Back-to­-[troubled] schools, again

CHARLENE l MUHAMMAD | 8/29/2013, 6:37 p.m. | Updated on 8/29/2013, 6:44 p.m.
Millions of Black students have begun already returning to schools across America while others are still preparing for their first ...
United States Schools RH Jimenez Graphic

(NNPA) – Millions of Black students have begun already returning to schools across America while others are still preparing for their first day.

School closures, suspensions, funding shortages and safety are just a few issues to be faced as school bells ring.

But Black parents and advocates must monitor schools, hold political and educational leaders accountable, supplement in-school instruction and refuse to let their children go uneducated, said experts and activists.

Growing public school closings in major cities is a major challenge in the fight to educate Black children. Despite protests by parents, teachers and activists, a federal judge ruled Aug. 15 that Chicago Public Schools could shutter 49 elementary schools and a high school program. The Chicago Board of Education said the closures were being forced by a near $1 billion budget shortfall.

In a society consumed by racism and capitalism, public education is affected by social and political realities, said activists.

Pushing children out of school

According to attorney Judith Browne Dianis, co-director of the Advancement Project, a national, civil rights organization, it’s hard to separate the problems Black parents and children face in education. There is a range of issues tied to systemic inequality, she said.

Problems range from how teachers are assigned to over-policing of schools, to the lack of challenging, engaging curriculum, she pointed out.

Youth are still being pushed out of schools through suspensions, expulsions and high-stakes testing – all things that disproportionately impact Black children, states attorney Browne Dianis.

The use of standardized tests to measure achievement and demand greater accountability from schools isn’t working, said advocates.

The testing helps schools push out youth who are not achieving academically, and who could drag down overall test scores – especially those who’ve been suspended, they said.

If students are not in class, they can’t learn, so they can’t pass the tests, Dianis said.

These tests are also used to help determine what schools should be closed, Dianis explained.

“Has a system of accountability been forced upon schools, that doesn’t make them accountable to us, our community and our children?” asked Dianis.

It has turned out these “policies and practices are actually making our children worse off,” Dianis said.

The issue isn’t as simple as blaming teachers for failing grades, she continued. Teachers are pressured in a system that only allows children to learn what’s on a standardized test, the attorney said.

If all teachers are allowed to do is test and drill, and drill and test, children aren’t learning anything except what’s on the test, she said.

Teachers save their jobs and schools remain open, but Black children don’t learn how to be good citizens or how to have a sound, educational mind, she said.

The push for “accountability” under No Child Left Behind has left most children behind, Dianis charged. Signed into law by former President George W. Bush in 2002, No Child Left Behind required states to make all students proficient in math and reading by 2014 and relies on test results. But the federal mandate came without funding and advocates say warnings against relying on testing have come true. Teachers are teaching to tests, instead of educating children, they said.