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Civil rights groups criticize Race to the Top competition for schools

UPDATE:  California's application for Race to the Top education bonuses was rejected this morning by the U.S. Department of Education. 


As California educators wait anxiously to hear whether the state will be awarded funds from the $4.3 billion Race to the Top competition today, the nation's leading civil rights organizations have attacked the race for funds as undermining the civil rights of the nation's poor and disadvantaged children.  

So far, California has lost out in two contests for education stimulus funds, as I have noted in previous blog posts.

In a highly critical broadside [PDF] issued last month against many aspects of the Obama administration's education agenda, seven civil rights groups, including the NAACP, the National Urban League, the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, singled out the Race to the Top competition for its fiercest criticism:

If education is a civil right, children in "winning" states should not be the only ones who have the opportunity to learn to learn in high quality environments.  Such an approach reinstates the antiquated and highly politicized frame for distributing federal support to states that civil rights organizations fought to remove in 1965. 

Even if California were to be awarded funds in today's announcement, "most children in most states will experience a real decrease in federal support when inflation and state and local budgets cuts are taken into consideration."

The document noted that the selection of two small states, Tennessee and Delaware, in the first round of the competition meant that Race to the Top "currently impacts only 2.5 percent of the students in the United States eligible for free and reduced lunch, 3 percent of the nation's black students and less than 1 percent of Latino … students." 

What's extraordinary is that the joint statement represents by far the most vehement critique on President Obama from a constituency that, all things being equal, he should have been able to count on as among his strongest supporters. But in an indirect attack on the No Child Left Behind legacy of former President Bush, now being extended by Obama, they say: 

If states with large communities of color such as California, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas are left behind in any competitive grant process, significant numbers of black and brown children who are needed to meet (the administration's goal of becoming a leader in higher education attainment) will be left behind.

The civil rights groups don't advocate removing competition entirely from the process. Instead, they recommend that "grants be made available to all states, provided they adopt systemic, proven strategies for providing all students with an opportunity to learn."  

Also, with obvious relevance for the current debate in California over using test scores to evaluate teachers, the groups warn that states and school districts should "not use test data as the sole or primary measure of teacher effectiveness."

Any measure of teacher effectiveness must account for the degree of difficulty of the teaching environment so that high-quality teachers will not be deterred from working in high-need schools.

The civil rights groups say that teachers should also be evaluated on their classroom management skills, "including considering whether they keep students in the classroom, help them progress from grade to grade, and eventually lead them towards graduation from high school." 

Check out this document. It presents a thoughtful point of view you won't find anywhere else, as well as a fascinating one in terms of the dynamics of civil rights organizations, in a rare united front, openly criticizing the nation's first black president's policies for closing the racial and ethnic achievement gap in our schools. 


Filed under: K–12, Daily Report


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