This is an abridged version of a public statement read at the School Committee meeting on Wednesday in support of suspending the test for Boston’s three exam schools.
I am not going to speak to you about what is best for my child. It is not your job to do what’s best for my child. It is your job to do what’s best for all Boston children. And I’m one of many Boston residents who share your perspective: thinking about what’s best for the community of Latinx and white and Black and Asian and Native and biracial and low-income and middle income and upper income kids in this city.
What is always best for the community is admission policies that create equal opportunity for all. And we know a policy is creating more equal opportunity — and thereby is antiracist — if it is closing racial and economic inequity. The data is indisputable on the effects of this plan: It will close the racial and economic under-representation at Boston’s three exam schools. And so, I urge you to approve this antiracist proposal.
This is not about me or my child. My wife and I have the resources to one day sign her up for an expensive test-prep course, or hire a test-prep consultant. All the test prep will end up being money well spent: It will have boosted her score to get into an exam school.
All the while, I’ll come here and tell you she worked hard and she’s so smart. I won’t tell you I took advantage of the multibillion-dollar test prep industry. I won’t tell you that across the United States test prep companies and consultants are concentrated in white and Asian neighborhoods. Because we’re not supposed to talk about all this. We’re not supposed to be talking about the fact that all Boston children do not have equal access to high-quality test preparation — and it’s impossible to create equal access. We’re not supposed to talk about all this legal cheating.
It is like allowing certain NFL teams more time to practice in the off-season and, when those teams regularly win the Super Bowl, somehow claiming the rules are fair. And when you try to take away the practice advantage from those winning teams, they are going to resist. They are going to claim their teams are the best; all the while they’ll know privately, they were legally cheating.
This is the elephant in the room that the people claiming the standardized test is fair do not want to discuss. They will claim white and Asian kids on average score higher on tests because they are smarter or work harder. Meaning Black and Latinx kids are not as smart or not as hard-working. Meaning white and Asian kids are superior. And all these racist ideas from people claiming they are not racist.
I could defend the test. After my child receives extraordinary schooling, after my child receives extraordinary test prep, I can sit here and lie through my teeth and argue that the standardized test is fair; that my child is extraordinary; that she deserves the extraordinary opportunities in these three exam schools. But I’m not going to do that. As much as I care about my daughter, I care about fairness. I care about justice. I care about equity. I care about truth. We have a culture of lies to substantiate the exalted and the advantaged in this country. We do not want to tell the truth to provide equal opportunity for the denigrated and disadvantaged in this country.
And to tell the truth about standardized tests is to tell the story of the eugenicists who created and popularized these tests in the United States more than a century ago. Stanford University psychologist and eugenicist Lewis Terman introduced and defended the viability of the nation’s first popular standardized intelligence test in his 1916 book “The Measurement of Intelligence.” These “experimental” tests will show “enormously significant racial differences in general intelligence, differences which cannot be wiped out by any scheme of mental culture,” Terman maintained.
By the 1960s, genetic explanations had largely been discredited. Since then, lower test scores from Black and Latinx students have been explained by their environment: Their supposedly broken cultures, homes, schools, and families have made them intellectually inferior. Standardized tests have become the most effective racist weapon ever devised to objectively degrade Black and brown minds and legally exclude their bodies.
Why do Black and Latinx children routinely get lower scores on the standardized tests? Either there’s something wrong with the test takers or there’s something wrong with the tests. Why are Black and Latinx children routinely under-represented in the exam schools? Either there’s something wrong with Black and Latinx children or there’s something wrong with Boston’s admissions policies.
There’s something wrong with the test and the admissions policies. And to say there’s something wrong with Black and Latinx children is to espouse racist ideas. And those who say racist ideas, typically deny their ideas are racist.
The children who have the least in their homes often have the least in their schools — an ongoing crime that you have the power to begin to change. I wholeheartedly support this plan, which begins to reverse the status quo: Instead of advantaged kids having the edge in admission decisions, disadvantaged kids should have the edge in admissions decisions. From eliminating the test to setting aside a number of seats from each Zip code, this proposal will allow our exam schools to more closely reflect the racial and economic makeup of Boston.
This proposal can begin the process of transforming our high-quality exam schools into high-quality opportunity schools. Let’s call them that. Let’s make them opportunity schools.
Ibram X. Kendi is the Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities at Boston University, director of BU’s Center for Antiracist Research, and author of “How to Be an Antiracist.”