Our values: Opportunity, equal opportunity, fairness, fair share, opportunity for each and every child
Our vision: Our public schools must provide each and every child the opportunity to achieve their fullest potential in life. Children are not standardized; each one needs and deserves personalized instruction. That requires both fully qualified professional teachers and opportunities to learn outside of school. Every jurisdiction needs to: (1) provide adequate funding for public schools; (2) deliver instruction in a way that recognizes the differences in both the interests and needs of specific children; (3) provide opportunities to learn outside of classroom time including afterschool, arts and recreational programs, and libraries; and (4) make schools a safe and fair environment for everyone.
K-12 school funding was substantially cut due to the Great Recession and most states are still providing less per student than they did in 2008. In addition, most states allow substantial disparities in per-pupil school funding from one jurisdiction to another. States and school systems should ensure that school spending is transparent, that money is not wasted on consultants, standardized tests or school vouchers, and that universal pre-K is fully funded.
We must recognize that there are no standardized children; each and every child has different strengths and weaknesses. That’s why all schools must offer a complete curriculum provided by professional teachers who have the training to give the individualized attention each child needs. School systems need to deemphasize standardized tests and pre-packaged lessons, and instead hire and stand behind fully trained teachers who give each and every student the opportunity to achieve their fullest potential in life.
A great deal of children’s learning happens outside of the classroom. Kids learn from art, music and dance programs, from athletics, nature and the outdoors, from games and hobbies, from afterschool clubs of all kinds, and from independent reading for pleasure. States and localities need to fully fund libraries, support nonprofits that provide afterschool and summer programs for disadvantaged youth, and create community schools to address each child’s needs.
In order to learn, children need schools that are safe and welcoming. Harassment, intimidation and bullying are well-known to impede students’ ability to learn. Students who are bullied are far more likely to skip school and earn poor grades, and many states and individual school systems have implemented safe school policies to address the problem. Yet, it is also clear that some school systems overuse their discipline processes or enforce inflexible zero-tolerance policies, often in ways that disproportionately affect children of color. The U.S. Departments of Education and Justice jointly created national guidelines on school discipline that should be implemented at the state and local levels.
FEATURED POLICIES FOR 2021
Community schools provide comprehensive programs and services that are carefully selected to meet the unique needs of students and families in their particular neighborhoods. This is a proven strategy which has been adopted in more than 5,000 schools to address the real-world problems that keep students from doing their best. The Community Schools Resolution is a way to begin the process at the state, local or school district level.
With the rise of standardized testing, pre-packaged lessons and charter schools, there has been a noticeable decline in public awareness of how education funds are spent. School systems should disclose what they pay for tests, pre-tests and test preparation programs, as well as testing consultants and pre-packaged lessons. Similarly, states and school boards should insist that charter schools, especially for-profit management companies, are held to the same transparency requirements as traditional schools. Tax dollars should be invested in classrooms, not in padding corporate profits.
In the more heavily tested grades, students in low-income schools routinely lose more than a month of instructional time because of standardized testing and test prep. Across the country, parents are rising up against this level of over-testing. States, localities and school boards should require a report on alternative assessment models to limit the educational and financial costs of over-testing. They should also limit the scope of standardized tests—children younger than third grade should not be subjected to them.
Cyberbullying—bullying that takes place over digital devices like cellphones, tablets and computers—has become all too common. And unlike a bully using his or her voice, this type of attack can be very widely shared and it creates a kind of permanent record of abuse. The Cyberbullying Prevention and Education Act requires professional development for school staff to help them identify and respond to cyberbullying of their students.
Limit the expulsion of very young children
In some jurisdictions, kindergarten and even pre-K students are suspended or expelled at an alarming rate. But putting a 4 or 5-year-old child out of school is age-inappropriate and counter-productive. Both states and localities can enact legislation to curtail this practice.
Implement a student loan bill of rights
43 million Americans now owe more than $1.3 trillion in student loans and, more and more, the lenders aren’t playing fair. Several states and the District of Columbia have started to protect consumers with the passage of a Student Loan Bill of Rights. Our model bill is based on groundbreaking 2015 legislation enacted in Connecticut.
Pre-K for all
Children in poverty often begin school already one or two years behind their more affluent peers. One clear part of the solution to this education gap is universal, high-quality pre-Kindergarten. Experts in early education overwhelmingly agree that children who have two years of a strong pre-K program start kindergarten with much better academic and social skills and that this improvement helps those children succeed later on in school and in life. Studies have also shown that pre-K programs return benefits to the community of seven dollars for every dollar invested. Yet, only about 40 percent of America’s four-year-olds and less than 10 percent of three-year-olds, are enrolled in public pre-K programs. The best Pre-K for All legislation would serve all three- and four-year olds and requires licensing and accreditation by state officials for both private and public pre-K programs. This legislation would also encourage the use of nationally recognized benchmarks to develop curricula that balance direct instructional and play-based approaches, which ensures that children develop the cognitive, physical, and social-emotional skills they need.