The Director’s Corner
Janice E. Hale, Ph.D.
Professor of Early Childhood Education
Founding Director of ISAAC
Wayne State University
The Director’s Corner for this issue of African American Learners is devoted to highlighting one of the presentations given at The ISAAC Public Policy Think Tank that was held on April 28, 2012. The Think Tank was devoted to providing research to educational practitioners that has, in the words of Asa Hilliard, meaningful instructional implications. Our objective is to provide teachers with research that they can immediately use in their classrooms and that administrators can immediately use in their schools to create change for African American children.
Eleven of the keenest thinkers in the fields of education, history and sociology were invited to serve as the Think Tank speakers. An important goal was to create a collaboration between scholars and scholar practitioners to bridge the gap between research and practice with the goal of enhancing the academic achievement of African American children. Each speaker was asked to respond to the Epilogue that is posted in its entirety on the Public Policy/Think Tank page of the ISAAC web site at www.isaac.wayne.edu.
In the Epilogue, I give my current thinking which is that to analyze the academic challenges faced by African American children, we need a broader concept that I am going to call a Cultural Prism. The concepts of learning style and cognitive style have become obtuse and muddied for our purposes. The nomenclature and specifics of the behavioral processes that have been identified by existing instruments make it very difficult for teachers and administrators to absorb and translate them into practice. When I originally wrote Black Children, I was seeking to develop an argument that would be heuristic and open up a fertile path of scholarship. I now feel that this perspective is diminished when it is limited to classroom pedagogy, especially because there are a panorama of components related to schooling that contribute to a child’s educational success and achievement. All are impacted upon by culture. There is a need for a Cultural Prism in developing strategies to work effectively with African American parents; design effective classroom management strategies; promote nurturing child behavior management; eliminate student push out from high school; intervene in child failure; understand distinctive patterns of performance in particular subject matter areas, on assessment measures and as mediated by gender.
Du Bois (1903) said that “The Negro is a sort of seventh son, born with a veil, and gifted with second-sight in this American world . . .” It is my position that the scholar/educator who is proficient in utilizing the Cultural Prism must be gifted with a Du Boisian first-sight, second-sight, third-sight, fourth-sight and fifth-sight which are all necessary to decode the difficulties African American children are experiencing in school. The professional who utilizes this Cultural Prism must be proficient in each area and must be able to move seamlessly between each dimension. If a phenomenon is not explained entirely by one dimension, the expert should be able to shift to the subsequent-sight for a salient hypothesis. The reason we are stuck where we are is that we have experts who can operate in only one dimension or the other and maintain that the answer is found in the only dimension they understand and with which they have commerce. This is the reason why we don’t have the luxury of only having scholars collaborating with scholars of the same discipline and practitioners working in isolation in school districts rejecting any meaningful collaboration with scholars. To construct this approach, we are going to have to create a dynamic partnership across disciplines and between scholars and practitioners.
This broader concept of Cultural Prism requires:
1. First-sight: an understanding of African and African American history, oppression and culture as a context for behavior.
2. Second-sight: an understanding of the socioeconomic exigencies of African American life.
3. Third-sight: an understanding of African American child development, learning, cultural and behavioral styles.
4. Fourth-sight: an analysis of statistics related to achievement patterns of African American children.
5. Fifth-sight: an ability to identify discrepancies in educational practice that affect African American children which constitute malpractice. These discrepancies apply to instructional practices in addition to administrative decisions.
First-sight: an understanding of African and African American history and culture as a context for behavior. While this dimension does not include race as a biological factor, it includes an understanding of racism. Any scholar who seeks to interpret the educational profile of African American children must be grounded in the history and culture of African and African American people. There can be no valid oppression-blind analysis applied to the situation of African American children. All of the ramifications of racism are included in this category.
Second-sight: an understanding of the socioeconomic exigencies of African American life.
This dimension incorporates social class considerations in interpreting the achievement patterns of African American children. This dimension is essential because of the extent to which the largest numbers African American people have emerged from and been relegated to the lower social class in America. This dimension also encompasses the need to create the science to accurately assess social class as it relates to school achievement for African American families
Third-sight: an understanding of African American child development, learning, behavioral and cultural styles. This involves a grounding in empirical research related to African American child development that is not included in mainstream texts. Black Children was a stab at trying to pull together elements of African American child development that pertain to learning. A comprehensive volume on all aspects of African American child development is clearly called for. “How to teach Black children” manuals and “How to parent Black Children” books do not fulfill this category. It is difficult to achieve a grounding in African American child development from reading bits and pieces of empirical studies distributed over an infinite number of publications. There should also be course offerings in the academy that offer a comprehensive overview of African American child development and pedagogy.
Fourth-sight: an analysis of statistics related to achievement patterns of African American children. Every educational entity has data. These data are trotted out by everyone. However, there seems to be a limitation in the ability of school districts and advocacy organizations to apply a Cultural Prismto the interpretation of these data. When there is no culturally appropriate interpretation of the achievement data and patterns, there is no subsequent creation of remedies and interventions – only hand wringing.
Fifth-sight: an ability to identify discrepancies in educational practice that affect African American children. These discrepancies apply to instructional practices in addition to administrative decisions. This dimension stems from identifying educational malpractice that is perpetrated against African American children. It is essential that educators are made aware of micro and macro expressions of such malpractice. In Hale (2001) I gave examples of micro malpractice in the episodes I reported in the treatment of my son in an elite private school. In my forthcoming book, Education in Black, I will present in detail a report I prepared as a consultant for a Texas school district that gives examples of the macro expressions of such malpractice in the treatment of African American children. In some cases, the malpractice is not intended, it is defacto, but malpractice, nonetheless.
For this column, I have transcribed the presentation of Erika D. Taylor, Evaluation Specialist, Research and Evaluation Department, Prince Georges’ County Public Schools, Upper Marlboro, Maryland. Dr. Taylor is an ISAAC Senior Fellow who will serve as Co-Editor with Dr. Marisha Humphries of the Conference on Research Directions (CORD) Conference Proceedings in 2013. Every presentation at the Think Tank was excellent. Four are available on the Think Tank in their entirety. They are also available on YouTube. Readers of this column are encouraged to review them all as well as Dr. Taylor’s presentation. The points she makes are even more poignant in a live presentation.
Dr. Taylor’s participation in ISAAC is a reflection of where we intend to go, moving forward. She is what I am calling a scholar practitioner. She is employed by a school district in a research and evaluation capacity. It is our intent to create a reciprocal relationship between her and ISAAC. It is our intent to stimulate her thinking through a discussion of the 4th sight of the Cultural Prism and to inform her work. Likewise, she is an informant who has helped us give substance to this dimension as a professional who struggles with these issues every day.
Academics are given credit and the flexibility of schedule to produce publications. That time is not built into a scholar practitioner’s schedule. The transcription of Dr. Taylor's presentation is a step toward the facilitation of putting her insights into print. I want to encourage readers of this column to use the AfroCognition blog (that you can access on the Home Page of the ISAAC web site (www.isaac.wayne.edu on the bottom right "Visit our Blog" button as a repository for your ideas and comments. This will enable us to create a Progressive Chat wherein readers can discuss an issue or register an insight for discussion. You can be assured that you will be given credit for your ideas and insights.
Also, if you have any ideas to contribute to the Cultural Prism, please comment on the AfroCognition blog (on the posting entitled "Concept of the Cultural Prism"). Submit your email address in the email submit space on the blog. In this way, you will automatically receive an email when a new comment is made. We are going to send out questionnaires for a survey to solicit ideas related to the Cultural Prism in the coming months. Send me an email containing your email address to: firstname.lastname@example.org so that I can add you to the list. We don’t want to miss you when we create our sample.
In the summary below, I will record in teal the bullet points contained in Dr. Taylor’s beautiful PowerPoint presentation. My comments and those of Dr. Hakim Rashid will be identified in the text.
Working Toward Understanding Achievement Among African-American Children:
The Relevance of the Cultural Prism
Erika D. Taylor, Ph.D.
Topic: Fourth Sight: Academic Performance Patterns; Data/Statistics
Academic Achievement & African-Students
The achievement of African American children has historically lagged behind their white counterparts
Some gaps have narrowed since 1999, but still persist (Vannerman, et. al. 2009)
This has been documented in the National Assessment of Educational progress report.
African-American males tend to fare worse than females (Vanneman. et. al. 2009) in both reading and math
Race/ethnic differences in achievement exist regardless of social class
Middle and upper middle class Black students don’t do as well as their white counterparts.
Poverty or social class does not adequately explain group differences (Craig, 2006; Ladson Billings, 1997) (Emphasis JEH)
Janice Hale: This is an extremely important point. In the 1970’s African American scholars challenged the “culturally deprived” theories of the 1960’s that undergirded the Great Society Anti-Poverty Programs. The theory of the 1960’s was that poverty was the most salient explanation for the educational difficulties of all children. This diagnosis of thecontribution of poverty to educational difficulties was attributed in a culture blind fashion. There was no attempt to pinpoint the differences in the educational expression of poverty between a low income white child and a low income African American child.
For the past 30 odd years, African American scholars have waged a battle to evaluate the educational difficulties of African American in the context of their history and culture. Now there is a resurgence in the effort to use poverty as the prism for explaining the educational difficulties of African Americans. It is important to highlight the fact that the achievement affects middle and upper middle class African American children. So, poverty is a component of the problem but not the entire prism.
Measures not accurately assessing achievement of African-American children
Measures that African American children are taking are not assessing their achievement accurately.
Question structure/wording of items on assessment measures
Sample test question
8 birds are sitting in a tree. Suddenly a hunter shoots a gun. How man birds are left in the tree?
If you responded 0, you are incorrect. The correct answer is 7 – we are to assume that one of the birds was shot, and the rest of the birds remained in the tree. Once you shoot the gun, all of the birds are going to leave the tree. The question is worded with the assumption that all of the birds will remain in the tree once they see one bird is shot. Children will get the answer wrong because the person who framed the question envisioned an answer that wasn’t representative of their reality.
Interpretation of existing data
Lack of contextually-based data analysis (i.e., understanding complexity of students’ lives – such as the role of stressful life events on what we are seeing in the data) There are stressful life events that can have an impact on the performance of African American children on assessment measures such as:
Homelessness: On a national scale, African American children are identified as disproportionately homeless
Chronic illness: There are a number of illness such as asthma, diabetes, sickle sell (lupus) that can have a significant impact on student attendance and achievement by extension. Those things disproportionately affect African American students.
High mobility: children who have had to move around a lot. This is usually an artifact of poverty and an artifact of just having financial issues. This economy doesn’t necessarily even have to be a result of poverty. It can just be linked to unstable housing issues that are linked to homelessness as well. These factors disproportionately affect African-American students.
Neighborhood safety: If a child doesn’t feel safe walking to school or walking home from school, a child is not going to go or not want to want to go. Or a parent might not feel that they are safe allowing their children out and want to keep them home knowing that they are okay. These factors have an effect on attendance and by extension have an impact on academic achievement.
Financial issues: which are by extension related to all of the above factors that can just place stress on a child simply by knowing that they exist in the home, in the household.
Interpreting Achievement Data: The Importance of the Cultural Prism
- The great thing about the Cultural Prism is that it emphasizes the importantance of context in data interpretation.
One of the shortcomings of those existing data and how those data are used is readily addressed by the cultural prism.
- It also allows for explanations of achievement that do not take a “deficit” approach to African-American students’ intellect.
The traditional approach looks at African-American children, their performance in school and their development by extension, as something that is deviant and deficient.
- It also acknowledges the influence of other contextual issues that can have an impact on test performance for African-American children like the stressful life events that we just discussed.
There is a need for more research that fully and objectively examines antecedents to achievement.
Assessment/measurement specification issues
Achievement most often based on performance on “objective” assessments used statewide
Every state is required to have a test that children take annually between grades 3 and 8. The tests are considered to be objective but might not be objective. One reason is that:
Assessment might not be aligned with the curriculum that our children are being taught with.
I used to tutor high school students. A high school tutee told me that things that were on the test were things that I was never taught and never learned. That placed her at a significant disadvantage. She got very good grades in school, yet, here was this test that asked for information she wasn’t taught.
Tests may have been normed on a population that is not representative of the students who have taken it.
When they do the pilot testing on these assessment instruments they field test them on populations of students who are vastly different from the ones who are taking the test. They might field test the measure on predominantly white students but then administer the test to a Black population.
Janice Hale: I worked with a school district in Texas to ascertain why African American children scored on standardized test measure lower than white, Hispanic, and Native American children. The team I was working with noted that because of the large Hispanic population in Texas, that the Hispanic children were at an advantage because the tests in that state were normed on Hispanic children. So, this is a very salient issue.
African-American Student Achievement in Context: An Example
- Prince George’s County, Maryland
Suburb of Washington, DC
So just to give you an example of how this can work, I am going to give you an example of how this can work. I am going to present a little bit of data and a simple analysis I have done from the Prince George’s County schools, the school district for which I work. These are data that are available publicly. I am doing a little tweaking of the date. Prince Georges County schools are located in Maryland, a suburb of Washington, D.C. One of the interesting things about Prince Georges Country schools is that it is:
One of the largest concentrations of wealthy African Americans in the US.
When we talk about the public school system, we are talking about a relatively large school system. It is 17th in the country in terms of size. It has approximately 130,000 students who are distributed throughout about 200 schools.
It is the only school district in Maryland that is currently in Corrective Action for not having met Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) under the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act. When we look at the student population ethnically and racially, we see that almost 70% of the students are African American. The next largest population is Hispanic/Latino children. Almost 5% white children; almost 3% Asian/Pacific Islanders; and then 2% multiple races and then ½ of 1% American Indian/Alaskan Native students and then the rest were considered to be Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islanders.
PGCPS Students’ MSA Reading Proficiency by Race/Ethnicity, 2011
Maryland School Assessment (MSA) is given in March of every school year to children in grades 3-8. The proficiency rate for Asian Pacific Islander Students and white students are the highest. Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander students closely follow; students of multiple races are next; Hispanic and African-American students follow. The ones who do the worse in reading are the Native American students.
For Math, the Asian Pacific Islander students do the best, followed by white students; next are Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander students; next are Hispanic students and Native American students; African Americans are lagging behind all of the other ethnic groups in math proficiency.
African American Student’s MSA Reading proficiency by Gender
Contextual issue – gender. Who is doing better than whom.
Females are performing better than males. The same story for math. The gap is not as wide for math as for reading. All differences are significantly significant.
Janice Hale: In the Texas school district data that I analyzed, there were interesting patterns in the patterns of performance between African American males and females. The girls outperformed the boys in elementary school. However, when the girls reached puberty, their comparative performance declined and fell below that of the boys. In middle school and high school, the boys outperformed the girls. This is reminiscent of the findings of Carol Gilligan who wrote In A Different Voice (1982). She found that white girls were sublimating their achievement in mathematics. They seemed to feel that excelling in Math would interfere with their attractiveness to boys. Girls who were performing on par with boys in elementary school declined in their performance when they reached puberty. It seems that this same phenomenon was at work with African American boys. This analysis underscores how imperative it is that statisticians are grounded in a panorama of literature so that they can attach meaning to the data and generate meaningful public policy. Statisticians are crunching numbers without the background to provide a salient interpretation. The result is the “hand wringing” that goes on from various advocacy agencies.
African-American student achievement in Context: Additional Considerations
- Other characteristics to consider include:
o Proficiency by grade (by both ethnicity and gender)
This is on the Maryland report card. In grades 3-6, the Prince Georges’ Country students have demonstrated 80% proficiency on standardized tests and are in harmony with proficiency throughout the state. However in grades 6-8, the proficiency rates plummet. This decline needs to be explained. Is it the transition to middle school?
Janice Hale: In my work with the Texas school district mentioned above, a pivotal issue was that African American students were performing significantly lower than the children of the other ethnic groups. I raised the question of how much math the African American children had taken by the time they took the 8th grade math proficiency test compared with white students. My team did some tallying based upon teacher records. We discovered that while the majority of the African American children were taking basic eighth grade math, a majority of the white students were taking Algebra I, Geometry or even Algebra II in the eighth grade. In my opinion, the issue was not some genetic inferiority of African American children. The issue could be rather identifying the level of math a child needed to be enrolled in at the time of taking the test to perform well on the test. The public policy solution would be to accelerate African American children so that they are taking Algebra in the 7th grade instead of the 9th grade as Dr. Taylor reported that most students begin Algebra in Maryland.
o Participation in special programs or interventions (Special Education, English as a Second Language, Free and reduced lunch)
Does participation in any of those programs have an impact. What exactly can be done with these populations to bring them along in terms of proficiency?
o Parent/caregiver data (e.g. Language spoken in the home) The more we can know about what is going on in the home will inform our efforts to figure out how to address the needs of the children in improving academic outcomes.
Janice Hale: There are language issues that affect the achievement of African American children even though they are English speaking. The National Black Child Development Institute published a book, Love to Read in which the point is made that African American children regardless of income level enter school with half the vocabulary of middle-class white children. This disparity affects their reading achievement and the gap persists throughout their journey through school.
- Alternate measures of student achievement This is something to be considered. Can other things be used to quantify what children are learning.
- Achievement data that allow for tracking individual student performance over time. This is extremely important. States are also required to give assessments. They are not vertically scaled so that we can equate a student’s performance in 3rd grade and 4th grade. This was at one time available in Maryland, but budget cutbacks eliminated this feature. This is critical in taking a look at how individual children are moving through school and achieving.
African American Student Achievement and the Cultural Prism
- Gaining a more meaningful understanding of the nature of academic achievement requires:
o Data analyses designed to “drill down”. These analyses need to be able to look at context. It may not be in motion or dynamic, but one point in time is better than nothing.
o Acknowledgement of cultural diversity within groups. All African-American children are not alike. In Prince George’s county, those who are considered to be Black or African-American are not just students of African descent who were born in this country. They include 1st and 2nd generation students from the Caribbean; there are students from both east & west Africa, students from South America; we even have students from Haiti who immigrated after the earthquake who are attending out schools. So we have a wide cultural diversity within that group that needs to be acknowledged and understood.
o Dismissal of labels commonly used to characterize student populations
I used to work at Brown University where I was doing national evaluations of magnet school programs. At our national meetings, in conversations with other evaluators, with program people and school district people, African-American students were discussed as if their lack of achievement was a foregone conclusion. If you were Black, you were not going to do well. While the people in the meeting were well intentioned and wanted the children to do well, when you come to the meeting with the assumption that this group of children are inherently inferior in terms of how they perform, how are you going to get any improvement? Another example is that our district has 130,000 students with 70% of whom are African-American. We have been characterized as an urban school district. There are areas within the county (which is very large) that are urban in a sense, but there are many areas within the school district that are rural. Calling it urban is putting it in a box in which it doesn’t belong. There are assumptions being made about the school district and the needs of the children in that school district under that label.
Janice Hale: We need to give some serious attention to the use of the word “urban” as a euphemism for Black. This attempt to avoid doing anything to benefit African American children and to make it appear that every group is being included has obfuscated the needs of African American children. A case in point is what has been done to the one course that is traditionally included in curricula of colleges of education – multicultural education in urban schools. This course emerged out of the rebellions of the sixties to include the needs of African American children in teacher training programs. Instead of it being named and defined to address the needs of African American children, the course was named to address the “urban” school, the “urban child”. Even though every other course in colleges of education was 3 credit hour, that course was 2 credit hours to limit the extent to which white students would be required to endure “courageous conversations about race.” The next step was that the textbooks began to include chapters on every conceivable disability. Anything that you could be teased about in high school was included: gender preference, physical handicap, birth order in your family, religious preference and so on and so forth. So, this course that was fought for in the 1970’s becomes a pot pourri for everyone cultural nuance that becomes so watered down that it solves nothing for anybody.
- Substantiating the value culturally appropriate pedagogy requires:
o Data that capture implementation and model fidelity
We know what is happening in the schools. We know what children are supposed to be learning. But, we don’t capture what the children are actually being taught.
o Measures that accurately capture student achievement
It is not clear that the measures we are using accurately capture any student achievement, but particularly African-American student achievement. So we really need to be clear what we mean by achievement and performance and then measure it in a way that truly captures that.
- What are other ways we can use existing data to marry pedagogy with the best academic outcomes for African-American children?
We have lots of data and lots of techniques and approaches. How can we marry those data to determine what A-A students should learn in school.
- How do we facilitate the use of effective educational practice in the current “accountability environment”?
School districts across the country have been scaling back and scaling back on things that are critically important to student achievement. Efforts to improve the performance of African American students can be tossed off if the school districts perceive that it will cost more money. I don’t personally feel that it will cost more money to improve the achievement of African American children. We already know what needs to be done. We already have it and can do it easily. How do we advocate for and facilitate these practices in those schools?
- What can we do to advocate for better data in the current economic climate?
As I mentioned, in Maryland, we at one time had vertically scaled data, but we don’t have it any more for financial reasons. How do we get the data we need.
- How can we push for legislative policies that both facilitate better academic achievement and acknowledge the unique experiences of African–American students?
Doing that is not necessarily to the detriment to other students. Helping African American children improve does not take away from other children. Parents of students who are doing well feel that helping other students will detract from the standing of these children and knock them off their pedestal. This is a topic that we have discussed throughout this Think Tank.
- She pointed out that most school districts have forsaken creative approaches to improving the performance of A-A children such as teaching to their learning styles and understanding African-American culture. The primary reason that those paths have been forsaken is because of the No Child Left Behind guidelines. School districts are trying to save their jobs. They don’t see that they have the latitude to be creative. They are under the gun and are scrambling to find the shortest path to elevating test scores. How do we create advocacy efforts that encourage school districts to pursue creative paths to improving the performance of African American children?
Hakim Rashid: What is happening to the children of the relatively prosperous African-American families? There have been stories going around for years about a low rate of achievement of children who are in relatively wealthy schools.
Erika Taylor: Unfortunately, we don’t have the data to take a look at socio-economic status within schools. One of the things we have talked about in our office is to get census tract data to do some geo-coding to superimpose census tracts to look at income and then look at the schools that students attend who have certain addresses.
Janice Hale: Multiple race children is pretty much a white mother married to an African-American male. We have to account for the influence of that white mother in the achievement of the African-American child.
Erika Taylor:90% of the children who are multiple race children are biracial African-American and white. Their data doesn’t capture whether the mothers are white.
Hakim Rashid: How are multiple race children defined?
Erika Taylor: More than one race, but most of them are white/A-A.
Janice Hale: I agree that the tests are not normed on the children who are taking the tests. They are normed on the largest population in the state. In the Texas school district I consulted with, there is a high proportion of Hispanic children and those children are the norming sample. Therefore, the Hispanic children show higher achievement on the tests that are normed on their population.
School districts are not keeping the data by race by gender. When I consulted with the Texas school district, they had data bases by gender, by grade and by ethnicity. However, the fact that they did not keep the data by gender by race meant that it was impossible to attribute any gaps in achievement to African American males or females. Without this breakdown, it was impossible to design interventions.
One issue of concern was the lower performance of African American children on the 8th grade math test. What I discovered is that the majority of the African American children were taking basic math while the white children who were performing well on the test were taking higher levels of math such as Algebra I, Geometry and even Algebra II. When that information comes to light, the issue begins to be the level of math a child needs to be enrolled in order to perform well on the 8th grade math test. My recommendation is that all children need to take Algebra in the 7th grade.
Newsweek Magazineconducted a survey and found that African American children who scored 1200 and above on the SAT test had taken honors English and Calculus prior to taking the test. The issue is what the sequence of courses needs to be for a child to be in line to take calculus prior to taking the SAT test.
Erika Taylor: In our school district, most children take Algebra I in the 9th grade. They have to take the MSA in math in the 10th grade. If they don’t do well in Algebra I, they will not perform well on the test. Children should be taking Algebra I at least by the 8th grade.
Janice Hale: Elaborate on the Corrective Action.
Erika Taylor: When you don’t make AYP, you are cited for the 1st year. After 2 years or more, you are placed in Corrective Action. You have to take steps to show that you are rectifying the situation. After a certain amount of time, there is a 3rd step which means that you have to reconstitute the school – dismiss teachers and administrators.
Janice Hale: Why is your school district the only one in the state under Corrective Action?
Erika Taylor: We have had consecutive years where we did not make AYP. If you have a good year, the clock resets. Baltimore got a new superintendent and they had a few good years.