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San Diego—I was recently talking to a water expert about a precious resource that I’ve never thought much about but now, as a writer in the Golden State, I think about all the time. She said that — after California Gov. Jerry Brown announced the nation’s most populous state would institute regulations to help residents conserve water — she had received calls from policy makers in other states who are facing their own water woes.
“A lot of people look at us and say, ‘There goes California again,’” she said. “We lead the way, in the good and bad.”
Since the 1970’s, my home state has helped kick off what became a series of national movements against property taxes, benefits for undocumented immigrants, and racial preferences. And those are just some of the trends.
But what California really does well is illuminate fault lines. It doesn’t divide people. This isn’t Arizona or Indiana. California takes divisions that already exists and brings them to the surface.
That’s what happened when pollsters asked Californians whether “high- stakes” testing has made public education in the state better or worse.
According to a recently released University of Southern California Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll, the jury is still out. Californians are divided on the issue of testing. Almost evenly so.
Forty-seven percent of voters in the state agreed with the statement that annual standardized testing hurts the educational process by pressuring teachers to teach to the test and failing to take account of differences in learning styles as well as cultural and economic backgrounds.
Meanwhile, 46 percent agreed with the counter view that standardized testing improves the schools by giving teachers information about how much students are learning, allowing parents to monitor their child’s progress, and holding schools accountable for student progress.
The division doesn’t end there. In a state that is nearly 40 percent Latino, and where Latinos make up the majority of the state’s six million students,the quality of the public schools is going to have a disproportionate impact on the Latino community. So it’s worth looking to see if Latinos view testing differently than the overall population.
Guess what? They do.
The majority of Latinos support standardized tests as helpful to education, while a nearly identical percentage of overall voters say that testing has been harmful to the system.
Fifty-five percent of Latinos believed that testing improves education, while 37 percent claimed that it hurts the process. Meanwhile, 53 percent of overall voters said testing harms the school system while 40 percent said that testing improves it.
For Dan Schnur, director of the poll and executive director of the Unruh Institute of Politics of USC, these results make sense.
“For Latino and Latina parents, the stakes are higher,” Schnur told reporters on the day the poll findings were released. “When families achieve a certain level of financial success, they have the luxury of worrying about their children’s stress levels. For families that haven’t yet made it, they see the stress that comes with testing as an appropriate tradeoff as a measure of academic progress.”
Many Latino parents also feel that they were underserved by the public schools when they were students, or that they didn’t take their own education seriously enough. Either way, they’re intent on making sure that their child’s story has a happier ending.
The Los Angeles Times introduces us to Marianna Sanchez, a homemaker who lives near Fresno and who has six children in elementary school. As someone who dropped out of high school, she sees standardized tests as a kind of insurance policy — one that ensures her children are learning the skills they need to get to college and enter the workforce.
“They're testing them so we can know what they're learning, if they are learning anything, and if they're at the standards they need to be at to transfer eventually to a university,” Sanchez said. “We want to know that they know what they're doing when they get there and if the teachers are actually teaching them what they need to be taught.”
Sanchez is right on the money. There is such wisdom in her words. It’s about what you’d expect from someone who has seen this movie before and knows firsthand the price to be paid when students fail in school — and when schools fail their students.
Where are the activists when we need them? They’re always ready to go to war with those who have the wrong approach on immigration. What they really need to do is battle those who are shortchanging Latinos in education.
There goes California again — lifting the veil and showing us all that, when interests diverge and fault lines appear, those at the bottom who have the most riding on the schools working as they should will see regular standardized testing as the best hope for making sure this happens.
For these people, the tests aren’t the problem. That’s as ridiculous as blaming the thermometer for the fever. It’s when you do away with testing, and leave the school system and those who run it on the honor system, that the problems begin.
Ruben Navarrette is a fellow at the George W. Bush Institute. He is also a syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group, a columnist for the Daily Beast, a frequent commentator on television and radio, and author of “A Darker Shade of Crimson: Odyssey of a Harvard Chicano” (Bantam). Formerly, he was also a teacher at the K-12 level, consultant to the College Board, and university instructor.
Ruben Navarrette is the most widely read Latino columnist in the country, and the 16th most popular columnist in America according to Media Matters. He is a nationally syndicated columnist with The Washington Post Writers Group whose twice-a-week column appears in nearly 150 newspapers, a contributor to USA Today and FOXNEWS.COM, and a columnist for the Daily Beast. On television, Navarrette has appeared on dozens of shows. He also served as a panelist on the PBS’ All-American Presidential Forum in 2007, where he posed questions to Democratic candidates. On radio, he has been interviewed on dozens of local and national shows. He has been a commentator on National Public Radio. He has hosted radio shows in Phoenix, Dallas, San Diego, Fresno, and Los Angeles, and served as guest host for the nationally syndicated “The Michael Medved Show.” He has contributed to The Wall Street Journal, The Denver Post, The Chicago Tribune, Texas Monthly, Hispanic Magazine, Latino Magazine, PODER Magazine, VOXXI.COM, TIME.COM, Encyclopedia Britannica, & other publications. A graduate of Harvard College and the John F. Kennedy School of Government, he is the author of "A Darker Shade of Crimson: Odyssey of a Harvard Chicano" (Bantam, 1993). He’s also a contributor to “Chicken Soup for the Writer’s Soul” and “Chicken Soup for the Latino Soul.” He spent 12 years working for US newspapers – The Arizona Republic (reporter/metro columnist), The Dallas Morning News (editorial board), and The San Diego Union-Tribune (editorial board). He’s also a popular speaker on the lecture circuit, having addressed, since 1993, dozens of audiences at universities, conferences, and town halls. He judged the contest for the Pulitzer Prizes in 2013 and 2014, and was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in commentary by the Washington Post Writers Group in 2012. Navarrette lives in the San Diego area with his wife, and three children.Full Bio
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