Success Still Hinges on the Student’s Life Outside of School

test, pencils, eraser, school,

How many failures will it take before we allow ourselves to know that societal problems impede education just as a lack of education impedes progress in society? It’s not either/or. It’s both/and.

After all of this…

SAT scores are flat once again after a decade of “no excuses” and “rigor”. Just for perspective, a decade ago was when this year’s seniors were second graders.

After being told by the wealthy 1% like Bill Gates that measurement can accomplish everything, we have now carefully measured the outcome of the test and punish strategy.  It is very clear that “reform” has failed to produce the increases that it promised. The only success in all of this has been the increasing wealth of corporate raiders who wreck public schools for their own profit as they teach total compliance to authority figures above math, reading, and writing.

Earlier in the week reports came out that the SAT scores for this class of 2014 were just as flat as the last several years before. Even Cyndie Schmeiser, the College Board’s chief of assessment referred to the scores as “flat and stagnant”.

David Coleman, the co-leader in developing the Common Core standards, is now the President of The College Board, which gives the SAT, PSAT, and the Advanced Placement exams. In response he called for yet more rigor saying, “Offering the same old test in the face of lasting problems is just not good enough.”

But far and away the most sobering aspect of this new report is the performance of various minorities and people who come from lower income brackets. After much hoop-lah from the College Board years ago about making the AP classroom more friendly to poor and minority students, the scores for those groups are still shockingly low.

According to a College Board press release on October 7th, “Only 42.6 % of SAT takers in the class of 2014 met the SAT College and Career Readiness Benchmark.”

The report adds this sobering set of statistics about minority student performance.

“This readiness challenge remains especially acute among underrepresented minority students:

  • 15.8% of African American SAT takers met the benchmark.
  • 23.4% of Hispanic SAT takers met the benchmark.
  • 33.5% of Native American SAT takers met the benchmark.

These numbers are also stagnant when compared to last year’s readiness percentages.”

Why hasn’t “rigor/no-excuses” worked?

The last 10 years has taught us that “high expectations” and “no excuses” is not enough for the poorest and most broken. It’s not even enough for most students from relatively middle-class backgrounds.

Results of testing have shown us clearly that what happens in the student’s life outside of the classroom has very much to do with their abilities in the classroom. Of course this should never be an excuse for lazy or poor teaching. But to say, as the “reform” movement has, that it has nothing to do with a student’s performance in the short or long term is ludicrous.

Elementary teachers know this intuitively, but also even by observation — Small children are less skilled at masking the damage that they carry to school each day from their life situation. But even in high school, the experienced teacher looks beyond the skillful misbehavior and seeming rebelliousness. They see the damage and how it interferes with their students’ learning.

High expectations for a student’s education are effective only to the extent that the child and parents see the value of them. When high expectations are arbitrary, delivered by people who are remote from the culture of the children, and don’t make sense to the children themselves, then they don’t work. They really don’t work.

White privilege dominates “reform” thinking

School “reform” advocates have too often exercised a particular expression of white privilege when it comes to minority communities by assuming that the prevailing approach of the mostly white suburban schools is “what’s best for kids”. Understand the white privilege base of “reform” and the harsh, rules/obedience models of investor charters is not surprising. But forced compliance isn’t buy-in by anyone’s measure.

As I pointed out in a series of three previous posts total charter takeovers in New Orleans, Detroit, and Newark have resulted in school environments where compliance to the smallest of rules is the true focus and actual learning has taken a back seat. These cities are seeing a school industry that uses poor people to extract as much money from the state and the community as they can, and then if the profits aren’t as high as they expect, they are gone. Oh well.

Charter organizations argue that if states will only stand back and allow them free reign over the education environment, they will help poor and minority students. They argue that then these communities of mostly color and poverty will be much better.

Instead what we actually see are schools controlled by wealthy investors who hire mostly white and upper class administrators. They hire Teach for America teachers who are from white culture and someplace very different from those communities where they are teaching. And so white privilege is applied in the heavy demands to comply with every command – yes, command – of the authorities who run the schools.

Buy-in is everything

A real turn-around in my teaching was when I volunteered to transfer to the alternative school in my district. Once there, I learned the hard way from the most resistant of students that buy-in is everything. And in looking backward over my career, I realized that my best years had been those when I did a better job of knowing my students first, tailoring high expectations to them, but making them a part of that high expectation process. If high expectations don’t make sense, there won’t be buy-in and there won’t be success.

When we teach children of the poor, working poor, or near-poverty middle class their lives matter in their performance. Over a decade of denying that society had anything to do with a child’s performance, the very testing that was meant to show progress has shown the total bankruptcy of “reform” ideas.

Now it is clear, what has been passed off as “reform” is just a lot of churning for the sake of testing companies and investor-owned for-profit charter school operators. They have wrecked public schools for their own profit while claiming to be doing “what’s best for kids”.

It’s time to stand up to them, and many of us are. Join us.