April 9, 2007

To Close Gaps, Schools Focus on Black Boys

The NYT laps up another story about a non-instructional remedy to what is fundamentally an instructional problem: the academic performance of black boys.

Instead of fixing what and how they're teaching, the Ossining Union Free school district is trying something different:

[T]he black boys at Brookside, are set apart, in a way, by a special mentoring program that pairs them with black teachers for one-on-one guidance outside class, extra homework help, and cultural activities during the school day. “All the black boys used to end up in the office, so we had to do something,” said Lorraine Richardson, a second-grade teacher and mentor. “We wanted to teach them to help each other” instead of fight each other.

The message is that the problem is "black boys." There's something about black boys that is inherently defective and causing underperformance. It can't be that the school isn't teaching properly.

Let's see what this program entails:

The special efforts for Ossining’s black male students began in 2005 with a college-preparatory program for high schoolers and, starting last month, now stretch all the way to kindergarten, with 5-year-olds going on field trips to the American Museum of Natural History and Knicks and Mets games to practice counting.

Well, at least they got the practice counting part right.

And here's some irony for you:

Ossining’s unusual programs for black boys have drawn the attention of educators across the country as school districts in diversifying suburbs are coming under new pressure to address what many see as a seemingly intractable racial divide with no obvious solution.

First of all there is an obvious solution: teach better. But, that's a solution to one is looking for. The irony is that this "unusual program" has "drawn the attention of educators across the country." That's because they're all looking for the easy solution, as opposed to something with a proven track record. And, that's because all the programs with proven track records all involve instructional changes. these programs don't draw "the attention of educators across the country."

The federal No Child Left Behind law’s requirement that test scores be analyzed for each racial group has over the past decade spotlighted the achievement gap even in predominantly white suburban districts.

See. NCLB has been good for something. Collecting data. Something schools are loathe to do since it shows they are failing.

Some groups have attacked the program for the wrong reasons:

“I think this is a form of racial profiling in the public school system,” said the coalition’s executive director, Michael Meyers. “What they’re doing here, under the guise of helping more boys, is they’re singling them out and making them feel inferior or different simply because of their race and gender.”

Actually, having a low performer is a mainstream class sends a steady stream of information to the student that he isn't as smart as the rest of the class. So, this isn't the problem.

then we have this non-sequitur:

At a time of wider debate over the socioeconomic barriers facing black boys, the focus on boosting educational support has gained traction with policymakers.

But elsewhere in the article we're told that the black girls aren't performing as badly as the boys. So, it's not an SES issue now is it?

Finally we come to some words that should strike horror in anyone who follows education:

A New York Times analysis of state education data showed

That's where I had to stop.


Catherine Johnson said...

Ed charged into the article this morning -- spurred on by the sight of the "school within schools" concept. (I've raised the question of having a "prep school" within our middle school...)

Then he rammed into all the character ed stuff and came to a screeching halt.

He probably didn't finish the article, either.

Catherine Johnson said...

I'll tell you what the problem with black BOYS is: if they're living with single moms, the moms can't force them to do homework -- and boys (apparently) don't respond as well to "flexible learning" situations as girls.

flexible learning

Catherine Johnson said...

At this point, if I were a single mom Christopher would be out of luck. He's very defiant on the subject of school work, and needs his dad to sit on him.

Which his dad does.

ms-teacher said...

The research that I'm doing touches on this issue: specifically, I'm looking at how people parent (their style of parenting) and how it impacts academic performance. Catherine has hit on something significant when she states that so many of our African American boys are being raised in single-parent households and more importantly, when there is no adult-male role model.

I also think that there are significant cultural differences as well. I've learned to be very direct when I want to get the attention of my students, despite my middle-class/European American upbringing. However, I have colleagues who find this "directness" a little bit of a harder challenge. An example would be if I want a student to sit down, I would say, "Joe, sit down" or "Jerron, you need to take a seat." I've been in some classrooms where a teacher might say, "Joe, why don't you take a seat" or "Jerron, can you sit down now?"

Do you see the difference? Now, in my own home, I might not be so direct. (Although, there are times when my husband reminds me not to use my teacher voice at home.;) ) I'm working with one teacher this year who has a very difficult time with being direct and more authoritative. He has been teaching significantly longer than me, but is really struggling with classroom management AND more specifically, with African American males.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, black parents can get swept up with these ideas. In a nearby Chicago suburb, the black parents went ballistic when their school board hesitated to put an Afro-Centric curriculum into all of the grade schools. There was a minority achievement gap and these parents felt that this would be the only way to address it.

Mind you, the African American percentage in this particular suburb was around 44%, not a majority. And the school board agreed to a trial run in one school.

The school board was attacked as racists and being against achievement for their children. They were pummeled by one parent after another.

When teaching techniques such as direct instruction popped up, some board members shot it down and accused other board members of having an "agenda" for even bringing it up.

This was all televised for a while. I couldn't believe what I was seeing.

Anonymous said...

I take it back. 44% can be a majority because we have a lot different cultures in the suburbs. In my district, the Asian percentages are around 35%. Others have high Hispanic numbers. However, they can change in an instant and they often do.

Joanne Jacobs said...

I'd like to see teachers try to make their classrooms good places for active boys to learn. But some boys also need to learn to work within the school culture. That's harder for kids whose parents didn't do well at school and for kids who are hearing a lot of distorted messages about how to be manly.

The learning gap between black boys and black girls is quite large. We can speculate on why that is. I haven't seen research that looks at why the boys are doing so poorly.

Anonymous said...

n.b.: 44% can be a plurality. A majority must be greater than half. When we're talking data, precision counts.

Anonymous said...

Plurality. Thanks. That's what I was looking for.

Anonymous said...

I think the issue is the quality of instruction. The reality is that many times schools with a large percentage of minorities have less exprienced teachers. In addition, some black students come from homes where mom is not teaching at home and reinforcing the instruction of school.

I have read several books on education that discussed the achievement gap (Learning While Black to name one). It has been discovered that children from middle class homes have parents who worked with them at home and this serves to OVERCOME SOME OF THE MISTEACHING THAT OCCURS IN SCHOOL. Michael Vick, Atlanta Falcons quarterback, was quoted as saying "Sometimes you have to overcome coaching." Many of these low performing black boys don't have parental help to overcome bad instruction.

I learned the truth about school after five years of being in the classroom, seeing the kind of work some teachers do.

Special, gimmicky, hand holding, "mentoring" programs WILL NOT WORK. It is pure garbage. How the h*ll can "mentoring" overcome the fact that you haven't been taught phonics and decoding? How can Midnight Basketball overcome the fact that you were never taught basic addition and subtraction?