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?

Federal discipline rules could hurt blacks

Sen. Dick Durbin’s hearing on the “school to prison pipeline” may lead to federal mandates to curtail the use of out-of-school suspensions,  make suspension policies uniform across schools, or both, writes Andrew Coulson of Cato @ Liberty, who testified against zero-tolerance policies at the hearing.

Black students are more likely to be suspended than whites. However, requiring lenient discipline policies would hurt black students the most, Coulson writes.

In Understanding the Black-White School Discipline Gap, Rochester University Professor Joshua Kinsler concludes that black and white students are suspended at the same rates for the same offenses at the same schools, Coulson writes.

However principals at predominantly black schools issue more and longer suspensions to all students — black and white — while discipline policies are more lenient for all students at predominantly white schools.

In a subsequent empirical study, Kinsler investigated what would happen if all schools were compelled to observe a more lenient suspension policy, to close the black/white discipline gap. He found that this would disproportionately hurt the achievement of African American students, widening the black/white achievement gap.  The reason for this, according to Kinsler’s findings, is that serious suspensions do in fact discourage misbehavior, and that removing disruptive students from the class does improve the achievement of the other students.

In his written testimony, Coulson proposed alternatives to out-of-school suspensions that motivate students to behave while protecting their classmates from disruption.

On-time high school grad rate is 72%

Only 72 percent of students in the class of 2011 earned a diploma in four years, according to the U.S. Education Department.

Iowa had the highest graduation rate at 88 percent with Wisconsin and Vermont at 87 percent and Indiana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Tennessee and Texas at 86 percent.

The District of Columbia’s four-year graduation rate was 59 percent, the lowest in the country, notes Dropout Nation. Only 60 percent of black, Latino, and Native American students graduated on time. In Nevada, the black on-time graduation rate was 43 percent, the worst in the nation. Montana and Texas are “the only states in which four out of every five black freshmen in their respective Classes of 20111 graduated on time.” Minnesota had the largest racial achievement gap with a 49 percent on-time graduation rate for blacks and 84 percent of whites

Nationwide, 79 percent of Asian-American students and 76 percent of non-Hispanic whites finished high school in four years.

If a student needs five years to earn a high school diploma — and really earns it — that’s OK by me. I worry that “portfolio review” and “credit recovery” scams will pump up graduation rates.

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.

Professional derangement

Professional development is snake oil, writes Mary Morrison, a Los Angeles teacher, in American Renaissance. Useless in-school training cuts students’ instruction time, but the out-of-school training is even worse, she writes.

They always start with an hour or two of silly “getting-to-know-you” games. One began with a tug-of-war, and then proceeded to a “blind walk,” where one teacher led a blindfolded teacher around, supposedly to build trust. Next, we were matched with someone according to our favorite day of the week and according to the results of a personality test we had taken. We were supposed to cozy up to a “camp fire”—blankets thrown over half a dozen flashlights—and confide our innermost thoughts and feelings to each another. Often a school administrator lurks nearby, noting if anyone lacks enthusiasm for this silliness.

Workshops, training sessions, and professional development are mainly about how to teach the majority of LAUSD students, who are “of color:” non-English speakers who enter school two grade levels below whites and Asians of the same age. Asians are not white but are not exactly “of color” either, since they do well in school.

In these sessions we invariably learn that in order to teach students effectively we must foster “trust.” To do so we must have “compassion, sensitivity and understanding,” and acknowledge our students’ “cultural authenticity.” This is because they will not learn from teachers they see as “hostile to their reality.” Most of the people who run these sessions have never taught a class in their lives but believe me, the LAUSD is deadly serious about this stuff.

Teachers can’t discuss intelligence or racial differences in “behavior, focus or drive,” Morrison writes. If black or Hispanic students score below average, it must be due to “racism, oppression, cultural differences and textbooks.”  White or Asian students who don’t learn must be victims of “poor teaching methods, run-down school buildings, or lazy and uncaring teachers.” Above all, “students are never to blame if they misbehave, fail to study, or can’t understand the curriculum.”

The fads come and go and then come again with a new name.

Professional developments I have been subjected to include: Left-brain/Right-Brain Strategies, Self-Esteem, Relevance, Alternative or Authentic Assessments, Values Clarification, Critical Thinking Skills, Inventive Spelling and Writing, SLCS (small schools within schools), Rubrics, Metacognition, Tapping into Prior Knowledge, Differentiated Instruction, Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences, Learning Centers, and Multi-Sensory Education. And there are many more.

A huge PD bureaucracy makes lots of money selling snake oil, Morrison writes.

The discipline gap: Racism or bad behavior?

If black students are disciplined at a higher rate than whites — and they are — Education Secretary Arne Duncan thinks schools are discriminating, writes Heather Mac Donald in Undisciplined in City Journal.  “The Departments of Education and Justice have launched a campaign against disproportionate minority discipline rates,” ignoring the possibility that students’ behavior, not educators’ racism,” is the explanation, she writes.

. . .  the cascade of red tape and lawsuits emanating from Washington will depress student achievement and enrich advocates and attorneys for years to come.

The Department of Education is investigating at least five school systems because of disparate black-white discipline rates, she writes. (Don’t expect an investigation to determine why white students are suspended and expelled at twice the rate of Asian-American students.)

Arne Duncan, of all people, should be aware of inner-city students’ self-discipline problems, having headed the Chicago school system before becoming secretary of education. . . . Between September 2011 and February 2012, 25 times more black Chicago students than white ones were arrested at school, mostly for battery; black students outnumbered whites by four to one. (In response to the inevitable outcry over the arrest data, a Chicago teacher commented: “I feel bad for kids being arrested, . . . but I feel worse seeing a kid get his head smashed on the floor and almost die. Or a teacher being threatened with his life.”)

Nationally,the homicide rate among males between the ages of 14 and 17 is nearly ten times higher for blacks than for whites and Hispanics combined, she writes. Duncan seems to think that suspensions lead to school failure and then to prison, but it’s more likely that the primary mover is poor self-control.

Graph by Alberto Mena
BY ALBERTO MENA

St. Paul, Minnesota fired a “highly regarded principal” for suspending too many black second- and fourth-graders, Mac Donald writes. The system spent $350,000 on “cultural-proficiency” training, where staffers learned to “examine the presence and role of ‘Whiteness,’ ”  and another $2 million “to implement an anti-suspension behavioral-modification program embraced by the Obama administration.”

Aaron Benner, a fifth-grade teacher, protested at a school board meeting, saying disruptive students “affect those who want to learn.”  He blamed student misbehavior on parents and black community leaders, rather than on racism and cultural insensitivity. As a black man, he was heaped with abuse and called a “tie-wearing Uncle Tom.”

“The losers are the kids,” Mac Donald writes.

Protecting well-behaved students’ ability to learn is a school’s highest obligation, and it is destroyed when teachers lose the option of removing chronically disruptive students from class. Nor does keeping those unruly students in class do them any favors. School is the last chance to socialize a student who repeatedly curses his teacher, since his parent is obviously failing at the job. Remove serious consequences for bad behavior, and you are sending a child into the world who has learned precisely the opposite of what he needs to know about life.

Disabled students — especially blacks — are far more likely to be suspended, reports the Civil Rights Project, which doesn’t hazard a guess on whether these students are suffering discrimination or more likely to behave badly.

. . .  17% of African American students nationwide received an out-of-school suspension compared to about 5% of White students.  The comparable rate for Latinos was 7%.  . . . an estimated 13% of all students with disabilities were suspended nationally, approximately twice the rate of their non-disabled peers.

In urban districts, “the leadership and faculty are also people of color,” Russlyn Ali, assistant secretary for civil rights in the Department of Education, told the New York Times. “So it certainly doesn’t fit into the color-coded boxes of that ‘ism’ that we’ve used historically.” Nonetheless, the department is investigating 19 districts where minority students were disproportionately disciplined.

All the “social pathologies — poverty, single parenthood, addiction, etc. —  impact the black community disproportionately,” writes Mike Petrilli on Flypaper. That plays out in school and later: Black adults are 5.8 time as likely to be in prison as whites.

As for the students-with-disabilities data, this almost surely relates to the use (or misuse) of the “emotional/behavioral disability” category. By definition, students so labeled are more likely to act out, defy adults, get into fights, and so forth. If anything, what these data illustrate is that many schools are dumping kids with discipline problems into special education, whether they have a “disability” or not. The outrage isn’t that these kids are getting suspended; it’s that they are ending up in special education in the first place, which is often a road to nowhere.

Federal law has made it difficult to suspend students diagnosed with disabilities, especially if their behavior is related to the disability, which is a given for kids with emotional and behavioral disabilities.

The number one challenge for urban schools is student behavior. Most kids can be taught the behaviors that enable learning. But teachers need the power to remove disruptive, unsocialized students from their classrooms. Instead of out-of-school suspension, which amounts to a vacation, that should be a place with counseling, social services and catch-up tutoring.

Update: At Dropout Nation, RiShawn Biddle argues that suspension and expulsion are overused for students who are disruptive, but not violent.  “There is no evidence that such discipline . . . improves school cultures or improves safety for children attending school.”  Low-quality teaching and curricula has as much to do with bad behavior as lack of discipline at home, Biddle believes.

Movin’ on up

Eighty-four percent of Americans — and 93 percent of those in the bottom quintile — earn more than their parents in inflation-adjusted dollars, concludes a new Pew report, Pursuing the American Dream: Economic Mobility Across Generations.

Yet 43 percent of people who start in the bottom quintile end up there, notes Education Gadfly. Nearly three-quarters remain in the bottom 40 percent.

A black-white mobility achievement gap is present as well: Half of blacks who were raised on the wealth ladder’s bottom rung stay there as adults, compared to a third of whites. The “stickiness at the ends” phenomenon affects America’s wealthiest as well: Sixty-six percent of those with parents in the top quintile stayed among the elite (earning at least $164,000 a year). As Pew explains (and Charles Murray concurs), this “stickiness” is partially caused by marriage patterns. High earners are forming unions with others in their quintile, further bumping their family wealth and income.

For those raised at the bottom of the family income ladder, college provides a way up: Only 10 percent of college graduates — and 47 percent of those without a degree — end up at the bottom rung.

30% of U.S. adults have bachelor’s degree

More than 30 percent of U.S. adults hold bachelor’s degrees, the highest level ever, reports the Census Bureau. Women are on the brink of surpassing men in educational attainment.

As of last March, 30.4 percent of people over age 25 in the United States held at least a bachelor’s degree, and 10.9 percent held a graduate degree, up from 26.2 percent and 8.7 percent 10 years earlier.

Asian-Americans are the most educated: 50.3 percent  have at least a bachelor’s degree and 19.5 percent hold a graduate degree. By contrast, 34 percent of whites, 19.9 percent of blacks and 14.1 percent of Hispanics hold a bachelor’s degree or more.

President Obama wants 55 percent of Americans to earn a college degree.

Super-sizing the number of graduates, which would require doubling enrollment, won’t make us more prosperous, argues Peter Wood. There’s no “straightforward correlation between the percent of the population holding college degrees and the nation’s prosperity or its international competitiveness.”

CCs need middle-class students

Community colleges should recruit white, middle-class students to build political capital and financial support, argues Richard Kahlenberg, a Century Foundation fellow.

Also on Community College Spotlight:  Looking for ways to get students to stay in college.

The struggle for P.S. 84

The struggle for P.S. 84 will determine whether Latino immigrant parents can share a Brooklyn school with middle-class whites who are gentrifying the Williamsburg neighborhood.

The first round of integration went badly, reports Capital New York. In fall of 2006, P.S. 84 was “83 percent Latino, but the 8 percent of white students comprised nearly half of the Pre-K and Kindergarten classes.” The “newcomer” parents were eager to volunteer in classrooms, contribute their fund-raising skills and lead the PTA.

. . . during elections for the School Leadership Team, a council that comprises parents and staff. (Brooke) Parker, the Pre-K parent, stood up to give her stump speech. Depending on whom you ask, the speech was either a galvanizing call to improve the school or an affront to its teachers and pre-existing parents. Also depending on whom you ask, Parker was rudely heckled or duly called out for her own rudeness.

“I was heckled by the faculty, in front of my kids,” Parker complains. “The faculty was like, ‘Who are you to come in here?’ The insinuation was that I couldn’t be accountable to anyone except my constituency, which was perceived to be middle-class.”

Jaime Estades, who later became PTA president, put it another way: “A parent stood up and talked about how bad the teaching in the school was and that changes had to be made. You can’t just say that to a bunch of teachers.”

Newcomer parents objected to the school’s annual Three Kings Day parade, a cultural tradition for Latino parents. Newcomers objected to selling ice cream in Pre-K classes to help fund the PTA.  Newcomers, many of them involved in the arts, wanted progressive education, while immigrant parents favored traditional methods.

The reception they received shocked the newcomer parents. As they saw it, they were working hard to turn a bad school into a good one only to run into opponents who kept making it about race.

Few white students went on to first grade at P.S. 84, which went through several principals before hiring a Latina raised in Williamsburg.

Sereida Rodriguez-Guerra is trying to lure new students. She’s introduced progressive educational programs, such as “the Renzulli method, which matches curriculum to students’ learning styles and interests, as well as the Visual Thinking Strategies program, which aims to improve critical thinking and descriptive language skills through discussion of visual images.”

Test scores remain low — the school has an “F” rating — which advocates blame on previous administrations. The principal says the school doesn’t “teach to the test.”

The atmosphere is calmer, though tensions remain between parent groups. “Last year, a group of mostly newcomer parents volunteered their time, money and artisanal skills to renovate the long-defunct library.” Other newcomers are redesigning the school’s web site.

White enrollment is back up to 7.6 percent, mostly in pre-K and kindergarten. But middle-class white families won’t stick with P.S. 84 without signs of academic progress.

If the school remains half-empty, the unused space is likely to be given to a charter school. P.S. 84 loyalists say that will destroy their school.

Meanwhile, Williamsburg continues to gentrify.

Via HechingerEd.