OP-ED | Keep Empowering Parents to Show that All Kids Matter
Parents, especially low-income and of color, understand more and more the importance of data, so why do away with accountability measures in our schools and federal law?
That’s my question to all those who think they know best about how our kids should learn. Why are we so afraid of empowering parents?
I’ve become an empowered parent, thanks in part to changes in the past 10 years in the federal education law.
Now, when I ask the teacher if my child is reading at grade level, we are both on the same page and I get a clear answer.
That is a big difference from what I experienced when my two older kids were going through the educational system over 20 years ago. As a parent, I never felt I had a handle on whether they were really learning. Some classes they liked. Others just didn’t excite them. School was more or less something they had to go through despite the quality of instruction.
That’s why I am proud of Connecticut Sen. Christopher Murphy for trying to keep the teeth in our current federal education law.
Last week, the Health, Education, Labor, And Pensions committee passed a rewrite of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act with unanimous, bipartisan support. The bill was sponsored by Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Patty Murray, D-Wash.
In a press release, Murphy said he supported the bill despite the failure of one of his amendments because the bill as approved did include his language “to protect students with disabilities from discrimination, foster positive school climates that don’t overly rely on suspensions and expulsions, and prohibit schools from unnecessarily locking kids up or tying them down when they misbehave.”
However, Murphy said there is more work to be done on the law before it heads to the president’s desk.
“I voted to move this bill out of committee . . . because I believe it’s our best shot at making things better for students, but this bill is still a work in progress,” Murphy wrote. “This bill still does not do enough to push low-performing schools to get better, or require states to address achievement gaps. Education is a civil rights issue, and right now, this bill doesn’t do enough to ensure that all kids, regardless of what they look like or where they live, have access to top quality schools. This bill needs to get better in order for me to support it on the floor.”
So Murphy is trying keep federal education law focused on ensuring each group of students is on course for high standards of learning. He said he hopes to further amend the bill to require states to continue to identify and assure action in chronically low performing schools and in schools that consistently do not meet state-set goals for any group of students.
In addition, he would continue to mandate clear timeframes for state action if district supports and interventions aren’t working. Both are critical to ensuring that schools, districts, and states have an obligation to act on behalf of students who struggle the most in school.
Murphy is trying to ensure that low-income students, students of color, students with disabilities, and English language learners will remain as bright blips on the radars of parents, teachers, and administrators.
These measures, already part of the law, are why I think I see a difference in how my younger kids are educated now compared to my older ones.
There are some lawmakers in Washington who want to do away with these parts of the law. If that happens, it would leave parents and teachers without a clear playbook and the data they need to plan ahead in the best educational and life interests of children.
I know some of our school districts, within certain zip-codes, have high expectations and believe that every kid matters. We can achieve these high expectations in all school districts if we all come together and agree all children deserve high standards of learning. But we can’t meet these obtainable goals if they don’t exist, and we can’t improve what is not working effectively if we don’t measure.
Before federal law put these accountability measures in place, schools could coast by without ensuring all students, regardless of race, income, disabilities or language barriers, were improving. But now, the law requires prompt action when schools don’t meet expectations for any group of students.
And, the results speak for themselves. For example, the results from the NAEP Long Term Trends Exam, which is the longest standing national examination program, show that African American, Latino, and low-income students have improved faster than at any time since 1980.
On the main NAEP exam, the number of low-income fourth-graders at the below basic level in math was reduced by more than half between 2000 and 2013, while the number performing at the proficient or advanced levels tripled in the United States. While I am sure there is always room for improvement, this data tells me, as a parent, that what we have in place for assessment is working.
High school graduation rates are also up; among African American students they have climbed from 59 to 68 percent; among Hispanics, rates have climbed from 66 to 76 percent across the country. This tells me that parents and our young people understand the value of education and are pushing through the stereotypes and “staying the course” and staying in school.
I know we have a lot more work to do and parents are willing to dig their heels in deep to ensure that all kids, not just the privileged few, receive a solid education. But we won’t get there if we do away with the accountability requirements in the federal law.
We are at an “Equity for All” crossroads. Fifty-one years ago the Supreme Court ruled all students were equal in Brown vs. Board of Education. Fifty years ago African Americans marched on Selma. It was also 50 years ago that Congress passed the federal law that tried to bring equity to education funding.
We can’t let Congress turn away from accountability and the educational rights of parents and students at this crossroads, where we need to choose between a path where all kids matter and a path of privilege where some kids matter more than the rest.
Gwen Samuel is a parent of two children in Connecticut Public Schools and the Founder and President of the Connecticut Parents Union. She also works with a Parent and Youth Group in New Haven. She can be reached on Twitter @RealTalkGwenS.
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