George Wood, superintendent of schools in rural Federal Hocking, Ohio, executive director of the Forum for Education and Democracy and board chair of the Coalition of Essential Schools has written a short, inspiring essay for the fiftieth anniversary of the declaration of Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty. One of the foundations of the War on Poverty was the law passed a year later, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act: “Johnson struck a clever bargain with Southern lawmakers: they’d get federal money for their public schools, as long as those schools followed federal civil rights laws.”
The 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) was a civil rights law. “The irony is that what was billed as an anti-poverty, pro-desegregation law,” writes Wood, “today seems silent on all of these issues. NCLB (No Child Left Behind—the current version of ESEA) was passed more than a decade ago amid much fanfare about holding all children to the same expectations. Fourteen years later, childhood poverty has increased, minority achievement in schools continues to falter, and schools are as racially segregated as ever.”
Noting that 2014 is the No Child Left Behind Act’s crowning moment, “the target date by which all children were to be proficient in reading and math,” and at the same time an important anniversary of the War on Poverty, Wood suggests “that those of us who believe in public education as a fundamental tool for equality in a democratic society use this odd convergence of NCLB and the War on Poverty to shape our own agenda for the next school reform campaign. Let’s stop tinkering around the edges with parsing test scores and creating more charter schools.”
Instead, suggests Wood, we should stop practices that segregate our schools by race, class or gender; fund schools equally; make teaching a well prepared and supported profession; and restore “the vision of a free, high-quality, public education for all children. Rather than pushing competitions like Race to the Top that only some schools can win, we need an agenda that ensures that every single school is a great public school.” I urge you to read this thoughtful and inspiring article.