Some parents wonder if they should ‘opt out’ their children from state tests. But black parents should consider a bigger ‘opt out’ for their kids.
By Alice T. Crowe
This spring, lawn signs sprout up in protest over state standardized testing. The “opt-out” movement, regarding Common Core-based standardized testing, is pushback to unwelcomed education reform. No school district wants to be branded “failing” or labeled a “focus school” because its students have underperformed on state standardized tests. Few will disagree that a negative label is a stigma that will potentially wreak havoc on real estate values, stifle future growth and leave public schools vulnerable to privatization.
Blame will fall on those who need free lunch, arrive to school unaccompanied by parents, are differently abled or have special needs, or limited resources. Students, politely regarded as “the populations that need resources,” are expected to fail state standardized tests. In a game of blame, the victim they will be accused of bringing down entire school districts. They are often black children and other children of color. The real culprit to failing schools is the extraction of resources and the systemic marginalization of these students.
According to Dr. Lori Martin, author of the forthcoming book, “Big Box Schools: Race, Education, and the Danger of the Wal-Martization of Public Schools in America,” there are many discretionary actions that negatively impact the success of black and other students of color in school. Tracking out of opportunity, labeling, and clustering students in classes based upon race with little expectation that they succeed.
These students are often shut out of school enrichment programs, gifted and talented courses, and special social clubs that could enhance their ability to excel in school. Sadly, qualified students are never advised of the process to prepare for college and never receive a bachelor’s degree.
Since Brown v. Board of Education, and the desegregation of schools, there exists an intra-school segregation that preserves privilege for some students at the expense of others.
According to a nationwide study by the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights, racial minorities and children with disabilities are disproportionately represented in the school-to-prison pipeline. Black students, for example, are 3.5 times more likely than their white classmates to be suspended or expelled. Black children represent 18 percent of students, but they account for 46 percent of those suspended more than once.
For students with disabilities, the numbers are equally disturbing. One report found that while 8.6 percent of public school children have been identified as having disabilities that affect their ability to learn, these students make up 32 percent of youth in juvenile detention centers.
The racial disparities are even bleaker for students with disabilities. About 1 in 4 black children with disabilities were suspended at least once, versus 1 in 11 white students, according to an analysis of the government report by Daniel J. Losen, director of the Center for Civil Rights Remedies of the Civil Rights Project at UCLA.
Calls for reform in public education are acknowledgement that the educational system is clearly not serving all children. Dr. Martin writes that, instead of focusing on ways to address the issues facing public schools, efforts to further segregate schools by race and class are moving forward at lightning speed.
A viable option
Homeschool, meanwhile, is a viable option for black parents when traditional public schools have failed. Black students have a better chance of excelling in school and on standardized tests if homeschooled.
A new study conducted by the National Home Education Research Institute found that many black homeschooled children are earning test scores higher than their white counterparts at public schools. Also, the study revealed that many homeschooled black children outscored their black peers in public schools.
It’s not surprising that, black parents that homeschool cite various reasons for avoiding the public schools, racial marginalization, racial protectionism, the need to teach morals and values to their children, to prepare their children to compete, raise their children’s self- esteem and to teach their children how to become thinkers.
Motives to reinvent public school education have been detrimental to black children. New York state has the most segregated schools in the country. The education system is fraught with racial bias. Michele Alexander, author of “The New Jim Crow,” says America has developed a racial caste system that traps young black men in the cycle of the prison system with little hope of advancing out of that condition. The school-to-prison pipeline is the casual link between educational exclusion and criminalization of youth.
A report by the New York Civil Liberties Union reveals that the school-to-prison pipeline operates directly and indirectly. Schools directly send students into the pipeline through zero tolerance policies that involve the police in minor incidents and often lead to arrests, juvenile detention referrals, and even criminal charges and incarceration. Schools indirectly push students towards the criminal justice system by excluding them from school through suspension, expulsion, discouragement and high stakes testing requirements.
School privatization proponents contend that charter schools are a step in the direction to improve education, and avoid the school-to-prison pipeline. The increased privatization of traditional public schools and the state takeover of failing or poor schools is a ploy to increase charter schools without the consent of local community leaders and elected school boards across the country.
It is unrealistic to believe that corporate conglomerates with Wall Street money will create racially balanced school systems that adequately educate students irrespective of race, class, physical disability, sexual orientation.
Homeschooling is a way for parents to exercise choice for the advancement of children. Black families are finding proactive solutions to the crisis in education. According to the National Home Education Research Institute there are an estimated 220,000 African American children currently being homeschooled. Black families have become one of the fastest-growing demographics in homeschooling, with black students making up an estimated 10 percent of the homeschooling population although they make up 16 percent of all public-school students nationwide, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
True, there are many parents who lack the time and resources to homeschool children. However, technology, resources available via the internet and organizations like the Black Home School Association make it easier for parents to homeschool. States could assist by providing parents tax credits, per pupil spending to better educate students at home. Legislators could pass free online public school legislation making it possible for parents to homeschool.
It’s ironic that throughout America, many parents, teachers and school districts are urging students to opt-out of high-stakes testing as a knee-jerk reaction to the one-size-fits-all approach to education. Now, that the gentle winds of karma have blown dust into eyes of blind-sighted school district leaders that failed to educate all students equally, they are forced to contrive ways to avert a horrific tailspin created from the consequences of their misbegotten logic.
Black parents impacted by the racial bias and inequities of failed public education should opt-out of public school and homeschool for the benefit and well-being of their children.
The writer, a Nyack resident, is a writer, attorney and community member of The Journal News/lohud Editorial Board.
This article previously appearing in Lohud.