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What’s Race Got To Do With It?

How Current School Reform Policy Maintains Racial and Economic Inequality


Bree Picower and Edwin Mayorga

Within critical discussions of school reform, researchers and activists are often of two camps. Some focus their analyses on neoliberal economic agendas, while others center on racial inequality. These analyses often happen in isolation, continuing to divide those concerned with educational justice into «It’s race!» vs. «It’s class!» camps. What’s Race Got To Do With It? brings together these frameworks to investigate the role that race plays in hallmark policies of neoliberal school reforms such as school closings, high-stakes testing, and charter school proliferation. The group of scholar activist authors in this volume were selected because of their cutting-edge racial economic analysis, understanding of corporate reform, and involvement in grassroots social movements. Each author applies a racial economic framework to inform and complicate our analysis of how market-based reforms collectively increase wealth inequality and maintain White supremacy. In accessible language, contributors trace the historical context of a single reform, examine how that reform maintains and expands racial and economic inequality, and share grassroots stories of resistance to these reforms. By analyzing current reforms through this dual lens, those concerned with social justice are better equipped to struggle against this constellation of reforms in ways that unite rather than divide.
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1. High-Stakes Testing: A Tool for White Supremacy for Over 100 Years



Educators first began applying standardized testing to school children as early as 1848, but it was not until the early 1900s that such testing developed into a widespread tool for measuring students, teachers, and people more generally in the United States. Given the ubiquity of testing in education policy and practice today, it is critical to understand that when we look at standardized testing historically and how it is used as the central mechanism for accountability within education policy, high-stakes, standardized testing has operated as tool for the maintenance of White supremacy in the United States.1

In order to get to this understanding, in this chapter I first offer a basic overview of key concepts about high-stakes testing and then provide a brief, modern day history of high-stakes testing in education policy. I then follow with how our modern day testing has roots in the racism of I.Q. testing and the eugenics movement around the turn of the 20th century and continue with how such testing was introduced into education in the United States, including the ways that these tests support White supremacy through the guise of offering individual inequality and “objective” measures of students. I then give an overview of the research evidence showing the disparate impacts of high-stakes testing on students of Color specifically, and I conclude this chapter with a brief description of the kinds of resistance building against high-stakes testing generally, as well as the White supremacists impulses...

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