Monday, February 28, 2011

“All Children Deserve the Opportunity to Learn”

By Molly A. Hunter, Education Justice, Education Law Center*

These days, education “reformers” say they want to close achievement gaps. What they rarely talk about, though, is closing the huge opportunity gaps that cause achievement gaps.

Education Justice and ELC believe that the federal government has an important role to play in closing opportunity gaps and ensuring that all children get a high quality education. Recently, the Forum on Educational Accountability (FEA)—ELC is a member—recommended steps the federal government should take to help narrow and close the nation’s opportunity gaps: “All Children Deserve the Opportunity to Learn.”

The reauthorization of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act, pending in Congress, is a chance to improve America’s education systems, and increasing access to opportunities is crucial to that improvement. FEA’s OTL statement is a road map for moving forward on the issues of Funding, Buildings, Training & Professional Development, Discipline, and Preschool:

  • Funding. “Adequate funding equitably distributed is a necessary condition to provide each child ‘a fair, equal, and significant opportunity to obtain a high-quality education’…and therefore should be an essential goal of federal policy in public education.”
  • Buildings. “Many children in our nation’s…schools experience overcrowded and crumbling buildings lacking sufficient light, heat, air conditioning and bathrooms, and accessibility for students with limited mobility…Congress needs to work with states to ensure adequate school facilities, programs, and services in all schools.”
  • Training & Professional Development. “Highly effective teachers, leaders, and other school personnel…are critically important to student learning. FEA concludes that “Congress must take steps to ensure these professionals are available for children in all schools.” FEA “promotes high quality training and professional development as absolutely essential for improving schools” and has separately made recommendations for professional collaboration and development, as well as improved assessment….,” available here and here (emphasis added).
  • Discipline. Hampering learning for thousands of children, “too many schools across the country employ overly harsh zero tolerance [discipline] policies,” and “students of color bear a disproportionate share of the burden of these policies….” Therefore, “FEA urges Congress, in ESEA, to foster non-punitive and supportive learning environments for all students [and] fund the development of discipline and school climate policies that reduce suspensions and expulsions….”
  • Preschool. FEA also calls on Congress to increase opportunity through high quality preschool, which creates enormous benefits, such as higher achievement, less need for special education, higher graduation rates, and higher income as adults. Less than half of four-year-olds from our lowest-income families attend preschool (NCES), and for many who do, their programs do not meet minimum quality standards.

Call to Action

All Children Deserve OTL concludes: “To ensure a strong learning environment for all children, FEA asks Congress, in collaboration with the states and localities, to strengthen equity and put the resources, programs, and services required to ensure a genuine Opportunity To Learn into all schools.”

FEA’s OTL statement also aligns with and references the Framework for Providing All Students an Opportunity To Learn, issued by leading civil rights groups last summer, and other recommendations on federal policy, such as:

Comments to House Committee on Education and Labor
A Pastoral Letter on Federal Policy in Public Education
Federal Policy, ESEA Reauthorization, and the School-to-Prison Pipeline
FEA’s Empowering Schools and Improving Learning and
The Broader, BOLDER Approach to Education.

* Education Justice is the national program at ELC, Education Law Center, in Newark, New Jersey.

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