By Barbara D. Parks-Lee, Ph.D., CF, NBCT (ret.), NNPA ESSA Awareness Campaign
When cultures clash in the classroom, students, teachers, administrators, parents, and the community at large all suffer. Education, or lack, thereof, can have a ripple effect on every facet of society. Not only are communities of color affected but also areas not considered “minority.” PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) is an equal possibility.
Children whose culture and realities are devalued are often, as Gloria Ladson Billings so aptly expressed, “considered as deficient white children.” (1999) The children she described may become drop-outs, push-outs, or disaffected trouble makers. These disaffected students often feel disrespected, misunderstood, and devoid of hope. Some of them are test-weary and content lacking.
When they are continually designated at “below basic” on standardized tests and their culture not understood by teachers and test makers, their behaviors are almost self-fulfilling prophesies. Often these students suffer from PTSD as painful and as debilitating as any combat soldier.
They encounter the vagaries of the results of having little affluence and no influence, of physical and/or emotional abuse, and poor educational opportunities offered by a revolving door of new, career-change, or culturally unaware teachers getting their OJT (on the job training), student loans abated, masters degrees, and housing allowances before moving on to the suburbs or to becoming the next national “expert” authors and speakers on educating the urban, rural, or culturally different child.
These are the children whose apparent apathy and less than “perfect” behaviors encourage a revolving door of teachers who have the inability to relate to students of different socio-economic or racial differences. In these cases, no one is the winner, even though neophyte teachers may gain some financial benefits, for these teachers, too suffer the PTSD resulting from not knowing how to teach diverse students and the daily chaos of classroom disorder, disrespect, and disaffectedness.
Lowered expectations may cause challenges for administrators also, for they face scrutiny about how their schools function on many levels, from standardized test results to efficient use of budget to how many expulsions and suspensions their students receive.
They must also contend with trying to find substitutes or replacements for teachers who are absent for whatever reason. Their teachers often are faced with coverage, which saps the enthusiasm and energy of those forced to babysit some other teacher’s class. In addition, many states are trying to meet the dictates of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and the Common Core Curriculum standards with inadequate funding and training for teachers and administrators in how to implement these mandated legislative programs. In the last few years, there has also been an emphasis on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) schools.
Parents suffer when their children are disaffected and under-educated. Their children who are suspended or expelled are left to get into difficulties with the law and court systems. Further, drop-outs and push-outs often cannot get jobs and become economic drains on not only their families but also on the community at large.
So, in answer to the question when cultures clash in the classroom, who suffers, we all do! Poorly educated students make for a society that alienates its young, one that is unable to retain skilled and experienced teachers, and a country frustrated with unemployment, under-employment, and an ever-growing culture of violence, fear, and intolerance. Court systems and privatized prisons, along with mortuaries, result when the classrooms act as prep schools for these expensive alternatives.
By Sharonica Nelson, Ed.D.
Professor, Professional Education Consultant, Author
Once students reach middle school,
parents often become less engaged with their child’s academic environment. They
don’t walk them in the school’s doors anymore, they don’t communicate as often
with teachers, and they are less like to visit the school unless there is a special
program or sporting event after hours. This is especially true for African
As a former classroom teacher in
an urban, predominantly Black school, I have first-hand knowledge of this.
During middle school, school becomes more or less a mystery to parents. However,
under Every Student Succeeds Act, there is a push for parents to be more
involved with academic environment of their child.
Studies show that when parents are
more actively involved in their child’s schools, the child tends to perform
better academically. Therefore, parental engagement is an important concept of
discussion in terms of African American children’s performance.
Although parental engagement has a
strong correlation to student academic performance and achievement, why is it that
African American parents appear disproportionately less engaged than parents of
Studies have shown that there are
many factors that may hinder Black parents from being active in their child’s
schooling. Factors include lacking confidence when speaking to education
professionals or fear of seeming incompetent, being the sole provider in the
household with work hours that conflict with school hours, and not knowing how
to approach school officials with proper questions specific to individual child
These and many other nuisances
keep Black parents from approaching schools to be more active in their child’s
academic career. Nevertheless, for the sake of maximum student success and
potential, it is important that parents are actively engaged in their child’s
It is imperative that Black
parents are not only involved but also engaged in their child’s schools. Parents
must not only be involved through participating in school-planned functions,
but they must also create their own spaces and opportunities for active
engagement to demystify student performance. There are many ways to do so,
Use school system provided platforms to keep up with grades. The school system may provide
this service for free, and it may be associated with a special code or password
for log in. Parents should check with the school secretary for information on
this. Frequently checking student grades and holding them accountable for their
grades can send strong messages to students in terms of performance.
Know when reports cards are due. School systems may send home a calendar with this
information, they may provide automated calls as a reminder, and the dates may
be readily accessible on the school system website. It is ultimately up to the
parents to stay abreast of report cards and not wait until the last grading
quarter to show concern over grades. It’s too late then.
Email teachers. Email is a quick form of communication that most people use directly
from their phones. Most teachers use emails frequently. Make use of this to
maintain constant contact and communication with your child’s teacher. Most
teachers prefer to hear from parents with concerns of student progress and would
happily engage to inform parents concerning their children.
Check teacher webpages. Many teachers have webpages that they frequently update
with pertinent information pertaining to their classroom. This information may
include due dates, skills and concepts to be covered, and materials needed for
upcoming projects and assignments.
Create a parent network. Many parents may not have the time or resources to be
involved with the formal PTA (Parent Teacher Association). They may decide to
create social media groups that keep all parents abreast of current happenings
within the school. This could be a simple, easy way to connect to other parents
of students within same educational setting for accurate, current information
concerning the child’s school.
Regardless, of the age or grade of
a parent’s child, parents have a right to know about the current happenings of
the classroom and school. However, the school and parent relationship shouldn’t
be one-sided with school doing all of the work in terms of providing the
opportunities for parents to become engaged. Parents must understand the
importance of their involvement in their child’s educational trajectory, take
the reins, and create their opportunities for being actively involved.
Although, middle school is the
time when most parents become less engaged in the child’s school, it should be
a time when parents maintain engagement. To demystify further, parent
involvement weighs heavily on children’s performance. And simply put, children
need to see parents in their academic spaces for better performance, even in
middle school and beyond.
By Arva Rice, President and CEO of the New York Urban League
New Year’s resolutions are underway across the state of New York, and I’m one of those who are trying hard to keep the promises I made to myself. I’m focused on finding an exercise I like and can maintain, journaling more, and eliminating debt, but I am quickly learning that mapping out a clear plan with how to accomplish these will make my success much more likely. New York state officials are engaging in a similar exercise as they lay out our state’s priorities for 2019. As Governor Cuomo reflects on how our state is succeeding and where there is still room for growth, we must ensure that education and school improvement remain top priorities for New York.
In his recent budget address, the Governor made a commitment to support an education system that distributes funding based on schools’ needs and fairness. Further, he also took the first steps to follow through on that commitment by allocating increased aid for our highest-need schools in his 2019 budget. While this can be considered encouraging progress, these priorities must remain at the forefront of Governor Cuomo and his administration’s to-do list for the upcoming year for the success of our state and our students.
As President and CEO of the New York Urban League and a lifelong advocate for young people, I know that closing achievement gaps between our highest- and lowest-performing schools is one of the most pressing equity issues of our time. If we want to improve education outcomes and strengthen our state, we need to improve our schools and assure that every child has access to a high-quality education, no matter their zip code or the color of their skin. Especially as companies like Amazon bring more tech jobs to New York City, we must ensure that all schools promote skills like math, science, problem-solving, and innovation so that children across our city and state are qualified for such positions.
Under the most recent education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), our state has an opportunity to make the bold and innovative changes necessary to improve the trajectory of all New York students. A recent review of New York’s plan to improve low-performing schools by education experts and civil rights leaders found that New York has laid a strong foundation but can still improve the sustainability of its plan. Overall, New York’s plan focuses on equity in schools and ending segregation inequities. It also builds on proven, successful school improvement strategies and emphasizes school improvement at the local level, so that tools and techniques are tailored to local and diverse communities. However, while New York empowers local communities to lead turnaround efforts for low-performing schools, the state could take additional steps and use its authority to help ensure schools and districts make progress on their improvement goals.
As the Governor works with lawmakers on our state budget and embarks on 2019, I urge them all to put actions behind words and assure that our schools have sufficient support to increase equity and give every child a high-quality education. I also urge educators, parents, and community members to make your voices heard and advocate for the changes you want to see in your local school. We all play an important role in helping our students learn, and their success is our most important resolution for the new year.
Arva Rice is President and CEO of the New York Urban League.
On any given day, you can find Sarah Carpenter organizing parents in the Memphis area. A single mother of four daughters and 13 grandchildren, Carpenter was an advocate long before becoming co-founder and CEO of The Memphis Lift, which she describes as “a parent organization run by parents, for parents.”
Born and raised in North Memphis, Carpenter says her experience as a single parent prepared her to lead The Memphis Lift. “I have always been an advocate for my daughters and for other’s kids,” she says. “I started in 1995 when I was asked to help open a Family Resource Center in a high school and students without involved parents in their lives took to me. Parents would stop me and say, ‘They are passing my son on to High School and he can’t even read.”
Carpenter and her fellow co-founders met during the training component of a public advocate fellowship funded by the Memphis Education Fund, which educated parents about the landscape in Shelby County Schools (SCS). At the time, SCS had the highest number of “priority schools” –those in which student scores on state exams ranked in the bottom five percent – in Tennessee.
Carpenter and her colleagues have since visited more than 10,000 homes to educate others on the state of Memphis’s schools. SCS students can attend four categories of schools: traditional neighborhood schools, charter schools, charter schools in the state-run Achievement Schools District, and schools in the district’s Innovation Zone.
For Carpenter and her organization, ensuring that all parents – regardless of income – have access to all the options SCS has to offer is paramount. In January 2018, the district launched a scorecard to help parents compare schools based on student achievement, growth, attendance, and suspension rates. The Memphis Lift helps parents interpret the scorecard and navigate their options, so they can make the best choices for their children.
Carpenter is intimately acquainted with the many options parents have: all of her daughters attended neighborhood schools, yet all but one of her grandchildren attend charter schools.
Charter schools are public schools operated by independent organizations—mostly nonprofits—typically on five-year “charters,” or performance contracts. They are free from many of the bureaucratic rules that stifle innovation in district schools, but in return they are accountable for their performance: if their students are falling too far behind grade level, their charters are not renewed and they must close.
Carpenter’s granddaughters are not unusual. Charter enrollment in SCS has increased every year for the past four years; currently, 15,200 students—15 percent of the district–are enrolled in 51 charter schools. In spite of the increased enrollment, enrolling in charter schools in SCS is no easy feat, even for the most engaged parent. Enrolling in the highest performing charters, which use lotteries to select their students because so many apply, is even more difficult. First families mustvisit their zoned school or approved school choice location to get a PowerSchool account, then they must register online, then visit charters they are interested in, then apply and hope they win the lottery. For parents with multiple children in multiple schools, the process can be difficult, expensive, and time-consuming.
The topic of charter schools in SCS was highlighted in The Memphis Lift’s Annual Parents Summit, last October. This year’s summit was done in collaboration with the Memphis Education Fund and the Progressive Policy Institute’s Reinventing America’s Schools project.
Charters in Tennessee are authorized either by districts or by the state Board of Education. In cities and states where authorizers close failing charters, their performance is usually far better than that of district schools. Where authorizers fail to close lagging schools, charter performance is far less impressive. Unfortunately, Shelby County Schools has not been rigorous about closing its charters, and their quality varies.
In the most recent SCS scorecard, SCS secondary charter schools perform better than K-8 charter schools when compared to district-managed schools. SCS secondary charter schools outperformed district-managed secondary schools, with 54 percent rated as “good” or “excellent,” compared to only 46 percent of district-managed schools.” District-managed K-8 schools outperformed K-8 charter schools with 41 percent rated as “good” or “excellent,” compared to only 33 percent of K-8 charter schools.
Parents attending the summit supported replacing underperforming charter anddistrict schools with stronger operators, both charters and district school leaders. This can usually be done without disruption to the students, who remain in the school under new leadership.
But for parents at the summit, a quality charter school didn’t mean much without access to it. So The Memphis Lift’s highest priority is a universal enrollment system for all Memphis public schools, through which parents can use a single application to rank their top choice schools. The system then uses a lottery algorithm to match students to schools based on availability and preference. For low-income parents, universal enrollment systems help ensure equal access to quality schools. New Orleans, Denver, Indianapolis, Washington, D.C., Newark, and several other cities have adopted such systems, which include virtually all traditional and charter schools.
The third priority summit participants chose was improving transportation to schools, because many families simply cannot get their children to quality schools
Carpenter is excited about the future of The Memphis Lift, but she understands how much work still needs to be done. “We have made an impact on waking parents up about how this system is run…but we haven’t moved the needle enough,” she says.
Meanwhile, Carpenter has received multiple requests for advice on how to replicate The Memphis Lift model in other cities. Currently the organization is mentoring parent groups in St. Louis, Nashville, Atlanta, and Newark.
Despite her national notoriety and popularity with those in the education reform community, Carpenter is quick to remind us that, “Before I heard the term ‘ed reform,’ I was already advocating for kids in my community and my own kids, too!”
Her advice to parents with children in underperforming school districts is to first “get educated on the landscape of education…You can’t fight for anything if you don’t know what you’re fighting for.”
Follow Carpenter and The Memphis Lift on their website www.memphislift.orgor on Twitter @memphis_lift.
African Americans and Latinos may have their share of differing opinions or political stances, but one area where both groups readily agree is that racist hatred will not be tolerated at their school.
A recent hate message to former principal Crecia Robinson, a three-time victim of racist messages at Lankershim Elementary School in San Bernardino, raised parental concerns from parents on both sides over the potential for discrimination in the classroom.
Last week, Superintendent Dale Marsden released comments that he would diligently pursue an investigation to bring the race hater to justice.
“Although the letter didn’t directly threaten physical harm to any staff or students, the contents of the letter were disturbing, unacceptable, and sufficiently threatened the climate and culture of Lankershim Elementary School,” said Marsden in a letter to parents posted on the school website.
Over three years ago, Robinson received her first piece of race hate in her mailbox in May 2015 with a message scrawled, “We do not want a black principal here,” and that the team should not have selected her.
A few months later, the San Bernardino Unified School District Affirmative Action Department launched its investigation over a second carefully constructed hate message of cut out and pasted letters, that were copied and posted in the staff room, saying “Thanks nigger for collaborating.”
The person that wrote the hate messages was never identified.
Ms. Robinson has since relocated to another department within the district.
San Bernardino school board member Danny Tillman said he recently visited the school, and attended community meetings where the environment appeared welcoming, and all seemed well.
The last investigation was conducted at the direction of the internal school police. This time around, he said the Board is giving direction and fully dedicating resources to catch the perpetrator.
No matter the cost, he said they are prepared to bring in the best investigators.
“Our [school] police department did an investigation last time, but they don’t do investigations day in and day out,” he said. “You’ve got some folks out there that specialize in investigations. We’ll bring in the best of the best.”
If parents are concerned about the environment of the school, he said the board is also prepared to help them move their children to another school.
“It’s sad that it has to come to that, but I have to make sure that the parents feel comfortable, and at least feel like their kids are in a safe environment. It’s terrible that we can’t identify who the person is,” he said.
Linda Bardere, the spokesperson for the district, said at this time she is not able to release the agency names involved in order to protect the integrity of the investigation.
“The last investigation ended when the team was unable to identify the person responsible,” she said in an email. “The 2018 investigation that was launched on Oct. 2 will include an independent investigator, multiple law enforcement agencies and experts in hate crime investigations.”
Dr. Margaret Hill said the last investigation checked for fingerprints, reviewed surveillance, monitored the school, and was primarily concerned that staff and students were safe. Those protections were in place, but they were unsuccessful in the catch.
This time, she feels the process will be more productive because the superintendent has involved the entire community.
Everyone is watching and listening.
“It’s a small world,” she said. “You never know who might be able to talk to an outsider. When people know who’s involved, and [through] exposure to the community, someone will talk if they think they are not going to get into trouble.”
Having grown up in the segregated South, and as principal for 16 years at San Andreas High School, she’s seen just about every version of racism in existence, but she was also surprised at a recent conversation she heard.
One person commented that they couldn’t believe the racist was teaching Black kids.
“I said, you don’t want them teaching Latinos or white kids. A racist can get their point over to kids without the kids even knowing it,” Dr. Hill said.
The situation is historically familiar, and unnerving, but she said she is just as concerned about how what prejudiced teachers avoid in the classroom that also impacts the kids.
“They’ll cover MLK, Rosa Parks, but I don’t know how many have heard of Frederick Douglas, or how many have heard of Shirley Chisholm,” she said. “Sometimes, it’s not what they’re teaching. It’s what they’re not teaching.”
Young Adult (YA) authors, Paula Chase and Varian Johnson had never met in person. One lived in Maryland and the other in Texas. One was a spokesperson for small city government while the other designed bridges. But, they shared two things in common: they wrote YA fiction and were tired of watching quality work go unnoticed.
Chase explained that she was tired of “hearing people say that there was no YA literature for African American teen readers,” when, “At the time, there were at least five YA series featuring Black characters, but parents, teachers, and even librarians didn’t know about them.” Chase and Johnson knew that if they “wanted more books about us to be available, we had to do a better job of supporting Black YA literature authors and illustrators.”
Determined to launch an initiative that would shine a spotlight on the many African American authors writing for young readers, Chase and Johnson collaborated with author Kelly Starling Lyons and award-winning illustrator, Don Tate. The Brown Bookshelf was born.
Today, nearly 12 years later, the Brown Bookshelf is a collaboration of ten authors and illustrators including: Crystal Allen, Tracey Baptiste, Tameka Fryer Brown, Jerry Craft, Gwendolyn Hooks, and Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich.
Now, their 28 Days Later initiative takes their original goal to highlight Black authors a step further. The initiative is designed to highlight Black authors with recently released books or books that have “gone unnoticed.” During Black History Month, every day, a different book and author will be featured. We hope that “by us showcasing the twenty-eight best voices in African American children’s literature, parents, teachers and librarians will walk away with a full arsenal of recommendations for young readers. To date, we have featured 308 authors and illustrators.”
The Brown Book Shelf believes that every book has a reader and every child can be a reader. The trick is in helping the readers find the books that speak to them. Thanks to the sheer volume of books produced annually, it can be especially difficult for young readers to find books by Black authors and/or that feature Black characters. 28 Days Later is a beacon for those seeking both classic children’s books by Black authors as well as the latest in Black kid literature.
They believe spreading a love of literacy beyond February is essential to nurturing a generation of avid readers. They work to ensure that Black voices in children’s literature are not just heard, but also included across the spectrum for all children. The Brown Bookshelf is made up of authors and illustrators with a body of work spanning picture books to young adult fiction and we’re pleased to introduce parents to our work. Check out a list of culturally relevant books below:
One More Dino on the Floor by: Kelly Starling Lyons (Author)
Parby:Tay: Dance of the Veggies by: Don Tate (Illustrator), Eloise Greenfield (Author)
Historical fiction Picture Books
Hope’s Gift by: Kelly Starling Lyons (Author)
Stalebread Charlie and the Razzy Dazzy Spasm Band by: Don Tate (Illustrator), Michael Mahin (Author)
Non-Fiction/Biographical Picture Books
Tiny Stitches: The Life of Medical Pioneer Vivien Thomas by: Gwendolyn Hooks (Author)
If You Were A Kid During the Civil Rights Movement by: Gwendolyn Hooks (Author)
Someday is Now: Clara Luper and the 1958 Oklahoma Sit-ins by: Olugbemisola Rhudayby:Perkovich (Author)
No Small Potatoes: Junius G. Groves and His Kingdom in Kansas by: Don Tate (Illustrator), Tonya Bolden (Author)
Block Party by: Gwendolyn Hooks
Jada Jones: Class Act by: Kelly Starling Lyons
Contemporary Middle Grade
So Done by: Paula Chase
The Parker Inheritance by: Varian Johnson
The Great Green Heist by: Varian Johnson
Two Naomis by: Olugbemisola Rhudayby:Perkovich
Middle Grade Fantasy
The Jumbies by: Tracey Baptiste
Rise of the Jumbies by: Tracey Baptiste
Minecraft: The Crash by: Tracey Baptiste
Humorous Middle Grade
The Magnificent Mya Tibbs by: Spirit Week Showdown by: Crystal Allen
The Magnificent Mya Tibbs by: The Wall of Fame Game by: Crystal Allen
The Magnificent Mya Tibbs by: Mya In The Middle by: Crystal Allen
Middle Grade Graphic Novel
Mama’s Boyz: In Living Color by: Jerry Craft
The Offenders by: Jerry Craft
Middle Grade Nonfiction
Above and Beyond: NASA’s Journey to Tomorrow by: Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich
Contemporary Young Adult
So Not The Drama by: Paula Chase
Don’t Get It Twisted by: Paula Chase
Saving Maddie by: Varian Johnson
For a full listing of books recommended during the Brown Bookshelf’s panel at the 2018 National Council of Teachers of English conference, Using Black Children’s Literature to Amplify All Student Voices, visit: thebrownbookshelf.com
Teacher concerns transformed into organized protests when, in early 2018, the West Virginia teacher’s strike made headlines, lasting over 2 weeks. Local education activists and teacher advocates forced the state legislature to address many of their concerns through the statewide strike. Afterwards, teachers returned to their classrooms with a 5 percent pay raise.
The strike lead to similar actions in several other school districts across the country including Oklahoma, Arizona, Kentucky and North Carolina.
Teacher grievances in Los Angeles echo the concerns of teachers in many school districts nationwide. Among their demands are smaller class sizes, an increase in support staff and higher pay.
The Los Angeles Unified School District is overwhelmingly comprised of low-income students, with over 80% of its students qualifying for free or reduced lunch.
Within this immense school system of 900 schools and roughly 30,000 teachers, classroom sizes can often exceed 32 students per teacher at the elementary level and up to 39 students per teacher for middle and high school. This student-to-teacher ratio greatly exceeds the 16 to 28 students per teacher national averages in urban school districts, according to the National Teacher and Principal Survey of 2015-16.
One of the Every Student Succeeds Act’s (ESSA) primary mandates involves building systems of support for educators through the use of additional funding and initiatives provided in Title II.
Title II funds purpose to support class size reduction, encourage performance-based pay for effective educators and develop opportunities to improve overall school conditions. In addition to funding, ESSA will enable school systems to attempt to address the shortage in classroom instructors by shifting the emphasis for teacher evaluations away from student standardized test performance — a point of stress for many educators.
Thus far, the Los Angeles Unified School District has offered a 6% pay increase as well as a classroom cap size of 35 for elementary schools and 39 for high school English and Math courses. However, in a school district as massive as Los Angeles, support staff is also vital.
Teachers in Los Angeles are also demanding that something is done to address the current state of affairs, which allows a workload of over 500 students per guidance counselor and over 2,000 students per nurse in the county. The school district has promised to address these concerns by offering one additional academic counselor per high school in the district and ensuring that each elementary school has daily nursing services.
If you are in Los Angeles or a similarly affected school district, learn more about ESSA’s impact on Title II and find out how your State Education Agency (SEA) and Local Education Agency (LEA) can support the extremely important work our educators are doing to advance our students’ success.
Akil Wilson is a Washington, DC-based podcaster and parent. He is a contributing writer for the Washington Informer in addition to providing broadcast commentary for a variety of media outlets.
As a seemingly twisted way to ring in 2019, the Trump administration has sent a loud and clear message that it’s okay for educators and school leaders to keep Black children out of school buildings and exclude them from opportunities to learn. It may sound extreme, but that’s exactly what it means to rescind school discipline guidance that was put in place explicitly to ensure that Black children were not treated this way and discriminated against.
The current administration, however, wants us to believe that discrimination against Black children is a myth. It is not. It is the lived experience of too many, if not all Black children. In the 2015-16 school year, Black boys made up 8 percent of public school enrollment, but they were 25 percent of the boys suspended out of school. Black girls were 8 percent of enrollment, but 14 percent of the girls suspended out of school. While Black children are overrepresented in practices that exclude or remove students from school, White children are underrepresented. Such data are clear evidence that racism and bias often drive exclusionary practices. To ignore this is to preserve the status quo.
If the numbers aren’t enough to show that discrimination exists in American classrooms, studies have shown that Black children do not misbehave more than their White peers, rather they are punished more. In fact, Black students are more likely than their White peers to receive a disciplinary action for a discretionary offense like talking back, violating a dress code, or being defiant. Black children are also more likely to be suspended out of school for their first offense. Clear, appropriate, and consistent consequences and educator training — as the guidance calls for — helps to eliminate the discrimination and bias that fuel the disproportionate punishment of Black children.
This administration would also have us believe that discipline disparities are a result of poverty, arguing that experiencing childhood trauma and living in distressed communities are to blame. But poverty cannot explain away the discipline disparities: Studies have shown that when taking a student’s economic background into account, Black children are still more likely to be suspended than students of other races. And let’s not forget that poverty, too, is a result of deliberate policy choices that leave Black children isolated in neighborhoods with little resources — including the longstanding impact of discriminatory housing policies such as redlining. These are choices that this administration has done nothing to address.
What many (including this administration) fail to realize is that there is a difference between discipline and punishment. Suspensions and expulsions don’t teach. They punish. And far too often, adults decide that Black children are not worthy of teaching and second chances. Excluding students from classrooms does not help them to correct the mistakes that children inevitably make. It also has negative long-term consequences. These negative outcomes include poor academic performance, lower levels of engagement, leaving school, and increased likelihood of involvement with the criminal justice system.
Unfortunately, attempts to exclude Black children from educational opportunities are not new. America has a rich history of locking Black children out of the classroom. This list includes anti-literacy laws, past and current resistance to school desegregation, lack of access to well-resourced schools, school based arrests, poor course access, enormous higher education costs, and unjust exclusionary policies. Every barrier and trick in the book has been used to limit the education of Black children. The removal of the discipline guidance is just the latest.
Rescinding the guidance is a reminder to those fighting for educational equity: For Black children, simply attending school is an act of protest, and learning and excelling while there is an act of racial justice. Every time a Black child is sent home for a minor offense, they are sent the message that they are unwanted or don’t belong. But Black children do belong, and they deserve to be safe, included, and to have access to a quality education. Despite the current administration’s actions, this is the message that advocates must make clear at the beginning of 2019 — and every year hereafter.
It’s up to us as advocates for educational justice to ensure that schools do not illegally discriminate against Black children. Encourage school leaders to commit to ongoing racial bias training; require culturally sustaining classroom management strategies; examine their school and district data to help determine if race and bias are driving who gets punished; adopt clear, fair, and transparent consequences; and eliminate school exclusion for discretionary non-violent offenses.
For more, watch John B. King Jr. break down how we can break the school-to-prison pipeline.
By: Naomi Shelton, Director of K-12 Advocacy at UNCF (United Negro College Fund)
Equity has been a huge buzzword in the field of education this year. Education advocates and politicians alike have called for an increase in educational equity, but what does the term really mean? Equity is not Equality. Equity creates equality by prioritizing resources to students who need them the most.
For example, think of a typical track meet. There are five runners – each in their own lane. Each runner must run one lap around the track. The first runner to complete the lap, wins the race. Now let’s use this analogy to inform our understanding of equity.
Equality would mean that every runner would start the race at the exact same spot in their lane. However, the track is oval-shaped. If each runner began at the same spot, each runner’s distance to the finish line would be different. The runner in the innermost lane would run a shorter distance than the runner in the outermost lane. Sure, they would both start in the same spot (EQUAL), but the runners in the innermost lanes would have an advantage – in distance – than their counterparts in the outermost lanes.
This is precisely why track meets do not operate this way. Since the track is oval-shaped, each runner begins the race in their own lane, at different, equal distance, spots along the track; ensuring that each runner, runs the exact same distance needed to complete the race.
Now, think of our current public education system in this same context. Students – regardless of race, geography, household makeup – start on the same marker on the track. Some students, like the runner in the outermost lane, have to run harder and faster to get to the finish line. The barrier here is distance. In the real world, barriers include low-income, resource deprived neighborhoods, disabilities that require additional expertise, culturally negligent curriculum, outdated technology, inexperienced teachers or access to critical supportive services.
Meanwhile, the runner in the innermost lane has it a lot easier. They don’t have to run as fast or as hard to get to the finish line because of their initial position in the race. The barriers here are fewer in number. In terms of education, these innermost runners attend schools in affluent neighborhoods with a surplus of resources. These students have the advantage of local tax-based funding formulas, parent lead fundraising efforts and/or private funding, and state-of-the-art technology.
What we need is education reform that promotes fairness. Fairness equals equity. As Debby Irving in her book Waking Up White: And Finding Myself in the Story of Race states, “Equality means giving all students the exact same thing to meet the same expectations. Equity means holding people of differing needs to a single expectation and giving them what they need to achieve it.” In other words, the playing fields need to be leveled. It’s critical that our public educational system undertakes reform – changes so that each student is given what they need to succeed.
Our education system should support students by allocating the most resources to students who are most in need, just as track athletes arrange themselves for fairer competition. The national education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) targets dollars to the highest poverty schools and districts.
Under No Child Left Behind, schools could lose funding if they failed to meet statewide standards. But under ESSA, states cannot reduce funding by more than ten percent from year to year despite school performance. ESSA also attempts to ensure that low-income students are not disproportionally taught by ineffective, inexperienced, and/or out-of-field teachers.
ESSA requires that state and district report cards include the percentage of inexperienced teachers, principals, and other school leaders as well as teachers with emergency credentials, and teachers teaching subjects out of their range of expertise. ESSA also seeks to relieve some teacher angst surrounding evaluation systems by ending the requirement for state teacher evaluation systems to focus significantly on student test scores.
ESSA gives power back to the states to control education policy. Now, members of the community must hold their school leaders and elected officials accountable to implement system-wide and school-specific measures that ensure equity in our schools.
Naomi Shelton has experience in education related community engagement both at the national and local levels and public administration. Currently, she is the Director of K-12 Advocacy at UNCF (United Negro College Fund), the nation’s largest and most effective minority education organization. There, she focuses on national education initiatives and community engagement efforts to ensure more African-American students are college and career ready. Naomi is currently a member of the DC Public Charter School Board, appointed by Washington, D.C. Mayor, Muriel Bowser. Her passion is educational equity. Follow Naomi on Twitter at @NaomiSheltonDC
The Ohio State Department of Education published its goals for White students at 86.3 versus 63.4 for Black students, as reported by the Performance Index Subgroup Data. The NAACP Leadership made this presentation to the Roberts Deliberating Club (RDC), which is comprised of Black professionals and business leaders, last month, where data was rolled out that they found to be incredulous.
“If this is true, why is the community not more aware,” said Atty Charles Mickens, an RDC member.
“We are trying to make the community aware of this disparity which is why we are presenting it, said George Freeman, NAACP President. “It took a while to ferret out the details.”
“In March 2018, the State Superintendent didn’t even know that he could require teachers to teach the State standards,” said Freeman.
“When we pointed out to him that he had the power to order the teachers to comply and as of August 2018, there was an official order to do so.”
It took time to dig into the details, but the Ohio Department of Education Superintendent DeMaria has ordered the teachers to adhere to standards for the first-time in history, said Freeman.
That might sound unbelievable, but in retrospect, it is hard to fathom, but thanks to the leadership of the local and state NAACP, there has been intense and focused attention on providing remedies long overlooked.
DeMaria responded to a series of questions posed by the NAACP Education Task Force, one of them being, “Are all Ohio Licensed classroom teachers required to teach the State Criterion Reference Standards?”
His answer in a written response in August 2018 “There is no legal requirement specifically directed to teachers relative to teaching the State’s standards”.
DeMaria followed with the statement “standards are what is tested, one might suggest a strong motivation to teach the standards.”
The response came following months of digging into the data to prove that the fault of the failures falls squarely in the lap of the administration of both the State and the school District.
“If they don’t require it, strong motivation obviously has not had an impact” said Dr. McNair, president of the RDC. The 20 years of published report card failures prove a strong motivation does not make a requirement.”
“We often battle the misperception that poverty is the cause for low performance, but data has proven conclusively that race is a factor not understood or factored in the equation,” said Jimma McWilson, who chairs the State NAACP Task Force on ESSA and Preventing School Takeovers and serves as the Secretary of the local chapter.
Indeed, Steubenville, which mirrors Youngstown with a 100% poverty student population, has targets much higher and performance much higher. The missing link is addressing the race factor specifically, said McWilson.
When the State audit of the District was released it validated this important flaw which is obviously a key to success for students.
“You’ve heard of students graduating with high GPA’s that struggle in college because of the lack of preparation. That preparation weakness is a signal that the grades were not standard, but subjective based on the classroom teacher,” said Freeman.
“We’ve been at this for several years and the consistent clear message is that many educators don’t know the legal ramifications of their positions,” said Freeman.
“The rhetoric around teaching to a test has been bandied about, but the standards are what is required on college entrance exams” said Jerry Sutton, CPA and RDC member.
“Things like this have been happening for years and more people need to be aware of them. We could have kept them (NAACP) here for hours,” said Sutton.
Dr. McNair commended the NAACP leadership for keeping a keen focus on these details.
“We find it unbelievable that the standards have not been required, but rather suggested. And the fact that the State targets are so low for Black students only reinforces the fact, as earlier reported, the failure is not on the parents or poverty or even the teachers. It’s the leadership. If teaching the standards is not required or inspected, it can’t realistically be expected,” said McNair.
“What makes it so unfortunate is the Black community and the children’s future is in peril as a result. It is unconscionable,” said McNair.
“The big challenge is the R word,” said Dr. McNair. “When race is discussed as a problem White people often have a difficult time wrapping their heads around the problem. The data clearly indicates addressing race, and not poverty only, is a leadership, and a strategic planning issue that must be addressed head on.”
The Roberts Deliberating Club meeting was held at Mill Creek Community Center on Glenwood Ave, Youngstown, in December 15, 2018. The following link is to the State report card with the targets for improvement.