Latin School site, School St., Boston, MA Freedom Trail

What should feel like a major accomplishment—getting accepted into an elite public high school—can quickly go downhill if, as a student, you’re subjected to racial slurs, racial hostilities, and racist attitudes and behaviors. That is the reality for some Black and Latino students in the country’s most selective public high schools. And as the push to diversify these schools takes precedence, inadequate attention is given to creating school cultures that nurture and support students from all ethnic and racial backgrounds.

I looked at how racial conflict is affecting students at America’s most prestigious and sought-after public high schools—and what school leaders and staff can do to address this issue.

Balancing the underrepresentation of his culture inside school with cultural pride outside school is something that Matthew Mata, a Latino senior at Chicago’s Walter Payton College Preparatory High School, navigates daily. Throughout his high-school years he says he’s witnessed the equivalent of what was reported at Boston Latin. “The fact that only a few Latinos get the opportunity to receive a fully resourced education [which means] extracting me from my culture … and people who I can easily identify with” only accelerates racial tensions, said Mata, who travels from an “artistic Mexican neighborhood” to attend one of the most selective schools in the city.

To better meet the needs of its students of color, Payton hired a director of student engagement and formed a club—Payton People of Color—as a place to talk through racial and social issues affecting students. Mata sees it as an attempt to be more inclusive, but believes a club can only reap limited benefits: “There shouldn’t need to be a club so students feel safe [but instead] classroom environments where they feel safe.” He added that what elite schools like his need are opportunities for school staff to grow in their racial and cultural consciousness, through student testimonials and mandatory teach-ins on racism. “I believe that in order to confront an oppressive system, you must at times confront [administrators and teachers] with uncomfortable conversations to hopefully get your message across.”

Read more.

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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.

Read more.

 

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History reveals a long-standing tradition of student activism in education. Young people, often high school students, mobilizing and organizing their peers to create change. Courageous youth leaders demanding that those most affected by education policy and politics have their voices heard and respected. My interest in student activism predates my latest piece in The Atlantic. With a wave of protests rolling across college campuses, however, it’s timely to revisit the other student activists spearheading movements.

More than 50 years later movements for racial and educational justice are once again building momentum. A surge of student activism has swept across academia in recent weeks as black students and their allies forcefully call attention to racist climates on American college campuses. And even as some college-student leaders cite the Black Lives Matter social-justice movement as their inspiration, what’s happening in higher education is being matched by younger peers. High-school youth are flexing their collective muscles for equity: fighting budget cuts and out-of-school suspensions as they take on racial issues and academic offerings.

2012 paper on youth and social movements, a collaboration between Lady Gaga’s Born this Way Foundation and Harvard University’s Berkman Center, found young people to be powerful agents for social change, crediting undocumented-youth sit-ins for convincing President Obama to grant DREAMers a reprieve from deportation in 2012. The paper’s author writes of youth activists primed to “call out or identify systems of oppression, speak up, and mobilize their peers.”

Read more.

(Photo: Liz Hafalia, San Francisco Chronicle)

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As bilingualism becomes a coveted commodity, the popularity of dual-language immersion continues to grow. Native English speakers are building their linguistic skills in a wide variety of programs teaching highly sought after languages. But what is the upshot for English learners in two-way immersion? It has the potential to become a resource that benefits English-dominant students as it further marginalizes language minority students. Making social justice central to these programs is key to averting this unintended consequence.

In a break with tradition, more schools are adopting language-immersion programs, in which English and another language are integrated into the curriculum and instruction. The Center for Applied Linguistics, a D.C.-based nonprofit, found an exponential growth in foreign-language immersion in a comprehensive survey of public schools and some private schools. Over a 40-year span language-immersion schools grew steadily, with the largest increase in the decade that started in 2001. Spanish remains the most popular for immersion programs at 45 percent, followed by French (22 percent) and Mandarin (13 percent), with a wide array of languages rounding out the list of 22 selections—from Hawaiian and Cantonese to Japanese and Arabic.

As two-way immersion grows, the variety of language options now available marks a turning point in the evolution of bilingual education. Once the mainstay of immigrant children, bilingual instruction has a new band of converts: English-speaking parents, lawmakers, and advocacy groups. Research shows that students gain cognitive and academic benefits from bilingualism. Yet an overarching reason for the heightened interest is giving U.S. students a jump on the competition in a global workforce. And some activists find even with this flurry of attention, equal access to dual-immersion remains a thorny issue and persistent challenge.

Read more.

(Photo: John Gastaldo / San Diego Union-Tribune) 

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Few famous figures in American history are as divisive as Christopher Columbus. Many find the Italian voyager’s reputation doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. A growing number of cities and states – Alaska just joined the roster – are shunning a day named for the explorer in favor of “Indigenous Peoples Day.” And schools, which reflect society’s broad cultural and political values, must find ways to navigate this new terrain.

So I looked at the annual pushback to this holiday – and went in search of how teachers talk about Columbus in an authentic way in the classroom.

Today, over 500 years after he sailed the ocean blue, Columbus is equally derided and praised. Starting with Berkeley, California, in 1992, cities started renaming the second Monday in October “Indigenous People’s Day” to shift focus from the conqueror to the conquered. Since August, eight cities have replaced Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day, including several in just the last week. This follows both Minneapolis and Seattle, which adopted the new name in 2014, with a bevy of Native American groups and progressive activists applauding the changes.

The picture grows even more complicated when you factor in teachers and schools, which often rely on textbooks, materials, and lesson plans inundated with Anglo-American, mono-cultural viewpoints. In Lies My Teacher Told Me, James W. Loewen, a history professor, reviews the common misstatements and misrepresentations in the retelling of American history—from the first Thanksgiving and reconstruction to the mythology surrounding Columbus. The result is “a whitewashed version of history,” Shannon Speed, the director of Native American and Indigenous Studies at the University of Texas at Austin, wrote in a Huffington Post op-ed last year. “Omission of the truth is, in fact, a form of lying. I would offer that the purpose of teaching history in schools is to create critical thinkers capable of meaningful participation in a democratic society.”

Read more.

(Photo: Elaine Thompson / AP)

A Black Boy Growing Up in Baltimore [The Atlantic]

Written on 8 October 2015, 08:15am under As Seen In

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The first of six trials in the Freddie Gray case is set to begin late next month. With all of the analysis, one voice is mostly absent: Baltimore youth.

What is it like to grow up in Baltimore? I wanted to present a youth perspective on the April uprising … show how well teachers and schools help kids manage their trauma and stress … and give readers a glimpse at all of the above through the eyes of a Baltimore teen. A student’s perspective, via a “Day in the Life” profile. 

Meet Scott Thompson II.

In many ways, Scott is a black youth who both lives apart from and among the conditions that have come to define West Baltimore. “If I make it as a big actor, people will know where I came from and will know I’m a black boy from Baltimore,” he said on a recent Saturday afternoon traveling around the city. “I know what’s wrong with my city, but it’s still [mine]. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”

For Scott, poetry was a way to grapple with the trauma he endured—a tool that some educators and schools now use to help children heal from exposure to violence. Looking back on that period of life, Scott recalls school—particularly the support he got from his peers and favorite teacher at Southwest Baltimore Charter—being his lifeline.  To transition students from middle to high school, Southwest Baltimore Charter School organizes students into gender-exclusive teams—“crews”—of about a dozen students each who meet daily in grades 6-8. The crew model fosters strong, consistent relationships between students. The closeness of the all-male group gave Scott the security to grieve and surrender to his sadness. “We are honestly like brothers. I always felt safe in my crew room. I knew I could talk about anything, or if I was having a bad day… I could always connect with them.”

Read more.

[Photo: Scott Thompson II (far left) and 8th-Grade Crew on School Trip]

CHICAGO, IL - AUGUST 28:  Chicago Police Sgt. Alan Lasch watches as students arrive at Laura Ward Elementary School on the Westside on August 28, 2013 in Chicago, Illinois. Lasch was posted at the school along with other police officers and city workers to provide "safe passage" to students walking to the school. The Safe Passage program was started because parents were worried about their children’s safety while they walked to school across gang boundaries after the city closed 49 elementary schools and moved the students to nearby schools.  (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Whatever title they hold – school resource officers, school safety agents or school police – the presence of law enforcement officers in K-12 public schools is a growing and, for some, disconcerting trend. In writing about school discipline this issue quickly began to assume outsize importance. With thousands of sworn law-enforcement officers now posted at U.S. public schools, social-justice activists, community leaders and parents are questioning the effect on campus culture.

Excerpt:

“The original point of SROs was to give young people the opportunity to interact with [police] officers in a positive way, and there is some reason to think this can be accomplished in some places,” said Emily Owens, a criminology professor at the University of Pennsylvania. “But of course, having an officer means that there will be an increased likelihood that law enforcement is involved in what would otherwise be a disciplinary event.”

While law enforcement’s presence at schools is hardly a new phenomenon, its value and purpose has lately grown especially contentious. As police officers, those engaged in school-based law-enforcement are, in a way, “beat cops” who are often called on to serve as school disciplinarian. And some experts and juvenile-justice advocates cite systemic educational risks when police patrol school hallways. A report published by the Justice Policy Institute in 2011, “Education Under Arrest: The Case Against Police in Schools,” concludes that placing SROs and other police in educational institutions exaggerates how school misbehavior, much of it involving minor infractions, is interpreted—to the extent that such activities can be treated as criminal offenses.

Read more.

(Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images)

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Continuing my strong interest in how race and education intersect, my latest at The Atlantic explores a heretofore overlooked viewpoint on why we need more teachers of color, specifically considering the perspective of white students. We live in a diverse country – a country that is rapidly becoming majority people of color. We need to disrupt this pernicious cycle and improve the ability of white students to form diverse relationships and connections.

Excerpt:

The societal advantages of more teachers of color become clearer when considering the racial socialization—or the processes by which people develop their ethnic identities—of white adults, including the parents who may stumble in communicating racial understanding to their children. A Public Religion Research Institute study on “American Values” circulated last summer, following the shooting in Ferguson, showed that 75 percent of white Americans have all-white social networks. This self-segregation could help explain the racial divide over Michael Brown’s death and why it was seemingly so hard for many whites to understand what transpired in Ferguson: Their worldview was restricted to mostly white friends and family. And in a 2014 study researchers found that “the messages that white teens received [from parents regarding race] were contradictory and incomplete,” concluding that schools are a crucial link in building “productive and genuine relationships” between whites and people of color.

Read more on how nonwhite educators can offer new and valuable perspectives for children of all backgrounds.

(Photo by Eastern Michigan University)

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In my school district we’re less than a month away from the first day of school. As I oversee the annual ritual known as “Finish your summer packet or else” I’m also beginning to see the annual resurgence of back-to-school articles. Which sparked this quick post, because what’s the use of having a blog if not to serve as a vehicle for my musings and such.

Back-to-school stories abound. New laptops, Common Core, cost of back-to-school school supplies, and teachers’ tales of heading back to the classroom are typical favorites when other education stories rarely see the light. Here are two that easily come to mind:

School segregation: Nikole Hannah-Jones has returned to the topic she expertly covered on the anniversary of Brown v Board of Education, exploring in The New York Times Magazine how segregation is the continuing tragedy in Michael Brown’s school district one year after his death. This issue is one that adversely impacts school districts across the country. There is little political will to address this situation, and education reporters can bring attention to this through more consistent coverage like Jones exhibits. To paraphrase an Economic Policy Institute report, commentators (and reporters!) can’t continue to write ad nauseum about the “achievement gap” and quote education policymakers citing education as “civil rights issue of our time” and not spotlight the racial isolation of Black students (and other students of color) in public schools.

Homeless students: Like a recent NPR story out of Florida, periodically stories appear on local school districts working to identify and help homeless students. These are feel-good and pleasant. What doesn’t get enough ink is that federal law requires specific services be provided to students without a stable home. The McKinney-Vento Act, which oversees such regulations, mandates that states and school districts register homeless students for school without delay, provide transportation, and deliver other services that are routinely ignored. Education policymakers can’t eradicate homelessness, but education reporters can ensure they are held responsible for providing homeless children with the support they need.

As an education writer I choose to focus on how education intersects with issues of race, culture, gender, and class because this is an area that is undercovered and often misunderstood. I’m not seeking clones, but it would be nice to see more conscientious and painstaking education reporting that carves a new path rather than follows the same, well-worn template.