Communities Of Color
And Public School Reform
Findings from qualitative and quantitative research
Conducted May – June 2011Communities of Color & Public School Reform
NOTE: Following this most recent NY times report on the devastating Educational Genocide currently in effect against Black youth- especially young Black boys and men- are excerpts from a 2002 publication that many folks have never heard of: IMPROVING SCHOOLS FOR AFRICAN AMERICAN STUDENTS: A Reader for Educational Leaders.
I include this because it shows that nothing has changed for the better over the past 8 years for Black Youth... and that there were and are primarily Black Educators with expertise and the will to reverse this deathly course. But a combination of institutional racism and the demands of capital to have a more dumbed down workingclass in the US has rendered these educators with positive solutions to the fringes of the misnamed "Education Reform" Movement spearheaded by Bloomberg, Duncan and their megacorporate allies.
Our task is to get this information out to as many educators and parents and students as possible. THEN, we must find new ways of mobilizing these forces to fight for the reversal of educational genocide with the full realization that this fight is within the broader context of the struggle for a systemic social and economic revolution. -SEA
November 9, 2010-- nytimes.com
Proficiency of Black Students Is Found to Be Far Lower Than Expected
By TRIP GABRIEL
An achievement gap separating black from white students has long been documented — a social divide extremely vexing to policy makers and the target of one blast of school reform after another.
But a new report focusing on black males suggests that the picture is even bleaker than generally known.
Only 12 percent of black fourth-grade boys are proficient in reading, compared with 38 percent of white boys, and only 12 percent of black eighth-grade boys are proficient in math, compared with 44 percent of white boys.
Poverty alone does not seem to explain the differences: poor white boys do just as well as African-American boys who do not live in poverty, measured by whether they qualify for subsidized school lunches.
The data was distilled from highly respected national math and reading tests, known as the National Assessment for Educational Progress, which are given to students in fourth and eighth grades, most recently in 2009. The report, "A Call for Change," is to be released Tuesday by the Council of the Great City Schools, an advocacy group for urban public schools.
Although the outlines of the problem and many specifics have been previously reported, the group hopes that including so much of what it calls "jaw-dropping data" in one place will spark a new sense of national urgency.
"What this clearly shows is that black males who are not eligible for free and reduced-price lunch are doing no better than white males who are poor," said Michael Casserly, executive director of the council.
Look Between the Rosy View of Black Educational Attainment and One Sees Black Male education Degradation...
The report shows that black boys on average fall behind from their earliest years. Black mothers have a higher infant mortality rate and black children are twice as likely as whites to live in a home where no parent has a job. In high school, African-American boys drop out at nearly twice the rate of white boys, and their SAT scores are on average 104 points lower. In college, black men represented just 5 percent of students in 2008.
The analysis of results on the national tests found that math scores in 2009 for black boys were not much different than those for black girls in Grades 4 and 8, but black boys lagged behind Hispanics of both sexes, and they fell behind white boys by at least 30 points, a gap sometimes interpreted as three academic grades.
The search for explanations has recently looked at causes besides poverty, and this report may further spur those efforts.
"There's accumulating evidence that there are racial differences in what kids experience before the first day of kindergarten," said Ronald Ferguson, director of the Achievement Gap Initiative at Harvard. "They have to do with a lot of sociological and historical forces. In order to address those, we have to be able to have conversations that people are unwilling to have."
Those include "conversations about early childhood parenting practices," Dr. Ferguson said. "The activities that parents conduct with their 2-, 3- and 4-year-olds. How much we talk to them, the ways we talk to them, the ways we enforce discipline, the ways we encourage them to think and develop a sense of autonomy."
The report urges convening a White House conference, encouraging Congress to appropriate more money for schools and establishing networks of black mentors.
What it does not discuss are policy responses identified with a robust school reform movement that emphasizes closing failing schools, offering charter schools as alternatives and raising the quality of teachers.
The report did not go down this road because "there's not a lot of research to indicate that many of those strategies produce better results," Mr. Casserly said.
Other have a different response. The key to narrowing the achievement gap, said Dr. Ferguson, is "really good teaching."
One large urban school district that has made progress is Baltimore's, where the dropout rate for African-American boys declined to 4.9 percent during the last academic year, down from 11.9 percent three years earlier. Graduation rates for black boys were also up: 57 percent in 2009-10, compared with 51 percent three years earlier.
Andres A. Alonso, the chief executive of the Baltimore City Public Schools, said the improvement had little to do with changes at the margins, like lengthening the school day or adding mentors. Rather, Mr. Alonso cited aggressively closing failing schools, knocking on the doors of dropouts' homes to lure them back and creating real-time alerts — "almost like an electrical charge" — when a student misses several days of school.
"Hispanic kids and African-American kids this year had a lower dropout rate than white kids," Mr. Alonso said.
IMPROVING SCHOOLS FOR AFRICAN AMERICAN STUDENTS
A Reader for Educational Leaders
Edited by Sheryl J. Denbo and Lynson Moore Beaulieu
Vinetta C. Jones, Ph.D.
Dean School of Education, Howard University
Washington, D. C.
Publisher: Charles C. Thomas -- Springfield, Illinois, 2002
Order directly from publisher
Order from Amazon.com: hardcover or softcover
About the Editors
List of Contributors
Foreword by Vinetta C. Jones
Introduction Table of Contents
Part I: Recognizing and Addressing Institutional Racism
Part II: Institutional Change and Culturally Relevant Pedagogy
Part III: Achieving Results
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Part I: Recognizing and Addressing Institutional Racism
Article 1: My View - James P. Comer
Article 2: Why Can't We Close the Achievement Gap? -- Sheryl J. Denbo
Article 3: The Effects of Racism, Socioeconomic Class and Gender on Academic Achievement of African American Students -- Susan Shaffer, Patricia E. Ortman, and Sheryl Denbo
Article 4: The Recruitment and Retention of African American Students in Gifted Education: Beyond Deficit Ideologies -- Donna K Ford
Article 5: Special Education: What Can be Done? Programs that Use Promising Practices in Educating Students Who Have Been Placed at Risk -- Kayte Fearn
Part II: Institutional Change and Culturally Relevant Pedagogy: Two Sides of the Same Coin
Article 6: Institutional Practices that Support African American Student Achievement -- Sheryl J. Denbo
Article 7: A No-Excuses Approach to Closing the Achievement Gap -- Belinda Williams
Article 8: Talent Development, Cultural Deep Structure, and School Reform: Implications for African Immersion Initiatives -- A. Wade Boykin
Article 9: But That's Just Good Teaching! The Case for Culturally Relevant Pedagogy -- Gloria Ladson-Billings
Article 10: An Educational Leader's Guide to Culture and Learning Style -- Pat Burke Guild
Article 11: African American Children and Literacy: Moving Past the Ebonics Debate to a Common Understanding -- Lynson Moore Beaulieu
Article 12: African American Children and Literacy: Literacy Development in the Early Childhood Years -- Lynson Moore Beaulieu
Article 13: African American Children and Literacy: Literacy Development Across the Elementary, Middle, and High School Years -- Lynson Moore Beaulieu
Article 14: African American Children and Algebra for All -- William Tate
Part III: Achieving Results
Article 15: The Authentic Standards Movement and Its Evil Twin -- Scott Thompson
Article 16: Redefining Results -- Mike Schmoker
Article 17: The Involvement of African American Families and Communities in Education: Whose Responsibility Is It? -- Robert Witherspoon
Article 18: High-Achieving Elementary Schools with Large Percentages of Low-Income African American Students: A Review and Critique of the Current Research -- Ray Yau
Article 19: Middle Schools: African American Children at the Crossroads -- Nathalie Thandiwe
Article 20: Making High Schools Work for African American Students -- Patricia E. Ortman and Nathalie Thandiwe
Article 21: District-wide Systemic Reform: Equity 2000 Shows Promise in Narrowing Achievement Gaps -- Vinetta C. Jones
About the Editors
Dr. Sheryl J. Denbo has been involved in civil rights and education for more than 30 years. She has a national reputation on issues of school reform with a focus on equity. Having worked with federally funded projects since the 1980s, she is frequently requested as a keynote speaker by educational and parent groups around the country. She co-authored a highly regarded work on equity and school reform entitled Educate America: A Call for Equity in School Reform, which focuses on systemic reform efforts that prioritize the problems of low-income students. The author of numerous publications, her most recent article is "All Students Are Not Equal," which appears in Challenges to Equality: Poverty and Race in America, edited by Chester Hartman, 2001.
Lynson Moore Beaulieu is currently the Director of Race Equity Programs at the Mid-Atlantic Equity Center. Since coming to Washington, DC, in 1994, she has also served in senior staff positions at the Council of Chief State School Officers and in the U.S. Department of Education's Compensatory Education Programs (Title I) Division in Washington, DC. Her broad background in educational equity includes expertise in early care and education, as well as in elementary and secondary education. Ms. Beaulieu practices a systemic approach to institutional change and in recent years has focused her work on building the capacity of school leaders, educators, and institutions to more successfully serve children and families from diverse ethnic, cultural, and language backgrounds.
The most pressing challenge that this nation faces as we begin this new millennium is helping all of America's children meet the standards needed to live, learn, work, communicate, and be productive citizens in the highly technological, global community of the twenty-first century. Current demographics show students from diverse ethnic, cultural, and language backgrounds are in the majority in public schools in the states of California, New Mexico, Mississippi, and Louisiana, as well as in most large urban school districts. In addition, there are predictions of increases in these trends. America's very future depends on how quickly we can end the "savage inequalities," which produce inevitable achievement gaps resulting from the undereducation of African American and other students from diverse backgrounds. Many current school reform policies are causing achievement gaps to widen rather than close. These policies are focusing primarily on high standards and assessment while neglecting issues of access to high-quality education and curriculum taught by competent and caring teachers who hold high expectations for currently underachieving students.
Research shows that an effective school leader is key to any transformation of schools into places where all students from diverse backgrounds succeed academically. The challenge is great in this era of shortages of school principals, especially in urban areas. Into this breech comes Improving Schools for African American Students: A Reader for Educational Leaders, it brings together in one volume the accumulated knowledge, from research and experience, of cutting edge ideas that advance our understanding of "what works." These outstanding researchers and practitioners highlight critical issues and provide proven practices that will be invaluable to those preparing to be school leaders in diverse settings, as well as for those creating policies to support the development of schools where all students reach high standards. This volume puts at the fingertips of education leaders and policymakers an institutional and cultural context from which to develop policies, practices, and programs that support high achievement among African American students.
Each author not only discusses what is not working in today's schools and classrooms but also provides the reader with specific examples of what is working and helps us to understand why. While acknowledging that African American students are frequently succeeding despite the institutional barriers they face, each article provides detailed discussions of what these bafflers are and how to remove them. Improving Schools for African American Students: A Reader for Educational Leaders discusses key issues in educational reform, including the processes involved in reforming individual schools and whole school systems, academic standards and assessment practices, staff development, effective leadership, literacy, math education, and parent participation, all from the perspective of strategies that have been proven to work for African American students. Administrators and other educational leaders will be exposed to important new ideas and will revisit ideas of the past from a new perspective. The information presented in this volume is important for anyone who is struggling to improve our schools so that they become institutions that support the learning of all students.
VINETTA C. JONES
The question is not whether we can afford to invest in every child; it is whether we can afford not to.
-- Marian Wright Edelman
Improving Schools for African American Students: A Reader for Educational Leaders provides education leaders with access to critical ideas, research, and knowledge across a broad range of educational issues that affect the successful schooling of African American children and youth. The articles that make up this book discuss generic education issues such as policy reform, the importance of high-quality teaching, and the improvement of schools from the perspective of the academic achievement of African American students. They explore the need to identify and redress policies and practices that hinder African American student achievement. They discuss effective teacher training programs, both pre-service and in-service, that focus on the academic and the ethical, social, political, and cultural dimensions of teaching African American students. These articles explore educational programs that build on the strengths that African American students bring to school, as well as how to create these programs in a wide variety of school settings, ranging from schools that serve predominantly African American students to schools in which African American students are a small percentage of the total school population.
The articles in this anthology were selected to provide concerned education leaders with a better understanding of how they can support high levels of academic achievement and social development for African American children and youth. Improving Schools for African American Students: A Reader for Educational Leaders contains articles that will help educational leaders to recognize the institutional barriers that present formidable stumbling blocks to successful educational outcomes; understand the diversity of strengths that their African American students bring with them to school; and become familiar with how successful educators use the strengths of African American students to improve achievement. Although many school leaders are already playing a key role in mobilizing teachers, parents, and other community stakeholders to work together to improve schools and achievement levels for African American students, they are the first to recognize that this is not an easy task.
Today's educational leaders must have skills that go far beyond management and budgets. In school systems where they are very likely to have accountability without authority, today's leaders must have the skills to make connections with a broad cross-section of education stakeholders, build a thriving school community, and facilitate effective communication and collaboration. A school leader must not only be knowledgeable about curricular and instructional choices, he or she must be an advocate for children. At the school level, this means that he or she must be able to create and maintain relationships: school to community, children to learning, teachers to children and parents, parents to school and children, teachers to teachers, and students to students. To gain the level of results we are seeking for African American and other students from diverse ethnic, cultural, and language backgrounds, educational leaders must be prepared to "create a web of support around children and their families" (Houston, 2001). The roles and duties of today's educational leaders are complex and challenging, often without obvious rewards. To do the job well, to be able to withstand adversity, requires a commitment not only of their time, energy, and professional resources but also of their heart and soul. Houston describes the job of school superintendent as a "calling"; Cornel West (cited in Houston, 2001) describes it as "soul craft."
To make schools work for African American and other students from diverse ethnic, cultural, and language backgrounds, a school's culture and structure must be built on a foundation of respect for diversity and support for the high achievement of all students. The institutional structures of schools must provide a variety of organizational options designed to support the high achievement of all students. The most effective educational leaders are collaborators, working with their staff, their students and their students' families to acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to establish educational climates that ensure the high achievement of African American students.
To assist school leaders in their efforts to more effectively serve African American students, this anthology highlights a wide variety of policies, programs, practices, and research that provide insight into how educators can successfully restructure their schools so that they offer teaching and learning environments that provide diverse pathways for African American students to meet high standards. Concentrating on African American students does not mean creating one separate pathway to success for African American students and another pathway for students from other backgrounds. It does, however, mean creating institutional infrastructures, cultures, and environments that support the many ways in which people learn. Such institutions effectively meet the needs of individuals and diverse groups of learners, ultimately promoting the educational success of all students.
If education leaders are to make substantial progress toward building, sustaining, and replicating effective programs for African American students, they need to understand the many dimensions of institutional racism. Oakes, Quartz, Ryan, and Lipton (2000) advise us that we must do more to address institutional racism than create effective schools. We must nurture new and existing local successes to prevent them from being undermined or dismantled. Part I, "Recognizing and Addressing Institutional Racism," provides readers with an opportunity to explore institutional racism in the context of America's public schools. It also provides suggestions for how education leaders can begin to eliminate harmful policies and practices within their educational institutions and settings.
The articles in Part II, "Institutional Change and Culturally Relevant Pedagogy: Two Sides of the Same Coin," discuss the kinds of institutional and instructional changes that are needed to support the successful schooling of African American children and youth. Part III, "Achieving Results," focuses on the challenges presented to African American students by the current high stakes testing environment that surrounds standards, assessment, and accountability. Through the articles in this chapter, we hope to stimulate education leaders to think more broadly about their approaches to defining and measuring the achievement of African American students. Part III also includes a review of the literature on schools that have succeeded in improving achievement for African American students at the elementary, middle, and high school levels, as well as districts that have moved toward narrowing the achievement gap.
Although evidence clearly shows that the past fifty years have brought tremendous educational, economic, and social gains for African American people as a whole, equally clear is that progress toward educational parity for most African American students has slowed. Large disparities in educational outcomes still persist between ethnic, cultural, and language diverse groups, and by some indicators, educational gaps have widened in recent years. Overall, the data are not encouraging (Tidwell, 2000). Regardless, education remains the most effective road to success. Removing the barriers that prevent African American students from accessing a high-quality public education is an essential first step to achieving access to the economic, social, and political resources that are needed to support strong families and a truly democratic society.
There is no doubt that the most recent educational reform movement has helped uncover the contradictions between our desire to improve the overall quality of public education and our ability to do so for all groups of students. Changing the institutional culture of schools so that it focuses on achievement and other related outcomes is a good idea. Having universally high standards is another step in the right direction. However, there remains a powerful contradiction between establishing the goal of high achievement for all students and maintaining differential access to the kinds of educational programs and resources that are needed to support high achievement for all students.
Although we have had many years of "school reform," most schools serving Black students and families still fail to provide them with a high-quality educational experience, as evidenced by reports from some urban school systems of dropout rates of up to 50 percent for their African American students. Other schools throughout the country continue to place a large percentage of their African American students into "lower ability" tracks. Even schools that redesign their policies so that African American students gain equal access to challenging educational programs often fail to address other important issues, such as access to effective prerequisite courses, the need for supportive and caring student-teacher relationships, and the need to increase the levels of parent and community involvement. Given the widespread cultural and academic disconnects between Black students and the schools they attend, it is safe to say that most of America's schools are still not supporting the high achievement of African American students.
Although we applaud universally high standards and a responsive and responsible system of assessment, our definition of effective schools must include the institutionalization of a variety of supports and pathways that enable students from all backgrounds to attain the high standards. The concept of multiple pathways to academic success is entirely consonant with the constructivist approaches to education now recommended by many experts. Among other things, constructivist approaches call for educators to build on the individual and cultural resources students bring with them to class. However, this proven strategy is made much more difficult to enact, given that the teaching workforce is largely White and middle class, and the nation's students are increasingly poor and from diverse ethnic, cultural, and language backgrounds. Simply put, most White, middle-class teachers do not have the knowledge or experience they need to build on the cultural resources of their African American and other diverse students. And not unlike their White, middle-class counterparts, many ethnically diverse teachers who also come from middle-class backgrounds frequently find themselves disconnected from the lived experiences and cultural backgrounds of their lower-income students and families.
Many of our widely publicized "successful" school reform models have been measured by how much they improve test scores. Even if we accept standardized test scores as a measure of improved achievement, we must still recognize that many of these reform models have not brought about the changes needed to close the achievement gap between African American and White students. Some schools have succeeded in generally improving achievement for many of their students, but such efforts have failed to decrease or eliminate existing gaps in achievement and dropout rates. When test scores rise more or less equally among African American and White students, the achievement gap is maintained, and unfortunately, rising test scores can be the result of increases in student dropout rates.
A singular focus on high stakes assessments and accountability practices as the only measure of school and student success has the power to undermine the entire school reform effort with a disproportionate negative impact on poor students of diverse ethnic, cultural, and language backgrounds. Houston (2001) tells us, "If you lean your ladder against the wrong wall, you will paint the wrong house." He goes on to describe the problem with this wave of education reform as one that tries to force students to learn by giving them high-stakes tests and a narrow curriculum. Houston believes that this external pressure approach is doomed to failure. It certainly flies in the face of a constructivist approach by undermining efforts to encourage students to explore topics of interest in some depth and by subverting attempts to build diversity into the restructuring processes.
Many educators acknowledge the importance of authentically addressing diversity in school reform efforts. They often recognize that designing effective educational programs for African American students requires a great deal more than celebrating Black History month, having African American role models, or incorporating the historical contributions of people from diverse ethnic, cultural, and language backgrounds into the curriculum. They are not always sure, however, how to integrate issues related to differences in students' backgrounds and learning preferences into the overall reform effort.
In the pages of this book, education leaders will find the information they need to improve their understanding of the myriad issues and concerns surrounding the successful education of African American students. As educational leaders, we have the responsibility to lean our ladders against the right wall. We must use our knowledge, resources, and power to help ensure the academic success of all African American students. To do this, we must establish a climate of support and collaboration in which all teachers, students, and their families are valued, and each student's achievement and well-being is monitored and supported as part of a collective schoolwide, family, and community responsibility. As we go about our school change efforts, we must make the kinds of institutional changes that result in high achievement for all students. This anthology focuses on how we can best accomplish this goal for African American students.
Houston, P. (2001, February). Superintendents for the 21st century: it's not just a job, it's a calling. Phi Delta Kappan, pp. 428-433. Oakes,J., Quartz, K.H., Ryan, S. & Upton, M. (2000). Becoming good American schools: the struggle for civic virtue in education reform. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Tidwell, BJ. (2000) Parity progress and prospects: racial inequalities in economic well-being. In L.A. Daniels (Ed.), The State of Black America 2000. Washington, DC: National Urban League.
IIntroduction to Part One: Institutional Racism
0, let America be America again- The land that never has been yet- and yet must be- The land where every man is free.
-- Langston Hughes
Although racism is a familiar subject to many, the discussion of institutional racism may be overwhelming, stressful, or shocking to others. We believe, however, that it is important to understand both intentional and unintentional racism if we are going to create educational environments that support the high academic achievement of African American children. As Professor Asa Hilliard continues to tell us in speech after speech, many African American students have reached and continue to reach high levels of academic achievement. Our failure to replicate these successes has a great deal to do with institutional racism.
Racism has become institutionalized in American schools through hierarchical conceptions of intellectual ability. The bell curve, for example, assumes high levels of intellectual abilities for only a small percentage of the population. This assumption does not motivate educators to create and nurture intellectual ability. Instead, it supports the institutionalization of a hierarchical notion of innate mental ability through practices such as academic tracking. These hierarchical conceptions of intellectual ability have led to a focus on the individual and cultural characteristics of students rather than the ways that the social system structures academic success for some and academic failure for others. The result has been a variety of school policies and practices that foil the full development of the intellectual potential of African American children.
In Part I, "Recognizing and Addressing Institutional Racism," we address a wide variety of separate issues that together form many of the components of institutional racism. The section starts with James P. Comer's "My View" that is actually the first chapter of his wonderful book, Waiting for a Miracle: Why Schools Can't Solve Our Problems and How We Can (1997). Dr. Comer, clearly an old soul and a patriot who loves his country~ recognizes that he is an example of the American dream come true. "The United States," he tells us, has "probably come closer to creating the 'good society' than any society of its complexity in the history of the world." Despite its complexity and history of slavery, the United States is a place where democratic ideals remain alive. Nonetheless, Dr. Comer presents his concerns about the inherent flaws in America's belief in a meritocracy and the damage that that has brought. Dr. Comer expresses the belief that we already have in place the strategies and practices that can be used to redress remaining inequities.
In the next two articles, "Why Can't We Close the Achievement Gap?" and "The Effects of Racism, Socioeconomic Class, and Gender on Academic Achievement of African American Students," issues related to the effects of institutional racism are addressed. In "Why Can't We Close the Achievement Gap?" Sheryl Denbo presents an overview of institutional racism in America's schools and the resulting privileges experienced by White students. It is concise by design, because many of these issues are topics that educators have been struggling with for decades. It is helpful to look at them together to get a better understanding of what many of our African American students face. In "The Effects of Racism, Socioeconomic Class and Gender on Academic Achievement of African American Students," Susan Shaffer, Pat Ortman, and Sheryl Denbo address issues of gender and class as they relate to African American students. While critiquing the lack of research and data on African American students that is disaggregated by class and gender within race, they discuss what is known or theorized about poverty and its relationship to the achievement of African American students; middle-class African American student achievement; achievement of African American male students; and the achievement of African American female students.
In the final two articles, Donna Y. Ford and Kayte Fearn address the issues of special education and gifted education. In "The Recruitment and Retention of African American Students in Gifted Education," Donna Y. Ford helps to explain the causes of underachievement among African American students. The article suggests specific administrative solutions to decrease the identification of African American students in special education and increase their identification for gifted education. Kayte Feam offers descriptions of programs that successfully reduce overrepresentation of African American students in special education programs.
Recognizing and addressing racism is an important priority to those who want to support the high achievement of African American students. Educators must recognize and incorporate the voices, experiences, and hopes of their diverse populations of students without labeling, devaluing or tracking them, or requiring them to be submerged into a bureaucratic melting pot. Although it is not easy to address racism and support diversity, it is imperative that these become widespread educational goals if we are to succeed in supporting high achievement among all of our students.
Introduction to Part Two: Institutional Change and Culturally Relevant Pedagogy -Two Sides of the Same Coin
If we are to successfully educate all of our children, we must work to remove the blinders built of stereotypes, monocultural instructional methodologies, ignorance, social distance, biased research, and racism. We must work to destroy those blinders so that it is possible to really see, to really know the students we must teach. I pray for all of us the strength to teach our children what they must learn, and the humility and wisdom to learn from them so that we might better teach. -- Lisa Delpit
As "the body of learned beliefs, traditions, and guides for behavior that are shared among members of any human society" (Grant & Ladson-Billings, 1997), culture is a powerful experience in the everyday lives of individuals and groups of people. As an ever-evolving constellation of influences, culture shapes the essence, experiences, and worldviews of individuals, groups, communities, and institutions alike. No person or institution is exempt from its influences. Within the world of schools, cultural experiences have a profound effect on the ways in which students approach leaming and the schooling experience, including their relationships with teachers and peers. Similarly, cultural experiences also affect the ways in which teachers approach both teaching and their own learning (i.e., professional development), as well as their relationships with students and colleagues. Every school and school system reflects an institutional culture that is represented by a set of beliefs, values, policies, and practices that either support and nurture students, families, and educators toward high performance or creates insurmountable barriers to success.
Culture mediates all learning -- it is the lens through which all learning experiences are filtered. As a result, each member of the learning community brings to the schooling experience his or her own unique cultural style and ways of viewing the world and his or her place in it. Very often, there is discordance between the cultural styles and world-views of African American students and their teachers, typically resulting in poor development and leaming outcomes for the students and a less than satisfying teaching experience for the teachers. Even African American students and African American teachers who share a common ethnic heritage can be separated by cultural styles and worldviews that reflect individual class differences and the cultural discordance within the prevailing school culture. When teachers are in tune with their students' cultural styles and worldviews, they "understand their students' verbal communication and body language, preferred modes of discussion and participation, time, and space orientations, social values and religious beliefs, and preferred styles of learning" (Grant & Ladson-Billings, 1997). They are better prepared to develop the kinds of learning opportunities that will engage and motivate their students to master challenging educational materials and goals. As such, education leaders -- in the field, in academia, in communities, and in government -- cannot have a meaningful conversation about improving education for African American students without having issues of culture -- African American and otherwise -- out in the open, at front and center stage.
Diverse cultural styles and worldviews have a profound influence on how people relate to one another. However, high-quality relationships between teachers, their students, families, and communities, built on a foundation of mutual knowledge, understanding, trust, and respect, are fundamental to an effective instructional program. The critical first steps on this journey for teachers who are seeking to acquire skills in culturally relevant pedagogy are to understand more about the concept of culture in general and then to explore their own cultural backgrounds, including how their own cultural experiences have worked to shape their belief systems about other people and their own worldviews. In a society in which assimilation and acculturation were the mainstay experience for large groups of America's early European immigrants, this becomes an especially difficult task, because many of the cultural rituals, practices, and belief systems of those early groups have been lost. The result is that many of today's descendents of northern European ethnic and cultural groups have been left without important knowledge about the intrinsic value of culture, in general, and their own ethnic and cultural heritages, in particular.
However, to become more effective at meeting the learning needs of African American students, educators must commit to becoming more culturally knowledgeable and aware and specifically to gaining authentic cultural knowledge of the African American experience in America and the life experiences of their African American students. They must also work toward developing authentic relationships with their African American students, families, colleagues, and communities.
Part II, "Institutional Change and Culturally Relevant Pedagogy," brings together nine informative articles that help to demystify the role and importance of culture in improving educational opportunities and outcomes for African American students. Readers will gain tremendous insight into the power of culture as a necessary component of any school improvement effort by exploring its relationship to teaching, learning, leadership, and institutional change.
In "Institutional Practices that Support African American Student Achievement," Sheryl Denbo guides us through an institutional framework that allows us to see how a school's culture shapes the effectiveness of the school as an institution by influencing the nature and performance of its many parts. We see how institutional culture, manifested as an entrenched system of beliefs, traditions, policies, and practices, can affect the quality of a school's social/emotional climate, expectations for student achievement, student and adult relationships, community relationships, approaches to diversity, professional development opportunities, resources, scheduling, and more.
In "A No-Excuses Approach to Closing the Achievement Gap," Belinda Williams teaches us about a belief system that supports the educational success of African American children. In this system, "all children can learn" is more than rhetoric; it is a statement of real purpose, intent, and meaning. No excuses means just that -- schools and teachers accept responsibility for education success by focusing on two essential institutional components: a shared focus on teaching and learning and pedagogical strategies that are specific to the needs of African American children as learners. She reminds us that any strategies that we develop for the improvement of educational outcomes for our nation's diverse student body must be grounded in a well-developed and understood theory of human development, one that acknowledges the role of culture and cultural environments in human development and teaching and learning.
In "Talent Development, Cultural Deep Structure, and School Reform: Implications for African Immersion Initiatives," A. Wade Boykin reminds us that "schools traditionally are not culturally neutral terrains." He makes a strong case for the educational and cultural empowerment of African American children through a model of comprehensive school change called the Talent Development Model, which maximizes every student's academic and social/emotional development through a rigorous curriculum and appropriate support, assistance, structure, and facilitating conditions. Citing the efficacy of building on the cultural assets of African American children in light of a growing body of research examining the interface of cognition and context, Dr. Boykin advocates for fusing such a model with teaching and learning practices we frequently see in African-centered approaches to schooling.
In "But That's Just Good Teaching! The Case for Culturally Relevant Pedagogy," Gloria Ladson-Billings helps us to recognize that when we unravel the intricacies of culturally relevant pedagogy, we find ultimately that it is "just good teaching." Defining culturally relevant pedagogy as a "pedagogy of opposition, not unlike critical pedagogy but specifically committed to collective, not merely individual, empowerment, "she tells us that culturally relevant teachers use students' culture as a vehicle for learning. To ensure that African American children have adequate opportunity to reach their greatest potential -- as students and as members of familial and world communities -- she argues that pedagogy must speak to the development of cultural competencies and the development of a broader sociopolitical consciousness, one that allows our students to engage the world and others critically.
Pat Burke Guild, in "An Educational Leader's Guide to Culture and Learning Style," helps us to understand what we mean when we talk about the intersection of culture and learning styles and the need to attend thoughtfully to the diversity of cultures and learning styles reflected in today's schools. She indicates that differences between the norms of students' homes and communities and the norms of most school cultures is seriously damaging to both students and teachers alike. And as we engage in efforts to respond to issues of culture and learning styles, she cautions us to remember that there are tremendous variations among individuals within groups and that if we are not diligent, we can be misled into stereotyping and labeling, ignoring the great differences within cultural groups, and mitigating the potential for making education meaningful to students with individual learning needs. Finally, she leaves us with specific administrative suggestions for making culture and learning style connections for students and teachers in our schools and classrooms that have been shown to improve learning outcomes for African American students.
In a trilogy of articles focused on literacy, Lynson Moore Beaulieu examines issues of language and literacy development for African American children over the course of their early childhood, elementary, and secondary schooling years. Language, literacy, and reading development pose some of the greatest challenges to the successful education of African American children. With consistently high rates of very low performance on language and literacy assessments and an African American adult illiteracy rate of 44 percent, these issues deserve serious attention within the context of a larger discussion on improving schooling for African American students. Failing to learn to communicate, read, and comprehend at levels commensurate with the demands of the "information age" is a prescription for immediate education failure and long-term social and economic marginalization. Each phase of the African American child's literacy growth, development, and learning requires that we pay close attention to specific literacy issues, challenges, and opportunities.
In "Moving Past the Ebonics Debate to a Common Understanding," Ms. Beaulieu explores the territory of African American Vernacular English (AAVE), also known as Ebonics. She proposes that it is an authentic issue of African American culture that is currently downplayed and/or ignored by the African American and mainstream education communities to the detriment of the successful education and cultural development of African American children. The result is poorly developed language arts programs for vernacular speakers and large-scale literacy failures throughout the African American community. Using the voices of prominent linguists and the authority of linguistic research, she attempts to reroute the debate over the legitimacy of AAVE/Ebonics. Ms. Beaulieu helps the reader understand the importance of Ebonics to cultural connections and its value to the African American community. She presents a discussion of the merits of language arts programs for African American students and other Standard American English language learners that incorporate the study and use of AAVE/Ebonics (and other native languages) as an integral part of the formalized study and mastery of SAE. This approach results in students who are "bidialectal," culturally competent, and equipped to successfully engage in native language and mainstream literacy activities.
In "Literary Development in the Early Childhood Years," Ms. Beaulieu plants the early childhood years firmly on the radar screen of public schooling issues and outlines some of the key factors in the early years that contribute to children having difficulties learning to read. Ms. Beaulieu looks at the challenges and promises of early childhood education and provides descriptions of public prekindergarten programs that are making a measurable difference in African American children's early language, literacy, and reading development.
In "Literacy Development Across the Elementary, Middle, and High School Years," Ms. Beaulieu explores the complex landscape of language, literacy, and reading development issues as they affect the successful literacy education of African American students throughout their formal schooling years. Using a standard of literacy that requires students to become learned and accomplished as readers, speakers, writers, thinkers, and technology users, and bidialectally proficient, she defines our task for the successful literacy education of African American children and youth.
For the middle and high school years, Ms. Beaulieu reminds us that the physical and psychosocial changes of adolescence must be taken into consideration as we develop and implement literacy education programs and opportunities for our older students. Helping students to define and embrace their "personhood," one of the most important tasks of adolescence, becomes an important avenue for literacy education. Literacy development in the secondary years is greatly enhanced by authentic classroom discourse and reading, writing, and thinking activities that connect and allow students to reflect on their cultural and social experiences.
She ends this article by posing and responding to four critical questions for schools and teachers that get at the heart of institutional change and culturally relevant pedagogy as strategies for improving literacy outcomes for African American youth. Ms. Beaulieu tests our knowledge of adolescence, requires that we learn about and identify student strengths, challenges educators to undergo personal and professional journeys to improve their success as educators of multicultural students, and queries our knowledge of successful teaching and learning strategies for secondary school students.
Finally, in "African American Children and Algebra for All," William Tate speaks to us cogently about the correlation between algebra and the achievement gap and the institutional and cultural barriers that must be overcome for the Algebra for All movement to succeed. Citing a shift from the basic skills movement of the '60s and '70s to a more demanding vision of mathematical literacy, he makes a strong case for changes in school systems that create mechanisms and for supporting policies that foster opportunities for all students, especially African American students, to participate in college preparatory courses, such as algebra and geometry.
What school administrators and teachers believe about the possibilities for teaching and learning for African American children has a profound effect on what they choose to teach, how they will teach it, and how they will determine what their children have learned. As things currently stand, students who are perceived to be culturally enriched and cognitively capable are afforded the most challenging and supportive opportunities to learn. Students who are perceived to be culturally and cognitively deficient, as a result of their cultural differences, are given less-challenging educational opportunities and support for their educational efforts. What teachers believe and think that they know about their students, the ways in which they interpret student behavior or respond to children's use of native languages, can significantly affect their approaches to discipline, the quality of their interactions with students during the learning process, and the quality of their relationships with colleagues, families, and members of the school community.
Successful institutional change needs the support of culturally relevant pedagogy to improve the school experiences and outcomes for African American students. Changes in institutional structures can enhance opportunities for African American students to meet and exceed high standards of learning only issues of culture -- as they affect the quality of teaching, learning, and human relationships -- are simultaneously addressed. A culturally relevant school experience is important for all children, especially children from diverse ethnic, cultural, and language backgrounds. To this end, we must commit ourselves to acquiring the knowledge and skills needed to design and implement culturally relevant pedagogic strategies. Without them, we continue to consign a significant proportion of our African American children to an educational dead end and the social and economic consequences that invariably follow.
Delpit, L. (1993). Other people's children-Cultural conflict in the classroom. NY, New York: The New Press. Grant, C.A. & Ladson-Billings, G. (Eds.) (1997). Dictionary of multicultural education. Phoenix, AZ: The Oryx Press.
Introduction to Part III: Achieving Results
If you don't know where you are going, then any road will take you there.
-- African Proverb
If educators are to be successful in assisting African American students to achieve specific academic and developmental goals, then we need to examine what we mean by results. We need to know which schools are supporting high achievement of African American students and, therefore, which policies, programs, and practices are effective for teaching African American students. Educators must have specific ideas about where they want to go if they are to get there.
One important reason why most American public schools have failed to close the achievement gap between White students and students from diverse ethnic, cultural, and language backgrounds is that their goal, more often than not, has been simply to raise standardized test scores. The model programs identified by the federal government as "research-based models" have been effective models insofar as they have been able to raise standardized test scores. Very often, however, they have raised test scores but failed to narrow the gap between African American and White students. Many believe that the increased pressures from high-stakes tests and the close alignment of curriculum and tests is narrowing the curriculum, in some cases, to teaching the test. The result can be that higher test scores are being accepted in lieu of children's access to more authentic learning opportunities.
Goals cannot be limited to raising standardized test scores, nor can our goals only focus on closing the achievement gap. After all, we can raise test scores and close the gap in ways that do not improve the academic achievement of African American and other poorly served students. For example, test scores can be raised by narrowing the curriculum to teach the test; the gap can be decreased by a decline in the test scores of White students; or test scores can appear to be increasing and the gap decreasing by eliminating the low test scores of academically neglected students through increased dropout and pushout rates. We also believe that however educators decide to define and measure results, unless one of the primary goals is to close the achievement gap between Black and White students, the gap will not be closed.
To achieve improved results for African American students, we must focus our school change efforts not only on key aspects of whole school improvement but also on individual students, particularly those students who are either not making gains at all or are not making gains fast enough to close the achievement gap within a reasonably short time. This does not mean that we should cancel programs that are currently working for some of our students. It does mean, however, that while we work toward the achievement of uniformly high results for all students, we must be aware that the pathways to high achievement will not be the same for every student. Systematic reform, if it is to succeed, cannot mean one size fits all. The systematic reform movement must not continue to focus on equal access to the same high-quality programs. What constitutes a "high-quality" program for some students may not serve the needs of others.
Accountability, "an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one's actions," (Webster's Tenth Edition, definition) is an important part of achieving results. Educational leaders must be as willing to claim responsibility for student failure to learn as well as for student success. Accountability must be data driven, with data derived from multiple sources, including standardized test scores, ongoing classroom curriculum-based assessments, grades, teacher and parental observations and reports, and other anecdotal accounts of student development and learning. High-stakes decisions determining such life-altering courses as promotion and graduation must not be based on a single data source. Ongoing analysis of disaggregated student data at the school level -- achievement data broken down by student ethnic groups, gender within ethnic groups, English language proficiency, income levels, and enrollment in educational programs, such as special education, talented and gifted, and advanced placement programs -- is essential.
Ongoing analysis of each student's academic progress is also essential. If a group of students or an individual student is not succeeding, then changes have to be made. A student or a group of students may not be able to learn to read through concentration on a whole language approach alone. For some students, phonetic-based learning strategies may also need to be integrated into the reading program. A student or a group of students may have a problem with a particular teacher or may not be able to concentrate before lunch or at the end of the school day. On the basis of an ongoing analysis of the various categories of disaggregated data, educators and educational leaders must be ready and willing to make adjustments in the curriculum, instructional strategies, class schedules, teacher assignments, or any other relevant aspect of the educational program to gain the results they are seeking for their African American students.
Strong positive relationships among administrators, teachers, parents, and students are key to accomplishing the agreed on results that educators, students, and their families are seeking. When parents are not available to assume their partnership roles, for whatever reason, it becomes important for school personnel to work cooperatively to establish caring, supportive, an relationships. This enables students to gain the self-confidence and skills necessary to take responsibility for their own learning. Teacher relationships with African American students should based on mutual respect developed through an understanding of and appreciation for the student's cultural and individual identity. Teachers and students must both accept responsibility for improving achievement, and this is best accomplished through caring, mutually respectful, and cooperative teacher-student relationships.
* The achievement of all students has improved over the past 25-30 years.
* When achievement goes up in all subgroups, African American students must improve at a more accelerated pace in order to do close the achievement gap.
* Differences in family income between American and White families contribute to, but do not fully explain the achievement gap.
* During the 1970's and 1980's, the federal government introduced and continued to fund grams that were designed to reduce poverty and improve educational opportunities for students from diverse ethnic, cultural, and language grounds. During this time period, the achievement gap declined.
* Since 1988, the Black/White achievement gap has stayed about the same. The gap appears to widen as a cohort of students moves through school.
* African American students lose more ground during the summer months than their White peers.
* Several states have made gains in their NAEP scores at about twice the rate of other including North Carolina, Texas, Michigan, Indiana, and Maryland. In these states, students from diverse ethnic, cultural, and language backgrounds are improving at rates greater than the national averages. The greatest gains have occurred in states that have:
-the highest per pupil expenditures
- lower pupil-teacher ratios in the lower grades
- greater numbers of children participating in public preschool programs, and
- higher numbers of teachers reporting that they have adequate resources.
* In Connecticut, Texas, Delaware, Rhode Island, and North Carolina students from diverse ethnic, cultural, and language backgrounds are improving at faster rates than similar students in other states involved in the same project. These states:
- have made considerable effort to improve teacher quality
- hold schools accountable for progress by subgroups, and
- focus rigorous initiatives on students needing extra educational support.
* Urban schools and districts with high poverty and large numbers of ethnic, cultural, and language diverse students have succeeded in raising achievement by:
- designing instruction and assessment around standards, not tests - devoting increased time to reading and math instruction
- investing in high-quality teacher professional development, and
- involving parents in their school improvement efforts.
(Adapted from It Takes More than Testing: Closing the Achievement Gap, A Report of the Center on Educational Policy, 2001).
In Part III, "Achieving Results," we present a variety of articles that are designed to help educational leaders achieve and measure results. These articles raise and answer the question of how to define and measure results, describe schools that are supporting the high achievement of African American students, and outline the role African American parents must play in achieving results.
In "The Authentic Standards Movement and Its Evil Twin," Scott Thompson compares the pedagogical effects of test-based assessment with the standards movement. Test-based assessment, he tells us, encourages teachers to "teach the test," and this often results in "dumbing down" of the curriculum. An authentic standards-based curriculum, on the other hand, encourages thinking skills. Although Mr. Thompson does not discuss the implications for African American students, per se, he does point out the implications for equity.
In "Redefining Results," from his excellent book, Results: The Key to Continuous School Improvement (2nd Ed.) (1999), Mike Schmoker states, "By failing to supplement standardized tests with richer, more meaningful alternatives, we unwittingly invite our communities to use only test scores to judge us. We set ourselves up to be judged by an assessment that few of us believe is adequate." He continues by discussing how rubrics can be used not only to evaluate instruction and performance but also to improve it.
In "The Involvement of African American Families and Communities in Education: Whose Responsibility Is It?" Robert Witherspoon addresses the importance of parental involvement and provides the reader with specific suggestions for what schools and African American parents can do to improve the quality of involvement that parents must have in their children's learning and in their schools.
In addition, Part III includes articles on the programs and practices of successful elementary, middle and high schools that serve African American students. In "High-Achieving Elementary Schools with Large Percentages of Low-Income African American Students: A Review and Critique of the Current Research," Ray Yau not only summarizes the components of successful elementary schools that serve African American students, he discusses examples of particularly successful strategies from individual schools. In "Middle Schools: African American Children at the Crossroads," Nathalie Thandiwe provides the reader with a discussion of both the middle school movement and the developmental issues of adolescents from the perspective of African American students, giving us a better understanding of why middle schools are failing to support the high achievement of African American students and what can be done about it. In "Making High Schools Work for African American Students," Pat Ortman and Nathalie Thandiwe discuss the situation of African American students in traditional American high schools, including the specific ways in which schools are most clearly failing them.
Chart for 2009 US High School Graduates...
More importantly, Ortman and Thandiwe outline recent practices at a number of high schools that seem to have promise for increasing the achievement of African American students. It is essential to point out that the research on successful schools and programs that these authors have found focuses primarily on schools serving low-income students. Although there are high percentages of African American students in the identified schools and programs, we are at a disadvantage, because we are left not knowing which specific policies, programs, and strategies work best for African American students.
Finally, Vinetta Jones' article, "District-wide Systemic Reform: Equity 2000 Shows Promise in Narrowing Achievement Gaps," provides information about the successful efforts to reform whole school districts. The importance of this work is not only that it is district-wide, but also that it concentrates not only on improving achievement but also on closing the achievement gap.
As each of us struggles to design the best possible educational environments for all of our students, it is essential that we continue to measure our own success in doing so. We need to remain aware that without both disaggregated data and curriculum-based student assessment, we will not know which policies, programs, and strategies are working best for each student and for each group of students. It is our role as educational leaders to continue to evaluate and improve the overall success of our schools and ensure that each individual student's successes and challenges are identified, so that we can address these appropriately.
Our future depends on it.
Center on Education Policy. (2001, April). It takes more than testing: Closing the achievement gap. Washington, DC: Author.
A. Wade Boykin is a Professor and Director of the Developmental Psychology Graduate Program in the Department of Psychology at Howard University. He has published numerous articles on Black child development and related topics and is the co-editor of Research Directions of Black Psychologists.
James P. Comer is the Maurice Falk Professor of Child Psychiatry at the Yale University School of Medicine's Child Study Center. He is the author of hundreds of articles and several books on African American children and education, including Waiting for a Miracle: Why Schools Can't Solve Our Problems and How We Can.
Kayte Fearn is Special Assistant to the Executive Director for Diversity Affairs, Council for Exceptional Children. She has an extensive background in education at all levels, including as a university professor and federal employee. Her writings are done primarily for presentations, information sharing, and fundraising.
Donna Y. Ford is Associate Professor of Special Education, Ohio State University. She is widely published and is the author of Reversing Underachievement Among Gifted Black Students and Multicultural Gifted Education Theory and Practice.
Pat Burke Guild is on the faculty of Western Washington University. She is the co-author of Marching to Different Drummers and the author of many articles on learning styles and their applications.
Vinetta C. Jones is the Dean of the School of Education at Howard University and for eight years served as Executive Director of the EQUITY 2000 program. She has written and lectured widely on issues related to the education of diverse populations and is widely regarded as a leading authority on the education reform movement in this country.
Gloria Ladson-Billings is a Professor of Education at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. She is the author of several articles and The Dreamkeepers: Successful Teachers of African American Children.
Patricia E. Ortman is a Research Associate with the Mid-Atlantic Equity Center, Executive Editor of this volume, author or co-author of several articles on education and gender, and author of Not for Teachers Only: Creating a Context of Joy for Learning and Growth.
Mike Schmoker is a former teacher and school district administrator. Now a school improvement consultant, he is the author of several publications, including Results: The Key to Continuous School Improvement.
Susan Shaffer is the Deputy Director of the Mid-Atlantic Equity Center. She is the author or co-author of multiple publications related to gender and other equity issues. Her most recent publication is Why Boys Don't Talk and Why We Care, which she co-authored with Linda Perlman Gordon.
William Tate is Professor of Mathematics Education in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He has published numerous articles and book chapters focused on mathematics education and urban school reform. He is the co-author of an elementary mathematics textbook series.
Nathalie Thandiwe is a Research Associate at Mid-Atlantic Equity Center. She is also a freelance writer and herbalist and is delighted that "naturalist" has been added to the categories of Gardner's Theory of Multiple Intelligences.
Scott Thompson is the Assistant Director of the Panasonic Foundation, the editor of Strategies, an issue series by the Foundation and the American Association of School Administrators, and the vice president of the Glen Rock Public Education Foundation. Before joining Panasonic, he began his career as a high school English teacher and worked with the Institute for Responsive Education in Boston.
Belinda Williams is a psychologist with more than 25 years of experience studying the academic achievement patterns of culturally diverse and socioeconomically disadvantaged students in urban districts. She is the author of numerous publications on urban education and the editor of Closing the Achievement Gap: A Vision for Changing Beliefs and Practices.
Robert Witherspoon is Senior Research Associate with RMC Research Corporation in Arlington, Virginia. Some of his responsibilities include the Region III Comprehensive Center parent involvement issues team and the Goals 2000 Parent Information Resource Center. He is editor of The National Coalition of Title I/Chapter I Parents newsletter and author or co-author of several publications on parents and education.
Ray Yau is a Research Associate at the Mid-Atlantic Equity Center. He is also the in-house computer technology expert and has published in the field of educational technology.