Prepared Remarks from U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to Foundation for Excellence in Education National Summit on Education Reform

Prepared Remarks from U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to Foundation for Excellence in Education National Summit on Education Reform

Nashville, Tennessee – Thank you, Denisha for that very kind introduction. I am so glad Denisha has joined our team at the U.S. Department of Education. Even though she’s no longer a child, it’s kids like Denisha who keep me focused. They are who I fight for every day, the driving force behind all we do.

I’m happy to be back with so many friends at Excel in Ed, especially as you celebrate the 10th anniversary of this National Summit on Education Reform. The Summit has welcomed visionary and inspiring leaders from across government, business and academia, and, as those of you who attended the 2011 Summit in San Francisco will remember, even some friends from Sesame Street made an “unscheduled” guest appearance! I hope they’re not joining us again today!

While this certainly is not my first Summit, it is my first as Secretary of Education.

It is truly an honor to serve America’s students and to speak with you today at this important convening of advocates, policymakers and elected officials, all of whom share a common goal: to equip every child in America with the education necessary to achieve his or her God-given potential.

Governor Bush, Patricia and the entire Excel in Ed team: hundreds of thousands of kids – and former kids, like Denisha – have been able to do just that, thanks in no small part to your efforts.

On behalf of them and their parents – and on behalf of the millions more who deserve that same opportunity – a very sincere and heartfelt thank you for your tireless work and for your continued commitment.

Like many of you, I’ve been involved in education reform for some time. For me, it’s been 30 years. Now, some folks would think that means I should be in the twilight of my career – looking back and winding down with an eye toward retirement.

Well, I do have a bit of bad news to share with you today…

Bad news, that is, for the teacher union bosses, the defenders of the status quo, the “education-expert” bloggers and muckrakers and many of our friends on the Democratic side of the aisle in Congress. Allow me to borrow a line from the great American author Mark Twain: The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated!

I’m not going anywhere! In fact I’m just getting started!

And to get started, let’s talk a bit about where I think we as a country need to go. But first, let’s step back.

You would never know it by watching the news or reading the papers today, but this whole notion of “education reform” isn’t exactly new. In fact, you can trace its roots all the way back to ancient times and Plato’s writings in The Republic. That’s right – 380 B.C.

From the ancient Greek debate, through the Roman Empire, across early Europe, on to America’s widespread adoption of the Prussian model, past progressive theories, amid the important advances made during the civil rights era, through today’s continued debate, education reform has commanded the attention of some of history’s greatest and most influential figures.

And while each one of those transition points could generate hours of debate and discussion, I want to go back to 1983.

In April 1983, A Nation At Risk had just been released. Most everyone here has heard of it. Commissioned by then-U.S. Secretary of Education Terrell Bell, it took a hard look at education in America.

The conclusion, as the report’s title hints, was anything but rosy. This is from the summary:

“The educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity.”

And further:

“If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war.”

That was nearly 35 years ago. And what has changed?

In 1983, A Nation At Risk found that on international tests, America was, quote, “never first or second.” Today, the most recent Programme for International Student Assessment, or PISA, shows America stuck in the middle of our international peers. We are being outpaced and outperformed by countries like China, Germany, Vietnam and the U.K.

We are a nation still at risk. We are a nation at greater risk.

This is unacceptable.

This is inexcusable.

And this is truly un-American.

We can – we must – do better.

We all know this. America knows this. A recent Gallup poll showed the majority of all Americans are dissatisfied with the overall education system in our country.

Something else Americans know: our nation’s broken tax system is well overdue for comprehensive reform. And I am so encouraged that, with the President’s leadership, leaders in Congress are poised to finally do something about it! This Administration believes America succeeds when American workers and job providers keep more of their hard-earned money.

Unfortunately, knowing and doing, especially when it comes to really reforming education, prove to be two very different things. Amidst the data, the numbers, the international comparisons, the debate and the vitriolic rancor from sycophants of the system, it’s really easy to lose sight of what – of whom – we’re really talking.

We’re talking about students, like Trevor. Trevor is from California. He has cerebral palsy, though he’s refused to let it define him. He excelled in elementary and middle school, earning all A’s.

But in high school, his condition made it difficult to navigate multiple floors and a large campus. One day, moving between classes, Trevor fell down a flight of stairs, breaking his knee. His accident crushed his bone, and, it nearly crushed his spirit.

Sadly, Trevor’s school was less than accommodating. They didn’t allow leeway for extra time to transfer classes nor any mechanism to catch up on missed instruction time. This 4.0 GPA high schooler saw his grades tumble and his aspirations fade.

“They really weren’t concerned about Trevor going to college,” Trevor’s mother said. “They really just wanted him to graduate high school.”

In other words, pass him along so they wouldn’t have to deal with him: a sad reality for far too many students in far too many schools.

Thankfully, Trevor and his parents discovered a blended learning charter school that allowed students to take classes online or in person.

Trevor began to thrive academically once again, as he was able to learn from his home.

“I felt excited about education again,” Trevor said. Today, he’s back on path, excelling and fulfilled, with his dream to attend college restored.

And we’re talking about kids like Orlando, from the Florida town whose name he shares. Orlando was born with an innate passion for aviation, and from age 6 knew he wanted to be a pilot. However, his life’s circumstances started stacking up against him.

Shortly after he was born, Orlando’s mother suffered a stroke that left her totally disabled, and as a young grade-schooler, Orlando’s father went to prison. In addition to the challenges at home, Orlando eventually struggled at school, too.

He fell in with a group known as “the little hoodlums.” His grades slipped and he nearly failed his junior year. Looking back, he saw himself headed down the same path as his father.

“I never wanted to be that guy,” Orlando said, “but you can see the little things that lead to someone making the wrong decision or getting arrested one day.”

He saw his dream of becoming a pilot, evaporating. “I started looking at the financial requirements and grade requirements, and I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m not going to make it,'” he said. “My mom is disabled. My father was in prison. So I was like, ‘I don’t have any help. This isn’t going to happen.'”

But Orlando did have help. And it came in the form of the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship and a devoted and caring teacher, Mr. Nieves, who helped Orlando find it.

Through the scholarship, Orlando was able to attend a school that met his individual needs. And as Orlando tells it, everything was different from Day One. “The teachers cared for me and made sure I stayed on top of my work,” Orlando said.

Hope restored, Orlando doubled down on pursuing his dream.

He studied…hard. His teachers pushed him…hard.

And when Orlando walked across the graduation stage last May, as his recently-released father rejoined his family watching in the audience, tears filled Orlando’s eyes – not just for what he was able to accomplish, but for the opportunities that remained ahead as an accepted aeronautical science freshman at Embry-Riddle University.

“The dream really came true – I’m here. It’s a surreal feeling,” Orlando said.

Orlando’s is an outcome every student in America should be able to share, and it’s one every student in America would be able to share if adults would quit fighting over kids and start fighting for them.

And we’re talking about parents, like Shirley, a mom from Pennsylvania with whom I recently spoke. Shirley lives in a tough part of town, and her daughter was afraid of being bullied by the kids in her neighborhood. Attending her assigned neighborhood school terrified her daughter and it broke Shirley’s heart.

Left with no options, Shirley signed up as a driver for a ride sharing company before and after her fulltime day job so she can afford tuition to send her daughter to a safe, Catholic school.

Exhausted and unsure if she could keep up the pace after a year of working multiple jobs, Shirley asked her daughter if she could try her neighborhood school. Her daughter immediately broke into tears. She begged Shirley not to send her there.

“I don’t ask to be rich,” Shirley told me. “All I ask is for my children to have a better life than me. If that means I have to work three jobs, I’ll find a way. I have to do it for my girls,” she said.

And I know she will.

But no parent – no parent – should be left feeling helpless like Shirley. No parent should have to work three jobs in order to send their child to a school that is safe, to a school that works for them.

And we’re talking about kids like Jason and Mitchell Baker, and their sister Jessica from right here in Tennessee.

Jason was diagnosed with ADHD and Dyslexia, while Mitchell lives with Tourette’s syndrome. They both struggled to focus during the school day and they had a tough time interacting with their peers. Their parents tried many different options: their assigned school, private school, blended learning, homeschool co-ops – none seemed to be the right fit for them.

Then they found a virtual school that gave them the opportunity to learn and interact socially at their own pace, but also afforded them the chance to participate in athletics locally. They found the option that worked for their needs.

Jessica, meanwhile, knew that she wanted more from high school than sitting in a classroom for 7 hours a day. She wanted to learn, but she also wanted to go on global service missions, work a part-time job and train to be a ballet dancer.

She tried the school her brothers attended, and found that it was a great fit for what she and her parents wanted for her education, too.

Jessica graduated from the University of Memphis, and Jason and Mitchell are enrolled there now.

But they haven’t stopped there. Inspired by their own experience, these three siblings co-founded their own group to help educate, encourage and empower parents to find options for their children like they and their parents found for them.

Jason, Mitchell and Jessica are here with us today. Guys, could you stand up? Let’s all give them a round of applause.

These are all wonderful success stories. Individuals whose lives have been touched and who are on a new trajectory, with the potential for generational impact.

But for every Denisha, every Trevor and Orlando, every Shirley, every Jessica and Mitchell and Jason, there are more – millions more – whose stories don’t have the same result. Who aren’t afforded the same opportunity.

Who today… right now…sit at kitchen tables…helpless…tears filling their eyes as they contemplate a real and inexcusable possibility: by virtue of their zip code, their family circumstances or their economic means, an education system has assigned them to a future that very well might mean their dream is out of reach.

This is the very real and very human face of a nation still at risk.

These are, all too often, the “forgotten” in our society. They don’t have lobbyists, they don’t have public relations firms, they don’t have untold millions to buy their way out.

But, they have dreams.

They have potential.

They have hope.

Because they have us.

I have a simple question for everyone in this room: What are you going to do?

Lawmakers: how are you going to carry their voices through the halls of your capitol? Will you take a stand? Will you challenge the status quo? Will you fight for them?

Find ways to give your school leaders and your teachers flexibility to do what they know and what they do best: serve their students.

Find solutions to allow funding to follow students so they can learn in the way and at the pace that works for them. Find ways to breakdown artificial barriers of location or distance by exploring the promising potential of online and blended learning – options that did not exist just a few short years ago.

Policymakers: how are you going to put their needs above the needs of a “system”? Will you have the courage to buck the entrenched special interests and do what you know is right for these “forgotten” among us?

Make a commitment to put people before paperwork. Students before systems. Get beyond the walls of your offices and proactively seek the perspective and input of parents, students, teachers, school leaders. Listen with an open mind, especially to the challenges and struggles parents identify. Then act to implement policies in a way that serves them. Our job is not to make life easier for us, but to serve students.

Advocates, community leaders and faith leaders: how will you help amplify their voices? Will you be a catalyst for change in your community?

Will you leverage your spheres of influence to truly rethink education in your communities, your states? Will you support and praise lawmakers and policy makers who take courageous stands on behalf of students and parents?

We are at a time for choosing. We can choose to turn away, to offer platitudes or promises of action “next year.” Or we can say: no more. No more empty rhetoric, no more folding to political pressure, no more accepting by inaction this fundamental injustice that stains the future of the greatest republic in the history of the world. No more.

Let me not discount, in any way, the important work and advances that have been made, many as a direct result of your efforts. And some of the most recent advances have been the most encouraging.

I look to Illinois. Thanks to the courage and leadership of Governor Bruce Rauner and many champions for kids in the legislature, low-income Illinois parents will now have the option to send their kids to a school of their choice.

If it can be done in the backyard of the Chicago Teachers Association, home of the infamous teacher strike just a few short years ago, it can be done anywhere!

And there’s also New Hampshire. New Hampshire is on the verge of passing similar legislation that would give parents in their state more options. Many thanks to Governor Chris Sununu and legislative leaders there as well. Keep pushing and get this done for your students!

We must turn words into action.

Millions of kids today— right now— are trapped in schools that are failing them. Millions more are stuck in schools that are not meeting their individual needs. And their parents have no options, no choices, no way out.

Nearly 30 kids have dropped out of school while I’ve been talking – that’s nearly 1,500 students a day; 521,000 this year and more than 2 million in my term as Secretary. More than the total number of students in the New York City, Los Angles and Chicago School Districts – combined. Or in the entire State of Tennessee – twice. Gone. Take some time and let that sink in.

These aren’t just numbers. These are precious young lives, full of promise and potential; kids who don’t have time to wait until next year, or until next session or until after the next elections. They don’t even have time to wait until tomorrow.

Now is the time to act.

I fully recognize this is a fight.

I acknowledge more times than not, it requires really thick skin.

And I know many of you in this room take arrows in the back— and in the front! – on a daily basis.

But know this:

I stand with you, and, together, we stand with America’s kids – all of them.

Because Denisha is worth it. Trevor and Orlando are worth it. Shirley is worth it. Jessica and Mitchell and Jason are worth it.

Every student and every parent across our great land— each of them are worth it.

America is far too great a country to deny any parent or any student the chance at their dream – the chance a great education affords them.

We owe it to our children to be fearless.

The rising generation represents 100 percent of our future; let’s give them nothing less than 100 percent of our effort.

Thank you for allowing me to be with you. May God bless you and may He bless our future – America’s students.

ESSA Pushes State Schools Chiefs to Scrap Business as Usual

ESSA Pushes State Schools Chiefs to Scrap Business as Usual

St. Louis — State education chiefs are scrambling staff duties and outsourcing tasks such as data collection and school improvement efforts as they prepare for new responsibilities under the Every Student Succeeds Act—at the same time they cope with continued funding and staffing pressures.

ESSA, which goes into effect for accountability purposes next fall, is a mixed blessing in the view of state superintendents who have long asked for more flexibility to figure out on their own how best to improve student outcomes.

One big challenge: Budget cuts in recent years have left large swaths of state education departments squeezed on the capacity to carry out the training, data collecting, and innovation necessary to fully exploit that flexibility.

That tension was top of mind this month as the Council of Chief State School Officers gathered here for its annual policy forum…

Read the full article here: May require an Education Week subscription.

ESSA Pushes State Schools Chiefs to Scrap Business as Usual – Education Week

ESSA Pushes State Schools Chiefs to Scrap Business as Usual – Education Week

St. Louis — State education chiefs are scrambling staff duties and outsourcing tasks such as data collection and school improvement efforts as they prepare for new responsibilities under the Every Student Succeeds Act—at the same time they cope with continued funding and staffing pressures.

ESSA, which goes into effect for accountability purposes next fall, is a mixed blessing in the view of state superintendents who have long asked for more flexibility to figure out on their own how best to improve student outcomes.

One big challenge: Budget cuts in recent years have left large swaths of state education departments squeezed on the capacity to carry out the training, data collecting, and innovation necessary to fully exploit that flexibility.

That tension was top of mind this month as the Council of Chief State School Officers gathered here for its annual policy forum.

With all their ESSA accountability plans now submitted to the U.S. Department of Education for approval, state education agencies in the coming months move into the implementation phase, which has the potential to be more arduous and politically contentious than the planning phase that took place over the previous two years…

Read the full story here:

How Business Leaders Can Help Improve the Nation’s Schools

How Business Leaders Can Help Improve the Nation’s Schools

By Jason Amos, Alliance for Excellent Eduction

Nationwide, there more than 6 million job openings according to the most recent data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Far too often, businesses say that there are not enough qualified applicants to fill their openings. Now, thanks to the nation’s main education law, there’s something that business can do to change that.

By requiring states and school districts to engage a variety of stakeholders, including business, as they develop plans to educate their students, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) provides an excellent opportunity for the business community. By working with states and school districts, the business community can help to shape policy to ensure that more students graduate from high school with the skills they need. In today’s economy, students need content knowledge, but they must also understand how to apply that knowledge across a variety of challenging tasks. They also need critical thinking, communications, collaboration, and other deeper learning competencies.

To help business leaders understand the key role they can play in helping students develop these skills, the Alliance for Excellent Education and the Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives have developed a new fact sheet identifying three key areas within ESSA implementation where business can get involved.

First, business leaders can encourage states to include measures of college and career readiness as one of their indicators of school quality or student success. Examples include the percentage of students who enroll and perform in advanced coursework such as Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate or the percentage of students who enroll, persist, and complete postsecondary education. Louisiana’s ESSA plan includes a “strength of diploma” indicator that measures the quality of a student’s diploma while Tennessee uses a “ready graduate” indicator that incentivizes students to pursue postsecondary experiences while still in high school…

Read the full article here

Download the fact sheet from Alliance for Excellent Education and Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives to learn more about these recommendations and how business leaders can get involved.

How School Choice Can Solve States’ Huge Debt And Pension Woes

How School Choice Can Solve States’ Huge Debt And Pension Woes

By , The Federalist

In 2011, Arizona became the first state to adopt the most flexible school reform yet, an education savings account (ESA) plan. It provides parents who believe their child is poorly served in the local public school with an annual budget they can spend on a wide variety of accredited alternatives—not just private or parochial schools, but tutoring, online academies, special-needs services, and even computer equipment for home schooling.

More recently, five other states have followed Arizona’s lead: Florida, Mississippi, Nevada, Tennessee, and just this year North Carolina. Initially these programs were designed to better serve learning-disabled children, but with the realization that most of its students could be educated independently for a fraction of public-school per pupil spending, Nevada authorized a plan open to any of that state’s children in 2015.

To date, Democrats in the Nevada legislature have held up funding for about 10,000 applicants, but nearly all of Arizona’s K-12 children are now eligible for an ESA worth 90 percent of their district’s per pupil spending.

With this history in mind, Marty Lueken, director of fiscal policy and analysis at the EdChoice Foundation, and I decided to calculate how much ESAs could help a financially troubled blue state, where the longstanding alliance of teacher unions and liberal politicians has created per pupil costs that are three, four, and even five times what is needed to independently educate. Our goal was to see how much the taxpayers of Illinois, New Jersey, Kentucky, California, or Connecticut might benefit if just a small percentage of public school families were funded to take charge of their own children’s schooling…

Read the full article here:

States’ ESSA Plans Fall Short on Educator Equity, NCTQ Analysis Finds – Teacher Beat – Education Week

States’ ESSA Plans Fall Short on Educator Equity, NCTQ Analysis Finds – Teacher Beat – Education Week

Most states are not planning to do enough to prevent low-income students and students of color from being disproportionately taught by ineffective or inexperienced teachers, according to the National Council on Teacher Quality.

The Every Student Succeed Acts requires that states define “ineffective” and “inexperienced” teachers in their federally required plans, and describe ways they’ll ensure that low-income and nonwhite students aren’t being taught by these teachers at higher rates than their peers.

NCTQ, a Washington-based research and advocacy group, today released new analyses of 34 states’ plans, following its analyses of 16 states and the District of Columbia, which was released in June. In that earlier round, the group found a few bright spots, including New Mexico and Tennessee.

NCTQ looked at these metrics in its analyses:

  • How do states define inexperienced and ineffective teachers? NCTQ recommends that states define an inexperienced teacher as someone with two or fewer years of experience. An ineffective teacher should be defined by using “objective measures of student learning and growth” (like student test scores).
  • What data are states using? NCTQ advises states to report student-level data, and consider whether there are additional student subgroups that might have educator equity gaps.
  • When will states eliminate identified educator equity gaps? NCTQ calls for states to make publicly available timelines and interim targets for eliminating the gaps.
  • What are states’ strategies to target identified equity gaps? NCTQ says that specific strategies should be developed with stakeholder input and be evaluated over time.

(It’s important to note that these are not specified by the federal law; they are NCTQ’s interpretation of what states should be doing under ESSA.)…

Read the full article here. May require an Education Week subscription.


Here’s How Some States’ ESSA Plans Address Testing Opt-Outs

Nine states and the District of Columbia had turned in their state plans for the Every Student Succeeds Act as of Monday evening, according to an Education Week survey of states. One tricky issue states have to address in those plans is how to deal with schools where less than 95 percent of all students take required state exams.

Under ESSA, states are allowed to have laws on the books affirming parents’ right to opt their children out of these tests. But ESSA also requires that states administer these tests to all students with sanctions kicking in if the participation rate falls below 95 percent and meaningfully differentiate schools based on participation rate in some fashion. Just how states address this issue if the participation rate of all students (or a subgroup of students) at a particular school falls below 95 percent is up to them.

The opt-out movement sprang up in the last several years as part of a broader resistance to testing, and has been particularly strong in states like Colorado, New Jersey, and New York…

Read the full article here. May require an Education Week subscription.

Keep Us Involved in ESSA Plans, Unions and District Leaders Tell State Chiefs

Associations representing local superintendents, teachers, state lawmakers and others have sent a clear message to chief state school officers: Work with us on the Every Student Succeeds Act.

On Tuesday, 11 groups sent a letter to the Council of Chief State School Officers expressing their disappointment that the U.S. Department of Education removed a requirement that states detail their work with stakeholder groups in their consolidated plans for ESSA. Nonetheless, they say the group has an obligation to make sure each chief “demonstrates clearly and explicitly in each state plan how stakeholders were involved in its development, and how they…

Read the full article here. May require an Education Week subscription.

States Ignore Social Competency for Students in ESSA Plans

States Ignore Social Competency for Students in ESSA Plans

By Lauren Poteat, NNPA/ESSA Contributor

According to a recent report by Education Week, states have largely ignored a critical mandate of the Every Student Succeeds Act that calls for schools to measure the social and emotional competencies of their students.

“Not a single state’s plan to comply with the federal education law—and its broader vision for judging school performance—calls for inclusion of such measures in its school accountability system,” according to Education Week.

However, advocates for measuring social-emotional learning have said that the current tools need more refinement, before the U.S. Department of Education weighs in.

“Existing measures of social and emotional development, which largely rely on students’ responses to surveys about their own character traits, are not sophisticated and consistent enough to be used for such purposes, they have long argued,” the Education Week article said.

Even as school districts in Anchorage, Alaska; Austin, Texas; Chicago, Ill.; Nashville, Tenn.; Oakland, Calif.; and Sacramento, Calif., are actively engaged in incorporating social and emotional learning into their curriculums, civil rights leaders continue to encourage Black parents to get involved with the implementation of ESSA.

“We have noticed that, under the Trump administration, there has been a shift in priorities concerning the implementation of some practices of ESSA, since its inception in 2015,” said Elizabeth Olsson, a senior policy associate for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. “However, state and district officials still have to comply with the law.”

Olsson continued: “The U.S. Department of Education needs to make sure that it continues to scrutinize state programs to ensure that states are recruiting effective educational strategies, reducing practices that push students of color out of school systems, and identifying support programs, including professional teacher development and funding for alternative classes, like restorative justice.”

Olsson said that restorative justice programs really help get to the root of student behavior.

Liz King, the senior policy analyst and director of Education Policy for the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said that there are still a lot of open questions about how Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is going to implement ESSA.

Earlier this year, after a hearing with a House Appropriations subcommittee, DeVos was roundly criticized by the civil rights community, when she seemed to endorse a state’s right to discriminate against children.

During the hearing, when Rep. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.) asked DeVos, if her Education Department would require states, like Indiana, to end the practice of funding schools that openly discriminate against LGBTQ students and families, “DeVos didn’t say ‘yes’ or ‘no,’” reported. “She just smiled and stuck to the generations-old cover for violent oppression in America. ‘The states set up the rules,’ she said. ‘I believe states continue to have flexibility in putting together programs.’”

King called those comments “deeply concerning.”

King continued: “What we need to hear from the president and the secretary of education is a commitment to the law, the Constitution, and the rights of all children in the United States, focusing particularly on historically marginalized students.”

King said that the biggest difference between the way that ESSA was handled during President Obama’s administration versus the way the law is being handled now is the commitment to protect the civil rights, dignity, safety and respect for all children in this country. King added that children feel less safe and feel like their rights are being taken away, under the Trump Administration.

Education Week reported that, “DeVos rescinded the Obama administration’s transgender guidance to schools designed to give students more protection.”

In a letter to Senator Patty Murray (D-Was.), DeVos claimed that the way that the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) handled “individual complaints as evidence of systematic institutional violations,” under the Obama Administration, “harmed students.” DeVos also promised to return OCR to a “neutral, impartial investigative agency.”

The Education Department has approved ESSA state plans from Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, Tennessee and Vermont.

As minorities continue to enroll in schools across the country at higher rates than their White peers, King said that parents and community members need to act now to make sure that the myriad needs of students of color are fully addressed in ESSA state plans, that includes access to advanced English and math courses and addressing the disparities that exist between how Black students are disciplined compared to White students.

“We have to address the issue of ESSA now, because decisions that are being made will have consequences for years to come,” King said. “One thing that is important to remember is that the implementation of ESSA does not happen in a vacuum.”

King continued: “ESSA is the opportunity for parents to work together with various coalitions, the press and grassroots organizations to shape the way the educational system will look for their children and for their futures in their own states.”

Segregating Public Schools Won’t Make America Great Again

Segregating Public Schools Won’t Make America Great Again

By Rushern Baker (County Executive, Prince Georges County, Md.)

On November 4, 1952, Dr. Helen Kenyon addressed the Women’s Society of Riverside Church in New York City and opined that, “Eleven o’clock Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in America.” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. often paraphrased the quote.

Today, sadly, our public schools best reflect Dr. Kenyon’s and Dr. King’s sentiment as the most segregated place in America.

The rampant re-segregation of American public schools poses a greater threat to the trajectory of America’s progress than terrorism, nuclear proliferation, and Russian meddling in our elections. Sixty-two years after Brown v. Board, the GAO (Government Accountability Office) reported that from the years 2000-2014, both the percentage of K-12 public schools in high-poverty and the percentage of African American and Hispanic students enrolled in public schools more than doubled, and the percentage of all schools with so-called racial or socioeconomic isolation grew from 9 percent to 16 percent.

Research shows that racial and socioeconomic diversity in our classrooms leads to higher than average test scores, greater college enrollment rates, and the narrowing of achievement gaps. These gains don’t just apply to poor and minority children either—every student benefits from learning and engaging with peers from different backgrounds. Despite the evidence, today our public schools are more segregated than they were 40 years ago.

As an advocate for children and families, and as a public servant, who has fought for more resources for students, I believe we must act boldly to save free, high-quality public education for all.

Some of the very leaders tasked with solving the negative effects from school re-segregation offer shortsighted policies that exacerbate racial and economic divisions. The ripple-effect, consequences of their misguided thinking remains the greatest policy foible of the modern era. Lazy logic behind bad policy feeds a perception that that the achievement gap exists simply, because poor and minority students learn differently than their wealthier, White peers. Rather, it is directly tied to declining enrollment, lower property values, and the dwindling resources available to tackle mounting challenges in the communities that surround underperforming public schools.

The greatest irony remains that those promoting harmful education policies use the same language of “giving every child a chance at a high-quality education” to pitch their tax-dollar-poaching and resource-pilfering experiments to desperate parents.

Rather than making public education a number one priority, a Hunger-Games-like competition for vouchers and charter schools leaves parents and students fending for themselves. The families that lose the education lottery end up at schools with increased needs and declining resources. In Maryland, our Governor’s BOOST voucher program set aside $5 million dollars of public money to help 2,400 families pay for their child’s education. Yet, 80 percent of the families receiving these grants had children who were already enrolled in private schools.

Vouchers, whose American roots can be traced back to some Southern states’ attempts to avoid integration, perpetuate segregated education and are nothing more than a thinly-veiled attempt to cut off funds to public schools. It gets even worse. Some communities have simply seceded from the larger school district, as we’ve seen in Alabama and Tennessee, to keep from integrating their schools. Since 2000, the U.S. Justice Department has released 250 communities from their desegregation orders and consequently facilitated their financial and administrative secession from their school districts.

After all those factors lead to a dip in school performance, students and their communities are stigmatized as “failing.” Schools close. Quality of life drops; economic prospects dwindle; public safety decreases; and the cycle repeats, so that higher needs populations receive even fewer resources.

I know. I’ve lived through it. It’s time to back up the big talk of “opportunity for all” with policies that don’t ask parents to compete for a few spots, but instead, make public dollars work for every child.

We’ve embraced this mission in my home of Prince George’s County, Maryland where I serve as County Executive. Though we know our best days are to come, we’ve seen incredible progress: increased enrollment; higher graduation rates; an increase in innovative academic programs; and more students receiving college scholarships.

The debate over how we improve public education can’t begin with state-funded segregation, which harms communities and students, especially our most vulnerable. Let’s secure our children’s futures and the future of America by making a meaningful investment in quality public schools for all.

Rushern Baker, a graduate of Howard University, is the county executive in Prince George’s County, Maryland. You can follow him on Twitter at @CountyExecBaker.