On Tuesday afternoon, a group of educators and key policy experts gathered in Washington, D.C. to re-launch a campaign for holistic education and social policy reform to surround America’s poorest children and their families with the kind of educational opportunities their middle class peers take for granted. Seizing the occasion of the passage of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act to replace No Child Left Behind, advocates for expanding opportunity in America’s public schools have relaunched the Broader, BOLDER Approach to Education, a campaign designed to push public policy away from blaming teachers and toward constructing a policy framework to support children and schools in poor and marginalized communities.
Broader, BOLDER’s new mission statement proclaims: “The Broader, BOLDER Approach to Education is grounded in the understanding that the kinds of educational opportunities—both within and outside of schools—that help well-off children thrive are the same opportunities that would most benefit children who lack access to them… Achievement gaps in test scores are not the root problem, but important symptoms of the underlying problems facing our schools…. Since poverty manifests itself in various ways and places in children’s educational trajectories, BBA addresses them at each stage….”
In a column published by Valerie Strauss in the Washington Post, Elaine Weiss, the campaign’s national coordinator, explains why the relaunch of the Broader, BOLDER Agenda is designed to coincide with the recent passage of a new federal education law: “ESSA (the Every Student Succeeds Act) claws back some of the most problematic federal accountability requirements, and it emphasizes the need for social and emotional, as well as traditional academic, measures of success. It also sets aside new money for investments in quality pre-kindergarten and for wraparound supports that help provide disadvantaged students equal opportunities to learn. That said, ESSA comes nowhere near evening the education playing field…. ESSA fails to put forth a coherent strategy to address the high levels of poverty, (and) racial and socioeconomic isolation… that present major barriers to success for millions of American students and the schools serving them… With its relaunch, BBA establishes the framework for developing those policies.”
Broader, BOLDER’s new agenda folds together social and health support for families with school improvement: “As rates of child and family poverty grew during and in the aftermath of the Great Recession, poverty also became more concentrated in certain cities and neighborhoods. This exacerbated the already difficult circumstances of children of color, who have long been disproportionately clustered in our country’s least resourced… and most isolated communities. Widespread joblessness, crime, violence, and dysfunction combine with scant public and private resources to isolate families…. Indeed, research documents the severe obstacles to school success posed by these circumstances.” The campaign links four strategies to alleviate out-of-school barriers to success:
- Early Childhood Experiences: “That every student arrives at kindergarten with the benefit of high-quality early learning and necessary health, wellness, and family support services from birth.
- After-school and Summer: “Indeed, it is particularly critical that students who are less likely to be exposed to organized sports, activities such as the fine arts, music, and trips to museums, and challenging games like chess in other contexts enjoy those opportunities as part of their schooling.”
- Health: “Not only should we expand the presence of health clinics in schools serving high-risk student populations, but enact policies to support those programs.”
- Nutrition :”Every child should have consistent access to nutritious food all day and all year, and the school system, with support from other agencies, should be structured to provide it without stigma or barriers to access.”
The new campaign also presents four strategies to narrow opportunity gaps within and across schools:
- adequate school funding, equitably distributed;
- school accountability that measures not just test scores but also school conditions such as access to quality teachers and curricula;
- an emphasis on preparing and fostering “a strong, experienced corps of professional educators”; and
- robust and transparent regulation of charter schools to ensure they serve all children, avoid conflicts of interest, and responsibly steward our tax dollars.
In marked contrast to the past two decades’ accountability-driven agenda, framers of the new campaign confront what research confirms are the primary barriers to school achievement. Leadership by chairs—Helen Ladd, Pedro Noguera, Paul Reville and Joshua Starr—and the appointment of a diverse and broadly experienced advisory board ensure a wide audience for the new campaign’s work.