The education agenda for the next Congress indicates our leaders want to party like it’s 1959. That would have been the last year when writing states’ rights into major education law might have made political sense. As
Jonah Edelman writes in the Daily Beast:
Whether because of racism, politics, ignorance, or indifference, the brutal facts are that states and school districts have too often neglected their educational responsibilities. The losers have always been children in poverty, children of color, and children with disabilities.
He is calling our attention to congressional leaders’ plans to
roll back important provisions of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). Specifically, federal expectations that schools make progress each year with racially and economically marginalized children could be eliminated, along with federal mandates that these children be assigned to high quality teachers and effective schools. The goal of lifting children and families out of poverty by investing in an accountable system of public education could be replaced by a reanimation of the “benign neglect” doctrine. Edelman reminds us of the civil rights issues at stake and why they warrant federal oversight:
In addition to getting the short end of the stick on funding in most states, low-income children and children of color are disciplined more severely, have less access to rigorous high school classes, and are more likely to be taught by ineffective teachers. (We only know about these disparities, by the way, because the federal government makes states measure them and publish the results.) Not surprisingly, fewer than 10 percent of low-income children earn a four-year college degree, compared to about 80 percent of upper-income students. This is why arguments for little to no federal oversight of education are so disturbing.
It is disturbing and dangerous to say federal oversight in education has gone too far while proposing policy that will return us to the days when the academic needs millions of American children were invisible to public education. A cynical person might say political leaders have been fatigued by addressing systemic inequities and now they intend to address racial gaps in educational outcomes by erasing the evidence.
There’s also talk by states’ rights advocates of no longer requiring annual testing by states, which would deny parents and educators valuable information about whether students are on track, reduce the ability to measure and improve teacher quality, and make it harder for administrators to know how schools are doing and when they need to intervene. Ironically, this is being proposed just as “smarter” assessments come online that will more accurately measure student learning, including their ability to think critically, solve problems, and write.
Chris Stewart is the Chief Executive Officer of
brightbeam. He was named CEO in April 2019, after formerly serving as chief executive of Wayfinder Foundation. He is a lifelong activist and 20-year supporter of nonprofit and education-related causes. In the past, Stewart has served as the director of outreach and external affairs for Education Post, ...