Achievement levels for White students in America are comparable to students in European countries. For this reason education experts say passing broad based education reform that benefits minorities will be difficult.

“There is not always a push for what’s educationally sound. It’s up to us to push what’s educationally sound, not politically feasible. I think we’ve got to get back to organizing. There are policy proposals that are going to be passed that are going to put us in worse shape,” said John Jackson, president and CEO of the Schott Foundation for Public Education.


“The challenge is people feel they have too much to lose if they fight back. We need to highlight the fact that education is a common good for all. It’s a tough battle. Don’t think we’re going to get everyone on board.”

Jackson was part of the fourth and final installment of the Summer Institute presented by the University of Pittsburgh School of Social Work’s Center on Race and Social Problems July 7. At the conclusion of the session on Black male education, Jackson and Donna Ford, a professor at the Peabody College of Education, Vanderbilt University, attempted to develop an action plan for Pittsburgh’s students.

“Underneath this discussion—this is sort of for me the elephant in the room—if you pull out the data for minority students, Whites are comparable to other European countries,” said Dean Larry Davis, School of Social Work. “So why would a group make policy changes if it’s working for them. These are the kind of things that really keep you up at night.”

Despite the group’s admittance that policy changes in education were hard to come by, the two presenters identified standardized testing as an area where changes would have the greatest impact.

“Until we drop these policies and procedures and put them forth for city councils and school boards to adopt, the system is just going to keep on this trajectory,” Jackson said. “At some point we need to put forth the proposal asking why we are still using this test. There’s something else that the test isn’t answering that we need to look at. Can we begin to look at another way to assess that doesn’t have to do with standardized tests? If we’re going to push for testing lets make sure it’s going to allow them to be fully creative.”

Ford said standardized testing is also a hindrance for African-Americans who might otherwise be identified for gifted programs. However she also said part of the problem is the low expectations teachers have for Black students.

“I’ve heard so often, Blacks don’t test well. If you can reduce the cultural aspect, Blacks do better on achievement tests,” Ford said. “There’s a fear of challenging the status quo. Too many people have been desensitized by these social ills. When the tests in some schools get dropped, it’s because Asians are doing better than Whites.”

Ford teaches a class primarily focused on educating teachers about the importance of diversity. She also said in order to reduce the achievement gap, schools must increase the number of minority teachers.

“Eighty-five percent of teachers are White. Seventy-five percent are female. The students doing the worst are Black males,” Ford said. “Until we get more diverse, we have to better prepare our teachers.”

As an example of Jackson’s commitment to diversity in teaching, the Schott Foundation’s “Teachers as Leaders” program focuses on recruiting and retaining African-American males as teachers in New York City and training them to engage as policy advocates. Still, he said teacher quality should be made a priority.

“When we talk about having more Black and Latino teachers, more important than that is having a highly effective teacher in the classroom,” Jackson said. “When you go to places like Baltimore and Detroit, you have higher populations of minority teachers, but the students still aren’t doing well.”

This year’s Summer Institute addressed Black male gun violence, economics, health, mental health and education.

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