Thursday, September 23, 2010

Black children in Britain don't fail due to racism, says black academic

Black children fail at school because they do not concentrate, not because they are the victims of ‘institutional racism’, a leading black academic claims today. Tony Sewell, the son of Caribbean migrants, attacks the view that black pupils are held back by teachers who see them as ‘miniature gangster rappers’.

The former teacher, who runs an educational charity for black children, instead blames poor parenting and the youngsters’ own lax attitude.

In a blistering article for the Left-of- centre magazine Prospect, Dr Sewell says that while it was once true that black pupils were held back by racism, ‘times have changed’. He writes: ‘What we now see in schools is children undermined by poor parenting, peer-group pressure and an inability to be responsible for their own behaviour.

‘They are not subjects of institutional racism. ‘They have failed their GCSEs because they did not do the homework, did not pay attention and were disrespectful to their teachers. ‘Instead of challenging our children, we have given them the discourse of the victim – a sense that the world is against them and they cannot succeed.’

The view that black children are being held back by racism was reinforced by the last Labour government. Labour leadership hopeful Diane Abbott has said that ‘black boys do not have to be too long out of disposable nappies for some teachers to see them as a miniature gangster rappers’.

Mr Sewell – director of the Generating Genius charity and a consultant at Reading University – says that Miss Abbott and researchers imply that white teachers have low expectations of black boys and this is partly why they underachieve.

He admits evidence proves that ‘African-Caribbean boys are still at the bottom of the league table for GCSEs’. They start school at roughly same level as other pupils, but then fall further and further behind their peers.

However, he also writes: ‘I believe black underachievement is due to the low expectations of school leaders, who do not want to be seen as racist and who position black boys as victims.’

In 2008, the Department for Education reported that only 27 per cent of black boys achieve five or more A*-C GCSE grades. African-Caribbean boys are also the group most likely to be excluded from school


MA: Schools missing mark on MCAS

More fail to meet federal standard

MCAS test scores released yesterday show that more Massachusetts schools than ever are failing to measure up to federal achievement standards, with 57 percent out of compliance.

The test scores were announced as officials attempted to focus attention on the unveiling of a program to recognize top-performing schools.

While elementary and middle school pupils at most grade levels showed impressive gains on the math portion of the test — having more students in the top two scoring categories, proficient and advanced — their results in English were mixed. On the high school exams, math scores were flat, and English scores declined slightly.

The uneven results put the state even further behind in meeting the federal benchmarks under the No Child Left Behind Act, which requires annual increases in state standardized test scores. By 2014, all students, including those with learning disabilities and limited fluency in English, must be proficient — possessing a command of grade-level material. It’s a goal many educators and state education officials have criticized as unattainable.

Across the state, 982 elementary, middle and high schools — representing 57 percent of Massachusetts schools — failed to meet the benchmarks, up from 929 last year, according to the preliminary data.

The state also announced that 123 school districts, including 32 independently-run public charter schools, failed to meet test score targets under No Child Left Behind, representing about a third of all districts statewide. Last year, 106 districts and charter schools were identified.

Mitchell Chester, the state’s commissioner for elementary and secondary education, called the growing number of schools out of compliance “inevitable.’’

“A lot of people are questioning these federal targets,’’ Chester said in an interview as he attempted to shore up public confidence in the state’s schools. “This doesn’t mean we are slipping backwards.’’

Under No Child Left Behind, schools and districts are judged on their progress with students overall, as well as on the performance of certain subgroups broken down by race/ethnicity, family-income level, learning disabilities, and other criteria. If a school or one of its subgroups fails to make necessary progress two years in a row, the state designates the school as needing improvement, requiring slight adjustments to programs.

If problems persist for four years, the school or district goes into “corrective action,’’ possibly prompting changes in school leadership and teaching philosophy. At five years, the school is labeled as in need of restructuring, which could lead to a state takeover. This year, 473, almost half of all schools receiving federal designations, were deemed in need of restructuring.

It takes two consecutive years of adequate improvement on the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System exams to return to good standing — a feat 62 schools achieved this year.Continued...

The Obama administration intends to make changes to the No Child Left Behind Act, which has been up for reauthorization for more than a year, to develop a more nuanced way of judging performance. The administration wants to move away from the “proficiency’’ benchmark, set under former president George W. Bush, to one that assesses the readiness of students for college or the workplace, but it is unclear when such changes will be made.

With so many Massachusetts schools receiving federal designations, the state this year created a system, under a state law enacted this year, to provide assistance to those that need it the most. As part of that effort, the state identified 35 as underperforming.

Yesterday’s MCAS scores showed that some of Boston’s 12 underperforming schools made gains.

Trotter Elementary saw double-digit increases in overall performance in English, while the Agassiz, John F. Kennedy and Dever elementary schools had double-digit increases in overall math performance, school officials said.

However, the state suppressed scores for Blackstone Elementary School in the South End after Superintendent Carol R. Johnson asked the state last month to investigate the data, officials said.

In an interview yesterday, Johnson said the scores appeared to increase at a rate that was not consistent with other testing data for the school, raising questions about the authenticity of the MCAS scores. “We want to make sure as we develop a baseline for performance that we start with valid information,’’ Johnson said.

It is rare for the state not to release a school’s MCAS scores. Last year, the state suppressed scores for Robert M. Hughes Charter School in Springfield, and an investigation later revealed widespread cheating, prompting the state to shut down the school in June.

Johnson said she did not want to speculate about the reasons behind the spike in scores at Blackstone.

In general on the MCAS, Boston officials say, students often improved at faster rates on the math exam than the state and showed improvement in English.

Yesterday, Chester preferred to keep attention on the positive during a news conference in a classroom of eighth-graders at Eliot K-8 School in Boston’s North End. It was there that Chester announced 187 “Commendation Schools,’’ which includes the Eliot, under a new program to recognize schools making strides in boosting the academic achievement of their students and success in closing achievement gaps between students of different backgrounds.

Chester did not mention the growing number of schools out of compliance with federal standards until reporters questioned him about it after his presentation.

Glenn Koocher, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees, said Chester’s decision not to dwell on the number of schools missing federal testing targets shows how little credibility remains in that system.

“The fact that there are so many schools in sanction and testing data is being used as a weapon and not as a tool to improve student achievement is frustrating to a lot of people,’’ he said.

In a statement, Governor Deval Patrick said, “There are so many great success stories in schools across this Commonwealth because of the efforts of administrators, teachers, students, and parents who are united and committed to making every effort to ensure that every child that walks through the door receives a high-quality education.’’


Australia: How they Educate the Educators

By Peter W.

GK Chesterton said `Without education we are in a horrible and deadly danger of taking educated people seriously.' That is not my favorite Chesterton quote. He also said `A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it.' Both are apposite when thinking about contemporary government-run education.

Last year my wife completed a post graduate Diploma in Early Childhood Education. The theme of every unit in this diploma was that the little blighters educate themselves. All you need to do, as an educational facilitator, is to provide them with a rich learning environment. In particular, you shouldn't think of teaching them anything, or of directing their learning in any way. This may harm their self-esteem, curiosity and creativity. Children will absorb the numeracy and literacy skills they need as they need them. Their learning should be self-directed.

Apart from being complete and utter bollocks, what struck me most about this course was how carefully structured it was. By the time you get to post-graduate level, you have a pretty good idea of how to study, and of the gaps in your knowledge. Of course, as Donald Rumsfeld remarked, there are also unknown unknowns - things you don't know you don't know, and this is where a good teacher comes in handy.

But in this course, every student had to read the same articles in the same order, and was expected to come to the same conclusion. Namely, that education works best when it is structured. The lecturer, being a humourless left wing git, saw no irony in this at all.

Post-graduates can be expected to take most of the responsibility for their learning. Kindergarten and primary children cannot. The whole world is unknown unknowns to them. They have no way of knowing what they need to learn, or how to go about learning it. Sadly, most primary teachers in Australian state schools, never having been educated themselves, cling to the romantic ideal of student directed learning.

The one area where this does not seem to apply is political/environmental issues. At KICE (Kangaroo Island Community Education), and at other government schools around the country, students are regularly subjected to emotionally laden, reason-free, questioning forbidden, programmes of indoctrination on matters environmental.

This week's subject is the ghastly consequences of palm oil farming. Empty headed and single-minded guest speakers are inflicted on the students, who are also obliged to watch heart-rending videos of forest clearing followed by pictures of sad looking orang utans and little elephants.

They are then encouraged to act globally and to take action by telling other people what to do. For example, students may wish to write to Australian companies which use palm oil, threatening not use their products unless they cease to do so. Or they may write to the Indonesian ambassador expressing their dismay at Indonesia's apparent disregard for the welfare of its endangered species.

The arrogance is astonishing. As is the complete lack of concern for the families whose livelihoods such actions will destroy.

Students then file home in a bored fashion, leaving a trail of litter, and perhaps bashing a few penguins to death along the way. Believe me, it happens.

The end result is listless and resentful students, whose self-esteem really is damaged because they know very well that they are not achieving or learning anything worthwhile.

But teachers, in a frenzy of rose tinted delusion, return to the staff room to congratulate themselves on what a wonderful job they are doing, oblivious to the consistently appalling behaviour, and equally appalling academic results.


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