We like to say that Black lives matter, Latino lives matter, poor children’s lives matter, even English Language Learner lives matter. Yet families, especially those of children of color, have to fight so long and hard so that our children get the educational opportunities they need. This is because there are other people who don’t think their lives matter.
America made a stand for equity and for all lives when it passed the No Child Left Behind Act 13 years ago. Obstruction from states and school districts limited execution of some of those provisions. But the law’s Adequate Yearly Progress provision has shined important light on how many schools, including those in suburbs in states such as Connecticut (where my kids and I live) are poorly serving our children, especially those of color.
Now thanks to the Obama Administration’s No Child waivers granted to states such as Connecticut, the educational and civil rights of our children are being waved goodbye.
Thanks to the Obama Administration’s No Child waiver process, states like Connecticut, which has one of the nation’s most-persistent socioeconomic achievement gaps to ignore No Child’s Supplemental Educational Services provision and gut tutoring and other afterschool programs. Certainly states and districts have done everything they can to avoid setting aside 20 percent of Title 1 dollars for those services – and haven’t fulfilled the promise of the law. But for our children, especially in poor-performing districts such as Bridgeport, those services could help them improve their reading and numeracy.
Because of the No Child waivers, Connecticut now takes those SES dollars and hands them to locals of the National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers to fund so-called professional development programs. This now means that teachers in my state can take culinary classes instead of working on improving instruction in reading and math on behalf of our children. Cooking classes over reading? Where is the accountability in that?
Even more shameful, the No Child waivers allow states to relegate poor and minority children into super-subgroups. In Connecticut, this takes the form of the “high needs subgroup” consisting of ELL students, low-income students, and kids in special ed. This essentially defeating No Child’s original intent of disaggregating data on how our children are performing so we can know how schools are serving them. Thanks to super-subgroup gamesmanship in Connecticut and elsewhere, districts can continue to funnel our children into the school-to-prison pipeline, harming children of color and those who are poor.
What is so disheartening about the No Child waivers is that the Obama Administration could have avoided all of this damage. As Dropout Nation Editor RiShawn Biddle has chronicled over the past few years, peer review panels have determined that there were problems with nearly all the waiver proposals submitted to the federal government. Particularly in the case of Connecticut, the peer review panel concluded that the state department of education provided “limited information” on how the performance of subgroups would be tracked under the state’s new accountability system. The state’s super-subgroup subterfuge “could make it more difficult to identify specific subgroup needs” and let districts hide their inattention to our neediest students by overemphasizing the success of high-achieving kids from wealthier homes.
In spite of these concerns, the Obama Administration approved Connecticut’s waiver as well as those of other states at the expense of our children. Even worse, as the state moves today to convene parents and others to get the blessing for a waiver extension, it is unlikely that it will make any changes to its waiver that will actually expand accountability, choice, or help for our children most in need.
So let me be clear: Thanks to the No Child waivers, a wealthy state that home to some of the nation’s most-prestigious universities can continue to ignore one of the worst achievement gaps the country. Thanks to the waivers, the state can ignore the socioeconomically disadvantaged in its cities, the children of color in its persistently-failing schools, and the kids endangered by unsafe and poor-performing schools. Thanks to the waivers, Connecticut gets a free pass on its failure to provide high-quality education to 50,000 children, who will eventually become the adults who are underemployed and unable to qualify for meaningful work.
As a Democrat and as a black woman, I have to say the Obama Administration’s waiver effort has set our state back and has set the nation back. The waiver effort is one reason why discussions in Congress are now focused on further rolling back accounting and leaving children in color and kids in poverty behind. There’s no way we can call the waivers nothing less than a violation of our promise to our children to protect their civil rights, an abrogation of educational equality, and a setback to our communities.
It is hard enough in Connecticut to fight teachers’ unions and other entrenched interests uninterested in providing my children and kids like them with great education. This is why other parents and I are fighting this year to build upon the nation’s second Parent Trigger law and beat back efforts to place a moratorium on expanding charter schools. But thanks to the No Child waivers, the fight we are waging is even harder.