On March 16, 1964 in a special address to Congress, Pres. Lyndon Johnson said: “Because it is right, because it is wise and because for the first time in our history, it is possible to conquer poverty, I submit, for the consideration of Congress and the country, the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964.” Let me submit to the readers of San Jose Inside that the only means for us to eliminate poverty is to build a first class public education system for all America’s children.
It will not pay dividends for America to be first in military might and near the bottom of the list of first tier countries on education. Not to mention in California we are allowing our UC and CSU systems of higher education, the best in the world, to crumble.
Pres. Johnson had it 100 percent correct in 1964 to place emphasis on Head Start preschool education, and to introduce the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in 1965 as part of his War on Poverty. The ESEA was the most extensive education bill ever enacted. Within its core was the Title 1 provision that supplemented state and local funding for low-achieving children, especially in high poverty neighborhoods. It is arguable whether or not Title 1 has worked for increasing achievement for underperforming and poor youth. Nearly $14 billion dollars was spent nationally in 2008 on Title 1, Part A.
President George W. Bush signed the Reauthorization of the ESEA in January 2002 and renamed it No Child Left Behind. NCLB has tried to offer more choice to parents, allow local education agencies more flexibility on utilizing federal money, highlight best practices to increase student achievement based on scientific research. Its most important goal was to increase accountability for all schools and districts. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan last week in Washington asserted that President Bush should receive credit for NCLB “exposing achievement gaps and for requiring that we measure our efforts to improve education by looking at outcomes, rather than inputs.”
ESEA/NCLB was to be reauthorized every five years. We are now three years behind schedule on its reauthorization. We can make decisions about fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan expeditiously (and some would say imprudently), spending upwards of 2 trillion dollars, yet when it comes to the one of the most important roles of government—to ensure a high quality free and public education for every American child—we are 3 years late.
Education Secretary Duncan has been traveling around to states seeking input from all stakeholders on what the 2010 reauthorization of NCLB should contain in its initial language prior to its introduction to Congress. He has stated that the reauthorization of the ESEA law should minimally contain these provisions:
• Hire effective teachers and principals for underperforming schools.
• Expand learning time for all students by increasing the school year and hours in a school day.
• Pay teachers for performance based on how well their students progress during the year.
• Use data to inform instruction and teacher evaluation.
I think Duncan is on to something with these new provisions. Each one of the new intended outcomes would further our goal of building a first class education system for all children, ending the achievement gap, competing once again successfully with the world on education, and finally eliminating poverty. It is okay to lose the Olympic bid to Rio, but not okay to be last in education.
The current NCLB legislation relies too heavily on fill-in-the-bubble testing for assessing student achievement and teacher efficacy. The new law must provide new tools for assessing music, visual and performing arts, critical thinking skills, and physical education for all American students.
Perhaps after we get a Health Care Bill through Congress and to the President’s desk for signature, Pres. Obama can work on the 2010 State of the Union speech. Perhaps in part it could read, “Because it is right, because it is wise,… I submit, for the consideration of Congress and the country, the Education Opportunity Act of 2010.” If we can fund two wars we most assuredly can provide a world-class education for all children, not just for those lucky enough to be in affluent districts. This is our challenge and we must meet it.