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Texas State Board of Education member Ken Mercer said it: “Don’t be surprised if a lot of other states do what Texas has done,” according to the Dallas Morning News, 2-1-14. The state is changing high school graduation requirements such that there will be some “endorsement” college bound tracks for some students and the non-college bound “foundation” track for other students (yes, a full-throated resuscitation of tracking, with no shame about doing so). Yes, you heard it right: the previously technocratic sounding term of “ability grouping” (instead of “tracks”) is now replaced with the more pleasant sounding “endorsements” and the very unpleasant “foundation.”
It is not enough that in this state as elsewhere there is very much already a school-to-prison pipeline, with predominantly Hispanics and Blacks funneled into it. Now such groups will be funneled also more officially so into the work and vocational “foundation” track. The bumper sticker that taunts cowboy-style “Don’t Mess with Texas,” though, is certainly messing with Hispanics and Blacks kids in major ways. All these things should get the blood boiling of parents, but not much yet.
The “foundation” track will require 22 credits for graduation instead of the 26 for the “endorsements” one. The cruel joke is that this “decision” about the particular track a student will follow supposedly begins at the start of high school, or in other words in junior high at ages 13-14 or so, and thereby is tantamount to asking such youngsters who were recently in grade school to decide their life course, college or non-college, when such kids may not be able to decide which socks to wear that day. That in turn clearly means that such weighty decisions will really be made by others in the school system, subtly or blatantly.
So, what is the point of all this? Well this is nothing new, in reference to history; for one thing, every reader of this was placed in some track in regard to the past. For another thing, in regard to the future, an inferior education leaves everyone in society with a precarious future. That is why it all matters.
Now, just as an increasing number of Hispanics and Blacks are going to college, Texas is reverting to some 50 years ago when Herculean efforts were successfully made to shunt thousands of them into the non-college track on a routine basis. I was placed as a high school student in a movie operator rinky-dink vocational training spot, though after graduation I wound up going to college, without any assistance/encouragement at all by teachers or counselors or anyone in the school system, though my grades were A’s and B’s unlike guess who? You got it, Anglos who had C’s were strenuously encouraged to go to college.
The saying that history repeats itself, first as tragedy and second as farce is what this is. Also well-known is the quip in recent history that as Texas goes, so goes the nation in education.
An example of the latter is Bush’s Texas No Child Left Behind fiasco, originally begun when he was governor of this state. Another is the Texan standardized testing mania. Both of these things came to a school near you as well. Well, both have been beaten back by many in society, including fed-up parents. Recently, Texas parents were up in arms about the 15 tests the administrators were going to impose on students before they graduated. The parents were successful in scaling them down to 3.
Moreover you don’t hear much about NCLB, but you have lately about the RTT now, the innocently named Race to the Top of Obama’s. This is another boondoggle in the making for students nationally, and also in essence consequently messing around more so with Hispanic and Black students.
The scaling back in Texas is for all intents and purposes of those college-educated Hispanics and Blacks who were increasingly calling the shots over Anglos in the state, not to mention that such minority groups of all age groups in Texas now greatly outnumber Anglos in population, and that over 90% of the growth of K-12 student population for the next 30 years will be that of minority groups. The Alarm bells are clanging (and not just among Tea Party folks who want to “take back their country”) to turn this around in some way, and voila, the “foundation” plan “is generally aimed at students planning to enter the workforce or a training program upon graduation,” as the Dallas paper put it.
Guess who will do the “planning” for who? This is in addition to the fact that much of tracking placements in reality start very early in K-12. In my local school district, by the 6th grade students are already placed (get this) in one of four tracks: Remedial, Regular, Advanced, or Gifted and Talented, GT/TAG. That sounds incredible, but is the case, given the fact that, like a railroad track, these kids on that track just like a train are pretty much stuck on it, and it would be ridiculous for a twelfth grader about to graduate to say he or she wants to restart on some other track from the 6th grade onward and graduate in six more years. More incredible is that these young children did not choose such a present and future. Still more incredible is that it doesn’t take much of a guess to determine who is placed more in the Remedial (Hispanics and Blacks) and who is more so in the GT (Anglo).
So here we go again, unless this is stopped by a groundswell of parents and others. It should not be any surprise that the school state board could have chosen any day and time to report the change, instead of what they did.
They decided to be savvy about it and trot out the report and have it published technically at 10:27 p.m. Friday, January 31st and actually therefore in the paper(s) distributed on Saturday (a low readership, slow news day), February 1st, a day or hours before the Super Bowl when all eyes and attention were on the upcoming game of the year. It thereby should also not surprise anyone that perhaps the board took a page, so to speak, out of The Burglars, those who broke into the FBI office to take the COINTELPRO papers, which such act from 1971 was in the news the past few weeks.
The Burglars, remember, decided to break in when the nation and presumably, correctly so, the FBI were riveted by a boxing championship starring the legendary Muhammad Ali. If the board decided to model The Burglars, and it certainly was a decision and not accidental timing, it should be easy to see why, namely that the majority of the state’s students, who are Hispanic and Black are much more likely to be affected negatively by the change and become aware of the shenanigans. Any effort by the board to muffle an outcry will be probably not be successful forever, and the graduation change, or reversion to what was the case before in Texas and elsewhere such as in a school near you, will be challenged hopefully sooner rather than later before the damage is done to thousands of school children. Keep in mind that a local administrator put it the following way when parents complained about Hispanics placed in non-college bound tracks: “We’ll always need tire changers.”
Jose Martinez is a university professor in the social sciences.