Urban-suburban MCAS opposition
Published in Brookline
Somerville Journal, & other CNC papers
June 29, 2000
Here in the suburbs, where MCAS-induced curriculum deterioration damages
good schools, opposition to state-mandated high-stakes testing makes obvious
sense. In urban areas, however, where schools lack basic resources despite
the past decade's education reforms, opposing the punitive Massachusetts
Comprehensive Assessment System is not enough. The time has come to strengthen
the emerging urban-suburban anti-MCAS alliance and rebut with action the
false charge that test opponents are simply elitists unconcerned about
urban children in general and poor and nonwhite children in particular.
Given continued inequities in school funding, it's clear that MCAS's
primary goal is not educational but political: to persuade the public
that nothing more need be done to improve urban schools. The use of MCAS
to compare schools and school districts and to penalize students and teachers
is unrelated to student learning or to honest assessment. Testing under
these circumstances is a delusion and a diversion, not a solution.
In response to this mean-spirited agenda, MCAS opponents should push
not just to end the test but to dramatically improve funding for school
districts whose resources remain far below what's available in the suburbs.
Even more than that: we need to emphasize the link between educational
disparity and broader social injustices. We should not let the state get
away with the dishonest claim, for example, that the solution for districts
devastated by poverty and racism is to test students and even teachers
rather than end fundamental social inequities. In next November's referendum
election, we should not let demands for reduced taxes inflict further
damage on urban schools and urban communities.
Stopping MCAS remains crucial. But most suburbanites know it's not acceptable
to save our own schools without revitalizing urban education, and we know
that urban education can't be fixed without reducing the rising income
and housing gaps. It's a good bet that MCAS's suburban opponents are more
willing to help pay for fundamental improvements in inner city schools
than are the many MCAS proponents who send their own children to private
MCAS-free schools. It may be cheaper to flunk students than to educate
them effectively, but that's not acceptable to the anti-MCAS movement.
Our urban parent, teacher, and student counterparts know that MCAS unfairly
penalizes students for the failures of their society. Emphasizing that
message, the group Teen Empowerment recently presented Governor Cellucci
with 850 student letters opposing MCAS, along with a demand that he take
the test himself. Similar efforts will gain momentum as MCAS's no-graduation
threat looms closer.
True, some urbanites hope that MCAS will overcome decades of deterioration
and whip their schools into shape. A bad test is better than no test,
in this view, a heavy-handed tool better than continued neglect.
I wish it were so. But among MCAS's many shortcomings is that scoring
high on the test is poor preparation for scoring high in life. More to
the point, scoring low is all too common in far too many schools.
It's easy from the suburbs to preach MCAS's faults. We insist that it's
not only suburban students who should learn how to think in depth about
serious issues. Quality education is at least as important in the cities,
where an MCAS-directed curriculum will do little more than train students
for low-wage service jobs when it doesn't force them out of school entirely.
Trivial memorization skills and superficial knowledge of isolated facts
won't overcome the family income and education disparities that largely
explain the gap between urban and suburban school districts. Without ending
poverty and despair, MCAS can do little except further punish those already
But to be credible our claim needs to be backed up by more focused efforts
to reduce those income and resource gaps while supporting existing efforts
by urban residents to improve their schools and their communities.
MCAS may die, or at least be suspended, if it becomes politically unfeasible
to withhold diplomas from thousands of students. That would be a good
thing. But it won't fix overloaded and overpunished schools across the
state. Poor education remains a symptom. The broad anti-MCAS alliance
must confront the cause.