Every Student Succeeds Act Has Special Meaning for American Indians

Preschoolers hugging

It’s hoped that the new ESSA policy will be especially helpful for American Indian students.
Image: Shutterstock

The Every Student Succeeds Act marks the first major federal overhaul for K-12 education in 15 years. Reversing much of the problematic No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, ESSA will give more administrative power back to the states while maintaining reading and math testing mandates. The general consensus seems to be that this will be an extremely positive change for schools—in particular those that are working to educate underserved populations such as American Indians.

Of particular interest is the section of the policy stating that it will “ensure that Indian children do not attend school in buildings that are dilapidated or deteriorating, which may negatively affect the academic success of such children.” It will also strive to promote culturally appropriate education for Native students (tribal language, history, and traditions) by supporting those efforts with well-trained teachers.

The new act is not without its own problems, though. On December 1, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights told Congress that, while they approve of ESSA as a better set of policies than NCLB, they are still concerned with certain elements of the act. It puts a lot of responsibility on the states and far less on the federal government, which could potentially cause problems in terms of supporting underserved communities that traditionally get more assistance federally as opposed to locally. Fewer checks and balances on power can have that effect.

Still, with the achievement gap for Native students—and many others—as prevalent as it is, changes were necessary.

Under the new policy, schools will still be required to give standardized reading and math tests in grades 3 through 8, but individual states will determine the standards and what tests to use. States will also be in charge of deciding what to do about schools that don’t live up to their standards, defined as schools in which two-thirds don’t graduate from high school, schools in the bottom 5%, and/or schools in which minority students in particular are struggling.

ESSA will also eliminate 50 education funding programs by combining them into one large block grant. That means no more School Improvement Grants or Race to the Top funding. But there will still be support for charter schools and early childhood education.

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