June 07, 2010

This is Race to the Top?

"What goes around, comes around" is what people sometimes joke about education. And it appears we may be getting that (again) in Delaware. Is the Race to the Top $100 million really going to go towards this sort of nonsense??

The question is: Given the changing demographics in our neighborhoods and the rising expectations of a global economy, are Delaware's public schools ready to meet the needs of children where they are and prepare them to be career and college ready?

We encourage the experts around the table to ensure that reform efforts include a problem-solving orientation that systematically considers cultural difference and the preparation of teachers who can connect, commit, and provide a culture of caring for diverse students and their families.

Now see if you can decipher this next paragraph:

To truly understand the students in our classrooms, it is critical we understand cultural values such as child-rearing practices, family relationships, and interpersonal communication transmitted at home that can be far different from those values that children encounter at school. This understanding is referred to as Cultural competency. Cultural competency does not mean coddling a child and ignoring the need for high expectations.

Let's put this into the BS translator and see what we find: In other words, "children whose parents spend little-to-no time with them should be 'better understood' by teachers and staff, and should not be penalized for violating the [common] values of the school -- things like no fighting, no bullying, being respectful and polite in class to one's teachers and fellow students ..."

You know what folks? We've been down this route before here in New Castle County. Yes we have. It was the mid-1990s and the state was debating whether to go to federal court to have the 1978 desegregation order lifted. On one side, however, was former governor Tom Carper and the self-proclaimed Coalition to Save Our Children -- which wanted the county to adopt a consent decree. Look at what some of the items in this consent decree were ... and see if they sound familiar:

  • The requirement of teachers to "fill out numerous forms" and "attend several conferences" before any suspension of a disruptive student could take place.
  • Suspensions in the primary grades are to be used "only as a last resort and only after and in consultation with the District Supervisor."
  • Teachers are urged to "develop greater sensitivity" to the "supposedly different cultural styles of troublesome students." Sounds an awful lot like what's going on in Seattle public schools right now.
  • Special -- "culturally sensitive" -- exams for minority students.
  • An "integrated assessment system" that provides "culturally sensitive assessments," "alternative assessments," and "performance-based assessments" that "allow students to demonstrate proficiency in different ways."
  • All teachers should develop "nonconfrontational" methods for resolving conflicts with students.
  • As an incentive for teachers to "revise their tests and approaches to teaching and discipline," a provision for a "Parent/Student Advocate" (at $175,000 per year) whose office is to be in Wilmington city limits.

The article by Deborah Wilson (president and CEO of the Metropolitan Wilmington Urban League), Paul A. Herdman (president and CEO of the Rodel Foundation of Delaware), and Howard Weinberg (executive director of the Delaware State Education Association) is printed today in conjunction with a News Journal editorial (surprise) that once again raises the supposed "bad spectre" of school suspensions, and the ethnic/racial disparity therein:

However, most of the students involved are black, Latino or those with special needs, populations with histories of discipline problems since Delaware desegregated public schools in 1978 and after it formally abandoned racial integration efforts 20 years later.

As punitive measures to protect the learning environment of students who pose no classroom distractions, suspensions and expulsions have validity.

Too often this view is seized as sort of a moral high ground, when compared to racism and the root causes of poverty.

First, Delaware (New Castle County, specifically) did not "abandon" racial integration in the mid-90s. True, the federal desegregation order was lifted then; however, the four districts that were under the court order since 1978 did not change their [desegregated] feeder patterns much, if at all.

Second, the editorial backs -- you guessed it -- "cultural competency" on the part of teachers and administrators as the "answer" to disparate discipline rates:

But cultural competency -- the subject of "Schools must meet students' diverse needs," on today's Opinion page -- is critical.

It has the potential to take the bite out of racism concerns by helping schools create effective, relevant and rigorous learning environments for minorities.

I bet that $100 million RTTT cash would be worth the price alone if someone could PLEASE explain precisely what is meant by the highlighted above. Seriously. As one commenter wrote in the first linked article, "I asked the writers of the article to give some concrete examples of their ideas." Indeed. The article notes that

Sharon Brittingham led her team at Frankford Elementary School from perennial poor performance to a nationally recognized Blue Ribbon award-winning school," and "Jack Perry is showing remarkable gains with students from the Eastside at Prestige Academy charter school, and demonstrating clearly that they can perform at the highest levels.

Great! But ... what are they doing? What resources do they have? Do they put up with a lot of BS in their classrooms? What do they do with chronically disruptive students? What are the demographics of their schools? Etc.

I'm sorry, but I've heard so much of this edu-jargon time and time and time again that the meanings of all the edu-babble get all jumbled together!

If Delaware ever wonders why it has the highest percentage per capita of its students in private schools (and/or why there's such a demand for charters), look no further than these two articles in the News Journal today. Just peruse the comments from yesterday's News Journal article on school suspensions. The DE public doesn't want pie-in-the-sky edu-babble about so-called "cultural competency" which it views as simple excuse-making. It wants straightforward, no-nonsense approaches to learning and discipline. Former DE blogger extraordinaire and new teacher Mike Matthews comments on the discipline article:

When a student has become so disruptive as to the point of infringing on the rights of others to learn, then, as a teacher and advocate for that majority of students, I feel I have the responsibility to document the bahavior I've witnessed and then have the student removed.

At several points during the year, I had students come up to me and tell me they felt their learning was being diminished because of one student's poor behavior. Where are the advocates for those kids?

And most importantly, Mike takes the News Journal to task for not even bothering to investigate very far:

It simply beggars belief to think that our schools are suspending 20% of any student body during the school year. No, what it is is the same handful of students who can't get it together who are being suspended multiple times during the school year. The News Journal needs to clarify its statistical tactics when writing an article like this. Either that or fire its computer-assisted reporting associate for not delineating the complete picture. It borders on yellow journalism when making a downright outlandish claim that a fifth of all Delaware students were suspended last year.

Bravo, brother.

Elsewhere, Kilroy has his inimitable take on the matter.

Posted by Hube at June 7, 2010 07:40 PM | TrackBack

Comments  (We reserve the right to edit and/or delete any comments. If your comment is blocked or won't post, e-mail us and we'll post it for you.)

thank gosh that that phony 'consent decree' that the pamby carper tried to push thru was thwarted...what a bunch of politically correct cultural sensitivity b.s. that was....I remember calling my local legislature on that issue and he 'had no freakin idea what i was talking about' when I mentioned my opposition to the consent decree that his governor was trying to sneak by...thank goodness we had young, energenic conservative state congressmen like wayne a. smith back then who were all over the 'consent decree' and brought its insanity to the forefront and eventually got it destroyed!!!!!
$100 million of obama federal money attached to ritt...no kidding its got leftist stuff in there! Delaware did the people of our state a disservice by even applying for this crap.

Posted by: cardinals fan at June 7, 2010 08:14 PM

Yet the good people of Delaware continue to vote for Democrats...who are beholden to the teacher's unions that perpetrate what amounts to child abuse on kids trying to get an education!

Good piece, Hube.

Posted by: Rob Miller at June 10, 2010 12:37 PM

Sounds backward to me...

We don't need to train teachers for "cultural competence" the teachers need to teach American Cukture to the students.

The Culture of Achievement
The Culture of Curtesy and respect
The Culture of individual responcebility
The Culture of self reliance

2+2=4 no matter what culture you are from.
The schools are to teach reading and writing in proper english, no matter what us spoken at home or "on the block"

Posted by: anonni at June 12, 2010 05:04 PM

my typo excuse is that I have a bandaid on my finger.


Posted by: anonni at June 12, 2010 05:08 PM