What It Takes to Ensure Every Child Achieves

06/02/2015 05:50 pm ET | Updated Jun 02, 2016

This is our moment to live up to the oft-stated belief that every child deserves a chance at a good education in our country. While there has been important progress in education over the last 20 years, the fact of the matter remains that too many children find themselves left behind and out of place because of forces beyond their control, including learning and attention issues and the social and emotional affects of poverty, trauma, and toxic stress.

These experiences impact children in every state in our nation. When CCSSO interviewed some of the top educators in the U.S., the 56 Teachers of the Year, they reported that stress, poverty and learning problems impacted student success more drastically than anything happening in the classroom.

Emerging research, powerful insights from the field, and promising innovations have created a powerful moment in time to have a meaningful dialogue about how we make a real difference for students who need it most. Add to this confluence the urgency and potent conversation introduced by Congress's move to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, and there is no doubt that we have an opportunity to make a powerful difference for students.

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee's bipartisan Every Child Achieves Act represents a powerful opportunity for our nation's educators, parents, and students. The bill would reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), the single most significant piece of K-12 federal education legislation. ESEA is more than just a technical document about funding streams and allowable uses of dollars; throughout history it has served as a critical stake in the ground about what we collectively aspire to do through education.

At its inception in 1965, ESEA represented a strong, collective commitment to equity. A key pillar of President Johnson's War on Poverty, ESEA asserted that children living in poverty should have equal access to an excellent education. Reauthorizations of this document have served as a compass of our nation's take on what needs to happen next in education; what will truly move the needle and do right by our kids.

This current process has been no exception. We are at a critical tipping point as a nation. 1 in 5 students has a learning or attention issue. 50 percent of students report that they lack hope for the future. Moreover, 51 percent of the children in our public schools receive free and reduced lunch, a measure of poverty that indicates the barriers they face to learning may extend far beyond the classroom walls. While we have the much of the technology and tools we need to create a new vision of teaching and learning, too many of our schools lack the resources they need.

Organizations from our Reimagine Learning initiative, including City Year, Turnaround for Children and the National Center for Learning Disabilities have been working closely with policymakers in D.C. to chart the next path for the American education system.

We are encouraged by the work of the HELP committee this year. In particular, we enthusiastically support aspects of the Every Child Achieves Act that create opportunities for thoughtful innovation and partnership. We strongly advocate for the innovative assessment pilot program in The Every Child Achieves Act included in the current bill. This pilot would support states that want to build better assessment systems that focus on mastery, rather than seat time, to improve teaching and learning. As more schools are transitioning to personalized education systems, this pilot program would free states to innovate, rather than be trapped in a system not designed to support new approaches to education.

We also support the shift away from determining school and student success on a single academic test score, and towards a more comprehensive picture of the skills and competencies that support students' academic and life success. These critical shifts can help move us towards a system of learning where the unique strengths and challenges of all learners are recognized and supported.

At the same time, we know that the Every Child Achieves Act can be strengthened in areas to ensure we meet the needs of all students. With a commitment to students who face additional barriers to learning at the forefront, we firmly believe that we need a shared and accurate understanding of how students with learning disabilities, English Language Learners, and historically marginalized student populations are doing. This understanding is critical to our work together to do right by every student, meet their unique needs as a learner, and recognize their potential.

We hope you'll stand with us. As this process moves forward, together we can raise up the powerful stories of what is working every day in our classrooms and ensure that the next authorization of ESEA is grounded in best practices that make a difference for students informed by the insight of teachers, parents and young people across the nation.