Where I Vent Some Poorly-Suppressed Anger at White Privilege in N.J. Education Politics

I’ve been squelching some anger for a couple of weeks hoping  it would dissipate.  It hasn’t. If you follow my blog you know that reticence isn’t one of my strong suits but I really do try to avoid calling people out by name. It happens a lot to me so I know how it feels and, even if we disagree, we're all on the same side because we want better schools for kids, right?  But I can't let this go.

Three unrelated events occurred over the last two weeks. First, a few local papers covered some old news: children in highly-subsidized “Abbott” districts aren’t doing as well as students in equally poor districts that don’t get large infusions of state aid. (Translation: piles of cash don’t ameliorate poor student outcomes without school reform.)

Second, the New Jersey State Board of Education made a fair and logical decision to adopt two PARCC assessments -- 10th grade language arts and Algebra 1, which students typically take in 8th or 9th grade --  as the state’s qualifying exams for high school diplomas, beginning with the class of 2021. (Students with disabilities, English Language Learners, and those who are fail the tests multiple times will have the option of submitting portfolios.)

Third, I spent three days at the N.J. Parent Summit where I had the honor of talking at length with many parents of color from Newark and Camden who are ardently dedicated to their children’s academic success. I also spent much of a day last week with a Newark mom who, despite heart-wrenching challenges that include extreme poverty, abusive foster care, and homelessness, triumphed educationally and professionally.

I don’t pretend to understand all the nuances of Black Lives Matter but I’m trying hard. Here’s what I do know: the reactions of two white privileged women stands in stark contrast to the perspectives and ambitions of a large segment of black and brown N.J. parents.

Let’s cut to the chase. The women I refer to are Rutgers Professor Julia Sass Rubin, the founder of Princeton-based Save Our Schools-NJ (an anti-choice and testing group),  and Susan Cauldwell, current president of SOS-NJ. SOS-NJ is allied with NJEA, the state's primary teacher union, and the Education Law Center, which litigates the Abbott cases.

Here’s Rubin on the failure of the Abbott remedy to achieve educational inequity: “Graduation rates and test scores in high-poverty districts will never be the same as in wealthy districts.”

Here’s Cauldwell on the State Board’s decision: “The main problem we have with PARCC as a graduation requirement is that students aren’t going to graduate.”

All I could think of was Rubin’s comment two years ago to the Star-Ledger when “she suggested poor families are less able to focus on the best place to educate their children…’People in abject poverty don’t have the bandwidth to even evaluate charter schools,’  she said. ‘It’s just not going to be high on their list..’”  (Newark mom Crystal Willliams shot back, “Who is Julia Sass Rubin and what does she have against my kids?”)

The cluelessness is crushing.  Check out this twitter exchange Rubin had with my (famous!) friend and colleague Chris Stewart on Twitter.
Citizen Stewart @citizenstewart
.@JuliaSassRubin "“Graduation rates and test scores in high-poverty districts will never be the same as in wealthy districts."
Julia Sass Rubin @JuliaSassRubin
@citizenstewart It's not defeatist to state that. It's reality. What's sad is that you didn't focus on the real problem in that article.
Citizen Stewart @citizenstewart
@JuliaSassRubin You are perpetuating institutional racism and classism. Acting as if these correlations are immutable, it's just sad.
Citizen Stewart @citizenstewart
@JuliaSassRubin It is a self-fulfilling prophecy that dooms underclass kids and fails to address systemic racism.
Let's get a few things straight. Poor children of color can flourish in high-functioning schools. Poor children of color can pass PARCC tests and do as well -- or better -- than students in "wealthy districts."  Poor children of color can match graduation rates in high-income districts. And, believe me, parents of color have ample "bandwidth" to see through the rationalizing rhetoric of privileged status quo apologists.

That, Julia and Susan, is reality.

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