Today, President Obama signed into law a bi-partisan reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, now known as the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).  Something interesting happened along the way. The term “college and career readiness,” a popular topic in the past eight years and part of earlier reauthorization bill drafts, was scrubbed as an objective of the law. So what happened?

It’s important to look at the purpose of the ESSA, which is a departure from the previous bill—known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB)—and the U.S. Department of Education’s recent waivers from the existing law. NCLB and the waivers emphasized student learning as measured by the state's academic achievement standards and annual assessments. The ESSA, on the other hand, seeks to ensure that “all children receive a high-quality education” and that districts work to “close student achievement gaps.” The purpose of the ESSA is more holistic than its predecessors, and this changes the way our nation addresses the goal of “college and career readiness.” It has to fit into this broader concept of “high-quality education.”

Despite the lack of mention by name, the goal of college and career readiness is still alive and well. Under the ESSA, districts are required to submit a plan to implement a “well-rounded” program of instruction that will identify students who may be at risk of academic failure and improve the overall school conditions for student learning. As part of this plan, districts will have to, among other things, “facilitate effective transitions” for students from middle grades to high school and from high school to postsecondary education, and they will have to promote skills that are important to in-demand occupations or industries. This acknowledges all of the great college and career work that states, districts, and schools have pioneered in recent years.

So how should we think about college and career readiness changing? It’s an evolution.

Over the past eight years, schools and districts have been following a prescribed vision of college and career readiness as directed by federal program rules. As a result, many states and districts have developed their understanding of college and career readiness and aligned their programs to these standards. Now, under the ESSA, that work continues by encouraging states and districts to identify needs and create program improvement strategies locally. What’s more, that work can become a meaningful part of how states and districts define “success” for their schools and students. This is an evolution for the goal of college and career readiness—an opportunity that, if carefully developed, could result in a very positive influence on our schools and students.

For more information on what the changes mean, check out this summary of the bill.

We applaud Congress and President Obama for passing and signing the new law, and look forward to continuing to support our client community in your work to serve students.

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