Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) Reauthorization

Education GRO Is Leading APA’s Efforts to Improve Federal Education Policy

The Education Government Relations Office (GRO) spearheaded American Psychological Association’s (APA) efforts to propose recommendations for the improvement of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). This policy effort builds on the foundation of past APA recommendations, previously submitted to Congress and the Administration. Leading a team from APA GRO offices and Directorates that brought together the ideas of Public Interest, Science and Practice, Education GRO has advanced the effort to put forward a comprehensives set of ideas, which draw on the work of psychologists, both in research and practice, with the shared goal of improving learning opportunities for students.

APA Involvement

Anticipating that the agenda for the 111th Congress would include a reauthorization of ESEA, Education GRO called a series of meetings of all interested parties within APA Directorates in September of 2008. This meeting brought together representatives from Practice, Science, Public Interest and Education to gather the work of Divisions, Committees, Boards and Coalitions and draw on the research and expertise of each of these groups and individuals in the development of proposed changes to the current law.

The result of that meeting and a number of subsequent ones is a set of recommendations that draw on the wealth of what psychology has to contribute to education policy. 

Specifically, APA’s proposals touch on topics including teacher quality (defining the term, “teaching skills”; core knowledge in psychology for teachers; violence directed against teachers); research; safe learning environments and school climate; mental and behavioral health needs of students (elementary and secondary school counseling program, mental health integration and expanded school mental health); English language acquisition; growth models; and Gifted and Talented education.


The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) is the law that directs and guides our federal investment in elementary and secondary education. First authorized in 1965, it has as its focus equity in educational access and support. While in the course of its days it has been changed or amended many times since enacted, the law maintains this basic commitment to providing resources to schools that are most in need.

ESEA was last authorized in 2002 for a period of five years (through fiscal year 2007).  For the last two Congressional sessions, ESEA has been a topic of consideration and an issue of importance, garnering the attention of lawmakers, Presidents (both Bush and Obama), the education community and the public. 

At the start of the year, the reauthorization effort had a great deal of momentum.  President Barack Obama, in his 2010 State of the Union, remarked, "In the 21st century, the best anti-poverty program around is a world-class education. And in this country, the success of our children cannot depend more on where they live than on their potential. When we renew the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, we will work with Congress to expand these reforms to all 50 states."

With this challenge to renew ESEA, the Department of Education (DoE) launched an aggressive reauthorization campaign that included submitting budget increases for programs that would be created or changed during the upcoming reauthorization — clearly linking policy changes to additional funding. Department officials also issued a Blueprint for Change, a general outline for its vision for renewing the current law. DoE followed up on this effort with a listening tour that was open to individuals from organizations with an interest in education policy, as well as the general public, to pose questions and provide comments and feedback on various proposals.

Congress also kicked off 2010 with its own focus on ESEA. The Chairman and Ranking Member of the U.S. House of Representative’s Education and Labor Committee announced their intention of working in a bi-partisan fashion on developing an ESEA reauthorization proposal. The Committee launched a series of hearings on all aspects of the current law. In addition, a letter was sent from Committee leaders requesting all interested parties to submit recommendations to the Committee.

The Senate committee of jurisdiction, the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, led by Senator Tom Harkin and Ranking Member Mike Enzi, was also out of the gates quickly on ESEA. They too issued a call for recommendations, in a bi-partisan letter, in hopes of beginning the reauthorization process early — and on the right foot. They also held a number of hearings on various topics central to the law.

Looking Ahead

Unfortunately, Congress' progress on the ESEA renewal front has slowed. Pushed aside due to the continued bad economy, high joblessness, concerns about the war, the Gulf oil spill, a Supreme Court nominee and an election year, the time available for consideration of the federal education law of the land is nearly none. While it is still possible for the House and Senate to draft their bills, consider them in Committees and on each respective floor, conference them and then send a bill to the President — all the steps a bill would have to go through to become law — it is highly unlikely that the entire process will be completed by the end of the 2010 calendar year.

Still, the work that APA has put into this effort will not be lost. Education GRO in partnership with Public Interest GRO has made visits to key Congressional staff in both the House and Senate to share with them the Association’s recommendations for ESEA. Those meetings will continue in the months ahead with the goal of promoting APA’s recommendations and of educating Congressional staff about the impact of psychology on teaching and learning. The recommendations are a work in progress as well, and will be updated as needed to best reflect the most recent knowledge from psychology on education policy.