OPINION: Standards can't make separate equal
Yesterday an advocate of high academic standards and school accountability was sworn in as New York
Yet, as Steiner takes office my colleagues and I are releasing a study of five
We observed many of the well-measured "harms of segregation" - especially the inability of poor, mostly black and Hispanic school districts to hire and retain the most qualified educators.
But we also learned that when state standards and tests interact with the inequality of schools and communities, the great equalizing effect supposedly exerted via the accountability system - teaching all students to high standards - simply never occurs. Educators, parents and students alike confirmed that despite the standards, state exams and a statewide definition of "proficiency," there is very little consistency across these five districts in the quality of education students are receiving.
In the poor school district the standards and tests are the ceiling for student achievement - the illusive goal schools strive toward but cannot reach despite boring lessons designed to drill the students on the basic concepts. In the affluent district, meanwhile, the state tests and standards are the floor, taken for granted as students, parents and counselors stress out about advanced placement classes and Ivy League college applications.
These discrepancies have less to do with state mandates than they do with local inequalities that manifest themselves in disparate educational support systems, at school and at home, available to students, as well as critical differences in educators' expectations of their students, the students' sense of their academic identity, and the communities' understanding of their educational rights. Each of these is, in turn, related to the districts' concentration of racial minorities and affluence.
Our up-close look at inequality on
The good news is that others in the policy world are acknowledging the need for change. In a speech last week, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan cited Martin Luther King Jr.'s frustration with the lack of racial integration in public schools by 1963, nine years after the Supreme Court's Brown decision, when most minorities were still isolated in their own classrooms. According to
Still, no one,
But there are countless ways to tweak existing school choice policies, including charter school laws, to provide greater support for educators and communities that want racially diverse schools. Other recommendations include inter-district transfer programs and magnet schools that allow students to cross boundaries.
Still another, more politically contentious, option is to consolidate some of
Amy Stuart Wells is a professor of sociology and education and the director of the Center for Understanding Race and Education (CURE) at Teachers College, Columbia University.
Published Friday, Oct. 2, 2009