Urban Education Success

A Breath of Fresh Air

Ah…the perfect follow-up article to my previously expressed frustrations about less qualified teachers in inner-city schools. According to the article “More Young Americans Volunteer to Teach in Needy Areas” by Brian Padden, applications for Teach For America have increased by an amazing 36 percent! There are still people who are passionate about the success of all students and aren’t letting their salaries dictate their destinies! I’m super excited if you couldn’t tell already J. The article goes on to explain what may have attributed to this outpour of volunteerism, analyzed by Kevin Huffman, also a Teach For America volunteer:

I think there was a real mood on college campuses that really become focused on making a difference in public service, impacting critical areas of need for the country, and I think we are helping young people tap into that sense and spirit of service.

This sudden surge in educational activism has also sparked my interest in Teach For America. I would love to get the experience in working and inner-city schools and even rural schools so that I would have much more to offer when I actually start my career as a teacher. I think the fact that the students know that the Teach For America participants have actually volunteered to help them and their schools show the students that someone really cares about their success. I can imagine the type the of relationships that these college graduates are developing with the students that they interact with daily. I’m sure that there has to be some type of mentor/mentee relationships being developed, which is excellent. It’s also encouraging to know that most Teach For America participants also stay in the education field after their one year commitment to Teach For America. I’m guessing that anyone who devotes a year to address a serious issue in education without pay and still continues to work in the education field afterwards must be very passionate about teaching…and those probably make the best teachers. I only hope that I may impact the lives of students and make my mark in the educational arena with the help of Teach For America.

More Young Americans Volunteer to Teach in Needy Areas

26 December 2008


Black Down, White Up…Still Gapped

So here it is again: another article showing how the achievement gap between African  American students and White and Asian Americans continues to grow. In the article “Black Media Briefed on Achievement Gap for Black Students” by Kenneth Kim posted in New America Media, the California Department of Education reports that African American students in California showed unsatisfactory scores on the 2006 California Standards Test. Again, I will continue to stress how I am not a supporter of standardized testing, but I began to wonder: Why is it that in California, alone, less than 30 percent of African American students can read, write, and do math at their grade level, and that over 60% of Asians and whites could achieve at their grade level? Why is there such a gap? I mean, I can continue to argue that many urban and inner-city schools are inadequate until I am blue in the face, but what is being done to account for these differences and to close the age old achievement gap between the majority and the minority? What is being done differently in suburban schools that is not being done in inner-city schools? Here is one issue that arose in frustrating yet devout research:

[S]chools with large minority populations get less of everything. For example, Granada Hills Charter High School in the San Fernando Valley, a Los Angeles suburb, spends about $956,000 more a year on teachers than L.A.’s inner-city schools, attracting more qualified teachers. As a result, Ali asserted, inner-city students who are more likely to be from a minority group and live in poverty are far more likely to have more than their fair share of the lowest quality teachers – no matter how you define quality.

It’s not just the issue of inner-city schools not having the resources of suburban schools, or the issues of crime or the technological superiority of suburban schools…it’s the actual teachers, and it makes all the sense in the world! In the society that we live, money talks, and sometimes it screams over passion, purpose, and everything else that may draw us to our livelihoods and occupations. To be blatantly honest, I have a passion for teaching urban youth and re-building the educational system as it relates to African Americans and other minorities, but if that means that I will starve because of that, it may cause me to re-evaluate where I teach and what jobs I look for. Los Angeles suburbs spent about a million more dollars on teachers than the inner-city schools did, which would be an incentive for anyone trying to earn a descent living. If more teachers flock to areas that may insure their financial security, then these areas will have more qualified teachers to chose from, and less qualified teachers will have no choice but to go to other school districts to secure a job. That creates the issue of whether or not the teachers are passionate about the students themselves or about their educational advancement…which may perpetuate the pattern of underachievement in black youth.

I believe that I won’t truly be content as an educator unless I use all of the knowledge that I have students5obtained to give back to my people. I don’t think that any amount of money would ever cause me to abandon this purpose. Those students who are achieving below the standard were once my classmates, my friends, my family. I owe it to them to try to provide the possible playing field for them and their posterity.

Black Media Briefed on Achievement Gap for Black Students <!–

–> New America Media, News Report, Kenneth Kim, Posted: Dec 25, 2008

Working Around Proposal 2?

In the last class session we talked about the affects of minority enrollment in Grand Valley after proposal 2 passed in 2006, and I thought that this article would be a perfect follow up to that discussion. The article “Minority Enrollment Falls at U-M” by Marisa Schultz reported in The Detroit News, shows that Grand Valley isn’t the only school facing a minority enrollment deficit because of proposal two. Even though schools cannot use race to determine enrollment in a university, many schools have tried to target students from underprivileged schools and low-income neighborhoods when recruiting:

U-M leaders believe they were able to safeguard against dramatic drops in minority enrollment by learning from the experiences of elite public universities in California and Washington, whose minority enrollment plummeted after affirmative action was outlawed in those states. In response, U-M initiated aggressive targeted outreach efforts to persuade qualified minority students to enroll and employed new tools to identify potential students from underrepresented high schools and neighborhoods.

Though it does me no good to “cry over spilled milk” I don’t think that Proposal 2 should have been passed. Certainly I don’t think that race should be considered when determining who is accepted into an institution or who is not, but I do think that it should be considered in financial aid. If we examine the life of an average slave and calculated how much money he/or she should have earned for his/her free labor then the math would look something like this:

12 hour work day (at least) x $7.55 (today’s approximated minimum wage) x 7 days a week x 52 weeks in a year x about 70 years (average life span) = $2,308,488

And that is just for one person. If every slave had been paid for their work maybe they could have afforded to send their future generations to college. I think that the least the government or universities can do is offer scholarships and grants for students of color based off of this one fact alone. The government promised reparations to freed slaves, and I think this is the perfect way to uphold that promise.

But back to the issue at hand: I appreciate U of M and other colleges’  attempts to diversify their campus by reaching out to those underrepresented students. I believe that a diverse campus really does contribute to a wonderful educational experience. Race will probably still continue to be a controversial issue, especially with an African American man running for president, but I do believe that our nation will advance past color lines and we will truly live in a country where all men are created equal…or at least theoretically.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Minority admissions fall at U-M

Enrollment in state not greatly impacted by ballot initiative; law, medicine hit hardest.

Marisa Schultz / The Detroit News

The Underground Railroad Conference: Christopher Paul Curtis

Attending the Underground Railroad Conference was definitely a great experience for me. I never considered that something like the Underground Railroad could spark a literary movement. More specifically, the session with Christopher Paul Curtis gave me different ideas for books to teach in my classes, or at least the type of literature that I could include in my curriculum. Mr. Curtis seems to be very successful in the genre historical fiction. I had never heard of that as a separate genre before, but I’m sure that I’ve read something that incorporates the two (A Tale of Two Cities, perhaps?). Curtis did a great job retelling historical events for an adolescent age group.

Even though Elijah of Buxton seemed to be for a younger group of students, I still think that some of the themes in the book would be great to present to a high school class. For example, in the book, Elijah is harshly scolded by one of his elders for using the word “nigger.” Elijah is the first Black child born free in Buxton, and he hadn’t experienced the brutality of slavery like his parents and other elders in his community. The older character told Elijah about all of the hatred and pain associated with that word and how he should never say it again. Unfortunately, that word is still being used in the African American community and has been made as some sort of term of endearment. It seems as though the origin of the word is not being considered, and I actually think that we can find actual endearing words instead of trying to convert a word that was meant to demean and belittle. There have been many attempts to try to “ban” or “bury” the word, as seen through the NAACP’s campaign to “Bury the N-Word.” I think to simply tell students not to say the word anymore wouldn’t be as successful as if it were explained in a historical context, as with Elijah of Buxton, with the students getting to really understand the implications of that word through the voice of an ex-slave.

Elijah of Buxton really made me consider other books by Christopher Paul Curtis to teach and even to learn a little history myself. While I do realize that I would be teaching English and not history, I still think it is very important for students to see themselves represented in a text somehow. I definitely enjoyed attending this session and I can’t wait to read more books of this genre.

Acting White

The article “What’s it Mean to ‘Act White?’” presented in NEA Today was disappointingly brief, but it tackles a major issue in urban schools, especially in the self perception  African American students. The article reported the findings of a study done by Urban Education that many gifted African American students consider things such as getting good grades, excelling in school, and other indicators of academic achievement as being a “white” characteristic:

The study, which examined the attitudes of gifted Black students, found many achieving below abilities because of negative peer pressure to “act Black” — having a don’t care attitude or pretending not to be smart.

This is perhaps one of the most discouraging things that I have read. Why don’t African American students equate success and academic achievement with themselves? Why is laziness or a lackadaisical attitude toward achievement considered a “Black” trait to these students? I understand that peer pressure is a prevalent force in schools, but there is a deeper reason why other students would even tease or look down at other students for the “acting white.” There is a deep rooted self-esteem issue that needs to be tackled so that they can understand that achievement is not color struck. Ideas such as the ones held by these students have probably been ones that they have perceived through society, their own families, the media, and maybe other forms of input. However they received this idea, this damage needs to be undone.

I also wonder how much this idea has influenced the academic achievement of  African American students in general. Could this mean that there are plenty of students who are capable of excelling in the classroom but just choose not to it order to “keep it real?” (Pardon the stereotypical slang.) Are their ideas of “blackness” so shallow and ignorant that they are digging them further and further into the achievement gap and causing them to have less promising futures because of the apparent peer pressure of not seeming “white?” It seems to me that, as an educator, I should try to affirm students in their potential to well, and try to do away with those myths that achievement is for whites and lack of it is for blacks. The slave has been freed from the chains that bound his body, but we are still trying to free him from the chains that bind his mind.

What’s it Mean to Act White

NEA Today

Sep2008, Vol. 27 Issue 1, p15-15, 1/3p

Bridging the SAT GAP

Though I’m not a fan of standardized testing (I think they are biased and not a very good way to measure student intelligence), I do realize that standardized tests, such as the SAT, are used in considering college admissions. In the article County’s SAT Scores Fall Again as Racial Gap Grows by Daniel de Vise reported in the Washington Post, there is a significant drop in SAT scores in Montgomery County, but the achievement gap between whites and Asians and African Americans and Hispanics has increased:

Whites and Asians in Montgomery continue to outscore their counterparts in Fairfax, and scores are rising for both groups in Montgomery. But scores are declining for Hispanics and especially for blacks, whose composite SAT average has fallen 24 points in two years.

Of course, we can not look at this solely in the terms of race. The article also states that “[s]cores are comparatively static at the most economically privileged high schools…”. This problem can actually be looked at in terms of economic status. Of course all Whites and Asians aren’t at an economic advantage and not all African American and Hispanics are at an economic disadvantage. The irony is that there is coincidentally a higher percentage of African Americans and Hispanics who ARE at an economic disadvantage than perhaps Whites or Asians. Because of this economic gap some students aren’t able to receive the same type of resources to do well on this test that other more privileged students are able to receive. The article suggests that low-income students may not be able to afford to take the test multiple times, which usually generate higher scores, or pay for the type of tutoring and preparation outside of their schools to better prepare them for the test. Vise reports a statement by Superintendent Jerry D. Weast: “Until ‘all students have the same level of preparation going into the exam, scores may decline,’ Weast wrote in an Aug. 26 memo to school board members. ‘That is what we experienced this year.”

Although this issue is reported in Montgomery County, this is an issue that is occurring all across America. Until each student is able to receive the best preparation for the SAT and other standardized tests, we will continue to see this trend.

Integration Formation

“Separate but equal,” which was the final verdict of the court case of Brown v. Education in 1954 was the biggest load of excrements that I had ever learned. Although this decision was supposed to theoretically insure that every one had an equal education and equal opportunities, we know that that is not the case. In the article Diversity’s Quiet Rebirth by Susan Eaton in Education Weekly, the issue of the lack of diversity in schools because of this ruling is being re-examined and more racially diverse schools are being considered. The article states that many school districts, such as Boston, Hartford, Conn., Milwaukee, and Palo Alto, California are implementing ways to offer students of color in low-income schools the opportunity to attend suburban schools outside of their established district lines. The problem with segregated schools is not just the fact that they are segregated, but the fact that schools where the majority of the schools are minorities do not have the same advantage that majority students have:

Consider, too, Berkeley, Calif. The district was far ahead of the nation in recognizing that for children of color who reside in disadvantaged neighborhoods, the inherent problem was not their physical separation from white children—although there was plenty of that—but that this isolation segregated them from equal opportunities to learn. In other words, such students were segregated from the opportunities disproportionately abundant in middle-class, largely white communities. And so educators there consider several variables—geographic, racial, linguistic, and economic—in granting school choice.

While the idea of racially integrated classrooms is phenomenal, I can’t help but to retrieve the disturbing images of the Little Rock Nine as they attempted to be the first African American students at Central High School in 1957. I’m also reminded of the hatred and unwelcoming attitudes of the white students as other students of color were being integrated into their classrooms. I wonder if our nation is mature enough to handle a student from the Bronx attending a prep school in Rochester (assuming that Bronx and Rochester are only a few miles away, I was never good at geography lol)? Certainly, racism still exists in our country and is present in all races, but have we, as a nation, been enlightened enough to understand that skin color should not determine the privileged and underprivileged?

A slight twist on the article: I wonder if any of the decision makers in this article ever considered transporting some white children to urban schools? I wonder whether or not that would make a difference in the amount of funding that these schools receive or the quality of resources that they had access to. I love the idea of integrating schools, but I’m also thinking that only transporting students of color to white schools has an underlying implication that white is better. I understand that largely white communities with better funding and resources would provide an better learning environment, but why is that? If the sole purpose for allowing students of color to attend suburban schools is in the name of integration, then why can’t it be the other way around? Perhaps I am just truly ignorant of educational politics and there is a logical reason. Or maybe not.

I Have a Mission and it MUST Be Accomplished

The African American male is an endangered species in America, but I plan to significantly replenish his existence in this country. After viewing CNN’s special, “Black in America,” I received the startling statistic that only 50% of African American males graduate from high school. Because education plays a monumental role in future success, that means that there is a possibility of at least a quarter of the African American race without high school diplomas, at least a quarter of the African American race without a post-secondary education, a quarter of the African American race who will not be able to compete for high salaried jobs due to lack of education, which can result in a quarter of the African-American race who will probably end up in poverty.

The essential question to ask in response to this devastating statistic is “Why is this happening?” Do African Americans lack the potential or neurological processes to complete high school? Of course not. Are there other environmental factors that may contribute to a student’s performance in school? Definitely. My goal as an educator is to identify those opposing variables and work on solutions to them. As a product of urban education, I actually have had the privilege (if you can call it that) to experience and understand some of those factors that work against educational success. With that first hand experience, I want to be able to connect with students where they are and aid them in their academic progress.

Although I was a recipient of urban education, I do realize that “urban” does not necessarily mean “black”. It also does not necessarily mean “impoverished”,  “dangerous,” or other stereotypical adjectives. I plan to learn what comprises urban education and what the advantages and disadvantages may be. I want to learn how to excel the best way possible in this type of school system and how to address the needs of its students. I also would like to learn creative techniques to incorporate the interests of students into my classroom and to understand them personally and collectively. I am really an empty canvas waiting to be filled with so much pertaining to this subject.

Some of the feeds that I have subscribed to are Education Week: Diversity, an EBSCO feed “Urban Education,” the New York Times Education Department, the Detroit News School page, and Google News-Inner City Schools. All of these feeds have information that is pertinent to urban education, but the Detroit News was really a good one because it focuses on Detroit inner-city schools, where I plan to teach upon graduation. Hopefully I picked pretty good subscriptions!

After reading the preceding paragraphs, I feel like I have to make one thing clear before I conclude: I am not solely concerned with the education of African American males,  I am a proponent of student success, period. I want students from all walks of life to reach their highest academic potential. The reason why I chose to highlight this problem in the African American community is because it is also my own community. Thanks for reading, and hopefully I receive some useful feedback J