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

MaryLee Allen - Public Comments ESSA Title I Regs

CDF has been advocating for more than 40 years for closing the achievement gap for poor children, Black children and other children of color, children with disabilities, and children with other special needs. CDF has expressed our extreme concerns about the diminished federal role in the new act. However, we believe it is critically important to help states now implement meaningful state accountability systems and measures to promote achievement by vulnerable subgroups of children. The Department’s remaining rulemaking and guidance authority is essential to make that happen.

January 11, 2016


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.

October 28, 2015

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

Title I Portability – A Bad Deal for Poor Children

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 28, 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

Restorative Justice: Resource Guide

School District Codes of Conduct: Guide for District Leaders

More Elementary and Secondary Education Data

Child Watch® Columns

Child Watch® Columns: Elementary and Secondary Education

  • 11/23/16

    Child Watch® Column:
    A Prayer of Thanksgiving for Our Nation to Stand Up for All Our Children

    Lord I can’t preach like Martin Luther King, Jr. or turn a poetic phrase like Maya Angelou but I care and am willing to serve and stand with others to move our children forward and save our children in this time of Thanksgiving.
  • 11/11/16

    Child Watch® Column:
    Bringing America Together for Our Children's Sake

    What kind of people do we want to be? What kind of people do we want our children to be? What kind of moral examples, teachings, choices — personal, community, economic, faith, and political — are we parents, grandparents, community adults, political leaders, and citizens prepared to make in this new century and millennium to make our children strong inside and empower them to seek and help build a more just, compassionate, and less violent society and world?
  • 11/04/16

    Child Watch® Column:
    Keep Moving Forward on the Path Towards Justice

    You must vote for better futures for the millions of children left behind and for closing our country’s morally obscene and killing income, wealth, and educational gaps. Get out and vote and say thank you to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth and Medgar Evers and Mrs. Fannie Lou Hamer who were beaten, bombed and killed for your and my right to vote. Get out to vote for Tamir Rice and Trayvon Martin and Eric Garner and Sandra Bland who can’t vote to stop renegade law enforcement practices. Get out to vote for all those hungry and homeless and illiterate children who have no voice in the political process and have to make their way daily through gun saturated streets of terror. Get out to vote to help ensure that another Newtown tragedy does not occur at the hands of an unstable adolescent wielding a gun loaded with large capacity ammunition magazines that have no business in the hands of unstable youths.
  • 10/21/16

    Child Watch® Column:
    Hope for the Future Through Your Vote

    Hope for the Future is a series of twelve meditations that include Scripture passages, moving true stories, and examples from other movements and faithful leaders to inspire all those working to create a better world for our children. It’s a book that could be used as a devotional or in group discussions by everyone from parents to pastors. Rev. Daley-Harris has long been speaking out on the call to care for children in every major faith tradition and calling on people to turn faith into action. As the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF)’s Religious Affairs Advisor and Director of the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Child Advocacy Ministry Institute for two decades, she coordinates the National Observance of Children’s Sabbaths® Celebrations. Every year congregations of many faiths observe the Children’s Sabbath by drawing on Rev. Daley-Harris’s resources and the texts and teachings of their religious traditions to hear and respond to the holy and eternal call for love and justice that urges special care and protection for children, especially those who are poor.
  • 10/07/16

    Child Watch® Column:
    Do Your Part: "March to the Polls" and Vote

    If Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. were alive today, I am certain he would be urgently saying it is a moral imperative for each one of us to register and vote in our local, state, and national elections this year — and every year. Shortly after Congressman John Lewis spoke movingly at the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, he was asked on a radio show if he thought this was the time to organize another march on Washington. Without missing a beat, he replied: “I think the best march that we can have right now in America is on Election Day, November the eighth, for all of us all over America – Black and White, Latino, Native American, young people – to march to the polls. The vote is precious. It’s almost sacred. It is the most powerful nonviolent tool we have in a democratic society.”

Past Child Watch® Columns about Elementary and Secondary Education