Tuesday Reading List: Conflicting Accounts

Good morning folks! Let's ease into the "Reading List" with something light today, say, white folks' perceptions of affirmative action. Vox's Victoria Massie looks at how white people perceive merit-based college admissions policies, based on the perceived competition:

Samson found that white Californians had inconsistent views on how much weight should be given to test scores when evaluating applicants. White Californians were much more likely to emphasize GPA when they perceived black people as their competition. However, when they compared themselves to Asian applicants and were told that Asian students are overrepresented on college campuses, white Californians deemphasized the importance of GPA. Indeed, the degree to which white people emphasized merit for college admissions changed depending on the racial minority group, and whether they believed test scores alone would still give them an upper hand against a particular racial minority.

If you're reading this blog, you probably know where I stand on this idea. Most of American society was built on the idea that white people should receive unfair advantages based on race, so it should be no surprise that the psychological underpinnings of institutionalized white supremacy still exist. There's no other way to explain this protean idea of what "merit" actually constitutes.

Last week I discussed how this legacy of institutional discrimination affects school funding, and EdBuild takes a closer look this week, fleshing out the extent to which the Supreme Court reinforced the constitutionality of inequity:

With its ruling in [San Antonio v. Rodriguez, 1973], the Supreme Court forfeited any responsibility to level the playing field for poor students, and left their fates to 51 state definitions of “equity” and “opportunity”. Today, there are no federal criteria for what constitutes an education, leaving each state to set its own standards and requirements. In some states, education systems must be “thorough and efficient.” In others, they must be “uniform and general.” Still others expect schools to prepare each child to participate in democracy. These different standards create a system in which your home state and community dictate the level of education to which you are entitled.

Speaking of how different standards affect the "level of education to which you are entitled," the Common Core was supposed to fix all of that, right? Here's the head of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation acknowledging the hits and misses of Common Core rollout:

We’ve begun to see signs of improvement in student performance in some of the states that have embraced the Common Core. Kentucky, the first state to adopt the standards, is a prime example ... Kentucky has increased from 27 percent to 33 percent students meeting three out of four ACT benchmarks for college readiness since 2011. The same metric nationally has remained flat since 2011, so a 6 percentage point increase is a sign of real progress ... Unfortunately, our foundation underestimated the level of resources and support required for our public education systems to be well-equipped to implement the standards. We missed an early opportunity to sufficiently engage educators – particularly teachers – but also parents and communities so that the benefits of the standards could take flight from the beginning.

It's hard to believe that the rollout of quasi-national standards in a country built on a Balkanized system of local control could ever have gone smoothly, but there definitely are lessons to be learned here. The notion that teachers are the most important part of the education delivery system is a given, but the idea that they're also the primary public evangelists seemed to elude the Common Core framers. Woe is the standards architect who doesn't deliberately include teachers in their communications and messaging strategy! The Hechinger Report took a closer look at Kentucky's progress, with a focus on how the state's English Language Learners are adapting to the new standards:

... it’s hard to determine from looking at the state’s testing data how successful schools have been in closing the achievement gap between [English language learners] and their peers since Common Core was implemented ... Unlike groups based on race or disability or other factors, English learners are, by definition, a transient group. Students who meet English proficiency standards – and are therefore more likely to do well on the state’s exams – cease to be tracked as English learners. That makes it difficult for schools to close the achievement gap for the English learner group ... [one principal] said she’d like to see more meaningful measures of how schools are closing the achievement gap for English learners, such as how quickly a student is able to move out of English-learner status, or finding a way to measure content knowledge without their language limitation being a factor in the score. For instance, she said she does a quick nonverbal math test with new students at her school to get a sense of where they are academically.

I love this kind of reporting, because it goes beyond the "he said/she said" politics of reform and looks at what literacy strategies actually work. If you're a fan of the conflict narrative, though, you might be disappointed that Jay Mathews smells an imminent detente in the reform wars:

[T]wo of the education war’s most prolific warriors — historian and author Diane Ravitch and investor and charter school advocate Whitney Tilson — are talking nice to each other and making a list of the things they agree on ... Tilson and Ravitch agreed, for instance, that poverty has an enormous effect on a child’s ability to learn; that fixing homelessness, violence, broken families and other social ills is critical; that some testing is necessary but too much is harmful; that expanding high-quality pre-K is important; that teachers should be evaluated regularly, comprehensively and fairly with the primary goal of helping them improve their craft; that if a teacher doesn’t improve, there needs to be a timely and fair system to get him or her out of the profession; and that in fighting for the interests of teachers, unions are doing exactly what they’re supposed to.

Mathews also shared some breaking footage of Tilson and Ravitch:

I'm skeptical that we're about to enter an age of unprecedented civility in education policy. That said, I do think that the putative alliances in the field are bound to shift, based on interests. For example, the Opt Out movement, and its overwhelming whiteness, suggests that unions have a lot of political common ground with wealthier suburbs, and not necessarily with low-income communities:

One dimension of the debate that’s gained more prominence in media coverage and policy debates this year is the racial and ethnic makeup of families opting out ... In New York, students without a valid reason for missing the state tests last year were much more likely to be white, according to the ETS report. Also, they were less likely to be economically disadvantaged or English language learners. Likewise, the report said, Coloradans who skipped the state exams in 2015 tended to be white students who were ineligible for a free or reduced-price lunch. Opt-out rates were low last year in most large urban districts, one recent report concludes.

It looks like #OptOutSoWhite is more than just a hashtag, despite some folks sharing anecdotal evidence to the contrary. Anecdotes are instructive, but remember folks ... if they don't stand up to rigorous scrutiny, they're not that useful in describing the world at large.