ESEA Reauthorization: A Crucial Step to Improve Schools

CAP Event Looks at How to Strengthen American Education Through ESEA

“I think we are in the midst of the most dynamic reform atmosphere I have witnessed in my time in office,” said Rep. George Miller (D-CA), ranking member of the House Education and Workforce Committee, at a June 14 event hosted by the Center for American Progress Action Fund. “Much of this energy is due to the reauthorization efforts surrounding the ESEA.” Rep. Miller explained how the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act—the largest federal program designed to improve education, particularly for disadvantaged students, which was reauthorized as No Child Left Behind in 2002—was a crucial step to providing a better education to millions of American children. “This is a major piece of legislation,” Rep. Miller added, “and a major piece of the economic policy of this country.”

Two expert panel discussions followed, the first featuring Rep. George Miller; U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan; former U.S. Secretary of Education and current president and CEO of her eponymous company Margaret Spellings; as well as moderator John Podesta. The second expert panel featured Rep. George Miller; American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten; Vice President for Government Affairs and Communications of the Education Trust Amy Wilkins; and moderator Cynthia Brown, the Vice President for Education Policy at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

This event took place the same day that the Center for American Progress released a new report containing policy recommendations for the reform of ESEA: “A Way Forward: A Progressive Vision for Reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.”

The expert panelists and the report are in agreement: A dynamic federal program like ESEA is well suited to confront the weaknesses of the current school system. Several panelists expressed concern over plans to cut funding or resort to state waiver programs to fund schools. The implementation of accountability standards, investments in teachers and principals, fair and efficient funding practices, targeted support to low-performing schools, and investments in innovative education practices as proposed in CAP’s report are clear ways to avoid the inequities that often accrue when school administration is the near-exclusive dominion of individual states.

“The state gaming stuff everyone talks about is absolutely real, and the kids who lose most are the low-income kids,” Amy Wilkins said. “We need to make sure kids of color and low-income kids get what they need.”

The reauthorization of ESEA should be part of any national program to reform the American education system. In conjunction with the proposed reforms contained in the CAP report, ESEA could build on the successes of the No Child Left Behind Act, and fix its failures.

“We have learned a lot from No Child Left Behind, but it’s not a proper fit,” Rep. Miller said. “We have to hold a high bar and give schools room to get there.”

“We need ESEA to be reauthorized this year in order to fix the significant problems with NCLB and to ensure all students have a fair shot at a better education, a better job, and a better future,” said Cynthia Brown. ESEA reauthorization would provide much-needed resources for teachers and schools to measure progress on federal and state standards and respond effectively and quickly to those progress measurements.

Lawmakers should not abandon the next step in the effort to improve America’s schools because of economic difficulties, either. “Building on strengths and fixing weaknesses is even important in tough economic times,” Secretary Duncan said. That’s because reform can pay off: Raising education achievement levels in the United States to those of other industrialized nations from 1983 to 1998 would have increased our GDP in 2008 by $1.3 trillion to $2.3 trillion.[1]

John Podesta, Counselor and Chair of the Center for American Progress Action Fund, also underscored in his opening remarks the economic importance of education reform and ESEA’s potential to strengthen the American economy for the next generation.

“The students of today are the workers of tomorrow,” he said. “Educational reform is necessary for American economic competitiveness.” ESEA’s reauthorization would help to promote equity in education as well as bolster and protect a strong middle class.

Time is running out for Congress to reauthorize ESEA before the next school year begins. “We desperately want Congress to reauthorize,” said Secretary Duncan.

[1]. McKinsey and Company, "The Economic Impact of the Achievement Gap in America’s Schools" (2009).

Click here for full details on this event.

To learn more about CAP’s recommendations for education reform, check out its education homepage. Find out more about ESEA by reading CAP’s latest report and by watching this video on ESEA reform.