Gifted + talented = separate + unequal

“Gifted and talented” classes are mostly white and Asian, even at predominantly black and Hispanic schools, reports the New York Times. At P.S. 163 on the Upper West Side, black and Hispanic students make up two-thirds of the student body but only one third of gifted students.

Once schools could set their own criteria for admissions to gifted classes, but since 2008 only students who test very well can qualify. In low-income neighborhoods, schools don’t offer gifted classes because not enough kids ace the test.

(Critics) contend that gifted admissions standards favor middle-class children, many of them white or Asian, over black and Hispanic children who might have equal promise, and that the programs create castes within schools, one offered an education that is enriched and accelerated, the other getting a bare-bones version of the material. Because they are often embedded within larger schools, the programs bolster a false vision of diversity, these critics say, while reinforcing the negative stereotypes of class and race.

Students in gifted classes have a much easier time qualifying for the city’s selective middle and high schools. Only 15 percent of seats at  specialized high schools go to blacks or Hispanic students, who make up 70 percent of enrollment.

Sara K. Bloch’s triplets go to P.S. 163. Leon is in a gifted class, Jason in general education and Felix in “an integrated co-teaching class, which mixes special education students with general education children like Felix.”

“To be completely honest, we feel that this class is probably similar to a regular fifth-grade class,” she said on the day she visited Leon in Ms. Dillon’s class. “Math is the same; all three — they have the same book.”

But Leon does seem to be pushed harder, Ms. Bloch said. He is asked to think of things in complex ways, not just to memorize dates of the American Revolution or names like John Adams, for instance, but also to understand relationships between events and people, or to explain possible motives or forces behind certain events, like the Boston Tea Party. She also said that the relationship between the parents and the teachers was more intense at the gifted level, with an expectation of parent involvement and connectedness.

A fifth-grade teacher at the school tells the Times she’d never let her own kids take general education classes at P.S. 163. There are too many kids from “the projects.”

Federal discipline rules could hurt blacks

Sen. Dick Durbin’s hearing on the “school to prison pipeline” may lead to federal mandates to curtail the use of out-of-school suspensions,  make suspension policies uniform across schools, or both, writes Andrew Coulson of Cato @ Liberty, who testified against zero-tolerance policies at the hearing.

Black students are more likely to be suspended than whites. However, requiring lenient discipline policies would hurt black students the most, Coulson writes.

In Understanding the Black-White School Discipline Gap, Rochester University Professor Joshua Kinsler concludes that black and white students are suspended at the same rates for the same offenses at the same schools, Coulson writes.

However principals at predominantly black schools issue more and longer suspensions to all students — black and white — while discipline policies are more lenient for all students at predominantly white schools.

In a subsequent empirical study, Kinsler investigated what would happen if all schools were compelled to observe a more lenient suspension policy, to close the black/white discipline gap. He found that this would disproportionately hurt the achievement of African American students, widening the black/white achievement gap.  The reason for this, according to Kinsler’s findings, is that serious suspensions do in fact discourage misbehavior, and that removing disruptive students from the class does improve the achievement of the other students.

In his written testimony, Coulson proposed alternatives to out-of-school suspensions that motivate students to behave while protecting their classmates from disruption.

Swedish preschool bans ‘him’ and ‘her’

At a government-funded preschool in Stockholm, teachers avoid “him” and “her”, reports the New York Times. There are no “boys” and “girls,” only “friends.”

Masculine and feminine references are taboo, often replaced by the pronoun “hen,” an artificial and genderless word that most Swedes avoid but is popular in some gay and feminist circles.

In the little library, with its throw pillows where children sit to be read to, there are few classic fairy tales, like “Cinderella” or “Snow White,” with their heavy male and female stereotypes, but there are many stories that deal with single parents, adopted children or same-sex couples.

Girls are not urged to play with toy kitchens, and wooden or Lego blocks are not considered toys for boys. And when boys hurt themselves, teachers are taught to give them every bit as much comforting as they would girls. Everyone gets to play with dolls; most are anatomically correct, and some are also black.

Blurring gender lines will “theoretically, cement opportunities for both women and men,” Swedes believe. Or there could be some confused “friends” in the future.

A whiter shade of fail

Voters in Portland, Oregon approved a $35 per adult tax to raise $12 million for arts and music education. (Those under the poverty line are exempt.)

It’s not surprising Portland schools need more money. The district sent 93 teachers, principals and administrators to San Antonio for a five-day conference on “Courageous Conversations” about race, reports the Portland Tribune. More teachers were sent for five days of equity training in Oregon. All this is run by the Office of Equity, which has grown from one to seven employees in the past year.

At Harvey Scott K-8 school, 20 current and former teachers and staff members told the Tribune that Principal Verenice Gutierrez’s focus on race has created a “hostile environment” for students, staff and parents. Fearing a Courageous Conversations backlash, they all asked to be anonymous.

You may remember Gutierrez, who believes using a peanut butter sandwich as an example is culturally insensitive, but it’s OK to offer lunch time drumming classes only to black and Hispanic boys.

Scott’s “kids of whiteness” feel excluded,  one teacher said.

Adds another teacher: “Our whiteness is constantly thrown in our face. We’re taught we’re incapable of teaching students of color.”

Teachers have filed grievances with their union — or just quit. Twenty-six teachers — about half the staff — left after Gutierrez’ first year at Scott. Eight left the following year. The principal vowed to hire only bilingual teachers who are native speakers of Spanish. She wants to turn Scott into a bilingual immersion school.

Mediators have come to Scott multiple times to lead staff meetings, all paid for by the district. Among them is equity coach Kim Feicke, whose biography cites her expertise in working with “white educators to understand the impact of white culture on teaching, learning and school culture in order to effectively shift current practices.”

Enrollment is dropping, which Guitierrez blames on “white flight.”  Scott’s enrollment is 52 percent Latino, 20 percent white, 13 percent black (mostly Somali) and 8 percent Asian (mostly Vietnamese). The school scores in the bottom 15 percent statewide.

Scott needed to change, says Karl Logan, the regional administrator. “Whiteness” doesn’t refer to skin color, according to Logan, who calls himself a black man with “whiteness in me.” Whiteness is “about the predominant culture. If we’re not aware of how much we take that for granted, we will all of us miss the opportunity to improve student learning.”

In a memo to staff, Gutierrez described her shock at a student’s perception that she is a principal of whiteness.

“I asked him what color his skin is and he stated, ‘black.’ I then went into how society typecasts people of color and how expectations of us are lower simply because of the color of our skin. As I was speaking about our skin color he said, ‘But you are white.’ ” This statement stopped me dead and I can honestly say that it is the most devastating statement a child has ever made to me.”

Matt Shelby, district spokesman, says equity spending is needed to close the racial/ethnic achievement gap:  Two-thirds of Portland’s white students, but only about half of blacks and Hispanics, earn a high school diploma in four years.  “To just hire more teachers gets you more of the same,” Shelby told the Tribune. ”Obviously when you look at our data the status quo isn’t working.”

So far, asking kids about their skin color isn’t working either, according to district data. Scott’s math and reading scores seem to be declining. The school made adequate yearly progress in seven of eight years before Gutierrez took over, but has failed AYP since.

Urban middle class tries public schools

In some cities, white middle-class parents are integrating public schools instead of moving to the suburbs, reports USA Today. They’re pushing for programs that serve their children’s needs, such as a ballet class at Brooklyn Prospect Charter School.

“Many of them express a deep attachment to the city,” said University of Pennsylvania sociologist Annette Lareau. “They see the suburbs as sterile, as boring. They also see the suburbs as not a realistic preparation for their children for life.”

Public schools integrated by race, income and class are popping up in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, New Orleans, Chicago, Denver and San Francisco, according to USA Today.

“True educational equity can only occur in socioeconomically diverse classrooms,” said Josh Densen, a former KIPP teacher in Harlem who’s now working to open an integrated charter school in post-Katrina New Orleans.  The city has several KIPP schools, but a model designed for disadvantaged students who lack basic skills isn’t a good fit for his daughter, Densen believes.

Brooklyn Prospect started four years ago with a sixth grade class and is adding a grade each year to become a middle-high school. It now occupies a former Catholic school building — with a convent on the fourth floor for eight nuns. The rigorous International Baccalaureate program attracts educationally ambitious parents. Students are admitted by lottery — with a preference for low-income students to keep the school diverse. Forty percent of students qualify for a free lunch, according to USA Today. Nearly half the students are white and Asian; the rest are Hispanic and black.

According to Inside Schools:

Advanced students may do “seeker” projects, taking on more in-depth assignments. Students who need extra help go to small group tutorials to “reinforce skills and close the skills gap,”  while others are in study hall . . . Teachers stay after school or come in early for study sessions or test review.

Ninth graders are separated into two English classes: literature (for stronger students) and composition (for struggling readers and writers).

Diversity won’t work without challenging work for high achievers and extra help for stragglers.

To take the-glass-is-nearly-empty view, suburban schools are resegregating, write Erica Frankenberg, a Penn State education professor, and Gary Orfield, co-director of UCLA’s Civil Rights Project.

Reading, ‘riting, ‘rithmetic and revolution in Denver

“Students in the Denver Public Schools need to know reading, writing and ‘rithmetic, but what about the fourth “r” — revolution? asks the Washington Times.

New teacher-assessment criteria described a “distinguished” teacher as one who “encourages students to challenge and question the dominant culture” and “take social action to change/improve society or work for social justice.” The district’s “Framework for Effective Teaching” also said teachers would be scored on whether “[s]tudents appear comfortable challenging the dominant culture in respectful ways.”

After critics complained, the district eliminated references to the “dominant culture” and “social change.”

The updated language says a top teacher “encourages students to think critically about equity and bias in society, and to understand and question historic and prevailing currents of thought as well as dissenting and diverse viewpoints,” and “cultivates students’ ability to understand and openly discuss drivers of, and barriers to, opportunity and equity in society.”

Schools Superintendent Tom Boasberg said the “real intent” was to produce students who are “critical thinkers.”

But what if they want to think critically about the meaning of “social justice” or question the prevailing definition of “equity?”

School funding: Quietly unequal

The rich districts get richer in Illinois, Texas, New York, Pennsylvania, Missouri, and North Carolina, according to a new Center for American Progress report, The Stealth Inequities of School Funding. In these states, schools in higher-poverty districts receive less state and local dollars than low-poverty districts, the report finds.

On the state level, there’s no relationship between education spending and results, according to a State Budget Solutions study, which analyzed state spending from 2009 to 2011. Spending more didn’t raise graduation rates or ACT scores. Spending less didn’t lower performance.

Massachusetts, which has the strongest academic performance in almost every subject area and the highest ACT scores, spend less of its state budget on education than 45 other states, SBS reported.

The subtly racist peanut-butter sandwich

A peanut-butter sandwich could be racist, according to Verenice Gutierrez, reports the Portland (Oregon) Tribune.

Last year, a teacher used peanut-butter sandwiches as an example in a lesson.

“What about Somali or Hispanic students, who might not eat sandwiches?” says Gutierrez, principal at Harvey Scott K-8 School, a diverse school of 500 students in Northeast Portland’s Cully neighborhood.

“Another way would be to say: ‘Americans eat peanut butter and jelly, do you have anything like that?’ Let them tell you. Maybe they eat torta. Or pita.”

And maybe this is incredibly patronizing.

Guitierrez, along with all of Portland Public Schools’ principals, will start the new school year off this week by drilling in on the language of “Courageous Conversations,” the district-wide equity training being implemented in every building in phases during the past few years.

Through intensive staff trainings, frequent staff meetings, classroom observations and other initiatives, the premise is that if educators can understand their own “white privilege,” then they can change their teaching practices to boost minority students’ performance.

Scott teachers met in the first week of school to read a news story and discuss its inherent “white privilege.” A few teachers had the courage to object to the school’s lunch-time drum class, which is open only to Hispanic and black boys. About 65 percent of students are black or Hispanic.

At least one parent has a problem with the the class, saying it amounts to “blatant discrimination and equity of women, Asians, whites and Native Americans.”

“This ‘club’ was approved by the administration, and any girls who complained were brushed off and it was not addressed,” the parent wrote anonymously.

“When white people do it, it is not a problem, but if it’s for kids of color, then it’s a problem?” responds Gutierrez. “That’s your white privilege, and your whiteness.”

When white people create an explicitly whites-only school class or club . . . ? Does that happen in schools?

 

Teach algebra via programming?

Schools can teach mathematical reasoning through software programming rather than conventional algebra classes,writes Julia Steiny on Education News.

In the 1980′s, when Providence, Rhode Island tried College Board’s Equity 2000, she served on the school board. “Business” and “consumer” math were eliminated in favor of algebra for all. The goal was to get everyone through geometry and advanced algebra. Providence assigned all sixth graders to pre-algebra.

The smart kids zipped through quickly, doing algebra in seventh, geometry in eighth and advanced algebra in ninth grade. Teachers created many levels of slower-paced classes for weaker students.

“In time, Equity 2000 got many more urban kids into college,” but it only helped “kids for whom low expectations were the only real problem,” Steiny writes. It will take “new approaches to lure students into the puzzles of mathematical reasoning.”

My now-grown sons, two of whom became software developers, have been arguing since high school that learning computer software programming is essentially learning algebra, only infinitely more fun, interesting, and useful.

Seymour Papert, author of Mindstorms, created Logo to enable young children to explore mathematical ideas.

Is BASIS too tough for D.C. students?

BASIS, which runs very rigorous, very high performing charter schools in Arizona, will expand to Washington, D.C. this fall. The school will start with grades 5 through 8, then add a high school. Fifth graders read Beowulf, sixth graders take physics and Latin, seventh graders take algebra and high school students must pass at least eight AP courses and six exams. Students who fail end-of-year exams must repeat the grade. Critics say it’s too tough for D.C. students.

Among 45,000 kids in D.C. public schools more than 70,000 school-age kids in the city, it’s “bizarre” to think there aren’t at least a few hundred who’d benefit from “a phenomenally challenging academic environment,” writes Rick Hess. Not to mention insulting.

As Skip McKoy, a member of the D.C. Public Charter School Board has said, “I’m all for high standards. I’m all for excellent curriculum. Kids should be pushed. But you have to recognize the population.” Mark Lerner, a member of the board of Washington Latin charter school also argued that BASIS “blatantly markets itself to elite students” and is “a direct affront to the civil rights struggle so many have fought over school choice for underprivileged children.”

So school choice should provide no choices for students who are able to excel?

After conducting a lottery, BASIS has signed up a mix of students, reports the Washington Post: 48 percent are black, compared to 69 percent in D.C. schools, and 54 percent come from public schools.

Already, students are working on study skills, reading and math in a voluntary two-week boot camp before the Aug. 27 start date.

In a math prep session, teacher Robert Biemesderfer gave a class of mostly fifth- and sixth-graders 15 seconds to complete a row of multiplication problems. Mental math ability, Biemesderfer said, atrophies over the summer. “And by the way,” he said, “can anyone tell me what ‘atrophy’ means?”

Behind him, a PowerPoint slide read “Nothing halfway,” which is a Basis aphorism, along with “It’s cool to be smart” and “Walk with purpose.”

BASIS is designed for “workaholics,” not for gifted students, say founders Olga and Michael Block, Czech immigrants who wanted a challenging school for their daughter. Attrition is high in the eight Arizona schools and few special education students last long.

It’s not a good school for every student, writes Hess, but that’s OK. “The notion that families and students in DC shouldn’t have access to a high quality liberal arts curriculum just because many students in DC need something more remedial in scope strikes me as a perverse vision of ‘social justice’.”