Urban parents protest 'unrealistic' standards

The epicenter of many parental protests over the standards movement may be the suburbs, but that doesn't mean inner-city parents are content with the new programs many schools are instituting - and particularly not with the high-stakes tests that generally accompany them.

In several affluent Detroit suburbs, parents have encouraged their children to boycott state tests.

In the city itself, there's been less such activity, but "the opt-out level in Detroit is about to rachet up," predicts Rich Gibson, co-ordinator of the social studies program in the college of education at the city's Wayne State University.

"Suburban parents have been more organized," says Professor Gibson, but in the city as well "discontent is extraordinarily deep."

Ironically, one of the strongest arguments in favor of the standards movement has been its potential to iron out inequalities in US education. Standards can help to ensure, says Paul Reville, executive director of the Pugh Forum on Standards-Based Reform, "that an 'A' in the suburbs will mean the same thing as an 'A' in the inner city."

But the high-stakes tests that accompany the movement trouble many urban leaders and parents. Such tests "are going to impact minority kids severely," says Chester Hartmann, executive director of the Poverty and Race Research Action Council in Washington, D.C. "Research shows it makes them drop out of school earlier."

Urban parents in Chicago and parts of Maryland have already organized effective pockets of resistance against the movement, while in Texas a group of minority parents is involved in a lawsuit challenging the requirement that high school students must pass a state test to receive a diploma.

Ted Nellen, a high school teacher and parent of two school-age children in New York City, complains that efforts to foist new sets of standards on struggling urban schools are unrealistic at best.

"Our buildings are falling apart, our teachers are underpaid, our textbooks are crumbling," says Mr. Nellen. "How can we reach standards without the environment required?"

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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