Sunday, March 23, 2014

Race in our Public Schools

More news on race and children in America.

I offer this information as news.  I have tried not to editorialize much here but to listen to what others are saying. 

Somewhere in this country, people are suspending preschoolers and most of them are children of color or Special Education students.  (I didn't even know you could suspend a pre-schooler.)  This story from the Huffington Post.  It's a wide-ranging report that goes from preschool thru high school and examines not just discipline but offerings in districts throughout the country. 

A staggering new report released by the Department of Education and the Justice Department on Friday highlights a troubling pattern of zero-tolerance school discipline policies that disproportionately impact minority students in general, but also trickle down to the nation’s youngest students.

While black children represent only 18% of preschool enrollment nationally, they make up 42% of students suspended once and nearly half of students who are suspended more than once, according to the report, an analysis of Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC) data for the 2011-2012 school year.

The release is the first comprehensive look at civil rights data in nearly 15 years, including data from all 97,000 of the nation’s public schools, representing 49 million students. According to the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, the release of this year’s report is the first time in which such detailed information on school data from the state, district and school level has been made available via a searchable database

Minority students have less access to experienced teachers. Most minority students and English language learners are stuck in schools with the most new teachers. Seven percent of black students attend schools where as many as 20 percent of teachers fail to meet license and certification requirements. And one in four school districts pay teachers in less-diverse high schools $5,000 more than teachers in schools with higher black and Latino student enrollment. 

Meanwhile President Obama has launched a new campaign - My Brother's Keeper - an initiative with "leading foundations and businesses" to build "ladders of opportunity" for boys of color.  

We can learn from communities that are partnering with local businesses and foundations to connect these boys and young men to mentoring, support networks, and skills they need to find a good job or go to college and work their way up into the middle class. And the Administration will do its part by helping to identify and promote programs that work. 

That starts by using proven tools that expand opportunity at key moments in the lives of these young people.  The President believes this includes ensuring access to basic health, nutrition, and to high-quality early education to get these kids reading and ready for school at the youngest age.  But that’s not enough.  We need to partner with communities and police to reduce violence and make our classrooms and streets safer.  And we need to help these young men stay in school and find a good job– so they have the opportunity to reach their full potential, contribute to their communities and build decent lives for themselves and their families.

Over at the New York Times, they have a great feature, Room for Debate,  where they have 5-6 "experts" on any given topic weigh in on what they think of current thinking/action on the topic.  They did this for My Brother's Keeper and it is an interesting conversation.

From Imani Perry, a professor in the Center for African-American Studies at Princeston:

The president states: “No matter how much the community chips in, it’s ultimately going to be up to these young men and all the young men who are out there to step up and seize responsibility for their own lives.” He speaks of “bad choices” and believes “nothing keeps a young man out of trouble like a father who takes an active role in his son’s life.” In this way, black boys and their families are being held primarily responsible for the bigotry they encounter. Their vulnerability is overshadowed.

There is far less emphasis in the initiative on the responsibility of Americans to disavow racial bigotry.

I believe those two paragraphs may hold the key (albeit rough and large) about the conversation about race in the United States.  I wonder if this issue of "fault" is bogging down the conversation to the point where it's hard to move ahead and make change.  

(She also says this:  My second concern is the emphasis on public-private partnerships and philanthropy. Philanthropy is not policy. And private institutions do not have the well-being of citizens or residents as their primary concern.  I agree.)

Another writer, Cory S. Anderson, VP of the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, has this viewpoint:

President Obama’s approach, painting a bright red target on the problem, is the only worthwhile strategy at his level. To be clear, the targets are not boys and men of color. The targets are systematic inequities and disparate outcomes.

I like this because we move away from a narrative to an action.

Another writer, Luke C. Harris, an associate professor of American politics/constitutional law at Vassar College, has this to say about this issue of more black boys being raised by a single mother:

Lots of black boys grow up under similar social circumstances — that is, in households with women struggling to make ends meet. Focusing on the personal responsibility of absent fathers while marginalizing the economic, social and spiritual needs of their very “present” mothers forwards the gendered idea that fathers are the solution not only to “the problem” of the black family, but also to “the problem” of the black community.

Again, is the issue of struggling children of color being raised by mostly poor women versus the idea that the issue is growing up without a father.  (Two loving and caring parents seems best but no child controls that issue and neither does society. )  It's the poverty that may be worse for these children than having a single parent seems to be what he seems to be saying.

Frank Rudy Cooper, a law professor at Suffolk University Law School, also brings up another good point:

If the president’s initiative can recognize how race and gender work together, it might be better able to address the “cool vs. school” dilemma. A boy of color who focuses on academic success – rather than just a narrow band of “cool” pursuits like sports, music and girls – tends to have his racial credentials challenged. In order to allow young men of color to excel academically, we will have to break down norms about what it means to act “cool” that are associated with norms about what it means to be manly.

This is a real problem in our country and in our city and in our district. The SPS Strategic Plan has - in its 2013-2014 budget:

- implementation of professional development activities to increase cultural competency among all staff
- initiatives to address disproportionality in student discipline;

- recruit and retain more teachers of color and more culturally competent teachers and leaders.  (I note here that Director Martin-Morris - when HR was giving its report at the Work Session - said that HR efforts should be on culturally competent teachers because his experience was that he found that teachers who were culturally competent were as important as teachers of color.)

I'm not sure where they are with these plans so far.  Maybe it's a good time to ask.

I have gone back and forth in my head about whether to allow comments. 

I have found this to be a difficult conversation because - for whatever reason - people stiffen up on race.  I had a recent experience coming back from the Network for Public Education conference where it was noted that conference had few people of color.  One person said the Network needed to do a better job of outreach.  (I agree but I will just say that the Network operates on a shoestring and this was their first attempt at a conference.) 

But boy, once that door was open about how to attract more people of color, the conversation did not go well.

And I believe that is because while face-to-face discussions on race are REALLY hard, the second hardest (and, subject to more misinterpretation) is writing about what you believe about race. 

I have decided to open the comments but if the conversation shows signs of breaking down, I'll close it.  Please do not attack anyone or call anyone racist.  I know that we all have our own personal views but please keep it civil.  Offer experiences but don't believe yours in the only one.  And understand that as most here are anonymous, you have no idea what life experiences others have had or their backgrounds.


mirmac1 said...

Something that should concern alot of readers is this report by Dr. Julian Vasquez Heilig -

The Department of Education is seeking public comments on the Civil Rights Data Collection process for 2013-2016. The feds have decided that it is no longer necessary to keep track of the FTE of teachers meeting all state licensing/certification requirements. The feds have also decided these data points are also no longer important for Civil Rights:

Number of students awaiting special education evaluation (LEA)
Whether students are ability grouped for English/Math
Harassment and bullying policies (LEA)
Number of students enrolled in AP foreign language(disaggregated by race, sex, disability, LEP)
Number of students who took AP exams for all AP courses enrolled in (disaggregated by race, sex, disability, LEP)
Number of students who passed AP exams for all AP courses enrolled in (disaggregated by race, sex, disability, LEP
Total personnel salaries

Anonymous said...

Interested how Duncan responded with such outrage at the report, but the one factor definitely in his control--teacher experience for at-risk kids--has been sold out to TFA and the reform team.

--enough already

Anonymous said...

enough already, how do you get that teacher hiring and assignment is "definitely in [Duncan's] control"? The US Secretary of Education has virtually zero authority related to teacher hiring and assignment. If you want to examine why the best teachers are not assigned to the most at-risk students, look no further than your local community.

If SPS decided to begin a transition of transferring the best and most experienced teachers to the schools with the highest concentration of low-income and at-risk students and assigning new and inexperienced and struggling teachers to the most wealthy and highest performing schools in the district, the voices of outrage would be deafening. And from where would those voices come? From the SEA/WEA, parents of students in the wealthy schools (i.e., us north-enders), and the teachers themselves.

There are many, many factors that play into the reasons why this issue is not addressed. But let's point the finger where it belongs --- at ourselves, not some bureaucrat in DC who has virtually no influence over how teachers are hired and assigned.

--- swk

Melissa Westbrook said...

Enough Already can speak for his/herself but I suspect that comment is about the full-out support of TFA (and its expansion) and yes, $50M of taxpayer money and verbal support by Duncan sure didn't hurt.

mirmac1 said...

Duncan and his predecessor Margaret Spelling put forth and maintained the regulation redefining NCLB's "highly-qualified" as pretty much anything and nothing. Without that, Ed Reform tools like TFA would not exist.

Anonymous said...

Melissa and mirmac1, I'm not arguing that point at all. But let's acknowledge that TFA teachers make up a virtually nonexistent percentage of teachers nationwide or even in our urban school districts. To even assign ANY blame for the virtually nonexistent presence of the best and most experienced teachers in our most struggling schools to TFA and the US Department of Education is an obfuscation that would be laughable if it weren't so self-defeating.

--- swk

Lynn said...


The interesting thing about your suggestion is that you're assuming there are a limited number of good teachers available to us - and that we have to assign struggling teachers to some school in the district. Why are we continuing to employ them?

The answer to this is to make teaching a much more attractive career choice. If teachers were paid more, were not overloaded with so many students, and were given more autonomy and adequate time during the work day to plan and prepare lessons, our students (including the struggling ones) would be more successful. Some of the teachers who struggle now would do a better job under those conditions, and there would be talented candidates to replace those who are just not very good at their jobs. (This is the secret to the success of Finland's schools. Well - this and an adequate social welfare system.)

Of course north end parents would complain if unskilled, unsuccessful teachers were deliberately assigned to their schools. Low-income and at risk students deserve good teachers as much as middle class students do - but not more than they do.

I don't think we can solve these problems while we continue to under-fund our schools. The district central administration does seem to waste a lot of time and money - and that is infuriating. The bottom line though is that the voters in our state continue to elect politicians who refuse to fund our schools at a level that would allow all students to succeed. What do we do about that?

Lynn said...

Obviously we can determine where our most experienced teachers are - but how do you know where the best teachers are? I though it was pretty well established that student success is primarily dependent on out of school factors.

Anonymous said...


Mirmac's explanation is what I was referring to regarding Duncan's role in contributing to novice and lack of highly qualified teachers in at-risk areas.

Check into Louisiana for exhibit A. They have huge numbers of TFA and other similar novice uncertificated teachers working in these communities.

For all its faults, NCLB originally recognized that at-risk children have traditionally had much higher percentages of novice teachers, which is why the "highly qualified" label was put into the plan in the first place.

I'm not sure exactly what you are defending here, swk. I didn't write the Civil Rights report that stated that high percentages of novice teachers for black children is detrimental. TFA specifically targets the communities that this report is ringing the alarms about. That is part of their literature. These are facts.

Duncan and others cannot decry racial inequality in one breath and then support putting inexperienced and unqualified teachers into these same communities.

As an experienced, highly qualified teacher who has spent years teaching in the communities listed in the report, I don't hesitate to call Duncan and others out on their hypocrisy.

--enough already

Anonymous said...

Lynn, thank you so much for tackling some of the "real" factors at play on this issue.

Let's assume there are not limited numbers of good teachers available to us. And let's assume all teachers currently teaching are skilled and qualified. But let's also assume that skills, qualifications, and experience exist in a range of most skilled, qualified, and experienced to least so. The evidence is clear that low-income and at-risk students receive the least skilled, qualified, and experienced teachers.

How might the performance of these students improve if they did get the most skilled, qualified, and experienced teachers because SPS adopted a policy of assignment to address this disparity?

--- swk

Anonymous said...

enough already, please let me begin by thanking you for your years of teaching in these communities. It is an honorable choice you have made and you should be recognized for it.

I'm not defending anything and I'm certainly not defending Arne Duncan. My point is that TFA, for all of the ire they raise, are a non-factor in the grand scheme of things. And, TFA's existence in Louisiana (and New Orleans, in particular) is only the tip of the iceberg in regard to all that is wrong with their public school system (if indeed we can even continue to call it public).

My point is this: When is comes to addressing the vast needs of at-risk students and the experience of the teachers they receive, let's maintain the focus where it should be --- on our own communities and the district leadership and not on some insignificant presence is far-away Washington, DC.

--- swk

Anonymous said...

Lynn, if what you say is true --- "student success is primarily dependent upon on out of school factors" -- - why bother increasing school funding at all?

--- swk

mirmac1 said...

Interestingly, the first time the Alliance and its vehicle the Our Schools Coalition injected itself into the CBA, a merit pay "career ladder" system was set up to compensate teachers who rated "innovative" etc. and chose to work in struggling schools. As of the end of last school year, nearly $300K had been paid out in stipends.

How has this worked out? We don't know. Does the district? Is there a report somewhere that says "yeah, this works great!" or "darn, another failed reform distraction/experiment".

The increase in alternatively-certified teachers has grown tremendously over the last 15 years. Has this improved teacher quality? I don't know. I wish they would distinguish between those who come from other careers (which is why I think the whole well-intentioned alternative-routes things was created), versus those just padding careers (TFA). It would also be good to know the retention rate for these teachers and where they serve.

I absolutely want great teachers in our hardest-hit schools. I think we have lots of great teachers, who bust their rears and have gotten the training and experience to do a difficult job.

mirmac1 said...

Thought this post would be of interest on this thread:

Colonizing the Black Natives: Reflections from a former NOLA Charter School Dean of Students

Melissa Westbrook said...

So this thread has gotten off track somewhat.

"The evidence is clear that low-income and at-risk students receive the least skilled, qualified, and experienced teachers."

And yet that is who TFA wants to teach. This is all allowed because of that "highly qualified" nonsense inserted into legislation.

Anonymous said...

Melissa, I would agree this thread has gotten off track somewhat, but only somewhat. The truth is that students of color are overrepresented in low-income and struggling schools. Addressing teacher experience in low-income schools IS addressing "Race in our Public Schools".

And just because NCLB allows for "'highly qualified' nonsense" doesn't mean that we have to hire TFA teachers and it certainly doesn't mean we have to assign them to our most at-risk students. Who cares where TFA wants to teach --- they don't get to decide. Our schools get to decide.

One last thing regarding TFA --- while Race to the Top and NCLB waivers provide incentives for many things you oppose (e.g., charter schools, standardized testing, etc.), there are no incentives in either of these initiatives to hire TFA teachers over other teachers. While I could agree that Duncan is often misguided and a hypocrite, his support of TFA is minor in comparison to the potential demand he might cause to public schools when all is said and done.

--- swk

Anonymous said...

I meant "damage" when I wrote "demand".

--- swk

Melissa Westbrook said...

SWK, c'mon, just because we have been able to educate our district and we have site-based hiring, does NOT mean TFA isn't infiltrating many other districts in other states.

In fact, there is a CMO trying to match up with TFA to provide ALL TFA for all their charters.

I do not agree that the support of Duncan for TFA is "minor."

Melissa Westbrook said...

One last thing about New Orleans which is almost an all-charter district. They did have a very high percentage of teachers of color and this was a good thing to the parents because many of New Orleans public school students are students of color.

With the invasion of TFA, that number has dropped and parents are very unhappy.

Anonymous said...

There are 3.3 million K-12 teachers in the United States. There are maybe 20,000 TFA teachers (and I think that number is really, really high). That's 0.6% of all teachers. I'm going to go ahead and call that "minor."

--- swk

Melissa Westbrook said...

SWK, your minor is the number of teachers.

My major is the influence and reach and access of the group representing that minority of teachers.

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