Education: two important proposals

Here let me offer some observations, or if you will, editorializing. Let’s look at the first of the opportunity ot learn indicators listed above, “Highly effective teachers.” The current 2001 iteration of the ESEA, commonly known as No Child Left Behind, has a provision that all children are supposed to be instructed by “highly qualified teachers.” Recently the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that teachers from programs such as Teach for America, which provide minimal training before placing their candidates in the classroom (in TFA, only 5 weeks), did not meet the qualifications of the law, and the parents of such children had to be notified. TFA is heavily politically connected, and as a result Sen. Harkin (chair of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions that previously was led by the late Ted Kennedy), inserted language into a Continuing Resolution to change the definition of “highly qualified” so that those from TFA were so considered and parents would not have to be notified. It is not clear to me how this benefits the students taught by those reclassified. In my mind, the change was more to benefit TFA and similar programs without regard for the impact of the effect upon the students.

This should be of concern. Let me quote from the legislative language of the bill a portion which quotes from the Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan:

(9) According to the Secretary of Education, as stated in a letter (with enclosures) dated January 19, 2002, from the Secretary to States—

(A) racial and ethnic minorities continue to suffer from lack of access to educational re- sources, including ‘‘experienced and qualified teachers, adequate facilities, and instructional programs and support, including technology, as well as . . . the funding necessary to secure these resources’’; and

(B) these inadequacies are ‘‘particularly acute in high-poverty schools, including urban schools, where many students of color are isolated and where the effect of the resource gaps may be cumulative. In other words, students who need the most may often receive the least, and these students often are students of color’’.

Whatever our national approach to education, if it continues to exacerbate the inequality of opportunity for children of lesser means, who are disproportionally found among minority communities (especially Black, Hispanic and Native American), we will continue a pattern of disparity that Brown v Board at least in theory was supposed to address, as were many other court rulings and legislative initiatives. Absent equity we will be leaving children behind, no matter how nobly we may label some laws.

As to the Fiscal Fairness Act, allow me to quote the brief summary offered on the Congressman’s Congressional web page:

The ESEA Fiscal Fairness Act – amends the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which is up for reauthorization this year, and a takes giant step toward achieving the promise of Brown v. Board of Education, which ended legal segregation in schools but has left unfulfilled the promise of equal opportunity in all our schools. The measure requires school districts to equalize the real dollars spent among all schools within its jurisdiction – with the imperative to raise the resources allotted to schools in the poorest neighborhoods to meet those in well-off schools – before receiving federal aid.

Let me add language from the summary sent out by the Congressman’s office:

The original purpose of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA)was to provides supplemental funding to districts and schools to cover some of the additional costs of educating low-income students. Inherent in the law was the recognition that, because of the realities of povert, these students would need resources in addition to those available to their peers. More than any other provision in that law, the comparability requirement seeks to ensure that federal funds are used to support existing, equitable State and local efforts, rather than to compensate for State and district inequities. Because of loopholes in the Statute, Departmental regulations, and a lack of meaningful enforcement, this provision has never truly lived up to its intended purpose. The ESEA Fiscal Fairness Act seeks to correct this historic oversight and to restore the original intent of the ESEA. The bill addresses problems with the current statute and its implementation, as well as updates the law to accommodate current school improvement strategies and the use of Title I funds.

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