Claire Potter at HNN/Tenured Radical challenges the idea that the image of Barack Obama will raise black student achievement:
White liberals seem to be particularly entranced by the notion that persistent social equalities are a result of low self-esteem, rather than racial and class inequality. By the 1940’s, self-esteem arguments had moved into progressive, anti-racist social science through the black doll-white doll test designed by influential African-American psychologists Mamie and Kenneth Clark, used as evidence in Briggs v. Elliott (1952), and later, to much greater effect, in Brown v. Board of Education (1954). As Waldo E. Martin has noted, this test was not without critics on both sides of the issue, many of whom saw methodological flaws in the Clarks’ experiments. However, the gravity of the moral issues at stake, Martin argues, meant that arguments about self-esteem resulting from the study nevertheless became powerful visual evidence in what stands out as a classic liberal decision by the Warren court.
In particular, I like her take on contemporary trends in educational assessment:
A crucial issue here is the continuing mania for using public school children as a vast pool of customers for corporations specializing in both mass curriculum distribution and in the endless testing through which students — on pain of humiliation, summer school, and being held back a grade — are asked to regurgitate these educational products. (I use the phrase “educational products” consciously: currently, a standard curriculum in the United States is to education what Cheeze Whiz is to cheese.)