WASHINGTON, DC – Last week, U.S. Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Patty Murray (D-WA) began negotiating a bipartisan bill to rewrite the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), currently known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Today, a coalition of education and civil rights organizations urged the senators to use the lessons learned from more than a decade of NCLB to modernize the law while also preserving the federal government’s traditional support for students of color, low-income students, and other underserved students.
“The current educational system is failing students of color and other underserved students,” states the letter to Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander and Ranking Member Patty Murray. “As you continue to work on this reauthorization, we urge you to maintain a critical federal role in education and continue to ensure resource equity to support the nation’s most underserved students.”
Raising concerns regarding a draft bill to rewrite ESEA that Alexander circulated in January, the coalition urged the two senators, as part of their bipartisan negotiations, to address:
- Resource equity: An ESEA rewrite must bring greater transparency and focused action to increase equity in the availability of critical educational inputs, including but not limited to funding, equal access to advanced coursework, as well as effective and experienced teachers.
- Accountability for the performance of different groups of students: States and schools must be held accountable for the performance of traditionally underserved students such as students of color, native students, English learners, students with disabilities, and low-income students. Specifically, a new law should require states to:
- set annual performance goals and graduation rate targets for different groups of students;
- intervene in schools where any student group has not met the annual achievement and graduation rate target or where achievement gaps exist between groups of students; and
- ensure there are no disparities in access to effective teachers for all student groups.
- Low-performing schools: As currently written, Alexander’s draft bill to rewrite ESEA does not provide sufficient support to students in low-performing schools. For example, the draft bill eliminates the School Improvement Grants program, which had previously provided a dedicated funding stream to reform low-performing schools. Additionally, it makes optional the evidence-based reform of the state’s lowest-achieving schools and high schools with abysmal graduation rates.
- Financial protections: By eliminating requirements for steady and sustained state investments in education known as “Maintenance of Effort”, the Alexander bill could lead to a major decline in resources for the nation’s students. Moreover, the draft bill dilutes funding for low-income students under Title I by eliminating the requirement that at least 40 percent of students in school-wide Title I programs be from low-income families.
- Assessment system: By allowing school districts to create local assessments, with the approval of the state, to be used in lieu of state assessments, Alexander’s draft bill makes it difficult for the public to effectively gauge and compare the performance of students in one district to another. Instead, ESEA must require annual, statewide assessments for all students (in grades three through eight and at least once in high school) that are aligned with and measure each student’s progress toward meeting the state’s college- and career-ready standards.
- Federal prohibitions: By removing key oversight powers from the U.S. Department of Education, Alexander’s draft bill leaves disadvantaged students with no assurance of support. For example, the bill would remove any level of detail regarding state accountability systems and prohibit the U.S. Department of Education from ensuring the quality of these systems.
- English learners: The Alexander draft bill eliminates several safeguards for English learners. For example, it removes accountability provisions in Title III for English learners. It also eliminates the Emergency Immigrant Education Program in Title III, which provides states with additional funds to address unexpected surges in the English learner population. Additionally, Alexander’s draft bill removes the current requirements that information be sent home to parents and families in a language they understand. Without this critical information, parents and families cannot engage in their children’s learning effectively.
- Students with disabilities: The draft bill allows alternate academic achievement standards for students with the most significant cognitive disabilities. As under current law, alternate standards should be limited to no more than 1 percent of all students. Otherwise, students could be inappropriately held to much lower expectations than the college- and career-ready standards set be nearly all states.
- Innovation: The draft bill does not include a fund to support technology or evidence-based innovation. Without such a fund it is difficult to build the research base for what works, scale promising practices, and share lessons learned across schools, charter management organizations, districts, and states.
The letter was signed by the Alliance for Excellent Education; Campaign for High School Equity; Education Post; League of United Latin American Citizens; Hispanic Education Coalition; Mexican American Legal Defense Education Fund; NAACP; NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund; National Center for Learning Disabilities; National Council of La Raza; National Indian Education Association; National Urban League; New Leaders; Southeast Asia Resource Action Center; Stand For Children; and Teach Plus.
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The Alliance for Excellent Education is a Washington, DC–based national policy and advocacy organization dedicated to ensuring all students, particularly those traditionally underserved, graduate from high school ready for success in college, work, and citizenship. www.all4ed.org