School Choice Discrimination Leaves No Choice for Vulnerable Students of Color

Published on Dignity In Schools (http://www.dignityinschools.org)

By Ernest Saadiq Morris, Urban Youth Justice

The choice before human beings, is not, as a rule, between good and evil but between two evils. -George Orwell

School Choice programs, including school vouchers, charter and magnet schools, are not the egalitarian antidote for the historical inequality and discrimination entrenched within the U.S. public education system.

The term school choice is commonly used by corporate education reformers as a grotesque misnomer to disguise their attempted end-run around the U.S. Supreme Court’s seminal recognition in Brown v. Board of Education(1954) of the constitutional right of all children to equal educational opportunity, based upon the absolute rejection of the “separate but equal” concept of segregated public education.

School choice programs encourage privatized outsourcing of public education that increases academic segregation based on race, disability, language and poverty that undermines equal educational opportunity.

Youth of color labeled as “high need” or “difficult” students, i.e., those struggling academically, English learners, and those with special needs or disabilities, are disproportionately excluded by school choice programs, particularly charters that deny them enrollment by cherry-picking students using selective student admissions methods, e.g., screening interviews or assessment tests.

Even after enrollment, no child is safe from selective “student-dumping” attrition, from either deliberate discriminatory pushout practices targeting low-performing or “difficult” students, or deliberate indifference of inflexible teaching pedagogy, such as rigid testing practices, that makes lower-performing students more likely to dropout.[ see March 2011 Report – What Makes KIPP Work? A Study of Student Characteristics, Attrition, and School Finance].

Equally alarming is the ability of school choice programs to disguise their direct causal connection to the academic segregation and isolation of disadvantaged Black and Latino students (i.e., English Learners, students with disabilities, and those with poverty-based needs, e.g., homeless youth and free/reduced lunch qualifiers) away from most white students.

A recent analysis by The Civil Rights Project at UCLA of school choice in San Diego public schools found that school choice, i.e., open enrollment and charters, resulted in substantial academic re-segregation. A local reporter’s coverage detailed how diverse, mixed-race San Diego neighborhoods still contain segregated public schools , because school choice tends to isolate Black and Latino students away from white students. These segregated schools not only fail to reflect the diversity of their surrounding community, but the test-based performance of their segregated student population predictably reinforces the racial achievement gap.

School choice vouchers are egregious enablers of academic discrimination, increasingly promoted with false promises of empowering low-income families to obtain educational equity at private schools paid for by public dollars. However, research often indicates low-income urban public school students benefit less from vouchers than pre-existing private school students that opportunistically subsidize their current tuition with public dollars.

Private voucher schools undermine the financial health of traditional public schools by serving significantly less students with diverse academic and social challenges, largely due to intentional practices by which they conveniently avoid and exclude the students needing the most expensive remedial services or resource commitment. In Milwaukee, private voucher schools’ overwhelming rejection of students with special needs or disabilities was evidenced by only 1.6% of all private voucher school students having documented disabilities compared to 20% within the traditional Milwaukee Public Schools system, resulting in the filing of a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice by Disability Rights Wisconsin and the ACLU.

The systematic rejection of high need students by private school choice programs creates a disproportionate burden on under-resourced traditional public schools, resulting in a defacto separate and unequal dual system of education, that undermines the educational opportunity of all students that remain within an unfairly distorted learning environment.

This intentional, calculated starvation of resources weakens the traditional public schools that educate the vast majority of these vulnerable students. Meanwhile, the intense scrutiny of federal Race to the Top guidelines and test-based performance standards demonizes any lack of progress under this manufactured duress, further justifying the continued privatization of K-12 education and slashing of education budgets.

This cynical process is designed to yield only one conclusion – the traditional concept of free, quality public education must die.

The unchecked proliferation of false school choice programs will usher in a devastating redistribution of public education resources from the largest urban school districts into the hands of private education profiteers, without built-in civil rights protections, public accountability, or transparency to prevent academic segregation based on race, disability, language and poverty. Students of color, whom disproportionately rely upon traditional public education as a lifeline to the American Dream, will find this path to their aspirations abandoned, along with the Brown v. Board legacy of equal educational opportunity for all children.

All in the name of school choice.

Ernest Saadiq Morris is a youth rights advocate, civil rights and liberties lawyer, and founding director of the public education and advocacy initiative, Urban Youth Justice. He has been defeating the school-to-prison pipeline since 2004, including coordinating the largest successful mass student defense to-date (Round Rock, Texas 2006-2007). You can follow Urban Youth Justice daily on Facebook and Twitter.

Special Ed Warehousing: Special Education Means No Education for Many Youth Of Color

Published on Dignity In Schools (http://www.dignityinschools.org)
By Ernest Saadiq Morris, Urban Youth Justice

“We come then to the question presented: Does segregation of children in public schools solely on the basis of race […] deprive the children of the minority group of equal educational opportunities? We believe that it does.” – U.S. Supreme Court, Brown v. Board of Education(1954)

Corporate education reformers have imposed an unrealistic goal of achieving a standardized “lock-step” performance from diverse student populations that many public school districts have adopted and thus cultivated a toxic combination of pressure and bias.

The pressure from high stakes test-based performance assessments leaves no incentive for teachers and administrators to invest general education class time for individualized attention or to implement diverse culturally responsive teaching methods. Therefore, a student that falls behind academically is at high risk of being labeled and stigmatized as a “slow learner” and falsely placed in special education or an inferior academic track.

As a result, the labeling of youth of color as “difficult-to-teach” as the basis for a special education referral is a far too easy pretext for implicit cultural bias or self-serving classroom management. At-risk youth of color demonstrating verbal defiance, physical aggression or inattention can often be corrected through supports within a general education setting, as well as better teacher training in culturally responsive methodology, instead of special education referrals.

Special education warehousing of Black youth and other youth of color is rampant in too many urban school districts. Special education warehousing is the disproportionate removal of youth of color from general education classrooms through referrals to special education classrooms that segregate them from the student population. Disproportionality occurs when the percentage of Black youth in special education —or a similarly situated special education subgroup, such as Latino/Hispanic English Language Learner students— is not proportionate to their percentage in the school or district’s general population.

This practice is similar to the post-Brown v. Board era practice of discriminatory labeling of Black and Latino students as mildly retarded in order to dump them in segregated classrooms — in an attempt to avoid the legally required integration of public schools. This practice was eventually prohibited by multiple lawsuits.

In Houston, Texas, a Fall 2010 audit commissioned by School Superintendent Terry Grier revealed that a majority of the Houston Independent School District(HISD)’s 16,386 special education students are Black youth. Worse, their placement was based on disproportionate labeling of Black students as mentally retarded and emotionally disturbed. Hispanic English Language Learner students were similarly over-identified for special education placement in junior high and high school grades suggesting that they received inadequate language assistance in elementary grades that resulted in false special education labeling in the later grades.

Likewise, Austin ISD Superintendent Meria Carstarphen commissioned a report which found that its African-American students were overrepresented within special education programs. Black youth made up only 12 percent of all enrolled student, yet were identified as 24 percent of students labeled with intellectual disabilities and 33 percent of students labeled as having an emotional/behavioral disability.

In May 2010, the Palo Alto Unified School District was issued a notification letter by the California Department of Education as one of 17 seventeen school districts statewide that had “significant disproportionality” in its special education referrals of Black and Latino youth. For instance, one district middle school placed 55 percent of its Latino students and 33 percent of its Black students in special education in 2009-2010.

Federal law requires that all K-12 students with disabilities receive a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) in the least restrictive environment. Even for falsely labeled special education youth of color, the denial of that labeled student’s FAPE is a serious matter. Furthermore, special education warehousing of urban youth of color often involves an inferior, non-remedial educational curriculum with uncertified or inexperienced teachers within an isolated and/or segregated environment. The Georgia Department of Education’s 2009-2010 special education annual report verified that African-American students are overrepresented statewide in special education classrooms. According to the report, African-American students make up 47% of students labeled with Emotional Behavioral Disorders and 57%of the students with Intellectual Disabilities. The report also noted that Black students are more likely to be isolated in a special education classroom away from their general education peers. Racially disproportionate segregation is evidence of the denial of the FAPE guarantee to Black special education students and a violation of federal law.

Zero tolerance discipline combined with high stakes testing increases the discriminatory impact of the School-to-Prison Pipeline on the educational results and criminal justice consequences for special education students of color. African-American and Latino students, as well as special education students, each separately face disproportionate rates of disciplinary referrals. Accordingly, special education students of color face dual risk of higher rates of disciplinary referrals for suspensions, alternative school assignments, and expulsions, which correlate to lower graduation rates. Thus, the discriminatory impact of disproportionate special education placement of youth of color not only constitutes denial of a quality education but also increases the risk of referrals to the criminal justice system and future incarceration.

Ultimately, special education warehousing, i.e., the disproportionate placement of youth of color in special education, undermines the post-Brown v. Board meaning and purpose of public education. It is the modern manifestation of the Jim Crow origins of separate and unequal education discrimination that perpetuates race-based structural barriers to equal educational opportunity. Education reform should not be a proxy for the continued marginalization and criminalization of Black youth and other youth of color due to the pursuit of a standardized performance that encourages structural inequality and implicit bias in special education referrals and school discipline.

Ernest Saadiq Morris is a youth rights advocate, civil rights and liberties lawyer, and founding director of the public education and advocacy initiative, Urban Youth Justice. You can follow Urban Youth Justice daily on Facebook and Twitter.

The American Pipe Dream: Winning the Future Without Youth of Color

Published on Dignity In Schools (http://www.dignityinschools.org)
By Ernest Saadiq Morris, Urban Youth Justice

“Cutting the deficit by gutting our investments in […] education is like lightening an overloaded airplane by removing its engine. It may make you feel like you’re flying high at first, but it won’t take long before you feel the impact.” – President Obama, State of the Union Address, January 25, 2011

In his January 2011 State of the Union speech, President Obama introduced “Winning the Future” as a slogan to underline the urgency and importance of continued investment in public education to ensure the future of American success and competitiveness domestically and abroad. Nevertheless, the Obama Department of Education’s Race to the Top funding competition champions corporate-driven education reform that rewards standardized testing performance and private charter school expansion, while failing to equally prioritize the guarantee of equal educational opportunity. As schools focus on meeting statistical goals, educational disparities often remain unaddressed or actually worsen due to school practices – such as the disproportionate use of zero tolerance discipline and special education placements, as well as inferior curriculum tracking – that contribute to unequal educational opportunity. These disparities threaten to undermine the future participation of a generation of students of color in the American dream.

Indeed, recent evidence shows that zero tolerance school discipline and criminal justice referrals continue to disproportionately affect Black, Latino and other disadvantaged youth, i.e., students with special needs/disabilities, LGBT and English Language Learner students.

A March 2011 report co-authored by the Florida NAACP, Florida ACLU and the Advancement Project, Still Haven’t Shut Off the School-to-Prison Pipeline, indicated that Florida school districts are referring too many students to the criminal justice system for school misbehavior – even after state law was changed to eliminate zero tolerance and give school officials discretion for handling certain offenses, such as fighting, trespassing, disorderly conduct and theft of less than $300.

The law sought to draw a distinction between petty acts of misconduct and misdemeanors and serious threats to school safety, said Howard Simon, executive director of the Florida ACLU. What we’ve found instead is that some districts are continuing to refer cases to law enforcement that may be better handled at the school level.

Similarly, a January 2011 report exposed a crisis of systematic school pushout of Philadelphia’s Black and Latino students through widespread and discriminatory use of zero tolerance discipline. At the same time, New York City continues to blatantly disenfranchise Black and Latino youth of equal educational opportunity in multiple ways, including: disproportionate denial of admission of Black and Latino youth to elite, specialized public schools based on a single standardized test score, disproportionate closures of public schools that serve the most disadvantaged Black and Latino youth with special needs, and the disproportionate zero tolerance discipline of Black and Latino youth.

Meanwhile, Alabama Republican Party leader Hugh McInnish recently sent a letter defending the disparities in education and discipline between Caucasian and Black students in the Huntsville, Alabama school district, highlighted in recent findings of the U.S. Justice Department, declaring: “If there is unfairness, it is because life itself is unfair. The unfairness is not manmade.”

This stunning attempted justification of unequal educational opportunity shows a callous disregard for the life potential and value of Black youth and other disadvantaged youth that is reflected in education policies nationwide.

Color-blind and disability-free education reform urges the general public’s acceptance of survival of the fittest education policy methods as simply enforcing higher standards of accountability. Even the extended economic recession is exploited as a convenient justification for educational disparities, since the grouping of youth into educational haves and have-nots supposedly assists with the effective investment of limited public education funding. It is no coincidence that the corporate education reform model stigmatizes youth of color from politically and economically disadvantaged communities as it simultaneously disenfranchises them of their right to equal educational opportunity. This perpetuates the school-to-prison pipeline and cycle of exploitation of youth of color that increases their risk of mass incarceration and lifelong economic oppression, including chronic un/underemployment and intergenerational poverty.

Failing to effectively educate youth of color risks a future majority population that is alienated from society. Projected population demographics indicate that, by 2023 youth of color will make up the majority of children under 18, with Latino minors comprising the largest segment of that population. And the overall white population will reach minority status possibly as early as 2039, but no later than 2050 based on the most conservative estimates.

A potential critical mass of economically dispossessed persons with underdeveloped critical thinking and a lack of advanced trade skills will surely throw this nation into crisis. The impending drain on social services budgets alone would significantly burden state and federal governments and it is doubtful that an aging minority white population would be able to sufficiently pick up the economic slack to maintain a robust economy. This is not a winning formula for a brighter future.

Blind support of a business-modeled reform agenda that prioritizes value-added evaluation of standardized testing performance without addressing institutional learning and discipline disparities will only continue the devaluation of students of color and the disenfranchisement of their right to equal educational opportunity. Education reform that emphasizes an individualized learning process that prepares each student with critical thinking, problem solving, and trade skills is the best possible stimulus investment of public dollars. If we are serious about winning the future, then we must ensure that education reform methods are accountable to the right of equal educational opportunity for all. Educating the most vulnerable of our youth is a smart investment in the future majority population and the long-term vitality of our nation.

Ernest Saadiq Morris is a youth rights advocate, civil rights and liberties lawyer, and founding director of the public education and advocacy initiative, Urban Youth Justice. You can follow Urban Youth Justice daily on Facebook and Twitter.

Empowering Our Youth to Do Right, Instead of Daring Them to Do Wrong

Empowering Our Youth to Do Right, Instead of Daring Them to Do Wrong

By Ernest Saadiq Morris, Urban Youth Justice

It is in society’s interest to modify and prevent potentially destructive youth behavior that can harm themselves and their community. A recent report on how Oakland youth are being taught game theory as a way to improve their life decision-making and avoid violence in their community; and a resurgence in “scared straight” youth crime prevention programs brings into focus how differently these programs engage youth for ostensibly the same purpose.

Making the right decision can be difficult when you’re young. But some community organization are working to empower urban youth in Oakland with a more strategic decision-making process to help them transform their lives and their communities.

Strategic thinking teaches and requires the discipline to consider all possible scenarios and rank your priorities before making a decision. Game theory is a method of strategic thinking used as a tool to anticipate the best decision in a scenario by focusing on how the decision-maker’s preferred results are affected by interactions with other competing participants with their own preferred results.

In a zero-sum scenario, a decision-maker assumes there are only limited opportunities and resources available. If getting your own piece of the pie is directly affected by how much is left for you if someone else gets theirs first, your decision is motivated by a desire to be a “have” or fear of being a “have-not” or some combination of both. In an oppressed or disadvantaged community the zero-sum approach is a common life perspective for good reason. It’s hard to imagine a win-win scenario for yourself and your community, when you believe from life experiences that there are not enough good results to go around.

Game theory says that even if opportunities and resources are scarce there are still multiple scenarios and multiple options that lead to an informed decision. Teaching youth to analyze all of their options –instead of relying just on instinct, fear, or stereotypes– should lead to better decisions as individuals and ultimately for the community as a whole.

In stark contrast is the recent revival of juvenile justice “Scared Straight” programs –made popular in the 1970s and 1980s –that has even resulted in a new reality show, “Beyond Scared Straight,” on the A&E channel, as reported in Youth Today.

The idea of government-sanctioned abuse of youth by felons as entertainment should be widely accepted as bad idea. But even more so when researchers have already discredited “scared straight” programs as ineffective at youth crime prevention and rehabilitation. According to recent research by the Campbell Collaboration, as cited in Youth Today:

The analyses show the intervention to be more harmful than doing nothing. The program effect, whether assuming a fixed or random effects model, was nearly identical and negative in direction, regardless of the meta-analytic strategy.

“Scared straight” programs are similar to juvenile justice policies that lock up youth offenders in adult jails or house nonviolent youth offenders with violent youth –in that they actually increase the likelihood of future, more serious crimes. Furthermore, “scared straight” programs have the dubious distinction of relying on the purposeful infliction of emotional distress upon youth participants by violent career criminals that intimidate and threaten their well-being.

Indeed, in an unusual move, two U.S. Department of Justice officials authored an op-ed detailing these concerns and criticizing “scared straight” programs as ineffective and traumatizing.

The DOJ authors summarized the Campbell Collaboration research findings that youth exposed to scared straight programs were more likely to offend, but also shockingly detailed findings that multiple youth participants reported being robbed of their personal belongings, as well as receiving sexual advances from inmates while in the program.

In light of this evidence, the U.S. Department of Justice discourages the funding of scared straight-type programs. States that operate such programs could have their federal funding reduced if shown not to have complied with the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act.

Contrasting these two juvenile justice outreach programs illustrates that threatening and daring our youth that they aren’t tough enough to survive the consequences of their risky and potentially self-destructive behavior (i.e, prison) –while potentially traumatizing their psychological well-being– is not providing the support and guidance needed to help youth avoid bad choices and risky behavior. Rather, empowering our youth with the skills and tools to assess and navigate risk should improve their decison-making and encourage them to aspire to productive goals, resulting in a better future for our youth and their communities.

* Ernest Saadiq Morris is founding director of the public education and advocacy initiative, Urban Youth Justice; a youth rights advocate/youth empowerment speaker; and civil rights & liberties lawyer. You can follow Urban Youth Justice daily on Facebook and Twitter.

The Zero Tolerance Targeting of Philadelphia’s Black & Latino Youth Exposed

The Zero Tolerance Targeting of Philadelphia’s Black & Latino Youth Exposed

By Ernest Saadiq Morris, Urban Youth Justice Initiative

The Advancement Project partnered with Youth United for Change and the Education Law Center to release a (January 2011) joint report, Zero Tolerance in Philadelphia: Denying Educational Opportunities and Creating a Pathway to Prison. The report explains how the Philadelphia Schools’ systematic Pushout of Black and Latino students has reached genuine crisis levels by widespread, discriminatory use of zero tolerance discipline. In September 2010, a Philadelphia Schools task force found that low graduation rates of Black(45%) and Latino boys(43%) were tied to their personal feelings of being pushed out and disrespected by zero tolerance policies and class methods. The Advancement Project report further details how harsh zero tolerance discipline relying primarily on school removal (i.e., suspensions, expulsions and disciplinary transfers to alternative schools) is applied to Black and Latino youth at a rate far higher than their white peers for the same behavior, contributing to their academic achievement gap and low graduation rates. The report also connects the dots between the targeting of Philadelphia’s Black and Latino youth with harsh zero tolerance discipline and resulting disproportionate school-based arrests and referrals to law enforcement of these youth of color. First, the report indicates the armed camp approach taken by Philadelphia Schools:

To put Philadelphia’s school security force in perspective, the number of school police, resource, and security officers per student is over ten times higher in the District than it is in the rest of the state.

It is the reliance of zero tolerance discipline upon the heavy hand of law enforcement and, ultimately, the court system that results in a school environment that resembles a police state. As the report explains further:

[S]chools have increasingly delegated school disciplinary responsibilities to law enforcement personnel.[] Thus, school-based officers are frequently made aware of student behaviors that they likely would not have known about if they were not present in the school. Because criminal laws are so vague (for example, offenses like “disorderly conduct” encompass a huge range of conduct, and “assaults” can include even the most trivial skirmishes between elementary school students), students are routinely arrested for the same behavior that was treated much more leniently and effectively prior to the rise in law enforcement presence within schools.[]

This resulting increase in school-based contacts between youth and police disproportionately impacts Black and Latino youth, thus leading to their disproportionate contacts with the juvenile/criminal justice system and disproportionate incarceration rate. Just as Michelle Alexander cautioned in her book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, that:

The impact of the new caste system is most tragically felt among the young. In Chicago (as in other cities across the United States), young black men are more likely to go to prison than to college.[] … The young men who go to prison rather than college face a lifetime of closed doors, discrimination, and ostracism. …. Sadly, like the racial caste systems that preceded it, the system of mass incarceration now seems normal and natural to most, a regrettable necessity.

This report demonstrates how Philadelphia Schools, like so many urban school districts, are a willing partner in the mass incarceration of Black and Latino youth and should be held accountable by all community stakeholders.

Ernest Saadiq Morris is founding director of the public education and advocacy initiative, Urban Youth Justice; a youth rights advocate/ youth empowerment speaker; and civil rights & liberties lawyer. You can follow Urban Youth Justice daily on Facebook and Twitter.

The False Promise of Color-Blind & Disability-Free Education Reform

Published on Dignity In Schools (http://www.dignityinschools.org)

http://www.dignityinschools.org/content/false-promise-color-blind-disability-free-education-reform

The False Promise of Color-Blind & Disability-Free Education Reform
By Ernest Saadiq Morris, Urban Youth Justice Initiative

The public debate over education reform reached a crescendo in 2010. This debate was dominated by a media-celebrated corporate education-reformer class consisting predominately of white male alumni of privileged secondary schools and universities. Their brand of education reform is focused on high stakes, standardized tests and the promotion of private charter schools. After all, their background of cultural and educational experiences is most favored by the standardized tests upon which these same privileged academic institutions placed a high premium. It is what they know, but it is the wrong prescription for those urban youth of color most at risk of harm from failed public education experiments.

It is well-documented that there is an academic achievement gap for Black males (and other youth of color) as evidenced by lower standardized test scores and graduation rates. Factors such as the proliferation of zero tolerance discipline policies, high stakes standardized testing, disproportionate special education placement, and unequal school funding have discriminatory impacts upon urban youth of color and youth with disabilities and perpetuate educational inequities.

Furthermore, in our nation’s largest urban school districts poverty tracks race. Yet in How to Fix our Schools: A Manifesto, the celebrities of urban corporate education reform, including Michelle Rhee(D.C.), Joel Klein(New York City) and Paul Vallas(New Orleans), loftily declared:

the single most important factor determining whether students succeed in school is not the color of their skin or their ZIP code or even their parents’ income — it is the quality of their teacher.

Then they set forth how standardized testing and the proliferation of charters are the magic cure-all to improve student and teacher performance, as well as the education system overall.

The fact that sixteen urban school district chiefs refused to address poverty, race, or disability inequities as integral to their education reform manifesto is a heinous omission.

As a result of this blind-eye approach, many youth of color won’t have access to a reform agenda concentrated in charter schools. Worse, the proliferation of charters undermines their right to equal educational opportunity by taking from limited public funds while serving a smaller, less diverse student population than truly public schools. This issue arose recently when the Los Angeles Unified School District was literally forced to give local charter schools a larger cut of its special education budget because they would lose even more funds if charter schools carried out their threat to contract out special education services for which they currently pay the District. As a result of this compromise deal, the District’s traditional public schools will receive less money while continuing to serve more special education students. Indeed, the Los Angeles Times noted that the Unified District’s numbers show about 12% of students district-wide are classified as special needs, yet charter schools only offer special education services to about 6% of their students.

The chronic underserving, or outright exclusion, of special needs youth by charters claiming they are not equipped to handle their needs is a persistent national problem. In October 2010, the special education inequities were so dire in New Orleans that the Southern Poverty Law Center and other advocacy groups filed a lawsuit contending that due to widespread discrimination students with special needs were denied an appropriate education by the majority-charter school New Orleans Recovery School District either denying their enrollment due to their disability or forcing them to attend schools ill-equipped to accommodate their disabilities.

In an ongoing Philadelphia area lawsuit, Blunt et al v. Lower Merion School District, parents of African-American students say they were systematically denied an education equal of their Caucasian classmates due to disproportionate special education placement and lower level curriculum tracking of Black students.

Likewise, high stakes standardized testing has a disproportionately negative effect on Black and Latino students, as well as special needs youth. In 2010, the Advancement Project’s report Test, Punish, and Push Out: How Zero Tolerance and High-Stakes Testing Funnel Youth into the School to Prison Pipeline examined how high stakes standardized testing works with zero tolerance discipline policies to pushout youth of color, especially those from a low income background:

[T]oo many children continue to be labeled academic failures even though they are making progress. These students are shamed by their peers, their teachers, and their communities because of the impact, their test results can have on school assessment.

Additionally, the results from standardized tests are often used to retain students in grade. Yet grade retention has been shown to be the single largest predictor of student dropout. Unless accompanied by targeted and intensive supports and interventions, student retention fails to produce academic gains for the retained students and makes it more likely that the students will experience future behavioral problems.

High stakes testing does not address or alleviate academic achievement disparity rather it stigmatizes it and eventually leads to high pushout/dropout rates. Thereby high stakes testing perpetuates the achievement gap stigma of youth of color and exacerbates their educational disenfranchisement, instead of alleviating it through academic interventions and supports. Once driven to dropout these youth of color and youth with disabilities officially became part of a growing invisible class.

Color-blind and disability-free public education reform is a dangerously exclusionary vision of public education in the image of the elitist academic and cultural backgrounds of the corporate education-reformer class. Equal educational opportunity is a fundamental right of all youth, and its systematic denial is no less than a crime–especially given the historical educational inequities of youth of color and youth with disabilities. Attrition by pushout or dropout of our most at risk youth is merely continuation of the unacceptable status quo that can not justify the redirecting of limited public funds to private hands nor the undermining of every student’s sacred right to equal educational opportunity. It is an illusion of progress and false promise of real reform. Good intentions are not an excuse.

Putting the Sacrifice of Black Youth for the “Greater Good” on Trial

This week in the Philadelphia area it was reported that a federal lawsuit against the Lower Merion School District on behalf of African-American students and their parents would go to trial in November 2011. The case seeks to put an end to disproportionate special education placement and inferior education tracking of Black youth by the Lower Merion District.

As the article states, the case was originally filed as a class action on behalf of

“”all present and future African American students” in the district who, “because of defendants’ acts and omissions . . . are denied access to the general education curriculum; are placed in below-grade-level classes; receive a modified curriculum; and/or are sent to separate, segregated schools which provides them with an education inferior to that provided their Caucasian peers.”

The No Child Left Behind Act placed such emphasis on standardized test scores as a measure of school performance that it can affect federal funding and oversight. As a result, the disproportionate special education placement or inferior education tracking of Black Youth became a larger problem.

Special education warehousing acts to insulate school achievement indicators such as school test scores and graduation rates from “problem students” that may simply be behind due to a previous lack of educational opportunity or intervention. It is these students whose educational rights are sacrificed for a greater good of chasing overall school performance measurables.

Although the judge has decided the case won’t go to trial as a class action because of the uniqueness of the individual claims, it is still encouraging that this far too common education practice may finally be put on trial.

School districts should be put on notice that the sacrifice of Black youth for the greater good can no longer be accepted as business as usual. ~Ernest Saadiq Morris

Featured Links (1/2/11 – 1/8/11)

(Philadelphia metro area) Trial set for lawsuit against School District’s disproportionate Special Ed placement/inferior education tracking of Black students.

American Schools as ‘Punishment Laboratories’

North Carolina A&T State University – Institute for Advanced Journalism Studies: Report: The Black-White Achievement Gap