Education’s Fatal Flaw: “[T]he considerable gap”

In my upper-level writing and research course, Scholarly Reading and Writing in Education, students have been practicing critical discourse analysis of how media cover selected issues in education in order to compare that coverage to the research base on that topic.

They have recently submitted initial drafts of the major scholarly essay and are now drafting a public commentary drawn from the same analysis. One student in last evening’s seminar approached me with a question.

She was very concerned that her topic seemed to show a distinct disconnect between education policy and the research base, wondering if that was unique to her topic, and why that failure existed.

Her question came during the workshop time after we had read and discussed a recent public commentary of mine on school safety and the threat of gun violence as a model for their commentaries. I noted that her observation was accurate, and that it was not simply her topic, but common across all of public education—as I noted in my commentary that challenges popular school safety measures not supported by research

Coincidentally, I came across the next morning a Twitter thread about the broader failure in education to embrace progressivism:

While progressivism in education (often linked directly to John Dewey) has been routinely blamed for causing educational failure, as Alfie Kohn has addressed, the reality is that education has failed progressivism:

The rarity of this approach, while discouraging to some of us, is also rather significant with respect to the larger debate about education. If progressive schooling is actually quite uncommon, then it’s hard to blame our problems (real or alleged) on this model. Indeed, the facts have the effect of turning the argument on its head: If students aren’t learning effectively, it may be because of the persistence of traditional beliefs and practices in our nation’s schools.

Kohn’s analysis is a mere decade old, and if anything, his observations have intensified as the U.S. continues to double-down on traditional and technocratic practices such as standards and high-stakes testing.

However, if we look back to 1942, Lou LaBrant exposed the exact same dynamic grounded in a public outcry over low literacy among men enlisted in the military:

Within the past ten years we have made great strides in the teaching of purposeful reading, reading for understanding (the kind of reading, incidentally, which the army and navy want). Nevertheless, we hear many persons saying that the present group of near-illiterates are results of “new methods,” “progressive schools,” or any deviation from the old mechanical procedures. They say we must return to drill and formal reciting from a text book. (p. 240)

However, LaBrant completely discredits the blame:

1. Not many men in the army now have been taught by these newer methods. Those few come for the most part from private or highly privileged schools, are among those who have completed high school or college, and have no difficulty with reading.

2. While so-called “progressive schools may have their limitations, and certainly do allow their pupils to progress at varied rates, above the second grade their pupils consistently show superior ability in reading. Indeed, the most eager critics have complained that these children read everything they can find, and consequently do not concentrate on a few facts. Abundant data now testify to the superior results of purposeful, individualized reading programs.

3. The reading skills required by the military leaders are relatively simple, and cause no problem for normal persons who have remained in school until they are fourteen or fifteen. Unfortunately the large group of non-readers are drop-outs, who have not completed elementary school, come from poorly taught and poorly equipped schools, and actually represent the most conservative and backward teaching in the United States. (pp. 240-241)

Just 5 years later, LaBrant penned what would become a refrain of her six-plus decades as an educator: “A brief consideration will indicate reasons for the considerable gap between the research currently available and the utilization of that research in school programs and methods” (p. 87).

“[T]he considerable gap” between policy/ practice and research has, then, defined public education throughout the twentieth and into the twenty-first centuries.

Again, as I confront about fortifying schools against gun violence and the research base on those so-called safety measures, practices such as grade retention and even corporal punishment [1] remain policy all across the U.S. despite decades of evidence overwhelmingly rejecting their use. Grade retention, for example, has been formally refuted by the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), yet states continue to adopt grade retention based on high-stakes tests for third graders.

As LaBrant challenged decades ago, literacy today is failing students because policy remains anchored to discredited practices and ideologies such as the “word gap,” reading programs, leveled texts, isolated phonics and grammar instruction, and test-prep.

Possibly one of the most troubling examples of this phenomenon is the relentless and bi-partisan obsession with charter schools, especially the abusive practices found in so-called “no excuses” charters. As this review details,

A report, Charter Schools and the Achievement Gap, finds that, though charter schools on average perform no better than traditional public schools, urban “no-excuses” charter schools—which often use intensive discipline to enforce order—demonstrate promising results. It recommends that these schools and their practices be widely replicated within and outside of the charter school sector. We find three major flaws with this conclusion.

This endorsement of “no excuses” charter schools, again, simply ignores the broader research base that cautions against charter schools broadly and “no excuses” practices more specifically.

So, as I answered my student’s insightful question, I noted a few important ways to understand “the considerable gap” between policy/practice and research.

First, educators—unlike doctors and lawyers, for example—have never controlled the field of education. Public education has always been hostage to partisan politics and mind-numbing bureaucracy.

Let me caution here that I am not making a narrow Libertarian swipe at “government” schooling—since we are government—but acknowledging that just as education has failed progressive and critical theory and practice, public institutions have mostly failed the promise of democratic government because of partisan politics and bureaucracy.

Next, and related, the evidence vacuum that exists in the dynamic between political leaders and the public, again, can be witnessed in the school safety debate. Politicians both speak to and perpetuate public misconceptions about fortifying school—the public’s irrational trust in armed police on campuses, surveillance cameras, and metal detectors (all of which have been shown to make schools more dangerous, not safer).

But that same evidence vacuum occurs throughout the adoption and implementation of education policy.

LaBrant’s 1947 unmasking of “the considerable gap” ends with her imploring English teachers and NCTE:

This is not the time for the teacher of any language to follow the line of least resistance, to teach without the fullest possible knowledge of the implications of his medium. Before we, either as individuals or as a Council, experiment with methods of doing specific things or block out a curriculum, let us spend some time with the best scholars in the various fields of language study to discover what they know, what they believe uncertain and in need of study. Let us go to the best sources, and study the answers thoughtfully. (p. 94)

As teachers strike across the U.S. in 2018, let’s us carry LaBrant’s message forward because the only hope that exists for our schools and the students they serve is to close the gap by allowing teachers as professionals to practice our field guided by the evidence too long ignored by the political bureaucracy that has defined public education for more than a century.


[1] The list of ideologies and practices that represent “the considerable gap” is far too long to include in the discussion above, but here are many of the key ones worth recognizing: “grit,” growth mindset, merit pay, VAM, standards, and high-stakes testing. Please refer to the Categories in the right menu for posts related to each of these.

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Segregation Surprise?: How Public and Charter Schools Have (Always) Failed

On social media, I witnessed charter advocates try to justify the exact failures Andre Perry unmasks in his Charter school leaders are complicit with segregation, and it’s hurting their movement, where he concludes:

Make no mistake, segregated schools of the past and present are a result of horrible policy choices that most people are willing to accept. There is a reason that after more than 20 years, the research is mixed on charter schools. Schools in black and brown communities were built on broken foundations — i.e., segregation. By not addressing segregation, reformers are turning off the stove when the house is going up in flames.

Perry was having none of it, the apologists’ dissembling, but was far more patient and willing to engage this nonsense than I.

I also have no energy left to revisit this again, except to point out that finding it surprising that both traditional public schools and charter schools are failing the most vulnerable populations of students—often black, brown, poor, speakers of home languages other than English, and having special needs—requires being willfully ignorant of decades of evidence.

And thus, what the rabid edureformers have willfully ignored for quite some time:

Made in America: Segregation by Design

Segregation and Charter Schools: A Reader

Public School, Charter Choice: More Segregation by Design

Endgame: Disaster Capitalism, New Orleans, and the Charter Scam

Racial segregation returns to US schools, 60 years after the Supreme Court banned it

Education Reform in the New Jim Crow Era

As Perry confronts, edureformers are embodiments of one of the most powerful warnings from James Baldwin:

More Delusional, White People or Charter Advocates?

Since I often share satirical articles from McSweeney’s and The Onion, and some regularly respond oblivious to the satire, I try to buffer my own knee-jerk reaction to headlines; and thus, at first, I suspected this to be yet another scathing parody: Majority Of White Americans Say They Believe Whites Face Discrimination.

Alas, however, this is serious journalism from NPR about an apparently credible poll— leaving me to consider how delusional white people truly are in the U.S.

White people’s beliefs about whites being discriminated against disappear like tears in the rain when placed against the enormous evidence that whites, in fact, benefit from tremendous benefits for that whiteness in the U.S.

Let’s just catalogue a few significant contradictions in these white beliefs.

First, whites are likely strongly swayed by the mainstream media’s obsession with black-on-black crime, which sits beside the failure of mainstream media to cover with the same intensity white-on-white crime and this one basic fact: Crime in the U.S. is mostly within race and black-on-black crime rates (94%) are nearly statistically equal to white-on-white crime rates (86%):

Next, whites reap huge economic benefits compared to black and brown people, even when comparing by race and level of education:

Additionally, whites fair much better than blacks in the judicial system, even when comparing among the same behaviors and despite the claimed advantages of more education:

And possibly most damning of all, the positive impact of affirmative action—the bane of whites—has mostly fallen to white women:

While people of color, individually and as groups, have been helped by affirmative action in the subsequent years, data and studies suggest women — white women in particular — have benefited disproportionately. According to one study, in 1995, 6 million women, the majority of whom were white, had jobs they wouldn’t have otherwise held but for affirmative action.

Another study shows that women made greater gains in employment at companies that do business with the federal government, which are therefore subject to federal affirmative-action requirements, than in other companies — with female employment rising 15.2% at federal contractors but only 2.2% elsewhere. And the women working for federal-contractor companies also held higher positions and were paid better.

Even in the private sector, the advancements of white women eclipse those of people of color. After IBM established its own affirmative-action program, the numbers of women in management positions more than tripled in less than 10 years. Data from subsequent years show that the number of executives of color at IBM also grew, but not nearly at the same rate.

Racism, willful ignorance, delusion—these are our only explanations for whites holding beliefs dramatically contradicted by an abundance of evidence that in the U.S. white privilege is powerful and the oppression of blacks is pervasive even when blacks attain more education.

One case that rivals white delusion is charter school delusion.

When I published an Op-Ed countering two local news stories on SAT scores—both of which misled readers by ranking schools and suggesting charter schools are somehow superior to traditional public schools—the predictable response appeared, from the state’s superintendent of charter schools no less:

Three levels of delusion in one Tweet.

First, my university is test-optional

We believe that your potential for success cannot be determined solely by standardized test scores. As a result, our admission process is test optional, meaning you are not required to submit SAT or ACT scores.

—as are a growing number of colleges and universities. And thus, the “gotcha” aspect of this Tweet falls flat due to a complete failure to look for the evidence.

Next, high-stakes testing—which remains biased by race, social class, and gender—does in fact cause inequity since these tests often are gatekeepers for scholarships and admissions.

And finally, the greatest delusion of all among charter advocates is pure ideology: “Our expectations of kids cause inequity.”

Simply examine the SAT scores along with the Poverty Index (PI) in the chart below (traditional schools, no highlight, and charter schools, highlighted):

SAT comp w charter HL

Both traditional and charter schools fall along a predictable pattern of SAT scores correlating strongly to PI, and thus, charter advocates have a real evidence problem with claims that SAT scores are the result, mostly or only, of expectations.

If there is an expectations problem in the charter school movement, it is that we must have higher expectations for honesty and awareness of evidence among charter school advocates, administrators, and teachers.

Delusion that denies white privilege or misrepresents educational policy is harmful on many levels since it detracts from real problems—such as the cancers that are racism and inequity as well as the tremendous failures of universal public education in the U.S.

In my first-year writing seminar, my constant refrain is urging young people to step back from what they believe is true, to be skeptical of those quick and easy beliefs, and to seek credible and compelling evidence that either confirms or corrects those beliefs.

Just saying something, I warn, doesn’t make it true.

White people and charter advocates, it seems, could use a refresher course in the foundations of composition.

 

New SAT, but Same Old Problems

New SAT, but Same Old Problems (The Greenville News)

P.L. Thomas, professor of Education, Furman University

While South Carolina has joined several states in rejecting Common Core for public school standards and testing, one powerful legacy remains, the revised SAT.

An original architect of the Common Core, David Coleman, now heads the College Board and has championed the new SAT, partly as more aligned with the Common Core.

Paul Hyde’s recent coverage of Greenville high schools’ scores on the revised test as well as a piece on charter schools and the SC Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities offers a prime opportunity to address a new test but the same old problems.

Many advocating the new SAT have suggested that changing the test could address the large and persistent score gaps along race, social class, and gender lines.

However, reporting in Education Week, Catherine Gewertz reveals: “The 2017 SAT scores show inequities similar to those of earlier years. Asian (1181), white (1118), and multiracial (1103) students score far above the average composite score of 1060, while Hispanic (990) and African-American (941) students score significantly below it.”

For Greenville county as we consider the newest data and our urge to rank high schools by average SAT scores, we must once again confront some important facts that simple ranking tends to mask:

  • SAT average scores should never be used to rank schools, districts, or states in terms of academic quality; this caution, in fact, comes from the College Board itself.
  • SAT scores remain most strongly correlated with parental income, parental levels of education, gender (average male scores are higher than female scores), race, and access to courses.
  • SAT scores are designed solely to be predictive for college success (not to measure academic quality of any school or state); however, high school GPA has long been a better predictor than the test.

Therefore, we should not rush to interpret rankings of Greenville county schools by SAT scores that correlate primarily with the poverty index (PI) of each school as well as a careful analysis of which students in each school take the test.

For example, praising Riverside (PI 21.46) along with Greenville Tech Charter (PI 25.50), Greer Middle College Charter (PI 18.83), Brashier Middle College Charter (PI 16.55), and SCGSAH (PI 14.59) without acknowledging that high SAT scores are mostly a reflection of incredibly low poverty rates is a misleading suggestion of achievement being linked to school quality.

Not ranking and judging our schools by SAT data, however, is not enough. Instead we need to end entirely our toxic relationship with high-stakes testing because that process remains deeply inequitable.

Too many students are spending far too much time in and out of school mired in test-prep and test taking. In that context, we take the test scores far too seriously, typically misinterpreting them.

High-stakes test scores are mostly markers for race, social class, and gender; and are in only small ways reflections of achievement. Most standardized test data are 60% or more correlated with factors outside the schools, teachers, and students.

Test-prep and test taking are detracting from time better spent addressing the inequity of access most students suffer in terms of high-quality teachers and challenging courses. In SC and across the U.S., impoverished students, black and brown students, and English language learners are cheated with larger class sizes, inexperienced and uncertified teachers, and remedial (test-prep) courses.

By identifying the top high schools and bottom high schools according to average SAT scores, we are masking that all schools in the county tend to house social and community differences embodied by the students that attend those schools.

This does not mean we do not need education reform; but it does mean we need to reform our approaches to reform. Throughout the state, we need the political will to address crippling social issues related to food insecurity, stable work and housing, and healthcare, but we also need the political will to stop changing standards and tests every few years and, instead, confront directly the inequities of our schools (such as tracking and teacher assignments) that mirror the inequities of our communities.

And thus, the SAT is one part of the larger standards and testing era that inordinately drains our schools of time and funding that should be better spent elsewhere, notably in ways that address the inequity of access noted above.

We have much to praise and much to lament in Greenville county schools. SAT scores are not in either category since the new test brings with it the same old problems we refuse to name and then address.


Coda

Highlighted in red above, the point I made needs a bit more explanation.

I considered posting a separate blog titled “The Politics of Lazy Data Analysis,” but opt instead to expand on that briefly here.

The essential flaw in reporting average SAT scores and then using them to rank schools is that such reporting is simultaneously factual and misleading. As the chart below shows, ranking a group of high schools is doable and not essentially false since the scores are accurate.

While discussing the reporting with a friend who is a nurse and only knows about educational debates through mainstream media, my friend said that he noticed newspapers love charter schools, and from what he reads and hears, he believes charter schools are better than traditional schools.

And so, with the follow-up article on charter schools and the SCGSAH, we confront again that lazy data analysis combined with the aggressive self-promotion of charter schools produces a false narrative about charter schools somehow being superior than traditional public schools.

Instead, another just slightly less lazy analysis of the data below could be presented as “Local Low-Poverty High School Outperforms Low-Poverty Charter Schools on SAT.”

But even adding the Poverty Index to average SAT scores ignores that we are still not necessarily comparing equal populations of test takers: What about English language learner percentages and which students have taken college-level courses better aligned with SAT questions? What about percentages of test takers who have paid for SAT-prep training outside of school?

Finally, however, as noted above, the great flaw with any analysis of SAT data is grounded in the unavoidable fact that the SAT is not designed to measure school or teacher quality and that SAT scores mostly reflect factors other than academic achievement.

The politics of lazy data analysis, then, often uses actual facts while misrepresenting important topics: The implication that charter schools are outperforming traditional schools is simply not true. If we can or should try to determine what schools are academically effective, then using SAT data is a deeply misguided venture.

SAT PI Greenville

UofA + KIPP = Lies: More Rhetoric in the Absence of Evidence

There is a disturbing but predictable formula when you combine the University of Arkansas (and dig a bit to the Walton money funding the Orwellian-named Department of Education Reform) and Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) charter chain that results in, at best, careless misinformation or, at worst, brazen deception.

Let’s start at the ironic end to a 2 August 2017 press release on the relationship between UofA and KIPP:

“KIPP helped me to not only be adaptable, but to stay motivated,” she said. “I think an excerpt from Robert Frost’s poem, ‘The Road Not Taken’ best describes my KIPP experience,” Walton said. ” ‘Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— / I took the one less traveled by, / And that has made all the difference.'”

The irony is that the sentiment ascribed here to Frost’s poem is a common misreading that parallels how KIPP and charter advocates impose their ideology onto what we know about KIPP/charter schools in the service of the brand and not the students (noting here how this press release allows the former KIPP student* to do all the heavy lifting).

Frost’s “The Road Not Taken,” in fact, is illustrative here, but not in the way intended.

Misreading and mis-teaching this iconic poem fail in one extremely important way: ignoring that the speaker in Frost’s poem repeatedly notes that the two roads are the same: “as just as fair,” “Had worn them really about the same,” and “And both that morning equally lay.”

The poem actually stresses that making choices is mostly unavoidable and certainly builds everyone’s fate, but the poem is also a satire about regretting choices, as Orr explains:

Frost had been inspired to write the poem by Thomas’s habit of regretting whatever path the pair took during their long walks in the countryside—an impulse that Frost equated with the romantic predisposi­tion for “crying over what might have been.” Frost, Thompson writes, believed that his friend “would take the poem as a gen­tle joke and would protest, ‘Stop teasing me.’” 

Therefore, Frost’s much mangled poem offers us two lessons missed by the UofA/KIPP agenda: (1) there is almost no difference between or among types of schools (charter v. public or private v. public), and (2) the claims made by KIPP and other charter advocates are far more complex than they seem on the surface (as is the poem).

The grand claims of KIPP have now drifted toward how well students attend and graduate college, but KIPP has done as all the other charter and choice advocates have by constantly changing what they claim their form of education reform achieves.

Press release rhetoric falls apart, however, once the claims are carefully examined. Here are just a few examples of KIPP and charter exaggeration and deception:

KIPP is correct that schools that only count students who complete 12th grade will have inflated scores compared to KIPP that counts students who complete 8th grade.  But what KIPP doesn’t mention is that the fairest way to make a comparison to the 9% number is to start counting at 5th grade.  KIPP actually has a pretty big attrition between 5th and 8th grade so the true ‘gold standard’ is really not used by anyone.  All the numbers are inflated.  KIPPs might be inflated less than the others, but it still is so they can whine that the others are cheating worse than they are on this statistic, but they should admit that they are doing it too, though to a lesser degree.

This most recent press release from UofA/KIPP is yet another example of how charter advocacy and the entire education reform agenda are awash in misinformation, steering the rampant misreading of these reforms by politicians and the public.

I fear that like the satirized speaker in Frost’s poem, “I shall be telling this with a sigh/Somewhere ages and ages hence”: When you see “miracle” claims that are too good to be true, well, they are not true.

Shame on UofA and KIPP for continuing to traffic in such lies.


* NOTE: Certainly, two important points must be made about this student’s experience: (1) Everyone can fairly celebrate her success and pride in that success, while (2) an anecdote based on one person’s experience cannot prove or disprove any sort of generalizations. Thus, this student ascribing her success to KIPP in no way makes that true, even though she genuinely feels that way.

For Further Reading

Innovative Deception: The Charter Scam Chronicles Continue

Hiding Behind Rhetoric in the Absence of Evidence

Buying the Academy, Good-Bye Scholarship

On Misreading: The Critical Need to Step Back and See Again

You’re Probably Misreading Robert Frost’s Most Famous Poem, David Orr

Innovative Deception: The Charter Scam Chronicles Continue

The school choice movement has its roots in mid-twentieth century, and was bolstered by some ugly truths about racism in the U.S. during the Civil Rights movement and public school integration.

While school choice advocacy has maintained some foundational catch phrases such as “innovation” and relied on appeals to uncritical faith in market forces over “the damned government,” school choice has also maintained two key patterns: (1) promises associated with school choice advocacy have mostly failed, and thus, (2) “choice” has morphed repeatedly into new versions to stay ahead of all the bad news about outcomes falling short of those promises.

The last decade, however, has revealed a school choice gold mine in the charter school movement that appears to blend the public’s support for public schools with the allure of parental choice.

However, on balance, charter school advocacy has proven to be mostly rhetoric and absent evidence in ways similar to the larger school choice movement.

Public and charter schools, for example, are currently plagued with rising segregation, and both embrace policies that can fairly be labeled racist and classist—leading the NAACP to maintain a strongly skeptical position about the credibility of charter schools.

And when charter schools appear to succeed where public schools do not, a careful analysis nearly always reveals that what is too good to be true is, in fact, not true.

School choice innovation, including charter school innovation, actually has little to do with education and more to do with keeping ahead of the evidence in order to maintain political and public support for finding yourself in a hole and continuing to dig.

For a glimpse into how the charter movement seeks mostly to keep itself afloat, often at the expense of children and their families, consider Paul Bowers’s Erskine College’s new role as charter school gatekeeper could change landscape of public education.

Bowers hits a key point in the following:

Across the U.S., the National Association of Charter School Authorizers has been sounding the alarm about a trend it calls “authorizer shopping,” which it calls “a growing threat to overall charter school quality.”

“Authorizer shopping happens when a charter school chooses an initial authorizer or changes authorizers specifically to avoid accountability,” the group said in a 2016 report. “A low-performing school may shop for a new authorizer to avoid closure, or reopen under a new authorizer after closure.”

Also important to highlight is, as Bowers notes, how this new phase of charter expansion linked to less or no accountability is appealing to the least effective forms of charter schools:

Two of the first schools to express an interest in the new public charter school sponsor, the Charter Institute at Erskine College, are the S.C. Virtual Charter School and Cyber Academy of South Carolina. The two schools enrolled more than 4,000 students combined in kindergarten through 12th grade last school year.

The hard truths about educating children in a free society in order to create a more perfect union, to reach and sustain an equitable democracy, are that public education has mostly failed the children who need it most because the U.S. is plagued by political cowardice and that schemes labeled “education reform” are mostly even worse alternatives (including school choice and charter schools) to the mismanaged public system.

Near the end of his life, Martin Luther King Jr. called for addressing poverty directly and thus eradicate related social inequities and empower public institutions:

In addition to the absence of coordination and sufficiency, the programs of the past all have another common failing — they are indirect. Each seeks to solve poverty by first solving something else.

I am now convinced that the simplest approach will prove to be the most effective — the solution to poverty is to abolish it directly by a now widely discussed measure: the guaranteed income. …

We are likely to find that the problems of housing and education, instead of preceding the elimination of poverty, will themselves be affected if poverty is first abolished. The poor transformed into purchasers will do a great deal on their own to alter housing decay. Negroes, who have a double disability, will have a greater effect on discrimination when they have the additional weapon of cash to use in their struggle.

King’s plea has been repeatedly justified since the claims that education is the great equalizer never materializes. For example, in Equal Pay Day for African-American Women, By the Numbers Emily Crockett confronts:

African-American women only earn 64 cents to every dollar earned by non-Hispanic white men, according to the NWLC analysis; the figure for women overall is 77 cents. That’s based on the average earnings of female and male full-time, year-round workers taken from Census data.

The pay gap for Black women varies based on age and industry. Older Black women have it the hardest—the pay gap is only 82 cents on the dollar for 15-year-old to 24-year-old Black women compared to white men, but the gap widens to 67 cents and 59 cents, respectively, for Black women ages 25-to-44 and 45-to-64.

As for industries, Black women working as physicians and surgeons—a high-wage and male-dominated occupation—make only 52 cents for every dollar paid to their white male counterparts. Black women fared slightly better in lower-paid occupations, making 86 cents on the dollar in male-dominated, mid-wage construction industries and 85 cents on the dollar working as low-wage, mostly female personal care aides. …

The fact that Black women are overrepresented in low-wage jobs doesn’t help, the analysis said. Black women make up 14 percent of low-wage workers and 6 percent of the overall workforce.

Education levels don’t make much of an impact on the high wage gap between Black women and non-Hispanic white men. While more education corresponds with higher wages for both Black women and white men, Black women still make between 61 and 66 cents on the dollar compared to their counterparts at every education level [emphasis added]. African-American women have to have at least a Bachelor’s degree to make as much as white men who didn’t finish college.

This equity gap along race and gender lines is a lingering and powerful fact in the U.S.

Education reform, then, especially under the guise of school choice/charter schools, is once again failing to address directly the root causes of why we believe public education needs reform in the first place.

The only real innovation among the charter school advocates is how many ways they can avoid the hard truths about reforming schools and the impotence of education to overcome social inequity and injustice.

Hiding Behind Rhetoric in the Absence of Evidence

Having been extensively cited in recent news articles on education, I have received the typical responses, both by email and an Op-Ed (High expectations lead to achievement).

What is notable about these disgruntled responses can be seen directly in the headline above—a dependence on soaring and idealistic rhetoric to mask a complete failure to either discount my evidence or to provide any credible evidence for the counter arguments.

A recent email argued that I was causing more harm than good for emphasizing the impact of racism on literacy education and achievement by students; the rebuttal, however, was peppered with “I believe” and not a single effort to rebut the dozens of research studies I provided on both grade retention and racism/sexism.

While I pressed that point in a few replies, the offended person only ever produced as some sort of evidence a TED Talk, an unintended confession that his world-view depends on whiz-bang showmanship and seeing in any outlier example a confirmation of his biases—what Maia Szalavitz identifies as “’fundamental attribution error’. This is a natural tendency to see the behavior of others as being determined by their character – while excusing our own behavior based on circumstances.”

The emails were almost entirely rhetorical, like a TED Talk, and then divorced from any sort of empirical evidence.

The Op-Ed reflects in a more public way this same disturbing pattern. William W. Brown, founder and chairman of the board of Legacy Early College, holds forth in defense of the charter school’s “no excuses” approach to educating poor and mostly black/brown students, an ideology and set of policies that I have rejected for many years as inherently racist and classist.

While Brown quotes a few of my comments from a news article and then suggests he aims to rebut them, he merely slips each time into restating the ideology of the charter school, the rhetoric of high expectations.

Early in the commentary, Brown notes: “However, Thomas does not acknowledge that a college education is the single most reliable way to lessen the effect of systemic racism and end poverty.”

Here is the exact strategy employed by Arne Duncan throughout his tenure as Secretary of Education: make a grand rhetorical claim that most people in the U.S. believe (education is the “great equalizer”), and then offer no evidence it is true while hoping no one calls you on it.

The truth is hard to swallow, however, because education can be shown through ample evidence to have very little impact on erasing inequity driven by racism and sexism. For just a few of many examples, please consider the following:

Whites with only high school completion earn more than Blacks/Hispanics having completed 2 years of college. (Bruenig, 24 October 2014)

White men with no high school diploma have the same employment opportunities as black men with some college completion. (Closing the Race Gap)

Race and gender remain powerful sources of inequity despite educational attainment. (Access to good jobs)

Brown also cites this: “He goes on to say, ‘Successful people in the United States tend to be white and come from privilege and they’re not necessarily working harder than anybody else but they have incredible advantages.'”

And then makes no effort to address why he believes my comment is “problematic.” Perhaps he could consider the following:

Abstract

Racial discrimination in labor markets is a critical process through which organizations produce economic inequality in society. Though scholars have extensively examined the discriminatory decisions and practices of employers, the question of how job seekers try to adapt to anticipated discrimination is often overlooked. Using interviews, a laboratory experiment, and a résumé audit study, we examine racial minorities’ attempts to avoid discrimination by concealing or downplaying racial cues in job applications, a practice known as “résumé whitening.” While some minority job seekers reject this practice, others view it as essential and use a variety of whitening techniques. When targeting an employer that presents itself as valuing diversity, however, minority job applicants engage in relatively little résumé whitening and thus submit more racially transparent résumés. Yet, our audit study shows that organizational diversity statements are not actually associated with reduced discrimination against unwhitened résumés. Taken together, these findings suggest a paradox: Minorities may be particularly likely to experience disadvantage when they apply to ostensibly pro-diversity employers. These findings illuminate the role of racial concealment and transparency in modern labor markets and point to an important interplay between the self-presentation of employers and the self-presentation of job seekers in shaping economic inequality. (Whitened Résumés: Race and Self-Presentation in the Labor Market, Sonia Kang, Katy DeCelles, András Tilcsik, and Sora Jun)

One other tactic I experience is the subtle and not-so-subtle effort by the “no excuses” crowd to turn charges of racism toward those of us calling out the racism of “no excuses” practices: “If you believe the zip code where you were born should determine your educational outcome, you basically believe that some people aren’t built for success, which is — to put it bluntly — racist.”

Two aspects of this strategy are important to highlight. First, Brown here and others must misrepresent my claims (I have never and would never embrace or suggest that we ask less of any child or that some group of people have less ability than others because of inherent deficiencies; in fact, my scholarship and public work directly reject deficit ideologies).

Second, this rhetorical slight of hand is designed to point anywhere other than the person making the claim.

This second part of the move is important for charter advocates and the “no excuses” crowd because evidence is not on their side.

The Legacy Charter school endorsed by Brown has three consecutive years of “below average” state report cards (2012-2014, the most recent since report card assessments have been suspended in SC until this coming fall).

And my analysis of two years of data on SC charter schools has shown:

  • Using 2011 SC state repost cards and the metric “Schools with Students Like Ours,” charter schools performed as follows: 3/53 ABOVE Typical, 17/53 Typical, and 33/53 BELOW Typical.
  • Using 2013 SC state repost cards and the metric “Schools with Students Like Ours,” charter schools performed as follows: 2/52 ABOVE Typical, 20/52 Typical, 22/52 BELOW Typical.

The “high expectations” movement, again mostly aimed at black/brown and poor children, has some serious flaws because the rhetoric is discredited by the evidence.

In short, education is not the “great equalizer” in the U.S. And committing to “high expectations” for children living inequitable and overburdened lives suggests their struggles are mostly their fault because they simply are not working hard enough.

That is a calloused and racist/classist lie.

As I detailed above, success in the U.S. is mostly about advantages, not working hard.

Brown concludes with a flurry of rhetoric: “You could burn the world down as it is because it’s too hard to fix systemic injustices, or you could build it up to the sky because you know in your heart that’s where we belong. Keep your matches. I’m grabbing a hammer and a ladder.”

What should disturb us is how easily the winners (even those claiming good intentions) in the U.S. are willing to throw up their hands when challenged to address systemic racism, classism, and sexism.

In fact, this admission is awash in excuses and absent the exact resilience needed to address inequity that these adults demand of children, who must somehow set aside their lives each day they walk through the doors of school and behave in ways the adults refuse to do.