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The Elementary and Secondary Education Act at 50

“Any law that doesn’t address our biggest challenges — funding inequity, segregation, the effects of poverty — will fail to make the sweeping transformation our kids and our schools need,” AFT President Randi Weingarten said yesterday following the secretary’s speech.
Click here to watch video of the secretary’s speech and access a transcript and additional DOE resources on the law.
“It was promising to hear Secretary Duncan make a call for equity, stressing, as we did through the Equity and Excellence Commission, the importance of early childhood education and engaging curriculum,” Weingarten said. “It was encouraging to hear him laud the hard work of educators, who have had to overcome polarization and deep cuts after a harsh recession. And it was heartening to hear him acknowledge the progress our schools have made. However, the robust progress we saw in the first 40 years after the passage of ESEA has slowed over the last 10 years.”
Click here to hear audio and see photos of President Lyndon Johnson in 1965 signing the original ESEA into law.
Weingarten will on February 18 participate in an Albert Shanker Institute forum, “ESEA At 50: The Federal Government and Equity in Education,” in Washington, DC. The event is part of the progressive think tank’s “Reclaiming the Promise” conversation series and will be live-streamed online.
Click here for more on the forum and to register to attend in person or watch the live stream.
“On testing, we are glad the secretary has acknowledged that ‘there are too many tests that take up too much time’ and that ‘we need to take action to support a better balance,'” added Weingarten. “However, current federal educational policy — No Child Left Behind (NCLB), Race to the Top (RTT) and waivers — has enshrined a focus on testing, not learning, especially high-stakes testing and the consequences and sanctions that flow from it. That’s wrong, and that’s why there is a clarion call for change. The waiver strategy and RTT exacerbated the test-fixation that was put in place with NCLB, allowing sanctions and consequences to eclipse all else. From his words today, it seems the secretary may want to justify and enshrine that status quo and that’s worrisome.”
Click here for press coverage of the secretary’s speech with reaction from advocates and lawmakers.
“Yes, we need to get parents, educators and communities the information they need. And all of us must be accountable and responsible for helping all children succeed. That’s why we have suggested some new interventions, like community schools and wraparound services; project-based learning; service internships; and individual plans for over-age students, under-credited students and those who are not reading at grade level by third grade.
Click here for more on AFT’s Community Schools initiative and access related resources.
“At the end of the day, the most important part of the debate shouldn’t happen in big speeches,” said Weingarten. “It should happen in real conversations with parents, students and teachers, who are closest to the classroom. Communities understand the huge positive effect ESEA had for impoverished and at-risk communities 50 years ago. Those communities are saying loudly and clearly that they want more supports for students and schools, and data used to inform and improve, not sanction. It’s my hope that, in the coming weeks, leaders in Congress and the administration will listen to these voices and shape a law that reflects the needs of all our kids.”

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