The post below is by guest blogger, Derrell Bradford.
The 2016 presidential race, at least on the Republican side, has been a sad spectacle. I call many registered Republicans friends, but I can’t call the process of this election friendly, or even sane. Some folks are working hard to make a case for the root causes of the anxiety powering Trump, an anxiety of working-class whites in an era of globalization that looks an awful lot like straight-up racism, is grounded in something rational. Even if you agree with their reckoning, having a racist, xenophobic, misogynist (everything The Donald has proven to be) as the standard bearer for the change you believe in is not the best way to advance your case.
If Trump is the festering sore that reveals a race-powered sickness deep in the Republican body politic, at least it took an election to draw it all out for public display. What does it say that the left’s version of asserting white power came into existence with little more than the prodding of some No. 2 pencils and a few bubble sheets?
Testing has always caused fights on some level, but it’s difficult to make the case that annual testing, disaggregated results and an emphasis on year-over-year test score growth has not radically changed the discussion around the education of low-income kids of color for the better. Housing discrimination and racial profiling by the police on highways, for instance, required test cases and the collection of data to affirm the problem for those who believed there wasn’t one. Annual testing has done the same for kids that the country’s public education systems failed in open view while the many of us looked the other way.
Enter the Opt-Out Posse, which Arne Duncan presciently identified as white suburban soccer moms upset that new standards showed that their kids weren’t “brilliant.” Duncan took tremendous heat for saying that and he said it on a flyer. There wasn’t really any data to back up his claim other than his gut instinct.
Fast forward to today and he’s been proven spot on.
Some of those findings aren’t surprising: “The typical opt-out activist is a highly educated, white, married, politically liberal parent whose children attend public school and whose household median income is well above the national average,” states the report. The median household income of respondents surveyed was $125,000, compared with the national median, which was $53,657 in 2014, the most recent year available.
The report also indicates that teacher evaluation systems using student growth data were the number one reason for this white wave of opposition. It should be lost on no one that public school teachers—college educated, overwhelmingly white and female as a workforce—mirror the profile of those most likely to opt out even as the profession struggles to make itself more diverse.
This might make less of a difference if policymakers treated these parents the same way they treat parents of color whose children historically attend underperforming schools and who, incidentally, don’t opt out. Which is to say with skepticism, trepidation and, in many cases, a deep disrespect for the urgent nature of their problem. White people with money and education in our society are never treated that way, however, and this case seems no different.
Hundreds of thousands of minority kids are queued for low-performing schools and every change their parents seek is too radical. White soccer moms decide they don’t like the most important device to help us fix those schools and the wheels come off. The President makes a speech about too much testing. The Democrats revise their platform to allow parents to opt out. It’s clear: When white women decide they don’t like something, left-leaning politicians listen even if it’s at the expense of kids of color whose moms vote in democratic primaries.
For all of the railing against rich elites calling the shots on politics, on the left those seem to be exactly the people calling the shots on education policy—and not for the better. In the case of Trumpkins and opt-outers, we see that white power remains deeply influential in our schools and in both parties of our political system. A Starbucks skinny vanilla latte is a lot more socially acceptable than a Make America Great Again hat. But they should both leave a bad taste in your mouth if you believe we should be organizing systems around those who need our help the most, not the least.
Derrell Bradford is the executive vice president at 50CAN, and the executive director of its New York branch, NYCAN. Derrell serves on several boards and leadership councils that focus on educational equity: Success Academy Charter Schools; The Partnership for Educational Justice; EdBuild; and The National Association of Charter School Authorizers Advisory Board, among others. Derrell is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania with a bachelor’s degree in English. A native of Baltimore, he currently lives outside New York City and can be found riding his bike along the Hudson, rooting for Tottenham Hotspur (and Liverpool), photographing the city, and refusing to try new foods.