"The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves." -- John Adams

"No money shall be drawn from the treasury, for the benefit of any religious or theological institution." -- Indiana Constitution Article 1, Section 6.

"...no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish enlarge, or affect their civil capacities." – Thomas Jefferson

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Education is a Civil Right

Diane Ravitch in her latest Bridging Differences column reminds us that Race to the Top is inherently unequal. She writes about "Why Civil Rights Groups oppose the Obama Agenda."

The groups, Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights under Law, The NAACP and NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., the National Council for Educating Black Children, the National Urban League, the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, and the Schott Foundation for Public Education, have joined together in the National Opportunity to Learn Campaign. Earlier this summer they released a report -- a framework that provides all students with the opportunity to learn.
Secretary Arne Duncan often says that "education is a civil right," but if that is the case, then states and districts should not have to compete for federal funding to guarantee the civil rights of their students. Logic suggests that the neediest students should have the greatest claim on federal funding. But, as we saw in Race to the Top, the children in 39 states saw no benefit at all from billions in federal education spending. Poor and minority children in states such as Mississippi, Alabama, California, Texas, Louisiana, and Illinois were left out. If the money were truly intended to strengthen education as a civil right, then it should have gone to those who needed it most, not to those who wrote the best proposal or had the best consultants. "The civil right to a high-quality education," say the civil rights groups, "is connected to individuals, not the states, and federal policy should be framed accordingly." By delivering extra funding to states that compete and win, they warn, "the majority of low-income and minority students will be left behind."
But Obama and Duncan don't take their orders from those who understand poverty and the damage it causes. They don't take their orders from educators who understand how children learn.
If the Obama administration won't listen to the groups who are most assertive in defending America's neediest children, if they listen instead to hedge-fund managers and venture philanthropists, what hope is there for a more thoughtful approach to federal policy?
Race to the Top takes our federal education money and invests it according to the opinions of millionaire businessmen. To get Race to the Top funds a state needs to agree to try unproven educational strategies;  evaluate teachers based on student test scores, close high poverty schools where the test scores are low (or fire their staffs) and invest in more charter schools.

President Obama needs to start listening to us...

...to Stephen Krashen:
American students from well-funded schools who come from high-income families outscore nearly all other countries on international tests. Only our children in high-poverty schools score below the international average. Our scores look low because the US has the highest percentage of children in poverty of all industrialized countries (25%, compared to Denmark's 3%). American education has been successful; the problem is poverty.

The solution is not to blame students for being lazy (our elders said this about us). The solution is to protect children from the damaging effects of poverty: better nutrition (Susan Ohanian suggests the motto "No Child Left Unfed"), excellent health care for all children, and universal access to reading material
Where have I heard this before?

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