Educational Shock And Awe

"BAM-POWWW!"? That's the detonation of the two major education bombs that got dropped on America this week.

Bomb #1: According to "Yes We Can: The 2010 Schott 50 State Report on Black Males in Public Education" only 47% of black males in America graduated from high school during the 2007-2008 school year.

If you live in New York (25% graduation rate), Philly (28%) Pinellas County, Florida (21%) or even Chicago (44%), whether or not you're the parent of a black child, you should be ready to sign up for a protest!

No joke, can somebody (like a superintendent) get fired over those numbers???

The report didn't breakdown specific data about Los Angeles, but when California, with a dismal 54% rate, doesn't look so bad, something's really wrong with education in America.

What's the solution? It's easy to think the solution is for all of us to jump ship to Vermont where 90% of their 10 black males graduate. It's even easier to think that holding individual teacher's feet to the fire and publicly outing their student's standardized test results is the answer, which leads us to...

Bomb #2: Two reporters from the Los Angeles Times, Jason Felch and Jason Song made a real "shots fired" move by getting seven years of math and English standardized test scores and then using a value added analysis method (which tracks each child's performance from year to year) to, "estimate the effectiveness of L.A. teachers - something the district could do but has not." They plan to post a searchable online database where parents (and anybody else) can look up a teacher's high stakes standardized test score results, forever marrying teacher effectiveness with those scores. You may kiss the bride!

Somebody sound the airhorns because I can't separate these two stories.

My gut reaction to Bomb #1 is that I have two black male children, and in my own family and circle of friends I've seen firsthand the effed up education offered to black boys in America - so I'm in "By Any Means Necessary" mode. That means that when I hear that the head of our local teachers union, the United Teachers of Los Angeles, is calling for the boycott of the LA Times over this story, I'm like, seriously?

Here's the thing - as a former teacher, I would have had zero problem publicizing my student achievement data for my kids in Compton, not just because I was a pretty good teacher either. We're about to start a new school year and I have zero information about what my two son's new teachers are like. What are their strengths? Their weaknesses? Do they have a history of FAILING the students in their classrooms?

Heck, I can look on Yelp and find out more information about my dentist than I can about their new teachers. Is that the way it should be?

On the other hand, no, I don't believe test scores are the end-all-be-all of evaluating teacher effectiveness. I think the Times article makes it too easy to shame and label teachers as "bad"- all the while acknowledging that a real teacher evaluation processes isn't on the table in the United States because we're too busy paying for wars and don't feel like spending money to do evaulations - and skill development for teachers - properly.

Where's the evaulation of all those pricey, craptastic professional development seminars districts pay for - that are often run by people who got into professional development because they suck as classroom teachers? Will those stop being paid for?

Where is the evaluation on the "school leaders"? You know, the principals?

The bottom line - now that it's all over the news (trust me, black people already knew this) that education is failing black kids, and now that teacher's standardized test results are going to be online - what difference will any of this make for our kids?

It's all good to have shock and awe over depressing graduation rates, and yay that I'll be able to see my boy's future teacher's test scores, but I'm all about so what, now what? What's really going to change?


Jen said…
It's been a while since I was in high school but I remember we all knew who the bad teachers in the school were. None of the administration would ever do a thing about it. I have a huge amount of respect for teachers. Many of their students don't want to be there and I cannot imagine what it must be like trying to reach those students. But in almost any other job, if you're not good at it you get fired. Not everyone is good at everything and the people teaching our kids should at least be decent at what they do.
April said…
ooh, so much to say, I don't even know where to start!
First of all, how sad is it that I didn't even KNOW about that report on black males, but I can't turn my head without hearing about the LA Times article.
Secondly, while I agree that tests should never be the end-all, be-all, I think that this is the only way to analyze them effectively. I think, actually, that the method currently being used to measure teachers against their students' tests is unfair because it doesn't take into account where the student was the prior year to where they are now.
And I also agree that attempting to boycott the LA Times is beyond ridiculous.
I have never been a fan of standardized tests, and my biggest disappointment in Obama so far is that I don't see Race to the Top as being that different from NCLB.
Having said that, I can't say I was surprised when I learned that the 4th grade test scores went down from what my daughter's school had tested in 3rd grade, given the drastic difference I saw in teacher quality from 3rd to 4th grade. The 4th grade teacher she had last year is now teaching kindergarten, which is hopefully a much better fit.
Last, we need a parent revolution. Like now.
Tracy said…
I'm not a teacher. I'm just a college educated black woman from a middle class family. My parents, both college educated, were involved in my education. My parents went to PTA meetings, they talked to my teachers on the phone, and they volunteered at my school.

I'm sorry, but until black parents get involved in the process of educating their black children, nothing is going to change. This is one area where I'm very conservative. The government can throw all kinds of money at the problem, but unless education is valued in a child's home, that money won't do a damn thing.

This is just my opinion. There should be no excuses for not knowing your kid's teacher. I'm sorry, but that's just unacceptable. If you can't get to the PTA meetings, you can make a phone call. It's not all that hard. If you don't get involved, don't expect your child to perform well in school.
As an aunt to two nephews these stats piss me off. How can this be happening in 2010? Talk about two Americas.

I went to elementary first in NYC at a huge public school and then when we move to a predominately white suburb, to a small public school.

My parents knew everything about my teachers in both schools. So when Ms. Munoz, my third grade teacher told my mom I talked too much in class, I got into major trouble at home.

We really need to spend less time freaking testing and more time on teaching.

I agree with Tracy. There weren't many black kids in my grade (two besides myself) in my suburban school. My parents were all up in my education (so much so that I was annoyed). Meanwhile my best friends parents' had no idea what was going with her education and seemed completely uninterested. She happened to get great grades but there was no discussion about her higher education.
BlackLiterature said…
@Tracy I used to think the way you do. Until my friend pool expanded to include women with children. College educated, middle class, married and single women with children. Women that are involved in the PTA, class moms, teachers, stay at home or with jobs flexible enough to stop by the classroom through out the day.

The feedback from these women overwhelming support the idea that Black children and Black boys especially are being failed in by most school systems.

One of my close friends has been teaching for 10 years. Her 8 year old son attended the school where she taught. She's a UCLA grad, master's degree, all around smart chick. Her boy is the only grandchild, smart as a whip( My opinion). She's a leader in her school, on diversity committes etc. And no, this is not an under performing/at risk school.

Last year she decided to enroll her son in a private school because a the mom of a Black boy, she didn't like what she saw on the horizon and she wanted him to be in a more supportive educational environment before real damage was done.

I figure if she can see that there is a problem both with educators and the system when it comes to Black boys and be concerned enough to pay for private school on her salary, the issue is real. And it is going to take more than just being a member of the PTA to make a difference.
BlackLiterature said…
Sorry to blog in your comments, Liz. But as a mom, I am more than concerned about what this means for Black children. I know it is anecdotal, but I know too many parents of means (ie: educated, involved in their children's education, experienced) that have to really FIGHT with teachers/schools when it comes to their children's education.

To quote friends of ours: If she, as an advanced degree holding, PTA rep, stay at home mom has to be vigilent and address issues within the classroom on an almost weekly basis ... what chance does the parent that works or prehaps does not have the best academic background or does not know their options have? It's a crapshoot. Personally, that scares me
Anonymous said…
Black Literature,

Agreed. I work for a nonprofit designed to fight educational inequality and close the achievement gap (by focusing efforts on low-income public schools in the US), and parental involvement is moot if Black and Latino kids are being tracked into remedial classes, disproportionately suspended/expelled for the same infractions as their White peers, accused of cheating when they do well on assessments, etc. Plus, there's growing literature that shows that the structure of the classroom can be detrimental to young boys (their energy-->inability to sit still-->teacher perceives this as misbehavior) and non-White students in general (we often learn better through partnered/group-work and/or call-and-response activities, but White educators often view that as "talking too much" or "being disrespectful"). Parental involvement is always a good thing, but parents and students shouldn't have to "make do" with a crappy educational framework.


Have you heard about the holding cells of sorts that they have for some NY teachers. Basically, teachers accused of misconduct can be put in an extended time-out (and get paid), and then trickled right back into the classroom. My boss forwarded me the email ages ago, but it was appalling--I'm all for greater accountability, as long as the government/higher-ups are held equally accountable.
Liz Dwyer said…
I have TONS of thoughts to share - worked late at an education event I was helping put on -- and got up late. I'll reply as soon as I can!
nick said…
Well, I don't know the local situation, but I imagine much of the explanation for the low achievement rate is low expectations of black kids from every part of society, from government down to parents and teachers. Until everyone assumes black kids can do as well educationally as whites, and they're appropriately supportive and encouraging, I guess the present imbalance isn't going to change much.
Anonymous said…
What deeply sobering news this is. I was shocked at how very disproportionately Black men are being failed by the system.
May I add that I was alarmed to not only see the stats for Black men graduating high school on a state by state basis, but from time to time, the corresponding stat for white males was no better. For instance, in Hawaii 44% of Black males and 47% of white males graduate - so excluding any other ethnicities in the state, this means that less than half of the men in the state do not graduate high school? This is a crisis!
We need a revolution and it should probably start in Pinellas Country, FL.
Anonymous said…
Hey Los Angelista, I'm wondering what the study had to say about black girls and their graduation rates?If anything.I think the study was sad and bleek and I hope something changes for the better very soon.It's hard to get a job at some restaurants without a high school diploma.

Liz Dwyer said…
Yes, in my high school we all knew who the less-than-awesome teachers were. I think it's hard to compare education to other kinds of professions - and in so many other professions, people who are craptastic at their jobs don't get fired... which is why there are so many books on effective management and tough convos w/ employees and all that. A lot of teachers self-identify that it's not for them, or they get disillusioned due to a lack of support/professional development, so something like 50% leave the profession within 5 years. In the meantime, our children are clearly suffering and the education they're not getting is criminal.

That LAT article is definitely the buzz of the week - but I didn't cry when I read it. I cried when I read the report. In the value-added method, it compares students year to year so it does take into account where the child was the year before but I don't think it can be the end-all be-all of education. The biggest difference btwn RTTT and NCLB is the funding. NCLB had none. RTTT comes with it but it's not long term and given the existing economic collapse... sigh. We sure do need a parent revolution. What's going on now, is unacceptable.

OK, I'll try to reply to more comments in a bit. Sorry my sched is so slammed. ;)
I just found your blog and am absolutely so happy I did (I had Culver & Timburg as my PDs back in 02-04)!
I can only say that I'm happy that the media has chosen to instill some sort of public accountability toward teachers. Is this the best way? No. Are these figures the only thing we should look at? No. But the public needs to know that teachers are part of the failing school equation and it's not just bad kids and bad schools. I'm happy that this may start a public dialogue as to what a good teacher looks like.
Jen said…
I think my opinion is closest to Jasmine's - again, due to my work over the years with various groups that have looked at achievement gap situations. Kids are marked and labeled, the school setting isn't appropriate for boys in general and takes in cultural expression and social characteristics as "disrespectful" and kids end up getting tracked disproportionately. All of this continues and continues. It's one of the biggest problems our country faces because we are losing our young men. I'm also very concerned about only tying teacher effectiveness to test scores - I'd like to see a much more rounded evaluation system, just as I'd like to see a much more well-rounded evaluation system for our children of all colors, ethnic groups and socio-economic situations. Some children who are gifted orally will never be strong test takers; some wonderful writers will not fill in the correct circles, some strong readers may have rote memory issues that will flummox them with upper level math tests (not the concepts, just the tests). We need to be educating children as a whole and seeing them holistically. We need to see not just how student test scores improve but how the child grows on many different measurements. I'm going to stop before I write a blog in the comments section. And yes, I agree with April - we need a parent revolution! Also, do you know about fireside learning on Ning? You might enjoy the discussions there.
Liz Dwyer said…
I absolutely believe we as parents have to be 100% vigilant about our children's education - totally agree. The problem is that even college educated middle class people have a tough time connecting and having meaningful conversations about their children. Teachers are used to telling parents, "Your kid got an 80%," but what does that really mean? That conversation doesn't happen as often as it should -and sometimes teachers subtly discourage parents from asking questions or being involved. It's hard enough when you're educated and can go toe to toe with a teacher if needed, but when you're not as educated, knowing what to ask is intimidating.

My boys are going to a new school this fall so I don't know who they'll get as a teacher, and I have no idea what that person will be like. That bugs me.

Two Americas indeed! The stats are enraging! You know I'm all up in my kid's education, too. I don't trust schools at all. I wish I could say I do, but I don't, and I know not every teacher they have will do right by my boys. I don't trust the schools overall to not make my kids crazy.

Black Literature,
Feel free to talk to other commenters - makes me happy to see the conversation going. I'm seriously concerned about this I absolutely agree with you. If it's hard for me sometimes, I know it's hard for parents that don't have the educational lingo in their back pocket.

What you're saying about the structure of the classroom is SO on point!

I did hear about the holding cells. Totally insane story - but you know what's interesting is that states that don't have unions don't fire ineffective teachers any more frequently than states WITH unions.

It's absolutely low expectations...and those expectations are driven by racism. It's depressing. :(

Very sobering indeed. And shocking. This is why education is the social justice issue of today.

Yep, I thought about rates for white males and for girls as well.We need a revolution and we needed it to happen yesterday. I don't know what folks expect these young men who have no diploma to do. Oh wait, yes I do. Our prison industrial complex wants them.

I didn't see info about black girls but I'm very curious what it is. I hope it's much higher, but I'm sure it's not.

==I have to go to bed... I'm going to fall over onto my laptop!
Gunfighter said…
It isn't the schols.

It isn't the teachers.

IT IS THE PARENTING... or rather, lack thereof. Concerned, interested, involved parents of value education for the sake of education have children who are intereted... or at least, children who are made to achieve to some degree simply becasue that is the way it is in that house.

I didn't go to college, my parents were divorced, my mother didn't finish high school, but my grandmother insisted that I become a reader, and she was successful in the extreme.

Look, if we don't ensure that our children read (well)and have access to books and reference materials... how are they ever going to learn anything that doesn't come out of someone else's mouth or from a television screen?

We weren't wealthy. We weren't what anyone could come close to calling middle class. I was raised in a household that today we would call "the working poor"... but there was a public library near our home. There was a library in my schools. We used them.

We need to make sure that our children... our boys read well. THAT is the key barrier to success. If they can't read well, it doesn't really matter much if they graduate from high school or not... achievement will only be a wish.

Why do we think the black prison population is so high? In Virginia (where I live) 75% of the prison population (of all races) is made up of people who didn't graduate from high school.

75 percent!

If our kids learn to read well, they are almost guaranteed to graduate from high school. If they graduate from high school, they are almost certain to never enter the criminal justice system.

It all starts with reading.
Amber L. said…
You might be interested in this article:

It's about a Los Angeles Area school (not LAUSD though) who have "closed the learning gap" between the white and non-white students.

Liz Dwyer said…
Kimberly Michelle,
So glad you found me - I promise, I post more than this. Just busy, busy, busy! Anyway, I'm sure we must've crossed paths at some point. I certainly agree that accountability is needed - we need to be sure we're on the right track. I wish there was a way to do so without placing the weight of public education all on teachers, because that's often what seems to be going on. Teachers have so much influence, but they certainly don't work in a vacuum, and as you know, they don't always get the support they need.

What I'm curious about is what kind of teacher training/mentorship might come out of careful analysis of instructional strengths/weaknesses. I remember not knowing how to teach multiplication, and no other teacher on my grade level could really tell me. It was weird.

YES! School is not set up for boys to be successful - even the fact that as they get older and have more hormones raging, they're expected to sit and take notes for hours on end. I'd like to see a more well-rounded eval as well. I don't think anybody wants to spend money on that though, unfortunately. I don't spend as much time on Ning as I probably should. I'll check out the fireside learning. Thanks for the tip!

Thank God for your grandmother. I love her for teaching you and ensuring you became a reader - and a writer! ;)

Here in Cali they build prisons based on 4th grade reading test scores. It's so sad - and I 100% believe reading is one of the keys to ensuring student and life success.

I definitely believe parents/guardians play an incredibly vital role in ensuring success - but I know through my own experience, it's possible to get those results even if a parent isn't totally on board. I always think about how in wealthier areas, parents, particularly fathers, aren't always the most involved. They just write checks and show up at the parent/teacher conferences.

I keep thinking, what can I do beyond my two sons. What can we all do.

I love examples like that because it's proof that it's possible. Possible with kids that low-income. Kids that are black and Latino... thanks for sharing.
Anonymous said…
I've been busy so I just had an opportunity to read this post. This really hit so many nerves. Today I sign the lease on my brand new, cute, but overpriced and too small apartment. I took this apartment because drastic measures were required after trying permits, Choices, and lotteries. This apartments' home school has programs so amazing I do a happy dance just thinking about the opportunities that this will afford my daughter. After two years at a school that only has science class a few months out of the year I wonder what good things could happen when she has access to a science lab or a farm (with animals). However, I can't help feeling like a sell-out. This school is what all kids SHOULD have access to. I know that the school is great because people with money did the squeaky wheel thing. It's all well to talk about parental envolvement but the way LAUSD is set up you can't find these opportunites unless you already know what questions to ask. Everything about our school district is as clear as mud. Everything I know is something someone was kind enough to share with me. I know I should do more but right now the best I can do is pass on what i've learned
Anonymous said…
Thanks for reminding me of why my younger children are educated at home.

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