In his piece, Whitmire calls for teaching black and Latino students differently because of gaps in measures of ACT college readiness benchmarks, enrollment in Advanced Placement courses, anecdotal accounts of his visits to schools serving poor black and Latino students, as well as general trends in education.
And there lies my first issue with Whitmire. The fact that student achievement outcomes are racially predictable, and largely economically predictable, in our country, does not suggest educators should begin teaching children differently based on race, or any other artificial categorizations.
On average, white students in the northeast outperform white students in the south. Does this insinuate Geometry should be taught differently to white students in rural North Carolina?
The real lesson is that teaching and learning experiences will need to improve for all students, particularly black and Latino students, if college and career readiness are national goals. As evidenced in the chart below, none of the college readiness benchmarks for “all four subjects” were met by at least 50% for any of the student population, regardless of race/ethnicity.
My second point of contention with Richard Whitmire’s column is his insistence on the use of deficit thinking/language and weak analysis of what makes for successful schools for black and Latino students. Whitmire ignores the more egregious structural constraints most poor black and Latino students encounter at school daily, which serves to stunt student academic outcomes in significant ways.
In successful schools, teachers understand the importance of using culturally proficient instructional practices to not only engage students of color, but also improve the educational experiences of all students.
In successful schools, black and Latino students are not suspended or expelled at unexplainable disproportionate rates to other student populations, even with controlling for poverty and seriousness of offenses.
In successful schools, the curriculum reaffirms the contributions of all races to society, particularly black, Latino, and Native American students who are more likely to be explicitly taught negative stereotypes about their race/ethnicity in school.
In successful schools, parents are viewed has partners in the educational process and actively participate in every aspect of the school community.
In successful schools, black and Latino students are moved beyond the technical sub-skills of literacy development, and are authentically engaged in building academic knowledge that better supports reading comprehension.
In successful schools, black and Latino students don’t face artificial barriers/policies to AP and honors courses, but have access to the proper supports while attempting to meet the tallest academic standards.
In successful schools, educators don’t use terms like “lock down” to achieve orderly hallways and engaging classrooms.
In successful schools, the leader is not called a “ reform principal,” but as an instructional leader.
The lesson: Teach black and Latino students, period.
By Rodney Trice During my sophomore year at Morehouse College I distinctly remember my professor of Comparative Religion stating if the Bible was an open book, the words and works of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. were powerful enough to be included. Over the years I have come to understand just how accurate were my professor’s views.
Today, on the 43rd anniversary of the assassination of Dr. King, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on one of his earliest works - an essay he penned for the Morehouse College Student Paper, the Maroon Tiger, in 1947 titled “The Purpose of Education.”
While not one of King’s seminal pieces, the 440-word essay gives us a glimpse of how deeply he thought, even as a student.
King believed that education served as a duality in one’s life and society - rooted in utility and character. Meaning, not only should education be used as a means to reach one’s goals, but one’s goals ought to encompass “worthy [ideas] upon which to concentrate.”
For young African American males these words may ring louder today than any other time in history. Young black males and those working with young black males must understand the new world order in which we find ourselves demands a superior education of utility and character.
While scientific and technological advances are now moving at the speed of thought, the character of humankind has largely gone unchanged, which leaves ample room for worthy ideas upon which to concentrate – some of which festers in our own communities.
Dr. King has sent us a message from the past - education should force us to think incisively and to think for one’s self and not let our mental life become invaded by half truths, prejudices, and propaganda – to discern the true from the false, the real from the unreal, and the facts from the fiction.
In the prophetic words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “Be careful, brethren! Be careful, teachers!”
The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) of 2001 stipulates that all public school students must be proficient in reading and math by 2014, a standard Education Week says is now viewed as wildly unrealistic.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan recently shared that under this law 82 percent of U.S. schools could be labeled as “failing” this year.
It’s likely the Obama administration is aiming to mitigate the fallout from the “wildly unrealistic” standards and using the Secretary’s message as a call to revamp the NCLB legislation.
While this information may have generated garish news headlines such as “SHOCK,” “Failing!,” and “America’s Shame,” to most educators Mr. Duncan’s comments were just another dead declaration concerning a decade-old failed policy.
Some cable news talking-heads even used this as another opportunity to bash teachers, advocate for dismantling teachers’ unions, closing failing public schools, creating charter schools, evaluating teachers solely on student performance, and other controversial educational reform efforts.
Whereas I’m usually first in line advocating for Michelle Rhee-type educational reform initiatives (although I don’t agree with how she went about implementing her reform agenda), placing blame on teachers for the failures of NCLB is misguided.
The worst of NCLB highlights the failure of leadership at the policy and legislative level and our failure to stand for what’s right for children.
NCLB has been more about sorting and selecting winners and losers than ensuring each student becomes a strong reader and excels in math.
This is evident by the artificial administrative barriers the law erected that chokes educational innovation; from excessively penalizing schools and districts for non-proficient students that may fall into multiple groups based on socio-economic status, special education, language, and race, to limiting educational services available to struggling students based on family income.
I encourage the Obama administration to move away from picking winners and losers. Move toward innovation and an accountability model that not only focuses on identifying achievement gaps, but also offers real solutions to eliminating the abhorrent disparities in education across the United States.
Last week I spent five days at the Harvard Closing the Achievement Gap Institute, sponsored by Dr. Ron Ferguson and the Harvard Graduate School of Education.The 2010 institute brought in educators from all over the United States including other areas such as Canada, Chile and the Dominican Republic.There was a nice blend of teachers, school administrators, district level administrators, curriculum content coordinators and equity coaches, so the perspectives were healthy and diverse. The energy, passion, dedication and vision for our work was captured best by Dan A. Sims, Principal at Tri-Cities High School in East Point, Georgia, with a poem he shared called We Can Teach Them.A video of Dan’s poem is above and a summary of each day of the institute is presented below. Day 1 - Thursday July 8, 2010 Dr. Ron Ferguson Framing the Work
Schools need people who interact most frequently and intensively with children (parents, teachers, peers) to nurture them in ways that contribute maximally to their self-realization as educated, healthy and fulfilled human beings.
Our reward is a sense of belonging to something larger than ourselves and working with people whose values we share.
How Great School Leaders Build Trust and Credibility ACTIONS – make it safe to make mistakes, keep promises, forthcoming with information/changes
URGENCY – Keeps most urgent challenges front and center in the district – Keeps showing up on agendas – doesn’t go away
FOCUS – Keep the number of initiatives small, help teachers and principals reduce the complexity of closing the achievement gap – not a sprint, but a marathon – celebrate short wins
EFFICACY – Explicit statements from leaders that we hold the answers to our challenges
INCLUSION – Leaders participate without dominating – let those closest to the issue/problem help in framing its solutions
STRONG RESPONSES – great leaders respond immediately, visibly, and sometimes harshly to behavior that sabotages organizational commitments
KNOWING THE STUDENTS – Great leaders know many students and press their staff to as well
PUBLIC TEACHING – Great leaders nurture open classrooms, frequent class visits, reflection
CLOSE MONITORING – Ensure non-negotiables are clear and are frequently monitored w/ ongoing feedback
PERSEVERANCE– Great leaders stick around and build a professional culture.
EFFORT – Great leaders speak and act from a belief that “Smart” is something you can get.
Preparing to Take Responsibility
-Why such an urgency to eliminate the racial predictability of achievement -US Population becoming more diverse -Past two years - more minority infants born than white infants -Gap has been substantially closed before (See NAEP 1970-1990) also uneducated immigrants 19th/20th century -Very little progress since 1990 Schools should stop comparing achievement scores among subgroups within the school and instead compared them against state averages (ie School Black Males vs State Avg for White Males)
Schools should move away from comparing proficiency rates and focused on actual scores (ie Black Males avg score w/ State avg score for White Males).
Five steps schools take toward becoming exemplary 1.Key people accept responsibility to lead the change 2.Declare the purposes of the work in mission statements that focus on a few ideas/priorities. 3.Design strategies, plans, tools and tactics for broadly inclusive adult learning 4.Develop and refine quality standards for judging teacher and student work 5.Skillfully and relentlessly monitor plans and strategies, attending persistently and explicitly to achieving and maintaining quality
School Leadership fails when… Leaders lack expertise Leaders don’t know how to organize people to work together for change Leaders are afraid to ask people to step outside their comfort zone Leaders don’t respect other people’s ideas Lack good ideas about what to do Plans seem incoherent to people who are asked to do the work Parents have not been included
Schools become exceptional when focusing on a few principles and practices.Research suggests that adopting improvement models are ineffective and expensive for schools.Most successful schools do their own work/research to get better.Teams within schools begin to think differently about what needs to be done to close the achievement gap.Currently everyone is looking for a model to replicate – real success comes with creating your own model.
Between 1972 and 2002 25% of the IQ Gap dissipated between whites and blacks
If you see low-level administrative tasks among school/district leadership, one usually sees low-level instruction in the classroom
This month we interviewed Dr. Marcelle Haddix of Syracuse University. She spoke with us about her recent article, Black Boys Can Write, that appears in the January 2010 issue of the Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy. Dr. Haddix provides insight on strategies teachers and parents can use to promote writing along with more useful ways of framing the discourse about the education of African American males.
Listen to the interview with Dr. Haddix by clicking the play button below
Successfully educating African American males is ground in two facts: (1) schools must ensure African American males are well connected to a positive educational experience and (2) African American males must be held to the highest academic standards.
For too long African American males have been connected to a negative schooling experience due to various factors, but primarily, high suspension/expulsion rates, overrepresentation for identification of special education services and high failure/dropout rates.
These negative indicators of achievement frame the black male schooling experience in a discourse of failure and serves to lower academic expectations for this student population as a whole.
Below are three concrete steps schools can take in developing a more positive schooling experience that promotes high academic standards for African American Males.
Establish Affinity Groups Affinity groups are groups or clubs setup to address the unique needs of African American male students. They should promote open, safe and honest dialogue, student accountability to one another, strategies for navigating the schooling environment and academic support. Members of the affinity group should be expected to take on highly visible leadership roles in the school/classroom.
Implement a Model that Builds-up Young African American Males In the end kids are kids and they will do what kids do. Unfortunately for African American males the consequences of their negative actions carry a much heavier penalty than those of their peers. In addition, schools have done a great job of tearing down the esteem of young African American males and a poor job of building them up. That’s why it’s imperative that African American males have access to an adult in the school they trust and holds them accountable – call them out when they are wrong and celebrate them when they accomplish great feats.
Increase School Involvement Extra/Co- Curricular activities provide a sure path to the heartbeat of a school. For decades scholarly research has indicated that students who are involved in school activities outperform their counterparts. Reviewing the number/percentage of African American males involved with two or more school activities is one way to gauge the health of a school for these students. Schools can increase student involvement among African American males by aggressively recruiting them for participation in school activities, conducting a survey to determine extra/co-curricular interests and by making information available about school activities in student friendly formats (Facebook, texting, twitter, etc.). One added benefit would be that as student involvement increases, so would parent involvement.
While these steps can’t be seen as the silver bullet, overtime they should begin to transform schools into a more positive culture for African American Males.