Tuesday Reading List: Education Policy in the Presidential Election and Cultural Insensitivity

It's an understatement to suggest that the presidential campaign hasn't hinged on "issues," but Christina Veiga at Chalkbeat caught one of Hillary Clinton's education advisors talking about policy substance at Columbia University:

Christopher Edley, Jr. — a former U.C. Berkeley School of Law dean and expert in civil rights and education policy — talked about charter schools, early childhood education, and how to better serve English Language Learners. He also hinted at a different kind of accountability era under a Clinton administration. “She believes that there’s been, over the last 20 years, too much attention to trying to hold students and teachers accountable — and not enough emphasis on holding accountable the people who hold ultimate responsibility for the investments and for policy design,” Edley said, drawing applause.

A good applause line, surely, but I'm not sure what this means in practice. If he means that policymakers should be hired and fired based on performance, that makes sense, but such decisions would also mean keeping in place leaders who lack political popularity when they get results, and vice versa. The country is in a state of limbo on education accountability, and there is a risk that a lack of clarity on the issue will lead to a regression to the days of ignoring schooling outcomes for the most vulnerable kids. One potential silver lining here is that tough accountability is an area of agreement between the civil rights community and school improvement hawks.

Also in Chalkbeat, Yesenia Robles looks at a Colorado school district with an unorthodox approach to teaching:

Westminster Public Schools in the fall of 2009 began to phase-in what is now called a competency based system. Through it, the district did away with traditional grade-level assignments and grades. Instead, students in Westminster schools are assigned to classrooms based on their proficiency in each subject and they move up through the levels when they show they learned the content, not necessarily after a year of sitting in that class. While other districts are experimenting with competency-based models in some schools, none have moved to do it district-wide like Westminster did by the 2013-14 school year. Westminster district leaders say it’s still evolving.

Robles examines the mismatch between this approach, which depends on student-level mastery, and the state's accountability system, which relies on students being assigned a grade level. As more schools deviate from the standardized approach to grade leveling, accountability systems will have to become more student-centered. Westmister is not alone in abandoning the traditional approach to measuring student progress, but many current fashions in standards and accountability are incongruous with these approaches.

Elsewhere, Blavity shares a video from a Bronx teacher, encouraging his peers to learn how to pronounce all students' names:

An educator in the Bronx released a video highlighting the significance of ethnic names and why teachers should aim to correctly pronounce them. Adam Levine-Peres presents three barriers presented when teachers seem uninterested in learning students names. Distrust, quitting and lack of common courtesy. It's all about effort. He argues the contradiction of requiring students to put forth their best effort when the teacher is not putting forth similar contributions. 

Teachers, please do not look for shortcuts; it should go without saying that names are important! And PLEASE do not assign anglicized names to children whose names have roots in non-White cultures.

Speaking of cultural obliviousness, Mikki Kendall offers some thoughts for writers, inspired by "a series of unfortunate thinkpieces about Black women written by people who clearly had no clue." Here's Kendall on writing about Black women:

Contrast them with women of other races, always making sure to highlight that other women are real women, while black women are simply black. Feel free to make blanket statements about their religious beliefs, educational levels, income levels, and family dynamics. All of it is true because you say it is, and you are the expert in black women, not any actual black women. If they are offended by your words, remind them of your credentials and refuse to engage in a conversation with them until they can be less emotional. Point to their tone as a reason to doubt the veracity of their experiences. After all they are only black women and thus they know nothing, own nothing, and are worth nothing but what you say they are.

This hits close to home for me as a White dude, and there is a common thread between Kendall's piece and Levine-Peres's video. When we generalize, we dehumanize.