphasis on accountability.
One of the primary reasons why the United States continues to fall with regards to the quality of education that a child receives is because there was a lack of accountability in the system. No Child Left Behind took meaningful steps to correct this issue, but there were also unreasonable standards in place that sometimes required 100% achievement rates – a near impossibility for some schools.

The Every Student Succeeds Act works to maintain the expectation that schools must be held accountable for the quality of the education they offer. This process works to create positive changes in the lowest-performing schools where students struggle to make progress. The expected outcome is to increase graduation rates over an extended period of time.

7. The federal government can still participate through grant stipulations.
Although states have the option to create their own solutions in the ESSA, the federal government still controls the purse strings of the grants. Updates to the template for grant approval went through in 2017 to encourage specific results. One of the most important changes made in the most recent update was to encourage the hiring of effective, in-field, experienced teachers whenever possible. Research finds that the best teachers typically look for employment opportunities away from the schools that underperform according to the local standards. This update encourages more funding to the districts who can encourage good teachers to come to the schools that need the most help.

8. It discourages the use of test results as a criterium for teacher performance.
Under No Child Left Behind, teachers were often graded based on the results that their students could achieve on the standardized tests. This issue caused many educations to teach subject information to the expected tests instead of providing a well-rounded approach that encouraged advanced learning outcomes. The Every Student Succeeds Act works to move away from the idea that a teacher should get a raise or not based on the fact that a random set of students could or could not meet particular expectations.

List of the Cons of the Every Student Succeeds Act

1. It maintains the status quo in many areas where previous attempts already underperform.
Even though the ESSA does improve the accountability concept in education across the United States, the 1,061-page bill, which is about 400 pages longer than the previous legislation addressing these issue, does not radically vary from earlier efforts to improve outcomes. This law relies on testing to create accountability outcomes, which can be an unreliable way to measure the success or failure of a student. The only primary change in this area is that it shifts the responsibility of implementation from the federal government to the states.

2. There is no effort made to address the root causes of inequality.
Because the Every Student Succeeds Act emphasis accountability in the K-12 system by looking at testing scores and classroom environment, the root issues that cause inequality don’t get fixed yet again. When economic disadvantages are tied directly to the performance of a student, then the problems in public schools can only be fixed when there are ways to improve the standard of living in each community.

Although the ESSA is better because it takes a critical aim at the test and punish strategies that many schools were using under No Child Left Behind, a few valuable programs won’t counter the adverse impacts that poverty has on many communities.

3. It removed the stipulation for adequate yearly progress.
Supporters of the Every Student Succeeds Act celebrate the fact that it provides more flexibility on the testing requirements placed on public schools. It also eliminates one of the vital areas of accountability that were used to ensure compliance with the expectations of No Child Left Behind. Under the ESSA, there is no longer the requirement to report adequate yearly progress on the test score gains from the student body.

There are some exciting changes that could support a better classroom environment in the future. The preschool development grants for low-income families is one of the strongest components of the measure. It even includes an arts education fund. When the states are given the requirement to hold their schools accountable, then who holds the overseers accountable as well?

4. There are more ways to mask inequalities in the ESSA.
Poor families and their communities show high levels of resilience, but that is not enough to help them achieve better results. All of the schools that received an F rating in North Carolina had a student population that was more than 50% low-income children. In 2013, the U.S. saw low-income children, defined as living in a household earning no more than 185% of the poverty threshold, became the majority of students in the public school system.

States will be testing 95% of children and intervening in the lowest-performing schools. Classrooms can then select the students who they believe will perform the best on the required tests, masking the results that the under-performing students achieve. Those who must take the test then feel like they are being given more work, so it encourages K-12 students with defiant personalities to tank the test on purpose.

5. It does not stop the process of school closures in some communities.
The testing mandates found in the Every Student Succeeds Act continue to make a retreat from the anti-poverty focus included in the original legislation from the 1960s. The Johnson administration said that poverty was the greatest barrier to educational opportunities. In cities like Newark, NJ, accountability doesn’t mean taking the Title I approach that was in the original spirit of the law. It involves more testing, additional school closures, and potential long-term trauma to the kids because they receive the blame for the outcomes instead of the adults.

6. When schools close because of the ESSA, it hurts vulnerable students the most.
The communities and neighborhoods that see school closures most often are the ones that need this resource available to them. When the city of Chicago closed almost 50 elementary schools because of issues involving performance, African-American students were the majority population in 90% of the districts. What is even more disturbing is that about 60% of the impacted schools had a high concentration of special needs schools.

The answer from the ESSA is to replace the underperforming schools with charters. This educational approach offers mixed results through a preference for autonomy. Children with disabilities and those with English language barriers tend to struggle the most in this environment.

7. It keeps the federal government on the sidelines.
The obligation to education all children, no matter what their economic circumstances may be, gets weakened when the federal government decides to sit on the bench. The Every Student Succeeds Act creates a patchwork system where each state, territory, and district can potentially use a different system of accountability. This inconsistency creates the potential for unequal practices, which means the government has no way to intervene if there is resistance to certain kinds of reforms.

Verdict of the Every Student Succeeds Act Pros and Cons

The Every Student Succeeds Act works to help every student receive a high-quality education at their local public school. It continues the work of creating equality in this system, but the legislation does not address the core needs of under-performing schools.

We cannot throw money at educational institutions and then demand results. When disadvantaged students struggle with the learning process, there can be a variety of socioeconomic factors causing the issue. Solving this problem requires a more complex solution than the ESSA can provide.

The pros and cons of the Every Student Succeeds Act show that the U.S. is willing to take steps to hold schools accountable for their actions. This process may help the next generation find high levels of success. It could also create a whole new set of problems that American communities may be unable to manage.


About the Author of this Article
Natalie Regoli is a seasoned writer, who is also our editor-in-chief. Vittana's goal is to publish high quality content on some of the biggest issues that our world faces. If you would like to contact Natalie, then go here to send her a message.