Education: The 21st Century Civil Rights Issue

By John Monteleone, Fellow, National Institute for Latino School Leaders, NCLR


I often find that within educational circles, the word equity can be controversial and confusing. Those who are more affluent and privileged often become squeamish, while those from economically-disadvantaged districts become increasingly engaged. However, while this conversation can be difficult to have with different audiences, the difficulty only emphasizes its importance. Pursuing equity in education can prevent some districts from falling into the achievement gap—and help prevent deeper inequality from taking root in our society.

In a country that prides itself on the mantra that “We The People” are treated fair and just, providing every child with an equitable education should not be controversial.

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Janet Murguía Testimony at ESSA Hearing: Full Remarks


Today our President and CEO, Janet Murguía, testified before the before the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions’ hearing, “ESSA Implementation: Perspectives from Education Stakeholders” to provide the civil rights perspective. Below are the remarks as prepared for delivery:

“NCLR is the largest national Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization in the United States, an American institution recognized in the book Forces for Good as one of the leading nonprofits in the nation. We represent over 250 Affiliates—local, community-based organizations in 41 states and the District of Columbia—that provide education, health, housing, workforce development, and other services to millions of Americans and immigrants annually. Many of these Affiliates operate as charter schools, provide early education, or offer after-school programming or family literacy services. Their experiences inform NCLR’s federal agenda.

“NCLR was proud to support the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act as a much needed update to our federal education law. Notably, for the first time, English language proficiency will be included in states’ accountability systems. However, passage was just the first step. It is critical that ESSA be implemented in a manner consistent with the original Elementary and Secondary Education Act to ensure its promise for all students.

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Why We Support the Reauthorization of ESEA

The House of Representatives is set to pass a bill that would reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. It has been more than a decade since the law was reauthorized under the new name, No Child Left Behind. The bill under consideration includes several provisions that have been on our priority list. Below is a letter we sent to Capitol Hill today, which outlines our support.

ESEA Conference Report Letter

Accountability Must be Included in Education Bill to Fulfill its Promise to Students


After more than a decade, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act appears to be headed for reauthorization. The last time the civil rights law was rewritten was 2002, when it was rebranded as “No Child Left Behind.” The current rewrite is in the final stages as House members have been named to serve on the bill’s conference committee, which will reconcile differences between the House and Senate versions before putting it up for a vote in each body.

This week, NCLR President and CEO, Janet Murguía, hosted a conference call for Affiliates and NCLR supporters with the Department of Education’s Delegated Deputy Secretary, Dr. John B. King, Jr.

You can listen to the entire call below.

The following are prepared remarks Janet Murguía made during the live call:

No Child Left Behind or NCLB is of immense importance to the Latino community since our children make up not only the largest ethnic majority in the American classroom but also one of every four students in this country. NCLB was enacted more than a decade ago during the Bush Administration and it marked the first time ever that the federal government was required to hold schools accountable for the way they were educating English learners, many of whom are Hispanic. This is the reason why NCLR supported this far from perfect legislation. It is long past time for Congress to update and help correct some of the flaws and the unintended consequences of NCLB.

This is a message Congress has received since the reauthorization of the bill is one of the few pieces of major legislation to be passed this year by both the House and Senate. This week we expect the House and the Senate to appoint conferees, the last step before the legislation is sent to the President.

NCLR has been working closely and on a bipartisan basis with Senator Patty Murray (D–Wash.) and Senator Lamar Alexander (R–Tenn.) and Rep. Bobby Scott (D–Va.) and Rep. John Kline (R–Minn.) on the house side, to strengthen the provisions related to English learners in the bill and we are now working to make sure these provisions—which include requiring that English learners be included in a state’s accountability system and support for English learners so that they can achieve academic success—stay in the final version of the bill. It is our understanding that just this weekend an agreement on the framework for this has been reached. While we do not have the details, we hope to get more information in the coming days.

As the process moves forward, provisions must ensure that states are able to intervene if a school is found to be failing its Latino and English learner students. Without this provision in the final bill, it is unclear whether the ESEA can fulfill its promise to our students. In short, a strong ESEA that protects our nation’s most vulnerable students is vital to ensuring that states and school districts are living up to their obligation to provide a quality education to all on an equal basis, regardless of who they are or where they live. Giving all children the best education possible so that they can achieve and contribute as much as possible is something all Americans will benefit from and should get behind on.

We are monitoring the process closely and are working to ensure that a final bill reflects the priorities of the Latino community. Follow @NCLR for the latest updates.

For more information on NCLR’s education work, visit

To Fulfill Their Rights

By Leticia Bustillos, Associate Director, Education Policy Project, NCLR

At the height of the civil rights movement, President Johnson gave a speech at Howard University dubbed “To Fulfill These Rights.” He recognized that extending equal opportunity to all is not enough.

If we are to “open the gates of opportunity,” he said, then “all of our citizens must have the ability to walk through those gates.” This is “the next and the more profound state of the battle for civil rights.”

Watch President Johnson’s historic speech below:

These words accurately depict where we are today. As the “Every Child Achieves Act (ECAA),” which would reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), goes to the Senate floor for consideration, we are reminded that the battle for civil rights has not yet ended. The skirmishes of the last 50 years have resulted in promising gains in education. Still, too many students are losing ground, unable to harness the socioeconomic benefits that come from education.

If we are to achieve true equality as President Johnson envisioned half a century ago, then we must ensure that students from low-income communities are given the necessary resources and supports. For the civil rights community, accountability must be at the forefront of our actions.

How we act is subject to debate. What is not debatable, however, is the necessity of including robust accountability measures to identify where achievement gaps exist. These provisions ensure that the progress of every child and every group is known. It also guarantees that achievement gaps remain at the forefront of the national consciousness so that everything can be done to eradicate them.

ESEAbrief_picThe need for strengthened accountability is not lost on our nation’s educators. For Dr. Vasthi Acosta, Executive Director of Amber Charter School in New York City, accountability is not a one-time measure that comes at the end of the school year. It is a central focus of her school community.

Student performance data, disaggregated by group, empower teachers at Amber to differentiate their instruction based on the needs of various students. Schooling, then, becomes about not just filling gaps in achievement but also providing opportunities to improve learning by capitalizing on the assets of students. Amber’s stated  goal is to “find those who are in need, learn what they need, and then meet that need.”

For Dr. Acosta and her team, there is no greater sign of their success than to hear the community inform them that what they are doing is making a difference.

Graduation“Recently, I received a thank-you card from a mother whose son got a full scholarship to a local private middle school,” said Acosta. “She said that she didn’t speak English and couldn’t help him with his homework, but she knew if he was doing well or not because of the scores on his assessments and the school’s constant communication with her. Together we helped that boy through a door that is often closed to so many of our children.”

For the first time in our country’s history, students from underrepresented communities now form the new majority in our schools. Their success is a testament to the investments we make in them and their capacity to positively contribute to our future well-being. To fulfill their rights, we must act with conviction.

Holding ourselves accountable for the success of our students is a principle enshrined in the reauthorization of ESEA. Giving our students the wherewithal to walk through the gates of opportunity is the charge of accountability. Seeing them on the other side of those gates is one more victory in our battle for civil rights.