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Civil Rights Groups Ask Obama Administration to Evaluate RTTT, Charter School Accountability

July 29, 2010

A coalition of civil rights groups met with Obama Administration officials on Monday, and discussed a 17-page document in which the civil rights groups politely asked the Obama Administration to reconsider several key aspects of education policy.

The document – titled “Framework for Providing All Students an Opportunity to Learn” – is a collaboration by groups including the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Rainbow PUSH Coalition, Schott Foundation for Public Education, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, National Coalition for Educating Black Children, National Urban League, and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.

The leaders of the above groups issued a statement calling the discussion with Obama Administration officials “productive.”

“While there remain items for further discussion,” the release continued, “they said they are confident that with the strength of the civil rights community's thought leadership as well as the administration's commitment to equal opportunity, a reform plan can be developed that will provide a high quality education for all students.”

The language of the document is courteous and conciliatory, but the intent of the document’s recommendations will be of interest to educators.

About Race to the Top, the Obama Administration’s competitive grant program for states, the document says:

“The Race to the Top Fund and similar strategies for awarding federal education funding will ultimately leave states competing with states, parents competing with parents, and students competing with other students..... By emphasizing competitive incentives in this economic climate, the majority of low-income and minority students will be left behind and, as a result, the United States will be left behind as a global leader.”

About an expansion of public charter schools, which the administration has identified as a priority:

“There is no evidence that charter operators are systematically more effective in creating higher student outcomes nationwide.... Thus, while some charter schools can and do work for some students, they are not a universal solution for systemic change for all students, especially those with the highest needs.”

And regarding the appropriate role of the federal government regarding charter schools:

“To the extent that the federal government continues to encourage states to expand the number of charters and reconstitute existing schools as charters, it is even more critical to ensure that every state has a rigorous accountability system to ensure that all charters are operating at a high level.”

And the document suggests that the government should stop thinking of low-income neighborhoods as demonstration sites for trying out new education experiments:

“For far too long, communities of color have been testing grounds for unproven methods of educational change while all levels of government have resisted the tough decisions required to expand access to effective educational methods.  The federal government currently requires school districts to use evidence-based approaches to receive federal funds in the Department of Education’s Investing in Innovation grant process.  So, too, in all reforms impacting low-income and high-minority communities, federal and state governments should meet the same evidence-based requirement as they prescribe specific approaches to school reform and distribute billions of dollars to implement them.”

“Rather than addressing inequitable access to research-proven methodologies like high-quality early childhood education and a stable supply of experienced, highly effective teachers, recent education reform proposals have favored ‘stop gap’ quick fixes that may look new on the surface but offer no real long-term strategy for effective systemic change.  The absence of these ‘stop gap’ programs in affluent communities speaks to the marginal nature of this approach.  We therefore urge an end to the federal push to encourage states to adopt federally prescribed methodologies that have little or no evidentiary support – for primary implementation only in low-income and high-minority communities.”

To read the entire document, click here.

Source:  Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law