Fixing No Child Left Behind: We Must All Work Together to Ensure Student Success

When Estefania first came to Lincoln Elementary School in Lehigh Valley, PA, she struggled to speak English and to participate in school. But now, she's an enthusiastic, engaged student who's taken on leadership roles and mentoring younger students.

Her growth -- as a student, and as young leader -- show's what's possible when communities come together to support kids and families. Lincoln Elementary is one of 11 United Way Community Schools in Lehigh Valley, where services and supports for the whole family are available inside the school setting. Students get tutoring, mentoring and academic enrichment, while families get help with things like English and computer skills, job training and free immunizations.

It is students like Estefania that President Lyndon Johnson had in mind when he signed The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965 to ensure quality and equality in our nation's schools. Congress is currently in the process of rewriting the law to get away from the prescriptive requirements and harsh penalties of ESEA's last update, the No Child Left Behind Act, and give more control to states and local schools districts.

United Way is working in nearly 1,200 communities to improve education from cradle to career, so we're strong believers in local solutions. However, we also believe in some federal guardrails. Congress is considering ESEA bills that do not include a requirement for states to intervene and provide support when schools are consistently unable to meet state-set achievement goals, either overall or for particular groups of students. Not providing some federal guardrails would be a mistake. States must step in when schools cannot meet the academic needs of English learners like Estefania, for example, or when large numbers of students drop-out of certain high schools year after year.

Schools cannot and should not face these challenges alone. As we see in Lehigh Valley, community-based organizations like United Way play a vital role in supporting students, schools and families. ESEA should include the federally-funded education programs that United Way is seeing work across the country: Full-Service Community Schools, Promise Neighborhoods, and 21st Century Community Learning Center after-school programs. All provide essential support for students, and all make the critical link of engaging families with schools and communities.

Please join United Way in letting Congress know how important it is to get ESEA right! Speak out -- now. Contact Congress this week and let them know ESEA should require states to intervene when schools fall short of state achievement goals overall or for at-risk student groups. Tell them ESEA needs things like community schools and more family engagement.

Let's make sure every child has the chance to reach his or her full potential, just like Estefania.