"White Guilt" Politics of Obama Crowd Undermined

If you believe the rhetoric of the “social justice” crowd influencing the Obama camp’s approach to education policy – the authoritarian leftists Bill Ayers and his sidekick Mike Klonsky as well ed school professors like Linda Darling-Hammond
and Gloria Ladson-Billings – only reparations for 400 years of oppression of non-whites will allow us to close the “achievement gap” between the oppressors, whites, and the oppressed, minority kids.  
This crowd supports a new idea – arguing that it is time to replace the attack on the “achievement gap” between minority and white/Asian students with a new concept called “educational debt” that has allegedly piled up over centuries in U.S. history.  
Lying behind this argument is a pernicious concept – that white workers benefit at the expense of black workers and that more widely American workers live off the backs of workers in the third world.  This is at the heart of the authoritarian and anti-union politics of the Ayers/Klonsky crowd.  Of course, such a conclusion would come as a shock to the millions of white workers in this country who earn essentially the same income as most black workers (though, of course, there are far more whites than blacks who earn significantly more).  And it would also come as a shock to those American workers, white and black, whose jobs have been shipped off to China or Mexico.  
Despite the absurdity of these views it is this idea of “unequal exchange” between north and south, or inside the U.S. between black and white, that explains a good deal about the politics of those in this crowd who cozy up to demagogues like Venezuela strongman Hugo Chavez or, for that matter, Louis Farrakhan.  The authoritarian leftist camp convinces itself that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.”
Klonsky and Ayers, of course, are veterans of this kind of race-based politics. Klonsky formed the pro-China October League out of SDS and then morphed that into the Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist) which earned him an invitation to sip tea with Chinese stalinists in Beijing in 1977. The Chinese were the originators of the idea that the rural third world south was being exploited by the urban developed world north.  Klonsky fondly reminisced about his authoritarian left activities here in November 2007 stopping only to “repent” for his sectarianism while celebrating that he is now back together with former SDS comrades in “one movement.” Now Klonsky blogs for the Obama campaign website on education policy and “social justice teaching.”
Ayers helped tear apart SDS to form the Weather Underground with his future wife, Bernardine Dohrn, arguing that carrying out armed robberies and bombings “in solidarity” with black revolutionaries was the number one priority for student anti-war activists. Now he peddles “white supremacy” and other ideas in his peculiar so-called “social justice” approach to educational policy.
But this world view took a huge hit this week with the release of new research on what is actually happening in U.S. schools.  In light of the new results is it possible the social justice education crowd knew they would need a new idea to keep their hopes of influencing the national policy debate alive? Is that what explains the campaign over the last two years or so by this milieu to push the educational debt/reparations idea?
The new research by the non-partisan Center on Education Policy (CEP) indicates that over the last five years, since the passage of No Child Left Behind in 2002, there has been measurable improvement in test scores for millions of students including a narrowing of the “achievement gap” between whites and non-whites (leaving out Asians, of course, who, despite racist “oppression” somehow escape the effect of that alleged oppression when they show up for school – when it comes to Asians, it’s whites who are falling behind, though not presumably because of the oppression of whites by Asians).  
The results may only be coincidental, of course, but the CEP report is pretty convincing that real improvement can occur in closing the achievement gap between white and minority kids without also atoning for every sin (and those were and are real enough) ever committed against non-whites, as the “social justice” crowd insists.
The CEP Press Release concludes:

Student scores on state tests of reading and mathematics have risen since 2002, and achievement gaps between various groups of students have narrowed more often than they have widened, according to the most comprehensive and rigorous recent analysis of state test scores. 


21 states made moderate-to-large gains in math in both percentages proficient and effect sizes at the elementary level, while 22 states showed gains of this size on both indicators in middle school and 12 states posted such gains for high school. 

In reading, 17 states had moderate-to-large gains in percentages proficient and effect sizes at the elementary level, 14 states made such gains for middle school, and eight states showed gains for high school. Additional numbers of states made slight gains on one or both indicators or showed improvement on one indicator but lacked data on the other.
With respect specifically to the achievement gap between whites and non-whites and higher income and lower income students, the CEP’s Executive Summary states:
In states with sufficient data to determine achievement gap trends on state tests, gaps have
narrowed more often than they have widened since 2002, particularly for African American students and low-income students. Gap trends were also largely positive for Latino students, but this finding is less conclusive because in many states the Latino subgroup has changed significantly in size in recent years.On thewhole, percentages proficient and effect sizes revealed similar trends of narrowing or widening, although percentages proficient gave a more positive picture of achievement gap trends than effect sizes.
Here is how they summarize the results in California:
Overall achievement

• From 2003 to 2007 in reading, students made moderate-to-large gains in both percentages proficient and effect sizes at the elementary and middle school grades analyzed. At the high school level, the percentage proficient declined slightly and effect size showed no change.

• In math, achievement on both indicators increased at a moderate-to-large rate at the elementary and high school levels. At the middle school grade analyzed, percentages proficient declined slightly but effect sizes increased at a moderate-to-large rate.

Achievement gaps

• From 2003 to 2007, the African American-white gap at the elementary level showed no change in reading but narrowed in math, according to both indicators. At the middle school grade analyzed, trends varied by subject and indicator. At the high school level, gaps in percentages proficient narrowed in reading and math; no effect size data were available for subgroups at this level.

• Gaps between Latino and white students narrowed in both reading and math at the elementary level, according to both indicators. Gaps widened at the middle school level in reading on both indicators. At the high school level, gaps stayed the same in reading and narrowed in math, according to the percentage proficient.

• In reading, gaps between Native American and white students narrowed according to percentages proficient but widened according to effect sizes. In math, this gap narrowed at the elementary level on both indicators. Middle school trends varied by indicator. At the high school level, percentage proficient gaps narrowed in both reading and math.

• Gaps between low-income students and all students stayed the same in elementary reading and narrowed in elementary math, according to both indicators. At the middle school level, reading gaps showed no net change on either indicator. At the high school level, gaps in the percentage proficient narrowed in both reading and math.

Clearly still a long way to go but the improvement for younger kids is particularly heartening. The pro-NCLB crowd, shrinking day by day, will not take much comfort from the report which is unable to conclude that NCLB caused the improvements. But the testing regime now in place across the country at least lets us assess change over time.  

And these results certainly suggest that any proposal for putting “repayment of 400 years of educational debt owed to people of color” at the top of a President Obama administration, as Ayers, Ladson-Billings, and Darling-Hammond argue should be the case, is likely wrong-headed.

Center on Education Policy