The Attack On Public Education Is A Civil Rights Issue

Lauren Williams's picture
Thursday, January 31, 2013

Sunday morning, on the Melissa Harris-Perry show the MSNBC journalist dedicated a segment to the school closings epidemic that has swept across the country in every major city, an epidemic that has -- up until Sunday been virtually ignored by national media.

Detroit alone has already shut down 300 public schools, followed by New York City with 140. Chicago, DC, and Philadelphia are all set to close down dozens of public schools this year, 18 cities in total are following this trend in predominantly neighborhoods of color.

The popular explanation for this assault on public education is that the schools chosen for closure are 'unsuccessful,' or are undeserving the students -- a claim that is mostly based on standardized test scores. The problem with placing this much emphasis on standardized tests is that it does not adequately depict the diverse ways in which students learn, develop and grow, educationally. Standardized tests can only measure how students retain the information given to them over a particular course of time and generally does not even gauge how well the information is actually understood. These tests do not take into account issues a student may have such as test anxiety, which could hinder a student from performing well on a test where the student was an expert on the subject matter.

In Philadelphia, where I formerly worked for an elected official, I saw first hand the city's most underperforming schools and noticed that they were always in poverty, drug stricken neighborhoods. I met with students who told me that they had not eaten all weekend, yet are expected to perform on the same level as students who have every tool they need to succeed. There is no doubt that a school's surroundings have a direct impact in its students' performance. When a child has to worry about being robbed or jumped on his way to school by the neighborhood thugs, or has barriers in their home which are counterproductive to the child's success they will almost always underperform.

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