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The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

The Nation's Premier Civil and Human Rights Coalition

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights  & The Leadership Conference Education Fund
The Nation's Premier Civil and Human Rights Coalition

S. 1571 – Title I Reauthorization

Advocacy Letter - 10/07/11

Source: The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
Recipient: Senators Isakson and Alexander


Dear Senators Isakson and Alexander,

On behalf of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a coalition charged by its diverse membership of more than 200 national organizations to promote and protect the rights of all persons in the United States, we are writing regarding your proposals in S.1571 to amend and reauthorize of Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). Our comments below are based on our April 5, 2011 letter to Chairman Harkin and Ranking Member Enzi, which is attached. In that letter, we set forth the critical elements that our coalition believes are needed in federal law to ensure that recipients of Title I funds are accountable for using their federal dollars, in combination with state and local resources, in ways that are effective in improving outcomes for all students, and in particular, students of color, students living in poverty, English learners, and students with disabilities.

We recognize that S.1571 retains many important, core provisions of Title I, including the framework first adopted by Congress in 1994 requiring states to adopt academic standards, to develop and implement a system of statewide assessments aligned with the standards, and provisions for public reporting of disaggregated data. We also appreciate, among other provisions, the bill’s requirements for: additional educational assistance to individual students at risk of academic failure; parents’ “right-to-know” and other reporting requirements; and LEA action when low-income and minority students are taught disproportionately by ineffective, out-of-field or inexperienced teachers.

In addition, we note that S. 1571 would improve Title I in several ways recommended by The Leadership Conference. These include requirements for: college and career-ready state academic standards; state assessments aligned with such standards; and reporting of per-pupil expenditures at the LEA and school levels.

We are alarmed, however, by a number of revisions and omissions in S. 1571 that, taken together, would far outweigh improvements in the bill over current law. Most disturbing is Section 1114(a)(1)(B), which would limit federally-required accountability and turnaround efforts to the bottom 5 percent of schools. This approach would fail to capture the majority of high schools that graduate fewer than 60 percent of students and their feeder schools, along with many other schools where students are chronically underachieving or where there are persistent achievement gaps. Adoption of this measure would also signal to states and districts that they are free to do next to nothing to improve underperformance in up

to 95 percent of their schools and that Congress will not hold them accountable for effectively spending federal dollars in these schools.

The Leadership Conference cannot support a near total devolution to states of their obligation to provide equal educational opportunity. Since the Supreme Court’s unanimous decision in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, we have had strong national policies requiring state and local action to provide equal opportunity and to eliminate barriers to learning based on race, color, national origin, poverty sex, disability, and citizenship status.

While we acknowledge the efforts of some well-intended state officials, the historic fact remains that states more often than not have failed to provide equal educational opportunities. Even as the past two Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) reauthorizations prodded states and their subdivisions to close gaps in achievement and high school completion, many recipients dragged their feet on improvements and investments needed to realize the promise of Brown. Instead, our public education systems have persistently shortchanged students who need the most by systematically providing them with less. Our members report to us that in schools and districts across the United States, minority students, low-income students, English learners, and students with disabilities still do not have equal access to a challenging and well-rounded curriculum; well-supported and prepared educators; safe environments that are conducive to learning; and services that address a range of student needs to support success in the classroom.

It is apparent to us that without strong and sustained federal oversight and monitoring, our most vulnerable children will continue to be left out and left behind. Given their track records, most states and LEAs will be unable or unwilling to meet the President’s goal of having all students college-and career-ready by 2020, just as they have not come close to meeting their own goals of grade-level proficiency they set under No Child Left Behind.

We recognize that NCLB’s accountability framework alone – unaccompanied as it was by promised increases in appropriations and sufficient political will – did not succeed in ensuring that we move much closer to realizing the promise of Brown. That said, we also believe that without past federal involvement, educational outcomes could have been far worse.

Moreover, as set forth in the attached letter, The Leadership Conference has continued to advocate for other improvements to NCLB that would require states and districts to remedy barriers to learning and to collect and report data needed to assess student and school needs. We are disappointed that S. 1571 does not contain provisions in Title I addressing school climate and other conditions for learning. Nor does it require cross-tabulation of data by gender or disaggregation by subgroups of Asian-Pacific Islander students.

The continued commitment of the federal government to equal educational opportunity is now more important than ever, as states and LEAs face historic budget shortfalls for the foreseeable future and the ensuing temptation to reduce or eliminate positions and programs that make a real difference for students. This is not the time to walk away from a robust accountability system. We urge you and your colleagues to reauthorize ESEA to ensure that all states guarantee a clear pathway to the American dream for all their students.

We would welcome an additional opportunity to meet with you at your earliest convenience for an in-depth discussion of our concerns.

Thank you for your consideration. Please direct further questions or communications to Dianne Piché, Senior Counsel, at Piche@civilrights.org or to Fatima Goss-Graves, fgraves@nwlc.org , and James Ferg-Cadima, jferg-cadima@maldef.org , Co-Chairs of the Leadership Conference Education Task Force.

Sincerely,

Wade Henderson
President & CEO

Nancy Zirkin
Executive Vice President

Our Members