Thursday Reading List: Nerd Farming and the Perils of "Culture Fit"

Earlier this week, Bill Gates sat down with Nate Bowling, a finalist for National Teacher of the Year, and they shared their discussion online:

Caroline Bermudez likes the concept of "Nerd Farming," which Gates and Bowling discuss in discuss in some detail:

Bowling, a self-described “nerd farmer,” teaches at Lincoln High School, in Tacoma, where 70 percent of its students qualify for free- or reduced-price lunch and half of the student population is Black or Latino. Yet the school’s graduation rate is 80 percent and 40 percent of students take AP classes. Data has revealed students of color are far less likely to take AP classes. A big reason why is a teacher’s racial bias—White teachers are less likely to believe students of color can succeed academically and so they don’t encourage them to take challenging classes and apply to college. They don’t prod them to have big dreams.

This mismatch of total school population and AP enrollment is true nationally, and it cannot be explained by achievement or preparedness. The College Board discovered several years ago that a huge proportion of the Black students nationally who qualify for AP courses, but are not enrolled in them, are in schools that offer those courses. Artificial barriers to entry keep those children out, which can be rooted in racial bias.

Speaking of racial bias, Eric Johnson at ReCode talked to a tech CEO who thinks that, if you're not hiring Black and Latino folks in tech, you're not trying:

Tristan Walker could check off a lot of the standard boxes for "Silicon Valley entrepreneur." He has an MBA from Stanford and a résumé that includes Twitter, Foursquare and four years as entrepreneur-in-residence at Andreessen Horowitz. However, the CEO of Walker & Company Brands roundly rejects the Valley’s favorite cliché, "culture fit." On the latest episode of Recode Decode, hosted by Kara Swisher, Walker said startups rarely define their own cultures before using it as an excuse to hire homogenous workers ... [he also discussed] his nonprofit initiative for minorities in tech, Code2040. "We just graduated a class of 90 fellows," he said. "A lot of these folks are saying that they don’t exist. That is complete bullshit, because we found them inside of six months."

The idea of "culture fit" is attractive to corporate leaders, but if "culture" becomes synonymous with  "very White people with whom I went to graduate school, and then worked with at a mostly-White tech company," it's part of the problem. I've heard horror stories from recruiters who try to create diverse pools for clients, only to have those clients tell them to recruit more traditional candidates who will better fit the "culture."

One way to obviate the meaning of culture is to have more White people understand the impact of racial bias. Maura Judkis in the Washington Post has the story of a chef, Tunde Wey, who is hosting dinners about race across the country:

Wey is traveling across the country in service of a provocative dinner series he calls Blackness in America. Over his meals, he and guest speakers moderate an exasperated and mournful conversation about what it’s like to be a person of color in a year in which 152 black people have been shot and killed by police so far, and poverty rates for African Americans are more than twice as high as for white people. There is catharsis among the black guests at the dinner, and understanding among the others. But there is no solution, other than for the guests to sit there with their plates of jollof rice and pepper soup, and stew in their discomfort.

I am a big fan of using meals as a way to open the door to greater trust and honesty; a small group and I just started a new initiative to do something similar in a bunch of cities.

The New York Times wonders how much home work is enough. And finally, Alex Zimmerman at Chalkbeat takes a closer look at suspensions among younger children in New York City:

Nearly a third of the 801 suspensions handed out to students in kindergarten through second grade this past school year were reportedly for incidents of violence or serious physical disruption. Those infractions included: reckless behavior with substantial risk of serious injury (115 suspensions); using force or inflicting serious injury to school safety agents or other school personnel (104 suspensions); and Category I weapons possession (22 suspensions), which includes everything from slingshots to guns. The most common suspension is for an offense that used to be categorized as horseplay.

The absolute number is high, because this is New York City. The only good news here is that the percentage of total students is low. Those students also are disproportionately concentrated in a small number of schools. While that concentration should make it easier to deal with the problem ... WTF is going on those schools??