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“Waiting For Excuses For The Inexcusable”: When Talking About The Third Rail Of American Conscience, Brace For Dumb Excuses

What excuses will they make this time?

Meaning that cadre of letters-to-the-editor writers and conservative pundits who so reliably say such stupid things whenever the subject is race. Indeed, race is the third rail of American conscience; to touch it is to be zapped by rationalizations, justifications and lies that defy reason, but that some must embrace to preserve for themselves the fiction of liberty and justice for all. Otherwise, they’d have to face the fact that advantage and disadvantage, health and sickness, wealth and poverty, life and death, are still parceled out according to melanin content of skin.

So they become creative in their evasions.

They use made-up facts (Trayvon Martin was actually casing the neighborhood) and invented statistics (black men and boys commit 97.2 percent of all the crime in America), they murder messengers (“You’re a racist for pointing out racism!”) they discredit the source (Can you really trust a government study?).

One waits, then, with morbid fascination to see what excuse those folks will make as federal data released last week reveal that African-American children are significantly more likely to be suspended — from preschool. Repeating for emphasis: preschool, that phase of education where the curriculum encompasses colors, shapes, finger painting and counting to 10. Apparently, our capacity for bias extends even there. According to the Department of Education, while black kids make up about 18 percent of those attending preschool, they account for 42 percent of those who are suspended once — and nearly half of those suspended more than once.

Armed with that information, there are many questions we should be asking:

Are black kids being suspended for things that would earn another child a timeout or a talking-to?

If racial bias pervades even the way we treat our youngest citizens, how can anyone still say it has no impact upon the way we treat them when they are older?

What does being identified as “bad” at such an early age do to a child’s sense of himself, his worth and his capabilities?

Does being thus identified so young play out later in life in terms of higher dropout rates and lower test scores?

How can we fix this, build a society in which every one of our children is encouraged to stretch for the outermost limits of his or her potential?

Those are the kinds of smart, compassionate questions we should ask. But again, we’re talking about the third rail of American conscience. So one braces for dumb excuses instead.

Maybe someone will claim African-American preschoolers are 73.9 percent more likely to fail naptime.

Maybe someone will contend that they thuggishly refuse to color inside the lines.

And you may rest assured someone will say that for us even to have the discussion proves hatred of white people.

What a long, strange road we have traveled from the high land of idealism and hope to which the human rights movement brought us 50 years ago, down to the swampy lowland of justification and circumscribed horizons we find ourselves slogging through now. It is noteworthy that this story of institutional bias against children barely out of diapers scarcely skimmed — much less penetrated — an American consciousness presently preoccupied by basketball brackets and the mystery of a doomed jetliner.

Small wonder. Those things ask very little of us, other than a love for sport and a capacity to feel bad for other people’s misfortune. This, on the other hand, cuts to the heart of who we are.

Last week we learned that their schools routinely bend little black boys and girls toward failure. And the people who make excuses should just save their breath.

There are none.

 

By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Miami Herald; Published in The National Memo, March 26, 2014

 

 

March 27, 2014 Posted by | Public Schools, Racism | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Suspending Preschoolers?: Troubling Pattern Of Zero-Tolerance School Policies That Disproportionately Impact Minority Students

There’s nothing especially surprising about the notion that some kids will get into trouble and face school suspensions. But the fact that in the United States, thousands of preschoolers get suspended, and the pattern disproportionately affects African-American children, is very surprising, indeed.

A staggering new report released by the Department of Education and the Justice Department on Friday highlights a troubling pattern of zero-tolerance school discipline policies that disproportionately impact minority students in general, but also trickle down to the nation’s youngest students.

Overzealous enforcement of school discipline policies and all of the negative outcomes associated with them are often framed around older children and middle and high school students, but the government’s report shows just how deeply the disparities extend.

The entirety of the report is online here.

“This data collection shines a clear, unbiased light on places that are delivering on the promise of an equal education for every child and places where the largest gaps remain,” U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan said this morning. “In all, it is clear that the United States has a great distance to go to meet our goal of providing opportunities for every student to succeed.”

Judith Browne Dianis, co-director of the Advancement Project, told the AP, “I think most people would be shocked that those numbers would be true in preschool, because we think of 4- and 5-years-olds as being innocent.”

“Shocked” is certainly the right word. Trymaine Lee’s report included this remarkable statistic: “While black children represent only 18% of preschool enrollment nationally, they make up 42% of students suspended once and nearly half of students who are suspended more than once.”

Let’s also not overlook the consequences of such punitive measures.

Jamelle Bouie had a good piece on this.

Suspensions lead to more absences, as students become disconnected from the school. In one study of 180,000 Florida students, researchers found that just one suspension in ninth grade can drastically reduce a student’s chance of graduating in four years. What’s more – compared to their white peers – black teenagers are more likely to be stopped by the police and arrested for drug possession, despite similar rates of drug use.

When you put all of this together, you have a world where African American youth – boys and girls – have vastly higher rates of juvenile incarceration and are more likely to be sentenced to adult prison…. In other words, we have a status quo that’s nearly designed to deliver the worst outcomes to African American students.

Good for Duncan and the Department of Education for shining a light on the problem. Now it’s time for educators to address these policies in practical, sensible ways.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, March 22, 2014

March 24, 2014 Posted by | Education, Public Schools | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Confronting The Pathologies Of Poverty:” Do We Invest In Preschools Or Prisons?

Congress is often compared to pre-K, which seems defamatory of small children. But the similarities also offer hope, because an initiative that should be on the top of the national agenda has less to do with the sequester than with the A.B.C.’s and Big Bird.

Growing mountains of research suggest that the best way to address American economic inequality, poverty and crime is — you guessed it! — early education programs, including coaching of parents who want help. It’s not a magic wand, but it’s the best tool we have to break cycles of poverty.

President Obama called in his State of the Union address for such a national initiative, but it hasn’t gained traction. Obama himself hasn’t campaigned enough for it, yet there’s still a reed of hope.

One reason is that this is one of those rare initiatives that polls well across the spectrum, with support from 84 percent of Democrats and 60 percent of Republicans in a recent national survey. And even if the program stalls in Washington, states and localities are moving ahead — from San Antonio to Michigan. Colorado voters will decide next month on a much-watched ballot measure to bolster education spending, including in preschool, and a ballot measure in Memphis would expand preschool as well.

“There’s this magical opportunity” now to get a national early education program in America, Education Secretary Arne Duncan told me. He says he’s optimistic that members of Congress will introduce a bipartisan bill for such a plan this year.

“When you think how you make change for the next 30 years, this is arguably at the top of my list,” Duncan said. “It can literally transform the life chances of children, and strengthen families in important ways.”

Whether it happens through Congressional action or is locally led, this may be the best chance America has had to broaden early programs since 1971, when Congress approved such a program but President Nixon vetoed it.

The massive evidence base for early education grew a bit more with a major new study from Stanford University noting that achievement gaps begin as early as 18 months. Then at 2 years old, there’s a six-month achievement gap. By age 5, it can be a two-year gap. Poor kids start so far behind when school begins that they never catch up — especially because they regress each summer.

One problem is straightforward. Poorer kids are more likely to have a single teenage mom who is stressed out, who was herself raised in an authoritarian style that she mimics, and who, as a result, doesn’t chatter much with the child.

Yet help these parents, and they do much better. Some of the most astonishing research in poverty-fighting methods comes from the success of programs to coach at-risk parents — and these, too, are part of Obama’s early education program. “Early education” doesn’t just mean prekindergarten for 4-year-olds, but embraces a plan covering ages 0 to 5.

The earliest interventions, and maybe the most important, are home visitation programs like Nurse-Family Partnership. It begins working with at-risk moms during pregnancy, with a nurse making regular visits to offer basic support and guidance: don’t drink or smoke while pregnant; don’t take heroin or cocaine. After birth, the coach offers help with managing stress, breast-feeding and diapers, while encouraging chatting to the child and reading aloud.

These interventions are cheap and end at age 2. Yet, in randomized controlled trials, the gold standard of evaluation, there was a 59 percent reduction in child arrests at age 15 among those who had gone through the program.

Something similar happens with good pre-K programs. Critics have noted that with programs like Head Start, there are early educational gains that then fade by second or third grade. That’s true, and that’s disappointing.

Yet, in recent years, long-term follow-ups have shown that while the educational advantages of Head Start might fade, there are “life skill” gains that don’t. A rigorous study by David Deming of Harvard, for example, found that Head Start graduates were less likely to repeat grades or be diagnosed with a learning disability, and more likely to graduate from high school and attend college.

Look, we’ll have to confront the pathologies of poverty at some point. We can deal with them cheaply at the front end, in infancy. Or we can wait and jail a troubled adolescent at the tail end. To some extent, we face a choice between investing in preschools or in prisons.

We just might have a rare chance in the next couple of months to take steps toward such a landmark early education program in America. But children can’t vote, and they have no highly paid lobbyists — so it’ll happen only if we the public speak up.

 

By: Nicholas D. Kristof, Op-Ed Contributor, The New York Times, October 26, 2013

October 27, 2013 Posted by | Economic Inequality, Education, Poverty | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

   

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