The Gap Between The Science On Kids And Reading, And How It Is Taught

This is an awesome article and I had to share this with my colleagues and friends.

By: CLAUDIO SANCHEZ         February 2018
Mark Seidenberg is not the first researcher to reach the stunning conclusion that only a third of the nation’s schoolchildren read at grade level. The reasons are numerous, but one that Seidenberg cites over and over again is this: The way kids are taught to read in school is disconnected from the latest research, namely how language and speech actually develop in a child’s brain.

Seidenberg is a cognitive scientist and professor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. In his latest book, Language at the Speed of Sight, he points out that the “science of reading” can be a difficult concept for educators to grasp. He says it requires some basic understanding of brain research and the “mechanics” of reading, or what is often referred to as phonics.

I talked with Seidenberg about what it will take to improve reading instruction. Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

So how do you explain this to teachers?

Success in reading depends on linking print to speech. There’s a massive amount of behavioral research, neuroimaging research, on brain organization and brain development, which conclusively shows that skilled reading is associated with children’s spoken language, grammar and the vocabulary they already know. It’s about teaching kids the correspondence between the letters on a page and the sounds of words.

And you’re saying that teachers don’t know this?

This basic science does not go into the preparation of teachers. More often they’re told it’s not really relevant, that the science is sterile and has no connection with what teachers do in the classroom.

What I point out in the book is that in order to grasp the research, [teachers] need basic scientific literacy to be able to understand it. They can dismiss [what I’m saying] or they can share my outrage.

Is that the reason you wrote Language at the Speed of Sight? Outrage?

I was motivated by accumulating frustration. I’ve reviewed the science of reading and documented how little impact it has had on educational practice, and I think this is bad. It has put kids at risk for failure.

Reading scientists have been talking about this for a long time and tried to communicate with educators and failed. We have not been able to get the science past the schoolhouse door.

In your book, you wade into the reading wars and argue that the debate over phonics vs. whole language is largely to blame for the poor reading skills of American students. But you say it’s not a question of “either/or.” Kids need to be exposed to great books and rich literature and they need to know the symbols and sounds of letters. Where are we on that front?

The reading wars are over and science lost. Phonics is just one specific component of learning to read that’s important at a particular point in a child’s development. The reading wars did not focus on this, so the conflict was set up in a bogus way.

You say the conflict has been political.

The political solution was called “balanced literacy,” which called on teachers to use the best of both approaches. But it left it up to teachers who had been trained to dismiss phonics and brush off the science.

One interesting recommendation you offer is that college graduates who sign up for Teach for America be hired not as classroom teachers but as an army of reading tutors.

Yes. They could be trained to provide supplemental reading instruction, one-on-one or in small groups. That’s what wealthy people do. They pay for tutors. Poor people can’t.

So I would say yeah, put more people in the classroom or after-school programs who focus on reading and language. This would be helpful.

What about legislation like what Michigan passed recently that prohibits schools from promoting third-graders to the fourth grade unless they can read at grade level? Educators have been supportive of the new law but say the funding for it is sorely lacking. Do you think such a mandate is a good idea?

I don’t think its a good idea if they merely passed a law that says, “You better read.” That’s punishing the kid. There have to be programs and investments to support teachers, students and parents.

You insist that the training and credentialing of teachers is also inadequate, and you single out colleges of education.

It’s clear that ed schools are setting teachers up to fail. [The teachers are] plopped in the classroom to learn on the job because the ideology in ed schools is a “learning by doing” philosophy. I think it’s really a mess.

At the end of your book you recommend that schools of education overhaul the curriculum to make sure newly minted teachers leave with a basic understanding of linguistics and child development. You say states must change their teacher-licensure requirements. And, finally, you want school districts to vastly expand tutoring for children who are struggling to read.

Yes. It’s necessary to get all these folks on board. And indeed, one could see how parents and community leaders would also get on board. I don’t pretend to know how to approach them. What I can do is explain how reading works, how children develop and how we can teach children to read better.

7 Fears You Need to Overcome to Be An Effective Leader

Written by:  LOLLY DASKAL

Everybody has fears—and that means every leader has fears. But not letting those fears get the best of you is an important part of successful leadership. If you don’t learn to manage your fears, you’ll be tempted to take the kind of shortcuts that undermine your authority and influence. Here are seven of the most common fears that leaders, in particular, need to look out for:

The fear of being seen as an imposter. If you secretly feel you’re not really good enough or smart enough for leadership, you’re not alone. But left unchecked, those feelings can do harm to your effectiveness. Fear can make you forget everything and want to run. Instead, leverage your fear by experiencing it and being great anyway. As Mark Twain once said, courage is the resistance to fear, not the absence of fear. You can feel the fear and still be who you want to be as a leader.

The fear of being criticized. Facing criticism is part of the territory of leadership. You don’t have to let it bother you—in fact, you should be concerned if you never hear criticism, because that means you’re probably playing too safe. Think of it this way: If you have no critics you’ll likely have no success. So don’t fear criticism but take it in stride and strive to be your own best and meet your own standard of excellence. On the other side of your fear is everything you need to be.

The fear of being a failure. When you fail as a leader, you get everyone’s attention. Failure is something we all fear, but it doesn’t have to mean it’s fatal to your leadership— think of failure as simply part of succeeding. When you become afraid to fail forward, you end up missing out on new learning experiences and new opportunities. In the end we regret only the chances we didn’t take.

The fear of not being a good communicator. Not everyone is born to be a great communicator, but good communication skills are essential to leadership. if you are fearful that you’re not good at communicating in a compelling way—in a way that inspires and motivates others—practice your speaking or writing skills. The more you practice and rehearse and revise, the more confident you will be and the less fearful you will become.

The fear of making hard decisions. As a leader, you need to be able to make hard decisions without getting stuck in “paralysis of analysis”—taking too long to choose because of indecision. A lack of decisiveness can cripple any business or organization. Hard choices are sometimes necessary without much time to reflect. Make the best decision you can based on where you want to go, not where you are, and then move on.

The fear of not taking responsibility. As the saying goes, with much power comes much responsibility. To take responsibility you have to first realize that your leadership is the cause of and the solution to the things that matter, and you can’t escape that responsibly by postponing or evading it. The moment you move past your fear and take responsibility is the moment you can change anything.

The fear of not getting it done. In today’s global economy, effective leadership is defined by results—but, as we all know well, there are hundreds of distractions and millions of diversions that can get in the way. If you’re fearful you won’t get the job done, stop focusing on the results you want and concentrate on the actions you can take right now that will lead to those results.

Lead from within: These are just a few of the possibilities. The leaders I coach have all kinds of fears. Whatever form your fears take, once you learn you can tackle them head-on you’ll quickly realize you can handle anything.

 

Why I’m Against Innovation in Education

Education policymakers are too driven by fads—at the expense of tried and true approaches
By Mike Schmoker
May 1, 2018

I’m against innovation in education—as currently conceived and conducted. I’m not against small-scale educational experimentation, where new methods are tested, refined, and proved before they are widely implemented. But I’m against our inordinate obsession with what’s new at the expense of what works—with exceedingly superior (if much older) evidence-based practices. The difference in impact isn’t slight: Michael Fullan, an international authority on education, believes that our best high-leverage methods produce “stunningly powerful consequences” in schools. And they will do so, as professional-development expert Bruce Joyce has noted, “very rapidly.” Our willingness to recognize and act on this difference may be the central educational issue of our time.
Consider John Hattie’s research on the power of formative evaluation and feedback. His exhaustive studies confirm what we’ve known since the 1960s: that ongoing monitoring and adjustments to teaching, informed by feedback, may have more impact on learning than any other instructional factor.
Doug Lemov concurs. In his mega-best-selling book, Teach Like a Champion, he identifies “checking for understanding” as the pivotal element in an effective lesson.
I know teachers in two different schools in the same district whose adoption of these methods contributed to enormous one-year, whole-school gains on their state writing exam. After learning of these incredible gains, I joined these teachers to advocate the expansion of their efforts in their district—but their successes were entirely ignored. To our astonishment, their respective school leaders opted to pursue a string of popular—but weak or unproven—innovations, including SmartBoard training and standards-based grading.

Or what of New York City’s New Dorp High School? With the struggling school in danger of closure by city officials, the principal decided to go all in on exceedingly traditional instruction in reading, public speaking, and writing in every discipline. In just two years, the school made immense gains and is now a mecca for visitors. As author Peg Tyre explained in a 2012 article in The Atlantic, the school’s success was not a function of innovation or experimentation, but of old, proven instructional “fundamentals that schools have devalued or forgotten” (my emphasis). As Tyre points out, the fundamentals-first instructional model on which New Dorp based its program “would not be unfamiliar to nuns who taught in Catholic schools circa 1950.”
And then there’s the simple power of curriculum. Nothing cutting-edge here. Yet meta-analytic evidence from Robert Marzano and other researchers indicates that a coherent curriculum—if implemented—has more impact on learning than any other in-school factor. Not long ago, I attended an award ceremony for a school in Arizona that ranked in the top three for statewide gains in math. They achieved this in a two-year period, a direct result of having teams of teachers map out, for the first time, what they would teach in each math course, by grading period. I’m friends with an elementary school principal in Boston who persuaded his faculty members to do the same for every course at his high-poverty school. Scores rose, in his words, “with amazing speed”: from the bottom to the top third in the state, in a single school year.
Finally, consider working-class Brockton High School, in Massachusetts. Brockton was among the lowest-achieving schools in the state. The faculty responded to dire performance indicators by making “reading, writing, speaking, and reasoning” in every subject area their mantra. In 2001, the first year of their effort, the state’s education commissioner called to inform them that Brockton had made the largest gains in the commonwealth. In the next few years, Brockton rose from the bottom rungs to the top 10 percent in Massachusetts.
Perhaps the most promising fact about the best evidence-based practices is that they are currently the least implemented. Because of that, their use would have a swift and substantial impact in thousands of schools and on millions of students. But not if they continue to be supplanted, as they now are, by innovations like the flipped classroom, student-centered learning spaces, teaching with mobile apps, gamification, or the now-ubiquitous variations on personalized learning. Not one of those ranks high on any list of what’s most effective. What researchers Thomas B. Corcoran, Susan H. Fuhrman, and Catherine Belcher wrote years ago in their study of professional development is still true: Those in charge of what teachers learn are not an “evidence-based community.” They are driven, on the contrary, by “whims, fads, opportunism, and ideology.”

When I donated a kidney to my sister, the doctors didn’t experiment on her with the latest anti-rejection drugs. They gave her the best, evidence-based anti-rejection medicine available at the time—Cyclosporine. And it saved her life.
We have a pretty stark choice: We can either implement the best we know or continue to treat students and teachers like lab rats. It’s time for education to make the leap to a more authentic professionalism—by giving innovation its due, but never letting it supplant or precede those practices that would produce “stunningly powerful consequences” in our schools and in the lives of students.
Mike Schmoker is an author, speaker, and consultant. He is the author of Focus (ASCD, 2011) and Leading with Focus (ASCD, 2016).

Do Educators’ Mental Models Impact Student Achievement

Just today May 23, 2018, my colleagues were talking to me about the “Achievement Gap” and “Equality.” One stated, “After so many years, very little has changed as it relates to closing the gap which continues to linger between Hispanics and White Students as well as African American and White students.” My reply, “Well that’s absolutely true.”  Due to reflecting on that conversation,  I have been motivated to write out my thoughts.

So, I am wondering how do we educators and the implemented systems or barriers contribute to the widening of the ever pressing achievement gap that shows up on multiple metrics such as the American College Testing (ACT), Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), Measurement of Academic Performance (MAP), National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), as well as state assessments such as the LEAP of Louisiana. Research consistently provide evidence, despite ethnicity and social economic status of students, there is a smaller and more manageable achievement gap when students enter kindergarten. Consequently, as students persist through secondary schooling the gap widens. “Why?” What happens for students who attend school 90% of the time but still suffer from the achievement gap?

These questions led me to think about our mental models. Mental Models are “deeply ingrained assumptions, generalizations, or even pictures and images that influence how we understand the world and how we take action (Senge, 1990). Very often, we are not consciously aware of our mental models or the effects they have on our behavior” (Senge, 1990). Sometimes we are not aware of the negative impact on certain students’ academic success.

Explanation of the Achievement Gap

There are many thoughts as to why there is an achievement gap. For example, there are views on what happens at home or in the community and what happens within the walls of the schoolhouse (Ford, 2008). It is clear educators cannot control what happens at home. However, at school many times teachers’ mental models of poor students or students of color are extremely low. As a result, we get what is known as a dumb down curriculum.  In other words, Algebra II of the 1990s is not the same Algebra II in the 21st Century.  To many teachers severely do not believe all students can learn if given increased time on task, necessary supports, and interventions supported by prioritized standards with aligned common formative assessments.

Nevertheless, teachers and principals are in control of the schoolhouse and they should be using data sets to drive instructions every hour of the school day for every student. Subsequently, strong negative mental models of certain groups of students may very well impede teachers from operating in good faith in regards to students of color and their parents who do not have loud voices and possibly less educated ( Noguera, 2012).

It is imperative for principals, department chairs, and administrators to challenge the mental models of implicit biases. This should be a non-negotiable. Those responsible for educating students should be held accountable. Why? Because for many students its truly a matter of life or death. Education breaks poverty. Educated citizens have more opportunities because doors are open for them. Educated citizens are more likely to have insurances such as health, vision, dental and opportunities for homeownership. “The American Dream.”

As of 2014, there are more children of color in public schools than there are students from the majority group. I point this out in order to make the case of how important it is to hold all accountable. There are now more students of color in public school. The very populations who tend to significantly lag behind white students.

“Of the projected 50.7 million public school students entering prekindergarten through grade 12 in fall 2017, White students will account for some 24.4 million. The remaining 26.3 million will be composed of 8.0 million Black students, 13.6 million Hispanic students, 2.8 million Asian/Pacific Islander students, 0.5 million American Indian/Alaska Native students, and 1.5 million students of Two or more races. The percentage of students enrolled in public schools who are White is projected to continue to decline through at least fall 2026, as the enrollments of Hispanic students and Asian/Pacific Islander students increase” (National Center Educational Statistics, 2017).

As leaders, we must lead with integrity and we must lead with students at the core of every decision that we make. Stay WOKE!!

NAEP Shows Little to No Gains in Math, Reading for U.S. Students

By Lauren Camera, Education Reporter |April 10, 2018

Fourth- and eighth-graders in the United States have made little to no gains in math and reading since 2015.

While the average reading scores for eighth-graders increased compared with 2015, there were no changes for reading at fourth grade or for math at either grade, according to results from the 2017 National Assessment of Education Progress, also called NAEP or The Nation’s Report Card.

Moreover, the latest results reveal a disturbing trend in which the country’s poorest-performing students scored worse in both subjects than they did in 2015, while the highest-performing students posted increases, reflecting a growing gap between those at the top and bottom of the achievement spectrum.

“I’m pleased that eighth-grade reading scores improved slightly but remain disappointed that only about one-third of America’s fourth- and eighth-grade students read at the NAEP Proficient level,” said former Gov. John Engler of Michigan, the chair of the National Assessment Governing Board, which along with the National Center on Education Statistics, the Department of Education’s research arm, administers the test.

“We are seeing troubling gaps between the highest- and lowest-performing students,” he said. “We must do better for all children.”

To be sure, results varied considerably among states and the 27 large urban school districts that volunteered to have their scores individually analyzed and included in the 2017 Trial Urban District Assessment, which was also released Tuesday and is known as TUDA.

When it comes to breaking down NAEP scores by state, this year Florida was the stand-out.

Florida was the only state to see an increase in math, as the average scores of both fourth- and eighth-graders increased between 2015 and 2017. Most states’ average scores remained unchanged in math, though 10 states saw declines in fourth-grade math and three saw declines in eighth-grade math.

Most states’ average scores were also unchanged in reading, with the exception of 10 states whose eighth-graders posted increases.

“Something very good obviously is happening in Florida,” said Peggy Carr, the associate commissioner of assessment at NCES, though she stopped short of correlating those increases with any specific policy change. “Florida needs to be commended.”

In addition to an uptick in the Sunshine State’s math and reading scores, Florida saw increases in almost all student subgroups inching up their proficiency rates, including students of color, low-income students, students with disabilities and those still learning English.

Moreover, two of Florida’s three large school districts that volunteered to participate in TUDA, Duval County and Miami-Dade, also posted similar increases.

“I can’t tell you why,” Carr said. “But something interesting is happening in Florida.”

Tuesday’s results, however, were undercut by the fact that the test was administered digitally for the first time via a tablet device. Research shows students tend to score worse on digital assessments than on traditional paper tests, prompting some state education officials and policymakers to dismiss the results ahead of their release, despite Carr’s insistence that NCES researchers properly accounted for the change.

“We’re going to learn a lot more about what students know and can do, not just their answers, but more about how they arrived at these answer through this more digitally based assessments,” Carr said to reporters on a press call Monday.

When researchers at NCES analyzed the scores more than 200 times and compared them to the smaller cohort of students who took the test as it has been traditionally administered with paper and pencil, they found very few inconsistencies with the results. In fact, Carr said, in the handful of the inconsistencies they did find, it was often the case that students who took the test digitally performed better.

“We are just ecstatic about being able to move these assessments to a digitally based format,” she said. “Students are communicating, living, they learn and are taught in a digitally-based world, so assessments such as NAEP are moving toward a digitally based assessments.”

Ahead of Tuesday’s results, policymakers and advocates were bracing for students to fare worse than in years’ past, concerned about what the the country’s most cited indicator of student achievement will mean for the trajectory of education policy across the country, despite a chorus of attempts from education researchers to caution against making causal claims.

“We’ve come to anticipate NAEP results as an indicator of student academic achievement, but we shouldn’t base our perceptions of education in America, or in individual states or cities, so heavily on this one data point,” said Chris Minnich, the CEO of NWEA, an organization that designs K-12 assessments.

“The concerns I hear from education leaders center on making sure we use multiple measures of student learning to inform our opinions on how our schools, districts, and states are doing,” he said, stressing that student growth data is a better representation of education progress.

In addition to reporting math and reading scores by state, this year’s release also includes the results of fourth- and eighth-graders in 27 urban school districts that volunteered to have their scores reported out separately via the 2017 TUDA.

Again, mirroring the flat-line trend that occurred among states, most of the average scores for the city school systems remained unchanged in both subjects since the last assessment.

A handful of outliers include San Diego, where fourth-graders increased their average scores in math and reading; Duval County, Florida, Fresno, and Miami-Dade, where fourth-graders posted increases in math; Charlotte, Cleveland, Dallas and Detroit, where average scores declined in fourth-grade math; and Albuquerque and Boston, where eighth-graders increased average reading scores.

“Today’s release of The Nation’s Report Card confirms that there is still much work to be done to close achievement gaps and ensure that our young people are ready for success in college, careers and life,” said Carissa Moffat Miller, executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, the organization that represents every state’s top education official.

“State chiefs recognize the urgency of improving outcomes for all students, and these recent results from the Nation’s Report Card only further demonstrate this call to action,” she said.

Standards, Curriculum, and Assessments

 Standards are skills and knowledge students are expected to know and be able to do by the end of a lesson, chapter, unit, semester, or school year. Standards are constant and tend not to change from grade level to grade level.  What students should know and are expected to do comes from various cross sections of society such as schools, parents, military, businesses, colleges & universities, and communities. Curriculum on the other hand is flexible and can change from day to day. It’s the material and resources used to help students master the necessary skills or improve readiness.

Since knowledge is intangible or unable to be grasped because it’s inside students’ head, educators must administer assessments or other forms of measurements for the purpose of determining what students know, do not know, or partially know. Formative assessments  which are assessments for learning, provide the instructor tangible insight as it relates to what students know or their readiness level. This valuable insight should be used by educators  to adjust their actions or strategies. Therefore, formative assessments are essential for progress monitoring knowledge gained or not while proceeding with teaching and learning.  Just as a doctor who uses diagnostic tools to determine health levels such as a thermometer, a stethoscope, or blood work and prescribe a treatment plan, a check of mastery by the teacher can design the treatment the student needs in the form of  pathways to enable students to attain the skills that have been determined necessary for the student to know. During the teaching and learning process, formative assessments or checking for understanding should be immediate in order to provide students with immediate descriptive feedback that allow students opportunities to work toward meeting the identified purpose, goals or targets.

 

How can we hold those who benefit from racism accountable?

Editor’s Note: This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education.   

Andre M. PerryTuesday, March 27, 2018

The other side of the inequality coin that we need to confront

The evidence that racism is directed at black people to impede their social and economic progress keeps growing (and growing), but discrimination persists. That’s because isolating racism as a cause of racial disparities, particularly among black men, is only part of the solution. Showing how racism benefits white people, and white men in particular, is the evidence black people can take to court and the bank.

New, important research out of Stanford University, Harvard University, and the U.S. Census Bureau shows that even wealthy black men who live in tony neighborhoods are more likely to have sons who will grow up to be poor than their white male counterparts. The researchers controlled for many factors, including the family’s socioeconomic background, neighborhood, education, and wealth, among others, and still disparities existed.

The New York Times created a stunning data visualization based on the study that showed how black children in wealthy families become adults in lower income brackets. The graphics also represent how different racial groups that started out rich end up poor; even here, more black children end up poor than kids of other races. Many are calling this research groundbreaking. One Times columnist went so far as to say the work puts “an end to the class vs. race debate.”

Actually, the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement put an end to that discussion. But those who don’t believe that blackness led to the killings of the unarmed Trayvon Martin and Tamir Rice are still mired in debate.

Black people, including black academics, have long accepted research that shows racism is a causal factor in the social and economic outcomes of black people. It has been the irrationality of racism and the elitism of the academy that have precluded conservatives and liberals alike from accepting the works of William Darity, Roland Fryer, Julianne Malveaux, William Julius Wilson, Ida B. Wells, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Cornell West, who wrote the book Race Matters.

Black people, including black academics, have long accepted research that shows racism is a causal factor in the social and economic outcomes of black people.

We also know that race matters through our lived experience. The depressing number of educated and wealthy black women who die during childbirth is hard proof that race matters. Black mothers in the U.S. die at three to four times the rate of white mothers, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Black women can’t buy or educate their way toward better health outcomes. Black folk whose lives and deaths illustrate those shocking gaps don’t need further convincing that something besides class is at play.

What we do need more evidence of, however, is how racism works—for white people.

Instead of focusing on the negative impact of racism on black boys, the headline of that Times story could have read, “Racism enables whites to maintain wealth.” The charts presented in the reporting also highlighted white men’s elevated position in society. Yet the reporting on the study inexplicably placed the scrutiny on black men.

I fear that the spotlight on racial disparities ultimately helps widen the gap between black people and their peers of other races. When we see black people as problems, we almost guarantee that no one will want to invest in them. After all, who invests in a problem or a deficit when investing in a solution is so much more attractive? Education is littered with white saviors fixing black children for this reason.

There are still people who continue to blame poor women for having too many children and not getting married—rather than fixing the systemic problems of unequal pay, tax policy that favors the rich, and discrimination in housing and employment.

But if investments that can be used to create wealth, build better schools, and develop training programs go to other (often white) people who we assume have the capacity to fix black people, the people on the lower end of the disparity never truly develop. Likewise, the focus on differences ends up perpetuating a line of research that ultimately leads to victim blaming—and we have enough of that. Think about the rhetoric around single mothers causing poverty. Believe it or not, there are still people who continue to blame poor women for having too many children and not getting married—rather than fixing the systemic problems of unequal pay, tax policy that favors the rich, and discrimination in housing and employment. You know, the factors that determine how much money people make.

Since 1965, when Assistant Secretary of Labor Daniel Patrick Moynihan published his report “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action,” better known as the Moynihan Report, researchers and journalists have continued framing poverty mainly as an individual choice—i.e., mothers form families that put children in harm’s way. Moynihan also offered a robust structural analysis of the economic and social conditions that help shape black family structures. However, he set a dangerous example by identifying the main problem as black people not living up to white middle-class ideals. It’s a mold that researchers of black men willfully maintain to this day.

“When there’s only one parent with a meager income, the burdens mount and feed on themselves,” wrote Washington Post columnist Robert Samuelson in an op-ed just this month. “That’s one reason the growth of single-parent households is rightly regarded as a cause of poverty.”

When you fault single parenthood, you inevitably to go down a path of chastising women, culture, and individual behavior. The focus on negative outcomes among black men has led to programs to instill “grit,” charter schools that “sweat the small stuff” (i.e. suspend and expel children), and other initiatives that condemn the effects of housing and employment discrimination, lack of access to capital, and the prison-industrial complex on black families while privileging white men.

Let’s shift the scrutiny from the plight of black people to the privilege of white people. Of all the reactions to the amazing charts in the Times article, you didn’t hear much about white male power. It was summarized in a tweet by economist Arindrajit Dube: “If you overlay the @nhendren82 (+coauthors) percentile-percentile plots, it suggests the exceptional mobility is for white men. This point should be discussed more when hypothesizing explanations for these patterns.”

Just as cell phone cameras have shifted the national debate by capturing unarmed black folk being shot by the police for being black, we need research to reveal how the system privileges white people at the expense of black.

What is maintaining the upward mobility of white men? This is evidence our legal and policy nerds could use to address structural inequity. Just as cell phone cameras have shifted the national debate by capturing unarmed black folk being shot by the police for being black, we need research to reveal how the system privileges white people at the expense of black.

Proof that racism matters may be illuminating for those who’ve had the luxury of believing that class explains all outcomes. But it’s not that empowering for black people to constantly be portrayed as “at-risk” or as an “endangered species.” We have to keep a spotlight on the system that oppresses us, not on how it breaks down our brethren. We need to turn our gaze to how the system uplifts white men, unfairly, and at our expense. Don’t show me how bad black men are doing; show me how to hold people who benefit from racism accountable.

The myth about smart black kids and “acting white” that won’t die

By Jenée Desmond-Harrisjenee.desmondharris@voxmedia.com Jan 5, 2017

You’ve probably heard it before: Too many black students don’t do well in school because they think being smart means “acting white.”

Just last week, Columbia University English professor John McWhorter mentioned it in a piece for Vox to support his critique of elements of the Black Lives Matter platform. Key to his argument was the assertion that the similar goals of the 1960s “war on poverty failed,” in part, due to black people’s “cultural traits and behaviors.”

While the “acting white” theory used to be pretty popular to bring up in debates about black academic achievement there’s a catch: It’s not true.

At best, it’s a very creative interpretation of inadequate research and anecdotal evidence. At worst, it’s a messy attempt to transform the near-universal stigma attached to adolescent nerdiness into an indictment of black culture, while often ignoring the systemic inequality that contributes to the country’s racial achievement gap.

Yet McWhorter — despite being a scholar of linguistics, not sociology — has become one of the primary defenders of the “acting white” theory and has dismissed those who debunk it as “pundits” who are “uncomfortable with the possibility that a black problem could not be due to racism.” But the people who challenge it are not pundits — they’re academics who’ve dedicated significant time and scientific scrutiny to this theory. Here’s why they say it’s a myth.

Where the “acting white” theory came from
The “acting white” theory — the idea that African-American kids underachieve academically because they and their peers associate being smart with acting white, and because they’re afraid they’ll be shunned — was born in the 1980s. John Ogbu, an anthropology professor at the University of California Berkeley, introduced it in an ethnographic study of one Washington, DC, high school. He found what he dubbed an “oppositional culture” in which, he said, students saw academic achievement as “white.”

The acting white theory has since become a go-to explanation for the achievement gap between African-American students and their white peers, and is repeated in public conversations as if it’s a fact of life.

Authors such as Ron Christie in Acting White: The Curious History of a Racial Slur and Stuart Buck in Acting White: The Ironic Legacy of Desegregation have written entire books (heavy on personal observations, anecdotes, and theories) dedicated to the phenomenon.

Even President Barack Obama said in 2004, when he was running for US Senate, “Children can’t achieve unless we raise their expectations and turn off the television sets and eradicate the slander that says a black youth with a book is acting white.”

Perhaps aware of some of the research debunking this as an academic theory in the intervening years, he noted in 2014 remarks related to the My Brother’s Keeper program that it was “sometimes overstated.” But he still offered the theory in the form of a personal observation, saying that in his experience, “there’s an element of truth to it, where, OK, if boys are reading too much, then, well, why are you doing that? Or why are you speaking so properly?”

It’s no surprise that the “acting white” narrative resonates with a lot of people. After all, it echoes legitimate frustrations with a society that too often presents a narrow, stereotypical image of what it means to be black. It validates the experiences of African-American adults who remember being treated like they were different, or being smart but not popular in school. And for those who are sincerely interested in improving educational equality, it promises a quick fix. (“If they would just stop thinking being smart was ‘acting white,’ they could achieve anything!”)

The “acting white” theory also validates a particular social conservative worldview by placing the blame for disparate academic outcomes squarely on the backward ideas of black children and black cultural pathology, instead of on harder-to-tackle factors like socioeconomic inequality, implicit racial bias on the part of teachers, segregated and underresourced schools, and the school discipline disparities that create what’s been called the school-to-prison pipeline.

The “acting white” research was weak to begin with
“The acting white theory is difficult to assess through research,” Ivory Toldson — a Howard University professor, senior research analyst for the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, and deputy director of the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities — wrote at the Root in 2013. “Many scholars who claim to find evidence of this theory loosely interpret their data and exploit the expert gap to sell their finding,” he said.

Despite abundant personal anecdotes by African Americans who say they were good students in school and were accused of acting white, there’s no research that explicitly supports a relationship between race, beliefs about “acting white,” social stigma, and academic outcomes.

Even those who claim to have found evidence of the theory, Toldson explained, failed to connect the dots between what students deem “white” and the effect of this belief on academic achievement.

“Observing and/or recording African-American students labeling a high-achieving African-American student as acting white does not warrant a characterization of African-American academic underperformance as a response to the fear of acting white,” he said.

Studies suggest that the highest-achieving black students are actually more popular than the lowest-achieving ones
A prime example of a shaky study on this topic, according to Toldson, was Harvard economist Roland G. Fryer’s 2006 research paper “Acting White: The Social Price Paid by the Best and the Brightest Minority Students.” Published by Education Next, the paper purported to affirm Ogbu’s findings by using Add Health data to demonstrate that the highest-achieving black students in the schools Fryer studied had few friends. “My analysis confirms that acting white is a vexing reality within a subset of American schools,” he wrote.

But the numbers didn’t actually add up to support the “acting white” theory, Toldson said. To start, the most popular black students in his study were the ones with 3.5 GPAs, and students with 4.0s had about as many friends as those with 3.0s. The least popular students? Those with less than a 2.5 GPA.

It seemed that the “social price” paid by the lowest-achieving black students was actually far greater than the price in popularity paid by the highest academic achievers.

Fryer conceded this. He said there was “no evidence of a trade-off between popularity and achievement” for black students at private schools, poking another hole in the theory.

Plus, Toldson pointed out, even if the results had shown that the highest-achieving students at all schools had the fewest friends, that would have indicated a connection between grades and popularity, but wouldn’t have supported the core of the “acting white” theory itself. “Methodologically, the study has to make the ostensible leap that the number of friends a black student has is a direct measure and a consequence of acting white,” he explained.

In 2009, the authors of an American Sociological Review article, “The Search For Oppositional Culture Among Black Students,” concluded that high-achieving black students were in fact especially popular among their peers, and that being a good student increased popularity among black students even more so than for white students.

McWhorter has dismissed this study as one that “encourages us to pretend,” because he says that black kids may be dishonest when asked if they value school. It’s unclear why the suspicion of dishonesty only applies to black students and not the white students who were also studied. He’s also written the self-reports can’t be trusted because, according to reasoning he attributes to Fryer, “[a]sking teenagers whether they’re popular is like asking them if they’re having sex.” That may be fair, but it doesn’t explain the stronger link between being a good student and self-reports about popularity for black teens than for white teens.

In 2011, Smith College’s Tina Wildhagen, in the Journal of Negro Education, tested the “entire causal process tested by the ‘acting white’ theory,” using the Educational Longitudinal Study of 2002, and found that “the results lend no support to the process predicted by the acting white hypothesis for African-American students.”

Research suggests that black students have more positive attitudes about education than white students
There is an established phenomenon called the attitude-achievement paradox, which refers to the way positive attitudes about school can fail to translate to successful academic outcomes among black students. Originated by Roslyn Mickelson in 1990, it’s been the subject of extensive sociological research.

For example, in a study published in the American Sociological Review in 1998, James Ainsworth-Darnell and Douglas Downey, using data from the National Educational Longitudinal Study, found that black students offered more optimistic responses than their white counterparts to questions about the following: 1) the kind of occupation they expected to have at age 30, 2) the importance of education to success, 3) whether they felt teachers treated them well, 4) whether the teachers were good, 5) whether it was okay to break rules, 6) whether it was okay to cheat, 7) whether other students viewed them as a “good student,” 8) whether other students viewed them as a “troublemaker,” and 9) whether they tried as hard as they could in class.

Findings like these fly in the face of the idea that black students think academic achievement is “white” or negative, or that it’s something they must actively shun for acceptance and popularity.

When Toldson analyzed raw data from a 2005 CBS News monthly poll of 1,000 high school students who were asked their opinions on being smart and other smart students, he saw this reflected again.

Students were asked, “Thinking about the kids who get good grades in your school, which one of these best describes how you see them: 1) cool, 2) normal, 3) weird, 4) boring, or 5) admired?” The responses of black boys, black girls, white boys, and white girls were around the same. But black boys were the most likely (17 percent) to consider such students “cool.”

Students also answered this question: “In general, if you really did well in school, is that something you would be proud of and tell all your friends about, or something you would be embarrassed about and keep to yourself?” Eighty-nine percent of all students said they would be “proud and tell all.” Black girls were top among this group, with 95 percent saying they’d be proud. Meanwhile, white boys, at 17 percent, were the most likely to say they would be “embarrassed or keep to self” or report that they “did not know” how they would handle the news that they were doing very well academically.

As recently as 2009, researchers have revisited the theory and confirmed the findings of pro-school attitudes among black students.

All racial groups have nerds
Fryer’s research found that the very highest-achieving black kids were the least popular — but this likely had much less to do with beliefs about acting white and more to do with the fact that the very smartest kids of any race tend to suffer social stigma.

“In my own research, I have noticed a ‘nerd bend’ among all races, whereby high — but not the highest — achievers receive the most social rewards,” Toldson said. “For instance, the lowest achievers get bullied the most, and bullying continues to decrease as grades increase; however, when grades go from good to great, bullying starts to increase again slightly. Thus, the highest achievers get bullied more than high achievers, but significantly less than the lowest achievers.”

In a 2003 study titled “It’s not a black thing: Understanding the Burden of Acting White and Other Dilemmas of High Achievement,” published in the American Sociological Review, researchers concluded that the smartest black and white students actually had similar experiences and that the stigma was similar across cultures:

Typically, high-achieving students, regardless of race, are to some degree stigmatized as “nerds” or “geeks.” School structures, rather than culture, may help explain when this stigma becomes racialized, producing a burden of acting white for black adolescents, and when it becomes class-based, producing a burden of “acting high and mighty” for low-income whites.
So very high-achieving kids of all races experience social isolation at times. This is why there are plenty of high-achieving black kids to provide anecdotes about being socially shunned (and there are probably plenty of white kids who could do the same, but there isn’t the same appetite for collecting these stories to explain the white experience). There are also plenty of black kids — many of whom are also smart — who have been accused of “acting white.” But there doesn’t appear to be much of a basis to connect the two experiences.

Jamelle Bouie gave his take on the distinction between these two experiences in a 2010 piece for the American Prospect:

As a nerdy black kid who was accused of “acting white” on a fairly regular basis, I feel confident saying that the charge had everything to do with cultural capital, and little to do with academics. If you dressed like other black kids, had the same interests as other black kids, and lived in the same neighborhoods as the other black kids, then you were accepted into the tribe. If you didn’t, you weren’t. In my experience, the “acting white” charge was reserved for black kids, academically successful or otherwise, who didn’t fit in with the main crowd. In other words, this wasn’t some unique black pathology against academic achievement; it was your standard bullying and exclusion, but with a racial tinge.
Why it matters that we get this right
The “acting white” theory is tempting to believe because it does contain pieces of truth. Yes, there’s a racial academic achievement gap. Yes, there are plenty of African-American adults eager to tell stories about how they were shunned because they were brilliant.

(McWhorter has vigorously defended the “acting white” theory against academic critics primarily by citing 125 letters he says he received from people describing their experiences that reflect the theory. While he argues that accounts in these letters should be accepted without question, he disregards data such as the scientific study responses indicating pro-school attitudes among black kids because of his view that “personal feelings are not reachable by direct questioning.”)

And, yes, some high-achieving black kids — like kids of all races — experience social stigma. These individual facts are painful, and they resonate with people in a way that makes it easy to blur what’s missing from the “acting white” equation: an actual, causal connection between the accusations of acting white, social stigma, and lower academic outcomes. There isn’t one.

It’s particularly troubling that this myth persists, because stories about the sources of educational inequality can shape public attitudes and policy. A perfect example is in McWhorter’s recent Vox piece. Readers who believed his assertion about the “acting white” theory may have been more likely to be convinced of his larger argument that “cultural orientations” of black communities are a cause of inequality. That is, of course, a very damning charge that could shape attitudes about black people and perpetuate racism. But the most glaring problem with it is that it’s an outdated theory that has fallen out of favor with actual sociologists.

A continued willingness to believe that solutions lie in simply repairing backward attitudes about getting good grades will continue to distract from the real problems: poverty, segregation, discipline disparities, teacher biases, and other structural factors. Unfortunately, none of these issues are as easy to fix as simply changing the beliefs of black students.

The Purposeful Silencing of Black Women in Educational Leadership

Thought this was a fascinating take on African American women and Leadership.  Article by Rebecca Lais.

By Contributor Rebecca Lais

“Aggressive.”

“Strong-willed.”

“Passionate”

— have been words falsely labeled as simple descriptors when in actuality, they are evidence of the continued sexism and racism that plagues our society. Women in leadership have always faced adversity and are still seen as second-rate citizens in our country. We see this play out on a national level, but we also see this through daily interactions with those of privilege.

Naively and ignorantly, I believed that we as women shared the same experience. It wasn’t until I was under the leadership of an incredible, Black, female leader, that I realized I was horribly wrong.

During my three years as a middle school English teacher in Tulsa, Okla. I had the opportunity to work under the tutelage of a phenomenal Black, female principal. She embodied the vision of not only equality but equity for our scholars, and she specifically combated the school-to-prison-pipeline narrative through our restorative justice program.

She worked tirelessly and fiercely on behalf of her students. Yet, through several interactions and conversations I observed, she was unfairly labeled as

“too difficult to work with” or “too pushy.”

As a Black woman in a white male/white female dominated arena, her experience is utterly different than those who enjoy the perks of privilege and one all too well-known by her fellow Black women leaders.

One such example that comes to mind is a meeting I attended as a Special Education teacher. Our principal was explaining to a district-level worker (a white female) that one of our scholars needed additional behavioral assistance due to several concerning situations which our school was not qualified to address. We were then told the district did not have the financial resources to help “all students,” and we would have to make due.

As our principal was advocating for our scholar, the employee begins to talk over her, turns to me and asks me to “reason with her.” I can’t help but wonder if our principal had been white or male, would she have been deemed as “unreasonable”?

As I’ve known our principal and as we’ve discussed her experiences as a black, female leader, she’s shared various memories that she’s given me permission to share. She recalls a time when she had to ask the Assistant Principal, an African-American man, to lead certain conversations with district-level employees because she knew her voice would not be heard and our scholars would lose opportunities as a result.

She also describes a conversation with another Black woman who told her that her long braids were “unprofessional” for a principal. Too often to count, she’s been told by fellow colleagues that her voice is “too stern” or her approach is “too dominant.”

She has faced discrimination from all sides, and yet she still continues. When I asked her why she remains committed to her work as a principal in Tulsa, she said,

“I want our young, black women to know they don’t have to change who they are because of what our society tells them to be. They may not be accepted for who they are, but that is not their responsibility. They need to see black women in leadership who refuse to let prejudice dictate how they will live their life. I want them to own who they are because we need them.”

It is not the responsibility of black women to tailor who they are and how they express themselves because of our white and male-dominated society.

It is not the right of others to label anyone as “too” of anything.

We need black women in leadership.

Our country is evidence of that right now. We need our young, black, female scholars to see their reflection in leadership and to see how each of them can make our nation better.

The Purposeful Silencing of Black Women in Educational Leadership 

 

U.S. life expectancy down again due to substance abuse: report

I was motivated to write about this a few weeks ago. My point was to share how the record industry and media is helping to ruin so many lives across the USA. Nevertheless, there is absolutely no outrage. We only absorb and accept.  (Social Learning Theory) Results equal a shorter life expectancy and devastated families left to mourn.

By Sara Shayanian | Feb. 8, 2018

Feb. 8 (UPI) — U.S. life expectancy has fallen for the second year in a row as drugs, alcohol and suicide contributed to a public health crisis, a British medical study found.

The report Wednesday by BMJ, formerly known as the British Medical Journal, found that Americans are more likely to engage in “unhealthy behaviors” like high caloric intake, drug abuse and firearm ownership.

The report said the opioid epidemic is “just the tip of the iceberg” of an even larger public health crisis in the United States.

“Between 2000 and 2014, the rate of fatal drug overdoses rose by 137 percent, a crisis fueled by the growing use of highly addictive opioid drugs,” the BMJ report said. “In 2015 alone, more than 64 000 Americans died from drug overdoses, exceeding the number of U.S. casualties in the Vietnam war.”

The study found that U.S. life expectancy fell to 78.6 years in 2016, a decrease of 0.1 years from the year before. The report is based on data from the World Bank. Life expectancy in 2017 has not yet been calculated.

The decline in life expectancy in the United States began in the 1980s, after Americans had the highest life expectancy among developed countries in the 1960s. Life expectancy for Americans is presently 1.5 years lower than the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s average.

The study said alcohol and suicides have also been rising, with the suicide rate climbing 24 percent between 1999 and 2014 — an increase affecting mainly white Americans, persons with limited education and women.

“The answer [is] likely some combination of factors in American life-must explain why the rise in mortality is greatest in white, middle aged adults and certain rural communities,” the report said.

“Possibilities include the collapse of industries and the local economies they supported, the erosion of social cohesion and greater social isolation, economic hardship, and distress among white workers over losing the security their parents once enjoyed.”

In contrast, that black Americans may have a greater resilience to suicide due to “longstanding structural disadvantages, discrimination and higher all cause mortality,” the study noted.

The BMJ report added that although the United States is a rich country, its wealth is “not inclusive” and the “American Dream” is increasingly out of reach.

The research comes after a National Center for Health Statistics report in December also found that life expectancy for Americans had fallen for the second straight year due to opioid overdoses.

In October, President Donald Trump declared a national health emergency in the United States due to opioid addiction.