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Ryan McCarthy in a recent article titled “White Families Now $95K Richer than African-American Families on Average, According To New Study” pointed out how public policy and discrimination have fostered a tremendous wealth gap between African- Americans and Whites.  In the article he states, “The racial wealth gap results from historical and contemporary factors but the disturbing fourfold increase in such a short time reflects public policies, such as tax cuts on investment income and inheritance, which benefit the wealthiest and redistribute wealth and opportunities… At the same time, evidence from multiple sources demonstrates the powerful role of persistent discrimination in housing, credit, and labor markets.”   Ryan used a report published by Brandeis University’s Heller School for Social Policy and Management as the basis of his article.  The PDF file can be found at http://iasp.brandeis.edu/....  

Ryan’s was correct in identifying public policy and discrimination as factors, but he failed to include the negative impact of K -12 public school education policy that is beginning to and will cause an even more pronounced divide.  No Child Let Behind, subsequent state laws, and now Obama’s Race to the Top policy all use high-stakes standardized tests to quantify and qualify academic success.  This, too, has and will continue to contribute to an inability to increase wealth and income, as many African-Americans are now excluded from higher education and the career and income opportunities afforded by earning college degrees.  In fact, the impact of high-stakes testing has been so damaging that African Americans should begin to opt their children out of high stakes testing in public schools to avoid a future of more pronounced income disparities born out of the academic injustice of policies that embrace high-stakes testing.

The education reform policies created under the guise of facilitating the closing of the achievement gap between minority students and their white peers have failed.  Reporter Ron Claiborne in an article titled “College-Bound Students Not Prepared in Basic Subjects” brought to light a pervasive problem.  He stated that according to a report published by ACT ,“Only one in four college-bound high school graduates is adequately prepared for college-level English, reading, math and science according to report released Wednesday by the ACT college admissions test. In English, 77 percent of white students and 76 percent of Asian-American students met the readiness benchmark compared with 47 percent of Latinos and 35 percent of African-Americans.  In Reading, 62 percent of both white and Asian-American students met the readiness benchmark compared with 35 percent of Latinos and 21 percent of African-Americans.  In Mathematics, 71 percent of Asian-American students met the readiness benchmark.  And according to Jon Erickson, interim president of ACT, "There's still a significant and an actually growing gap both at incomes levels and at racial/ethnic levels in the achievement of those benchmarks.  This is a national imperative and a national concern."  The full report can be obtained at http://www.act.org/....

High-stakes testing has contributed to these startling facts in two disconcerting ways. In his Time magazine article “Dropout Nation” Nathan Thornburgh stated “In today's data-happy era of accountability, testing and No Child Left Behind, here is the most astonishing statistic in the whole field of education: an increasing number of researchers are saying that nearly 1 out of 3 public high school students won't graduate... For Latinos and African Americans, the rate approaches an alarming 50%.” The over-emphasis on the state mandated assessments has contributed to the high drop-out rate of African American students, particularly African- American males.  Reports, such as “The Impact of the Correlation Between The No Child Left Behind Act’s High Stakes Testing and the High School Drop-out Rates of Minority Students,” have documented this phenomenon.

Of additional concern is the reality that state mandated assessments have narrowed curricular focus. Most schools, pressured by district and state administrators’ compliance to state and federal laws for funding, now spend large amounts of time preparing for and taking standardized assessments. Historian and author of The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education Dr. Diane Ravitch, urban sociologist and Professor of Education at New York University Dr. Pedro Noguera, education policy writer, researcher, and Stanford University Professor Dr. Linda Darling-Hammons, and classroom teachers across the nation have acknowledged the resulting “dumbing-down” of public school students. The loss of quality instruction impacts all public school students.  However, African-American schools deemed below average or failing face continual, havoc-causing turn-overs of staff and spend a disproportionate amount of time engaged in test prep.  This has resulted in a vast inequity in quality of pedagogy in African-American populated high schools across the nation. Instead of nice, stable school communities with quality instruction, African-American schools now suffer under sanctions, which mandate annual staff turn-overs and remedial curricula with mandated teaching materials focused on test prep.  More than not, sublimated or eliminated completely are enriching curricula that allow for inquiry, problem solving, creative and critical thinking, and analysis writing in response to visual text, written text, or a guiding question. Elective courses are replaced with test prep classes. Project based learning is prohibited. If honors, gifted, and Advanced Placement courses are offered at all, two-thirds or more of the students are labeled “low-performing” and will never benefit from such course offerings.  “Bubble students” – those close to achieving proficient test scores - are often taken out of their non-testing classes to sit for test prep sessions.  Social studies instructors are forced to take class time for reading test prep in lieu of history, civic, geography, government and economic lessons.  Generally, the 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 constantly hindered by transient staffs.  Additionally, the egregious test prepping does not permeate the entire fabric of most of their school communities.  Nor are they constantly labeled as failing or below average.  This sad scenario is played out in school districts with predominately Black populations throughout America.  

Bob Schaeffer, a spokesman for Fair Test, an organization which studies the use of standardized tests, said in a statement: "Proponents of 'No Child Left Behind' and similar state-level high-stakes testing programs, such as exit exams, made two promises: their strategy would boost overall academic performance and it would narrow historic achievement gaps between ethnic groups. But, academic gains, as measured by ACT, are stagnant and racial gaps are increasing."  African-American parents must start asking the hard question: Why have policies that were supposed to narrow the achievement gap resulted in the exact opposite?  They must begin to take action against a system that serves to ill-prepare their children for academic success, career preparation, and the ultimate ability to accumulate and build wealth. Of high importance, they must not fall prey to the trap of “school choice,” which in itself is a method of racist exclusion, which provides for a “few” at the expense of the “many.”  Instead, they must first and foremost, stop allowing their children to be used to further the inequities in academic achievement.  Because standardized testing is undermining quality instruction for African-American students, which ultimately impacts career acquisition and wealth accumulation, opting their children out of standardized testing in K-12 public education is a good place to start. No longer must discriminatory policies that foster achievement and economic gaps based on race and class be tolerated. Empty test chair by empty test chair, policy makers will get the message that enough is enough.

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