"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Thursday, July 28, 2005

NCLB and the Re-segregation of Schools

It did not take No Child Left Behind to begin the resegregation of American public schools. As reported by the Civil Rights Project at Harvard University, that process began in late 1980s as a result of a number of factors, not the least of which were some critical federal court cases in the early 1980s that struck down attempts to achieve racial balance within and across districts with the use of busing.
What we are beginning to see now are the effects of NCLB on this trend toward resegregation. In today's Oregonian, a teacher talks about a disturbing trend in Portland that threatens years of conscious effort to integrate Portland's neighborhoods. Since property values and buying patterns are actually being affected by test scores, and because those schools with sizable minorities are finding themselves on the Federal watch-list, students, both white and minority, are given the opportunity to enroll in other Portland schools not watch-listed. This effects a brain drain from these watch-listed schools, and it discourages new families from moving into these neighborhoods if they can afford to buy elsewhere. Carol Berkley, a teacher in Portland, explains in today's Oregonian:
So while certain special groups of students are not achieving in accord with federal guidelines, while others are actually improving, we need to be careful not to generalize about the quality of individual schools. That, however, is just what the federal government is doing, and it's contradictory to Portland's recent success in developing integrated neighborhoods.

No Child Left Behind mandates that any student in our watch-list cluster can transfer out of his or her current school because a special group of students has failed to meet the federal testing guidelines. This mandate threatens a de facto redefinition of the discriminatory practice of redlining, from one based on mortgage loans within targeted neighborhoods to one based on test scores in targeted neighborhoods, and that very perception is already scaring families away.

Why is it that all students in these schools are invited to transfer elsewhere? Why not just those student groups whose scores didn't improve?

As No Child Left Behind and its guard dog, the Annual Yearly Progress reports, advance each year toward more rigorous sanctions, be aware that Portland's outer eastside is at risk. Neighborhood associations, urban planners, business people and others who have a vested interest in the health of the outer eastside should demand information about which students are taking advantage of the transfer program. Are they the special-category students whom the progress reports have been tracking? Or is the pattern something different? Are we "brain draining" schools of higher-achieving students?

With the yearly progress reports advancing in their sanctions, inadvertent brain draining could be just the tip of the iceberg. Redlining has been outlawed for a long time, but No Child Left Behind may just resurrect it.

Carol Berkley teaches reading, language arts and social studies at Portland's Binnsmead Middle School.

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