Wednesday, July 06, 2016

The Scandal of K-12 Education

Another school year over, another lost opportunity for millions of students. Minorities suffer the most.

As America’s K-12 students enjoy the first weeks of summer vacation, there is good news about minority education in the U.S. The percentage of black and Hispanic high-school graduates heading off to college is going up. And black and Hispanic dropout rates are going down. According to the research organization Child Trends, between 1972 and 2014 the Hispanic dropout rate fell to 11% from 34%; the black dropout rate decreased to 7% from 21%.

But these encouraging statistics mask some uglier truths about the state of minority education. While 40% of white Americans age 25-29 held bachelor’s degrees in 2013, that distinction belonged to only 15% of Hispanics, and 20% of blacks. Another discouraging sign: The Atlantic magazine recently reported that the share of black undergraduates at top-ranked universities has stagnated at about 6% for the past 20 years. More minority students are graduating from high school, but they are often going off to community colleges, most commonly two-year schools, and not earning a four-year degree.

The root of this problem: Millions of black and Hispanic students in U.S. schools simply aren’t taught to read well enough to flourish academically. For them, the end of the school year marks another lost opportunity, another step toward a life of blunted potential.

For example, according to a March report by Child Trends, based on 2015 data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), only 21% of Hispanic fourth-grade students were deemed “proficient” in reading. This is bad news. A fourth-grader’s reading level is a key indicator of whether he or she will graduate from high school.

The situation is worse for African-Americans: A mere 18% were considered “proficient” in reading by fourth grade. An analysis of the NAEP data by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation reports: “It’s easy to look at this report and despair. It puts front and center the fact that too many of our nation’s young people are failing to achieve their potential, and that African-American students are disproportionately impacted by the shortcomings in our education system.”

The problem isn’t limited to minority students. Only 46% of white fourth-graders—and 35% of fourth-graders of all races—were judged “proficient” in reading in 2015. In general, American students are outperformed by students abroad. According to the most recent Program for International Student Assessment, a series of math, science and reading tests given to 15-year-olds around the world, the U.S. placed 17th among the 34 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development countries in reading.

In other words, in addition to America’s unsettling racial achievement gaps in education—white fourth-graders outperform Hispanic and black fourth-graders in every state that has appropriate data—there are far too many white students not performing at grade level.

Also buried in these troubling numbers are the big differences in reading among minorities from state to state: In Alabama, Hispanic fourth-graders are reading more than two grade levels below Hispanic fourth-graders in Florida.

The difference in reading levels between minority students in different states offers an important clue about why minority reading levels are lagging. Generally, states with the highest proportion of low-income minority students do the worst, according to Child Trends. And there is no question about the difference in poverty rates among children of different races. Poverty rates among black (37.1%) and Hispanic children (31.9%) are nearly three times the rate for white children (12.3%).

Another factor affecting poor performance among minority students is persistent segregation.

According to a U.S. Government Accountability Office report, between 2000 and 2014 “the percentage of all K-12 public schools that had high percentages of poor and Black or Hispanic students grew from 9 to 16 percent,” noting that “75 to 100% of the students were Black or Hispanic and eligible for free or reduced-price lunch—a commonly used indicator of poverty.” The GAO report added: “These schools offered disproportionately fewer math, science, and college preparatory courses and had disproportionately higher rates of students who were held back in ninth grade, suspended, or expelled.”

Under the Every Student Succeeds Act, the December 2015 law that replaced No Child Left Behind, individual states, not the federal government, decide how to hold accountable schools with a disproportionate number of failing students. For black and Hispanic students falling behind at an early age, their best hope is for every state, no matter its minority-student poverty rate, to take full responsibility for all students who aren’t making the grade—and get those students help now.

That means adopting an attitude of urgency when it comes to saving a child’s education. Specifically, it requires cities and states to push past any union rules that protect underperforming schools and bad teachers. Urgency also means increasing options for parents, from magnet to charter schools. Embracing competition among schools is essential to heading off complacency based on a few positive signs. American K-12 education is in trouble, especially for minority children, and its continuing neglect is a scandal.


'Stale' Oxford starts replacing portraits of dead white men with women, black and gay people

Oxford University is replacing some portraits of famous men with female, black and gay leaders to counter its ‘male, pale and stale’ image.

It is commissioning artists to paint dozens of new portraits to hang in its ancient buildings at a cost of £900 each.

Stickers with the words ‘next in frame’ have been put up around Oxford, asking students and staff to nominate suitable subjects by the end of this week.

In addition, colleges are already redecorating dining and lecture halls with new pictures and photographs to reflect the diversity of their alumni.

Pictures of author Jonathan Swift, 16th century poet John Donne and bible translator William Tyndale were all removed. And portraits of TV presenter Natasha Kaplinsky, author Hari Kunzru and journalist Naomi Wolf have been put up.

The transformations are under way at a time when Oxford has faced intense international scrutiny over the presence of longstanding male symbols.

Students led by Ntokozo Qwabe, a South African-born Rhodes scholar, unsuccessfully campaigned for the removal of a statue of Cecil Rhodes at Oriel College, arguing it was a reminder of apartheid.

The movement, backed by Malia Bouattia, now head of the NUS, drew global condemnation.

It failed in January, when Oriel’s governing body ruled out removing the statue after furious donors threatened to withdraw gifts and bequests worth more than £100million.

A month later, the National Union of Students’ Black Students’ Campaign described Oxford University as ‘one of the most male, pale and stale places of learning in Britain’.

It was revealed yesterday that a photograph of feminist and former Rhodes scholar, Naomi Wolf, will go on display in Rhodes House, home of the scholarship scheme that pays for non-British postgraduates to study at Oxford.

She admitted she left Oxford in the 1980s without finishing her doctorate after encountering ‘horrible’ sexism and anti-semitism. She returned more than 20 years later to complete it.

Ms Wolf insisted that ‘changing iconography helps to change how you see history’.

She told a newspaper: ‘In my college, New College, there are portraits of men everywhere.

‘While pictures are not the same as gender or race equality, I do not think this is trivial. If all you see are white men, white men, white men, it is very hard to believe that people in your society think you have a place in history.’

Some of the Rhodes scholars who fought for colonial independence have also been placed on the walls of the Rhodes House, to flank the portrait of Rhodes, who is regarded by some as racist.

These include Zambian activist, Lucy Banda Sichone and Norman Manley, who started the independence movement in Jamaica.

In February, Wadham College unveiled portraits of the journalist Amelia Gentleman, wife of Universities Minister, Jo Johnson, and novelist and journalist, Hari Kunzru, as part of a project ‘to showcase a more balanced’ selection of alumni and fellows’ images.

Wadham’s warden, Lord Macdonald, said at the time: ‘I wanted to address the predominance in Hall and around College of portraits of white men.

‘The Wadham community is a diverse and inclusive one and, until now, this has not been reflected by the portraits which adorn its walls.’

A portrait of the first female Anglican bishop, the Right Reverend Libby Lane, was hung in St Peter’s College in January. She was an undergraduate at St Peter’s in the mid-1980s.

Oxford University said yesterday its Diversifying Portraiture project – aimed at recognising the ‘diversity of figures’ who have helped shape the institution - was launched after a successful funding bid in May 2014.

It said: ‘In the first phase, we collected more than 250 portraits already on display around Oxford, depicting pioneering individuals who challenged the stereotypes and preconceptions of their times.’

The university added in a statement: ‘The second phase is now well under way.

‘We have asked the University community for suggestions for 25 fresh portraits of living figures connected to Oxford, representing our diversity in gender, race, disability and LGBTQ identity.

‘Nominations close on July 8 and we hope to have the portraits ready for display early in the New Year.

‘The university project complements many similar initiatives undertaken by Oxford colleges in recent years.’

Dr Stephen Goss, Oxford University Pro Vice-Chancellor for Personnel and Equality, added: ‘It has been uplifting to see so many initiatives to celebrate the great diversity of inspiring characters from the University’s past and present.

‘Our next phase of portraits will be displayed prominently at sites right across the University, reflecting the remarkable contributions made by so many individuals to modern Oxford’s culture of inclusion, equality and tolerance.’


Australia: More education funding is no guarantee of better schools

We live in a time when reductions in government spending – and increases in taxes – will have to be made if our children and grandchildren are not to face much bigger funding cuts and tax hikes when lenders cease being willing to roll over (let alone increase) government debt at its present low interest rates.

Kicking the fiscal can down the road, which was the preferred approach by every party in the latest federal election, shows a preference for the current population to live better at the expense of our descendants, who will live worse as a result of our unwillingness to bring government budgets into better balance and start reducing debt now.

Big-ticket items in commonwealth and state budgets must come under heavy pressure when the inevitable spending cuts begin, because it is impossible to prune budgets severely while leaving major expenditure items untouched.

Health, pensions and/or education cannot escape the scythe, in due course, whatever the eventual result from Saturday’s election.

It may seem unthinkable that government spending on education be substantially reduced. But just how bad would the effects be on the quality of the education that our young will receive?

Many of my readers will have watched Revolution School (ABC2, Tuesdays, 8.30pm). If not, I recommend you catch up with it on ABC iView. It is about the turnaround in student outcomes at Kambrya College in Berwick, an outer south-eastern suburb of Melbourne.

When principal Michael Muscat took over in 2008, the school was chaotic and its academic results were very poor. Now, within seven years, Kambrya has become one of the most improved schools in Victoria in terms of Year 12 results. And not because of any preferential expenditure increase compared with other Victorian schools.

Kambrya has achieved its turnaround simply by working with the University of Melbourne to implement better teacher training and classroom practices.

Professor John Hattie, director of Melbourne University’s Education Research Institute, says improving the quality of feedback students receive and ensuring positive teacher-student interaction leads to the best outcomes. Class size, homework and public or private schooling are not nearly so important as the quality of individual teachers, Professor Hattie says.

Schools don’t make much difference – it’s the teachers. When I look at Kambrya’s achievements, the major message we should take home is that relentless focus on the quality of teaching can truly make a difference to the lives of students and that can happen in any school in the nation.

We have known this for a long time but have been side-tracked by vested political interests into supposing that spending more money on schools means the quality of teaching will rise as well. It hasn’t and it doesn’t.


No comments: