Originally enacted in 1965 by President Lyndon B. Johnson, the Elementary and Second Education Act (ESEA) emphasizes equal access to education for all students and is the most expansive federal education legislation in history. The ESEA has been reauthorized numerous times, most recently in 2002 as the No Child Left Behind Act. In 2010, President Obama proposed a blueprint for reforming the ESEA, which promotes the goal of preparing all students to be successful both in college and in the workplace, particularly focusing on our nation’s lowest performing schools.
In response to President Obama’s proposal, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund (LDF) submitted a list of educational priorities to the United States Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. LDF believes the reauthorization of the ESEA provides a meaningful opportunity for reducing disparities in educational quality and fulfilling the promises Brown made over half a century ago.
In its letter, LDF emphasized five areas on which Congress should focus in the upcoming reauthorization. First, ESEA should provide support for school districts that seek to promote diversity. Second, ESEA should hold schools accountable for educating all students by discouraging reliance on exclusionary disciplinary policies and encouraging proactive steps to improve graduation rates. Third, “Common Resource Standards” should be created to track whether states and districts provide adequate and equitable instructional resources to all student populations. Fourth, Congress should support the development of a pipeline of highly effective teachers, especially for those school districts serving low-income communities of color. Finally, LDF called for Congress to require that ESEA and other federal laws apply fully to all schools, including alternative schools, charter schools, and preschools.