Saturday, May 13, 2006

Obligatory Blogging About CAHSEE

So a judge suspended the 2006 CAlifornia High School Exit Exam, thereby allowing students to graduate without first passing this exam.

There is much to the coverage that feels sloppy and inaccurate. Do not report the total number of students failing without also reporting the total number of students failing who also lack the GPA and credits to graduate. If 47,000 failed it and 46,999 went into having previously failed to demonstrate the common indicators of learning, it is a non-event. Relatively. It's the kids with the credits and 2.5, who have received no notice from their teachers and their schools of inadequate knowledge whose failure is the most repugnant. I want to read about those kids, if they exist. On a slightly different note, I do not want to read about California high schools as if they were this generic whole, no one school different from any other. That is clearly and demonstrably false.

Coverage aside, on the central issues, I feel torn.

Torn because the inequities are pervasive and debilitating. We know the data; we know that kids born into poverty, into non-English speaking families, kids with dark skin -- we know those kids will have fewer quality teachers, and will attend schools with fewer resources, less security, and more negative role-models than positive. We know that low-income Latino and African-American kids are more likely to have a variety of factors pulling them away from educational success than pushing them upward. Like the outcome of a presidential election with pervasive voter fraud, the results of a high school exit exam emerging from a grossly unjust system provide no basis for forward thinking, only evidence of the need for reform.

Torn, because I believe in the power of teachers and schools to overcome those inequities and the obstacles they erect. I believe that the adults who run schools have the power to create environments where students are capable of meeting (at least!) these basic requirements. This is a belief I held in college and the last four years of teaching have only served to strengthen and reinforce it. Lack of motivation, poverty, ELL status, family troubles -- there is no excuse for the failure to educate kids, only poor attempts to rationalize and explain away that failure.

Torn. So let me say this: It is wrong for the ruling to have applied to every student, in every community across California. It should have been limited to the individual students bringing suit. Can they demonstrate they were taught by unqualified professionals, in poorly run schools, with insufficient resources? Then again, a diploma in absence of the skills that are to underline it and give it meaning reverts to nothing more than a piece of paper.

Maybe the best we can hope for is a further light-shedding on the problems of education, and an call to further reform.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The test is yet another measure of the injustice that exists in California. Yes, every student should have an excellent teacher in a safe and supportive learning environment. These conditions do not currently exist because of many factors. Two obvious conditions that support injustice are housing and unions. Children who happen to be born to parents who are poor will likely go to an inferior school because their parents cannot afford to live in the "better" communities. Throughout California there is a strong positive correlation with the number of students who receive free or reduced lunch (a commonly used measure of poverty) and student assessment outcomes. Local politicians and developers work to create the "ideal" communities, complete with a great school for "our" children to attend. The geograpical limitations imposed by local school boards further support the segregation of students into "good" and "not so good" schools. This is a type of institutional bias that is common throughtout the United States. Metropolitics is a good read on this issue.

The California Teachers Association and teacher unions at the school district level further cause harm to children through union contract provisions that allow teachers with seniority to select where they will teach. This sounds reasonable, except the outcome results in an unfair allocation of experienced teachers. The pattern we see throughout California is experienced and highly qualified teachers select "nice" schools in "nice" neighborhoods. The schools in the poor neighborhoods get the left overs... inexperienced, often underqualifed, teachers.

So while the test is a concern, why is so little attention focused on the causes of the achivement gap? It's not really fair, is it?

1:51 PM  
Blogger TMAO said...

I think it is somewhat of a stretch to condemn the entire union for this policy when it remains a vehicle for teachers to exercise choice. Everyone loves choice, right? It's not the permissive policy, it's the educational culture, the demands of those schools, the relatively low pay (it's good now, but as my skills and bills increase and my salary does not...?). Rather than condemn an institution that is fulfilling its mandate, we should look for ways to flip the script. Everyone should want to teach at a not "nice" school in a not "nice" neighborhood. Ethically, professionally, financially.

I agree that an undue amount of attention has been paid to this test, rather than the underlying inequities and hard bigotry its results reveal.

There is a spotlight on California schools -- what we will do with it?

7:01 AM  

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