by Victoria Young
As a nation, we demanded an accountability system for our public schools; and we got it. Then we were asked to identify our lowest performing schools; and we did it. Now, do we continue to dismantle the public system, turn our backs and walk away from "under-achieving schools," or do we fight like hell for the children left behind?
To fulfill our duty to America's children, effective schools must be established in every community where they do not currently exist. It is our responsibility as a nation to not just identify and label schools, but to address the needs of our lowest performing schools throughout our land.
We must view appropriation of funds as a national strategic investment and set an expectation that communities will make wise use of all existing education resources (governmental, non-profit, and civic contributions). This isn't the talk of more government hand-outs; this is about fulfilling our shared responsibility to give educationally-deprived children a hand up.
We can begin as a nation by going back to the idea of providing excellent education for all through The Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. The original titles of this law must be used once again to produce federal education law that we can all read, understand, and be a part of executing effectively and efficiently.
Title I – Education of Children of Low Income Families should provide financial assistance to local education agencies in support ofchildren from low-income families in order to expand and improve community efforts to meet these children's learning needs. Those schools already identified as not meeting the needs of their students should be required to go through a guided improvement process.
A school improvement process begins with a "needs assessment" which can be done using already existing free government assessment tools. Identified needs must then be clearly defined, measures of success established, and existing resources in the community identified. "Gaps" in resources should be brought to the attention of state education officials so that no identified need goes unaddressed.
State officials should be responsible for identifying their resources and establishing indicators of their success in addition to continually monitoring and reporting on their ability to meet their own constitutional responsibility – thus establishing an accounting of the system.
For Title I schools designated as chronically low-performing, they must be guided through the assessment and improvement processes by a "support team." This is not the same as submitting a plan and being checked up on now and then, on paper. This needs to be a well-trained set of eyes, ears, and boots on the ground.
Title II – School Library Resources, Textbooks, and Other Instructional Materials should provide access to educational materials for all students in the State recognizing the invaluable human and material resources that a library provides for a community.To provide equal opportunity, the States should be required to assess the equity of resources in its districts and work cooperatively to use existing resources to fill their "materials gap."
Title III – Supplementary Educational Centers and Services should be made available to the entire community to provide services not currently offered but deemed vital to educational improvement in underserved areas. Services deemed essential to children being "ready to learn," as determined by school and community needs assessments and those with a demonstrated lack of existing resources, should be given priority. All communities should be encouraged to use their existing resources wisely by encouraging cooperative efforts with existing non-profits and civic organizations.
Title IV – Educational Research and Training; Cooperative Research Act supports educational research and training to enable the Department of Education to more effectively accomplish its purposes and to perform its duties including dissemination of information. This research and training should be targeted at improving the quality of teaching, counseling, advising, and parental and community engagement practices—to improve student achievement.
Because chronically low-performing schools are in communities least likely to have the existing human capacity to overcome the obstacles of systemic school change, a community education organizer should be instilled to facilitate the flow of information from the Department of Education research findings to local school personnel and community members.
Title V – State Departments of Education funds should be focused "to stimulate and assist in strengthening the leadership resources of State educational agencies" to assist states in identifying "educational problems, issues, and needs in the State."
States that have a historical trend of low-performance or persistent and wide achievement gaps on NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) scores should be required to assemble a state school improvement team to actively participate along-side federal "support teams" in the communities designated most in need of improvement in order to put the best practices of improvement processes into action and firmly establish them within the state institutions.
This country has never offered equal educational opportunities to its youngest citizens, ever! It is not acceptable and since 2007 our lawmakers have demonstrated that they lack the ability to meet the task of changing the failed policies of No Child Left Behind – which is no longer recognizable as The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).
So, what is necessary right now is that people push policy that is fair and balanced, represents our expectations, and focuses on providing high-quality personalized learning opportunities for all children. Ask for the resurrection of ESEA because, for America, this is what opportunity looks like.
Victoria M. Young is a long-time advocate for excellence in education, a practicing veterinarian, and mother of two college graduates from Idaho's land-grant university. She is the author of The Crucial Voice of the People, Past and Present: Education's Missing Ingredient.