Monday, July 18, 2011

In joining national Save Our Schools march, faith community takes a stand for public education

Jan Resseger
Minister for Public Education and Witness
United Church of Christ Justice and Witness Ministries

Because I believe so strongly that federal policy in public education must be radically changed to support our most vulnerable children and their teachers, I will join other advocates from the United Church of Christ Justice and Witness Ministries – and thousands of other supporters from around the nation – in the July 30 Save Our Schools March & National Call to Action in Washington, D.C.

As Christians who believe that God desires for children the life abundant that comes from the fullest development of their gifts – physical, intellectual, social and spiritual – we will be marching because we are deeply concerned about today’s test-and-punish regime that drives education by test scores that narrow the curriculum and distort the vision of public education. We believe government should support and improve, rather than punish, public schools in America’s poorest communities. Our society should reduce reliance on standardized tests and should test only to improve instruction, measure real performance, and encourage exploration, imagination, and critical thinking.
Our public education resolutions in the United Church of Christ call on us to demand that the federal government address resource inequities among public school districts by allocating federal resources for equity and pressing states to close opportunity gaps. We will be marching because we believe that Congress should make equity a priority and work in collaboration with the states to ensure that all students have access to resources necessary to reach academic standards and be ready for effective citizenship, lifelong learning, and college or career. 
This year we in the UCC Justice and Witness Ministries are especially alarmed by state budget cuts across the country that will imperil public schools as well as children’s social services. School achievement, after all, is affected by factors outside school such as racial segregation, concentrated poverty, lack of health and dental care, and the need for preschool that helps children before they fall behind.
We know that while Title I is small relative to state and local funding, it is the federal government’s primary tool for equalizing educational opportunity. We support full funding of Title I to begin to shift the focus of federal policy from punishing struggling schools to improving them, and we believe that Title I funds should be distributed through a fair formula; poor children should in no circumstances go without federal support because their state loses a grant competition.   

We will be marching because we reject market-based, technocratic turnaround policies that close schools, charter-ize or privatize schools, and fire school professionals wholesale in the name of school reform. Public school policy should aim to improve public education as the bedrock of our society and public schools as the anchors of communities.
Finally, we will be marching because we are distressed by today’s wholesale attack on public school teachers. We are dismayed by attacks on collective bargaining, due process and credentialing of teachers. It is a tragedy that so many of the public school teachers who fill our pews feel devalued.

As a people called to love our neighbors as ourselves, we believe that Congress should balance the needs of each particular child and family with the need to ensure a strong public education system that secures the rights and addresses the needs of all children, regardless of where they live or how much money their parents earn.

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