On January 12, civil rights groups and education advocates released shared civil rights principles for the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), which stress the important role the federal government must play to ensure that all students have equal access to educational opportunities. As of January 16, 22 organizations have signed the principles.
When President Johnson signed the ESEA nearly 50 years ago, it focused on the “quality and equality in schooling that we offer our young people.” The ESEA was rewritten in 2002 as No Child Left Behind and has been up for reauthorization since 2007.
While progress has been made since its introduction, the shared principles ensure the ESEA maintains its core purpose of quality and equality in public schools by affirming the federal role. The principles include providing access to early childhood education for economically disadvantaged children and students with disabilities; maintaining the current annual standardized testing in schools to hold states, school districts, and schools accountable; and targeting federal money to underserved students and schools.
Adopting these principles would ensure that economically disadvantaged students, students with disabilities, English learners, children of color, and other underserved students in public schools have an equal opportunity to a high quality education.
The following day, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R. Tenn., released a draft reauthorization bill for ESEA that reduces federal involvement in K-12 education and provides two standardized testing options.
“Now is not the time to make a U-turn in holding states and school districts accountable for providing a quality education to all children,” said Nancy Zirkin, executive vice president of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, in a statement responding to the draft. “Unfortunately, Chairman Alexander’s opening proposal would send us back to a dark time in our nation when schools across the country, operating with no federal oversight, could freely ignore the needs of disadvantaged students.”
Alexander, who chairs the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, will hold a hearing on January 21 titled “Fixing No Child Left Behind: Testing and Accountability.”