Posts tagged ‘achievement gap’

March 4, 2013

Wealth Inequality in America [Video]

This is why every American who makes a middle class living should care about millionaires’ and billionaires’ dabbling in education reform. Why sequestration is hogwash. Why anyone who tells you there is no money for school buildings or public school teachers or health care or medical benefits is full of it. There is more than enough to go around.

Commence reality check.

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October 27, 2012

Another Blow to the Teacher-Quality-Trumps-Poverty Meme

Two weeks ago, The American Prospect published an article that used Joel Klein’s life story as a counter-argument to his proposition that teacher quality is the most important determinant of educational outcomes. A study released this week by the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University also packs a punch.

“Is Demography Still Destiny: Neighborhood Demographics and Public High School Students’ Readiness for College in New York City” was released to the public October 23, 2012. It shows that the effort to create a portfolio of options for city public school students has not made an impact on the gross disparity of outcomes in a city that cleaves along the lines of class and race – especially race. The study should be called “Demography Is Destiny,” which is what AISR titled the PDF itself.

Click to read the AISR’s abstract and to download the PDF.

October 24, 2011

Breaking the Barriers: Talking About Race in Baltimore

Baltimore in Black and White from Urbanite. Thanks to Michael Corbin for the tip.

A number of heavy hitters in education reform name closing the achievement gap as a driving mission. They’re mostly white. Because I was curious about whether closing that gap was in itself a driver for education reform-minded African Americans, I made my way to the Enoch Pratt Free Library on the night of October 20 to listen to two black male professors tackle the subject of black male achievement.

The event was called “Breaking the Barriers: Helping Black Males Achieve Academic Success,” the twelfth event in the Open Society Institute -Baltimore‘s Talking About Race series. The panelists: Ivory Toldson, associate professor at Howard University, and Raymond Winbush, director of the Institute for Urban Research at Morgan State University. The moderator: Shawn Dove, campaign manager for the Open Society Campaign for Black Male Achievement.

In the first answer of the night, Toldson questioned the “achievement gap” talk in precisely the way I was hoping someone would:

“…I started my research because I wanted us to talk about race – particularly as it pertains to African-American males – much differently than I’d seen it represented in the media. One of the things I noticed when I first started research related to African-American male achievement was the absence of the word ‘achievement.’ Most of it had something to do with ‘failure.’ It had something to do with an ‘achievement gap.’ …What I wanted to do was look at black males who were achieving…

You can listen to the event on the Enoch Pratt Library’s website. Here’s a look at my notebook:

Toldson:
Root cause of underachievement: There’s a disconnect between young black males and their teachers.
Nationwide, 63 percent of the teaching force is white female.
Teachers in urban schools come from outside the communities they serve. Understanding the nuances of the community is necessary to give context to behavior. (Result = unnecessary suspensions.)

Winbush:
The system of racism – and how black males fit into it globally – is something we need to talk about. We need to fix the system of racism.

Toldson:
The Justice Policy Institute Report came out in 2002 saying more blacks were in prison than in college by a margin of 100,000. That was up for debate then. Twelve years later, that finding has never been replicated.
There are more than 400,000 black men in college now than there are black men in prison. But we’re still operating with old data. And while the 100,000 number might rile up activists from inside the black community, it feeds negative perception from the outside (most importantly, among the white female teachers who are tasked with teaching black boys). “We need real-time data to change perception,” he says.

Winbush:
Likens teaching blacks to teaching in a foreign country. You need to know the history, the language, the culture to teach effectively.

Toldson:
Responds to a question about the school-to-prison pipeline. (See his report, Breaking Barriers 2.) Talks about unfair expulsions and suspensions. (Calls it “push-out”).

Sixty-six percent of suspensions are of students who don’t understand the material or who aren’t socialized to the environment.

Recommends policy change: Stop suspensions for academic reasons (e.g., repeated lateness, “last straw” suspensions). End “zero tolerance” language. Zero tolerance doesn’t work.

FACT: There are more blacks in prison now than were released from slavery. 

Toldson:
Nationally, 1.8% of teachers are black males. While the percentage in Baltimore may be higher, it needs to be 6% nationally to reflect percentage of black males in the United States.

Too few blacks are graduating high school. 16% of blacks have a B.A., as opposed to 30% of whites.

* * *

Listen to the whole thing if you have some time. My notes heavily skew toward Toldson’s comments over those of Winbush – an imbalance I plan to correct in another post. (UPDATE: See “The Failure of Desegregation in Baltimore City Schools: An Interview with Ray Winbush,” by Edit Barry, for Baltimore Fishbowl, Nov. 29, 2011) In the meantime, here are some potentially useful links:

Published Reports

Breaking Barriers: Plotting the Path to Academic Success for School-Age African-American Males [PDF]

Breaking Barriers 2: Plotting the Path Away from Juvenile Detention and Toward Academic Success for School-age African American Males [PDF]

Cellblocks or Classrooms?: The Funding of Higher Education and Corrections and Its Impact on African American Men [PDF]

Notable Organizations and Programs

Books Mentioned

The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander

Lies My Teacher Told Me by James W. Loewen

The Isis Papers by Dr. Frances Cress Welsing

The Warrior Method: A Parents’ Guide to Rearing Healthy Black Boys by Raymond Winbush, PhD

Happy reading, Baltimore.

October 4, 2011

Back and Forth with Senator Bill Ferguson on DFER and Parent Revolution

To Senator Bill Ferguson:

Thank you so much for taking the time to respond to my post on the parent trigger law, Parent Revolution and Democrats for Education Reform. You’d written to me that your comments were written “off the cuff.” I’ve tried my best to respond in the same fashion, and I thank you, too, for laying out ideas that have helped me clarify my thinking. I am hoping this is only the beginning of an extended conversation.

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My take on the Democrats for Education Reform rhetoric, which I describe as pitting the interests of children against those of unionized teachers, is based on the first paragraph of DFER’s “Statement of Principles”:

A first-rate system of public education is the cornerstone of a prosperous, free and just society, yet millions of American children today – particularly low-income and children of color – are trapped in persistently failing schools that are part of deeply dysfunctional school systems. These systems, once viewed romantically as avenues of opportunity for all, have become captive to powerful, entrenched interests that too often put the demands of adults before the educational needs of children. This perverse hierarchy of priorities is political, and thus requires a political response. (SOURCE: http://www.dfer.org/about/principles/ Emphasis mine.)

I’ve taken no liberties there. The statement continues: “Fighting on behalf of our nation’s most vulnerable individuals is what our party is supposed to stand for.” That’s debatable. But it’s more than safe to say that fighting for millions of vulnerable low-income children of color is what DFER thinks it is doing. They portray themselves as spokespeople for the disenfranchised – children, who can’t vote, and low-income children at that, the parents of whom politicians generally do not spend their campaign dollars enfranchising.

It’s unclear, at least to me, that the mandate to a) close the achievement gap, and b) do that by (i) opening public charter schools and (ii) beating back teachers’ unions when that’s deemed a necessary “means” (to use Joe Williams’ word) is coming from low-income children of color.

I take from the Joe Williams blog post you mentioned that the means-to-an-end ethic justifies DFER’s engaging in battles with teachers’ unions from time to time. DFER isn’t anti-union. It isn’t pro-union, either, unless standing in solidarity is in its interests. It has no principled stance on unions – protecting the rights of which many in the labor movement think the Democratic Party is supposed to stand for.

Democrats for Education Reform is in a fight with the teachers’ unions over the soul of the Democratic Party. Children shouldn’t even be in the room.

To the next point: “I am sure there is not a single person associated with any of the foundations listed or amongst DFER or its supporters that would say that ineffective teachers are the sole cause of educational achievement gaps.” You’ve phrased this claim in almost the same way that DFER board member Whitney Tilson did back in May:

“I challenge anyone to show me even one quote from one leading reformer who says that reforming the schools is all that is needed or who believes that great teachers and improved teaching methods are all that’s required to improve student performance.”

Robert Podiscio of the Core Knowledge blog has already taken up the challenge. Here’s the link to Podiscio’s post, “Says Who? Lots of Folks, Actually…,” which has some gems from various education reformers, including the Obama administration’s Arne Duncan. You may be right that none of these people are officially DFER supporters. Maybe it’s enough that Arne Duncan was a cabinet pick supported by DFER.

In any event, whether or not these folks think poverty has an impact on what goes on in schools, they’re not doing anything to fix poverty other than trying to fix teachers. The point of contention is whether you can fix schools without addressing poverty and its effects – hunger, low attendance rates, poor study habits, a fundamental distrust of authority, and so on.

Poverty is itself a negative “externality” (to use your term) of the very same laissez faire economic policies that have already weakened labor unions. The frustration and anger coming from Diane Ravitch and the Save Our Schools movement – which is often directed at financiers and corporate philanthropists – is in part a response to the hypocrisy of the greatest beneficiaries of the free market offering market-based solutions to a problem that is a by-product of wildly free markets. The market creates a mess, in other words, that public school teachers have been trying to clean up for years, with little in the way of thanks from the people who can’t help making it.

You write: “…public education is the arena where public dollar investments have the biggest impact. It’s why a number of well-intentioned people with money have started focusing on public education. They believe it will have the biggest return on philanthropic investment…” The obvious question here is why, if what you say is true, well-intentioned people with money would rather use wealth that has been sheltered from taxation to reform public education than pay taxes on their earnings to boost the supply of public dollars available for public education and other social programs?

Giving is good, but no human being gives solely for giving’s sake. That’s why governments create financial incentives to promote charitable giving. Acknowledging the power of philanthropies to help government to address systemic poverty, governments are now offering social impact bonds – the Obama administration calls them pay for success bonds – to offer philanthropists opportunities to profit from tactical investments in social programs. This isn’t to say anyone is evil. It’s just to explain how the system works.

My own purpose in following the money is to find a logical explanation for political and legislative agendas that are at odds with what I believe (along with many others) to be the solution to the problems we face: community schools built on a core of trust between teachers, parents and guardians and the children that it is their privilege to fight for. There’s hope in doing it – hope that reasonable and well-intentioned people can work together to find a better way forward. I know we can do that.

Thank you, again.

Edit Barry

September 8, 2011

Flashback: Candidate Barack Obama on Segregated Schools

Segregated schools were, and are, inferior schools; we still haven’t fixed them, fifty years after Brown v. Board of Education, and the inferior education they provided, then and now, helps explain the pervasive achievement gap between today’s black and white students.

Barack Obama, “A More Perfect Union” (March 18, 2008)

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