* Independence Day by Frederick Douglass, Part 2

The fiery speech delivered by Frederick Douglass on July 5, 1852, should have melted the hearts and minds of his listeners.  What hardness could stand before the flame of Douglass’ words?  I urge you to read the speech in its entirety; it is a masterpiece of faith in the face of unimaginable circumstances.  His efforts were not in vain.  By 1865, the 13th Amendment abolished slavery.

Why is Douglass’ speech relevant today?  I believe our nation remains in the shadows of slavery, of its declared message that blacks were not human, not capable of learning.  (Don’t you wonder why whites were so determined that slaves not learn to read or write?)  Douglass was frequently accused of not authoring his many works because it was outside the white experience that blacks would perform exceptionally.  Today, we find select charter schools with low income students far outperforming most public schools.  Why?  We know what to do: provide high expectations, qualified teachers, a growth mindset, and small class size.

Why are we still waiting for nationwide success of all our children?  Do we really believe that black kids can succeed?  Do black kids believe they can succeed?  Black Stanford undergrads scored measurably worse on tests when asked to record their race or told that the test measured intellectual ability.  We can do better.  We must do better because we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all children are created equal, that they are endowed, by their Creator, with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.

student 1

* #teamNBCT: professionals


In honor of this week’s celebration of 112,000+ National Board Certified Teachers, I will focus on what NB certification, the gold standard for the teaching profession, has meant to me.

When I first heard about the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, I was a bit doubtful that it would impact the teaching profession.  I’d been around long enough to know that my salary didn’t reflect my graduate degree and experience, that I had no opportunity for advancement unless I became an administrator (heaven forbid!), and that I would work many more hours than a 9-to-5 profession.  And what did novice teachers face?  Exactly the same, if they actually stayed in the profession.

What could the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards offer?   It has helped reshape our profession into a Profession.  I couldn’t have imagined the effect of a certification process that is clearly associated with better student outcomes!  And salary!  And improved resources and support for novice teachers!  But not shorter working hours, at least for me.  That’s why my dearest teaching widower spent so many nights with me at school.  Even NB certification has not fixed that glitch in my approach to preparation.

I am particularly thrilled that NBCTs have impacted the performance of minority and low-income students.  Do we have miles to go before we rest?  Indeed.  I’ve written at length about the racially predictable test scores and low minority achievement which plagues our country.  (As we go brown and gray in the US, it won’t be minority achievement anymore.)  Our failure to teach ALL of our kids is dreadful.  How can we encourage blacks and Hispanics to enter the teaching profession?   The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards could reverse the current trend of fewer minority and male teachers with higher standards, higher salaries, and support for novice teachers.  I hope I am around to see that happen!


* No Excuses: A look at successful schools

No ExcusesHow do we create effective schools for ALL kids?  How do we teach so that test scores are not racially predictable?  How do we eliminate the glaring racial gap in our public schools?  To quote the authors of “No Excuses: Closing the Racial Gap in Learning“: What have these few inner-city schools done, in neighborhoods “rampant” with “illiteracy, drug abuse, broken homes, gangs, and juvenile crime?” (page 67)  Here’ s a list of their common characteristics:

1.  Successful schools establish a culture of community and clear expectations for conduct.  Mission statements of respect, caring for others, and responsibility are taught explicitly.  Appropriate social behavior is practiced and rewarded.

2.  Successful schools establish a “culture of work.”  There is no wasted time, even in the hallways.

3.  Successful schools create a sense of teamwork (or even “family”), so that kids learn to support one another.

4.  Successful schools create an economic system that parallels the real world, such as pay for performance and creation of a “microsociety” in which students interview for jobs, create businesses, and establish a police force, courts, and legislature.

5.  Successful schools teach “desire, discipline, and dedication.”  They promote ambition to succeed, steps toward social mobility.

6.  Successful schools teach students “to think of themselves as unique, free to choose their identity, to emphasize thier racial and ethnic ties as much or as little as they wish….” (page 78)

7.  Successful schools teach cultural acquisition, which means learning the social code of a workplace.

The next step is to examine the role of teacher quality in the schools which overcame racial gaps in learning.  Do their teachers have higher expectations?  Are they more likely to be black or Hispanic?  You may be surprised, so stay tuned!

* No Excuses: The success stories

No Excuses

The authors of “No Excuses: Closing the Racial Gap in Learning,” examine the dismal performance of black and Hispanic students in public schools, where black kids lag about four years behind their white peers.  But the authors did discover some bright spots.  Here’s what they said:

“Scattered across the American landscape are what some call ‘break-the-mold’ schools- high poverty public schools with students who score well on statewide tests.  There aren’t many of them, and all are atypical within their own districts.  Nevertheless, their record of success suggests that truly radical educational innovation can change the lives of inner-city students, whatever their race or ethnicity.  The goal is thus clear.  But how to get there?  The road is littered with obstacles.  We focus on a handful of remarkable schools….We chose these particular examples of fabulous education only because they came to our attention and we visited them.” (page 43)

The authors did mention that they found impressive private schools, as well, but chose to limit their descriptions to public schools since a majority of American kids attend public school.  All of the above exceptional schools are charter schools.  The authors ask whether this success can be replicated in “regular” public schools.  They emphasize the autonomy of these schools as a primary factor in their achievement: “They are largely independent of district control, generally able to hire nonunion teachers, and have considerable discretionary power over their budgets.  No one tells them which textbooks to buy or how to organize their instructional day.” (page 44).

The authors remind readers that there are “good charter schools and bad ones.”  In their footnotes, they comment that failing charter schools in Massachusetts will be shut down but no regular public school in that state had been closed due to poor student performance.

So how do these schools use their autonomy?  What characterizes these success stories?  Stay tuned for the next post.

* No Excuses

No Excuses

In this well-regarded volume entitled “No Excuses: Closing the Racial Gap in Learning,” the authors begin with “The Problem” in our public schools. Despite the authors’ contention that their goal encompasses more than painting a bleak picture, their descriptions of black and Hispanic student performance are heartbreaking.  On every measure of academic success, black and Hispanic kids fall far behind their white and Asian peers.  The problem, a four-year gap between white and black achievement in American schools, means that black students are functioning at an eighth grade level when (if) they complete high school.  Even among middle class black families, kids are lagging far behind their white peers.  The book explores the cultural heritage of black, Hispanic, and Asian families.  When describing the cultural heritage of black students, for instance, the authors state that it is “the product of a very long history of racial oppression-centuries of slavery, followed by disfranchisement, legally mandated segregation, and subordination in the Jim Crow South and intense prejudice in the North.” (page 121)  Despite “Americanization,” Asian students equal or outperform whites.  The authors quote a researcher who surveyed 20,000 Asian kids, finding that “They are much more engaged in school than their peers.” (page 91)

The authors turn their attention to the commonly suggested panacea for all these problems: spend more money.  They examine Title 1 and Head Start programs, which have failed to deliver despite pouring billions of dollars into the public schools. Hiring more teachers to reduce class size has had no effect on the racial achievement gap. The authors suggest that money is best spent to attract and keep exceptional teachers and administrators.

Is there any hope for public schools?  Yes!  But the authors only found successful schools and classes among charter schools which were not bound by a pervasive system which tolerates mediocre teachers and administrators, bureaucratic inertia, and negative cultural influences.  These highly successful schools communicated a powerful message to their students and families: No Excuses.

My next post will examine the characteristics of these excellent schools in greater detail.

* The odds are not in their favor

Are black and white students performing equally well on average across the country?  You can ask any teacher and they know the answer without pause.  But let’s see how The Nation’s Report Card answers that question, based on the findings of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), an organization considered the gold standard in determining nationwide student performance.   The good news is that as a country, our students performed higher on average in 2013 than in the 1990’s.  Here’s an example of reading scores of 4th grade students grouped by race.

Reading 4th making gains

On its own, though, that graph doesn’t really tell us much.  Now let’s examine the gap between white and black students over time.  While it’s encouraging that nonwhite students are making gains, test scores remain racially predictable. And black kids are years below their white peers.  Here are the 8th grade reading scores over time (1990’s to 2013).

Achievement gaps 2013 8th reading

Now look at the math scores by race for 8th graders:

Achievement gaps 2013 4th math

You can see that black kids consistently perform below white kids in both reading and math.  Despite billions poured into Head Start, despite cries for educational reform, despite the fact that prison construction is based upon 2nd grade reading scores in some states, our black children are failing.  They are not adequately prepared for success by the public school system.  Literacy and numeracy are “gatekeepers” for black students, for whom closed doors are usually determined by 8th grade.  What are the issues?  What are some answers?  Stay tuned.