Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Who Owns the Achievement Gap?

Dr. Maxine Mimms a Washington Elder of Distinction and long time educator in Tacoma and Seattle told a room full of parents following an excellent demonstration of brilliance by African American children; "If I were a parent I would not send my children back to public school on Monday." What and how the children presented defies what the "Standards" outcomes tells us about African American children. 

Dr. Mimms has been said to be the most effective teacher in the USA. (Anyone teaching African American children in Washington State should be required to spend time with her) She was Seattle's first African American teacher (Leschi and Coleman). She has remained relevant and in touch with our public school system Founding Director of Evergreen State College Tacoma Campus, and has conferred more Doctorate Degrees upon African Americans than any educator in WA State. Besides Evergreen she has designed and taught education based programs at Pacific Oaks College, Fielding Institute, Antioch University,  Union Graduate School, and Institute for Cultural Reconnection. She is an advisor to the Obama Kogelo Secondary School in Kenya and founder of Maxine Mimms Academy for middle and high schoolers who have been expelled from public schools. 

There Was a Time When Black Children Were Taught to Read and to Understand Math
Seattle has 248 African American third graders. Of concern is that after 4 years of primary schooling 282 of them (42.5%) still can not read at grade level. There was a time in America when former slaves who because of laws against teaching blacks to read could not read themselves raised children who could read. Large numbers of black children completed high school ready to attend what has become a network of 103 Historically Black Colleges and Universities spread across the Southern and mid Atlantic States. They learned to read, write, spell, do complex lab experiments and mathematical equations in small racially segregated schools with books and equipment cast off from more endowed white schools. Many teachers had certificates from two year Normal School teacher programs. and sometimes less. Large numbers of these students went on to get degrees at all levels including medical and terminal degrees. They went on to be creators of art, own their own businesses, invent technical solutions that helped America become a rich and industrious nation. 

Many of these HBCU were endowed by privileged whites but these contributors to the education of black students knew the importance of having African American communities and educators contributing to the design of methodologies and pedagogies for teaching, counseling and advising African American students. Today, we have whites who are concerned about the outcomes of African American students, but lack a willingness to surrender to African American community the solutions, funding and implementation of fixes that will work.  

Political policies for education and processes for funding are flawed and work against education systems that bring about equity and excellence for Black children and their Brown classmates. The history of African Americans as former slaves, living in a segregated America, surviving in the face of cruel inequities and except for Native American Indians, the only residents to not have immigrant or refugee status as part of their heritage. This makes our existence in America unique. Seattle for several decades has refused to educate African American children. There is no reason that we can not teach a young child to read. My experience putting in place a routine that brought a child from pre-school literacy to proficiency in reading within 7 months. What it took most of our funded solutions are not putting in place. I will write more about this in another blog entry.

Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, a person we elect, reports each year in detail the failure of our our schools to educate with equity all the children whose education they are responsible for.

 Reading for SY 2010-11 Africa American third graders attending Seattle Public Schools.

664 Black 3rd Graders tested in Math

134  exceeded Reading Standards. 

225 met standards

282 tested below standards

120 of the the 282 are well below standard

Math Outcomes for Seattle Black Students Third Grade 2010 - 11

685 Black 3rd Graders Tested in Math

52 Exceeded Standards

236 Met Standards

428 tested below Standards

246 of the 428 are well below standard

Actually, African American children are much more intellectually proficient than the tests given reveal. Place the same children who are failing in a setting with high expectations and within a short time they excel academically and socially. How they are in African American cultural systems far exceeds what the standardized tests reflect. It is not because we have lower standards; conversely our expectations for our children fare exceed public schools.
When children are seen as incapable or with lesser ability they will not be taught to excellence.

It is well known by researchers that children entering 4th grade without a grade level proficiency as readers have  problems moving forward in their academic development.  Kids at Risk Action writes about this in their Report on Invisible Children. They report that the solutions we fund are not working effectively for the children these funds are established to help. 

The solutions that come from community partners have the greatest positive impact on our children and their families. Knowing this, the manager of Title I funds (Federal) and Family and Education Levy funds (local)  should totally reverse their funding allocations and processes. Currently a disproportionate amount of these funds are awarded to organizations not seeking solutions from among African Americans or any communities of color. Their solutions are well packaged but lacking in making the kinds of significant differences these children need. The Family Support Workers Program works well for families because most are from the communities they are serving. While the favored and well funded math enrichment program Explorations in Math is missing the boat on bringing African American and children who need enriched learning to proficiency or excellence. While they receive funding for math African American parents and students have found their way to the Saturday Math Academy located in SE Seattle. Children taught by its founder and teacher Norman Alston are known to show elevated understanding of math with African American, Latino and Pacific Islander children as young as 8 years old grasping algebraic concepts.  Their parents learn enough along with their children to not teach them math but to support them by knowing ways to apply what their children are learning.

A Real and Recent Example 
Our family attended a Math and Science Fair for elementary children with our grandson. The gym was filled with non white children. It was funded in part with Title I funds. A Partnership made up Pacific Science Center and Explorations in Math. Without apology or shame they placed before these children of color about 12  white presenters to entertain children and parents with math and science activities. They want the children to know that yes, they too can one day be scientists and mathematicians. These presenters most likely do not really believe this to be true. If so their colleagues would be the many existing non white science and math professionals who live and work among us. One adult participant said that if they can not find even one math or science major at UW who is Asian American they really are not looking. 

If the Pacific Center and Explorations in Math will not solve their problem with diversity in hiring, they should not be able to use public funds because children deserve to be exposed to many cultures in this country where European Americans the minority residents in America. To use our children's funds for the benefit of employment for those living outside of their communities, and beyond their daily reach is wrong. This is the lack of achievement that adults present and that creates the Achievement Gap. I am sure that Technology Access Foundation with instructors who look like the children who need math, science and Technology enhancement would connect better with brown and black children.

So we place our children to  public schools that fail to elevate their brilliance because our public schools are accessible and affordable for families of non privileged children. Public schools are the basis of our democracy because they create the working class.  This is what public schools were established to do that is not bad, but they no longer are doing a good job at that. The new jobs require an intellect different from that of factory workers. How do we prepare children for a technical work place when teachers fear the use of technology in teaching their students?

Our children are learning what they are being taught, if they are not being taught to be successful, they will struggle by nature to get to that place. When they are labeled as failures, when the local media places them on the front page as the subject of failure rather than the victims of low achieving adults they lose self esteem.  Next Year let the headlines either be African American students are surviving a system designed for their collective failure, or maybe. Seattle Public Schools again fail to educate African American student for equity and Excellence.

Thank you for reading my blog. I hope that you got something from it that you can use or apply in your own interest and caring for a child's right to a free, public and effective education.

Dawn Mason, M.Ed, PhD (hc)
Founding Director of Parents for Student Success

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