President Obama raising the profile of a young learner. Photo: The White House
President Obama raising the profile of a young learner. Photo: The White House

Last month, President Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) into law, ushering in a new legislative era that includes a focus on early education.

As the Los Angeles Times explains:

“With the stroke of a pen, the No Child Left Behind Act became history on Thursday.

President Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act, a bipartisan replacement to the universally unpopular, nearly 15-year-old education law.”

According to the New York Times, ESSA is a bipartisan approach that “preserves federally mandated standardized testing but eliminates the punitive consequences for states and districts that perform poorly.”

The Times adds a quote from the president:

“‘This bill makes long-overdue fixes to the last education law, replacing the one-size-fits-all approach to reform with a commitment to provide every student with a well-rounded education,’ Mr. Obama said at a White House signing ceremony for the law. ‘With this bill, we reaffirm that fundamental American ideal that every child — regardless of race, income, background, the ZIP code where they live — deserves the chance to make out of their lives what they will.’”

A statement from the White House notes that the law will “Empower state and local decision-makers to develop their own strong systems for school improvement based upon evidence…”


A Focus on Early Education

In addition to the sweeping changes that will impact K-12, the law will also, “Provide more children access to high-quality preschool, giving them the chance to get a strong start to their education.”

A White House fact sheet notes that among the law’s incentives to improve “outcomes and opportunities for students” is a provision to “Establish or expand access to high-quality, state-funded preschool for children from low- and moderate-income families, building from the Administration’s Preschool Development Grants program.” (Massachusetts was awarded a Preschool Development Grant in December, 2014.)

Last month, New America’s EdCentral blog noted that these new preschool development grants are to be “housed in the Department of Education (ED) and jointly administered by the Secretaries of Education and Health and Human Services. For unclear reasons, ESSA requires the new program to transition to the Department of Health and Human Services and be jointly administered with ED.”

EdCentral adds: “The primary purpose of ESSA’s new PDG program is twofold. First, it aims to help states improve collaboration and coordination among existing early education programs (birth through school entry) in a mixed delivery system (public schools, home-based child care, center-based child careHead Start, etc.). Second, it strives to smooth children’s transitions from pre-K programs to kindergarten.”

The Washington Post reports that this program was “a top priority for Murray, a former preschool teacher, who initially sought funding for preschool for low-income children but settled for a $250 million annual grant program to help states organize existing systems.”

“Murray” is U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-Washington).

To learn more about ESSA as well as its impact on early education, check out these additional stories:

“House leaves ‘No Child’ education law behind,” the Washington Post, December 2, 2015

“Q&A: What You Need to Know About the Fix to No Child Left Behind,” the White House, December 7, 2015

“New Education Law Moves U.S. Closer to California’s Path,” EducationWeek, December 9 2015

“Obama signs education law rewrite shifting power to states,” an AP story that ran in the Boston Globe, December 11, 2015

The AP story reports:

“Obama held the legislation up as an ‘example of how bipartisanship should work,’ noting that opposing sides had compromised to reach a deal.

‘‘‘That’s something that you don’t always see here in Washington,’ Obama said. ‘There wasn’t a lot of grandstanding, a lot of posturing, just a lot of good, hard work.’’’