On July 7, the Senate is expected to debate a bill to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), arguably the single most impactful federal legislation focused on targeting resources to students with the greatest needs.

While this law is in dire need of an update, as currently written, the Every Child Achieves Act (ECAA) would extend states so much flexibility in determining which schools receiving Title I funds are meeting state standards that few, if any, schools will ever be held accountable for the academic outcomes of all students.

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Under the ECAA it’s possible that just a handful of schools in each state would be triggered to provide any extra programming or targeted intervention when students struggle. We view this carte blanche approach to accountability a dangerous step backwards. We believe it will have a serious damaging effect across the country. As a nonprofit committed to ensuring students with disabilities have ready access to charter schools prepared to provide them with quality programs, we see accountability systems that require schools to account for the performance of all students as critical.  

A new ESEA should support what good state charter laws combined with federal accountability has shown to be successful – that high quality programs should be provided to all students and if evidence indicates schools are not meeting objectives, then schools should provide targeted support and intervention to student groups not meeting state-set standards. Charters especially should continue to be expected to meet clear and tangible parameters outlined and upheld by federal and state law.

Unfortunately, the ECAA falls short and does not specify that when schools fail to offer quality programs, demonstrated by poor student performance, after two consecutive years these schools must be held accountable by districts and offer more robust programming, support and interventions to the students that need it most. The ECAA should also clarify that after a maximum of three years of district-led interventions, states must then step in if the programs are not working and try something else so students do not languish. Accountability matters and clear consequences for failure to enable all students, including students with disabilities, English language learners, students from racial and ethnic groups and students from low-income families historically marginalized by systems lacking nuanced accountability systems, leads to better outcomes. This simply makes sense in a federal statute such as ESEA, designed to reach students at risk of school failure. 

We urge every senator to make it a priority for the new ESEA to hold schools, districts and states accountable to provide high quality programs to all students. When schools fall down on this obligation, then the district or charter authorizer, and ultimately the state must intervene and support struggling students.  Absent this assurance, the Senate bill should not become law.

Rhim is executive director for The National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools (NCSECS).  www.ncsecs.org