On April 16, 2015, the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee unanimously passed its Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) reauthorization bill, the Every Child Achieves Act out of Committee by a vote of 22-0. The bill represents a bipartisan effort to renew the No Child Left Behind Act, which expired in 2007. The bill includes some positive components, including:
Maintenance of Title I funding intended to support school districts serving high percentages of low-income students;
Continuation of data collection to provide information on student achievement and school climate;
Support for magnet school programs proven to promote diversity and reduce racial isolation;
Requirement of a needs assessment to be conducted with community-based organizations, parents, and students, among other stakeholders, to design interventions to improve school climate and discipline;
Support for school leadership, including teacher and principal mentorship and residency programs;
Support for expansion of school-based mental health programs, Schoolwide Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, trauma-informed services, and early-intervening services; and
Support for early childhood education, which ensures that children start school on more equal footing ready to learn–including provisions that increase access to quality early learning programs.
However, we remain concerned about the bill’s failure to:
Include meaningful federal oversight and accountability for states that fail to help students improve and achieve in school;
Help close achievement gaps by ensuring that student sub-group accountability is in place so that federal supports and services, not sanctions, are provided to help schools where particular student subgroups fail to meet achievement standards;
Cross-tabulation of student data, to give a comprehensive picture of student performance (i.e. by both race and gender);
Improve reporting of resource distribution to help ensure that districts receive the resources necessary to promote equity and address student needs;
Include teacher salaries to give a comprehensive picture of comparability between Local Educational Agencies (LEAs); and
Hold states, districts, and schools that fail to improve high school graduation rates accountable.
We agree that the punitive sanctions of No Child Left Behind were flawed. However, preservation of a strong federal oversight and accountability role is the bedrock for protecting students’ civil rights, and we urge its maintenance. We look forward to working with Congress to forge a path forward in ESEA reauthorization that promotes achievement and provides states with support and services, not sanctions, to help improve student outcomes.