When Nikki Haley, the Governor of South Carolina, changed her mind and took back her long-held support for the flying of the Confederate flag, she said that she did so because she didn’t know how she could explain the flag’s presence to her young children. After the deaths in the church in Charleston, Nikki Haley must have looked at the flag and seen something different. She must have seen racism.
Let us in Connecticut, the state with the greatest income difference between the very wealthy and the impoverished and the largest achievement gap among our K-12 students, look anew at what we, as a state, have been supporting. Let us see if we missed the racism underlying it all.
If education in Connecticut is not marked by racism, why do affluent, suburban, largely white students have an education that is of a much higher quality than the education provided in the urban areas where most black students attend school?
The suburban students read whole works of literature and ask their own questions about that literature and about how that literature connects to their own lives. They collaborate with one another in class discussions and explore diverse perspectives as they analyze texts, evaluate ideas, and problem solve. They write essays not just to support claims but also to explore questions for which there are no ready answers and to explain the evolution of their thinking as they read and discuss a work of literature.
Black students in our cities, howeve, do test prep because their schools are under pressure to improve standardized test scores. Those students read only excerpts from literary texts. They practice answering multiple-choice questions instead of posing their own questions, and they write only formulaic essays to prove claims about topics not of their own choosing but ones on sample standardized tests.
The suburban, largely white students develop capabilities that will serve them well in their future. The urban, largely black students learn to see school as a place to be compliant and passive.
If education in Connecticut is not racist, why do we use standardized tests as the measure of achievement?
All standardized tests are correlated with the incomes of the test-takers. In addition, the Common Core-aligned tests, such as the SBAC tests that Connecticut uses, have no validity in terms of predicting success in college or careers. The tests also are not rigorous but, instead, have been designed and constructed so that 70% of high school students taking the math SBAC test will fail it and 60% of the high school students taking the English SBAC test will fail it. When the Governor and the Commissioner of Education set those failing rates, prior to the administering of the test at 70% and 60%, they knew that the majority of those students who will be labeled as failures will be poor and black. They also knew that the “failing” was artificial and communicated very little about actual achievement. As a state, we spend millions on this useless exercise of standardized testing which further stratifies our akready stratified state.
If education in Connecticut is not marked by racism, why is school structure different for suburban whites and inner city blacks?
Those in the suburbs are enfranchised to make decisions about their public schools- to elect school boards which write policies, formulate budgets, set priorities, and inaugurate programs for ALL students in their community. On the other hand, blacks in the cities are told through the actions of the Governor and the acquiescence of the General Assembly that almost all of their students must remain “trapped in failing schools” except for a few who will be saved from themselves by the actions of wealthy, white entrepreneurs who will set up profit-making charter schoools. No suburban community is asked to accept that just a few of its chidren will be adequately educated.
These charter schools are staffed by transient, inexperienced teachers, keep only those students who do not have special needs and are already proficient in English, foster increased racial segregation, and have no greater record of success than the traditional public schools that have been labeled as “failing”. The charter school entrepreneurs are like Harold Hill of The Music Man. Harold Hill convinced the citizens of River City that, first of all, their children were in peril and, secondly, that their children could be saved only by being in a marching band, for which, of course, he would sell them the instruments. Charter school entrepreneurs , like Harold Hill, treat parents of inner-city chidren as gullible, uneducated, and easily manipulated. No entrepreneurs seek to open charter schools in the suburbs.
John Dewey said, “What the wisest and best parent wants for his own chidren, that must the community want for all its children.” We in Connecticut, however, do not do that. The wisest and the best parents, or at least the wealthiest and those with the most options, choose either elite private schools, none of which use the Commmon Core or the accompanying standardized tests and all of which have experienced teachers, or they choose public schools committed to educating all students with a broader, deeper curriculum than the limited Commmon Core. Those in political power in Connecticut must see the black children of our inner cities as ” other” and “less than” because their education is not the same education as the one that people of privilege give to their own children.
We, like South Carolina , must look at what we have supported in the past through the lens of what happened in that Charleston church. We must take down the Connecticut flag of separate AND unequal education. We must see the racism in our flag.
We must equitably educate ALL of our children.