California: Black boys expect to fail

By kindergarten, 1 out of 4 African American boys in California is convinced he will fail in school, reports the San Francisco Chronicle, citing a report by an Assembly select committee. By fourth grade, 60 percent of black and Latino children score below proficient on reading tests; by eighth grade, 1 in 4 are chronically absent.

Oakland Unified is implementing many of the report’s recommendations, including “full-service schools with health centers, discipline policies that keep students in school and programs to support at-risk youth,” reports the Chronicle.

For example, the district has an Office of African-American Male Achievement, which supports manhood development classes at middle and high schools and other programs for black males.

The manhood classes offer black male students positive African American male role models who encourage the young men to focus on their education and future and offer a curriculum that includes everything from how to tie a tie to an analysis of historical black figures.

So far, black male students are doing very, very badly in Oakland Unified.

'At-risk' kids are now 'at-promise'

Educators have a new euphemism for struggling students, writes Jay Mathews on Class Struggle.  “At-risk kids” are now “at-promise.”

“We use the term ‘at-promise’ in Alexandria City Public Schools to describe children who have the potential to achieve at a higher rate than they are currently achieving,” (Superintendent Morton) Sherman said in a July 23 op-ed for the Alexandria Gazette Packet. “Really, all children are at-promise, because we, as educators, have made a promise to each and every child that we will work toward higher achievement for all.”

Of course, if all students are “at-promise,” then the term has no meaning.

Educators want to focus on students’ strengths, rather than their “deficits,” such as disability, lack of English proficiency or family poverty.  But, if the deficits really relate to learning, then focusing on something else means ignoring what children need to learn.

High-risk teaching

At Stories from School, Kim has given up honors classes to work with colleagues on a catch-up program for ninth graders who failed two or more eighth-grade classes. Most will be non-white, low-income and male. Without something special, these kids are very likely to fail in high school, give up and drop out.

I’ve been looking for more ways to bring kinesthetic activities into an English classroom where basic skills in reading and writing are a top priority, and believe me, there just aren’t that many kinesthetic activities when it comes to the actual tasks of reading and writing. Kinesthetic projects and responses to literature I have aplenty. Actually getting them moving when they’re reading and writing is pretty difficult – especially at the high school level.

We’ve also been exploring alternative assessment and trying to figure out how that will fit in. One of our discussions right now is how we will balance responsibility and mastery. We’re playing with the idea that student can pass our final exams with a 75% or better, it won’t matter whether they turned in assignments or not, as long as the tests prove mastery in skills and content. But if we do this, are we setting them up to fail when they move on to more conventional teachers?

It will be exhilirating, writes Kim. Or it will be hell.

Meanwhile, I’ve been asked to suggest high-interest books for sixth, seventh and eighth graders who read at the third, fourth and fifth grade level.  Downtown College Prep’s Alviso campus is hoping to build a library that will include a wide range of fun books — including science, biography, adventure, sports, anything that will get kids reading without frustration. (Eventually, some “challenge” books will be on the list too.) Suggestions are welcome. Most students come from low-income and working-class Mexican-American families; 59 percent are male and 23 percent are considered disabled.