Parents in cities and suburbs across the country are filling out hundreds of forms to keep their children, who aren’t even in high school yet, from sliding into achievement gaps with their peers.
Last week I interviewed Madelin Hulett, who has three of her nine children in the Buffalo, New York, public schools. She met with US Education secretary Betsy DeVos at her local public school earlier this year, and paid her to promote the crisis.
She said she filled out a rich array of forms that contained name, address, grade, the number of boys and girls in a class, and other information that federal data show is profoundly correlated with how schools perform: minority, low-income, English language learners, and so on. By some measures, her children aren’t behind and aren’t in the bottom 20%. But on the tests, they are significantly behind their peers, and that’s where the trouble starts.
Jasmine Tung, a freshman at a well-regarded Manhattan private school, developed a stutter just in time for the Common Core tests, she told me. It became so severe that she couldn’t speak at all. And she’s only 10.
But forget the STHSA, Michigan parents, the federal mandates for free and reduced lunch and Free Period, and the application deadlines. What are you doing to keep your children out of the bottom 5%, you ask?
“Looking into homes, and professional people, and setting up a time for (my children) to talk, or to talk to us,” Hulett said. But they don’t speak and you can’t get into a time to talk with your children. So, you just need to somehow sneak them over to the home of another parent, who maybe speaks Chinese. “That would work for us. That’s my plan.”
Everyone I talked to last week – teachers, administrators, local and state officials – made the same point: money is not going to solve this problem – not just in New York but across the country.
Teachers’ unions argue strongly that they are doing everything they can to make the progress they’ve made over the past couple of decades, but they cannot, and will not, spend more to get more students into the middle class.
That’s not just money they cannot spend; if they spend the cash, they don’t do what’s needed to address the systemic problems.
“What bothers me is that it doesn’t make sense,” the CEO of the New York City schools chancellor recently said. The state legislature last year invested $625m in the city’s schools. That’s an incredible amount of money. And yet, African American and Latino high school graduation rates are now in the low 60s. Middle school graduation rates are hovering at only half of African American children’s rates at that age. And getting into the upper echelons of the workforce remains exceedingly difficult for kids of color.
“The whole idea of Common Core is a politically ambitious strategy that is going to fail – because it is against decades of public policy,” said Rachel Gartner, a professor of public policy at the University of Pittsburgh.
“If parents decide that they’re not going to have their children in a public school,” she said, “it’s a pretty short-term fix.”
By one of the known criteria that the federal government uses to measure the progress of schools, black students in Philadelphia are now in the top 5% of all public school students. They don’t come close to making the top 20%. But the city’s standards-based student transfer policy is only underfunded and doesn’t take into account the reality of racial inequality in educational opportunity.