In college, I decided to make giving back to the African-American community that raised me my life’s work.
I believed in community building and equipping people with the tools to thrive. I still do.
In education, I found a powerful place for collective impact, collaboration and shared ideals. I believe in rethinking education to better support teachers, schools and above all, students, particularly those in communities of color and economically struggling neighborhoods.
I view the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act as a vital component of that work.
Despite its shortcomings, the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act was successful in uncovering important data about minority student progress compared to their peer groups. Unfortunately, wariness with the law’s unyielding sanctions at times obscured that fact. Make no mistake: The work done by school systems and other groups to address achievement gaps between student groups would not have gotten this far without the data uncovered by No Child Left Behind.
My now-adult four children attended the entire spectrum of schools: public, private, independent and charter. I had to find schools that would nurture the writer in one, the musician in another, the athlete, the scholar. I saw the power of student achievement data, both at their schools and in the school district where I serve as a board member.
It has been disappointing to see the lack of progress in reauthorizing ESEA and the divisive politics surrounding efforts to do so. I do not agree with accountability for accountability’s sake. I tend to agree with those who say the amount of time schools spend on testing these days sometimes borders on over-testing—which is bad. But going back to an era of no testing would be worse.
Honestly, that kind of academic environment frightens me. Parents need a multitude of indicators about their child’s progress. They need a gauge to tell them if grades reflect ability and if their child’s school is doing its best by all students, regardless of race, academic ability or economic background. Standardized tests, when they are high quality, belong in that toolbox for parents to consider along with classroom performance and personal interests. Testing is one way of measuring young people’s performance in a meaningful way.
Our charge as parents, as school board members, as education observers, as educators, as a community, is to shield valid measures against politicking.
The future of children—of all children—is too important to leave to chance, which we risk by blindly trusting states to do the right thing. Federal oversight provides a layer of protection that our children both need and deserve—especially minority children and economically disadvantaged children who are too often found at the margins.
In the reauthorization, we want to hold tightly to those provisions that will allow us to see clearly the needs of black and brown children. We need legislation that allows for more support among educators and administrators. We must provide communities with better options for struggling schools instead of top-to-bottom restructuring or closures. We must demand new education legislation now. And we need an environment that spurs the creation of evaluation processes that all parties can have faith in.
We won’t get there through over-testing. But we won’t get there by eliminating annual testing either.