Today, in a presentation to a group of South Carolina educators on competency education, Gene Wilhoit praised the House of Representatives for their overwhelming support of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which sailed through the House in a 359-64 vote. The bill is expected to have similar support in the Senate, and President Barack Obama has indicated he would sign it when it reaches his desk.

Wilhoit, the executive director for the National Center for Innovation in Education, says ESSA reauthorizes the 2002 No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law in a way that will open the door for innovative, personalized and student-centered learning. This new approach will take center stage in state and local school district education reforms in the coming years around the country.

Wilhoit's comments were met with applause from the 100-plus teachers, administrators and business leaders who had come together to discuss next steps for South Carolina's personalized learning reforms. He held up the 1,000-page ESSA document, explaining to the crowd that he and his colleagues have affectionately made it the theme of their "book club" meetings as they work to unpack the document and determine what it means for states and schools.

Outgoing Education Secretary Arne Duncan had nothing but praise for the bill.

"It enshrines in law the expectation that where schools serve students poorly or have low graduation rates over extended periods of time, and where groups of students aren't making progress, there will be accountability and action for change," Duncan said in a statement.

The legislation continues to require annual reading and math testing of children in grades 3 through 8 and once in high school. Schools will continue to have to make the results public. The biggest difference between ESSA and its predecessor, NCLB, is that states will pick up responsibility for working with schools and local districts to develop achievement goals and accountability plans.

Since its inception in 2002, critics of NCLB have long stated that the legislation has put up too many roadblocks and hurdles for schools and teachers who have had to resort to "teaching to the test." Teachers' unions hailed the vote on ESSA as a historic step.

"For the first time since No Child Left Behind was enacted nearly 14 years ago, ESSA empowers educators as trusted professionals to make school and classroom decisions while keeping the focus on students most in need," National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen Garcia told The Associated Press.

Earlier this week, the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL) joined many other groups in support of ESSA, calling the efforts a great way to align federal K-12 education law to support personalized, competency-based learning.

"The House-Senate Conference Committee should be applauded for their efforts and shared commitment to do what's best for kids," iNACOL President and CEO Susan Patrick said in a statement. "The inclusion of the innovative assessment pilot language and policy changes to state systems of assessments will provide a clear path forward for approving state assessments while also ensuring rigor and quality."

Wilhoit believes ESSA support was cemented by the early successes of states like New Hampshire that have been successfully running a school accountability pilot for the past year that makes use of locally-developed classroom performance assessments to measure student academic growth.

The NH pilot is called the Performance Assessment of Competency Education (PACE) program and started with just four school districts that have been deeply involved in competency education and personalized learning work. PACE has now grown to eight school districts with several more looking to join next year.

As the principal of a PACE high school in New Hampshire, I believe the vote further validates the hard work that teachers and fellow administrators districtwide have poured into our personalized learning plan. I am optimistic that as this legislation moves forward, many other schools will have the freedom to move forward with their plans to develop innovative, highly personalized learning systems for students that have a singular mission: Providing a high-quality college- and career-ready program for each and every student.