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Insights: Politics

Arianna Huffington
From the Print Edition:
Rudy Giuliani, Nov/Dec 01

(continued from page 2)

And even the cut-and-dried multiple-choice approach doesn't guarantee fairness and accuracy. More than 20 states have reported major errors in standardized tests, in most cases too late to undo the damage to students and their teachers.

Pick a state and you'll likely find a testing atrocity. In Minnesota, 47,000 students were punished for a mistake by a testing company. Some of them were not permitted to graduate as a result, a stigma they will carry for life. In Arizona, 12,000 students were shortchanged by a flawed answer key. In Michigan and Washington, similar mistakes were made; in the latter state, 204,000 essays had to be rescored.

As the importance of testing grows, so will the consequence of these outrageous (and inevitable) mistakes. The gulf between what the Bush administration is allocating for the testing mandate and what experts think is required is six and a half billion dollars over a period of seven years. I wouldn't fly an airline that is scrimping on maintenance, and I wouldn't subject my kids to an intellectual branding process that was based on bargain basement techniques.

But even the amount that Bush is offering, $320 million, would be better spent on education. The desperate need of public schools and programs like Head Start is apparent across the country.

This blithe indifference to the true nature and depth of the education crisis is the most disturbing aspect of the testing craze. It seems that the more blighted the school system, the more reliant it is on tests. The young victims of the test-centric curriculum have their noses rubbed in their failures each time they pick up the infamous number two pencil and mark the little circle next to the answer they've chosen. If they do well, another test will come along in a few weeks to try to discredit the previous result. Do poorly, and they'll get a chance to dig an even deeper grave in no time.

The pigheaded initiative comes in spite of contrary evidence, including a report from the National Research Council (solicited by Congress, no less) that concluded that testing "has the unwanted result of punishing and undermining the academic achievement of students who already face unequal educational opportunities."

These educational inequalities are being felt particularly deeply in the African-American community. It's not surprising that African Americans are at the forefront of demanding revolutionary measures to solve a crisis that is devastating their children's chances for a productive future; 63 percent of black fourth-graders are functionally illiterate. Mikel Holt, who chronicled the landmark battle for school choice in Milwaukee, has no illusions about what is at stake. "The old civil rights movement got us to the lunch counter," he says. "The new civil rights agenda is: Can our kids read the menu?"

Vouchers have become the hot-button topic of the education reform debate. But choice is precisely what millions of American families are exercising every day -- either by opting out of the public school system entirely or by moving to a neighborhood with a better-than-average school. It's only poor parents who are left with the ideological privilege of standing by an education system that practically everyone who can afford to has already deserted. It's hardly surprising then that, despite the massive propaganda against school vouchers, 60 percent of blacks support them. The number is even higher among the poorest blacks: 72 percent.

It's well past time to acknowledge that nearly 50 years after Brown v. Board of Education, we are witnessing a de facto resegregation of our schools. Jonathan Kozol, who studied the isolation of children in the Mott Haven section of the South Bronx, has observed it firsthand: "There are 11,000 children in the elementary school district and, of them, 26 are white. These are numbers that would have done honor to Mississippi in its darkest, most benighted hour."

But there is a glimmer of hope amid the gloom. Abandoned by politicians who simply sing the canticles of reform, students and parents all across the country are filing class action lawsuits -- demanding that their inner-city districts receive the same school funding as their better-heeled suburban counterparts.

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