Tag: Racism

It’s Up to You, New York

For those of us who live in a rational, data-based world, it can no longer be argued that school discipline disparities can be attributed to the fictitious oddities of “the…

For those of us who live in a rational, data-based world, it can no longer be argued that school discipline disparities can be attributed to the fictitious oddities of “the Black family,” socio-economic conditions, cultural differences and the like.

Since the publication of the unchallenged, and unquestionable, report from the Justice Center of the Council of State Governments, Breaking Schools’ Rules in 2011, we have known that after having accounted “for the factors most often associated with poor school performance . . . race was a predictive factor for whether a student would be disciplined, particularly for discretionary disciplinary actions.” And further: “High rates of disciplinary involvement among African-American students were driven chiefly by violations that are subject to the discretion of school employees . . . The data . . . provide compelling evidence to show that how a school uses suspension and expulsion is driven in large part by the decisions of officials at both the district and individual school level.”

In other words, school discipline disparities by race are a good indicator of racism in schools and systems.

Which brings us to New York City, the greatest city in the world, for some, and the home to the third most-segregated school system by at least one (widely-debated) study.  According to the just-released school discipline data from the U.S. Department of Education, male Black students are three and a half times as likely to be punished with one or more out-of-school suspensions as are male White students and female Black students are an astonishing eight times as likely to be punished in this way than female White students.

These disparities, by themselves, are prima facie indicators of endemic racist actions (not to speak of attitudes) in the New York City school system among “officials at both the district and individual school level.”  And they are not simply of academic interest, they cause lasting harm.  The Justice Center study also found that “Students who experienced suspension or expulsion, especially those who did so repeatedly, were more likely to be held back a grade or drop out of school than students who were not involved in the disciplinary system.”

It reasonably follows, then, that the decisions of district and individual school level personnel to discipline three to eight times the proportion of Black as White students likely results in disproportionate numbers of Black students being held back a grade or dropping out of school. That is one way racist attitudes and actions work to limit educational opportunities for Black students in New York City.

Another way is the “school choice” system with its apogee in the city’s selective high schools.

This year, as usual, enrollment in New York City’s selective high schools was bizarrely skewed by race, especially at the jewel of the system, Stuyvesant High School.  According to the New York City Department of Education’s own records, out of a total enrollment of 3,323 students across four grades at Stuyvesant, 23 are Black as compared to, say, 35 “Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander.”  This is remarkable as the U.S. Census counts over two million Black residents in the city, but notes that there are too few Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islanders in the city to count.  [However, it is evident that there are at least 35.]

“We continue to pursue a set of initiatives to increase diversity at Specialized High Schools,” the city’s education department said in a statement. Sure.

What will new Chancellor Richard Carranza and Mayor Bill de Blasio actually do to build brighter futures for the Big Apple’s Black children? [Photo courtesy of the New York Times.]

Admission to Stuyvesant, and to most of the city’s other specialized high schools, is filtered by means of a test, oddly named the Specialized High School Admissions Test.  Oddly named, as it would be more aptly called the Black Student Elimination Test.  Without getting into the weeds about testing theory and all that, it does seem that there are validity issues with a test that year after year eliminates all but a dozen or fewer Black students from Stuyvesant’s freshman class.

If actions repeatedly result in outcomes at variance with professed goals, it is likely that those outcomes are the actual goals of the actions in question.

Stuyvesant is only one school out of the great sea of the New York City education system, but its diversity failure is a telling indicator of the actual nature of the system.  It is possible that Black students—sorry, all but a dozen Black students each year—do not get into the school for any number of reasons.  The overwhelming number of Black eighth grade students might so dislike the school’s Brutalist architecture that they don’t apply.  Or they might not wish to attend a school with so many more Native Hawaiians than Black students.  Or they could be woefully ill-prepared by their middle schools.

As there is little research concerning the attitudes of Black middle school students in regard to architecture or Native Hawaiians (although there is some anecdotal evidence concerning the latter from interviews with former President Obama, who attended a school with large numbers of Native Hawaiians), we might consider the quality of the city’s middle schools as causal, since Stuyvesant’s admissions data directs our attention there.

The Selective High School Admissions Test is effectively a mathematics test. The recently released 2017 National Assessment of Educational Progress’s eighth-grade mathematics assessment reports that nearly two-thirds of New York City’s Black eighth graders eligible for the National School Lunch Program score at the below Basic level:  they can’t do middle school math.  Just over half of the City’s Black students from more prosperous families can’t do middle school math either.  Just 8 percent of the Black students from poor families and 15 percent of those from more prosperous families score at the proficient or above levels.  This compares to 26 percent of the National School Lunch Program eligible White students and 57 percent of those White students from more prosperous families who do math proficiently or better at grade 8 in New York City.

White students from families with below average incomes are much more effectively taught mathematics in the City’s middle schools than are (the relatively few) Blacks students from more prosperous families:

It seems that family income has surprisingly little effect on eighth-grade mathematical performance of New York City’s Black students. The difference between the percentage of National School Lunch Program eligible White students scoring Proficient and Above on the NAEP mathematics assessment and those from more prosperous families scoring at that level was 31 points.  For Black students it was 6 points.  Not everyone will agree, of course, but this does seem to indicate that Black students, regardless of family circumstances, attend middle schools with deficient mathematics instruction.

New York City happens, “happens,” to be one of the most segregated cities in the country and its schools are similarly racially segregated.  The Brown University Index of Dissimilarity measures whether one particular group is distributed in the same way as another group.  A high value indicates that the two are separated from one another.  A value of 60 or above is considered very high.  That between Black and White residents in New York City is over 80.  A consequence of this is that neighborhood schools are highly segregated by race.  In other words, Black students from both National School Lunch Program eligible and ineligible families are likely to attend the same schools, as indicated by the small gap in NAEP scores.  The city’s segregated schools do not have to vary in quality by, say, the percentage of Black students in the school, but the NAEP scores seem to indicate that they do.

The administrators of the New York City Schools—the Mayor, the Chancellor, their staffs and advisors—appear to know this, as is demonstrated by the city’s school choice program.  This elaborate sorting of students and schools would be unnecessary if all the city’s schools offered high quality education.  Its very existence is an admission by the city that the quality of schools differ so significantly as to justify this costly and cumbersome system.

They are right, of course, and they know this as they are responsible for those differences in quality, by the way in which they allocate resources, financial and human, in accordance with the racial make-up of each school’s population.  “Them that’s got shall have/Them that’s not shall lose.”

A consequence of the poor educational opportunities for Black children in New York City is the comparative lack of Black intergenerational economic mobility in the city.  According to Raj Chetty’s group at Stanford University, a White male child born into poverty in the city (in a family at the 25th percentile of income distribution) will, as an adult, on average reach the 56th income percentile.  The average male Black child born into poverty in New York City will as an adult reach only the 42nd percentile.  The income of the average male Black child born into an upper middle class family with an income at the 75th percentile will fall to the 52nd percentile as an adult, below that of a male White adult born into poverty.   (The average male White child from a similarly wealthy family will as an adult expect to have an income at the 68th percentile.)

There are certainly other factors at play here.  Racism is not limited to the schools.  There is the criminal justice system with its astonishing racial disparities.  There are racial disparities in higher education and in employment.  But, while some may disagree, the racism in the schools does have strong effects on the later lives of Black students.

Here’s a modest proposal:  Eliminate the Selective High School Admissions Test and fill the selective high schools by admitting the equivalent percentage of students from each middle school.  If the number of grade 9 students in the selective high schools is, say, 10 percent of the total number of grade 9 students in the system, admit the top 10 percent of each middle school’s students. In short order there will be a shift of upper middle class White and Asian families to schools with records of badly preparing their students, so that their children will more easily make the 10 percent cut-off, followed immediately by political pressure from those families to increase the allocation of resources to those schools. Soon, quality differences across the system will lessen

This may take legislation in Albany.  However, legislation in Albany does seem to occur from time to time.  It is not unheard of.  It could occur to produce better educational opportunities for New York City’s Black children.

There are other ways to increase educational and life opportunities for New York City’s Black students.  Maintaining the status quo is not one of them.

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Rick Hess’ DeVos (and White Supremacy) Problem

Hess Protests Too Much: Your editor keeps a few things in mind when it comes to American Enterprise Institute education czar Rick Hess’ jeremiad in Education Week about a protest banner…

Hess Protests Too Much: Your editor keeps a few things in mind when it comes to American Enterprise Institute education czar Rick Hess’ jeremiad in Education Week about a protest banner accusing U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos of being a White Supremacist during her appearance last month at Harvard University. The first is that AEI’s star-studded board includes the education secretary’s brother, Erik Prince, who is also a prime donor to the think tank. That conflict must be considered when reading anything Hess writes in defense of her. Secondly: Hess himself has earned a reputation for being racially myopic, especially in his dismissal of focusing on achievement gaps in transforming public education as well as his statement that expanding school choice rewards the supposed irresponsibility of poor and minority families. Simply put, when Hess discusses any issue involving race, he is often projecting.

All that said, let’s concede one of Hess’ key arguments in that piece: That the Harvard student who displayed the banner could used better choice of words. Not because, as Hess argues, accusations of White Supremacy are tossed around too liberally these days (more on that in a second). But because the protester could have offered more-direct complaints about DeVos’ tenure that are on the mark.

There’s the move made by the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights to reduce the scope of its investigations into systemic overuse of suspensions, expulsions, spankings, and even restraints and seclusion (solitary confinement) against Black, Latino and other minority children, essentially scaling back the agency’s mission of protecting the most-vulnerable children. There’s DeVos’ tepid response in August to the violence by White Supremacists in Charlottesville (which echoed that of the rest of the Trump Administration). There’s also her consistent failure to condemn the bigotry of her boss, the current Occupant of the White House, who has consistently accused undocumented Latino emigres of being rapists and members of gangs. Finally, there is her unwillingness and inability to stand up for other vulnerable children, from transgendered youth to the 800,000 undocumented youth and adults brought to America as kids who now face deportation thanks to the Trump Administration’s move to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

None of this, by the way, includes her general unwillingness to embrace the civil rights mission of the Department of Education as laid out in the Every Student Succeeds Act and other federal education policies. An issue made clear again earlier this week when her priorities list was revealed, none of which mentioned doing right by poor and minority children.

As you would expect, Hess didn’t mention any of those issues in his critique. After all, he would have to concede that those protesters would have a legitimate point to make, even if he disagreed with them. More importantly, in acknowledging those issues, he ends up weakening his main argument: That far too many people, including progressive and civil rights-oriented school reformers, are too willing to accept (and toss around) accusations of White Supremacy and racial bigotry.

This is because, like a number of prominent White intellectuals outside of education policy such as New York‘s Jonathan Chait, Hess fails to admit is that bigotry in general, and White Supremacy in particular, isn’t some binary thing. That is, White Supremacy isn’t simply about someone being an active bigot or professing their hatred of people from other racial and ethnic backgrounds.

All racism, including White Supremacy, is a continuum of actions that are often divorced from personal and social intentions. A Klansman or Skinhead can occasionally do good for — and even save the life of — people who he generally hates. At the same time, a person who isn’t a bigot, even someone who has committed themselves to helping those who don’t look like them, can support or remain silent about policies and practices that maliciously or incidentally damage the lives and futures of poor and minority people. More importantly, as author Richard Rubin once surmised in his famous essay on the jurors who let off the murderers of Emmett Till, individuals regardless of their position and power can find themselves unwilling to challenge and oppose those policies as well as the men and women who are promulgating them.

This reality, of course, creates a conundrum for many White reformers, especially those of a conservative bent, who support practices done by others in and out of the movement that have been proven by data and evidence to damage the very children they proclaim their concern. In the case of Betsy DeVos, the reality is magnified by her decision to join a regime deliberately dead set on harming those very same kids.

Certainly, DeVos’ admirable record in expanding school choice does argue against her being an active White Supremacist. But since Trump’s election to the presidency last November, she has been unwilling to challenge him on his bigoted statements, both before and after being nominated to serve as the nation’s top education officer. More importantly, she has done nothing to intervene on behalf of children, especially those who are undocumented as well as native-born children of emigres, as they deal with the Trump Administration’s active efforts against them and their families (including moves by the U.S. Department of Justice to deny due process in deportation hearings).

In fact, by simply joining Trump’s administration, DeVos tacitly agreed to not stand up for the children Black and Brown whose families (along with their futures), the regime has essentially targeted for condemnation to the economic and social abyss. Even worse, as a philanthropist who already had an influential role in shaping education policy through roles such as chairing the American Federation for Children, she didn’t need to join. DeVos made a calculated decision to associate herself with the likes of Attorney General Jeff Sessions (who was once denied a federal court judgeship because of his rank bigotry) and Trump himself, whose long record of racism existed long before he decided to run for public office.

While DeVos may not be a bigot or a White Supremacist, she is a willing collaborator with one. That Hess fails to realize or accept this speaks more about his issues than about others within the movement who have been unwilling to defend his favorite education politician.

More on Making History and Civics Personal: There have been plenty of responses to this month’s essay on how genealogy records and other data can be used to help children better-understand American history and civics. One of the questions raised was what are other ways can teachers make history personal and relevant to the children they teach. Just as importantly, beyond understanding the nation’s tangled racial legacy, how can they gain empathy and insight on how the nation’s wars have affected society, and even understand current geopolitical issues facing us today.

One idea lies with the monuments our nation has erected to the men and women who have died in the wars of the last century. This can easily be done by teachers in places such as Indianapolis, Ind., which is home to the more war monuments than any other part of the nation.

A teacher at North Central High School in the city’s Washington Township district can take her class down to the Vietnam and Korean War memorials where the letters of soldiers killed in action are etched on the walls for contemplation. There, they can read the letter of Frederick Ben King, a native of Hammond, Ind., who was killed by sniper fire in 1968. Through a Google search, they will learn that King had a mother named Rosell and a father named Floyd. They will also find a Chicago Tribune article that will mention that he was 17 years old (and attending Oliver P. Morton High School) when he chose to enlist in the army. That article will also tell them that he had told his mother that he planned to be home by Christmas — and that he was killed one month before he could see them.

In researching Frederick Ben King’s story, the students will learn in a personal way how devastating Vietnam was on the lives of young men and women, both those who never made it home and the ones who came back scarred physically and emotionally. Through that, they will also understand how that devastation led to the end of the involuntary draft, which had been previously used to staff our armed services during times of war, as well as the passage of the 26th Amendment, which lowered the voting age from 21 to 18 in reflection of the reality that those who can serve the nation should also be able to pick its political leaders.

Students can then go the letter of another Indiana native, John E. Welches, who was killed in action during the Korean War in 1951. Through Census data as well as state death records, they can learn that he was the only son of a machinist named August, who never left the Hoosier State and outlived his son by 29 years. By looking at online archives on the Korean Conflict, they will also learn that John spent his last days in the Haean-myon Valley, the infamous Punchbowl, which was located just miles from the now-demilitarized zone that separates South Korea from North Korea.

Through that research, students can then learn more about the origins of the Korean War, how the United States entered into the conflict, and understand why the sparring between the Trump Administration and the government of North Korea’s dictator, Kim Jong-un, is so perilous for Asia and the rest of the world.

This isn’t to say all monuments are useful in instruction. The Confederate war memorials littering the nation, for example, have little use outside of showing how people use public spaces to reshape understanding of the origins of wars and debates over civil rights. Other memorials, including many devoted to the Second World War, leave out the roles of Americans of Japanese descent who were forced into concentration camps by  the federal government after Pearl Harbor, as well as the American Indians who fought ably for the nation despite the federal government’s genocidal acts towards them and their tribes.

Yet there are plenty of monuments, including the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C., the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial in Hawaii, and the monument dedicated to Japanese-American war heroes of World War II, that offer plenty for students to contemplate and reflect upon. Which makes them useful in helping those kids gain greater understanding about their nation and its long struggle to bend the arc of history towards progress for all.


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Diane Ravitch Has No Shame

It’s been long ago proven that Diane Ravitch no longer deserves to be taken seriously. Over the past few years, the once-respectable education historian has discredited herself with factual inaccuracies and…

It’s been long ago proven that Diane Ravitch no longer deserves to be taken seriously. Over the past few years, the once-respectable education historian has discredited herself with factual inaccuracies and and logical misfires in her sophistry. At the same time, she has disgraced her own legacy with incidents such as the attempt two years ago to politicize the massacre of 23 teachers and children at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., as well as wrongly tarring former energy trader and school reform philanthropist John Arnold as a participant in the frauds committed by executives at the now-defunct Enron. [To Arnold, she did apologize — a month later.]

So it isn’t shocking that Ravitch engaged in what can best be called cynical race-baiting (and, at worse, craven bigotry) with a piece she wrote on her eponymous blog bemoaning school reform advocate 50CAN’s hiring of new generation civil rights activist Derrell Bradford as head of its New York branch. After declaring in the original version of the piece that 50CAN was just “another of those fake “reform” groups”, Ravitch wrote that she wished Bradford would have gone into lines of work that some people would say is more-befitting a black man. Wrote Ravitch: “my fondest hope is that you find a different field, say, sports or finance or broadcasting, where your talents are needed.”

Apparently realizing that such a line may not go over too well with other people in this day and age, especially among some of the less-hardcore traditionalists and the progressives that make up part of her fan club, Ravitch revised the piece. But not before Michael Petrilli of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, who has defended Ravitch in spite of her past misbehavior, called her out on the carpet for engaging in race-baiting. Ravitch has attempted to defend her statement by declaring that “I do not consider “sports” racist.” Her allies also attempted to white-wash her remarks. But Petrilli didn’t buy that statement. Wrote Petrilli: “You told a black man he should consider a job in sports. It’s OK to apologize.” [American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said she would do so if it was her who wrote it.] Bradford considered Ravitch’s words “unfortunate”. He’s a better person than Ravitch is.

Your editor would be disappointed in Ravitch — and yet, at the same time, forgiving — if this was the first time she engaged in such nastiness. To err is human and we will all make mistakes. But Ravitch has continuously engaged in intellectual charlatanism and rhetorical chicanery. So I’m not shocked at all that she did this. In fact, from her, I expect nothing less.

[Update: As you would expect, more of Ravitch’s fans, most-notably the teacher-writer whose piece led to Ravitch’s original commentary, are playing down and dismissing her remarks. Not exactly shocking. The most-hardcore of traditionalists are willing to embrace demagoguery, even racialism they declare that they claim to oppose, in order to sustain their ideology. Which, in turn, makes you wonder what they think about people of color, especially those with whom they disagree. And since many of Ravitch’s defenders also teach black and Latino children, makes you fear for the futures of our kids.]

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