Black educators are not immune from implicit bias
When I thought to write this blogpost, I was preparing to bombard the reader with a host of studies, research and data to prove my point. There is so much information on implicit bias that it was becoming overwhelming; so, I thought, why not allow the reader to employ simple common sense. Oh…I know we have been told that common sense is not common, but, what the heck…let’s give it a try.
This past month, I sent over 100 messages to various elementary and secondary schools in Indiana to invite them to take part in a professional development workshop series entitled When Race Enters the Room: The role of race in the classroom. These schools have a student population that is predominantly African American and some also have their fair share of Latino students. Certainly, I was concerned with the demographics of the teaching staff and the leadership, but, nonetheless, I believed all schools needed the workshop based on my studies.
Imagine my surprise when I received messages from the schools with a staff that matched their student population. They said the workshop series was not necessary because their teachers were Black or Latino. Really? ‘You believe you have it all under control, do you?’ was my thought. This type of thinking is unfortunate because implicit bias and warped perceptions do not discriminate.
So, common sense should now prevail. Implicit bias and prejudices are a fact of life and virtually impossible to escape; but, this is how it works. We believe that White people and others are affected by the negative images that are seen in the media and the history books. Do we really believe that Black people are immune to these negative images?
I have come in contact with a host of Black and Latino teachers who have low expectations in the classroom or who are reluctant to implement a culturally competent curriculum. Their belief is that the African American dialect is not proper. To say that it is not proper is to degrade the culture of the student. Certainly, the dialect is proper in the appropriate context. It may not be universally accepted, but it fulfills its purpose. According to Britannica, communication serves five major purposes: (1) to inform, (2) to express feelings, (3) to imagine, (4) to influence, and (5) to meet social expectations. In certain settings, the African American dialect satisfies these conditions; whereas, Standard American English (SAE) does not.
Let’s take this a step further and examine history. If you are a history teacher, regardless of your race, that used the term “worker” I place of “slave,” you need to sign up for this workshop. If you have plastered your classroom walls with the usual African American suspects…you know the ones…Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Jackie Robinson, Frederick Douglas, etc. etc. …please enroll in the class that offers cultural competent strategies and culturally correct information. You see, Jackie Robinson was not the first African American to play in the Majors and Rosa Parks was certainly not the first African American to refuse to give up her seat. If you are teaching this information, it is critical that you learn the truth so you can spread the truth.
We all have implicit biases and prejudices and to acknowledge them is the beginning of transforming your perceptions. In the classroom, this transformation is crucial when accessing these young impressionable minds. I recall my first assignment as a principal and we had to conduct a perception survey. Eighty-five percent of the teachers believed the students were incapable of learning. This survey took place at a school with a predominately African American population with a fairly diverse staff. It stands to reason that it was not just the White teachers who had come to this unfortunate conclusion.
As an educator, I consider it a privilege to be allowed to access and mold the minds of our future leaders. I take nothing for granted and I seek to improve not only my skill set and content knowledge, but also to evaluate my behavior in the classroom and how it affects the students. I have acknowledged my own biases and will continue to work with others to do the same for the sake of our young people.
Do a self-check at this point. In your math class, you have a White student, a Latino student, a Black student and an Asian student. Which student do you expect to excel over the others? Do not run to your politically correct response. Be honest with yourself. If you are the type of teacher who is genuinely interested in the academic success and positive social and emotional development of all students, you will answer honestly (the Asian student) and you will commit to acknowledging your biases and adjusting your behaviors in the classroom.
Choices with no guidance is a recipe for disaster
It is the early morning hours on a Monday morning and I am ready to start work at 5:30 am. I open my email and the first message I receive is from EdWeek, highlighting an article about U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ commitment to school choice. Apparently, she was in Indiana this past week, pushing her agenda on school choice and vouchers. But, this article is not about DeVos. In that article, the word that grabbed my attention is choice; however, there is a missing adjective-informed choice.
Selecting a school for your child is critical to their academic success and their social and emotional development. The experience can be pleasant and deliver great results; but make the wrong choice and you might have to take blood pressure medication. It is stressful!
Nowadays, parents are faced with more options than I had when my daughters were ready for school and certainly more than when I entered the traditional education system; but, the lack of access to information continues. At face value, providing parents with a plethora of options may sound admirable and promising, but, in fact, it simply adds to the confusion. More choices and no information or guidance is a recipe for disaster.
So, let us set aside the discussion around these different methods of educational reform because it is a distraction. Adding more choices is not the immediate answer to educational reform. Helping parents to understand their choices is the most sensible solution. We need to refocus our efforts and provide parents with the proper tools to make the appropriate decisions for the sake of their child’s education.
So what are the proper tools and what information is needed to make an informed decision? Well...stay tuned for my next post and I will answer those questions.
Increased enrollment does not guarantee an increase in academic performance
Since the historic May 17, 1954 decision of Brown versus the Board of Education, Topeka, KS, there has been an ongoing controversy about school desegregation. The purpose of this ruling was to give equal access to high-quality education to all students. But, there are still unanswered questions. What elements determine the level of quality? What factors are necessary to ensure the instruction received is high-quality? Why aren’t all schools offering a superior educational experience for all children? What happens to the young people who remain in schools that are performing poorly?
The recently released summary of the Indiana University’s Center for Evaluation & Education Policy study conducted on school segregation confirmed that schools are not segregated based on their boundaries; rather, it is due to residential patterns. People will reside where they desire; and if the choice is to live in an area with others who share their culture and/or ethnicity, they are free to exercise this option and they are doing so. The purpose of the study was to explore how Indiana’s demographic shifts were affecting the demographics of Indiana schools.
So, here we are…the key findings of the IU study are quite simple:
Dr. Dan Lichter, a professor at Cornell University and the director of the Cornell Population Center went a few steps further than the IU study and conducted a study, but on segregation and neighborhoods in the United States in 2015. His findings determined that neighborhood segregation (micro-segregation) is in fact declining; however, it is increasing overall in cities and suburban communities (macro-segregation).
A quick review of Indiana’s population map by zip code confirms the findings of Dr. Lichter. According to the 2010 U.S. Census Bureau, 62% of all African Americans in Indiana (African Americans are only 9% of the Indiana population) can be found in just two counties-Lake County and Marion County. Certain cities in Indiana, such as Gary, Fort Wayne, Evansville and Indianapolis have multiple zip codes in which the African American population is greater than 50%. It might be rather difficult to desegregate schools in which the population of the city is overwhelmingly African American.
To not necessarily desegregate, but assure African American students had equal access to high-quality programming, as reported by the Chalkbeat last month, the Indianapolis Public School system has adjusted its enrollment policy for admissions to high-performing magnet schools to increase minority enrollment and it appears to be working. Multiple lotteries will be offered in January, March and April and 50% of the seats at these high-performing schools will be reserved for the later lotteries so people of color can have a fair shot at admission because they usually apply late, according to IPS. Let me be clear. What is working is that the enrollment of minorities is increasing, not the performance.
With the current plan of IPS, perhaps we will have more minorities will have greater access, but is that the answer for achieving greater academic gains for these students? With the overrepresentation of Blacks, especially Black boys, in special needs and the low presence of African Americans in Advanced Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate (IB) or Gifted & Talented (GT) programs, it is doubtful that there will be a significant increase or improvement in academic performance. Much attention has been given to the academic needs of the students, but without consideration of the impact of certain other factors on their academic growth:
Certainly, more African Americans are receiving high school diplomas today than they were before the Brown ruling; however, the question of the quality of education remains when college remediation statistics are reviewed. The Center for American progress reports that 56% of African Americans and 45% of Latinos enrolled in college take at least one remedial course.
Changing enrollment policies may seem like an answer; however, it will take more than a student of color sitting in a seat at a high-performing school to see academic improvement. As we think about those who teach our students of color-greater than 80% of public school educators and administrators are White-we must insist on improved and more frequent cultural competency training for all educators which include focusing on cultural intelligence and racial literacy, training for strategies that infuse the African American culture into the curriculum, a greater understanding of the African American dialect and even a willingness of educators in urban districts to engage in difficult racial conversations in an effort to transform perceptions.
So, we can remain loyal to the study of segregation and the fight for integrated schools, but the evidence continues to demonstrate these efforts are misplaced and somewhat futile since residential patterns cannot be dictated. In an ideal world, busing students, redrawing the lines of school districts and changing enrollment policies should not be necessary if the goal is to properly educate all children. We need to begin by implementing improved teacher preparation programs that include cultural competency for all teachers and the recruitment of more minority teachers. The fact remains that all children in every school deserves a quality education and anything less should be considered shameful.
Tamiko Jordan has worked in the field of education as a K-12 Spanish teacher, a principal and an educational consultant for the past 20 years. She has also served as an executive in youth development and is the founder of Beyond the Gap.