Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Reading, Riting, and Rithmetics (sic) (Additional Info)

(According to the first-ever comprehensive study (pdf) comparing the percentage of U.S. students in the graduating class of 2009 who have advanced skills in math with the percentages of similar high achievers in 56 other countries, approximately 6 percent of U. S. students perform at the advanced level in math compared to 28 percent of Taiwanese students and more than 20 percent of students in Finland and Korea, for example.)

A new study has found that the achievement gap is larger (pdf) than we thought. According to the NY Times:
Only 12 percent of black fourth-grade boys are proficient in reading, compared with 38 percent of white boys, and only 12 percent of black eighth-grade boys are proficient in math, compared with 44 percent of white boys.
Only 12 percent of black fourth-grade boys are proficient in reading, compared with 38 percent of white boys, and only 12 percent of black eighth-grade boys are proficient in math, compared with 44 percent of white boys. (emphasis mine)
No, nothing's wrong with my editor. I just wanna make sure you didn't miss the fact that white boys seem to be dumb as hell, too. It's not like public education as currently constructed is just failing black children. It's failing everybody. And of course, black kids get a double dose of dumb.

How do we fix the problem?
“There’s accumulating evidence that there are racial differences in what kids experience before the first day of kindergarten,” said Ronald Ferguson, director of the Achievement Gap Initiative at Harvard. “They have to do with a lot of sociological and historical forces. In order to address those, we have to be able to have conversations that people are unwilling to have.”

Those include “conversations about early childhood parenting practices,” Dr. Ferguson said. “The activities that parents conduct with their 2-, 3- and 4-year-olds. How much we talk to them, the ways we talk to them, the ways we enforce discipline, the ways we encourage them to think and develop a sense of autonomy.”
Yeah, cause, you know, black folks don't know how to raise their kids. But before we start blaming the victim, let's look at some other factors. Now, NYT points out that:
  • Poverty alone does not seem to explain the differences: poor white boys do just as well as African-American boys who do not live in poverty, measured by whether they qualify for subsidized school lunches.
But that's not entirely accurate. There's more to the story. Much more:
Just so we're clear, the entire quote comes from the pdf link. But both provide about the same information. The Rutgers powerpoint by professor Cati Coe is very enlightening. For example, if you haven't already, consider what happens in neighborhoods of concentrated poverty. Right? Prof Coe distills some points Douglas Massey makes in a 1990 academic article about the what happens in these neighborhoods (ppt):
  • Loss of businesses: grocery stores, banks, etc
  • Loss of political power: environmental discrimination (waste processing facilities and chemical plants)
  • Lower property values: deteriorating buildings and and unsavory facilities (jails)
  • Loss of medical facilities and clinics
  • Loss of revenue for public schools
I could go on, but can make my point without doing so. The problem is more than poverty; it's concentrated poverty. This means that poor white children attend better quality schools than poor black kids. So we can't say that the issue has to do with parenting yet. We haven't accounted for the type and quality of school the child attends. And let me point out the inverse. Right? Cause by concentrated poverty, we don't mean the neighborhood is 100% poor. One survey goes only as high as 37.2%. So it's not just poor black kids who're affected by concentrated poverty; it also middle-class black kids who have to attend poorly funded schools.

Now, the following is off-topic but I do wanna make a point: this is why black folks by and large don't trust people who want to leave everything to the state and local governments. White folks haven't exorcised themselves of racism, and leaving issues to state and local government lands us in raggedy-ass schools.

But I digress. Care to learn the impact concentrated poverty has on school achievement (ppt)?
  • Loss of successful role models: Adults that a child sees are unemployed or working low-paying jobs
  • Loss of access to networks to get jobs
  • Loss of resources to support high-quality schools
  • Schools with many poor children need even more services (language training, special education, social work and counseling) but generally are more poorly funded than schools serving middle-class students

 So before we start criticizing the parenting skills of black parents, let's take a look at the whole picture. It's not just about poverty, and I haven't even addressed racism. Teachers' racism. The racism in the curriculum of soft subjects like history and literature. Racism in school discipline. Etc. Etc. And so on. Or, even the racism of so readily jumping to conclusions about black parenting before looking at the impact of concentrated poverty. Like I just said in an previous post, when you hear hoof beats, think horses, not zebras. But if "horses" means some like black people don't know how to raise their kids, then maybe you should go for "zebras."

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This isn't too complicated. If you disagree with me, I'm more than happy to have an honest discussion. I'm quite open to learning new facts and ideas. I'm dying for a conservative to explain their ideas in a sensible way.

But, I do have rules, and they also apply to those who agree with me. They just get the benefit of my already knowing the fact they'll be referring to.

So, here're the comment thread rules:

1 - Use facts.
2 - Refer to policy.
3 - Don't rely on theories and conjectures. Show me how, for example, a public health insurance option will lead to "rationing" of health care.
4 - No unfounded attacks on any entity.

If you break those rules, I will edit your comment to my own whimsical satisfaction.

Lastly, perhaps most importantly, I'm not going to entertain too much pro-white/racism-denying discussion. I want this to be a space to discuss strategies to fight racism, not space where I have to fight racism. I want anti-racists to be able to come here for a mental respite. If what you're interested in doing is attempting to demonstrate the fallacy of anti-racism by repeating the same ole comments and questions and accusations we hear all the time, please do that somewhere else.

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