Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Achievement Gap and Civil Rights

Is a dropping percentage of African-American teachers in urban areas contributing to THE DREADED ACHIEVEMENT GAP?

An article in the Philadelphia Daily News (posted at Norms Notes) states:

The percentage of African-American teachers is declining, and now stands at its lowest point in decades.

And students are suffering as a result, a growing body of research shows. One national organization found that increasing the percentage of black teachers is directly related to closing the so-called achievement gap - students of color lagging behind white peers.

Now, I'm always suspicious when I see the words "a growing body of research" without citing the actual study, as is the want for so many ideologues who talk about "studies" that debunk the benefits of low class size or how teacher quality is the most factor (without defining what the words "teacher quality" mean) or the 45 teachers used in a "major" study that claiming that Teach For America teachers outperform other teachers.

However, this throws an intriguing element on the table when the EEP Klein/Sharpton acolytes talk about the AG being "the civil rights issue of our time." Sure. Let's have a civil rights movement in education, but leave African-American teachers behind. Hmmm. Do we need a federal No African-American Teacher Left Behind? Let's see: NAATLB. Not bad. Just trying saying it 10 times real fast.

Teachers in NYC, led by my Independent Community of Educators colleague Sean Ahern, have been harping on this issue for years. Sean talks about the "whitening of the teacher staff." In NYC where numerous Teach for America recruits have entered the school system, it was pointed out to me the other day that TFA does not recruit at the City University of New York, where they might actually tap into a source of many students of color.

In fact, due to Sean and some other ICE'ers, ICE will be discussing the issue at this Friday's meeting (see the ICE blog for details if you want to come down and jump in.) Ed Notes has reported on the dramatic drop in the percentage of new hires of African-Americans (from 28% to 15%) in the BloomKlein years (here, here and the black educator blog.)

I support the concept of diversified teaching staffs. All kids should be exposed to teachers of different backgrounds. White kids should have enough black teachers so they don't come to see the world in a narrow framework. African-American kids should not see only white teachers. But does such exposure make a major difference academically?

I have never bought into the idea that having teachers of the same race has an enormous impact. My school had many African-American teachers and there did not seem to be much of a difference in terms of student performance, behavior, etc. Some were great teachers. Some not so great. About the same ratios as Hispanic and white teachers. But that was a very small sample.

There were entire districts (16 for instance in Bed-Stuy in Brooklyn) that under community control from 1968-2002 hired enormous numbers of Black teachers, to the extent that there were whispers that white teachers were not welcome in some schools. While there are many factors involved, the performance of students in District 16 was generally abysmal. And friends who taught in District 16 reported the same kinds of impact I saw in my school.

On a larger stage, while I don't have any figures, the Washington DC school system supposedly has a majority of black teachers and has been lambasted for poor performance. That adds an interesting (and surprisingly unreported) backdrop to the current attack on DC teachers and their union by Michelle Rhee and Mayor Fenty, who is black. Is there an undercurrent of an attack on civil rights going on - for teachers?

I'm open to hearing all points of view on this issue. Expect a spirited debate at the ICE meeting tomorrow. I think I'll wear a helmet.


  1. Yes, there is an ongoing attack particularly on teachers' civil rights. Elements of the following points are occurring in NYC and nationwide. I'm sure any reader of this blog will recognize them:

    The 14 points of Fascism:

    Powerful and Continuing Nationalism

    Fascist regimes tend to make constant use of patriotic mottos, slogans, symbols, songs, and other paraphernalia. Flags are seen everywhere, as are flag symbols on clothing and in public displays.

    Disdain for the Recognition of Human Rights

    Because of fear of enemies and the need for security, the people in fascist regimes are persuaded that human rights can be ignored in certain cases because of "need." The people tend to look the other way or even approve of torture, summary executions, assassinations, long incarcerations of prisoners, etc.

    Identification of Enemies/Scapegoats as a Unifying Cause

    The people are rallied into a unifying patriotic frenzy over the need to eliminate a perceived common threat or foe: racial, ethnic or religious minorities; liberals; communists; socialists, terrorists, etc.

    Supremacy of the Military

    Even when there are widespread domestic problems, the military is given a disproportionate amount of government funding, and the domestic agenda is neglected. Soldiers and military service are glamorized.

    Rampant Sexism

    The governments of fascist nations tend to be almost exclusively male-dominated. Under fascist regimes, traditional gender roles are made more rigid. Opposition to abortion is high, as is homophobia and anti-gay legislation and national policy.

    Controlled Mass Media

    Sometimes the media is directly controlled by the government, but in other cases, the media is indirectly controlled by government regulation, or sympathetic media spokespeople and executives. Censorship, especially in war time, is very common.

    Obsession with National Security

    Fear is used as a motivational tool by the government over the masses.

    Religion and Government are Intertwined

    Governments in fascist nations tend to use the most common religion in the nation as a tool to manipulate public opinion. Religious rhetoric and terminology is common from government leaders, even when the major tenets of the religion are diametrically opposed to the government's policies or actions.

    Corporate Power is Protected

    The industrial and business aristocracy of a fascist nation often are the ones who put the government leaders into power, creating a mutually beneficial business/government relationship and power elite.

    Labor Power is Suppressed

    Because the organizing power of labor is the only real threat to a fascist government, labor unions are either eliminated entirely, or are severely suppressed.

    Disdain for Intellectuals and the Arts

    Fascist nations tend to promote and tolerate open hostility to higher education, and academia. It is not uncommon for professors and other academics to be censored or even arrested. Free expression in the arts is openly attacked, and governments often refuse to fund the arts.

    Obsession with Crime and Punishment

    Under fascist regimes, the police are given almost limitless power to enforce laws. The people are often willing to overlook police abuses and even forego civil liberties in the name of patriotism. There is often a national police force with virtually unlimited power in fascist nations.

    Rampant Cronyism and Corruption

    Fascist regimes almost always are governed by groups of friends and associates who appoint each other to government positions and use governmental power and authority to protect their friends from accountability. It is not uncommon in fascist regimes for national resources and even treasures to be appropriated or even outright stolen by government leaders.

    Fraudulent Elections

    Sometimes elections in fascist nations are a complete sham. Other times elections are manipulated by smear campaigns against or even assassination of opposition candidates, use of legislation to control voting numbers or political district boundaries, and manipulation of the media. Fascist nations also typically use their judiciaries to manipulate or control elections.

    I focused on the last sentence: "Fascist nations also typically use their judiciaries to manipulate or control elections."

    What happened in 2000? Didn't the Supreme Court decide that election?

  2. It certainly did, and an oft-overlooked fact is that GW Bush actually received 100% of the African-American vote that year.


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