The Costs of No Rigor: Why Demanding Higher Quality is Better than Opting Out

(Originally published in Huffington Post)

Dr. Charles Cole, III

I recently read a report titled, “Out of Pocket: The High Cost of Inadequate High Schools and High School Student Achievement on College Affordability”. The article had some eye opening stats. Here’s a few:

I felt my muscles tensing up as I read this. I remember graduating being in the top 10 percentile throughout high school. I remember having As and Bs, thinking I knew what I was doing. Then I had to take a full year of remedial Language Arts and Math. I remember the counselor telling me that these six classes — yes, dammit six classes in a quarter system — wouldn’t count towards my college graduation. More than 10 years after college and still owing Naviant (my loans were previously owned by Sallie Mae) well into six figures, I’m still paying for those courses.

I was discouraged. I was embarrassed and it reiterated the belief I had when I entered college — the notion that I didn’t belong here. The counselors are straight up with you too. They were clear that you got a few shots at passing these classes before they made you leave the university and get caught up at a JuCo. I knew if I left and went to a Junior College I wasn’t coming back. I know folks that did this successfully but if I left, I wasn’t coming back.

I was able to do it by taking 20 units most quarters and taking full loads during the summer but I was determined to finish in 4 years. That means no summer vacations. No internships. I did that while doing work study as an assistant in the library and working a full load at the shoe store in Bayfair Mall in the next city.

The tests aren’t what’s hurting our self-esteem, it’s the not mastering what the hell I was supposed to learn when you made me come to your school everyday that’s making us feel some type of way!

So when I see folks talking about “Opt-Out”, I’m confused. Then when I look deeper and I see folks like Diane Ravitch saying it I get angry. Here’s why. Diane’s kids didn’t grow up where I grew up. For me, the lack of quality education puts me on a path to crime, violence and homelessness. I know this because I was raised by parents with no education and that was my experience growing up. It’s all I knew.

I got those empty grades that lied to me and told me I was prepared to do college level math and I wasn’t. I’ll keep it all the way real with you, I hated taking tests. Absolutely hated it. So if you told me as a child that I could opt out, then you could’ve used me in any way you wanted, straight up! I would’ve made videos for you. I would’ve appeared in commercials, all of it. But as an adult that’s now traveled the country and seen quality education for Black folks, I’m even more offended because I feel like people that will never have OUR experience are using OUR babies to make their point.

The tests aren’t what’s hurting our self-esteem, it’s the not mastering what the hell I was supposed to learn when you made me come to your school everyday that’s making us feel some type of way! Take the results of the test, analyze it, and improve how you educate us. Make adjustments. Also, I’m all for improving the tests. Do what you need to do. Make it more culturally relevant. Find a way to better integrate it so it isn’t as disruptive but don’t take away the ability to assess on a large scale. I do want to know how well I am doing compared to the suburbs. I do want to know where I rank amongst different groups.

The days of my people fighting for crumbs has to go, son! We’re worth more than that. I don’t care where you live, I don’t care what you look like, I don’t care if your parents never showed up to one PTA, I don’t care if your momma was a crackhead or your daddy was a dope boy, you deserve a quality education.

So no, the test isn’t giving Black kids low self-esteem, it’s when we think we’re prepared to do something and fall flat on our faces because we got empty grades. It’s watching all of your friends around you that you started college with drop out one by one. It’s feeling like we’re set up to fail every step of the way. The answer isn’t to dumb it down, let’s smarten it up. The days of my people fighting for crumbs has to go, son! We’re worth more than that. I don’t care where you live, I don’t care what you look like, I don’t care if your parents never showed up to one PTA, I don’t care if your momma was a crackhead or your daddy was a dope boy, you deserve a quality education. Those things were true for me and if you try to tell me I didn’t deserve better then we may have a problem. Sometimes it takes one of us to say that to the rest of us. You are worth it and you are not getting what you deserve. God Bless.

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Charles Cole, III

Founder of Energy Convertors | www.energyconvertors.org | @ccoleiii | Blood of a Slave, Heart of a King | #BeAnEnergyConvertor | #DoWork