Friday, March 03, 2006

Exposing racism in education

Navarrette is dead wrong. Many, if not the majority of us, who oppose NCLB do NOT support the status quo. This problematic premise of his could be considered racist, as well. -Angela
March 1, 2006

Ruben Navarrette / The Indianapolis Star

SAN DIEGO -- You have to hand it to critics of No Child Left Behind. In trying to preserve the status quo, they're wrong. But at least they're persistent. In fact, they're persistently wrong.
They'll get another chance to blast away over the next several months as a bipartisan commission holds public hearings across the country to get an earful on what works with the law, and what doesn't. The commission will send recommendations to Congress, which is expected to renew the law in 2007.
It's easy to see why those who prefer the status quo detest NCLB. Under the law, children in every racial and demographic group in every public school must improve their scores on standardized tests in math and science.
The critics hate requirements like that for one reason, because good tests not only tell you if kids are learning but also if teachers and administrators are holding up their end. If the truth comes out, disgruntled parents might go from demanding accountability from schools to demanding it from the individuals who work in them.
The critics are nothing if not versatile. First they insisted that NCLB was unfair to schools because it was a one-size-fits-all approach with no flexibility. Then they said the law was unfair to teachers because it tied them to student performance when not all children learn at the same pace.
Now they're insisting the law is unfair to some students because it benefits middle-class white kids and hurts Latinos and African Americans. At least that is the conclusion of a troubling new study by the deceptively named Civil Rights Project at Harvard University. Troubling because the agenda it advances is dangerous and the thinking behind it is backward. Deceptively named because if this group cared about civil rights, it would push in the opposite direction.
It goes back to the flexibility the critics requested and eventually received. Now that 49 states have either amended the law or waived some of its provisions, the critics have the chutzpah to insist that the thing they wanted has produced a result they find unacceptable. They claim that schools that educate white and middle-class students are more likely to take advantage of loopholes and dodge accountability than those that teach poor kids and Latinos and African Americans. As a result, they say, schools with poor and minority kids are more likely to report low scores on exams and are thus more likely to incur sanctions. That is, according to the critics, an education law intended to help black and brown kids is, in fact, racist.
That criticism is half-right. There is racism here, but not in the law. Rather, it is built into the educational system that the law seeks to reform.
It begins when a teaching corps that is three-fourths white approaches minority students with what President Bush calls the soft bigotry of low expectations. It continues as those teachers, at a loss to explain why these students don't do as well in school, cling to the racist assumption that minority parents don't value education. And, finally, it is compounded when those who want to preserve the status quo do everything they can to undermine testing -- not to protect black and brown children but to protect the adults who are disenfranchising them.
The No Child Left Behind law didn't create racism in education. But it just might be helpful in exposing it.
I suspect that the Harvard study is right about one thing -- that some schools have come up with creative ways to skirt the law by taking advantage of waivers and the like.
But schools that resort to such maneuvers are only hurting the kids they're supposed to be teaching. Minority students are much better off for being held accountable with no exceptions and no excuses.
That can be messy. But whom are we kidding? It's nothing compared to the mess that the special interests have made of the educational system.


  1. I had the opportunity to read Mr. Navarrette's article on and felt compelled to respond. My intention is not to rant and rave about how wrong he was or to insult his intelligence. I merely want to inform him that at one time I had very similar beliefs regarding standardized testing and the NCLB Act. My thought were: "If teachers were teaching like they were supposed to be, they wouldn't be so defensive about administering this test to their kids - regardless of their race." However, recently I have begun researching standardized testing and educational racism and would like to pose some questions for thought:

    Who creates the tests, scantrons, and curriculum used administer state tests? (Answer: Textbook companies who stand to make MILLIONS in profits)

    Did you know that the CEOs of the textbook companies (the same ones that create the scantrons, tests, and curriculum), shape the educational agendas and politics of our American schools?

    With profits to be made from the administration of tests, do you think that academic achievement is really the #1 priority of NCLB?

    Based upon these questions, I sadly realize that NCLB is NOT about educating our kids and ensuring that everyone graduates with a strong skill/knowledge base. In my opinion, it is fueled more by money, politics and personal agendas. Yes, you and I agree that IDEALLY a test should be a good indicator of whether or not a teacher is doing his/her job in the classroom. But, this statement is ill-informed if you consider that:

    1) Racism (whether it be overt or covert) exists within schools, which limits how far a teacher thinks a student will excel. Thus, many of the students who take the test have been affected by racial beliefs, hegemonics, and other restrictive means, which unlevel the playing fields.

    2) NCLB's is too entwined with big business to be considered an effective remedy for solving our educational crisis - it is money driven, not student driven.

    3) Schools are at risk of losing funding if their students do not perform well. Thus, many teachers are forced to stop teaching fundamental skills and are forced to teach test taking skills, which further inhibits their ability to attain the required academic skills that they are lacking.

    Thus, it is my contention that the NCLB is not about the children at all. It is about cash. It is about classism. It is about categorizing. It is a sad policy that was implemented to supposedly ensure that our American children were learning. But are they really? I think not.

    Taresa Mikle
    TAMU Doctoral Student
    Future Mover & Shaker

  2. One problem with NCLB is that it doesn’t take into account that schools didn’t start off at the same starting point. I believe that the current AYP testing scheme is too generic as it does not take into account demographics and socio-economic factors. I oppose NCLB because I think it is unfair to judge schools under a static system and hold them all under the same standards when they were not equal to begin with.
    Furthermore, opposing NCLB and the current lazy and simplistic AYP methods employed has nothing to do with desiring to preserve the status quo. If anything, I oppose it because I have high expectations for a more accurate accountability system for our children. I believe that our children’s potential cannot be measured in a single test score. A test cannot measure one’s creativity, curiosity, or character. Navarrette’s comparison of those who oppose NCLB to being champions of the status quo makes about as much sense as relying solely on standardized test scores to measure our children’s academic ability.

  3. I find it disturbing that I might agree with some points Mr. Navarrette makes. For example, there is a persistent and pervasive problem of disparity between cultural/linguistically diverse students and their educators, some adults are disenfranchising students, and many educators scream not whisper the "soft bigotry of low expectations." However, NCLB and it's high-stakes testing mandates to not adequately address these problems. Rather, both students and teachers are evaluated by one test. This violates several guidelines for appropriate assessment practices. Students (and educators) must be assessed using a wide variety of instruments to get an accurate picture of their strengths and challenges. Not to mention that a single test used for both groups eradicates the validity of the test. We definitely do not support the status quo, that is precisely what we are trying to change.