Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA)

What We Know Now


This fed­eral leg­is­la­tion, first passed in 1965, greatly increased fed­eral involve­ment in pub­lic edu­ca­tion through fund­ing processes. That is, the fed­eral gov­ern­ment pro­vides fund­ing to the states for tar­geted edu­ca­tional pur­poses, which brings some con­trol over edu­ca­tional processes to the fed­eral level. The tar­geted areas are delin­eated by “title” programs.

  • Fed­eral Title I funds are to be used for the edu­ca­tion and sup­port of low income stu­dents in read­ing and mathematics.
  • Fed­eral Title II funds are to be used for edu­ca­tors’ pro­fes­sional development.
  • Fed­eral Title III funds are to be used for sup­port­ing the lan­guage acqui­si­tion and edu­ca­tion of Eng­lish Lan­guage Learners.
  • Fed­eral Title IV funds sup­port edu­ca­tional pro­grams to reduce the use of Alco­hol and Other Drugs.

In 2001, the name of the ESEA leg­is­la­tion changed to No Child Left Behind. This was more than a name change in that in order to qual­ify for fed­eral fund­ing, states needed to com­ply with var­i­ous require­ments. States were respon­si­ble for design­ing the details of the require­ments in delin­eated areas, but the state plans needed to be approved by the fed­eral Depart­ment of Edu­ca­tion. States and school dis­tricts now needed to meet spe­cific tar­gets in the per­cent­age of stu­dent account­abil­ity test scores that are at least pro­fi­cient. There are also spe­cific tar­gets for grad­u­a­tion rates, test par­tic­i­pa­tion, and some alter­na­tive areas like atten­dance. One of the most out­stand­ing and often dis­cussed tar­gets was for all stu­dents to have achieved pro­fi­ciency in read­ing and math by 2014. Another out­stand­ing require­ment involved manda­tory report­ing of stu­dent achieve­ment on account­abil­ity test­ing by the sub­groups of eth­nic­ity, eco­nomic dis­ad­van­tages, Eng­lish lan­guage pro­fi­ciency, and spe­cial education.

Accom­pa­ny­ing the require­ments were spe­cific con­se­quences for schools and school dis­tricts that were con­sis­tently miss­ing the tar­gets. These con­se­quences ranged from hav­ing to develop and get approval for plans of improve­ment, to allow­ing stu­dents to trans­fer to other schools, to chang­ing school lead­er­ship, to restruc­tur­ing, includ­ing the pos­si­ble clos­ing of the school.


The pass­ing of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) leg­is­la­tion was the first and most bi-​partisan leg­is­la­tion of the George W. Bush admin­is­tra­tion. Repub­li­cans sup­ported it because it brought increased account­abil­ity to the insti­tu­tion of pub­lic edu­ca­tion, per­ceived as trou­bled espe­cially when con­sid­er­ing inter­na­tional com­par­isons. Democ­rats sup­ported the leg­is­la­tion because it brought increased atten­tion to the dis­ad­van­taged sub­groups by requir­ing sep­a­rate report­ing for them. Both sides of the aisle sup­ported the con­cept of 100% pro­fi­ciency by 2014.

Though nei­ther ESEA nor NCLB was ever fully funded, fund­ing was con­tin­u­ally reau­tho­rized by Con­gress until 2007. Because of var­i­ous bar­ri­ers, which include a gen­eral growth in the polit­i­cal chasm between the two main polit­i­cal par­ties and a grow­ing aware­ness of short­com­ings in the leg­is­la­tion, Con­gress has not reau­tho­rized the leg­is­la­tion as of 2012. Some leg­is­la­tors did not want to reau­tho­rize the bill with­out giv­ing it a sig­nif­i­cant over­haul, and with eco­nomic and mat­ters of inter­na­tional secu­rity tak­ing prece­dence, the reau­tho­riza­tion of NCLB con­tin­ues to be set aside.

With NCLB not hav­ing been reau­tho­rized, and the increased recog­ni­tion of the flaws in the leg­is­la­tion, the need for a change grew. In addi­tion, Con­gress began to real­ize that the leg­is­la­tion painted them into a cor­ner with the 100% pro­fi­ciency require­ment and the 2014 dead­line for it com­ing up so quickly.

Enter the intro­duc­tion of the con­cept of grant­ing waivers of the NCLB require­ments for states that sub­mit­ted a plan to the fed­eral Depart­ment of Edu­ca­tion for approval. The plans needed to include the adop­tion of the Com­mon Core State Stan­dards and the Smarter Bal­anced Assess­ment Con­sor­tium test­ing that is due for imple­men­ta­tion in 2014, and other lan­guage that addresses increases in aca­d­e­mic rigor and growth, edu­ca­tor effec­tive­ness, and other var­i­ous requirements.

Note: There is no con­sti­tu­tional require­ment for the fed­eral gov­ern­ment to be involved in pub­lic edu­ca­tion. Accord­ing to the 10th Amend­ment of the US Con­sti­tu­tion, the respon­si­bil­ity for pub­lic edu­ca­tion falls to the states.

Consideration or Implications:

Some of the large-​scale changes affect­ing pub­lic edu­ca­tion in Wis­con­sin are related to the imple­men­ta­tion of the require­ments of Wisconsin’s waiver appli­ca­tion. These include the adop­tion of the Com­mon Core State Stan­dards and the test­ing asso­ci­ated with the work of the Smarter Bal­anced Assess­ment Con­sor­tium. In addi­tion, the cut­offs on Wisconsin’s cur­rent account­abil­ity tests (Wis­con­sin Knowl­edge and Con­cepts Exam — WKCE) are being revised upward to a level that is sim­i­lar to that of the National Assess­ment of Edu­ca­tional Progress (NAEP) for two years (201213 and 201314). This revi­sion will greatly lower the per­cent­age of stu­dent scores that are pro­fi­cient or advanced. This change is part of the increased rigor com­po­nent of Wisconsin’s waiver appli­ca­tion and is bring­ing a com­mu­ni­ca­tion chal­lenge to school dis­tricts as they explain to their local com­mu­ni­ties how these changes work and what they mean. Another com­po­nent of Wisconsin’s waiver appli­ca­tion is a focus on per­son­al­ized learn­ing, with the inten­tion of increas­ing stu­dents’ engage­ment in their learn­ing and increas­ing the use of alter­na­tive deliv­ery models.


Wis­con­sin Depart­ment of Pub­lic Instruc­tion web­site:

US Depart­ment of Edu­ca­tion ESEA web­site:

Michael B. Zellmer
Direc­tor of Assess­ment and Learn­ing, Franklin Pub­lic Schools

Sandy Brauer
Prin­ci­pal, North Woods Inter­na­tional
Super­vi­sor World Lan­guages and Social Studies

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