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When Equity Is Optional: ESSA’s Fifth Anniversary and Early Lessons from Implementation


When Equity Is Optional:
ESSA’s Fifth Anniversary and Early Lessons from Implementation 

Deborah Delisle, President and CEO, Alliance for Excellent Education @DebDelisle
John B. King, Jr., President and CEO, The Education Trust @JohnBKing
Marc Morial, President and CEO, National Urban League @MARCMORIAL
Janet Murguía, President and CEO, UnidosUS @JMurguia_Unidos
Erica L. Green, Correspondent, The New York Times (moderator) @EricaLG 

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) gave states much more flexibility in designing their school accountability systems. Unfortunately, new analyses from the Alliance for Excellent Education (All4Ed) show that flexibility and equity often conflict. Under ESSA, the state in which students live matters a great deal.  

Our When Equity Is Optional series of analyses finds that states have used ESSA’s flexibility to take wildly varied approaches to school ratings and school improvement.  The result is that students in low-performing schools in different states have very different odds of receiving the support they need to improve. Using data from the first year of ESSA implementation, we find that while some states ensure that the lowest-rated schools and high schools with low graduation rates are consistently identified for support, others made choices that result in these schoolsand their studentsbeing overlooked. The variation is especially troubling given that, across all states, students of color are much more likely to attend low-rated schools.  

All4Ed held a conversation on ESSA’s fifth birthday to reflect on early lessons of ESSA implementation and the implications for students of color and students from low-income families. 

Supplemental Material

The Alliance for Excellent Education (All4Ed) is a Washington, DC–based national policy, practice, and advocacy organization dedicated to ensuring that all students, particularly those underperforming and those historically underserved, graduate from high school ready for success in college, work, and citizenship. 


Follow All4Ed on Twitter ( and Facebook ( or visit our website at 

Categories: Every Student Succeeds Act

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