At first, our coalition of national civil rights, business, and disabilities organizations may seem like odd bedfellows. Indeed, during the course of a typical year, these organizations disagree on many matters of public policy.
But right now all of the organizations are focused on what unites, rather than divides us: a deep conviction that our country cannot afford to continue squandering the talents of so many of her children. And an unswerving belief that the federal government must continue to play a role, albeit a limited one, both in supporting schools to improve on that record and in making sure that somebody beyond the children themselves is held to account when schools willfully ignore their responsibilities to some groups of children.
To that end, our coalition -- which includes the US Chamber of Commerce, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the Business Roundtable, the National Center for Learning Disabilities, the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, and Democrats for Education Reform, in addition to the National Council of La Raza and The Education Trust -- have put forth a set of common sense principles to assure a strong core of assessment, transparency, and accountability in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act that is currently being reauthorized on Capitol Hill.
To some who share our concerns about educational equity, these issues may seem beside the point. Are the resources in the draft legislation adequate to the task? Will the millions of children struggling to master English actually get the extra help they need? Can the legislation at least begin to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline that often starts with unfair discipline practices that treat boys of color far more harshly than other boys who commit the same infractions?
These matters are critical, too. And we and many of our partner organizations are working hard to shore up some of these provisions as the legislation moves rapidly forward.
But here is what years of experience have taught us: that no amount of extra resources will be enough if we don't assess every child's learning -- including the learning of low-income children, children of color, English learners, and students with disabilities -- and make that matter not just to the kids but to the schools themselves.
And frankly, left to their own devices, many states just won't do that. We learned that back in the '90s, when federal policy asked states to develop accountability systems that would assure the progress of low-income children and English learners toward state standards. Most states simply didn't do that, preferring to sweep these children under the rug of school-wide averages.
They did it again more recently when states were offered flexibility from the stringent mandates of No Child Left Behind. When given the option to eliminate the special attention to these groups of children in rating all but their bottom performing schools, almost every state took that option.
Some argue that, in the Internet era, full transparency of results for all schools and all groups of children is enough. Parents, they suggest will vote with their feet, choosing schools that perform better. But the sad truth is that most parents of the children we worry most about don't have real choices.
The federal government needs to have their backs.