I will try to be brief.
I read your letter to Brearley parents and your recent newsletter. Bravo!!
I am a retired professor who trained teachers and who has, since 2005, headed an organization that helps parents, policymakers, and taxpayers deal with education quality issues in their schools. Called the Education Consumers Foundation, we are like Consumer Reports, only focused exclusively on education.
Much of what we recommend with regard to both Critical Race Theory (CRT) and school quality agrees with the suggestions noted in your 6/11 newsletter. For example, we advise people to organize before attempting any action.
Schools and districts are long experienced in deflecting, dismissing, and/or quashing the pleas of frustrated parents. ECF tells parents: If you make demands on schools without first understanding how they work, chances are you will get nowhere and be humiliated as well.
Responding to a District CRT Plan
CRT alleges that the nation’s racial disparities in economic success, treatment under law, social advantage, etc. have been brought about by an economic and political system that is systemically racist and stacked in favor of a white supremacy.
ECF’s response to CRT does not focus on CRT’s incendiary and unsubstantiated charges in and of themselves. Instead, it makes the case that the racial disparities protested by CRT are the result of public education’s own well-documented failings and suggests that schools need to put their own house in order first.
Specifically, it points to public education’s persistent failure to educate economically disadvantaged children—not racism—as the deficiency that consigns both white and minority students to inferior educational outcomes and ultimately to the economic margins. (Chart: Poverty, not Ethnic Makeup, Predicts School Achievement Level )
Nationally, only 16% of economically disadvantaged black 4th graders and 20% of Hispanics read at a proficient level. Only 34% of economically disadvantaged white students read proficiently. By contrast, non-disadvantaged black, white, and Hispanic 4th graders achieve approximately double the percentages of their disadvantaged class mates. These outcomes are still lamentably low but they do represent significantly higher levels of educational achievement.
Both white and minority students are victims of ineffective teaching but minority students experience a greater impact because a greater percentage of them grow up in poverty and thus are harmed by poor teaching.
Low reading skills reduce the benefits of subsequent schooling and ultimately create the racial disparities protested by CRT.
Schools are well aware of these outcomes but they blame poverty, not their persistent failure to teach effectively, as the impediment. Instead of adopting more effective practices, they treat the low achievement levels of high-poverty students as expected and inevitable.
Contrary to the school-promoted narrative, overcoming the ill effects of poverty is central to public education’s mission. At its founding, public funding of schools was justified to ensure that members of each new generation would be prepared to live as self-sufficient citizens in a democracy–regardless of the condition of their birth. It is the failure of schools to carry out this mission that is directly responsible for the nations’ social, economic, and racial disparities.
Schools Understand these Facts but Customarily Rationalize Them
So long as parents and taxpayers are in the dark or complacent about their schools, there is no real accountability for public education’s enduring failure to serve disadvantaged students. Boards are hostage to the teacher vote. Schools are rarely closed and firings are uncommon. By furnishing another distraction, CRT’s reframing of the inferior schooling issue facilitates the ongoing neglect.
CRT’s allegations do shift the responsibility for the nation’s racial and economic achievement gaps from schools, teachers, and the colleges that train teachers to white Americans. Moreover, by accepting the racism explanation, schools not only deflect attention from the real problem but place themselves on the moral high ground and in charge of shaping the coming generation.
What a deflection!
What Should Parents do?
At a minimum, parents, policymakers, and the public should look at the performance of their local schools and ask:
- How much have our local schools contributed to the creation of the disparities highlighted by CRT?
- If so, should they not put their own house in order before reshaping society?
The reason that most schools are not as effective with economically disadvantaged children is that the teaching practices taught to most teachers are not aligned with the public’s educational aims. The public wants all students to at least become literate and numerate. The schools of education accord no special status or priority to this fundamental goal.
The result is that economically disadvantaged students–both minority and white– struggle in the early years of their school career because their readiness for learning typically is a year or two behind that of economically advantaged children.
Unless schools provide the kind of services and instruction that enables them to catch-up by grade 3, they remain behind throughout their school careers. Head Start is one attempt to address this issue, but it has proven ineffective. However, teaching alternatives such as Success for All and Direct Instruction have been proven effective and known for decades but remain little used.
Children who can’t read at a proficient level by third grade face a 70% chance of dropping out or graduating from high school unprepared for college or the workplace.
Millions of students–minority and white–face these long odds. Only 1/3 of all students are proficient in reading by grade four and only 26% of all graduating high school students are fully prepared for college or the workplace.
Instead of an unrelenting insistence on better outcomes for economically disadvantaged children, most school boards not inclined challenge their teaching and administrative staff or otherwise call attention to unsatisfactory outcomes. Educators are organized and they vote.
For too many school boards, Critical Race Theory, with its blame-shifting allegations is just one more evasion of the real problem. It diverts public attention from a problem that requires results-oriented leadership to one that can be addressed with gestures and lip service.
Significant change in the nation’s racial disparities will require school leaders to call for a halt in their social promotion practices and take the steps necessary to ensure that all children are learning. As importantly, state officials will have to hold schools of education publicly accountable for the ability of their newly trained teachers to lift the measured achievement level of their elementary and secondary school students—not just pass a test on pedagogy.
Most importantly, parents and concerned citizens must become informed and engaged with respect to their local schools. Otherwise, they will remain captives of the self-serving narratives published by the schools themselves.