Personally, whenever a bill in Washington D.C. is praised for its bipartisan nature – I get worried. The common ground discovered by Democrats and Republicans, usually comes at our expense.

The Every Student Succeeds Act  of 2015 (ESSA) is being sold to educators, parents, and the public as being somehow better than No Child Left Behind (NCLB).

You may remember NCLB as the law which declared every student in the United States would be proficient in math and reading by the year 2014 – because ridiculous mandates make things happen.

To the surprise of no one, 2014 came and went and proficiency wasn’t achieved.

In short, the ESSA is better than the last federal education law that was an absolute failure. But why let some inconvenient facts get in the way of a perfectly good marketing strategy?

This may explain why the rollout of the ESSA was so short on specifics, but all about celebrating the historic bipartisanship which went into its passage.

Peak bipartisanship was reached this summer when the NEA made Patty Murray and Lamar Alexander co-recipients of their friend of public education award for getting the ESSA job done. Similar bills had failed in 2007, 2011, and 2013.

Personally, whenever a bill in Washington D.C. is praised for its bipartisan nature – I get worried. The common ground discovered by Democrats and Republicans, usually comes at our expense.

Let’s take a look at the ESSA and see if my theory holds.

We know the ESSA continues the grade span testing of NCLB and also maintains the 95% participation requirement for these tests.

The ESSA also preserves the “failing schools” rhetoric of NCLB and the stipulation for intervention to turn these “failures” around.

For charter schools, the ESSA is a dream come true.

There’s dedicated federal funds and state grants for the expansion of charters, required timely allotment of Title 1 funds, plus minimum accountability for the first 2 years of a new charter school’s existence. (I wonder why Patty Murray didn’t talk about charters during her friend of public education acceptance speech before the NEA?  The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools saw passage of the ESSA as a “big win” for charter schools.)

If that’s not enough, here’s a huge ESSA red flag to consider:

The American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, is very excited about the passage of the ESSA.

ALEC sees the new law as an opportunity to introduce its own student-centered accountability systems through the state control provision of assessment in the ESSA.

If you aren’t familiar with ALEC, they’re a neoliberal organization bent on privatizing public institutions and solving societal problems through market-based solutions.

Some legislative success for ALEC is Right to Work Laws and Florida’s infamous Stand Your Ground Law.

Here’s  the relevant excerpt from ALEC’s draft of model resolution on July 28, 2016.


NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that the American Legislative Exchange Council recommends that states, utilizing their properly restored authority under the ESSA, consider the creation and implementation of STUDENT CENTERED ACCOUNTABILITY SYSTEMS designed around the following general principles:

  • Timely Provision of Student-Level Data
  • Measure Student-Specific Progress and Restore the Focus of “High-Stakes” Testing to be on Advancing Individual Student Instruction and Growth
  • Develop Important Individualized Measures Beyond Sole Reliance on “High-Stakes” Tests, Including Engagement, Teacher Input and Assessments, and Satisfaction
  • Account for Mobility in Graduation Calculations and any other Aggregate Data Indicators
  • Recognize and Respect Parental Intent
  • Do Not Devalue Parental Choice by Treating Schools of Choice Differently
  • Support and Protect Students Succeeding in Schools of Choice

ALEC’s push for “market based solutions” in public education is nothing new. Choice has always been code for charter schools and/or vouchers.

What’s interesting is their embrace of “student centered accountability systems” and “individual student instruction and growth” which most likely is a reference to “personalized learning“, also termed “blended learning”, when a student is in front of a computer most of the school day rather than interacting with a teacher and their peers in a typical classroom setting.

Why is this important?

Six days after the signing of the ESSA, iNACOL release a webinar where the speakers gushed over the prospect of states introducing personalized learning through the innovative assessment clause of the ESSA.

In fact, slide #9 specifically lists NCLB as a barrier to the introduction of personalized learning. See bullet point #3.



Who’s iNACOL?

They’re the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL). A non-profit who’s mission “is to catalyze the transformation of K-12 education policy and practice to advance powerful, personalized, learner-centered experiences through competency-based, blended and online learning.”

What Does It All Mean?

The short answer: We’ve been had.

Not only does the ESSA preserve most of the negatives of NCLB, it also opens the door to a tsunami of charter schools AND the introduction of personalized learning — where the online curriculum is also the test.

This is going to be really hard to fight on a state by state basis. It’s bureaucratic divide and conquer. I have a hunch those who drafted, lobbied, and pushed for the ESSA’s passage had this exact difficulty in mind.

-Carolyn Leith

For more on ALEC, see the Center for American Democracy.