‘It Stops Today': Racial Profiling in the Classroom

RacialProfilingInTheClassroom The day-to-day realities of the impact of racial profiling come alive in the stories under the #AliveWhileBlack hashtag. But it’s not just tales of interacting with law enforcement or being followed around a store while shopping. Many of the incidents actually take place in schools, troubling encounters with educators in positions of influence and authority.

Reading through the tweets, you’ll find stories ranging from the more subtle (teachers never calling on black students or asking the only student of color in a class to give the “black perspective”) to the egregious — trying to forge a parent’s signature to place a student in special education classes, telling students that their work is too good so they must have cheated, telling students their college choices are too prestigious, etc. Those educators may have had good intentions, not wanting to overwhelm students, and their white students may have learned a lot in their classes. But their implicit bias caused them to set a lower bar for their black students, and by doing so hindered their growth. Researchers call this the Pygmalion (or Rosenthal) effect: The greater the expectations placed upon someone, the better they perform.

At The Education Trust, we have the honor of learning from educators who harness the power of high expectations to great effect. We study and share common themes that emerge from schools that are producing excellent outcomes for all their students, including students of color and students from families in poverty. One critical attribute of these schools is that their leaders foster a culture of high expectations for all students. One such school, Lockhart Junior High, even states it in its motto, plastered at the school entrance: “100 Percent Success, Every Child, Every Time.” Lockhart, and other schools like it, acknowledges the challenges its students face, but still expects them to achieve at high levels and gives them the support to get there.

These schools also show us that high expectations need to be coupled with high support for teachers. Clearly, both strong school leadership and fair and equitable funding are important to ensure that teachers across different communities can provide their students with the resources to support them in meeting high standards. Recognizing that, districts can create space for teachers to learn from and support one another, and they can encourage the strongest school leaders to go to the schools with the most room for growth.

Still, the influence of individual teachers and the expectations they communicate to their students cannot be understated. On a systemic level, to the extent that our country allows novice or unprepared teachers to disproportionately teach low-income students and students of color, we’re reinforcing low expectations for those students. States can urge institutions of higher education to prepare new teachers with skills to address the needs of all students. More broadly, teachers whose students do not show adequate academic growth during the year need to know that their students, and they, can and must do better.

Many individuals, schools, and districts are already working on creating cultures of high expectations for teachers and students, and they deserve high praise and support. But, as with protests, action by one person or in one community is not as powerful as synchronized efforts. As our country does the important work of airing, and hopefully addressing, painful truths about racial disparities in policing and judicial systems, we need to acknowledge that there’s more to be done. Anyone concerned with racial injustice must also work to effectuate education policies at all levels that support high expectations. Together, we can ensure that all students, regardless of their race or socioeconomic background, have access to schools and teachers who push them to achieve at their highest levels.



Education and Racial Justice: The Need for a Protest Within

Protest_within_school_lockers My whole life’s work has been bound up in the fight for racial justice. So my heart aches every time I confront evidence of how far we still have to travel until we leave behind for good the ugliness that rips our country apart.

I see that evidence virtually every day in the work I do at The Education Trust. In the voluminous data showing continuing disparities in everything from school funding to access to quality teachers to opportunities to enroll in advanced coursework. In the shameful words and practices of Americans — even educators — who should know better. In the disappointed eyes of the young black and brown men and women who want to serve their country but can’t because they can’t pass the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test. Continue reading

Wasting Time

The ancient Greek philosopher Democritus as a mole, wearing a dinner-table-napkin toga and carrying a paper scroll. Whenever I hear educators promote the idea of “project-based learning” I get shivers from the memory of all the “projects” my kids did when they were going through school. Some were small wastes of time; others were colossal wastes of time.

I keep one such project in my office as a reminder of how foolish some assignments can be. It is a paper mole dressed as Democritus, an early Greek philosopher who formulated a theory that matter was made up of atoms. This project was assigned to my younger daughter as a high school sophomore in — and I can barely type these words with a straight face — Honors Chemistry. Continue reading

Why I Teach Where I Teach: I Feel Empowered

WhyITeachWhereITeach_1-05This post is a part of an ongoing series, called “Why I Teach Where I Teach,” which asks educators in high-need schools to share what has attracted (and kept) them in the challenging environments they’re in. They share important stories and experiences that should remind us all of the power of strong school leadership, a network of supportive colleagues, and the genuine opportunity to have a say in schoolwide decisions. Listen up! They’re teaching us.

Justin Stoeckel, a second-grade teacher at East Millsboro Elementary School in Delaware, which is 68 percent low-income, writes the fourth entry in this series. He began his teaching career when he joined East Millsboro Elementary six years ago.

Justin StoeckelI teach where I do because we are truly a team. There is an air of encouragement that is felt by everyone, from the staffers in the front office to the teachers in every classroom. Students (and teachers) feel comfortable asking questions or asking for help. We take a collective approach through weekly Professional Learning Communities, where we work with our grade-level colleagues to review assessment data and plan and align our curriculum accordingly. We also have “vertical alignment meetings” throughout the year to promote consistency in teaching and learning from grade to grade, and monthly peer learning walks allow us to visit and learn from our colleagues in action. These strategies help to ensure we meet all students’ and teachers’ needs. We are constantly finding, using, sharing, and reflecting on effective strategies that will meet an individual learning or behavior style. As a new teacher, I was helped and guided by not just my grade-level colleagues, but by all the faculty. My administrators encouraged me to find my teaching voice and empower me to use it every day. This encouragement is also passed on to students, as we push them to find and use their own voices too. Students share this same assurance with each other, creating a school environment that is a positive place for learning for everyone inside.

More resources from Ed Trust
In partnership with StoryCorps, we have put together a series of audio clips featuring teachers and administrators in three of our Dispelling the Myth schools. Here, a George Hall Elementary teacher echoes some of Justin’s same thoughts about collaboration. (See more interviews with teachers on our YouTube page.)

The Problem With Merit Aid



There is a misnomer in a term commonly used in higher education: merit aid. The use of “merit” implies excellence or worthy of praise, but unfortunately, in this context, merit is often synonymous with privilege.

Unlike federal and need-based financial aid, which take into account students’ financial circumstances, merit aid is awarded based on accolades — namely rigorous coursework and extracurricular activities. Academically, many low-income students can compete with their middle- to high-income peers (20 percent of students scoring at or above the 90th percentile on the ACT — a score of 28 or above — come from low-income and working-class families), but they are less likely to have access to the extracurricular opportunities that make a student an attractive candidate for merit aid. That doesn’t mean, however, that they’re undeserving — nor does it mean they can’t demonstrate merit in other ways.

While high-income students generally have better access to more rigorous coursework and more qualified and experienced teachers, their advantages aren’t just limited to what happens in the classroom. When the final school bell rings, low-income students may need to work or manage family obligations, while their more privileged peers can participate in various activities like student government, athletics, marching band, or academic clubs.

Thus, when a low-income student applies for merit aid, his fast-food job might be viewed as less-deserving of a scholarship, even though flipping burgers may have been necessary to put gas in a family vehicle or keep food in the pantry — reflecting such merits as dedication and work ethic. Similarly, a low-income student may forgo extracurricular activities to care for younger siblings, exemplifying commitment, self-sacrifice, and service to others — merits that are undervalued or unnoticed on a scholarship application.

Essentially, the current definition of merit is limited in its scope and unfairly disadvantages low-income students, ignoring the hard work and grit of the underserved. As college leaders examine ways to make college admissions processes more “access aware” or “need aware,” they must reconsider how to define merit and how to award merit aid. Merit means much more than a list of extracurricular activities — and aid that is intended to recognize merit should exemplify that.

This post is written by Chelsey Jones, a higher education intern at Ed Trust.



Bringing Order Out of Chaos

One of the things that sometimes gets lost in all the talk about education is how complex schools are. Many of them are the size of small towns — complete with capital projects, transportation systems, food services, and recreation programs.

Even experienced school leaders can find themselves distracted from paying attention to the main point of school — to prepare the next generation to be educated citizens.

That is why it is important to study successful high-poverty schools for the lessons they have to share. How do they avoid the chaos that almost seems inevitable given all the factors pulling schools in different directions?

The thing I have observed about successful high-poverty schools is that they make all the systems work together rather than at cross-purposes, and in Huffington Post this week, I talk about a session at our national conference where three school leaders talked about coherence.

Why I Teach Where I Teach: A School Community Centered on High Expectations — For Everyone

WhyITeachWhereITeach_1-05This post is a part of an ongoing series, called “Why I Teach Where I Teach,” which asks educators in high-need schools to share what has attracted (and kept) them in the challenging environments they’re in. They share important stories and experiences that should remind us all of the power of strong school leadership, a network of supportive colleagues, and the genuine opportunity to have a say in schoolwide decisions. Listen up! They’re teaching us.

Crystal Byrd is a special education teacher at Calcedeaver Elementary School in Mount Vernon, Ala., where most students are “MOWA Choctaw,” or descendants of American Indians. Crystal, who has taught for eight years — all at Calcedeaver — writes the third entry in this series.

Crystal Byrd

Calcedeaver Elementary School is a high-performing, Dispelling the Myth school. We call it the “best kept secret” in the Mobile County Public School System. However, it is no secret why I love teaching here. Being a part of a community that places a high importance on education, while remaining true to its rich American Indian heritage, has driven my passion to teach at Calcedeaver. This is not just a school; it is a second home to students and staff alike. The community embraces the school and encourages us through their strong faith. Community members make regalia for the Pow Wow at Culture Fest; local preachers attend and encourage the student-led “Meet You at the Pole” each year; grandparents help students in the lower grades through our Grandparents Program; the local MOWA Band of Choctaw Indians sends workers here to help support the daily operations of the school; and many of the local Choctaw residents are employed school leaders. The school culture — which sets high expectations of all employees and openly shares the vision to remain focused on achieving while nurturing the students — positively drives me to do more and to make a greater difference. I teach at Calcedeaver because this is where my heart is! The framework that makes Calcedeaver a great school is built on a passion to teach the whole child, and being a part of this framework is my way to make a positive difference in the lives of students in a community that I love. Continue reading

When the Data Come Alive

When I started at Ed Trust, my first project was to sort and filter through states’ school-level achievement and demographic data. My mission: to find schools with sizable low-income and/or student of color populations that were outperforming their state. They would then be considered for our Dispelling the Myth Award, which we give to a few schools each year. A few months ago, after analyzing several states’ data, Brimley Elementary School made it onto the short list of schools that my colleagues would visit and vet for the award.

Brimley ElementaryBrimley is a small rural school located in Michigan’s Eastern Upper Peninsula that is 53 percent American Indian and 59 percent low-income. And, until this month, to me the school was just numbers in an Excel file.

But as Brimley leaders stood on stage and accepted their Dispelling the Myth Award at our national conference, I finally connected the data I spent so much time with to the individuals and the practices that fueled Brimley’s improvement and success. Continue reading