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

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Dear NAACP: The Tests You Say You Want to Use Are Racist and Classist to the Core

I don't often post unsigned comments, but the one below by NYCDOEnuts is an exception. It came in response to my post yesterday that Carol Burris had finally seen the light and is now calling for civil disobedience to stop the next generation of high stakes tests that the oligarchs and profiteers plan to use to impose years more of lucrative testing brutality in American public schools.

NYCDOEnuts is clearly in Ravitch/Cody camp, insisting that high stakes must be preserved to maintain the lost dignity of the corporate Kool-Aid drinkers at the NAACP and the other groups that are ostensibly committed to civil rights. 

Compare the leaders in the era of Thurgood Marshall and Martin Luther King, Jr., who called for the end of segregation and economic oppression, to today's unimaginative batch of would-be leaders who have surrendered to the corporate reformist plan to culturally sterilize black and brown children in privately run and publicly funded chain gang schools.  How out of touch could any group of would-be civil rights advocates get!

Does the NAACP really believe that the preservation of high stakes testing is going to assure any semblance of equity or equality for the children they say that they represent? Really?

These tests and their predecessors have been used for a hundred years to stigmatize, sort, separate, and treat children in ways to make them pliable, useful, and exploitable as second class citizens. 

Does the NAACP think the new Common Core tests with their 70-90 percent failure rate for black children offers some evidence that their needs are being met??  What need is that--for humiliation and degradation, or to force their participation in their own subjugation?

Below is NYCDOEnuts' comment to yesterday's post, and below that is my response.  By the way, DOEnuts, any future comments must include your real name in order to get them posted.

Note the first thing she does is to attack Carol Burris as being an out-of-touch suburbanite:

NYCDOEnuts4:16 PM
Jim I'm as against these private minded Ed reforms as anyone. That includes opposing high stakes tests and testing.

Having said that, every civil rights organization across the country supports at least one test before graduation for students. Perhaps this is because they feel the alternative -no high stake tests at all- will usher in a system where students of color and in impoverished schools will simply be left at the side of the road by districts all across the U.S. This seems to be their position and, to be honest, I very clearly see the absolute legitimacy of both the concern and the position.

Carol Burris' district serves some of the most well to do students there are -students who don't need a test in order to get a leg up in this world as adults. So her call for civil disobedience against tests, toward parents who may never need to see the value of leveling a very unfair playing field, doesn't concern me and probably won't concerned most seriously minded people who are genuinely upset with the unfairness of BOTH this terrible testing AND schools that can't do their part (note: their part) in leveling the playing field of our society.

What does concern me is that she, as a leader, hasn't called for anything specific with which this testing regime should be replaced. In fact, no one has. Nothing. The grandstanding is nice and the sentiments are shared by many (myself included) but the plan to actually do something without a whole regime of tests is simply not there. This makes this call of hers sort of fluffy in nature and about as nourishing to a soul hungry for a fair and just system and society as a marshmallow is to a starving man (I'll eat it but it won't help).

Isnt it tme to promote a better way? It's time to show that an alternative to what we are all enduring does exist? Time to stop thinking of creative ways of complaining in social media and time to start leading us into a system that both relieves us from all of these terrible tests AND ensures that every student (every single student) is exposed to high quality in the classroom (and is prepared for a job or college when it's all done)? Jim Horn, I love your pieces and love this blog and all look up to every one of its contributors, but isn't it time to stop standing against something and start finding something to stand for?

Just a thought. Thanks so much for the share.

Jim Horn10:31 PM
Since you apparently have no memory of what happened before high stakes testing replaced sanity and learning in schools, let me offer a couple of things you need to read up about. First and foremost, the U. S. went from apartheid systems of education in 17 states to the most racially-integrated national system in the world without the benefit of high stakes tests. We vastly increased women's access to educational opportunity without requiring high stakes tests to do so. Thirdly, we closed the test score gaps between black and white children to an all time low in 1990 without the help of any high stakes tests.

That is when the resegregation of American schools began and when the testing gaps began to open up once more.

Not without some irony, that is when the test based accountability entered its second phase, with higher stakes, more tests, and more punitive measures.

Then came the third phase, promising that no child would left behind, even as children lost their schools, teachers, and childhoods to corporate charter operators with their own sweet promises and their cruel realities.

We knew in 1960 which students were not learning, and it did not take a test to prove it. We knew in 1970, 1980, 1990, 2000, 2010, and still we know: they are the students disabled by poverty that no one is being held accountable for, even as our schools are turned into corporate revenue streams by profiteers who mutter empty rhetoric that once meant something beside cynical semantics.

I have been steadfast in pursuing an agenda to bring sanity back to public education in the U. S., and that agenda has not changed: 1) end high stakes testing as the first step to the restoration of schools where learning and teaching can happen. Nothing is possible without that. The Allies at the end of WW II did not need a Marshall Plan to justify the end of Nazi genocide. Nor do we.

Just as we don't need a test to determine which children are getting the help they need. These kids will never get the help they need until we end childhood poverty. Which brings me to point 2) end school and classroom segregation of any kind, whether based on ability, economics, or ethnicity. When black children and poor children go to school with middle class children, all children will get the same opportunities to learn. And the third leg of the school renewal stool: 3) end corporate meddling and profiteering in public education by putting the public back in charge of public schools. We don't need high stakes tests to do any of these important things, and all the tests in the world will never increase the likelihood that any of them will happen.

I suggest that you and those who claim the mantle of civil rights should find another strategy to bring about equality than the continued use of racist and classist tests that have always been used to justify sorting, segregation, and second class citizenship. If you can't appreciate the sad irony in your proposition, I am, indeed, sorry. Now stop wasting my time with your bullshit and your not-so-subtle accusations.


  1. As with everything in corporate education reform, follow the money. See this article "Corporate Education Reform and Civil Rights" http://goo.gl/X5ot8n

  2. Anonymous10:06 AM

    Is justice being done when it is assumed, a priori, that schools are racist? Shouldn’t evidence be required if accusations of racism are to be considered? Some believe that unequal outcomes between racial groups on standardized tests are sufficient indications of racism at the school level. Yet it is widely known that at least two thirds of educational outcomes are due to non-school factors (see Richard Rothstein). Is it then fair or just to use unequal outcomes on standardized tests as evidence of racism at the level of the teacher or school? Racism and inequality within school districts do exist, but there must be evidence to substantiate this accusation.

    1. The problem is the institutional racism inherent in using standardized tests to label, sort, segregate, and punish poor children and their teachers for factors that are beyond their control. This problem was not created by teachers, parents, or children but, rather, policymakers who are too stupid, corrupt, or inhumane to be policymakers.

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