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Vance Randall
Vance Randall, Professor of Education Policy

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is the latest reauthorization of the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Act that replaced the previous reauthorization known as the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). It was signed into law on December 10, 2015. Its general orientation is the opposite of NCLB and transfers significant control of education away from the federal government to the individual states. This gives states a great deal of flexibility and commensurate responsibility in providing an equal education opportunity for all children and improving student achievement and other student outcomes. Each state must submit to the U.S. Department of Education (ED) its own plan of how to help all children be successful in school. These plans must be approved by the ED.

The ESSA consists of nine titles or sections. Title I is the most well-known title and has the largest amount of federal funding attached to it. Under this title the state must have an approved plan to improve student performance and achievement. This plan must include state academic standards and assessments, state report cards, and steps to improve the performance of different student groups. The focus of Title II is on providing funding to improve the quality of teachers, principals, and other school leaders. Title III helps address the needs of ESL learners. Title IV provides competitive grants for states and districts. Title V addresses needs of rural education, with Title VI providing funding for Native Americans and native Hawaiians and Title IX providing funding for homeless children. Title VII looks at programs for some special needs communities, and Title VIII contains definitions and other requirements.

It was hoped that the ESSA would include requirements for social-emotional learning (SEL) competencies and their measurements as part of the criteria to determine whether a school was successful or not. The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) lists five core SEL competencies that deal with attitudes, behaviors, and relationships: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making. The addition of SEL competencies to complement academic competencies would have provided a richer portrait of how a student and school were doing to promote student success. Academic learning and social/emotional learning are part and parcel of educating the whole child and intrinsically interact with each other.

However, the ESSA did not call for SEL competencies, so it is no surprise that none of the states include SEL competencies and their corresponding measures in their state plans to the ED. This lack of SEL competencies in state plans is most likely due to the difficulty of developing reliable and valid measures of these competencies and the lack of specific ESSA funding or requirements for SEL programs. However, ESSA funding for SEL programs might come from Title I, Parts A, C, and D; Title II, Part A; Title IV, Parts A and B; and Title V, Part B.


Written by Vance Randall