Is ESEA a Civil Rights Bill? Not without Accountability and Resource Equity
Yolanda Rondon, Esq.
Attorney, American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee
The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) was last reauthorized in 2002 when it was passed under the name No Child Left Behind (NCLB). NCLB expired in 2007 and has long been in need of a makeover. ESEA was reintroduced in the Senate by Senators Patty Murray (D-WA) and Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) as the Every Child Achieves Act. However, the Every Child Achieves Act (“The Bill”) in its current form fails to ensure resource equity and accountability. The passage of the resource equity and accountability amendments to the Bill is crucial in making ESEA the civil rights law it was intended to be.
First, the Bill does not require schools to collect disaggregated – cross tabulation data of students. This is why we need the Warren Cross-Tab Amendment, which will attempt to remedy disparities It is critical that states intervene to remedy disparities in access to resources between school districts. Without disaggregated – cross tabulation data, schools cannot identify their weaknesses and as a result school districts do not address achievement gaps among racial subgroups of students. School districts cannot develop more effective programs if schools do not provide the necessary data about where improvements need to be made. This is why we need the Warren Cross-Tab Amendment.
Second, the Bill in its current form does not adequately guarantee English Language Learner (ELL) students the resources they need to progress at the same rate as their native English speaking classmates. Unfortunately, this Bill does not alter the current flawed ELL assessment requirements. Under the current program, states can exempt ELL students from English Language Assessments for 1 year. To allow such exemptions, will permit our students to fall through the cracks. It limits ELL students’ academic progress in core subjects and serves to cover up the shortfalls of the school’s ELL program. Importantly, the current version of the Bill does not define translators and interpreters as part of qualified paraprofessionals. ELL students will not have the ability to compete with their native English-speaking classmates without the proper resources and effective English language instruction. Qualified translators and interpreters are integral to effective language instruction.
Without proper oversight, ELL students will continue to be stifled. In 2014, the Department of Justice found that the Crestwood School District in Michigan failed to provide adequate services and materials for ELL students; failed to employ a sufficient number of qualified teachers and administrators; and failed to monitor and evaluate its ELL program effectively. This is a clear example of why a strong accountability amendment is necessary.
Third, under the Bill students who are part of a racial subgroup and/or from a low income household are ignored. The current version of the Bill fails to create an effective enforcement mechanism to ensure that school plans address vulnerable students. There is no incentive for schools that fail to meet targets and/or goals for vulnerable students. Disturbingly, there is also no mechanism for accountability for schools that set targets and goals in bad faith. A school could effectively set an arbitrary or no target goal of addressing achievement gaps between racial subgroups, with no requirement of intervention from the state at all. The current Bill without enforcement is just smoke and mirrors.
One may ask what this mean for all students and schools? Simply stated, schools that do not provide students with the resources they need to succeed will not receive the intervention that is necessary for the support they need to ensure our children receive the education they deserve.
Without proper intervention from school administrations and proper government oversight, ELL and racial or economic subgroups of students will not be guaranteed the resources they need to succeed at the same levels as other students. The future of a successful American educational system depends on schools and administrations that thrive to improve current programs.