Imagine you’re a student in an inner-city school. Supplies are dwindling and teacher turnover is high. You hear that all this could begin to change with the help of the education committees in the U.S. House and Senate.
This may sound encouraging at first. Both chambers have passed separate bills reauthorizing the critical Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), and a group of lawmakers from both parties is set to work on reaching a consensus.
But then you learn that this conference committee has been dormant for seven years, and you find out that the members have not been determined yet. You discover that the chair of the committee admits, “we’re out of practice on conferencing around here.” And then House Speaker John Boehner steps down, and you read reports that the chances of a deal being reached have plummeted due to his resignation. Now U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who had advocated for ESEA reauthorization throughout his tenure in D.C., will step down shortly after Boehner, in December.
The outlook is less promising.
If Congress listens to the voice of teachers and students who support them, though, we can create a better bill and do what must be done to repair the unintended consequences for schools, teachers and students caused by No Child Left Behind (NCLB). My home state of Minnesota is fortunate to have Representative John Kline, chair of the House Education committee and a dedicated ally for the ESEA, because our schools need action, and they need it now.
When I began teaching at a diverse school in the heart of an urban downtown, my students were wary. They didn’t trust me. Students like mine often expect their teachers to walk out the door the second things get tough. This precedent has been set due to the vast inequality that exists among our public schools.
Congress must find new ways to level the playing field in schools, such as using Title II funds to recruit and reward high-performing teachers to seek positions in hard-to-staff and high-need areas.
But with news of Speaker Boehner and Secretary Duncan stepping down soon, the education committee hit a snag that many feel may derail the already limited attempts being made at reform with this Congress. While the drafts from both the House and Senate are set and poised to move a great deal of decision-making, reporting and accountability to state levels, that may not be enough to get the bill passed.
Opponents of the deal fear that too much federal oversight or a “National School Board” in the White House would hamper district and teacher flexibility to serve students swiftly. However, as we have learned, too little oversight can and does lead to other issues—lowered standards, cheating scandals, underserved students and a weaker country overall.
I joined a group, along with nine other teachers across the United States, to work on behalf of change for our students on this critical issue. We are calling on Congress to come together to address the key issues of equity and accountability. We are fighting for the educators, administrators, families, and students who support this nationwide effort for a better future.
Action now, particularly in supporting the recruitment and retention of excellent teachers in vital areas, will help students learn more, help teachers promote stronger communities and empower families to forge a brighter future.
We have so much more work to do to ensure that there are equitable educational opportunities for all students. For the sake of all students, Congress must act swiftly to reauthorize ESEA, and push for more growth opportunities for schools so that all children have equal access to learn at high levels.