ACT: 10% of blacks are ready for college

Most black high school graduates aren’t prepared to succeed in college, according to an ACT study.

Only 10 percent of African-Americans met at least three of the ACT’s four College Readiness Benchmarks in 2013, compared to 39 percent of all graduates who took the test.

Sixty-two percent of African-Americans who started college in 2011 made it to their second year, compared to 73 percent of all  ACT-tested 2011 graduates.

Blacks were somewhat less likely to take a college-prep core curriculum in high school. “While 81 percent of Asian-American students and 71 percent of white students had access to a full range of math and sciences courses, only 57 percent of African American students had full access,” observes Ed Week‘s CollegeBound.

Suspension disparity starts in preschool

Graphic by Bill Kuchman/POLITICO

Yes, it’s possible to be suspended from preschool — especially if you’re black. Black children make up 18 percent of preschoolers but 48 percent of students suspended more than once, according to the U.S. Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights.

Across K-12 schools, black students represented 16 percent of the student population but 42 percent suspended more than once in the 2011-12 school year.

Do bad apples spoil the learning?

 African Americans and students with disabilities are suspended at “hugely disproportionate rates,” according to a report by a group called the Discipline Disparities Research-to-Practice Collaborative. 

Higher rates of misbehavior don’t explain higher suspension rates, said Russell J. Skiba, a professor at Indiana University and director of the collaborative. He pointed to other factors such as classroom management, diversity of teaching staff, administrative processes, characteristics of student enrollment and school climate.

Suspending disruptive students doesn’t help their classmates, the report argues.

One oft-repeated justification for frequent suspensions is that schools must be able to remove the “bad” students so that “good” students can learn. . . .  when schools serving similar populations were compared across the state of Indiana, and poverty was controlled for, those schools with relatively low suspension rates had higher, not lower test scores

Troubled kids  hurt the whole class responds Education Next, citing two recent studies.

Domino Effect found children from “troubled families, as measured by family domestic violence,” are much more likely misbehave and be suspended.

We find also that an increase in the number of children from troubled families reduces peer student math and reading test scores and increases peer disciplinary infractions and suspensions… in many cases, a single disruptive student can indeed influence the academic progress made by an entire classroom of students.

Philadelphia study by Penn researchers found that “in schools with a high concentration of children with ‘risk factors,’ the academic performance of all children – not just those with disadvantages – was negatively affected.”

The collaborative would respond that suspension isn’t the only way to prevent troubled kids from disrupting their classes.  Researchers recommend “some restorative justice programs and prevention programs that call for more student-teacher engagement.”

Fordham’s Mike Petrilli is “very nervous” about making it harder to discipline students.  “This push to make it harder to suspend students is going to have a chilling effect on teaching and learning.”

Minority men aim high, but few graduate

Black and Latino males start community college with lofty goals, but few achieve their dreams. They’re more likely than white males to use tutoring, computer labs and other academic supports, but they also are less prepared for college-level work.

Why dads matter

Dad isn’t dispensable, write Lois M. Collins and Marjorie Cortez in The Atlantic. A third of American children are growing up without their biological father. It’s not just a benign “alternative family.” It’s bad for kids.

More than half of babies of mothers under 30 are born to unmarried parents, they write. Forty percent of married couples divorce.

Father-absent families are four times more likely to be poor, the Census reports.

When couples split, Dad usually moves out. Often a new man comes in. And then leaves. Children in such homes experience an average of more than five “partnership transitions,” one study found.

Most children deal with “family churn” and end up OK, said Andrew J. Cherlin, author of The Marriage-Go-Round and director of John Hopkins’ Population Center. But the more transitions a child endures, the worse off he or she typically is, Cherlin said.

“Dad also helps with impulse control and memory and enhances a child’s ability to respond effectively to new or ambiguous situations, for boys and girls,” said Warren Farrell, author of Father and Child Reunion. Children who are close to their fathers tend to achieve more academically, while kids with absent fathers are more likely to drop out. Fathers are the biggest factor in preventing drug use, Farrell said.

The time a father spends with his child predicts how empathetic a child will become, according to a proposal for a White House Council on Boys and Men.

Children who lack contact with fathers are more likely to be treated for emotional or behavioral problems. Girls with absent or indifferent fathers are more prone to hyperactivity.

When fathers are involved, girls are less likely to become pregnant as teens and boys are less likely to become teen fathers.

Simply improving the job market for young adults, especially men, would do wonders to stabilize families—particularly those just starting out, Cherlin said. Experts have been surprised by the real drop in divorce among the college-educated, who still can get good jobs. He said young people need more job training opportunities and apprenticeships, especially if they’re not college-bound. Making sure tax policy doesn’t discourage marriage and providing a modest earned income tax credit for disadvantaged childless young adults would also encourage formation of stable relationships, he added.

“I didn’t have a dad in the house,” President Obama said as he announced the My Brother’s Keeper initiative to help young black males. “And I was angry about it, even though I didn’t necessarily realize it at the time. I made bad choices. I got high without always thinking about the harm that it could do. I didn’t always take school as seriously as I should have. I made excuses. Sometimes I sold myself short.”

Scholarship promise raises blacks’ grades

Black students raised their grades significantly when they were promised college scholarships, concludes an Education Next report on the Kalamazoo Promise.

Public school graduates in Kalamazoo, Michigan are guaranteed a full scholarship to any public college or university in the state. Once in college, they must maintain a 2.0 average to keep receiving the scholarship.

The Promise reduced behavior problems for all high school students and “had a dramatic positive effect on high school GPAs” for African-Americans. By the third year of the program, African-American students raised their GPAs by 0.7 points. 

It’s not clear whether scholarship promise programs are the best use of the money, writes Nora Caplan-Bricker in New Republic.

The Pittsburgh Promise — a college scholarship for a 2.5 GPA — motivates students to try harder to raise their grades, a study found.

In El Dorado, Arkansas, Promise-eligible third graders had pulled ahead of students in nearby towns by 14 points in math and 12 points in literacy four years later.

Students want ‘jobs of the past’

Community college students want steady jobs with set hours, job security and pensions, writes a professor. “Too tired to hustle,” her students want “the jobs of the past.”

Colleges and universities will compete for a declining number of affluent, white students in the next decade, potentially driving some private colleges out of business, predict demographers. (It should bring down college costs, but don’t hold your breath.) The number of college-age blacks is declining too, while there are more Latinos and Asian-Americans. 

Feds won’t tolerate ‘zero tolerance’

“Zero tolerance” policies — adopted to ensure uniform punishments — are too harsh, says the Obama administration, which issued an advisory on school discipline.

“Ordinary troublemaking can sometimes provoke responses that are overly severe, including out of school suspensions, expulsions and even referral to law enforcement and then you end up with kids that end up in police precincts instead of the principal’s office,” Attorney General Eric Holder said.

Blacks, Latinos and students with disabilities are much more likely to be suspended or expelled than non-disabled whites, according to federal civil rights data. That’s fueled the campaign for more flexible school discipline.

The recommendations encourage schools to train teachers and staff in classroom management and conflict resolution, offer counseling to students, teach social and emotional skills and avoid using security or police officers to handle routine discipline issues.

Training school administrators to make common-sense decisions about school safety. . . Can it be done?

Under “disparate impact doublespeak,” schools must make punishments fit the percentages, writes Joshua Dunn, a University of Colorado political science professor, on Flypaper.

. . . schools still “violate Federal law when they evenhandedly implement facially neutral policies” that were adopted with no intent to discriminate “but nonetheless have an unjustified effect of discriminating against students on the basis of race.”  Ordinary English users can be forgiven if they find themselves scratching their heads asking, “How could evenhanded and neutral policies actually be discriminatory?  Doesn’t discrimination require someone, you know, actually discriminating?”

. . . If we accept the guideline’s assumption that disruptive behavior should be evenly distributed across racial groups, Asian students are woefully underpunished.

Students who want to learn will be the losers, he predicts. Federal bureaucrats will be “winners since these guidelines give them another pretext to meddle in local schools.”

ACLU questions zero tolerance

Policies designed to keep guns out of schools are pushing Pennsylvania students out of school, charges Beyond Zero Tolerance, a new report by the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania.

Black, Latino and disabled students are the most likely to be suspended, according to the report.

The Gun-Free Schools Act of 1995 required states that receive federal funding to mandate expulsion of any students caught with a weapon on campus.

Districts expanded the definition of “weapons” beyond firearms and removed students from the classroom for more minor, discretionary offenses, such as school uniform violations and talking back to adults, the report said.

“I understand the mentality that you’ve got to get the bad kids out of school so the good kids can learn, but when you actually look at who’s doing what in schools, it really doesn’t break down that cleanly or that simply,” report author Harold Jordan told Education Week.

Pennsylvania schools averaged 10.1 suspensions for every 100 students during the 2011-2012 school year. That included 35.9 suspensions for every 100 black students, 17.5 suspensions for every 100 Latino students, and 4.7 suspensions for every 100 white students, according to the report.

Education Week looks at shifting discipline policies in a January 2013 report.

St. Paul mainstreams troubled kids

St. Paul schools are mainstreaming students with emotional and behavioral disabilities, closing most classrooms at special centers for high-needs children. It works for some students, reports the Pioneer Press. But others are struggling. And some teachers aren’t getting special ed support.

Lenairion Cole went to school in a room for “bad kids” last year, and he rarely ventured out.

At St. Paul’s Bruce Vento Elementary this year, he is in a regular fifth-grade classroom. On his locker are his goals: “Do better at math.” “Do better at my behavior.”

Last year, the school’s learning center served about 45 students identified with problems ranging from severe depression and anxiety to bipolar disorder. The center had a teacher and two aides for every eight to 10 students. Math and reading proficiency scores were very low, well below scores for mentally retarded students.

The majority hardly ever left the center’s confines, said Catherine Butcher, the school’s special education coordinator.

“We felt that the students had to be perfect before we would let them go,” she said.

This fall, all former learning center students started in mainstream classrooms. Some, like Lenairion, are doing well. “I can learn better with a lot of kids instead of a bunch of bad kids that distracted me in class,” Lenairion said. “I work harder now.”

Others have acted out in class. Twenty percent of former learning center students are spend nearly the whole day in mainstream classes, said Elizabeth Keenan, who directs special education for the district. Another 20 percent are primarily in resource rooms. The rest are in between.

With special ed teachers in mainstream classrooms, “students have the same supports they had in the learning center,” Superintendent Valeria Silva told the school board. Some classes have two aides.

That’s not always true, reports the Pioneer Press.

At Bruce Vento, four classrooms that serve former learning center students don’t do any such co-teaching because they are not enough special education teachers. And entire grades share one aide among three or four classrooms.

On a recent walkthrough, Masini stepped in to calm an upset fourth-grader tossing books in the back of a classroom. The teacher is one of the school’s most talented educators, Masini said. But without a special education colleague to help, she’s had a stressful start of the year.

Last year at Frost Lake Elementary, “about 35 students with emotional and behavioral disabilities were referred out of the classroom for behavioral issues 739 times in the first two months of the year; this year, the same number of students had 438 referrals.” (Those numbers seem very high to me.)

“It’s messy. We’re not there yet,” said Principal Stacey Kadrmas. “We have varying degrees of teacher angst and students angst probably as well.”

More than 80 percent of EBD learning center students were black, although African-American children make up less than a third of the district’s enrollment, reports the Pioneer Press.

Reversing a trend of segregating students with special needs is a “moral imperative,” said Keenan. There’s also federal pressure.