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

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Something Loose in the Brain

For a people tired of the stubborn, gross inequities in economic and educational opportunities in our country, No Child Left Behind offered the perfect, if impossible, panacea. We would pump in more money, set high standards for all, test everyone like hell without exception, and punish those who continued to sit on their dead "laurels" rather than getting with the program. It was the tough, fatherly, Republican thing to do, and it was the ultimate expression of the color-blind "ethical" approach that treats everyone exactly the same regardless of difference, regardless of how their needs may vary or how their opportunities and abilities are not the same.

With the acceptance of this strategy of values outruling facts that no one with eyes open has ever failed to acknowledge, there grew a necessary blindness that has left many incapable of acknowleding the savagery of failure that results by requiring the impossible from children, children who could never know that self-blinded adults who purport to help them have developed a scheme that now insures the horrible failure that is the focal point of their school lives.

These same adults are the ones who now explode with a feigned indignation when the non-blinded among us suggest that equal treatment for different people requires different treatment. Then come the standard accusations of soft bigotry every time this point is made. The comfortably blind among us refuse to acknowledge that family income is a much better predictor of test scores than quality of curriculum and instruction, or even school spending for that matter. Poor populations score lower on tests than their richer counterparts. Not only that, poor people are the ones who suffer by such high-sounding racialist phrases of high expecations for all. Imagine that.

I know that all of this is nothing new, but when I read news stories like this, it seems like the explanations must start all over again. The blindness of the inherent discrimination is no less shocking every time I encounter it:

Four [out of 24] school systems in the state reached academic proficiency targets for every group of students, including the disabled: Howard, Frederick, Carroll and Washington counties. Every school system except for those four failed to make adequate yearly progress. Most stumbled only on special-ed test scores; a few missed targets for African American students or other groups. It's not uncommon for school systems to fail to make adequate yearly progress, or AYP, under the federal No Child Left Behind law. Virginia data show that about half of the state's 132 school divisions missed AYP last year. Maryland's ratings underscored educators' mounting concerns about the assessment of disabled students and the results required.

Ronald A. Peiffer, deputy state superintendent for academic policy, said yesterday that Maryland plans to introduce a test by 2007 that is specially designed for significantly disabled students. In recent years, many of these students have taken standard versions of the Maryland School Assessments and failed in large numbers.
"We're getting the measurement issue fixed," Peiffer said. But he added that the state also has concerns about instruction. "In many instances, there were different expectations for students with disabilities," he said. The latest ratings are "shining a spotlight on that."

Has Mr. Peiffer forgotten, and has he just now begun to re-discover, that special ed is special because of the historically-recognized need to acknowledge differences? Remember IEPs (individual education plans)?

Just a couple of questions that I need to repeat here again:
  • If one has to choose, which seems to be the case with the all-or-nothing national testing policy that is intended to leave us with nothing in terms of public education as we know it, would you continue to choose the same scheme with the impossible expectations that will guarantee the failure of tens of millions of children over the next 8 years, largely represented by the handicapped, brown, and poor?
  • Do you really believe that the only alternative to the bigotry of low expectations is the racism of impossible demands?
  • Do you really believe the Big Lie that the intent here is to leave no child behind, rather than to introduce a repressive chain gang model for schools in urban America?
  • Will you not see the increasing number of planned failures that heedlessly and arrogantly sacrifice children on the ideological altar of school privatization?
  • Can we see allow ourselves to see the shame and the crime in the violence that we are perpetrating against our children, our schools, against the future of the Republic?
  • Can we?
  • Will we?
  • When?

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