TWO AMERICAS, ONE STORM

NOTE:  It’s been kind of hard to keep up with my weekly blog entries lately… so thanks for staying with this site for the last few weeks. I am working on final edits for my second book (“Fighting For Ms. Rios”… and managing the blog for my class at University of San Diego (check out some excellent posts from my students there).  We are also making advance preparations to launch a little revolution… which will itself be the subject of the next few posts.  Stay tuned!

There is another “Achievement Gap” in America and it is gathering on the near horizon like a storm cloud. Mark my words. That storm will come and we will see our future as a nation engulfed in another predictable catastrophe that didn’t have to happen.

I want Arne Duncan and our President to hear me. I am not in Washington DC or the halls of the state senate in Sacramento. I am at El Milagro and we are fending off foul weather.

Here’s a gap that’s deep and growing deeper by the day:

It starts in schools that struggle to keep pace. For whatever reason. Maybe it is the leadership, maybe it’s the teachers, maybe it’s the kids or the parents or the books or the pedagogy or the water or the facilities or the lack of light. In the end, it doesn’t matter. Because schools that don’t keep pace with AYP have to circle the wagons and teach harder. More reading. More math. Then more reading still. More math still.

And while reading and math crowd out the rest of the curriculum– as schools eliminate science and social studies and the arts and physical education to make way for more focussed/rigorous/aligned instruction in basic skills (aka “test prep”)– something big goes missing:

Creative thinking, innovation, critical thinking, problem solving, application, play, self-discovery. Joy. Learning.

…the skills our kids need to compete for jobs. For economic growth. For America. For global survival.

So in communities where kids struggle against artificial goals enshrined by NCLB… they fall further and further behind in the very skills and attributes that prepare them for the 21st century workplace. Basic skills are critical… but Facebook and Google and Apple and Amazon did not become giants on the strength of the standardized test scores of their employees. They rise or fall on their ingenuity.

High performing schools and districts and communities have the luxury of ignoring the inherent threats of high stakes testing. They don’t have to panic and fire their music teachers. They can sing and dance. They can prolong their analysis of world events and enter the local science fair. The can critique good art and celebrate the natural giftedness of their students. They can provide a comprehensive and enriched curriculum for all.

So the Gap widens. Can you see it? Low achieving schools, with their disproportionately large number of low income students, English language learners and other children of color, pressured to turn their fate around, are forced to abandon the very skills their students need the most– the ability to create a new world. While their counterparts in high performing schools think and invent and find their wings.

That white and asian children consistently outperform Latino and African American children in reading and math on standardized tests is a problem. But that is not the only problem. And it certainly isn’t the most urgent.

There are two Americas. For the past 50 years public education has been a primary force to eliminate the distinctions between rich and poor; between our many ethnic and racial differences. But we are the unwitting force now dividing the chasm anew. Two Americas. One storm. One nation falling like a house of cards.

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2 Comments

Filed under charter schools, children at risk, El Milagro, innovation and change, public education, school reform, standardized testing, Uncategorized

2 responses to “TWO AMERICAS, ONE STORM

  1. Christy

    My worry deepens when considering our nation’s schools. With two boys in the system, I can see the effects, and on a very personal level, work hard to provide the balance and the joy in learning… Thanks for the insights, Kev.

  2. Kevin:

    I’ve never read El Milagro before. After reading “TWO AMERICAS, ONE STORM,” I’m certain I’ll be back.

    God bless you for your insight, compassion and candor. We are indeed in an educational pickle.

    The problems are complex. The “achievement gap” systematically widened under NCLB despite the announced intent of Secretary Paige to serve the needs of the “worst first.”

    I’ve blogged about these extensively on the Democratic – Partybuilder website in “NCLB and Education Issues” and on the Organizing for America site under “BobBl’s Blog: On Pragmatism, Truth and Political Change.”

    I don’t wish to repeat myself. I haven’t changed my mind about the damage it’s done and is still doing. I am however VERY CONCERNED that the current administration hasn’t yet addressed some of the most serious damage done under NCLB’s yoke during the Bush Administration.

    Your piece points out the widening of our “Achievement Gaps” and the steady march toward institutionalizing or “reinstating” the dual class educational system that existed in our country before passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

    I believe much of the current”backsliding” on equal provision of educational opportunity can be traced back to strategic decisions by the Bush administration that directed his Attorney’s General (plural) to hobble and disrupt nearly all enforcement activity by the Office of Civil Rights in the DOJ.

    The “evidence” is out there and anyone interested can see for themselves what the effects have been on our national educational system.

    The most significant Bush educational initiatives behind ever widening achievement gaps are his Federal Educational programs promoting “School Choice.” The keystone of the Bush “choice” initiatives was the “Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Part B – Public Charter Schools.” (http://www2.ed.gov/policy/elsec/leg/esea02/pg62.html)

    In many of our States, publicly funded Charter Schools are required (by State law) to participate in mandated achievement testing and to anually report their enrollments (including numbers of students enrolled from five “traditionally disadvantaged” groups) and their required testing scores. This information is made publicly available on most State Education Agencies as “School Report Cards.”

    The “school report card” reporting system isn’t altogether uniform, or by any means perfect. In some states, Charter Schools (particularly open enrollment, fully online cyber-charter schools) continue to evade the full public scrutiny of “school report cards” under a variety of legalistic pretexts, and often by exerting overwhelming, RAW political clout against their respective state education agencies. (Ohio comes to mind…)

    Despite these persistent attempts to evade educational accountability in some states, increasing numbers of publicly funded charter schools are reporting their mandated accountability information to the respective SEA’s, and SEA’s are posting accountability information publicly on SEA websites as “School Report Cards.”

    Anyone who’s interested can visit their State’s SEA website and download the “school report cards” attributed to that state’s charter schools.

    I challenge readers to download a sampling of their state charter schools’ “report cards” and examine their demographic & performance data to address the following question:

    Does the percentage of “traditionally disadvantaged” students representing each of five recognized sub-groups (low income, racial minority, limited English proficiency, qualifying disability, & migrant status) enrolled in this State-supported charter school roughly equate to the overall percentages of students from these five groups enrolled in public schools in the same communities?

    I am confident the facts clearly show clearly that charter schools consistently enroll disproportionately low numbers of traditionally disadvantaged students.

    (This pattern of gross educational inequity is particularly evident in for-profit, online cyber-charter schools.)

    I believe that it is the responsibility of our nation’s new Attorney General (Eric Holder) to direct the Department of Justice’s Office of Civil Rights to STEP UP enforcement of the education provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

    The DOJ need only analyze the school report card data available from Charter Schools to determine whether or not there’s “preliminary evidence” warranting further investigation into whether or not civil rights violations exist there.

    If patterns exist documenting “patterns of persistent” civil rights violations, then the DOJ should begin to VIGOROUSLY enforce our civil right laws in ALL our schools.

    Isn’t it time?

    Keep on piostin’ Kevin. Get the word out.

    The time has come to get “equity of educational opportunity” BACK ON TRACK!

    BobBl

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