Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Race and Education, Part 8 Million

Is it "racist" for the school principal to meet with the black students prior to state testing, and to tell them that they score lower than their white peers, presumably to motivate them to do better? If it's not racist, is it just dumb?

Or is it neither? We know that American blacks, as a group, underperform compared to their white counterparts; are we not allowed to tell them that?

Perhaps one way not to have to worry about this is just to reclassify the students as white. That's right, just find the ones that are mixed race and ask their parents to reclassify them. If the school doesn't have enough students in a particular subgroup, that subgroups scores don't have to be identified--and if it's a traditionally low-performing subgroup, that subgroup will no longer count against the school if it doesn't perform well! Oh, the individual scores will count in the school's tally, but the subgroup won't officially "exist" at the school and hence cannot be broken out.

Why is this important? Because the No Child Left Behind Act states that if a particular (racial or socioeconomic) subgroup doesn't meet improvement goals, then the school is considered a failing school. No group, no failure.

This is one of those times where I need some assistance from my readers. I might be holding contradictory viewpoints here, and I could use some clarity. In general, I don't like racial classifications. I don't think skin color matters in education, or in matters before the law. However, certain groups of students consistently don't do well on standardized tests, and those groups are those with black or brown skin. Yes, culture has much to do with that gap, but even affluent black students don't score near as high as affluent white kids in the same neighborhood. In wanting to make sure we don't let these same kids fall through the cracks--in order to make sure they're not left behind by having their scores lost in the school average--I support breaking school scoring data down by subgroup.

So in general I don't like these (racial) subgroups, but I like the idea of using them to identify where we in the education business aren't doing as well as we can with certain kids. Am I being contradictory here? If not, can you explain to me how I'm not? And if I am, can you explain how I might modify my beliefs--keeping in mind that racial colorblindness is one of my bedrock beliefs--in order to ensure that schools continue to shine a light on students, whether as groups or as individuals, who don't perform as well as they could or should?

I genuinely want to reconcile these beliefs into a consistent framework.

11 comments:

Ronnie said...

I thought parent's income and education level were the most highly correlative breakdowns with standardized test scores. I personally think people should adopt your racial colorblindness and not separate scores by race. It's obvious that certain races will have lower scores due to certain races also being more likely to be economically and academically disadvantaged. I believe better breakdowns on family members' employment, income, and education would be much more relevant than race ever could be.

Eric W. said...

I don't think race should matter in STAR testing. Help boost the kids who don't do well on their tests, regardless of race. I always choose "decline to state," because I don't want someone to think that if I did well on my tests, it's because I'm white. If I do well, it's because I've had good teachers and have put the time and effort into learning the material. Positive discrimination is still discrimination.

Chrisknits said...

I don't feel your thoughts are at odds. You firmly believe identity politics is wrong. I would prefer they not be separated by race. Each score should be dealt with on an individual basis. You cannot effectively teach to a "group", so why identify them as a group. Treat the individual, not the race.

Ellen K said...

This week, due to testing, we are in a frenzy of anxiety. You see our formerly high achieving campus absorbed a large number of Hispanic students from a low income area. The stated purpose was to balance the ethnicity of the campus, but the real reasons were that the numbers were dragging down their previous school's rating, which was already in peril. So we have pulled out the stops and made all kinds of tutoring and enrichment available. One problem, hardly anyone came. And top that off with many of these same kids have been absent all this week seeking to avoid testing. One kid who was there told me that another kid had informed his mother that there was no school this week. Fun stuff in most cases. Sadly, we missed exemplary by four kids in a demographic. If they had each answered two more questions correctly, it would have been a different story. Of course this year, EVERYONE TESTS. So we will have kids that are four years behind level testing on level. So it's not gonna be pretty. Testing, like statistic everyone, can say pretty much whatever you want them to say.

erica said...

I'd say forget the racial component. If a standard and method of measurement have been set, they need to be abided by or dissolved at the source. The schools above are just trying to cheat, which I have little respect for.

I agree with you though that it is useful to know which subgroups may be doing better/worse, but I think Ronnie up there has it with dividing by socioeconomic status rather than race.

Chanman said...

The problem Ronnie is that even in affluent areas, rich black kids score lower than poor white and asian kids.

Also, in the test score breakdowns, there is a category for low socioeconomic students.

As for your dilemma Darren, I am equally torn. If anything, the data are necessary in order to squelch misinformation and misunderstandings from the inevitable complaints about inequity. Think of the case in St. Louis where some judge (yes, a judge!) raised local taxes so that a billion dollars could be lavished on the local school system. These low-performing minority students got Taj Mahal schools with all the bells and whistles.

Test scores went down.

Those breakdowns of scores were essential in proving that the common argument of throwing more money at the situation was and is a bunch of hooey.

dzbuddy said...

I don't think a nation founded on the belief that "all men are created equal" has any business noticing the differences. The outcome of noticing the differences legally is never good whether it's Jim Crow laws or affirmative action.

There are extra-governmental organizations based on the differences between people, NAACP for instance, let them deal with the results of the differences. Extra-governmental organizations don't have the force of government behind them to use the differences as an excuse to advantage one group over another.

Ellen K said...

According to Rev. Wright's recent diatribe, African American kids don't learn like white kids. So I guess that means they can't be tested the same way or held to the same standards. Wouldn't that be considered a racist statement if someone other than an African American said it?

Lillian said...

Darren,
Ethnicity identification is so passe'. It's probably been outdated since slavery ended, and I feel it has been a stumbling block to any post-slavery healing progress in our country and certainly among our citizens - since the end of slavery. Ethnicity (i.e., the one-drop rule) was necessary to keep the slave numbers up, especially with so many slaves and slave descendants 'passing' for white during that time. BUT WE REALLY DON'T NEED IT ANY LONGER!
Of all the wonderful reasons I have to support this idea (or potential legislation), I must thank you for adding one more. It's a fresh idea, and excellent reason, and one that 'can't hoit'.
After all, it's not No Black Child Left Behind, or No English Learner Left Behind...but rather it's No Child - and that can be any child...not a group based on one's skin color, or even based on language.
We are ALL Americans. We will never function as Americans - in the education realm, or outside - until we end the Mass Hyphenation of our citizens.
If we really want CHANGE...let's start there.
This is brilliant...and wise.

Warm regards from a FORMER African-American, Black, Afro-American, Negro, Colored teacher (A Chicago Southside Refugee).

Ellen K said...

Amen. It's time for all kids to be held up and all parents to make that happen.

Anonymous said...

Actually, the best solution would be to have everyone reclassify them selves as a non - Asian minority . . .almost all of us probably have SOME minority blood in us, and a little family tree research would really screw with the test statistics.

And no, I don't think it racist to point out facts to racial groups.

Dan