Raising AP pass rates for blacks, Latinos

Rachmad Tjachyadi collects homework assignments from his AP chemistry students at W.T. White High School in Dallas ISD.
Rachmad Tjachyadi teaches AP chemistry at White High in Dallas

Black and Latino students in Dallas high schools pass the Advanced Placement exams at the highest rate in the country, reports KERA News.

The National Math and Science Initiative has encouraged students to try AP courses.  The Dallas nonprofit “offers Saturday study sessions, pays the hefty exam fees for students, gathers teachers together for professional development and even gives teachers better books or lesson plans if they need them,” reports KERA.

In 1996, when NMSI started working with Dallas high schools, 75 black and Latino students passed at least one AP exam. Last year, 1,270 students passed.

As more Dallas students take an AP exam, the pass rate has fallen. But the overall number of passing students is higher.

Anyone can take his AP chemistry course, said Rachmad Tjachyadi, who teaches at W.T. White High School. Not everyone will pass. “We’re not going to drop the standard for students who have gaps in their preparation,” he said.

Gregg Fleisher, NMSI’s chief academic officer,  would rather see 20 out of 40 students pass an AP physics exam, for example, than 10 out of 10, reports KERA. “What is better for our country — to have twice as many proficient and 20 more who tried it?” he says. “Quite frankly, I think 12 out of 40 is better than 10 out of 10.”

NMSI gives $100 to each student who passes a math, science or English exam, and $100 to the teacher for each passing student. That means that if all 55 of Tjachyadi’s students pass the chemistry exam, he’ll get a check for $5,500. Last year, he got a nice $2,600 for his passing students—right at Christmas time.

Even students who fail the exam can benefit from the challenge, he says. A former student, Grace Knott got a 1 on the chemistry exam, equivalent to a D. However, when half of her classmates failed college chemistry, she was “able to keep up was because of the backing that I got in Mr. T’s class,” she said. Knott is now a biology teacher at a Dallas high school.

After the story tale ending …

Spare Parts, which tells the true story of an underdog robotics team of Mexican immigrants, is inspirational and nearly waylaid by cliches, writes the Arizona Republic.

In 2004, Arizona high school boys — all undocumented immigrants — beat well-funded teams from around the country — including a team from MIT — in an underwater robotics competition. Joshua Davis’ Wired article and book inspired a documentary, Underwater Dreams.

When the movie ends, the boys’ future seems to be bright, writes Joshua Davis in a New York Times op-ed. But, because they were undocumented, only one earned a bachelor’s degree and none work in robotics.

One works as a cook, another as a janitor, according to Davis. A third is unemployed. He dropped out of Arizona State when voters passed Proposition 300, which banned state aid or in-state tuition for undocumented students.

 Oscar Vazquez . . . also had a scholarship to A.S.U., and after working menial jobs for a year, was able to attend. He was a sophomore when Proposition 300 passed, and managed to stay in school only by piecing together more scholarships, all while leading the university’s robotics team to regional championships. He graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering in 2009 and applied for legal residency.

Not only was his application denied, but he was also summarily banned from the United States for 10 years for living here without a visa. He ended up working on an assembly line in Mexico.

After a year, his ban was reversed when Senator Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, interceded on his behalf. Mr. Vazquez returned, enlisted in the Army, and served a tour of combat duty in Afghanistan. He is finally a citizen, and repairs trains in Montana for the railroad company BNSF.

Deporting talented young people who’ve grown up in the U.S. is “a startling rebuke to the American dream,” concludes Davis, who argues for President Obama’s executive action granting work permits to undocumented immigrants like the robotics team.

Turnover is high for black, brown teachers

Alexandria Neason taught English language arts at Leilehua High School in Wahiawa, Hawaii from 2011-2013 through Teach for America. She graduated from the same school in 2006. (Photo: Annalise Miyashiro)

Alexandria Neason taught English at Leilehua High School in Wahiawa, Hawaii from 2011-2013 through Teach for America. (Photo: Annalise Miyashiro)

Most public school teachers 82 percent are white, even as the majority of their students are not. Where have all the black and brown teachers gone? asks Alexandria Neason on the Hechinger Report.

It’s not enough to recruit minority teachers, Neason writes. Turnover is high for blacks and Latinos. “Our schools are churning and burning teachers of color at unconscionably high rates.”

The number of non-white teachers entering the profession doubled in the 1980s in response to large-scale recruitment programs, says Richard Ingersoll, a Penn education professor. But minority teachers were 24 percent more likely to quit than their white colleagues from 1988 to 2008.

. . . minority teachers are more likely to work in high-poverty, low-performing schools where turnover rates are higher among teachers of all races and backgrounds. Working conditions in these schools can be more difficult given the challenge of teaching large populations of high-needs students with insufficient resources and chronic staff turnover. And many federal and local policies over the last two decades have aggravated these tensions — pushing out teachers and principals at “failing” schools or closing them outright, for instance.

On top of that, teachers of color often feel isolated or stereotyped, particularly in schools where most of the other teachers are white or come from a different background.

A few programs now work on keeping minority teachers in the classroom, writes Neason.

Several studies in the late 1980s and early ‘90s, for instance, found that teachers of color can boost the self worth of their minority students, partly by exposing them to professionals who look like them.

Research has shown that students perform better academically, graduate at higher rates, and stay in school longer when they have teachers who come from the same backgrounds as they do.

High suspension rates for black students could be alleviated by keeping more teachers of color in the classroom, argues Esther Quintero, a senior policy fellow at the Albert Shanker Institute.

Equal access — or punishing achievers?

In pushing for “equal access” to gifted classes, honors tracks and Advanced Placement, the Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights is punishing achievement, charges Checker Finn in Education Next.  Even separating first graders into reading groups may be suspect. What if there are more Asian than Hispanic bluebirds?

 . . . the U.S. is already having huge trouble paying attention to high achievers (some say “gifted and talented”) when we’re preoccupied with low achievers and dire schools. Anything that discourages such attention is bad for American economic growth and competitiveness, not to mention unfair to kids who are ready, willing, and able to soar but have trouble getting the teacher’s attention.

“Old-style tracking led to a lot of dead ends,” Finn concedes. But not every students has the motivation or preparation to succeed in AP courses. Some would prefer “high-quality career and technical education,” if they had the choice.

. . . we want to see more minority kids succeed in AP classes and International Baccalaureate (IB) programs, just as we want to see more boys succeed in English and girls in physics. Insofar as the education system is capable of achieving these goals, however, it needs to strive comprehensively from kindergarten (or preschool) onward. Swatting high schools because elementary schools didn’t send them an ethnically balanced collection of kids ready for AP and IB does not accomplish any educationally desirable end.

Integrated schools could lose their middle-class students, warns Finn. If advanced classes are watered down to accommodate less-prepared students, achievers’ parents will look for challenge elsewhere.

Tracking in Middle School can promote equity by better preparing low-income, black and Latino achievers for AP courses, argues Brookings’ researcher Tom Loveless.

At 19 Baltimore high schools, few AP Bio students pass the AP exam (Photo: Baltimore Sun)

In Baltimore, thousands of low-income students earn A’s and B’s in AP classes, then fail the AP exams and place into remedial courses in college, notes Loveless, citing a Baltimore Sun story. Students have access to AP, but not the preparation they need to succeed.

Accelerated and enriched classes help high achievers learn even more, his research has shown. Yet high-poverty middle schools typically leave achievers isn the same classes as low-performing students. “It’s an injustice,” said Loveless at Fordham’s Education for Upward Mobility conference.

Minneapolis will close ‘suspension gap’

Minneapolis public schools will try to eliminate the “suspension gap” by reviewing discipline of black, Latino and Native American students. The move is part of an agreement with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, which has ben investigating high suspension rates for black students. 

“MPS must aggressively reduce the disproportionality between black and brown students and their white peers every year for the next four years,” the agreement states. “This will begin with a 25 percent reduction in disproportionality by the end of this school year; 50 percent by 2016; 75 percent by 2017; and 100 percent by 2018.”

This year, the district has cut suspensions by more than half by using alternatives for non-violent behavior, such as talking back to a teacher. Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson said teachers are being trained to handle student behavior in the classroom, reports Minnesota Public Radio.

But Johnson says a stubborn gap remains between the number of suspensions of white students and students of color. This fall, African-American students comprised 76 percent of students suspended while they make up just over a third of students enrolled in the district.

. . . “I and all of my staff will start to review all non-violent suspensions of students of color, especially black boys, to understand why they’re being suspended so we can help intervene with teachers, student leaders and help give them the targeted support they need for these students,” she said.

Principals will retain the authority to suspend white and Asian-American students without review.

Race-based discipline quotas are unconstitutional, responds attorney Hans Bader, who worked in the Office of Civil Rights. He writes more here on disparate impact and school discipline.

“Blatantly racist and likely unconstitutional,” writes Walter Hudson on PJ Media. Also “ridiculous policy.”

Why not seek alternatives to out-of-school suspension for all students?

The case for closing elite schools

At New York City’s elite Stuyvesant High, 71 percent of students come from Asian families, while 2.9 percent are black or Latino. Does it matter?

Elite exam schools like New York City’s Stuyvesant High should be closed, argues Reihan Salam, a Stuyvesant alum, on Slate. “Mayor Bill de Blasio, state lawmakers in Albany, and the United Federation of Teachers have called for scrapping Stuyvesant’s current admissions formula,” which relies on an entrance exam.

Seventy-one percent of students who made the cut-off in 2014 were Asian, often from immigrant families. Only 2.9 percent were black or Latino.

Some want to admit the top-testing students at each public middle school, ensuring that more blacks and Latinos — and fewer Asians — qualify.

Others would emulate the college admissions process, adding teacher recommendations, grades and portfolios of students’ work.

The politicians and the education experts who are so fixated on the racial balance at Stuyvesant neglect the fact that Stuyvesant is not built to support and nurture students who need care and attention to excel academically and socially. It is a school that allows ambitious students who know how to navigate their way around a maddening, complex bureaucracy to connect with other students with the same skill sets.

Hyper-competitive students thrive in the sink-or-swim environment. Others struggle to stay afloat. Salam wants to “spread gifted and talented kids across a wide range of schools offering different instructional models.” No school will be considered the best.

What’s wrong with letting very smart, very competitive students go to school together? Those who want a smaller, more supportive school have other choices.

Gifted kids are neglected, argues Checker Finn.

Illinois sets lower standards for blacks, Latinos

Under a No Child Left Behind waiver, Illinois schools will set lower standards for blacks, Latinos, low-income students and other groups, reports the Chicago Tribune.

For example, while 85 percent of white third- through eighth-grade students will be expected to pass state tests by 2019, the goal is 73 percent for Latinos and 70 percent for black students.

NCLB calls for 100 percent of students to pass reading and math exams this school year. Obviously, that’s not going to happen. “By 2013, almost 85 percent of Illinois schools had received failing labels, including many of the state’s premier high schools,” reports the Tribune.

Since Congress has failed to update the law, the Education Department has given most state waivers. Illinois isn’t the first to set different standards for different student groups.

The lowest 15 percent of struggling schools in Illinois will be targeted for state attention. The six-year goal is to halve the percentage of students and groups who fail reading and math exams.

 Each year, groups will have goals for improving that push them toward their 2019 target. Because groups start at different places, their final targets will be different too. For example, state data provided to the federal government shows the percent of students passing exams in 2019 would range from about 52 to 92 percent, depending on test, grade and student group.

For all students combined, the passing rate would be about 76 to 79 percent in 2019 — lower than the now-infamous 100 percent requirement.

Illinois also will use “supergroups,” lumping together black, Latino and Native American students in the same group rather than looking at their achievement separately.  The Campaign for High School Equity, a coalition of civil rights and education advocacy groups, said supergroups undercut accountability. “This eliminates one of the most important civil rights victories in education law, and returns us to a time where states may not be responsive to the needs of underserved students.”

Under the state’s new policy, districts won’t have to offer tutoring — or transfers — to students in repeatedly failing schools.

Each school will have different achievement goals, so it will be harder for parents to compare schools’ achievement results.

Pushing minority kids to 4-year colleges

Latino and black students are as likely to start college as whites but less likely to earn a degree. Most start at community colleges with open admissions and low graduation rates. In East Los Angeles, there’s a move to help disadvantaged students start at state universities in hopes of raising their graduation rates.

High school grades predict earnings

High school grades matter — not just for college success but also for adult earnings — concludes a University of Miami study published in the Eastern Economic Journal. A person’s grade-point average in high school predicts the odds of starting and finishing college and graduate school, the study found. It also predicts earnings 10 years after high school.

one-point increase in GPA predicts a 12 percent jump in earnings for men, 14 percent for women, reports the Washington Post. It also doubles the likelihood of completing college, the study found.

Average earnings in adulthood vs. high school GPAAfrican-Americans were more likely to go to college and graduate school than whites with similar GPAs and background characteristics, said Michael T. French, professor of health economics, who led the research team. It’s possible “African-Americans with relatively high GPAs are more motivated and determined,” he speculated.

However higher high school grades didn’t lead to higher earnings for black adults, the Post reported. Limited opportunities for minorities or a choice to go into lower-paying fields could explain that, French said.

Too few engineering majors?

A former colleague thinks the Washington Post‘s graph is too neat to be real. Here’s the University of Miami researchers’ graph, which seems to have the same data arranged horizontally.


Dhara Patel will graduate from a rural Florida high school with a 10.03 GPA, due to weighted grades for AP and community college courses. (I’ve never heard of a weighted “A” being worth more than 5 points.) She’s already earned an associate degree. Patel is active in student government and high school clubs and volunteers at a local hospital, reports TakePart. And, yes, she’s the valedictorian.

The college ladder is broken

College is supposed to be a ladder to the middle class, but it’s not working very well that way, writes New York Times columnist Frank Bruni. After watching a new documentary, Ivory Tower. he’s worried about social mobility.

“The good news is that more and more kids are going to college,” said Anthony Carnevale, the director of Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce. “The bad news is that higher education is becoming more and more stratified.”

. . .  since 1994, 80 percent of the white young men and women in this country who have headed off to college have gone to schools ranked in the top 500 by Barron’s. But 75 percent of the black and Latino young men and women who have entered college over the same period have gone to two-year or open-admissions schools outside the top 500.

Graduation rates are low at unselective four-year colleges and community colleges.