Monday, January 14, 2013

Journal of Educational Controversy to Take Part in MLK Activities

The Journal of Educational Controversy will be participating in the Martin Luther King, Jr. Human Rights Conference here in Bellingham, Washington. The conference is an annual event sponsored by the Whatcom Human Rights Task Force that is now part of the Whatcom Peace and Justice Center. It will take place at the Whatcom Community College on Saturday, January 19, 2013. The theme of the conference this year is: “Gaining a Voice in a Democracy: Tools for Empowerment.” Our session will complicate the vision of the American school as an institution for gaining a voice in our democracy by looking at the contradictions posed by our upcoming issue on the school-to-prison pipeline. The session will be facilitated by editor, Lorraine Kasprisin, and author, Maria Timmons Flores. Professor Flores will discuss her paper, “A DREAM Deported: What Undocumented American Youth Need their Schools to Understand.” A section on the “School-to-Deportation Pipeline” will supplement articles on the “School-to-Prison Pipeline” in the issue. Our session will provide the political and legal context of the problems, causes and possible solutions, along with suggestions on what schools can do. Young students will join us to talk about their lived experiences, the messages they hear, and the barriers and bridges that drive them one way or another.

Other events honoring the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. in Bellingham include:

A free breakfast at Bellingham High School at 10 a.m.; Rosalinda Guillen, director of Community to Community Development, will be the featured speaker on Jan 21.

Poverty Action March begins at 11 am at Bellingham High School on Jan. 21. (The march is inspired by the 1968 Poor People’s March on Washington D.C. that was being planned by Dr. King and others, only months before his assassination, to bring attention to economic and social disparities for Americans living in poverty.)

Service projects include a Read-In at Village Books, painting at the Boys and Girls Club and volunteering to support the elderly through the Chore Program.

Tangled Web Conference on Race, Immigration, Poverty and Prisons; Western Washington University, Jan. 17-18.

Martin Luther King Conference, Whatcom Community College, Jan. 19.
Readers can read an excellent article, “Martin Luther King’s Legacy: Gaining a Voice in Democracy” by Victor Nolet, Professor at Western Washington University and member of the Whatcom Human Rights Task Force Planning Committee at the website of the Bellingham Herald.

Providing a context for this national day of remembrance, Professor Nolet writes:

Imagine a year in which you are invited to the White House to meet with a sitting president, your daughter is born, you are arrested and placed in solitary confinement, you deliver a historic and nationally televised speech, and you are named person of the year by Time Magazine. That was Martin Luther King’s year in 1963! In 1963, at the age of just 34, Martin Luther King was considered by many to be the moral leader of the Civil Rights movement. He was an ordained clergyman, a gifted orator, a labor activist, and an accomplished scholar with a doctorate from Boston University. He also was considered by many to be a revolutionary, a radical, and according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, an enemy of the United States. By all accounts, Martin Luther King was a complicated and controversial figure.
To read the entire article, go to:

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Testimony at U.S. Senate Hearing Links High-Stakes Testing to the School-to-Prison Pipeline

Editor: In a post below we announced that the U.S. Senate had planned to hold hearings on the school-to-prison pipeline problem. Monty Neill, Executive Director of the National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest), argued at the hearing that high-stakes testing has been a contributing factor leading to the school-to-prison pipeline.  Below is his testimony.  Watch for our upcoming issue on the topic in the Journal of Educational Controversy.

FairTest ____ National Center for Fair & Open Testing
P.O. Box 300204
Jamaica Plain, MA 02130

December 10, 2012

U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary
Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Human Rights
224 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510

Re: Hearing on Ending the School-to-Prison Pipeline

Dear Chairman Durbin, Ranking Minority Member Graham, and Members of the Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Human Rights:

Thank you for the invitation to submit testimony for the subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Human Rights of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary hearing on ending the school-to-prison pipeline.

My name is Monty Neill, and I am Executive Director of the National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest). FairTest advances quality education and equal opportunity by promoting fair, open, valid and educationally beneficial evaluations of students, teachers and schools. FairTest also works to end misused and flawed testing practices that impede those goals. We place special emphasis on eliminating the racial, class, gender, and cultural barriers to equal opportunity posed by standardized tests.

As part of its mission, FairTest has addressed how the high-stakes uses of standardized tests, particularly as a result of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), have led to increased disciplinary sanctions against students. This has disproportionately affected students of color, students with disabilities, and those from low-income families and communities. High-stakes tests are those that play the sole or primary role in educational decisions, such as determining high-school graduation or school sanctions under NCLB (FairTest, 2004, 2012).

Zero tolerance discipline and high-stakes testing policies have similar philosophical underpinnings and similarly destructive results. Both stem from a 1980s movement to impose more punitive policies in criminal justice and public education. Together, they have helped turn schools into hostile environments for many students. The result is a “school-to-prison pipeline,” in which large numbers of students are pushed out of school and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems. Too many young people end up in prison, at a cost many times greater than that of a good education. It is a senseless waste of resources and human potential, damaging to both individuals and society.

How does high-stakes testing contribute to the pipeline?

High-stakes testing turns many classrooms and schools into test prep centers rather than offering rich, engaging, well-rounded instruction. Narrow, rote instruction bores and alienates students. Many tune out, feeling they are little more than their scores (FairTest, 2004), and leave school. In addition, exit exams result in many thousands of students leaving high school without diplomas (FairTest, 2008). These tests have been found to lower graduation rates without improving the quality of education (Hout & Elliot, 2011). Some students see no realistic option other than dropping out. Others fail the tests or are deliberately pushed out to manipulate school performance statistics. Regardless of which specific cause, young people who leave or are pushed out are much more likely to end up in trouble or in prison.

Tests and zero tolerance work hand in glove.

NCLB has raised the stakes attached to test results, especially in urban, low-income districts, which face severe sanctions for failure to boost test scores. Zero tolerance imposes harsh penalties for nonviolent infractions, some as harmless as drawing on desks with erasable markers (Herbert, 2010). It provides a pretext for removing low-scoring students and improving a school’s test score bottom line. The superintendent of the El Paso public schools was convicted and imprisoned for initiating district policies to remove low-scoring students from school (Fernandez, 2012). In Florida, researchers found schools gave low-scoring students longer suspensions than high-scoring students who committed similar infractions (Figlio, 2003). Zero tolerance and high-stakes testing reinforce each other, creating a downward spiral.

Punitive culture promotes strategies to weed out ‘troublemakers’/low scorers.

The damage to school climate and decreased engagement with school foster problem behaviors, which schools and districts too often counter with zero tolerance discipline. Since NCLB, the use of strategies such as withdrawing students from school rolls or sending them to alternative schools or GED programs has increased. Out-of-school suspensions and expulsions are also on the rise nationally, with startling increases in many states (Advancement Project, 2010).

Students of color and the disabled increasingly bear the brunt.

Racial disparities in student suspensions and expulsions are large and increasing. Black students are more than three times as likely to be suspended (Losen and Gillespie, 2012). Between 2002-03 and 2006-07, expulsions decreased by 2% for white students, but increased 33% for blacks and 6% for Latinos. Similar disparities exist for students with disabilities (SWD). In Ohio, for example, SWDs were twice as likely to be suspended out-of-school as their peers in 2007-08. And in Texas, in 2005-06, students enrolled in special education accounted for 11% of the student population but 26% of all out-of-school suspensions (Advancement Project, 2010). Vastly disproportionate numbers of low-income, racial minority, SWDs and English language learners fail state exit tests and do not obtain diplomas (FairTest, 2009).

Prison populations reflect disparate impact of zero tolerance, testing.

The student groups affected by these policies are more likely to drop out and become caught up in the juvenile justice system, making them more likely to land in prison. People of color and those with disabilities are overrepresented in U.S. prisons. Approximately 8.8% of public school children have been identified as having disabilities that impact their ability to learn, but students with disabilities are represented in jail at a rate nearly four times that (Quinn, 2005). One in nine black males between the ages of 20 and 34 is behind bars, compared to one in 30 for men in that age group in general (Pew, 2008).

To undo the damage: reform assessment, reverse zero tolerance.

Zero tolerance is not working. However, alternative prevention and intervention strategies being implemented around the country have been proven successful. For example, a community push for new discipline policies in Denver Public Schools led to a 63% reduction in referrals to law enforcement and a 43% reduction in out-of-school suspensions (Advancement Project, 2010). tThe New York Performance Standards Consortium (2012), a network of New York high schools that have state permission to use performance tasks instead of standardized tests, reports its 5% suspension rate is less than half the city’s 11%. This success, they conclude, is rooted in using alternatives to standardized tests.

The work of the Judiciary Committee, therefore, could positively influence not only juvenile justice legislation but have a positive impact on the Senate’s reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. We recommend that this Committee, perhaps together with the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, investigate the ways in which high-stakes testing interacts with overly harsh disciplinary policies to harm young people, undermine school climate and damage educational outcomes. To end the Pipeline, it will be necessary to also end the overuse and misuse of standardized tests.

I would be pleased to discuss these issues with you further. I can be reached at 617-477-9792 or by email at

Thank you.

Monty Neill, Ed.D.

Executive Director



Advancement Project (2010). Test, Punish, and Push Out: How “Zero Tolerance” and High-Stakes Testing Funnel Youth Into the School-to-Prison Pipeline.

Advancement Project, Education Law Center – PA, FairTest, The Forum for Education and Democracy, Juvenile Law Center, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (2010). Federal Policy, ESEA Reauthorization, and the School-to-Prison Pipeline.

FairTest (2004). Failing Our Children: How "No Child Left Behind" Undermines Quality and Equity in Education; An Accountability Model that Supports School Improvement.

FairTest (2008). Why Graduation Tests/Exit Exams Fail to Add Value to High School Diplomas.

FairTest (2009). What’s Wrong with Graduation and Promotion Tests.

FairTest (2012). NCLB’s Lost Decade for Educational Progress: What Can We Learn from this Policy Failure? Fernandez, M. (October 13, 2012). “El Paso Schools Confront Scandal of Students Who ‘Disappeared’ at Test Time,” The New York Times.

Figlio, D. (2003, November). “Testing, crime and punishment.” Gainesville: University of Florida.

Losen, D., and Gillespie, J (2012). Opportunities Suspended: The Disparate Impact of Disciplinary Exclusion from School. The Civil Rights Project.

Neill, M. (June 18, 2010) “A Better Way to Assess Students and Evaluate Schools.” Education Week. Available at

Herbert, B. (March 5, 2010). “Cops vs. Kids,” The New York Times.

Hout, M. & Elliott, S., Editors (2011). Incentives and Test-Based Accountability in
Education. Committee on Incentives and Test-Based Accountability in Public Education;
National Research Council. Available online at

The Pew Center on the States (2008). One in 100: Behind bars in America 2008, 5.

Quinn, M., et al. (2005). Youth with Disabilities in Juvenile Corrections: A National Survey, Council for Exceptional Children. Vol 71, No. 3, pp. 339-345.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Thoughts for the New Year from Dean Francisco Rios

Editor:  We begin the new year with both sorrow and inspiration.  The horrific events  in Newtown, Connecticut brought a deep sorrow over an inexplicable, senseless act of a violence on innocent children, but it also reminded us of the selfless acts of courage and dedication by those who stepped forth to protect the children.  Below is a moving piece from the dean of the Woodring College of Education at Western Washington University that was recently published in our local newspaper, the Bellingham Herald.  We thank Dean Francisco Rios for his permission to reprint his reflective thoughts for our readers.  Readers can read another article by Dean Rios in the current issue of the Journal of Educational Controversy.

School tragedy shines light on teachers as everyday heroes
by Francisco Rios

After more than 35 years as a teacher, teacher educator and now the dean of Wooding College of Education at Western Washington University, I listened with sorrow and dismay to the details as they emerged from the terrible tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

I sent a difficult-to-compose notice to our faculty and staff asking that they take a moment to reflect, in the way they best believe, on the horrific events and the pain being felt by bereaved families and a devastated community. I welcomed the moment of silence offered by Western President Bruce Shepard on Saturday during commencement to honor those whose lives had been taken needlessly and unexpectedly. I was deeply moved as I listened to President Obama's compassionate message to an interfaith gathering on Sunday in Newtown, looking for hope in the nearly hopeless.

Something deeply profound happens in the consciousness of the nation whenever these catastrophic events occur. But this was different in that it included the lives of 20 six- and seven-year-old children, each shot multiple times. Nothing will take away from the heart-breaking loss of young people who died before much of their lives had begun.

In returning to work in the college on Monday, I was thinking about the murder of these children and adults, and its implications for our work as students, staff and faculty in a college of education. Perhaps more than any other academic unit on a university campus, we feel compelled to respond because our work is centered on children and adolescents in families, schools and communities.

With the pain of loss of children in the forefront of our minds, I also thought about the six education professionals whose lives were also lost: two teachers (Lauren Rousseau and Victoria Soto), two teachers' aides (Rachel D'Avino and Anne Marie Murphy), a school counselor (Mary Sherlach) and the school principal (Dawn Lafferty Hochsprung). These are the roles we prepare individuals to assume, the work we undertake most closely and directly.

The people who choose to come into a profession where service to children and adolescents is a guiding light inspire us day in and day out. We know that they learn how to write lesson plans, organize classrooms, create assessments and modify instruction accordingly. But we also work diligently to ensure that they foster positive relationships with children and their caregivers. We ask them to regard classrooms, and the teaching/learning that occurs there, as sacred places. We teach them about the importance of being good stewards of the school, the local community and the profession. We foster an understanding that we are not just teachers, administrators, human service professionals and counselors - but our work is central to the very vitality of our nation's democracy as we pursue the broad public purposes of education: an informed and engaged citizenry.

Teachers are often thought of as "unforgotten heroes." As we grieve and mourn the tragic deaths of 20 children whose lives gave meaning to a community, let us not forget the courage and commitment of these six who were acting heroically to carry out their work as education professionals. Let us not forget the teachers who calmed their students and ushered them out of the school and into safety. We do so by ensuring that teachers who grace classrooms in our own local communities, states and a grieving nation are recognized for who they are: the forgotten heroes.

Francisco Rios is dean of Woodring College of Education at Western Washington University.

Read more here: