Diversity without racial preferences

Can Diversity Survive Without Affirmative Action?  The Supreme Court will rule soon on whether the University of Texas can use race and ethnicity in admissions, points out the New York Times‘ Room for Debate blog. If universities can’t use race, can they achieve diversity by giving preferences to low-income students, improving outreach and financial aid or ending legacy preferences?

Affirmative action for low-income students of all races is fairer than racial preferences, writes Richard Kahlenberga senior fellow at the Century Foundation.

Liberals are likely to bemoan any Supreme Court decision reducing racial preferences, but such policies never had the support of the American public and a ruling along these lines could pave the way for better programs. While universities prefer race-based programs that assemble generally well-off students of all colors, the end of such programs will likely usher in a more aggressive set of policies that will, at long last, address America’s growing economic divide.

California has preserved diversity, despite a state ban on race-based affirmation action, writes Stephanie Reyes-Tuccio, who directs the Center for Educational Partnerships at the University of California at Irvine. “Outreach to disadvantaged communities equals more outreach to students of color.”

Academic merit should be the primary criteria for admission, writes Richard Vedder, an Ohio University economist who directs the Center for College Affordability and Productivity.

It is unfair and wrong to accept a black child from a prosperous college-educated family with a $200,000 income while rejecting an equally qualified white person from a poor household with a $40,000 income where the parents never attended college.

“Taking more poor students . . . arguably promotes the American Dream of equality of opportunity, but also works to support minority admissions,” Vedder writes. But they must be qualified academically.

Ed Trust: Low-income kids hit ‘glass ceiling’

While low achievers are catching up, racial achievement gaps are widening at the advanced level, concludes Education Trust in a new report, Breaking the Glass Ceiling of Achievement for Low-Income Students and Students of Color.

Over time, the percent of students scoring at the “below basic” level of performance has declined markedly. . . . the declines are biggest for black, Hispanic, and low-income students. Yet, while the percent of white and higher income students scoring at the “advanced” level has increased significantly in recent years, there has been little progress among students of color and low-income students, so gaps at this level have widened. . . . In 2011, for example, roughly 1 in 10 white fourth-graders reached advanced in math, compared to only 1 in 50 Hispanic fourth-graders and 1 in 100 black fourth-graders.

Poverty is not the only issue, Ed Trust reports. In some grades and subjects, higher-income black students are no more likely than low-income whites to test as advanced. For example, 3 percent of each of these groups reached advanced in fourth-grade math in 2011.

Two separate issues

Apropos of Diane’s recent post about “superfun sameness”, which touched on one of my own personal betes-noires, “relevance” in teaching, I thought this would be a good time to talk about this article out of Minnesota.

Here’s the skinny:

The St. Mary’s program is part of an effort among some teachers to make their classes more culturally relevant to their students. It requires the teachers — most of whom are white women — to find new ways to connect to struggling kids.

St. Mary’s instructor Marceline DuBose encourages her students to shake up their traditional teaching styles. She said music and movement can help capture students who learn differently.

The education system is already working best for white, middle-class kids, particularly female students, so it’s no surprise that many teachers share those traits, DuBose said. The state Department of Education estimates that less than 4 percent of Minnesota teachers are people of color. Yet more than a quarter of Minnesota’s students are nonwhite.

The upshot is that Minnesota’s white teachers need to practice making their teaching “culturally relevant”, the better to grab the hearts and minds of their students. They might even consider a graduate certificate in “culturally responsive teaching. That these sorts of programs exist and that they continue to grow isn’t really news… It’s probably nothing most readers of this blog have not heard before.

I want to focus on some specific language from the article, however, that makes me think that there is something very basic getting lost in these sorts of programs. I’ve emphasized the parts on which I want to dwell a bit.

Tracine Asberry, an African-American school board member and a former teacher in Minneapolis, says it’s natural to teach who you are. But if you come from a privileged background and don’t believe in the struggles faced by many people of color, your opinions can alienate a lot of kids.

“As teachers, teaching students who have different realities, we have to be aware of those things. We can’t just be aware of them. We have to be comfortable so that we can have the conversation, and then encourage our students to feel comfortable to have those conversations in our classroom.”

Asberry believes one way to close the achievement gap is to close the teacher gap. For some students of color, she says, the key might be as simple as making sure the person leading the classroom looks like them.

Let’s start with the painfully obvious. It’s not only natural to “teach who you are”, at least in a very broad sense, it’s sort of a logical requirement. With apologies to the lovely people who spend their time making up programs like the Common Core, it is an exercise in futility to attempt teaching some skill or bit of knowledge you do not actually possess. You have to teach who you are, because that’s all you have. That is not to say that you can’t change who you are over time, that you cannot broaden your perspective, and it certainly isn’t to say that you can’t understand other people’s perspectives. I am just acknowledging that putting an illiterate in front of a class with an English curriculum is madness.

Now, if you believe that you can only teach who you are (as I do) then the next bolded clause will give you nightmares. DIFFERENT REALITIES???. What the heck does that even mean? There is one reality. I can only assume that Asberry is being clumsily metaphorical here and means to say something like “students who have a substantially different way of seeing the world and communicating.” Of course, once you drop the vacuous metaphor and actually say what you mean, it becomes clear pretty quick that the differences aren’t all that great. Maybe the students don’t have the same views of authority, the same sense of the value of organization, the same (I’ve always loved this one) “future time orientation”. But once you are specific about the differences, they start to be manageable.

There seem to me to be two very separate issues at work here that are being muddled. The first is a question about pedagogy. The plain fact of the matter is that teachers need to know their students in order to be effective. You cannot teach if what you think is a signal of displeasure on your part is taken as a signal of approval on the part of your students. There needs to be some common ground for introducing the new material, or communication is impossible. And teaching is, if it is anything, a type of communication. (From a language and culture standpoint, I think that Lisa Delpit stands out as one of the only really sane CRT-type voices on this sort of issue. I don’t think her work Gospel, but it seems mostly on the right track.) It also helps if your teachers don’t objectively stink – if they are not racist, not sexist, and not given to ignoring their students’ various qualities.

But there is another issue, apart from pedagogy. That issue is one of cultural relevance in what is taught, as posed to awareness and sensitivity. The nature of education is to expand that which the student takes to be their culture. Think about it: a five year old has a culture… One that consists (hopefully) of household patterns, domestic relationships, and likely a healthy dose of mass media. Except in extreme circumstances, Hamlet isn’t part of a five year old’s culture. It is the job of a teacher to introduce poetry and math and music and shape the student’s culture. On some views, it is to introduce the student to an existing culture… Some dominant paradigm like “Western Culture” or somesuch. On other views, the role of the teacher is to allow the student to expand and shape their own sense of and place in their society’s culture. Still others think that the student should shape their own culture. (That way lies madness.)

My point is just this: pedagogical sensitivity and the ability to communicate with and teach students whose existing culture does not share as much with your own as might otherwise e the case is an issue separate and distinct from the question of whether certain material is “culturally relevant” to the student, and what sort of cultural picture for the student lies at the end of his or her education.

Finally… With respect to the last emphasized part of the article — the part about teachers looking like students, I just quoted that to show that for many people opining on this issue, it isn’t really about culture at all. They’re just racists, and they want the students to be racist, too.

H/T educationnews.org.

UPDATE: Minor typos corrected, including changing the rather accusative-sounding “you teachers” to “your teachers”, which was intended. Also a few small language clarifications. -ML

An interesting defense

Hereis the charge: some people claim that Wisconsin’s ed-bureaucracy, which we will call “DPI”, because that’s it’s name, seems to have endorsed throwing students into concentration camps. Well, that’s not really what is going on at all, but you might not know that from reading the defense. What is actually being claimed is that there seems to have been a recommendation made by someone, somewhere, that certain white people working under the auspices of a federal program in Wisconsin, through the DPI, might consider engaging in a program of psychological self-flagellation and submission to public criticism, all in the name of making them conscious of their “white privilege” (and unless you are completely out to lunch, you will notice that this is also an exercise in doing everything possible to keep them from exercising said privilege, assuming it exists in the first place).

Te crux of the criticisms is that it seems to have been recommended that the white people in question wear white wristbands, and submit themselves to uninvited discussions about what those white wristbands represent. Things go obviously (but not I think, unjustifiably) Godwin from there.

Here is the defense against the charge: No DPI official, or any VISTA volunteer, has used, requested, or encouraged, anyone in any school to use the wristbands as ‘reported’ and shared by external groups that thrive on spreading rumors and misinformation. The defense, and it is a defense, also notes that the wristband materials were provided to VISTA (that appears to be the federal program) volunteers after their training, as they left, as part of a supplemental packet. That packet was also posted to the DPI website where you can now find this defence, though the document itself has been removed.

I am not writing this post to preach about the merits of the white-privilege-awareness industry. They’re a group of people with strange ideas that, like most ideas, probably have some grain of truth to them. No, the reason I’m writing this post is to point out that, as far as defenses go, this one is an absolute disaster. On the one hand, it is a great defense because it creates a straw man charge and refutes it… With a sneering scare-quoted dollop of ad hominem on top. That’s good stuff.

But it also admits the very thing it wishes to deny. Compare:

No DPI official has… encouraged anyone in any school to use the wristbands as ‘reported’

With…

Subsequently, that entire resource packet was posted to the VISTA website

Rule 1: admit nothing!!! Do they not know this?

The “VISTA” website of which they speak is actually the DPI’s VISTA website. It’s where you find this defense, written by DPI officials. But how did these materials get on the DPI website if not by the acts of a DPI official? And isn’t this obviously encouragement?

But now we see that I am wrong, and that this is actually a stunningly adept defense. There is phrase used… “Encouraged anyone in any school”. You might think that this means that no one associated with any school was encouraged to use the white privilege packet. But that is clearly not what it means at all, because as noted above, the posting of the materials to the website seems to qualify as “encouragement” on any account. What it actually means is that no encouragement took place in any school. The website is not a school.

Brilliant!

Gifted and racially balanced education

School districts are looking for ways to end racial inequality in gifted education, writes Sarah Garland on the Hechinger Report.

As a second grader in 1975, she was bused from her middle-class neighborhood to inner-city Louisville, Kentucky. Her school was integrated. Her accelerated “Advance” class was mostly white and suburban; 11 percent of Advance students were black. “From second grade until my senior year in high school, my classes never had more than two black students at a time,” Garland writes.

More than two-thirds of black middle and high school students who did well on the Advance exam were denied admission by teachers and counselors who made the final determination, a 1990s lawsuit brought by black families showed. Only a third of whites were rejected.

Can gifted education be racially balanced?

Washington, D.C. public schools have reintroduced gifted education — in part to entice more middle-class whites into public schools, Garland writes. One gifted program is an affluent neighborhood. But another is at Kelly Miller, a middle school in a low-income black  neighborhood with a growing number of Hispanic immigrants.

Unlike traditional gifted programs, which usually require a test to get in, the D.C. programs are open to any student who wants to enroll. D.C. is aiming the program both at students who are book smart and those who may struggle on traditional measures of achievement but have other extraordinary talents that are harder to measure with a test.

The principal at Kelly Miller, Abdullah Zaki, explains that the idea is to expand the concept of giftedness. “If there’s a kid who is not reading at grade level but has the gift of gab and can argue you down in a heartbeat, they’re obviously interested in debate,” he says. “We can take their natural gift and talent and hone and polish it.”

Black parents haven’t rushed to enroll. Zaki now calls it an “honors” program, because parents don’t get “gifted and talented.”  Teachers are struggling to reach high achievers and low achievers in the same classroom.

Kelly Miller is also offering a more traditional version of gifted education, with a track of accelerated math and literacy courses for students who score well in those subjects.

D.C. officials will evaluate the ”schoolwide enrichment model” at the end of the year, Garland writes.

She’s the author of Divided We Fail: The Story of an African American Community that Ended the Era of School Desegregation

Here are the demographics of the class of ’17 at New York City’s super-elite Stuyvesant High, which uses an admissions test only:

—Stuyvesant offered admission to 9 black students; 24 Latino students; 177 white students; and 620 students who identify as Asian.

The other elite academic high schools also are majority Asian. Asian-American students make up 14 percent of the city’s public school enrollment.

Oberlin cancels classes after KKK scare

Oberlin canceled classes yesterday after someone reported “a person wearing a hood and robe resembling a KKK outfit” near Afrikan Heritage House early in the morning. Instead, the college scheduled a teach-in by the Africana Studies Department, a demonstration of solidarity and a convocation.

A series of incidents in February — swastikas on Year of the Queer posters, “n-word” scrawls, etc. — have unsettled the campus. Even an elite and very liberal college community is bound to include a few people capable of stupid, nasty or crazy actions.

I suspect the “KKK” report will turn out to be a hoax or a person in a hooded white bathrobe heading home after a night of debauchery, though it could be some bozo’s idea of a joke. The Klan on the rise in Oberlin? I don’t think so. In any case, canceling classes is feeding the trolls.

Oberlin should not have let yahoos disrupt the college’s core function, writes Conor Friedensdorf.

Apparently, it was a woman wrapped in a blanket walking in the area, reports the Chronicle-Telegram.

Gifted + talented = separate + unequal

“Gifted and talented” classes are mostly white and Asian, even at predominantly black and Hispanic schools, reports the New York Times. At P.S. 163 on the Upper West Side, black and Hispanic students make up two-thirds of the student body but only one third of gifted students.

Once schools could set their own criteria for admissions to gifted classes, but since 2008 only students who test very well can qualify. In low-income neighborhoods, schools don’t offer gifted classes because not enough kids ace the test.

(Critics) contend that gifted admissions standards favor middle-class children, many of them white or Asian, over black and Hispanic children who might have equal promise, and that the programs create castes within schools, one offered an education that is enriched and accelerated, the other getting a bare-bones version of the material. Because they are often embedded within larger schools, the programs bolster a false vision of diversity, these critics say, while reinforcing the negative stereotypes of class and race.

Students in gifted classes have a much easier time qualifying for the city’s selective middle and high schools. Only 15 percent of seats at  specialized high schools go to blacks or Hispanic students, who make up 70 percent of enrollment.

Sara K. Bloch’s triplets go to P.S. 163. Leon is in a gifted class, Jason in general education and Felix in “an integrated co-teaching class, which mixes special education students with general education children like Felix.”

“To be completely honest, we feel that this class is probably similar to a regular fifth-grade class,” she said on the day she visited Leon in Ms. Dillon’s class. “Math is the same; all three — they have the same book.”

But Leon does seem to be pushed harder, Ms. Bloch said. He is asked to think of things in complex ways, not just to memorize dates of the American Revolution or names like John Adams, for instance, but also to understand relationships between events and people, or to explain possible motives or forces behind certain events, like the Boston Tea Party. She also said that the relationship between the parents and the teachers was more intense at the gifted level, with an expectation of parent involvement and connectedness.

A fifth-grade teacher at the school tells the Times she’d never let her own kids take general education classes at P.S. 163. There are too many kids from “the projects.”

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?

Florida sets lower goals for blacks, Hispanics

Florida’s race-based achievement goals are raising hackles, reports the Palm Beach Post. To qualify for a No Child Left Behind waiver, the state board of education set new goals based on race, ethnicity, poverty and disabilities.

. . .  by 2018, it wants 90 percent of Asian students, 88 percent of white students, 81 percent of Hispanics and 74 percent of black students to be reading at or above grade level. For math, the goals are 92 percent of Asian kids proficient, whites at 86 percent, Hispanics at 80 percent and blacks at 74 percent.

The new goals are realistic, state education officials said. Blacks and Hispanics will have to improve at faster rates than whites or Asians.

. . .  the percentage of white students scoring at or above grade level (as measured by whether they scored a 3 or higher on the reading FCAT) was 69 percent in 2011-2012, according to the state. For black students, it was 38 percent, and for Hispanics, it was 53 percent.

If each subgroup follows the trajectory in the strategic plan, all students will be 100 percent proficient by the 2022-2023 school year, according to the state education department.

Most of the states applying for NCLB waivers have set lower goals for black, Hispanic, low-income and disabled students. As long as the goals require low-scoring groups to improve more quickly, the U.S. Education Department has endorsed differential targets.

Beyond race-based affirmative action

After oral arguments today in Fisher vs. University of Texas, many think the U.S. Supreme Court will limit, if not eliminate, universities’ ability to use race in admissions. The plaintiff, Abigail Fisher, argues UT has achieved diversity by admitting the top 10 percent graduates at each high school and doesn’t need to use a race-conscious policy to admit more blacks and Hispanics.

A loss for affirmative action would be good for ethnic and racial diversity in the long run, argues Thomas J. Espenshade, in Moving Beyond Affirmative Action, a New York Times commentary. Americans would have to address “the deeply entrenched disadvantages that lower-income and minority children face from the beginning of life,” writes Espenshade, a professor of sociology at Princeton and a co-author of  No Longer Separate, Not Yet Equal: Race and Class in Elite College Admission and Campus Life.

Race-based affirmative action affects only 1 percent of all black and Hispanic 18-year-olds, the students who apply to more selective colleges and universities, he writes. Eliminating the preference would cut black admissions by 60 percent and Hispanics by one-third at selective private schools. Giving preferences to low-income students wouldn’t make up the difference, “given the large numbers of working-class non-Hispanic whites and Asians in the applicant pool.”

Without affirmative action, racial diversity on selective college campuses could be preserved only by closing the racial achievement gap, Espenshade writes.

 If affirmative action is abolished, selective colleges and universities will face a stark choice. They can try to manufacture diversity by giving more weight in admissions to those factors that are sometimes close substitutes for race — for example, having overcome disadvantage in a poor urban neighborhood. Or they can take a far bolder step: putting their endowments and influence behind a comprehensive effort to close the learning gap that starts at birth.

That would be a long, hard struggle, but it would benefit many more people. “However the court decides the Fisher case, affirmative action’s days appear numbered,” Espenshade predicts. “In 2003, in the Grutter decision, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote that she expected such preferences to disappear within 25 years — by 2028. The children who would go off to college that year are already 2 years old.”