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Dumping the evidence–remind me again why anti-testing is “progressive”?

From npr.org and cartoonist LA Johnson

Well, this isn’t subtle.

“Opt-out activists are targeting more than just the tests themselves. As an assistant principal in New York explained to me in October, “The whole school reform machine falls down without the data.” Beyond wasting instructional time, standardized assessments serve to legitimize school closures, runaway charter expansion, and drastically narrowed curricula” —from Alternet’s “7 Big Public Education Stories of 2014″

Indeed, the school reform movement DOES fall down without the data. So do the movements around climate change, civil rights, public health, banking reform, industrial safety, economic justice and more.

So it’s odd for a progressive outfit like Alternet (which is run by the former publisher of Mother Jones) and others to be cheering on the loss of data when it comes to the systematic failure of children of color in our traditional public schools.

Data is evidence. And as the powerful know, if you can dump or discredit it, you can block most arguments for changing the status quo.

Take the oil industry.  For 20 or more years, Big Oil and its conservative allies have blocked action on climate change by insisting humans beings aren’t responsible; the science is in dispute and hence, why worry?

Or take the issue of police shootings.  In the wake of the recent national protests, many people are asking why there is no national data base on how many people are shot by police officers every year.  Police unions and conservative allies argue that the data is difficult to collect and not necessarily helpful since every shooting is different.

But I think the answer is pretty obvious: the numbers will be damning. And the data is a powerful argument for change.

Which is why, starting in the 1990s. the National Rifle Association blocked most federal research into gun violence and deaths. The NRA argued the data would be used to for a “political” agenda to destroy public education as we know it the Second Amendment.

“For policy to be effective, it needs to be based on evidence,” said Dr. Garen Wintemute, director of the Violence Prevention Research Program at the University of California, Davis, who had his Center for Disease Control financing cut in 1996. “The National Rifle Association and its allies in Congress have largely succeeded in choking off the development of evidence upon which that policy could be based.”

These tactics, according to Mother Jones have:

“kept meaningful data on gun violence out of the hands of lawmakers who could use it to help pass sensible reform legislation. Until (this ends), the NRA can rest easy and ask: where’s your proof?”

Which is what I think the teachers’ unions are trying to do with test data and the issue of student achievement. By trying to shut down this data, the union is following the NRA’s reactionary, anti-science, anti-transparency playbook, which tends to be blithely racist to boot.

None of this sounds particularly “progressive” to me. So I think activists on the left should think twice before signing on to this effort.

Historically, teachers have never had a problem with  so-called “high-stakes” or “high-stress” testing. Hell, this is the profession that invented the dreaded Final Exam and surprise pop-quiz. Standardized testing is also hardly new.The SAT exams were introduced in 1926. The Iowa Basic Skills Test, which even I, as an ancient crone, took way in my elementary days, was first administered in 1935.

So why this new hysteria and backlash about standardized testing?

I think there are three main causes.

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Forget about “fixing” black kids. What if we fixed white liberals instead?

fix ourselves

Here’s a modest education proposal for my fellow white people, especially my fellow lefties in Minneapolis: What if we stopped talking about how to fix African-American and Latino kids and worked on fixing white progressives instead?

I know. It sounds crazy.  But stay with me, beige people.

We’ve spent years—nay, decades—bemoaning our achievement gap in which white kids in Minneapolis are mostly doing fine; while less than 30 percent of black and Latino kids are working at grade level; less than 48 percent graduate on time etc.

Children of color now make up 67 percent of our enrollment in Minneapolis. (Vocab reminder to the Greatest Generation: this why we can’t call them “minorities” any more.) So you’d think the mass failure of the majority of the city’s school children would be a moral emergency. As in something that demanded bold action.

After all, if white kids were failing at these rates, we’d have already re-designed the schools to work better for them. We’d have changed the teachers, administrators, length of the school day or year or curriculum and anything else. Because if white kids were failing en masse, we’d demand a big fix of the education system.

But when non-white kids are failing, we tend to instead discuss how to fix brown children and their allegedly…ahem… chaotic families, which is white  code for screwed-up.. This is an attractive discussion for us because:

a) We get to feel compassionate and superior at the same time, which is always a rush;

b) Poverty and chaotic families can indeed hurt academic achievement. (Note to Republicans: so you’d have more credibility on education reform if you stopped trying to shred every social safety net.)

c) It plays into one of the oldest and most unexamined American beliefs  namely that When Bad Things Happens To People of Color, It’s Mostly Their Own  Fault, (IMTOF) which runs from our early origins up to the present. Hence, Africans were mentally inferior and thus fit for slavery. Michael Brown shouldn’t have been walking in the middle of the street. And brown kids fail because their chaotic, screwed-up parents don’t value education enough.

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Why all the conspiracy theories and pearl-clutching in this year’s school board race?

Democratic-Diva-Theater-criticism-and-pearl-clutching-in-the-Republics-CD1-endorsement-300x264

This has been the hottest school board race I’ve seen in 25 years of living in Minneapolis, with lots of conspiracy theories and pearl-clutching.

Many of my neighbors and friends see the furious posts on Facebook, with all the hysterical warnings about the imminent destruction of public education as we know it,  and are honestly confused. They ask me what the hell  is going on in this race.

So here’s what I tell them.

We put the school board race at the bottom of the ballot and often treat it like a homecoming king and queen contest. But Minneapolis Public Schools currently spends $784 million a year and employ 6,991 people….which I believe is more employees than the city of Minneapolis.

So we need to remind ourselves that we’re electing people to govern an operation that spends more than three-quarters of a billion dollars a year. That’s a lot of moolah and a lot of power and yet it’s also systematically failing with 70 percent of its enrollment, which is made up of low-income children of color.

This is our future workforce. So this is a problem.

Yes, poverty plays a huge role in the academic achievement gap. But dammit, our schools also need to do better by our students for the seven hours a day that we have them in our classrooms. I’ve spent 20 years as an active parent and public school advocate and I’m telling you: the current system is corrupt, wasteful, inequitable and hard-wired for mediocrity or worse. (more…)

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