Howard County Maryland Blog

Local Politics and Current Events

Education Reform Meets Race

Posted by bsflag2007 on Thursday, December 14, 2006

The African American Association of Howard County held a forum a couple of years ago for BOE candidates. One topic that needed to be addressed was the “minority achievement gap” – a serious problem to be sure.

It was a sadly enlightening meeting for me.  Until then, I had not really understood one of the most significant obstacles to progress on that front.  It was more than a lack of a cohesive vision for action. It was clear that various factions within the African American Community and the Education Reform Community are deeply divided when it comes to proposals to address the African American achievement gap — with views and agendas that are often diametrically opposed.

A new panel report is out — see article in Baltimore sun:,0,2634257.story?page=1&coll=bal-home-headlines

Apparently my observations were not unique. This report approaches the issues head on, and will likely create some controversy. Why? “Unlike many education proposals, the report acknowledges the “inextricable connection between a child’s emotional well-being and his academic success”

This fairly basic concept seems to raise the temperature in the room. At one meeting, the notion that home environments and emotional well being were related to academic performance was met with near rage and at least one comment that defied logic (imho) —- an education advocate who was insisting that “expectations” were the key to closing the achievement gap said “it doesn’t matter if there is food in the home, or a parent in the home … teacher expectations are the important factor….”

The fact that this report includes recommendations for programs outside of school and at home in order to help address education issues is not only potentially controversial — but Extraordinatry in the literal sense.

the following is a summary with limited commentary:

“A task force of 45 educators, business leaders and union officials met for two years to prepare a report intended to address a persistent problem in academic achievement for black males in the state.””Many of the study’s 18 recommendations would be expensive to implement and would require action by local school districts. Panel members would not predict the likelihood of their proposals becoming reality, and many said the findings would need strong advocates if they are to be followed.” (sun article)

(I have a sense for how likely these recommendations are to find strong advocates — no wonder the panelists would not make a prediction.)

Some current recommendations:

-“stop placing large numbers of black males in special-education classes, ”

-“stop sending them home when they are suspended instead of providing constructive punishment inside the school.”

– “more single-sex classes inside regular schools”

– “increase the number of [targeted] students who take PSATs and Advanced Placement classes.” (while I agree it is important to make sure that all kids are encouraged to achieve to their highest abilities — the data that fuels this recommendation are often misinterpreted to feed the “expectations are the MOST important factor” theory which, I fear, leads to a “throw them into the hardest classes without enough support and see if they sink or swim” experiment.)

– any black male who has behavior or academic problems should be given an advocate who can listen to him and intercede on his behalf.

-Placing more qualified teachers in the lowest-performing schools.

-Improving school-based mental and physical health care.

-Greater funding for schools in correctional facilities.

Recommendations for Outside of school:-

– Providing better child care for young children.

-fund programs that find black men to mentor boys. But when black men cannot be found, a mentor of a different race is better than no mentor.   (Interestingly, the report suggests turning to ex-inmates in order to help the former offenders reconnect to the community in addition to providing father figures for young children. Well… I have suggested Bold and Creative….)

the report says :

“Maybe it is counterintuitive to put children and ex-offenders together. And maybe it’s exactly what each one needs. The ex-offenders might offer lessons in the mistakes they have made in their lives to those boys growing up in the same neighborhood, it said.” (Well – I’d have to agree with the “counterintuitive” comment — but here’s to an open mind.)

And finally, the part of the equation which can be at once insulting and obvious — hard to argue with, but a significant bone of contention:

“They also recognize that black families must take their part in the change.”

“There is a cultural dimension, and that cultural dimension is going to be harder to get at,” said state school board President Edward L. Root. “It can’t be done by the schools alone.”

I believe that is true. The schools cannot do this enormous job alone. And, as well intentioned as it may be, NCLB does not adequately account for these other factors in its’ equations for “holding the schools accountable”.

The community has also been unrealistic in holding schools accountable. The problems afflicting young black males in America are not solely the fault of the school system, nor can the school system possibly cure the problem alone. It is, however, in a unique position to gather the population, diagnose problems and dispense aid.

very respectfully submitted,

cindy vaillancourt

4 Responses to “Education Reform Meets Race”

  1. Tina said

    As a mother of a 16 year old AA male in need of supportive services in education, I just wanted to say that it was a pleasure reading this posting. I have also worked in the foster care system for a little under 10 years and all I can say is that I finally understand the power of a stable Black male (father) and a supportive female. The children need a community that is knowledgeable and supportive. I have fought and fought the school system for my son, however, I realize that he was the most successful when he had two parents instead of just one. The educational system in Baltimore is tough on everyone from the teachers to the students. Teachers either do not have resources or they are unaware of them. No one seems to know anything. Everyone simply seems miserable, however the children are the ones that loose out in the end.

    Again, thanks for posting! It was as if someone was reading my mind.

  2. that is the nicest thing to hear, thank you so much. cindy v.

  3. Andy Dufresne said

    Howard County Board of Education is failing it’s better students in order to allow minorities, specifically African Americans, to close the so-called achievement gap. There is not as much emphasis on AP and IB course work and success AP testing because the county is holding down the scores of its better students, so African Americans will not have so much ground to make up.

  4. The interesting thing to me is that the perception continues to be that the “achievement gap” is solely race based…. and it may be more statistically true in other places — but here, in HoCo, the “gap” runs along lines that are significantly economic.

    In other words – it’s the “poor kids” who are not achieving at the same pace as their more affluent counterparts….without much regard to race.

    I believe this is a fundamental obstacle in effectively addressing the situation.

    I suspect that if we could start looking more at the effects of poverty instead of focusing on the question of race quite so much — some of the chronically missing pieces might start falling into place.

    Cindy V

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