No Child Left Behind (as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act is currently known) is now nearly 14 years old, which means I have watched students enter and exit the K-12 education system under the same failed law. As Congress works to reauthorize ESEA, passed originally in 1965, it is clear we need a reset in federal education policy, one that creates the space and latitude schools need to teach children with a well-rounded curriculum rather than fixate on tests. The bipartisan bill to reauthorize ESEA, the Every Child Achieves Act, is centered on ESEA’s original intent of equity and support for our most vulnerable students and is a good start to that reset.
The Senate has begun debating the Every Child Achieves Act, and we’re hopeful they can agree on a bill that puts kids first. And while we support the bill, several amendments will be voted on in the coming days that could help make the Every Child Achieves Act stronger, getting us back to the original intent of ESEA.
Key amendments include:
Community schools: This amendment supports a comprehensive approach to education by addressing academic and nonacademic challenges faced by students. Community schools have been funded federally for a number of years and are critical to supporting coordinated wraparound and academic services.
Resource equity: We support the resource equity amendment to ensure that states measure and implement a plan to address disparities in access to critical educational resources.
Improving teaching and learning conditions: This past spring, the AFT conducted a survey of more 30,000 teachers that uncovered significant stress associated with their working conditions. One recommendation to come out of this survey was that the federal government fund a comprehensive study of workplace stress and working conditions. We fully support an amendment to allow states and districts to use Title II funds to conduct and publicly report on an assessment of educator support and working conditions that would be developed with teachers, leaders, parents, students and the community.
Charter oversight and accountability: This amendment would improve oversight of charter schools, increase transparency, and support parent and community involvement.
Student Non-Discrimination Act: This amendment would establish a federal prohibition on discrimination in public schools based on actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity that would provide protections for LGBT students and ensure that all students have access to public education in a safe environment free from discrimination, including harassment, bullying, intimidation and violence.
It’s time for the Senate to pass a bill that maintains the federal commitment to equity by continuing to target federal funds for poor children while putting an end to the test-and-punish model and getting the federal government out of the business of teacher evaluations. The Every Child Achieves Act is a huge step in the right direction. Help me continue to fight to make sure our children are getting highest-quality public education possible.
Mary Cathryn Ricker
AFT Executive Vice President