Category Archives: education

Quoted: Inside Higher Ed on Meritocracy Vs. Bias

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“While the principle of fairness may be a driving concern in people’s attitudes towards policies such as affirmative action, social welfare, and fair housing, the malleability of white respondents’ attitudes towards the importance of university admissions criteria in response to racial considerations indicates that public opinion about the importance of such criteria is anything but fair, at least if the definition of fairness entails a procedural fairness by which all groups should be subject to the same procedural process, i.e., same weighting of admissions criteria, when determining whether an individual should be admitted to a prestigious public university system, an opportunity that will significantly shape that person’s life outcomes.” Read more…

– Frank L. Samson, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Miami, whose recent study of white adults in California revealed that they favor admissions policies prioritizing high school grade-point averages and standardized test scores, until they are focused on the success of Asian-American students.

 

Image Credit: James Almond on Flickr

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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Quoted: Have HBCUs Outlived Their Usefulness?

The (now closed) Saint Paul’s College crest via. HBCUbuzz.com

The news of St. Paul’s closing came around the same time that a board member at Howard University, another historically black institution, wrote a much-discussed public letter warning about the school’s dire financial straits. The school was hemorrhaging money, the trustee said. Its student body was shrinking. “Howard will not be here in three years if we don’t make some crucial decisions now,” she wrote.

These events come amidst a flurry of questions about the educational opportunities available to black students. Just this week, the Supreme Court issued its ruling in a major case on affirmative action in higher education, asking a lower court to reconsider the legality of the University of Texas’s admissions policies.

For decades, folks have been asking: is affirmative action still necessary? And they ask the same questions of HBCUs: have black colleges outlived their usefulness?

If you look at the numbers, they can be kind of jarring: aside from more well-known schools like Spelman and Howard, most HBCUs have six-year graduation rates below 50 percent. According to the Journals of Blacks in Higher Education, 24 black colleges saw only a third of their graduates earn a bachelor’s degree.

But Gasman said that so much of this is a function of demographics. [What HBCUs] have at their core is a dedication to low-income students,” she said. “That makes it harder to have higher graduation rates” — HBCUs students face financial pressures outside of college and so they have narrower margins of error. “If you’re doing that kind of work, you’re dealing with low-income students, you’re tuition-driven, your alumni are not making enormous salaries and you’re dealing with racism, it’s a difficult situation.”

But as low as those graduation rates may be, the numbers at many HBCUS are still higher than the national average for black graduations. The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education recentl ytook a look at 41 institutions, and found that more than half those HBCUS saw their graduation numbers tick up over the last 15 years, and 10 of those schools saw increases in the double-digits.

– Gene Demby, “Are HBCUs in Trouble? An Evergreen Question” via NPR Code Switch, June 26, 2013

Meanwhile, On Tumblr: Surprise, Surprise! SCOTUS Rules Against Native Americans

By Andrea Plaid

Image via pbs.org.

Image via pbs.org.

As you know, the US Supreme Court (SCOTUS) did the One Step Forward/Three Steps Back Dance when it came to rights for marginalized people. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-gender marriage and made rather questionable rulings regarding affirmative action and the Voting Rights Act (VRA), the justices’ ruling negatively impacted Native American nations’ right to their children and, ultimately, tribal self-determination. Colorlines’ Aura Bogado explains in the most popular post of this past week:

In a 5 to 4 decision today, the Supreme Court ruled that the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) does not block termination of a Native father’s parental rights. The court appears to have ruled as if it was deciding the issue based on race—when a better lens to understand the case, called Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl, is through tribal sovereignty.

First, some quick background on the case and on ICWA itself [sic]. Christy Maldonado gave birth to a baby in 2009 whose father, Dusten Brown, is a citizen of the Cherokee Nation. Because of self-determination, the Cherokee Nation decides who its citizens are—and because Dusten Brown is Cherokee, his baby, named Veronica, is Cherokee as well. Maldonado and Brown lost touch by the time the baby was born, and Brown was never informed of the baby’s birth. Maldonado decided to put the baby up for adoption, and a white couple named Melanie and Matt Capobianco took Veronica into pre-adoptive care.

So what does ICWA do? The act was created because of incredibly high rates of white parents adopting Native children; in states like Minnesota, that have large Native populations, non-Natives raised 90 percent of Native babies and children put up for adoption. Those adoptions sever ties to Native tribes and communities, endangering the very existence of these tribes and nations. In short, if enough Native babies are adopted out, there will literally not be enough citizens to compose a nation. ICWA sought to stem that practice by creating a policy that keeps Native adoptees with their extended families, or within their tribes and nations. The policy speaks to the core point of tribal sovereignty: Native tribes and nations use it to determine their future, especially the right to keep their tribes and nations together.

But leave it to the Supreme Court to miss the point altogether this morning. The prevailing justices failed to honor tribal sovereignty in today’s ruling.

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Lunch Break Tidbits: Discussing Affirmative Action on Al Jazeera’s The Stream

Yesterday I appeared on Al Jazeera’s The Stream to discuss Affirmative Action policies in college admissions and hiring. Also on the panel were 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. With only 40 minutes to discuss what is a highly contentious and layered topic in light of the Fischer vs. UT SCOTUS ruling, here’s a wrap up and slight elaboration on some of the points made on yesterday’s show.

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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!

Why Being a POC Author Sucks Sometimes

By Guest Contributor Ellen Oh, cross-posted from Hello Ello

When I do my diversity presentation for high schools, I open with this chart:

It’s an immediate attention grabber. Why? Because this highlights the gap in diversity of caucasian and POC authors. This is an informal survey taken by author Roxanne Gay that breaks out authors reviewed by the NYT in 2011 by race. Nearly 90% are caucasian. This by no means shows a complete breakdown of publishing. But I would venture to say that a more accurate number of published books might even further compound the gap between caucasian authors and POC authors.

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