With the Senate's bipartisan effort to reauthorize the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) moving forward, our nation finally has an opportunity to fix the many problems in the act's current iteration, No Child Left Behind (NCLB), and to refocus ESEA on the issues of educational equity and closing the opportunity gap. Jitu Brown, National Director of the Journey for Justice Alliance, and Judith Browne Dianis, Co-Director of the Advancement Project, spoke out in a recent op-ed, calling for a return to ESEA's true purpose: ensuring equity in our nation's public schools so that all children have the same opportunities to succeed.
NCLB promoted school accountability as a way to increase student achievement, but instead it has led to a culture of high-stakes testing; harsh, zero-tolerance discipline policies that feed into the school-to-prison pipeline, and mass closings of struggling public schools in an attempt to replace them with privately-owned charter schools. Even worse, these agendas disproportionately hurt low-income students and students of color. As Brown and Dianis write:
These policies have not produced higher quality education. Public schools must now compete with privately operated charter schools for federal funding and local tax dollars. Children of color are increasingly pushed out of the classroom and into the criminal justice system. School closures disrupt the education of students who must be relocated and shuffled around, sometimes multiple times. Fifty years after ESEA, and 14 years after its reauthorization to No Child Left Behind, the achievement gap still exists.
This is not the legacy envisioned by Johnson, and it is not the legacy that should be carried forward as Congress aims to reauthorize ESEA. Education can indeed be a powerful lever out of poverty, but only if this moment is used to reinvest in the needs of our most struggling schools and communities so that all students can succeed. This means a reauthorized ESEA that stops the misuse of standardized testing for high stakes decisions and ends aggressive, unregulated expansion of privately operated charter schools that are flooding our cities. It means establishing a moratorium on closing public schools and providing resources for community-guided models for improving them, ensuring that local problems are addressed by community-driven solutions. It means providing funds to encourage common sense discipline practices that support students and create nurturing environments.
Read the rest of the op-ed here.