Coalition Releases Document Calling for "Opportunity to Learn" for all Students

Last Updated: August 26, 2010

This article appeared in the August 2010 Rural Policy Matters.

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On July 28th, a coalition of eight civil rights organizations issued a “Framework for Providing All Students an Opportunity to Learn through Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.”

The Framework is a strong statement calling for a shift in federal policy to emphasize accountability for states and the federal government to provide equity and educational opportunity for all children.

Calling access to high-quality education a “fundamental civil right,” the Framework asserts that the federal government’s role is to create and support a “fair and substantive opportunity to learn for all students, regardless of where and to whom they were born.”

The document specifically praises certain components of the Administration’s Blueprint for Reform, including the goal of increasing post-secondary attainment in the U.S. But it also provides sharp and cogent critiques of many aspects of current federal efforts and proposals, including increased emphasis on competitive grants, experimental proposals for programs that do not meet the scope of challenges in low-income communities, and promotion of ineffective approaches for turning around low-performing schools and districts.

The Framework calls for universal high-quality pre-school; access to highly effective teachers for all students; and community schools that offer wraparound services, engaging instruction, and adequate supports. It advances six major principles to “strengthen the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) and ensure that the federal government provides the support necessary to protect every child’s civil right to a high-quality education.”

The six principles, each of which are delineated with specific recommendations, include:

  • Equitable opportunities for all;
  • Utilization of systematically proven and effective educational methods;
  • Public and community engagement in education reforms;
  • Safe and educationally sound learning environments;
  • Diverse learning environments;
  • Comprehensive and substantive accountability systems to maintain equitable opportunities and high outcomes.

The Framework’s discussion of each of the principles and their accompanying recommendations present clear statements of the harm currently being done to students by circumstances, misguided policies, and the failure of states and the federal government to meet both existing and needed requirements for providing equitable resources, especially for students in racially and economically segregated schools.

For example, the document calls many of the current reform proposals “ ‘stop gap’ quick fixes” that are not used in affluent communities and that fail to make effective systemic change. In addressing the need for highly effective teachers, the Framework outlines a variety of authentic strategies to increase the supply of teachers prepared to work in challenged communities; and in a clear reference to federal grant criteria that require states to tie teacher evaluations to student test scores, the Framework makes a strong statement that teacher effectiveness measures must avoid deterring teachers from working in high-need schools.

One of the strengths of the Framework is the way it positions communities as an important source of renewal for schools. Rather than blaming low-income areas or promoting merely technocratic or imposed “solutions” for the systemic problems that compromise educational and economic opportunity for low-income children and children of color, the Framework advances a variety of public policy approaches to renew and strengthen communities, involve parents in devising and implementing school reform strategies, and provide the kinds of services and opportunities that enable communities to survive and support their children.

The document calls good communities “the foundation for great schools” and it recognizes public schools as “critical community institutions especially in urban and rural areas.” It warns against the disruption and harm done to communities and students when schools are closed, and it makes specific recommendations to avoid school closure. “No turnaround model should be adopted without accounting for community, health, and social services that have been of should have been provided at the school but may not be available to families elsewhere in the community.”

Framework sidesteps the issue of “number-weighting,” a provision in several of the federal Title I formulas (authorized under ESEA) that sends more money for each disadvantaged child to larger districts than to smaller districts. And, some of the more specific examples and strategies the document proposes are better suited to urban than rural areas. But the clear-sighted value the document places on the importance of community, its clarion call to support the democratic participation of low-income residents in the governance and shaping of public institutions in their communities, and its strong statement of a federal obligation to promote genuine equity are essential philosophical underpinnings for any efforts to strengthen educational opportunity and improve schooling in low-wealth communities of all sizes and locations.

“Framework for Providing all Students an Opportunity to Learn” deserves serious consideration by everyone concerned about public education and the state of our democracy.

You can read Framework at

Read more from the August 2010 Rural Policy Matters.