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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 system.

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 effective."

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.

Changes needed

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 funding."

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."


Bill Mefford 

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.


 Julie Taylor

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 newsdesk@umcom.org.

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Forum on Educational Accountability

United Methodist Women: Public Education

U.S. Department of Education 

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