Congress Has Forgotten Its Role in Promoting Equity in Education

Joe Bishop, Director of Policy
for the OTL Campaign

It's been nearly 50 years since the passage of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). Originally a part of President Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty, the bill focused on ensuring fairness in public school funding across the country. But as the law has been renewed through the years, Congress seems to have forgotten that original commitment to fairness. ESEA's current iteration, No Child Left Behind, is up for renewal, and our national policymakers are more focused on high-stakes testing than fair school funding. 

Writing in the Huffington Post, Joe Bishop, Director of Policy for the OTL Campaign, Janel George of the NAACP LDF and Dwanna Nicole of the Advancement Project explain the origins of the law and what policymakers can do to shift the debate back to ensuring our schools have the resources they need to help every child learn and succeed.

"When President Lyndon Johnson, a former school teacher, first signed ESEA into law in 1965 on the heels of the Civil Rights Act, he and many others envisioned the law as a component of the 'War of Poverty' -- convinced it would help to advance quality education as a lever out of poverty.

Unfortunately, ESEA has begun to focus more on narrow testing and sanctions, including closing schools in low-income communities, rather than on investing in and improving these schools. This is why, along with eight other civil rights organizations,we recently released recommendations on how our leaders can make the policy changes necessary to advance equal access to resources and quality instruction in our nation's schools.

To move us forward as a nation, the newest version of ESEA must expand beyond a focus on testing, data transparency and interventions in struggling schools. Assessments, relevant data and remedies to improve schools must be accompanied by appropriate and equitable school investments, ensuring each student has access to key opportunities like small class sizes, up-to-date textbooks, science labs, art, music and well-supported and qualified educators. These targeted supports must be responsive to students' unique needs; they must improve curriculum and teaching and end overly punitive and discriminatory discipline practices, like school-based arrests and out-of-school suspensions. Anything short of this guarantees that, for yet another generation of children, the American dream -- and Dr. King's dream -- will remain out of reach."

Read the full column here.

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