Tuesday Reading List: Outer Planets, Diversity, and Stereotype Threat

I hope you had a lovely holiday weekend. It seems that the folks at NASA did. They saw the fireworks last night and thought, "that's cool and everything but ...." Here's live footage of the Juno spacecraft approaching Jupiter:

I'm sharing this video both on the basis that it's educational, and because when I was in elementary school, I sent a long fan letter to NASA, and they subsequently responded by sending me a trove of books and glossy photos. Space is cool, NASA took care of me when I was a kid, that's my story, and I'm sticking to it. 

In other news, Emily Deruy at the Atlantic covers Education Secretary John King's push for more diverse schools:

Research has long suggested that all students benefit when they attend diverse schools. But many schools remain largely segregated and those that serve children of color tend to have less-experienced teachers, fewer advanced courses, and resources stretched thin. And while more than half of the nation’s students are now children of color, more than 80 percent of teachers are white, and the majority are female. Although many parents say they care about all children and support the creation of diverse schools, some, particularly affluent white families, have balked at attempts to integrate schools. So King will make the case that integration benefits not only black and brown students, who are disproportionately low-income, but their affluent white peers, too.

King is on to something. I write a bunch about the role that white folks play in segregation, and we need to start making compelling arguments to unravel that complicity. Diversity can be scary to folks with privilege, because heterogeneity threatens existing stereotypes, both the positive and negative ones. Donald Earl Collins at Seven Scribes writes about "stereotype threat," and how it affects the legal interpretations of affirmative action:

This idea of stereotype threat can lead to what [UC Berkeley Executive Vice Chancellor Claude Steele] and others in his field call “disidentification.” According to Steele, this is a “psychic adjustment” made to lessen the pain involved in stereotype threat “by ceasing to identify with the part of life in which the pain occurs.” The evidence for this among rejected White applicants ... has been their act of bringing lawsuits to court over affirmative action since the mid-1970s. In the very act of filing such suits, they shifted their identity from being a person unqualified for admission into a specific institution to into a new identity: victims of state-sanctioned racial discrimination. In taking them to court, these individuals not only sought to force elite public higher education institutions ... to admit them as students.

Collins suggests that the myth of white intellectual superiority is so ingrained, that it's easier for some folks to adopt a fantasy of victimhood than the reality that meritocracy is working. The tension cause by this cognitive dissonance is real, particularly in racially integrated elite educational settings. Boston Latin, the oldest public school in the country, is in the midst of dealing with significant issues related to race and discrimination:

Top administrators from the nation’s oldest public school resigned last week, just over five months after two Black high school seniors launched a social media campaign highlighting long-standing racial insensitivity within the school’s structure. Boston Latin School Headmaster Lynne Mooney Teta announced her resignation last Tuesday, followed by one of her deputies, Assistant Headmaster Malcolm Flynn last Wednesday. Though the two administrators lamented at how Boston’s top public high school had been “unfairly judged,” many saw their resignations as a win for student activism, especially given that the institution is as hallowed as BLS.

A quick glance at the #BlackatBLS hashtag illustrates the activism and counter-activism at play here. According to the Boston Globe, in the last twenty years, the percentage of Black students at Boston Latin has gone from over 20% to under 10%. Whereas the school used to be a place that leveled the playing field for public school students in Boston, there is a growing sense that the school now operates as an elitist institution for the small number of already-comfortable families who send their kids to Boston public schools. As this dustup draws out through the summer and into another school year, it will be interesting to see whether the issues at Boston Latin become a catalyst for a healthier conversation about race in a city with a tendency to ignore its racially fraught past.

Policymakers at Brookings think that the current mechanism for measuring poverty in schools is inadequate:

"[Free- and reduced-priced lunch] participation data have long been put to research and policy uses for which they are ill-suited," Chingos says. "But FRL status is now headed toward its demise as a useful tool for research and policy" ... For starters, Chingos notes, the measurement only captures those who enroll in the school lunch program, and not those who are eligible for it. That means, for example, that two schools with similar student demographics could report dramatically different rates of poor students because one school might be more dogged in enrolling those who qualify. This has been a particular problem in high schools, where some students shirk their low-income status due to embarrassment or other factors.

Shifting the measurement of poverty would have huge implications for funding, data collection, and performance assessment, so don't sleep on this!

Finally, if you didn't read the Reading List on Friday, check out the SUMMER READING feature. I've heard from a few of you already, and if you're interested in reading Yaa Gyasi's Homegoing with me and a group of nerds, let me know!