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

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Extending the Argument to Include Poverty

WaPo prominently displayed this letter yesterday:
The argument made by the Bush administration's Education Department regarding testing students who are learning English runs counter to logic ["Virginia, Standards Are Long Overdue," Close to Home, Feb. 4]. The Fairfax County School Board's decision not to adhere to one of No Child Left Behind's more bizarre requirements is bold and overdue.

The argument against testing the youngsters in question can be illustrated by imagining a planeload of American 8-year-olds bound for a new life in China. They arrive tomorrow. According to Education Secretary Margaret Spellings's vision, these children should be subjected to testing, and the results carry dramatic ramifications not only for the students but also for the schools they attend, after one year and one day -- a mere 193 school days after their arrival. They must be tested in math, science and literature, all in Chinese.

They must be challenged to unlock the meaning of metaphors and complex Chinese writing conventions that are a challenge for native speakers who have spent their lives in a Chinese-speaking environment and who have been receiving all their academic instruction in that language.

If Ms. Spellings and President Bush can seriously say that they think this would be an intelligent way for the Chinese educational establishment to proceed with newly arrived English-speaking students, I'll go ahead and eat my hat.



The writer teaches English to speakers of other languages in Montgomery County Public Schools

Now if you apply this same argument using "impoverished" and "middle class" as your comparisons, we will all see the systemic unfairness and racism that high-stakes testing and NCLB are based on. Low income equals low test scores:

SAT Scores 2002 from the College Board

Family Income Verbal/Math Scores

Less than $10,000/year-----417/442
$10,000 - $20,000/year-----435/453
$20,000 - $30,000/year-----461/470
$30,000 - $40,000/year-----480/485
$40,000 - $50,000/year-----496/501
$50,000 - $60,000/year-----505/509
$60,000 - $70,000/year-----511/516
$70,000 - $80,000/year-----517/524
$80,000 - $100,000/year----530/538
More than $100,000/year---555/568

So if we know, without a doubt, that most poor children, immigrant children, and disabled children are going to score, let’s say, 18-20% lower than middle class native-speaking ableist children, why should we treat their disadvantage of income differently than, let’s say, autism, especially when the same disparities in performance result? Why do we acknowledge a psychological disability, a biological disability, or a language disability at the same time we ignore the socioeconomic disability? Does the refusal to acknowledge poverty as a disability allow us to continue our unethical and inhumane testing practices that we could not allow ourselves otherwise?

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