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Know Your Rights
Source: The Washington Post
Subject: Education Justice
Type: Media Coverage

What should — and should not — be written into a new U.S. education law

Both the U.S. House and Senate are now — eight years late — debating this week how to rewrite the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, known in its current form as No Child Left Behind. Signed into law in 2002, NCLB was supposed to have been rewritten by Congress in 2007, but sheer negligence and an inability among lawmakers to agree meant that America’s public schools were forced to live under a law that was fatally flawed.

Here is a letter that was sent to every senator about what the signatories believe should — and should not — be in any new education law. Addressed to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Democratic Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, the letter was sent by the Journey for Justice Alliance, a coalition of nearly 40 organizations of parents and students of color in 23 states, as well as from 175 other national and local civil rights, youth and community organizations.

Dear Senators McConnell and Reid,

The Journey for Justice Alliance, an alliance of 38 organizations of Black and Brown parents and students in 23 states, joins with the 175 other national and local grassroots community, youth and civil rights organizations signed on below, to call on the U.S. Congress to pass an ESEA reauthorization without requiring the regime of oppressive, high stakes, standardized testing and sanctions that have recently been promoted as civil rights provisions within ESEA.

We respectfully disagree that the proliferation of high stakes assessments and top-down interventions are needed in order to improve our schools. We live in the communities where these schools exist. What, from our vantage point, happens because of these tests is not improvement. It’s destruction.

Black and Latino families want world class public schools for our children, just as white and affluent families do. We want quality and stability. We want a varied and rich curriculum in our schools. We don’t want them closed or privatized. We want to spend our days learning, creating and debating, not preparing for test after test.

In the Chicago Public Schools, for example, children in kindergarten through 8th grade are administered anywhere between 8 and 25 standardized tests per year. By the time they graduate from 8th grade, they have taken an average of 180 standardized tests! We are not opposed to state mandated testing as a component of a well-rounded system of evaluating student needs. But enough is enough.

We want balanced assessments, such as oral exams, portfolios, daily check-ins and teacher created assessment tools—all of which are used at the University of Chicago Lab School, where President Barack Obama and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel have sent their children to be educated. For us, civil rights are about access to schools all our children deserve. Are our children less worthy?

High stakes standardized tests have been proven to harm Black and Brown children, adults, schools and communities. Curriculum is narrowed. Their results purport to show that our children are failures. They also claim to show that our schools are failures, leading to closures or wholesale dismissal of staff. Children in low income communities lose important relationships with caring adults when this happens. Other good schools are destabilized as they receive hundreds of children from closed schools. Large proportions of Black teachers lose their jobs in this process, because it is Black teachers who are often drawn to commit their skills and energies to Black children. Standardized testing, whether intentionally or not, has negatively impacted the Black middle class, because they are the teachers, lunchroom workers, teacher aides, counselors, security staff and custodians who are fired when schools close.

Standardized tests are used as the reason why voting rights are removed from Black and Brown voters—a civil right every bit as important as education. Our schools and school districts are regularly judged to be failures—and then stripped of local control through the appointment of state takeover authorities that eliminate democratic process and our local voice—and have yet so far largely failed to actually improve the quality of education our children receive.

Throughout the course of the debate on the reauthorization of ESEA, way too much attention has focused on testing and sanctions, and not on the much more critical solutions to educational inequality.

In March, the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools issued a letter to the House and Senate leadership, with four recommendations for ESEA Reauthorization.:

First, there are 5000 community schools in America today, providing an array of wrap around services and after school programs to children and their families. These community schools serve over 5 million children, and we want to double that number and intensify the effort. We are calling for a significant investment in creating thousands more sustainable community schools. They provide a curriculum that is engaging, relevant and challenging, supports for quality teaching and not standardized testing, wrap-around supports for every child, a student centered culture and finally, transformative parent and community engagement. We call on the federal government to provide $1 billion toward that goal, and we are asking our local governments to decrease the high stakes standardized testing with its expensive test prep programs and divert those funds into resourcing more sustainable community schools.

Second, we want to include restorative justice and positive approaches to discipline in all of our sustainable community schools, so we are calling on the federal government to provide $500 million for restorative justice coordinators and training in all of our sustainable community schools.

Third, to finally move toward fully resourcing Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, we call on the federal government to provide $20 billion this year for the schools that serve the most low income students, and more in future years until we finally reach the 40% increase in funding for poor schools that the Act originally envisioned.

Finally, we ask for a moratorium on the federal Charter Schools Program, which has pumped over $3 billion into new charter schools, many of which have already closed, or have failed the students drawn to them by the illusive promise of quality. We want the resources that all our schools deserve – we don’t need more schools. We need better ones.

So now we are prepared to say, clearly, that we will take nothing less than the schools our children deserve. It will cost some money to support them, but that’s okay, because we have billionaires and hedge funders in this country who have never paid the tax rates that the rest of us pay. We are a rich country, and we can afford some world class community schools.

As we continue to organize for educational justice, it is that tradition of struggle that will guide J4J, AROS and the scores of organizations who have signed on to this letter. We are the people directly impacted and will continue to organize in the memory of the great institution builder Ella Baker who said, “Oppressed people, whatever their level of formal education, have the ability to understand and interpret the world around them, to see the world for what it is, and move to transform it.” Our voices matter.

In Anticipation,
Jitu Brown
Journey for Justice Alliance

Along with…

ACTION of Greater Lansing, Lansing, MI
Action NC
Washington, DC
Action United
Advocates Building Lasting Equality (ABLE), NH
Advocating, Mobilizing, and Organizing in Solidarity (AMOS), La Crosse, WI
AFT Local 2115, Birmingham, AL
Alliance AFT Dallas
Alliance for Congregational Transformation Influencing Our Neighborhoods (ACTION), Youngstown, OH
Alliance for Educational Justice (AEJ)
The Alliance for Newark Public Schools
Alliance for Public Schools, FL
Alliance for Quality Education (AQE), New York
Alliance of Communities Transforming Syracuse (ACTS),
Syracuse, NY
Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools (AROS)
American Federation of Teachers (AFT)
Arkansas Community Organization
AROS Houston
Asamblea de Derechos Civiles, Twin Cities/St. Cloud, MN
Atlantans Building Leadership for Empowerment (ABLE), Atlanta, GA
Austin Voices for Education and Youth, TX
BadAss Teachers Association (BATs)
Baltimore Algebra Project
Baltimore Teachers Union
Boston Area Youth Organizing Project
BYOP/Community Labor United, Boston, MA
Brighton Park Neighborhood Council, Chicago, IL
Boston Education Justice Alliance
Californians for Justice
Camden Parent Union, NJ
Camden Student Union, NJ
Capital Region Organizing Project (CROP), Sacramento, CA
Center for Popular Democracy (CPD)
Change the Stakes, NYC
Chicago Teachers Union
Chicago PEACE
Cincinnati Federation of Teachers
Citizen Action of New York
Citizens for Better Schools & Sustainable Communities, Birmingham, AL
Citizens for Education Awareness
Coalition of Black Trade Unionists
Coalition for Community Schools, New Orleans, LA
Coalition for Effective Newark Public Schools, NJ
Coleman Advocates for Children & Youth, San Francisco, CA
Community Coalition, CA
Community Voices for Public Education, Houston, TX
Communities United
Concerned Citizen’s Coalition
Concerned Citizens of New Orleans, LA
Congregations United to Serve Humanity (CUSH), Kenosha, WI
Detroit LIFE Coalition, MI
Education Austin
Empower DC
Empower DC Youth Organizing Project
Empower Hampton Roads, Norfolk, VA
Equality, Solidarity, Truth, Hope, Empowerment, Reform (ESTHER), Neenah, WI
The Ezekiel Project, Saginaw, MI
FairTest (National Center for Fair & Open Testing)
Faith Action for Community Equity (FACE), Oahu/Maui, HI
Faith Coalition for the Common Good, Springfield, IL
Fannie Lou Hamer Center for Change, MI
Florida Institute for Reform and Empowerment (FIRE)
482Forward, Detroit, MI
Future of Tomorrow, Cypress Hills Local Development Corp, Brooklyn, NY
Gamaliel of Metro Chicago, Chicago, IL
Genesis, Alameda County, CA
The Grassroots Collaborative, Chicago, IL
Grassroots Education Movement, Chicago, IL
Great Public Schools (GPS) Pittsburgh, PA
Houston Federation of Teachers, Local 2415, TX
Indiana Organizing Project, South Bend, IN
InnerCity Struggle, LA
Interfaith Strategy for Advocacy and Action in the Community (ISAAC), Kalamazoo, MI
Joining Our Neighbors, Advancing Hope (JONAH), Eau Claire, WI
Joint-Religious Organizing Network for Action and Hope (JONAH), Battle Creek, MI
Justice Organization Sharing Hope and United for Action (JOSHUA), Green Bay, WI
Justice Overcoming Boundaries (JOB), San Diego, CA
Kansas Justice Advocates
Keep the Vote/No Takeover Coalition, Detroit
Kenwood Oakland Community Organization (KOCO), Chicago, IL
Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, AFL-CIO (LCLAA)
Long Island Organizing Network (LION), Riverhead, NY
Make the Road, New York, NY
Maryland Communities United
Massachusetts Jobs with Justice
Media Mobilizing Project, Philadelphia, PA
Metro Organization for Racial and Economic Equity (MORE2), Kansas City, MO/KS
Metropolitan Congregations United (MCU), St. Louis, MO
Metropolitan Organizing Strategy for Enabling Strength (MOSES), Detroit, MI
Milwaukee Inner-city Congregations Allied for Hope (MICAH), Milwaukee, WI
Minnesota Neighborhoods Organizing for Change (MN NOC)
Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment (MORE)
More than A Score, Chicago, IL
MOSES, Chicago, IL
MOSES, Madison, WI
NAACP, Arkansas
NAACP Oregon
NAACP Washington State
NAOMI, Wausau, WI
NC Heat/ Youth Organizing Institute, Durham/Raleigh
Nehemiah, Petersburg, VA
Neighborhood Networks, Philadelphia, PA
Network for Public Education
Newark Student Union, NJ
New Jersey Communities United (NJCU)
The New York A. Phillip Randolph Institute
New York City Coalition for Educational Justice (CEJ)
New York City Opt Out
New York Communities for Change (NYCC)
New York State United Teachers (NYSUT)
Niagara Organizing Alliance for Hope (NOAH), Niagara Falls, NY
NOLA Village, LA
North Bay Organizing Project (NBOP), Sonoma County, CA
Northside Action For Justice, Chicago, IL
Organizers in the Land of Enchantment (OLE), NM
Organize Now, FL
Our Community, Our Schools, Dallas, TX
Padres Y Jovenes Unidos, Denver, CO
Parents Across America
Parents Across America, Roanoke Valley, VA
Parents for Public Schools of Greater Cincinnati, OH
Parents 4 Teachers,
Chicago, IL
Parents on the Move
Parents Unified for Local School Education (PULSE),
Newark, NJ
Partnership for Renewal in Southern and Central Maryland (PRISCM),
Prince George’s County, MD
Paterson Education Fund, NJ
Patterson Education Organizing Committee, NJ
Pennsylvania Interfaith Impact Network (PIIN), Pittsburgh, PA
PIIN-Northwest, Erie, PA
Pilsen Alliance, Chicago, IL
Philadelphia Coalition Advocating for Public Schools (PCAPS), PA
The Philadelphia Council AFL-CIO
Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, PA
Philadelphia, PA
Philadelphia Student Union, PA
Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers, PA
Power U, Miami, FL
Pride at Work
Project South
Quad Cities Interfaith (QCI), Davenport, IA
Racine Interfaith Coalition (RIC), Racine, WI
Raise Your Voice, Chicago, IL
Rise Up Georgia
Rochester ACTS, Rochester, NY
Save Our Schools
Save Our Schools NJ
Schools and Communities United
Schott Foundation for Public Education
Sistas & Brothas United, New York, NY
Stay Together Appalachian Youth
Sunflower Action, Wichita, KS
Support Our Students, Birmingham, AL
Stewards of Prophetic, Hopeful, Intentional, Action (SOPHIA), Waukesha, WI
Teachers for Social Justice, Chicago, IL
Teaching for Change
Texas Organizing Project (TOP), TX
United Congregations Metro East (UCM), E. St. Louis, IL
United Opt Out of NJ
United Federation of Teachers, NYC
United Teachers of Los Angeles, CA
Urban Youth Collaborative, NY
VAYLA, New Orleans, LA
VOICE, Buffalo, NY
Voices for Education, AZ
Wisconsin Jobs Now
WISDOM (Gamaliel statewide), WI
Yinzercation, Pittsburgh, PA
Youth Empowered in the Struggle
Youth Justice Coalition, LA
Youth On The Move, Bronx, NY
Youth Together, Oakland, CA
Youth United for Change, Philadelphia, PA

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