A young family is communicating to each other via skype or facetime because one parent is serving in the military. The couple is looking at different properties, trying to decide on a new house. The commercial ends with the soldier surprising his wife and daughter in their new home, with tearful smiles, hugs, and loving embraces.
The commercial begins:
“So what’d you think of the house?”
“It’s got a great kitchen, but, did you see the school rating?”
“Oh, you’re right.”
The flawed school rating system perpetuates both the educational inequity crisis and the segregation we see in cities and schools. In Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia, and Washington DC, a school’s “bad grade” or “poor/under performance” is used as a cudgel to impose a racist education policy in line with the so called education reform movement, closing public schools and devastating minority communities.
School closures disproportionately harm poor, minority, and special needs students. Mychal Denzel Smith, writing for The Nation, calls these school closings blatant and obvious racism, and decries those who avoid doing so. “As long as the education we need costs more than we are willing to invest there are going to be budget issues. But we don’t call it racism when the budget shortfalls wind up shortchanging people of color first and hardest, even though that’s what it is. And we’ll continue to live with this problem so long as we’re afraid to name it properly.”
Michelle Rhee’s group StudentsFirst (the irony of her group’s name makes me want to throw up) put out their own education report, ranking each of the 50 states based on whether or not that state espouses the same ideology, philosophy, and policy Rhee and the rest of her corporate, conservative, and neo-liberal ilk are pushing. According to StudentsFirst, the two highest-ranking states are Florida and Louisiana, two states not usually known for excellence in education. “Here’s a list of 5 reasons why this State Report Card is a veritable wish list for privatization advocates and a recipe for failure for everyone else.”
This well funded and well organized attempt to privatize public education has an agenda that includes, but is not limited to, expanding high stakes standardized testing, the proliferation of charter schools, attacking teachers unions and demonizing teachers. Lives are being destroyed and our institutions bankrupted by the neo-liberal transfer of wealth through corporate welfare and tax cuts, coupled with severe budget cuts and the selling off of public goods to private interests.
We Americans love our lists, our rankings, and our drive to be #1 in everything! Restaurant reviews, ESPN’s top 10 plays, David Letterman’s Top Ten List, the greatest athletes of all time arguments, BuzzFeed’s top 27 anything, etc. Most of the time these lists are harmless, bordering the lines of being entertaining, thought provoking, interesting, and stupid. School rankings, however, are a different story.
The problem is not solely ranking and grading schools. Of course schools should be judged, but not in a vacuum without regard for the social, cultural, historical, and economic realities facing communities. Also problematic is who is doing the judging, how those judgements are reached, what factors are and are not accounted for, how the results are presented, how they are interpreted, how they are used, etc.
As long as school ratings remain ubiquitous, schools and cities will remain or grow even more segregated, resources will continue to flow towards schools in the more affluent areas, and poor students of color and special needs students will continue to get fucked.