Friday, October 25, 2019

Oakland Unified School District - Making Progess for AA Males

Oakland Unified School District is the first district that I know of that uses targeted universalism (and has for seven years).

Here’s a great look at that work -plus the effort to pivot off the work of supporting AA males to AA females and Latinx students. The paper,  Decolonizing School Systems: Racial Justice, Radical Healing, and Educational Equity inside Oakland Unified School District, is by:  

Christopher P. Chatmon is the deputy chief of equity at the Oakland [California] Unified School District. Vajra M. Watson is the director of research and policy for equity and founder of Sacramento Area Youth Speaks at the University of California, Davis.         

On why targeted universalism:
A driving, essential question with AAMA’s theory of change is, who is the canary in the coal mine - that is, who will affected first and most severely by the toxicities of the system?” 
The district applied powell’s (sic) framework of targeted universalism to Oakland and devised a plan to elevate African American male students and, in the process, improve the educational ecosystem for all children.3 OUSD joined forces with community organizers, religious leaders, neighborhood elders, teachers, parents, and students to launch the Office of African American Male Achievement (AAMA). 
To date, AAMA has focused on eliminating four problematic conditions: harsh discipline, unequipped teachers, biased curriculum, and the media’s negative portrayal of African American males. 
On scaling up:
Although AAMA focused strategically on engaging, encouraging, and empowering African American male students, children do not develop in isolation. For AAMA to increase its impact, students’ families and their neighborhoods needed to become an explicit part of the solution. Moreover, district demographics are ever-changing; 41 percent of students are now Latinx. Focusing on the needs of Black boys is a step towards racial justice, but it is not the entire journey. 
In partnership with OUSD’s Office of Research, Assessment, and Data, the Office of Equity compiled information based upon neighborhood stress levels (1=least stressed to 6=most stressed) that took into account a normalized composite score for several indicators, such as crime, food security, socio- economics, and other environmental issues. The entire West Oakland Area received an overall score of 4.48, and from there, two sites were selected. 
Other action steps include an aggressive campaign to recruit and support Maestr@s – Chicano/a and Latino/a educators – that attracted fifty interested candidates in the first week; a new annual Latino/a staff appreciation gathering attended by 100 Latino/a staff; a Latino staff directory aimed at building a network for staff and creating support systems for students and families; and collegial space for African American and Latino/a instructors to work hand-in- hand and share pedagogical techniques and resources. Based on the success of AAMA models, one high school with a high proportion of Latinos will pilot a newcomer intervention program to support unaccompanied minors arriving from Central America, and will launch a culturally sensitive mentoring program.
The Seattle Times has a story today about Oakland Unified School District’s efforts to support their African-American male students and outcomes.
New research from Stanford University is the first to hint at what might work. The study, which focuses on an Oakland education program targeted at African American boys and teenagers, suggests the program cuts dropout rates by 43%.
The program also focuses on mentorship and helps participants become leaders in their schools. On average, the researchers say, 15% to 30% of black males participate in the program where it’s offered.

On average, schools with AAMA retained a greater proportion of their black male students. This was particularly true among ninth graders, the researchers found.
Although dropout rates fell among black girls at AAMA schools, they didn’t drop to the same extent as those of their male peers.
It’s possible that these schools offer extra supports to all students. But, Dee said, it could also hint that the AAMA program has a spillover effect: African American girls may do better in class if they are surrounded by male peers receiving extra support.
 That last sentence is troubling because if the research says that both AA males and females should be in segregated classes, what would parents think?  For how long?

On a down note, check out this footage from an OUSD Board meeting where parents and teachers had come to protest the effects of charter schools and closed schools.  Not pretty and the overreaction by the cops is not good.


Another Parent said...

According to the Article, here is how Oakland's Program Works for African American Males:

"During the school day, boys enrolled in the program attend classes exclusively for them. Classes include units on topics such as how black males are portrayed in media, the study says. The program also focuses on mentorship and helps participants become leaders in their schools. On average, the researchers say, 15% to 30% of black males participate in the program where it’s offered."

I think this approach makes sense and would support it, and support funding it. I believe Seattle's current, "blame everyone else" approach, is wrong and won't solve anything.

Anonymous said...

During the school day, boys enrolled in the program attend classes exclusively for them. ...
Some classroom environments or lesson plans may feel alienating to black boys and teens, Dee said. The AAMA program offers classes that ensure these students “feel affirmed and their minds are critically engaged,” he said. “It’s what you teach, it’s how you teach, it’s how you manage classroom discipline,” he said.

This look suspiciously like a segregated cohort program. It needs to be eliminated quickly, regardless of the outcome.

- frustrated parent

Melissa Westbrook said...

I note that the district tweeted - someone coldly - to the Seattle Times that they ARE already engaged in this work. Hmmm.

Anonymous said...

Classes exclusively for black students and with black teachers?
The optics of that are mind-boggling.
Sounds like the African-American Academy all over again....and that was a total failure.
Let’s learn from the past.


Confused, Juneau said...

At a recent work session, Juneau said, “This program segregation has been endorsed by this district for generations. This is unacceptable and embarrassing. None of us should want to lead this type of educational redlining.”

So, I suppose our version of Oakland's program will not be segregated?

Melissa Westbrook said...

Good question.

Anonymous said...

For all the talk of "colonization" and institutional racism, it would be nice to see the article point out details of what within the Oakland system was institutionalizing racism. What specific policies, procedures, practices, etc. promoted racism and/or poorer outcomes for some groups? Or is much of what needs to be undone/countered the larger societal institutionalized racism that needs to be countered, via school/district-based efforts in the name of equity? There's not much in the article that describes what they really did (the program/intervention), aside from creating a special elective class for AA males, with AA teachers).

They mention 4 prior problems: harsh discipline, unequipped teachers, biased curriculum, and the media's negative portrayal of AA males. The last one is more societal, but I can see how it could fall under the "biased curriculum" umbrella and be addressed via classroom discussions that take a more critical eye toward what they are studying. I could also see how "harsh discipline" could reflect biases that had potentially resulted in disproportionately high suspensions beforehand, but it's unclear to me how a policy of loosening discipline can necessarily be measured as successful via an outcome of reduced suspensions--if your new policy is to limit suspensions, then you can't really claim success because, voila!, you have reduced suspensions. I'd be more interested in seeing that the actual behaviors behind the suspensions changed, that students were getting better grades, etc. They did mention increased graduation rates increased--a good thing, for sure--but it's unclear to what extent this is related to the overall effort, the limit on suspensions, or anything else.

They also suggest that the expansion of their program is somehow evidence of its effectiveness, although they don't provide evidence to back that up. Maybe it's evidence of acceptance and interest, but not necessarily of positive outcomes. For example, a recent expansion of the program to more schools and wider grade levels would not really be expected to have had a significant impact on overall graduation rates. It would be important to get a sense for how many students, at what grade level, had participated in the program thus far and for how long, and how their outcomes were. If participation thus far has been more limited, there are likely many other factors behind the improved outcomes observed overall in a much broader population. In other words, just because you use the phrase "targeted universalism" doesn't mean a small program with limited participation can claim credit for large scale positive outcomes over a larger area. You need to show a logical link (although the authors suggest logical links don't make sense and should not be required).

Overall, I think it's an interesting effort, and I'd love to see a real evaluation of it. The current article is more of a promotional piece though, not really evidence of significant progress.

data seeker