NEWS from the National Council of Churches, USA
Contact NCC News Service: 212-870-2252  |  E-mail news@ncccusa.org    |  Most Recent Stories   |  NCC Home

NCC educators urge big changes, adequate funding in NCLB 

Washington, D.C., January 22, 2007 – The Committee on Public Education and Literacy of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA (NCC) is calling for major changes and full funding in the "No Child Left Behind" [NCLB] law that members of the 110th Congress will consider for reauthorization. 

"While we emphatically support the stated goals of NCLB...we worry that the law has undermined education for our nation’s most vulnerable children in big city districts," the NCC committee said in letter to Rep. George Miller and Sen. Ted Kennedy, chairmen of committees in their respective houses who will take up hearings on NCLB.   

"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," said the 14 educators in their letter (complete text below).  

The letter expressed solidarity with the goal of improving the nation's public schools but pointed to certain flaws in NCLB including overemphasis on testing and scores. 

"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," said the letter.  "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." 

The committee noted first concern for NCLB came from church pastors who "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."  The letter expressed concern for teacher "burnout" and decisions of teachers to leave the profession "particularly alarming in urban school districts where we know excellent teachers are urgently needed." 

And the committee restated its concern for the children in the nation's public schools. 

"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," the committee wrote.  "While we emphatically support improving public schools, we fear that the production target of 'all children proficient by 2014' is unrealistic." 

The 14 members of the NCC's committee "prayerfully" asked the Congressional committee chairmen "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." 

Public education has long been a priority of the NCC.  A 1999 policy statement of the NCC's member churches meeting at their annual General Assembly said, "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 NCC's Committee on Public Education and Literacy reflects a diverse membership from ten of the NCC's 35 member denominations.  The NCC is America's ecumenical voice of Protestant, Orthodox, Anglican, historic African American and traditional peace churches with a combined membership of 45 million worshipping in 100,000 congregations.

See also NCC joins 100 groups wanting to change NCLB.


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 followup 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. 

Sincerely,

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


NCC News contact:  Dan Webster, 212.870.2252, NCCnews@ncccusa.org.
Public Education Committee. contact:  Ms. Jan Resseger, 216.736.3711, ressegerj@ucc.org.

Return to NCC Home Page