Category Archives: academia

Race + Education: New York Standardised Test Scores Hit New Lows

Standardised New York State test scores infografic via the New York Post

Clearly we have a problem.

According to the standardised test scores that came out last week only 26% of 3rd-8th grade students in New York City are reading at grade level. Only 30% of them are up to proficiency in math. The achievement gap between Black and Latino students compared with their white counterparts deepened, with only 15% and 19% respectively meeting the state proficiency standards in math. Those are considered all time lows.

Despite the fact that NYC almost matched the performance of New York State overall, let’s ignore Mayor Bloomberg’s spin factory and acknowledge that this indicates a serious issue. The United Federation of Teachers seems to agree, and blames the NYC Department of Education (DOE) for the lower scores:

Testing became harder this year due to New York State’s implementation of the “Common Core”standards: a curriculum designed to produce college prepared students who have mastered the skill of critical thinking. That’s all well and good, but according to many teachers’ organisations the Department of Education didn’t do its part when it came to preparing teachers to help their students rise to the new standards. From the United Federation of Teachers:

Some schools will in September finally have new curriculums aligned to these standards. But, unfortunately, some schools will struggle because the Department of Education under Mayor Bloomberg refused to mandate that schools have a standards-aligned curriculum and had no plans to provide one until this union pressed the issue publicly.

The DOE just doesn’t get it. They need to learn the principles of Education 101: that the DOE needs to provide every teacher with a Common Core-aligned curriculum with scope and sequence in order for teachers to create lesson plans from that curriculum. Only in that way can we help students learn the subject matter on which they will be assessed.

PR Campaign from the New York City Department of Education. Both ads (en espanol can be seen on the DOE site) curiously only feature students of color.

These new Common Core standards weren’t a surprise. They didn’t sneak up on the DOE in the dead of night. They’ve known for two years that this was coming, which left them enough time to throw up a full bilingual ad campaign warning that the tests were going to be more difficult yet somehow not enough time to make sure that all schools in the city had the necessary curriculums to pass the new test. There were schools in poorer areas of the city where no students (as in zero. zilch. nada.) passed the math exams. One principal at a school in East Harlem watched her students’ English and Math proficiency scores drop from 33% to 7% and 46% to 10% respectively. It’s likely safe to assume that her’s isn’t  the only school serving poor, minority students seeing that  drastic of a plunge.

Criticisms of standardised testing in New York City aren’t new. In prior years when the scores were higher it was argued that the tests weren’t actually measuring a student’s ability to do anything more than regurgitate information after a school year of cramming and rote memorisation. My fourth grade classroom where we learned nothing but creative writing, long division, and the history of the Lenni Lenape tribe would not fly during this era of Teaching To The Test, with the sole purpose of meeting those standardised benchmarks. Of course, it’s hard to do that when you don’t have the curriculum to do it with and a new test with some questionably unfair material.

As someone who works with 5th and 6th grade minority students who have scored in the top 10%  on their standardised tests in past years I can tell you this: as you move beyond the skills of powering through math problems and underlining sentences to answer reading comprehension questions you can see where the deeper education stops. The arts of essay and creative writing have seemingly vanished with Teaching To The Test, along with those critical thinking skills the Common Core hopes to inspire. And those students who do buck the trend and get a bit creative on their standardized tests (like I did in the 2nd grade when I wrote a full, rambling story about World War 2 as an answer for a relatively simple standardised test essay question) are usually punished for it in their scores (my mother was told I needed to be in a remedial reading class).

For a variety of reasons standardised tests –Common Core or not– are probably not the best judge of overall student intelligence. There are parents who believe that so strongly, and are so tired of the constant testing that they had their children boycott the tests this year in protest. That said, if we’re going to insist on using standardized testing as a measure then we should at least be making sure that students have the tools necessary to succeed. Not only do these scores help place children in gifted and talented programs within the public school system, they can help parents get their kids into charter schools, or programs that might help them enter into independent schools like Oliver Scholars or TEAK. Low test scores don’t only reflect badly on the DOE, they can actually limit and hinder an otherwise bright child’s options to escape the DOE.

So In a week where we combine a new achievement gap low with finding out that the city’s solution to lack of middle-class Pre-K access is having parents take out student loans for their four year olds, one really has to wonder where public education in New York City is heading and how far Black and Latino students are going to have to fall before anything is done.

Gender, Race, And Going To Class: A Call For A Feminist Reading of For-Profit Colleges?

By Guest Contributor Tressie McMillan Cottom, cross-posted from The Feminist Wire

Most of us have seen the ads exhorting us to “call today!” to start on a new future with a college degree. How many of us have noticed the faces in those ads?

The gender, race, and affect of the faces and voices in for-profit college marketing are the kinds of things I  notice in the course of my research about schools like Strayer, Everest, the University of Phoenix and any number of name brands that seem to pop up every month. We know a lot about how much for-profit colleges cost (as much as the most elite college degrees) and we know a little about whom they serve but we do not ask a lot about why they serve whom they serve.

It is difficult for me to not ask that question. I interview for-profit students to ask of them what many of us have asked ourselves when one of those ads pops up at the train station or on late-night TV: why would someone enroll in a for-profit school?

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Cheering for the Chicago Blackhawks: A Tradition of Racial Play

By Guest Contributor Charles Fruehling Springwood

Members of the Chicago Blackhawk celebrate winning the Stanley Cup in a June 28 parade. Image by tanveer.i.ali via Flickr creative commons.

As a white youth growing up playing ice hockey in the 1960s, in a Chicago suburb, I fell in love with the Chicago Blackhawks. I watched Hawks games on T.V., and during the intermissions between the periods, I retired to the kitchen (and its smooth, slick tile floor) to shoot my plastic puck at the cabinets. For the kitchen shootouts, I channeled my all-time favorite, the always-helmeted Stan Mikita, or on occasion, Bobby Hull. Born just after the team’s 1961 Stanley Cup championship, I anticipated – without too much patience – the next championship, and suffered through the team’s two failed Stanley Cup appearances in the early seventies.

But between those years and the team’s next championships in 2010 and now 2013, my Native American friends encouraged me to reflect more deeply on the way symbols like the team’s own “Chief Black Hawk” distorted their identities, particularly in the imaginations of white Americans. Ultimately, in graduate school at the University of Illinois-Champaign, I critiqued my school’s infamous mascot, Chief Illiniwek, and my friend Richard King and I went on to edit Team Spirits: The Native American Mascot Controversy, a 2001 collection of essays giving voice to how Native Americans feel about many of these manifestations of the power of non-Indian, mostly white institutions and people to (re)represent, (re)name, and (re)contextualize Native peoples for white purposes.

In his foreword for the book, renowned scholar Vine Deloria Jr. of the Standing Rock Sioux Nation wrote:

With diehard refusal to change the names and logos of sports teams we always hear the justification that the name is being used to ‘honor’ us. This tortured reasoning makes its proponents look absurd. Obviously if garish costumes, demeaning cheers, and crude logos are the essence of honor, then the various sports halls of fame need to perform drastic surgery on the busts and plaques of their honorees. The excuse, being lame, must conceal something more profound, which cannot or will not be articulated by those people ‘honoring’ us.

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Late Update: Catch Kendra James On Al-Jazeera Today!

Just wanted to give everybody a heads-up: Our own Kendra James will be appearing on Al-Jazeera’s The Stream at 3:25 p.m. EST to discuss affirmative action policies in the U.S. in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to send Fisher v. University of Texas back to an appeals court. She’ll be joined in the panel discussion by Ari Berman from The Nation, Jerome Hudson from the National Leadership Network of Black Conservatives, Michigan Daily‘s Yash Bhutada and libertarian blogger Kristin Tate.

Added benefit for online viewers: Not only do you get 5 extra minutes at the start, but you can participate in an additional 10 minute post-show. Congrats, Kendra!

Some Doctor Who Fans Like Their Racism Bigger On The Outside

By Arturo R. García

Promotional poster for “Doctor Who.” Image via crimsontear.com

Calling this past season of Doctor Who uneven might be doing it a favor. Presented as two separate seasons marked by a change in companions for the Eleventh Doctor and capped by the prelude to the show’s 50th anniversary special in November, critiques of the show under Steven Moffat’s watch got louder than ever. That discussion, we hope, will only get louder when Doctor Who and Race is released in August.

Edited by Dr. Lindy Orthia — who has published several academic works dealing with the shows including one on Who’s “inability to acknowledge the material realities of an inequitable postcolonial world shaped by exploitative trade practices, diasporic trauma and racist discrimination” — the anthology will feature more than 20 essays explicitly tackling several aspects of the show’s presentation (and, one presumes, lack thereof) regarding issues regarding racial issues.

Naturally, some people are out to silence her efforts before the book’s even released. Warning: Misogynist language just under the cut.
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Quoted: 100 Questions Toward Cultural Competency

100 Questions About Indian Americans

Last summer at age 83, my mother downsized from a four-bedroom home to a two-bedroom apartment. She loves that her eight-unit cluster includes black, Indian, Middle Eastern and Jewish neighbors.

One day, she noted that someone — she thought it was the Indian couple upstairs — had bought a new car, and that someone had vandalized it. There was a swastika on it, she told me on the phone. She wanted to show her support or call security. She felt uncomfortable that creeps might be hanging around the complex.

When I visited her that Sunday, she showed me the car. Sure enough, there was the swastika, smack in the middle of the hood. I leaned in close and saw grains of rice in the symbol.

I stood up and used my phone to look up “Hindu, blessing, car.”

“Mom,” I told her, “when you see your neighbors, tell them that you see they have a new car and that you see that it has been blessed.”

I had heard about the Hindu blessing ceremony, or puja, at a temple as part of the work by my Michigan State University journalism class on a new guide titled “100 Questions & Answers About Indian Americans.”

The guide is the first in an MSU School of Journalism series on cultural competence. The class is called “Bias Busters.”

The idea is that, if we can answer 100 very simple questions about a culture, religion or ethnicity, we have taken the first small step toward greater understanding.

–Joe Grimm, “‘Bias Busters’ Class Publishes Cultural Competence Guide,” Maynard Institute 5/23/13

Race + Higher Ed: Fear Not, Suzy. You’re Still #1!

By Kendra James

As we celebrate the graduating classes of 2013 over the next few weekends, lets take some time to glance at the new data on college graduation percentages vs. minority enrollment rates. There’s no accompanying article to the data (all via the National Center for Education Statistics, 2011), but if there were I suspect it would start like this: “Fear not, Suzy. You’re still #1.”

At Elite Colleges, an Admissions Gap for Minorities - Interactive Feature - NYTimes.com (1) Continue reading

Visiting Academia: Roger Williams University Lecture, “Re-Racing Steampunk: Race, Memory, And Retrofuturism’

Flier for the author’s appearance at Roger Williams University.

By Guest Contributor Ay-leen The Peacemaker, cross-posted from Beyond Victoriana

Visiting Roger Williams University last Tuesday was an amazing opportunity and a great pleasure to present there. Dr. Jeffrey Meriwether, along with professors Laura D’Amore, Charlotte Carrington, Sargon Donabed, and Debra Mulligan were all immensely welcoming and kind.

That morning, Dr. D’Amore picked me up from the Inn, and she explained that the university has started a new social-justice initiative to embrace the historical impact of its founder. That fall, they had their Social Justice Week to initiate conversations across campus. The History department in particular wanted to contribute to this new venture in innovative ways; hence, the invitation to speak at their campus.

During my visit, I gave presentations to Dr. Carrington’s American History (where they just started a unit on African-Americans during the American War for Independence) and Dr. Donabed’s History of Religion courses (where they are currently studying Western perceptions of indigenous practices versus indigenous perspectives themselves).  Afterward, I held “office hours” in the department lounge for students to come and talk about steampunk and ended up having a long, involved discussions about cosplay, Legend of Korra, and Fullmetal Alchemist. Then came my public lecture at 5PM — and look, I have evidence that it happened!

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