Standardizing Whiteness: the Essential Racism of Standardized Testing

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“As a method of social production, as well as social reproduction, standardized testing has had serious cultural implications, not the least of which has been the eternal question of American identity. Consistent with notions of American identity, standardized testing, as an opposition to a cultural other, represents the normalization of whiteness, richness, and maleness.”
-Andrew Hartman

“In this country American means white. Everybody else has to hyphenate.”
-Toni Morrison

We talk about standardized testing as if we don’t really understand what it is.

We say we want No child left behind!

And then we pass a law named after that very sentiment that ensures some students MUST be left behind.

We say we want Every student to succeed!

And then we pass a law named after that very sentiment that ensures every student will NOT succeed.

It would be absurd if not for the millions of children being forced to endure the harsh reality behind our pretty words.

It’s not these ideals that are the problem. It’s standardized testing.

Researchers, statisticians, and academics of every stripe have called for an end to high stakes testing in education policy. Parents, students and teachers have written letters, testified before congressional committees, protested in the streets, even refused to take or give the tests. All to deaf ears.

The federal government still requires all students in 3-8th grade and once in high school to take standardized tests.

But these assessments are graded on a curve. A certain amount of students are at the bottom, a certain amount are at the top, and most are clustered in the middle. This would be true if you were testing all geniuses or all people with traumatic brain injuries.

It doesn’t matter how smart your test takers are. There will always be this bell curve distribution. That’s how the tests are designed. So to talk about raising test scores is nonsensical. You can raise scores at school A or School B, but the total set of all test takers will always be the same. And some students will always fail.

But that isn’t even the worst part.

Standardization, itself, has certain consequences. We seem to have forgotten what the term even means. It’s defined as the act of evaluating someone or something by reference to a standard.

This socket wrench is a good socket wrench because it most closely resembles some ideal socket wrench. This McDonald’s Big Mac is good because it resembles the ideal McDonald’s Big Mac.

That’s what we’re doing to people – children in fact. We’re evaluating them based on their resemblance to some ideal definition of what a child should know and what a child should be.

But children are not socket wrenches nor are they Big Macs. It is not so easy to reduce them to their component parts and say this is good and that is bad.

When you try to abstract them to that point, it is impossible to remove various essential factors of their identity – race, gender, socio-economic status, etc. Nor would it be admirable if you could, because you would have abstracted to the point where the individual is no longer visible or valued. A child raised in poverty is simply not the same as a child from a privileged upbringing. A child from a culture that values cooperation is not the same as a child from a culture that values individual achievement. And that’s often a good thing.

But when you define a standard, an ideal, you make certain choices – you privilege some attributes and denigrate others. Since the people creating the tests are almost exclusively upper middle class white people, it should come as no surprise that that is the measure by which they assess success.

Is it any wonder then that poor kids and children of color don’t score as well on these tests? Is it any wonder that upper middle class white kids score so well?

We’ve known this for almost a century. Standardized tests do a poor job of assessing intelligence or knowledge. Those things are too complex and the tests are too simple. If you’re evaluating something equally simple like basic addition and subtraction, these tests can work alright. But if you’re trying to get at something complex like critical thinking or creativity, they end up doing little more than prizing the way some people think and not others. In short, they elevate the thought processes most associated with rich white kids.

It doesn’t mean poor and/or black children are any less intelligent. It just means rich white kids have the things for which the test designers are looking. Some of this is due to economic factors like greater access to private tutoring, books in the home, parents with more time to read to their kids, coming to school healthy and more focused. However, a large portion is due to the very act of taking tests that are created to reflect white upper class values and norms.

Think about it. Almost all the questions are field tested before they become a permanent part of the exam. Students are given a question that doesn’t count to their final score, but test makers tabulate how many kids get it right or wrong. So when most white kids answer a field tested question correctly and most black kids get it wrong, it still becomes a permanent test question because there are so few blacks relative to whites. Maybe it’s a question that references sun tan lotion, something with which darker skinned people don’t have as much experience. Imagine if a question referencing the hair care practices of  black people became a test item. White people would have difficulty with it because they can’t easily relate. But the field testing process doesn’t allow that because it normalizes whiteness.

So black kids stumble while white kids have an easier time. We even have a name for it: the racial proficiency gap.

Many well-intentioned progressive voices have bemoaned this problem and wondered how to solve it. But it’s not the scores that are the problem. It’s the assessments. They are doing exactly what they were designed to do.

That’s right. You cannot have such obvious, historical problems perpetuated year-after-year, decade-after-decade, and still think they are mere unintended consequences.

This is how the system was designed to work. This is how it’s always been designed to work.

If you were going to create a racist and classist school system from scratch, what would you do? How would you go about it?

You’d need the lower classes to have SOME mediocre education so they are able to do the menial work that keeps society running. But only so much. Education as a social ladder is all well and good as propaganda. But you don’t want that ladder to lead out of the basement for more than a few.

You need something that will create a hierarchy with people of color at the bottom and poor whites only slightly better off so they can feel ennobled compared to their darker subordinates.

You need a biased sorting mechanism – something that allows you to put students into privileged and unprivileged categories but that will look to all the world like it was doing so fairly. It would have to appear like you were choosing students based on merit.

You’d need something like standardized test scores.

This is how these assessments have functioned from their very beginnings.

When Carl Brigham and Robert Yerkes, U.S. Army psychologists during WWI, designed the alpha and beta intelligence tests to determine which soldiers deserved to be officers, they were creating a pseudoscientific justification for white privilege. They used biased and unfair assessments to “prove” that rich white folks were best suited to give orders, and the rest of us belonged in the trenches.

Brigham and Yerkes were drawing upon eugenics, also called “racial hygiene” or “scientific racism.” This was a radical misreading of Gregor Mendel and Charles Darwin. Eugenicists thought positive traits such as intelligence were widespread in Northwestern European races and almost nonexistent in others. Moreover, negative traits such as laziness and criminality were common in nonwhites and almost absent in those same Northwestern Europeans.

“We should not work primarily for the exclusion of intellectual defectives but rather for the classification of men in order that they may be properly placed,” wrote Yerkes.

THIS is the basis of standardized testing.

After the war, Brigham took the same principles to create the Scholastic Aptitude Test or S.A.T. – in principle the same exam still taken by 2.1 million teenagers every year to ensure they get into their chosen college.

The test was further refined by fellow eugenicist Lewis Terman, Professor of Education at Stanford University and originator of the Stanford-Binet intelligence test. Together these three men created the foundations for the modern field of standardized testing. And make no mistake – its axiomatic principle is still that some races are genetically superior and others are inferior.

Or as Terman put it:

“A low level of intelligence is very common among Spanish-Indian and Mexican families of the Southwest and also among Negroes. Their dullness seems to be racial, or at least inherent in the family stocks from which they come… They constitute a grave problem because of their unusually prolific breeding.”

After WWII, the eugenicist brand suffered from comparison to the Nazis who had been inspired by the findings of Brigham, Yerkes and Terman among others. In the post war years, we’ve discarded the overtly racist language but kept the assessments. Yet they still function the same way – sorting out blacks and the poor while prizing the rich and white.

This information is not secret. It is not kept under lock and key in some hidden military base somewhere. It’s accessible to anyone with Internet access or a library card.
We ignore it, because otherwise it would destabilize the current power structure – the corporate education policies that drive school practices in our country. We close our eyes and pretend it isn’t happening.

But it is.

“Standardized tests are the last form of legalized discrimination in the US,” said Education and Psychology Prof. Phil Harris.

With them you can give rich and middle class whites every advantage while withholding the same from students of color. And we don’t call it racism or classism because we pretend the whites earned their privileges by their test scores.

“We are using the testocracy as a proxy for privilege,” said civil rights theorist Lanni Guinier. Test scores are the excuse for prejudicial and unjust practices that would be impossible without them.

For instance, if you really wanted to help someone who’s struggling, you might offer extra help. But low test scores are used as the reason for withholding that help. We actually use these invalid scores as a means of demeaning and firing poor black kids’ teachers – as if anything they could do could completely overcome biased assessments and poverty. In this way, we not only remove those already in place to help these kids, we ensure few people will volunteer to take their place.

And when you have a teacher shortage in these poor urban neighborhoods, you can use that to justify further deprivations. Instead of teachers with 4-year education degrees, you can hire lightly trained Teach for America temps – college grads who’ve taken no coursework in education beyond a six weeks cram session.

And if the parents of these children complain, you can open charter schools to pull a quick bait and switch. Make them feel like they have a choice when really you’re pulling the rug out from under them. You provide them with a school with none of the safeguards of a traditional public institution – no elected school board, no transparency on how tax dollars are spent, little oversight, a right to refuse any student they wish, etc. And when the school goes belly up, these kids will be pushed back to their former traditional public school that has had to make due with less funding and now can provide even fewer  services than it could before students jumped ship.

Using standardized test scores to judge not just students but whole schools, you can destabilize the entire system of public education. Charter schools and traditional public schools fight over ever-dwindling funding, one required to prove everything it does, the other able to do whatever it wants until it closes with little to no consequences for charter operators who take the money and run.

The US Supreme Court ruled in Brown vs Board that we can’t have “separate but equal” schools because when they’re separate, they’re rarely equal. But somehow that doesn’t apply to charter schools.

Somehow we’ve stopped caring about integration – one of the central victories of the Civil Rights movement! This plays right into the hands of the corporate education reformers. They have done everything they can to increase segregation because it makes it so much easier to privilege rich white kids and crush poor black ones.

They don’t want an equal mix of black and white, rich and poor in our schools. That would make it much harder to select against one class of student while boosting another.

They need to keep the races and classes as separate as possible. Charter schools help in this regard, but they would be insufficient without the help from many white families who flee from these “other” darker complected kids. It’s just another way to send more funding to white kids and less to poor black kids. They say it’s based on local property taxes. That way they can pretend it’s all fair and above board. Rich folks have a right to be able to give their kids the best, and if poor folks can’t afford to do the same, who do you expect to pick up the tab?

Oh! And let’s not forget setting “high academic standards” while all this is going on. They throw out everything that’s been working and come up with a Common Core of knowledge that all kids need to learn. Don’t include black and brown history, culture or the arts – just the stuff the business community thinks is valuable because they know so much about what’s really important in life. And have the whole thing written up by non-educators and non-psychologists and don’t bother testing it out to make sure it works.

Your rich white kids will have no problem jumping through these hoops. But your poor black and brown kids will stumble and fall – just as planned.

This is what has become of our public schools.

This is corporate education reform.

This is our racist, classist school system.

And it’s all based on standardized testing – a perfectly legal system of normalizing rich whiteness.

You Can’t Be Anti-Opt Out and Pro-Democracy

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Our lawmakers have a problem.

This summer they doubled down on one of the most anti-democratic mandates in the federal repertoire yet they claim they did so to protect states rights.

Here’s the problem.

Every year, hundreds of thousands of public school parents across the country opt their children out of standardized testing.

But Congress voted to keep mandating that 95% of students take the tests.

It all happened with the much celebrated bipartisan passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the federal law that governs K-12 schools.

While lawmakers made changes here and there to let the states decide various education issues, they kept the mandate that students participate in annual testing.

They didn’t leave that to the states. Whether they were Republican or Democrat, almost all lawmakers thought it was just fine for the federal government to force our children to take standardized tests at least every year in 3-8th grades and once in high school.

If any school district, has more than 5% of students that don’t take the tests – for whatever reason – the federal government can deny that district funding.

Think about that for a moment.

Our lawmakers are supposedly acting in our interests. They’re our representatives. We’re their constituents. They get their power to pass laws because of our consent as the governed. Yet in this instance they chose to put their own judgement ahead of ours.

They could have made an exception for parents refusing the tests on behalf of their children. They just didn’t see the need to do so.

Why? Because they were worried about minority students.

It’s a laughable claim in so many ways.

It goes something like this – without standardized testing, we’ll have no way of knowing if public schools are educating students of color.

Let’s say for a moment that this were true. In that case, we can expect no parent of color would ever refuse standardized testing for his/her child.

First, this is demonstrably untrue. Black and brown parents may not be the most numerous in the opt out movement, but they do take part in it.

Second, in the majority of cases where white parents refuse testing, that would have no bearing on whether testing helps or hurts students of color. If the point is the data testing gives us on black kids, what white kids do on the test is irrelevant.

Third, even if opting out hurt students of color, one would assume that it is the parents prerogative whether they want to take part. If a black parent doesn’t want her black son to take a multiple choice exam, she should have the right to waive that exam and the responsibility would be on her head.

So there is absolutely no reason why lawmakers should have overstepped their bounds in this way and blocked all parents rights about what the schools do to their children.

It is a clear case of governmental overreach. And there are plenty of parents just waiting to bring it to the U.S. Supreme Court for the ultimate Constitutional test.

However, that probably won’t happen for the same reason it never happened through the 15 years of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) which also contained the annual testing rule.

The federal government has never withheld tax dollars based on students not taking standardized tests. officials at the U.S. Department of Education have made threats, but they have never devolved into action.

The bottom line is this: they know how Unconstitutional this mandate is, and they aren’t itching to have it tested in the highest court in the land.

It would open a whole can of worms about standardized testing. What is the federal government allowed to do and not allowed to do about education policy?

The ESSA is an attempt to reduce the federal role, but keeping the annual testing mandate was either a grievous mistake or the last vestiges of federal hubris.

But let’s return to the reasoning behind it – so-called civil rights fears.

Various groups including the NAACP asked for it to be included to protect minority students. Annual testing is the only way, they claimed, to make sure schools are teaching students of color.

It’s nonsense.

There are plenty of ways to determine if schools are meeting the needs of minority students – especially since most students of color go to segregated schools.

Even after Brown v. Board, we have schools that cater to black kids and schools that cater to white kids. We have schools for poor kids and rich kids.

It is obvious which schools get the most resources. Why isn’t that part of this “accountability” scheme? We can audit districts to see how much is spent per pupil on poor black kids vs rich white kids. We can determine which groups go to schools with larger class sizes, which groups have more access to tutoring and social services, which groups have expanded or narrowed curriculums, which groups have access to robust extra-curricular activities, which groups have the most highly trained and experienced teachers, etc.

In fact, THAT would tell us much more about how these two groups are being served by our public schools than standardized test scores. We’ve known for almost a century that these test scores are more highly correlated with parental income than academic knowledge. They’re culturally biased, subjectively scored and poorly put together. But they support a multibillion dollar industry. If we allow a back door for all that money to dry up, it will hurt lawmakers REAL constituents – big business.

So why were civil rights groups asking the testing mandate be kept in the bill? Because the testing industry is comprised of big donors.

Only a few months before passage of the ESSA, many of these same civil rights groups had signed declarations against standardized testing. Then suddenly they saw the light as their biggest donors threatened to drop out.

Make no mistake. Standardized testing doesn’t help poor minority children. It does them real harm. But the testing industry wrapped themselves up in this convenient excuse to give lawmakers a reason to stomp all over parental rights.

The conflict wasn’t between civil rights and parental rights. It was between parental rights and corporate rights. And our lawmakers sided with the corporations.

Let me be clear: legislators cannot be against opt out and in favor of individual rights.

The two are intimately connected.

Our schools have no business telling parents how to raise their kids. But our parents DO have a right to do the opposite. In fact, that’s how the system is supposed to work.

We, parents and citizens, control our schools – not you, our representatives. The principal can’t say you haven’t a right to opt out your kid. He’s just your representative. So is the teacher.

Everyone who works in the school is there to do what you want them to do for your child. Yes, they are well trained and have a world of knowledge and experience that we should draw on. And in most cases, they’re being forced to confront us by lawmakers who are tying their hands and directing them to do the dirty work.

We have common cause. We need to stand with our teachers and principals, our school boards and education professors. We need to stand together against lawmakers who think they know better.

In short, we don’t need lawmakers consent to opt out. They need our consent to stop us.

They get their power from us. They work for us.

And it’s time they get to work and rescind the annual testing mandate.

Dr. Jill Stein is the Best 2016 Presidential Candidate, But Can She Win?

 

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In 2008, I shook Barack Obama’s hand.

 

Yesterday Dr. Jill Stein gave me a hug.

 

Eight years ago, I was so inspired by Obama’s campaign speech in my hometown of Pittsburgh that I rushed forward along with the crowd to grab his hand. It was soft but firm with a tinge of moisturizer. Now I look at his incredibly regressive education policies and feel the need to scrub my palm.

 

This weekend in Philadelphia, I was at the United Opt Out Conference and saw Stein sitting in the audience.

 

I walked past the Green Party Presidential candidate the first time thinking I must be mistaken. Then her name tag removed all doubt.

 

“You’re Jill Stein!” I stuttered.

 

She smiled warmly, stood up and said, “You’re Steven Singer!”

 

I want to believe she knew who I was, but I was wearing a name tag, too.

 

We talked for a moment about what most of us were here for – education policy. She reaffirmed that she wanted to end all high stakes testing and school privatization.

 

Think of it – a presidential candidate speaking in specifics. Not “We test too much.” Not “Some charter schools are bad.” But I want to end these two perverse school policies!

 

And to top it all off, before she hurried off to tidy up as the time approached for her campaign speech, she game me a warm, tight hug.

 

Compare that to Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders.

 

As part of the Badass Teachers Association, we reached out to all the Democratic and Republican candidates on these exact same issues. The Republicans ignored us entirely, but both Democrats gave us phone calls by campaign aides.

 

Even then, the Democratic response was far from convivial. It mostly came down to something like “Education is important.” Well, duh.

 

In Sanders’ case, we had to conduct an impromptu sit-in at the Senator’s Washington office before anyone would talk to us about policy. And Hillary only started to speak in measured tones about public schools after our national teachers unions voted to endorse her – well, the leaders of those unions voted. No one ever really asked us, rank-and-file.

 

Moreover, when Sanders voted for the horrible Murphy Amendment of what became the Every Child Succeeds Act, several teachers including myself wrote him an open letter asking him to explain his apparent support for a Test and Punish education provision. One of his aides sent us a replysome nonsense about accountability.

 

And Jill Stein just gave me a hug.

The difference is huge!

 

When activists were holding this conference centering on the movement to Opt Out of Standardized testing, Sanders and Clinton didn’t even send campaign literature. Stein came in person and even gave a keynote address!

 

Don’t get me wrong. Hillary is far preferable to any Republican candidate seeking the office. I just wish her Presidential bid wasn’t funded by the very people we’re fighting against.

 

I love Bernie, too. I’ve even got the t-shirt to prove it. I just wish he loved us as much by throwing out a few more specifics. The general thrust of his campaign seems tailor-made to support test resistance and a fight against corporate education reform, but he rarely connects the dots with anything that we could hold him accountable for saying.

 

And then you have Stein, perhaps the most human politician I’ve ever met.

 

One look at her platform and it’s obvious she’s the best candidate for President in 2016. But is she electable?

 

Think about that for a moment.

 

What does it say about our country?

 

Design an excellent platform that benefits the most people, organize a movement to get your message out there, draw on the experience of experts in various fields… and you’re an incredible long shot to win the office.

 

The media says the same thing about Sanders as he speaks to overcapacity crowds and struggles against party politics seemingly written to hobble any populist campaign like his.

 

Yet Stein has no giant crowds. She has no adoring fans, no comedian on Saturday Night Live giving her friendly jibes.

 

She’s almost completely ignored by the media. Yet her actual policies make even a progressive like Sanders look like… well… Hillary Clinton!

 

For instance, Sanders wants to make college free to everyone. Stein wants to do that, too, AND erase all existing student debt.

 

Sanders is (kind of) against for-profit charter schools but has been vaguely supportive of Test and Punish school accountability practices. Stein is unequivocally against all forms of school privatization and high stakes standardized testing.

 

Sanders wants single-payer healthcare paid for by raising taxes (but net savings over all). Stein wants single-payer healthcare paid for by cutting our bloated military budget with no raise in taxes.

 

In fact, while Sanders is against unnecessary military action and an increase in military spending, he is in favor of keeping the $1 trillion military budget mostly intact. Stein wants to cut it by 50%, stop selling weapons to Saudi Arabia, stop giving weapons to Israel, freeze terrorist-funder’s bank accounts, end the War on Terror and engage in a policy of peace.

 

Moreover, Stein wants the savings from slashing our biggest federal expenditure to be used to fund a New Green Deal, creating full employment and a living wage all while transitioning to 100% clean energy by 2030!

 

Correct me if I’m wrong, but all of Stein’s policies sound rather sane and measured. Yet she is the one the media labels a radical and out-of-touch – if they talk about her at all.

 

It’s a testament to how perverted our politics have become: Sanity looks like the exact opposite. Logic and intelligence are revolutionary concepts.

 

And only the activists and intellectuals seem to know this is happening.

 

When Stein was done speaking, someone asked her the inevitable question about Ralph Nader. Wouldn’t casting a ballot for her just divide the Democratic vote and give the race to the Republicans as it did in 2000?

 

Her response was a bit evasive – the only time, in fact, where she seemed a bit uncomfortable.

 

She said that Nader wasn’t a member of the Green Party, where she is. She is engaged in building the party and the movement even beyond 2016.

 

On the one hand, it sounded like she was suggesting that even if she loses, it will bring real progressive issues into the limelight. However, this is not what happened when Nader lost as a third party candidate against Bush and Gore.

 

On the other hand, she stressed that she actually could win. About 43 million people are trapped by student debt, which she wants to unilaterally eliminate, she said. That’s a large enough chunk of the population that if they all voted for her, she would win.

 

It’s time for a Hail Mary moment, she said. We have to take a chance to vote for the best policies and not continue to compromise by supporting the lesser evil. Concession is the road to what we have now – continued oligarchy and global hegemony.

 

We need a functioning world for our children. If we don’t do something about Climate Change, the Earth may not be habitable in as little as five decades.

 

It’s now or never, she said.

 

I offer all this not as an endorsement of Stein. Nor of Sanders or Clinton (though seriously stay away from the Republicans, they’re freaking crazy).

 

I offer this only as food for thought.

 

Stein is offering us the best platform, bar none. But can we afford to vote for her? Can we afford not to?

United Opt Out Conference Highlights Dual Role of Technology in Education

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Technology is the most powerful weapon we have against corporate education reform.

 

It is also our greatest foe.

 

Such were the remarks of Dr. Stephen Krashen at the United Opt Out Conference on Friday.

 

The linguist, educational researcher and activist gave the opening keynote address to hundreds of people who traveled to Philadelphia for the conference.

 

Krashen, who is known for his work on second language acquisition and bilingual education, has been a strong critic of the test and punish policies of the Barack Obama administration.

 

He warned the assembly of parents, students, teachers, professors and activists about the dangers of Competency Based Education (CBE), the next big thing in the movement to dumb down public schools.

 

CBE is touted as a way to reduce high stakes standardized testing by allowing students to work at their own pace while on various computer programs. However, Krashen sees this is an increase in testing.

 

In effect, it’s testing everyday. The computer programs used in CBE are little more than the same kinds of questions you’d see on a standardized test. An emphasis on CBE would replace a robust school curriculum with never-ending test preparation and multiple-choice assessment.

 

In the hands of a classroom teacher, technology can be an excellent tool to help kids learn. However, top-down policies like CBE only take away educators’ autonomy and turn them into mere facilitators of prepackaged materials of dubious quality.

 

He noted that the National Governors Association – an organization promoting CBE and Common Core State Standards – admits that there is no research supporting this new policy. But they’re suggesting we do it anyway. In fact, provisions to increase CBE are embedded in the new federal education law – the Every Child Succeeds Act (ESSA).

 

He sees this as a massive boondoggle to swipe the $600 billion we spend on technology in schools. After all, CBE will require increasingly newer computers at every school that will need to be constantly replaced as they become obsolete.

 

Krashen quoted Gerald Bracey: “There’s a growing technology of testing that permits us now to do in nanoseconds things we shouldn’t be doing at all.”

 

There is light at the end of the tunnel though.

 

The same technology that is being used to pervert the education system can be used to help save it.

 

Krashen advised activists to use the power of social media to spread the word about CBE and other Trojan Horse reforms – policies that look like they’re helping children while actually hurting them.

 

“The Internet is our underground,” he said, “Facebook and Twitter are our weapons.”

 

Though policymakers and journalists rarely listen to experts like classroom teachers, the Internet allows us to spread our message. We don’t need anyone’s permission to speak up. We are all free to do so and should do it more often.

 

I know many people are scared to speak up, he said, but we can all educate ourselves about what’s happening and then share it and retweet it. We need to do more of this. We need to reach a critical mass. We need to show the world the truth and that it can’t be ignored and buried under the dominant media and political narrative being sold to the public as if it were truth.

 

These policies, while dangerous in and of themselves, also overshadow the real needs of our school children – namely devastating, generational poverty.

 

When Congress passes No Child Left Unfed, No Child Without Healthcare, and No Child Left Homeless, then when can talk about No Child Left Behind and Every Child Succeeds, he said.

 

Dr. Martin Luther King spoke about this issue, claiming that solving poverty would in turn solve any problems with education.

 

Krashen’s keynote was an exciting beginning to a conference that promises to be eye-opening, exciting and energizing to the community of people fighting to take back our schools from the oligarchy.


 

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‘We’re Sorry Teachers are Unfairly Blamed’ says John King – Man Responsible for Unfairly Blaming Teachers

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Sometimes the messenger matters.

You wouldn’t expect Native Americans to believe an apology from Christopher Columbus.

You wouldn’t expect African Americans to believe an apology from David Duke.

So why the heck do the Democrats expect teachers to believe an apology from John King!?

The acting U.S. Secretary of Education is – himself – responsible for more attacks on public educators than almost anyone else.

In his former role as New York Chancellor of Education, he refused to fix a school system he was responsible for destroying all the while pointing his finger at teachers.

However, late last month in his new federal position, King gave a speech at a Philadelphia high school acknowledging the mistakes of the Obama administration in tying teachers’ evaluations to student test scores – a practice he was guilty of in New York.

“I think there’s just such an urgency around making sure that teachers feel valued in our society,” King said in an interview with the Washington Post in January.

“It’s one of the things I worry a lot about. I want young people to see a future for themselves as teachers.”

Seriously!?

Were you worried about teachers in New York when you tied their evaluations to unproven and inferior Common Core tests? Were you worried about students when you approved an obviously fraudulent charter school run by an obviously fraudulent con man? Were you worried about the profession when you ignored and dismissed parents at various education forums? Were you worried about public schools when you sparked the largest opt out movement in the country?

I’m sorry, but this apology rings hollow to most educators. We know you. We know that your biggest qualification for your position in charge of the nation’s public school system is a three year stint teaching in a “no excuses” charter school with a high suspension rate.

It’s kind of hard to believe you mean a thing you say. And by extension, it’s hard to believe a thing President Barack Obama says about education, either. He was the dunderhead who picked Arne Duncan to be his first Secretary of Education and then you to succeed him.

It must be an election year.

Since a few months before the Presidential Primaries, the Democrats have been apologizing for the damage they’ve done to public education.

Obama says he wants to reduce standardized tests. That’s great – with less than one year left in his second term! After increasing it beyond even the wildest dreams of his predecessor George W. Bush!

But since we’re talking apologies here, are you, Mr. King, willing to actually do anything to make things better for the nation’s teachers?

For instance, do you think the U.S. Department of Education should be exempt from regulatory capture? In other words, should a regulatory agency like the Department of Ed advance the commercial or political interests of special interests that dominate the industry it is charged with regulating?

In other words, should any employee of the department or their immediate family be permitted to collude with the corporate interests seeking special favor in the field of education? Should a prominent member of the department also be allowed to work for an industry seeking to profit off our public schools? Should his wife?

No? Then perhaps your wife Melissa Steele King shouldn’t be accepting a position at Bellwether Consultants, a leading corporate education reform organization. They represent The New Teachers Project, New School Venture Fund, KIPP, IDEA Charter Schools, Gulen Charter Schools, Rocketship Charters and many others.

So while classroom teachers will only be able to communicate with you through official correspondence, a representative of the standardization and privatization movement will be right across from you at the dinner table every night!

If you really wanted us to take you seriously, your family wouldn’t be pulling this crap.

Your latest apology is just an attempt to smooth over your own Senate education committee confirmation hearing on Thursday, Feb. 25. You want to show how much bipartisan support you have so you can become the official Education Secretary and not just acting Education Secretary.

Look, you might say. I just threw a bone to teachers. They love me!

What a steaming pile of bullshit!

Does that offend you? Oh. Then please accept my most heartfelt apology.


NOTE: Diane Ravitch also posted about this article on her blog.

 

High Stakes Testing Doesn’t Protect Civil Rights – It Violates Them

martin-luther-king-jr-small

“Daddy, I know who that is!”

“Who is it?”

“That’s Martin Luther King.”

“That’s right, Baby! Who was he?”

“We saw a movie about him today in school. He had a dream.”

Thus began a fascinating conversation I had with my seven-year-old daughter a few days ago.

I had been going through her book bag and found a picture of Dr. King blazoned above an article about his life.

“He wanted everyone to be nice to each other,” she said.

I laughed. My first grade scholar isn’t that far off.

“He’s one of my heroes,” I said. “He means a lot to me.”

“That’s silly,” she said. “He doesn’t have any super powers.”

Before I could reply, her attention shifted to her stuffed Yoshi doll. She began to play.

One of the best things about being a parent is getting to see the world anew through the eyes of your children. My little girl offers me this vantage point everyday.

Dr. King can’t be a hero. He had no super powers.

Or did he?

“I have a dream,” he famously said, “that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

It’s a simple wish. A simple insight.

Or is it?

Do we do that today? Do our schools?

As a middle school teacher, I’m well aware how our public schools judge our children, and it’s not by the content of their character. It’s by their standardized test scores.

High scores mean you’re learning. Low scores mean you’re not. And if you’re not learning, that’s your teachers fault and we’re going to close your school or turn it into a charter.

What’s worse, we’re going to do it because that ensures your civil rights.

That’s the story anyway.

Ever since rewriting the federal law governing K-12 schools began to be debated in earnest by Congress, the tale was told that high stakes testing is good for minorities. It makes sure schools aren’t neglecting them.

And now that the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) has been passed, well-meaning people everywhere are wondering if we’re looking out for our black and brown brothers and sister enough – do we have enough federally mandated high stakes tests? Is there enough accountability?

After all, the new law potentially returns much of the power for education policy to the states. What if states don’t give as many tests? How will state legislatures ensure black students aren’t being neglected? Why would schools actually teach black kids if we don’t threaten to close them based on test scores?

These would be laughable questions if they weren’t asked in earnest. With such frequency. Even from some civil rights organizations.

Some things to consider:

1) The ESSA does absolutely nothing to limit standardized testing.

When Congress was rewriting federal education policy, parents, educators, students and experts of every stripe asked for a reduction in testing. It didn’t happen. Exactly the same number of tests are required under the ESSA as there were before it was passed – once a year in grades 3-8 and once in high school.

2) Punishing schools doesn’t help kids learn.

Once upon a time, it was the government’s job to provide schools with adequate resources to help kids master their lessons. Now it has become the government’s job to raise an arbitrary standard and shutter or privatize schools that fall below that mark.

This may come as a surprise, but no school has ever been improved by being closed. Students who are forced to relocate don’t suddenly do better. In fact, they usually do worse academically. Moreover, there is exactly zero evidence that charter schools do better than traditional public schools. In fact, the evidence points in exactly the opposite direction.

3) Standardized tests are poor assessments to judge learning.

Standardized testing has never been shown to adequately gauge what students know, especially if the skills being assessed are complex. The only correlation that has been demonstrated consistently is between high test scores and parental wealth. In general, rich kids score well on standardized tests. Poor kids do not.

Therefore, it is absurd to demand high stakes standardized testing as a means of ensuring students’ civil rights.

Judging kids based on these sorts of assessments is not the utopia of which Dr. King dreamed. We are not judging them by the content of their character. We’re judging them by the contents of their parents bank accounts.

There are real things we could be doing to realize racial and economic equality. We could do something about crippling generational poverty that grips more than half of public school students throughout the country. We could be taking steps to stop the worsening segregation of our schools that allows the effects of test-based accountability to disproportionately strike schools serving mostly students of color. We could invest in our neediest children (many of whom are minorities) to provide nutrition, tutoring, counseling, wrap around services, smaller class sizes, and a diverse curriculum including arts and humanities.

But we’re not doing any of that.

Why?

Because we’re too concerned about continuing the policies of test and punish. We’re too concerned about making sure huge corporations continue to profit off creating, grading and providing materials to prepare for annual standardized testing.

Dr. King may not have had super powers. But from his vantage point almost 50 years in the past, he saw through the lies of today’s education reform movement.

Standardized testing doesn’t protect civil rights. It violates them.

Our school policies for the past few decades have been about denying the right to an equitable education to our poor and minority students. Though the ESSA holds promise to limit federal meddling, it does nothing to change that. And all these people who cry foul at a potential loss of federal power are either ignorant or crying crocodile tears.

It’s no wonder that hundreds of civil rights organizations oppose high stakes testing. Nor is it surprising that the media rarely reports it. And it shouldn’t be a shock to learn that the overwhelming majority of civil rights organizations who have suddenly began championing testing are those who get big donations from the philanthro-capitalists pushing this agenda.

High stakes testing is a racist and classist policy. Period.


NOTE: This article was given a shout out on Diane Ravitch’s blog and published in the Badass Teachers blog.

Bernie Sanders is Right: We Should Federalize Public School Funding

Bernie_Sanders_by_Gage_Skidmore

Bernie Sanders just dropped a massive dose of truth on us Monday night.

No politician in my lifetime has ever said anything so dangerous, fraught with problems, unlikely, impractical, and absolutely on the nose right!

The Presidential candidate running for the Democratic nomination wants to make the federal government largely responsible for funding public schools. Right now districts are supported mostly by local and state taxes.

This is what he said:

“One of the things that I have always believed is that, in terms of education, we have to break our dependency on the property tax, because what happens is the wealthiest suburbs can in fact have great schools but poor, inner-city schools cannot. So I think we need equality in terms of how we fund education, and to make sure the federal government plays an active role to make sure that those schools who need it the most get the funds that they deserve.”

 

(Find the quote above 17 minutes into this video.)

 

Wow! What a statement!

Don’t tell me that was focused grouped. Don’t tell me his campaign did a poll first. Don’t tell me he ran that by any big donors for approval.

Whether you agree with it or not, such an audacious remark has to come from a genuine belief. This is really what Bernie thinks, and it’s entirely consistent with the Democratic Socialism of his whole political career.

I don’t think his rival for the party’s nomination, Hillary Clinton, will be parroting THIS stance! If anything, she might criticize him for it. And she’d have a multitude of practical reasons to do so.

Lots of folks on both sides of the aisle are sick of federal intervention in our schools. No Child Left Behind was a disaster. Race to the Top was worse. And the just passed Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) amounts to a massive giveback of power to the states. Under the most popular interpretation, the reauthorization of the federal law governing K-12 schools makes the states responsible for filling in the details of education policy while limiting federal interventions.

And now Bernie is suggesting the Fed foot the bill!?

That is going against the political tide. Who would vote for such a thing? Probably not Hillary. Or any of the Republican candidates. Or more than a handful in Congress, either.

But it’s exactly the right thing to do.

The reason?

The biggest problem with America’s public school system isn’t test scores, lazy students, or teachers unions. It’s poverty, segregation and inequitable funding.

We have separate schools for the rich and separate schools for the poor. We have schools serving mostly black and brown populations and schools serving mostly whites. And the way we allocate money and resources to these schools both allows and perpetuates this system.

Nationwide, state and local governments spend 15 percent less per pupil on poor school districts. I see this first hand. My home state of Pennsylvania is the worst offender, providing the poorest districts an embarrassing 33.5 percent less per student. This means higher class sizes, less teachers, less arts and humanities, less electives, less nurses, guidance councilors and wrap around services. This is the reality in 23 states.

An additional 23 states do buck this trend with more progressive funding formulas. States like California and Florida actually provide MORE spending to poor districts. This helps heal the wounds of malnutrition, violence, family instability and a host of other problems that go hand-in-hand with generational poverty. It also offset the costs of greater numbers of special education students and English Language Learners you typically find in these districts.

You might say, then, that the states where poor children get shafted could simply follow the lead of their more enlightened neighbors. Good luck with that! Rich folks rarely volunteer to subsidize the poor. They got theirs, and they vote and donate more regularly to local politicians than their indigent brethren can afford to do.

The result is a funding system based on local wealth. Rich areas have Cadillac education systems. Poor areas have dilapidated ones. That’s demonstrably unfair and leads to worse academic outcomes for needy kids.

What’s worse, no one else runs their schools this way. The U.S. is one of the only countries in the world – if not probably the ONLY country – that funds schools based largely on local taxes. Other developed nations either equalize funding or provide extra money for kids in need. In the Netherlands, for example, national funding is provided to all schools based on the number of pupils enrolled. But for every guilder allocated to a middle-class Dutch child, 1.25 guilders are allocated for a lower-class child and 1.9 guilders for a minority child – exactly the opposite of the situation in the U.S.

Federalizing education funding could solve all these problems. It could set the groundwork for an even playing field. All students could get a fair start in life! That’s a goal worth shooting for! And that’s what Bernie is suggesting.

But it’s an incredibly dangerous proposal.

Our school system still suffers nationwide from the effects of corporate education reform. National policy has been and continues to be one of high stakes standardized testing, poorly conceived and untested academic standards, and a push to privatize struggling schools. Corporatists call this “Accountability.”

It goes something like this: raise your test scores or we’re closing your school and turning it into a for-profit charter. Adopt these academic standards written by the testing companies and we’ll give you a couple extra bucks. De-professionalize teachers with junk science evaluations and hiring under-trained Teach for America temps or else we’ll cut your funding.

THIS is the federal legacy in education, and Bernie is suggesting we give them MORE POWER!?

Yes, and no. I can’t speak for Bernie, but that’s certainly not how this has to go. We can increase the Fed’s responsibility for funding schools without increasing its power over education policy. In my view, education decisions should be made locally, and I don’t mean at the state legislature. Decisions about how best to run schools should be made at the district level by the experts – the teachers and parents.

Certainly there will be those who call for more federal power over policy as a condition of federalized funding. But that has to be a deal breaker. Equitable funding with inequitable policy would just be plugging one hole while making another.

In my view, equitable funding IS the role of the federal government in public education. When the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) was first passed in 1965, it’s purpose was to make sure all schools were getting adequate resources. Under Bush and Obama, that became perverted to mean more standardized tests and philanthro-capitalist interventions. Bernie’s suggestion could be a step in returning to the original intent of the law.

Yes, the Fed should be engaged in accountability. It should make sure it’s funding schools properly. Maybe it should even be responsible to make sure those funds are being spent on things that broadly can be construed as education. I don’t mean that the fed should be able to withhold monies from districts with low test scores. But maybe it can prosecute administrators who use funding to lavishly redecorate their offices or who neglect the needs of students in their districts.

However, even if you agree – as I do – that this is a lofty goal, it is almost impossible to achieve. It’s like single-payer healthcare was in the ‘80s and ‘90s. This is what most of the world is doing but it was completely out of reach here politically. In fact, we still don’t have it, but look at how the landscape has changed. Obamacare is not-single payer, but it is a step in that direction. Bernie is even championing going that extra step and providing a medicare like system for all.

What seemed impossible decades ago, now seems within reach. The same may be true one day with federalized education funding.

To be honest, I doubt fixing our school funding system is high on Bernie’s list of things to do. Breaking up the big banks, overturning Citizens United, free college tuition, even healthcare probably come first. And maybe that’s not a bad thing. If any or all of these goals were realized, it would help the more than half of our public school children living in poverty. Moreover, just having equitable funding on the list with these other worthy goals puts it on the national agenda.

Right now, no one else is talking about this. It isn’t even a recognizable goal for most progressives. Frankly, I doubt many people have even thought about it. By bringing this up, Bernie is forcing us to do so.

When I first became an education activist, I thought I was doing it for my students. Then we had a daughter, and I thought I was doing it for her, too. But as the years have gone by, the landscape has changed only slightly. We’re still reaching a level of critical mass when the culture demands a major shift. We’re not there yet. So now I wonder if the people I’m really doing this for are my grandchildren.

One day we may have the courage to change the course of our education system. We may gain the nerve to actually accomplish our convictions. We might actually try to have a nation with liberty and justice for all.

That’s what I’m fighting to achieve. I think many of us are doing the same. But do we have the bravery to take Bernie at his word, to push this topic onto the national stage?

A Bernie Sanders presidency would do that. It might not achieve this lofty goal. Not now. The political winds aren’t favorable. But we can try, knowing full well the dangers and the improbability.

I wish Bernie would flesh out the details of his plan. I wish he’d exorcise the devil from the details. But the very fact that he has the intrepidity to offer this as a solution fills me with hope.

Is it hot in here or am I starting to Feel the Bern?