We need to get ESEA right


By NEA Directors Heidi Matthews and Ed Sanderson

As educators, we are all too familiar with the Rolling Stones lyrics that depressingly (but realistically) remind us that we “can’t always get what we want.” This fall, as our Congressmen/woman are fervently working toward a reauthorization of the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) let us not forget how the chorus continues with the hope that if “you try sometime, you just might find, that you get what you need.”

We need an ESEA that returns to the original intention of the legislation: fulfill our nation’s promise of public education by assuring equal opportunities for ALL of our students. Public education was then and is now, a civil rights issue. The 2002 reauthorization “No Child Left Behind” walked away from that promise and instead tied federal funding to narrow and statistically unrealistic accountability measures. It falls to those of us who know what works for our students and schools to be the advocates for this new legislation.

At the core of our Association is a firm belief that as united educators, we have a moral obligation to fulfill this promise of public education. We have an opportunity this fall to listen to Mick. Let’s TRY to get what our students NEED in this legislation and oppose what they don’t.

We NEED a better way to assess the success of a school system than simply one indicator of standardized test scores. Sure, these tests can be helpful to identify data about different subgroups, but they fall incredibly short as indicators of overall health of a school.

Our NEA has passionately proposed using an “Opportunity Dashboard” that examines multiple indicators that lead to student success. Rather than tying labels and funding to one single indicator of school success, we NEED to include the vast array of opportunities our students have to be successful.

Just as we don’t make decisions about when to take our car to the repair shop simply because it is low on gas or that that oil light went on, so must it be for our schools. Access to arts, high-level course work, nutrition, libraries, experienced educators and other factors all come together to be the dashboard of success for our students. It is our obligation as a country to do what we can to level the playing field of opportunity. We can start by insisting that the 2016 ESEA includes a rich ‘Opportunity Dashboard’ for all students regardless of ZIP code.

We do NOT need anything that will dilute the efforts that currently support our most disadvantaged schools and communities. Title I portability would do just that. Proponents of Title-I portability say that allowing these Title I funds to follow a qualifying student to their school of choice assures that each student receives their fair share of federal support. This is as short sighted, however, as saying that if one of a family of four children decided to leave, that they would be deserving of 1/6 of the family budget. It just doesn’t work that way.

Currently, Title I funds become available to schools based on their rate of poverty. Wisely, it is the up to the local districts to determine the best investments of these funds. As studies indicate early interventions to be the best investment, many Title I funds support personnel in early grades. Diverting these funds to schools of choice would threaten the district’s ability to fund these programs. As we know, for a variety of reasons, the luxury of choice is often not available to those in poverty.

We’ve been there and done that and we are wise enough to know that we can’t always get what we want. We can try this time though, to get what we need. We need to get ESEA right.



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