States Creating Separate and Unequal Standards for Students

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Over the weekend, I read a troubling piece in The Washington Post written by Andrew Rotherham. It described how Virginia has separate expectations for its students based off race, income and class. Instead of improving educational opportunities for all children, it seems as though Virginia is taking the easy way out to not face penalties from the No Child Left Behind Act.

While I understand what Virginia is attempting to do: give schools that are historically under-performing more attainable benchmarks, I disagree with the implementation. Virginia’s policy makes it seem that since under-performing schools are overwhelmingly occupied with students who are poor, black or Latino, as a result the expectations for those students should be lower. However, not all black and Latino students attend under-performing schools, and many capable students are not reaching their full potential–not because of their race, but because they attend schools in neglected communities.

I think what Virginia failed to do was detail its long-term vision. I surely hope the plan isn’t to always have unequal levels of student achievement. Yet, wasn’t that what No Child Left Behind created: an unrealistic goal to have all students performing at a certain level by 2014? It seems to me that this new policy still doesn’t get to the root of the problem.

Moreover, I agree that in the short-term different schools should have different benchmarks in order to bring the lowest performing schools up to par. Yet, these benchmarks should be checkpoints that lead to the ultimate goals each state has for all children. The ultimate goal should be to move that school out of the “failing” category. As a teacher who willingly worked in a historically “failing” school, progressive benchmarks are necessary in order to realistically progress towards high levels achievement. What No Child Left Behind did was penalize schools for not making Average Yearly Progress when it is these schools that need the most support and strategic investments.  Schools do not move from under-performing to high-performing in one, two or even three years. Progressive yearly benchmarks must reflect that reality.  Yet, we do not need to create race-based standards that set unequal expectations for our children.

The larger picture is that in our country we have stark inequality that greatly impacts minority groups–primarily because minorities are disproportionately living in poverty. Schools are trying to overcome poverty alone. The truth is the school must focus on its locus of control while local and federal governments must work to decrease poverty in our country.

Everyone needs to admit the following: Our nations worst schools are in impoverished neighborhoods. There are wealthy neighborhoods that do educate our students in public schools well. Schools should focus on creating better learning environments for students, but not burn themselves out trying to solve poverty. Pressure your local, state and federal government to improve our communities and neighborhoods. Doing both will simultaneously improve our country and our nation’s under-performing schools in the long term, but ignoring one or the other leads to great failure.

Below is an excerpt of Rotherham’s op-ed:

For years, Virginia tried to sidestep various provisions of the federal No Child Left Behind education law. No Child’s accountability requirements are awkward because they threaten to shine a bright light on the highly uneven performance of Virginia’s schools and the state’s significant achievement gaps. So when Education Secretary Arne Duncan allowed states to set new performance targets earlier this year, Virginia, along with many other states, jumped at the chance. Unfortunately, rather than taking the opportunity to focus more on underserved students, the state took the stunning step of adopting dramatically different school performance targets based on race, ethnicity and income.

President George W. Bush famously talked of “the soft bigotry of low expectations” in education, meaning the subtle ways educators and policymakers shortchange some students by expecting less of them. Virginia’s new policy is anything but subtle. For example, under the new rules, schools are expected to have 78 percent of white students and 89 percent of Asian students passing Virginia’s Standards of Learning math tests but just 57 percent of black students, 65 percent of Hispanic students and 59 percent of low-income students. The goals for special-education students are even lower, at 49 percent. Worse, those targets are for 2017. The intermediate targets are even less ambitious — 36 percent for special-education students this year, for instance. Goals for reading will be set later.

Read more here

I would love to read your thoughts. Feel free to comment!

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