Minority Education Gap
aim to reduce the learning divide
Sunday Aug 31, 2008
By Neil Gonzales / Bay Area
Reginald Brown harbored a bad attitude toward
school and teachers - even distrust.
Derrick Campbell, an African-American, backs some of
"I wasn't paying attention in class and doing my homework," he
said. "I thought, 'What is this going to do for me?' I felt
(teachers) were out to fail me."
His home situation didn't help. His parents divorced and were
mostly absent from his life, leaving his grandparents to raise
The result? "I was struggling for a while in school," Reginald
But things started to turn around once he arrived at Hillsdale
High School in San Mateo.
Reginald credited the change to the school's small-learning
The small-learning model puts small groups of students together
with the same teachers and subjects for up to two years, and
fosters personalized instruction.
Teachers "spent time to get to know me," added Reginald, 16, now
a junior at Hillsdale working toward college, "and I noticed
they were here to help me, not fail me. Right now, I'm doing
well in history, English and math."
Reginald is an encouraging example of African-American students
who have made up ground in the long-standing fight to close the
achievement gap - a persistent educational disparity among youth
of different ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds.
That divide is particularly pronounced with African-American and
Latino students, who continue to perform far below their
Caucasian and Asian peers.
Local, state and national education leaders have made closing
the gap in public schools a greater priority than ever before.
Doing so is critical if the country is to continue producing a
highly educated populace that can compete in an increasingly
technological and diverse global economy, education officials
"It is a moral and economic imperative that we close the
achievement gap," California Superintendent of Public
Instruction Jack O'Connell said during the release of state
standardized test results two weeks ago.
But is it possible in the face of such challenges as
increasingly tough education standards and the increase in
Some educators believe the gap will never be eliminated but it
can be reduced.
Across San Mateo County, schools have launched efforts -
everything from the small-learning approach at Hillsdale to
increased focus on preschools, more parental involvement and
year-round literacy-intervention programs - to bridge that gap.
Over the years, the county's African-American and Latino
students have improved significantly in state tests.
According to the latest test results, African-Americans and
Latinos showed double-digit gains in the percentages of students
scoring proficient and advanced in English-language arts from
2003 to 2008. The state's benchmark is for students to be at
least proficient in a particular subject.
In math, African-Americans increased scores by 7 percent while
Latinos jumped 8 percent.
The two groups, however, remained about 30 percent below their
Caucasian counterparts in English and math this year.
That gap could persist given the increasingly higher standards
placed on all groups of students, including English learners and
the disabled, who are already struggling to catch up
The federal No Child Left Behind Act requires annual improvement
in test scores for any given group of students with the goal of
100 percent proficiency in math and reading by 2014.
Recently, the California Board of Education decided to require
all middle-school students to be tested in Algebra I by the end
of eighth grade.
Despite the current budget crisis, the state will need to find
more than $3 billion a year to help students meet the new
algebra requirement, O'Connell said.
Such stepped-up standards and accompanying financial
considerations come as ethnic and immigrant populations continue
Statewide, nearly half of the 6.3 million public-school students
in kindergarten to 12th grade are Latino.
According to the state Department of Education, the number of
English learners in San Mateo County grew about 10 percent from
19,275 in 2006 to 21,124 this year.
Learning another language poses an extra hurdle for those
students to meet high standards, educators say.
This past week, a Pew Hispanic Center report illuminated another
significant challenge nationwide: More than one-third of Latino
students have a parent who did not finish high school.
The fact that Latino youth are less likely than whites to have
parents who graduated from high school is among several factors
that contribute to the achievement gap, said Richard Fry, a
senior research associate at the center.
Those parents tend not to understand the school system and thus
are unable to help their children, Fry said.
Because of such factors, "you can't completely overcome that
gap," Hillsdale Principal Jeff Gilbert said, "but you can make a
difference by changing" how instruction is delivered.
In 2000, the school launched the small-learning program funded
by $1.2 million in federal grants.
The program divides incoming freshmen into three smaller
schools-within-a-school of about 100 students each.
Each one has four core teachers covering English, history,
science and math. These teachers work as a team to instruct the
same students for two years.
As juniors, students enter another school-within-a-school,
working with new core teachers and preparing for college for the
remainder of their high school career.
The whole idea is to give students more individual attention,
stronger relationships with their teachers and better
instructional consistency than what a traditional comprehensive
high school setting can offer.
School statistics indicate that the program is helping narrow
the achievement gap at Hillsdale.
In English, Latino ninth-graders improved nearly 105 percent in
the number of students scoring at least proficient in state
tests between 2003 and 2008 compared with about 15 percent for
their white peers.
In Algebra I, Latino ninth-graders jumped 100 percent while
their white counterparts went up about 26 percent.
Gilbert taught in an East Palo Alto school serving
underprivileged students and argues that low-income youth "value
education more than even middle-class students because they see
the effects of having no education," he said. "But the challenge
is that they don't know how to access that education and don't
know how to maneuver through that system."
Hillsdale's small-learning program allows students to do just
that, offering them Advanced Placement courses and open
communication with advisers, he said.
"Low-income students have a high attrition rate in college,"
Gilbert added. "So we're trying to find ways to get them in
rigorous classes," which require students to go beyond rote
learning and engage in critical thinking.
The small-learning environment has put Quinta Ekong at ease,
making school that much more welcoming.
"It's a comfortable setting," the 16-year-old junior said. "You
don't have so many people in class. We all share the same
teachers. You always know five to 10 people, and it's not always
Quinta also knows she can always go to an adviser for help.
Last semester, she was getting a D in chemistry and turned to
her adviser. "We really cracked down the last four weeks," she
said. "We also talked to my teacher. I did make-up work and
extra-credit assignments. I pulled it up to an A-minus."
In contrast to many other black students, Quinta - who is of
Nigerian descent - has excelled in school most of her life.
She attributed much of that success to having parents who both
went to college and push their children to pursue higher
"My family is right behind us and following our school work,"
she said. "But maybe some other black students don't have a
strong family unit behind them."
Educators agree that parent participation is key in a child's
learning, and school districts have programs to try to increase
"One thing we're trying to do is train parents to be good
advocates for their children," said Dorothy Burnside, coordinator
of parent involvement and youth development for the Sequoia
Union High School District in Redwood City.
To be that advocate, parents need to know such things as how to
transition from middle school to high school, college
requirements and finding appropriate resources for their
children, Burnside said.
This school year, Sequoia Union seeks to bring that training to
parents of elementary students in the East Palo Alto area, which
has a large minority population.
"We want to bridge the information gap because certain other
communities get this information much earlier," Burnside said.
"We want to create this kind of energy in communities of color,
so they can realize their educational goals for their children
and start as early as kindergarten. Parents can go out in their
communities asking questions and holding schools accountable."
Closing the achievement gap can also mean tackling cultural
For instance, Reginald feels black students generally are more
verbal than other groups. "I think we do better with more verbal
(exercises) than just looking at a paper and writing down
answers," he said.
New Jersey-based education consultant
Teachers must "know that some minority students exhibit verbal
behavior when listening,"
Campbell recently wrote in a brief study. "Blacks
accept interrupting others ... as valued and an indication that
the individual is listening (and) comprehending and has
anticipated the point being made."
Pacific Islander students are another group lagging behind
Part of that problem stems from contrasting values among Pacific
Islander and American societies, Burnside said.
In the Pacific Islander culture, success is tied more to the
community, she said. "But when you come to our country, success
is more individual. That can be confusing to Pacific Islander
students and families."
Efforts such as the Pacific Islander Higher Education
Recruitment Program at University of California, Berkeley, try
to reconcile the conflicting values, encouraging those youth to
pursue college degrees.
In his "State of Education" speech earlier this year, O'Connell
outlined an ambitious plan to combat the achievement gap.
The plan includes raising awareness among teachers and school
administrators about cultural and racial issues.
This training "will help our educators provide a school climate
in which students from all cultures and races feel equally
supported in learning to high expectations," O'Connell said.
O'Connell's plan also involves improving the quality of
preschools and expanding them statewide.
Early-childhood educators applaud that goal, especially since a
recent study by the nonprofit research organization RAND Corp.
showed the children who could particularly benefit from
preschool are the least likely to be in it such as Latinos,
blacks and those whose parents have low education.
Preschool is "a preventive strategy," said Jeanie McLoughlin,
director for the San Mateo County Preschool for All program. "If
we could build toward universal access to preschool and begin it
with children who need it the most, we could really have a
significant impact on the achievement gap because we would be
eliminating it on the front end."
Preschool helps young students build early reading and other
skills that will form a solid foundation for future academic
success, educators say.
Year-round literacy program
At the beginning of a summer program at Cesar Chavez School in
East Palo Alto, two incoming first-graders didn't know how to
write their last names.
"But within three days, they were able to," said teacher Alfredo
Juarez. "We made such big progress."
That's because Juarez was able to give his students one-on-one
attention in the literacy program featuring classes with no more
than six students each.
The program serves about 60 low-income students in kindergarten
to eighth-grade in the Ravenswood School District. Newly
expanded, it will continue to work with the same youth
throughout the academic year after their regular classes are
These students will also have the same teachers they had during
It's another version of the small-learning strategy to chip away
at the achievement gap, organizers say.
Because Juarez's students during the summer will already be
familiar with him and his style of teaching when the regular
school year starts, he said, "we're hoping they'll be leaders
and models for other students."
That, in turn, will improve the self-esteem of struggling
students, "increase their productivity and skills, and get them
more motivated," said Ruth Woods, Ravenswood director of student
Money and attitude adjustment
A major overhaul in the state's school-finance system would go a
long way to lift the achievement of low-income students,
indicated a recent report by the Warren Institute on Race,
Ethnicity and Diversity at UC Berkeley.
A streamlined finance system would direct greater resources to
districts with higher concentrations of low-income and
non-English speaking students, the report said.
"Unless we are serious about reducing poverty and increasing
economic security for blue-collar families, we shouldn't really
expect to close the achievement gap dramatically," added UC
Berkeley education professor Bruce Fuller. "I do think
increasing access to quality preschool and allocating stronger
teachers to poor communities will help us a little bit."
Many educators say money alone will not solve the problem. A
widespread attitude change can be as effective.
That could involve getting teachers and students alike to
believe success can happen through work and not because of luck
or innate ability, said Cheryl Hightower, associate
superintendent of instructional services for the county Office
"We know people have different ability and styles," she said.
"But we want teachers to work with kids around effort. They can
organize a lesson so students have small successes. The kids
begin to see that if they put in the effort they can be
Teaching Styles Change to Embrace Multicultural Classroom
By Kevin Graff/The Review
Alliance High School students,
which reflect many different cultural backgrounds, change
classes recently at the school.
By LAURIE HUFFMAN
The diverse cultures within American schools have forced
teaching styles to change. America is a melting pot, and in a
learning environment, the differing backgrounds of the classroom
students has an effect on how they learn and how they view
certain subjects, such as current events and history. The
uniqueness of the various cultures in the classroom has become
so great in this country it has altered the typical way teachers
were used to relating to their students. This is also the case
in Alliance schools, where, according to Superintendent of
Schools Peter Basil, the learning culture has changed
dramatically from what it used to be. "Twenty or 30 years ago,
students listened very attentively and raised their hand to
talk. That culture isn't going to be here any longer," Basil
said. "The educational culture was lecturing and listening then,
and now it's interactive. The cultural influx became so great,
it began to change the way people teach, both in Alliance and
around the world. "Educators started to realize they didn't know
how to meet the kids' needs who were from other cultures. So, a
tremendous push to find multicultural teachers was launched. We
found out they are few and far between, and most of them were
going to the large cities to teach, where the pay was best. "So,
we had to do three things: Learn to understand the cultural
differences, change our teaching styles and make sure we taught
in a politically correct way." An article written on the subject
by Dr. Derrick L. Campbell titled
"Teacher Qualities That Promote Positive Classroom
Relationships" confirms Basil's thoughts. Campbell stated
teachers who promote positive cultural teacher-student classroom
relationships exhibit several qualities that include good
listening techniques, support of student-introduced ideas and
the providing of choices for students regarding discipline. "If
we're going to be effective educators, we must learn to embrace
the different cultures and utilize them to make a better
teaching environment," Basil said. "For the amount of
African-American students we have here in Alliance schools,
which is the main culture we instruct other than typical
Caucasian students, our pool of educators applying to teach here
is small. National statistics dictate that is normal. The ratio
is usually not matched. Would I say the numbers of
African-American teachers in Alliance match the numbers of
African-American students? Absolutely not. But, do I also relish
the opportunity to hire applicants who are culturally different?
Yes, absolutely." Basil has led the Alliance School District
into joining the Ohio Minority Recruitment Consortium, and he is
attending the consortium's spring conference on Feb. 26. He
recalled hearing a speaker at one of the biannual conferences
who told the audience there are simply not enough multicultural
teachers to go around. He told those in attendance that
instructors must let the students from various cultures be the
teachers, in some cases. Basil said the district has learned to
do just that. He explained when a Caucasian instructor is
teaching black students about Martin Luther King Jr., for
instance, they have learned to listen to the students' stories
passed down to them from their parents and grandparents. "We've
transcended all of that here. We've arrived at listening to
their stories and interjecting or clarifying facts if we hear
something that sounds skewed or incorrect," he said. "I think
we're doing wonderfully. I'm real pleased." Basil said other
things the district has learned to do to embrace cultural
differences is to use reading materials that fit into a variety
of cultures. "In the one and one half years I have been here, I
have seen our educators exposed to a lot of material on cultural
differences. But, we have yet to hold a full in-service day for
training on the subject. I think that may be on the horizon in
the near future." Basil disagreed, however, with a study done by
Columbia University in 2005. The study revealed minority
students, including Latinos and African-Americans, scored lower
on standardized tests than white students. By the end of fourth
grade, the minority students and students from low-income
families were two years behind their wealthier, predominantly
white peers in reading and math, the study indicated. In
addition, by eighth grade, they had slipped three years behind,
and four years behind by grade 12. The study blamed
socioeconomic backgrounds as well as teacher expectations for
the achievement gap, and recommended regular evaluation of
instruction and standardized testing. "I disagree with the data
in the study," Basil said. "In this day and age, with the data
collection styles of our teaching, and with instructors working
for each individual student to excel, this could not be true,
unless only in the higher grades. Because of the data we
collect, we can measure each child's abilities in math and
reading, etc. We test the child, modify our lessons and continue
to teach or re-teach." Basil qualified the statement to include
the fact that some students are already behind by the time they
come into the district. If a child is behind in the sixth grade,
for instance, it could take the instructors another year or year
and a half to get them caught up, he indicated. If they are not
caught up by then, they will likely stay behind. "Education is
like a set of dominoes, and if something is off, it will effect
everything else," Basil explained. "Because education is a
continuum. "I believe, here in Alliance, the teachers do not
make assumptions about the students as they come into the door.
Our philosophy is that all children can learn. They learn at
different rates, and in different methods and in different ways.
It is incumbent upon us to find that different way so they can
Friday, February 8, 2008
By Kathy Hanks - The Hutchinson News - email@example.com
minority student achievement rates can come about when teachers
have a positive interaction and expectation of their students,
an educator told a packed meeting of the NAACP's Hutchinson
branch Thursday night.
Dr. Derrick L. Campbell, a New Jersey educator, shared the
results of his 2005-2006 study on promoting positive racial
teacher-student classroom relationships.
The study was completed while he was a vice principal at the
high school, where eight teachers and eight minority students
The teachers met regularly to decide strategies in the
classroom. One teacher in the study realized that most students
with discipline problems were also failing or had poor grades.
Some were even labeled as having special needs, but when the
teacher changed her way of thinking and tried to get the
students to be more successful academically, their behavior was
Campbell pointed out that 8 percent of the students at
Hutchinson High School are black. Those black students have an
18 percent expulsion rate.
"It's high," Campbell said. "They are over-represented."
But that is often the case.
"When educational communities are not aware of a student's
nonverbal and verbal behavior, they can mistakenly be classified
as special ed," Campbell said. "That's why there is such a large
representation of minority students in special ed."
Culturally, teachers and students come to the classroom with
different goals, Campbell said. Teachers are not often aware of
different cultural habits. For example, a black student
culturally will talk while a teacher is trying to talk to him or
her. But they are listening, Campbell said; it's just part of
USD 308 Superintendent David Flowers was in the audience, along
with several other Reno County superintendents and teachers.
Flowers said he found the presentation an excellent parallel to
what he has studied.
He said the study affirms what others had learned and are
learning about the importance of forging relationships - that it
comes with understanding the cultures.
Lincoln Elementary School third-grade teacher Glinda Theus said
Campbell was spot on with what she heard recently during a
presentation at a national conference regarding closing the
"Student-and-teacher relationships are important," she said.
"But students needed to be accountable for their learning."
Campbell's presentation was just one of the six events scheduled
by the Hutchinson branch of the NAACP for Black History Month.
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