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NCLB Outrages

Concerns of the National Council of Churches Committee on Public Education and Literacy

Read the National Council of Churches Ten Moral Concerns about NCLB, issued November 2005. Insist that your Congressional representative address these concerns when voting on reauthorization.

July 25, 2007

Reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act

Jan Resseger, Minister for Public Education and Witness, United Church of Christ
Justice and Witness Ministries

Curtis Ramsey-Lucas, National Coordinator of Public and Social Advocacy, National
Ministries, American Baptist Churches USA

Our serious and ongoing concerns about the No Child Left Behind Act cause us to
ask you not to rush through a quick fix but instead to take the time to reauthorize
NCLB with care, by discerning and implementing major structural reforms.

A primary concern is that the law operates by holding schools and school districts
responsible for outcomes measured by standardized tests without equalizing inputs-all
the resources that help children learn. When the very small amount of funding in
the federal law is laid as a very thin veneer upon a very thick block of state and
local funding that has not been successfully equalized for many, many years, the
big city school districts with enormous needs and responsibilities find they are
sanctioned for being less successful than rich suburban districts. We are therefore
concerned that what was proposed as a civil rights law has, in reality, undermined
the capacity of demographically complex urban school districts serving the mass
of our nation's poorest children. NCLB has punished city school districts with
sanctions that have re-directed Title I funding away from educational programming
to pay for transportation and supplemental services. NCLB's requirements have
been tragically under-funded, increasing demands on city districts with diminishing
tax bases.

We are concerned that NCLB blames teachers instead of supporting them. Problems
in NCLB were brought to our 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. We are troubled by reports
of teacher burnout and decisions among experienced teachers to leave the profession.

We are concerned that NCLB fails fully to honor children's growth and accomplishments
by relying on scores on a single annual standardized test and on fixed Adequate
Yearly Progress benchmarks. The law increases pressure on schools to compel low-scoring
adolescents into GED programs and to focus only on children whose scores are close
to the passing rates. NCLB narrows the curriculum by reducing time for the arts
and social studies, and it disproportionately punishes special needs children and
English language learners. NCLB's 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 concerned that a production target of "all children proficient by 2014"
is unrealistic and counterproductive. As people of faith, we do not view our children
as products to be tested and managed but instead as unique human beings, created
in the image of God, to be nurtured and educated. While we emphatically support
improving public schools, we fear that as many schools come to be rated "failing,"
NCLB will erode public support for public education, our largest civic institution,
and one that is foundational to our democracy.

We are concerned about NCLB's sanctions. While poorly operated schools must
be improved, the law should focus on leadership development among principals, staff
development for teachers, and support for stronger professional assistance from
state departments of education. Instead NCLB redirects federal Title I money from
school programming to provide unregulated, privatized, supplemental tutoring for
which there is little quality control, and which may not be 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 ever successfully operated 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. Surely
we should not encourage people to look to institutions outside the public schools
as the key to overall child wellbeing, as there is no other alternative institution
of a size and complexity to educate the nearly 50 million children currently enrolled.

These concerns have led the NCC and many of our member communions to join the now
138 national agencies to sign a "Joint Organizational Statement on the No Child
Left Behind Act." We believe that the many interests represented among the
signing groups speak to serious problems in NCLB.

As NCLB is reauthorized we hope Congress will: set ambitious and yet reachable goals;
reduce reliance on standardized tests; end labeling of children, blaming of teachers
and stigmas for schools; develop programs that support teachers and improve leadership
in struggling schools; fully fund federal requirements; and use the power of the
federal government to press the states themselves, whose funding systems provide
the bulk of all school finance, to address school funding inequity.

NCC Committee on Public Education and Literacy, Jan Resseger, Chair (216-736-3711)

Communions represented on the committee: African Methodist Episcopal Church; National
Ministries, American Baptist Churches USA; Disciples Home Missions of the Christian
Church (Disciples of Christ); Christian Methodist Episcopal Church; The Episcopal
Church; Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; Presbyterian Church (USA); Progressive
National Baptist Convention; United Church of Christ Justice and Witness Ministries;
United Methodist Church, General Board of Church and Society; Women's Division,
United Methodist Church.

— Press Release
National Council of Churches


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