Panelists during the Dec. 6 Campaign for High School Equity briefing, "High School Accountability and Equity in NCLB," sent a clear message that the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) needs to be viewed as a civil rights law and that it is critical it be reauthorized in 2008. They stressed that NCLB presents a valuable opportunity to "improve student outcomes, such as high school graduation, college preparedness and success in postsecondary education, particularly for students of color."
Coordinated by the Alliance for Excellent Education, the Campaign for High School Equity is a coalition of national organizations such as the League of United Latin American Citizens, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the National Council of La Raza, the National Indian Education Association and the National Urban League.
Wade Henderson, president of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, noted that the recognition of education as the pathway to success and subsequently denying educational opportunities to individuals of color has a long history. While many felt Brown vs. Board of Education indicated the journey for equality was over, Henderson stated that too much was placed on "the back" of that decision and there was no way it could solve all problems. Henderson feels that going forward, the country needs to "make the idea of Brown vs. the Board of Education a reality for every student." In terms of who should work to that end, he said history has shown that ensuring all students have access to a quality education "cannot be left in the hands of state and local government."
Speaking from a legal perspective, Peter Zamora from the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, acknowledged that NCLB has had a "bumpy road" and has flaws that require correction but focused on the positive aspects of the law, specifically in terms of transparency and teacher quality. Zamora pointed to the numerous front-page stories in national publications and segments on network nightly news dedicated to the state of education as well as the specific education achievements of specific student populations not seen prior to NCLB. He stressed that reauthorizing NCLB in 2008 is critical because there is momentum and a previously absent public will to close the achievement gap. Given the fickle nature of the public, this momentum might not be sustained if the law is not reauthorized in 2008, according to Zamora.
Discussing the involvement of the Alliance for Excellent Education in the campaign, Bethany Little, vice president of federal advocacy and policy development for AEE, said AEE realized early on it "could not speak honestly about the crisis facing America's high schools without speaking honestly about the crisis facing America's students of color." Little discussed the following six policy proposals included in the campaign's first publication, "A Plan for Success: Communities of Color Define Policy Priorities for High School Reform."
- Make all students proficient and prepared for college and work
- Hold high schools accountable for student success
- Redesign the American high school
- Provide students with the excellent leaders and teachers they need to succeed
- Invest communities in student success
- Provide equitable learning conditions for all students
Emphasizing that NCLB does not currently prepare students for college and the workplace, Little said to prepare students, they must have better access to a rigorous curriculum, and the assessments must be revised to ensure they yield the best information.
During the question-and-answer period, the panel was asked to look at the potential economic and democratic impact of not serving these students. Henderson said the country cannot afford not to and that: 1) the workforce for the next 25 years will be drawn from the populations getting the least education, and 2) every indication that the United States has fallen behind is underscored every year through test results like the recently released PISA results.
More at http://www.highschoolequity.org/