WASHINGTON -- Leaders from civil rights, tutoring, and school choice organizations came together in the House Education and the Workforce Committee hearing room to discuss the granting of waivers from important provisions of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), commonly known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB).
The panel concluded that granting waivers from the Law – including from current tutoring requirements for low income children in underperforming schools – would have a disparate and harmful impact on minority students. The discussion comes just weeks after the U.S. Department of Education released a report pointing to the positive results of the tutoring program.
Black Florida Representative Alcee Hastings and Representative Carolyn McCarthy of New York, who spoke before the panel, shared the panelists' sentiment that waivers could disrupt progress toward closing the achievement gap.
In recent months, a number of organizations, including the American Association of School Administrators (AASA), have suggested that the Department of Education grant relief from current federal requirements under NCLB. The Secretary of Education has signaled a willingness to consider waivers of key provisions of the law prior to Congressional reauthorization of NCLB. In February, seven civil rights and education organizations, including LULAC, the National Council of La Raza, and the National Urban League sent a sternly worded letter to Secretary Arne Duncan, urging against waivers and expressing concern that "progress made in holding the education system accountable for improving academic opportunities for communities of color, English language learners, and Native students" would "regress if key requirements are relaxed."
The panelists at today's event agreed with the thrust of the letter. "It is no secret that many of the nation's most under-served students are stuck in failing schools and need help outside the classroom," said Lisa Keegan, former McCain for President Spokesperson. "We know free tutoring is an effective means of helping these at-risk students, and I can't understand why we would grant waivers that risk undermining our progress."
Sonia Rodriguez, who coordinates educational programs for the United Farmworkers of America labor union and the Cesar Chavez Foundation, echoed Ms. Keegan's concerns. "The achievement gap is still perilously large. If tutoring helps close that gap, cutting off funding doesn't make sense."
Today's panel represented the strange bedfellows often aligned in the current education debate. Ms. Keegan, who founded the Education Breakthrough Network, was in lock-step with Ms. Rodriguez, as well as the third panelist, T. Willard Fair of the Urban League of Greater Miami and former Chair of the Florida State Board of Education.
"One of NCLB's chief goals was making sure that we raise the achievement levels of the students stuck in the worst schools," said Mr. Fair. "Waiving core accountability provisions of the law would harm the very students those provisions were intended to support."