Ray Carter | August 5, 2021

Union panelists: Learning-loss concerns a form of white supremacy

Ray Carter

Due to the COVID-19 shutdown of in-person learning at many schools in 2020 and 2021, experts have long warned of significant learning loss for students, particularly lower-income students who are disproportionately minority. Recent data have validated those fears.

But presenters at a recent Oklahoma Education Association symposium told state teachers not to worry, dismissing the concept of learning loss as a form of white supremacy.

“That learning loss is completely centered in whiteness,” said Terry Jess, a National Education Association Social Justice Activist finalist in 2017. “‘Oh, they’re not meeting this mathematical standard or this thing.’ It’s these arbitrary things that have been imposed by whiteness, that whiteness says is important and doesn’t acknowledge that for many of our students of color, they have experienced tons of learning. Right? They’ve had more time with their families.

They’ve had more time in community. They’ve been able to learn about their history. I’ve seen so much authentic learning from secondary students about what’s going on in the world and in America and what they think and they’re publishing their thoughts about it. So, that entire argument that we’re hearing right now of, like, we have to rush back into the classroom even if it’s unsafe because of learning loss, well, whose learning? It’s just white learning that’s been lost.”

Jess was a featured presenter at the Oklahoma Aspiring Educators Association’s recent Racial and Social Justice Symposium, which was conducted online with video of sessions posted on the group’s website. The Oklahoma Aspiring Educators Association (OAEA) is an affiliate of the Oklahoma Education Association (OEA), the state’s largest teacher union and the state affiliate of the National Education Association (NEA).

Although Oklahoma administered state tests earlier this year, district-level data on the results have not yet been released, although one school official has publicly declared the results to be “as bad as I predicted.”

However, national data recently released by the firm Curriculum Associates showed that, across the board, a larger share of students are now performing below grade level than in prior years, and the share of struggling students is greater than average at schools serving majority-minority student populations.

“Fewer students in schools serving mostly Black and Latino students are on grade level compared to schools serving mostly White students,” the Curriculum Associates’ report states.

In a typical year, Curriculum Associates’ data show that 56 percent of students in majority-black districts perform at grade level in reading and 50 percent are at grade level in math. But those figures fell to 46 percent and 30 percent, respectively, in spring 2021. Today, Curriculum Associates’ data also show that 33 percent of students in majority black schools are at least two grades behind in reading and 24 percent are two grades behind in math. The latter figure is double the rate seen in prior years.

But Erika Chavarria, who was also an NEA Social Justice Activist finalist for 2017, told OEA members that the “standards of achievement are inherently racist.”

“What we even consider to be an achievement or a level of learning is inherently racist in and of itself,” Chavarria said. “It’s all based on white normativity.”

Chavarria said the “origin” of standardized testing was based on racism and eugenics and designed to bolster the idea that whites are intellectually superior to black individuals.

“We are administering tests that are supposed to show that black students are intellectually inferior,” Chavarria said.

Chavarria and other speakers said systemic racism within public schools makes them unable to truly aid minority students as schools are constituted today.

“We are operating in an education system that was never meant to teach black and brown children,” Chavarria said. “This education system was never built for black and brown children. And so we have to understand that in order to move forward.”

While speakers at the Oklahoma Aspiring Educators Association symposium dismissed measurement of academic results as based in racism, within the same presentation they also said teachers should have high standards for BIPOC—Black, Indigenous, and People of Color—students, although they did not specify how such standards would be measured.

“Set high expectations for BIPOC students,” Chavarria said. “Don’t lower expectations, because that’s also racist.”

Ray Carter Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter

Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter is the director of OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism. He has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman. As a reporter for The Journal Record, Carter received 12 Carl Rogan Awards in four years—including awards for investigative reporting, general news reporting, feature writing, spot news reporting, business reporting, and sports reporting. While at The Oklahoman, he was the recipient of several awards, including first place in the editorial writing category of the Associated Press/Oklahoma News Executives Carl Rogan Memorial News Excellence Competition for an editorial on the history of racism in the Oklahoma legislature.

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