New York State's Mis-education Department Faces New Racism Charges

This post is specifically addressed to Judge Kimba M. Wood of the Federal District Court in Manhattan, but of course I hope everyone reads it. In June, Judge Wood ruled that some versions of New York State teacher certification requirements were racially biased because of "unlawful disparate impact." In a later decision, Judge Wood found other requirements, at least temporarily, met the threshold for legitimacy, but they would be subject to further review. Well the New York State Mis-Education Department is at it again! New Yorkers need a court injunction to block their latest racially discriminating directive.

Dear Judge Wood,

At its September meeting, the New York State Board of Regents, the governing body for the state's Mis-Education Department adopted new guidelines for student acceptance into graduate-level teacher education programs, the first step for many toward teacher certification and a career as a teacher. The proposal comes up for final review in December and is scheduled to go into effect in January 2016. Under the new guidelines, which are supposed to impose "rigorous selection criteria," applicants must have a cumulative grade point average of 3.0 or higher" in an undergraduate program and a "minimum score on the Graduate Record Examination and/or a substantially equivalent." The Regents also threatened to deregister and suspend any university teacher education program where 50% of its graduates failed to pass state certification exams for three consecutive academic years. Meanwhile, between the 2008-2009 and 2011-2012, New York State Schools of Education already experienced an 8% drop in enrollment.

These new guidelines will have a disastrous effect on aspiring minority group members who want to be teachers, which should be enough to trigger the disparate impact clause Judge Wood cited in earlier cases. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits both intentional discrimination in hiring and evaluation practices that disproportionately exclude minority group members, women, immigrants, or members of different religious groups, if the policies cannot be demonstrated to be directed job related. Poor performance by racial and ethnic minorities on teacher certification tests can be the result of many factors. The tests may be discriminatory or we may be seeing the impact of unequal education from pre-k through college. In either case, under federal law states are obligated to show that its teacher certification tests measure the ability to be a teacher and are not just being used to keep people out of the profession.

But that is just what this latest directive will do at a time when more minority group members are needed in the teaching profession. Meanwhile in New York City, where 85% of the children are members of racial and ethnic minority groups, 60% of the teachers are White. Nationally, in 2011, 82% of all public school teachers were non-Hispanic Whites.

U.S. Department of Education reported in a study conducted by its National Center for Education Statistics that in the 2009 academic years 75% of White bachelor degree recipients had a grade point average of 3.0 or higher. But for Hispanics the figure was 63% and for Blacks it was only 55%. The explanation for the grade disparity was there in the report. Black and Hispanic college graduates tended to be older than Whites, less likely to have parents with college degrees, more likely to be poor as measured by financial aid eligibility, and much more likely to be working either part of full time. They also were weighted down by weaker secondary school education programs so they had much further to climb to reach a 3.0 GPA in college. According to another Department of Education report Whites graduated from high school with an overall grade point average of 2.88 in core academic subjects, while the score for 2.60 Hispanics was 2.60 and for Blacks it was only 2.47. The performance gap between Black and Latino students and White students is especially large during the freshman year of college, reflecting these disparities in secondary school education.

A 2007 report for the New Jersey State Education Department found "Research findings on the predictive validity of undergraduate GPA in terms of teacher effectiveness in the classroom are conflicting." In addition, "If the minimum GPA requirement were eliminated in the face of conflicting evidence over its value in predicting teacher performance and its relationship to student achievement, there might be a larger pool of applicants available to poorer districts (and all districts generally) and available for math and science classrooms."

If undergraduate GPA is a valid indicator of ability to teach, and I am not convinced that it is, GPA in the last two years of college when Black and Hispanic students have had a fairer opportunity to acclimate to college-level work would certainly be a better measure.

The Graduate Record Exam (GRE) is a three part multiple-choice computerized exam created by the Educational Testing Service (ETS) and used by approximately 60% of American graduate programs. It is designed to predict success in graduate school, not in teaching. Research studies dispute whether high scores on tests like the GRE will "safeguard the public from incompetent teaching." Other studies show that if a "relationship does exist between GPA and job success it is tenuous at best," including in fields like medicine. There is statistical evidence that National Teachers Examination and other state-mandated tests of basic skills and teaching abilities are inconsistent predictors of future teacher performance.

According to the website FairTest, "despite its primary purpose of predicting success in graduate school, a GRE score adds little useful information to a student's application - the test's own developer admits that undergraduate college grades do a better job of forecasting graduate achievement." The New York State Regents must have missed that the Educational Testing Service acknowledges the "limitations of graduate school admissions tests in the face of the complexity of the graduate education process have long been recognized...[the] critical skills associated with scholarly and professional competence...are not currently measured by graduate admissions tests."

Additionally, according to FairTest, "large disparities in GRE scores exist between different groups of students. Despite their higher grades as undergraduate and graduate students, females score on average 20-30 points lower than males on each section of the exam. African-American, Latino, and, Native American students on average score lower than White and Asian American students . . . The GRE is particularly susceptible to the influence of socioeconomic class. ETS' own research has shown a strong relationship between family background and test scores." Educational Testing Service guidelines specify that a "cutoff score based solely on GRE scores should never be used as the sole criterion for denial of admissions."

A fairer test, at least according to Judge Wood's previous ruling and court arguments presented by representatives of the New York State Board of Regents, is probably the Academic Literacy Skills Test (ALST). I recommend that if New York universities must adapt a nationally normed exam they use the ALST and set the cut score below what the state sets for certification.

Clearly the problems in education in New York and the nation go much deeper than a teacher candidate's score on an arbitrary standardized exam. A recent op-end in the New York Daily News placed much of the blame on Merryl Tisch, the Chancellor of the Board of Regents, and demanded that Tisch resign. Tisch has been a Regent since 1996 and became vice chancellor in 2007, and chancellor in 2009. She has repeatedly promised to close the achievement gap in the state and has continually failed. Despite her 20-year effort, only 31% of students in New York State were proficient on the most recent English Language Arts Common Core test and only 38% were proficient in math.

Replacing Tisch will not solve the problems of poverty, racism, unequal school funding, unemployment, overcrowded housing, and ghettoization. But it would at least acknowledge that the simplistic "reforms" she espouses that may well be racist are not a solution.