I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Obnoxious Sanctimony of Reformy Types

Make it stop! MAKE IT STOP!
The article asserts that white suburban children actually score the highest on the international assessments—rivaling the the coveted student achievement of Finland and South Korea. The article blames 35 percent of our student population—poor blacks and Latinos—for pulling down our otherwise stellar scores, making America's ranking plummet. Lind writes:
"If you look at the facts, then, they don't suggest that the U.S. public K-12 system is a failure. Rather American public education is a world-class success except among poor natives and immigrants, whose educational challenges have more to do with poverty and rural cultural legacies than alleged failings of public K-12.
"The challenge remains of how to improve the results for Americans of all races from disadvantaged backgrounds. And here all of the right, and much of the neoliberal center, thinks it knows the answer: choice! Americans should be given education vouchers to spend on schools of their choice, either within the public school system (charter schools) or outside, in a purely privatized system."
Lind's article implies that as long as white and Asian students are succeeding in public schools then the system is fine; that African American and Latino kids are mostly poor with uneducated parents, so it's understandable why they are not achieving within our public school system. [emphasis mine]
Dear lord, that is just so unbelievably obnoxious on the part of the author, Marilyn Rhames. First of all, Lind doesn't "blame" any students for pulling down scores; he simply states a fact. There is no question that there is a gap between the test scores of poor students and wealthier students; that gap exists around the world. And there is no doubt that blacks in the United States are disproportionately poorer compared to whites.

There is no doubt that there is a gap between the test scores of immigrants and native-born students; that gap also exists around the world. There is no doubt Latino students are much more likely to be immigrants and not speak English at home.

That isn't "blaming" anyone: it's stating the way things are. And it's certainly not even remotely implying that poor or black or Latino children cannot learn at a level as high as white or Asian children; it's simply pointing out that educational outcomes are dependent on the circumstances of children's lives.

Why is this even the slightest bit controversial?

But the next bolded sentence is even worse. Lind is not saying that it's fine if white and Asian kids succeed while black and Latino kids don't; nothing he says even remotely implies that. What he is saying is that the notion that schools in the United States are universally bad - a notion perpetuated by Ben Chavis and Amanda Ripley and many other reformyists - is simply not borne out by the facts. And when Michelle Rhee bemoans the state of American education, she downplays the notion that poverty is the primary cause for our relative lack of standing in the world.

In fact, Rhames gives us a textbook case of the reformy argument:
While I agree that poverty and culture do play a role in a child's educational experience, the problem is much more complex than that. Having grown up in a low-income, urban, African American home and as a teacher in the schools, the truth is that poor communities tend to get the worst teachers, principals, schools, grocery stores, hospitals, libraries, policemen, politicians—everything. The expectation for excellence is often low, and the level of accountability for people working with the poor is also often low or nonexistent.
I've seen this thought process in action all too often: "Nothing I can do will really make that big of a difference. The poverty in this neighborhood needs to be fixed first before any meaningful change in the schools can be made. If I'm a little lazy, or incompetent, or selfish, no one will even notice. They should be happy I'm even working here ... I could be doing so much better somewhere else."
Meanwhile, the hardworking, demanding individuals on the job often challenge and get challenged by administrators and colleagues who accuse them of being sellouts, overachievers, or "neoliberals," whatever that means.
Poverty "plays a role" in a child's education? That is some really weak tea. Considering how much of a deficit a poor child faces before he even enters school, don't you think you're underplaying this a little, Ms. Rhames? I mean, you admit that poor children get the worst of everything outside of school. And we know around 60% of a child's educational outcomes can be attributed to factors outside of school (and another 20% to error). Isn't that worthy of more than simply stating poverty "plays a role"?

Next: I don't much care about your personal experiences, Ms. Rhames. Because the notion that teachers in urban schools are lazy or selfish is almost as offensive as the notion that their students are lazy or selfish. These people are doing the work of the angels, and I for one am getting damn sick and tired of how easily they are being disrespected.

@StoptheFreezeNJ asks this question all the time: if you took the teachers of Scarsdale or Chatham or Gross Point or Bel Air and put them into the South Bronx or Newark or Detroit or South Central LA, would they really be as "effective"? Is the AP teacher in Millburn really "better" than the remedial teacher in Paterson? Or is the comparison completely specious?

Rhames goes on, naturally, to promote "choice":
Choice is not perfect. Choice is often times 'chance' because students are selected by lottery and there are often many more applicants than slots available in any one classroom. Parents also take a chance with choice because the quality of a charter school can range from exemplary to deplorable. 
I agree with Lind that choice is not the solution—but it's a practical part of the solution. Much more needs to be done, but having a few options is better than having no option at all.
I really don't get this; why would anyone accept a partial answer to the problem of inequitable education outcomes for children? Shouldn't we be demanding much, much more? Shouldn't we be standing up and insisting that it's not good enough to settle for a few options - options Rhames admits are quite often bad options?

As obnoxious and as sanctimonious as she is, it's clear that Rhames is truly, genuinely worried about the plight of poor children in America. Why then, does she push for a solution she admits is not even close to being comprehensive? Why does she heap scorn and derision on the people who actually teach the poorest children? Where is her opprobrium for those who bought and paid for a status quo that denies economic opportunity while protecting them from having to pay back their fair share to our society?

I can only guess that, in her despair, Rhames is lashing out at the wrong target. She's angry at writers like Lind who point out the obvious, rather than vassals to power like Rhee whose life's work is to obscure the truth. She derides the educators who do the hard and unappreciated work of educating poor children, rather than the politicians who perpetuate a cycle of poverty that schools will never be able to break without enormous help from society.

What a waste.

1 comment:

Commuting Teacher said...

It's a growing refrain I hear in the wind, justice for some. Justice for me but not for thee.

It is acknowledged that states that treat their employees with respect, that is they have union representation, have better education outcomes. Then what reasoning is used to claim removing that representation and respect will help anyone, especially students?

Further, charter schools are somewhat segregated in their populations due to parental interest, removal of ESL and special ed students, and poverty rates. Therefore how can they possibly ever be the answer for the subgroups that they were created to help?! Those groups are what causes costs to rise and test scores to plummet, things charter schools are said to fix, yet they DO NOT adequately address these issues at all except to punish the people left to work with those students. Justice for some, and use the struggles of the rest to punish. Stop using our poor as pawns!

We need a rogue reporter to expose this hypocrisy. Hey Jazzman, we gotta get you on the national stage!