The group spoke about the upcoming Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). ESEA was originally passed 50 years ago under President Johnson as an attempt to expand education opportunities for all students. The original ESEA provided grants for districts serving low-income students and federal grants for library and text books. It also created special education centers and scholarships for low-income college students. The government has reauthorized the act every five years. The current version of ESEA was passed under President Bush in 2002, also known as "No Child Left Behind." No Child Left Behind utilizes standardized testing to evaluate schools and conditions federal grants on testing results.
The Senate is currently working on a reauthorization bill for ESEA. The panel on Thursday focused on amendments the groups hoped to see to ESEA. Two students shared stories of how to the harsh Zero Tolerance policies, which mandate suspensions and expulsions for certain misconduct, have affected them personally,, making it difficult for them to succeed in school. Parents talked about how the current system pushes kids out of school and often into jail, known as the School-to-Prison Pipeline.
Also in attendance of the discussion were Representative Bobby Scott, Representative Katherine Clark, Senator Chris Murphy, and Representative Danny Davis. The four spoke about their personal commitments to changing education policy and their hopes to realize such change.
Community organizers and several of the legislators emphasized the need to move away from a school evaluation system solely based on testing results to one that includes an evaluation of school climate. A system focused solely on testing results incentivizing schools to expel students facing difficulties, rather than work to help the students. Data indicates that high expulsion rates, starting even in pre-school, predominately effect students of color.
Senator Chris Murphy emphasized this summer is a crucial time for students, parents, and communities members to mobilize, urging their Congressmen and women to favor amendments to ESEA.