Civil rights hero launches ‘American Child’s Education Bill of Rights’


In this Jan. 16, 1962 photo, James Meredith, center, an Air Force veteran suing the State of Mississippi for admission to the all-white University of Mississippi, leaves federal court in Jackson, Miss., with his attorneys, Derrick Bell and Mrs. Constance Baker Motley, both of New York. (AP)

Calling modern school reform “catastrophically misguided and ineffective,” civil rights icon James Meredith is launching what he calls the American Child’s Education Bill of Rights, a 12-point declaration of obligations that he says the nation owes every public school child.

The 80-year-old Meredith was the first black student to graduate from the University of Mississippi. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. placed Meredith first on his own list of heroes in his 1963 Letter From a Birmingham Jail:

“Some day the South will recognize its real heroes. They will be the James Merediths, courageously and with a majestic sense of purpose facing jeering and hostile mobs and the agonizing loneliness that characterizes the life of the pioneer.”

In 1966 Meredith was  shot while leading a march that helped open the gates of voter registration to thousands of black citizens in the South. He later earned a law degree at Columbia University. In 2013, he was awarded the Harvard University Graduate School of Education’s Lifetime Achievement Award, the school’s highest honor, and he is the recipient of the 2014 winner of the Richard Wright Award for Literary Excellence.

Meredith, who now drives his grandchildren to public school in Jackson, Miss., every day said:

“We are losing millions of our children to inferior schools and catastrophically misguided and ineffective so-called education reforms. Our schools are being destroyed by politics, profit, greed and lies,” he adds. “Instead of evidence-based practices, money has become the engine of education policy, and our schools are being hijacked by politicians, non-educators and for-profit operators. Parents, teachers, citizens and community elders must arm ourselves with the best evidence and take back control of our children’s public education before it is too late. We all must work together to improve our public schools, not on the basis of profit or politics, but on the basis of evidence, and on the basis of love for America’s children.”

The Education Bill of Rights identifies 12 basic education rights for every American child, all based on his career as a social activist as well as discussions with thousands of students, parents, teachers and education experts across America. It was written with William Doyle, the co-author of  Meredith’s 2012 memoir, “A Mission from God: A Memoir and Challenge for America,” who was recently named to the Fulbright Scholars Program Specialist roster for 2013-2018.

Meredith said that billions of dollars now spent on standardized testing and “so-called education reforms” can be better spent to help children.

“If we do not commit to this course as a national emergency, America is headed for disaster.”

Meredith urges Americans to join a national debate on the American Child’s Education Bill of Rights, and to add their own ideas, on his Facebook page: www.facebook.com/jamesmeredithusa

 

The American Child’s Education Bill of Rights

 

Every American public school child has the right to:

 

1.  Experienced Teachers: A school run and staffed by fully qualified professional educators and teachers; a lead classroom teacher with a minimum of a masters degree in education and three years classroom experience; a school where computer products are never used to replace teachers; and a school the leaders of society would send their own children to.

 

2.  Equity of Resources: A nation that sends many of its most experienced and effective teachers to help its highest-poverty and highest-needs students; strives to deliver educational equity of resources to all students; and strives to reduce the harm done to children by poverty and segregation.

 

3.  Involved Parents: A school that strongly encourages and helps parents to: be directly involved in their children’s education; support their children with healthy eating and daily physical activity; disconnect their children from TV and video games and read with them on a daily basis; and a school that regularly invites parents to take part in school activities.

 

4.  Quality Learning: A nation where educators and officials collaborate to identify the best evidence-based practices; a nation that rigorously tests classroom products and reforms before spending billions of dollars of taxpayer funds on them, including testing them versus smaller class sizes and more experienced teachers; a nation that that does not spend billions of taxpayer dollars on excessive, unreliable and low-quality standardized tests that displace and damage authentic learning; and an education with an absolute minimum of standardized tests and a maximum of high-quality, teacher-designed evaluations of student learning and progress.

 

5.  Effective Teachers: A school where teachers are evaluated through fair and aggressive professional peer review, not unreliable standardized test data; and a school where under-performing teachers are coached, mentored and supported, and when necessary fired, through a process of professional review and transparent, timely due process.

 

6.  Personalized Instruction: A school with small class sizes, similar to those enjoyed by the children of political and business leaders, so all students can receive a truly differentiated and personalized instruction, with regular, close feedback from their teachers.

 

7.  Full Curriculum and Services: A school system that provides universal pre-K; a strong early education based on research fundamentals, correct developmental milestones and educational play; a rich curriculum including the arts, civics, literature, history, science, field trips, and music; fully funded, effective and inclusive special education that strives to intervene early and prevent problems; and if necessary, wraparound social services and a free, healthy breakfast and lunch.

 

8.  Transparency: A school where records of every dollar of taxpayer money spent are available for public inspection; where personally identifiable student information is not shared with outside parties without express parental consent; where parents and teachers are involved in school management and policy; and where core public school functions are not sold off to for-profit operators.

 

9.  Respect for Children and Teachers: A nation that respects teachers as well as it respects other elite professions; and considers every child’s physical, mental and emotional health, happiness and well-being as critical factors for school behavior, academic achievement and national progress.

 

10.  Safety, Freedom and Challenge: A school and a classroom that are safe, comfortable, exciting, happy and well-disciplined; with regular quiet time and play time in the early grades; regular breaks through the school day; daily physical education and recess periods; a healthy, developmentally-appropriate and evidence-based after-school workload; and an atmosphere of low chronic stress and high productive challenge, where children are free to be children as they learn, and children are free to fail in the pursuit of success.

 

11.  Reform Through Rigor and Accountability: A nation that uses rigor, accountability and transparency when it comes to education reform; where any proposed major education reforms must be tested first, and based on hard evidence, independently verified, before being widely adopted and funded by taxpayers.

 

12.  A 21st Century Education: A school and a nation where children and teachers are supported, cherished and challenged, and where teachers are left alone to the maximum extent possible by politicians and bureaucrats to do their jobs – - which is to prepare children for life, citizenship, and careers with true 21st century skills: not by drilling them for standardized tests or forcing a culture of stress, overwork and fear upon them, but by helping them fall in love with authentic learning for the rest of their lives, inspiring them with joy, fun, passion, diligence, critical thinking and collaboration, new discoveries and excitement, and having the highest academic expectations of them.

 

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.
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