Category Archives: Educational Leadership

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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.

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.

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.