Tuesday Reading List: Hidden Figures ... EVERYWHERE!

E. Angel, an engineer writing at Black Girl Nerds, wants to talk about some real life "hidden figures":

Over the last couple of years and especially since the release of Hidden Figures folks have been throwing around the term STEM.  Every children’s program you see now indicates they have some kind of STEM component. Even my tween nephews get some coding classes as part of their regular curriculum in middle school. That is all well and good, but let me drop some real hidden figures, by means of the U.S. Census Bureau, on you. In 2015, the median (middle) income in the United States was ~$56,500. For the majority, median income was ~$60,100, while minorities make ~ $39,500. The Bureau of Labor Statistics indicated that in 2015 the annual mean (average) wage for STEM occupations is $87,600 which is almost twice that of non-STEM occupations. Minorities, appear to make around 85 percent of what our peers make ... There is a census study that indicates that minority women are about 10 percent of STEM population. A study in 2011 indicates that our representation in STEM fields is increasing, but that increase tends to not to be in engineering.

One way to ameliorate the disparities is to democratize access to elite educational programs. Christina Samuels, writing in Education Week, looks at how gifted education has changed in Seminole, Florida:

... the district’s efforts to bring more underrepresented students into gifted education have focused around five highly diverse Title I elementary schools ... While the district’s population of black students averages about 15 percent in its elementary schools, black student enrollment at the five schools ranges from about 31 to 56 percent. The district’s population of English-language learners in elementary schools is around 8 percent, compared to 10 to 21 percent in the Project ELEVATE schools. And the schools also have a high population of economically disadvantaged students: 76 to 95 percent, compared to the district’s overall average of 52 percent in its elementaries. At those five schools, gifted enrollment has risen from 62 students in September 2013 to 168 as of last June ... Across the district, the share of low-income and black and Hispanic students who are identified as gifted has been trending upward.

That's a pretty big increase, so the district should be proud. The subtext here is the magnitude of the in-district demographic disparities. Florida - like a few other states - has large, county-based school systems that tend to contain communities of varying demographics. In general, this seems like a more equitable way to organize schools.

Sharif El-Mekki reaches back into history to identify a hidden educational figure:

Dr. Anna Julia Cooper is one of those people. She was a Black pioneer, the daughter of an enslaved woman, who demonstrated high expectations and produced results for our youth generations ago ... Despite the segregation policies in the District of Columbia at that time, her students achieved at the highest levels in Washington’s first public high school for Black children. Her all-Black school, now named the Paul Lawrence Dunbar school, produced scholars and pioneers. Her students consistently outperformed their White peers. She insisted on the expectation that her students were going to be college bound and immensely successful.

El-Mekki reminds us that some of the most prominent Black learning institutions in America were born out of statutory segregation, and by virtue of that genesis, were themselves segregated institutions. United States education secretary Betsy DeVos seems not to have received that memo.

Finally, Andrew Simmons of The Atlantic looks at a new documentary that challenges stereotypes about the teaching profession. He asks one of the teachers featured in the movie to describe what's wrong with the American system of schooling, to which she responded:

Other countries, like Finland and Singapore, have figured this out. Look at how much time during the day American teachers interface with students at the expense of planning and grading. We are exceptional in how we run teachers into the ground. Teachers have no bandwidth for anything else. We’d attract higher-caliber people [to the profession] if we addressed that. We all know it comes down to will and resources. Today we run schools efficiently at the expense of sustainability and the profession of teaching. A high percentage of teachers leave after four or five years, when I don’t think you don’t become great until 10 years. We’re eating our seed corn. That doesn’t work in farming, and it doesn’t work in education.

It's worth reading the whole interview. I don't agree with everything in the piece (NB: that disclaimer should apply to virtually everything I read and share), but there are important points with which to wrestle. Have a good day!