Color-coded pep talks

At a Bay Area high school, students were separated by race and ethnicity for pre-testing pep talks.

(Mt. Diablo High) held separate assemblies for students of different ethnicities to talk about last year’s test results and the upcoming slew of state exams this spring.

Jazz music and pictures of Martin Luther King greeted African-American students, whereas Filipino, Asian and Pacific Islander students saw flags of their foreign homelands on the walls. Latinos and white students each attended their own events, too, complete with statistics showing results for all ethnicities and grade level.

“They started off by saying jokingly, ‘What up, white people,'” said freshman Megan Wiley, 14. Teachers flashed last year’s test scores and told the white crowd of students to do better for the sake of their people.

“They got into, ‘You should be proud of your race,'” Wiley said. “It was just weird.”

The principal said she wanted to “avoid one group harassing another based on their test scores.” Asians, who make up about 5 percent of enrollment, post the highest scores, with whites (30 percent) next, blacks (15 percent) third and Latinos (50 percent) trailing. Scores are rising, with blacks and English Learners showing the most growth.

It’s common for schools to encourage students to do their best on state tests. I’ve never heard of school officials encouraging students to focus on their membership in a racial or ethnic group as a way to improve scores.

About Joanne


  1. Walter E. Wallis says:

    Fire the lot.
    As I remember, apologists for segregation always said that the Nigra wanted it that way.

  2. Our local superintendant was fired last year because of such a session being held for non-white students. A gray non-entity, it was surprising that this particular administrator would do anything so politically risky.

  3. Sarah Trabucchi says:

    This is truly terrifying. I read this post three times before I was able to wrap my head around it.

    “One tiny step” towards closing the achievement gap? Please…are we really supposed to believe that the benefits of this kind of segregation outweigh the liabilities?

  4. Indigo Warrior says:

    Jazz music and pictures of Martin Luther King greeted African-American students, whereas Filipino, Asian and Pacific Islander students saw flags of their foreign homelands on the walls.

    What if an American student of Asian background prides himself on being American and would rather see an American flag?

  5. matthewktabor says:

    We know that this is a terrible method for encouraging high achievement, but it’s also a very well-documented phenomenon. Claude Steele and Joshua Aronson, both social science professors at Stanford, have produced a solid body of work on ‘stereotype threat’ – Steele’s findings are particularly relevant here. Steele’s studies during the mid-90’s concluded that when students are grouped by race and informed that their intelligence will be measured, their fear of making their race look bad or even just confirming a slightly inferior status drives them to underperform on the tests that follow the ‘pep talk’. Instead of being energized to defy the stereotypes, they end up confirming them – or worse.

    A quick Google brought up this reasonably good summary of their research:

    The extensions into the evaluation of racial profiling, affirmative action and a host of other topics in education are fascinating. I recommend that anyone interested conduct a search of the terms Claude Steele and stereotype threat to read more about it.

    Equally fascinating is that a cup of common sense and a teaspoon of Google can prevent situations like we read about in this post, but they still happen. One doesn’t need to be a Stanford Psychology alumnus to have contact with this research – I’m certainly not one – and to understand its relevance to education.

  6. Do bi-ethnic and multiethnic children get their own little pep-rally so they can feel as alienated as everyone else? (I suppose in a school culture like that no one needs any help feeling alienated)…

    I thought our job was to educate students so that they can see past such narrow and often misleading distinctions as ethnic lineage.

    Thanks for that link, mathewktabor…

  7. What kind of music did they play for the white kids, Lawrence Welk?

  8. George Mimmen says:

    Lawrence Welk . . . that was funny, shall we add Frank Sinatra?

  9. George Mimmen says:

    Seriously though . . . what I find interesting about the stereotype threat idea is that I often hear the students stereotyping themselves. I can hardly get them to believe anything else about themselves, except the typical stereotype.

  10. We’ve certainly come a long way since Brown v. Topeka. Unfortunately it looks like we’ve come full circle.

  11. The real scofflow in this story is not the principal whose only error was in seriously taking this message to heart:

    “Close that gap!”

    “Close that gap!”

    Isn’t the proper moral indictment best leveled against those who confuse educational equality with equal group results? One can’t seriously “close the gap” without exercising some form of disparate treatment or beneficient segregation.

    If this is the cure, I’ll take the disease!

  12. GradSchoolMom says:

    Why isn’t there pressure for NCLB to not divide scores by race?

  13. To GradschoolMom: In answer to your question, because many schools will be able to “paper over” problems. For example our local K-8 school district which has about a 20% minority population (7th and 8th grades), Black and Hispanic. When looking at the achievement of the entire population of this cohort, we see that 88% of the student body is at or exceeding performance expectations. When you parse the data you find out that almost 50% of the minority students are below standard or in the academic warning classification. There is now considerable pressure on the local school board and administrators to take action to close the “gap”.

    Without this ethnic/racial parsing, the problem would never have become public knowledge.

  14. GradSchoolMom says:

    So now that NCLB has shown that blacks and Hispanics are failing in unequal proportions to whites and Asians, how can we ever correct the problem without stereotyping? Don’t we find ourselves in the position of having to find out how blacks and Hispanics learn and what motivates them? As soon an we are looking for the answer to the question of how some particular group acts, aren’t we stereotyping?

  15. GradSchoolMom —

    Who says stereotyping is bad?

    Stereotyping is at the heart of the “diversity” philosophy. “Diversity” presumes fundamental but beneficient differences between racial groups. Every single member of a given racial group is presumed to possess that fundamental difference. There are no follow-up questions of a black applicant to assure that they “think black” as well. No need to worry that a woman doesn’t “think like a woman”.

    The presumption is that Kanye West and Justice Clarence Thomas think one way, and rapper Eminmem and Rush Limbaugh think a different way. While there have been accusations that Clarence Thomas “isn’t black enough”, I can’t recall any charges that Eminmem “isn’t white enough”.

    In summary, it is not impermissable to stereotype if it is being done by the left.

  16. To Gradschool Mom: Short answer no, your are searching for a the causes of certain performances so you can apply corrective action. Not to all but to those who under perform.

    Moreover, if I understand you correctly, you are saying lets just ignore the problem. We know there is a great hue and cry that minorities are not proportionally represented at higher levels of education and in the job market. It seems to me that the root cause of this disparity is our primary, secondary and h.s. education system. I can tell you the performance levels of various ethnic groups in all of suburban Cook County(that’s suburban Chicago) high schools, mirrors that of the stats I posted above. All of this leads to under representation on down the road.

    The hard part is comming up with solutions. In today’s political climate and super-sensitivity to racial matters, it is like walking on egg shells. The easy solution, just throw more money at the schools certainly hasn’t narrowed the gap. If and until we are totally honest about the problem, it will on fester and more than likely get worse.

    But identifying a problem is not stereotyping.

    Just returned from a school board meeting so I am not making to much sense and will let this go for now. This is redundant but I will say it again, ignoring the problem will not make it go away.

  17. GradSchoolMom says:

    I’m actually saying the opposite, JoeH. I believe to fix a problem that has been identified as a Black and Hispanic issue, we need to find a Black and Hispanic solution. I just can’t imagine how to do that without using stereotypes. Either race has to be taken out of the low achievement problem or it has to become part of the solution. Since pretending it doesn’t exist has not helped in the past, maybe it is time to realize that we are not all the same. I give the principal in the article credit for trying something new. Reading the reactions to the story shows why most educators are too afraid to search for a solution.

  18. Jeffrey says:

    This is just setting them up for racially seperated graduation ceremonies, after which they will attend universities with segregated orientation days that prepare them for life in segregated dormitories where they will interact with fellow students who are members of segregated student associations. They will then graduate in segregated ceremonies and join professions with segregated professional associations.

  19. Indigo Warrior says:

    Why can’t kids just be themselves rather than self-destructive tribal robots?

    One non-solution I can think of would be to segregate children from their tribes and force them to live by and for themselves. But that would be cruel and evil, so I won’t propose it.

    Also, high-sounding government attempts to “close the gaps” are failing precisely because such attempts are from outside. The “unsuccessful” tribes such as blacks and hispanics resent such intrusions even if for their own good. I think it would be better just to leave them alone, and let them – or rather their most forward-thinking individuals – see the light on their own. After all, the more successful tribes have done that – whites, Asians, Jews and other non-Muslim middle easterners.


  1. Race-Based Test Pep…

    Reader Nels Nelson points me to something to a remarkable post from Joanne Jacobs that I should have seen by now on my own (but hadn’t), a California high school that segregated its students for separate, color-coded pre-testing pep talks…….