Poverty, not race, is top concern

Closing achievement gaps between affluent and low-income students is a higher priority for Americans than closing racial achievement gaps, according to a new study published in Educational Researcher.

Almost two-thirds of those surveyed say it is “essential or a high priority” to close the test score gap between poor and wealthy students. Roughly one-third say the same about the gap between black and white students or Hispanic and white students.

Black respondents also said the wealth gap was more important.

Black fourth graders are narrowing the achievement gap in reading and math and Hispanic eighth graders in math, compared to 1992, according to a new National Center for Education Statistics report on education trends by race and ethnicity. However, the reading gap has widened for black 12th graders and there’s been no progress in math for black and Hispanic 12th graders.

Eighty-three percent of Asian-American children, 73 percent of whites, 57 percent of Hispanics and only 32 percent of African-Americans live with married parents.

Diversity: Does class trump race?

Socioeconomic diversity — not just racial diversity — should be a priority for U.S. schools, said U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King, Jr. in an Atlantic interview previewing his July 1 speech at the National PTA Convention in Orlando.

Education Secretary John B. King Jr.

Education Secretary John B. King Jr.

“A Puerto Rican and African American whose parents had both passed away by the time he was 12, King has repeatedly credited New York public schools for saving his life and shaping its trajectory,” writes Emily DeRuy. King attended integrated schools “that exposed him not only to high-quality curriculum, but to students and teachers from backgrounds and cultures wildly different from his own.”

“Like math and reading, like science, social studies, and the arts, diversity is no longer a luxury,” King told the PTA. “It’s essential for helping our students get ready for the world they will encounter after high school and, increasingly, throughout their lives.”

Schools integrated by social class raise disadvantaged students’ academic achievement, the Coleman Report concluded 50 years ago, writes the Century Foundation’s Richard Kahlenberg, also in The Atlantic.

imgres

Coleman found racial school integration helped black students because of “the better educational background and higher educational aspirations that are, on average, found among whites.”

Still, socioeconomic integration has been a low priority for nearly all school districts — until recently, writes Kahlenberg. Now, 91 school districts with 4 million students are trying to mix low-income and middle-class students.

Charlotte, for example, which led the nation in racial desegregation, then abandoned it, saw its school board vote in 2016 to take steps to integrate the schools by socioeconomic status.

. . . In Cambridge, Massachusetts, . . .  a socioeconomic-integration program was adopted in 2001 and by 2014, 86 percent of low-income students graduated, compared to 65 percent of low-income students in Boston, whose schools are not socioeconomically integrated.

Schools integrated by social class (and race) have benefits for all students, the Century Foundation argues.

Whites are a plurality, but not a majority, in public schools, while Latinos, who come in all colors, outnumber blacks. I suspect this is driving the rising interest in socioeconomic diversity.

Supremes say UT can use race in admissions

The University of Texas at Austin can continue to consider race in admissions, thanks to a 4-3 Supreme Court decision in the Fisher case.

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, writing for the majority, said courts must give universities “considerable deference” in “defining those intangible characteristics, like student body diversity, that are central to its identity and educational mission,”  reports the New York Times.

Abigail Fisher, who was denied admission to the University of Texas at Austin, lost her challenge to the use of race in admissions. Photo: J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Abigail Fisher, who was denied admission to the University of Texas at Austin, lost her challenge to the use of race in admissions. Photo: J. Scott Applewhite/AP

In a passionate dissent, Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. called the ruling “affirmative action gone berserk” and “simply wrong.”

“We are told that a program that tends to admit poor and disadvantaged minority students is inadequate because it does not work to the advantage of those who are more fortunate,” wrote Alito.

Under the Top 10 Percent program, top graduates at every high school in the state — including many high-minority, high-poverty schools — are guaranteed admission to any state university. That’s increased the number of Latino and black students.

But, unlike most other Texas universities, UT-Austin uses race and ethnicity, and other factors, to fill the remaining seats. The beneficiaries tend to be middle-class blacks and Latinos at integrated high schools.

The Century Foundation’s Richard Kahlenberg said the decision will “give universities more leeway to simply use race as a way to get racial diversity and ignore economically disadvantaged students.”

Alito also noted discrimination against Asian-Americans, who need much higher SAT scores to get a place at UT-Austin. That undercuts the diversity argument, writes Hans Bader. There are fewer Asian-Americans than Latinos at UT-Austin.

As the Asian American Legal Foundation noted, the university’s policy reflected the untenable and racist assumption that “Asian Americans are not worth as much as Hispanics in promoting ‘cross-racial understanding,’ breaking down ‘racial stereotypes,’ and enabling students to ‘better understand persons of different races.’”

Texas A&M more than doubled the percentage of black and Latino students without affirmative action, notes the Texas Tribune. At both A&M and UT-Austin, blacks and Latinos make up 23 percent of enrollment.

A&M strengthened its recruiting at high-minority schools and improved financial aid.

A modest proposal: Avoid satire

In A Modest Proposal, satirist Jonathan Swift proposed that poverty-stricken Irish peasants sell their children to be eaten by the rich. “A young healthy child well nursed is at a year old a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled; and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricassée or a ragout,” he wrote. Satirically.

At a Maryland high school, students were assigned to write a Swiftian essay as part of a lesson on satire, reports Reason‘s Hit & Run blog. One diligent lad proposed solving U.S. racism by deporting blacks to the Sahara Desert.

I’d say that’s less offensive than urging the the buying, boiling and eating Irish children, but still offensive.

The district scheduled meetings “to allow students to express their opinions and say why they’re hurt, why they’re angered,” said Bob Mosier, Anne Arundel County Schools.

In a letter sent home to parents, North County High Principal Julie Cares wrote: “Just as one could argue that the content of [the original] piece was ill-advised and insensitive, such is the case with the content of the student’s piece.”

Betcha this is the last time a North County High teacher asks students to emulate Jonathan Swift.

College admissions: Why not a lottery?

Affirmative action is back in court — the U.S. Supreme Court — in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin.

Abigail Fisher is challenging racial preferences in admission to University of Texas at Austin.

Abigail Fisher is challenging racial preferences in admission to University of Texas at Austin.

Abigail Fisher, a white student rejected in 2008, claims her dream school used “holistic review” as a cover for racial discrimination. “There were people in my class with lower grades who weren’t in all the activities I was in, and who were being accepted into UT, and the only other difference between us was the color of our skin,” Fisher said.

“Affirmative-action policies at selective colleges are very vulnerable,” writes Richard Kahlenberg in The Atlantic. Race is weighed “very heavily” in admissions decisions. That helps “fairly well-off African-American and Latino students.”

“By the 1990s, one study found that 86 percent of African American students on selective campuses were middle or upper class, and the white students were even richer,” he writes.

“Underrepresented minority students receive a 28-percentage-point increase in their chances of being admitted, according to one careful analysis,” he writes. ” Low-income students receive no boost whatsoever.”

University of Texas at Austin uses race as a factor in admission for up to 10 percent of students.

University of Texas at Austin admits the top 10 percent of students at each high school to ensure diversity; about 7 percent are admitted through “holistic review.”

Affirmative action based on economic disadvantage — help for low-income students of all races — could reproduce current levels of racial diversity at 193 selective colleges, a 2014 simulation concluded. “Socioeconomic diversity would rise substantially,” writes Kahlenberg.

Samuel Goldman, a poli sci prof at George Washington University, proposes a lottery open to all qualified applicants to replace the opaque, dishonest and expensive college admissions system.

The application would involve a checklist of more or less objective, externally verifiable criteria. These might include GPA above a certain cutoff, scores of 4 of 5 on a given number of AP tests, and so on. . . . there might be a box to be checked by applicants who played a varsity sport.  The application could even ask about socio-economic status, allowing applicants to indicate that their parents had not attended college or that they grew up in a high-poverty census tract.

Suppose the checklist contained ten criteria. Applicants who satisfied, say, six of them would be entered into a lottery for admission.

“Elite universities might lose a bit of their cachet,” he writes in The American Conservative. He’s OK with that.

A college-admissions lottery would reduce stress, writes Barry Schwartz, a Swarthmore psychology professor.

Every selective school should establish criteria that students would have to meet to have a high likelihood of being successful. Then, the names of all applicants who meet these criteria would be put into a hat and the winners would be drawn at random.

Students wouldn’t have to be “best,” he writes. “Good enough” would be good enough.

To hell with the belle: UGA bans hoop skirts

Under pressure from University of Georgia administrators, fraternity and sorority leaders have banned hoop skirts for Kappa Alpha’s Old South Week and Sigma Alpha Epsilon’s Magnolia Ball.

Victor Wilson, UGA’s vice president for student affairs, equated hoop skirts with Confederate uniforms, which KA dropped years ago.  “We’ve made a lot of progress,” Wilson said. “This is just one more step.”

It’s time to boot the Southern belle from campus, writes Elizabeth Boyd, who works at University of Maryland, in the Washington Post.

The Southern belle performances routinely staged on campuses across the South constitute choreography of exclusion. And most do not even require a hoop skirt. In campus productions — sorority rush, beauty revues and pageants, sporting traditions — young white women serve as signs of nostalgia for a bygone, segregated South and all its attendant privileges.

It sounds like universities would have to ban young white women. Or perhaps only the good-looking ones.

In response, one reader noted that the hoop skirt was worn by Northern abolitionists of all colors.

In another letter, Hans Bader brings up the First Amendment, noting a 1993 ruling that “even racist fraternity skits with offensive costumes are protected” as free speech. Banning hoop skirts “makes as little sense as banning powdered wigs or mint juleps,” he writes.

‘Equity’ leads to chaos, say St. Paul teachers

In the name of racial equity, St. Paul schools have turned to counseling — a 20-minute “time out” with a behavioral coach — rather than suspension for disruptive students, reports Susan Du in City Pages.

Saint Paul Superintendent Valeria Silva (Pioneer Press file: John Autey)

Saint Paul Superintendent Valeria Silva (Pioneer Press file: John Autey)

At the same time, students with “behavioral issues and cognitive disabilities were mainstreamed into general classes, along with all the kids who spoke English as a second language.”

Teachers are complaining of distrust, disorder and “chaos,” reports Du.

Under Superintendent Valeria Silva, St. Paul spent more than $1 million — EAG News estimates as much as $3 million — on consultants from Pacific Educational Group, which promises to create “racially conscious and socially just” schools.

Pacific offered racial equity training for teachers and staff, where they practiced talking about race. Teachers were asked to explore their biases, to preface their opinions with “As a white man, I believe…” or “As a black woman, I think….”

“The work begins with people looking at themselves and their own beliefs and implicit biases,” says Michelle Bierman, the district’s director of racial equity. If teachers could recognize their subconscious racism, everyone would work together to bridge the gap.

Teachers who say the discipline policy isn’t working are accused of opposing racial equity, says Roy Magnuson, who teaches at Como Park High.

At Harding High, Becky McQueen has been manhandled, injured and threatened — and seen her students attacked — by youths running into her classroom in what teachers call “classroom invasions.”

Now, to know who to let in, she tells her students to use a secret knock at the door.

“There are those that believe that by suspending kids we are building a pipeline to prison. I think that by not, we are,” McQueen says. “I think we’re telling these kids you don’t have to be on time for anything, we’re just going to talk to you. You can assault somebody and we’re gonna let you come back here.”

At one middle school, nine teachers quit before the end of the school year.

At a board meeting in May, teachers’ concerns about lax discipline were “drowned out” by parents and minority leaders who praised the drop in suspensions, reports the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

. . . Aaron Benner, a fourth-grade teacher at John A. Johnson Elementary who is black, said that the district was doing a disservice to the children by not holding them to the same standard as students from other ethnic groups.

“Refusing to work is not black culture,” he said. “Assaulting your teacher is not black culture.”

A teachers’ group is working to replace four school board members in the fall election, reports Du. “They blame the board for backing Silva’s changes despite teacher outcry.”

Hmong students, who make up the district’s largest minority group, are leaving district schools, reports Du. They perform well below district averages. Yet, “all we hear is the academic disparity between the whites and the blacks,” says history teacher Khoa Yang. “This racial equity policy, it’s not equitable to all races.”

Angry — and resilient — in Baltimore

Eighth-graders at Green Street Academy share their concerns in light of Freddie Gray's death in Baltimore.

Eighth-grade boys at Baltimore’s Green Street Academy discuss Freddie Gray’s death.  Photo: Shereen Marisol Meraji/NPR

When Baltimore schools reopened after a day of protests and violence, NPR visited a West Baltimore middle/high school, Green Street Academy, that’s trying to help students “make sense of it all” — and stay calm.

William Richardson, a former teacher and dean of students who now works for Juvenile Services, talked to eighth-grade boys in the school cafeteria.

“Why have white people been killing us since slavery, and they’re still killing us?” one student asks.

“All these police officers are killing black dudes for no reason,” says a boy named Montrel.

“If a cop asks what we’re doing, and we’re not doing anything, do we have to answer?” another wonders.

Adults in the room tell the boys to protest peacefully, “write emails to politicians, encourage their parents to shop at black-owned businesses and to above all, be positive,” reports Shereen Marisol Meraji.

“Positive is not always the answer,” a student replies.

Get your education, a teacher says. Move up out of here. “The students don’t seem satisfied,” writes Meraji.

After lunch, Principal Crystal Harden-Lindsey visited an American Government class where a student, James Arrington, is talking about what he wants the government to do to help the kids of Baltimore.

James says young people need access to more activities, recreation centers and safe places to go after school. He wants more responsible adults in the community to count on; Boys and Girls Clubs, Big Brothers and Big Sisters to step in.

He says kids act out because they don’t have anyone to show them how to do better.

Harden-Lindsey asks whether bad choices are the responsibility of the kids who make them, or of adults who’ve let them down.

“I think it’s 50/50,” another student says, “’cause it’s the obstacles and the decisions you make on your own.”

Harden-Lindsey wants to focus on the “50” that’s within the control of the young people themselves.

“A lot of what you say, I can definitely understand in terms of being hopeless, of being angry,” Harden-Lindsey says.

“Yes, we have a lot of things that go against us,” says the principal, “but we’re also very resilient.”

New discipline rules make schools less safe

“Progressive” discipline policies such as “restorative justice” are reducing suspensions — and making schools less safe, argues Paul Sperry in the New York Post.

Convinced traditional discipline is racist because blacks are suspended at higher rates than whites, New York City’s Department of Education has in all but the most serious and dangerous offenses replaced out-of-school suspensions with a touchy-feely alternative punishment called “restorative justice,” which isn’t really punishment at all. It’s therapy.

. . . everywhere it’s been tried, this softer approach has backfired.

Chicago teachers say they’re “struggling to deal with unruly students” under a new policy that minimizes suspension, reports the Chicago Tribune.

“It’s just basically been a totally lawless few months,” said Megan Shaunnessy, a special education teacher at De Diego Community Academy.

De Diego teachers said the school lacks a dedicated “peace room” where students can cool off if they’ve been removed from a class. They say the school does not have a behavioral specialist on staff to intervene with students, nor does it have resources to train teachers on discipline practices that address a student’s underlying needs.

 “You have to have consequences,” fifth-grade teacher John Engels said of the revised conduct code. “If you knew the cops weren’t going to enforce the speed limit, when you got on the Edens Expressway you’d go 100 miles an hour.”

Oakland students discuss behavior issues in a "talking circle."

Oakland students discuss behavior issues in a “talking circle.”

All over the country, teachers are complaining that student behavior has worsened under lenient policies, writes Sperry.

It has created a “systemic inability to administer and enforce consistent consequences for violent and highly disruptive student behaviors” that “put students and staff at risk and make quality instruction impossible,” wrote Syracuse Teachers Association President Kevin Ahern in a letter to the Syracuse Post-Standard.

Los Angeles Unified also is seeing problems, writes Sperry.

“I was terrified and bullied by a fourth-grade student,” a teacher at a Los Angeles Unified School District school recently noted on the Los Angeles Times website. “The black student told me to ‘Back off, b—h.’ I told him to go to the office and he said, ‘No, b—h, and no one can make me.’ ”

Oakland Unified is considered a national model for using restorative justice programs to cut suspensions in half.  “Even repeat offenders can negotiate the consequences for their bad behavior, which usually involve paper-writing and ‘dialogue sessions’,” writes Sperry.

There have been serious threats against teachers,” Oakland High School science teacher Nancy Caruso told the Christian Science Monitor, and yet the students weren’t expelled. She notes a student who set another student’s hair on fire received a “restorative” talk in lieu of suspension.

. . . White teachers are taught to check their “unconscious racial bias” when dealing with black students who act out. They’re told to open their eyes to “white privilege” and white cultural “dominance,” and have more empathy for black kids who may be lashing out in frustration. They are trained to identify “root causes” of black anger, such as America’s legacy of racism.

Conflicts can take days or weeks to resolve. Teachers must use class time for “circles” rather than academic instruction.

“RJ (restorative justice) can encourage misbehavior by lavishing attention on students for committing infractions,” warns science teacher Paul Bruno, who participated in talking circles while teaching middle school in Oakland and South Central Los Angeles.

Most schools still follow zero-tolerance rules. An 11-year-old boy was kicked out of school for a year when a leaf that looked like marijuana, but wasn’t, was found in his backpack, reports the Roanoke Times. The gifted student now suffers from depression and panic attacks.

It helps (a little) to look like the teacher

Blacks and whites do slightly better in reading and math when taught by a teacher of the same race, concludes a new study that used Florida data. The benefit was stronger for lower-performing students.

Matching teachers to their students won’t work in integrated schools, of course.