Tag: Opportunities to Learn


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Three Questions: Michael Holzman of the Schott Foundation for Public Education


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As Research Consultant for the Schott Foundation for Public Education, Michael Holzman has helped shed light on the impact of low teacher quality and systemic academic failure on the educational…

Photo courtesy of the Schott Foundation for Public Education

As Research Consultant for the Schott Foundation for Public Education, Michael Holzman has helped shed light on the impact of low teacher quality and systemic academic failure on the educational and economic prospects of young black men. Through his research, Holzman and Schott have done plenty to show in numbers the depths of the nation’s dropout crisis: Few young black men are graduating from school; far too many are being relegated into special education (and placed on the path to dropping out); and that in many urban districts, young black men are subject to the kind of educational abuse that would lead to incarceration for school officials and teachers if it were actual physical abuse. Along with Robert Balfanz, Jay P. Greene and Christopher Swanson, Holzman is one of the leading figures in revealing the nation’s educational decay.

Dropout Nation wondered what reformers such as Holzman were thinking these days, what are some of the surprising conclusions they have reached, and what they think about what’s happening inside the Beltway when it comes to school reform. The result is a new series, Three Questions on School Reform. Holzman offers some of his thoughts below. Read them, give them some thought and, if you so choose, comment and offer your own conclusions:

1) What is the one surprising thing you have uncovered during your research on special education and over-labeling of children as learning disabled and why?

Male African-American students are systematically over-labeled as Mentally Retarded in most districts.  In some cases this reaches levels five to ten times the percentage of male White, non-Latino males.  As percentages of non-institutionalized mental retardation in any large population are approximately the same, this over-labeling seems to be caused by district policies or staff training deficiencies.

2) How is black male academic failure and special ed connected and why?

Given that male African-American students are under-represented in gifted/talented programs in most districts, and very under-represented in Advanced Placement classes, it appears that racial and gender stereotyping takes place in those districts, to the great detriment of opportunities for learning for male African American, and, to a lesser extent, female African American and both male and female Latino and American Indian students.

3) What is the one thing school reform activists inside the Beltway seem to ignore when it comes to addressing education and youth issues and why?

Equal opportunity to learn includes opportunities during traditional k-12 class-time and beyond.  All schools should be equally well-supported, without regard to location and family income.  This means that real estate tax-based school finance methods are inherently inequitable.  It means that variations in the quality of facilities, curriculum and teaching staffs among schools within large districts cannot be rationally justified.  It means that the distribution of students through assignment or “voluntary” methods, as with charters and public school choice, are only equitable when the child least able to protect him/herself is protected by the adults responsible for the schools.

It also means that the educational investments available to the children of middle class families should be provided for children living in poverty by those adults responsible for the schools.  Such investments include 0-3 pre-literacy activities (such as library programs for toddlers), pre-kindergarten programs preparing children for schooling, all-day kindergarten, after-school and summer academic programs, throughout elementary and secondary school.

Another issue, which is not well-framed in most policy discussions is the connection between inadequate schooling and incarceration.  This is not merely a school to prison pipeline.  It is a feedback loop.  As astonishing numbers of male African Americans are imprisoned, it follows that between one-third and half of African American children grow up in poverty, raised by their mothers without financial contributions from their imprisoned fathers (or fathers whose income possibilities have been impaired by involvement with the courts and prisons).

Poverty is a major negative factor in regard to educational achievement, limiting the time of the parents as first teachers, limiting out-of-school educational investments, increasing the likelihood of enrollment in inferior schools.  And limited educational achievement, especially for male African Americans, is highly likely to lead to prison.

There are two lines of work that can break this cycle:  1) End the inequitable targeting of African Americans for drug law infractions; 2)  Make educational investments equitable.

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