If poor kids are unteachable, why teach?

Do teachers think low-income students are hopeless? That’s the message Derrell Bradford gets from a Duluth News Tribune commentary and graphic that was retweeted by American Federation of Teachers leader Randi Weingarten.

In response to a lawsuit challenging Minnesota’s teacher tenure law, the cartoon shows a seating chart filled with losers.

“Weingarten’s retweet shows what she and perhaps many of her members believe about our kids — that their entire identities can be reduced to the challenges they bring to the classroom, and that those challenges obviate and absolve the teacher’s responsibility in the learning equation,” writes Bradford.

Poor kids from tough places are no longer the outlier in America’s schools — they’re the majority of students.
 . . . Teaching is at a crossroads in this country but the issue isn’t which way we proceed with value-added scores or licensure and certification. It’s whether you’re up to the challenge of teaching poor kids or you’re not. There are no “better kids” waiting in the wings.

Bradford grew up poor. He could have been have been trapped in a “below poverty line” square, but he rode buses to get to better schools where teachers worked hard to educate him.

At #ThisTeacher Sees, teachers are making their own seating charts:

Apparently, some teachers have nothing but victims in their classes and others don’t have a single kid who rates “royal pain,” “never shuts up” or “cellphone addict.”


. During the lunch period, Skylar Relova, 15, left, and Bailey Smith, 14, both San Ramon Valley High students from Danville, visit with Max, a Shih Tzu mix therapy dog, in the school quad in Danville, Calif., on Monday, March 14, 2015. San Ramon Valley High\'s PTSA is hosting a \"Low Stress Week\" March 14-18 with therapy dogs and a hot breakfast served to students. (Susan Tripp Pollard/Bay Area News Group)
Skylar Relova, 15, left, and Bailey Smith, 14, meet Max, a therapy dog, in the San Ramon Valley High quad during the lunch period. Photo: Susan Tripp Pollard, Bay Area News Group

Student stress is worrying educators at top-performing Silicon Valley schools, reports Sharon Noguchi in the San Jose Mercury News. “They’re pushing back school start times, re-examining homework loads, coordinating tests and warning parents about buying into college myths.”

Two suicide clusters in Palo Alto have raised fears. Around the Bay Area, there are more reports of panic attacks and eating disorders, students cutting themselves, suicide attempts and other mental-health issues.

In a recent two-week period at Irvington High in Fremont, mental health authorities or parents were summoned because nine students were suffering so much distress they needed to be involuntarily confined for protection, assistant principal Jay Jackson said.

A (St. Louis University) survey last spring found 54 percent of Irvington students suffering from depression and 80 percent showing moderate to severe anxiety levels.

Students think their life is over if they don’t get into a “great college,” say counselors.

“The better you are, the better the college you get into, and the better your life will be,” said Ella Milliken, a sophomore at Los Altos High.

Palo Alto schools have “added counselors and trained staff to spot troubled students,” reports Noguchi.

Dr. Grace Liu, a psychiatry resident, plays the part of an embarrassed teen with Dr. Rona Hu, psychiatry, playing the role of Liu's mother, during a skit at Jane Lathrop Middle School in Palo Alto. Photo: Jim Gensheimer, Bay Area News Group

Psychiatrists Grace Liu and Rona Hu play a teen and her mother in a skit at a parenting forum at a Palo Alto middle school. Photo: Jim Gensheimer, Bay Area News Group

San Ramon Valley High “staged a low-stress week” with hot breakfasts of quiche and oatmeal, supplied by parent volunteers, and therapy dogs at lunchtime. “Relaxing music wafted over the quad, where students did yoga” and “email was banned for a day.”

Four of the last nine Palo Alto teens to kill themselves were Asian and Asian youths have killed themselves in San Jose, Fremont and Contra Costa County in recent years. Palo Alto school and community leaders have started conversations on “parenting, expectations and a traditionally taboo topic — mental illness,” with Asian parents, Noguchi writes.

However, plans to ease pressure are controversial. Saratoga High considered limiting AP classes, but students and parents rejected the idea.

. . . a proposal to push back Saratoga High’s start time by nearly an hour, to 8:40 a.m., ran into furious opposition, especially from Asian parents. The idea was to coordinate times with the district’s other school, Los Gatos High, and to give students a chance to get more sleep — a benefit that some researchers tout as the single most effective tool to improve student health.

The plan, the product of monthslong research by a 28-member committee, was enthusiastically backed by many teachers and counselors, alarmed at rising stress disorders they see among students.

But the proposals were never publicly debated. And the committee itself, while intended to be broad-based, lacked Asian-American parents — even though Saratoga High is about three-fifths Asian. Criticism spread by social media saw the plan as an attack on academic rigor, in part by shaving five minutes from each class period.

Test scores are higher at Saratoga than Los Gatos, said parent Becky Wu. “Why ask Saratoga to match Los Gatos’ and not the other way around?”

Saratoga will compromise on a 8:15 a.m. start time.

The all-powerful U.S. News rankings reward colleges for selectivity, writes Alia Wong in The Atlantic. Mid-level colleges recruit students — including those they have no intention of admitting — to push up their rejection stats.

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.

Teen suicide in Silicon Valley: Why?

I raised my daughter in Palo Alto. The public schools educated the children of high-tech engineers, entrepreneurs and Stanford professors. It was competitive — but also fun to put out the newspaper or compete in Mock Trial with so many smart kids.

In The Suicide Clusters at Palo Alto High Schools, Hanna Rosin tries to understand a series of suicides in 2009-10 and again in 2014-15.

Most of the kids who killed themselves stepped in front of a train.

For the most part, these students were doing well in school, had plenty of friends, seemed to be normal teens with normal parents. One girl had just gotten into the college of her dreams. A boy had just tried out for varsity basketball.

Adolescent dysfunction has a U-shaped curve, writes Rosin. Wealthy teens are doing as badly as poor teens, researchers say.

The rich middle- and high-school kids (Suniya) Luthar and her collaborators have studied show higher rates of alcohol and drug abuse on average than poor kids, and much higher rates than the national norm. They report clinically significant depression or anxiety or delinquent behaviors at a rate two to three times the national average.

Successful parents set high expectations for their children. High school students believe there’s one path to success — get into a “good” college — and little room for mistakes.

Many of the Palo Alto suicides were Chinese-American or had some Asian ancestry, writes Rosin. Was it Tiger Moms and Dads?

In addition to pressure to excel, “affluent kids felt remarkably isolated from their parents,” Luthar found. They got lots of parental attention — all that helicoptering — but didn’t feel close.

In the end, nothing really seems to explain why these adolescents ended their lives, concludes Rosin.

Nationwide, the adolescent suicide rate has “dropped dramatically since the 1990s,” perhaps because of better anti-depressants and suicide-prevention campaigns, she writes. But, in the past few years, teen suicide is on the rise again.

The Asian advantage

Why do Asian-Americans do so well in school? asks Nicholas Kristof in a New York Times column. What’s the “Asian advantage?”

It’s not IQ, writes Brooks, citing Richard Nisbett’s book about intelligence.

Columbia University’s commencement in 2005. Photo: Peter Turnley, Corbis

Columbia University’s commencement in 2005. Photo: Peter Turnley, Corbis

Chinese-American and white children with the same IQ scores were followed into adulthood by researchers. Fifty-five percent of the Chinese-Americans entered high-status occupations, compared with one-third of the whites, Nisbett writes. Chinese-Americans with a 93 IQ did as well as whites with a 100.

In The Asian American Achievement Paradox, Jennifer Lee and Min Zhou note that many recent Asian immigrants are educated professionals. But working-class Asian-Americans tend to do well in school too. That’s certainly true of the children of the Vietnamese boat people.

The “model minority” may be a myth, but Asian kids walk into a math or science classroom knowing their teachers will expect them to excel.

Kristof credits the Confucian emphasis on education.

Immigrant East Asians often try particularly hard to get into good school districts, or make other sacrifices for children’s education, such as giving prime space in the home to kids to study.

There’s also evidence that Americans believe that A’s go to smart kids, while Asians are more likely to think that they go to hard workers.

Asian-American parents have high expectations for their children. A B is an “Asian F,” kids joke. (Kristof says A-, but I think that’s extreme.) And a B is “a white A.”

Asian-Americans also are likely to grow up in two-parent families.

“The success of Asian-Americans is a tribute to hard work, strong families and passion for education,” he concludes. “Ditto for the success of Jews, West Indians and other groups.”

But their success does not “suggest that the age of discrimination is behind us,” he argues. The “black boy in Baltimore who is raised by a struggling single mom, whom society regards as a potential menace” will not be reassured by the success of Asian-Americans. “Because one group can access the American dream does not mean that all groups can.”

Shouldn’t that kid be reassured by the success of West Indian blacks?

Study: White teachers expect less of blacks

Non-black teachers have lower expectations for black students than black teachers, concludes a recent study.

“We cannot determine whether the black teachers are too optimistic, the non-black teachers are too pessimistic, or some combination of the two,” writes researcher Seth Gershenson. But it’s likely that teachers’ expectations “shape student outcomes.”

Two teachers for each 10th grader were asked to predict the student’s educational attainment.  “When a black student is evaluated by one black teacher and by one non-black teacher, the non-black teacher is about 30 percent less likely to expect that the student will complete a four-year college degree than the black teacher,” writes Gershenson, an assistant professor of public administration and policy at American University.

Racial mismatch in the classroom is a growing issue, reports USA Today.

The teaching force remains mostly white, while a majority of students are Latino, a fast-growing group, black, Asian and other.

“If you have a school where the student body is of color and the teaching body is entirely white, it sets up a dynamic that doesn’t foster cohesiveness and does not inspire students and can be problematic,” said Ulrich Boser, a senior researcher at the Center for American Progress.

A Florida study found that black, white or Asian students performed better when assigned to same-race teachers.

Of course, the only way to achieve that would be segregation.

Is your child ready for first grade — in 1979?

A generation ago, children weren’t escorted everywhere by a parent.

A 1979 guide for parents — Is Your Child Ready for First Grade — shows how much things have changed, writes ChicagoNow blogger Christine Whitley.

In addition to the child’s age and teeth, the list asks:

3. Can you child tell, in such a way that his speech is understood by a school crossing guard or policeman, where he lives?
4. Can he draw and color and stay within the lines of the design being colored?
5. Can he stand on one foot with eyes closed for five to ten seconds?
6. Can he ride a small two-wheeled bicycle without helper wheels?
7. Can he tell left hand from right?
8. Can he travel alone in the neighborhood (four to eight blocks) to store, school, playground, or to a friend’s home?
9. Can he be away from you all day without being upset?
10. Can he repeat an eight- to ten-word sentence, if you say it once, as “The boy ran all the way home from the store”?
11. Can he count eight to ten pennies correctly?
12. Does your child try to write or copy letters or numbers?

These days, most children learn to write letters and numbers and count pennies in preschool. Long before first grade, they’re used to being away from Mom. But they’ve never walked to a friend’s house or talked to a crossing guard.

Whitley has no idea if her six-year-old could walk four to eight blocks, she writes. “I’ve never let her even try! I’d probably be reported to the police if I did try!”

Slate’s KJ Antonia considers herself a “free-range” parent for letting a seven-year-old walk to a friend’s house unaccompanied and leaving a nine-year-old in charge of younger siblings. But she can’t imagine letting a pre-first grader walk “four to eight blocks” alone, even though Antonia thinks she did it herself at that age.

When did it become bizarre for kids to walk in their own neighborhoods? My daughter walked or bicycled to elementary school, the library and to friend’s houses in the late ’80s. Once she got lost for awhile. Another time, she was chased by an older, larger girl, the Catholic school’s official bully. She dealt with it.

Milestones: Is your child on track in school?

Great Schools has created Milestones videos to help parents understand grade-level expectations in reading, writing and math for first through fifth grade. Here’s
first-grade math word problems.

Liberals, stop ‘awfulizing’ my kids

Schools can’t defeat poverty by ignoring it, writes Anthony Cody, a veteran teacher in Oakland, in an exchange with the Gates Foundation. “In the US, the linchpin for education is not teacher effectiveness or data-driven management systems,” he writes. “It is the effects of poverty and racial isolation on our children.”

Dear Lord, Stop These Liberals From Awfulizing My Kids, responds Chris Stewart on Education Post.

Every possible chart, graph, study and statistic paint an ugly picture where all poor kids of color live in violent urban neighborhoods and suffer from PTSD. Exposure to violence has reduced their test scores. Bad parents have not taught them to speak enough words. Indeed, their parents are socially, emotionally or intellectually unfit.

One in six of these kids is in “extreme poverty.” This breaks their brains and leaves them developmentally delayed.

The numbers “receiving free or reduced price lunches has grown significantly,”  “one child in ten has been foreclosed upon” and more “than one million students are homeless.”

All this encourages teachers to lower expectations, writes Stewart. “Why is it failing teachers so often discuss poverty and successful teachers discuss pedagogy, curriculum, instruction and learning?”girl_englewood-716x320

Cody slams “education reformers” for pretending that teachers can “push students to new heights with our high expectations.”

Teachers account for no more than 20 percent of the variance in student test scores, writes Cody, while more than 60 percent correlates to out-of-school factors. “We cannot solve the problem of educational inequity while we ignore the inequitable and inadequate resources available to low-income children in their homes and communities, as well as their schools.”

Stewart wonders: “How does it feel to be a ‘teacher’ who sees teaching as futile?”

It may feel compassionate to enumerate all the life problems of our children, but it isn’t. It is limiting and hurtful. Bright poor kids are as likely to be discounted as struggling ones.

Stewart teaches only his own five children, he writes. “Still, I interview talented teachers and committed administrators often, and they speak differently than the fatalists . . . They are students of success, not experts on failure.”

In The Smartest Kids In The World, Amanda Ripley recounts a conversation with a Finnish teacher.

When she asked him about educating poor students, he was “visibly uncomfortable labeling his students,” she says. He responded, “I don’t want to think about their backgrounds too much…There are twenty-three pearls in my classroom. I don’t want to scratch them.”

. . . “I don’t want to have too much empathy for them, because I have to teach. If I thought about all of this [their poverty] too much, I would give better marks to them for worse work. I’d think, ‘Oh, you poor kid. Oh, well, what can I do?’ That would make my job too easy.”

That attitude does more to help children who live in poverty than “awfulizing” them, concludes Stewart.

When black kids learn, it’s not a ‘miracle’

Tweeting as “Citizen Stewart,” Chris Stewart, an African-American who’s served on the Minneapolis school board, praised an Alabama school.

George Hall Elementary. 99% black. 98% student poverty. All proficient. You’re not ready for this discussion until you believe in our kids.

The tweet brought out the brought out the doubters, he writes on Storify. They called it a “miracle” — a dubious one.

. . . educators often suffer from an amazing belief gap. That is the gap between what they think our children are capable of, and what our children are actually capable of. For them, the only way our kids can do well is with supernatural intervention.

“White anti-reformers . . . wanted to shut down any talk about teachers not having adequate belief in children of color,” Stewart writes. “They wanted to redirect conversation to the deficits of poor families.”

Finally, some blacks joined the tweet debate.

A turnaround school in Mobile, George Hall Elementary is one of the highest performing elementary schools in all of Alabama, reported Education Trust in 2013.