WASHINGTON—At a time when half of public school students are poor and dozens of states are funding schools at pre-recession levels, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which became the No Child Left Behind Act, should return to its roots and level the playing field by helping all children get the resources and learning opportunities they need to succeed, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said today in a letter to Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.).
Reflecting on the letter, Weingarten said, “Public education should expand opportunity for students. We must give all students the opportunities and resources they need—from computers to counselors—even if their communities can’t afford them. NCLB evolved into a mandate for high-stakes tests and sanctions instead of equal resources and interventions. We need to change that dynamic and focus on engaging kids and enabling a joy of learning, and that starts with funding for great instructional strategies and solutions for mitigating poverty.
In addition to the letter, the AFT delivered to Capitol Hill nearly 18,000 responses to an AFT online petition asking Congress to return the law’s focus to the reason it was passed in the first place 50 years ago: to ensure that every student has the chance to attend a great public school.
“Teachers across the country say there aren’t enough resources for the children with the most needs, and high-stakes testing has eclipsed the joy of learning and a focus on helping individual children succeed,” Weingarten said.
Noting that the ESEA law was originally part of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty, Weingarten said there must be a renewed push to help the nearly 15 million children living in poverty.
The bill must maintain its focus on providing services to districts serving high concentrations of disadvantaged children, Weingarten said. For example, children living in poverty need extra supports, such as targeted instruction, small class sizes, trained paraprofessionals to support small-group learning, and increased health, social and emotional services.
Alexander’s draft discussion bill would freeze funding at current levels; this is especially devastating for Title I programs, which are the chief federally funded education programs for disadvantaged students. Weingarten called the funding levels “insufficient.” President Obama has proposed a $1 billion increase in Title I.