At Senate Hearing, Diverse Coalition Voices Concerns Over Lack of Accountability Standards in Federal Education Reform Bill
November 9, 2011 - Posted by Avril Lighty
Joining a coalition of 29 civil rights, education and business organizations, Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference, told Senators yesterday at a hearing on the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) that the groups cannot support a bill that lacks strong accountability measures.
“Accountability is a core civil rights principle and one that’s indispensable to advancing our common goals of closing achievement gaps and maintaining our country’s competitiveness in a global economy,” said Henderson at a hearing before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP). “Federal funding must be attached to firm, ambitious, and unequivocal demands for higher achievement, better high school graduation rates, and closing achievement gaps.”
The coalition of 29 civil rights groups, business associations, statewide education officials, and education advocates, which includes the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, has signed a joint statement outlining its concerns:
“As representatives of the millions of students with disabilities, low-income students, students of color, English-language learners and migrant students who are studying in our nation’s schools, both boys and girls, we cannot support the Elementary and Secondary Education Reauthorization Act of 2011 at this time. The bill’s weak accountability system excludes the vast majority of children we represent, and is a major barrier to our organizations’ support.
While the groups recognize that the bill does address some “much-needed” reforms, they state that:
In its current form, however, states would not have to set any measurable achievement and progress targets or even graduation rate goals. They would be required to take action to improve only a small number of low-performing schools. In schools which aren’t among the states’ very worst performing, huge numbers of low-achieving students will slip through the cracks.
As Henderson emphasized during his testimony, relying on states alone to enforce and improve educational standards and accountability has been a historically inadequate approach.
“Had the federal government not chosen to intervene in states’ activities in this area we would not have had the improvement that we’ve seen, and those who seem to argue that states when left free of their own devices can achieve the kind of goals that we all seek need only look at the record that has been established over the past to recognize that the states themselves are not perfect and that they have in turn improved their academic involvement because of the federal government, not in spite of it,” he said.
The Leadership Conference and its coalition members believe that access to a high quality education is a fundamental civil right for all children and support the continued commitment of the federal government to equal educational opportunity.