By Andrew Jackson
A saying of my Great Grandmother and voiced many times by my Mother; “learn all you can, and can all you learn and keep it in that can for use in the future.” This certainly seems applicable today. A decade before NCLB announced the war against the achievement gap, policy analysts who had closely studied and written about earlier reform efforts warned of negative outcomes from the push following the Charlottesville Conference in 1989 for more test-based accountability and harsher sanctions to quell “continued resistance” to Reagan-Bush market-based education initiatives.
In a special section in The Phi Delta Kappan, Milbrey McLaughlin (1991) wrote the introduction to five articles by education scholars with extensive knowledge of policy reforms, and under her summary point number four, “Test-based accountability plans often misplace trust and protection,” McLaughlin offered these potential negative outcomes for “high-stakes testing schemes:”
• Perverting incentives for teachers – encouraging them to avoid difficult students and difficult schools.
• Discouraging classroom innovation, risk-taking and invention.
• Allocating “failure” disproportionately to non-traditional or at-risk students.
• Forcing out of the curriculum the very kinds of learning – higher-order thinking and problem solving – that learning theorists and others say are most important to “increased national competitiveness” and success in the world marketplace.
Don’t look now folks but those four points are a reality of today in the education of our children. Just as reformers ignored warnings during the 1960s, we know now that these significant perceived warnings were ignored as well, even though they were offered ten years before NCLB became law in 2001 and almost 20 years before Race to the Top, which has served to buy alliances at state policy levels for the continuing war that would accept “no excuses” for any outcome that did not result in corporatization of all educational territories.
As long as American education policy continues to rank schools using scores, whether scores are from current state tests or the tougher tests being designed to align with a national curriculum adopted by 47 states in 2012, there will always be a bottom 5 percent of low-performing schools, which offers plenty of room for the growth of corporate charter schools that will carry the torch for corporate education reform initiatives.
The growth of charter schools encourages the further elimination of “resistance” to the intensification of social separation through segregated schools, which are staffed largely by young, minimally prepared recruits who impose total-compliance test-based curriculums that, if deemed successful, indoctrinate children to behave in ways that defy the effects of socioeconomic inequality.
Unfortunately, inequality cannot be cornered into the schools, treated with instructional solvents designed to scrub away the effects of poverty, and then tested to make sure the residue has been alleviated. Nor can we pretend that the creation and nurturing of unequal schools will solve inequality, whether made unequal by minimally prepared teachers, the absence of basic services like multi-culturally stocked school libraries, the preponderance of atrophied curriculums or the physical and psychic separation of the poor and disenfranchised.
That such outcomes may be offered as a viable resolution to inequality in education, which is parroted as the “civil rights issue of our generation,” represents a minstrel version of social justice, paraded on the public stage for the benefits that may be derived from delusion or deception – or both. This paragraph accurately defines the corporate owned and highly segregated Achievable Dream School in Virginia Beach.
Although [apparently] forgotten in rhetoric and deed, the U.S. Supreme Court declared in a unanimous decision almost 60 years ago that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal” (Brown v. Board of Education, 1954). We must stop pretending they are not – or else risk a further erosion of the moral courage required to complete the forgotten goal and neglected task of building a quality system of public schools that serves the needs of ALL children.
Publisher’s Note: New Journal and Guide expresses its condolences to Mr. Andrew Jackson on the recent passing of his brother Luke Jackson.