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FOLLOW NEW JERSEY: CIVIL RIGHTS GROUPS OFFER BLUEPRINT FOR REAL REFORM

New Jersey figures prominently in a new, comprehensive blueprint for reform released by a number of leading civil rights organizations designed to ensure all public school students have the opportunity to achieve high academic standards.

The reform blueprint -- the "Framework for Providing All Students an Opportunity to Learn" was released by on July 26th in Washington, DC by the following civil rights organizations: Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Rainbow PUSH Coalition, Schott Foundation for Public Education, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, National Coalition for Educating Black Children, National Urban League, and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.

The centerpiece of the Opportunity to Learn (OTL) proposal is a recommendation that the federal government adopt "common resource opportunity standards" to support rigorous state academic standards "by ensuring sufficient resources to address extreme state budget cuts and interstate inequities." In two critical areas, the new, national OTL resource standards would be built upon successful, effective reforms implemented by the State of New Jersey over the last decade.

Universal, High Quality Preschool

The OTL proposal recommends the federal government promote and support access to high quality early childhood education using New Jersey's groundbreaking Abbott preschool program as a model:

The highly successful reforms in New Jersey prompted by the Abbott v. Burke litigation illustrate how high quality programs can be designed and implemented to produce extraordinary outcome changes in a relatively short period of time. The federal government should create and early childhood education quality index, like the one used in New Jersey, for monitoring program quality, and provide incentives and funding for improving access to high quality preschool based on that index.

Equitable Resources, With Accountability

The proposal also recommends the states be required to "more equitably" allocate funding to ensure resources are distributed where the need is greatest. In addition, states should "close the opportunity gap" by targeting resources to "research proven" programs and reforms. Here again, the Civil Rights organizations cite New Jersey's Abbott effort to require statewide funding equity as providing a model for federal OTL policy:

Following New Jersey's model, states should be required to take actions that lead to a more equitable distribution of resources. In particular, resources should be targeted to close the opportunity gap in accessing research-proven methodologies like high quality early education and rigorous curricula aligned with post-secondary standards. As a precondition for any federal award, whether formula or competitive, states should be required to show, at a minimum, that they are meeting their own state constitutional standards for providing students with education services.

Civil Rights Groups Call for New Federal Policies

In issuing the OTL blueprint, the Civil Rights organizations are calling for revamping federal policy to provide "more comprehensive reforms" to "build a future where equitable educational opportunity is the rule, not the exception." In particular, the OTL blueprint calls for ending current federal education policies based on "competitive grants" like the Race to the Top (RTT) initiative and that promote "ineffective approaches for turning around low performing schools and education systems."

The OTL plan recommends replacing competitive grants like RTT to "conditional incentive grants that can be made available to all states, provided they adopt systematic, proven strategies for providing all students with an opportunity to learn."

The plan can also be viewed on the new National Opportunity to Learn (OTL) website at www.otlcampaign.org.