Is District-Level Control the “Essence” of ESSA?

Is District-Level Control the “Essence” of ESSA?

September 23, 2019

In this piece, Adam Kirk Edgerton explores the relationship between state education departments and the districts they oversee in the ESSA context. “Since 2015, a team of faculty and graduate student researchers at the Center on Standards, Alignment, Instruction, and Learning (C-SAIL) has collected a broad range of data on ESSA’s implementation across the country, as well as data specific to California, Texas, Ohio, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts,” he writes. “Because we began collecting data immediately after ESSA’s passage, we have been able to observe closely as its implementation has evolved over the law’s first few years.” And while these six “partner states” differ in some ways, many of the group’s findings “are remarkably consistent across states,” and in every state where they conducted interviews, they found “that the underlying logic of education policy over the last two decades—the goal of developing, implementing, and using tests to hold students accountable to K-12 standards—continues to hold sway in state education associations (SEAs) and school districts.” However, simultaneously, “calls for ‘local control’ have translated mostly to a weakening of test-based accountability and a devolution of decision-making power down to the school district level, which, in turn, has led to a new series of unintended consequences for policy makers to consider.”