The Left’s White-Power Movement

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.

14 Replies to “The Left’s White-Power Movement”

  1. …hey D, only issue I have with this is that you are behaving like you are a member of that football team called NY Giants that lives in the same somewhere outside New York City….

  2. Yes, the educated people are the ones calling the shots in education and that’s as it should be. Here is why I am opposed to the current type of testing:

    It hurts children;
    It adversely affects instruction;
    Much of it is unreliable and invalid;
    It’s primary purpose is likely to enrich the testing industry;
    It invades the privacy of children and their parents;
    It stigmatizes low-performing children and makes them feel “less than;”
    It punishes schools with mostly low-achieving (i.e. poor) students;
    It rewards the “good” teachers in the affluent schools and humiliates the “bad” teachers in the poor schools;
    Most of the testing is not legitimate but would come under the heading of “misuse of testing.” Legitimate testing provides accurate information to parents, teachers and students and is best kept private, just as medical testing is.

    Here’s the bottom line: Our people are not stupid and will not allow the corporate few to come in, take over the public schools, make all the decisions and take all the money. If parents want charter schools, strict testing and rigid curricula, they can have it all under the jurisdiction and oversight of our duly elected school boards. These schools belong to all of us and not just parents and students. We live in a democracy and that means “the people” will decide what kinds of schools and testing we have.

    It has taken a while, but the public is catching on to the Great Public Education Scam. Hurrah for the Vergara decision in California!

  3. I share your revulsion to opt-out DB:

    The plan of the usual suspects is plain- whip up the Skinny Latte crowd, use dupes in Congress to enable opt-out at the state level, pass opt outs at the state level, challenge the validity and reliability of testing data in court.

    If there is any hope to defeat this plan, reformers need figure out quickly why the reactionaries got so much traction so quickly in the leafy suburbs. I suspect the answer lies in technocratic overreach and a real problem with drilling to test items rather than teaching of standards. You are correct that these people are risking sweeping achievement gaps back under the rug, but as the comments above show, there are those who will do so without the slightest hesitation.

  4. The achievement gaps have been well known to almost everyone who reads a newspaper for the last sixty years. And no, we will not solve the problem by drilling the low-achievers on the tests.

  5. Federal tests, such as the NAEP, can educate the public about achievement levels of schoolchildren without stigmatizing individuals or compromising their privacy.

  6. Sorry, Matt, but the NCLB tests have not been used for improving or fine tuning the individual student’s instruction.
    PARCC and SB haven’t either, so far.
    So, Matt, when it comes to your point, whom I going to believe, the tests or mine own eyes, I’ll take my eyes.

    With an expresso.

  7. Linda-

    Achievement gaps were known only by scholars for many of those decades. Daniel Patrick Moynihan had to use data from the Army entrance exam to illustrate it as an aide to LBJ, and the NAEP of course provided nothing more than statewide averages. The NCLB era provided campus level data, which is precisely what your handlers will be wrecking with their efforts.

    I’m not here to say that everything is right about testing, but returning to an era without reliable campus level academic transparency is an absolutely reprehensible development.

  8. Standardized testing existed when I was a child in the 1950’s and parents and teachers were given the scores. Real estate people have been aware of them for decades. What is different now is that these tests are being used for purposes for which they are not designed and people are profiting from them. Worse, they are used to label and stigmatize students.

    The NAEP can be used to gauge the level of achievement in a school or district. This type of test provides information without invading the privacy of a child.

    Personally I support yearly standardized testing of students because as a parent I wanted to know how my child performed compared to other children their age. However, under no circumstances would I allow this information to be public, and no other parent should allow it either.

  9. I do not have “handlers.” Doesn’t the use of that word speak volumes about who you are and what you do? Thank about it.

  10. Linda-

    Ah yes, the 1950s- Fonzie, Richie and Ralph engaging in hijinks in our idealized picket fence America. Meanwhile, out in the real world, campus level academic results and achievement gaps were safely obscured to a small corner of academic debate.

    I first enrolled in public schools in the 1970s, and yes, back then real estate agents were the unofficial brokers of “good schools” but they had little more upon which to base their opinions than the number of White kids they saw running around on the playground and gossip. I have no illusions that all is perfect now, but it is equally clear to me that there was nothing remotely ideal about sweeping underachievement and gaps under the rug.

    NAEP only has scores for a handful of districts nationwide and no data whatsoever at the campus level. There is a great deal of room for respectable debate on testing. A yearning to go back to campus level ignorance regarding results does not lie on that spectrum imo.

  11. We never had campus level ignorance but we did have campus level privacy. And yes, we WILL go back to that!

  12. It may sound like a swell idea to you to tell the taxpayers and civil rights groups to keep sending the money but live without any campus level academic transparency. Ignorance is strengt….err…I mean “privacy” after all.

    I however believe the vast majority of decent people will eventually see this for what it is- disgusting and self-interested- which is precisely why this indirect and multi-step strategy is underway.

  13. We can have “campus level transparency” with privacy.

    I am a retired teacher who is interested in what I believe is best for America’s children. I have no self-interest. Do you?

    Here’s an experiment you can do for yourself, without anyone looking or knowing: Think of all the “reformers” you know. What do they all have in common?

    Yes, this education “reform” has been about money. For the first time in history, school tax money has been available to the entrepreneur and there’s a mad rush to cash in before the average taxpayer catches on to this disgraceful and disgusting hustle. They are catching on right now so be prepared for the money to evaporate.

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