When will the civil rights community wake up to your propaganda?

Racism Wordle

Dear Bill,

I’d like to believe that everyone who’s interested in education has a common goal: to ensure that each child in America, regardless of race, creed, or circumstance, has access to great public schools. However, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the education reform policies you promote—which you claim help civil rights causes—actually accomplish the exact opposite goal: they cripple the institution of public education and segregate, divide, and stratify our society—beginning with our children.

The biggest and most central problem with the education reform movement is one that anyone who advocates for civil rights will find uncomfortably familiar: its agenda is driven singularly by generalizations and stereotypes, starting with blanket claims that public schools are failing, teachers are failing, and, most upsetting, that our children are failing. While few people would doubt that there are schools, teachers, and children who could be performing better, it is inappropriate, demoralizing, and ignorant to impose far-reaching, top-down, one-size-fits-all reforms to address a fabricated “crisis.” Have we not learned the degree to which blind, universal statements that fail to consider individuals as such are damaging? Have we not learned that labeling nameless, faceless people (“bad” teachers? “failing” children?) to advance an agenda is unfair and unjust? And have we not learned that aggressively and blindly implementing policies that take resources away from the most disadvantaged communities in America further cripples those communities and the people who live in them?

It’s no secret that reformers and those who take issue with the movement disagree fundamentally on many issues—primarily, the role poverty plays in a child’s academic performance. You acknowledge that you’ve never experienced poverty and claim that you don’t want to “minimize” its effects, but you DO minimize and trivialize the issue when you suggest that people use poverty as an “excuse” for students’ academic struggles. The unfortunate reality is that poverty often becomes a part of a child’s identity, and I’m sure that educators who work with children living below the poverty line could enlighten you about just how difficult it is for so many of their students to even function in an academic setting. You’ve said that “we know it’s possible to have a good school in a poor neighborhood,” yet the schools in poor neighborhoods are the ones that suffer the most from your reforms.

Another current and dangerous reform trend involves placing inexperienced teachers in schools whose children struggle the most. Organizations like Teach for America promote the idea that young, energetic, yet inexperienced teachers are more effective than those who have devoted their careers to education. While there is certainly something to be said for youthful energy, the notion that novice teachers are better equipped to educate our children is exceedingly dangerous—and sends the flawed message that the most untrained teachers (Teach for America’s corps members train for a mere five weeks before they’re placed in a classroom.) are the best equipped to handle students who face the biggest challenges. Virtually all educators know that it takes years for a person to be considered a master teacher, and to put our children’s educations in the hands of people who have neither studied methodology nor been able to refine their craft over the courses of their careers is to do those children a great disservice. And because the inner-city districts that are already financially strapped are the ones recruiting novice teachers like the ones TFA produces, our neediest, most at-risk, and most volatile children are being taught by college graduates who typically intend to teach for a year or two and then move on to bigger and better endeavors. In essence, the academic and social divide reformers claim they seek to repair is actually widened when novice teachers who leave after a couple years of service populate schools filled with struggling students.

Perhaps the most laughable and divisive component of the reform movement is the flawed theory that constant, “rigorous” standardized testing—a money-making outgrowth of the Common Core—will somehow help students. In this punitive and high-stakes culture, children have come to understand that only material that appears on tests is important, and teachers have been forced to teach to a test because of the importance placed on scores. And because Race to the Top links funding to standardized test results, administrators have little choice but to design their programs of studies to center around the exams that reformers have determined are supremely important. Unfortunately, children who excel in arts, music, theater, and other untested subjects lose out on experiences that will benefit them in their future, simply because policymakers have dictated what’s important to learn (math and English) and what’s not—and students in districts plagued by financial turmoil (Chicago, Philadelphia, Newark, Los Angeles, Detroit) feel such cuts the most and will soon find themselves even further behind children who come from a more privileged background. The recent release of NY test scores showed evidence of as much already, as minority students’ scores dropped at a disproportionate rate. If that’s not humiliating, discouraging, and demoralizing, I don’t know what is.

But the element of reform that I find to be the most disturbing is the one that leads most directly to social stratification and segregation: school choice. Aside from the loathsome reality that individuals and corporations stand to profit from our children’s educations, the most troubling and fundamentally flawed message school choice sends is that public schools are institutions from which children and families should try to escape—and that charters and private schools are somehow inherently better. How can anyone at once claim to want to improve public schools—and at once advocate for children to abandon them? For whom, then, should we improve public schools? For the children who have no advocates and so must remain in them? For the children whose parents/guardians have no knowledge, ambition, or means to pursue school choice? For the children who enroll in charter schools but are sent back to public schools because of disciplinary issues? For the children who were denied admission to charter or private schools because of special needs? Unfortunately, such children will be left with in bare-bones, standardized, test-prep factories staffed with novice teachers and run by Broad (or otherwise superficially-trained) superintendents. Schools will close, a disproportionate percentage of minority students will be displaced, and already-volatile communities will be further disrupted in the name of education “reform.”

So my questions, Bill, are simple: how can you—and everyone who supports you—continue to justify the reforms you promote when it’s glaringly obvious that they hurt disadvantaged children, a disproportionate percentage of whom are minorities, schools and their communities? How many thousands of educators need to be laid off, how many programs need to be cut, and how many schools need to be closed for people to understand that the reform agenda involves making conditions in public schools so deplorable that charters and private schools are the only acceptable options for children? And most importantly, how can you, in good conscience, believe that you can deceive, propagandize, and fund civil rights groups into believing that what you’re doing is actually good for minority children—when all tangible and observable evidence points to the the opposite?

Ani McHugh @Teacherbiz31

HS English teacher (New Jersey)



About Highlighting Members' Needs

We are running for the following Renton Education Association positions because we believe in the following planks: Becca Ritchie, Candidate for REA President, Nelsen Middle School, Computer Tech Susan DuFresne, Candidate for Primary Executive Board, Maplewood Heights Elementary, Integrated Kindergarten ✅  Demanding a healthy work-load/life balance. ✅  Bargaining competitive professional compensation. ✅  Challenging the status quo test culture with: Less is more! ✅  Emphasizing our professional expertise. ✅  Prioritizing equity and access for all. ✅  Utilizing 2-way 21st century communication tools. ✅  Acting in solidarity with all unions. ✅  Supporting ALL members. ✅   Implementing developmentally appropriate K-3 curriculum/assessment.
This entry was posted in Civil Rights, Corporate Education Reform, Poverty and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to When will the civil rights community wake up to your propaganda?

  1. teacherbiz says:

    Reblogged this on teacherbiz and commented:
    My message to Bill Gates re: civil rights… (optional)

  2. Pingback: The Racism of Charter Schools | Dolphin

  3. Nancy Papas says:

    So-called school choice is educational apartheid. Charter and voucher schools are enrolling lower percentages of special ed. and English language learners who would lower their test scores and for whom special teachers are needed.

    Now the audacity of voucher school administrators has reached new heights. They publicly testified that they wish to enroll special ed. students, take the special ed. dollars for that student away from public schools, but still send these students back to the public school for special ed. services for which the public school no longer receives funds. This is how brazen parochial schools have become in the school choice movement. At this rate, public schools will not be able to provide special ed. services to anyone. Hence, special ed. students will not be served by either public or private schools.

    Good citizenship means taking civic responsibility. Instead schools of choice are decimating services for students.

    If charter and private schools want to prove their mettle, let them take the most difficult to educate students and show the rest of us how it’s done. Public schools do a great job with white, middle
    class, English speaking students. They also do a good job with the other students, but those students do lower average scores of the school population. (How well would any of us do on a test in a language we cannot understand?) Even with charter school discrimination against special ed. and ELL students, 21 of the 25 lowest performing schools in the entire state of Indiana were charter schools in 2010-11. Why are we financing choices which provide for a worse education in charter schools than what students had before and which simultaneously weakens the public school system from which those students have come? This is a lose-lose situation for everyone. When will Arne Duncan and other policy makers be as data driven as they demand others to be and see the handwriting on the wall that charter schools have a deplorable track record despite creaming the better students with he most motivated families to attend their schools?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s