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United Methodist Women advocate for improvement in schools

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A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose

Veta Daley (right) and Imogene Steele discuss challenges schools face during a public education summit.
August 2, 2005

By Linda Green*

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS) —Democracy and economic well-being in the United States depend on education, the foundation on which many possibilities are built, said a former college professor and leader of United Methodist Women.

Jan Love, chief executive of the Women’s Division of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, was among the speakers focusing on education and improving America’s schools during a July 29-31 summit in Nashville, Tenn.

One hundred-fifty women from rural, urban and suburban settings, with various experiences in the education system, engaged in conversations to set direction for the 1 million United Methodist Women in the United States and to give them tools to advocate for public education.

The summit brought together United Methodists involved in public education and speakers from the Parent-Teacher Association, the National School Board Association and the United Church of Christ’s Public Education and Witness Office to offer information and engage participants in outlining the roles all must play to increase the quality of public education in the United States.

At the conclusion, the participants provided the Women’s Division with “concrete outcomes” of their discussions that outlined individual responsibilities and recommendations for how the entire United Methodist Women’s organization can be a more effective advocate for education and public schools.

They recommended creating an advocacy network for grassroots work among the women from various religious and civic spectrums and laying the foundation for skills training for future events to equip United Methodist Women for work in local settings around public education issues.

Educators, including Susan Dalton, coordinator of the Tennessee Education Association, provided updates on “No Child Left Behind,” a bill signed into law by President Bush in 2002, that holds the country’s 90,000 public schools accountable for increasing the achievement of the nearly 50 million children and adolescents enrolled in them. Standardized test scores measure the students’ achievement.

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A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose

Jan Love (center) visits with speakers Susan Dalton (left) and Jan Resseger during an education summit in Nashville, Tenn.
Throughout the summit, teachers, principals and administrators discussed the anxieties and pressures they are feeling three years after the bill’s passage, as well as its impact on education in the United States.

Jan Resseger, a member of the National Council of Churches and the United Church of Christ’s Justice and Witness Ministries, recounted conversations she has had with public school teachers who not only shared their pain about NCLB, but also voiced justice concerns resulting from the act.

“They told me how painful it is for your school to be labeled a failure when you are doing the best you can in a career you thought you loved and when many of your students are thriving,” she said. “Then they told me how much they worry about the children who are so far behind and who are being identified as the cause of their school’s failure.”

Dalton outlined 10 changes she said would improve “No Child Left Behind,” including flexibility at the center to make education better for all.

Former leaders of United Methodist Women — Mai Gray and Sara Shingler — provided a historical overview of the organization’s involvement in public education, both domestically and internationally.

The education summit, part of the third phase of the United Methodist Women’s Campaign for Children, sought to “answer certain questions like, ‘What can we really do to impact education in our country?’ and ‘What are the tools we need to impact it?’” said Julie Taylor, the division’s executive for children, youth and family advocacy.

The campaign, renewed in 2002, focuses on advocacy in public education and bringing awareness to the United Methodist Church that every child should receive good quality, free and accessible education. The 2004 General Conference readopted a 2000 resolution, “Public Education and the Church,” calling on all United Methodist constituencies to support public education and become better informed about the needs of public schools in the communities and in the country as a whole. Since 1976 each General Conference has adopted and reaffirmed resolutions calling the United Methodist Church to impact education in society.

Each of the summit’s speakers and participants in small group discussions echoed the 2004 resolution’s proclamation that “public school is the primary route for most children into full participation in our economic and community life.”

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A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose

Educator Susan Dalton provides updates on the “No Child Left Behind” law.
Love, in her keynote address, called access to basic skills through publicly funded education a part of God’s promise of abundant life. The issues around making quality public education available to all are the result of “our unwillingness to make it work! We know a variety of ways to fix what’s wrong with public education. The problem is we lack the will,” she said.

“The issue of public education is relevant to us not only as women of faith who know the saving power of Jesus Christ, but also as citizens of the United States who know the liberating experience of democracy and freedom,” Love said. “I believe the crisis of public education is not only an issue that goes to the heart of our Christian faith and faithfulness. I believe it is also a struggle for the soul of our nation and our world.”

Faith speaks to public morality and the ways that compassion and justice should be brought into the civic life of a nation, Resseger said. “Surely, this call for justice is relevant to needed reform in America’s public schools, for public education is the largest civic institution in the United States,” she said.

As speakers discussed the justice concerns in NCLB, the participants in plenaries, small groups and outside conversations, talked about the educational inequities that exist from community to community and state to state.

Resseger, who is also a member of a NCC-UCC public education task force, has visited schools across the country to assess segregation and uneven school funding, language and cultural issues and the challenges facing rural schools, to “become educated about and work to eliminate systemic barriers to excellent public education for all.”

She said the task force “believe(s) our society must set about far more than merely demanding that schools improve, testing students to see if they are improving and punishing the school districts that cannot seem to improve.” There is a belief, Resseger said, that if no child is to be left behind, Congress should take major steps to improve the school experience for those who are being left behind.

“Simply put, in a society that depends upon information, some American children are given better access than other children,” she said. “Inequity in educational opportunity is a significant injustice because education is the gatekeeper to opportunity.” Resseger and Love agreed that educational injustice is not easy to solve.

“We are called to justice as a public expression of our love for God and all the children whom God has created,” Resseger said.

*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or

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