by Brian Washington
In 38-years of teaching, Pat Schmidt, an educator from Wisconsin, has never missed the last day of school—until now.
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This week, as students said goodbye to friends and school personnel at Riverview Elementary in the Wautoma Area School District, Schmidt, who teaches general music to grades 1 through 5, used her last personal day to travel to Washington, DC to talk to lawmakers about the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA)—the law otherwise known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB). She made the trip on behalf of her students.
“I think the whole focus of the last No Child Left Behind was on punishing schools that didn’t do well but not offering them the help so they could get better,” said Schmidt, who visited the offices of Wisconsin lawmakers U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin and Representative Tom Petri.
“I think that schools tried their best, and sometimes when you are dealing with children, there are things that are beyond your control. I think that you need to meet each child where they are.”
Schmidt’s visit to Capitol Hill coincides with the release of several bills designed to begin the process of rewriting the K-12 law—including proposed legislation from Iowa U.S. Senator Tom Harkin [ed note: pdf link], the chairman of the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee.
Following the introduction of the Harkin-backed bill, Arizona math teacher and National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel, who represents 3 million educators nationwide, issued a statement calling on Congress to craft a “fair, flexible, and innovative” law that leads to real sustainable change for students while maintaining the legislation’s original focus on equity and shared responsibility.
“We believe all children deserve great schools, and Congress must make the investments so that we are ensuring opportunity for all children, not exacerbating current inequities,” said Van Roekel. “ESEA must address existing inequities in public education that harm students and communities, particularly students and communities of color.”
Other ESEA-related bills have also surfaced on the Hill, including one in the U.S. House of Representatives, House Bill 5, and another introduced by Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander along with several of his GOP colleagues in the Senate entitled, the Every Child Ready for College or Career Act.
Schmidt believes that the new NCLB law must empower educators—who are deeply committed to the success of all students—and give teachers and education support professionals the flexibility to make the necessary decisions to meet the needs of students.
“If legislators want to be our partners in education, then they have to realize that the people who do it every day are the ones who should be empowered to make certain decisions,” said Schmidt, who hopes Members of Congress will seek out the opinions of educators in their home districts—similar to the way Baldwin and Petri have sought her input. “Hearing from the people who are actually doing the jobs, to me, if I were a legislator, would be invaluable.”
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