Milwaukee is worse than Mississippi

Milwaukee is worse for black kids than Mississippi, writes Michael Holzman in Dropout Nation.

Thirteen percent of black men 18 to 64  in Wisconsin are in prison, the highest rate in any state, according to a BBC video, Why does Wisconsin send so many black people to jail?  “Over half the black men in Milwaukee County are now or have been in prison, Holzman writes.

Black families in Milwaukee are no better off financially than in Mississippi, according to Holzman.”If an average black family moved from Milwaukee to Mississippi, their children would probably have a slightly better chance of learning to read by the time they left school,” he writes. They’d be more likely to graduate from high school. In Mississippi, a black family’s young men are “less than half as likely to spend time in prison” compared to young black men in Milwaukee.

Does science learning require labs?

Hands-on science — that is lab experiments — are supposed to be the best way to engage students and get them to think scientifically, writes Katharine Beals on Out in Left Field. But she wonders if labs are essential to learning what scientists already know.

Elementary students aren’t “little scientists” but ”novices who need a strong foundation in content before their lab experiences can be meaningful and memorable,” she writes.

For older students, labs can be slow, tedious and confusing, Beals writes. “Many students end up hating the lab component of courses they otherwise find interesting.”

One of her friend’s favorite science course was devoted to the psycho-neurology of the flatworm. The professor would present a topic, extend it to the flatworm and ask students how they’d set up an experiment to test their hypotheses. Once students designed the experiment, the professor would say, ”That exact experiment just happens to have been done, and here’s what they found.” The class never performed an experiment.

Beals’ commenters think “guided observation” is more useful than labs for young students.

Auntie Ann, who studied physics and engineering, recommends science activities for K-8 students:

– Look at various things under a microscope, sometimes with dyes. Cells, both plant & animal. Crystals, salt, sugar, etc. Pond water with small organisms. Every-day items: hair, cloth, paper, pencil lead, wood, etc.

– Do acid/base experiments.

– Basic battery & current experiments. Completing/breaking a circuit.

– Gravity experiments: dropping, pendulum, etc.

– Weather observation; during one day, during seasons.

– Star charting to see change during year.

– Observations of the phases of the moon.

– Usually get a shot at least one partial solar eclipse every few years. For that one I love to walk under a tree; the little gaps between the leaves act as pin-holes, and the ground becomes covered with the crescent of the sun.

– Grow a plant from a seed.

– Some cooking science: yeast, baking soda, caramelization, etc.

– Then just measuring things using different tools: mass, length, volume, time.

In most Mississippi schools, students don’t do much hands-on science, according to a Hechinger Report story.  Elementary teachers average 2.4 hours per week on science instruction — a hair over the national average –with much of the focus on teaching vocabulary.

When I was in elementary school, we spent 2.4 hours a year on science till fifth grade, when we learned about the duckbilled platypus. I did grow a lima bean in kindergarten and learn to distinguish an oak leaf from a maple leaf in first, second, third and fourth grade.

I’d guess Mississippi’s real problem is that students in the state do poorly in all subjects.

Public school spending falls for the first time

U.S. public-education spending per student fell in 2011 for the first time since 1977, reports the Census Bureau. Public schools spent $10,560 per student, a drop of 0.4 percent from the year before. Adjusted for inflation, spending per pupil dropped once in 1995, according to the Wall Street Journal. In real dollars, spending per pupil was down 4 percent in 2011 from the peak in 2009.

New York spent the most per pupil at $19,076, followed by Washington, D.C. at $18,475. Utah spent the least, $6,212 per student, followed by Idaho at $6,824. (Both low-spending states have lots of Mormons, which means large families and fewer social problems.)

Thirty states increased per pupil funding: New Hampshire is spending 6.8 percent more.  Twenty states and the District of Columbia spent less. Illinois cut spending by 7.4 percent.

In the future, more education spending will go to teacher pensions and health benefits, leaving less for instruction, predicts Kim Rueben, a senior fellow with the Tax Policy Center and an expert on the economics of education.

High schools may pay for college remediation

When high school graduates need remedial classes in college, who pays? Mississippi and Maine may hold school districts responsible for the costs of teaching basic skills in community colleges.

As many as 70 percent of entering community college students nationwide are placed in remedial courses.

Mississippi debates charters, race, jobs

If Mississippi allows charter schools, blacks fear losing jobs and clout, notes the Hechinger Report. Currently, the state’s charter law is “so restrictive that no charters have opened,” but that’s expected to change this year.  Republicans control the legislature, some Democrats will vote for a new charter bill and the governor “has made the issue one of his top priorities.” Most black legislators are skeptical.

Mississippi State Sen. (David) Jordan, a retired public-school science teacher, said he fears charters partly because they could bring more white out-of-state educators to Mississippi who won’t be able to relate to the children there. “Teachers who come in claim they can do a yeoman’s job,” he said. “But I don’t think someone can come from Illinois and do a better job with the kids of the Mississippi Delta than the teachers who are already here.”

Jordan also worries that charters could mean a loss of black power and leadership in rural communities where the black community fought long and hard to claim top positions in the schools.

In the Mississippi Delta, nearly 90 percent of children in public schools are black. “In rural counties, the school districts are the main employer,” said Mike Sayer, senior organizer at Southern Echo, a black leadership organization that opposes charters.

In New Orleans, several very successful charters were started by veteran black educators, says Kenneth Campbell, president of the pro-charter Black Alliance for Educational Options.

 New Orleans has also attracted national charter-school networks such as the Knowledge is Power Program and Future Is Now Schools; and most of the school leaders recruited by the charter “incubator” New Schools for New Orleans have come from out of town.

. . . Before Katrina, New Orleans had one of the highest percentages of black educators of any city in the country. But starting in 2007 that percentage began to drop steadily, to 63 percent during the 2007-08 school year, and 57 percent the next year, according to data from the Louisiana Department of Education.

Test scores are going up in New Orleans. Parents are more satisfied with the city’s public schools. But some “worry about the psychological effect on black children who come to equate both education and authority with whiteness,” wrote Times-Picayune columnist Jarvis DeBerry.

If 57 percent of educators are black, why would black kids equate education and authority with whiteness?

States to watch in 2013

The education minded should keep an eye on Mississippi, Illinois, Indiana and Iowa in 2013, advises Dropout Nation. And from last year’s states to watch list, Florida, Louisiana, New Jersey and Michigan will continue to be interesting.

No more shackles for Jackson students

Misbehaving students will not be handcuffed to railings or poles at an alternative school in Jackson, Mississippi. In response to a lawsuit, the school district has agreed to stop shackling students at a school for suspended and expelled students.

. . . The lead plaintiff in the case was described in the suit as an unidentified eighth grade student with a history of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, asthma and seizures.

On one occasion, when he was handcuffed to a pole for hours, he was forced to call out to ask to be taken to the bathroom, the lawsuit said.

The district agreed not to use handcuffs on students under 13 or to handcuff older students as punishment or for non-criminal conducts. That seems to leave the door open to some use of handcuffs.

If time is money, for-profit colleges can be cheap

As community colleges cut classes, students are turning to for-profit schools, despite the much higher costs.

Cierra Nelson spent four years trying to complete prerequisites for a nursing program at a community college in southern California. Again and again, she was turned away from science classes she needed, such as anatomy and physiology. Finally, she borrowed more than $50,000 to attend a for-profit, Everest College.

Everest has no wait lists.

Also on Community College SpotlightMississippi colleges can’t hire enough instructors to meet the demand for nursing classes.

Whites only for class president

Only whites can run for class president at Nettleton Middle School in Mississippi, reports Mixed and Happy, a site for racially mixed families.  The offices of eighth-grade vice president and school reporter, seventh-grade secretary treasurer and sixth-grade reporter are reserved for blacks. The school elects two homecoming kings and queens, one white and one black.

After reading the school handbook, Brandy wrote to the school board asking which offices are open to her mixed-race children.

“They told me that they “Go by the mother’s race b/c with minorities the father isn’t generally in the home.” They also told me that ” a city court order is the reason why it is this way.”

The school, which has a black principal, is 74 percent white and 26 percent black. I suspect the policy was written to ensure that blacks would win a share of class offices. And it will be dropped like a rock very quickly.

Once the policy went public, the superintendent put up a statement saying “the processes and procedures for student elections are under review.”

Update: As predicted, Nettleton has abandoned its policy of reserving student offices for blacks or whites on a rotating basis.