America has no kids to spare

America has no kids to spare
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All of our children deserve an equal chance to succeed. Being the nation we’re meant to be — the nation we’re proud to be — starts with providing a great education for every child, from every family, in every community. It’s an essential step in ensuring that the reality of America lives up to the powerful promise of America. 

As President Obama has said, “There’s a reason the story of the civil rights movement was written in our schools. It’s because there is no stronger weapon against inequality and no better path to opportunity than an education that can unlock a child’s God-given potential.”

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Fifty years ago, Congress passed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, or ESEA, which preserves and strengthens these basic values. This landmark federal legislation was designed to provide additional support and opportunities for disadvantaged students. However, the current law is out of date. More than 10 years have passed since the latest update to the law, known as the No Child Left Behind Act. It is far past time to reauthorize ESEA.

We are at a critical moment. High school graduation rates are at an all-time high. A Latino student is now half as likely to drop out of high school, and twice as likely to go to college. Since 2008 alone, a million more Latino and black students are enrolled in college. Nonetheless, the achievement gap is too wide, and kids of color and poor kids lag behind. We must do better.

At a time when our schools are more diverse than ever, and our nation’s welfare depends to an unprecedented degree on the prosperity of each and every American, we’ve made genuine progress.

But the current law’s one-size-fits-all interventions, regardless of school needs, and its failure to distinguish between improving and failing schools have made it obstructive.

Right now, lawmakers are working on a bill to reauthorize this law — and we should all care about the outcome. ESEA provides federal dollars and sets guidelines to help ensure that factors like poverty, race, disability, language needs and zip code don’t limit the education a child receives. It protects the nation’s most vulnerable students, so that they and their families, teachers and principals, have the same prospects and resources as their peers in other neighborhoods. 

Yet some in Congress are considering whether to scale back measures that support educational opportunity and innovation. To do so would embrace the morally, socially and economically corrosive notion that we have some kids to spare.

We don’t.

Here are some of the common-sense measures that we agree should be part of any bill to reauthorize ESEA. 

Educators have led an incredible transition in the nation’s schools over the last few years, and we need to ensure that they have more resources — not less — to continue this work. In addition, we should do more in this to ensure the students who need the most support, get the most resources. President Obama has proposed $2.7 billion in new funding for the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

We must continue to provide parents and communities the information they need to know how their children are doing every year using a fair and consistent measuring stick. We need to continue to target resources at vulnerable subgroups, and ensure accountability for all subgroups including English language learners and students with disabilities. 

All parents should know that, if schools or groups of students are not meeting high goals, there will be requirements for states, districts and educators to put supports and interventions in place to correct course and improve the outcomes for students.  They should trust there will be additional support and action in the lowest performing schools — the 5 percent of schools that squander the future of our children by turning out huge percentages of students who cannot read, cannot do math, cannot get a job and do not graduate. 

We agree, too, on the need for concerted action by Congress to partner with states and local communities to expand preschool so all children — especially those in low-income and minority communities — start kindergarten ready to succeed.

Unfortunately, some on Capitol Hill would push the education act in a different direction.

Should we ensure all families have access to high-quality early education? We must say yes.

Should we ensure that, as a country, we provide resources and support meaningful change in the lowest performing schools, and targeted interventions in schools where groups of students are behind? We must say yes. 

Should we stay focused on how well students are learning, and where they need help, through annual statewide measures of their growth? We must say yes.

Should we ensure educators have resources, support, opportunities and autonomy that they need to succeed in the classroom? We must say yes.

Should funds for high-poverty schools actually go to those schools? As a nation, we must say yes.

Further, should we invest in the kinds of proven innovation that strengthen teaching and accelerate student achievement? We must say yes. 

We firmly believe Congress can reach bipartisan agreement on a bill that upholds the promise of equitable opportunity, for children all across the nation. Every American has a stake in a new education law that won’t weaken the principles of excellence and equity in our public schools, lower expectations or reverse our hard-won progress.

All children should experience the joy and wonder of learning, discover their passion and potential, and gain the skills they’ll need for success in college, careers and life.

Our future depends on it — and we don’t have a single kid to spare.           

Information about the Elementary and Secondary Education Act is available at ed.gov/esea

Duncan is the ninth U.S. Secretary of Education, serving since 2009. Morial is president and CEO of the National Urban League. Murguía is president and CEO of the National Council of La Raza.