achievement gap

The Minneapolis Public Schools have a plan to eliminate the racial “suspension gap” by the year 2018: let school principals suspend white students as usual, but black and brown students will have their suspensions personally reviewed by the superintendent’s office.

The Daily Caller reports:

This new policy is part of an agreement with U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights announced last week after an investigation into why minority students made up such a high percentage suspended students in the past.

Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson told NPR, “I and all of my staff will start to review all non-violent suspensions of students of color, especially black boys, to understand why they’re being suspended so we can help intervene with teachers, student leaders and help give them the targeted support they need for these students.”

In a press release announcing the new policy, which begins Monday, Johnson’s office said, “Moving forward, every suspension of a black or brown student will be reviewed by the superintendent’s leadership team. The school district aims to more deeply understand the circumstances of suspensions with the goal of providing greater supports to the school, student or family in need. This team could choose to bring in additional resources for the student, family and school.”

The Caller notes that court challenges are expected in response to the new policy.

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The “conventional wisdom.”

Inspired by the recent news out of Fresno, California where the minority community is upset that a new school hired a white teacher to teach courses on “cultural studies,” I ask the question: Do students (particularly minorities) require instructors of like hue to succeed in the classroom?

In American public schools today, aside from the “achievement gap,” there’s a another type of gap: that between the number of minority students and minority teachers. The number of the former is growing more rapidly than the latter.

The conventional wisdom answer says “yes” to the question. But some recent research says “not so fast.”

According to Walter Hunt, a recent graduate from University of Houston’s Executive Education Doctorate in Professional Leadership program and author of the study, they are not.

Hunt’s research — which examined eighth-graders and teacher diversity in 198 Title I Texas schools — revealed that the achievement gap between African-American and Caucasian students was greater on campuses with a larger percentage of African-American teachers.

“At first glance, it would appear that teacher race doesn’t matter when addressing student achievement of minority students, but there are many layers involved when analyzing achievement of a middle-school student, such as racial identity, self-identity, age, involvement in school activities,” Hunt said in a University of Houston release. “In this particular study, I was surprised to see that the campuses with more African-American teachers did not have the highest African-American student achievement. This just goes to show that having a positive impact on students is a complex, multi-layered process,” he added.

Precisely. It’s probably as complex and multi-layered a process as, say, teacher evaluations, but contemporary conventional wisdom lays much of the assessment of teacher competence on periodic achievement test scores.

To be sure, I get the conventional wisdom of the usual response to the question. It makes sense that someone with a similar background (mainly race) can relate better to students. But as noted, this relationship doesn’t necessarily equate to better academic results … because race is but one factor in any teacher-student connection. There’s also family relationships, past/present socio-economic status, education background … and so on.

Relying only on race invariably leads to the (misguided) notion that people of a particular color are all alike. Do we really want that?

Consider, too: how many Asian teachers are employed in our schools today. With such a paucity (nationally, Asian teachers hover around two percent of the total), the conventional wisdom would dictate that Asian students’ academic achievement be pretty dismal. But, as we all know, it’s actually the best of any demographic.

So, here’s some conventional wisdom for you … some that’s cuts right through the politically correct educationist conventional wisdom: Good teachers of any race will prepare kids academically … and they’ll also be able to relate to them.

How’s that?

Dave Huber is an assistant editor of  The College Fix. He has been involved in education for twenty-five years. You can follow him on Twitter @ColossusRhodey.

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A study of poor and affluent children concludes that technology may make inequality between the two groups worse. The main factor? How the technology is used. Diana Senechal at Joanne reports:

Susan B. Neuman, a professor of early childhood and literacy education at NYU, and Donna C. Celano, an assistant professor of communication at LaSalle University in Philadelphia, spent hundreds of hours observing children in the high-poverty Badlands and the affluent Chestnut Hill sections of Philadelphia. They found that technology exacerbated inequalities between rich and poor children–not because the rich had more of it, but because they used it differently. (Author/Consultant Annie Murphy) Paul writes: “They select different programs and features, engage in different types of mental activity, and come away with different kinds of knowledge and experience.”

Not only do poor children gain less from technology than their rich counterparts, but they may even lose. In a forthcoming article, economists Jacob Vigdor, Helen Ladd, and Erika Martinez report a possible negative effect of technology on poor students’ performance: after broadband was introduced to public schools across North Carolina, math and reading performance went down in each region where it was introduced. The scores of disadvantaged students dropped the most.

Paul suggests that affluent children have more guidance from adults when using the computer; thus, they may be directed toward intellectually challenging activities.

What’s that? Parental guidance at home actually makes a difference? Who would have thought? And keep in mind you certainly don’t have to be well-off to be involved with your kids.

Senechal notes that schools, especially those in high poverty areas, may view technology as an educational panacea — even when it doesn’t actually fit pedagogical needs. Many professional development courses (or “inservices”) focus on using tech for tech’s sake, not on how it will enhance lessons.

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IMAGE: Pablo Ruiz Múzquiz/Flickr

I saw this headline on Drudge today:

School cuts gifted program over lack of diversity...

Clicked on the link, and what do I find?

A popular gifted-student program at a New York City elementary school is getting the ax after school officials decided it lacked diversity.

PS 139 Principal Mary McDonald told parents in a letter Jan. 24 that Students of Academic Rigor, or SOAR, would no longer accept applications for incoming kindergartners, the New York Daily News reported.

“Our Kindergarten classes will be heterogeneously grouped to reflect the diversity of our student body and the community we live in,” Miss McDonald said in the letter posted on

At least one parent described SOAR as largely white, while others disagreed…

I read this story and I groan.

It’s one thing if you truly believe that students will be better educated if they aren’t given special attention based on their test-assessed aptitude. That’s a debatable point of view, but certainly not offensive.

It’s quite another thing altogether if you are actually canceling a program that will help better serve the needs of gifted students only because you don’t like the fact that there are lots of whites or Asians in the class.

That reeks of–well, racism.

Miss McDonald’s explanation for her decision certainly gives us the impression that skin color was the driving factor.

If you want to fix the lack of diversity in this school’s gifted program, it would be much more just and fair to actually address the real cause–the breakdown of the family unit among certain racial minority groups in this country.

For example, 72% of black babies are born to unwed mothers in this country. Do you think that affects the preparedness of those children when they enter school? It absolutely does. Do you think gifted black children fall through the cracks of the system because their home lives are unstable. They absolutely do.

There is data to prove it.

“There’s accumulating evidence that there are racial differences in what kids experience before the first day of kindergarten,” said Ronald Ferguson, director of the Achievement Gap Initiative at Harvard. “They have to do with a lot of sociological and historical forces. In order to address these, we have to be able to have conversations people are unwilling to have.”

Miss McDonald–it’s safe to assume–is one of the people unwilling to have the needed conversation.

It’s much easier to simply cancel a gifted program, and throw all kids together in a single classroom. Call it “diversity.” Call it “equality.” And then congratulate yourself and go about your day.

But you haven’t achieved equality–not for those children who are showing up unprepared for school.

Illegitimacy is a widespread problem, not just among blacks or Latinos, but increasingly among whites as well. There are real consequences.

This has nothing to do with skin color, ultimately. It has to do with moral choices. It’s also the result of a culture that rewards irresponsible behavior.

Platitudes about “community” and “diversity” are just a convenient way for educators to mask the problem, and feel good about themselves.

When kids grow up without both a mother and father–it wrecks their lives. Plain and simple. That’s the real problem at PS 139.

Nathan Harden is editor of The College Fix and author of the book SEX & GOD AT YALE: Porn, Political Correctness, and a Good Education Gone Bad.

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Inside Higher Ed reports on new research that seeks to explain why women, on average, are outperforming men academically:

The facts of women being more likely than men to go to college, perform better academically, and major in fields other than science, technology, engineering and mathematics are mostly attributable to factors affecting students before – in some cases, long before – they enter the halls of academe. But that doesn’t mean colleges can’t do anything to mitigate the consequences.

Those are the conclusions of the authors of a new book, The Rise of Women (Russell Sage Foundation), about how and why female students continue to outpace their male counterparts in education (yet still can’t seem to earn a comparable paycheck).

“We’ve seen astonishing change over a very short historical period,” Thomas DiPrete, the book’s co-author and a sociology professor at Columbia University, said on a call with reporters Wednesday.

Starting with the people born around 1950, the rate of men’s bachelor’s degree completion stopped growing, and it stayed stagnant for years. In 1970, 20 percent of men and 14 percent of women finished college. By 2010, women’s graduation rates had “skyrocketed” to 36 percent, DiPrete said, while the rate among men grew only seven points, to 27 percent.

Today, women outpace men in college enrollment by a ratio of 1.4 to 1.

Beginning as early as kindergarten, the authors explained, girls have better average social and behavioral skills than boys, and that relates to girls’ higher average grades at each stage of school and why girls are more likely to earn a degree.

“The grade gap isn’t about ability,” said Claudia Buchmann, co-author and sociology professor at Ohio State University, “it’s really more about effort and engagement in school…”

“We really need schools that set high expectations, that treat students as individuals – not just as gendered groups – and also motivate students to invest in their education so that they can reach the big returns of a college degree that exist in today’s labor market,” Buchmann said.

Read the full story here.

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