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Department of Education
response to pastoral letter

See also:
Governing Board pastoral letter calls for new federal policy in public education;
Education Secretary Duncan meets with NCC delegation

June 3, 2010


Dear Rev. Kinnamon and Rev. Chemberlin,  

I’m in receipt of the May 18, 2010 letter that was  sent on behalf of the Governing Board of The National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. to President Obama and Members of Congress that is entitled “A Pastoral Letter on Federal Policy in Public Education: An Ecumenical Call for Justice.”

We appreciate the attention and the support NCC is showing this most critical issue. Your outspokenness about disadvantaged students has been a very important voice in the fight for equal education for all children.  We share your commitment to equity and justice in education.  That is why this administration is charting a path to reform based on extensive experience and research to help ensure that all students have access to high-quality teaching and learning opportunities. Because of that shared value we are eager to continue our conversation as the administration and Congress move toward the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). 

As you know, our conversations began when I presented to the NCC Committee on Public Education and Literacy on November 5, 2009 in Alexandria, Virginia and when I met with Rev. Chemberlin on March 8, 2010 in my office.   The staff of the Center traveled to New York on April 22, 2010 to meet with the NCC Committee on Public Education and Literacy and review the blueprint for ESEA.  We understood through those meetings that there was some concern and lack of understanding about the direction of the President Barack Obama’s education agenda, and we welcome the continued opportunity to discuss those concerns.

The President has made education, particularly improving the education of our neediest students, a priority for this administration.  He set the goals that by 2020 America will again lead the world in college graduation and that every student will graduate from high school ready for success in college and career.  In the Recovery Act and the blueprint for ESEA the President has invested historic dollars to achieve those goals.          

The President and the Secretary are committed to achieving those goals with all students.  To address the issue of justice and equality in education, we have made closing the achievement gap and raising standards for all students the center point of the reauthorization of ESEA.  Closing the achievement gap, which is the biggest injustice in American education today, is also the basis of our ESEA goal to turn around the lowest performing schools in America.  

The blueprint calls for America to raise the bar, reward excellence and growth, increase local flexibility and maintain the focus on closing achievement gaps.  The strategy will be built on recognizing school success, creating a well rounded education and working with teachers and leader to create meaningful professional expectations and strengthen the profession. 

We agree that ESEA reauthorization should expand educational opportunity, especially for the neediest students.  That is why our proposal asks all states to adopt standards that measure whether students are prepared for college and careers, to ensure that all students, no matter their background, graduate from high school ready for the next step.  Instead of accountability system based only on one test on one day, our proposal focuses on student growth and school progress, and asks districts to look at a broad range of data when determining how to help schools improve.  To help avoid the narrowing of the curriculum that occurred under NCLB, our budget includes over $1 billion for programs that will provide a well-rounded education in high-need schools. 

We also agree that teachers are absolutely critical to students’ success, and we believe that our proposals will elevate the profession of teaching by providing more support to teachers and principals than ever before, and by focusing on recruiting, preparing, developing, and rewarding effective teachers and leaders.  In addition to supporting teachers and leaders, we also know the importance of supporting wraparound services and family engagement, and have proposed $1.8 billion for these programs, including through Successful, Safe, and Healthy Students, 21st Century Community Learning Centers, and Promise Neighborhoods. 

The blueprint gives school districts and leaders a chance to leverage change with the resources that are currently available in their communities under federal funding. Historically, the federal share of K-12 education funding has been less than 10% of the national spending on K-12 education.  Even during the significant addition of economic recovery dollars, the federal share is projected to spike only to 11.5%.Given these limited resources, the President’s education reform agenda is focusing on investing where we know we can have the greatest impact on increasing educational results for children. Experience has proven that simply spreading this funding through formula allocations is not delivering the outcomes for children that they deserve, since the dollars are not targeted enough to where there is the greatest need.  We agree that we must address funding inequities.  Our proposal would maintain formula funding streams that are focused on the highest-need students and require competitive dollars to be further targeted to ensure they are going directly to our highest need communities.  Furthermore, our proposal would ask states and districts to measure and report on resource disparities and develop a plan to ensure resource equity at every level of the system. In addition to the formula funds for core programs such as Title 1, the administration is pursuing initiatives like Race to the Top. This relatively small investment has already been a catalyst for change at the local and state level. 

Expanding high-quality public charter schools is but one component of these reforms to improve outcomes for low-income and minority students.  In communities across the country, parents choose these autonomous non-selective public schools because they are delivering better results for children, and closing the achievement gap for poor and minority families.  In addition to our program and funding reforms, we are also pursuing justice and equity through our reinvigorated Office of Civil Rights.

We accept your pledge to partner on the national effort to reform the education of America’s children.  But as we work together we must not accept the status quo.  We cannot educate our young people in the same way that we have in the past and expect our nation to remain strong and for our students to flourish in a global marketplace where knowledge is capital.  The current system has left too many behind and unprepared. For us not to respond with visionary leadership would be the ultimate act of injustice.  

It was faith leaders who led the struggle for the integration of our schools.  It was faith leaders who capitalized on that integration to push America in the direction of justice and equity in our schools.  Now it is time to for faith leaders to take the next step and to demand that successful outcomes be available for every student everywhere in this country.  We should not accept “imperfection” of the system as an excuse not to prepare every student for college and career.  It is time for faith leaders to help change the system and ensure that all students are served.

I look forward to our continued discussion as we work together for all the children in America.


Peter C. Groff
Director Center for Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships
Office of the Secretary
US Department of Education                         

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.

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