THE BLOG
01/15/2015 06:39 pm ET Updated Mar 17, 2015

Smart Reauthorization of the ESEA Law Necessary for Student Success

Reaching the American Dream begins with opportunity. As young people of all races, creeds and backgrounds march courageously to address issues of police misconduct and disparities in the justice system, they are also highlighting additional deep inequities that threaten our great nation. Our sons and daughters deserve to live full, meaningful and prosperous lives -- and an excellent and equitable education is critical to achieving that.

This year, Congress will try to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) -- the law that governs the country's K-12 education system. As they rewrite this bill, lawmakers must commit to continue the strong federal oversight in education and preserve the core principles of equity, excellence and accountability. But let us be clear. Should lawmakers make changes that undermine the core values of ESEA by ignoring equity, gutting federal accountability or shifting resources to block grants, they will jeopardize our children's futures, particularly children in poverty, children of color and children with disabilities.

The No Child Left Behind Act -- the most recent reauthorization of ESEA -- set an expectation that all children can learn and highlighted inequities in our educational systems that challenge children's ability to succeed. NCLB was a bipartisan bill, with wide support from both parties. Despite the progress we have made to close achievement gaps since 2001, there is still work to be done. While NCLB set the clear and necessary expectation that every student can learn and that all schools should be held accountable, unfortunately it did not prescribe the crucial supports necessary to achieve these goals.

A smart reauthorization of the ESEA law will support the success of all students. It will include a transparent and shared accountability system for every individual and agency responsible for students. It will maintain high-quality annual standardized assessments so that parents and educators continue to receive valid information about whether children are on track to enter college or careers and states have the information they need to provide supports and interventions when school districts struggle. It will incorporate ambitious goals for academic achievement and other necessary 21st century skills, and emphasize the necessary funds, resources, supports, school staff and interventions required to bolster student success. It will also fully embrace the role of students, families and communities in education. With these principles in place, we can build on the progress we have made since the original passage of ESEA 50 years ago.

It's time for Washington to make good on ESEA's promise to public education. Because we have not achieved resource equity in this nation, some of our children -- particularly children of color -- have been systematically less prepared. The original intent of ESEA is to level the playing field for disadvantaged students by providing additional funds and supports to their schools. We must stay true to the spirit of this law and provide adequate resources to help students and schools rise to challenges of the 21st century.

The American Dream can be within reach for all children when they are guaranteed an equitable and excellent education. For that to be possible, the Congress must maintain the federal government's vital role in K-12 education, promote equity and preserve accountability. With these firm principles in mind, we encourage the 114th Congress to write a new ESEA bill that will prepare all children for college, work and life -- no matter their family income, race or zip code.