Category Archives: Diversity

Fundamental Education Reform in Kentucky: An Economic Imperative

I love being a Kentuckian. Our state has been blessed with unbelievable natural beauty and some of the friendliest, good-natured, hardworking people you could ever hope to meet. My wife and I thank God daily for the blessings of our Kentucky home, church family, and friends. But there remains tremendous untapped potential in our state. We have not yet become the state that we can be, that we should be. And central to our untapped potential is a public education system that while much better than it has been in generations past, is still in dire need of reform.

Kentucky has made significant strides in public education since the early 1990s. The passage of the Kentucky Education Reform Act (KERA) and other subsequent reforms have been good for Kentucky’s children. But the academic performance and employment and earnings outcomes for our low income children and children of color is drastically different from performance and outcomes for our middle income and White children. That reality is crippling our state.

Much work remains to be done to improve the education attainment, employment, and earnings outcomes for all of Kentucky’s students, but drastic improvement in performance and employment outcomes for our low income children and children of color is both a moral and economic imperative. We are a state that has for years ranked near the bottom in labor force participation. In 2015 we ranked 47th out of the 50 U.S. states and DC, with a labor force participation rate of 57.9%. We lead only Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi, and West Virginia in labor force participation. While those are fine states, we can do better. In sum, not nearly enough Kentuckians are working, and a major factor contributing to our labor force woes is our failure to equip all of our students with the knowledge and skills needed for gainful employment. That failure has in turn led to our challenges with attracting companies with high wage jobs to Kentucky, jobs that require a pipeline of skilled workers. There is no doubt about it, we have to do better.

First, there must be acknowledgement by education leaders and policy makers that current academic and performance outcomes for our students are unacceptable. Period.

Second, leaders must acknowledge that what’s happened and what’s happening in Kentucky’s public schools contributes to the current racial and socioeconomic performance and outcomes gaps. Leaders and policy makers seem content with pointing to out-of-school factors which contribute to gaps, but most leaders seem unwilling to admit that school factors have contributed to the problem as well. While our schools are not wholly responsible for the gaps, our schools have played a role and continue to play a role in the maintenance and in some cases exacerbation of performance and outcomes gaps.

The frequently heard refrain that “we’re working to ensure that all kids learn” is meaningless when what we are doing doesn’t lead to all kids learning. Leaders have talked about public schooling working for all kids in Kentucky for a long time, but low income kids and kids of color continue to be left behind. It’s past time for state and school leaders to acknowledge that what we’ve been doing in the name of all kids hasn’t worked for all kids; and begin exploring what we can do different to ensure that low income kids are learning, that Black kids are learning, that Latino kids are learning, etc.

Third, leaders must commit to fundamental change; not tinkering here and there, but fundamental change in our state’s public education system. The magnitude of socioeconomic and racial performance and outcomes gaps in Kentucky are such that tinkering with the system will get us nowhere. Fundamental reform to Kentucky’s public education system is an absolute necessity. Reform is needed in every area, from the recruitment, selection, and training of teachers and leaders, all the way to the mechanisms we use for holding schools, leaders, and teachers accountable for student learning and outcomes, and everything in between. A system that produces such disparate outcomes for different groups of children is fundamentally broken, and nothing short of large scale reform is worthy of consideration.

We can and we must reform Kentucky’s public education system to be responsive to the needs of our most vulnerable children; reform is both a moral and an economic imperative. The health of our state’s economy is dependent on our ability to better prepare all of our children for success. We cannot afford to prepare only some of our children for gainful employment, and lives as civically responsible, tax-paying citizens of our state. All Kentuckians’ futures are inextricably bound together.

New Years Resolution: Be Honest About Education 2012

As we start 2012 I propose that we all make the resolution that we begin to be honest with ourselves, and with our children, about education in America. For too long we have led ourselves and our children to believe untruths about schools, teachers, and our systems of public education. This ends for me today. For I believe the only way to move toward fixing our education uglies is to expose them. In that vein, I begin today with a exposing a few lies that we have continued to tell our ourselves and our children about education. Here are a few to get us started:

Lie #1: Schools are all about children.

The Truth: Schools are about money and adults too.
It is true that if there were no children there would be no schools. It is true that children are at the heart of many of the decisions we make in and about schools. But it is also true that P-12 education is a multi-billion dollar enterprise in every state. Thousands of adults in every state are public school employees and state public school systems spend millions of dollars every year on contracts with vendors. All this is to say that schools are also the places where lots of adults work, and many of the decisions we make in and about schools are based not on what is best for children, but on what is most convenient for adults. Whether you want to call this truth good, bad, or ugly, it remains the truth.

Is there any way around this? Would it be reasonable to say that we can get to the point where all decisions in schools are made strictly on the basis of what is best for student learning? Probably not. But it is reasonable to set the goal that children’s learning will become our top priority when making decisions. It is reasonable to say that if a decision comes down to two choices: one option being better for student learning, and the other option being easier/more convenient/more lucrative for policy makers/school leaders/teachers, the clear choice would be the option that is best for student learning. We are not currently at that place.

Lie #2: We believe all children deserve a quality education.

The Truth: We do not.
This one is a pretty obvious fabrication. If it were true we would not continue to provide lesser quality education to students based on their socioeconomic background/neighborhood. The vast majority of children in the US who live in more affluent neighborhoods have a higher quality educational experience than children who live in lower socioeconomic neighborhoods. Children in lower income neighborhoods typically attend schools with poorer quality facilities, teachers who are less able to meet their needs, and lesser quality instructional and technological resources. Many factors contribute to this reality. A few of these factors are many teachers’ preference to not teach in predominantly low income and minority schools, teacher preparation programs failing to prepare aspiring teachers to meet the needs of low income and minority students, a failure to attract candidates into the teacher profession who would serve low income and minority students well, differential school funding, and outright neglect of resources in schools that serve predominantly low income and minority students.

Lie #3: All teachers are good teachers.

The Truth: Some teachers are completely ineffective.
The claim that all teachers are effective or even that all teachers have the potential to be effective is ridiculous and is an insult to the teaching profession. High-quality teachers are highly-skilled professionials with a mastery of both the academic content that they teach and the pedagogical skill necessary to effectively deliver that content to students. It is insulting to the profession to assume not only that anyone could do this, but that anyone could do this well. Many of our current crop of teachers are not effective teachers. Some of them have no desire to become effective teachers. These teachers should be relieved of their classroom duties immediately.

Lie #4: People become teachers because they love children.

The Truth: Some teachers/principals do it for the money.
I believe that the majority of educators went into the field because they care about children, but I know very well that this is not the case for a significant minority of educators. Contrary to popular belief, public school teaching is not the worst paying job in town. Some people actually do become educators for the money. The stability and benefits that come along with the profession are attractive to some people as well. Also, it might be a little less than pleasant for the general public to find out the number of teachers that majored in education because it was easier to get into and keep a job than the field they would prefer to be in.

What about the principalship? Well, some principals make really good money (really good)! That is attractive to some educators whether they believe they would be effective at the job or not. Higher education institutions have exacerbated this problem as many education administration graduate degree programs have become diploma mills, recommending principal certification to the state for any living breathing human being who pays two years worth of tuition. Worse still, some teachers go into school administration in an effort to work less directly with children.

Please join me in telling the truth about education in 2012. Being honest about our shortcomings in education is the necessary first step toward making things better, and I really want things to get better. Our children’s future depends on it.

Happy New Year!

Racial Tensions Rise at Georgetown College (Kentucky): College Leadership Responds

After a week of mounting racial tension on the campus of Georgetown College in Georgetown, Kentucky, including reported racial slurs directed toward African American students, racist graffiti found in campus buildings, and racist comments made in a classroom setting,  the college president asked the local police department to maintain a 24-hour a day presence on the campus throughout this past weekend.

What I find positive in the midst of this unfortunate and hurtful situation is the action that the college’s administration has taken. The college’s president William H. Crouch, Jr. has taken the stance that such behavior will not be tolerated at Georgetown College and assured the college community that the perpetrators of these acts will be dealt with quickly and appropriately. While such circumstances are always unfortunate, we understand that in our society these things do still occur. But I am heartened to see leadership that stands up without hesitation to call out and condemn such behavior, act to remedy the situation to the degree possible, reassure students that the college community is one that truly values inclusiveness, and works to quickly bring the community to a place of healing. We will watch this situation as things progress.

My thoughts are with the student body as it tries to move past this last week. My hope is that leaders, faculty, staff, and students will use it as a valuable learning and growth experience. Let us now try to understand the source(s) of such hate and act proactively to avoid similar situations in the future.

Wake County (NC) School Board Votes Down Diversity Policy

In a historic vote Tuesday night, the Wake County School Board (Raleigh, NC) voted to end the district’s longstanding policy of busing to achieve diversity in its public schools; a policy which has earned the district national recognition as recently as 2009. For over 30 years, the Wake County School Board has used either race or socio-economic status as factor in making school assignment decisions. The vote Tuesday was the first of two approvals that the board will need to scrap the diversity policy and require that children begin attending neighborhood schools. The new board resolution would result in the North Carolina’s largest school district being divided into community zones, with each zone having its own magnet, year-round, and traditional calendar schools. If approved on March 23, the community zones would be phased in over the next three years. Many of the specifics of the board’s plan, however, have yet to be fully worked out.

The board’s vote was not really a surprise. Newly elected board members had campaigned on the promise of ending the district’s controversial diversity policy, with their actions Tuesday being their first steps toward fulfilling campaign promises. The board’s intentions have already resulted in the district superintendent, Dr. Dell Burns, announcing his retirement effective June 30, 2010. Dr. Burns has been a vocal opponent of the school board’s plans. 

Supporters of ending the busing policy contend that they want stability in their children’s school assignments, citing examples of children who are moved to different school throughout the course of their time in middle school or high school. They also begrudge their children having to attend schools may be on the other side of the county for the sake of maintaining diversity. Critics of the board’s decision to abandon the diversity policy argue that ending consideration of diversity in school assignment will result in the resegregation of schools in Wake County; something the school district has a long history of trying to prevent. In 1976, the Raleigh and Wake County school boards merged with just that purpose of preventing Wake County schools from becoming “white-flight” havens, and the public schools of Raleigh becoming predominantly minority schools with a disproportionately high concentrations of poverty. The board’s recent success in maintaining racial and socio-economic diversity has earned it national recognition several times over the last couple years; not to mention that the district’s diversity policy has been instrumental in maintaining its position as one of the highest performing school districts in North Carolina.

Having spent many hours discussing the issue over the last several years with good people on both sides of this issue, I do understand both sides of the debate; but I believe the Wake County School Board is making a decision that will be disastrous for the school district. I do not doubt that changes should be made to the current assignment policies to ease the burden of busing on families to the greatest extent possible. But the greater good is clearly maintaining diversity in Wake’s schools. Currently, the school district operates in such a manner that regardless of children’s race or socioeconomic status, they have the opportunity to receive a high-quality education. That will end with the ending of busing in Wake County. In the absence of the board’s current diversity policy, children who live in high-poverty neighborhoods will attend schools with the same high concentrations of poverty, and those students will not receive the same quality education that they currently receive in Wake County. Examples of the failures of high-poverty neighborhood schools are everywhere; and call me a pessimist, but the Wake County School Board has neither the answer nor the will  to make high-poverty schools work for students with any consistency. There are just too many variables stacked against high-poverty schools and low-income students, and overcoming them all would be nothing short of magical. Anyone who says anything different is naive or being deliberately untruthful. It will not work. That is why groups who oppose abandoning this policy have been so vocal, and why some citizens have at time been brought to tears; it is because they know that ending the consideration of diversity with school assignment will mean big changes in the quality of education that low-income students in Wake County receive.

It appears that convincing the new board majority that neighborhood schools will do a disservice to low-income families will not result in their deciding to keep the diversity policy. The truth is that this decision has nothing to do with the fate of low-income students. This decision to end the current diversity policy is a selfish one. It is about me, and my children, and our convenience, and the hell with everyone else. Maybe I am too idealistic, but I believe public schools are supposed to be about the fulfillment of larger societal goals too. Is that not why we invest so much government funding in them; because we believe their role goes beyond serving us individually?


Concerns Over Socioeconomic and Racial Resegregation in North Carolina Schools

School districts across North Carolina are on the verge of eliminating busing policies aimed at achieving racial and socioeconomic diversity in schools. Without those policies in place, those districts would become systems of primarily neighborhood schools which will undoubtedly be as socioeconomically and racially segregated as the neighborhoods where they stand. North Carolina Governor Beverly Perdue has said of recent initiatives across the state to move toward neighborhood schools, “It’s the most troubling thing I think that’s happened.” Governor Perdue has been vocal about her position on increasing and maintaining diversity in North Carolina’s public schools, saying “Whether it’s racially done or economically done, there has to be some kind of momentum to continue to have diversity in our schools.”

Critics of Wake County’s (Raleigh and surrounding suburbs) current policy which uses busing to maintain racial balance in schools argue that the practice does not result in traditionally under-served students receiving a higher quality education. Instead, they argue that these students are merely spread out across the school district so that their test scores don’t adversely affect any one school. According to Wake County School Board member John Tedesco, “If we have 5 or 10 percent of the children shuffled out among resources in other parts of the county, where they’re not getting the appropriate attention they need but we’re meeting some arbitrary goals, then we’re not serving those children well.” 
This can be a pretty sensitive subject, and both sides articulate and support their arguments very well. But here are some facts. A retreat from reassignment policies will result in a considerably higher degree of racial and socioeconomic segregation in North Carolina’s public schools. There’s no getting around that. Because neighborhoods are largely racially and socioeconomically segregated, the assignment of students to neighborhood schools will result in each school’s demographics mirroring the demographics of the neighborhood(s) that it serves. This scenario is not foreign to us because it is the reality in most places across the US. Most of our children today attend neighborhood schools, and there are many benefits of neighborhood schools, including sense of community, ease of parental involvement, and schools’ geographic placements making them ideal for serving as community hubs. 
But there are drawbacks to neighborhood schools as well. Neighborhood schools that serve middle and upper middle class neighborhoods typically are well-supported financially, stocked with resources, and staffed by highly qualified teachers. Schools that serve poor neighborhoods, however, typically do not have high levels of support, adequate resources, or sufficient numbers of highly qualified staff. This happens for a number of interrelated reasons. Because public education funding is dependent at least in part based on local property taxes, and the tax bases of lower income communities are smaller, the schools that serve poor communities typically operate with less funding. Lower funding results in fewer resources and lower local salary supplements for teachers. Also, some of the most qualified teachers have been less likely to apply for and stay in schools with lower pay and that serve lower income students and/or students of color. Any combination of these factors are reasons why some school boards have believed it necessary to maintain policies that racially and/or socioeconomically desegregate public schools, giving students from lower income neighborhoods opportunities to attend the same schools that children from higher income neighborhoods attend.
Maintaining diverse schools, however, has come at a cost to some families. Such policies have resulted in some children having to transfer schools, and significant numbers of children being bused to schools that are considerable distances away from their homes. There is no easy fix here. For the fundamental question that underlies this debate is what  is the purpose of public schools? This is the same question that I believe underlies the current school choice debate. It’s a tough question. Regardless of how its answered, new questions arise. Do the goals of maintaining diversity in public schools and ensuring that all children have the opportunity to attend high quality schools trump my individual desire to have my child attend my neighborhood school? Does my child have a right to a sound, basic education at the school of my choosing, or just at “a” school? These are questions that we must come to some consensus on. I highly suggest that we start to deal with these questions in a meaningful way, because it is important that we have at least similar ideas of what public schools are here for. I argue that that consensus is necessary for moving forward with education policy in a truly meaningful way.

Redistricting and Socioeconomic Diversity

Large numbers of parents attended the New Hanover County (Wilmington, NC) School Board meeting last night to protest the board’s proposed redistricting plans. The board has proposed a plan that would arrange students so that students receiving free and reduced-price lunch would not make up any more than 50% of a school’s student body. To do this, however, some students would have to be bused across the county. Some New Hanover County parents have been very vocal opponents of this plan, organizing events and even launching a website

Battles between parents and local school boards over busing are not uncommon to North Carolina. Both Wake County (Raleigh, NC) and Charlotte-Mecklenburg deal with similar issues. At issue in each debate is the question of whether school boards should play an active role in ensuring diversity, whether racial or socioeconomic. Few people today openly disparage the goal of diversity in schools, but upon realizing that diversity does not magically appear without some degree of inconvenience to some person or group, diversity’s fans tend to fall by the wayside. Because neighborhoods are not typically socioeconomically diverse, districting plans where school attendance boundaries are drawn with proximity to the school as the only consideration do not result in socioeconomically diverse schools. 
Why is socioeconomic diversity important? Well, the research is clear that students with low SES backgrounds perform at higher levels in schools with more heterogeneous socioeconomic student bodies. Additionally, it is my contention that all students benefit from experiencing diversity in schools; diversity that is a reflection of our communities and our world. 
In communities across America, we are finding that the broader collective goals of public education (achievement for all children, diversity, etc.) may at times conflict with our individual goals (best education for my child, at the greatest convenience for my family). We will continue to fight battles like the one brewing in New Hanover County until we come to some consensus on the purpose of our public schools. Are they here to serve us collectively or individually? We are seeing that we may not be able to have both all the time.
Let’s talk!

CUBE to Honor Wake County Public Schools for Diversity Efforts

The National School Boards Association’s Council of Urban Boards of Education (CUBE) will recognize the Wake County Public Schools (NC) at their annual conference in October for its continuing efforts to keep its schools diverse. Wake County Public Schools (WCPSS), now the largest school district in North Carolina, includes North Carolina’s capital city of Raleigh and its suburbs. Wake County is unique in that it is one of only a few districts nationally that uses school assignment to ensure a certain level of diversity in its schools. Because of the district’s school assignment policies and magnet programs, many students from more affluent suburban areas attend schools in the heart of the city of Raleigh, and vice versa; many students who live in poorer neighborhoods attend schools in the more affluent suburban parts of the county. As a result, schools in the district have much more socioeconomic and racial diversity than they would have if students only attended schools in their own neighborhoods.

Keung Hui, education writer for the Raleigh News & Observer made the astute observation today that it would be incredibly ironic if days before WCPSS’s superintendent spoke at the CUBE conference, critics of the district’s diversity policy take control of the school board in the Oct. 6th election. The whole situation is ironic, to use Keung’s term, to me. This isn’t the first time that WCPSS has been recognized for its efforts to maintain diversity. For his efforts, Wake’s former Supt. and architect of the district’s student assignment policy Bill McNeal was recognized in 2004 as the North Carolina Superintendent of the Year and the National Superintendent of the Year by the American Association of School Administrators. Someone on the outside might assume (as I did before moving to Raleigh) that Wake County residents are thrilled with the progress that’s been made with maintaining racial and socioeconomic balance in schools. But that is not the case for everyone. There is growing discontentment with Wake’s student assignment policies. A significant number of parents are unhappy that their children are sent across the county to schools for diversity’s sake. These parents argue that they would greatly prefer having their children attend neighborhood schools which are closer to home, making it easier for them to participate fully in school activities.

How will all of this work out? I’m not quite sure. But my hunch is that even if it doesn’t happen with the upcoming school board election, it’s only a matter of time before disenchanted parents gain enough seats on the Wake County School Board to end this policy. In my opinion which appears to also be the opinion of CUBE and the National Association of School Administrators as well, I think the policy has been good for Wake County. As both a researcher and a community member who has lived in places where the neighborhood that you live in dictates the quality of education you receive, I think WCPSS’s goal is praiseworthy. In their heart of hearts, I believe most critics of policy feel the same way. But the question for them becomes one that neither I nor CUBE has to answer, am I willing to inconvenience myself for the sake of what might be the greater good for my community.

As always, I’d love to hear from you!

Bullying & Gay, Lesbian, and Transgendered Students

The North Carolina School Violence Prevention Act (Senate Bill 526) passed its second reading in the state House yesterday. North Carolina is one of only a hand full of states that have yet to put an anti-bullying law on the books, but would be among the first to pass a bill that spells out protections for children bullied because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. The act would require school employees to report all instances of bullying, and require local school districts to develop and implement policies for responding to such incidents. Few lawmakers have questioned the wisdom of requiring school districts to respond to school bullying. However, intense and largely partisan debate has ensued in the House around the specific protections for children bullied because of sexual orientation or gender identity.

The bill states specifically that bullying and harassing behavior includes “acts reasonably perceived as being motivated by any actual or perceived” characteristics such as race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, gender, socioeconomic status, gender identity, physical appearance, sexual orientation, or disability. House Republicans argue that the inclusion of the controversial motivating factors for bullying is unnecessary, and that a bill protecting all children in the state from bullying is possible without the proposed language. State conservative analysts have assessed that including gender identity and sexual orientation as motivating characteristics in the bill would be a political victory for gay rights activists and set the stage for additional legislation including specific provisions to protect the rights of gay, lesbian, and transgendered citizens.

Conservative analysts are probably correct in their assessment that this bill’s passage would be a victory for gay rights activists in North Carolina setting the stage for activists to apply pressure in other areas. And I understand that for some, that is a threat. But the argument of Republican House lawmakers that it is possible to produce a bill that would protect all children from bullying without the inclusion of those specific motivating characteristics is questionable. Across the country, cases of bullying motivated by students’ perceived sexual orientation and/or gender identity have been ignored or minimally responded to by schools, resulting in more serious crimes committed against these young people and in all too many cases the tragic loss of life.

The language of the proposed bill says in no uncertain terms that bullying and harassing gay or perceived gay children in schools is unacceptable. Making that statement is important because for a long time our silence on the issue has sent the implicit message that it’s okay. While it still occurs, for the most part children are starting to understand that bullying or harassment based on race is unacceptable. We have been sending the message through legislation across the nation that sexual harassment will be not tolerated in our schools. Now it is time that we start to say plainly that the harassment of children because of their gender identity and sexual orientation will no longer be tolerated. Because this behavior has been ignored for so long, it is imperative that we now spell it out. Lawmakers should not allow their ideological or political stance on gay rights to stand in the way of sending the important and potentially life-saving message to children and school leaders that gay, lesbian, and transgendered children must be protected.