Teacher training seeks ‘cultural competence’

Amy Davis teaches second-graders about parachutes at a Los Angeles elementary school. Photo: Joel Leavenworth/Slate

White teachers need to become “culturally competent” to teach non-white students, writes Vanessa Romo in Slate. “Minority children now account for more than half of all students in public schools and the teacher workforce remains more than 80 percent white. And so teacher-training programs are increasingly trying to figure out how to bridge this divide.”

When she began teaching a class of second-graders in South Los Angeles in 2002, Amy Davis . . . figured she’d have little trouble relating to her mostly low-income black and Latino students. After all, she was raised nearby, in a household headed by a single mother who for years survived on welfare and food stamps. Like her students, Davis knew what it was like to grow up poor.

But Davis, who is white, struggled to connect with several of the children — particularly a 7-year-old black student named Patrick.

Patrick had frequent meltdowns that disrupted her class.

Davis decided that she was seeing Patrick through a white, middle-class “lens” and needed to understand his home life. She began phoning his mother regularly. “I had to cultivate that relationship, but when he found out we talked almost once a week, he started changing his behavior,” she says.

. . . (Davis) learned to scour catalogs for books featuring black American and Latino protagonists that looked like her students. She adopted classroom management techniques that didn’t disproportionately single out black boys . . . And she figured out how to talk to her students about the beauty and linguistic variations of the language they spoke at home—usually African American Vernacular—and the importance of being able to switch into standard English when necessary.

Davis now coaches teachers in how to help students — nearly all are Latino or black — master standard English. She “helps teachers recognize their own biases and reflect on how those biases influence their expectations of students and approach to discipline,” writes Romo. “She also provides guidance in choosing books and other materials that the children will be able to relate to.”

Is this “cultural competence” or just plain old competence? And wouldn’t Patrick be a royal pain for a teacher of any color or creed?

A comment by “sameoldsameold” asks:  “You really want to sit down teachers, a population already disrespected, exploited, despised, blamed, underpaid, saddled with every social ill the rest of the country won’t deal with, and essentially tell them they’re ‘racially biased’ towards students  and need to confess their ‘privilege?’  Really?”

California court overturns Vergara ruling

The Vergara ruling, which threatened teacher tenure, seniority and other employment laws, was overturned today by the California Appeals Court on a unanimous vote, reports Mike Szymanski in LA School Report.

The three-judge panel reversed Vergara v. California, finding that there wasn’t enough evidence to show that minority students were subjected more to ineffective teachers than others.

“Plaintiffs elected not to target local administrative decisions and instead opted to challenge the statutes themselves,” the decision states. “This was a heavy burden and one plaintiffs did not carry.”

The trial evidence “revealed deplorable staffing decisions being made by some local administrators that have a deleterious impact on poor and minority students in California’s public schools,” the decision concedes. However, “the evidence did not show that the challenged statutes inevitably cause this impact.”

Raylene Monterroza is one of the student plaintiffs in Vergara v. California.

Raylene Monterroza is one of the student plaintiffs in Vergara v. California.

StudentsMatter, which represents the nine student plaintiffs, plans to appeal to the California Supreme Court.

A Vergara-like lawsuit filed yesterday charges that Minnesota laws on teacher tenure and dismissal violate children’s right to a quality education, reports The 74. Partnership for Educational Justice, a nonprofit founded by The 74 editor-in-chief Campbell Brown, is working with Students for Education Reform Minnesota on the lawsuit.

Partnership for Educational Justice also is challenging tenure protections in Wright v. New York, which is before the New York Supreme Court.

Minority kids advance in choice schools

Urban minority students are more likely to complete high school aand enroll in college if they attend a charter or voucher-accepting school, writes Martin West in Education Next. Test scores may not be higher in urban schools of choice, but students go farther in school — and often in life.
Boston’s charter middle school students are closing the achievement gap in math, one study has found.

In Boston and New York City, other studies have found charter students are likely to avoid teenage pregnancy and incarceration and more likely to enroll in four-year colleges rather than two-year options.

In Washington, D.C., voucher usage greatly improved students’ chances of graduating. New York City voucher students are more likely to enroll in college and earn a bachelor’s degree than a control group.

“The chief beneficiaries of policies that expand parental choice appear to be urban minority students,” says West. “The benefits of school choice for these students extend beyond what tests can measure.”

What’s important to me is . . .

When students write about what motivates them and what they want to achieve, they’re more likely to reach their goals, according to researcher Jordan Peterson.

Writing about goals nearly erased the gender and ethnic minority achievement gap for Dutch college students, reports Anya Kamentez on NPR.

At the Rotterdam School of Management, requiring first-year students to take a “self-authoring” course raised the number of credits earned and lowered the dropout rate.

A fifth of students are first- and second-generation immigrants from non-Western backgrounds — Africa, Asia and the Middle East. . . . At the Rotterdam school, minorities generally underperformed the majority by more than a third, earning on average eight fewer credits their first year and four fewer credits their second year. But for minority students who had done this set of writing exercises, that gap dropped to five credits the first year and to just one-fourth of one credit in the second year.

Setting goals in writing “increased the probability that students would actually take their exams and hand in their assignments,” said Peterson.

Writing — and rewriting — your personal story can be powerful, writes Tara Parker-Pope in the New York Times.

In a Stanford study, African-Americans who were struggling to adjust to college were asked to create an essay or video about college life to be seen by future students. Participants “received better grades in the ensuing months than those in a control group.”

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.

‘Circle up’ instead of suspension

A restorative justice circle at Edna Brewer Middle School in Oakland, Calif.

A restorative justice circle at Edna Brewer Middle School in Oakland, California

“Instead of suspending or expelling students who get into fights or act out, restorative justice seeks to resolve conflicts and build school community through talking and group dialogue,” reports Eric Westervelt on NPR.

Oakland Unified, a large and very diverse California district, expanded its program “after a federal civil rights agreement in 2012 to reduce school discipline inequity for African-American students.”

At Edna Brewer Middle School, the first year was difficult, but  this year, students are willing to “circle up,” says Ta-Biti Gibson, the restorative justice co-director. “Instead of throwing a punch, they’re asking for a circle, they’re backing off and asking to mediate it peacefully with words.”

A few years ago, the school’s alternative discipline program failed because of “problems with teacher buy-in, training and turnover,” reports NPR. The staff is “struggling” with restorative justice, says Principal Sam Pasarow. Some teachers want to see stronger consequences for misbehavior.

Eva Jones, 12, says there have been fewer hurtful rumors and fights this year.

“It seems easier now to, like, make friends with people, because people are less angry and defensive,” she says. . . . Last year, “there was, like, a lot of fights — like, every other week there was a fight. And now there’s, like, a fight once per year. ”

Well … not quite.

About a half-hour later, I hear some yelling. In the gym, pushing and verbal sparring has descended into a full-blown fistfight between a seventh-grade boy and an eighth-grade girl.

The program’s director, (Kyle) McClerkins, has pinned the boy to the gym floor.

After a weekend “cooling off” time, the school schedules a “harm circle.” The combatants — Briona and Rodney — attend with her parents and his single mother.

Rodney’s mother says she’s worried about his anger problem and seeking counseling.

Briona’s mom, Marshae, says her older son went to counseling for his anger. “He just turned 18 in jail. You don’t want to go there,” Marshae tells Rodney.

Rodney shows some remorse with a whispered apology. But his mom is not satisfied and wants to know what’s going to change.

“What do you plan on doing to make sure these kinds of incidents don’t happen again?” she asks.

Rodney pauses. He thinks for a moment and answers in a quiet voice. “Like, I don’t play with people and stuff, I won’t horseplay and stuff like that.”

Then Briona admits she helped instigate by yanking his backpack and teasing.

. . . It’s agreed as a group that the two students will have to write and post anti-bullying posters and do after-school service. And they’ll have to do joint morning announcements offering tips on how students can get along better.

Districtwide, suspensions are down by half in Oakland schools that have fully adopted the program. Absenteeism is down too and graduation rates are up. At two schools, “the disproportionate discipline of African-American students was eliminated,” reports Westervelt.

Chicago, Minneapolis, Denver and other urban districts are trying variations of the approach.

Ethnic studies replaces geography

Ethnic studies will replace geography as a graduation requirement in El Rancho Unified School District in southern California, reports the Whittier Daily News.

The requirement will “expose our students to global perspectives and inclusion of diversity,” said Jose Lara, vice president of the school board.

“Students need to feel validated,” said Aurora Villon, the board president. ““When you negate their culture, they feel less than other students.”

Although 98 percent of El Rancho students are Hispanic, “a variety of cultures will be studied,” Villon said.

Lara said students might take an art class that focuses on Mexican-American work or an English class that includes African-American literature.

Via Democrats for Education Reform:


Disciplining the undisciplined

Federal “guidance” on school discipline could “have a chilling effect . . . potentially leading to unruly and unsafe classrooms,” warned senior House Republicans in a letter to Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Attorney General Eric Holder.

The letter was too polite, writes Checker Finn in Disciplining the undisciplined. It will be harder to create “safe, serious, and effective learning environments” for students who want to learn.

A 23-page “Dear Colleague” letter warns against disciplinary practices that have a “disparate impact” on various groups of kids. University of Colorado political scientist Josh Dunn explains:

. . .  if students in one racial group are punished more than their percentage of the student population a school can expect the feds to come knocking at their door. In that investigation, federal bureaucrats will ask if a discipline policy had an “adverse” (disproportionate) impact on a particular race, if the policy is necessary to meet important educational goals, and if other effective policies could be substituted without the “adverse” effect. The guidelines are unsurprisingly short on what could count as an important educational goal and what policies might be suitable alternatives. If evenhandedly designed and implemented policies could fall afoul of their bureaucratic eye, then any policy could.

“The consequences for schools and particularly for minority students, will be nothing short of disastrous if actually implemented,” Dunn concludes.

Suit challenges teacher tenure

Teacher tenure and seniority rules deny students equal access to an adequate education argues a California lawsuit. Testimony started yesterday in Los Angeles on Vergara vs. CaliforniaStudents Matter, a nonprofit advocacy group, filed on behalf of nine students and their families.

The lawsuit aims to protect the rights of students, teachers and school districts against a “gross disparity” in educational opportunity, lawyers for the plaintiffs said.

. . . Teachers unions have vigorously defended tenure, seniority and dismissal rules, calling them crucial safeguards and essential to recruiting and retaining quality instructors. The lawsuit, they contend, is misguided and ignores the true causes of problems in education, such as drops in state funding.

Minority and low-income students are far more likely to be taught by ineffective teachers, the lawsuit argues.

Study: Waivers leave behind at-risk students

“At-risk students could fall through the cracks” as federal waivers let states ignore No Child Left Behind’s accountability rules, according to an analysis by the Campaign for High School Equity.

Forty states, the District of Columbia and a group of California districts have received Education Department waivers.

. . . students who are at the highest risk of dropping out – those from poor families, students whose native language is not English, those with learning disabilities and minority students – are often no longer tracked as carefully as they were before (Arne) Duncan began exempting states from some requirements if they promised to better prepare their students for college or careers.

“It appears to us that waivers could lead to fewer students of color receiving the support they need,” said Rufina Hernandez, executive director for the campaign, a coalition of civil rights groups.