Yesterday, Sumeer Rao, a writer for Colorlines whose mission is to cover race matters “...from the perspective of community, rather than through the lens of power brokers”, wrote a brief post noting that October 29, 2015, was the 46th anniversary of the Alexander v. Holmes County Board of Education ruling by the US Supreme Court. While less celebrated than Brown v. Topeka, it was intended to underscore the urgency to put an end to dual school systems and make it clear that “all deliberate speed”, the language in Brown, meant now. Rao summarized the decision as follows:
In Alexander v. Holmes County Board of Education—which was decided on this day in 1969—the Court ruled to underscore their previous mandates in Brown and Brown II and ordered immediate desegregation of public schools. Noting that the “all deliberate speed” language in Brown enabled Southern states to procrastinate, the Court’s decision took no chances, saying, “The obligation of every school district is to terminate dual school systems at once and to operate now and hereafter only unitary schools.”
Brown effectively put an end to Jim Crow laws and practices because it overturned Plessy v. Ferguson, an 1896 case that allowed for “separate but equal” facilities… a phrase, like “adequate schools”, allowed separate substandard facilities to be designated for blacks because some whites had the same kinds of facilities. Ten years after Brown Congress passed the Civil Rights Act which reinforced the court ruling and seemingly put an end to legalized discrimination.
In a fifteen year period during the time I was growing up in Oklahoma and Pennsylvania, our nations leaders passed legislation that was intended to put an end to our country’s legacy of racial discrimination. 46 years later, little has changed. Based on my personal experience as a child, student, teacher, public school administrator and parent, I find that the only way one can overcome prejudice is to share a seat in a classroom, a playground, a church pew, or a neighborhood with someone of a different race or culture. When one experiences an individual from a different race or culture, prejudice quickly disappears and that person’s humanity shines through. I know that moving from where we were then and how we are now to a world where we stop thinking of different races and cultures as “the other” will not happen now and cannot be forced. I fear that our current housing patterns and stereotyping will prevent us thinking of different races and cultures as “the other” making it impossible to achieve the kind of world our forefathers and religions of all stripes want us to live in.
After reading several articles on President Obama’s recent pronouncement that we are over testing children and that we should therefore limit testing to 2% of a student’s class time I have come to the conclusion that nothing substantive will change. Unsurprisingly, the Network for Public Education (NPE), Diane Ravitch’s think tank, issued the most insightful response to the President’s announcement. In a Press Release published yesterday, blogger and NPE officer Anthony Cody offered this observation:
“Limiting testing to 2% is a symbolic gesture that will have little impact so long as these tests are used for high stakes purposes.
While the Department of Education remains wed to annual high-stakes tests, it is time for states and districts to call their bluff regarding flexibility. The research coming forward is clear. The overuse of standardized testing is educational malpractice. States should drop the destructive pseudoscience of VAM, empower educators to create their own meaningful assessments of learning, and get off the testing juggernaut.”
Formative testing– periodic tests and/or quizzes to make certain students have grasped the content presented by the teacher– is a bedrock of good instruction and has always been a crucial element of public education. Summative testing– annual or tri-annual standardized examinations designed to compare students to others in their age cohort– have also been used to help schools determine if they are setting sufficiently high curriculum expectations. When summative examinations are used to rank students, teachers, and schools they are destructive and unproductive because they drive the pace and content of instruction limiting the creativity of both the students and the teachers. After 12 years we know that this is true: we’ve seen schools whose students are not performing well on these standardized tests replace arts, science, recess, and related arts courses and units with test preparation courses and units. Students in these schools know how to take tests but don’t know how to think independently. Worse, they never get the opportunity to read for pleasure or read to explore areas of interest to them.
Carol Burris, a retired NYS administrator, NPE officer, and blogger, concludes the press release with this:
“Testing is the rock on which a host of destructive corporate reforms are built. That era must end. It is time that we commit to well-funded, vibrant public schools that are democratically governed by the communities they serve”
The last sentence, the one calling for a commitment to “…well-funded, vibrant public schools that are democratically governed by the communities they serve“, is the one we want to hear a Presidential candidate say. Until schools are well-funded and democracy is restored, the percent of time spent testing is immaterial.
Naked Capitalism provided a link to “The Movement Lives on in Ferguson” a fascinating post written by Drew Franklin that shows a the link between Black Lives Matter (BLM) and Teach For America (TFA) and how both of these groups use social media to advance their cause. And what, exactly, is their cause?
TFA’s seemingly high-minded cause of providing well educated short term teachers to urban schools has devolved into providing temporary low wage staff to for-profit charter schools that displace underfunded public schools. Some pundits disparagingly characterize TFA as a source of scab labor for politicians who want to break the backs of teacher unions.
BLM’s cause seems to be akin to Reverend Al Sharpton’s: self-promotion. Like Sharpton, BLM arguably keeps racial injustice in the spotlight but. also like Sharpton, has done little to advance legislation that could change the condition. Instead, BLM provides spokespersons for the mainstream media and in doing so keeps their “brand” in the forefront.
And both TFA and BLM thrive on disaster. TFA can come to the rescue when schools are “failing” and need to be replaced by charters and BLM can come on the scene when a crisis is brewing that requires a group with media savvy.
Fortunately investigative bloggers like Ms. Franklin and Bruce Dixon see through the seeming idealism of these groups. We need a leader like Martin Luther King who can relentlessly push an anti-poverty agenda that provokes legislation that promotes income equality and racial justice. To this point, TFA and BLM have not exhibited that kind of leadership.