Blood Diamonds of Public Education

By Gay Adelmann, Dear JCPS Co-Founder

Just as “blood diamonds” are mined and then used against citizens in war-torn communities, high-stakes test data from students in poverty is “mined” and then used against citizens in struggling urban school districts. I realize this analogy may seem overly dramatic to some, so please allow me to demonstrate:

IF, we can agree that the following facts are true about Blood Diamonds:

  • Mined in a war zone
  • Used to finance war, invading army
  • Used to finance warlord’s activity
  • Negative consequences of trade
  • Victims are the miners whose labor is exploited
  • Victims are the citizens who live in the war zones
  • Distributors are the middle men, who perpetuate and facilitate the harmful activity, and
  • Buyers are unwitting consumers who purchase these diamonds, never the wiser to their history or harm

AND, we can agree that this statement is true:

A Blood diamond is a diamond mined in a war zone and sold to finance an insurgency, invading army’s war efforts, or a warlord’s activity. The term is used to highlight the negative consequences of the diamond trade in certain areas, or to label an individual diamond as having come from such an area. (From Wikipedia.)

AND, we interchange the following terms, as they pertain to public education:

Diamonds = data that is “mined” in urban school districts

War zones = urban school districts

War = war on public education

Invading army = Education reformers, legislators

War lords = privatizers (such as Bill Gates), charter school proponents, billionaires

Negative consequences =

  • students, teachers and schools are labeled failures,
  • students from low-performing schools experience detrimental effects, such as high turnover, lack of supports, additional remediation and testing than mainstream students, at the expense of enrichment and interventions our most vulnerable students truly need,
  • schools serving high-poverty students are closed, communities divided, lives further disrupted, and
  • the achievement gap continues to widen

Victims =

  • students who are labeled and demoralized for their low scores,
  • students who sacrifice meaningful instruction for more testing and remediation,
  • students and members of communities whose schools are closed,
  • students who suffer from the frequent “shell games” of closing, moving, restructuring struggling schools with the plan-du-jour,
  • teachers who are punished and demoralized for not overcoming factors beyond their control,
  • students who experience high turnover of demoralized and devalued staff, and ultimatley,
  • students who become victims of the perpetuation of the pipeline to prison, gang violence and even death.

Distributors = Teachers and administrators who are forced (either unwittingly or unwillingly) to continue to participate in the test-and-punish scheme

Buyers = unwitting parents and legislators who place so much emphasis on the scores without knowing the harm they are doing to the schools that fail by buying into a false metric of success, at the detriment of those who cannot compete, further perpetuating the cycle


High Stakes Test Scores are the “blood diamonds” of public education.  High-stakes test scores are mined in urban school districts and used to justify the assault on public school systems, education reformers and legislators efforts for accountability, and takeovers by privatizers and charter school proponents. The term is used to highlight the negative consequences of education reform in certain areas, that is used to label students, teachers and schools as low-performing, often resulting in closed schools and increases in achievement gaps.


If you are lucky enough to live in a school district that is not impacted by the detrimental effects of high-stakes tests, please do not assume that your luck is experienced by all. Denouncing this argument, simply because it does not impact you or your community, marginalizes those who do.