[Paleopsych] NYT Op-Ed: On the Sidelines of the Most Important Civil Rights Battle Since 'Brown'

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Opinion > Editorial Observer: On the Sidelines of
the Most Important Civil Rights Battle Since 'Brown'
[So the tests are no longer held to be racially biased? Note that closing 
the gap is still important to this writer.]


    The civil rights establishment was once a fiercely independent force
    that bedeviled politicians on both sides of the aisle and evaluated
    policies based on whether those policies harmed or helped the poor.
    This tradition of independence has disappeared. Over the last two
    decades, in fact, the old-line civil rights groups have evolved into
    wholly owned subsidiaries of the Democratic Party. The groups are
    disinclined to turn on their friends - or to openly embrace even
    beneficial policies that happen to have a Republican face.

    This posture has been painfully evident in the debate surrounding the
    No Child Left Behind education law, a signature Bush administration
    reform that also happens to be the best hope for guaranteeing black
    and Latino children a chance at equal education. The law is not
    perfect and will need adjustments. But its core requirement that the
    states educate minority children to the same standards as white
    children breaks with a century-old tradition of educational
    unfairness. The new law could potentially surpass Brown v. Board of
    Education in terms of widening access to high-quality public

    The same civil rights groups that sing hosannas to Brown have been
    curiously muted - and occasionally even hostile - to No Child Left
    Behind. But the groups have mainly been missing from the debate,
    according to Dr. James Comer, the educational reformer and Yale
    University psychiatrist. "They have been absent," Dr. Comer told me
    last week. "They need to pay attention to what works. They need to be
    in the middle of the fight because these are our kids."

    Why are civil rights groups standing on the sidelines instead of
    fighting to ensure that this law succeeds? The reasons are numerous
    and complex. One of the most obvious is that civil rights officials
    and some black lawmakers are wary of embracing a law associated with a
    conservative Republican president.

    Like many other Americans, people in the civil rights establishment
    typically argue that it is unfair to enforce No Child Left Behind -
    and to require higher achievement from minority children and better
    performance from their teachers - until the government provides enough
    money to do the job. There is no question that the law is
    underfinanced. But how much money is "enough" to proceed? What if the
    ideal dollar amount takes 25 years to materialize and what if it never
    arrives at all? In this context, waiting for "enough money" becomes an
    argument for maintaining the disastrous status quo and sacrificing yet
    another generation of minority students.

    Next up is the antitesting argument. Civil rights activists commonly
    embrace the popular but erroneous view that the reading and math tests
    associated with No Child Left Behind are culturally biased or unfair
    to minority children. Paradoxically, those who hold this view are
    often middle- and upper-class African-Americans who have law degrees
    and Ph.D.'s, which require rigorous tests and high achievement.

    The simple achievement tests required under the law are essential to
    the objective of closing the education gap. By arguing that these
    tests are inappropriate and culturally biased, these members of the
    liberal black elite have unwittingly embraced the worst stereotypes
    about the poor. They have also given cover to politicians who believe
    that the achievement gap can never be closed and that minority
    children can never reach the levels attained by their white, affluent

    The most complex and deep-seated objections to No Child Left Behind
    are clearly emanating from teachers and school administrators, who
    have come under increasing pressure to improve student performance.
    They have always wielded an outsized influence in the black community,
    especially in the days of segregation, when they made up that
    community's largest, most visible and most respected professional
    group. Members of the teacher corps have historically played powerful
    roles in civic organizations, including churches, while forming the
    backbone of civil rights groups like the N.A.A.C.P.

    Thanks in part to the civil rights movement, which expanded job
    opportunities, the teacher corps in the black community is not what it
    used to be. Many black children now attend school in educational dead
    zones, where teachers are two or three times more likely to be
    uncredentialed or unqualified than in the suburbs. It should come as
    no surprise that minority children lag behind.

    The educational dead zones have become part of a vicious cycle. As
    experienced teachers retire, they are replaced by people who were
    themselves educated in dismal public schools and sent on to teachers'
    colleges that are often little more than diploma mills. The federal
    government tried to fix this problem in the late 1990's when it
    encouraged teachers' colleges to beef up curriculum and student
    performance in exchange for the federal dollars they get in subsidies
    and student loans. This effort failed, but it spawned No Child Left
    Behind, which requires the states to place highly qualified teachers
    in every classroom.

    This is a difficult moment for the civil rights movement, which is
    understandably fearful of taking positions that would discomfit the
    teachers among its supporters. But standing silently on the sidelines
    of the debate about teacher preparedness and No Child Left Behind is
    hardly the answer. Unless the civil rights establishment adopts a
    stronger and more public position, it will inevitably be viewed as
    having missed the most important civil rights battle of the last


    1. http://query.nytimes.com/search/query?ppds=bylL&v1=BRENT%20STAPLES&fdq=19960101&td=sysdate&sort=newest&ac=BRENT%20STAPLES&inline=nyt-per

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