Category Archives: Diversity

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Fundamental Education Reform in Kentucky: An Economic Imperative

I love being a Kentuckian. Our state has been blessed with unbelievable natural beauty and some of the friendliest, good-natured, hardworking people you could ever hope to meet. My wife and I thank God daily for the blessings of our Kentucky home, church family, and friends. But there remains tremendous untapped potential in our state. We have not yet become the state that we can be, that we should be. And central to our untapped potential is a public education system that while much better than it has been in generations past, is still in dire need of reform.

Kentucky has made significant strides in public education since the early 1990s. The passage of the Kentucky Education Reform Act (KERA) and other subsequent reforms have been good for Kentucky’s children. But the academic performance and employment and earnings outcomes for our low income children and children of color is drastically different from performance and outcomes for our middle income and White children. That reality is crippling our state.

Much work remains to be done to improve the education attainment, employment, and earnings outcomes for all of Kentucky’s students, but drastic improvement in performance and employment outcomes for our low income children and children of color is both a moral and economic imperative. We are a state that has for years ranked near the bottom in labor force participation. In 2015 we ranked 47th out of the 50 U.S. states and DC, with a labor force participation rate of 57.9%. We lead only Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi, and West Virginia in labor force participation. While those are fine states, we can do better. In sum, not nearly enough Kentuckians are working, and a major factor contributing to our labor force woes is our failure to equip all of our students with the knowledge and skills needed for gainful employment. That failure has in turn led to our challenges with attracting companies with high wage jobs to Kentucky, jobs that require a pipeline of skilled workers. There is no doubt about it, we have to do better.

First, there must be acknowledgement by education leaders and policy makers that current academic and performance outcomes for our students are unacceptable. Period.

Second, leaders must acknowledge that what’s happened and what’s happening in Kentucky’s public schools contributes to the current racial and socioeconomic performance and outcomes gaps. Leaders and policy makers seem content with pointing to out-of-school factors which contribute to gaps, but most leaders seem unwilling to admit that school factors have contributed to the problem as well. While our schools are not wholly responsible for the gaps, our schools have played a role and continue to play a role in the maintenance and in some cases exacerbation of performance and outcomes gaps.

The frequently heard refrain that “we’re working to ensure that all kids learn” is meaningless when what we are doing doesn’t lead to all kids learning. Leaders have talked about public schooling working for all kids in Kentucky for a long time, but low income kids and kids of color continue to be left behind. It’s past time for state and school leaders to acknowledge that what we’ve been doing in the name of all kids hasn’t worked for all kids; and begin exploring what we can do different to ensure that low income kids are learning, that Black kids are learning, that Latino kids are learning, etc.

Third, leaders must commit to fundamental change; not tinkering here and there, but fundamental change in our state’s public education system. The magnitude of socioeconomic and racial performance and outcomes gaps in Kentucky are such that tinkering with the system will get us nowhere. Fundamental reform to Kentucky’s public education system is an absolute necessity. Reform is needed in every area, from the recruitment, selection, and training of teachers and leaders, all the way to the mechanisms we use for holding schools, leaders, and teachers accountable for student learning and outcomes, and everything in between. A system that produces such disparate outcomes for different groups of children is fundamentally broken, and nothing short of large scale reform is worthy of consideration.

We can and we must reform Kentucky’s public education system to be responsive to the needs of our most vulnerable children; reform is both a moral and an economic imperative. The health of our state’s economy is dependent on our ability to better prepare all of our children for success. We cannot afford to prepare only some of our children for gainful employment, and lives as civically responsible, tax-paying citizens of our state. All Kentuckians’ futures are inextricably bound together.

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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.

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.

african american college student

Might Mark Cuban’s Comments Move Forward the Conversation on Race in America?

In the aftermath of the Donald Sterling debacle that led to the Clippers’ owner being banned from NBA games for life, ailment Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban made comments in an interview that have landed him at the center of racial controversy. If you didn’t happen to hear what Cuban had to say, click here to link to the video from the interview. But rather than indict Cuban for revealing his own prejudices, I want to thank him for his honesty and for helping to move the conversation on race in America forward.

The crux of Cuban’s comments was that he believes we all have prejudices. He then went on to talk about some of his own. Most notably, Cuban said that if it’s late at night and he comes up on a Black kid in a hoodie, he is going to the other side of the street. As you might imagine, that’s the comment that has caused the biggest stir. But Cuban was just being honest. He was brave enough to say publicly what lots of Whites and truthfully, some Blacks would say to their close friends and in the comfort of their homes. In fact, Cuban is more the norm than the exception in being fearful of a young Black man walking down the street wearing a hoodie. Cuban does go on in the interview to say that he would also move to the other side of the street if at night he walked up on a White guy with a shaved head and tatoos. But for the Black kid, all that was needed to strike fear in Cuban’s heart was the hoodie.

Cuban should not be publicly castigated for being honest. I applaud his honesty, for I believe it is Cuban’s brand of honesty that’s needed to move the conversation on race forward in America. And I make that statement as a Black man who wears a hoodie at night four to five days a week. And trust me, from the reactions I get from some people I come across when I am dressed this way, I knew a long time before Mark Cuban’s comments that I make people uncomfortable at night in my hoodie. A White man wearing a hoodie is usually assumed to be on his way to or leaving the gym. A Black man in a hoodie might be assumed to be working out, but it’s more likely that he is assumed to be prowling the streets looking for trouble.

Could I dress differently, maybe in a way that might make Mark Cuban feel more comfortable when he passes me on the street? Sure I could. But I don’t, and I likely won’t. Why? First, because I like my hoodie. Second, because I’m going to dress the way I want to dress when I go the gym. I have no desire to change my gym attire simply to make those whose path I cross feel more comfortable with me. I understand what comes with making the decision to dress that way. I understand that Mark is going to be fearful of me, and I’m okay with that. I understand that I’ll get extra attention when I stop at the grocery store or gas station on my way home; and while I don’t like that, it is what it is, at least for now. But most important for me, I understand that for my own protection, I shouldn’t go for a late night stroll in my hoodie, not even in my neighborhood. And no matter where I am, I need to make sure that I keep my drivers license and a business card showing my affiliation with the University of Kentucky in my pocket.

What I have described is my reality, nightly. Race relations in America isn’t just something I learned about in college and read about in my spare time. I have lived ‘race relations in America’ every day of my life, and regardless of your race and whether you want to admit it or not, you have lived it every day of your life too. But we can’t move forward as a nation with race relations as long as Americans pretend that we live in a post-racial society. The truth that all of us know but many of us are unwilling to acknowledge is that race still matters; in fact, race still matters a lot. Cuban simply acknowledged in the interview that race matters to him when he’s walking up on someone at night. White kid in a hoodie=I’m probably safe. Black kid in a hoodie=let me not take any chances. To his credit, Cuban acknowledged in the interview that such prejudices are not ideal, but that they are real nonetheless.

Until people feel comfortable with acknowledging their prejudices about race without fear of being labeled a racist for the rest of their life, we’ll never be able to get to the place we ought to be in America with race relations. I may be in the minority on this one, but I appreciate what Mark Cuban had to say. He was honest and respectful in his comments, and I hope others will be as brave as he has been and dare to have tough but meaningful conversations on race with their families, friends, colleagues, and neighbors. Those kinds of conversations are necessarily uncomfortable, but there’s no other way to get to the other side of racial prejudice and bigotry.

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.

The Case for a Black & Latino Male Success Initiative at the University of Kentucky

The University System of Georgia’s (USG) 2002 study of factors related to the challenges its campuses faced with the enrollment retention, cialis and graduation of African American male students revealed that: (a) African American males students felt isolated and alienated on their campuses; (b)  most schools had failed to engage African American males students, viagra both inside and outside of classrooms; and (c) African-American male students longed for the ability to talk to faculty, staff, and peers on their campuses that could related to their racial and gender experiences. Based on those findings the USG invested in pilot programs targeting African American male students at the middle school, high school, and higher education levels across the state, with the explicit goals of increasing the recruitment, retention, and graduation rates of African-American male students within the system. USG’s Initiative is a testament to the resolve of its leaders to intentionally and strategically do something about the troubling statistics associated with African American male students’ experiences on its campuses.

The commonwealth of Kentucky is different than Georgia in a few significant ways. First, Georgia is a much larger and much more racially diverse state than Kentucky. At the time of the 2010 U.S. Census, Georgia boasted a state population of 9,687,653 residents, which was an 18% increase over the state’s population at the 2000 U.S. Census. In 2010, 59.7% of Georgia’s residents identified themselves as White, 30.5% as Black or African American, 0.3% as American Indian and Alaskan Native, 3.2% as Asian, 0.1% as Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander, 4% as some other race, 2.1% as two or more races, and 8.8% as Hispanic or Latino of any race. Kentucky, however, is only about half the size of Georgia in terms of population and is significantly less diverse. In 2010, Kentucky had a state population of 4,339,367 residents. Kentucky is also one of the Whitest states in the U.S. In 2010, 86.3% of residents identified themselves as White, 7.8% as Black or African American, 1.1% as Asian, 0.2% as American Indian and Alaskan Native, 0.1% as Pacific Islander, and 3.1% as Hispanic or Latino of any race.

Given the differences in number of state residents and the differences in racial/ethnic composition of the states, one would expect to see differences in student enrollment patterns between higher education institutions in Georgia and Kentucky, and those differences are in fact there. In raw numbers, UK enrolls fewer male students of color than comparable institutions in the University System of Georgia. The University of Kentucky’s Black male enrollment (and Black female enrollment) in bachelors’ degree program has, however, been relatively stagnant since the 2008-2009 academic year. Total undergraduate enrollment at the University of Kentucky for the 2012-2013 academic year is 20,878 students.  Black students account for approximately 7.5% of the undergraduate student enrollment at the University. Black male undergraduate students account for just under 46% of the University’s total Black undergraduate enrollment. Hispanic or Latino students comprise about 2.7% of the University’s enrollment, and Hispanic or Latino males account for just over 47% of the University’s total Hispanic or Latino student population.  But overall, African American and Hispanic or Latino male student enrollment at UK comes pretty close to mirroring the racial and ethnic profile of the state.

Outside of enrollment, however, the University of Kentucky faces many of the same challenges that USG institutions faced in 2002; namely, retention, achievement, and graduation rates for undergraduate male students of color, particularly Black male students. University of Kentucky Institutional Research data show clearly that achievement (GPA), retention, and graduation rates for Black male undergraduate students fall significantly behind those fore Black females, Hispanic or Latino students, White males, and White females. Even as much work remains to be done with improving the University graduation rate for all students, the graduation rate for Black male students at UK shamefully falls significantly below that of any other subgroup of students. The six-year graduation rate for the 2006 cohort of Hispanic or Latino first-year, first-time students at UK was 52.6%; for Black female students it was 54.7%; for Black male students it was 42.6%; for White female students it was 60.8%; and for White male students it was 55.5%. Strongly related to graduation rates, the first fall to fourth fall retention rates for Black male students are abysmal. For the 2009 cohort, the first fall to fourth fall retention rate for first-time, first-year Black male students was 45.6%; for Black female students it was 53.1%; for White male students it was 65.5%; and for White female students it was 70.1%. Also related, academic achievement for Black male students at UK falls significantly below the achievement of other subgroups of students. The first year UK GPA for Black male students for the 2011 cohort of first-year, first-time freshmen was 2.25; for Black female students it was 2.56; for White males it was 2.79; and for White female students it was 3.09. 

Further, many of the findings of USG’s study of Black male students hold true for Black male undergraduates at the University of Kentucky. Exploratory research conducted in 2009 by the University Office for Institutional Diversity indicated that Black male students at UK also experience feelings of isolation and alienation, and that the University campus can be a hostile place for them. Institutional research data and exploratory research findings make it pretty clear that if the University desires to improve the quality of experience for Black male undergraduate students and in-turn improve retention and graduation rates, intentional and strategic interventions must be put into place. The University of Kentucky has both the talent and resources to improve educational outcomes for its Black male students. It is my sincere hope that the University leadership make a decision to build and support an Initiative aimed at supporting the success of male students  of color.

 

Georgia’s African-American Male Initiative: One Model for Systems and Institutions that are Serious about Black Male Success

Recognizing serious challenges with the recruitment, pilule retention, sovaldi and graduation rates of African American male students on the campuses of the University System of Georgia (USG) in 2002, viagra the system launched its African-American Male Initiative (AAMI). System officials took note of the significant gender gap among African-American students in the system; African American women accounted for approximately 68% of the system’s total African American student population. In response to identified gaps, the USG raised questions about whether African-American males had been presented with opportunities for higher education, whether they faced gender-specific challenges at certain stages of the academic ladder, and what the specific barriers to their enrollment and retention were on the individual USG campuses.

The system’s study of those questions revealed that: (a) African American males students  felt isolated and alienated on their campuses; (b)  most schools had failed to engage African American males students, both inside and outside of classrooms; and (c) African-American male students longed for the ability to talk to faculty, staff, and peers on their campuses that could related to their racial and gender experiences. Based on those findings the USG invested in pilot programs targeting African American male students at the middle school, high school, and higher education levels across the state. The goal of USG’s AAMI has been explicitly to “increase the recruitment, retention, and graduation of African-American males within the University System through strategic interventions.” The program focuses on removing obstacles to students’ success and providing resources to help students be successful. As a result of the system’s initiative and early success, it successfully attracted funding support form the Lumina Foundation in 2006 and again in 2009. Lumina funding enabled the Initiative to refine its strategies and focus more specifically on undergraduate student success.

One partnership that has been central to USG’s efforts has been with the Student African American Brotherhood (SAAB). SAAB’s goal is for “all Black males on educational campuses to take full advantage of their academic years and to better understand and practice their full responsibilities, rights, and privileges as citizens” of the U.S. The organization was founded and established in 1991 on the campus of Georgia Southwestern State University by Dr. Tyrone Bledsoe, a Mississippi native and doctoral graduate of the University of Georgia. USG used some of its Lumina funding to establish SAAB chapters on eight USG campuses.

By 2011, there were 37 programs focusing on African American male success in the USG system. Those programs have resulted in significant increases in the enrollment, retention, and graduation rates of African-American male students on those campuses; from 2002 to 2011, African-American male system enrollment rose by nearly 68%, six-year graduation rate for first-time freshmen rose by 10% (28.95% to 38.98%), and the number of bachelors degrees conferred annually rose by nearly 50% (1,294 degrees in 2003 to 1,938 degrees in 2010). While significant work remains to be done, the USG AAMI is a national model for higher education systems and institutions that want to do more than just talk about improving enrollment, retention, and graduation rates of African American male students.