Separate and gifted?

Eliminate gifted tracks in New York City, argue Halley Potter of the Century Foundation and David Tipson of New York Appleseed in the New York Times Room for Debate blog.

Seventy percent of the city’s gifted and talented (G&T) kindergarteners are white and Asian, while 70 percent of students are black and Latino, they write.

“Segregation” harms the education of low-income students. they argue. “At the same time, affluent white and Asian students in the city’s separate G&T classrooms are also denied the cognitive and social benefits that socioeconomically and racially diverse classrooms offer.”

Gifted children won’t “be fine” in mixed-ability classes, responds Rick Hess.

. . . we’re putting much at risk when we simply hope that overburdened classroom teachers can provide the teaching and learning that gifted children need. Anyone who has watched a teacher labor to “differentiate” instruction in a classroom that encompasses both math prodigies and English language learners knows it’s unreasonable to expect most teachers to do this well.

Students do best in classrooms with students of similar ability, researcher Bruce Sacerdote writes. “We know from data, from theory and, most important, from decades of experience that ability grouping or tracking can have a big payoff. . . . High-ability students benefit the most from high-ability peers.

From high school A’s to college F’s

Kashawn Campbell, a straight A student at an inner-city Los Angeles high school, went to Berkeley with a great attitude, a great work ethic, lots of “grit” — and weak reading and writing skills, reports the Los Angeles Times.

Raised by a single mother who works as a security guard, Campbell grew up with little exposure to the world outside his neighborhood other than watching Jeopardy. Although Berkeley felt like a “different world,” he embraced it enthusiastically.

He filled his dorm room with Cal posters, and wore clothes emblazoned with the school’s name. Each morning the gawky, bone-thin teen energetically reminded his dorm mates to “have a Caltastic day!”

But he was shocked by the academic expectations.

At Jefferson, a long essay took a page and perfect grades came after an hour of study a night.

At Cal, he was among the hardest workers in the dorm, but he could barely keep afloat.

Seeking help, he went at least once a week to the office of his writing instructor, Verda Delp.

The more she saw him, the more she worried. His writing often didn’t make sense. He struggled to comprehend the readings for her class and think critically about the text.

“It took awhile for him to understand there was a problem,” Delp said. “He could not believe that he needed more skills. He would revise his papers and each time he would turn his work back in having complicated it. The paper would be full of words he thought were academic, writing the way he thought a college student should write, using big words he didn’t have command of.”

Campbell chose to live with other black first-year students in the African-American Theme Program, two floors in a dorm. He became close friends with roommate Spencer Simpson, who was earning A’s in challenging classes at Berkeley.

Like Campbell, Simpson had been raised by a single mother in a tough neighborhood and earned straight A’s at low-performing schools. Both were nerds who “didn’t try to act tough” and were “shy around girls.” But there were differences.

Spencer’s mother, a medical administrator, had graduated from UCLA and exposed her only child to art, politics, literature and the world beyond Inglewood. If a bookstore was going out of business, she’d drive Spencer to the closeout sale and they would buy discounted novels. She pushed him to participate in a mostly white Boy Scout troop in Westchester.

To Spencer, Berkeley was the first place he could feel fully comfortable being intellectual and black, the first place he could openly admit he liked folk music and punk rock.

Campbell coped with depression, kept working, joined study groups and — with an A in African American Studies — raised his GPA above 2.0. But he got an incomplete in the writing class on his second try. He’ll be back for a second year.

“No excuses’ students struggle in college

“No excuses” charter schools send most or all of their low-income, minority students to college. But do “no excuses” students graduate from college? In Education Next, Robert Pondiscio looks at what charter schools are doing to improve their graduates’ college graduation rates.

KIPP is the largest and best known of a class of charter-management organizations (CMOs) that includes Achievement First, YES Prep, Uncommon Schools, Mastery, Aspire, and others. This group shares a set of familiar characteristics: more and longer school days, with a college preparatory curriculum for all students; strict behavioral and disciplinary codes; and a strong focus on building a common, high-intensity school culture. Classrooms and halls are awash in motivational quotations and college banners, typically from the alma maters of the inevitably young, hard-charging teachers who staff the schools. The signature feature is high behavioral and academic expectations for all students, the vast majority of whom are low-income, urban black and Hispanic kids.

Both KIPP and YES Prep track their graduates and report on how well they’re doing. One third of former KIPP middle schoolers have graduated college within six years — four times the average for disadvantaged students, but way below KIPP’s goals.

Black graduates of YES Prep average 1556 in reading, writing and math on the SAT, “far above the national average of 1273 for African Americans, and significantly higher than the 1500 national average for all students.” All graduates have passed at least one AP class. Less than 5 percent of YES Prep grads require remediation in college. Yet the six-year graduation rate is only 41 percent .

 “It wasn’t the academic piece that was holding our kids back,” notes senior director of college initiatives at YES Prep Donald Kamentz. “What we found hands down was it was the noncognitive piece—that tenacity, that grit—that allowed kids to harness those skills and persist when they faced difficulty.”

“What we’ve found with the ‘whatever it takes’ or ‘no excuses’ mentality is that it was very teacher-driven and less student-driven,” says Kametz, acknowledging this is a controversial line of thought in his own halls. A typical No Excuses approach might involve giving demerits or detention for missed assignments or turning in work that’s not “neat and complete.” Kamentz questions whether this tough-love approach helps create the self-advocacy in students they will need to be successful in college. “It’s the largest gaping hole with our kids in college,” he says. “They will constantly say, ‘You structured my life so much that I had to do very little thinking and structuring myself.’”

The no-excuses charters are trying to develop ways to strengthen students’ perseverance, “growth mindset” and grit. Some send  “posses” of students to “right-match” colleges that provide mentoring to first-generation-to-college students. (I love Pondiscio’s phrase: “in helicopter parentis.”)

KIPP, which started with middle schools, is adding elementary and high schools to strengthen academic preparation. The network also is following its alumni through college to help them cope with academic and social challenges. Now there are 1,000 KIPP graduates in college. In a few years, there will be 10,000. KIPP hopes to raise the college graduation rate to 75 percent, as high as students from upper-income families. The short-term goal is a 50 percent graduation rate.

In search of STEM students

Universities are turning to community colleges in the search for potential STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) students who are black, Hispanic and/or female.

Study: Teachers go soft on minority students’ work

After reading a poorly written essay, teachers offered comments and advice. Those who thought the writer was black or Latino provided more praise and less criticism, according to a Rutgers study published in the Journal of Educational Psychology (JEP), reports Science Daily.

(The study) involved 113 white middle school and high school teachers in two public school districts located in the New York/New Jersey/Connecticut tri-state area, one middle class and white, and the other more working class and racially mixed.

“Many minority students might not be getting input from instructors that stimulates intellectual growth and fosters achievement,” said Kent Harber, Rutgers-Newark psychology professor.

George W. Bush called it “the soft bigotry of low expectations.”

Accountability shock is wearing off

Math scores rose dramatically in the “consequential accountability” era, but the accountability shock is wearing off, writes Mark Schneider, a former National Center for Education Statistics commissioner  now at American Institutes for Research. Texas, an early accountability adopter, saw an early rise in math scores and now a plateau, he writes. Progress is leveling off nationwide as well.

A graph of NAEP fourth-grade math scores show a “remarkable” growth in performance in Texas and the U.S.

Using the very rough rule of thumb that a 10-point change in NAEP scores equals about one year of learning, in 2011 our fourth graders are about two years ahead of where they were in 1992.

Texas improved first. The national average caught up when No Child Left Behind forced accountability on all states, Schneider writes.

Compared to the nation as a whole, Texas has more disadvantaged students. The state’s Hispanic, black and low-income students outperform the national average for similar students.

Reading scores did not improve in Texas or elsewhere in the accountability era, perhaps because reading “is far more dependent on what happens early in children’s lives,” Schneider writes.

What could provide the next shock? Schneider suggests the Common Core and the better measurement of teacher performance as possibilities.


Graduation + transfer = new success rate

Community college success rates will rise, under a new definition that includes transfer students who go on to a four-year institution before earning an associate degree.

Nearly 80 percent of male black and Latino college students in California enroll in community college. Six years later, 80 percent have failed to complete a certificate or degree or transfer to a university. Women do somewhat better.

Is the college push working?

More students — including many more Hispanics and somewhat more blacks — are enrolling in college, reports the Pew Research Center. Enrollment is outpacing population growth because more minority students are graduating from high school.

What are we doing right? asks National Journal. What more can we do?

Black and Hispanic student achievement is rising, writes Sandy Kress, one of the architects of No Child Left Behind.

Tom Vander Ark credits the movement to prepare all students for college and careers.

I’d like to see how many of these college students earn a certificate, associate degree or bachelor’s degree.

33% of KIPP grads earn 4-year degree

Thirty-three percent of KIPP graduates earned a bachelor’s degree 10 years after graduating from one of the charter network’s first middle schools in Houston or the Bronx, according to a KIPP report. Another 5 percent earned an associate degree and 19 percent are working toward a degree.

That’s far short of KIPP’s goal, a 75 percent four-year college graduation rate. But these low-income black and Hispanic KIPPsters are slightly more likely to earn a bachelor’s degree than the average young American; the national rate is 30.6 percent. Only 8.3 percent of students from low-income families earn a bachelor’s degree by their mid-20s.

Some 95 percent of KIPP’s middle-school graduates completed high school compared to a national average of 83 percent. Only 70 percent of low-income students complete high school. Eighty-nine percent of KIPPsters enroll in college, compared to 62 percent of all U.S. students and 41 percent of low-income students.

KIPP graduates have more motivated parents than typical low-income students, Jeffrey Henig, a professor of political science in education at Teachers College, Columbia told Ed Week.

However, that extra motivation didn’t translate into higher achievement before enrolling in a KIPP middle school. When students start, typically in fifth grade, they’re achieving at similar levels to students in nearby schools, but doing worse than the district average, according to Mathematica’s research.

In 2004, KIPP began to open elementary schools to keep students from falling behind and high schools to keep middle-school graduates on the college track. KIPP To College was started to provide academic, financial and personal counseling to alumni.

One drop of Hispanic blood

One drop of Hispanic blood makes a student Hispanic, according to U.S. Education Department regulations that take effect this year. Students of non-Hispanic mixed parentage will be classified as “two or more races,” which some says lumps together those who are likely to be disadvantaged (black and American Indian) and those who are not (white and Asian).

The new standards for kindergarten through 12th grades and higher education will probably increase the nationwide student population of Hispanics, and could erase some “black” students who will now be counted as Hispanic or as multiracial (in the “two or more races category”). And reclassifying large numbers of white Hispanic students as simply Hispanic has the potential to mask the difference between minority and white students’ test scores, grades and graduation rates — the so-called achievement gap, a target of federal reform efforts that has plagued schools for decades.

The New York Times’ Room for Debate asks: How should students of mixed ancestry be classified?

Not at all, responds Shelby Steele, a Hoover Institution fellow.

Civil rights leaders don’t like this ruling because they are in the business of documenting racial disparities. In our culture mixed-race children do not carry the same level of entitlement as blacks. Giving them their own category reduces the number of blacks and, thus, the level of entitlement that civil rights groups can argue for.

Identity politics is a cynical and dehumanizing business that, in the end, helps no one. Better to eliminate all such categories and leave race and identity in the private realm.

Race still matters, writes Georgetown’s Anthony Carnevale. His research shows that “being Black still has independent and powerful negative effects on educational opportunity, quite separate from language and class barriers.” That is, blacks do significantly worse on tests even when socioeconomic factors are considered.

People who look black are treated differently.  Other mixed-ethnicity people usually blend in, certainly where I live in California.

My new nephew celebrates his one-week birthday today. Like his sisters, he’s one-quarter Hispanic in ancestry, but nobody will know that by his name or appearance or Spanish fluency. His first cousins are one-quarter Hispanic, one-quarter Chinese, one-quarter Italian and one-quarter German/British, to simplify.  They are middle-class Americans.

If we’re going to classify kids by race, then we should know who’s black-Hispanic and who’s Asian-Caucasian and who’s Samoan-Irish-Cherokee. Computers can do this in nanoseconds. But wouldn’t it be nice to stop.