Mapping achievement gaps

A fourth grader works with his teacher in Union City, N.J., a low-income Hispanic district where students perform above grade level. Photo: Karsten Moran, New York Times

Large achievement gaps separate students by race and family income, concludes a Stanford study based on a data set of 200 million test scores.

Sixth graders in the most advantaged districts are more than four grade levels ahead of students in the least advantaged districts, the study found.

  • Average test scores of black students are, on average, roughly two grade levels lower than those of white students in the same district; the Hispanic-white difference is roughly one- and-a-half grade levels.
  • The size of the gaps has little or no association with average class size, a district’s per capita student spending or charter school enrollment.

White-black achievement gaps are especially large in Atlanta, Oakland,  Charleston and Washington, D.C., reports the New York Times, which created an interactive map of the results. Gaps also are large in university towns such as Berkeley and Chapel Hill, apparently because white students are likely to come from highly educated families.

Detroit has no achievement gap: Whites, blacks and Hispanics in district schools all are more than two years below grade level. Buffalo is gap-free too, for the same reason. Nobody’s learning.

“Poverty is not destiny,” said Sean Reardon, the lead researcher. In Union City, N.J. which is 95 percent Hispanic and mostly low-income, “students consistently performed about a third of a grade level above the national average on math and reading tests,” reports the New York Times.

Union City schools used to be dreadful, writes David Kirp, a Berkeley ed professor. Improvement was “slow and steady.”

Latino, black parents: Expect more of our kids

Latino and black parents think educators expect too little of their children, according to a survey, by The Leadership Conference Education Fund.

Both groups — but especially black parents — set a very high value on school safety, with school resources and high-quality teachers coming next in priority.

Both said family support made the most difference in students’ success in school, following by individual effort.

Ninety percent of Latinos and black parents said schools should hold low-income students to the same or higher standard as other students, reports Natalie Gross on Latino Ed Beat. “Some teachers have low expectations for low-income students of color – and parents know it.”

As in many school surveys, most parents liked their children’s schools, reports Education Week. However, 53 percent of African-American participants said schools nationally were doing a poor job preparing African-American children for the future.  Only 28 percent of Latino respondents agreed.

Also, about one-third of African-American and one-quarter of Latino participants responded that schools “are not really trying” to educate African American and Latino students.

“Children of color” are the “new majority” in public schools, the Leadership Conference observes.

If Diddy can do it . . . Start your own schools

Sean “Diddy” Combs, shown giving the commencement speech at Howard University in 2014, is helping start a college-prep charter school in Harlem.

Chris Stewart, who writes as Citizen Stewart, isn’t an education expert, he writes. A former school board member in Minneapolis and a father, he’s a “civilian” with “questions about the gulf between what black kids – including my own – are capable of achieving, and what they are currently achieving.”

He has a question for academics and teachers who oppose school reform.

Why aren’t they establishing their own schools to demonstrate all they have learned about learning? Where is the Pedro Noguera Academy of Teaching Black Boys To Read and Write? Where is the Julian Vasquez Helig School of Succeeding With Marginalized Children? What about the Diane Ravitch Center for Graduating Literate and Numerate Children of Color?

Those schools don’t exist.

Linda Darling Hammond and her Stanford colleagues did start a school in 2005, partnering with a low-income, all-minority district. Despite the university’s resources and expertise, it failed, writes Stewart.

“Maybe this demonstrates that schools alone cannot solve the very deep problems kids bring to school,” wrote Diane Ravitch when the school failed. “You cannot assume that schools alone can raise achievement scores without addressing the issues of poverty, of homelessness and shattered families.”

That’s “system-preserving, elitist nonsense,” writes Stewart. Then comes the rant:

It is one thing to speak from a vaulted perch where you are not responsible for a single kid, and preach the paleoliberal gospel of the one-best-system; to write missives against school reform as you cash under-the-table paychecks from reform funders; to sit on panels sponsored by education labor cartels and interrogate the motives of school reformers while never interrogating the motives of labor cartels; to put your own kids in private schools and then assail school choice as a misguided gift to the ignorant poor who won’t make decisions as well as you have; and to basically fill the world with useless pablum about thinking broader, bolder, more holistically, without focusing intensely on developing, administrating, delivering, and measuring the effectiveness of instruction and learning in the most important place, the classroom.

“The leaders of new schools . . . design, establish, and operate schools that fight the nihilistic, racist, and classist mantra that demography affixes melanated people without money to academic failure,” Stewart writes.

Hip hop mogul Sean “Diddy” Combs is helping start a New York City charter middle and high school. Capital Prep Harlem, which opens in the fall with sixth and seventh graders, will share a building with El Museo Del Barrio in East Harlem. The Museum of the City of New York is next door.

Steve Perry, who created Capital Prep Magnet in Hartford, Connecticut, will oversee the replication of his year-round, college-prep model.

Good schools matter 

Families matter a great deal and schools very little when it comes to education, concluded the famous Coleman report, Equality of Educational Opportunity, 50 years ago. Coleman mixed up cause and correlation, writes Stanford’s Caroline Hoxby as part of Education Next‘s look back on the influential report.

Coleman “did not consider the possibility that advantaged children might have had high achievement precisely because their parents could choose good schools and ditch bad schools,” she writes.

Coleman believed teacher quality didn’t matter because measurable teacher characteristics, such as experience, education and vocabulary score, explained little of the variation in students’ achievement.

Parents always knew some teachers were better than others, writes Hoxby. These days, “numerous rigorous analyses of value-added demonstrate that teachers matter a great deal.”

Coleman failed to see that “good” families might be those who could discern which teachers were effective and get their children into those teachers’ classes. Thus, part of the apparent family effect was really a choose-effective-teachers effect.

(Before my daughter started kindergarten, I visited the two teachers’ classrooms and requested the one I liked the most. In later years, I networked with other parents to determine which teachers had the best reputations.)
Looking back, it is obvious that this early and voluntary desegregation was dominated by selection, that is, families’ own choices.Coleman also concluded that minority children achieved more when they had white classmates, Hoxby writes. But his study didn’t look at students randomly assigned to an integrated or all-black classroom. The data, from an era before desegregation orders, reflected “the sort of black families who were motivated and able to live in integrated neighborhoods.”

Hoxby attended voluntarily integrated schools in Shaker Heights, Ohio.  “Often, the blacks were professionals who already spent most of their working lives among whites, had white friends, and participated in mixed-race church and social groups. ”

Her research has found that “when students are randomly assigned to schools, it is the achievement and not the race of their peers that matters.”

Blacks graduate in lowest-paying majors

Black college graduates are likely to choose low-tech majors that lead to low-paying jobs, according to a report by Georgetown’s Center on Education and the Workforce. Twenty percent of black students major in human services and community organization (median earnings of $39,000). They’re also over-represented in social work ($42,000), early childhood education ($38,000) and psychology.

Few major in engineering, science or math. Those who do often choose the lowest-paying speciality, such as biology for black women and civil engineering for black men.

Early childhood education, one of the lowest-paying majors, is a popular choice for black students.

Blacks are more likely to major in the “caring” professions, such as early childhood education, which lead to low-paying jobs.

Two-thirds of black college graduates are female, which surely explains some of the lean toward the “caring” and underpaid professions.

In addition, most black graduates have attended an open-admissions college that may have limited majors and inadequate counseling, the report observed.

Many Americans — and especially those who are the first in their families to attend college — think any degree guarantees a decent job and a middle-class life. Someone should tell them they’ll have trouble repaying student loans for a non-technical degree from an unselective college.

Schools aren’t resegregating

Schools aren’t resegregating, writes Steven Rivkin, a professor at University of Illinois in Chicago, in Education Next.

Blacks have less exposure to white students since the 1980s because white enrollment has dropped by nearly 30 percent. However, they attend more ethnically diverse schools because of rising enrollment by Latinos and Asian-Americans.

Black enrollment has stayed about the same.

Demographic shifts have increased “contact between both whites and blacks and the children of immigrants from Latin America, Asia, and elsewhere,” Rivkin writes.

Latinos are now the largest minority group, while whites make up slightly less than half of public school enrollment.

Focusing on black-white enrollment is old hat. Focusing on socioeconomic diversity would make more sense — but we need better statistics on family poverty and disadvantage. Using school lunch stats makes no sense.

Black teachers identify more gifted blacks

Black achievers are about half as likely to be placed on the “gifted” track as whites with similar test scores, according to a new Vanderbilt study.

The teacher’s race makes a difference, reports NPR. Black teachers identify 6.2 percent of black students as gifted in reading, while non-black teachers saw only 2.1 percent of black students as gifted, researchers found.

Because of racial gaps in test scores, many districts rely more on teacher referrals to identify gifted students, researcher Jason Grissom told NPR. “That opens a big potential door as a driver for disparity.”

It’s not clear why black teachers find more gifted black students, writes Hechinger’s Jill Barshay.

Perhaps black teachers are more likely to recognize brilliance in a black student and suggest that the student be screened for giftedness.

Parents also play a big role in lobbying for their children to enter these programs. Another possibility is that black parents feel more comfortable advocating for their child with a black teacher, demanding that their child be screened for giftedness.

And finally it’s possible that black children perform better for a black teacher, and are more likely to demonstrate how brainy they are in these classrooms.

There’s no white-Latino “giftedness gap,” the study found. White and Latino students with the same scores were equally likely to get placed in a gifted program.

Testing every child for giftedness could help close the gap in access to accelerated programs, suggests Grissom.

Schools won’t tell colleges about suspensions

Syracuse schools will not share student discipline records with colleges, under a new policy proposed by Superintendent Sharon Contreras.

Remember the threat? It will go on your permanent record.

Syracuse Superintendent Sharon Contreras visited Hughes Elementary School on the first day of class. Credit: John Berry

Syracuse Superintendent Sharon Contreras visited Hughes Elementary School on the first day of class. Credit: John Berry

Seventy-three percent of colleges and universities ask if applicants have been suspended or expelled, according to the Center for Community Alternatives in Syracuse. Half of high school disclose the information. In the rest, it’s up to guidance counselors to decide what to reveal.

Syracuse schools are trying to reduce the high rate of suspensions of black students. Revealing discipline records could hurt students of color, Contreras said at a school board meeting. “You make a mistake when you’re a ninth grader and it hurts you when you are applying to college? That’s just not fair.”

Study: Teachers underrate minority achievers

Teachers give lower ratings to high-achieving black and Latino students than to white classmates with similar test scores, concludes a new University of Texas study published in Social Science Research.

However, teachers gave higher ratings to low-performing blacks and Latinos then their scores indicated and judged low-performing whites more harshly.

Sociologist Yasmiyn Irizarry compared first-graders’ scores on a series of cognitive and literacy tests to how teachers ranked the students’ abilities, reports Education Week.

Teachers rated average-performing students as average, regardless of race or ethnicity.

. . . high-performing students of color were underrated by their teachers in comparison to white high-achievers. Black or Latino students who scored in the top 10 percent of all 1st graders, were 7 to 9 percentage points less likely to be rated “far above average,” and they were generally rated one to two rankings lower (out of five) than white students who scored the same.

The gaps in teachers’ expectations did not close until minority students were in the top 1 percent of all students.

Diversifying gifted, honors classes

Broward County, Florida more than doubled the number of low-income students and students of color identified as gifted — without changing eligibility criteria — by screening all second graders rather than relying on referrals from parents and teachers, a recent study found. Those who did well on a nonverbal cognitive test were given IQ tests.

Universal screening raised the percentage of gifted black students by 80 percent, Latinos by 130 percent and disadvantaged students by 180 percent, reports the Orlando Sun-Sentinel.

Sandi Peterson, middle school counselor in Elk Grove, congratulates a student for applying for honors classes.

Sandi Peterson, middle school counselor in Elk Grove, congratulates Kaianna Kelley for applying for honors classes. Credit: Hector Amezcua, Education Week

 The newly identified students “included many students with IQs significantly above the minimum eligibility threshold, implying that even relatively high-ability students from disadvantaged backgrounds were being overlooked under the traditional referral system,” according to researchers.

Schools elsewhere are trying to enroll more low-income, Latino and black students in gifted and honors classes, reports Education Week.

In Elk Grove, a Sacramento suburb, 3.5 percent of lower-income students (based on eligibility for a free lunch) are in gifted and advanced classes, compared to 11 percent of non-poor students. The district has spent “more than $860,000” to rethink procedures for identifying high-potential students.

Screening all third graders has nearly doubled the number identified as gifted.

The district’s Elitha Donner Elementary School, for example, identified 12 low-income students as gifted this year, up from only three last year, and narrowed the white-black gap in gifted education from 4-to-1 in favor of whites to 2.5-to-1 in the last year alone.

Next year, the district will roll out the rest of the changes to the identification system, with teachers and principals developing new rubrics for identifying exceptional creativity and leadership, both in class and in outside activities, such as community volunteering and church youth groups.

“We’re looking at our students differently,” said Michelle Jenkins, Donner Elementary’s principal. “It’s training your brain that ‘gifted’ is not always your top academic students.”

Screening all students for high IQ makes sense. Redefining “gifted” to mean “good kid” does not.