Action Alert From Justice & Witness Ministries of the United Church of Christ
Everybody is talking about “Waiting for Superman,” a Hollywood movie that endorses charter schools as the primary solution to the education struggles of children in our nation’s poorest schools. All the evidence suggests instead that we need to turn attention and resources on the public schools society has left behind, rather than turning over the future of our poorest children to charter schools. We must provide the same opportunities for children in rural and urban schools as we do for children in more privileged suburban settings.
As a people called to love our neighbors as ourselves, we in the church look for school reform that balances the needs of each particular child and family with the need to create a system that secures the rights and addresses the needs of all children. “Waiting for Superman” misrepresents the scale of public education, an institution that serves 50 million children and adolescents across the United States. Charter schools serve only 4 percent of students, and evidence shows that most children including those who are poor or who have special needs will remain in traditional public schools. Further, a prominent Stanford University study demonstrates that only 17 percent of charter schools are better than comparable public schools.
In July, seven civil rights organizations released a profound statement that contradicts the movie’s contention that charter schools should be the primary tool for school reform. The writers express serious “reservations about the overrepresentation of charter schools in low-income and predominantly minority communities. There is no evidence that charter operators are systematically more effective in creating higher student outcomes… And there is even less evidence that charters accept, consistently serve, and accommodate the needs of the full range of students.”
In the church we have steadfastly declared a set of values to guide public school reform when Congress reauthorizes the Elementary and Secondary Act. Send the letter below to remind Congress, the President, and the Secretary of Education of these principles:
- Federal policy must address public school inequality. Congress should allocate federal resources for equity and use its power to press states to close opportunity gaps.
- Federal policy must reduce reliance on standardized tests as a primary “school improvement” strategy.Children need fewer tests, and those that are employed should be better designed to improve teaching, measure real performance, and encourage exploration and critical thinking.
- Federal policy must support and improve, not punish, public schools in America’s poorest communities. The federal government must help struggling schools with support for excellent teaching and leadership and support for out-of-school enrichments like preschool, medical care, and after school and summer enrichment.
- Federal policy must improve public education as the bedrock of our democracy and public schools as the anchors of communities. Only a just system of public education has the capacity to secure the rights and address the needs of all children, and only if citizens are attentive and work to make it so.