We congratulate President-elect, Joe Biden, and Vice President-elect, Kamala Harris, on their historic victory. We look forward to working with them as they fulfill their promised commitment to our nation’s public schools.
The promises made during the campaign drew support from public education advocates across the nation. With those promises in mind, these are the top five K-12 priorities that they should keep at the forefront as they govern.
With state revenues declining, the federal government will have to provide the needed funds to protect the health of students and staff to safely re-open schools. That means funding to enable educators to catch students up academically and meet the social and emotional needs of students, many of whom will be traumatized by their experiences during the pandemic. The financial support dedicated to these efforts must provide flexibility for schools to decide how that money is best spent.
That is where we begin, but it should not be where we end. The new Administration must keep its promise to dramatically increase funding to eliminate the funding gaps between white and non-white districts and well-funded and poor districts. And it must meet its pledge to fully fund IDEA during the next decade.
Neighborhood public schools governed by their communities are essential to the health of our democracy and the well-being of children. We need a public education champion in the Department of Education who rejects efforts to privatize public schools, whether those efforts be via private school vouchers or charter schools. Re-treads like Arne Duncan and John King are not acceptable.
With so much to be done to rebuild our public schools when COVID subsides, our country cannot afford to subsidize private school tuition. The Biden Administration must oppose any Congressional attempts to institute tax credit programs designed to subsidize private and religious school tuition.
The Administration must keep its promise to make charter schools subject to the same transparency, accountability, and equity policies as public schools. It must fulfill its campaign promise of no federal assistance to charters that operate for profit or are managed by for-profit entities. The new Secretary, we hope, will institute a moratorium on new grants from the federal Charter Schools Program at least until those promised reforms are enacted.
After two decades of school accountability measures based on high-stakes testing, it is clear that these policies are ineffective levers for improving schools. The use of test results to evaluate teachers and put sanctions on schools has correlated with a decline in student performance on NAEP tests, which are independent audits of student performance. The rapid and ill-advised implementation of the Common Core and its tests furthered that decline. This Administration must focus on opportunity gaps, not test score gaps.
It is imperative that the new Administration promote diversity, desegregation (both among and within schools) and commit to eliminating institutional racism in school policy and practices. Diverse public schools break down social barriers, improve academic performance, and increase tolerance. As promised, President Biden must reinstate the Department of Education guidance in legally pursuing desegregation strategies and provide the promised grants to districts to diversify their schools. The new Administration must continue the Obama Administration’s work by identifying and reducing racial disparities in school suspensions and expulsions.
The Secretary must reject the overemphasis on basic skills coupled with teach-to-the test pedagogy. As important as literacy and numeracy are, there must be space for the arts, civics, history, second languages, and science–all of which have been sorely neglected since NCLB. Children, especially our youngest learners, deserve active learning experiences that enhance their social-emotional, cognitive, and physical development. It is not enough to simply expand pre-school. The President must ensure that all pre-schools follow the research practices that benefit the whole child.