Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Racial Achievement Gap Still Plagues American Schools

That gap yet again. Nothing they try budges it. When will they realize that the theories that present policy is based on (All men are equal; Discipline is destructive) are just plain wrong? If your theories are wrong, you won't get the results you want. The NPR article below is in part an argument against streaming. Abolishing streaming would just destroy the education of white children while doing nothing for blacks. But that is OK to Leftists, of course. Equality achieved by grinding everyone down is just fine and dandy to them

Black and Latino students consistently have lower test scores and attendance rates than their white counterparts. Placing struggling students in remedial classes has been a standard way to deal with the issue, but this method is coming under fire. American schools have struggled for decades to close what's called the 'minority achievement gap' — the lower average test scores, grades and college attendance rates among black and Latino students. Typically, schools place children who are falling behind in remedial classes, to help them catch up. But some schools are finding that grouping students by ability, also known as tracking or leveling, causes more problems than it solves.

Columbia High School in Maplewood, N.J., is a well-funded school that is roughly 60 percent black and 40 percent white. The kids mix easily and are friendly with one another. But when the bell rings, students go their separate ways.

Teacher Noel Cooperberg's repeat algebra class last year consisted of all minority kids who had flunked the previous year. There were only about a dozen students because the school keeps lower-level classes small to try to boost success. But a group of girls sitting in the middle never so much as picked up a pencil, and they often disrupted the class. It was a different scene from Cooperberg's honors-level pre-calculus class, which had three times as many students — most of them white.

These two classes are pretty typical for the school. Lower-level classes — called levels two and three — are overwhelmingly black, while higher-level four and five are mostly white. Students are assigned to these levels by a combination of grades, test scores and teacher recommendations.

"You could look at the highest-achieving kid and the lowest-achieving kid and say 'Oh my god, they're worlds apart,' right?" says Amy Stuart Wells, sociology and education professor at Columbia University's Teachers College. The problem, Stuart Wells says, is the way kids in the vast middle are sorted. The racial segregation corresponds to the difference in average test scores between black and white students both at the school and nationally. But Stuart Wells says racial stereotypes still play a role. "What you're seeing in suburbia and how it is playing out along racial lines is testimony to the fact that race still matters quite a bit in a society and very much so in education," she says. [It sure does. Because blacks and whites ARE different in significant ways]

The two towns served by the school are diverse, middle-class suburbs, although a third of the students are low-income and almost all of those children are black. But a considerable number of the African-American students are middle and upper middle class.

Reporter Nancy Solomon spent last year as a Spencer Fellow in Education Reporting to examine why good suburban schools are failing black students.

"I was born and raised here," says Haneef Quinn, an African-American student. "I'm 16 years old; I'm a very intellectual student; I've been — I think I'm really actually the smartest underachiever in Columbia High School." Quinn lives in a large house in a solidly middle-class neighborhood. He has two older siblings who have gone to college and he says his parents pushed him to do well. His freshman year, he was placed in level four classes, one of a small group of African-American students. "We kinda sat together," he says. "It would be the black kids over here and the white kids over here. It just seemed like the teacher, she stayed on the other side of the room away from us. The teacher focused on the larger group of whites and left us in the dust."

Columbia Principal Lovie Lilly, who is African-American, is troubled by the racial segregation in leveled classes and says she has heard stories similar to Quinn's many times. She says levels do reflect differences in skills and work habits, but she believes race plays a part. Lilly conducted research on the experience of black students at her school while studying for her doctoral degree.

"Black children in higher-level classes were ignored, or perceived that they were being ignored, or did not feel comfortable going to the teacher after school to get help," Lilly says. "They gave up and decided to go to level three classes where at least there were other black children." But this comfort comes with a penalty. Lower-level classes ask less of students, so they do less. The school district's new superintendent, Brian Osborne, who is white, says the lack of rigor in lower levels is his top priority for change. "The second day that I was here as superintendent I met with a group of middle school students for lunch," Osborne says. "I asked the students one of the questions that I always ask students, which is: What are your teachers' expectations of you? The very first thing that one of the students told me was 'It depends what level you're in.' " [Which is realistic]

The question Osborne has yet to answer is whether lower-level classes can hold students to higher standards, or whether any sorting system sends the wrong message. Jerry Mornvil, a recent graduate, remembers his level two class. He says the lower expectations affected the way students felt about themselves — and about school. "Our first day, going to that class, we made a nickname for that class," he says. "We called it the retarded class." Students were unhappy that the school placed them in a lower level, Mornvil says. "We were mad," he says. "A lot of kids were being rude to the teachers and stuff like that [That would have been a big help]. That class was crazy. It was like every African-American or black ethnic friend I knew in my grade, they were all in that class."

For the past 20 years, proposals to get rid of levels at the school have been defeated by the well-organized parents of highest-performing students. They tend to be affluent and white, and they fear their kids will be slowed down by mixed-ability classes. "I've done both and I've found that when you have kids mixed together, then you're gonna find that this group of kids at this level cannot work at the same level as someone else," says Richard Moss, an African-American math teacher with 37 years of experience. "OK? So that it makes it difficult to organize, and then the frustration level increases at both ends."

On the other side of this issue is Line Marshall, who teaches a demanding medieval literature class to a mixed group of kids from levels two, three and four. The class began as a scheduling mistake, but it turned out to work.

"Which of you is going to present the squire?" Marshall asks her class. "Chenerl?" Chenerl Sainte is one of Marshall's level two students, and he has been in level two classes since middle school. Yet here he is in Marshall's class, explaining the character of the squire in The Canterbury Tales, and doing it well.

"I saw in the kids who wanted the opportunity, a light open up," Marshall says. "The kids who had been used to, I guess, doing very basic work, whose English classes for whatever reason hadn't been challenging, would come up to me and say: 'We've just never thought this way before. No one has ever asked us these questions before.' "

Superintendent Osborne is moving gingerly toward change. He's created a task force to study leveling in Maplewood, and he is hoping to convince parents that education is not a zero sum game — that the schools can boost the lowest performers while improving achievement for all.


Britain needs more private schools, not fewer

Can the Conservatives learn from Sweden's school voucher system? Another blow for the left this week as the University College Debating Society threw out a motion calling for the abolition of private education. Camden LibDem candidate Jo Shaw and I, opposing the motion, expected to be defeated, but at the end of the debate our calm and precise arguments gave us a 2:1 majority.

Not that the argument is difficult. Scrapping private education would place a huge additional burden on the state – leaving it with larger class sizes, or leaving taxpayers with higher taxes – all to fund the education of wealthier kids who the rest of us aren't paying for right now. And why do it? Frankly we should be growing more independent schools, because they perform better. It's not just that they get brighter kids with more motivated parents. Or that they charge more than the state spends. The fact is that they make their budgets work harder. Pound for pound spent, private-school kids get more face time with their teachers than state school kids, as our report A Class Act showed. No wonder they perform better.

Sure, you have to be well off to send your kids to a private school: rich enough to pay taxes to support the state sector, and then pay for your private schooling. What I would like to do instead is make private schooling affordable for everyone – as they do in Sweden, or in Denmark. Sweden introduced a voucher system in the mid-1990s. It means that if parents take their children from a municipal school and move them to an independent school, that school gets the same money from the government that it would have spent on their state education. No fees, no top-ups, not even extra charges for sports kit are allowed. So all at once, the whole population of Sweden can exercise a choice. And around 1000 new independent schools have sprung up, bringing in new ideas and much more customer focus. Even the municipal schools have had to sharpen their act in the face of this new competition.

The Tories have seen the merit of this system. I hope they will be brave enough to let voucher schools go their own way and allow customers, not civil servants, to say how they want their schools run. For instance, we don't need a massive state curriculum, administered by thousands of bureaucrats – parents know whether or not a school is doing a good job, and if it isn't, they will move and take their voucher funding to another. In fact, we wouldn't need much of Ofsted's lumbering regulation at all. Let schools run themselves, and give parents the financial power to make their own choice. That would revolutionize UK education. for the better


Another wacky idea: Careers advice for British 10-year-olds

Children as young as seven are to be offered careers guidance under a government scheme in England. The programme, which aims to broaden the horizons and raise the aspirations of children from deprived backgrounds, is to be piloted in seven local areas. Universities and firms will give pupils a glimpse of what it is like working and learning in adulthood.

The move comes as an annual survey shows careers guidance for teenagers has fallen over the past 12 years. Under the government scheme, careers advice will continue up to the age of 18. It is being tried in 38 primary schools in seven local authority areas: Bristol, Coventry, Gateshead, Manchester, Plymouth, Reading and York.

The programme aims to challenge some of the "negative stereotyping" that leads some children from poorer backgrounds to believe that universities and certain careers are out of reach for them. Children will be offered career-related learning in a range of areas to raise awareness of what they can achieve. It is hoped this will lay the foundations for them to make good subject choices in secondary schools and inspire them to do well.

As part of the new careers strategy, parents will be urged to think while their children are still in primary school about what jobs they might want to do.

New research suggests that many children have very high aspirations at age 11, with 75% saying they want to go to university. The Department for Children, Schools and Families wants teachers and parents to build on this to get children thinking about higher education, especially those from homes where no members of their family have been to university before.

The department stresses the scheme is not about helping children decide what job they want to do, but showing them what can be possible so they fulfil their potential. There will also be more help for disadvantaged and disabled young people in accessing work experience and every young person is to get a careers mentor. Children are also to be offered good information, advice and guidance online on Facebook, YouTube and other social networking sites.

But a survey conducted annually by researchers at Durham University suggests advice and guidance for teenagers at school has plummeted over the last 12 years. The survey of 15 and 16-year-olds, commissioned by the Sutton Trust education charity, shows the proportion who said they had had formal career adviser meetings fell from 85% in 1997 to 55% in 2008. The proportion saying they learned "some" or "a lot" from career advisers or teachers fell from 49% in 1997 to 25% in 2008, while those receiving career talks reduced from 45% to 22%.

The survey asks the same questions to tens of thousands of school children each year. On a positive note, the number of school pupils who had visited universities had increased from 11% in 1997 to 23% in 2008.


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