Education Letter to the Editor

No ‘Split in Civil Rights Community’ Over NCLB

June 19, 2007 2 min read

To the Editor:

We write to correct James Crawford’s mischaracterizations of our organizations’ positions with respect to the No Child Left Behind Act and English-language learners (“A Diminished Vision of Civil Rights,” Commentary, June 6, 2007).

The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the National Council of La Raza are not now, nor have we ever been, “uncompromising defenders of [NCLB].” We have consistently advocated that the federal law be amended during reauthorization to correct defects that have limited its impact for English-language learners; in doing so, we have, through the Hispanic Education Coalition, provided Congress with 27 pages of detailed recommendations for changing the law.

We advocate increasing the availability of native-language assessments and the use of high-quality growth models and multiple measures of student achievement to give a more complete picture of student achievement. We advocate improving tutoring services for ELLs, better addressing the dropout crisis among this student population, and a host of other changes to the law that will increase federal supports for English-language learners and the teachers who serve them.

We strongly disagree with Mr. Crawford when he suggests that exempting ELLs from the assessments that currently form the backbone of NCLB accountability will benefit these students. If teachers, parents, and policymakers are not aware of what these students know and do not know and we release schools from accountability for English-language learners’ academic performance, ELLs will be ignored during critical debates about education reform at the federal, state, and local levels.

As a journalist, Mr. Crawford is free to make academic arguments in favor of the “good old days” in which advocates focused on academic opportunity and inputs. As federal advocates for the largest minority group in U.S. public schools, we must actually participate in present debates around federal education reform and advocate for improved academic services for English-language learners. At the end of the day, MALDEF and NCLR have a constituency to which we must answer and for which we must obtain policy results.

While Mr. Crawford has written extensively in this area, we each served as teachers in Title I schools where ELLs received poor academic services at best. To the extent that data existed about their achievement pre-NCLB, it showed that the “good old days” were not actually so good for English-language learners in U.S. public schools and that advocates’ focus on inputs did not ensure academic parity for these students. We believe that the No Child Left Behind law’s focus on academic outputs requires schools, districts, and states to address disparities in opportunity that limit ELLs’ academic results.

There is simply no “split in the civil rights community,” as Mr. Crawford alleges, on the importance of the federal law in addressing educational disparities for disadvantaged students, minorities, English-language learners, and students with disabilities. Every major civil rights organization in the nation supports NCLB reauthorization, and none advocates for the removal of their constituency from the law’s accountability systems. MALDEF and NCLR are squarely within the civil rights mainstream in advocating for the interests of our student population through No Child Left Behind reforms.

Peter Zamora

Regional Counsel

Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund

Washington, D.C.

Raul Gonzalez

Legislative Director

National Council of La Raza

Washington, D.C.

A version of this article appeared in the June 20, 2007 edition of Education Week as No ‘Split in Civil Rights Community’ Over NCLB