Elementary and Secondary Education

CDF works to ensure every child has a Head Start and a Fair Start and attends a warm, welcoming and productive school that prepares the child for post-secondary education, careers and 21st century citizenship. Since our first report in 1974, Children Out of School in America, we have worked to ensure children are not excluded from school because of their family income, race, disability or home language. We advocate for policies that provide fair education funding, support positive and just school climates, hold all children to high expectations, and provide them appropriate supports to meet those expectations. Unfortunately, across almost every indicator of school success, we see significant gaps between how students are performing, and where they need to be. For children of color, children with disabilities, and children who are poor, these gaps are even more dramatic. Education should be the great equalizer, leveling the playing field for all children. Too often, however, our system of education reinforces instead of removes barriers created by poverty and racism.

School Discipline

Reforming school discipline policy and practice to reduce exclusionary discipline and end racial disproportionality

In 1975, CDF released a report, School Suspensions: Are they helping children?, which drew national attention for the first time to the problems of exclusionary discipline (suspension and expulsion) and racial disparities in how discipline was being used in schools. The report drew on data from the Department of Education Office for Civil Rights and surveys conducted with suspended students and their families. The findings that exclusionary discipline was used excessively and in a discriminatory way, tragically is still the case.  Thankfully, the research and advocacy spawned by this original report has added new understanding to the problems and their solutions. CDF is working to ensure children stay in school — where they belong — and are treated fairly. Discipline should be a way to teach our children, not push them out of school.  No child should be denied an education because of the color of their skin or their perceived abilities. 

Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA)

Strengthening Title I of ESEA to ensure funds are used fairly and effectively to improve educational outcomes for poor students.

In 1969, CDF’s predecessor, the Washington Research Project, released Title I of ESEA: Is it helping poor children?, which examined the ways that schools and districts were, and were not, using federal education funds to improve academic outcomes for poor children. As a result of that report and related advocacy efforts, several important controls were added to the Title I program to ensure funds were better directed at the children they were meant to serve. Over the years the program has changed, but its fundamental purpose remains. CDF is continuing its work to ensure federal education funds are used fairly and effectively to serve children in poverty.

Child Welfare and Education

Promoting academic success for children in foster care

Students in foster care face tremendous barriers to academic success and often lag far behind their peers in educational outcomes and success. Although important progress has been made in removing educational barriers for youth in foster care, there is much more to do. We are working to expand understanding about the educational needs of students in foster care and how best to support them throughout the education continuum, from early childhood through higher education.

Full-Day Kindergarten

Ensuring that children receive the opportunity to attend full-day kindergarten before entering first grade.


Full-day kindergarten boosts children’s cognitive learning, creative problem solving, and social competence, and helps sustain gains made in early childhood programs. Access to full-day kindergarten is not guaranteed for all 5-year-old children in the country. Only 11 states and D.C. require their districts offer full-day kindergarten and five do not require any offering of kindergarten at all. In poor economic times, these programs not protected by statute can be targeted by districts for cuts to save money, particularly in states that do not fund full-day kindergarten at the same level as first grade. As momentum for investments in young children continues to build across the country; states and districts must ensure that they have full-day kindergarten in statute as part of their quality continuum of early childhood services so children do not miss the critical step between preschool and first grade. 

Closing College and Career Readiness Gaps

Ensuring every child graduates high school and leaves ready for postsecondary education, careers and life.

Whether the measure is third grade literacy, on-time grade promotion, grade level proficiency, completion of rigorous courses, or high school graduation, there are significant gaps between the present performance of children – especially poor children, and children of color – and benchmarks predicting future academic and life success. Far too often our schools allow children to fall behind early on and then fail to catch them up effectively. CDF is working to remove barriers and help children overcome obstacles that remain to ensure students have access to the high standards and appropriate supports they need to be ready for life as successful, contributing adults.

Contact us about Elementary and Secondary Education

For information about Elementary and Secondary Education, please contact: Education@ChildrensDefense.org

Data and Publications

Child Poverty in America 2014 State Fact Sheet

State data released by the U.S. Census Bureau on September 17, 2015 reveal that child poverty in 2014 remains at record high levels in the states. Children are the poorest age group, and the poorest are children of color and those under age six.

September 22, 2015

Child Poverty in America 2014 National Fact Sheet

Poverty data released by the U.S. Census Bureau on September 16, 2015 reveal that child poverty declined slightly in 2014, from 21.5 percent in 2013 to 21.1 percent in 2014. While child poverty rates declined for Hispanic, White and Asian children, Black children saw an increase and continue to have the highest child poverty rate. Despite some decreases child poverty among all children remains at shamefully high levels. One in five children – 15.5 million – were poor in 2014, and children remain the poorest age group in the country.

September 17, 2015

FY2016 House and Senate Budget Fact Sheet

April 9, 2015

Title I Portability – A Bad Deal for Poor Children

February 27, 2015

Ending Child Poverty Now

For the first time, this report shows that by investing an additional 2 percent of the federal budget into existing programs and policies that increase employment, make work pay, and ensure children’s basic needs are met, the nation could reduce child poverty by 60 percent and lift 6.6 million children out of poverty.

January 9, 2015

Tapping Title I: What Every School Administrator Should Know about Title I, Pre-K and School Reform

Pew Center on the States report about Title I, Pre-K and School Reform

December 16, 2014

Restorative Justice: Resource Guide

October 6, 2014

School District Codes of Conduct: Guide for District Leaders

October 6, 2014

Superintendent Survey Report

October 6, 2014

School Discipline Resource Guide

October 6, 2014

More Elementary and Secondary Education Data

Child Watch® Columns

Child Watch® Columns: Elementary and Secondary Education

  • 09/25/15
    Child Watch® Column:
    The Piercing Cry of Child Poverty in Economically Rich but Spiritually Poor America
    Pope Francis speaks out faithfully and forcefully against poverty and has been called “the pope of the poor.” But on his first visit to the United States there was demoralizing news about poverty, especially child poverty, in our nation—the world’s largest economy.
  • 08/28/15
    Child Watch® Column:
    Wise Lessons in Servant-Leadership from Howard University's President
    Today Howard University’s president Dr. Wayne Frederick is carrying on the tradition of inspiring college leadership set by Dr. Johnson, by our beloved Morehouse College president Dr. Benjamin E. Mays, who mentored Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and many civil rights activists in my generation, and by Dr. Howard Thurman and other great visionaries who graced Howard’s campus and school of religion and set a high example of excellence, integrity, commitment to service, love, and hopefulness for a new generation.
  • 06/19/15
    Child Watch® Column:
    Growing Seeds for a Multicultural, Multiracial Teaching Force for our Rainbow Children
    This is the Children’s Defense Fund Freedom Schools® program’s twentieth anniversary. Since the program began more than 135,000 children across the country have had an enriching CDF Freedom Schools summer or after-school experience and more than 15,000 college students and recent graduates have been trained to teach the integrated reading curriculum whose books reflect the lives of the K-12 children and youths, and give them hope.
  • 05/15/15
    Child Watch® Column:
    Healing a Child's Broken Heart
    It’s always very challenging for a parent when their child has a serious health condition. It’s even more challenging when their child has a serious condition but has no health insurance to cover the needed care and emergencies. Both were true for one Texas mother whose 12-year-old daughter Evelyn was diagnosed with a heart defect.
  • 05/01/15
    Child Watch® Column:
    All in the Family
    The odds were stacked against Britiny Lee before she was born. Her mother was addicted to drugs, like Britiny’s grandfather and many others in their poverty-stricken Cleveland neighborhood. Britiny’s mother used drugs throughout her pregnancy and went to prison for a year just after Britiny’s birth. As a poor, Black “crack baby” with an addicted, incarcerated mother and an absent father, Britiny started life in danger. Being born into an unstable poor family or to a single, teen, incarcerated, or absent parent are all known risk factors in America’s Cradle to Prison Pipeline® crisis.

Past Child Watch® Columns about Elementary and Secondary Education