The racial "achievement" gap and corporate school reforms


Topics covered here include: The role of law and public policy - Inequitable school reforms since 1983 and their continuation with No Child Left Behind - The corporate reform agenda: charter-ization and de-unionization of the public schools - "Data-Driven" Managed / Focused instruction takes away teacher autonomy, narrows the curriculum, and de-skills and de-professionalizes the teaching profession.

Racial disparities in education-related outcomes rooted in law and public policies

    Racial disparities in access to education, employment, and housing are rooted in laws and public policy, both historically and in the present. While laws and policies that promoted overt racial discrimination were overturned in the decades following World War II,  laws prohibiting racial discrimination were weakly enforced, if at all. The US Congress enacted fair employment and housing laws that formally outlawed racial discrimination in 1948, but these laws had no provisions for enforcement by government agencies. Affirmative Action programs require at least token hiring of people of color, but allow ongoing, widespread, covert racial discrimination. There is no government agency empowered to detect and prosecute the discriminators.

Problem: Unequal access to employment and housing related to covert, illegal discrimination

Solution: Empower the Minneapolis Civil Rights Department to detect and prosecute cover, illegal discrimination

Laws and public policy with a disparate effect on people of color (colorblind racism)

The War on Drugs

The "War on Drugs"was ramped-up in the 1980s and 1990s, which resulted in more than a 10-fold increase in the incarceration rate over-all. The War on Drugs has not been very effective in reducing drug use and drug trafficking, but has been a huge success in criminalizing, disenfranchising, and marginalizing people of color.  It is time to end the drug wars. Legalize recreational use of marijuana and legalize most other drugs with varying degrees of regulation according to potential for addiction and harm to the individual and society. Drug abuse should be addressed as a public health issue, not a crime.

Flight from Equality: K-12 School Reform in the US since the 1980s

Racial segregation and tracking

      The objective of school desegregation was not only to achieve a high degree of racial integration, but also to make a quality public education accessible to all on an equal basis.  From the late 1960s to early 1980s, some progress was made in equalizing school facilities. In Northern cities, mostly Black schools were closed, and the student and faculty were integrated into White schools.

     Ability grouping, sorting and grouping the general student population by ability into separate classrooms for the entire day was outlawed in the early 1970s. Black students were rarely or never classified as "high-ability"ability students. However the federal Department of Education adopted a policy of "mending not ending" the practice of ability grouping. Ability grouping has since been allowed as long as it is "flexible" and done subject-by-subject. Ability grouping is "flexible" as long as students are frequently reassessed, even if students are rarely or never reassigned from the tracks into which they are originally placed.

      Ability grouping was rare in US public schools at the elementary school level prior to the 1950s. Typically, students from the better elementary schools serving more affluent neighborhoods had been sorted and grouped into college-bound curriculum tracks during junior high / middle school. Ability Grouping became common in early elementary grades in the 1950s and 60s, the widely abandoned in the 1970s and early 80s.

A Nation at Risk  

In April 1983, a blue-ribbon panel on K-12 education commissioned by the Reagan-Bush administration issued a report entitle A Nation at Risk. It called for a return to educational policies of the late 1950s. A shift in K-12 school policy followed, that included the return of racially segregated schools and ability grouping in the early elementary grades. Also in development were components of a corporate-style reform agenda: Charter schools, high stakes standardized tests, remedies for "failing schools" such as firing all teachers and selectively replacing or rehiring.

No Child Left Behind

The education reform agenda embedded in the Elementary and Secondary Education Reauthorization Act is marketed as "No Child Left Behind" and its supporters declared themselves soldiers in the "Civil Rights Movement of the 21st Century." What distinguished No Child Left Behind from the reform agenda which immediately preceded it were mechanisms to shut down public schools and replace them with charter schools. No Child Left Behind also called for the re-introduction of merit pay and the elimination of teacher job protections, e.g., seniority, tenure, and due process rights as remedies for failing schools.

Inequitable resource allocation

High poverty schools generally require but don't the extra resources they need. Poverty puts stress on families and students and high-poverty schools. Toxic levels of stress that make students less able to learn are far more common in high than low-poverty schools. It is estimated that as many as 40% of children in families below the poverty line are exposed to toxic levels of stress, many on a chronic basis.

Racially segregated school systems also have big racial disparities in exposure of students to inexperienced teachers and watered down curriculum. The Minneapolis School District is a prime example. Since 1995, the Minneapolis School District has taken many step that have made the school district more segregated by race, and more unequal.  For example, most decisions about school attendance boundaries made the district more racially segregated. In 1995, there were 8 schools where enrollment of students of color was greater than 15% above the district average. In 2005, there were 23 schools where enrollment of students of color was more than 20% above the district average. During a period from 2001 to 2004, teacher turnover rates averaged more than 30% per year in 21 of those schools.  The district has maintained a very large pool of inexperienced and low-paid teachers by firing and replacing a large majority of teachers during their 3-year, post-hire probationary period. High poverty schools have the lion's share of the probationary teachers.

Problem: Extreme racial and socio-ecomonic segregation of students

Solution: Decisions affecting racial and socio-economic integration of the district's schools should result in a student population that is less segregated by race and income, not more

Problem: Racial disparities in exposure of students to inexperienced teachers.

Optimal solution: Strive to retain, not fire and replace newly hired teachers during their 3 year, post-hire probationary period. Strengthen due process rights for probationary teachers. Recall rights for probationary teachers who are laid off. Eliminate the recently invented category of "performance layoffs."

Layoff policy

If, based on budget and student enrollment projections, it is expected that there will be no reduction in the teacher workforce from one year to the next, the district should not issue layoff notices. The only exceptions would involve teachers in positions about to be eliminated who are not qualified to be reassigned to another position.

Seniority based layoffs, last in, first out should be preserved for two reasons:

The district should being trying to increase teacher experience levels, and seniority correlates with experience.

Last in, first out is the least unfair method of determining who gets laid off.  Merit-based retention / firing decisions always leave room for subjective bias, favoritism, and retaliation for reasons other than a teachers conduct and competence, such as being a "troublesome" union steward or grievance handler.

The 2007-2012 Strategic Plan

      The Strategic Plan was developed under the guidance of McKinsey and Company, a global management consultant firm that supports the No Child Left Behind agenda. McKinsey and company has done a lot of consulting for the Minneapolis Public Schools. The Strategic Plan set very ambitious test-score-gap-closing goals. However, I opposed the Strategic Plan because it failed to address factors like the high exposure of students of color to inexperienced teachers and watered-down curriculum, and was therefore doomed to failure as a test-score-gap-closing plan. The School Board was focused on compliance with requirements of No Child Left Behind. Minneapolis Public Schools began to sponsor charter schools and push more vigorously for elimination of teacher seniority and tenure rights in collective bargaining agreements with the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers.

Managed, "data-driven" instruction

In my opinion, the shift toward "managed instruction" is part of an agenda of de-skilling and de-professionalizing the teaching profession. An increasingly large proportion of teachers are being pushed out of the profession within five years of entering it. And more teachers with very limited training as teachers are getting hired on a short-term basis, e.g., Teach for America. Managed instruction takes away some of a teachers autonomy in adapting the curriculum to better accommodate the strengths, weakness and learning styles of students, which most teachers with a 4 year degree Elementary or Secondary Education are trained to do. Teachers with less training are less able to take a student centered approach to curriculum development, instruction, and learning activities in their classrooms. Just as students have different strengths and weakness and styles, so do teachers. The shift to a more standardized and narrowed curriculum and a less flexible model of teaching is not the direction in which K-12 education should be moving.

What is managed Instruction / Focused Instruction? For definitions

See: Managed instruction is not going away unless we make it  Classroom Struggle

excerpts from the above blog entry:

  • scripted curriculum – refers to commercial reading programs that have highly structured lessons, often with specific time allotments for teaching specific skills, and often word-for-word scripts of what the teacher is to say. These curricula (i.e., Mondo) are commonly used in particular subjects and grades in St. Paul Public Schools, and strictly manage when and what teachers can do in their classrooms.
  • focused instruction – while not necessarily scripted per se, focused instruction is based on the same kind of logic that removes autonomy from students and teachers. While Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) calls it “simply good teaching and learning”, focused instruction is an approach to managing students and teachers by prescribing guidelines for what, when, and how to teach, test, and manage student data. It is now mandated across all levels of MPS, from early childhood to 12th grade.
  • direct instruction – still running on the same logic as above, direct instruction is managed instruction but with an extra emphasis on teacher-directedness and teacher authority. Harvest Prep Academy, a charter school in North Minneapolis that serves primarily African American students, and that has received national attention for its high test scores, uses Direct Instruction from Houghton Mifflin. From my experience tutoring in classrooms here, a direct instruction approach emphasizes lecture and culling pre-determined answers from students who, when not answering questions are told (by school-wide policy) to sit with a “bubble” in their mouths and their hands squarely on their desks.
  • managed or standardized instruction – these are more catch-all terms that encompass curricula and instructional strategies that attempt to ‘sync’ and control teaching across classrooms and are generally mandated through top-down decision-making.

No comments:

Post a Comment