No Child Left Behind

Weekly Wrap 10.17.14: The 10 Best Stories You Missed This Week

1. Race and America’s Gun Culture
"Whites walking down Main Street with an AK-47 are defenders of American values; a black man doing the same thing is Public Enemy No. 1."

2. Keeping the Faith: How Childhood Influences Churchgoing
From college education to birth order, this article offers all the latest stats on American religiosity.

3. WATCH: British Nurse Who Survived Ebola Will Return to Africa Because ‘There’s Still A Lot of Work to Do’
William Pooley is a volunteer nurse who contracted the disease in Sierra Leone. He plans to return.

4. Dear White People: Art Imitating Life’s Racism
"Simien told The Root he’s not trying to embarrass but instead is trying to open a dialogue through his humor. He wants white filmgoers to know, ‘It’s not an hour-and-a-half indictment of your people.’ Instead it could be taken as a 108-minute indictment of all people."

Education and the Wealth Gap

 

Ask a random group of people, “How do we improve our public schools?” and you’re apt to get divergent, passionate answers. Christians, like other citizens, have different opinions on how to heal what’s hurting in our education system. What we can share is a belief that all children are truly precious in God’s sight and an understanding that public education is a key component of the common good—that a healthy school system has the potential to bring opportunity and uplift to children regardless of their economic status. Jan Resseger is the minister for public education and witness with the national Justice and Witness Ministries of the United Church of Christ. She spoke with Sojourners associate editor Julie Polter in June.

Sojourners: Why is public education a commitment for the United Church of Christ?
Jan Resseger: The commitment to education is a long tradition for us. Our pilgrim forebears brought community schooling and higher education to the New England colonies—New England congregationalism is one of our denominational roots. Another root is the American Missionary Association (AMA), an abolitionist society that grew out of the defense committee for the Africans on the slave ship Amistad. The AMA founded schools for freed slaves as a path to citizenship across the South during and after the Civil War.

Several denominations came together as the UCC in 1957, and our general synods since then have taken stands on issues such as the protection of the First Amendment in public schools and supporting school desegregation through the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s. From 1958 to the present, we have spoken to institutional and structural racism and classism in schools. We also have addressed privatization, because we’ve been strong supporters for many, many years of public schools as key to the strength of our society and democracy.

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Test Anxiety

THE SO-CALLED “accountability movement” has been a bipartisan movement; virtually no one is proposing that we cut back on standardized tests. They’ve come to dominate school for children and teachers, and they’ve narrowed the curriculum. They’ve caused people to feel pressure to cheat. While standardized tests have been emphasized less in schools where children are highly affluent—those children still get an enriched curriculum—children in schools that are poor get a heavily test-prep curriculum that’s not very enticing.

At a higher level, standardized tests are at the core of the test-and-punish philosophy of No Child Left Behind (NCLB). All the punishments are based on test scores; whether it’s identifying failing schools and closing them if their scores are too low or giving teachers poor evaluations, and maybe firing them, based on student test scores—or whether it’s the very draconian ways of dealing with the bottom 5 percent of schools in the NCLB waivers and Race to the Top grants, as Education Secretary Arne Duncan proposes.

High-stakes testing is at the core of what’s wrong with where we’re headed. Because the stakes are so high, they’ve caused a narrowing of the curriculum. The tests required for NCLB are basic reading and math. They don’t test social studies or the arts. Because the scores matter so much, they’re driving policy all around it.

We know that student tests aren’t designed to evaluate their teachers. Teaching is a hugely complicated endeavor of connection between students and teachers, and test scores may not reflect what’s happening there and the benefits.

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'We Have a Long Way to Go'

For nearly 50 years, Jonathan Kozol has dedicated his life to working with low-income children in inner cities. As one of the leading advocates for public education reform and the author of three prize-winning books about his time with children in the South Bronx, Kozol is a steadfast champion of children subjected to poverty. Fire in the Ashes: Twenty-Five Years Among the Poorest Children in America serves as his culminating work about his captivating journey, with them, of friendship, triumph, and loss.

As Jan Resseger points out in “Education and the Wealth Gap” in the September-October issue of Sojourners magazine, the unjust, systemic economic inequality in U.S. public education today harms the common good. Kozol writes with conviction and clarity that public education must be reformed to benefit all children, not just a select few.

Fire in the Ashes launched nationwide on August 28; he’s currently on a fall book tour. Sojourners assistant editor Elaina Ramsey, a former resident of the Mott Haven section of the South Bronx, spoke with Kozol in early August.

Elaina Ramsey: What compelled you to write Fire in the Ashes?
Jonathan Kozol: In the middle of the 1980s, I was drawn into the terrible struggles of the destitute families in New York. A religious friend of mine brought me to a homeless shelter in midtown Manhattan, a nightmarish place called the Martinique Hotel. It was a 17-story building packed with about 1600 children and their parents. I spent two or three years with families from that shelter. In 1990 and 1991, the city finally shut down that shelter and resettled them in the poorer sections of the South Bronx.              

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SURVEY: Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?

Kids these days experience a lot of pressure, especially from the onslaught of standardized tests in public schools. Test Anxiety by Jan Resseger in the September-October 2012 issue of Sojourners explains how test scores have become an inefficient way to identify failing schools, measure teacher performance, or assess students’ educational development. And yet, standardized tests are all the rage in public education.

Take five minutes and see if you can make the grade by completing this multiple-choice test based on actual fifth-grade level questions. Don’t worry about recalling history lessons, employing scientific knowledge, or using your artistic intellect. Just like today’s standardized exams taken by children across the country, this test measures your “intelligence” by evaluating only math and reading skills.

And remember, there is no cheating—or googling—allowed. If all else fails, the answer is always C, right?

UPDATE: We have exceeded our limit of survey responses. This test is now closed -- thank you for your interest!

Elaina Ramsey is assistant editor of Sojourners.

Image: Quiz Time, Lisa F. Young / Shutterstock.com

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