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E. Wayne Ross
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Slippin' & Slidin'
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Current efforts to reform public education are driven by a fervent desire to improve student test scores. For many states and local school districts the only thing that counts when judging the effectiveness of schools are the scores students produce on standardized tests.
In the pursuit of higher test scores, a Long Island, New York school district has instituted a tracking system that unfairly segregates kids and teachers by race. The latest “Amityville horror” was concocted in a secret meeting of the seven-member Amityville school board and the district superintendent last August and implemented in the fall without input from the public or teachers. The tracking scheme sorts elementary and middle school students into low, regular, and high-achievement tracks based on standardized test scores, a practice condemned in a recent report by the National Research Council.
In a district where 68 percent of the students are African American, 16 percent Hispanic, and 16 percent white, the “low-skills” classes enroll 91 percent minorities, while the “high-skill” classes enroll only 60 percent African American and Hispanic students. The Amityville tracking system doesn't stop with students. Although there are eighteen African American teachers in grades affected by the plan, only one African American teacher has been assigned to teach a higher-skills class.
In addition, the Amityville scheme denies students in the “low level” track access to instruction in social studies and science, as well as classes in library, band, orchestra, and chorus. The district defended its tracking system by claiming the intent was to increase the districts below-average test scores and that instruction in any area other than reading and math would be a distraction from this goal.
Parents and teachers have responded to the plan with justified outrage. Hundreds of parents protested the plan at board meetings in the fall. District Superintendent Dean Bettker responded that kids would be moved to higher tracks as their performance improved, but teachers reported only two instances of students moving out of low track classes in the fall semester, both were white children.
Over 30 years after residents sued to force the integration of Amityville schools, the Amityville Teachers Association and the Long Island branch of the NAACP have joined a group of parents in a $5 million federal lawsuit against the district, asserting that the tracking system is racially discriminatory and unconstitutional. For its part, the district has maintained the system is justified in an effort to improve test scores and that it is based on assessment of students' skills not race. The school district took out a full-page ad in a local newspaper, which was also mailed to residents, claiming that the “real motive” of the Amityville teachers in protesting the tracking system was to get more money for greedy teachers.
Unfortunately, Amityville is not an isolated case of re-segregation in the name of reform. Charter schools are being touted as a way to improve public education, but evidence indicates that, at least in some states, these schools are more racially segregated than adjacent public schools. Charter schools are publicly funded but free of many regulations that govern the operation of public schools. Proponents claim that charter schools provide greater accountability and school choice as well as freedom for educational innovations, higher efficiency, and competition that will stimulate changes in public schools. Charter schools are now legal in 34 states.
Two years ago, as North Carolina considered charter schools legislation, many feared a repeat of the “white-flight academies” that emerged in response to desegregation efforts of the 1970s. To avoid this possibility a diversity clause was inserted into the charter schools bill requiring the schools to “reasonably reflect” the demographics of the local public schools. Ironically, and despite the diversity clause, 13 of the 34 charter schools that opened in the state in 1997 were disproportionately African American, compared with their public school districts. According to the North Carolina Education Reform Foundation, nearly 40 percent of the state's 60 charter schools violate the diversity clause and all but one of these enroll more than 85 percent African American students. More than half of all students attending charter schools in North Carolina are African American, although the school age population of the state is only 30 percent black. Now the North Carolina Association of Educators, a teachers union, and the black caucus of the state legislature are calling for the legislature to force the segregated schools to diversify in the next year or be closed.
Recent studies in California and Arizona find similar patterns of racial and ethnic segregation in charter schools. There are nearly 50,000 students in 150 charter schools in California, with 200 new charters expected in the next two years. Drawing on case studies of 17 charter schools from 10 California school districts, a recent UCLA report found that charter schools were more likely to be accountable for how money is spent than for educational attainment. This study concluded that California is not enforcing its requirement that charters achieve a racial and ethnic balance reflective of the local school districts' population. In 10 of the 17 schools studied, at least one racial or ethnic group was over- or under-represented by 15 percent or more in comparison with the local public schools.
Arizona is home to nearly one in four charter schools in the United States. An intensive study of the racial and ethnic composition of over 100 of Arizona's charter schools revealed that nearly half the schools exhibited evidence of substantial ethnic separation, however, unlike the North Carolina charters, a greater proportion of white students were enrolled in charters. In comparison to their public school neighbors Arizona charter schools were typically 20 percentage points higher in white enrollment. Moreover, charter schools enrolling a majority of ethnic minority students tended to be non-academic schools, that is either vocational secondary schools not intended to prepare students for higher education or “schools of last resort” for students expelled from traditional public schools. The authors of this Arizona State University study concluded that the degree of ethnic segregation in Arizona charter schools is large enough and consistent enough to warrant serious concern among education policy- makers.
In the current practice of educational reform, test scores are understood as the repository of educational value. This fetishism is so strong in mainstream reform efforts that virtually any practice thought to increase test scores is justifiable, even the re-segregation of public schools. The challenge for people concerned about equality, democracy, and social justice in schools and society is to resist and re-direct the current educational reform movement—a movement that promotes standardization and re-segregation while diverting attention away from the conditions of teaching and learning, such as inadequate and inequitable funding and local control of budgets, staffing, scheduling, curriculum, and assessment, that must be changed if the public schools are to be transformed.
One group working to strength- en schools and their communities is Inclusive Community and Democracy (IC&D), a coalition of community, school, and university people based in Detroit at Wayne State University. IC&D works with other grassroots education groups to strengthen communities and schools by linking community groups to university resources; providing training and technical assistance to support schools, neighborhoods, and families; and advocating for those who experience isolation, segregation, and oppression. Two of the efforts under the IC&D banner are the Whole Schooling Consortium and the Rouge Forum. The Whole Schooling Consortium is working in Michigan and Wisconsin to improve the education and community resources available to children and their families who experience the effects of poverty and lack of resources on a daily basis. The Rouge Forum is a group of educators teaching for a democratic society who have had some modest success in defeating the state mandated testing program in Michigan and working in faculty organizations to deal with racism and sexism in academia and in teacher's unions to raise questions of class size, curricular freedom, and inclusive education.
With more efforts like these, which focus on grassroots organizing and building schools and communities, the deleterious effects of test-driven educational reform can perhaps be overcome. Z
E. Wayne Ross teaches in the School of Education and Human Development at the State University of New York at Binghamton.
Z Magazine Archive
AnnouncementsLABOR - May 1 is May Day. Workers of the world will celebrate the 124th anniversary of International Worker’s Day. Born out of a call for an 8-hour workday in the United States, this day is an opportunity for all workers to show their solidarity with one another, as well as to renew the call for labor rights.
FARM CONFERENCE - The Farm Conference on Community and Sustainability will be held May 24-26 in Summertown, TN, in partnership with the Fellowship of Intentional Communities. Tour green homes, see sustainable food production, learn about solar installations, alternative education, midwifery, and more.
Contact: Douglas@thefarmcommunity.com; http://www.thefarmcommunity.com/.
PALESTINE - The Conference of the Palestinian Shatat in North American will be held June 3-5 in Vancouver. The conference will examine the future of the Palestinian liberation movement.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.palestinianconference.org/.
LABOR - The Pacific Northwest Labor History Association’s 45th annual conference will be held May 3-5, in Portland, OR. This year’s theme is Labor Under Attack: Learning from the Past and Preparing for the Future. A call for presentations, workshops and papers is currently underway.
Contact: PNLHA, 27920 68th Ave. East, Graham, WA 98338; 206-406-2604; PNLHA1@aol.com; http://www3.telus.net.
MARIJUANA - On the first Saturday of May marijuana legalization activists will hold informational and educational events, rallies and marches in over 300 cities around the world.
ECONOMICS - The Union For Radical Political Economics will hold its 39th annual conference May 9-11 in New York City.
RECLAIM THE DREAM - The 2013 Poor People’s Campaign & March from Baltimore to Washington D.C. will be May 11. Communities, schools and unions interested in participating are encouraged to contact the Baltimore People’s Assembly.
Contact: 410-500-2168; 410-218-4835; BaltimorePeoplesAssembly@gmail.com; Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Baltimore and the Baltimore Peoples Power Assembly, 2011 N. Charles St., Baltimore, MD 21218.
MOTHER’S DAY - The 17th Annual Mother’s Day Walk For Peace will be May 12th, in Dorchester, MA. The walk began in 1996 for families who had lost children to violence. The day has become a way for thousands of people to financially support the work of the Louis Brown Peace Institute.
Contact: http://www.ldbpeaceinstitute.org/; http://mothersdaywalk4peace.org/.
NATO 5 - An International Week of Solidarity with the NATO 5 has been called for May 16-21. Supports call on supporters to raise awareness of the NATO 5 and support funds for the defendants on the one-year anniversary of their preemptive arrests.
Contact: email@example.com; https://nato5support.wordpress.com.
MOUNTAINTOP - The 2013 Mountain Justice Summer Activist Training Camp will be held May 19-27 in Damascus, VA. It will be a week of workshops, field trips to view Mountain Top Removal coal mines, direct actions, and service project.
FEMINIST SCI-FI - The feminist science fiction convention WisCon 37 is scheduled for May 24-27 in Madison, WI.
Contact: WisCon, ? SF3, PO Box 1624, Madison, WI 53701; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.wiscon.info/.
ANARCHY FEST - A month-long Festival of Anarchy is scheduled for May in Montreal. The festival includes The Montreal Anarchist Bookfair (May 19-20).
Contact: http://www.anarchistbookfair.ca/; http://www.radicalmontreal.com/.
LABOR - The International Labor Rights Forum will present: Down the Supply Chain, Driving Corporate Accountability, on May 22 in Washington, DC. The Labor Rights Awards Ceremony and Reception will honor pioneers in supply chain worker organizing, working solidarity and international labor rights policy.
MULTICULTURE - The 26th annual National Conference on Race & Ethnicity in American Higher Education (NCORE) will take place May 28-June 1, in New Orleans.
Contact: SWCHRS, 3200 Marshall Avenue, Suite 290, Norman, OK 73072; 405-325-3694; email@example.com; www.ncore.ou.edu.
MEDIA - The 2013 Alliance for Community Media Annual Conference will be held May 29-31, in San Francisco, CA. Participants will include educators, community leaders, media professionals, journalists, nonprofit leaders, policymakers and students.
RADIO - The 38th Annual Community Radio Conference is schedule for May 29-June 1, in San Francisco, CA, with discussions and workshops.
Contact: 1101 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Suite 600, Washington, DC 20004; 202-756-2268; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.nfcb.org/.
BRADLEY MANNING - On June 1, a rally will be held at Fort Meade in support of Bradley Manning.
BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike-A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides scheduled, music, exhibitors and more.
Contact: Bikes Not Bombs, 284 Amory St., Jamaica Plain, MA 02130; 617-522-0222; email@example.com; www.bikesnotbombs.org.
LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in New York City.
Contact: 365 Fifth Avenue, CUNY Graduated Center, ? Sociology Dept., New York, NY 10016; http://www.leftforum.org/.
VEGAN FEST - Mad City Vegan Fest will be held in Madison, WI, June 8. The annual event features food, speakers, and exhibitors.
Contact: 122 State Street, Suite 405 B, Madison, WI 53701; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://veganfest.org/.
ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16, in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops on civil rights, media and other topics.
Contact: 1990 M Street, Suite 610, Washington, DC, 20036; 202-244-2990; email@example.com http://convention.adc.org/.
CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5 day Seminar at University of Havana, plus visits to a cooperative, urban garden, community development project, social research centers, and educational & medical institutions.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.globaljusticecenter.org/.
NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
Contact: 164 Robles Way, #276, Vallejo, CA 94591; email@example.com; http://www.netrootsnation.org/.
MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
Contact: 4126 Third Street, Detroit, MI 48201; http://alliedmedia.org/.
GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process throughout the U.S.
SOCIALISM - The Socialism 2013 Conference is scheduled for June 27-30 in Chicago, featuring talks and panel discussions.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.socialismconference.org.
LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles under the heading, Intersections: Teaching and Learning Across Media.
Contact: 10 Laurel Hill Drive, Cherry Hill, NJ 08003; http://namle.net/conference/.
IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from branches across the continent to learn new skills and build One Big Union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13th, the 11th Annual Peacestock: A Gathering for Peace, will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
Contact: Bill Habedank, 1913 Grandview Ave., Red Wing, MN 55066; 651-388-7733; email@example.com; http://www.peacestockvfp.org.
CHILDREN’S DEFENSE - July 15-19, join clergy, seminarians, Christian educators, young adult leaders and other faith-based advocates for children at CDF Haley Farm in Clinton, Tennessee, for five days of spiritual renewal, networking, movement building workshops, and continuing education about the urgent needs of children at the 19th annual Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.childrensdefense.org.
ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference in the world.
Contact: email@example.com; http://yeacamp.org/.
LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations and panel discussions.
Contact: NCLR Headquarters Office, Raul Yzaguirre Building, 1126 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036; 202-785-1670; www.nclr.org.
LABOR - The Eastern Conference For Workplace Democracy: Growing Our Cooperatives, Growing Our Communities, will be held at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA, July 26-28.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://east.usworker.coop/.
WOMEN/LYNNE STEWART- Radical Women is asking for support letters and cards to be sent to Lynne Stewart. Stewart is a civil rights attorney and political prisoner who is currently in jail. She has breast cancer and authorities have denied her request for transfer from her Texas prison to the New York City hospital where she received medical attention during a prior bout of breast cancer. Send messages and cards to: Lynne Stewart 53504-054, Federal Medical Center Carswell, P.O. Box 27137, Fort Worth, TX 76127.
Contact: 747 Polk Street, San Francisco, CA 94109; 415-864-1278; RadicalWomenUS@gmail.com; http://lynnestewart.org/; http://www.radicalwomen.org/.
HAITI/WOMEN - Haiti’s government is considering a legal reform measure that would prohibit and punish all sexual assault, including marital rape. MADRE and the International Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict are launching a petition to raise international support for this push to address violence against women in Haiti.
Contact: 121 West 27th Street, #301, New York, NY 10001; 212-627-0444; email@example.com; http://www.madre.org.
SYRIA/MIDDLE EAST - The Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA) is currently seeking funds to assist more than 200,000 refugees fleeing violence in Syria.
FOLK FESTIVAL - The Falcon Ridge Folk Festival will be held August 2-4, in the Berkshires, NY.
Contact: http://www.falconridgefolk.com/; firstname.lastname@example.org.
WAR RESISTERS - The War Resisters League will hold its 90th anniversary conference, Revolutionary Nonviolence: Building Bridges Across Generations and Communities, August 1-4, at Georgetown University. The event will focus on the U.S.’ long history of antimilitarism.
Contact: 339 Lafayette Street, New York, NY 10012; 212-228-0450; email@example.com; http://www.warresisters.org.
POPULAR ECONOMICS - The Center for Popular Economics is holding its 2013 Summer Institute August 4-9 at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. No background in economics is needed for this intensive training. This year’s theme is, The Care Economy: Building a Just Economy with a Heart.
Contact: Center for Popular Economics, PO Box 785 Amherst, MA 01004; 413-545-0743; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.populareconomics.org.
VETERANS - Veterans for Peace is holding the 28th annual convention August 6-11 in Madison, WI. This year’s theme is, Power To The Peaceful.
DEMOCRACY - The Democracy Convention will take place August 7-11 in Madison, WI. The convention brings together nine conferences including topics such as media, education, defense, race, environment and others.
MEN - The 38th National Conference on Men & Masculinity: Forging Justice: Creating Safe, Equal and Accountable Communities, presented in partnership with HAVEN, will be held in Detroit, MI, August 8-10.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.nomas.org/.
OCCUPY - An Occupy National Gathering will be held in Kalamazoo, MI, August 21-25.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://occupynationalgathering.net/.
COMMUNITIES - The Communities Conference is a networking and learning opportunity for co-operative or communal lifestyles, with workshops, events and entertainment; scheduled for August 30-September 2 at the Twin Oaks Community in Louisa, Virginia.
LABOR DAY - The 29th annual Bread and Roses Festival, a celebration of the ethnic diversity and labor history of Lawrence, MA, will be held September 2, in honor of the 1912 Bread and Roses Strike. There will be music, dance, poetry, drama, ethnic food, historical demonstrations, walking & trolley tours.
Contact: PO Box 1137, Lawrence, MA 01842; 978-794-1655; http://www.breadandrosesheritage.org/.
OCCUPY WALL STREET - September 17 is the two-year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Events are planned in New York City and worldwide.
TEACHERS - The 13th Annual Conference, “Teaching for Social Justice: The Politics of Pedagogy,” will be held October 12 in San Francisco, CA. The free event features workshops, resources, and free childcare.
Contact: 415-676-7844; email@example.com; http://www.t4sj.org/.
HAITI - International Action, which brings clean water and chlorinators to Haiti, seeks office space capable of housing up to six people and their office equipment.
Contact: Zach Bremer, Zbrehmer@haitiwater.org; 202-488-0735; http://www.haitiwater.org/.
MEDIA - The Union for Democratic Communications and Project Censored are sponsoring a joint conference on media democracy, media activism and social justice to be held November 1-3 at the University of San Francisco. Proposals for presentations, workshops and panels from activists and critical scholars are invited.