By: Allie Bohm, Legal InternPosted on July 8, 2015 Issues: Education & Title IX

When the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) was signed into law 50 years ago, it acknowledged one of our nation’s most fundamental civil right principles—that all children deserve access to a high-quality education, regardless of their race, income, sex, or other circumstances. To its credit, when Congress reauthorized ESEA as No Child Left Behind (NCLB) in 2002, it recommitted to that principle by requiring states to account for the performance of the most disadvantaged students.  

For the first time, districts and states had to report student performance and graduation rates by race/ethnicity, sex, disability status, English proficiency, economic status, and migrant status.  It was one of the most important and positive changes that NCLB brought about.  After all, how can ESEA live up to its promise without data on which groups of students are excelling and which are falling behind?  

It was a good first step.  But, fatally, NCLB kept these data in silos rather than allowing for cross-sectional reporting. 

As a result, parents and advocates have no way of knowing how students at the intersections of these categories are faring.  For example, in many states there is no way to compare the academic outcomes of African American girls and white girls or to see how Latino students with disabilities fare compared to white students with disabilities. The lack of intersectional data obscure the very real needs of many students of color—including, as we point out in our recent report with the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, African American girls

Senator Warren’s and Gardner’s Amendment is a Chance to Break Down the Silos

With ESEA reauthorization (S. 1177) being debated on the Senate floor this week, lawmakers have the opportunity to create better data transparency in educational reporting, which will allow educators, policymakers, and communities to tailor interventions to meet the specific needs of students at the intersections of race, sex, disability, and English proficiency.

Senator Warren (D-Mass.) and Senator Gardner (R-Colo.) plan to offer a bipartisan amendment  that would break down the silos and require cross-tabulation in state report cards.  Nearly 50 groups from the civil rights, women’s rights, disability rights, education, and youth advocacy communities have signed a letter supporting  [PDF] the Warren-Gardner amendment.

What Cross-Tabulation Will Not Do

The Warren-Gardner amendment would not impose an additional burden on schools.  Not only do schools already collect all of the relevant data required for cross-tabulation, but all 50 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico [PDF] collect the data in a format that could easily be cross-tabulated with the push of a button.  In fact, ten states already report data in a cross-tabulated way.  And these data would just be reported for transparency reasons; they would not be used to hold schools accountable for the outcomes of smaller subgroups of students.

The amendment also will not threaten student privacy.  That’s because it exempts schools from reporting data where the number of students in a given category is so small that particular students could be individually identified from the cross-tabulated data.

What’s Next?

In past years, the same amendment was adopted at the committee level with no opposition in prior Congresses.  In fact, it was adopted during a year in which Congress couldn’t even agree on naming post offices or congratulating college volleyball teams (or getting an ESEA reauthorization bill over the finish line).  Hopefully, this year the amendment will get enough yes votes to make it into the final Senate bill.

We’ll be watching floor debate and will update this blog with the vote results!

Update 7/16/15, 4:30 pm: The good news is that this afternoon, the Senate passed a revised version of the Warren-Gardner Amendment by voice vote.  That means that the amendment had such overwhelming support that the Senate did not need to count yeas and nays.  It is now part of the final version of S. 1177, which just passed the Senate.  The bad news is that the underlying bill doesn’t do enough to improve outcomes for disadvantaged children, so ultimately we had to oppose its passage. Next, S. 1177 will be conferenced with the House of Representatives’ ESEA reauthorization bill.  We will be working to ensure that the important data provisions are maintained in that process and that the bill is strengthened in other key ways