Elementary and Secondary Education Act

When President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in 1965, it was a centerpiece of the War on Poverty. It provided funding that is critical to many of the schools where our members teach. The law was designed to ensure that every school got the resources to teach students, particularly in neighborhoods or districts that were not wealthy.

The current system based on high-stakes testing—driven by No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top and the federal waiver process—is untenable, creating a toxic environment that’s robbing our students and teachers.

All signs point to Congress reauthorizing ESEA in 2015. The AFT has identified three priorities for the ESEA authorization process:

  • A robust accountability system that uses multiple measures, maintaining fiscal equity.
  • Reducing the fixation on high-stakes tests.
  • Getting the federal government out of its role as the human resources department for our schools.

Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) have unveiled a bipartisan bill reauthorizing the act. The Alexander-Murray bill goes back to the original intent of the law, to level the playing field for at-risk kids, and largely addresses our priorities.

We still have work to do to achieve our goals, and will continue to push for amendments and set out a clear framework for ensuring that ESEA stays true to its root focus on equity and civil rights; dials back the destructive impact of high-stakes testing; and sets forth big, bold ideas that will help all kids succeed.

  • See our list of resources at right, and view additional AFT news and press on the reauthorization of ESEA here.