Ed Dept, Civil Rights Leaders Discuss Reform

Christine Armario and Dorie Turner, Google News, July 26, 2010

Civil rights leaders are criticizing Obama administration education reforms aimed at turning around low performing schools and closing the achievement gap for minority students.

Eight civil rights organizations, including the NAACP, contend in a document released Monday the Education Department is promoting ineffective approaches for failing schools. They also claim the $4.35 billion “Race to the Top” grant competition–a program with a goal of spurring innovative reform in states–leaves out many minority students.

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Education Secretary Arne Duncan and a White House adviser met with the groups Monday, including the Rev. Jesse Jackson, the Rev. Al Sharpton and the presidents of the National Urban League and NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. The groups distributed the document to members of Congress last week.

Duncan has called education “the civil rights issue of our generation,” and many of the reforms the administration has pushed aim to improve educational opportunities for the most vulnerable students.

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The Obama administration’s education reforms have drawn criticism from education advocates, including prominent teachers’ unions like the American Federation of Teachers, which gives money to many of the groups that signed the civil rights document. AFT President Randi Weingarten said she supports the proposal but that her organization had nothing to do with writing it.

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The proposal calls into question many of the Education Department’s initiatives, including the $4.35 billion Race to the Top competition and the $3.5 billion to turn around low performing schools.

Citing federal data, the groups say just 3 percent of the nation’s black students and less than 1 percent of Latino students are impacted by the first round of the Race to the Top competition, which awarded about $600 million for Tennessee and Delaware to undertake innovative reforms. Finalists for the second round of grants are to be announced Tuesday.

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The document also proposes creating standards for equal access to early childhood education, effective teachers, college preparatory curriculum and quality resources. And it takes a critical viewpoint of the administration’s approach to turn around failing schools, including closing them or replacing much of the staff.

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But the plan has one glaring omission: no Hispanic groups signed on to support it.

Raul Gonzalez from the National Council of La Raza said his organization decided not to endorse the document because there were concerns with how the groups see charter schools. The civil rights groups want charter schools to focus more on attracting diversity than the needs of the children in their community, Gonzalez said.

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