To the Editor:
No Child Left Behind bombed. The law was based on the audacious concept that 100 percent of America’s students would be performing at grade level by the 2013-14 school year. Now, we have the new and improved Every Student Succeeds Act (“Inside ESSA: The New Federal K-12 Law”). This latest version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act assumes that shifting the balance of power in education back to the states will provide our neediest youngsters with the educational boosts they didn’t receive under NCLB.
I would argue that everyone—the powers-that-be in Washington, states, local school districts, and teachers—knows what it takes for children to succeed: high-quality teaching and good parenting. Even if the most qualified teachers go to the areas with the most-disadvantaged populations, they alone cannot make up for the hours a child spends in a poor-quality environment at home. This is where it’s unlikely that ESSA will stack up any better than No Child Left Behind.
In addition to high-quality teaching and parental follow-up at home, students, especially the disadvantaged, need supplemental services, like high-quality preschools, summer and after-school programs, health and social services, and more. All these things require tax dollars, and ESSA does not authorize robust funding for such services (“ESEA Reauthorization: The Every Student Succeeds Act Explained”).
Money for our schools comes primarily from sales, income, and property taxes. A well-off community provides state-of-the-art buildings and equipment, excellent teachers, and that extra ingredient—parents who actively advocate for these things. In our poorest communities, where ESSA will put control back at the local level, the opposite is true.
Public schools, even the best, cannot by themselves help the poor climb from poverty. To accomplish that, wraparound support services are needed, the kind of things middle- and upper-class children claim as their birthright. ESSA makes no provision for these and unfortunately, under ESSA, many children will remain behind.
New York, N.Y.
A version of this article appeared in the February 17, 2016 edition of Education Week as ESSA Will Leave Children From Poorest Communities Behind