In one of his last acts in office, President Barack Obama signed into law the Every Student Succeeds Act — or ESSA — the first major rewrite to the country's education policy since No Child Left Behind. As part of the new law, states are required to identify low-performing schools at least every three years, and come up with a plan for improvement. But a new report assessing ESSA in action has found that at least 29 states wait three to four years before reporting underperforming schools to ask for assistance — and that's putting students from marginalized backgrounds at a big disadvantage.
The National Center for Learning Disabilities released its analysis of Obama's education reform earlier this month, and discovered that more than half of states won't identify struggling schools until three years of low performance are recorded, according to Education Week. The report also found that those same states won't transition the lowest performing schools to more Comprehensive Support and Intervention — or CSI — until there are at least four years of underperformance.
By waiting the bare minimum as mandated under ESSA, states are delaying requests for resources that would improve overall school performance, the NCLD asserts in its report, according to Education Week. And this, in the end, is short-changing struggling students who need help for academic advancement.
Under ESSA, states are given the power to determine the number of years a school must underperform before it intervenes and develops an action plan for how long the state would provide the school support, according to the U.S. Department of Education. In the case of struggling schools, every three years is the bare minimum to report and intervene in the bottom 5 percent of performers.
The National Center for Learning Disabilities, however, strongly recommends that states identify and intervene in low performing schools every two years, and should not wait longer than three years to transition struggling schools to a CSI action plan, according to the report. And there's research to back that up.
When states wait to intervene in chronically low-performing schools, and fail to develop solid and comprehensive plans, struggling students are less likely to advance academically compared to their peers, affecting their chances for success in the long-run, according to a 2016 report from the the National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance.
As the NCLD's report states:
More states must recognize that students do not have time to waste, nor do they deserve to spend multiple years in underperforming schools. Waiting three years or more to support schools that struggle means that students may not receive the aid they need to succeed and advance in school.
That's not the only way states are failing its students. The NCLD report also found that only 18 have identical long-term goal plans for students with disabilities and their non-disabled peers. That means that schools in roughly three-quarters of states set lower goals and measurements for academic achievement, graduation, and English language proficiency for students with disabilities than for their peers, which means they're not being given the opportunity to fulfill their academic potential.
Not only that, but 17 states have not developed detailed plans to address bullying and discipline issues in school, while 42 states fail to address the needs of students with disabilities in a comprehensive and inclusive way, according to the report.
Every child deserves equal opportunity and access to a comprehensive education. But that becomes nearly impossible if states fail to utilize the resources necessary to improve their school systems. Meeting the bare minimum required by law serves no one.