Monthly Archives: November 2012

Soft Bigotry and No Child Left Behind Waivers

Regardless of one’s political loyalties, most Americans support education reform in one format or another.  Given this notion, it’s no surprise that when the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 was enacted, it served as a glimmering bipartisan beacon of hope and domestic achievement. [1]  Under No Child Left Behind, President Bush sought to silence the “soft bigotry” of low educational expectations for minority students.  [2]  To effectuate this noble goal, the legislation called for a test-based system of accountability, in which states set standards for student proficiency in reading and math. [3]  Ultimately, under the legislation’s directives, states were required to implement annual testing in reading and math for students in grades 3-8 by the year 2005-2006. [4]  By the year 2007-2008, states also had to test students in science at least once during the elementary, middle, and high school levels. [5]

The new law further required fourth graders and eighth graders in every state to participate in the National Assessment of Education Progress, a yearly testing program designed to analyze reading and math levels and provide a “point of comparison” for states to gauge their progress. [6]  Such tests isolated the results of certain student subgroups like minorities, disabled, and Non-English speaking groups which enabled schools to monitor progress levels more closely. [7] In the event a school failed to meet adequate yearly progress targets, whether as a whole or among certain subgroups, certain sanctions were imposed. [8]  These sanctions ranged from requiring supplemental educational assistance to outside corrective measures like state takeovers and the closing of individual schools. [9]

The numerous impositions set in motion by the No Child Left Behind Act were all geared towards achieving one lofty goal:  to make all students completely proficient in reading and math by 2014.  But despite the law’s good intentions, it fell under rampant scrutiny as certain pitfalls began to emerge.  Critics and supporters alike became increasingly concerned that the law’s requirement of evaluating annual yearly progress by student demographics would disproportionately castigate schools with more diverse student bodies. [10]  Others worried that the legislation’s adamant emphasis on yearly standardized testing would convert many public schools into test prep regimes, ignoring the needs of individual students and devaluing numerous non-tested subjects. [11]  As more and more schools failed to reach their yearly progress targets, the goal of 100% proficiency by 2014 seemed to slip further out of reach, and by 2009, test results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress illustrated that student progress increased at faster rates in the years before the Act’s inception. [12]

As the 2014 proficiency goal date inched closer, the idealism that formerly illuminated the Act’s passage had begun to dismantle, and by 2010 38% of schools were not meeting adequate yearly progress targets. [13]  Pressure from the U.S. Secretary of Education prompted the Obama administration to devise an ambitious agenda to refocus federal resources on a limited population of extremely at-risk schools. [14]  Unfortunately, Congress continually stalled, unable to agree on the exact parameters that would shape reformative legislation. [15]  In response, President Obama granted states the option of electing waivers to design their own accountability systems and bypass the 2014 proficiency deadline. [16]  The waivers granted states increased flexibility to change their academic goals.  Consequently, a large majority of the states receiving federal waivers set different accountability standards for different subgroups of students. [17]  Thus far, thirty four states have received waivers from the federal government. [18] Of these states, only eight have set the same proficiency target for all subgroups of students. [19] The twenty-six other states that received waivers set goals that measure different achievement benchmarks on the basis of a student’s race. [20]

The most controversial example of race-based benchmarks was created by the Florida State Board of Education.  Florida’s plan set academic performance goals on a curve with achievement targets related to race and income. [21]  In Florida, 74% of Black students and 81% of Hispanic students are expected to be reading at grade level by the year 2018. [22]  This is markedly lower than the percentages for white students (90%) and Asian students (90%). [23] Perhaps unsurprisingly, these varying benchmarks provoked a torrent of biting criticisms.  Those in opposition to the race correlated achievement standards pinpoint a cruel irony: the Act that was supposed to remedy unequal opportunities by bringing all children to the same level of learning, has instead encouraged an institutionalization of educational inequity. [24]  By setting achievement goals based on the color of a student’s skin, states suggest that race somehow influences one’s ability to learn, a view that America should have long-ago abandoned. [25] Furthermore, critics argue that by establishing lower achievement goals for minority students, states send the misguided message that minority students are not as capable. [26]  This has the concomitant effect of solidifying the “soft bigotry of low expectations” the Act intended to eradicate. [27]

While these criticisms carry definite merit, many individuals have come to the defense of Florida’s race-based achievement standards, arguing that they allow for more realistic goals given the current progress rates among subgroups.  Currently in Florida, 38% of Black students are reading at grade level; with Hispanics at 53%, and whites at 69%.  [28].  Based on these different levels of placement, Florida set different achievement standards as part of an intentional strategy to mend the achievement gaps among racial lines. [29]  In order for Black students to reach the 74% proficiency rate set for 2018, they will have to almost double their current proficiency rate of 38%, whereas Florida’s white students must increase their proficiency rate by 19%.  [30].  If these goals are reached, Florida will effectively shrink the achievement gap between black and white students from 31% to 14% in a period of five years. [31]  A spokesperson for the Education Trust explained in a letter to the editor of a Florida newspaper that while the different goals for different racial groups “may feel ‘just plain wrong’ . . .it’s absolutely the right thing to do . . .to close the achievement gap [by] demand[ing] more and faster progress for students of color.” [32]  In the same vein, Florida’s State Representative Dwight Bullard explained that the “separate but equal” achievement goals are aimed at closing the “opportunity gap” between different groups of students. [33]

Only time will tell whether Florida will meet its goal of 100% proficiency rates among all groups of students by 2023.  However, one thing is clear: while the different educational achievement goals in Florida and other states are troubling, the current racially disparate proficiency levels are even more troubling.  By setting different achievement goals for different subgroups of students, Florida is ultimately recognizing these existing disparities, and seeking to amend them by creating more aggressive progress growth rates for certain groups of students.  Ideally, this will direct teachers to focus increased energy on those students who are more at-risk, and close the achievement gap once and for all.

 

SOURCES

[1]http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/subjects/n/no_child_left_behind_act/index.html

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] http://www.edweek.org/ew/issues/no-child-left-behind/

[5] Id.

[6]http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/subjects/n/no_child_left_behind_act/index.html

[7] Id.

[8] http://www.edweek.org/ew/issues/no-child-left-behind/

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] 10

[12] http://www.edweek.org/ew/issues/no-child-left-behind/

[13] Id.

[14]http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/subjects/n/no_child_left_behind_act/index.html

[15] http://www.edweek.org/ew/issues/no-child-left-behind/

[16]http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/subjects/n/no_child_left_behind_act/index.html

[17] http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2012/10/17/08waiver_ep.h32.html

[18] http://diverseeducation.com/article/49224

[19] http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2012/10/17/08waiver_ep.h32.html

[20] http://diverseeducation.com/article/49224

[21] http://www.brandenton.com/2012/10/15/4239423/florida-sets-different- academic.html

[22] http://diverseeducation.com/article/49224

[23] Id.

[24] http://schoolofthough.blogs.cnn.com/2012/10/17/a-majority-of-states-set-different-benchmarks-by-race/?iref=allsearch

[25] http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/18/education/florida-officials-defend-racial-and-ethnic-learning-goals.html

[26] Id.

[27] http://diverseeducation.com/article/49224

[28] http://www.brandenton.com/2012/10/15/4239423/florida-sets-different- academic.html

[29] Id.

[30] http://schoolofthough.blogs.cnn.com/2012/10/17/a-majority-of-states-set-different-benchmarks-by-race/?iref=allsearch

[31] Id.

[32] http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/campaign-k-12/2012/10/during_last_nights_debate_betw.html

[33] http://www.brandenton.com/2012/10/15/4239423/florida-sets-different- academic.html

 

 

 

 

Voter’s Rights

The right to vote is an essential right to all American’s and is an important part of the democratic process. However, several states have begun enacting voter ID laws which can dramatically undermine an individual’s right to vote, particularly among minorities and the elderly. These voter ID laws require that a person present a state issued photo ID card, which is proving difficult to obtain for many people who would otherwise be eligible to vote.

In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Victoria Applewhite, is suffering from the effects of Pennsylvania’s voter ID law. Mrs. Applewhite is a 93 year old African-American woman who has been a dedicated voter for the past five decades and even took place in civil rights movements fighting to obtain the right for African American’s to vote. Under Pennsylvania’s new laws, she is required to present a state issued photo ID card, and in order to obtain one she must present a valid birth certificate. While this may seem like a simple request, Mrs. Applewhite, like many others, is unable to obtain a proper ID. She was adopted, and while she was finally able to obtain a copy of her birth certificate, the name on her certificate is different from the name she took after she was adopted, she is still unable to obtain a valid Pennsylvania ID, and therefore was unable to vote in November’s elections.[1]

Mrs. Applewhite is not alone in this situation. A reported 11% of voting age Americans lack proper identification required under these voter ID laws. That 11% comes out to about 21 million Americans who will be denied the right to vote based on a lack of state issued identification.[2] These laws particularly inhibit minorities, the poor, the elderly and young voters. Of the 21 million Americans without proper identification, “25% are African-American, 15% earn less than $35,000 a year, 18% are 65 or older, and 20% are 18 to 29.”[3]

Proponents of these laws reason that they are important measures to keep down voter fraud, which can be an important issue especially in areas where the elections are generally close. Texas is another state which implemented a voter ID law in 2011. In support of this law Texas officials looked at areas in Texas such as Loving County, which had a voter turnout of 157% of the total population of the area.[4] Further, proponents of the Texas law looked at reports of “at least 239 dead people casting a ballot in the past year.”[5] Supporters in Texas argue that the requirement of having an acceptable ID card is reasonable and most people need them for everyday life anyway. Further, supporters say that the legislature is required to maintain integrity in the voting process and have said that these laws allow the voters to have confidence in the voting system.[6]

While voter fraud is potentially a big problem, and could drastically undermine the voting process, these laws seem to be a dramatic response to a relatively small number of voter fraud instances. Furthermore, there are already other laws in place to help ensure that individuals do not commit voter fraud. The instances of voter fraud which supporters say justify the voter ID laws are in reality few and far between. In the past decade, only fifty people have been convicted of voter fraud in Texas. Further, the areas where it appears to be a huge problem, such as Loving County, have extremely small populations, illustrating that the few actual incidences of voter fraud likely have no real impact on the large scale elections.

Although the laws are supposed to eliminate voter fraud, they have been increasingly criticized as State’s methods of keeping poorer and minority voters from participating in elections. Many of the states which now enforce these types of laws are the same states that used to utilized literacy tests, taxes and other methods to attempt to control which citizens registered to vote and participated in the elections. As mentioned previously, these laws affect minorities, the poor and the elderly more than any other voter groups. Under the Voter Rights Act of 1965, the Federal Government has the ability to oversee election practices in states that had a history of discriminatory methods.[7] The Texas law was recently struck down by a panel of Federal Judges in Washington, D.C., however proponents say that they will be taking the measure to the Supreme Court.[8] In striking down the law, the court reasoned that the impact of the law fell too heavily on the poor and on Hispanics and African Americans in particular.[9] Texas supporters argue that these types of laws have been upheld by the Supreme Court in states such as Georgia and Indiana, and continue to cite reduction of voter fraud as the reason for the voter ID requirements.[10]

Many of these laws have either been implemented or strengthened in the years following the 2008 election which saw an increase in both young and minority workers. In my opinion, requiring a state issued ID in order to vote does not seem like a huge hurdle for a potential voter. However, because of the lack of evidence of large scale voter fraud that this process is supposed to prevent, and the disparate impact among certain voting groups, I believe that these laws are too restrictive and an overreaction to a problem that does not appear to be happening on a large scale. Some states, such as California, have moved in the opposite direction, making it even easier for people to register to vote by implementing an online voter registration where eligible voters only need a California driver’s license or California ID number in order to register to vote. This has been seen as California’s response to voter ID laws and a manner to increase the number of citizens who go out to vote.[11] I believe that programs such as this are what more states need to implement. As evidenced by the many campaigns attempting to get younger generations to vote, it is important that we do not create further barriers to registration. There are already laws in place which protect against voter fraud, and the strict voter ID laws, like the one in Texas, seem to place unnecessary burdens and hardships, and keep many people from voting, including people who have been voting for many generations.

Voting is one of the most important rights and most important processes in our country. It is important that we implement programs and procedures that do not discourage people, particularly the younger generations from going out to vote. While voter fraud is a legitimate concern, it has to be balanced against the need to have everyone’s voice heard and allow any eligible person to exercise their right to vote.


[1] Penda Hair and Judith Brown Dianis, U.S. Voting Rights Under Siege, CNN Opinion (Aug. 7, 2012, 7:01 AM), http://www.cnn.com/2012/08/06/opinion/hair-dianis-voting-rights/index.html.

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] Bill Mears, Texas Voter ID Law Goes to Court,  CNN U.S. (Jul. 9, 2012, 4:31 PM), http://www.cnn.com/2012/07/09/us/texas-voter-id-law/index.html.

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7] Penda Hair and Judith Brown Dianis, U.S. Voting Rights Under Siege, CNN Opinion (Aug. 7, 2012, 7:01 AM), http://www.cnn.com/2012/08/06/opinion/hair-dianis-voting-rights/index.html.

[8] Melanie Eversley, Texas Voter ID Law Struck Down by Federal Judges, USA Today News (Aug. 30, 2012 9:04 PM), http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/nation/story/2012-08-30/Texas-voter-ID-law/57454218/1.

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11]Albert Sabate, Surge of New California Voters Lean Democrat, ABC News (Nov. 2, 2012), http://abcnews.go.com/ABC_Univision/News/california-record-number-voters-register-online/story?id=17621739#.UJRFX3Vpe8A.

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