Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who covered Washington during all or part of one quarter of America's presidencies and edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review has been on the web since 1995. See main page for full contents

July 31, 2009


Jim Horn, Substance - With no one wanting to buy a home in a neighborhood with low-scoring schools and the constant threat of school closure now under NCLB, the segregation of the poor has taken on new urgency as schools and communities seek to shed the poor who bring test failure with them to any school they attend.

Ostensibly to raise test scores in these resegregated schools for the urban poor, there has emerged a curriculum caste system based predictably, once more, on family income and wealth. In most of the poor, the brown, and the black schools of America, children are targeted victims of an anti-cultural, low-level regimen of test prep and regurgitation of facts-the bulimic curriculum, if you will. In the middle class leafy suburbs, however, children are engaged as they always have been in minds-on and hands-on projects that stimulate creativity and problem solving. It is a higher-order thinking curriculum, as opposed to an anti-thinking one, with those who have always been at the top of the race now deciding once more the rules for the new "Race to the Top."

We might have expected something to be done about these crimes against poor children when a young African-American President came to Washington. Though it is still early in the Obama Administration for sure, it is not too early to see clearly and tragically that the policies that Mr. Obama and Mr. Duncan are embracing will only accelerate the resegregation of American schools, while deepening of divisions within the curriculum caste system that high stakes testing enables and encourages. And while Mr. Duncan is to be credited for his tireless PR tour aimed at generating excitement about the $4.35 billion in lubrication for the various state vehicles in the new "Race to the Top," those willing to say already know who is going to win that race.

The winners will not be urban poor children, who will be further segregated now in the corporate charter schools that will be seeded and nurtured from the $4.35 billion. Where poor parents heretofore at least could attend a public meeting and have their voices heard in a public forum, these new non-profit charters that often hire for-profit outfits to run them, operate under the unregulated thumbs of CEOs whose unquestioned authority is not to be, well, questioned.

And even though Mr. Obama assured the readers of the Washington Post that decisions for funding the Race to the Top "will be based on what works," a study released by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford University last month found that only 17 percent of charter schools nationwide produce better results than the public school they would replace. Not only that, minority children are suffering the most in the charter schools that are worse (37%) or no better than (42%) the public schools. Yet, in Mr. Duncan's words, states that refuse to lift charter caps will be "at a competitive disadvantage."



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