Kids in public schools are taking tests this week. Don’t worry, don’t panic, they’ll be fine. Once they’re done taking these tests the states they live in will have information about how well schools are doing to make progress toward educational goals. We can probably predict what the results will look like. Richer kids will do better. So will white kids. The picture won’t be so great for others. But, there will likely be something you won’t predict, too. There will be some schools with poorer kids, or mostly black and brown populations, that will exceed expectations (not all our schools, kids, or teachers are failing) .

The point is, those are good things to know year over year, and the way we know them – through annual assessments – is constantly under fire from two groups: white parents who are ideologically opposed to testing, and teachers’ unions that have recently learned the utility of such parents.

I know. I’ve written about this before. It’s like an obsession.

By now you know I’m concerned about the opt-out “movement,” even though I understand it’s motivations and even sympathize with some of them. As a black man, a parent, an education activist, and someone singularly focused on the question of how do we change the game for our community, I can’t say enough about how damaging it would be to lose the information we get from testing.

And, of course, I can’t get past the opt-out campaign’s indelible whiteness and reckless self-interest.

You must have a pretty charmed life if the thing most pressing in your portfolio of injustices and outrages is the fact that little Ashley and Dylan are being asked to take a test at school, and it cuts into their time on violin and in ballet. Considering Jerome can’t read and Kenya can’t count, and prison fill with people who are illiterate and innumerate, I think we need to get our priorities straight.

The fact is urban communities of color are knee-deep in illiteracy. The social and economic consequences are staggering. According to the America’s Promise Alliance seventy-four percent of children who aren’t proficient in reading by third grade “falter in the later grades and often drop out before earning a high school diploma, leaving them poorly prepared to obtain higher education, succeed in the economy, or enter military and civilian service.”

How do you think that story ends?

In my state of Minnesota 16% of black fourth graders are proficient in reading. You should look up your own state and find out how well you all are doing with black fourth graders. Then ask yourself if it makes sense to let the $600 billion educational establishment, and all of its middle class college educated “workers,” off the hook for effective teaching, learning, and better outcomes? I think not.

The only good news I see is that our traditional black leadership hasn’t taken the opt-out bait. No one has convinced them that black communities will actually do better with less information about how our kids are doing academically.

We still have brave leaders like the National Urban League, the NAACP, and a diverse group of civil rights groups who have kept their eyes on the prize. We have leaders as diverse as Dr. Michael Lomax from the UNCF, Kaya Henderson of the D.C. Public Schools, and Rev. Al Sharpton who have just said no to the opt-out campaign.

We are better for it, but don’t think that’s the end of the story.

In an attempt to bypass our seemingly wayward leadership the opt-out camp has turned to a new group of lab-created black voices mostly drawn from the self-preserving ranks of state monopolized education. I only know their names because my white ideological opponents direct me to them as if to vanquish my lived experience and strongest arguments. It’s like Negro Pokemon, where one card beats another. We are to be Mandingo fighters. Of course, white folks draw the cards and we’re supposed to entertain.

I’m not interested in all that. I want literate children and a better black nation. Still, to say what I say causes white folks to draw their black cards, and suddenly I’m tussling with their new blacks.

They send me links to things written by Jamal Bowman. He seems like a good man, but I point out to them that he is a principal of a school in the Bronx where the majority of kids aren’t proficient in reading. He has likened standardized testing to slavery, which concerns me because it indicates he too has trouble reading.

They point me to Troy LaRaviere, another celebrated principal. I respond by telling them LaRaviere has less than 5% black students in his low-poverty fine arts magnet. I found his personal story as told in a viral commercial for Bernie Sanders very touching, but I also note that the school he leads has a program for assisting lagging students that includes three annual reading and math “screenings,” a schedule of “progress monitoring assessments,” and a regular review of interventions. Yet, amazingly, his school’s website discourages parents from taking state accountability tests.

Of course there are the semi-black teachers who have written babbling books against testing. I dare you to look up the schools in which they “teach.” Black children are not learning in their classroom, which explains their push to kill testing.

Finally, people are really fond of linking me to their favorite black peer-reviewed professors like Yohuru Williams and Julian Helig Vasquez. These well-educated doctors specialize in erecting bewildering, reaching, and wanting arguments that lead to one bogus conclusion: testing kids to identify racial gaps is itself racist.

Don’t ask me to make sense of it. I don’t speak Ph.d.

All I can tell you is that dog don’t hunt. Our kids can learn. Our schools can do better. Testing is not the problem, broken systems and unaccountable adults are our problems.

Let’s agree to this: none of these professional black people who are gaining popularity with the white educational Left as an antidote to our traditional black leadership have succeeded in life without taking a test or two? They have beat the odds and now they rest on college degrees as the basis for earning a living?

So why do all of their arguments exist as explicit defenses for the current system of public education and the employees of that system, but not the 85% of black fourth graders who are not reading on grade level in my state (or theirs)?

We are in crisis. Our kids are drowning in a caustic cocktail of low expectations, gross ineffectiveness, and disregard for black potential that is killing us softly. We need two things to solve that problem: information and action. We can’t let the system, or its new blacks, destroy the former as a way to prevent the latter.

Opt-out is not for us, no matter how many new blacks they send to blackwash it.

Chris Stewart is the Chief Executive Officer of Education Post, a media project of the Results in Education Foundation. He is a lifelong activist and 20-year supporter of nonprofit and education-related causes. Stewart has served as the director of outreach and external affairs for Education Post, the executive director of the African American Leadership Forum (AALF), and an elected member of the Minneapolis Public Schools Board of Education.


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