Dear Representative Miller. . . .
See the Council's statement of
Ten Moral Concerns in the Implementation of NCLB. They also launched a letter writing campaign that is worthy of emulation.
National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA
January 19, 2007
The Honorable George Miller
U.S. House of Representatives
2205 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Dear Representative Miller,
As members of the National Council of Churches Committee on Public Education and Literacy, we write to congratulate you on your new role as chair of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. We write to ask you to lead your committee to address serious problems in the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) in the upcoming reauthorization.
Thank you, Representative Miller, for your work to address the under funding of this law, which your website describes as more than a $40 billion gap from what was promised in 2002. We agree with you that the mandates of this law ought to be fully funded by the federal government.
But our concerns are 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. It has punished their schools and school districts with sanctions that have re-directed Title I funding away from educational programming to pay for transportation and supplementary services. As people of faith we are deeply concerned 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.
Problems in NCLB were first brought to our committee’s attention when pastors began to report growing despair among the public school teachers in their pews, teachers who feel trapped by demands they cannot meet even while doing the best they can. Burnout and decisions to leave the profession among experienced teachers are particularly alarming in urban school districts where we know excellent teachers are urgently needed. We agree with Michael Winerip, whose NY Times article last July asked: “How successful can an education law be that makes teachers the enemy?”
We believe that by relying on scores on a single annual standardized test and on fixed Adequate Yearly Progress benchmarks, NCLB fails to honor children’s growth and accomplishments, increases pressure on schools to push out low-scoring adolescents into GED programs or focus only on children whose scores are close to the passing rates, narrows the curriculum by reducing time for the arts and the social studies, and overly punishes special needs children and English Language Learners. We further worry that the labeling of schools and districts is driving racial segregation in metropolitan areas where the press identifies affluent, white suburban districts, according to standardized test scores, as the only good place to raise a family.
We are deeply concerned by sanctions being imposed on schools and school districts. While we agree that poorly operated schools must be improved, we would like to see the law focus on leadership development among principals, staff development for teachers, and support for stronger professional assistance from state departments of education. We worry that federal Title I money is being redirected from school programming to provide unregulated, privatized, supplementary tutoring services for which there is no quality control, and we worry further that privatized supplementary tutoring services are not well coordinated with school programs. While the law sets reconstitution of staff, charterization, and state takeover as the final sanctions in the fifth year, there is no evidence that the disruption caused by staff reconstitution improves schools in the short run. Neither has any state department of education demonstrated the capacity successfully to operate a big city school district, while this has been tried on a number of occasions. Nor have charter schools proven themselves more effective on the whole than their companion public schools in any particular location.
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. When all students cannot reach this goal, we fear NCLB will cause the public to discredit public education. Surely we should not encourage people to look outside of public schools for a solution, as there is no other apparent alternative institution of a size and complexity to educate the nearly 50 million children currently enrolled. In a 1999 policy statement, the National Council of Churches General Assembly addressed this very issue: “Public schools are the primary route for most children—especially the children of poverty—into full participation in our economic, political, and community life.”
The National Council of Churches and many of our communions have joined the hundred national agencies to sign a “Joint Organizational Statement on the No Child Left Behind Act” (enclosed). We are honored to be part of this extremely diverse alliance, and we ask you to recognize that the many interests represented among the signing groups speak to broad concern about serious problems in NCLB. We also enclose a short statement crafted by our committee, “Ten Moral Concerns in the Implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act” along with coordinated follow-up questions we are asking members of Congress to consider.
We thank you for your deep and steadfast commitment to justice. Today we prayerfully ask you as chair of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce to focus the NCLB debate on improving the capacity of public schools and on remedying the many injustices that have arisen during the first five years of the implementation of NCLB.
Ms. Jan Resseger, United Church of Christ Justice and Witness Ministries, Chair
Ms. Frankie L. Batts, African Methodist Episcopal Church
Mr. Curtis Ramsey-Lucas, National Ministries, American Baptist Churches USA
Rev. Billye P. Bridges, Disciples Home Missions, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Ms. Phedonia Johnson, Christian Methodist Episcopal Church
Rev. Debra Kissinger, The Episcopal Church
Ms. Donna Braband, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Rev. Elenora Giddings Ivory, Washington Office, Presbyterian Church, USA
Rev. Dr. Nathan L. Schaffer, Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc.
Ms. Brenda Tribett, Washington Office, Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc.
Mr. Bill Mefford United Methodist Church, General Board of Church and Society
Ms. Julie Taylor, Women’s Division, United Methodist Church
Rev. Garland F. Pierce, NCC Associate General Secretary for Education & Leadership Ministries Commission
Rev. Brenda Girton Mitchell, NCC Associate General Secretary for Justice & Advocacy Commission
cc: Members of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce
National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA
INDEX OF NCLB OUTRAGES