Lowering Testing Standards is not an Effort to Help Poor Kids. It's a Way to Screw Them.

Story in The New York Times this morning about efforts in the Texas Legislature to cut back testing and course requirements for graduation from high school. If you sort through, most the alligator-tears for poor kids supposedly being pushed to learn too much stuff come from tea party types like state Senator Dan Patrick in Houston, while advocates for poor and minority children are fighting to keep high standards.

Kati Haycock, president of a nonprofit advocating for minority and poor children, tells the Times: "What we all know is when you leave it up to kids and schools, the poor kids and kids of color will be disproportionately not in the curriculum that could make the most difference for them."

See also: Legislature's Step Backward on School Testing Makes Us Like France, Only Racist

Representative Jimmie Don Aycock, the Killeen Republican who authored the Dumb and Dumber bill that just passed the House, frames it as freedom of choice for poor children: "I don't want them to have to choose up or choose down, but choose what's right for them," he tells New York.

Yeah, right. When did middle class white people start believing in freedom of choice for children? I thought the rule was always, "Because I said so." Oh, wait. This is freedom of choice for poor black and brown children, isn't it? We need to let those kids choose to be less competitive with our own, don't we?

And then we have the other argument for Dumb and Dumber: Testing kids and making them know all this stuff reduces classroom creativity for teachers. But creativity for what? Hey, listen, I want to give you a snapshot of what. Right here.

This morning I'm looking at numbers culled from the Texas Education Agency web pages for the black majority high schools in Dallas -- Lincoln, Madison, Pinkston, South Oak Cliff, Carter and Roosevelt. In the last eight years, 8,188 kids have graduated from those six schools. Of those young people, a total of 99 tested at levels indicating they were capable of succeeding in college.

That's 1.2 percent of graduates. Put that up against statewide numbers: in 2011, 52 percent of all graduating public school students in Texas tested at a college-ready level or above. Of all black seniors in Texas, 36 percent tested as college-ready in 2011. There's your creativity: 98.8 percent of graduates not capable of making it at a four-year college.

So does that mean black families in Dallas are comfortable with these six high schools that can barely find a single kid worth sending to college? Apparently not, because black families are ditching out of all six of those schools about as fast as they can manage. Since 2002, Carter has seen a 45 percent decline in enrollment. At Lincoln the decline is 41 percent and Roosevelt 40 percent.

No, black families are not satisfied with results in those schools. They are voting with their feet and checkbooks, shipping kids off to private or suburban schools where they will be pushed to be Smart and Smarter, not that other thing the tea party has in mind for them. In fact the Dumb and Dumber movement is a sub-rosa abandonment of public education, pushed by tricornered hat types like Patrick who don't believe in a civil society, by teachers who have given up, and, as we are seeing here in Dallas, a cadre of school administrators who are making a pretty nice little living off abject failure.

No, minority families won't stick around forever and watch their kids shrivel on the vine. Gradually, as soon as they are able, they will abandon urban public schools entirely. Then Patrick can achieve his own dream -- plywood in the school house door.

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Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze