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

Friday, February 16, 2007

NCLB: Treating the Poor the Same in Order to Justify Inequality and Racism

I ran across this piece from the Nashville Tennesseean that examines the madness that has penetrated the mindset of people like Professor Guthrie, whose unacknowledged racism has found a personally-preferred alternative that he parades about under the banner of ethical necessity. The result is a morally-blind replacement of caring by callousness that demands the same from students living under a bridge as from students who live in mansions on Belle Meade estates:

. . . .The law's ultimate goal is to have every child in the nation's public schools read and do math at grade level and to graduate 100 percent of students by 2014.

Yet, scores of local teachers and parents say that lofty ambition does nothing but set schools up for failure.

Lisa Craig says that no good teacher wants her students to fail. But she, like most of her peers, has students who do — because they have learning disabilities, don't speak English, come from broken homes or don't have homes at all.

"Last year, I had a student who was living under the bridge in town before finally being rescued," said Craig, an eighth-grade teacher at DeKalb Middle School in Smithville.

"Do you think this kid even cared if he scored well on the test, much less that he even had to take the test? So many are from drug homes, divorced homes, homes where parents don't care about them, homes where they don't even have food," Craig said.

A local education policy expert empathizes with that point of view, but says the education system cannot hold special-needs students to a lower standard simply because they have more pressing problems.

"I don't think it would be right to say: 'Oh, you poor low-income Hispanic child, we feel sorry for you. You just need to meet the lower bar over here,' " said James Guthrie, a professor of public policy and education and director of the Peabody Center for Education Policy at Peabody College at Vanderbilt University. "That's not what we want."

Guthrie, who said he favors reauthorization of the law with reforms, said the act "symbolizes a transformation in American schools from an institution that everyone just accepted as it was to an institution whose consequences are now going to be measured."

But some of those consequences, one mom of three kids said, have been placed on teachers unfairly. She has watched educators deal with kids who come to school hungry but who are expected to do just as well as their well-fed counterparts.

"It's a wonderful standard to strive toward, but different schools have different populations," said Kathy Fyke, whose girls went through the Lebanon city schools. Two now attend Lebanon High School and one graduated from college.

"When you have every school system to prepare every child at the same level, it's just a challenge. ... I wish the school wasn't penalized for serving the population it's presented with." . . . .

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