Professional Educators

Civil Rights Groups Question Rationale Behind SIG Models

By Kevin Hart

If politically popular education “reforms” are so effective, why are they only being implemented in lower-income communities – predominantly communities of color?

That was the question that ran through a framework for improving education released by leading civil rights groups this week. Titled Civil Rights Framework for Providing All Students an Opportunity to Learn through Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the framework was drafted and signed by seven leading civil rights groups, including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the National Urban League and the Rainbow PUSH Coalition.

“For far too long, communities of color have been testing grounds for unproven methods of educational change,” the report says, arguing that reforms advocated by federal and state governments should have to meet an evidence threshold before being foisted upon schools.

The framework pointedly questions the rationale and effectiveness of three of the models prescribed by the federal School Improvement Grants process, arguing that prevailing research argues against firing educators, closing schools, and opening more charter schools. The coalition of civil rights groups warns against expanding these measures as part of any ESEA reauthorization.

Schools that receive SIG funds must choose between four models, including:

Turnaround: Replace the principal and rehire no more than 50 percent of the staff.

Restart: Place a school under the management of a charter school operator, a charter management organization, or an education management organization.

School closure: Close a school and enroll its students in a higher-achieving school.

Transformation: Replace the principal and take steps to increase teacher and school leader effectiveness through instructional reforms, increased learning time, and improved operational flexibility.

According to the framework, “recent education reform proposals have favored ‘stop gap’ quick fixes that may look new on the surface but offer no real long-term strategy for effective systemic change.”

Among those reform proposals is the notion of firing educators. As the framework indicates, lower-performing priority schools already tend to have high staff turnover. If staff turnover was the solution, the problem of achievement gaps at lower-performing priority schools would have been solved long ago. Instead, the group argues, education policy should focus on attracting, retaining and developing qualified educators.

The group expresses similar concern over the Obama Administration’s focus on charter schools. While acknowledging that charters can serve as “laboratories for innovation,” the group states that “there is no evidence that charter operators are systematically more effective in creating higher student outcomes nationwide.”

The framework points out that the largest national study on charter schools found that they failed to outperform comparable public schools, and that they tend to educate fewer English Language Learners, special education students and students who receive free- and reduced-price lunch.

While the framework does not rule out school closure as a “last resort,” it questions what kinds of results such a strategy can really produce.

“Efforts to close schools and reconstitute staff in urban and rural communities over the last decade have not been a panacea – a fact that school districts that have tried these approaches have come to recognize,” the framework states. “Research has found that widespread use of these strategies has increased disruption but has not improved achievement for the students in these communities.”

The framework also criticizes Race to the Top and other competitive programs as exacerbating inequities in education, and calls for greater access to pre-school programs and community-oriented schools that would be capable of providing a range of social services.

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