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Autonomy, State-Driven Accountability Remain Focus of Committee Hearing on Implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act

The House Committee on Education and the Workforce held a hearing today to discuss the progress of state implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

ESSA, passed in December 2015 to replace No Child Left Behind, returned significant autonomy to states and school districts.

“ESSA can be considered a milestone for K-12 policy because it was a monumental shift in the role states and school districts would have in the future of education,” said Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), chairwoman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.

Chairwoman Foxx went on to say, “States and school districts were given new independence when creating a K-12 education program that works best for their own students, ending a ‘Washington knows best’ approach to education.”

Members of the committee heard from state and local education leaders who discussed the successes in the early stage of the law’s implementation.

“ESSA gave the states the flexibility to utilize current research, technology, and the flexibility of the law to build much stronger accountability and reporting systems with meaningful multiple indicators,” said Dr. Gail Pletnick, superintendent of Dysart Unified School District in Surprise, Arizona.

“Stakeholders are engaged in conversations around needs in our educational systems,” Dr. Pletnick said. She added that this is a "discussion that is important to driving the improvements necessary to provide an equitable quality education to all students, including our underserved populations.”

Witnesses also described how ESSA allows for states to create education programs that strike a balance between the goals of autonomy and state-driven accountability.

“ESSA has given Mississippi the opportunity to create a plan specifically designed for the students in our state, said Carey M. Wright, Ed.D., state superintendent of education for Mississippi. “At the same time, the law provides guardrails to ensure our work is appropriately targeted toward improving educational opportunities and outcomes for all students and all schools.”

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) also testified on its own findings on ESSA implementation, and what stakeholders thought of the overall effectiveness of the law.

In a new report by GAO, the agency found that stakeholders have positive feedback on the law’s flexibility when creating a new education plan, while also putting safeguards in place to ensure accountability from the states.

“Some states are using ESSA’s flexibilities to significantly change their accountability systems while others are making more limited changes,” said Jacqueline M. Nowicki, director, education, workforce, and income security issues with the GAO.

The House Committee on Education and the Workforce will continue to monitor the progress of state and local implementation of ESSA, while also ensuring the federal government takes a hands-off approach to implementation.

“We have a lot of wonderful teachers, principals, superintendents, [and] custodians, who want to provide a great educational experience for the students in their schools,” said Chairwoman Foxx. “And I think, in many cases, the federal government has a very limited role.”