Congress has restarted work to rewrite the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, also known as No Child Left Behind (ESEA/NCLB). This is one of the most important laws for students with learning and attention issues.
ESEA/NCLB was first passed in 1965. The law funds elementary and secondary education with the goal of providing equal access to education for groups of students who may be underserved. One of the groups the law specifically includes is students with disabilities, which includes many students with learning and attention issues. The funding under ESEA/NCLB includes support for: professional development for teachers, instructional materials and educational programs for students. Any changes to the law will impact nearly every school in the nation. Congress last “reauthorized” the law in 2001 and everyone agrees it needs an update.
We’ve Joined More Than 45 Civil Rights and Disability Advocates to Speak Out
In mid-January, Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions committee released a draft of what he’d like to see in a new version of ESEA/NCLB. We have big concerns about Senator Alexander’s draft. And we’ve spoken out.
We joined more than 20 groups including civil rights and disability advocates to send a message to Congress: we must promote fair and equal access to public schools for all students. This diverse coalition is composed of respected and long-standing organizations like the Children’s Defense Fund, Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, Easter Seals, Disability Rights Education Defense Fund, Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA), NAACP, National Council of La Raza, National Women’s Law Center, The Education Trust, Southeast Asian Resource Action Center and many others.
Fair and equal access means that students with disabilities, many of whom have learning and attention issues, must be included in our educational system. To make this point, we have also joined with organizations representing the entire disability community. We’ve worked with over two dozen national disability rights advocates to send a letter to Congress stating that all children must be appropriately included in state-wide assessments, given the accommodations they need and be provided meaningful access to the general education curriculum.
NCLD is working to support innovation in education and ensure that families and educators get the information they need to target interventions and provide needed resources to students. We support the reduction of duplicative and unnecessary testing. But we also need to protect key parts of ESEA/NCLB that have contributed to the success of students with learning and attention issues over the last decade. You can learn more about the various opportunities and threats we’ve identified as Congress moves forward to reauthorize this law.
What to Look for in Upcoming Weeks
There are three hearings planned on Capitol Hill for Congress to hear from witnesses on different topics relating to ESEA/NCLB.
First up is the topic of assessment, which was discussed at a hearing on January 21. NCLD has worked hard to ensure that all students are held to high standards. For example, we need to make sure that students with disabilities are not given substandard tests that can take them off track for receiving a regular high school diploma. When kids with learning and attention issues take tests different than other kids, it limits their access to college and career opportunities. To learn more about why assessments matter and how assessments can impact students, you can read two explanations about “alternate assessments”—our explanation of the “alternate assessment based on alternate achievement standards” (AA-AAS) and the Advocacy Institute’s explanation of the “alternate assessment based on modified achievement standards” (AA‐MAS).
We are also expecting the Senate to hold two more hearings—one on January 27th and another early in February. The topic of the January 27th hearing will be on Supporting Teachers and School Leaders. The final hearing will center on State Innovations.
We Need Your Help
Parents and advocates can help by spreading a unified message along with NCLD and other advocates for students with disabilities.
- First, you can help us inform and educate! It is important to tell other parents about this issue. You can share why students with learning and attention issues need to be held to high standards and given access to the general education curriculum and assessments with necessary accommodations and supports. Use our explanation of the “alternate assessment” to help explain this complicated issue.
- You can also contact your members of Congress to remind them that parents want the best for their children and that children with disabilities can and should meet their fullest potential. You can also educate staff in Congress about assessments and the importance of providing students with disabilities meaningful access to the curriculum and assessments.
- On social media, help us spread the same message. Let’s engage in conversation about #ESEA, #NCLB, and #HighExpectations on Twitter. Tweet at key members of Congress who are considering ESEA right now using this list.
We will also need your help in coming weeks as Congress moves this law forward. We will be setting up an Action Alert so that you can reach out to your members of Congress directly and ask them to support students with learning and attention issues. Keep an eye out for that and stay up to date on what’s happening with ESEA/NCLB by following us on Twitter and signing up for our advocacy email list.