ESEA revisions are long overdue but must be handled carefully

Forty-five years ago, President Johnson signed into law the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) to ensure all students, regardless of their background, have access to a strong public education. Since then, we have achieved many successes. The achievement gap between disadvantaged students and their peers is narrowing; states, school districts, and schools are being held accountable for student success and achievement; funding for K-12 education has significantly increased; and the United States is regaining its standing as a global leader in scientific discovery and innovation. Despite these achievements, our country still lags behind other nations in global competitiveness, and our high school graduation rates are lower; achievement gaps persist in our nation’s middle and high schools; and standards for student achievement vary greatly from state to state.

As Americans, these issues impact us all. Therefore, we all share the responsibility of being part of the solution by prioritizing and engaging in the education of our nation’s youth. Parents and guardians have the responsibility of being involved in their child’s education and upbringing. Educators have the responsibility of helping students succeed in the classroom and beyond. States have the responsibility to ensure students are thriving in all school districts. Communities have the responsibility of working with schools and providing opportunities, such as jobs and internships, for students so they can attain the skills, knowledge, and experiences critical in the 21st century. Media has the responsibility of highlighting the importance of education and its impact on families and the economy. Finally, Congress has the responsibility of reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act to better benefit parents, educators, communities and — most importantly — students. America’s economic growth, prosperity, and ability to outcompete other countries depend on these investments.

Revisions to ESEA are long overdue. The reauthorization effort must build on the values and strengths of current law, improve areas of the law that are weak and make necessary updates to reflect fresh ideas and innovative programs such as the Race to the Top Fund, the Investing in Innovation Fund, and the Common Core State Standards initiative.

I remain optimistic Congress will move forward with the reauthorization of ESEA this year, but we must be thoughtful and deliberative. We must take the time to work inclusively with education stakeholders in our congressional districts and around the nation to ensure revisions to the law and any new initiatives meet the needs of all students and change our education system for the better.

As the Senior Republican of the House Education and Labor Committee’s Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education, I am actively gathering information from my home state of Delaware, at the national level, participating in Committee hearings, engaging in discussions with the U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, and working with House and Senate Colleagues on both sides of the aisle to gain insight into how best to approach the reauthorization of ESEA. I also held a conference call to discuss ESEA with educators and parents in my home state of Delaware, which I encourage my colleagues to consider doing in their districts. This type of bipartisanship and working together on solutions at all levels is critical to reauthorization.

Although the process of reforming our country’s K-12 education system will be an arduous task, we cannot deny any student the basic right of a top-notch education. We must work together to pursue long-term solutions that will prepare our youth to tackle the challenges of the 21st century and benefit future generations and our nation as a whole.

Castle is the ranking Republican on the Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education Subcommittee.