By Milan Kumar, a Spring 2015 Leadership Conference Education Fund Intern
On Wednesday, the day of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee’s first hearing on the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights hosted a day of action called #AllStudentsMatter to ensure that all students have equal access to a quality education.
The hearing focused on the effects of standardized testing and the need for accountability in our nation’s public schools. Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference, testified at the hearing and stressed the importance of protecting the rights of minority students, low-income students, students with disabilities, English learners, and other underserved students.
“Education is even more important today than ever before. A high school diploma is just not enough to access the jobs of today and tomorrow. Students now need postsecondary education or further training after high school,” Henderson said in his testimony. “[W]e cannot ignore the fact that state and local school financing systems have been unfair and inadequate. We know that money spent wisely can and will make an enormous difference in the ability of high-poverty schools to prepare our students for college and career.”
After attending the hearing, more than 40 parents, principals, and community leaders gathered for the #AllStudentsMatter day of action, which included meeting with their home-state senators and staffers to encourage a strong federal role in education. Parents and other advocates came from Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Kentucky, Maryland, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia, Vermont, and Washington.
Participants had two main asks: the continuation of annual testing to track student progress, and accountability and increased transparency in the use of Title 1 funds, which are meant to help the most underserved communities.
Why is a strong ESEA needed? Latasha Gandy from Minnesota said that, “As a parent, it’s important to keep track of how my children are doing in school and I am not the only parent that feels this way. The annual testing required by the federal government is needed to ensure we know where our children stand every year. As a community, we have to protect the civil rights of all students and ensure they have access to a quality education.”
Jesus Carillo, a Colorado parent and advocate, shared a similar view. “I don’t think states should be left on their own to keep track of how students and schools are performing. ESEA showed us what the achievement gaps are, and now we need to take responsibility—all of us—for closing them.”