Tucson Ethnic studiesJswood-p1:: Tucson Magnet High School senior Evon Moreira,EVON MOREIRA, CQ, 17, middle with Honk sign, protests with fellow students and faculty(in front of her high school), a law that would ban Mexican American studies and other ethnic study programs at Tucson Unified School District schools, Thursday May 6, 2010 in Tucson, Ariz. The law is waiting for the signature of Arizona's Governor Jan Brewer, JAN BREWER, CQ.
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Ethnic studies has been around for over a century. Black studies, Chicano studies, cultural studies, multicultural studies—the name may have changed over the years, but a rose by any other name can still be a lightning rod for controversy. A new study linking ethnic studies to measurable student gains has sparked some interest in how to scale up such programs. While research finds ethnic studies works for some students, scholars in the field urge it’s good for all students—and the battle over ethnic studies rages on.

Indeed, today, school leaders and student activists, in communities of all sizes, are embracing ethnic-studies courses as a way to expand and diversify classroom content. Earlier this year members of the Providence Student Union, a youth-led organizing group, kicked off a new campaign advocating for ethnic studies for all high-school students. In making their case, student leaders called attention to the glaring disparity between the city’s public-school curriculum and the students it teaches; 90 percent of those enrolled in Providence schools are students of color. The student union’s review of a nearly 2,000-page history textbook found that less than 5 percent of the book was devoted to the contributions of people of color. “I’m Nigerian. I’m Muslim. I’m also an American,” the high-school student Latifat Odetunde told The Providence Journal, noting stories like his are what history books “leave out.”

But both Brooks and Charles state that this shift in knowledge and understanding is equally important for white students. Ethnic-studies courses dispel myths, Brooks said, and build connections among students as opposed to divisions. “Similar to students of color, white students have been miseducated about the roles of both whites and people of color throughout history,” she said, and culturally relevant lessons allow white children to “not only learn about people of color, but also white people’s roles as oppressors and activists fighting for racial change. This is very important because often whites feel there is nothing [they] can do to change racism.”

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(Photo: NYU Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies) 

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Are we replicating existing inequities for some students of color when we place the singular focus on coding? Is it preferable to integrate coding camps and classes with learning opportunities in schools? These are some of the questions answered in my recent article, titled “Will the Push for Coding Lead to ‘Technical Ghettos’?

Coding boot camps are just the first step, Brown said, arming students with simple skills when more complex diagnostic thinking is required to be truly skilled in the field. “The former is training, while the latter is education,” she said. This issue takes on greater significance when students of color are considered, raising issues of equity in the drive to racially diversify the tech sector and underscoring the difference between an occupation and a profession.

Kamau Bobb, the program director in computer-science education at NSF and Brown’s colleague, notes that the dominant argument in support of youth of color learning to code is to “get a good job”—creating a stratified system where students from racial and ethnic groups, and lower socioeconomic backgrounds, are prepped for work as service technicians and helpdesk agents. “While those [tech jobs] are needed and noble, they are at the very bottom … in terms of pay and prestige,” he said. Bobb contrasts this with white and Asian middle-class students who are urged to attend college and major in computer science. “What’s missing from this model is that students of color are offered a choice that truncates their ambition.”

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In schools across the country, notwithstanding nut allergies, peanuts overflowed this month as schoolchildren learned about George Washington Carver, a world-famous chemist who made important agricultural discoveries—and one of America’s celebrated Black History Month figures. It’s less likely that students studied Ella Baker, Ida B. Wells, or Fannie Lou Hamer, though. And that’s part of the difficulty with how Black History Month is observed in schools today.

In one corner, advocates of Black History Month argue that a special month is needed to celebrate and recognize the achievements of black Americans in a country where European history dominates historical discourse. In the other corner, critics cast doubt that Black History Month is still relevant with the gains made in race relations—a black U.S. president the most visible sign—and detractors charge it is detrimental in the long term to pigeonhole black history into a month-long observance. Somewhere caught in the middle are educators and schools.
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The problem lies not with specialized months to commemorate marginalized groups and communities, said Willis, but with schools that fail to incorporate the full range of diversity as part of their mission. “If there is a concerted effort to approach Black History Month in new ways each year, then we can combat some of the issues of only highlighting certain movements, figures, and events,” she said. Also, learning more about black women and LGBTQ individuals in her formative years would have put her more at ease identifying as a transgender woman.

“It shouldn’t have taken 20 years for me to learn about Audre Lorde, Bayard Rustin, and Marsha P. Johnson,” said Willis. “As well, I think it’s of the utmost importance to highlight the figures of today. We tend to only highlight contemporary celebrities and politicians, ignoring that we have activists and community organizers that are still making an impact on a daily basis.”

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Two new reports on school integration were published this month. “Socioeconomic School Integration has More Than Doubled and Millions of Students Stand to Benefit” was the headline on the press release. True. And. Efforts to make racially and socioeconomically diverse schools a reality have ultimately lagged. While more districts are rightly opting for diverse schools, others continue to face resistance. The promise of integrated schools is far from fulfilled.

“If you successfully bring these resources to high-poverty schools, it is possible to produce strong results for kids—and we know examples of excellent high-poverty schools that are doing that,” Potter said. “But these successful high-poverty schools are sadly still the outliers,” she stated, stressing that the majority of education reform strategies “focus on this long shot … rather than pursuing integration to break up the concentrations of poverty that we know are so harmful for kids.”

The most common method listed by districts to achieve this integration was redrawing neighborhood school boundaries, a controversial approach that is often accompanied by public outcry. But the researchers, while conceding the politically contentious nature of school-boundary decisions, admittedly offer scarce guidance to help school leaders that are considering changing attendance zones. Much of the pushback, like school segregation, cuts along racial and class lines. One illustration of the inherent challenges is seen in New York City, where parents on the Upper West Side and in the neighboring borough of Brooklyn opposed recent school boundary changes that would bring racial and socioeconomic integration.

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In December, just days before Christmas, an Idaho cafeteria worker was fired for giving a free hot lunch to a 12-year-old student who was hungry but didn’t have money to pay for her school meal. After the story went viral, the lunch lady was rehired. This story—along with several cases of schools tossing kids’ lunches for nonpayment—prompted me to take a closer look at how districts handle students who don’t have the money to pay for school breakfast and lunch.

A debate on school nutrition—trading pizza, fries, and cookies for whole grains, fruits and vegetables—has raged for years, while a parallel debate has gone somewhat unnoticed and unaddressed: What should be the consequence for children with delinquent school-meal accounts? While the most pressing issue in some school cafeterias is students tossing healthier school lunches in the trash, in others it is school employees dumping children’s lunches in the trash for nonpayment. And the result is hungry children, stunned parents, and increasing questions about how school districts handle overdue payments.

The notion of taking children’s lunches away and throwing them in the trash—in some cases, in front of the child and their peers—angers parents and exposes school officials to scorn. But behind the outrage lurks a larger issue. Survey data from the advocacy group School Nutrition Association shows that overdrawn lunch accounts create real financial challenges for school districts, forced to weigh mounting costs against unsatisfied students and families.

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(Photo: Berkeley Unified School District)

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About 50 million students attend U.S. public elementary and secondary schools. And according to data, 7 percent have at least one undocumented parent. That’s 3.5 million children. What I found this week in writing about immigration raids and deportation scares is that the emotional and educational impact is staggering. Current immigration policy is shattering families and leaving U.S.-born children parentless, as they watch one or both parents deported. Immigration policy is education policy.

A CNN feature in 2013 profiled teen siblings in Florida orphaned after their father was deported while they were at school. It was the second time the children, who are both legal residents, lost a parent to deportation—their mother was returned to Nicaragua in 2008. “Constantly worrying that their parents will be snatched away, children often feel angry, helpless, and trapped,” CNN’s Cindy Y. Rodriguez and Adriana Hauser wrote. A study by the advocacy organization Human Impact Partners published the same year, “Family Unity, Family Health,” found that the deportation scares take a mental and physical toll on undocumented immigrants’ children. Researchers linked the threat of detention and deportation to poorer educational outcomes, concluding: “U.S.-citizen children who live in families under threat of detention or deportation will finish fewer years of school and face challenges focusing on their studies.”

This research provides important insight given the current round of federal raids triggering deep-seated fears in the Hispanic community. As immigration agents target adults with school-age children in several states, even those exempt from the sanctions are anxious and scared.

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(Photo: Ryan Rodrick Beiler / Shutterstock)

 

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Educating students for a more just and equitable world sounds idyllic. In reality, however, teaching students to think critically about racial, economic, and social injustices can lead to a host of difficult and controversial problems.

With the observance of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s holiday – and Black History Month fast approaching – it seemed like an ideal time to look specifically at how schools teach the life of Dr. King, in addition to how schools approach social-justice education overall in a way that’s authentic and represents all the complexities.

The Chicago teacher Gregory Michie says his lessons on the social-justice icon are designed to upend what he views as a simplistic and clichéd image often presented in schools. Since many of his students know King’s famous excerpt hoping for a day when no one is judged by the color of their skin, Michie’s social-studies class zeroes in on lesser-known sections of the “I Have a Dream” speech, like the “fierce urgency of now” and “tranquilizing drug of [white] gradualism.” The youngsters quickly realize that they’ve never really heard the full message of the speech, he said, and “it’s a lot more nuanced, and more fiery, than they’d thought.”

As the country observes the federal holiday named in King’s honor, it seems that schools are increasingly coming under sharp criticism from educators and activists for their approach to teaching King’s life. Some question a sanitized teaching of the black civil-rights movement, its leaders, and other struggles for social justice that denies students an accurate and complete account of history. These debates are complicated by the inherent professional dangers in teaching through a social-justice lens.

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For decades this fundamental question has sparked intense debates and even some lawsuits. Single-sex education remains highly contentious as the number of single-sex schools has exploded over the past decade. A new book, The Separation Solution? by Juliet A. Williams, explores the different facets of this hotly debated issue. Recently she shared some thoughts with me on the subject.

Melinda D. Anderson: A major thread running through the book is that so many people—educators, parents, activists, and politicians—strongly believe in the potential of single-sex education to unleash academic excellence, while the evidence supporting this claim is sparse and insufficient. What would you say is the primary driving force behind its well-entrenched support?

Juliet A. Williams: Some people believe in single-sex education because they had a great personal experience. To other people, single-sex education seems like plain old common sense: They see differences between boys and girls, and they like the idea of creating schools that reflect these differences. Still others look at the failure of U.S. public-school systems and think, “we’ve got to do something; let’s give it a try.” Since the 1990s, there has been a resurgence of interest in single-sex education in public schools serving students in grades K-12. My book takes a look at the arguments driving interest in single-sex public education, as well as the results. What I have found is that single-sex public-school initiatives have been created with the best of intentions, but that they are not delivering the results. At the same time, they are producing some unintended consequences in terms of reinforcing damaging gender stereotypes.

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(Photo: Beloit Daily News)

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Paddling a child with a wooden board as school discipline is a practice that seems more typical of the Victorian era. But in 19 states where corporal punishment is legal, spanking students for breaking rules is a common occurrence in schools. Accordingly, many groups recommend—and many activists, educators, parents, and others demand—that physical punishment in schools be abolished.

Of increasing concern—and consistent with other discipline trends—is who gets paddled. Anecdotal and empirical evidence shows that a disproportionate number of the students receiving corporal punishment are black. According to federal statistics, black students are 16 percent of students enrolled in public schools but are 35 percent of those physically disciplined; black children receive physical punishment at almost three times the rate of their non-black peers. The decidedly racial tilt is also seen at the state level. In Mississippi, which tops the list in cases of corporal punishment, black students are 49 percent of the state’s student population and 64 percent of those paddled, far surpassing the number of white classmates (35 percent) receiving such discipline.

These striking racial disparities and a growing body of research asserting the detrimental effects of corporal punishment are prompting many to advocate against its use. Groups including the American Psychological Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Medical Association strongly oppose the practice. A 2009 joint report by Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union, A Violent Education, labels corporal punishment a violation of students’ “physical integrity and human dignity” and brands the practice “degrading, humiliating, and damaging.”

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(Photo: Stephen Pingry /Tulsa World)

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Suspending preschoolers for potty accidents and energetically kicking off shoes – strangely, punishing children for basically behaving like children – has reached an alarming level. And the pattern has a decidedly racial dimension. As child experts and researchers study the data regarding preschool suspensions and expulsions, they’re finding that it is adult behaviors, not children’s actions, which are fueling this trend. Searching for why so many Black preschoolers get suspended and expelled led me to some interesting answers.

But for some more astounding than these discipline statistics were the thousands of the nation’s youngest learners—nearly 8,000 preschoolers—suspended from school in the same year, often for relatively minor disruptions and misbehaviors. For researchers and educators immersed in this work, why preschoolers are put out of school and the entrenched racial disparity seems most closely tied to reasons such as teacher bias and children living in poverty whose hitting, biting, and pinching is frequently labeled misconduct rather than developmental delays.

What makes preschool-age suspensions and expulsions further problematic is how out-of-school punishment feeds the school-to-prison pipeline. Research shows that repeated suspensions breed student disengagement, making youth more likely to dropout and more susceptible to entering the juvenile justice system. This was the definitive conclusion of an October report from the Center for American Progress and the National Black Child Development Institute that highlights the trends, underlying causes and lasting harm of preschool suspension and expulsions. Pertinent to the groups’ findings is how little preschool discipline is rooted in young children’s behaviors as opposed to adult behaviors—due to implicit biases and a gross misunderstanding of toddler development.

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