In a letter issued October 27, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights urged Secretary Arne Duncan and the U.S. Department of Education to hold states to rigorous standards when renewing waivers under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).
The letter calls for a continued federal commitment to equal educational opportunity, stating, “Our families, our communities, and our nation can ill-afford to limit accountability to a small percentage of our schools while ignoring the others, thereby retreating from the long-standing federal role in ensuring that minority students, low-income students, English learners, and students with disabilities have access to a robust and well-rounded curriculum; well supported and prepared educators; safe environments that are conducive to learning; and supports that address a range of student needs so that they are better prepared to succeed in the classroom.”
Passed in 1965, the ESEA outlines educational standards to help close the achievement gap and ensure a quality education for all students. But now, nearly 50 years later, far too many low-income students and students of color still do not have access to the quality education that they deserve. A staggering 30 percent of African-American and Hispanic students do not graduate high school on time, if they graduate at all, and 30 percent of the African-American and Hispanic students who do graduate high school need at least one remedial course in college.
Even though the past two ESEA reauthorizations prodded states to close gaps in achievement and high school graduation rates, too many recipients of federal education funds continue to drag their feet on making the improvements and investments needed.
Many waiver states claim that ESEA exemptions will help them more effectively improve education outcomes for students, but recent studies by the Campaign for High School Equity and the New America Foundation have found that fewer struggling students are receiving the support and interventions they need.
In its letter, The Leadership Conference recommends and outlines a strict set of conditions that states must meet before its ESEA waiver can be renewed. You can read these conditions and the full text of the letter here.