Is Controlling for Race Inherently Racist?

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I think so.

Here’s why.

The advantages to having demographic information out in the open far outweigh the disadvantages, said Prof. Fullan, who is also professor emeritus of the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto.

“We said we should use the information to make all schools better, but I understand the fear,” he said in an interview yesterday.

Prof. Fullan believes in setting targets for test scores, and in the idea of statistical neighbours, whereby schools with similar demographics can be compared with each other.

via Data on schools website divides parents, educators.

Let’s start with this poll. The last time I saw such a close race was the Quebec separation referendum over 10 years ago. This is the vote tally as of 11:30pm tonight. Apparently it was also evenly split earlier this afternoon.

The poll shows that over 4,000 people agree with Michael Fullan that the demographic make-up of a school in the form of parents’ immigration background is a significant enough variable in determining which school’s product they purchase.

The Ontario government removed income and education levels from the presentation of information. That is a rather damning self-indictment. They initially included it because it fit the profile of what they wanted educational consumers to consider when making their purchases, then they removed it. Perhaps people couldn’t stomach the blatant reality that some would choose a school based on the wealth of parents, but clearly, that does go on.

Essentially, what we’re dealing with here is the Ontario government’s tacit support for a class based public service. Pick some variables that determine the class you want your children to associate with, then publicize the data for informed choice. Society should not be condoning or supporting such class-based decision-making. Period.

In BC, we’re well aware of the criminally narrow range of high-stakes testing that our students suffer to generate Foundational Skills Assessment scores for the hyper-libertarian, unregulated market-worshiping Fraser Institute to use in ranking schools. The whole process is obscene and celebrates active ignorance of the breadth of what it takes to evaluate our multi-faceted human beings in the K-12 education system and the system as a whole.

And now in Ontario, the government is essentially controlling for race in the statistical analysis that parents unjustifiably wish to make. When we talk about immigration background, we’re talking about the polite way of describing parents’ race. I have a hard time thinking that if Michael Fullan tried to float this concept as an academic project past OISE’s research ethics board, he would have been roundly rebuked–at least I’d hope so.

The government is inciting a firestorm of bigotry by enabling people to be able to move their students from schools with too many of the wrong kind of classmates, with people defining wrong in whatever mildly to severely racist tone they wish.

This is the height of social and political irresponsibility. In an era of economic crisis when local communities will increase in importance for enhancing individual and regional socio-economic resilience, inserting this wedge that will split communities is simply reprehensible.

And since I’ve only taught high school and have never been a professor emeritus at OISE, I’m totally open to hearing all these great arguments in libertarian social engineering that Michael Fullan feels far outweigh the provincial government condoning race-based divisive education policy.

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Stephen Elliott-Buckley

Post-partisan eco-socialist. at Politics, Re-Spun
Stephen Elliott-Buckley is a husband, father, professor, speaker, consultant, former suburban Vancouver high school English and Social Studies teacher who changed careers because the BC Liberal Party has been working hard to ruin public education. He has various English and Political Science degrees and has been writing political, social and economic editorials since November 2002. Stephen is in Twitter, Miro and iTunes, and the email thing, and at his website,

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2 thoughts on “Is Controlling for Race Inherently Racist?”

  1. Let’s not confuse data gathering with ranking of schools as is done by the Fraser Institute.
    Identifying WHO are the students that enter public schools is a separate activity from evaluating, and, within evaluations, ranking schools on the average outcomes of students writing the FSA tests.
    Otherwise, if you follow the line of thinking regarding the collection of demographic information as being racist, then asking a student if they are male or female would amount to sexism; or what their age is, would be age-ism. And that’s nonsense.
    There are differences between learners, due to both simple and complex reasons, and trying to interpret trends from the results of educational outcomes, in conjunction with demographic information, can be very helpful. Publishing incomplete data in a judgmental way, as is done with school rankings by the Fraser Institute in BC, is NOT helpful – it’s inaccurate and harmful, as there is some evidence that parents and students respond to being the “last” on the list and seek to move schools.
    Useful analysis can be beneficial. As a high school teacher who has taught at a variety of schools, it helps me to be reminded about the general background of the students at my current school to assist with my teaching methods. Students from low socio-economic backgrounds often hold down jobs during the week as well as attending school so they can support their family; thus they have little time for homework yet still aspire to go to university, perhaps, or get a trade. While I still teach the same course at the various high schools I’ve been at, the nature and quantity of the homework can vary, even amongst students in the same class, depending on some individual variations. If you’ve experience teaching in a high school, you’ll understand what I’m trying to say here. This is a sensitive topic but Teaching always comes with Testing (in many forms) and Analysis. I want to know that what I’m attempting to teach is “getting across”. Knowing some of the background of students helps; publishing results to a wide audience unrelated to the school is a separate issue and not useful if it is used to pre-judge individuals.

  2. Yes, I agree.

    The only connection I wanted to draw between the FSA-Fraser Institute issue and the demographic tracking in Ontario is the unjustified use of data. In BC, hopelessly insufficient data are used for a political purpose of denigrating certain schools in the hopes of allowing “market” forces to improved the “product”. In Ontario, demographic data is tracked and publicized in an irresponsible way that will facilitate people to use bigoted means to choose which school to send their children to.

    I think collecting demographic data and using it responsibly is important. As a teacher I always welcomed useful data that helps frame the teaching context. But as a professional, I know that some data is less useful than others. And I also know that using a collection of even meaningful data is no substitute from developing learning experiences for individual human beings.

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