The continuing war on public education represents a grave danger for parents and teachers engaged in the struggle to preserve educational opportunities for not only this, but also for future generations. With communities all over the country facing the possibility that their neighborhood schools could be closed, the inherent inequality in which many of the decisions are made is shocking.
As we make resolute decisions to stand against the corporate forces poised to engulf, strangle, and starve our public school systems it is important that we take careful note of the weapons of war being deployed against our schools.
One of the most significant weapons comes in the form of the high stakes tests that are turning our schools into little more than test-prep centers. This is only a stop-gap on the road to schools being labeled as failing schools while the real issues of poverty and inequity are ignored. In New Jersey, such ratings have already led to disastrous results, as evidenced by the One Newark Plan.
High stakes testing has become the centerpiece of resistance against corporate education reform, particularly in white suburban areas where parents feel that their right to make decisions concerning the education of their children has been infringed upon. Not as vocal in the current resistance to testing are the cries coming from our disadvantages communities that are fighting a different, more urgent battle against the systematic closing of neighborhood and community schools.
Parents in urban areas tell of supply shortages, unsafe learning conditions, and the lack of necessary services for the children. In reality, these communities far more devastated by the results of these high stakes testing and should have even a greater reason to cry out against them. These tests are often the main determining factor upon which a majority of educational decisions are based that include the closing of community schools that force children to unfamiliar locations as well as approval of charter school chains that use the false promise of school choice to cherry-pick and skim their students.
When schools are identified as low performing, with high-stakes testing scores as the main measure used to make this determination they are placed under the oversight of Regional Achievement Centers (or RACs). The theory behind RAC is that resources will be shifted and allocated to support the “focus” and “priority” schools. Theoretically, it seems that RACs would greatly benefit schools that have displayed a large achievement gap through the provision of much needed resources to close that gap. However, it has been revealed that the financing behind these RACs include a large grant for funding from the Broad Foundation, an organization created with the intent of closing public schools.
Under the guise of meeting accountability requirements, money has been spent on items that do not directly benefit the students within the district.
In reality, what has happened has become a nightmare for those who support public education. Under the guise of meeting accountability requirements, money has been spent on items that do not directly benefit the students within the district. Consultants are brought in to analyze current curriculums and systems, make recommendations and then leave, their wallets having been made fatter for the experience. Technology is upgraded, or purchased new, only to be locked away so that it will be ready for the PARCC – a computer based assessment.
The goal of the entire district becomes united, but it is not a goal of making decisions that best benefits the children. It is not the goal of providing a safe learning environment for all. It is not the goal to instill a joy and love of learning in the youngest to the oldest of students. Instead, the goal is to raise test scores high enough to rid the district of the “focus” and “priority” labels. With this goal in mind, test-focused programs are implemented as child-centered learning, education of the whole child, and teacher autonomy become distant memories.
When analyzing statistics of the schools and districts that are labeled “focus” and “priority”, a direct correlation is revealed. Districts labeled as such are mainly concentrated in areas that serve a larger population of black and brown students. Economic disadvantages social inequality, lack if resources, and the blatant inequity seen in these areas puts the students at a greater disadvantage when facing high-stakes testing. In fact, research shows that they enter school much more disadvantaged than their white, suburban counterparts.
As a result, the state has singled out public schools that serve predominately Black and Brown students in poor neighborhoods for disparate treatment. The implementation of corporate reform education policies has done nothing to re-allocate resources that would level the playing field to give these students an equal chance. Instead, we have been brought back to a day of racial and socio-economic policies that continue to hyper-segregate our public schools.