Punitive Federal Policy Plays Out Locally

Punitive Federal Policy Plays Out Locally

History... How Did Test-and-Punish Come to Dominate U.S. Public Education?

How has our nation's federal policy in public education evolved to make business-accountability reform the priority of leaders of both major political parties? And how has it happened that the real impact of so much of our federal education policy is felt locally?  It is no accident that school decisions in NYC and Chicago and Philadelphia and Tampa and Los Angeles and Denver and Washington, D.C. and New Orleans and Detroit look alike—the school closures—students' test scores being used to evaluate teachers—and the charters springing up from place to place.  The standards movement has become the education policy of both political parties and all the recent Administrations—Bush, Clinton, Bush, Obama. Here is How Test-and-Punish Came to Dominate U.S. Public Education.

Will Congress End Reign of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) by Reauthorizing Elementary and Secondary Education Act?

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act, whose most recent 2002 reauthorization is called the No Child Left Behind Act, was due for reauthorization in 2007.  An overhaul of this law is needed when Congress reauthorizes ESEA, but Prospects Fade for Reauthorization of Federal Education Law.

School Closures Disproportionately Affect African American Students

One of the four approved school turnaround plans in the federal Race to the Top, School Improvement Grants, and the newer No Child Left Behind Waivers is to close a struggling school and move the children elsewhere or turn the school into a privatized charter school.  The School Improvement Grant program is targeted to the schools where test scores are in the bottom 5 percent nationwide.  This means that school closures punish the poorest schools, very often located in the poorest neighborhoods of big cities.  These programs have been in place for long enough that we are seeing how all this plays out from city to city. Read more at School Closures.

April 2013: Check out this infographic and report from the Opportunity to Learn Campaign that display The Color of School Closures.

Competitive Programs Replace Civil Rights Focus in Federal Policy

Programs like Race to the Top, School Improvement Grants and the waivers from the most onerous consequences of No Child Left Behind are now the policy of the U.S. Department of Education. To qualify for these competitive funding programs, states have to agree to adopt additional standards-based reforms prescribed by the U.S. Department of Education. Today  the federal government has frozen funding for the Title I formula and makes Title I funds competitively available for states and school districts that win Race to the Top and School Improvement Grants. By definition competitions create winners and losers. In many places children who qualify for federally funded services because they are poor have lost their services when their state did not win a Race to the Top or other federal competitive grant.  Learn more about why we need to be very concerned that Competitive Programs Are Replacing a Civil Rights Focus in Federal Policy.

Key Resources from Our Partners

The National Council of Churches has released a series of short video pieces, An Alternative Vision for Public Education , created with leadership by UCC Justice & Witness Ministries, as discussion starters in congregations. Each six-seven minute film features a short introduction by Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, the Council's General Secretaryr, followed by a focused conversation by education historian, Diane Ravitch—education historian, and Dr. John Jackson—civil rights attorney and equal opportunity advocate. The films are: Educational Opportunity for All, Public Schools and the Common Good , Public Schools, Part of the Community or Marketplace?, and Supporting Our Teachers. Here they are posted together along with a study guide produced by the Council's Committee on Public Education and Literacy.

    The Governing Board of the National Council of Churches says federal public education policy has gone astray. The 69 member Governing Board of the National Council of Churches on May 18, 2010, unanimously adopted a pastoral letter, "An Alternative Vision for Public Education," that speaks to today’s conversation about public schools, a conversation which has lately veered into attacking public education and scapegoating public school educators.  The statement prayerfully asks Congress to address the substantive matters that need to be overhauled when the Elementary and Secondary Education Act is reauthorized.  It explores serious issues in the Race to the Top competition including incentives to charterize and privatize public schools, incentives to tie teacher evaluations to students' test scores, and radical and untested turnaround plans like firing the principal and at least half of the staff or closing the school and moving children elsewhere.

    Important Justice & Witness Ministries Resources Address the ESEA Reauthorization

    • 2013 Message on Public Education, "The Public Purpose of Public Education," examines examines how federal policy in public education emphasizes privatization instead of improving public schools.
    • 2012 Message on Public Education, "Why the Conventional Wisdom on School Reform is Wrong and Why the Church Should Care,"  is intended to help members of our congregations explore pressing concerns for public education in the United States in the coming year.
    • 2011 Message on Public Education: If you are wondering how public schools are being affected by programs like Race to the Top and the other huge competitive federal stimulus programs, or if you are wondering about what we still need to do to protest the test and punish impact of the lingering No Child Left Behind Act, the reflection, "New Federal Public Education Policies Undermine Justice, Eliminate Democracy, and Shatter Community," is written to address your questions and connect the dots.
    • The 2010 Message on Public Education explores the politically charged issue of immigration as it affects public schools and children who are new to our country, their communities, and their schools. NCLB contains major problems for English Language learners.    
    • The 2009 Message on Public Education, lifts up the importance of schools to form each whole child, created in the image of God, in contrast to the test-and-punish philosophy of the federal education law, No Child Left Behind, that has dangerously narrowed the curriculum in schools serving America's poorest children.  
    • The 2008 Message on Public Education examines public education as a matter of faith and the common good.  
    • The 2006 Message on Public Education reflects on NCLB as an attack on public school teachers. The 2005 Message on Public Education examines how the NCLB Act works and how those mechanisms are unjust. These are tabloid-sized documents.