Black and white and poorly led all over

Jeffrey Brooks’ Black School White School: Racism and Educational (Mis) Leadership describes an integrated high school that’s hideously dysfunctional, writes Stuart Buck in a TCR Record review.

Black and white school leaders don’t meet to discuss problems across racial lines, both sides tell Brooks. It would be consorting with “the enemy.”

Students don’t want to do schoolwork. The overstaffed administration does little work either.

The (health education magnet leader) resigned after a mere three months for lack of support. She “was never replaced, and, in fact, her students roamed the halls during her assigned instructional hours.”

. . . Administrators declined to hand out National Merit Awards to two students at an assembly, because they had neglected to learn how to pronounce the students’ names (one was Kenyan, the other Japanese)

Academic excellence isn’t valued: The black principal, whose only teaching experience is in P.E.,  tells a black teacher to quit the rigorous International Baccalaureate program, which has equal numbers of white and black students, because she’s not “keeping it real.”

Worse, the principal tries to meet accountability targets by forcing the worst students to drop out before the head count for the state exam.

“This reveals the paradox of school-level accountability,” writes Buck. “Just where the threat of accountability is most needed” — when school leaders are incompetent or dishonest — ” it is the most hopeless.”

The rich get smarter

A widening achievement gap separates children from high-income (90th percentile) and very low-income (10th percentile) families, concludes a report by Sean Reardon, a Stanford education professor.

The income achievement gap, which appears to have been increasing for the last 50 years,  is now nearly twice as large as the black-white achievement gap. It starts in kindergarten and stays about the same as children move through school.

Poor children are doing a bit better academically than in the past, but falling farther behind children from affluent families. Parents who can afford it are investing in their children’s “cognitive development.”

Wealthy parents’ children are improving their academic edge, Reardon told EdSource.

When you look at poor 4th graders today they are doing better than poor 4th graders 30 years ago. But rich 4th graders are doing much, much better than rich 4th graders (over the same time period).  Most of the growth has been because  kids at the high end of the family income distribution level have pulled away from middle income kids, not because kids at the low end have fallen away from middle income kids.

Race isn’t a factor. “The achievement gap between rich and poor whites has gotten bigger over time,” he said.

The income gap between the richest and poorest families has grown over the past 40 years, Reardon says.

Income inequality has led to more residential segregation by income level rather than race, which in turns means that high income children have access to higher quality schools and other resources.

The Widening Achievement Gap Between the Rich and the Poor was published in September 2011 in Whither Opportunity? Rising Inequality, Schools, and Children’s Life Chances.

Stuart Buck suggests an experiment to see if family income leads to achievement via better teachers.  Assign 250 rich kids to schools with horrible teachers and another 250 to their regular schools. He foresees implementation problems, however.

Silver bullet: More time teaching at kid's level

Stuart Buck praises Barker Bausell’s Too Simple to Fail: A Case for Educational Change, which argues that “the only thing that improves education is spending more time on instruction at a given child’s level.”

Bausell suggests adding pre-K (using direct instruction) BS lengthening the school day and year. Schools would focus on relevant instruction, eliminating time wasters such as “candy sales, worthless school assemblies, loudspeaker announcements, sports activities, ad nauseam.” Disruptive students would be removed from class.  (“If this means that we have to leave certain children behind because they can’t meet behavioral expectations (or we don’t know how to enable them to conform), so be it.”)

In addition, Buck summarizes:

The entire curriculum should be exhaustive and detailed, and computerized tests should be based exclusively on the curriculum.

. . . Teacher behavior should be “monitored constantly to ensure the delivery of sufficient instruction, as well as satisfactory coverage of (and minimal departures from) the established curriculum.”

. . . Use efficient instructional methods. Bausell points to an example of inefficiency: “My son once had a teacher who had an elaborate class project involving building a medieval castle out of popsicle sticks that stretched over a period of several months. Regardless of what the teacher thought she was accomplishing, this is valuable time wasted . . . ‘”

Finally, recruit volunteer tutors who can help students practice reading sight words or learn math with flash cards.

Most teachers are supposed to “differentiate instruction” for children with a wide range of learning needs. Some students are way ahead, some on track, some way behind. Some speak English fluently; some don’t. A few students have disabilities. Others are behavior problems. If teachers had more time, no distractions and groups of children working at the same level . . .  Teachers, what do you think?

Success for black students

Forty years after her sophomore year at Cleveland’s virtually all-black John F. Kennedy High, Los Angeles Times columnist Sandy Banks got together with her former 10th-grade English teacher, Stuart Telecky, and her former math teacher, Lelia McBath,  to talk about success for black students.

• A school’s success starts with its principal. Ours never bothered with mission statements loaded with “life-long learner” babble. His motto was simple: Every child deserves the chance to fail a class. Emphasis on every, not on fail.

• School integration was a noble aim but undid the social fabric of our all-black campus. That had less to do with race than with history, politics and geography.

• Sugar-coating lessons shortchanges students. You can scrub “Huck Finn” of the N-word, but that’s an insult to students’ intellect more demeaning than the racial slur.

Mr. Telecky taught Huck Finn, n-word and all, discussing its meaning.

“We read passages aloud, we used the word. And there was no derision, no snickering. And I was completely bowled over, in every instance, by how mature the students were.”

That’s because he treated us with respect.

When Banks was graduated in 1972, John F. Kennedy High was “modern, well-kept and middle class, a jewel of Cleveland’s school system.” Integration, ordered by a federal judge in 1976, “led to years of mandatory busing and involuntary teacher transfers, which integrated Kennedy’s campus but unraveled its neighborhood bonds,” Banks writes.

Academic standards began to slip. Veteran teachers, uncommonly strict, met resistance from unfamiliar parents. New white teachers let too much slide. Many had never taught mixed classes and hesitated to push black students.

New teachers gave A’s and B’s to low-performing students, thinking they “couldn’t do better,” recalls Banks’ Mrs. McBath.

Before integration, an 11th-grade trigonometry teacher failed her entire class. Banks and her classmates tried again in summer school — with lots of help from Mrs. McBath.

And I celebrated my “C” when the semester ended. Because I knew I had earned it.

Kennedy High is no longer a “jewel.” Banks’ analysis of her old school’s decline fits Stuart Buck’s thesis in Acting White: The Ironic Legacy of  Desegregation.

'Acting white'

Stuart Buck‘s new book, Acting White: The Ironic Legacy of Desegregation, is out today. While desegregation was the right thing to do, Buck writes, it destroyed schools that had been centers of black aspiration and pushed black students into white schools where they were treated as outsiders. Working hard, achieving and pleasing teachers became seen as “acting white.”

While some deny that “acting white” is a real problem, Buck cites research showing that high-achieving black students are stigmatized by other blacks in racially balanced middle and high schools, but not in all-black schools.

A Harvard Law graduate, Buck is now working on a PhD in education at the University of Arkansas. As the white adoptive parent of two black children, he chose to focus on the pressures faced by high-achieving minority students, he told Maureen Downey of the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

Once reassigned to desegregated schools, black students “were sitting in a classroom with mostly other black students in what they believed to be the ‘dumb’ class, watching as the white students headed to the ‘smart’ class down the hall,’’’ writes Buck.

Dispirited, black students began to associate achievement with white students and ostracize peers who joined the white kids in the ‘‘smart’’ classes down the hall.

What to do? Buck suggests making greater efforts to recruit black teachers, especially males, who can provide positive role models for students. He supports programs aimed at black students, such as the Village, which gathers black high school students to discuss academic achievement and culture, and the DuBois Society, which supports academic excellence.

He also thinks all-black and single-sex charter schools, such as Little Rock’s new Urban Collegiate Public Charter School for Young Men, can create communities that value academic achievement. (Schools for “boys of color” focus on creating a sense of “brotherhood” and challenging negative stereotypes, reports a new study. Academic achievement is not higher than in coed schools.)

Buck’s most radical idea is to eliminate or minimize grades, which put students in competition with each other, in favor of competing against other schools in debate, math, science, drama, music, etc.  On his web site, he writes:

(Sociologist James) Coleman observed that while students regularly cheer for their school’s football or basketball team, they will poke fun at students who study too hard: “the boy who goes all-out scholastically is scorned and rebuked for working too hard; the athlete who fails to go all-out is scorned and rebuked for not giving his all.”

. . . Coleman theorized that athletes are not competing against other students from their own school. Instead, they are competing against another school. And when they win a game, they bring glory to their fellow students, who get to feel like they too are victors, if only vicariously. But the students in the same class are competing against one another for grades and for the teacher’s attention. Naturally, that competition gives rise to resentment against other children who are too successful (just as students will hate the football team from a crosstown rival).

In Silicon Valley, Hispanic students who do well are called “schoolboy” or “schoolgirl,” which is a put down. (Nobody says “acting white,” because the top performers tend to be Asian.) I saw Downtown College Prep, the Our School high school, create a college-prep culture. Students cheered each other at weekly assemblies for raising their grades, making honor roll and doing homework. The school is nearly all Hispanic: The good students and the bad students come from similar family backgrounds.

Ravitch is Wrong Week

Stuart Buck presents Ravitch is Wrong Week on Jay P. Greene’s Blog. He accuses the education historian’s new book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System, of:

  1. Ignoring or selectively citing scholarly literature;
  2. Misinterpreting the scholarly literature that she does cite;
  3. Caricaturing her opponents in terms of strawman arguments, rather than taking the best arguments head-on;
  4. Tendering logical fallacies; and
  5. Engaging in a double standard, such as holding a disfavored position to a high burden of proof while blithely accepting more problematic evidence that supports one’s own position (or not looking for evidence at all). ]

Eduwonk features a discussion between Ravitch and Paul Peterson, author of Saving Schools: From Horace Mann to Virtual Learning.

By the way, my book, Our School, is selling for three cents (plus $3.99 shipping). We’re talking about the hardcover! It’s embarrassing. A “collectible” signed by me is selling for $24.95. Let me just say: I can beat that price for a signed copy. After all, I buy my extra copies for $4.02.

Lost wilderness of childhood

Michael Chabon mourns the loss of The Wilderness of Childhood in the New York Review of Books.

A striking feature of literature for children is the number of stories, many of them classics of the genre, that feature the adventures of a child, more often a group of children, acting in a world where adults, particularly parents, are completely or effectively out of the picture. Think of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, The Railway Children, or Charles Schulz’s Peanuts. Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy presents a chilling version of this world in its depiction of Cittàgazze, a city whose adults have all been stolen away. Then there is the very rich vein of children’s literature featuring ordinary contemporary children navigating and adventuring through a contemporary, nonfantastical world that is nonetheless beyond the direct influence of adults, at least some of the time. I’m thinking of the Encyclopedia Brown books, the Great Brain books, the Henry Reed and Homer Price books, the stories of the Mad Scientists’ Club, a fair share of the early works of Beverly Cleary.

As a kid, I was extremely fond of a series of biographies, largely fictional, I’m sure, that dramatized the lives of famous Americans—Washington, Jefferson, Kit Carson, Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Daniel Boone—when they were children. (Boys, for the most part, though I do remember reading one about Clara Barton.) One element that was almost universal in these stories was the vast amounts of time the famous historical boys were alleged to have spent wandering with bosom companions, with friendly Indian boys or a devoted slave, through the once-mighty wilderness, the Wilderness of Childhood, entirely free of adult supervision.

Yes! The Little Orange Books (Childhood of Famous Americans series). I loved it. And I loved exactly what Chabon is talking about. For the most part, the kids were on their own.

I grew up in boring suburbia with two (two!) parents. I thought it was incredibly unadventurous, so I escaped to fiction. But compared to the safety-first way kids are raised now, we were bold wayfarers.

Chabon wonders if children’s imaginations can develop in a parent-protected bubble. His daughter learned to ride a bicycle, but isn’t allowed to ride anywhere on her own. And when she ventures out (with dad tagging behind), they meet no other children.

Art is a form of exploration, of sailing off into the unknown alone, heading for those unmarked places on the map. If children are not permitted — not taught — to be adventurers and explorers as children, what will become of the world of adventure, of stories, of literature itself?

It will be boring.

Via Stuart Buck.

The latest Harry Potter movie is under attack from nannies who disapprove of the young wizards drinking “butterbeer,” mead and a “liquid luck” potion.

What’s it all about, Alfie?

Education writer Alfie Kohn Is Bad for You and Dangerous For Your Children, writes cognitive scientist Dan Willingham on Britannica Blog. The headline parodies Kohn’s penchant to overstate his case.

Kohn has made a virtual industry out of finding interesting and provocative insights in the psychological literature and following them off the edge of a cliff.

In books and speeches, Kohn has argued against the usefulness of assigning homework, praising and rewarding students and teaching self-discipline.

Kohn specializes in attacking conventional wisdom in education. . .  Most people think that homework helps kids learn, praise shows appreciation and makes them more likely to do desirable things, and self-discipline helps them achieve their goals.  Kohn argues that each of these conclusions is wrong or over-simplified. Homework may bring small benefits to some students, but it incurs greater costs and overall is likely not worth assigning.  Praise doesn’t help academic achievement, it controls children, it reduces motivation, and makes them less able to make decisions. Self-discipline is oversold as an educational panacea, and in some contexts may actually be undesirable.

Kohn is useful as an provocateur, writes Willingham, but he “consistently makes factual errors, oversimplifies, the literature he seeks to explain and commits logical fallacies.”

Robert Pondiscio cheers the Kohn smackdown — Kohn is hostile to Core Knowledge — and links to Stuart Buck, who attacks Kohn’s argumentation style.

I think Kohn’s critique of praise was necessary at the time to prick the self-esteem bubble. The benefits of homework depend a lot on the quality of the homework. As for teaching self-discipline, schools are a long way from overdoing it.