Weighing in on Education Reform: The Reauthorization of ESEA

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The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), also known as the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), is up for  reauthorization this year. Some might say it’s about time!

As a former middle school teacher in Atlanta Public Schools (APS), I’ve seen the effects a weak elementary education has on student achievement, and I‘ve seen struggling students pushed along only to struggle even more in high school. The recent cheating scandal in APS underscores the fact that the high-stakes testing environment NCLB created must also be re-evaluated so that a child’s education is not watered down by simply teaching to the test—let alone cheating on the test—to meet impractical targets. So the timing for reauthorization couldn’t be better.

President Obama outlined his goals for ESEA Reauthorization last year in A Blueprint for Education Reform: The Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.  The president believes college- and career-ready students, equity and opportunity for all students, raising the bar and rewarding excellence, and promoting innovation and continuous improvement will be key to improving the quality of public education for all students.

There are also briefings from various organizations discussing ESEA reauthorization. Most notable is the Thomas Fordham Institute’s comprehensive briefing, which highlights the top 10 areas they believe to be critical in the reauthorization process. Those areas include college and career readiness, interventions for underperforming schools, teacher effectiveness, and competitive grants.

Both the president’s blueprint and the Fordham Institute’s report emphasize the importance of college- and career-ready students. But I believe equity in, and access to, a quality education for all children is the most critical issue.

All children have the right to attend a public school where they will not be disenfranchised because of race, socio-economic status, or neighborhood affiliation. While I do believe there are more opportunities for minority and socio-economically disadvantaged children to attend better quality schools and participate in academic enrichment programs than there were a decade ago, I also believe that increased access to those opportunities have remained stagnant or blocked for a myriad of reasons, some of which include lack of information and quality healthcare, poverty, and adequate and stable housing.

Every child should have the opportunity to receive an excellent education and be fully supported with the necessary resources. However, the fact remains that some groups will need additional and different kinds of services than other groups, and that’s ok. Every child learns differently and requires different supports.

I’m grateful for the president’s thoughtful approach to ensure that all groups of children will be included and supported in the next era of reform efforts. It’s time out for cookie-cutter policies. We must take the effort to research and support our children where they are.

Furthermore, there must be a cradle-to-career continuum that supports our children while they are in school. This continuum should include early education opportunities, enrichment programs during the school year and summer time, and flexible curricula to meet the needs of all students. A child’s education does not start and end when they enter the public school system. We need policies and programs that reflect the integrated roles that families, schools, and communities play in the education of a child.  

As citizens, we are to be active participants during this reauthorization process. It is up to us to make our voices heard whether it be through a letter or visit to our Congressional representative, attending a public hearing on the matter, or volunteering at a local school in need. It will take all of us working together to make public education great for every child.

What do you believe should be key areas of focus for ESEA reauthorization? How would you change the current legislation?