In 2002, the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) was instituted and changed the way public schools operated. For the first time in the history of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), NCLB marked a deliberate and strong federal approach to increase equity in education. As a nation, we committed to holding all students to high academic standards, closing the achievement gap for some of our nation's most vulnerable students, and providing parents the tools to hold our school systems accountable for their success or failure. In doing so, the academic performance of students-disaggregated by race and ethnicity, income and disability-took center stage by requiring data that showed academic progress. The law mandated that action must be taken by schools when children were falling behind.
But the overly prescriptive nature of NCLB led to actions like state over-testing. Several weeks ago both the House and Senate passed bills to rewrite NCLB. In the House, H.R. 5 narrowly passed with no Democrat support. This bill known as the "Student Success Act" goes too far to the extreme. Not only would House Republicans allow federal dollars - intended to support the most in-need schools and the children they serve - to be moved to more affluent schools, but they would strip all federal oversight for how tax-payer dollars are spent in the name of "local flexibility." Is taking from the poor to give to the rich how we expect to secure equity and win the battle for civil rights in education in 2015? And are we ready to place our unquestionable trust in states to do right by our kids when they have failed so many times before?
The more bi-partisan Senate rewrite S. 1177, known as the "Every Child Achieves Act," attempts to strike a balance between state flexibility and federal oversight. But while the bill retains vital guardrails such as annual assessments and the disaggregation of data by critical subgroups (i.e., race and ethnicity, English learners, students with disabilities); more needs to be done to secure the civil rights of our most vulnerable students. Nowhere in the bill is there language that requires states to intervene once the state has identified that a school and its students are in need of support.
An amendment sponsored by Senator Murphy (D-CT) that would have made the necessary improvements to the ECAA by requiring states to identify schools where students are not meeting state-established benchmarks of success and to intervene appropriately narrowly failed in the Senate. Without these requirements, equity in education will be nothing but a catchphrase if states are not obligated to provide timely interventions when students are, in fact, left behind.
Where these bills really fall short is in acción! For too many years we have seen the progress of Latino children masked by misleading overall numbers that prevented any meaningful action. Failure to include language in either the House or Senate bills, stipulating the responsibility of states to act when subgroups of students are falling behind, leaves millions of underserved students and their families in the dark, hoping for a miracle instead of having the certainty of action. Maintaining this legal imperative is not only a matter of necessity, but a matter of right.
When the Congress reconvenes to settle the difference between the House and Senate bills, in Conference, conferees it must acknowledge this crucial absence of responsibility and require states to intervene in a timely manner when it is evident that schools are struggling to provide interventions that support improved academic outcomes for students that continue to be failed by our education system.
Minority students have become the majority in public schools, yet continue to trail their peers in virtually all indicators of success. Latinos, who will comprise approximately 30% of our K-12 students in the next 8 years, will be the hardest hit by these changes in law. Without the requirement to act, our community is left with the hope that states and school districts will do right by our kids and give them what they need to succeed. Unfortunately history has shown us otherwise. Are we prepared to take that risk?
Our community wants more than platitudes and rhetoric that make false promises. We require acción that is bold and holds true to the spirit of equity. Done differently, our leaders leave us with a future where No Child is Left Behind, but where Every Child is Left Behind. And that is a miscarriage of justice that we will not stand by.
Congressional Democratic leaders and Republican and Independent allies have signaled their strong support for these requirements and we expect them to oppose the bill if strong accountability provisions are left out of the final bill.
NCLR Action Fund
Deputy Executive Director