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"Unlearning racism" but not closing the racial learning gap   |   Re: "unlearning racism," but not closing the gap

Re: "unlearning racism," but not closing the gap
Subj:      Re: [Mpls]  "Unlearning racism, " but not closing the racial learning gap
Date:     5/28/2004 10:10:09 AM Central Daylight Time

In a message dated 5/27/2004 10:18:28 AM Central Daylight Time, Ken Jorissen writes:

<< Are you contending that racism is the cause? I can see it as a motivating factor, but I don't see how racism itself could directly cause "the huge racial learning gap." Could you please state what you think the direct causes are and then tie them back to being racially motivated? >>

I am not contending that racism, understood as the belief that one race is superior to another, by itself, is the cause of the racial learning gap or necessarily the motivating factor for everyone who supports a racist status quo in the schools. Maintaining a big racial learning gap, however, helps to reinforce the belief that one race is superior to another.

On the other hand, I have heard people say they are not racist or are racists unlearning racism who also say that the racial learning gap is a reflection average differences in academic ability between races, and that there is not
much that the schools can do about it. And if you don't think something can be done, why waste the time and effort trying? That's just a matter of being "realistic." That was the basic idea expressed in nearly all of the letters-to-the-editor that I saw in the Star-Tribune in the fall of 1997 concerning a proposal by the state board of education that would have required schools to monitor the racial learning gap and to come up with plans to close that gap. A
majority of the legislators were so outraged by that proposal, and by those paragons of political correctness on the state board of education that they voted to abolish the state board of education.   

[Doug Mann] Is it just a coincidence that the racial learning gap has steadily widened since the 1980s?   

Ken Jorissen writes: "I don't know, is it? Can you have please cite evidence to support the statement made in this rhetorical question? One step back: are you stating that theschool reforms of the Reagan-Bush administration caused the racial learning gap to widen? Can you point to any specific policies that would have caused this?"

In my post I cited a conclusion made by a team from the Sandia National Laboratories that was commissioned by the first Bush administration (1989-1993) to analyze educational data from the 1970s and 80s. (The Sandia Report). For
example the difference between black and white 13 year olds in average math and reading scores on National Assessment of Educational Progress exams between black and white 13 year olds declined from 1971 until the mid-to late 1980s.

Because the federal government has required school districts to monitor the racial test score gap since the late 1960s, everybody that was paying attention back in the early 1980s knew that progress had been made toward the goal of closing the racial learning gap. A Nation at Risk (A 1983 report by experts selected by the Reagan Bush administration concerning the status of the public school system) warned of "a rising tide of mediocrity." In other words, to a significant degree, the test score gap was being closed at the expense of high achievers. However, no evidence was offered to back up that contention.  The Sandia report not only concluded that the test score gap was being closed during the 1970s and 80s, it also found no evidence of a rising tide of mediocrity.

The "reforms" undertaken by the administrations of Reagan and Bush the elder, and continued by Clinton and G.W. Bush are based on the false premise that the gap was being closed at the expense of high achievers during the 1970s and early 80s. The nature of the reforms can be judged by the fruit that they bare.

The education reform agendas of Reagan, Bush, Clinton, and Bush include the promotion of ability-grouping and curriculum tracking, which produces a bigger test score gap. Supporters of the ability-grouping model generally say that ability-grouping practices help the 'high ability' learners more than the 'low-ability' learners, but usually do not produce inferior results for the designated low-ability learners than other approaches to teaching. Many educators
disagree. I recommend a book on this subject entitled "Keeping Track: How schools structure inequality" by Jeannie Oakes, which "...shows how tracking -- the system of grouping students for instruction on the basis of ability -- reflects the class and racial inequalities of American society and helps to perpetuate them. Keeping Track was selected as one of the ten "MUST READ" books of 1985 by the American School Board Journal. (from the book cover).

There is evidence that teacher expertise matters a lot, and that differences in average test scores between schools and academic tracks might be explained, to a large degree, as a reflection of differences in the average level of
teacher expertise between schools and academic tracks. "In an analysis of 900 Texas school districts, Ronald Ferguson found that teachers' expertise-as measured by scores on a licensing examination, master's degrees, &
experience-accounted for about 40% of the measured variance in students' reading and mathematics achievement at grades 1 through 11..." -Nov. 1997 "Doing What matters Most: Investing in Quality Teaching,"  by Linda Darling-Hammond,  Prepared for the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future.

In my opinion, progress toward closing the racial learning gap during the 1970s was, to a large degree, a byproduct of the implementation of school desegregation plans following the US Supreme Court decision in Green v. County School Board of New Kent County, 391 US 430 (1968)

"...The Green case challenged 'freedom of choice' plans that had been implemented by school districts throughout the South. Such plans gave [a limited number of] students the option of transferring from a black to a white school...In
Green, the Supreme Court ruled that schools must dismantle "root and branch" and that desegregation must be achieved with respect to facilities, staff, faculty, extracurricular activities, and transportation. Subsequently, courts
used these 'Green factors' as a guide in crafting desegregation plans." -- Dismantling Desegregation: The quiet reversal of Brown v. Board of Education, by Gary Orfield, Susan E. Eaton and The Harvard Project on School Desegregation, page xxi - xxii

-Doug Mann, King Field
Minneapolis School Board candidate