President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaThe Memo: Bernie Sanders’s WH launch sharpens ‘socialist’ question Obama spends Presidents Day at Ayesha Curry's San Francisco restaurant Government's misguided holiday to celebrate itself MORE last week signed into law the Every Student Succeeds Act, legislation designed to govern access to a quality public education across the United States. Many are still astonished that both the House and the Senate were able to pass the legislation, but now the real work of education reform begins to make sure that ESSA addresses educational access for communities of color.  Ultimately, the education system uplifts communities by making sure that young people are on a path towards productive adulthoods where they can achieve the American dream.

“After more than 10 years, members of Congress from both parties have come together to revise our national education law,” Obama said during the bill signing ceremony. “Today, I’m proud to sign a law that’s going to make sure that every student is prepared to succeed in the 21st century.”

Leaders of color across America are cautiously joining the president. For communities of color, whose children have been trapped in failing schools forever, there is reason to be hopeful. The new law continues annual testing in grades 3-8 and high school, a measure that was under fire by Republicans and teachers’ unions. Also important, states are still on the hook for intervening in the worst performing schools when students fall behind year over year.

Yet, there are concerns too. The role of the federal government has been dialed down and more flexibility has been handed over to the states. In the past this has not been the best arrangement for marginalized students who become invisible as individual states play with their achievement standards and proficiency rates to hide failure. Without federal oversight with the power to lead states to do the right thing on behalf of poor students and students of color, it isn’t likely to happen. Expressing concern about the diminished federal role in ESSA legislation, the NAACP issued a statement saying we must be “vigilant to ensure that the Administration uses its remaining authority to issue timely and strong regulations and guidance to help states implement the law.” That call becomes immediately important as states like New York signal a moratorium on the state’s testing system and evaluations of educators.

"Implementation begins now by putting officials on notice that advocates, parents, and students are expecting actors at all levels--federal, state, and local--to work to ensure that the law truly ensures equal educational opportunity for all children," said Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director counsel of the Legal Defense Fund. "We urge timely and robust regulations and guidance to steer implementation and we will hold states to their assurances that they will do the right thing for all children."  

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers said that lawmakers decided, “Let's bring back the joy of learning.” A joy of learning is critical to giving rise to students who yearn to learn, can comprehend complex topics, and who feel empowered to find their passion and ultimately a vocation.

It is often said that a key part of strengthening the middle class is creating quality schools.

“There was a time I think when upward mobility was the hallmark of America.  We’ve slipped on that front compared to other countries.  And some of it is because where we used to be so far ahead of other countries in investing in education for every child, now on some indicators, we’ve been lagging behind.  Hopefully, this is going to get us back out front,” Obama later said when signing ESSA into law.

You know the president is right. Arming students with a good education combats any challenge that would stand in the way of their success and their happiness. That is why it’s so important that our schools work. That is why it is critical that students be allowed to learn in clean and safe school buildings, under the guidance of the best-trained teachers, with ample resources, and time to focus on the joy of learning.

I hope the celebration of this new law will lead to constant steps devoted to making sure that every child truly succeeds.

Stewart is director of Outreach and External Affairs at Education Post, a non-partisan communications organization dedicated to building support for student-focused improvements in public education from preschool to high school graduation.