Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Senate Education Committee Discusses the Unmet Needs of Struggling Students

By: Michael Augustine, Coalition for Community Schools Intern

More resources and local efforts are crucial for the advancement of America’s underserved students. This sentiment reigned during the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee hearing Tuesday morning, January 27th. Meeting before a panel of witnesses representing teachers, school and state leaders, and educational researchers, the 114th Congress HELP committee engaged in its second formal discussion on the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) that hasn’t been reauthorized since No Child Left Behind in 2002.

Chaired by Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), the hearing explored how teachers and school leaders can better serve the unique and pressing needs of students across the country. Testimonies from a teacher, principal, and superintendent examined out of school factors, such as health and emotional supports.

Educator Rachelle Moore, an alumna of the Seattle Teacher Residency program, strongly advocated for policies representing the needs of “the whole child.” Moore described her role as a 2nd grade teacher at Madrona K-8, a high-need school, as that of both a social worker and educator. Her testimony reflected shared values held at the Coalition for Community Schools: schools that address the needs of students and communities provide students the greatest opportunity to succeed. Providing essential supports like health, mental health and nutrition for students from low economic and marginalized backgrounds is an integral step to ensuring their success.

By inviting several witnesses who work directly with schools and students, the committee heard voices not typically involved in shaping federal education policy. Accordingly, nearly every witness called for policy makers to support work from the ground up to address educational inequities. Both senators and witnesses spoke on the importance of reauthorizing a bill that provides teachers and school leaders the tools to improve academic achievement.  

Ranking Member Senator Murray (D-WA) emphasized the need to put more resources into preparing and supporting teachers, who face greater challenges when working in struggling districts. Murray concluded that teachers are too often unequipped to match the needs of students from low-income and/or English as a second language backgrounds. Only by recognizing and preparing for the specific needs of students can teachers adequately serve students.

Similarly, here at the Coalition for Community Schools we believe that identifying and addressing the multitude of challenges facing students is an integral part of raising student achievement. One policy we are advocating for in the reauthorization of ESEA is requiring schools receiving Title I funding to go beyond the measurement of only academic indicators. Incorporating non-academic indicators (i.e. health and wellness, attendance, family engagement, and discipline) into Title I would empower schools to know and better address these pressing issues that impact achievement. This sentiment aligns with the call to action that many speakers raised at Tuesday’s hearing regarding just how important student wellbeing and engagement are towards general achievement. When considering how to best raise our country’s educational performance and close achievement gaps, legislators should recognize that it is crucial to provide students both enriching learning opportunities and access to a myriad of necessary supports.

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