Podcast: ESSA vs. NCLB – What’s Different?

Professional Growth

What’s the difference between ESSA vs. NCLB?

On December 10, 2015, President Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and replacing the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act.

The new Act rolled back many of its predecessor’s specific requirements and increased flexibility for states and school districts. These shifts introduce a significant opportunity for school districts to reexamine the way they pursue student success, but they also increase the responsibility of district leaders to interpret and appropriately implement ESSA in a way that maximizes the district’s investment.

So how should school districts exercise their new freedom to set forth their own strategies for success – even when best practices have yet to be uncovered?

In a four-part podcast series recently published with Frontline Education, my colleague David DeSchryver and I uncover how school districts can understand the key implications of ESSA and tackle its implementation as effectively as possible.


Part one of the series covers the key differences between ESSA and NCLB. Here are some key differences we discuss in the episode:


NCLB had expectations for specific results and progress metrics to achieve them (such as adequate yearly progress). Under ESSA, states and districts now have the flexibility to define their own progress and outcome metrics. In short, the new law is concerned more with how states seek to achieve results rather than what processes they are required to follow. States and districts now enjoy both programmatic and fiscal flexibility to combine state and local with federal funds to invest in student success.


All of ESSA’s flexibility comes at a cost: transparency. The new act introduces new requirements for fiscal reporting, seeking to encourage districts to invest their funding as effectively and efficiently as possible—and in a way that best meets all student needs.


Both NCLB and ESSA had broad bipartisan support upon their passing. However, the philosophy behind the two acts was different. Where NCLB sought to identify a few key outcomes, such as how students performed in math and language arts, ESSA takes a step back and seeks to reevaluate how to achieve general academic success.

This new philosophy combines with the flexibility and transparency standards of ESSA to introduce a new set of possibilities for district leaders seeking to innovate how they achieve student success. It’s up to district leaders, now, to act on this opportunity and prove their results.

Listen Now!

Listen to all the differences between ESSA and NCLB in our brief, 9-minute podcast – and check out the rest of the series, covering equity, efficacy and evidence; supporting the “whole child”; and preparing teachers and leaders for the changes.

 Listen to the Podcasts

Sarah Silverman

Dr. Sarah Silverman, Ph.D. is Vice President at Whiteboard Advisors where she advises on education, workforce and wellness policy. Her prior work includes managing the Pre-K-12 education portfolio at National Governors Association Education and consulting with states and districts on performance management and teacher evaluation policy reform at TNTP.