College ‘diversity’ event excludes whites

A ”diversity happy hour” was canceled at a Washington state community college, when the emailed invitation said white people were not welcome. “White folks” were urged to meet separately to “work on racism, white supremacy and white privilege.”

The program coordinator at South Puget Sound Community College’s Diversity & Equity Center, Karama Blackhorn, who helped write the email, said the center “is not for white people. That space is for people of color.”

Blackhorn, who’s part Native American, was studying for a degree in Queer Studies and Social Justice at Evergreen State College when she won a 2009 scholarship, reports Jim Miller. Now we know what kind of job a person can get with a degree in Queer Studies and Social Justice.

Two math pathways in high school?

Most community college students don’t need Algebra II, but do need mastery of middle-school math, concludes What Does It Really Mean To Be College and Work Ready?, a recent report by the National Center on Education and the Economy. In his Top Performers blog, NCEE’s Marc Tucker explains why he supports Common Core Standards, which require Algebra II content, but doesn’t think Algebra II should be  graduation requirement.

Algebra II prepares students to take calculus, which fewer than five percent of U.S. workers will use on the job, writes Tucker. Why require it of everyone?

Some students, including many who will go on to STEM careers, should study Algebra II and beyond, including, if possible, calculus.  But many others, going on to other sorts of careers, should study the advanced mathematics that is appropriate for the kind of work they will do.  Homebuilders, surveyors and navigators might need geometry and trigonometry, whereas those going into industrial production or public health might want to pursue statistics and probability.  We argued not for lowering the standards but for creating pathways through advanced mathematics in high school that make sense in terms of the kind of mathematics that may be most useful to students when they leave school and enter the workforce.

Phil Daro, who headed the team that wrote the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for mathematics, also co-chaired the NCEE study’s math panel. Daro writes that the Common Core math standards include “college ready” and STEM goals. The lower “college ready” standards are not as rigorous as a traditional Algebra II course, though they are “more demanding than the NCEE study found was necessary for success” in community college.

 In writing the CCSS, we were charged with articulating one set of standards for all students that would be sufficient preparation for 4-year college programs.  . . . we could not customize different standards for different students with different destinations.  The principle behind this is social justice, but it has a cost.  One could argue that it would be better to have the common standards end earlier, and specialized standards start sooner.

Indeed, my own view is that there should be two mathematics pathways to college readiness that split after grade 9: one for students with STEM ambitions and one for students with other ambitions.

To avoid “social justice risks associated with different pathways,” Daro suggests making both pathways qualify for college admission without remediation.

By 10th grade, students would have to decide whether to take the easier non-STEM path or tackle college-prep math courses that keep the door open to a career in engineering, math and hard sciences.

Now, many students wander through years of middle-school and college-prep math without understanding what they’re doing. If they’re assigned to remedial math in college, the odds are they won’t earn a degree or a job credential. Is that social justice?

‘Converted’ school fires activist teachers

Half the teachers at Crenshaw High in Los Angeles were fired this month as part of the latest plan to turn around the low-performing school, writes Dana Goldstein. The “conversion” got rid of Alex Caputo-Pearl, an activist teacher and reform leader. One of the first Teach for America recruits in 1990, Caputo-Pearl taught in high-poverty Los Angeles schools for more than two decades. He helped design the Extended Learning Cultural Model, which drew federal and philanthropic dollars to the troubled high school. He led Crenshaw’s Social Justice and Law Academy, a small school within the school with high expectations.

For their final project, (10th graders) had to analyze a data set that included test scores at various schools; neighborhood income levels; school truancy rates; and incarceration rates.

In math, students graphed the relationship between income and social opportunity in various south L.A. neighborhoods. In social studies, they read conservative and liberal proposals for school reform and practiced citing data in their own written arguments about how to improve education. In science, students designed experiments that could test policy hypotheses about how to improve education. And in English class, they read Our America, a work of narrative non-fiction about life in the Ida B. Wells housing projects on the South Side of Chicago.

Some Crenshaw students were placed in paid community-service internships. Others worked with local colleges to conduct research in their neighborhoods.

With 30 different administrators in seven years, Crenshaw relied on teachers to lead the reform effort. Test scores began to grow, especially for African-American and disabled students, Goldstein writes. But the district has rejected teacher-led reforms at Crenshaw.

Superintendent John Deasy announced in November that Crenshaw would be reconstituted with three new magnet programs on the arts, entrepreneurship, and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). There will be more Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate offerings and no Social Justice and Law Academy.

Teacher had to reapply for their jobs. Cathy Garcia, the teachers’ union chair, charges the district targeted reform leaders, Social Justice teachers and experienced black teachers who live in the neighborhood. She lost her job too.

Cities are breaking up large comprehensive high schools across the country, Goldstein writes. In New York City, the small specialty schools are superior to the big high schools, according to research from the New School. But who gets to go?

. . . students whose schools close may not end up enrolled in those better schools; instead, a significant number of them will be enrolled by default in the nearest large high school that is still open, which itself has extremely low test scores. That school, in turn, will eventually be shut down, creating what the New School researchers call a “domino effect,” in which the most disadvantaged teenagers are shuttled from failing school to failing school, while those with more active, involved parents win spots at new schools.

. . . only 6 percent of students whose schools are shut down end up enrolled in a school within the top achievement quartile, and 40 percent of students from closed schools ended up at schools on academic probation.

Smaller, themed schools seem to be better for kids, Goldstein writes. But the transition may leave behind the students who need help the most.

At Crenshaw, a “politically and intellectually challenging” themed school-within-a-school reform was dumped and its leaders dispersed. That’s “discouraging,” Goldstein writes. It certainly doesn’t encourage the remaining teachers to become leaders.

Reading, ‘riting, ‘rithmetic and revolution in Denver

“Students in the Denver Public Schools need to know reading, writing and ‘rithmetic, but what about the fourth “r” — revolution? asks the Washington Times.

New teacher-assessment criteria described a “distinguished” teacher as one who “encourages students to challenge and question the dominant culture” and “take social action to change/improve society or work for social justice.” The district’s “Framework for Effective Teaching” also said teachers would be scored on whether “[s]tudents appear comfortable challenging the dominant culture in respectful ways.”

After critics complained, the district eliminated references to the “dominant culture” and “social change.”

The updated language says a top teacher “encourages students to think critically about equity and bias in society, and to understand and question historic and prevailing currents of thought as well as dissenting and diverse viewpoints,” and “cultivates students’ ability to understand and openly discuss drivers of, and barriers to, opportunity and equity in society.”

Schools Superintendent Tom Boasberg said the “real intent” was to produce students who are “critical thinkers.”

But what if they want to think critically about the meaning of “social justice” or question the prevailing definition of “equity?”

Is BASIS too tough for D.C. students?

BASIS, which runs very rigorous, very high performing charter schools in Arizona, will expand to Washington, D.C. this fall. The school will start with grades 5 through 8, then add a high school. Fifth graders read Beowulf, sixth graders take physics and Latin, seventh graders take algebra and high school students must pass at least eight AP courses and six exams. Students who fail end-of-year exams must repeat the grade. Critics say it’s too tough for D.C. students.

Among 45,000 kids in D.C. public schools more than 70,000 school-age kids in the city, it’s “bizarre” to think there aren’t at least a few hundred who’d benefit from “a phenomenally challenging academic environment,” writes Rick Hess. Not to mention insulting.

As Skip McKoy, a member of the D.C. Public Charter School Board has said, “I’m all for high standards. I’m all for excellent curriculum. Kids should be pushed. But you have to recognize the population.” Mark Lerner, a member of the board of Washington Latin charter school also argued that BASIS “blatantly markets itself to elite students” and is “a direct affront to the civil rights struggle so many have fought over school choice for underprivileged children.”

So school choice should provide no choices for students who are able to excel?

After conducting a lottery, BASIS has signed up a mix of students, reports the Washington Post: 48 percent are black, compared to 69 percent in D.C. schools, and 54 percent come from public schools.

Already, students are working on study skills, reading and math in a voluntary two-week boot camp before the Aug. 27 start date.

In a math prep session, teacher Robert Biemesderfer gave a class of mostly fifth- and sixth-graders 15 seconds to complete a row of multiplication problems. Mental math ability, Biemesderfer said, atrophies over the summer. “And by the way,” he said, “can anyone tell me what ‘atrophy’ means?”

Behind him, a PowerPoint slide read “Nothing halfway,” which is a Basis aphorism, along with “It’s cool to be smart” and “Walk with purpose.”

BASIS is designed for “workaholics,” not for gifted students, say founders Olga and Michael Block, Czech immigrants who wanted a challenging school for their daughter. Attrition is high in the eight Arizona schools and few special education students last long.

It’s not a good school for every student, writes Hess, but that’s OK. “The notion that families and students in DC shouldn’t have access to a high quality liberal arts curriculum just because many students in DC need something more remedial in scope strikes me as a perverse vision of ‘social justice’.”

 

‘Success courses’ succeed in boosting retention

“Success courses” that teach study skills, time management, career planning and use of college resources are boosting retention rates for low-skilled community college students. But some professors think they’re crowding out academic courses.

Occupy MoCo!,” a summer-school class for high school students at Montgomery College in Maryland, asks “are you ready to join the movement for justice?”  The two-week class “does not take a stance on the Occupy movement,” claims a community college official.

$130K for book on ‘white privilege’

Omaha Public Schools spent $130,000 to buy a “cultural proficiency” book for 8,000 teachers, administrators, support staffers — even janitors, reports the World-Herald.  A Cultural Proficiency Journey: Moving Beyond Ethical Barriers Toward Profound School Change  tells educators to “take action for social justice” by opposing “white privilege.” The district used federal stimulus funds to buy the books.

Employees will be asked to read several chapters each quarter and then meet in study groups to discuss the book using a study guide produced by the district. For teachers, the study sessions will count as professional development.

School board President Sandra Jensen said the district doesn’t endorse everything in the book, nor does she expect employees to adopt the authors’ positions. The book is intended to open a dialogue, she said.

“The purpose of providing this resource is to help staff see that people come from a multitude of different backgrounds which cause them to respond differently to the same set of facts, depending on their personal perspectives,” she said in a statement. “Recognition that one might have a certain perspective is critical to treating all people equally.”

However, the book tells teachers not to treat all children the same or try to be “color-blind.” Instead, they should recognize and “esteem” the group identity of students of color.

The book has been used in San Diego and Atlanta schools, the authors say.

My father went to Omaha public schools and was graduated from Central High in 1940.  Things have changed:  Omaha schools are now  35.7 percent white, 29.9 percent Hispanic, 29.7 percent African-American, 3.1 percent Asian-American and 1.6 percent American-Indian. I’d bet teachers have heard already about diversity being a good thing.

In fact, I know they have.  Twenty years ago, I visited a friend who works for a small-town Nebraska school district. The state had sent out a diversity consultant, who was shocked to realize that 100 percent of students and staff were white. (“There were a couple of Native American kids, but they moved,” my friend said.) To “train” teachers to be sensitive to diversity, the consultant divided them into groups by religion. This did not help working relationships, my friend said.