BATs DEMAND THE USDOE CONVENE A COMMITTEE TO INVESTIGATE CIVIL RIGHTS VIOLATIONS
Dear Sec. Duncan and Mr. Kim:
This open letter is a respectful request to convene a national committee to investigate civil rights abuses that have reached a crisis point. While we commend you for meeting with BATs, Save Our Schools, United Opt Out, Journey for Justice, among other educational activist groups (and hope that you have read the Journey for Justice report entitled “Death by a Thousand Cuts”), we are requesting a follow up process that will result in action regarding disturbing trends we have observed with regards to civil rights violations of both students and teachers.
As a national group of nearly 52,000 educators, we have collected the following observations as areas of concern:
Children and Communities of Color
We are anticipating disproportionately low scores on PARCC tests among African American and Latino students in high poverty public schools. Poverty stricken, homeless or transient students are at a distinct disadvantage taking tests reliant on technology with which many of them are unfamiliar. We are also concerned that cash strapped school districts have reprioritized their budgets to procure computers specifically for the tests, rather than on educational materials and supplies. Additionally, urban schools that educate children of color often start the school year understaffed, leaving students at a disadvantage throughout the school year. The use of punitive, high stakes tests under such conditions violates the students’ rights to an equitable education. Additionally, we are concerned with:
• Removal of waivers from states that refuse to give into test based accountability for teacher evaluations (deeming every school in the state a failure). This doesn’t hurt teachers it hurts kids and kids in districts with least resources will be especially harmed.
• Children attending school with NO heat (Rick Snyder’s budget cuts in Michigan caused this).
• Students prevented from physical activity, recess, and physical education in order to raise test scores.
• Kindergarten children made to sit for hours at tables with pencil to paper. Those who are unable to meet these demands are punished for being children. They are forced to take standardized tests and writing assessments all year long. Their recess has been decreased immensely.
• Reports of inappropriate demands placed on children that conflict with research on child development. For example, a teacher from a rural Title I school reported having been told to have kindergarteners reading 65 words per minute and writing eight connected sentences by the end of kindergarten. When the teacher presented administrators with research that showed the importance of play and socialization in kindergarten, she was removed from her kindergarten teaching position of ten years. This is one specific anecdote that is similar to dozens we are hearing from educators across the country.
• Districts forbidding Hispanic students to speak Spanish.
• Removing extra support services for English Language Learners in New York State. The state is moving in a new direction as a result of Common Core. ESL Students will no longer be allowed to be taken out of their mainstream classroom for extra help. They will be forced to do Common Core and Grade Level work even if they had interrupted or no schooling before coming to the US. The new law ignores many immigrants who do not come from Spanish speaking countries and actually punishes children who speak a minority language or who are illiterate in their first language. The state is removing supports for these students but masking the new law with claims that the removal of these supports somehow prevents these students from being ignored. A close read of the new law makes it clear that they very much will be ignored now, worse than ever.
• English Language Learners are the most over-tested group of students. In New York State, they take more tests than general education students yet struggle to do so because of their lack of proficiency in the testing language: English. In addition, the new ESL law will require districts to reallocate funds that should go toward education services and instead spend it on administrative paperwork proving compliance. The state is requiring changes that they CANNOT adequately fund so they are forcing districts to pay for things they cannot afford. In addition, Charter Schools do not have to follow the law for English Language Learners and do not have to even provide services to these students.
• In Oregon, ELL students starting as kindergarteners in Oregon take a 45 minute web based state test in English proficiency. The ELL K-2 students are the ONLY students that are made to sit through a 45-minute computerized test. All other K-2 students are exempt from state testing. We find this inequity in testing unacceptable.
• Michigan’s ACLU lawsuit expected to be appealed provides an example of a state abdicating its responsibility for