Friday, March 11, 2011

New Statement on Opportunity to Learn Demonstrates Widespread Support for Equity

by Jan Resseger, United Church of Christ Justice & Witness Ministries

On February 22, 2011, the Forum on Educational Accountability (FEA) released a major statement on the need for Congress to address Opportunity to Learn in the upcoming reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). This means that the huge alliance of groups, now 153 organizations, that have signed-on to the 2004 Joint Organizational Statement on No Child Left Behind have released a new statement challenging inequity, despite that we know the recession has left Congress and the states short of money in this budget cycle.

These are such sad times, when it seems the whole conversation about improving public education in our nation’s poorest communities has been hijacked by a wave of attacks on collective bargaining for public servants. It is frightening to see many legislative bodies turn against public school teachers, the very people we entrust with nurturing the gifts of our children.
In this context in the United Church of Christ Justice & Witness Ministries, we are especially grateful to be able to partner with the Opportunity to Learn Campaign and also the FEA to continue to focus on school improvement that we know, if enacted, would support teachers, enrich our children’s lives and strengthen communities.

Since the fall of 2004, Justice & Witness Ministries has been privileged to work with FEA, and I have valued its persistent work—statements on the importance of less standardized testing and at the same time better designed tests—agreements on what needs to happen to build the capacity of our struggling schools instead of punishing them—statements supporting better ongoing education for teachers and more intentional engagement of parents and families—suggestions for school inspections by qualified experts to replace and make more human the concept of accountability for public schools, human institutions that cannot be fully evaluated by test scores and analysis of reams of data.

I am grateful that FEA has now formally opposed long-standing inequality of opportunity. Stanford University professor Linda Darling-Hammond has best described the challenge: “To survive and prosper, our society must finally renounce its obstinate commitment to educational inequality and embrace full and ambitious opportunities to learn for all of our children.”

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