These remarks were delivered as part of a Heights Community Congress event on April 24, Educational Redlining.
Let me say how privileged I am that you invited me to participate tonight. Our children thrived here in the Cleveland Heights-University Heights Schools and I believe our schools are among our community’s most important assets. And it is wonderful to be back with HCC, where I used to work.
Tonight I have been asked to talk about the very disturbing policy climate for public school today. Going back into the 1980s, policy makers (of both political parties) began to be preoccupied with holding schools accountable for children’s academic outcomes. The federal government and the state haven’t been so good at all about holding themselves accountable for adequate and equitable resources, however—the inputs that define children’s opportunity to learn.
As a society we have developed virtually a sole fixation on test scores, but we haven’t equalized the resources that define opportunity. We have also ignored two tragic issues:
- The United States tolerates an alarming child poverty rate well over 20 percent, by far the highest rate of child poverty in any of the world’s so-called industrialized nations. We ought to be outraged but we almost never talk about this and our society is not aggressively addressing poverty. The census tells us that although 12 percent of white children in the United States are poor, 39 percent of Black children and 35 percent of Hispanic children live in poverty—more than a third in both of those groups. These are shocking numbers.
- And research from Stanford University has demonstrated that our society is experiencing rapid segregation by economics and isolation of the poor and the rich. This growing segregation by economics overlays segregation by race and ethnicity. This trend is mirrored by a widening income inequality achievement gap.
What all this means is that we now have a test and punish education system, by which the federal government and the state (which is mandated by the federal government) demand that students take standardized tests every year. We punish the schools and school districts that can’t raise scores quickly.
Fifty years’ of evidence have demonstrated that school achievement AS MEASURED BY TEST SCORES ALONE correlates IN AGGREGATE more strongly with the family income of the students in a school than with the quality of the school. While many individual poor children thrive at school and score well on tests, in the aggregate test scores are really a wealth indicator.
Here is how some of the experts describe this statistical reality:
From educator Mike Rose and historian Michael B. Katz: “Throughout American history, inequality—refracted most notably through poverty and race—has impinged on the ability of children to learn and of teachers to do their jobs.” (Public Education Under Siege)
From a group of academics writing for the Oxford University Press: “As a group, students labeled as economically disadvantaged or poor never score higher on standardized tests than their non-disadvantaged peers in any state on any grade level currently tested under NCLB.” (Closing the Opportunity Gap)
Finally, according to Sean Reardon at Stanford University, the proportion of families in major metropolitan areas living in either very poor or very affluent neighborhoods increased from 15 percent in 1970 to 33 percent by 2009, and the proportion of families living in middle income neighborhoods declined from 65 percent in 1970 to 42 percent in 2009.
Reardon also demonstrates that along with growing residential inequality is a simultaneous jump in an income-inequality achievement gap. The achievement gap between the children with income in the top ten percent and the children with income in the bottom ten percent is 30-40 percent wider among children born in 2001 than those born in 1975, and is now twice as large as the black-white achievement gap.
When we add all this together—the overall AGGREGATE effects of poverty and inequality on school test scores —what does it mean for the school ratings being assigned by real estate companies, as we are hearing about tonight, and for the ratings that are also being assigned by the state of Ohio? For Ohio is copying the strategy Jeb Bush started in Florida—to give A-F grades to schools and school districts.
We saw preliminary-provisional school district grades from the state last September—with scores in a number of categories. We’ll see the state formally awarding a one overall grade for school districts this coming September.
Here are the school districts in Cuyahoga County that got the highest preliminary grades last fall: Solon, Rocky River, Beachwood, Chagrin Falls, Independence, Bay Village, Brecksville-Broadview Heights and Orange.
Cleveland Heights earned As in a number of columns for value-added, but its overall grade was low.
So what does all this mean?
Last year the editors of Rethinking Schools Magazine pointed out that a system that grades schools and school districts by test scores is merely disguising the race and class privilege of the schools’ students as though it is the merit of the school district.
Richard Rothstein, when he spoke about this issue at the City Club a couple of months ago, worried about the message it sends that encourages even more segregation by race and class. He said:
“These rating systems really just describe the social class of the students in the schools. And the high ratings don’t necessarily mean they’re better schools. Many of these schools that are rated ‘A’ because they happen to have a lot of middle class children with highly educated parents may add less value to their students than schools rated ‘F,’ where parents may be working the kind of contingent schedules I described earlier. Those ‘F’ schools may actually be better schools in terms of what they add to students than the ‘A’ schools, but most people don’t understand that. And so if you label schools with ‘A’-‘F’ ratings, people who attend a ‘C’ school, which may be integrated, are going to want to move their children to an ‘A’ school. This will increase the segregation of schools by convincing people that these ‘A’-‘F’ ratings accurately reflect the quality of the school.”
About 60 percent of children in our schools in CH-UH qualify for free lunch. Many move here from surrounding school districts and they bring with them many unmet needs. Our school district, even by the state’s rating system, does great in a category the state calls “value added.”
We need to be very proud of what our district is accomplishing with our students—with the many gifts of our dedicated and skilled teachers—with our high quality curriculum that includes Advanced Placement courses and a wonderful music program—with the gift of diversity that enriches our children’s experiences every day.
We need to brag about our school district’s advantages. Our children do well in college and in life, and we must re-define the low grade with which he state and the real estate companies brand us.