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

. . .a pupil attitude factor, which appears to have a stronger relationship to achievement than do all the “school” factors together, is the extent to which an individual feels that he has some control over his own destiny. James Coleman, 1966

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

If Arne Duncan Were Serious About Civil Rights

Yesterday corporate foundation stooge, Arne Duncan, was marched out to declare a commitment to civil rights enforcement that was absent during the reign of Bush II. And yet Duncan seems intent to apply a civil rights litmus test that even Bush would approve of, one that could not have been imagined by Gandhi or King or anyone else beyond the education policy roundtable of the corporate foundations: instead of looking to see if school systems are complying with Civil Rights Law, Duncan wants to use "outcomes" i. e. test scores to measure a school or system's level of civil rights compliance. Really, I'm not joking:
Rather than just determining whether a district complies with the letter of the law in certain areas, the department will look at what the outcomes are for students, Duncan said in the conference call. “This is really about us trying to close achievement gaps,” he said.
To say the least, civil rights scholars like Gary Orfield are a bit skeptical of an Administration that, thus far, seems immune to news that their preferred education policy initiative focused on privatization via charter schools, now shepherded and nurtured by Gates, Broad, and the Waltons, constitutes the tip of the spear in a concerted effort to achieve the full return to the policy of "separate but equal" in America:
We don’t know what it will mean until we see it in operation, but it’s good talk,” says Gary Orfield, a professor at University of California in Los Angeles and co-director of the Civil Rights Project. “A lot of civil rights enforcement is done by signals from Washington about whether people need to pay attention to civil rights or not, and there have been no signals from Washington for a decade that civil rights is important.”

Professor Orfield says he hopes the administration will make a concentrated effort on issues like segregation – which has grown harder to make strides in after a 2007 Supreme Court case restricted the ways that districts can use race in determining which schools students attend. (For more on that case, click here.) He also hopes it will follow up the tough rhetoric with real repercussions for districts that don’t comply, such as withholding funding.

Civil rights laws for schools in the past have been “a little like an income-tax law where nobody will ever be sanctioned,” says Orfield. “They’re turning on the auditing button again.”

If Duncan were serious about Civil Rights, he would do more than have his picture taken in Selma with black school children, as he did yesterday. Some hints:

  • If Duncan were serious about Civil Rights, he would end the use of testing policies that punish, humiliate, and separate the poor and the brown and the disabled from the rest of society;
  • If Duncan were serious about Civil Rights, he would develop policies to strengthen teaching in poor areas, rather than gutting professionalism by advocating for the use of cheap and highly unqualified teachers in urban charters;
  • If Duncan were serious about Civil Rights, he would challenge the use of tracking inside schools to segregate, contain, and intellectually sterilize poor children who do poorly on tests that are now the only measure of what matters in a child's school life;
  • If Duncan were serious about Civil Rights, he would say and do something, like use a few hundred million of his $5 billion, to encourage and preserve policies like socioeconomic integration that have made such a positive difference in closing the achievement gap in places like Wake County, NC;
  • If Duncan were serious about Civil Rights, he would not ignore the accumulated research that shows clearly that the corporate charter schools that he advocates clearly intensify the resegregation of American schools;
  • If Duncan were serious about Civil Rights, he would be advocating for a humane and challenging whole curriculum for poor children, rather than years of basic reading and math that leave the neediest unprepared for work that requires thinking and for college;
  • If Duncan were serious about Civil Rights, he would work to end federal testing policies that exacerbate dropouts, pushouts, and turnoffs among children of the disenfranchised;
  • If Duncan were serious about Civil Rights, he would not advocate teacher pay policies that pit teachers against poor test takers, who are most often poor and brown;
  • If Duncan were serious about Civil Rights, he would actively support the development of hospitable and humane school environments, rather than the academic and behavioral lockdowns that now make schools look like low or even medium security penal institutions;
  • If Duncan were serious about Civil Rights, he would acknowledge that schools alone will never close the achievement gap because of the poverty that he systematically and universally ignores with the diversionary data gathering and testing policies aimed at sustaining separation and containment of the oppressed.

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