Tag: Literacy

What Scott Walker Hath Wrought

Generally speaking, the largest group of least advantaged children in the United States, those most in need of protection, are the impoverished descendants of enslaved Africans. We might then ask,…

Generally speaking, the largest group of least advantaged children in the United States, those most in need of protection, are the impoverished descendants of enslaved Africans. We might then ask, when directing our attention to Milwaukee, the largest city in the once progressive state of Wisconsin – and part of the home base of now-politically endangered Gov. Scott Walker – what has come of that duty of care?

The latest release of findings from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the “gold standard” for such matters, shows that nationally 13 percent of Black students eligible for the National Lunch Program—a good enough proxy for poverty—read at or above grade level in  eighth grade.  This is half the percentage of White, non-Hispanic, students at a similar family income level and a quarter of the percentage of White, non-Hispanic students from more prosperous households.  Less than a third of Black students from families with incomes high enough to make them ineligible for the National Lunch Program read at or above grade level in grade 8.  The issue appears to be the layering of economic deprivation over racial discrimination in educational opportunities: multi-generational economic deprivation as a consequence of continuing racial discrimination.

In Milwaukee there are considerably higher percentages of Black K-12 than White K-12 students in the city’s schools.  There are more than twice the percentage of White than Black college students (and three times the percentage of White male (44 percent) than male Black college students (14 percent)) These distributions are considerably different from national figures, which show approximately equal Black and White enrollment at every level.  Just over a quarter of White residents of Milwaukee have only high school diplomas (including equivalents), as do considerably more, just over a third, of Black residents.  On the other hand, 34 percent of White residents have a Bachelor’s degree or higher, but only 13 percent of Black residents have that increasingly necessary qualification.

In a nutshell college graduation is achievable for a third of White residents of Milwaukee, but for only just over a tenth of Black residents of the city. This is unusual. Nationally, although the figure is the same for White, non-Hispanics, it is nearly twice as high as the comparable Milwaukee figure for African-Americans (20 percent?).

Just five percent of Black students in Milwaukee eligible for the National Lunch Program read at or above grade level in  eighth grade. More than half—nearly two-thirds—of these economically deprived Black students in Milwaukee are assessed as being at the “below Basic” level.  They can’t read middle school material.  Five percent is meaningful beyond its comparative value. It points to chance factors predominating in measurement:  students answering questions at random and getting lucky; transfer students from Ghana; children of university faculty; cosmic rays.

For all reasonable intents and purposes the Milwaukee public schools are not teaching Black students to read.

The percentage of Black students in Milwaukee eligible for the National Lunch Program scoring at or above “proficient” in Mathematics in eighth grade is 3 percent. Cosmic rays as a causal factor for this achievement seems most likely.

The Milwaukee public schools are not teaching math to their Black students.

In Milwaukee, African-Americans go to school, but they rarely receive a good enough education so that they can read proficiently or perform elementary mathematics tasks or to take them into and through college. It is not then surprising that the unemployment rate for Black residents of the city is between two and three times that of White residents, that the percentage of Black residents of the city in white collar jobs is half that of White residents, that median Black household income is half that of White household income and that the poverty rate for Black families is nearly three times that for White families.

These issues are so common as to seem abstract, or to be accepted, like the weather.  But like the weather, or, rather, the climate, they are not either abstract or acceptable.  The condition of the descendants of enslaved Africans now living in Milwaukee is directly attributable to the decisions of politicians at the state and local level.  Those decisions have reduced funding for the public schools, segregated housing and employment opportunities, criminalized daily life.

All of this brings us back to Gov. Walker, who is likely to lose his post this November (though, as he has proven in elections past, you can never fully count him out).

He has been governor of Wisconsin since 2011.  Before that he was Milwaukee County executive and before that he represented a district in Milwaukee County.  He has been responsible for the well-being of residents of Milwaukee, its surrounding area and the state for a quarter of a century. If residents of Milwaukee seek a monument for him, they have only to look around them.

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The Black Kids Are Shortchanged Everywhere

The Duval County school district serves the Jacksonville, Florida, area.  Jacksonville is much more typical of neighboring Georgia than of Florida.  It has a relatively small Hispanic population and a…

The Duval County school district serves the Jacksonville, Florida, area.  Jacksonville is much more typical of neighboring Georgia than of Florida.  It has a relatively small Hispanic population and a history of anti-Black racism dating back hundreds of years.  The district’s website proclaims recent good news:

Duval County Public Schools has emerged as a national leader in mathematics and reading outcomes on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) . . . “If this were the Olympics, you would say we medaled in almost every event,” said Superintendent Dr. Patricia Willis. “These results, in addition to our record-high graduation rate, reflect the incredible efforts of our students, our teachers, the district and our community.” . . .  “The new NAEP results confirm that Duval County is one of the highest performing big city school districts in the nation,” said Michael Casserly, executive director of the Council for Great City Schools.

Those newly released 2017 NAEP eighth-grade reading assessments show that while 42 percent of White students in the Duval County public schools can read at grade level (proficient or above), the school system teaches less than half that percentage, 18 percent, of the Black students in its care, to read proficiently at the crucial grade 8 level. Or, looking at that from the other side, well over three-quarters of the Black students in the Duval County Public Schools are not taught to read proficiently.  Of those, nearly 90 percent of the male Black students in Jacksonville are not taught to read proficiently and nearly half of those can hardly read at all. We can take that as an indication of the preparation for life that is provided for Black children by the Duval County Public Schools. It is a rather unusual Olympic medal quality performance.

A primary driver of these racial disparities in educational achievement is not difficult to discover.  Quite some time ago a large-scale research project in Texas demonstrated that disparities in the rate of school discipline actions were based on the racial attitudes of school personnel, rather than the actions of students.  In the Duval County schools the rate at which out-of-school suspensions are given is eight percent for Black students, three percent for White students, a more than two-to-one disparity, which is a good measure of racial prejudice in action.  That happens to be approximately the disparity in reading proficiency.  Of course, correlation does not indicate causation.

There are consequences to this failure of the Duval district to teach most of their Black children, and nearly all of their male Black children, to read easily.

The Equality of Opportunity Project at Stanford University has studied intergenerational economic mobility by race and gender. According to the Equality of Opportunity Project, the average Black child in Jacksonville, whose household in the year 2000 had an income at or below the 25th percentile of all American households ($28,000, very poor) would probably have an income at the 31st percentile (just poor) by 2015, about $32,000.  The average White child in Jacksonville, living in a similarly deprived household in 2000, would have had an income at the 40th percentile in 2015, about $43,000: a nine point, $11,000, advantage for being White. While a Black child growing up in Jacksonville can expect to go up six steps on the economic mobility ladder (from very poor to merely poor), a White child can expect to go up fifteen steps, between two and three times as far and within hailing distance of the national median.

This comparative restriction of intergenerational economic mobility for Black residents of Jacksonville cannot be attributed solely to the fact that well over three-quarters of the Black students in the Duval County Public Schools are not taught to read proficiently, but it makes you think, doesn’t it?

Well, Jacksonville has a history of slavery, segregation and lynching.  We can look to the free state of Wisconsin for better news . . . can’t we? The answer is no.

The 2017 NAEP eight-grade reading assessment shows that while 33 percent of White students in the Milwaukee public schools can read at grade level (proficient or above), the school system teaches less than one-fifth of that percentage, six percent, of the Black students in its care to read proficiently at the crucial grade 8 level. Or, looking at that from the other side, well over 90 percent of the Black students in the Milwaukee public schools are not taught to read proficiently and of those, 96 percent of the male Black students in Milwaukee are not taught to read proficiently.  Nearly two-thirds of those can hardly read at all.  We can take that as an indication of the preparation for life that is provided for Black children by the Milwaukee Public Schools.  As to causation, the racial school discipline disparities in Milwaukee are similar to those in Jacksonville:  a Black student is more than twice as likely to be punished with an out-of-school suspension as is a White student.  In addition to being an indicator of adult racial attitudes, out-of-school suspensions are likely to lead to students falling behind in their studies and prematurely ending their educations:  dropping out.

No matter where you go, traditional districts are failing the descendants of enslaved Africans.

And as to consequences, according to the Equality of Opportunity Project, the average Black child in Milwaukee, whose household in the year 2000 had an income at or below the 25th percentile of all American households (very poor) would probably have an income at the 36th percentile (poor) by 2015, about $38,000.  The average White child in Milwaukee, living in a similarly deprived household in 2000, would have had an income at the 50th percentile in 2015, about $56,000: a fourteen point, $18,000, advantage for being White. While a Black child growing up in Milwaukee can expect to go up eleven steps on the economic mobility ladder (from very poor to merely poor), a White child can expect to go up twenty-five steps, more than twice as far and pretty close to the national median.  White children growing up in severe poverty in Milwaukee can expect to participate in the American dream of dramatic economic mobility; the Black children living in that city cannot even dream of it.

Just as in Jacksonville.

Neither district is fulfilling its responsibility to educate all children.  The size of the racial gaps resulting from these failures are similar.  If disparities in school discipline rates are a valid measure of racism (which they are), that, too is similar.  And if the Equality of Opportunity Project’s calculations are correct, as they seem to be, the perhaps consequent restrictions on economic mobility for the Black residents of these two American cities will, similarly, continue from one generation to the next.

The Equality of Opportunity Project researchers point out that the Black/White racial economic disparities are not a result of factors under the control of Black Americans.  Rather, they are the result of factors, such as disparate incarceration rates and the school issues touched on above, that are under the control of the people running the criminal justice and school systems and other social, economic and political aspects of life in this country.  They are under the control of that governor, that mayor, this superintendent of schools, this judge and that chief of police in both Jacksonville and Milwaukee—and those in many other cities and towns in this great country.

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Do Acts of Life-Giving Kindness

People in Washington, D.C., and its surrounding region do a lot of posturing. They show up in front of the White House to protest. They attend events about achieving social…

People in Washington, D.C., and its surrounding region do a lot of posturing. They show up in front of the White House to protest. They attend events about achieving social justice. They even do the occasional fundraising campaign for some favored cause of the moment.

But if the truth is to be told, for all the protesting and pretending to do things for others, the reality is that many people give little help or show much in the way of the way of kindness to those in need right in front of us.

Three years ago, while walking through Lafayette Park near the White House, I met the man captured in this photograph. He had a smile on his face even though he was homeless, with little to cover himself and nowhere to go other than to sit on a park bench.

I gave him a few dollars, chatted with him for a few minutes, and even said a prayer with him. I listened to him as he told me what was going on with his life. Before I left, I wished him a good day.

The need for small acts of kindness came up again yesterday as I walked around the Jonestown section of Baltimore, passing by the Church of St. Vincent de Paul. There in front of the entrance of the church was a man sleeping, likely getting the only peaceful slumber he can because he has no home.

Nearby in the church’s park, an organization was feeding the crowd of homeless men and women, providing them with the only nutritious meal they will have all day. One man celebrated as he ate his meal, saying that it was so good that he had to “slap his mamma”.

There are some 7.473 homeless men, women, and children in the Nation’s Capitol, and another 2,725 (including 1,400 young men and women under the age of 25) in Charm City. Certainly their issues are systemic in nature  the extreme consequences of the interplay between low-quality education and lack of resources (as well as the reality that even the best decisions cannot overcome the dearth of both). That many homeless men and women suffer from mental illnesses, many of which manifest while they are in elementary and secondary schools, also highlights the need for advancing systemic reform to address those problems.

At the same time, we can all do something small, random, tangible and kind, even as we posture and rant about the state of the nation today. A few dollars, some kind words, even help a church or nonprofit provide meals. If we are truly to be moral people who want better lives for our children, we must also want to help those who are in need right now, who were once also children, who also need our kindness and concern.

Giving Life Out of Sorrow: Earlier this year, the joy of my friend, Jeremy Lott and his wife, Angela, turned into pain when they found out that their then-unborn daughter was suffering from exencephaly, a rare birth defect in which the brain is developing outside of the skull. They only got a few months to enjoy little Cecelia kick, move to Irish music, and get rowdy in her mother’s womb before she died stillborn this past July.

Others would have let the massive weight of a child’s death crush their spirits. No one could blame them. There is nothing worse than the death of your own child. Yet Jeremy and Angela went a different direction. They used their grief to do something for other people’s children.

Over the past few months, they convinced others to donate some 82 books to the Whatcom County, Wash., public library in Cecelia’s honor. Those books , including such children’s books as Anita Label’s Hello, Day! and Eric Carle’s From Head to Toe, will now be borrowed and read by children at three of the library’s branches.

Certainly the book donations won’t erase the pain of Cecelia’s death. Nothing can do that. But in their effort, Jeremy and Angela are giving life in the form of literacy to generations of children who will never met Cecelia, but will carry her spirit with them in every word they read.

All of us can give life to all children, from donating books to local libraries, to tutoring kids in your neighborhoods who are struggling with their literacy. Let us all follow Jeremy and Angela’s example in our own lives.

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The Dropout Nation Podcast: Five New Questions Every Parent Should Ask


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On this week’s Dropout Nation Podcast, I discuss how parents can use five new questions to spur reform of American public education and improve schools for their children step by…

Dropout Nation Podcast Cover

On this week’s Dropout Nation Podcast, I discuss how parents can use five new questions to spur reform of American public education and improve schools for their children step by step. By asking the right questions — including about math instruction and school discipline policies —  parents can change the way their kids are taught each and every day.

You can listen to the Podcast at RiShawn Biddle’s radio page or download directly to your iPod, Zune, MP3 player or smartphone.  Also, subscribe to the podcast series. It is also available on iTunes, Blubrry, the Education Podcast NetworkZune Marketplace and PodBean. Also, add the podcast on Viigo, if you have a BlackBerry, iPhone or Android phone.

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The Dropout Nation Podcast: Building a Nation of Reading Men


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On this week’s Dropout Nation Podcast, I discuss what parents, grassroots activists and men — including fathers and uncles — can do to stem the achievement gaps and literacy crisis…

Dropout Nation Podcast Cover

On this week’s Dropout Nation Podcast, I discuss what parents, grassroots activists and men — including fathers and uncles — can do to stem the achievement gaps and literacy crisis among our young black, white and Latino men. We can’t stem the nation’s dropout crisis (and overall education crisis) until we address the low levels of literacy among our young boys and men — and reform the poor reading instruction in American public education.

You can listen to the Podcast at RiShawn Biddle’s radio page or download directly to your iPod, Zune, MP3 player or smartphone.  Also, subscribe to the podcast series. It is also available on iTunes, Blubrry, Podcast Alley, the Education Podcast NetworkZune Marketplace and PodBean. Also, add the podcast on Viigo, if you have a BlackBerry, iPhone or Android phone.

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Watch: Addressing the Boys Crisis in Reading


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As Dropout Nation has discussed, the problems in teaching boys how to read is the key underlying factor behind the growing achievement gap between boys and girls — and why…

As Dropout Nation has discussed, the problems in teaching boys how to read is the key underlying factor behind the growing achievement gap between boys and girls — and why there is as much as a two-to-one ratio between women and men on college campuses. Other countries, including Australia, have begun addressing this crisis in their own countries. But in the U.S., far too many Sara Meads and others continue to ignore the matter or argue that it isn’t a real issue — to the nation’s detriment.

Watch the following video on boys and reading by Gretchen Pinard, a graduate student at Carnegie Mellon University, and consider what school reformers must do to address this achievement gap. Listen to the Dropout Nation Podcast on boys and reading. And think about how you can help get our boys reading.

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