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NCC delegation meets with U.S. Secretary of Education
Washington, June 2, 2010 -- A delegation of the National Council of Churches met with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and other officials Monday to express concerns about the Education Department's "Race to the Top" initiative and the Obama Administration's "blueprint" for the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.
Duncan requested the meeting following the issuance last month of a pastoral letter to the President and Congress on proposed education reforms. The letter was adopted unanimously by the NCC's Governing Board at its May 2010 meeting. (See http://www.ncccusa.org/news/100519pastoralletter.html)
Members of the NCC delegation were National Council of
Churches President, the Rev. Peg Chemberlin; former NCC President, the Rev.
Michael Livingston; the Rev. Garland F. Pierce, NCC Associate General
Secretary, Education and Leadership Ministries; Jan Resseger, chair of the
NCC's Committee on Public Education and Literacy and on the staff of the
United Church of Christ Justice and Witness Ministries; and Bob Francis, a
member of the Public Education and Literacy Committee
Director for Domestic Policy in the
Joining Secretary Duncan were Russlynn Ali, Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, and Peter Groff, Director of the Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships in the Department of Education.
The NCC's pastoral letter urged the nation's leaders to help craft a system of education that looks upon children as unique and valuable individuals rather than "products to be tested." The letter cautioned politicians against scapegoating principals and teachers when schools fall short of arbitrary goals.
The letter noted that Federal policy is encouraging states to rapidly expand school choice through charter schools. However, the letter raised the question whether or not market based reforms, while they may increase educational opportunity for a few children or even for some groups of children, introduce more equity into the system itself.
The NCC delegation said Duncan welcomed the group and appeared to listen carefully to their concerns. Both the Secretary's group and the NCC delegation affirmed their shared commitment to civil rights and equal access by all citizens to a quality education.
Assistant Secretary Ali said her office was re-energizing the department's commitment to civil rights and asked that any civil rights violations be reported to her. President Chemberlin said the NCC will encourage its member churches to report violations.
Duncan told the delegation that the status quo in many schools is unsatisfactory and steps need to be taken to address that. He said the firing of principals and teachers should be the "last line of change, not the first."
Standardized tests alone are not a satisfactory measure of progress, Duncan said, "but they must be part of the equation" of assessing improvements in schools.
Regarding charter schools, Duncan admitted, "I do believe that good charter schools are a part of the solution, bad charter schools are part of the problem," but he said "they are a very small part of the larger issue." Even so, members of the NCC delegation are concerned that the issue of charter schools will loom large in urban education.
The NCC delegation made the following points to the Secretary:
► A good society must balance the needs of each particular child and family with the need to create a system that secures the rights and addresses the needs of all children.
► Persistent support and assistance remains society's best strategy for raising achievement in the schools that are struggling. The delegation has serious reservations about turn-around models in "Race to the Top," and rejects the current dependence on standardized testing.
► Federal leadership is needed to address long-standing resource inequality across states. The U.S. government must allocate resources for equal treatment of children and press states to close gaps in opportunities offered to children.
► While competitive, market-based measures may increase educational opportunity for a few children, the concern is that they do not introduce more equality into the system.
► We must work together to eliminate policies that blame public school teachers for many problems beyond their control. The Race to the Top "turnaround model" that fires principals and staff in struggling schools without evaluating their performance constitutes scapegoating and tosses out professionals society cannot afford to lose.
Since its founding in 1950, the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA has been the leading force for ecumenical cooperation among Christians in the United States. The NCC's member faith groups -- from a wide spectrum of Protestant, Anglican, Orthodox, Evangelical, historic African American and Living Peace churches -- include 45 million persons in more than 100,000 local congregations in communities across the nation.
NCC News contact: Philip E. Jenks, 212-870-2228 (office), 646-853-4212 (cell), firstname.lastname@example.org