On February 7th, the US Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions heard testimony on early lessons of No Child Left Behind state flexibility waivers, from US Education Secretary Arne Duncan.
In October, a coalition of fifty leaders of New Jersey parent, civil rights, and social justice organizations sent a letter to Secretary Duncan, alerting him to two very troubling lessons they saw playing out as a result of the waiver: 1) The absolute lack of community involvement in the programs the State created to replace No Child Left Behind; and 2) The disproportionate, negative impact of these programs on low-income communities of color. Secretary Duncan promised to respond to that letter, but has so far failed to do so.
This message of disempowerment and harm to low-income communities of color as a result of Administration policies was echoed by another coalition of 500 parents and students from 18 cities, which Journey(ed) for Justice to Washington DC on January 29th. They highlighted the disparate negative impact of school closings on communities of color and asked Secretary Duncan to impose a nationwide moratorium on school closings until a more democratic process could be developed. They also asked him to implement a sustainable, community-driven school improvement process rather than the hierarchical programs and policies currently promoted by the US Department of Education.
Unfortunately, no community representatives testified at the February 7th Senate hearing on NCLB waivers. Instead, the Senators heard from current and former state-level officials representing some of the most regressive state waiver proposals. They included Andrew Smarick, a former NJ deputy commissioner of education and vocal proponent of school closings, privatization, and community disempowerment, who helped write New Jersey’s very troubled waiver plan.
Since the historic Brown v. Board ruling of 1954, communities have looked to the federal government to champion a level playing field for all of our children. This objective cannot be accomplished if community voices are shut out of the decision-making process and harmful policies are forced upon communities.
Save Our Schools NJ is a nonpartisan, grassroots organization of parents and other concerned residents whose more than 10,000 members believe that all NJ children should have access to a high quality public education.