Category Archives: Black Students

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Educators’ Disbelief in the Academic Potential of Students of Color

One of the reasons for persistent racial achievement gaps in our schools is differences between what leaders and teachers believe to be the achievement potential of White students and students of color. Rhetoric espousing belief that all children can learn at high levels can be heard in every school and school district in America. That rhetoric, unfortunately, does not yet match reality. There remain school leaders and teachers who believe Black and/or Latino students are incapable of learning at the same levels as White children. group of african college friends

Leaders’ and teachers’ disbelief in the potential of students of color rarely looks like blatant racism. It rarely sounds like leaders and educators saying to students of color that they are less academically capable than their White counterparts (although that does still happen in some limited instances). Nevertheless, their disbelief is unmistakable.

But in 2015, that disbelief most often manifests itself as failure to challenge students of color to meet the same rigorous academic standards that they expect White students to meet or exceed. Their disbelief looks like hard and soft sorting mechanisms that systematically channel students of color into tracks that will limit their academic and profession. That disbelief looks like allowing students of color to decide whether they will or will not work in class that day/semester/year. That disbelief looks like coddling students of color rather than challenging them to achieve academically at high levels. That disbelief looks like pushing students of color to the absolute limit of their abilities on the athletic field, while challenging them to do little more than show up to the academic classroom. That disbelief looks like failure to challenge colleagues and administrators who write and implement policies that perpetuate the status quo for students of color in schools and institutions of higher education.

While leaders’ and teachers’ disbelief in the academic potential of students of color is different from calling them racially insensitive names or preventing them from enrolling in predominantly White schools and institutions, it is just as dangerous as the blatantly racist actions of the past. And that continued disbelief in the academic potential of children of color is partly responsible for the racial achievement gaps that persist in America’s schools.

Focused pupil working at her desk in a classroom

Telling All of America’s Story is Important: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Ronni Dean-Burren is the latest addition to my list of parent heroes. Her 15-year old son Cody noticed that in his McGraw Hill Geography textbook, enslaved persons in the United States of African descent were referred to as as “workers”. In Cody’s book, American slavery was discussed as part of a larger conversation about immigration, and the U.S. being a nation of immigrants. Cody took a picture of a page from from his book with his cell phone and sent it to his mother with the message, “we was real hard workers, wasn’t we.” Outraged, Ronni took to social media to make the case that the McGraw Hill text was putting a particularly misleading twist on America history, particularly the history of slavery in America. In response to her vocal criticism, which got considerable attention, McGraw Hill Education released a statement saying that it would change the language to describe the arrival of African slaves in America as “a forced migration.”

I believe America to be the greatest of nations, but neither McGraw Hill nor anyone else has the right to retell her story, painting the institution of slavery in a much more favorable light than it deserves. Consider the implications of such an attempt to re-tell American history, in particular the history of slavery in America. Without an understanding of slavery, children can’t come to understand that the disproportionate underclass position of African Americans in the 21st Century has its beginnings with American slavery. Without a historically accurate account of American slavery, children are unable to appropriately answer lingering and often unspoken questions about the persistent gaps in wealth and education between Whites and Blacks in America.Without an understanding of slavery, children are left to mistakenly conclude that differences in life outcomes between Blacks and Whites in America come wholly as a result of differences between the races in ability and work ethic.

Thank you to Cody and Ronni Dean-Burren for sounding the alarm, and let this be a wake-up call for all Americans. An accurate account of American history is important for all of us; an account which includes both our mistakes and our accomplishments. America’s greatness is not diminished by her mistakes. But trying to erase our errors from American history would be disastrous: “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.”

Firing South Carolina Deputy Ben Fields is Not Enough

The video of now ex-South Carolina Deputy Ben Fields’ violent arrest of a teenage girl in Richland County South CarolCrime Sceneina has made its way over the airwaves and across social media sites. If you haven’t seen it, you must. No explanation I could provide here would do justice to just how shamefully violent this law enforcement officer was toward a child.

I was outraged when I saw the video, and I continue to grow even more upset every time I see it. What is incomprehensible to me, is not that the deputy had zero regard for the safety or well-being of a person he is sworn to protect, but that he believed he could get away with the abuse of a child in the middle of a classroom. This was a child, sitting in a desk in a classroom, who while clearly defiant and disrespectful, posed no physical threat to herself, her classmates, her teacher, or the abusing deputy. Nevertheless, ex-Deputy Fields proceeded to put the child in her place by knocking her to the ground while still in her desk, then dragging and throwing her across the classroom before arresting her and charging her with the South Carolina offense of “disturbing school”.

I continue to ask the question I’ve asked since my initial viewing of the video: What if she had been my daughter? And my response remains the same: Thank God she wasn’t.

I was pleased to hear that Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott has terminated Ben Fields. But I’m not satisfied with Fields’ termination. Termination is a sufficient form of discipline for an employee who consistently fails to adequately perform his job, who consistently fails to meet performance standards, or who commits an act serious enough to warrant ending the employment relationship, but not quite rising to the level of being criminal. What ex-Deputy Fields committed, on the other hand, was a felony. He abused his position as a deputy and unmercifully treated a child with reckless abandon. He tossed a child across the classroom like she was a rag doll; as if she had no worth. If Fields had treated a dog like he treated this child, there would have been calls for his termination on the basis of animal cruelty. But he didn’t abuse a dog; he abused a child.

So I’m not satisfied with Fields’ termination. There is nothing this child could have said or done that warranted being treated in the manner she was treated. Fields abused and hurt a child; not someone’s dog, but someone’s child. And for that, he be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. A message must be sent to Fields and to would-be child abusers wearing police uniforms that such behavior is not only impermissible, but such action will land them in jail.

I Sincerely Hope the Louisville NAACP is not Intentionally Misleading African Americans about Charter Schools

I read this morning that during a forum last week the president of the Louisville chapter of the NAACP made the statement that charter schools are private schools that cherry pick their students. First, search I hope what I read was a mistake. If, buy cialis however, it was not a mistake, I hope it was an honest mistake on the part of the president and not an intentional attempt to mislead Louisville’s African American community about charter schools.

Charter schools are not private schools. All charter schools are public schools. Under the charter school legislation that has been proposed in Kentucky, charter schools would be funded in the same way that every other public school in Kentucky is funded; receiving state and local dollars based on the number of students that attend schools. Further, under the proposed legislation in Kentucky, students would be admitted to charter schools through a simple admissions process; there would be no admissions preferences. Students who apply would be admitted, and if there are more applicants than seats, admission would be determined through a lottery. The proposed charter school legislation in Kentucky would actually make charter schools much less selective than the current magnet programs in operation in Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS).

Again, I hope the Louisville NAACP president’s comments were an honest mistake and not an intentional attempt to mislead Louisvillians. With the achievement of African American students in Jefferson County where it is, we don’t have time for politics and gamesmanship. If we’re going to debate the most appropriate ways for improving education for children in Louisville and across Kentucky, let’s do it honestly.

Parents want as many high quality school options available to them as possible, period. Strong public charter school legislation is one way to increase the number of high quality options available to parents.

The Black Men Teaching Initiative in Pennsylvania

There is a collaborative initiative underway in Pennsylvania aimed at increasing the number of Black men going into the teaching profession. The Black Men Teaching Initiative was founded by Dr. Robert Millward, see coordinator of the Administration and Leadership Program at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, and is comprised of faculty and administrators from institutions including Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Point Park University, and Community College of Allegheny County. The initiative is funded by the Pittsburgh-based Heinz Endowment.

I am really excited about this initiative and its potential for raising awareness with African American male students about teaching as a career choice. If current students are anything like I was as a high school or college student, pursuing teaching as a career never crossed my mind. But I never considered teaching because it was never presented to me. No one ever suggested that I consider teaching. No one ever said to me they thought I would be a good teacher. My mother was the first person to suggest that I consider teaching as a career, and that suggestion came after I had completed a masters degree in another field. Perhaps if someone had suggested the teaching profession to me earlier or at the very least talked with me about what a teaching career would look like I would have found my way to the profession sooner.

We have to come to terms with a few realities. The vast number of students pursuing teaching as a career are middle class White females. Given the current demographic profile of American students and their learning needs, the cultural mismatch between the teaching force and our students is problematic. Am I saying that middle class White females can’t be great teachers for African American and Latino students? I am not saying that at all. I have known and worked with White female teachers who are amazing with students of color. In fact, two of my mentor teachers, who essentially taught me how to teach as an early career teacher, are White females. In addition to helping me to become an effective teacher, I credit their mentoring with keeping me in the teaching profession. What I am saying, however, is that it is critical that the demographic profile of the teaching profession begins to more closely mirror the demographic  profile of our students.

There has been considerable conversation about the importance of teachers of color serving as mentors and role models for students of color; and it is true that teachers of color serve in those important roles. Students of color and White students need to see teachers of color and leaders of color in their schools. It is a problem that in many of our schools and school districts the only people of color, especially men of color, students see are in custodial and food service positions. People of color should be found throughout the ranks of people working in schools and school districts, from schools’ bus and cafeteria monitors and all the way through the district superintendency. But also, it is important to increase the percentage of people of color as teachers and leaders because their voices are needed in conversations about students’ diverse cultural backgrounds, cultural differences that have implications for student learning, the development and adoption of curriculum, instructional strategies, and community engagement. We can no longer pretend that teaching and leadership teams that don’t include people of color can make the best decisions for children and communities of color. That thinking is backward, flawed, parternalistic, and incredibly insulting to people of color.

So again, I am excited about what is happening in Pennsylvania. I don’t think many of us having taken this issue very seriously (see a previous post for some of my thoughts on what we have failed to do). My hope is that the Black Men Teaching Initiative will spur thinking and innovation around further diversifying our teaching force, and in particular, increasing the number of African American men in our classrooms.

Huppenthal Must Be Removed as Arizona’s Superintendent of Public Instruction

I will not say much about this story as John Huppenthal’s comments have been well-chronicled and editorialized in the news media and the blogosphere, cheap but he must be removed. Huppenthal’s insensitive, racist, classist comments are a mischaracterization of Americans and are offensive to many of the families and communities he is entrusted with serving as state superintendent of public instruction. During his tearful public apology, Huppenthal said that his online comments did not reflect his thinking and the love he has in his heart. But that’s crazy. If his online comments don’t reflect his thinking, where did they come from? Was he insulting low-income people, Latino’s, and African Americans just for giggles? Was it some kind of joke? And I don’t doubt that Huppenthal is a loving person. Most people love some other people. In fact, after his apology, I am convinced that he in some way or another cares for his assistant-who he also offended through his comments. But Huppenthal will not convince me, or more importantly convince the people of Arizona, that Latinos, low-income people, and African Americans give him a warm and fuzzy feeling on the inside.

Under no circumstances can Huppenthal continue as Arizona’s state superintendent, but I believe Arizonans would appreciate his honesty at this point. Huppenthal ought to be willing to be as honest now as he was in his anonymous online posts. If he thinks Americans who receive welfare benefits are lazy pigs, call them lazy pigs to their faces. If he thinks Spanish should not be spoken in the U.S., in schools, on the radio, and very little in Mexican restaurants, he should say so.  But even if he decides to be honest with Arizonans, and regardless of how many tears he sheds, Huppenthal cannot continue to serve the children and schools of Arizona after making public comments where he degrades and insults children he was elected to serve. He must go, and he must go now.

Hypocrites and Opposition to Charter Schools in Kentucky

I’ll start this post by telling you that I don’t care very much for hypocrites. I have no problems working with people whose opinions and beliefs are different than mine, sovaldi but if at all possible, buy cialis I try not to work with hypocrites, simply because they get under my skin. Hypocrites come in all shapes, sizes, races, ethnicities, and religious and political persuasions. Neither Republicans nor Democrats, Blacks nor Whites have a monopoly on hypocrisy.

I have seen blatant hypocrisy recently in the position some prominent Kentucky leaders and scholars have taken to oppose to the passage of charter school legislation in Kentucky. For those of you who live outside of Kentucky, Kentucky is one of the handful of remaining states in the U.S. where there is no charter school legislation. First of all, to be clear, I am not saying that anyone who opposes the passage of charter school legislation in Kentucky is a hypocrite. I am saying, however, that there are hypocrites in Kentucky who oppose the passage of charter school legislation. I am aware that I am not being politically correct, but political correctness has to take a backseat when our children’s futures are at stake. High quality public school options for low-income and minority families could mean the difference between a career and gainful employment or joblessness, prison, and poverty. For some of our children it is not a stretch to say that having high quality public school options could be the difference between life and death.

So I get upset when hypocrites demand that our most under-served children remain in failing schools and stand in the way of reform that would benefit under-served children, while at the same time they use all their resources to keep their own children out of failing schools and get them into select magnet programs or private and parochial schools. For those hypocrites, school choice is good for parents like them who have the social, political, and financial capital to get their kids into schools that serve them well. But when it’s time to talk about high quality public school options for low-income families, options that are outside of the traditional public school district, they cry foul, arguing that we must protect local school districts at all costs from school choice advocates, or that allowing parents to send their children to a charter school would take needed funds away from the traditional public school.

Well, I have a few questions for the hypocrites: When you relocate outside of Jefferson County (Louisville, KY) into Oldham County or Shelby County or across the river to Indiana so that your child can attend a school that meets her needs, don’t the tax dollars that used to follow your child to Jefferson County now follow your child to their new school? Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS) no longer receives SEEK funds for your child when you move to Oldham County. But you don’t make the argument that Oldham County is robbing JCPS of needed funds, do you? Do you argue that it’s unethical that families relocate outside of Jefferson County so that their children can attend a school that  meets their needs? No, you don’t make that argument because it is understood that school districts have to compete to keep the children of middle class and affluent parents-parents like you.

And what about the hypocrites who oppose policies that would give low income families choice, but they reside in Jefferson County and choose to send their children to Louisville Collegiate School, Trinity, or Saint Xavier? How many dollars for your kids does the state send to JCPS?  Are Trinity and Louisville Collegiate responsible for ruining JCPS? And why doesn’t the Jefferson County Teachers Association (JCTA) lobby the legislature to have private and parochial schools in Jefferson County shut down because those schools rob JCPS of much needed revenue. Surely, if every child attending a private or parochial school in Jefferson County had no option other than attending a JCPS school, the JCPS bottom line would improve drastically overnight.

But here’s the secret those hypocrites don’t want you to know about: they actually support school choice, but they only support it for their children. As long as the hypocrites can get their children into the schools they want them to attend, they are perfectly content to hold hands and march in solidarity with JCTA to prevent the passage of legislation that would result in additional high quality public school options for low income families and families of color.Those hypocrites make speeches, and give talks, and give appearances in which they claim to fight for the interests of under-served families, but in reality they fight for their own interests. The truth is that local school districts can continue to fail the children of low income parents and parents of color for generations to come, and all those hypocrites will ever do is give a speech about it or talk about it in a radio or television interview. But here is the best part, the hypocritical elected officials will count on low-income families and families of color to continue to support them on election day, even when they have done absolutely nothing to improve educational option for low income children.

So what do I expect of these hypocritical leaders? I expect them to (a) continue to fight to get their own children into select public and private schools, (b) back their teachers union buddies by trying to prevent the passage of charter school policy in Kentucky, and (c) think little about actually improving educational opportunities for the communities and families they claim to serve.

What do I expect of low income families and families of color in Kentucky? I expect those families to hold their leaders accountable for what they say they will do when they walk door-to-door asking for votes. I expect low income families and families of color to make sure their leaders are being who they say they are. I expect low income families and families of color in Kentucky to demand high quality public school options for their children, and demand that their elected officials support legislation that would provide additional high quality options for their children. I expect low income families and families of color to hold their elected officials directly accountable to them, and not just to the teachers unions. I expect low-income families and families of color in Kentucky to get down right mad about the education achievement of their children and demand that the Kentucky General Assembly, the Governor, and their local school board do something to change it right now.

Raleigh-Based African American Parent Advocacy Group Calls for an End to Zero Grades in Wake County Public School System (WCPSS)

The Raleigh-based Coalition of Concerned Citizens for African American Children (CCCAAC) has called for an end to the practice of giving students ‘zero’ grades in Wake County Public Schools. District leaders had considered a policy that would have prohibited teachers from giving students zeros as grades, clinic setting 50 as the lowest scores students could earn, check but teachers’ vocal opposition to the proposed policy changed resulted in district officials amending the policy proposal to encourage rather than dictate changes in teachers’ grading practices. The revised proposal would not ban Wake teachers from giving students zeros as grades. It does call on schools to develop school-level policies on grading–rather than the development of a single grading policy for all schools which the initial proposal included. But the CCCAAC is not happy about Wake officials’ change in direction. The group wants a single policy on grading for all Wake schools. The group was supportive of the earlier district proposal setting 50 as a low score for students.

This topic is an incredibly important one, purchase but a pretty sensitive one as well. In theory, grades are supposed to be a reflection of how well a student has mastered the course content. In reality, however, grades might measure some of students’ content mastery, but grades also include other stuff. For example, a middle school student told me just last week that she loses points on her course grades because of her behavior infractions. While teaching her to behave appropriately in class is very important, it has nothing to do with the degree to which she has mastered course content. Similarly, I have known teachers to award bonus points to students for things like bringing canned goods for a Thanksgiving food drive, returning signed permissions slips the following day, or for good classroom behavior.

The recognition that so much other stuff is included in students’ grades has led to some schools and districts, including elementary programs in WCPSS,  adopting standards-based grading approaches. With standards-based grading, that other stuff is taken out of students’ grades, and teachers are left to evaluate only students’ mastery of content standards in mathematics, language arts, science, social studies, etc. In my opinion, movement to standards-based grading approaches is promising as it requires that teachers be much more intentional about teaching specific standards/skills and then much more intentional about how students’ learning is assessed/graded.

Regarding CCCAAC’s call for an end to zeros given as grades, I can understand the parents’ desire for fairness across the district; and I can appreciate the parents not wanting students accumulating zeros and digging a hole for themselves that they are unable to dig out of. But the bigger and I would argue more important issue is whether or not a student is mastering course content, and to what extent their grades serve as measures of that mastery. I don’t believe accumulating zeros or 50s is particularly helpful to students, parents, or teachers. Does a zero grade mean that a student has mastered absolutely none of the required content? Possibly, but probably not. Would a score of 50 mean that a student has mastered 50% of the required course content? Probably not. In the end, neither policy/practice is really ideal, because neither policy/practice would likely result in grades being any more meaningful than they are currently.

I favor a standards-based grading approach which provides feedback to the student and the parent on the specific area(s) where the student has mastered or is making progress toward mastering standards. With the current practice of awarding zeros or the CCCAAC-endorsed practice of awarding 50s, neither the student nor the parent can use the number grade as a measure of what the student knows of does not know. What I am suggesting is pretty similar to what is already in place in elementary schools in WCPSS. Dr. Gerry Swan and Dr. Thomas Guskey, both at the University of Kentucky, are doing some really interesting work with standards-based grading in Kentucky school districts. For anyone interested in learning more, I suggest their work as a starting place.

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Parents: As the School Year Begins…

New school year excitement is in the air! The school year is beginning and your little ones (or not so little ones) are headed back to school for a new academic year.  Here are just a few things to consider as you prepare your kids for success in the coming year:

  • Be sure your children know that you believe in them. Do not take it for granted that they know that you believe they are fully capable of doing well in the classroom. Children need to hear regularly that you believe they are capable of achieving at high levels. Children (and even adults) need that reassurance. Further, African American and Latino children, especially boys, will likely interact daily with teachers, administrators, and/or peers that do not believe they are capable of learning at high levels. Understanding that they will likely have regular contact with adults who do not have the same high expectations for them that you do, go above and beyond the call of duty to make sure your children know that you believe in them and that your expectation is that they will achieve academic success.
  • Engage your children’s teacher(s) as soon as possible. Let them know that you are ready and willing to partner with them throughout the school year. Inform them of the best ways to communicate with you and let them know that you want to have a two-way line of communication. Keep the lines of communication open throughout the year, regardless of whether there is a problem. Don’t wait for problems. Open lines of communication and partnership/collaboration with teachers will often prevent problems from occurring.
  • Identify advocates for your children at their school. Every child should have at least one adult advocate in the school. An advocate is someone who is personally interested and invested in the welfare and success of your child; someone who will advocate on his/her behalf. Every child should have at least one advocate in the school building and you should know who that person is. If your child does not have at least one adult advocate in the building, start working to find one today!
  • Set clear and measurable goals for the academic year with your children. Write them down and revisit them periodically. Engage them in conversation about academic goals and sit down with them now at the start of the year to make clear what your expectations are for them this year/semester/quarter. Then set a timeline for periodic monitoring of how they are progressing toward the achievement of those goals. Don’t wait for the first report cards; know how they are progressing as they move through the reporting period. Many school districts now make students’ progress in each class available online. If you are not sure about how to access this information, contact your child’s teacher ASAP. You don’t want to wait until there is a problem. Monitoring their progress along the way may prevent problems from ever occurring.

Best wishes for a safe, happy, healthy, and successful academic year!

group of african college friends

So-Called “Gap Students”: Reframing Adults’ Conversations About Children of Color

I get more and more irritated every time I hear an educator use the term gap students. Educators now routinely use that term to refer to subgroups of students whose test scores are significantly  below those of their White middle-class, online non-disabled peers. The gap they refer to is the achievement gap between White students and other students. I know very well-meaning educators who regularly use the term and do so without any malicious intent. But the use of the term is derogatory, insulting, and dangerous for how educators think about children of color, children from low-income families, and children with disabilities. Additionally, use of the term gap students absolves schools and educators (at least in their thinking) from any culpability in creating the achievement gaps that they are referencing.

Use of the term gap students implies that there is something wrong with the children being referenced, some inherent deficit that exists with them; an implication which is false. The reasons for the achievement gaps that we see in schools are numerous and highly complex. We can discuss and debate those factors all day long, but we should never allow our thinking or language to insinuate that the blame for achievement gaps rests solely or even primarily with the children whose achievement scores are below the level we would like them to be. So-called gap children are the victims in all of this; victims of historical, societal, familial, community, and yes, school conditions that have created and perpetuate racial and socioeconomic achievement gaps.

So instead of referring to children as gap students, maybe we should refer to their teachers as gap teachers, their schools as gap schools, their school leaders as gap principals and gap superintendents. How about we call the state commissioner or superintendent a gap commissioner. Let’s see how much they like that. There is plenty enough blame to go around for the shameful achievement gaps that we now have. Instead of insulting and degrading our children by labeling them as gap students, let’s own up to our failures as adults and change our behavior and practice to better meet our children’s needs.