Kevin Carey, the policy director at the Washington-based think tank Education Sector wrote an article titled “An Incoherent Protest Against Education Reform, Brought to You by Matt Damon.” It was a scathing criticism of the recent Save Our Schools March and National Call to Action that took place in Washington D.C. in response to the current federal and state education policies that place high-stakes testing at the forefront of reform. Author Jonathan Kozol was one of the rally speakers. Carey took offense to segments of Kozol’s speech. He defended Duncan and the current federal policies:
"Firebrand activist Jonathan Kozol, author of Savage Inequalities and other accounts of terrible injustice visited upon low-income students, noted that American public schools are more segregated by race today than they were when the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1968. Therefore, Kozol thundered, Duncan was not merely guilty of rejecting Brown v. Board; he was working to restore the separate-but-equal doctrine of Plessy v. Ferguson… It’s an incendiary charge that makes no sense whatsoever. Duncan had nothing to do with the decades of demographic change, economic dislocation, and failed urban policy that helped to produce de facto segregation in many public schools. Duncan is not Chief Justice of the United States John Roberts, who wrote the majority opinion in a 2007 Supreme Court case that forbade school districts from combating segregation by racially balancing their schools. Duncan’s crime, according to Kozol, is trying to ensure that the resulting segregated schools give their minority students a good education."
Funny, I just left a meeting with an assistant superintendent of Miami-Dade County Public Schools in which I stated that African American educators and students are suffering new, racial inequities that may have to be addressed via civil litigation. Later in the conversation, the administrator stated that one particular school populated with Haitian immigrants sanctioned for “low-performance” and placed on the list for closing, will never rise out of the sanction status because “half the students can’t speak English.” She is hesitant about sharing her insight in a public dialogue. (She is also certain that the current superintendent will not share his either because he was the architect that wrote the grant application for Race To The Top that was eventually awarded to Florida.) Currently, under the NCLB policies supported by Duncan and the Obama administration, a student’s English language abilities, acculturation, race, aptitude, willingness to learn, school attendance, or income status have no bearing on student performance. Educators are the reason students fail or succeed. Therefore, they should be paid and provided continued employment based on how well their students perform on standardized assessments.
Current education policies in the state of Florida have created vast inequities between Black schools and Anglo schools in Miami, Fl. They were started during Jeb and George Bush’s tenures as governor and president. Obama and Duncan’s refusal to embrace reality has widened the dichotomy. In Florida, “low-performance” on standardized tests results in sanctions for staff and students. All the predominantly Black high schools in Miami-Dade County are under sanction and have been for over ten years. None have ever achieved liberation from sanctioning, even though all state mandated “interventions” are deployed annually. Obama and Duncan embrace placing sanctions on schools. One has to question whether they are ensuring that “the resulting segregated schools give their minority students a good education” because the sanctioning process has facilitated the unequal and separate schools that were characteristic of an era pre- Brown versus Topeka, Kansas and in line with Plessy v Ferguson. Obama and Duncan may not have given birth to” de facto segregation,” but they are certainly complicit in keeping it alive.
Here in Miami, disproportionately, Black educators are working under a Memorandum of Understanding that was negotiated between the United Teachers of Dade and the district school board. The resultant inequitable contractual obligations were done without input from the educators affected. The contract for these schools staffed with mostly Black women
•prohibits autonomous control of school by administrators and teaching staff
•mandates specific teaching materials (many came under question and subsequently were abandoned) chosen by the state for sanctioned schools and denies academic freedom or the ability to choose instructional materials appropriate for a given time or situation
•forces staff to undergo intrusive state school/classroom inspections on a monthly basis (teachers are often castigated in front of students)
•forces instruction according to a benchmark calendar, in which penalties occur for deviation (the sequence of the calendar ignores the realities of how long and short term memory banks function)
•mandates more time for collaboration inside and outside of the regular school day to ensure standardized pacing for instruction is in place
•mandates professional development that is repetitive, lacks innovation, and focuses on test prep
•forces educators to issue the following standardized tests: baseline assessment, two interim assessments, monthly assessments, annual summative assessment, and an end of the year assessment
•requires that they participate in regular data chats from data collected from all the standardized assessments
•allows for the involuntary transfer of 25% - 50% of the staff at the end of a school year (teachers do not find out they have an involuntary transfer untilout one week prior to the opening of school, and many face a drive in excess of 60 or more miles round trip to a new location they had no choice in picking.)
The 2010 – 2011 school year, the teachers received a $3,000 stipend for working under these conditions. From here on out, it will be recieved only if they earn it as merit pay based on their student's test scores.
Teachers functioning under the regular contract have autonomy and academic freedom; however, the test prep mentality has permeated even the Anglo schools. They spend time teaching to the test to avoid sanctioning. Though the Anglo students are compromised, they don’t suffer the same punitive sanctions as Black students attending predominately Black schools. For example, the majority of the Black students are forced to take three language arts classes: reading, writing, and language arts and two math classes under a remedial curriculum with mandated teaching materials focused on test prep as opposed to an enriching curriculum that allows for inquiry, problem solving, creative/critical thinking, and analysis/creative writing in response to visual text, written text, or a guiding question. Their elective courses are replaced with test prep classes. Project based learning is prohibited. Honors, gifted, and Advanced Placement courses are offered; however in all of these schools, two-thirds or more of the students are labeled “low-performing.” A disproportionate number are identified as Exceptional Education students. They are often taken out of their non-testing classes to sit for tutoring sessions. Their social studies instructors are forced to take class time for test prep. Generally, their instructors are novice, frequently not certified in the area in which they are teaching, and often come from the ranks of Teach for America, a new teacher program that is, according to one educator,” tantamount to the Tuskegee Experiment.” In contrast, their white counter-parts never see a Teach for America teacher. Nor are their schools in constant flux with ever changing staff akin to the dismantling of the slave family. Additionally, they do not walk daily with the chronic red lettered “low-performing” stamp that accompanies the” second-class stamp” issued by the strong arm of American racism.
Sanctioned, segregated, unequal schools with no autonomy- pretty much pre-Brown versus Topeka, Kanas and pretty much in line with Plessy v Ferguson. Kozol, who, by the way, regularly visits these schools, called it right.