Legislation to replace the 14-year-old No Child Left Behind law—The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) signed by President Obama on Dec. 10—was widely praised by the administration, legislators of both parties in the House and Senate, and the organizations concerned about education policy from the NEA to the Education Trust. The consensus is that the bill is not perfect, but provides a needed recalibration of federal authority over the states in education policy while protecting the most vulnerable schools, students, and communities. If carefully implemented at all levels of government, the major goals of the legislation have the potential to improve education for all students—including those from low-income families, those with disabilities and English learners.
There are many provisions in the new law that would qualify as trauma-informed, such as those to reduce over-testing and overuse of exclusionary discipline practices, as well as those that recognize the importance of early learning. There also are notable provisions that secure a specific foothold for trauma-informed practices.
The best example of this is a new type grant program called Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants (SSAE) that provide formula funding to support students and schools in high need districts that include “comprehensive school-based mental health services and supports and staff development for school and community personnel working in the school that are based on trauma-informed practices that are evidence-based…” [See attached document Section4108ofESSA].
These grants also support “high-quality support for school personnel, including specialized instructional support personnel” for “effective and trauma-informed practices in classroom management,” along with support for other programs such as suicide prevention, crisis management and conflict resolution techniques, and human trafficking. [See attached document Section4108ofESSA].
In a section of the new law dealing with training teachers and school personnel, other grants are authorized for in-service training for school personnel in “the techniques and supports needed to help educators understand when and how to refer student affected by trauma, and children with, or at risk of, mental illness.” [See attached document Sections2102and2103ESSA].
In another title of the bill on Indian, Native Hawaiian and Alaska Native Education, funding is authorized for Alaska Native Education for “comprehensive school or community-based support services, including services that:
—address family instability and trauma; and
—improve conditions for learning at home, in the community, and at school.” [See attached document Section6304ofESSA].
ESSA also reauthorizes a number of existing programs that address needs in high-poverty and low-performing schools, e.g., Promise Neighborhoods and Full-Service Community Schools and 21st Century Learning Centers, and for schools impacted by violent or traumatic crises, e.g., Project School Emergency Response to Violence (SERV). [See attached document Section4631Subpart3ESSA].
The Every Student Succeeds Act has the potential to accelerate the movement toward trauma-informed schools as long as the states and local school districts use their new authority and trauma-informed principles to guide reforms locally. It also will require Congress to fund the new and reauthorized programs at sufficient levels and for the Department of Education to write rules and regulations that address the academic, social, and emotional needs of all students. Advocates for trauma-informed schools will need to engage skillfully and energetically with policymakers at all levels as the new law is implemented.
Click here for the searchable text of the new law.