Sunday, July 21, 2013

Wide diversity gaps in Fayette's advanced high school programs

Fayette must give access to more college-bound black students

This from the Herald-Leader:
"We have an emergency on our hands," Fayette County Public Schools Superintendent Tom Shelton wrote in his preface to the district's Equity Scorecard, an annual report detailing the achievement gaps among students of different race, gender, socioeconomic status, special need status or native language.

And he's right.

Though FCPS should be commended for releasing information beyond the requirements of the law, the truths remain disheartening: a 41-percent gap in college readiness between white and black
students, a 39-percent gap in reading scores between students qualifying for free or reduced lunch and those who don't, and a suspension rate 15 times higher for black students than their Asian peers.
While those gaps understandably draw the most attention, there is also serious underrepresentation of the brightest minority students in some of the system's most prestigious high school programs. Billed as academically elite, the programs provide challenging classes, increased resources and focused teaching. Increasingly, they appear to be islands of white privilege.

Often highly instrumental in preparing students for postgraduate success, the accelerated programs and their admissions criteria deserve the attention of not only the school district but also parents and community leaders. Admissions policies operate as gatekeepers for success — and many minority students are missing their chances.

The Herald-Leader reviewed the previous year's enrollment data for the School for the Creative and Performing Arts and Pre-Engineering programs at Lafayette High School, the International Baccalaureate program at Tates Creek High School, the Spanish Immersion program at Bryan Station High School, the Math, Science and Technology Center at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School and the Liberal Arts Academy at Henry Clay High School.

Five of the six programs were at least 70 percent white, even though whites account for 62 percent of all high school students. Black students account for less than 10 percent of the enrollment in these programs, despite constituting a quarter of the student body.

About one in seven white students participate in these accelerated programs. For Asians, the rate is much higher — about one in three. For black and Hispanic students, it is less than one in 20.
And half of all high-school students qualify for free or reduced lunch, but such students make up only 11 percent of the enrollment in these programs.

These shocking symptoms emerge from deep causes. Michael Dailey, FCPS associate director for magnet programs, cited both simple unawareness and stringent academic standards for admission, often requiring students to score in the 96th percentile in standardized testing.

Shelton sees those rigid requirements as exacerbating the disparities. "In my personal opinion, education in general focuses too much on testing and assessment. And so, I don't think these programs are any different from that," he said.

By either softening these stiff barriers or expanding alternate programs for advanced education, such as the recently launched Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics (STEAM) Academy, FCPS could provide advanced education for the minority and low-income students most in need of a strong education.

The STEAM program, chosen by lottery only, will provide high level science and arts classes to participating students. Shelton sees the program on a new trajectory for gifted and talented education that places less emphasis on admission requirements.

He contends that any student, when given the proper supporting framework, can meet the challenge meted out by more difficult coursework.

A growing percentage of minority students — nearly 15 percent — are already enrolling in advanced placement or college-prepatory classes. Rather than preeemptively limiting the chance for educational growth, why not provide an opportunity to prove their capabilities?

"When we create opportunities for students and when we raise the expectations for students and we have the right relationships with them, they will rise to the occasion," Shelton said.

The school system is rightly conducting internal reviews and seeking desperately needed community support to alleviate these lingering inequities. Shelton said he recognizes that "the No. 1 issue is making connections."

And those necessary connections would be aided by diversifying the district's teacher pool, which is close to 90 percent white. Strong relationships between students and teachers are needed to loosen the unrelenting circles of poverty and lack of access that unfairly consign vast swathes of youngsters to a status that diminishes their potential.

School officials say they are expanding efforts to reach parents through churches and other community institutions. Staff are sifting through testing data to help identify students as gifted and talented whose potential might otherwise go unnoticed.

Some children are blessed with involved parents. But we cannot be blind to those who are not — those most in need of helpful intervention. Absent that, the disparities and inequities will be long-lasting and more severe.

And, as the , the status quo is not just inadequate — it is an emergency.


Anonymous said...

While this is incredibly alarming and must be addressed, it must also be pointed out that the gaps in special education are the widest in the school system. That's why the whole Kathy Dykes fiasco matters because it has gotten worse under her watch!

Anonymous said...

Would any parents be interested in getting together in forming a sepecial interest group to picket Central Office? The special education department is not being held accountable. Dykes must resign in order to move forward. If so, speak up! We can set up a time and a place. Of course, a permit must also be secured. This would be sure to get the eye of the Board Members.

Anonymous said...

I read this article and just shake my head. I am pretty sure that the Supreme Court just ruled that you can't give preference based on race unless under some yet to be identified pressing condition exists - but that element was left pretty vague. THen at the end of the article the superintendent implies that the school system will endeavor to overcome short comings in parenting which it seems he is implying cause this gap. Wow school system is going to either take responsibility for parenting gifted kids or teaching gifted kids parents to do a better job? Now is that just for minority kids' parents, gifted kids of all races or all kids within FCPS whose parents the system feels are ineffective?

So if you are using student academic performance as the "gate" how does that discriminate since we are suppose to be identifying based on ability within that specific program of services? I really bugs me that they can write off Asians or even describe them as over represented as a minority but ring their hands over black and Hispanic kids.
Equally, it is hilarious that the new STEM HS process of selection via lottery is seen as having better chance of ensuring diversity. So we should rely upon chance over any sort of planned organizational intervention? What?

Then somehow the superintendent or other person start down the path of a lack of diversity among teachers. And who controls that? So if we had more diverse racial composition of teachers minority students would perform better? Really? Sounds like a step back toward segregation to me where we try to keep minority kids with minority teachers.

Year after year research shows us that SES and educational level of a student's mother are the strongest predictors of a student's performance. One can see that this entire "gap" conversation is as much about politics and media theater as it is about any problem which the school system can address. Just drop this same frame down in Appalachia where less than 5% of the population is minority and you have the same issues without even talking about race.

How does a system identify and intervene in a free society where parents have the freedom to screw up not only their own lives but those of their children though intentional or unintentional behaviors?

Anonymous said...

I am a teacher, and I read the above post. At first I thought the commenter was too pessimistic, but the he expressed my biggest frustration in the concluding sentence.

At FCPS all students are supposed to achieve at high levels, but when they don't, who it to blame. Under Silberman and Shelton, the teachers became the demons. Sometimes are moderator will point his finger in my direction, too. But what about these parents who "screw up not only their own lives but those of their children through intentional and unintentional behaviors." My principal can't tell me what to do, Tom Shelton can't tell me what to do. I've read Silberman and he can's tell me. Perhaps Richard can....

Short of going to the home of every student not on grade level and spending an hour going over basic skills, I'm at a loss.

Anonymous said...

Call a spade a spade in the article. Once again, be a parent and take an active role in your child's education from day one.

Parents need to put aspcect of their lives on hold to ensure that their offspring will be productive members of society.

Lowering the standards is wrong on so many levels. Do you hire the best candidate for a job? A program would want the same for its students.

The numbers given in the article are roughly the same ratio as the student make up.

Parents should parent.

Richard Day said...

July 21, 2013 at 7:15: While the Supreme Court is looking toward the day when America is post-racial, it can't quite get there. Race may not be THE factor in student assignment, but it can be A factor. Vague indeed.

It sounds like everybody is following the standard playbook. Decry the conditions and praise the leader for attacking the problem.

I'm pretty sure Robin Fankhauser had better African American teacher employment rates than Stu Silberman did. But the Civil Rights leaders lacked faith in her, (and she didn't help herself) so they ran her out of town.

Stu got a pass because he employed a better rhetoric - while placing little attention on hiring African American teachers.

The H-L reflects whatever the local civil rights community favors at the moment.

At the heart of all of this is a strong resistance to the racist idea that race is determinative of academic ability, a la Charles Murray.

Defining student ability and access to programs is key. Shelton clearly understands that the present testing system is not going to yield the results he needs. So I guess it's time to change the rules of the game. By some means that the public will accept, he's got a new set of targets to hit.

Whether the H-L hangs with the story and forces the issue remains to be seen.

July 22, 2013 at 8:26 AM: You are experiencing the clash of rhetoric and reality, and in the school system, rhetoric usually wins. Not really - reality always wins - but in the short run, rhetoric drives teacher expectations. You are being asked to cure poverty - a worthy (if impossible) goal - so work hard...and good luck.

Have you heard the one about the savior teacher (or superintendent or principal) who found a way to beat the odds, overcome poverty, and without any parental help, get all of their disadvantaged kids to Harvard? That's kinda what they are looking for.

H-L thought that was what they had found in Rosalind Hurley-Richards -- A dedicated teacher who had a magic approach that would close the achievement gap. But the gaps persist.

H-L thought that was what they had found in Peggy Petrilli -- A dedicated principal who had a magic approach that would close the achievement gap. But the gaps persist.

H-L thought that was what they had found in Stu Silberman.

All of this hero worship is just not helpful.

Because the adequate education of every child is so important, our goals are set at 100%. I can't think of another field where that's true.

In baseball, if you fail 65% of the time, you're in the Hall of Fame. In public education, you're in the dog house.

Anonymous said...

All great points Dr. Day

This article is yet another element of the fear mongering which a few use to gain the spotlight (and resources) in education. You start putting your fingers in these holes in the dike, then another one pops up - immigrant/ELL acheivement or gender disparity or .... The reality is the dike is probably in better shape than it has ever been and the leaks smaller.

Like so much of media based information delivery - we sensationalize narrow, situational issues and illogically portray them as global in nature, requiring immediate, high impact intervention. (Which often never occurs but when it does usually results in a few long term benefits - as the point of attention shifts away.) I am betting this gap is no different than many others which exist in other content areas, among different grades/schools. etc - and I am also betting they have existed well before this big declaration by the supt. One should ask "why now" and "why this particular focus for comparison".

What in the heck is "gifted" anyway other than another fabricated characteristic which has become over blown and socio-politicized to the point that its truest essense doesn't even exist anymore. All parents want this to be Lake Woebegone where their child is above average. I am a parent and I have been an educator for a couple of decades but in that time I have been exposed to a few thousand students and I don't think I could genuinely identify more than a dozen as truly "gifted" intellectually. I have known a lot of smart kids and a lot of hard working kids but they weren't "gifted". Maybe we should not be wasting our time worrying about gaps in gifted programs and look at how all kids are being served instead or better yet just identify all kids as "gifted" and teach them as "gifted".

Everyone wants a magic fix-all potion but it doesn't exist, so different folks jockey for the spotlight crying wolf and making promises about the virtues of their "new" frame. If given enough attention and credibility by "experts" we get a new set of approaches and products in response.

Anonymous said...

The achievement gap among different racial or ethnic groups is unfortunately true. However, talented people come in all colors. The USA needs to identify, support and nurture all talented people to stay competitive in today's World. The USA seems to be in a perpetual need to import medical doctors, engineers and scientists from abroad. My guess is, however, that not for the lack of domestic talent.

The most important thing is, though, what do we do about it? We should not try to fix a wrong with another wrong.

The gifted and talented education system in Fayette County is a success story, and I believe that it will serve as a template for future programs elsewhere. The children in the G+T program are carefully identified through testing that is fully accessible to ALL kids IRRESPECTIVE of race or ethnicity. If certain ethnic or racial groups appear to be underrepresented among the successful applicants, we need to CAREFULLY investigate its reasons. My guess is that the lack of parental involvement, unsafe neighborhoods, the lack of positive role models, the lack of access to early childhood education, gang "culture", gang ideals and the lack of meaningful after-school activities are among top reasons. THIS is where we can make a difference. We can also specifically instruct teachers to focus on the identification of talented children who are at risk of underperforming because of external circumstances. Basically, we need to move in the resources in early stages of the school system so that by the time of highshool or college applications, gifted and talented but poor kids can have a fair chance of qualifying for the programs.

To fix the gap, forcing kids into the program without demonstrated ability and knowledge, setting up racial/ethnic quotas (which, by the way, itself can be interpreted as racism) or lowering the standards of the program would all harm the successful G+T program of Fayette County. Social engineering at its worst is not the answer. I simply do not believe that Rev. Martin Luther King (who is an inspiration for me and whom I admire) himself would see it as the way to go forward.

Lowering the admission requirements on an ethnic/racial basis is also wrong. I, for one, would be offended if a lower test score would be expected from me based on my race or ethnicity.

If we want to help deserving, talented but underserved or possibly threatened kids, we should do it by lifting them up, not by pushing high achievers down or by handicapping talented kids. The forced equalization within society by taking away from successful and highly productive people had already been experimented with in socialist countries, and the result was disastrous. Leveling the playing field by making it bleak for everybody is NOT the solution.

Why don't we question the racial composition of sports teams? Because it would be absurd. But it is just as absurd to admit unprepared and/or not gifted kids into G+T programs only because their racial or ethnic group is underrepresented in the program. The result would be the automatic slowing down of the education of all the rest of the class.

In Kentucky, a large number of "white" kids live in poverty and share the same problems which plague the lives of many African-American and Hispanic kids. Whereas color is only skin-deep, poverty is not. Single-mindedly focusing on color and ignoring socioeconomics is a gigantic mistake. We should focus on socioeconomics instead of racial affirmative action if we ever want to make race irrelevant in this country.