J.R.Donohue/Commentary/Fairness in Brains
| Home |   | Commentary |


Fairness in Brains
Latest Education Fiascoes in California
March 8th, 2000

    Over the last decade a new fairness crusade succeeded in the name of those California students with learning disorders. Fearless and single-minded parents of such students pressed the administrators of the SAT (actually, they sued them) to allow learning-disabled students to take extra time on the test. Having no choice once the sacred term "fairness" was invoked, such an accommodation was set up. Now, if you have been "officially" determined to have an "official" learning disorder, you will be granted an extra period of time on test day to complete the SAT, typically 4.5 hours instead of 3.

    This interesting state of affairs peaked my interest when it first came to my attention years ago. Actually, I must report that when it was first floated, I honestly and in all humbleness never imagined it would go into effect; it was just too outrageously anti-standards. It was like something Ayn Rand would have to reject from a first draft because it was too far-fetched and would look like stupid enemy-baiting. The reasons, specifically, that I doubted it would be implemented:

    1) Shouldn't such a test function as a highly tuned discriminator on brains?

    In fact, shouldn't the designers and publishers of the test earn their hefty salaries by making the test more and more objective and ought they not fight like tigers against ANY impurity in the hard steel of it's ability to examine the student on the content of his intellect, to find out if required knowledge is both stored in his mind and accessible in a timely way? In this light, isn't it patently obvious (here all non-expletive adjectives fail me) that allowing some students more time is de facto destructive of the very purpose of the test? What the hell good does it due to measure against a standard if your yardstick is made of silly putty? The concept of "improving" a test by mutilating one of its fundamental constants is such an outrageous contradiction that I was sure the shame of attempting to float it would inhibit its proponents and fire up its opponents enough to overcome the invocation of "fairness." I was wrong.

    I checked with the college Board <http://www.collegeboard.org/> and tests taken with the extra time provision are marked "non-standard administration," so perhaps a college admissions officer knows that skewing is involved. I wonder if that marking actually is visible, as that would seem to negate the advantages of getting extra time.

    2) What constitutes a learning disorder?

    Any kind of expansion of the categories of disability is a growth industry these days. Those who champion the general term in order to bring those so labeled under the umbrella of the ADA (Americans With Disabilities Act) are not bashful in pushing the envelope. They recently boasted that the count has reached 30 million, which makes one faintly curious about the curve under which such an acceleration thrives. At some point must it not cut into the very mother lode of the abled, the continued healthy existence of which allows the disabled to be served? The ADAers are either rushing blindly to total inclusion (and certain implosion) or are firmly in control, far from the critical down slope as yet. I wonder what the ideal ratio of "dis" versus "able" is?

    In the public education branch of this gambit there are many stories of parents' passionate campaigns on behalf of their kids to create new categories, broaden old ones and get it established that even if the kid is taking effective medicine for the problem, he ought still get preferential treatment.

    A recent parallel trend is "mainstreaming," which entails the return of mentally retarded and severely disabled children to regular class (no more Special Ed) with the proviso -- in the sacred name of egalitarianism -- that whatever accommodation is required for the child to succeed with the others is only fair, and must therefore be legally mandated. The practical implementation of this: the child is accompanied at all times by one or more tutor/facilitator(s) of his own within a classroom where one teacher serves 20-30 other students.

    Take one guess if there is any downsizing of ambition in these classes in the name of not discriminating against one's severely learning disabled or mentally retarded classmate. I have been told that the Progressives take great pride in mainstreaming, especially its moral effect on the sharp kids in the class who are relieved of unfettered appreciation of their abilities and are instead taught that such comparisons are deeply wrong, that constructing the reality that they are the same as everyone, and have no value greater than anyone, including the mentally retarded, is the highest spiritual achievement.

    But the how-about-these-balls award must go to the crusader that invented the ultimate learning disorder vis a vis test taking. He sallied forth with "testing intimidation disorder." This is not just children having anxiety taking tests, but becoming incapacitated at the very fact that a standard (the score or mark) will be issued. That's right: on this view the very existence of a standard is held to bring on the disorder.

    He was quoted as saying that the way one determines if the child has this disorder is to review how well the child scores on tests. If he gets low marks, this is all that is needed to establish prime facie that the child has the disorder and therefore must be accommodated in the quest to put such a cruel disability in abeyance. I am not making this up. Kids who get high marks don't have it, kids who get low marks have it, period. And in his world view, since victimhood is reality and circumstances are the cause, it is the circumstances that must be changed to bring about justice. The obvious accommodation, of course, is to root out those pesky standards wherever their sorry ass might be and kick 'em to the curb.

    One school principal liked what he saw in this game and lofted the trial balloon that test scores of kids who got below a "good grade" on exams ought to be thrown out (in computing the level of academic excellence at his school) on the basis that they were not really fair scores, having been produced by disabilities. He was not successful in this, but he's certainly got the right spirit and I am sure is a folk hero in the Progressive Movement.

    3) What causes learning disorders?

    It is my opinion that many "learning disorders" are inflamed, and in some cases caused outright, by the philosophy of Progressive Education as applied in K-12 in America today. My exposition of this thesis is a matter for a different essay, but suffice it to say here, it is a vicious racket to impose by force a system that causes disabilities, and then claim that the existence and nature of these disabilities discredits not their agents, but rather the very anchors of objectivity that cause them to be seen as "dis"orders in the first place.

    Notice that by simultaneously exploiting categories and deconstructing the validity of categories, the racketeer can play both sides of the street. On Monday, Wednesday and Friday standards are valid, which allows the definitive labeling of groups as above or below the standard. Naturally, the Progressives are champions of those below, holding that while the standard is indeed real, something for which fighting a holy war is justified, their clients are innocent victims of racial, classist and "able-ist" discrimination. Such crimes require remediation, redistribution of income and "opportunity," funds for public schools and a leveling of the field. The egalitarian goal is to pull up those below standard to a position of equality-of-results.

    On Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, the standard itself is the enemy, and if only universal unconditional human valuation were accepted it would be understood that there is no problem at all with kids, only with reactionaries who wish to fractalize the wholeness of humanity by coding one person's abilities above another's, and who support a system of rewards -- such as capitalism -- for this constructed (not objectively real) caste system. Any outbreak of judgment, evaluation, "sorting," recognition of merit, indeed any discernment however minute of evaluation or achievement of any kind is a fascist act and must be annihilated philosophically, psychologically and practically. I suggest that on this view, a learning disorder is a non-issue, as learning has itself been de-valorized in extremis.

    I leave it to the imagination of the reader to visualize the position of Progressive intellectuals on Sunday.

    Well, I was wrong to think that the above three considerations would block the notion of a time allowance for the SAT. The "extra-time" policy was put into law. 26,000 California students have applied for extra time and gotten it in the last two years.

    So, it is with grim humor that I report the latest development, reported recently in the Los Angeles Times.

    It seems that corruption has befallen the "overtime" provision of the SAT. Terrible, I realize, for such a fine, just policy. Oh, how could it? Say it ain't so!

    A statistician determined that a disproportionate share of those getting overtime on the SAT were rich white boys from prep schools. Poor black kids from the inner city schools were under-represented. This was declared to be UNFAIR! Yes, I am sorry to say, completely unfair.

    Well, having been disillusioned about expectations that someone would raise an objection to the very purpose of this program, I guessed there was no chance that the onset of corruption would precipitate a denunciation of the program itself. I was not wrong.

    The solution? More legislation! A new bill being pushed through the California legislature has two parts:

    1) Forbid high schools themselves from determining who does or does not qualify for the extra-time program, as had been the procedure previously. This is intended to shield the schools from the ravings of pushy parents (read pushy wealthy white parents) who have succeeded in getting their scions declared disabled on the slightest pretext. Now the decision on who is truly disabled will be made by the College Board, owners of the SAT.

    [The College Board, on hearing this, immediately raised the cost issue and made a preliminary appeal for more staff and funding, wouldn't ya know. Previously they had reviewed only 670 of 24,000 applications, typically those extreme cases where the high school admitted that there had never been special diagnosis or treatment of the candidate prior to his application. Now they may have to review all. More qualified professionals trained in finding the damage in people will have to be trained and hired.]

    2) Require all high schools (read poor minority high schools) to perform affirmative outreach, making perfectly sure that all kids and parents of kids are fully informed beyond a shadow of a doubt that they, too, can be declared disabled, its easy, anyone can attain it, please come and see our category lists, you'll be amazed at what can be considered disabling, etc. etc. etc. Apparently without this proactive enterprise many otherwise disabled-worthy candidates are not taking full advantage of their rights to achieve this grand status and get extra time on the SAT. In fact, the Los Angeles Times did an intense study of 10 inner-city high schools from which 1439 students took the SAT last year, and not one applied for extra time. How backward. Remedial affirmative action mandated by law to raise awareness that they are disabled is surely needed.

    As a side effect, one of the bill's proponents has threatened to stiffen the law with amendments that go after fraud in the medical profession for doctors deliberately misdiagnosing kids so they qualify, a practice that has been widely reported by not yet prosecuted.

    Other issues in brief:

    Race-pressure in test taking.

    A study reported by the LA Times purports to demonstrate that there is a pervasive, damaging phenomena known as "race-pressure" in any sort of evaluative situation. It seems that when a group is told that the upcoming "test" is critical, or means getting promoted, or will determine the prospects of individuals, minority (and especially black) people, who without the notification of criticality reportedly perform equally with others, have lower scores than expected with all other factors controlled out. This study is being used to tweak the guilt-strings of fairness and pave the way to new and innovative "work-arounds" for the outlawed affirmative action in California.

    Can't get rid of those pesky boxes.

    In a related matter.... Ward Connally, a crusader against affirmative action, is on a mission to get those race identification boxes removed from all tests and employment applications in California. He is meeting resistance. The pitch: "We are not using them for preferential treatment, we simply need them to measure the success or failure of our outreach programs." You see, while affirmative action has been banned, outreach is okay. For example, UCLA can no longer use race as a factor (in either direction) in its admission policy, but it CAN perform outreach, that is go into the targeted community and encourage the "at risk population" to apply, coach them in how to apply, and provide support as they do apply.

    Mr. Connally is said to have his doubts about the above justification and continues to press his case.

    By the way, much to my bewilderment, the crusading Connally continues to voice his opinion that the SAT ought to be dropped as a tool of admittance for the university. Go figure.

    Prop 10 media blitz prior to recall petition.    

    You remember the Prop 10 initiative from two years ago, don't you? That was a huge 50 cent tax surcharge on every pack of cigarettes, the revenue from which was to go to a vast enterprise in the general category of "early childhood development." In one of my past rants I voiced my amusement in watching Mr. Rob Reiner, head of the project, as he became the target of professional policy makers who claimed he was not spending the money fast enough. And you know, I must agree, the funds continue to build up and very few programs have been started. A mystery.

    The tax generates -- get ready -- seven hundred million dollars each year. Rob is sitting on a billion.

    Well, now a crusader from the other side has put a proposition on the current ballot which will withdraw and destroy the entire program down to the root. He is not getting too much publicity, yet Rob and Co. were alarmed enough to FINALLY reach into the coffers of their monstrous storehouse and spend some of it. On picture books for two year olds? On a study to hire P.Donohue Shortridge to transform all Head Start programs into Montessori schools? Nope. On image-driven touchy-feely television commercials emoting that when the money finally begins to be spent it will do SO MUCH GOOD, don't worry, it's coming, eventually, and it will be worth it, love, Rob.

    The end of the end of social promotion

    As part of the recent groundswell against the putrid state of California's public education, it was determined that social promotion must stop. In case you do not know what social promotion is, you might guess that it means the child is promoted to the next grade completely based on a social (emotional) basis, not on any criteria based on achievement, compliance, learning, grades or testing. You would be right. Not one child has been "held back" in the Los Angeles Unified School District for academic reasons in 20 years. If you read that sentence too fast to grasp it, I suggest rewinding a little. Not one kid held back in 20 years.

    Naturally, the end of social promotion is a step in the right direction. The firebrands crusading for this wanted to set a decently high line of demarcation for the first attempt to get the program going. They had to be cooled off. The compromise: a child must pass English, History and Math (pass means at least a mark of "D-") and must be reading English and doing math at grade level as determined by a (you can't believe how simple) uniform test. This was less than at first hoped, but at least a start.

    I am sad to announce that as the current academic year reached its halfway point and with only 5 months left until the first application of this program, all involved had to agree that even the above criteria was hopelessly ambitious. It was soberly calculated that under the plan fully 60% of students in the District would fail to be promoted. This is a stunning, dreadful statistic.

    The final compromise: the only way a kid will fail to be promoted is if he gets an "F" in English from his teacher. He can fail all other subjects, he can be reading English and doing math at a level several grades below his current grade, but as long as he gets at least a "D-" in English, he moves on to the next grade.

    There are over 700,000 children in the LAUSD, the largest school district in the US. God help us all.





To respond to a commentary, click here.



All essays Copyright 2001 J.R.Donohue
All Rights Reserved
No usage rights granted without the written permission
of the author. Inquires: here.


| Home |   | Commentary |