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NEA to Arne Duncan: New NCLB Should Track Student Access to Early Ed., Funding

UPDATED

What's high on National Education Association president Lily Eskelsen Garcia's wish list for the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act?

An "opportunity" dashboard that would show how much access low-income and minority students have to the kinds of supports that add up to a great educational experience, she said in a letter sent to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan Jan 26. Those supports include: advanced coursework (such as Advanced Placement classes), fully qualified teachers, support personnel (like school psychologists and nurses), high-quality athletic and arts programs, and strong early-learning programs. (See Duncan's response below).

The union also wants federal funding incentives put in place to give districts and states a good reason to make sure that low-income and minority kids get their fair share of these resources.

Several of these indicators are tracked in the Education Department's various data collections, such as the massive one from its office of civil rights. But states and districts don't typically put that information together in one easy-to-find place. The NEA says that states and districts ought to report the information and disaggregate it for groups of students, such as needy students and English-language learners.

The department and NEA don't see eye to eye on much (see teacher evaluations, standardized testing, and competitive grants, for starters). But Duncan may be more open to this particular suggestion. The department has already put states and districts on notice that they must make sure low-income students have the same access to educational supports as their more advantaged peers—and the OCR is already looking into potential disparities in New York.

There's been a longstanding debate (as in, going on for decades) in Washington over whether the federal government should hold districts and states accountable for "inputs" (like the ones outlined in Eskelsen Garcia's letter) or "outputs" (such as student outcomes on the standardized tests the union wants to do away with.) So while the NEA is ready to take a big step from the federal role in accountability and assessment, it sounds like the union wants to keep some sort of a federal footprint when it comes to ensuring equity of opportunity. The dashboards Eskelsen Garcia is proposing here would provide some transparency in that area, if nothing else.

UPDATE: Raymonde Charles, a spokeswoman for the department, provided this response to the NEA's proposal. Bottom line? The department likes equity and transparency, too. 

Secretary Duncan has called for scrapping No Child Left Behind and replacing it with an updated law that ensures and expands true educational opportunity for every child. One vital part of that effort is making sure all students have fair and equitable access to resources in school. Through efforts including guidance and Civil Rights Data Collection reports, we have worked to support states and districts in identifying and addressing gaps in opportunity. We agree with NEA President Lily Eskelsen García that it is essential to push for fair access to resources under a new ESEA, and that transparency about access is vital to that effort. That information, along with consistent information about student learning progress, is what families, educators and communities need and deserve.

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