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The effect of Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)

How will the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) effect business that sell educational products in the United States?

In December, President Obama signed the “Every Student Succeeds Act“ (ESSA) that dramatically shifts educational policy in the United States.  The new law, heavily supported by both Republicans and Democrats, returns major educational policy decisions back to the states.  Most notably, it ends much of federally mandated test based accountability policies that were the centerpiece of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), Race to the Top (RTTT), and ESEA waivers.

Businesses that recently have enjoyed large profits from the huge demand for more standardized tests and test preparation materials, test-based accountability for both schools and teachers, materials supporting the implementation of the Common Core, and in-depth data systems could see a dramatic drop in these markets.  Moreover, states struggling to balance tight budgets will no longer be required to subscribe to expansive testing programs like PARRC and Smarter Balance.  State will be free to select more cost-effective assessments and support programs.  The testing opt-out movement shows no signs of weakening and many states have dropped their support for the Common Core standards.  Any business that supported these highly unpopular efforts will quickly need to shift their business strategy or they will see a continuous decline in brand value, market share, and revenue.

Specifically, ESSA requires state to create school accountability systems that use a number of measures beyond test scores.  This accountability system must be developed using the input from a large cross section of education stakeholders including those who work in schools everyday.  The law also allows states to use federal funds to eliminate some tests and even pay costs associated with terminating procurement contracts.  In an unprecedented move, the new law strictly prohibits the federal government from any involvement in teacher appraisal and the federal government cannot advocate any specific standards or curricula.  This change will have an immediate effect on those businesses that used these two policies to grow their profits in the United States.

Those who are doing business with K-12 educational institutions in the United States are facing a rapidly changing landscape.  Previous business strategies that profited from a large federal role in high stakes accountability and testing are now obsolete.
Businesses who see this law area in American education as an opportunity to support the growth and improvement of public education can position themselves in this new educational economy.  But this will only happen if they abandon their support for high stakes testing and accountability and work to rebuild their brand in support of state-led efforts to create an effective public education system based on equity and expanded opportunity.  There is a strong market for those businesses that work in partnership with all state-level stakeholders to build a more robust, student-centered public education system.

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