On Monday, in the week when the Senate is taking up the reauthorization of the federal education law, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), the Journey for Justice Alliance sent a powerful letter to leaders in the Senate to demand that Congress shift the federal approach to public education: “The Journey for Alliance, an alliance of 38 organizations of Black and Brown parents and students in 23 states, joins with the 175 other national and local grassroots community, youth and civil rights organizations signed on below, to call on the U.S. Congress to pass an ESEA reauthorization without requiring the regime of oppressive, high states, standardized testing and sanctions that have recently been promoted as civil rights provisions within ESEA.”
The letter continues: “We respectfully disagree that the proliferation of high stakes assessments and top-down interventions are needed in order to improve our schools. We live in the communities where these schools exist… High stakes standardized tests have been proven to harm Black and Brown children, adults, schools and communities. Curriculum is narrowed. The results purport to show that our children are failures. They also claim to show that our schools are failures, leading to closures or wholesale dismissal of staff. Children in low income communities lose important relationships with caring adults when this happens. Other good schools are destabilized as they receive hundreds of children from closed schools. Large proportions of Black teachers lose their jobs in this process, because it is Black teachers who are often drawn to commit their skills and energies to Black children. Standardized testing, whether intentionally or not, has negatively impacted the Black middle class, because they are the teachers, lunchroom workers, teacher aides, counselors, security staff and custodians who are fired when schools closed.”
The Journey for Justice Alliance’s letter was penned by Jitu Brown, the leader of Journey for Justice and a Chicago community organizer. A number of national organizations that signed on to the letter are also members of the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools, including American Federation of Teachers, Alliance for Educational Justice, Center for Popular Democracy, Gamaliel, and the Journey for Justice Alliance.
The new letter from Journey for Justice endorses four concrete recommendations for the ESEA reauthorization that were presented in a letter sent to Congress in March by the Alliance for Educational Justice: provide $1 billion in new federal investment in Community Schools that wrap medical and family social service agencies into the school building and around the families served by the school; invest $500 million in restorative justice coordinators to reduce overly punitive school discipline; “provide $20 billion this year for the schools that serve the most low income students, and more in future years until we finally reach the 40% increase in funding for poor schools that the Act originally envisioned”; and establish “a moratorium on the federal Charter Schools Program, which has pumped over $3 billion into new charter schools, many of which have already closed or have failed the students drawn to them by the illusive promise of quality.”
The new Journey for Justice letter represents widespread support for expanding opportunity by strengthening the public schools in the communities the No Child Left Behind Act—the ESEA’s most recent reauthorization—purported to serve by closing achievement gaps. The gaps have not closed, and now the communities most deeply affected are demanding an end to test-and-punish and a new day when their children are provided an opportunity.
Community organizations that signed the letter represent cities across the United States including Chicago, Lansing, Birmingham, Dallas, Youngstown, New York City, Syracuse, Atlanta, Austin, Baltimore, Boston, Camden, Sacramento, Cincinnati, New Orleans, Newark, Houston, Milwaukee, Saginaw, Detroit, Pittsbugh, South Bend, Philadelphia, St. Louis, Denver, Los Angeles, Prince George’s County, Erie, East St. Louis, Buffalo, and Oakland.