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Tale Teller's Spotlight: Marty Glick

By Kathleen Watson & Bradley Conrad, PhD

The Tale Tellers Spotlight series gets you inside the minds of the best thinkers in contemporary education. These short five-question interviews (or in this case seven) focus both on important issues in education as well as on more general topics.

In this installment of The Tale Tellers Spotlight, we sat down with Marty Glick, whose recently published book The Soledad Children: The Fight to End Discriminatory IQ Tests, shares the remarkable story of his and his co-author Maurice Jourdane’s work with the then newly created California Rural Legal Assistance (CRLA) program. The book shares the story of 13 children in Soledad, California, many of whom were non-English speaking children, labeled as “retarded” and placed into mundane special education classes on the basis of culturally biased, English-only IQ tests. This text tells the tale of how Marty and his colleagues at the CRLA fought to change that.

1. Before we get into the book, can you share with us some of the work you are doing in education right now?

I've been on the Board of Public Advocates, I don't know if you know the organization, Public Advocates will be in its 50th year next year. It's a public interest law firm, originally it ran on just the fees it generated in the litigation. Today, it's probably 90% foundation-funded and has four priority areas, one of which is education. We did "No Child Left Behind" litigation a while ago, but the most prominent thing we've done recently is we brought a case out here called CQE vs. the State, which was about the inadequate funding generally of education in California, where California ranks in the bottom two. We had a great coalition, we had the school board association, the school administrator association, the California Teachers Association, students and families, and the PTA; a coalition like one never sees, which was good, and we create a lot of great relationships and doing it. But the Court of Appeals ruled two to one that there is no fundamental right to education minimum funding in California, unlike rulings in other states. We got three votes for reviewing that in the California Supreme Court, but not enough. So that particular way of getting at it, in the end, ran aground. But like I say, a lot of really important coalitions were formed, and interest groups linked. One thing we're doing now for California, for Public Advocates, is we're going to request Supreme Court review of a recent case at Chino Hills, where the Court of Appeals ruled that a charter school has a fundamental right to renewal, such that denial of renewal is subject to independent judicial review. We think that's a real mistake.

2. Having read your bio and read your book, you have a very long and storied history of fighting for civil rights. I just wanted to know if you could share some of that background.

When I was at The Ohio State Law School it was the time where the Free Speech Movement was active, famously out in California, but also on The Ohio State campus. I got involved with a professor named William Van Alstyne at the law school, Niki Schwartz and others, defending the rights of students to have free speech and to organize. When I was a junior in 1963, I learned of the Justice Department Civil Rights Division recruiting on-campus. In 1964 I signed up for the Department of Justice, moved to Washington, and spent the next two-plus years spending four months a year in Mississippi and Louisiana for the Department of Justice, the Civil Rights Division, doing our cases which including criminal cases.

I met a friend in my junior year of law school who became interested in what I was doing at Justice. So, he said, “Yeah, I think I'll interview out there,” and I helped him interview, and he was given a job offer by the Civil Rights Division. Then he called me when I was in Mississippi and said "Stop, we're joining California Rural Legal assistance. I just met this guy who's organized it and we're going to do great things with this new program and the new federal legal services programs." I talked it over with my wife, we decided to move to California, and that started my career at CRLA.

As you likely know, California Rural Legal Assistance is one of the most innovative programs in the country; it was then, and it still is. Unlike most local legal services programs, CRLA's founder, Jim Lorenz, had this notion that it would work much better as a statewide program. Locating offices from El Centro to Marysville, through the San Joaquin Valley, and through the Salinas Valley, provided a network where you weren't just isolated in one rural area, but part of quite a bit larger organization with a headquarters of senior lawyers who could help and with the political base that made it possible. We weren't subject just to what the Stanislaus County Bar wanted to do, or the Imperial County Bar; large interest groups with power locally were confronted by this organization that was much bigger and much better organized. So, it enabled us to both do individual cases for farmworkers and anyone else who qualified as indigent, but not be overwhelmed by that work. There were plenty of people that could come in - whether you're divorcing them, dealing with a family abuse problem, credit bureau, debt, or eviction. We decided that we would spend something like 20% of our time on impact work and that's what the federal legal services program at OEO wanted us to do. That enabled us to get involved in really trying to look at not just what an individual impact is, but on practices that were affecting large numbers of clients throughout the state. That way you can affect hundreds of thousands, all at once. That led us to our major impact work, which included many of the things that are in the book - dealing with firing of workers simply because they have a union affiliation, dealing with the fact that those literate in Spanish were not allowed to vote.

Dealing with the subject of the book, which was the placement of children in classes for the mentally retarded based on the English only IQ tests that were culturally biased, relegating well over 100,000 kids placed in these classes where they got virtually no instruction. So, we brought the class action on which the book centers. The book is a story of California Rural Legal Assistance and the legal services program, as you know. It centers on the Diana v. the State Board of Education case for the Soledad children who were the class representatives, as well as the Larry P case on behalf of African American students. These students were at even greater risk based on the cultural bias of the IQ test; it affected black students in very large numbers, particularly in urban areas.

EMR classes - that's what they were called in those days - that was the term, mentally retarded. We don't use it today, but it was then. It stigmatized children and their families in multiple ways. They got called names and they were ostracized, so parents wouldn't let them play with other kids. It had an enormous impact. When that IQ information is in a student record, it colors the view that a teacher or principal or a psychologist will have of who the child is what they can do. No studies were being done at that time on how the child functions at home or if the test score is consistent with what you otherwise observe about the child.

Much of this is the story about how working with professionals of color, we were able to take on this practice, do the background, and see through the litigation to stop it.

3. I think you did a tremendous job of giving the history behind the IQ tests to show off why they're detrimental when used as such. IQ tests are still used in schools, but not necessarily in the same way, for the same purposes. However, other forms of standardized assessment have come into play that has led to rather than putting them into classes for the educable mentally retarded, now they're put in special education or they're put in alternative settings or they're put on a work track instead of a college or university track. What are your thoughts on what you see out there today, and maybe what we might do about it?

Well, still with IQ tests currently being given, there is a basic misconception that intelligence is static or fixed. The research that I believe in, and I've read extensively, says that's just not true. Alfred Binet said that it wasn’t true when doing initial IQ testing; Wexler said the same thing; intelligence is based in large part on exposure - what opportunities do you have? What do you have an opportunity to learn? When you're testing a kid, whether it's through an achievement test or IQ test or any other kind of test, if you really believe that the result of the test tells you what the child can do, or is limited in their ability to do, one has to be extraordinarily careful with that because if you just take the numbers off a test for that purpose, you're going to miss the cultural differences, you're going to miss the differences of exposure, you're going to miss the different ways in which children learn. You may be measuring some cognitive trait but not another one in which the child is much stronger. Take autistic children, there are some things they can do with much higher intelligence if you want to call it that.

By contrast, achievement tests may be appropriate for the purpose of saying "where is the child now?" "what do they know?" "How do I design a program for this child based on that?" That's useful. These tests can be a measurement of how schools are doing, and there are pluses and minuses in that, as you know. I don't think we live in a society that's going to prohibit all measurements. I think it is important that there be accountability. It's just this problem of misuse of data - and it just simply has to be monitored. Public Advocates tries to work with the schools and with community-based organizations of parents, children, community leaders, and communities of color and low-income communities so they have a voice and they can monitor these things - they could speak out about. I think that community organization is one of the most effective ways in which you can put some control over this.

4. Yes, and certainly it has in many ways spiraled out of control. Along the same track, but speaking specifically to the work that you did in Soledad that impacted a tremendous number of people, how do you feel that work impacted not only those students but others like them who were in similar situations or unfairly pigeonholed into such a situation?

The immediate impact on those children and the class they represented was enormous. Hundreds of thousands of children, African American and Chicano and Chinese too, were subject to this practice where teachers made a referral, psychologists gave a test, and based on that and based on their lack of desire to deal with these children they relegated them somewhere else. Our cases created an important precedent and it's been written up in books, that we're proud of the rights of the handicapped as established by Larry P. and by the Diana case. Handicap generally, and classification particularly, our cases have been very useful to advocates and other cases after that. I think it's spread to other states, I know it has, where challenges go on today and have gone on over the past several years, whether it's tracking or whether it's literal use of IQ tests or any other ways of marginalizing children or not giving them an equal opportunity to have a great education and have an important place in our society.

5. In what ways do you see students, particularly low income and increasingly immigrant students, still being inequitably treated in schools? What can parents or educators or other citizens that aren't in the field of law do about it?

Certainly, there are these inequities in their well-being and that's unchecked. All we have to do is look at the policy at the national level now. Discrimination against immigrants, it's incredible. That works its way into the schools, as well. Whether one's a principal or a teacher or a student of color or parents - what can one do? Organize.

Alone, you can be active, you can pay attention to what's going on with your teachers, you can know them, you can be active in the school yourself, you can do that only to the extent possible when you have time because people work, right. My parents had time to spend in school, organizing programs and fundraisers and all that sort of thing. And that helps. Otherwise, a single voice is difficult. So, the answer like it has been is to form groups that will have actual power, political power, and presence. If one is speaking on behalf of 100 or 200 parents, that matters enormously. I think the most important thing is hard work and forming organizations. Californians for Justice is one, but there are statewide organizations in every state, and more importantly, there are local organizations - both local chapters and independent organizations. The real long-term organizing success is in a group that has dedicated themselves to the welfare of their children and to deal with issues at the school and to calling attention when something isn't right and to providing cultural and individual perspective because teachers want to do the right thing. If you want to be a teacher today or you are already a teacher today - with all the obstacles there are, whether its attacks on pensions, attacks on tenure, salaries that are nowhere near the level they ought to be and you're still going into that profession anyway, well you are dedicated by definition. These teachers want to do the right thing, they want to be innovative, they want to feel successful, and they'd love to work with parents and parent groups that want the same thing. You have a piece on your website about programs where students help to work and train teachers - so it's kind of a two-way street. We're working with some programs like that.

The same is true of administrators. I think most of them, and nobody's perfect here, but I think they too want better outcomes for their student populations. The obstacles faced in certain districts are much tougher than others. But they're strengthened in the end if they have strong community-based organizations and community groups that can stand behind them and can bring their perspective to a meeting in which priorities are being decided and discussed. If the only voices present are those who are affluent (who have their legitimate interests) it's much harder for the staff to buck that then there is if there's an active, outspoken component that's articulating the other interests that ought to go into the equation of what happens and how things go forward. Over my lifetime of experience, if people like me, lawyers, or others, advocates like teachers, we try to help, we try to make policy, but if there's not some grounded community that can implement what we do and be there behind when we are moving on, then nothing happens in the end.

6. Did people feel disempowered because they feel like they’re shouting into the wind by themselves?

It's almost hopeless for parents acting alone to even get information to know who else is there. They're outside the basic accountability system, so then the challenge is all that much greater.

7. You get to be in charge of things in education in the United States for a short period - what is the one thing that you would change about education in the United States?

It's hard to pin that to one thing. What I would do is do my very best to put front and center the necessity of support for teachers. Recognizing them, as well as supporting better pay, a better role in society, better tenure, better pensions, better everything because everything flows from the quality of the teachers we have and their support.

I certainly would want to emphasize innovation. Things are going on around the country where teachers, administrators, and community groups are coming up with ways of doing things that are good and impressive. Collecting those, communicating those, advocating those, even considering funding based on those is a very tricky thing. I certainly would put a lot of work into that.