Thursday Reading List: NAEP Scores, Protest, and Teachers of Color

A bit of good news to start the day! Marva Hinton at Education Week shares the latest results from the National Assessment of Education Progress:

Gaps between African-American students and their white peers have been narrowing among students in the 4th and 8th grades, according to the latest NAEP results. In 2009, white 4th graders scored 36 points higher than black students on average. In 2015, that span narrowed to 33 points. Among 8th graders, the divide between black and white students has narrowed from 36 points in 2009 to 34 points in 2015. There was not a significant reduction in the gap at the 12th grade level. The gap between Hispanic students and white students is also decreasing. White 4th graders scored 32 points higher than Hispanic students on average in 2009. By 2015, that had narrowed to 27 points. For 8th graders, the gap between white and Hispanic student scores went from 30 points in 2009 to 26 points in 2015. The gap remained virtually unchanged at the 12th grade level.

The NAEP exam is the only reliable instrument for assessing reading, math, and science progress nationally, so this is good news. The not-so-good flip side is that scores are flat in the 12th grade, as they have been since the late 1970s. We gain a lot of ground in elementary and middle school, but lose that progress in high school. 

Many researchers think that integration will have downstream effects on student opportunity gaps. Christina Veiga, writing at Chalkbeat, looks at a new report on what diverse schools in New York City do differently:

With a rezoning debate barely settled in Brooklyn — and another still raging on the Upper West Side — New York City has been forced to reckon with the fact that many of its schools are deeply segregated. But it’s worth remembering that there are success stories in our midst, schools that have taken deliberate steps to enroll a diversity of students, creating “Integrated Schools in a Segregated City.” That’s the name of a report released Wednesday by the New School’s Center for New York City Affairs, where staff at the school-review site Insideschools spent a year uncovering lessons from local schools that are tackling segregation.

One of the critical findings from the report is that, while change is uncomfortable, it is necessary. Some of the parents interviewed for the report even acknowledged that closing schools can be a necessary ingredient in hastening reinvention. I'm not a fan of unnecessary strife, but we're kidding ourselves if we think we can disrupt longstanding systems of privilege and power without discomfort.

Sometimes, even the smallest amounts of discomfort are intolerable to folks with power. Last night, the Philadelphia 76ers, my childhood home basketball team, did not let Sevyn Streeter perform the national anthem, because she was wearing a "We Matter" jersey.

Blavity has the story:

The 76ers sent a statement to Philadelphia ABC affiliate, WPVI, saying: "The Philadelphia 76ers organization encourages meaningful actions to drive social change. We use our games to bring people together, to build trust and to strengthen our communities. As we move from symbolic gestures to action, we will continue to leverage our platform to positively impact our community." This situation comes just after singer Denasia Lawrence knelt while singing the national anthem during a 76ers/Miami Heat preseason matchup, just a few days ago. 

The 76ers reaction to this is misguided. In overreacting to a modest display of activism, they triggered a backlash that will be far more significant than any blowback they would get about Streeter's outfit. It's important to see this dustup in the context of activism in professional sports as a whole, including Colin Kaepernick's silent protest. The teams and leagues across sports are struggling to find their footing as more athletes and performers express their voices and identities.

Speaking of identity, Vivett Dukes reflects on being a teacher of color, and what seems permissible vis-a-vis expressing herself:

There are White (and Black) teachers and administrators who teach students of color (SOCs) and work alongside teachers of color day in and day out who don’t want to have the difficult conversations about race relations in this country. They are the ones who find my voice to be too Black, too strong. They, who are becoming an all-too-prominent portion of the teaching profession, do not want to be held accountable for teaching culturally-relevant pedagogy because it makes them feel “uncomfortable.” Yet they find it too political when TOCs like myself create and teach such curriculum. If you are guilty of believing this, please stop trying to wrangle and reel in our voices. It’s neither wanted nor welcomed.

Dukes points out research suggesting that students of all races want to see more teachers of color in the classroom. Emmanuel Felton, writing at The Hechinger Report, looks at efforts to attract more "homegrown" teachers in communities of color:

There’s a very practical reason to hire teachers with local roots: They are far more likely to stay around. This isn’t just a New Orleans phenomenon; One recent study found that teachers who studied education in college are far more likely to stay in the profession. New Orleans’ teacher turnover has been up significantly since Katrina. Across the country, many urban school districts are recognizing that they need to hire teacher workforces that better reflect the diversity of their students. The academic benefits to students of having a same-race teacher have been well documented. Beyond serving as role models, these teachers are better able to make lessons culturally relevant and often have an easier time building relationships with students and parents. In New Orleans, 89 percent of public school students are black and many of the white teacher newcomers have struggled to connect with students.

Is this to say that white teachers cannot teach children of color? Absolutely not. Is this to say that all black/brown teachers always will be stronger teachers of children of color than their white peers? Nope. It does mean, however, that when it comes to cultural competence, teachers of color are, on average, better prepared for the racial dynamics of a classroom. This is not a "nice to have" for teaching; it's a must have.