School ‘Reform’ Adds to Inequality

By Mike Rose

There is no joy at our school,” the teacher tells me, “only admonishment.” She’s taught for 30 years at a school in a lower-middle-class community north of Los Angeles, and she pours out her story with urgency and exasperation.

Her school’s standardized test scores were not adequate last year, so her principal, under immense pressure from the district, mandated a “scripted” curriculum, that is, a regimented course of study focused on basic math and literacy skills that must be followed by all teachers. The principal also directed the teachers not to change or augment this curriculum, so the teacher cannot draw on her cabinets full of materials collected over the years to enliven, extend, or individualize instruction. The principal has directed his staff to increase the time spent on literacy and math and to trim back on science and social studies. Art and music have been cut entirely.

The readers of this article are aware of inequality in education, of unequal funding, of re-segregation, of the threats to social services that affect schooling. Here, I want to address another kind of educational inequality, one we hear less about but that matters immensely and is reflected in the opening vignette—inequality in the very experience of education, what it feels like to be in school.

Inequality in funding and resources certainly can have an effect on students’ experience of school: the ratio of students to teachers; the number and quality of books, science artifacts, and instructional materials; the condition of the physical plant. A number of low-income schools are in bad shape, and their students suffer for it. But the sad thing is that many of the school reform policies meant to improve the lot of low-income children contribute to a diminishment of the experience of schooling as well.

Our veteran teacher describes the aftermath of the kinds of high-stakes standardized testing mandated by the No Child Left Behind Act and continued under Race to the Top: In many low-income schools, the curriculum is narrowed, teachers are under pressure to teach to the test, pedagogy is directed and routinized. It is true that some low-performing schools have been jolted to evaluate and redirect their inadequate curricula. The result has been a bump in test scores, but at what cost? The key issue is how teachers and administrators accomplish this revision: through a strictly functional and unimaginative curriculum or through a rich course of study that, as a by-product, affects test scores.

Students may get, on average, a few more items right on a reading or math test but not develop an appreciation of reading or a sense of how mathematics works. The end result is the replication, in the name of reform, of a troubling pattern in American schooling: poor kids get an education of skills and routine, a lower-tier education, while students in more affluent districts get a robust course of study.

Over the years, I have visited classrooms in low-income urban and rural communities where gifted teachers, typically relying heavily on their own money and networks, create remarkable environments for young people. To be sure, math and reading are hugely important in these classrooms. They are foundational skills. But students are exposed to so much else, for these teachers don’t see the mastery of basic skills and immersion in the arts and sciences as an either-or proposition.

These teachers try to create for their students the kind of education found in more affluent schools, the kind of education too few poor kids receive, even after 12 years of school reform—and sometimes because of it. Our teacher is right. Too much of current reform is built on a philosophy of compliance and regulation, test scores and metrics. You won’t hear talk of curiosity, reflection, imagination, aesthetics, or a willingness to take a chance. Inequality involves money and resources, but it also involves the quality of a young person’s experience in the classroom.

Mike Rose is on the faculty of the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies and is the author of Why School?: Reclaiming Education for All of Us (revised 2014) and The Mind at Work: Valuing the Education of the American Worker. Visit him at mikerosebooks.com.

This article originally appeared in the summer 2014 issue of the Democratic Left magazine.

Individually signed posts do not necessarily reflect the views of DSA as an organization or its leadership. Democratic Left blog post submission guidelines can be found here.

 

Grassroots Fundraising: Paying for the Revolution (9pm Eastern)

June 23, 2017
· 46 rsvps

Are you new to socialist organizing? Or after many years do you still struggle, raising money from members when you need it but without a steady flow of income or budget to plan ahead? Are you afraid to tackle fundraising because it seems so daunting or you are uncomfortable asking people for money?

In this webinar, you will learn why fundraising is organizing, and how to do it – face to face, through fundraising events, and other ideas.

Join us for our latest organizing training for democratic socialist activists: DSA’s (Virtual) Little Red Schoolhouse.

Instructor:

  • Steve Max, DSA Vice Chair and one of the founders of the legendary community organizing school, The Midwest Academy

Training Details:

  1. Workshops are free for any DSA member in good standing.
  2. You need a computer with good internet access.
  3. Your computer must have preferably headphones or else speakers; you can speak thru a mic or use chat to "speak".
  4. If you have questions, contact Theresa Alt talt@igc.org.
  5. If you have very technical questions, contact Tony Schmitt schmittaj@gmail.com 608-355-6568.
  6. Participation requires that you register at least 21 hours in advance -- by midnight Thursday for Friday's webinar.

NOTE: This training is scheduled for 9:00pm Eastern Time (8pm Central, 7pm Mountain, 6pm Pacific, 5 pm Alaska, 3 pm Hawaii).

Introduction to Socialist Feminism Call

June 27, 2017
· 65 rsvps

Join DSA activist Judith Gardiner to explore “socialist feminism.” How does it differ from other forms of feminism? How and when did it develop? What does it mean for our activism? 9 pm ET, 8 pm CT, 7 pm MT, 6 pm PT.

Data Security for DSA Members

June 27, 2017

Ack! I googled myself and didn't like what I found!

WHAT: A DSA Webinar about "Doxing"
WHEN: 9PM EST, 6PM PST

We're proud of our organizing, and chapter work is transparent for both political and practical reasons. However, there are basic precautions you can take in this time of rapid DSA growth to protect your privacy.

Key Wiki is a website that meticulously documents DSA activity and posts it for the world to see. If you're an active DSA member, likely your name is on their website. This is an example of "doxing".

As DSA becomes larger, more visible, and more powerful, we might expect that more websites like this will pop up, and more of our members' information might be posted publicly on the web.

Join a live webinar on Tuesday, June 27 with data security expert Alison Macrina, to learn:

  1. what is doxing? with examples and ways to prevent it
  2. how to keep your passwords strong and your data secure
  3. where to find your personal info on the internet and how to get it removed
  4. social media best practices for DSA organizers
  5. what to do if you've already been doxed

Zoom Link: https://zoom.us/j/9173276528

Call-in Info: +1 408 638 0968
Meeting ID: 917 327 6528

Film Discussion: Pride

September 10, 2017
· 11 rsvps

Join DSA members Eric Brasure and Brendan Hamill to discuss the British film Pride (2014). It’s 1984, British coal miners are on strike, and a group of gays and lesbians in London bring the queer community together to support the miners in their fight. Based on the true story of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners. The film is available for rent on YouTube, Amazon, and iTunes. 8 ET/7 CT/6 MT/5 PT.

Film Discussion: Union Maids

September 24, 2017
· 8 rsvps

 

Join DSA member and labor historian Susan Hirsch in discussing Union Maids (1976). Nominated for an Academy Award, this documentary follows three Chicago labor organizers (Kate Hyndman, Stella Nowicki, and Sylvia Woods) active beginning in the 1930s. The filmmakers were members of the New American Movement (a precursor of DSA), and the late Vicki Starr (aka Stella Nowicki) was a longtime member of Chicago DSA and the Chicago Women's Liberation Union. It’s available free on YouTube, though sound quality is poor. 8ET/7CT/6MT/5PT.