Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Some school administrators are more equal than others

Last week, I told you about the parental and community hysteria that occurred when a white elementary school principal in Sacramento, Jana Fields, had a talk with her black students about what they could do to raise their state test scores.

In that post, I told you that Mrs. Fields is by no means the first administrator to address students by race in regard to their test scores. In fact, just today, the San Jose Mercury News ran a story about the principal at Milpitas High School in the Bay Area town of Milpitas, California. Every six weeks, the principal, Chuck Gary, actually sends a personally signed letter to every one of his black students - regardless of their academic performance - that lets the student know how he or she is doing grade-wise, what the student's GPA is, and so on. There has been no parental or student outrage, and little to no commotion from the community as well. What's the difference? Easy: Chuck Gary is black. The article even states:
At Milpitas High, the reaction has largely been positive, partly because African-American parents and a black principal are at the heart of the effort.... (my emphasis).
Even though he is doing the same exact thing as Jana Fields - trying to raise state test scores by focusing on a certain race of students, no matter their academic performance - Gary receives accolades, while Fields is excoriated.

There was something else of note in this Mercury News article besides the noted double standard between Fields and Gary. I believe that without even realizing it, the article's human interest stories revealed a treasure trove of reasons for why there is an "achievement gap" among black students in the first place.

"Acting White": Many black students don't try as hard as they should for fear of being ostracized by their fears for the crime of "acting white." Here is the story of Milpitas student Inthia White, as mentioned in the article:
Inthia White used to be the class clown. When she talked back to teachers, her disruptions would trigger laughter. The peer pressure to be "cool" rather than smart was hard to overcome.

When she changed her ways, her new focus on schoolwork surprised her classmates. Some said, "What's up with you?"

Peer pressure is just one challenge facing African-American students, White said....
Single Parents: Today, almost 70% of black children are born to a single parent household, usually run by a mother. Here is what Inthia White has to say:
...White thinks all African-American students should have their own academic adviser.

"You need somebody," said White, the fourth of five children raised by a single mom. "Not all African-American moms can take the time off of their busy schedules to help. We see them trying so hard, so we don't want to bother them with questions about school...."
Parent Participation: If you are a teacher, then you know the drill - have you ever noticed that the overwhelming majority of parents who show up to Back to School Nights and Open House are the parents of your best behaved and best performing students? Do you think there might be a connection between the parents' involvement and the students' success? Here is what one Milpitas mother has to say:
When Demetress Morris' oldest son got a bad report card, she had a talk with Gary. He told her his biggest challenge was getting black parents to attend school events.

"I started going to the PTA meetings, and I was shocked. It was all mostly white moms," said Morris, who saw her son's schoolwork improve as she spent more time on campus. "A lot of parents want to help their children but they don't know how...."
Reliance on "Relationships": I have been to more than one teacher in-service day where I and my fellow teachers have been told that black students will not academically perform for a teacher unless they have forged some sort of "bond" or "relationship" with the teacher. Hmmm, when I was in high school, I enjoyed some teachers more than others, but there was never a case where I would shut down because the teacher didn't want to be my friend. The Mercury News says:
Those connections are crucial. A recent report from the California Dropout Research Project stressed that teacher-student relationships are the strongest influence on students' decisions to stay in school. Students need a hook that reels them in and keeps them on the line: a favorite class, a teacher who cares, a sports team, a club.

As long as your personal success relies on the benevolence of others, you are going to have a tough row to hoe. Individual responsibility is a crucial aspect of making something of yourself, and as long as studies tell us that black students are going to eschew that necessary component of success, then how is any attempt to close this "achievement gap" ever going to bear any fruit?

I haven't checked lately to see if the situation with Jana Fields has blown over, or if parents are still calling for her head. If her termination is still a possibility, and her district hasn't abandoned her, I truly hope that Mrs. Fields will hold a copy of this Mercury News article high and proud in the air, and tell her detractors to get back to her when their outrage is applied equally. We wouldn't want to think that those angry parents are singling out Mrs. Fields because of her race... now would we?

Good Day to You, Sir


fromwembley said...

I blame Jana Fields for this. She was stupid for trying to help black students anyway.

See the trouble it got her? Black parents are not interested in motivating their children, but when some "issue" like this pops up you know some of them see $$$. How many black parents have filed lawsuits against Ms. Fields and the school system?

As for the problems black children have I blame black children and their black parents. As for the challenges black parents face I say "Cry me a river."

nunoftheabove said...

Student progress in school can be directly linked to their family status.

Single parent family have the greatest difficulty, and the segment that seems most adversely affected is white male students, followed by black male students. Since most single parent families are headed by females, it seems that one of the greatest factors is the absence of a male role model.

As far as the principal, Chanman you are right, the disaggregation of the results by the state sets up any administrator by giving them impossible task of dealing with a "group" that is racially determined without appearing to be "racist."

Here is a recent example from my part of the world:

My take: the state identifies the pink elephant in the room and the school is suppose to do something about the pink elephant without saying that there is a pink elephant.

Typical of the gibberish that is heaped on the local education community by state and national theorists.