NEA: How We Must Move Forward on ESEA/NCLB

This week, for the first time since 2001, a bill to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) is expected to hit the floor of the U.S. Congress. The House of Representatives will be debating and voting on the “Student Success Act” (H.R. 5) and the stakes for students across the nation couldn’t be higher. No one wants a repeat of the 2002 ESEA reauthorization commonly-known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB), which ushered in the era of high-stakes testing, micromanagement of schools at the federal level, and punitive measures for struggling schools. Now, finally, there is serious movement on Capitol Hill.

The arduous legislative process may seem distant to many classroom teachers and education support professionals, but what is being negotiated this week stands to affect every student and public school educator in the United States. Which is why, says NEA President Dennis Van Roekel, Congress has to get this right.

“We are accountable for student success, and we must ensure that ESEA changes its current focus from punishing students, schools and educators to helping those most in need,” Van Roekel says. “In order for the law to work, we must empower educators so they can focus on what’s important—student learning and achievement.”

NEA strongly believes the foundation of a new ESEA has to be strengthening the federal government’s appropriate role as a strong and positive force for change, and as a driver of equity. Building on this, a new law should support schools with the necessary resources, especially school districts with the most need; encourage innovation and development of 21st Century skills; end the obsession with high-stakes, poor-quality tests and develop high-quality assessment systems; and promote public education as a shared responsibility of parents, communities, educators, and policymakers.

Where does that take us with the Student Success Act, the focus of attention on Capitol Hill this month? Unfortunately, not very far. The bill, sponsored by Rep. John Kline (R-MN), includes some improvements, but falls well short on a number of key fronts.

While the NEA supports flexibility for individual states, the Student Success Act goes too far, undermining the critical federal role in promoting equity for all students regardless of socioeconomic status.

In a June letter to the House Education Committee before it considered H.R. 5, Mary Kusler, NEA Director of Government Relations, elaborated on this concern: “We are very disappointed that, at a time when there are more students and families in poverty than ever, the bill walks away from the federal commitment to trying to level the playing field for students, tipping the balance too far in favor of states and school districts—they are not even being asked to submit plans to demonstrate how they intend to ensure equity of opportunity for students.”

In addition, H.R. 5 does not push states enough to narrow achievement gaps, does not establish transparency and accountability measures for charter schools, nor does it ensure that assessment and accountability systems work for all students.

As the bill is being debated this week, NEA will also be working to stop attempts by some GOP lawmakers to try to add private school vouchers. Even if a specific private school voucher proposal isn’t introduced, a backdoor attempt might be made to amend the legislation with a “portability” program, which would allow Title I dollars to follow low-income students to the school of their choice.

But “portability”  is just another name for a voucher. It would divert funding from Title I public schools, shortchanging precisely the schools and the students that Title I was created to help: those with the largest concentrations of poverty.

Any ESEA reauthorization should focus on exactly the opposite: addressing existing inequities in public education that harm students most in need, particularly those from communities of color. That is the law’s original intent, and for the educators who have been sounding the alarm over the past decade about how NCLB has fallen so short for students and communities across the nation, it must not be abandoned.

“Educators spend their lives and careers teaching—and protecting—their students,” says Van Roekel. “ESEA must respect educators by empowering us and allowing us to focus on the kind of instruction that students need. As education advocates, our top priority is to make sure that what happens in Washington actually works for students and educators.”

Make Your Voice Heard on ESEA/NCLB Today!

  • KinderQueen

    NCLB has had more than a decade to prove its worth. Instead it has demoralized public school communities and paved the way for corporate profiteers and privatization. It is time to repeal NCLB and move forward in education with grass roots reform. The people who know education are those directly involved with public schools every day. Teachers, school site administrators, and parents should be at the core of any planning to improve schools for all students.

  • Mrs. Burford

    I am a Special Education Teacher and the NCLB needs to be removed and something else in its place that provides for us to be able to teach students in the best environment that they can learn in! There are students that do not function well in a regular classroom, NCLB forces us to put them in a regular classroom. These students share none core classes, PE, Lunch and break time with the general population, but they need a tremendous amount of attention and small group instruction in order to succeed. When these students are in a regular classroom and are not receiving the attention and instruction they need, they cause constant disruptions for the other students, they take up and monopolize the teachers attention throughout the class period and they lower the quality of instruction for the whole class. You are not raising the bar with inclusion, you are lowering it!!! Gifted students need to be challenged beyond the regular curriculum, average students need to be taught at a consistent pace and Tier 3 students need to be taught at a slower pace with constant reminders of what has been previously covered, with a SPED teacher that knows how to teach those students who lack in basic skills and can integrate those basic skills into what is being taught.

  • Jay Price

    I am also a Special Education teacher, and I did participate with many educators, and some legislators to push for not putting NCLB into place as was the first time. NCLB must be repealed, and then efforts can move forward with something that undoes the damage NCLB has created.

  • Jerri Modrall

    True reform is not going to happen until the teacher in the classroom is the one making the decisions for her or his students. Autonomy is the key element missing in all of this. Innovation and creative juices cannot flow freely if the ability to teach as we know how to teach is squelched. NCLB or not…it is the lack of autonomy that is killing us in the classroom. Imagine a surgeon being told what instruments to use by a hospital administrator or board member rather than using his professional judgment…or a conductor being told by an audience member what strains of music should ebb and flow. Teaching is at once an art, a science, and a bit of miracle… and the teacher in the classroom is the one who makes that happen.

  • TeachGypsy

    Teachers are professionals and it’s time for them to act like professionals. Just say no! Or in the alternative, yes them to death… but do what you, the professionals, know works.

  • Losing passion

    I can say that NCLB has ruined education as many of us already know. I agree with everyone who has commented, we need to put the teacher back in the classroom. Of course the teacher is there but we need the teacher to decide what is going to work for their students because every year a new group with new learning styles comes in. We also need to weed out the teachers who are burned out or who do not belong in the field. It’s okay to be burned out but what does a 25 year experienced teacher do when they need 30 years? They continue to teach and most of the time it’s without passion. I say let’s honor them with what they saved in their pension and get someone in there who wants to teach.
    The last thing we need to remember is no student learns in the same way and no student learns the concept on the same day. I think we need to rethink how we monitor progress for children and stop making it easier for them to pass their classes. We need to come up with some good changes but from the professionals who know what real change is and not from those who sit at a desk and have never set foot into a classroom of children. I would love to see some of these master minds in education actually teach, because most won’t know how to. I have lost so much respect for the educated individuals who go along with the band wagon ideas that I had to leave public and teach in private. I hope some day to rejoin public school and be a teacher who teachers and not a teacher who is dumbing down.