If you follow education policy in the United States you know the re-authorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act is long overdue. The law's most recent iteration, the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), has its flaws and almost no one on either side of the aisle disagrees on that point. When re-authorization does occur and final legislation is passed through Congress, countless programs in the education sphere will have changed. Some will have changed so much that we will barely recognize them and some will have only been tweaked.
It's our hope that one key principle be retained: that public funding continue to be explicitly allocated to provide students high-quality expanded learning opportunities in the summer and after school. In the meantime, as the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) grants waivers to states to bypass some of NLCB's rules, it's our hope that states given waivers include a plan for continuing to deliver high-quality expanded learning opportunities as part of their reform plans.
Elected and agency officials are assessing which components of NCLB are working, and which can be supplemented with alternative strategies to boost performance. We strongly urge them to remember that the children served by summer learning and after school providers need that extra time to be successful in school. They must remember that learning doesn't stop when the school bell rings -- and students who are behind need to take advantage of that extra time in the summer and after school to hone their skills, catch up to their peers, and be ready to succeed in the school day.
The reality is that most low-income students would not otherwise have access to services were it not for publicly funded programs such as those supported by NCLB. One of these programs is called SES or Supplemental Education Services. In layman's terms, this is tutoring provided to students who are struggling most in our public schools. In our experience, the reason for this struggle is not uniform amongst students who need this service -- they may lack core academic skills, or have social or emotional challenges -- in any case, these students need an extra leg up. These students need what many in education call, 'more time on task.' SES provides support for it, and BELL (Building Educated Leaders for Life) delivers high-quality learning opportunities.
SES is making a difference, even if it is not perfect. When it is implemented well by schools and districts, parents chose the program that works best for them and their families. Public funding enables schools and community partners, including BELL, to deliver after school tutoring opportunities for thousands of children.
BELL is immensely proud of this effort. SES helped us serve Damien and his two brothers, Devon and Divrone, and his sister, Deajanae, in Baltimore's Dickey Hill Elementary and Middle School. Damien's family lived in a tough neighborhood with a lot of gang violence and they were drawn into gang activity after school.There were few other options in their housing development. SES provided Damien and his siblings a place to go. BELL's team of teachers and tutors served as role models and got him engaged in his schoolwork. He stopped skipping classes in the school day, became a mentor to his brothers and sister, and is working hard to get ready for high school. Devon, Divrone, and Deajanae are following their brother's example. And many more student, whom BELL recognizes as "scholars," have similar stories.
Changes to the federal law that govern SES have been made more complex in the past year by the U.S. DOE granting of waivers. Maryland has not been given a waiver (as of press time), and so funding through the SES provision of NCLB continues to support after school tutoring for Damien and his siblings. States seeking waivers should consider what their students would lose if they abandon allocating funding for programs like SES.
We expect the face of ESEA to change both at the federal and state level, as most policy makers do. But during the process we urge all the decision makers at every level of government to remember that it is our responsibility to ensure that children from all backgrounds have access to quality education programs, and the strongest path to success involves expanded learning and community-based partners. The re-authorization provides an opportunity to code such partnerships into the education process in a powerful way. It's an opportunity to increase expectations around quality and outcomes and ensure that public funding is invested in the best programs that work for students, families, and schools.