[Paleopsych] NYT Op-Ed: On the Sidelines of the Most Important Civil Rights Battle Since 'Brown'
checker at panix.com
Mon Apr 18 19:11:57 UTC 2005
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.]
By BRENT STAPLES
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
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