The current President of the USA, Barack Obama, signed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) on December 10, 2015. The current Act was aimed at changing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) that was put in place 50 years ago. There was also another act known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB), which was put in place in 2002. This act supported the students’ rights regardless of their race, background, income, disabilities, language, or place of living. The act was then subjected to various revisions in 2007. In the end, it was very hard to understand how the act was supposed to work. As a result, the Obama administration together with educators and parents saw the need to come up with an act that would focus on clear goals and prepare all students for further education in colleges and future careers.
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The ESSA was created and passed. Some of the legal issues under the act include: ensuring equity and protection for the disadvantaged and needy students, education of students according to high standards that will prepare them for colleges and careers, provision of information to educators, families, and students in order to achieve the high standards, supporting local innovation, helping school administration to increase access to quality preschool education and maintain accountability to ensure high performance for all students. The current paper observes the details of the ESSA, which was the previous act, the pros and cons of the act, and the reasons for the introduction of the act.
History of Education Acts
The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) was enacted on 9th, April 1965 and was referred to as a very costly federal education bill. The act was introduced three months after President Johnson had declared war against poverty. Since President Lyndon was once a teacher, he believed that educating children was the most important factor to ensure a high level of their productivity. The law made education compulsory, especially for poor children. The law was established based on the assumption that children from poor backgrounds needed more educational support than those from affluent families. Title I of ESEA allocated 1 billion dollars to fund the education of children from poor families (Elementary And Secondary Education Act of 1965).
President Lincoln stated that Congress had made a milestone to make education accessible to all children. Congress had been trying to pass an educational bill since 1870 but they could not manage to come up will any bill or act. Although Lyndon had much faith in the bill against poverty, the act was challenged by Coleman Report (1966) who argued that this was an improvement for the students only. Furthermore, he argued that this was only a political strategy. For instance, the bill was enacted after the assassination of Kennedy, and Johnson was facing a lot of pressure from religious and educational activists. The Elementary Secondary School Act was associated with three consequences for the future legislature. One of them was tying the legislature to educational and economical support. Secondly, it ignited a religious conflict since the religious leaders argued that funding the education of poor children only helped the children and not the schools they attended. Lastly, relying on federal government to administer the funds would create bureaucracy, in which case the state government would be involved n educational decision-making (“Elementary and Secondary Education Act”).
ESEA provided funds to low-income students, grants for textbooks and other library materials, funds for special education schools, and full college scholarship for students from poor families. Despite that, it was criticized by the civil rights activists and the clergy. With so much criticism, the act was amended several times. For instance, in 1968, Title VII was amended into Bilingual Education Act that offered funds to local district for children who experienced difficulties in speaking English (Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965).
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No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB)
President G. Bush put NCLB into action on January 8, 2002. This was an update of the ESEA of 1965. This law was developed after Americans aired their views that the educational system at that time was not globally competitive. In addition, this would have kept the schools responsible for their student’s performance. Congress also saw that the federal government would have boosted the performance of English-learners, special students as well as poor and minority students. The state had an option of not complying with the new law but if this happened, they would have lost the funding as mentioned in Title I.
The law required that the state monitors reading and mathematics for grades 3 to 8. It was their obligation to report students’ progress. The federal government set a proficient level that each state had to pass or at least achieve. The schools also had to set their goals, which had been done annually. If schools did not meet the annual yearly progress (AYP), for two consecutive years, the students were allowed to transfer to a better performing school. Besides, the school ought to offer free tutorial if it missed AYP for three years in a row. The school would be shut down if it completely failed to attain AYP, and lastly, such a school ought to set a certain portion of Title I funding for tutoring (Legal Study on No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) in The United States).
All teachers were supposed to be degree holders or acquire an associate degree from recognized colleges. This was aimed at ensuring that schools employed highly qualified personnel. Despite the praise and high expectations associated with the act, it also faced some criticism. Some portions of the act required updates of the progress; however, Congress did not indicate any update or reauthorization. For example, it was difficult to tell how the two remedies for the schools that failed to perform according to the standards would help to boost their performance. In addition, students did not take the chance they were given to transfer to another school. In some states, it was difficult to examine the quality of educators’ work while others preferred training their own educators.
The NCLB law was also criticized for depending mostly on tests to monitor the progress of students. Others complained that the subjects that were made compulsory by the law were reading and mathematics. This narrowed the curriculum, making schools devote less time to other subjects such as social studies, language and arts. Educational advocates claimed that the program was underfunded, for instance, the program was to be funded $25 billion in 2007 but only received $14.5. This even made some schools to ignore certain laws like that of hiring qualified teachers since they did not have money to pay them.
By 2010, it had become clear that most of the schools did not meet the requirements of NCLB. Lawmakers saw the need to amend the law but the bill was not passed in the House. When Obama came into power, he gave a waiver that allowed schools to focus on some priorities without considering NCLB laws. For instance, the waiver stated that schools were not obliged to reach the proficiency level. Instead, schools were supposed to be aimed at preparing students for higher education. Additionally, teachers’ evaluation was to be carried out based on the students’ needs. However, the waiver did not improve certain areas such as teachers’ evaluation. Furthermore, the NCLB Act needed to be reauthorized.
The Every Student Succeed Act
According to Kingdon, agenda is the list of problems or subjects that people inside the government, those outside the government, and those closely related to the government are paying much attention to at all times (Kingdon). This agenda includes getting attention from the government and the list of issues that especially require the attention of the legislative. Kingdon continues by saying that participants and processes determine the issues included in the agenda. The participants are analyzed according to their role, and the resources that are available for each participant. The participants inside the government include the President, presidential officials, political appointees, civil servants, and Congress.
The President can form the agendas of the people by him/herself in the Congress or with the help of the executive power he possesses. However, the President may not dominate the alternatives. The resources available for the President include institutional and organizational resources and command of public attention. The role of the President’s staff is to focus on setting administration’s agenda and advice the President. The members of executive power who are also the staff of the President are more focused on the alternatives. Proposal and ideas on educational agendas provided by the stakeholders are forwarded by political appointees. They have serve for a shorter period and are always ready to put stamp on something to make a difference when they are in service (Kingdon).
The civil servants are interested in alternatives and not setting the agendas. Civil servants have the resources of longevity, expertise, and close relations with Congress and interest groups. People’s interests are represented by Congress, which is mandated to amend the Constitution. They are the central body for setting agendas and dealing with alternative issues. In addition, they have more impact on setting the agenda than the staff. Congress’s resources include the legal authority and crucial publicity, which means that their speeches may be turned into news and press releases.
On the other hand, there are other people outside the government. These groups include interest groups for instance business, industry, and consumers; researchers, scholars, consultants among others; the media; participants in matters related to elections; and the public opinion. It should be noted that there are visible and hidden participants. The agendas are driven more by the visible participants, for instance, by the President, high executive officers, members of Congress, the media, and political parties. According to Kingdon, a condition becomes a problem when people feel there is something to be done about it. In relation to the NCLB, the educators, parents, and some politicians had complained about the problems with NCLB. It is true that the act had become a problem and was in the process of becoming an agenda (Kingdon).
There are indicators of the problems and policymakers conduct research to evaluate the magnitude of the problem. Recently, researchers have conducted a study on the way to improve educational systems with the help of educators. The research proposed to improve the scientific programs in schools and to create a program to support research and innovation. The researchers proposed more research for the state and districts to identify the priorities in their communities. Just like Kingdon explains that the methods used to gather data and interpret it are very important, there were various methods used for analyzing the educational system in America. Some researches were refuted especially by the educators because the educators were not involved. However, the latest research was accepted by most stakeholders since it involved the educators (Dynarski).
After realizing the problems, there should be provided policy solutions that are also known as policy stream. Generating policy alternatives is very difficult to realize because new policies may mix with the existing ones and some will appear to be more important than the others. This could be the reason why it had taken quite some time for a new bill to be put into action. The issue has been discussed and some members of Congress even tried to table the new proposal but it failed to do so. The survival of the policy depends on the criteria of survival and policy communities. If the specialists are scattered inside and outside the government, then the policy is less likely to survive.
The policies may also face political stream. The political influences include the political mood, pressure groups during campaigns, the election results and partisan. The Obama administration had promised a lot of revolutionary events in regard to the American education system during its campaign. Obama gained a lot of partisan and once he was in power, he had to fulfill his promises. When the policy window came through, Obama had the opportunity to change the educational bill. He gained a lot of support from the members of the Congress; the national mood was on the rise since most people wanted a change and the problem needed to be solved (Kingdon).
Due to complaints from educators and parents about NCLB, Obama’s administration decided to form a new act that would focus on the success of the students in college or future careers. Some of the priorities put forward in the act are: ensuring high standards in schools to guarantee that students are prepared for college or further career; ensuring accountability especially in regard to the five lowest-performing schools, the schools with the highest dropout and schools subgroups and struggling students; empowering local and state decision-makers rather than imposing laws on them like NCLB did; reducing the pressure on students and teachers associated with the annual evaluation tests; giving a chance to more students to access high standard education and introducing new resources to ensure that American students have the best educational opportunities.
According to President Obama, each student deserves a globally recognized education. He insists that the best schools and universities of the world can be found in America. However, the American educational system does not prepare its students for the global economy. That is why every school requires the best teachers and the best principal. In the past, schools focused on basic skills but the Obama administration believes that students also need to be taught how to think critically, be creative, solve problems, and be collaborative (Wong). Obama stated that since the times when he took power, changes have already been observed in schools including getting the highest graduation rate and lowest school dropout in the history of America (U.S. Department of Education).
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The signing of the ESSA meant that it was grounded on the already significant policies that the administration had put forward to improve the educational system. The NCLB was seen as a burden rather than as a help for students to achieve their goals. When the ESSA act was signed, President Obama stated that the goals of NCLB were the right goals, including the promise to provide quality education for students and its need for accountability; however, teachers, educators, and students were denied what they needed to meet the goals. That was the reason why the act needed to be amended.
Under the administration of Obama and through the Every Students Succeed Act, efforts that been made to improve the educational system in various ways. Quality of preschool education was one of the main goals of the ESSA. A huge amount of financial resources has been invested to ensure that all students access quality education starting from the kindergarten level. More than 30 states have also increased their share in catering for preschool education. In addition, high standard education was insisted on by the act. Students are now accessing higher education, which did not happen in the past years. 48 states and districts in Columbia have come up with measures to ensure that students from high schools are prepared to enter colleges and get employed (The White House).
The administration has changed the educational system that was focused on a great number of tests, which were suggested to put pressure on teachers and students. ESSA calls for fewer tests but better evaluation (U.S. Department of Education). The system advocates for tests that examine students critical thinking, creativity, and problem solving to prepare students for career and colleges rather than the traditional choice tests. At the same time, schools are being assisted to push back the unnecessary and low-quality testing in the preparation of students. To ensure this, every classroom needs a qualified teacher. Previously, students from minority groups and low-income families did not access quality educational instructors. The department of education has suggested measures aimed at educating teachers and giving them the power to be the main decision-makers of their careers. In addition, there are funds that keep educators in high-need schools. These funds include the Teacher Incentive Fund, Effective Educator Development Grant Program, and Excellent Educators for All.
ESSA calls for competitive programs that will improve schools. President Obama used the Race to the Top initiative to reform the educational sector. Although $4 billion investment was to cater for K-12 education, more than 10 million students and 700,000 educators did not receive the funds. Race to the Top increased the investment to support teachers and leaders, establishing high standard education, turning around low-performing schools, establishing conditions for positive changes, and using technology to improve the educational system. Investing in innovation was the goal of the Obama administration in terms of school improvement. Investment in innovation (i3) formed a specific culture in schools where students work on evidence-decision making. This has helped to prepare students for entering college or future employment. The more the schools show their support for the program, the more they receive funds. Initially, $650 million funding for i3 was offered to high institutions to assist them in research as well as to replicate and scale-up practices to improve education. The department gave out 49 grants but only 1,700 students applied for the program. Currently, almost 150 i3 grants are functioning around the country assisting over 2 million students.
The administration wanted to create promising neighborhoods. The government has been committed to eliminate intergenerational poverty since 2010, through its $270 million investment to more than 50 most affected communities in more than 700 schools. This program is aimed at creating an active educational environment. In addition, 1,000 national, state and community-based organizations have made a pledge to partner with Promise Neighborhoods program to enhance its efficiency.
Approximately 100,000 STEM teachers were required to be prepared over the next decade as was suggested by President Obama in 2011. These teachers should have strong teaching skills and deep knowledge of the subject. Through ESSA and 100kin10 organization, more than 350 committees have been formed to prepare more than 43,000 STEM teachers in the following five years. Moreover, in 2014, the Education Department made it public that it had funded the STEM program with $175 million thereby more than 11,000 new STEM teachers would be supported. Thus, the President call has led to support for STEM education in terms of monetary assistance ($1 billion) (Brown).
Obama launched connectED initiative in 2013. More than 20 million students now have access to high-speed internet which is intended for digital learning and motivates students in research activities. Currently, 77% of schools meet the minimum standard for high-speed internet which is an improvement from 30% in 2013. Additionally, the private sector funded schools with $2.25 billion that were used to install hardware and software and cater for wireless services among others. All these initiatives by the President have made education affordable to all students regardless of their race, language, ability/disability, or family background.
Changes Made in the NCLB
The ESSA has made significant changes, consolidating some programs, adding new programs, and investing in education, for instance, $250 million were invested in the preschool initiative. There has been a change in Title I of the NCLB whereby improving academic accomplishments of the disadvantaged now is improving basic programs offered by educational institutions. The amount of funds in Title I has also been changed from $14.4 billion to $15 billion in 2017 and $16.2 billion in 2020. Under Title I of the NCLB, schools can use up to 4% of the funding for school improvement. In addition, Obama created School Improvement Grant (SIG), which is mainly aimed at turning around the poorest performing schools. Enactment of the ESSA has removed the SIG program and the funds going to SIG have been allocated for improvement of schools (Truth In American Education).
Title II is still maintained with the purpose of preparing, educating, and training the best teachers and principals for all schools. The funding remains relatively the same at the level of $490 million as it was in the NCLB. However, there is a new initiative that advocates for arranging national activities for teachers and principals, including civic and historic programs and literacy awareness. In addition, a new programs under Title I has been implemented. This program, which is referred to as Science Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, is used within the Masters Teacher Corps. Eligible leaders for the programs would receive compensation funds.
Title III has not changed and covers language instruction for English learners just like it used to do in the NCLB. The funding has increased by $53 million from initial $737 million in 2015 to $885 million by 2020. The name of Title IV remains focuses on the 21st Century Schools. However, some programs have been added in Part A. Part A was aimed at ensuring Safe and Drug-Free Schools and community Programs, but it had not been funded by 2007. Nevertheless, Congress in 2007 allocated $270 million for this program. In the ESSA, Part A has been changed into the Student Support and Academic Enrichment program. The program is set to be funded with $1.1 billion annually all the way till 2020. Part B was intended to ensure emergence of quality learning centers in the 21st century. Part C, which used to fund charter schools, has remained as it was, but funding has increased by $47 million up till 2020. Similarly, funding for magnet schools in Part D would increase by $17 million from $92 million in 2015. Lastly, Part E caters to innovation and funding research for innovative activities.
Name of Title V has been changed from Promoting informed parental choice and innovative programs in the NCLB to State innovation and local flexibility in the ESSA. The new law allows transfer of funds from pilot programs to weighted student funding. The amount of funding for rural education programs is intended to be increased to $170 by 2020. In turn, education of American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian students studying in America would be funded by Title VI. This program would be allocated $160 million annually from 2015 to 2020. Former Title VIII in the NCLB has been changed to become Title VII, which continues to release funds to schools located in federal properties that do not generate state taxes. The funding would increase from $1.3 billion in 2015 to $1.4 billion in 2020.
Title VIII, which was known as Impact Aid in the NCLB, has been changed into general provisions, defining terms, outline of administrative funds, and details of waiver in the new law. In the NCLB, the waiver would be requested by the state from the Secretary of Education. However, the Education Secretary is prohibited from examining teachers or demanding accountability for the state to receive a waiver under the ESSA. Title IX of general provisions in the NCLB has also changed and now covers destitute children. Funds would be increased from $65 million in 2015 to $85 million annually by 2020 in Part A of the title under the ESSA. Kindergarten funding with an additional $250 million annually proposed by the Obama administration would be catered for under this section (Truth In American Education).
Those Supporting and Opposing the ESSA
More than 359 House members and 85 Senators passed the bill for the President to sign. Educators and parents had always wanted the NCLB bill to be replaced with another act that empowers the state. When the proposal of the ESSA was tabled in Congress, they were the first groups to show support of the bill. Civil rights leaders had opposed the NCLB since its enactment and revision of the law would have made them happy. In addition, the National Education Association, charter advocates, and the National Parent Teacher Association groups significantly supported the ESSA (Emma).
As is the case with a new educational bill, in addition to supporters there are those who oppose it. The Congress delegation from Utah did not support the ESSA. Those opposing the ESSA think that it will not change anything and that it will be a waste of taxpayers’ money. Senator Mike Lee publicly made a report that he would join the rest of the Utah delegation to oppose the ESSA (Emma).
Pros of the ESSA
According to the article PRE-K: Murray: Every Student Succeeds Act Will Improve and Expand Access to Early Learning Programs, its author who is a senator and a former teacher believes that investing in early education has a significant positive impact on the economy of any country. This is why he fought very hard to see that preschool education would be implemented and one way of doing this was by replacing the NCLB Act with an act that assists young learners. According to him, this is one advantage of the ESSA. In a statement to congratulate the Obama’s administration, Murray said that if we are serious about closing achievement gaps in elementary and secondary education, and if we are truly committed to making sure every child has a chance to succeed, we must invest in quality early childhood education (PRE-K: Murray: Every Student Succeeds Act Will Improve and Expand Access to Early Learning Programs). Murray believes that this is the smartest investment that the United States has made and its effects will be felt in the future (Andrejko).
The bill also assesses the academic progress of students’ non-cognitive attitudes, behaviors, and mindsets. The state will continue collecting non-academic data in all states. The states will be required to report on students’ performance, which will not only concern standardized tests but also accountability such as student engagement and students’ completion of coursework. The requirements allow students to be all-rounded and responsible not only in school but also in the community they live in (Warren).
The pros and cons of the ESSA are still being debated. One advantage of the ESSA is that the federal government will not be involved in defining what a qualified teacher is as it used to happen in the NCLB. The NCLB provided the powers to evaluate teachers, which was seen as a way of demoralizing teachers. Under the new bill, teachers and states have the freedom to have their own criteria for evaluating teachers’ performance and determine methods of making assessments for students’ standard (Whitlock).
Under the ESSA, federal testing will still be in place and will still hold states and schools accountable for the failure or success of students. However, the power of determining the weight of federal-mandate tests evaluation has been returned to states. Even before the passage of the ESSA, states did not rely on students’ achievements to evaluate teachers. This indicates that the laws in the NCLB faced opposition since they were not working. Some states were given waivers, which released them from following some laws in the NCLB. However, with the ESSA all schools have been brought on board and they have agreed to states evaluating their own teachers using their own methods.
ESSA programs are very flexible in a way that they will give an opportunity to 50 school districts nationwide to combine funds from the federal government, states, and the local community. The funds will then be distributed under one formula, which is basically based on students’ needs. The population that will receive additional funds will be located in districts and communities with many disadvantaged students. This formula will help poor, marginalized, and English-learning students acquire more resources, thus ensuring an equitable distribution of resources.
The program is also said to be a fair system and much better than the No Child Left Behind. The bill proposes the weighted student funding system, under which regardless of where a student attends school a particular school will have required resources for the student’s needs. Key stakeholders will therefore be confident that the funds give the same budget to schools with the same population. In addition, weighted funding will ensure transparency of resource allocation. Parents, educators, and leaders will be able to understand the formula and, therefore, they will get to know what amount of funding they will receive annually. The system will eliminate unfair funding based on political influence or a member of a certain school working in the central office so that the latter could offer his/her school a larger portion. Leaders will also have a chance to ask questions in case they realize that unfair distribution of resources takes place (Brown et al.).
Weighted funding formula will help leaders make the right choices for their community. Rather than getting funds for specific programs, leaders will get funds and choose programs that best fit the students’ needs. Teachers and school leaders will not be the only ones held accountable for the misuse of resources since all stakeholders will be involved in the decision-making of their community schools. This will also motivate leaders to do all they can to ensure that their schools compete with other schools in terms of performance and utilization of funds.
The ESSA has helped to remove federal proficiency goals that were set for all schools by the NCLB. The proficiency goals had penalties, some of which would have called for the closure of schools if they had not attained the set goals. Although this was seen as a move aimed at motivating schools to perform better, it assumed that all schools were similar and that they had the same learning environment. Many argue that this method made schools perform even worse than before instead of motivating them. However, with the new educational bill, the goals are set by the state and the community depending on the students’ needs and environmental factors.
The bill has also created the Comprehensive Literacy Centre that will focus on students with reading difficulties. It has been noted that the failure of some students might have resulted from sickness and other alignments such as dyslexia (Warren). The center will help in educating parents and teachers on how to help such students and ensure that they are academically successful. In addition, the center will train professions to deal with screening and coming up with educational tools. This is a way of achieving equity for all students as promised by the Obama administration.
The ESSA requires that schools come up with plans to reduce bullying, restraints, seclusion, suspensions, and expulsions. In other words, the law requires schools to come with methods to ensure that students discipline is maintained. Bullying is seen as a factor that affects students with dyslexia and other learning difficulties. Therefore, coming up with proper policies will greatly help students with learning disabilities and other problems stay in school and learn interactively with other students.
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Cons of the ESSA
Despite the debated advantages of the Act, other people feel that the bill has not catered to all needs of students yet. For instance, weighted student funding works well when leaders have the autonomy to come up with programs that allocate resources effectively. It, therefore, means that schools without such leaders will continue performing poorly, proving that they have not benefited from the new bill. In addition, the program does not indicate how to train and support principles. The matter is left to the state and the community. If a given community does not have the know-how of training its leaders, it means that the program will not be effective in that community.
The traditional bill ensured that school leaders took control over 1-5 percent of the funding. With the current bill, leaders control between 40 to 80 percent. The Department of Education does not examine how school districts use the formula to identify students’ weights. Hence, it may be difficult to tell whether the funds have been used for the right purpose (Brown).
Assessment of students is the responsibility of the state and envisions the use of the next-generation computer adaptive testing (CAT). Although this program has been suggested, there is no reliable or valid evidence to indicate that this is really happening now. This indicates that the CAT is vulnerable to problems, which are mostly associated with validity and reliability. For instance, CAT raises a need for scoring, while computer-adaptive tests deal with one sentence answers or multiple questions, hence being not suitable for essays or long answers. Besides, testing outside the school will be affected by devices that students use, especially in terms of formatting (Whitlock).
The ESSA has provided up to $160 million for the improvement of reading skills such as decoding and phonological awareness, especially for students with dyslexia. However, there is no law for states that decide to opt-out. For instance, certain schools do not buy materials intended to develop the reading skills of special students and use the funds for some other alternative option rather than the intended one. This means that the grants can be used inappropriately and the state will end up not accounting for the funds used for a specific activity.
Changes in the education bill had taken a long time before they were passed. The initial bill was put in place on April 9, 1965, by President Johnson. This bill was subject to a lot of amendments because it was not seen as being fit for the people of America. On January 8, 2002, President George Bush signed the NCLB into law. This was an update of the ESEA of 1965. The bill gave a lot of powers to the federal government, for instance, by dictating the amount of money to be allocated to a certain district or state. In addition, it used the formula of academic excellence of students to evaluate teachers. There were also attempts to amend the law, especially by lawmakers, but they did not succeed at the time. In 2010, President Barack Obama introduced some waivers into the bill since most educators were not following the requirements of the NCLB.
The waivers introduced were seen not to result in significant changes, especially in terms of evaluation of teachers. The NCLB was seen as a burden rather than a tool helping students achieve their goals. When signing the ESSA Act, President Obama stated that the goals of the NCLB were the right ones, promising education for students and emphasizing the need for accountability, yet teachers, educators, and students were denied what they needed to meet the goals. Therefore, there was a need to amend the NCLB. The ESSA has brought significant changes, consolidating some programs and adding new programs, for instance, allocating $250 million for the preschool initiative. Most advocators of the ESSA think that this is the most effective educational bill that has given states and districts their powers back, making sure that the federal government does not dictate what to do to states, motivating educators, and, most significantly, improving the education system for students.