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

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Hungry? No Excuses. Don't know English? No Excuses

Next year will mark 30 years since the Reagan team came to Washington and began the roll back on civil and human rights gains of the previous two decades. When it became apparent, in fact, that the attempt to close the U. S. Department of Education would fail, the Reagan team shifted its focus to, instead, utilizing the Department's resources to move the education and social agenda away from equity issues and toward a definition of excellence based on test scores, which, of course, is a system of rewards based on family income and wealth. And thus began a generation of classist and racist school testing reforms masked as a meritocracy, a false meritocracy that makes poverty invisible while grinding the poor under the heels of the well-heeled.

And the longer the educational genocide continues against the poor, the angrier we become at the poor, so much so that we saw the President exhorting the poor last summer at the 100th Conference of the NAACP in a way that sounded more like George Wallace than Martin Luther King:
“No one has written your destiny for you,” he said, directing his remarks to “all the other Barack Obamas out there” who might one day grow up to be president. “Your destiny is in your hands, and don’t you forget that. That’s what we have to teach all of our children! No excuses! No excuses!”
Mr. Obama did not acknowledge, of course, that his own destiny that was handed over to him included a Harvard legacy seat as a result of his father's Harvard alum status, or that he grew up in relative prosperity in a safe neighborhood with food and doctors and leafy suburban schools and a mother whose privileges included her whiteness.

(Click chart to enlarge: from WaPo). And so it was that the President seemed no less surprised than the rest of us that his U. S. Department of Agriculture released a report on Monday that showed 1 in 5 children in America hungry--and these numbers are from late 2008, before the effects of the Wall Street heist set in:

In 2008, the report found, nearly 17 million children -- more than one in five across the United States -- were living in households in which food at times ran short, up from slightly more than 12 million youngsters the year before. And the number of children who sometimes were outright hungry rose from nearly 700,000 to almost 1.1 million.

Among people of all ages, nearly 15 percent last year did not consistently have adequate food, compared with about 11 percent in 2007, the greatest deterioration in access to food during a single year in the history of the report.

Here are a few other relevant notations from Kristof's NYTimes column on Nov. 4:
. . . .The United States ranks 31st in life expectancy (tied with Kuwait and Chile), according to the latest World Health Organization figures. We rank 37th in infant mortality (partly because of many premature births) and 34th in maternal mortality. A child in the United States is two-and-a-half times as likely to die by age 5 as in Singapore or Sweden, and an American woman is 11 times as likely to die in childbirth as a woman in Ireland.

. . . . Yet another study, cited in a recent report by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Urban Institute, looked at how well 19 developed countries succeeded in avoiding “preventable deaths,” such as those where a disease could be cured or forestalled. What Senator Shelby called “the best health care system” ranked in last place.

The figures are even worse for members of minority groups. An African-American in New Orleans has a shorter life expectancy than the average person in Vietnam or Honduras.
And yet the Reagan education agenda of defining opportunity based on wealth continues unabated. In fact, the First Lady this week offered her own mixed message to poor immigrant children in Colorado:
Speaking to a student who had asked whether it's fair to use test scores to measure schools when some students don't speak English well, Mrs. Obama said the tests are "part of the system" and can't be avoided.

"You can fight the tests, or you can work with them and turn them into an advantage," she said.
So, then, Mrs. Obama, there is nothing we can do as a society about the testocracy we have created, but there is something that children can do to turn these abusive and unethical sorting instruments into "an advantage."

Please do say more about that, because I do not know and I do not know anyone who knows what you are talking about. What we do know, if we were to believe the stupidity to which you subscribe, is that all the poor, black, brown, immigrant, and disabled children in America will be proficient in reading and math by 2014, which is a full year ahead of your husband's pledge to eliminate hunger in America by 2015. Perhaps we should set that proficiency target back by a year so the two will coincide, and then we can have one big celebration together.


  1. Like happened with the banking industry and the stock market capture the regulators and you have the keys to the golden goose. In this way for the corporate educators capture and tame the DOE and you have the key to the golden goose. The DOE looks pretty tame I wonder if it sits up and begs too.

  2. Anonymous10:32 AM

    From today's NYT: What a shock!

    Schools’ Grades Reflect Persistent Disparity

    Published: November 17, 2009
    Over the last three years, high schools that received the lowest marks from the city have been the ones with the highest percentages of poor, black and Hispanic students, despite an evaluation system that was meant to equalize differences among student bodies, according to an analysis by The New York Times of school grades released this week.

    Blacks and Hispanics make up on average 77 percent of the student population in the 139 schools that received A’s this past year, compared with more than 90 percent of the schools that received C’s or worse. While the vast majority of A schools have a high minority enrollment, 14 of the 15 largest high-performing schools in the city have drastically lower black and Hispanic enrollment.

    (read the rest at nytimes.com if you can stomach it)