Wednesday, April 13, 2005

States' rights or racism? (A closer look at Utah)

Here's an in depth look into the controversy over NCLB in Utah from the alternative news weekly in Salt Lake City. The highlights:

Three years ago, Michael Clara blew the whistle on the Salt Lake City School District for what he calls “warehousing,” rather than educating, Hispanic students. He believes it took the subsequent investigation by the U.S. Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights to ensure Hispanic students got a shot at an equal education then, and said there is no reason to think the state has improved so much that it no longer needs the watchful eye of the federal government.

Turning off the federal spotlight on the state of education of Hispanic schoolchildren is essentially what Utah education officials would accomplish with a current proposal to replace federal No Child Left Behind guidelines with a new state system, Clara said.

... Clara compares the battle to ensure an education for Utah’s Hispanics to the school desegregation fights of the 1950s and ’60s. Utah lawmakers aren’t yet standing in front of the schoolhouse door to block federal marshals, but to some, opposition to President Bush’s No Child Left Behind law looks less like a fight for state’s rights and more like old-fashioned racism.

“We need federal intervention,” said Clara, who said he and other advocates last year raised their concerns with the state superintendent of public instruction and were assured students who spoke Spanish at home would be included in the state’s proposed substitute for No Child Left Behind. State education officials “lied to us,” he said.

This is something we that oppose NCLB must deal with: There are racists in positions of power out there that will write off Blacks and Hispanics if they're allowed to do so. Of course, saying that giving more tests to minority kids will solve their problems is like saying adding up my money will make me rich. Unfortunately, neither is true.

But the point remains, and it's a point I've made consistently in the past: We should not -- if we are to be truly principled people and not just take positions that are convenient to the current situation -- take up the cause of states' rights.

More from the article:

Those concerned about Utah’s proposal say if schools aren’t held responsible for education of minorities, the incentive to improve their education will go away.

State Rep. Duane Bourdeaux, D-Salt Lake City, who is fighting the proposed changes, said the state has a problem when it comes to educating minority students and, at present, there is no plan to rectify that. To Bourdeaux, the proposed changes look like giving up. “There is a perception out there, talking to different people, that these kids are not capable,” he said

Gonzalo Palza, a member of Gov. Jon Huntsman’s Hispanic Advisory Committee, agrees No Child Left Behind’s mechanism for tracking progress of minorities should be retained in Utah, but he said much more is needed to tackle the problem of Hispanic education, which he calls a looming crisis for the state.

Palza notes Hispanics now account for a majority of enrollment growth in Utah’s schools and that, last year, less than half of Hispanic students scored as “proficient” in the Utah tests of math and language arts used to comply with the No Child Left Behind law. Less than 30 percent passed a basic science skills test.

“Whenever 10 percent of any enrolled population is failing at a rate of 50 to 60 percent, the system has a problem, particularly when that portion is the most dynamic demographically,” Palza said. He noted the birth rate among Utah Hispanics is on a rapid curve, even when compared against Utah’s traditionally high birth rate. “The demographic pressures are so powerful that if we’re not looking at this with a strategic eye it’s going to be too late.”

Palza said education has risen to the top of the governor’s council’s list of items to be fleshed out for recommendations to Huntsman.

He suggests new incentives for teachers to be trained in teaching English as a second language or to learn Spanish, charter schools that concentrate on the Hispanic population and more programs in which students take classes in both Spanish and English.

Now we're getting somewhere. Tests are fine, but by themselves they won't do anything. Well constructed tests can point to the problems, but they can't fix them. And this is the ultimate weakness of No Child Left Behind: The Bushies have sunk all the extra money (and a lot of the states' money, too) into testing and they've left very little to encourage innovation and improvement of curricular and instructional programs.

Without the investment for that, NCLB will most certainly fail.


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