I’m re-posting a comment from charter school director Carolyn Sharette here, in hopes that her stinging words will reach more readers . . . and touch more consciences.
She’s responding to my blog reports that the great majority of states, including Utah, have asked for and won federal government approval to set lower educational standards for minority kids.
In her comments, Ms. Sharette mentions that some schools – and yes, most are charters – have beaten the odds and helped these same minority kids achieve results that suburban school districts would envy. If you want to see some evidence, check out this op-ed from Friday’s Wall Street Journal:
New York City recently released official progress reports for the city’s 1,230 schools, including measures of how each school compares with other schools that have similar students. The reports provide yet more proof that charter schools—which outperformed traditional public schools by a wide margin—are working. Eight of the top 11 elementary and middle schools by student performance are charters, and four of those charters are in Harlem.
Here’s Carolyn Sharette’s comment:
I have waited a couple of weeks to opine about the development of setting different benchmarks for different ethnicities because it is breathtakingly awful, wrongheaded and shocking. Having such an emotional response, I realized I needed to take some time to ponder and listen to advocates of such a racist policy. I have read the reports out of Florida, listened to the justifications by legislators and school chiefs, and have tried and tried to open my mind to this idea – to no avail.
It is simply wrong on a moral and ethical basis to separate out subgroups and set different standards. If there were some benefit to it – some value – that would create a “means justifying the ends” perhaps it would be worth the terrible damage it does. Alas, there is no such value to simply wrongheaded thinking.
From my viewpoint, NCLB provided a way for us to SEE that subgroups were being left behind at greater rates than others. This was VERY valuable, as it forced us, as a nation, to see what was happening and face it. Some amazing educators got busy, opening charter schools in inner cities and trying to learn what the best practices were for the populations suffering the achievement gap. Pockets of mainstream public schools also made some significant progress. What should have happened: their successes and failures should have been studied from a data-intensive view. Variables should have been studied. Dissemination of effective programs and practices to other schools with strong implementation and management support, and directives if necessary, should have been the next step.
What really happened? Great work was done. Some schools have learned how to close the achievement gap. Instead of being studied and copied, they are marginalized, criticized, and shut out with ridiculous excuses like “well, charters cream students” or “they have more money” or any one of multiple useless excuses that allow people to ignore the only important factors- WHAT are they teaching, WHEN are they teaching it, and HOW are they teaching kids to mastery?
So, we have a decade of answers, all being ignored by the mainstream education world. Minority kids are failing and dropping out in great, tragic numbers. What is their latest and greatest idea? LOWER THE EXPECTATIONS for minority kids. WHAT???
Their justification: NCLB required 100%. It was not “realistic”. Lowering it to a more “realistic” number will do exactly what? Suddenly produce the curriculum and pedagogy and expertise in schools that will get them to the standard? In this new approach, they are implying that it was the 100% that was holding them back from doing the right thing for kids. Ridiculous. And very harmful to our kids to have different standards depending upon their race. And, may I add, very harmful for teachers as well.
The problem is the same it has been for 10 years and the answer is VERY simple. If a school has the will and the expertise, it can teach kids to mastery. We know this. If it doesn’t, it can’t. We MUST focus on those 2 things – will and expertise. First, we determine which they lack (perhaps both) and then address it.
The expertise exists as demonstrated in many successful at-risk schools nationwide. Under-performing schools must be forced to adopt successful programs and methods (expertise) and change their will if need be.
Thinking that changing the standard will somehow make any positive difference is just one more distraction from doing what must be done: at this point it is clear that some (many) schools must be forced to teach students to mastery, using proven programs and practices. Until that occurs, everything else is just an exercise in futility.
This particular distraction of lowering standards depending upon race, however, is actually harmful and nonsensical – not to mention racist and should be protested by citizens everywhere.