Name Games with ESEA Reauthorization

Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed another bad bill with a good name.  We all remember the last time.  No Child Left Behind.  Good name.

But angelic names always hide their devils in the details, and what we’ve come to know as No Child Left Untested has devastated students, demoralized teachers, and marginalized support professionals. Reward programs seeking to boost test points by any means necessary have corrupted the meaning of teaching and the meaning of learning. And educators looked to reauthorization to bring some sanity back into our public schools.

H.R. 5 is called the Student Success Act.  Good name.  But the devilish details show that it’s a bad bill.  Just dig around the websites of the advocates of poor children, disabled children, and immigrant children to see the truth.

First Focus Campaign for Children says, “We oppose HR5.  This bill does not provide the resources and support needed to ensure that all children, particularly our most disadvantaged, receive an equitable education. … While it is argued that this is needed to create greater local control over education decisions and encourage local innovation, funding flexibility could lead to some vital programs going unfunded at the expense of disadvantaged students. Therefore, this may perpetrate inequity in funding for special populations. Rather, we need to sustain an appropriate federal role in public education by protecting the funding for federal programs that were created to level the playing field for populations vulnerable to the effect of educational disparities.”

They could see that under the guise of “local control,” HR5 simply allows local control to abandon targeted disadvantaged student populations.

Rufina Hernandez, Executive Director for the Campaign for High School Equity, an organization dedicated to mobilizing communities to improve outcomes for disadvantaged students said, “Unfortunately, HR5 lacks both the funding approach and robust federal accountability provisions that are essential to promoting equity in education for students of color, Native students, English language learners and low-income students. … It is clear that the current version of HR5 is far from what is needed to meet the needs of America’s diverse communities.”

In fact, if you looked up all the websites of all the organizations opposed to the Bad House Bill with the Good Name, you’d need a very long weekend to read them all.  Here’s a sample:

American Association of University Women
Autism Society of America
Chamber of Commerce
Consortium for Citizens for Disabilities
Council for Exceptional Children
Easter Seals
Hispanic Education Coalition
Latino Elected and Appointed Officials National Task Force on Education
National Down Syndrome Society
NAACP Legal Defense Fund
National Council of La Raza
National Education Association
The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
United Cerebral Palsy

My carpal tunnel syndrome is flaring up from so much typing.  Trust me.  The list goes on.  And on.

Advocates for students are united because the House bill does not repeal the insanity of No Child Left Behind.  What it does is abandon the primary purpose of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s original 1965 Great Society proposal.  The essence of the civil rights movement—the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA)—was embodied in Johnson’s good law with the not-so-poetic name.

ESEA was not about a market for test manufacturers.  It was not about privatization of public schools.  Each year that it has been reauthorized since 1965, ESEA has been given a prettier and prettier name. But the poetry within the original law with the boringly bureaucratic name must not be left behind. And the poetry of its purpose—of opening opportunities for our most vulnerable students—must be restored.

ESEA was the first federal law that brought resources and rules to states and school districts so they could address the specific needs of the children who had been chronically ignored by so many systems: Children with disabilities; Children who lived in poverty; Children who did not speak English; Children from communities that faced deep and generational discrimination.  These children, our children, have not gone away.  They are real.  Their lives are real.  The dangers facing them are real.  They don’t need devilishly pretty words that defy reality.  They don’t need a good title on a bad bill.

They need a good law that protects their rights and expands their opportunities for real success.  H.R. 5 is bad because it does neither. Fortunately, as we all know from 5th grade civics, a bill does not become a law just because it passes the House of Representatives.  There is much work to do.

Muscle up, people.  We’re going to need fighters working the Senate.  Luckily, the list of friends is long.


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