Sharon Radd claims that public education in the U.S. has manipulated marginalized populations and has become privatized, imperialized and consumer-driven. “Listen for all the market language in the NCLB [No Child Left Behind] legislation,” says Radd, “You hear words such as ‘competition,’ ‘efficiency’ and ‘personal responsibility.’ I think that’s what makes NCLB really problematic.”
Radd, a public educator for 18 years, a Bush Fellow and a current doctoral candidate at the University of St. Thomas, was part of a panel speaking to the educators, policy makers and activists who met at Hamline University’s Klas Center on October 11. Other panel members were Dr. Michael Rodriguez, Associate Professor of Educational Psychology at the University of Minnesota and Dr. Delores Henderson, an educator in the St. Paul public schools for 33 years and winner of the Minnesota National Distinguished Principal award in 1991.
They discussed ways to promote multiculturalism and individualism in an education system that is bound by the constraints of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), initiated by the Bush administration in 2001. The resulting conversation touched on unfair standardized testing, budget cuts and racism in Minnesota schools. The panel was the fourth installment of the MN National Association for Multicultural Education’s (MN-NAME) Insisting on Education Series entitled, “Subverting No Child Left Behind and the Standards Movement.”
The educators outlined several problems with NCLB. Under NCLB, schools are rewarded or punished each year based on their Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) results, which break down students into racial and economic sub-categories. The panelists maintain that there are unrealistic expectations for special education and English Language Learner proficiency requirements, and that too many variations occur nationally regarding aptitude standards. Panelists also expressed concern that art, music and, in some cases, social studies classes have been removed from school curriculums in order to allow more teaching time devoted to reading and math, which are the main focuses of the NCLB tests.
Standardized tests have become a point of contention for those opposing NCLB. They have been criticized as an unfair way to judge a child’s overall intelligence or biased towards the white, middle-class student. Dr. Rodriguez says there is a serious problem in the measurement community in terms of diversity. “I’ve worked with 15 states developing testing,” says Rodriguez, “I have never seen an American Indian represented, there are always very few African-Americans and I’m usually the only Latino in the room.”
As principal at Ames Elementary in St. Paul, Dr. Henderson doesn’t think there is racism in the tests, adding that a “brain is a brain.” She has had great success using Gifted and Talented teaching techniques with her students, 91% of whom are on free or reduced lunch and 80% of whom are people of color. “Every child should be given the same opportunity to learn,” she says, “It’s about equity, leadership in the building and engaging our students to learn. I believe every child is gifted and talented.”
Panel members urged the audience to speak to local government officials about reorganizing the education system. “We have to keep talking to people,” says Radd, “We have to get organized and demand change…It’s really important that we make our voices heard.”