Eleven of our nation’s most prominent national civil rights organizations released a strong statement on Tuesday to support new investments in the public schools, the institution these groups call “the backbone of our democracy.” The statement is a rejection of the test-and-punish strategies that have dominated federal and state policies around public schools for over a decade.
The statement’s authors are Advancement Project, the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the National Opportunity to Learn Campaign, the National Urban League, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF), the National Council on Educating Black Children, the National Indian Education Association, and the Southeast Asia Resource Action Center. It is noteworthy that these organizations—which have not always been able to agree on public education strategies—have now come together to insist on the urgent need for improving the public schools that serve the majority of children represented among their constituents.
The statement, sent to the President, the Secretary of Education and leaders in Congress emphasizes: “The current educational accountability system has become overly focused on narrow measures of success and, in some cases, has discouraged schools from providing a rich curriculum for all students…. This particularly impacts under-resourced schools that disproportionately serve low-income students and students of color. In our highly inequitable system of education, accountability is not currently designed to ensure students will experience diverse and integrated classrooms with the necessary resources for learning and support for excellent teaching in all schools. It is time to end the advancement of policies and ideas that largely omit the critical supports and services necessary for children and families to access equal educational opportunity…”
Criticizing the overly punitive policies of the No Child Left Behind Act, these civil rights organizations urge policy makers to “strengthen, rather than weaken, schools in our communities, so that they can better serve students and accelerate student success.” Accountability must be expanded to monitor resource inputs as well as outcomes and “should evaluate the extent to which productive learning conditions are in effect for all students in each school…” Federal, state, and local accountability should be expanded to cover (1) equity of resource opportunities including funding and access to instructional materials, technology and facilities and considering students’ needs based on poverty, and culture/language learning needs; (2) access to high-quality curricula and enrichment; (3) individualized services that build upon children’s specific cultural and linguistic assets; (4) qualified, certified, competent, and racially and culturally diverse teachers, principals and other education professionals and including ongoing professional development; and (5) adequate and equitably distributed social, emotional, nutritional and health services.
In the midst of the punitive accountability strategies of the No Child Left Behind Act and the Obama administration’s competitive programs that prescribe radical turnaround programs that fire staff, close schools, and encourage privatization, the civil rights organizations endorsing the new declaration advocate improving traditional public schools in the communities that serve our nation’s most vulnerable children. “Students of color represent more than 50 percent of youth and are more than twice as likely to attend segregated schools. Second language learners whose first language is not English now represent 10 percent of all public school students nationwide, and students living in poverty represent virtually half of all U.S. public school students.” “On behalf of millions of students and families, and civil rights organizations, communities of color, and organizations that reflect the new, diverse majority in public education, we write urging implementation of a set of strong recommendations for advancing opportunity and supporting school integration, equity, and improved accountability within our nation’s systems of public education.”