by Cheryl Poe, Guest Blogger
I am an African-American mother of two children in Virginia public schools. Both children have learning disabilities.
My husband and I have high expectations for our children. It has been a struggle to make sure that their schools share our high expectations.
One day my son’s speech pathologist said she was not sure if my son had a “real” speech delay, or if my husband and I were speaking “Black English” at home, and that was causing my son’s speech delays. I guess she forgot that my husband, and proud father of my children, is White.
At that moment, I knew that it would take more than teaching our children to believe that if they work hard, they can and will achieve great things. I would also have to convince their schools and teachers to look beyond their race and their disabilities. I would have to persuade their schools that they could be successful in school and in life.
Virginia is sending a different message to parents like me—and to our schools.
Virginia adopted new achievement targets for schools that differ according to children’s race, socioeconomic status, disability, and language proficiency status. The targets for Black and Hispanic children are much lower than for White and Asian children. The goals for students with disabilities, low-income students, and English language learners are even lower.
Achievement Targets in Math
Asian Students: 82%
White students: 68%
Hispanic students: 52%
Black students: 45%
Next year’s goal for students with disabilities, only about 10% of whom have severe cognitive deficits, is a gut-wrenchingly awful 33%.
Virginia’s plan will lock in existing disparities for another six years and ensure that the achievement gap between black and white students will increase.
Here are the facts. On the 2010-2011 math tests, the black-white achievement gap was 13 points. Under the new objectives, the black-white achievement gap will increase to 21 points by the 2016-2017 school year.
History tells us what happens when we provide students with separate educational experiences. Before Brown v. Board of Education, millions of black students were locked out of white schools and denied educational opportunities. In Brown, the Supreme Court held that:
“Today, education is perhaps the most important function of state and local governments. Compulsory school attendance laws and the great expenditures for education both demonstrate our recognition of the importance of education to our democratic society … It is the very foundation of good citizenship …
“In these days, it is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education. Such an opportunity, where the state has undertaken to provide it, is a right which must be made available to all on equal terms.” Brown v. Board of Education (347 U.S. 483)
Before the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, millions of students with disabilities did not receive an appropriate education and millions more did not receive any educational services.
How many times do we have to learn that treating people differently – sometimes because we believe they need this to succeed – is the best way to ensure that they fail?
The good news is that advocates are taking a stand. I ask you to stand with us by signing this petition.
We need to send a message to federal and state policymakers that separate and unequal test targets are not acceptable.
Instead of test goals that lock in disparities, Virginia should have high expectations for all students. Schools need to provide more educational assistance to children in subgroups that are lagging behind. Schools and school divisions that are behind need to make greater rates of annual progress.
On August 29, in a surprise news release, the US Dept. of Education and the VDOE announced that they reached an agreement. VDOE would revise their Annual Measurable Objectives and submit them to the USED for approval.
Friends, this battle isn’t over. We need to remain vigilant.
Please sign the petition. It’s one way to ensure that state and federal officials know we are watching and will hold them accountable for the decisions they make.
Kris Amundson’s post on the Virginia waiver DO-OVER asks several questions that you need to consider, regardless of the state you live in.
- How did the Virginia application get approved in the first place?
- What other states have the same problem, but fewer rabble-rousers to sound the alarm?
- How are we going to close the achievement gaps that we all know exist?
For more information about Virginia’s problems and waivers, please see:
“Yes, Virginia, You are a Swing State” on Our Kids Count Blog
Virginia’s ‘Together and Unequal’ School Standards, an op-ed by Andy Rotherham, published in the Washington Post on August 24, 2012 about serious flaws in Virginia’s accountability system:
“96 percent of all Virginia schools are fully accredited at the same time that only 18 percent of black eighth-graders, 18 percent of low-income eighth-graders and 27 percent of Hispanic eighth-graders are proficient in math in the benchmark National Assessment of Educational Progress.”
New education standards won’t close achievement gap by Kris Amundson, published in the Richmond Times-Dispatch on August 25, 2012.
Virginia’s new standards based on race and background by Samreen Hooda, published in the Huffington Post on August 30, 2012:
Virginia to Revise Student Achievement Goals by Lyndsey Layton, published in the Washington Post on August 30, 2012.