|Religious, civic groups want education act revised
The No Child Left Behind Act of 2002 aims to
close the achievement gap so all public school students are proficient
in reading and math. A UMNS photo by Dawn M. Hand.
A UMNS Report by Linda Bloom*
Jan. 29, 2007
As Congress considers reauthorizing the No Child Left Behind
education act, civic and religious groups believe changes are needed to
ensure that no child, indeed, is left behind in the U.S. public school
The Women's Division of the United Methodist Board of Global
Ministries, United Methodist Board of Church and Society and the
National Council of Churches are among more than 80 national education,
civil rights, religious, children's, disability and civic organizations
backing the "Joint Organizational Statement on No Child Left Behind,"
issued by the Forum on Educational Accountability.
While "committed to the No Child Left Behind Act's objectives of
strong academic achievement for all children and closing the achievement
gap," the group says changes are necessary to make the law "fair and
Signed into law in 2002, the act was intended to close achievement
gaps so that every public school student is proficient in reading and
math, no matter where they live or what their background.
The statement cites concerns that the law's current practices have
led to "over-emphasizing standardized testing, narrowing curriculum and
instruction to focus on test preparation rather than richer academic
learning; over-identifying schools in need of improvement; using
sanctions that do not help improve schools; inappropriately excluding
low-scoring children in order to boost test results and inadequate
Suggestions outlined in the statement include to:
- Set new achievement targets "based on rates of success actually achieved by the most effective public schools."
- Measure student progress by achievement growth as well as performance.
- Regularly report progress in implementing systemic changes to improve student learning to both the government and the public.
- Use multiple indicators of student achievement, in addition to
standardized tests, to chart the performance of students and schools.
- Provide funds to develop "more effective accountability systems that
better meet the goal of high academic achievement for all children."
The statement calls for better preparation and continuing
professional development for teachers and school administrators; changes
in the system of sanctions under the law so that improvements are given
time to take hold and effective reform efforts are not undermined; and
raising authorized funding under the law "to cover a substantial
percentage of the costs that states and districts will incur to carry
out these recommendations."
Letters of concern
Members of the National Council of Churches Committee on Public
Education and Literacy also sent letters of concern to U.S. Rep. George
Miller, D-Calif., the new chairman of the House Committee on Education
and the Workforce, and U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., whose Senate
committee will review the law.
The Jan. 22 letter to Miller thanks Congress for addressing the issue
of under-funding for No Child Left Behind - about $40 billion less than
what was promised in 2002 - but notes concerns deeper than the issue of
funding. "While we emphatically support the stated goals of NCLB-to
close achievement gaps, to reduce dropouts, to proclaim that every child
can learn, to challenge every child to dream of a bright future, and to
prepare all children to contribute to society-we worry that the law has
undermined education for our nation's most vulnerable children in big
city districts," the letter states.
Using sanctions to punish schools has re-directed vital funding, the
letter charges, so that "what was proposed as a civil rights law has, in
reality, undermined the capacity of demographically complex urban
schools serving children living in concentrated poverty."
The letter advocates a different approach to fostering student
achievement. "As people of faith, we do not view our children as
products to be tested and managed but instead as unique human beings to
be nurtured and educated. While we emphatically support improving public
schools, we fear that the production target of 'all children proficient
by 2014' is unrealistic."
United Methodist support
Among those signing the letter were Julie Taylor with the Women's
Division and Bill Mefford with the Board of Church and Society.
The goal is to equip schools to improve achievement, not punish them
"for not making certain scores on certain tests," Mefford told United
Methodist News Service. "We want to make sure that truly no child is
left behind and that schools are not just solely focusing on testing to
the point that the roundedness of education … is not experienced by all
the kids," he said.
As the parent organization of United Methodist Women, the Women's
Division has long advocated for public education, especially through its
Campaign for Children. Members of United Methodist Women are being
asked to write their congressional representatives and express concerns
about the law, Taylor said. Within the next few months, she also hopes
to set up a forum as part of the UMW online community to allow members
to share information about their involvement in local schools.
The National Council of Churches Committee on Public Education and
Literacy is sponsoring a daylong workshop on No Child Left Behind as a
pre-event to Ecumenical Advocacy Days in March. The event will take
place March 9 from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the Doubletree Hotel Crystal
City in Arlington, Va. The cost is $15. Registration information is
available at www.ucctakeaction.org/fixingNCLB online.
*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.
News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or email@example.com.
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