Skip to main content

ESSA: Learning from the Past

BOULDER, CO (November 17, 2016) – Motivated out of strong concerns about the shortcomings and federal overreach of the No Child Left Behind law, supporters of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) enthusiastically embraced it as a suitable replacement. Yet, the new legislation maintains a predominately test-based accountability system with a federal mandate for interventions in well over five thousand public schools every year.

In a brief released today, Lessons from NCLB for the Every Student Succeeds Act, William J. Mathis of the University of Colorado Boulder and Tina Trujillo of the University of California Berkeley draw primarily from their book, Learning from the Federal Market-Based Reforms: Lessons for the Every Student Succeeds Act, to offer recommendations on how states and districts can most effectively implement the statute.

The brief comes at a key moment in our national affairs. In light of the recent election results, it is imperative that education agencies understand what evidence-based strategies they can use to preserve the institution of public education, and to limit efforts to privatize elements of their systems. This brief details how policymakers can do that.

ESSA continues to disaggregate data by race, wealth, English learner status, and special needs status (and adds new sub-groups), but the law and the anticipated appropriations show little promise of remedying the systemic under-resourcing of needy students. That is, the focus remains on measuring and holding accountable, as opposed to providing the resources needed to close opportunity gaps. Students’ opportunities to learn inside and outside of schools depend on addressing the economic bifurcation in the nation and in the schools.

Mathis and Trujillo offer more than a dozen comprehensive recommendations for state policymakers on both broad and focused implementation issues. Here are five of the most significant:

  • Above all else, each state must ensure that students have adequate opportunities, funding and resources to achieve state goals. Funds must be available in an equitable manner and must be sufficient to meet students’ needs. Schools and school personnel must not be evaluated on elements where they are denied the resources and supports they need to be successful.
  • Under ESSA, school performance will now be measured using a system that incorporates one or more non-academic indicators—chosen separately by each state. These non-academic indicators provide states their strongest new tool for maximizing educational equity and opportunity and bringing attention to the nation’s broader educational purposes.
  • States and districts must collaborate with social service and labor departments to ensure adequate personal, social and economic opportunities. Without a livable wage and adequate support services, social problems will be manifest in the schools. Public and private schools must adopt assignment policies and practices that ensure integration and that disperse pockets of poverty.
  • Charter schools should not be expanded, and state caps on their approval should be reduced. On average, charter schools do not perform at higher levels than public schools, yet they segregate, remain prone to fiscal mismanagement, and often have opaque management and accountability.
  • States should establish, develop, train and implement school visitation teams that address both quantitative and qualitative factors. Sites most in need of improvement should be prioritized. Standardized test scores can be validly used to establish initial priorities.

Find Lessons from NCLB for the Every Student Succeeds Act, by William J. Mathis and Tina M. Trujillo, on the web at:

Find the book Learning from the Federal Market-Based Reforms, by William J. Mathis and Tina M. Trujillo, at

When ordering the book, use discount code LFMBR 30350.

The National Education Policy Center (NEPC), a university research center housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education, produces and disseminates high-quality, peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions. Visit us at: