As a Classroom Teaching Ambassador Fellow, I have the unique opportunity to view education through two perspectives—first, as a teacher in metro Atlanta and, second, as an employee of the U.S. Department of Education. Having the privilege to serve in this dual capacity comes with a great responsibility to question what I see every day in education and to share my truth.
With the proposed reauthorization for the nation’s education law—the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA)—moving at light-speed in the world of policy, it left me wondering what my ESEA looks like.
ESEA was introduced in 1965, but most people know the law by the name it received in 2001 when it was updated—we call that renewal the No Child Left Behind Act. There are two proposals to create a new ESEA in Congress right now—a bill from Congressman John Kline and a discussion draft of a bill from Senator Lamar Alexander. They are similar, and they have enormous implications for teachers.
I wonder what would happen if lawmakers had the courage to ask the people in the trenches what their ESEA would look like. Novel idea, right?
What are the thoughts of those educators who, day-in and day-out, cross thresholds into buildings where impressionable young minds are nurtured and supported? How would this law impact the people who spend hours pouring care, sowing seeds of inspiration, and imparting knowledge into our future leaders?
I wonder what would happen if lawmakers asked how teachers feel about the need for higher expectations. I wonder if they know my true feelings about rigorous, college- and career-ready academic standards and what it would look like if all of us stayed the course long enough to see results before cutting ties.
I wonder what would happen if we had the ability to leave the “this too shall pass” mentality behind and focus on results for kids. I wonder if policymakers think about the investment that states and districts have made—with taxpayer dollars—to try to implement standards that will catapult our students into a realm where they can easily compete with any student, anywhere. Imagine that.
My school is one where some students are homeless, and the attendance zone includes children who come from three drug rehabilitation centers as well as transitional housing centers. I wonder what would happen if my school was faced with losing Title I funds, which come from ESEA. The House bill on Capitol Hill right now cuts funding for education.
If we lost resources, would that mean that the extra teachers—who my principal hires to reduce class sizes and provide more concentrated interventions to our most vulnerable students—would be eliminated? The students with the greatest needs should receive the most resources. This is a simple truth.
I wonder, as a teacher and a parent, should high-quality early childhood education for all children be a luxury or the norm? Countless amounts of research show that the return on investment for early learning is huge. Yet, the benefits of providing all our children with access to quality early learning is yet to be realized in this country, and I wonder if proposals in Congress do enough to expand preschool opportunity.
All of these things matter. These are the reasons that I get up at 5:30 every morning to drive to Dunwoody Springs Elementary School. These are the reasons that I applied to be a Teaching Ambassador Fellow at the Department of Education. These things represent my colleagues, my students, and my own two beautiful, brown baby boys.
But I am just one voice, so we need to hear from you too. Tell us what your ESEA looks like. How does it affect you, your school, your class, or your child:
ESEA reauthorization impacts us all. I hope that policymakers and others who are central to this effort will listen to educators, and what they hope will be in their version of a new ESEA—a law that takes into account their experiences, their truths, and that expands opportunity to all children.
Patrice Dawkins-Jackson is Teaching Ambassador Fellow who continues to serve from Dunwoody Springs Elementary School in Sandy Springs, GA.