Meg Norris

Writer, Educator, Advocate, Activist

I am a writer, passionate educator, parent and student advocate and activist for public education. I am a doctoral candidate in special education and brain-based teaching, learning and leadership. 

Data first, human second.

Jarvis Rouse was a creative soul, but data doesn't care about creativity. He loved reading “Of Mice and Men” in school. Poe’s “The Raven” awakened the artist in him that created a wall sized mural about the famous poem. His teachers called him “goofy,” “funny,” and “sweet.” Despite his dark complexion, there was one girl who could make him blush “down to the roots of his hair if she so much as spoke to him,” remembers his teacher, Ms. Adams.  He was just beginning to discover the great things in life as well as his own talents and gifts. He had great things ahead of him despite growing up in poverty.

But Jarvis struggled with reading. He was thrown into many computer based “remediation” programs but nothing really helped. The school got their required “data,” but no real steps were taken to help him with reading. Because his reading was low, he struggled with tests. The longer he was in school, the more he struggled. Jarvis slipped farther and farther down the cracks of the system. He was labeled a “poor test taker.” He was given “remediation” that only further made him feel like a failure. He needed a hand, just one hand, to reach out, but instead Jarvis was only seen as “data.” He wasn’t even “good” data. Jarvis never got what he really needed.

In the South, more than 50% of public school kids are below the poverty line. That means half of every classroom comes to school with bigger issues than whether or not their homework got finished the night before. At-risk children live in constant stress. Homelessness, divorce, prison, drugs, chaotic homes, parents who work 2 or 3 jobs just to survive, makes life more difficult for these kids. This stress physically affects the brain and memory.

Older children are often responsible for chores, cooking and the care of younger siblings. Homework is the last thing on their minds in the evenings. Add to this stress the new “test and punish” environment in public schools and school becomes less of a safe haven and more of an albatross for these kids.

In 2013 the Carnegie Corporation released a study concluding the dropout rate under Common Core and its high stakes testing would double the dropout rate.  For at-risk students, whose graduation rate had been slowly increasing, this is devastating. Standards based teaching and testing has never proven to increase academic achievement.

Teachers who teach at-risk students know that kids who grow up in poverty learn differently. They think differently. They understand differently. This is not a bad thing, but the public education system has never done anything to address it. Standards and curriculum continue to be written by white educators for white middle class children. Poverty is never addressed when educational leaders design “solutions.”

After failing over and over Jarvis gave up. He quit. He was tired of having no success and having a test score be his voice.  He was sick of the constant stress of being labeled a failure. His reading deficiency could have been overcome. Sticking a kid on a computer and calling it “remediation” is both ridiculous and insulting. It does, however, provide “data.” Remediation is no longer about helping students; it is about gathering “birth to grave” data.

Jarvis became one of those high school dropouts that the Carnegie Corporation predicted. We dehumanized Jarvis. Jarvis became an RTI-Tier 2. He became a "795" or a “bubble-kid,” which is what schools call kids who are at risk of not passing the test. Had Jarvis been seen as a human, who needed human help, we could have saved him. Jarvis did not understand that there was money in his failure. There was no money to be made if Jarvis became a great reader. Companies were making big money off his remediation and his data. Companies made big money off this tests and re-tests.

Jarvis died recently. He was shot in the head at a party. Would Jarvis still be alive had the education system not failed him? We will never know, but Jarvis should have been in college or technical school. He should have been using his gifts and talents. He should have been able to read. Even the groups who should be standing up for kids like Jarvis are failing them. The Urban League (Over $5 million from the Gates Foundation), 100 Black Men ($583,531 from the Gates Foundation), and the NAACP (Over $2 million from the Gates Foundation) all support what is happening in our schools…including Jarvis’ school.

One of Jarvis’ teachers posted “I am heartbroken and sad and angry tonight. My eyes are stinging with the tears I have cried in the past hour. Why do we continue to allow this to happen?” The answer is simple. Jarvis was never human to the testing companies, and curriculum companies, and legislators who now run our schools. Jarvis was simply data. While his teachers, friends and family mourn the loss of what should have been a brilliant life, companies will continue to make money off of Jarvis and his data.

It’s time for parents and teachers to take back our schools. It is time for us to stand up for Jarvis and the millions of kids like him who are more than data. Get involved. We are hurting our children.

A fund has been set up to help Jarvis’ family. Please give what you can.