Addressing the Racial Divide in School Performance

lynchburg_city_schoolsby James A. Bacon

Race is a bigger indicator of success than economic status in Lynchburg city schools, asserted Jay McClain, assistant superintendent for instruction, at a school board retreat yesterday. Even when controlling for economic disadvantage, white students show pass rates about 20 points higher than black students, he said, as reported by the Lynchburg News & Advance.

“This is really, really important information. People have often tried to use … poverty as a proxy for race, like saying the reason why there are racial differences is because of poverty, and therefore ignoring the importance of race,” school board member Regina Dolan-Sewell said. “And you’ve got the numbers right here saying … poverty matters, but race matters separate from poverty.”

“It’s not just poverty. Poverty’s huge, but this is so clear that it’s not just poverty, that…we are systemically funneling our children of color in a different direction,” said board member Jenny Poore. “You’re not guilty because you acknowledge it. … But if you don’t pay attention when you see a chart like this, then yeah, you are guilty.”

Sadly, Lynchburg is not an outlier. With a handful of minor exceptions, the phenomenon applies across the state. No one likes these statistics. All Virginians want to live in a society that gives every kid, regardless of background, a fair shot at succeeding in life. Broadly speaking, the questions are: What do we make of the racial disparity? And what do we do about it? Of the two questions, the first is the more important. Until we have an accurate diagnosis of why racial differences in school performance persist, we cannot hope to devise appropriate prescriptions.

No one disputes that performance on the Standards of Learning (SOL) pass rate at Virginia schools is heavily influenced by the socio-economic status of the families the students come from. Students from affluent backgrounds (as measured by their enrollment in free meals programs) tend to perform significantly better than their disadvantaged peers. Disadvantaged students, whose lives are in flux due to dysfunctional family situations, have an up-hill struggle for obvious reasons. But socio-economic status explains only half (in every rough terms) of the variability.

What other factors might create the racial disparity in educational performance? That’s where it gets tricky. The discussion quickly polarizes around liberal and conservative ideological views; partisan narratives trump rational debate. I will try to be as objective as I can. Here are some commonly touted explanations explaining the difference in performance between blacks, whites, Hispanics and Asians:

  • Culture matters. Asian students consistently out-perform all other ethnic/racial groups, even when adjusted for socio-economic status, suggesting that something about Asian culture (the “tiger mom” phenomenon, perhaps) is the differentiating factor. Likewise, it can be argued, African-Americans have unique cultural attributes arising from a history of slavery, segregation, lingering discrimination in the post-segregation era, disproportionate exposure to the corrosive effects of the welfare state, disproportionate family breakdown, an assertion of black cultural identity, embrace of a culture of victimization, and concomitant rejection of “white” norms such as the emphasis on academic achievement.
  • Institutional racism. While overt racism has largely gone underground, residual racism and “white privilege” persist in America’s institutional structures and subtle cultural stereotypes. Differences in academic performance can be attributed to such factors, say, as the fact that African-American students are disproportionately likely to be punished for school infractions, or the fact that black youth are disproportionately likely to be arrested for victimless crimes such as drug possession. Negative stereotypes may influence even well-meaning teachers to treat African-American students differently from their white and Asian peers.
  • Better schools. A variant of the institutional racism explanation, this theory says that predominantly white schools have better principals and more seasoned teachers than predominantly African-American schools. The better teachers and administrators gravitate toward schools with students who pose fewer disciplinary problems, with the result that students of those schools benefit from superior instruction. Because those school populations are disproportionately white and Asian, those groups benefit from this trend.

The evidence is pretty persuasive that inspired teachers and administrators can make a difference. Insofar as the racial/ethnic gap in school performance can be attributed to school-related factors, improving the quality of instruction at black-majority schools is an appropriate focus of public policy. The question is how do we keep the better teachers and administrators in schools — particularly middle schools and high schools — where students are frequently disruptive, sometimes violent and often less receptive to learning? Do we pay teachers more? Do we open up the profession to less-credentialed teachers to apply? Do we weed out poor teachers more aggressively? Do we create better teaching conditions by enforcing stricter discipline and/or addressing the emotional needs of disruptive students? There are lots of theories, but nobody knows the answer. The optimum mix of policies is unlikely to come from a top-down solution devised by the educratic elite. It’s likely to bubble from the bottom-up as the result of widespread experimentation.

Even if we found the optimal mix of school policies, almost everyone agrees that there are limits to what schools can accomplish. Children from disadvantaged backgrounds come to Kindergarten less prepared than children from affluent backgrounds, and they tend to fall further behind over time. The liberal-progressive solution — the “hail Mary” solution progressives pray will work when all other nostrums have failed — is to level the playing field by introducing universal pre-K for four-year-olds in programs like Head Start. While some experiments with pre-K have have proved positive, they typically required an intensity of resources that Virginia schools systems cannot remotely afford. Meanwhile, other studies have demonstrated that the effects of pre-K are fleeting. A carefully constructed study by Vanderbilt University (funded by the federal government, not the Koch Brothers) found:

At the end of first grade, there were no statistically significant differences between [Tennessee Voluntary Prekindergarten Program) participants and nonparticipants on the WJ measures with one exception. There was a significant difference that favored the nonparticipant group on the Quantitative Concepts subscale.

In other words, the pre-K students ended up worse off! Oops. The findings of this study were consistent with many others.

Where does that leave us? I think we need to have realistic attitudes about what public policy can accomplish. We can improve educational performance on the margins by learning what works from the best-performing schools and applying the lessons to under-performing schools. We can support programs like Communities in Schools that tap government and not-for-profit resources to help children and their families cope with homelessness, hunger, mental illness, substance abuse and domestic violence. And we can work to minimize the disruptive and violent behavior of students who undermine the learning experience of the majority. I think these strategies can make a difference, but I am not confident that they will close the racial gap.

Beyond those measures, we should give a ticket out of under-performing public schools for children whose families are motivated to get them something better. That means doing something that the ossified educational establishment of Virginia has been utterly unwilling to consider: Create more charter schools and use vouchers to give poor families the purchasing power to seek educational alternatives. If you want to talk about institutional racism, consigning children from poor, African-American families to failing schools is the worst institutional racism of all.

(Hat tip: Jim Weigand.)

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55 responses to “Addressing the Racial Divide in School Performance

  1. How about some data on a per school basis between economically disadvantaged whites verses economically disadvantaged blacks?

    not across the state and not just for school districts but for individual schools …/

    next : “inspired teachers” vs teachers specially trained to teach the economically disadvantaged?

    Finally – kids that are from economically disadvantaged circumstances. Why would you think they should be “cured” with on year of focused help?

    more important -if you KNOW that multi-year focus on their needs actually does work – why would you still want to wash your hands of doing it? Do you prefer the costs associated with a lifetime of “free stuff” to make up for the fact that they did not get educated?

    There ARE, in fact, schools in Va where the economically disadvantaged of both races DO attain SOL competency. Why do we dismiss this as something that is an outlier rather than a model to emulate?

    finally where do you get the impression that race determines disruptive behaviors? Is there actual data to support that?

    • “Where do you get the impression that race determines disruptive behaviors? Is there actual data to support that?”

      I get that impression from the U.S. Department of Education and the ACLU, which say that the differential of suspensions and arrests of students in Henrico County schools is prima facie evidence of discrimination and is compelling the school district to re-work its disciplinary policies.

      • that’s proof that race is what determines it?


        • Sure.

          Just like a study that gets waved around by a superintendent and not cited or linked in the original article is “proof” that racial gaps are independent of poverty, but out of the clutch of studies showing rates of campus rapes and assaults there are some not done to the proprietor’s standards which means there is no campus rape epidemic.

          It’s almost like there are some biases at play here…

  2. There are 41 school division (of 132) that have a higher percentage of ED children than does Lynchburg. But there are 122 divisions that score higher on their SOLs with 128 divisions that report higher scores for blacks. Yeah, we’re the 4th worst in the state. Moneywise we fund the schools the 36th highest Excess Required Local Expenditure (RLE). Staffing is the 9th best Instructional per 1000 students in the state. It’s hard to blame the taxpayers, at least for school funding. Perhaps the School Board can tell us the percentage of children by race that live in zero or single parent households. I believe we will see a correlation. Maybe we should be paying people to maintain their family unit.

    • Like I said HCJ – how about breaking this out on a per school basis for Lynchburg – and surrounding counties?

      the very first thing we should do – is make sure the data is actually accurate on a per school basis.

      last time I looked – the rates are not the same for individual schools.

      why is that?

    • re: ” Staffing is the 9th best Instructional per 1000 students in the state. It’s hard to blame the taxpayers, at least for school funding. ”

      it’s not how many staff you got – it’s what kind – and are they actually at the specific schools that have the issues?

      get down to the individual school level – and see if the staffing are trained to teach economically disadvantaged kids.

      yes… I know that is a NOVEL concept.. but it’s what is needed. You cannot teach those kids like you teach regular kids. You cannot send teachers right out of college without additional skills for teaching these kinds of kids – and get good results.

      How many Title 1 teachers per disadvantaged kids do you have at the worst performing schools?

      how does that compare to schools that actually do a good job with disadvantaged kids?

      do you actually want to know the answers to these questions before you draw conclusions about “culture” and other excuses?

  3. I think what grumps me here is the attitude that there are no ways to fix this that are not hard or expensive or both – as opposed to there being no known ways to succeed.

    We KNOW there are schools that are successful at this – and yet we dismiss them as achieving only because they “try harder” …

    so … it’s too hard and too expensive and we’re tired of trying to educate kids who are economically deprived and “culturally deficient”.

    and we act like having to pay costs downstream for entitlements and incarceration is … what? we’re not going to do it any more? or… we have no choice – we’ll just write off the costs ? or what?

    where is the solution?

    true fiscal conservatives KNOW that the costs of not pursuing effective solutions is a financial disaster – and that solutions that are less expensive than doing nothing are where we need to be going.

    true fiscal conservatives – do not walk away and watch fiscal disaster ensue.

    Make no mistake here. I’m NOT making a moral argument. I’m making a financial argument.

    what is the most cost-effective way to deal with this?

    • “What grumps me here is the attitude that there are no ways to fix this that are not hard or expensive or both.”

      I didn’t say there is nothing we can do. In fact, I said this:
      “We improve educational performance on the margins by learning what works from the best-performing schools and applying the lessons to under-performing schools. We support programs like Communities in Schools that tap government and not-for-profit resources to help children and their families cope with homelessness, hunger, mental illness, substance abuse and domestic violence. And we work to minimize the disruptive and violent behavior of students who undermine the learning experience of the majority. I think these strategies can make a difference.”

      I did say that we have to be realistic about what we can accomplish. Some problems transcend the ability of government to fix. We should do what we can, but we should not flagellate ourselves for failing to do it all.

      • I did not say so in this particular post, but I would add this: We should make a particular effort to help children and/or their families who have demonstrated a willingness to expend extra efforts on their own behalf to better themselves. Liberals say we should try to save everyone. Conservatives say some people cannot be saved; we should focus on those who can be saved.

        • we need to OWN the problem and the solution if we are going to pay the downstream costs.

          its as simple as that or else you’re doing what? agreeing that we fail and only “free stuff” is what we can do?

          that’s your solution?

      • then you say this:

        ” Even if we found the optimal mix of school policies, almost everyone agrees that there are limits to what schools can accomplish. Children from disadvantaged backgrounds come to Kindergarten less prepared than children from affluent backgrounds, and the tend to fall further behind over time. The liberal-progressive solution — the “hail Mary” solution progressives pray will work when all other nostrums have failed — is to level the playing field by introducing universal pre-K for four-year-olds in programs like Head Start. While some experiments with pre-K have have proved positive, they typically required an intensity of resources that Virginia schools systems cannot remotely afford. Meanwhile, other studies have demonstrated that the effects of pre-K are fleeting. A carefully constructed study by Vanderbilt University (funded by the federal government, not the Koch Brothers) found:”

        so you’re basically saying we can’t do it…

        you’re saying we can do …at the margins,, BUT THEN… no way..

        you’re knocking down the things that are not 100% effective – calling them “liberal” failures – then you’re walking away saying it can’t be fixed in the larger scheme of things.


        • Liberals suffer from the delusion that they can “fix” any social ill. They have spent trillions of dollars in pursuit of their utopian visions, constructing a welfare edifice that, in many ways, has helped create the social problems they want to solve. Yeah, I think we have to be realistic about what’s achievable.

          • so then you should be OPPOSED to MORE MONEY spent on criminal justice reform cuz it’s way, way downstream of K-12 where you say you want to walk away then.. so why come back later with programs that cost 10 times what pre-k, head start and Title 1 cost?

    • I’m NOT making a moral argument.

      Well why not?

      How many stats do you need to see that the best family structure (2 loving, caring, and nurturing parents) give their children the best possible chance for success in life?

      • Larry doesn’t like that argument because dysfunctional family structure is not a problem that government can “fix” without admitting catastrophic failure on the part of liberalism.

        • Jim Bacon, Give yourself a yellow highlight on that comment.

          I would add that until the family is put back together in America within a healthy American culture, our society is doomed.

          The issue is no longer in doubt. “Liberals” are hard at work destroying the healthy families of this country, its healthy cultures, and our constitutional governance of laws, not men.

          Indeed the ever more extreme policies and attitudes of Liberalism as practiced today in America is taking a wrecking ball to the historic ingredients and very foundations of America’s past success.

          Why do I think this?

          Simply because the evidence is overwhelming. The evidence is everywhere crashing in around us. We refuse to see it. So cannot deal with it.

          Note: Herein I define Liberals per Jim’s usage.

        • I totally DO think that but:

          1. – I’m not convinced it is racial

          2.- you’re basically dismissing the idea that “economically disadvantaged” actually does mean something and we KNOW for a FACT that with the right kind of instruction – it can be successfully dealt with.

          3. You refuse to look at individual schools within bigger districts and compare the performance indicators across those schools and answer the question that if there is a racial or or component to economically disadvantaged why it VARIES so much between schools.

          4. – why don’t you MAKE the numbers we see in the best schools that actually do successfully deal with this – THE benchmark instead of essentially saying – over and over in many different ways ” there is only so much we can do – it’s a “liberal” failure – we can’t change – blah blah blah”?

          5. – As a self-avowed physical conservative who opines frequently about ROI – why don’t you acknowledge the actual fiscal costs of failure? Put real numbers on it. Take a kid who is economically and chronically disadvantaged and tally up the lifetime costs of those entitlements you say “don’t work”?

          Is that your solution anyhow? that failure means we pay those costs – or are you advocating that we ALSO stop giving away “free stuff” to those kids who grow up uneducated?

          what’s the plan here other than running around in fiscal circles?

          • Reed Fawell 3rd

            Actually, Larry, your characterizations of my opinions, conduct, and behavior, as you have expressed them in your 5 points above, are completely wrong, for the truth is the complete reverse of your claims that amount to nothing more than fantasy in your head.

            As a result you attack someone who largely agrees with you. And one who has acted in the real world on those beliefs if only because he did not BEGIN to learn to read, spell or write until well into the 6th grade, a situation that in the vast majority of cases destines a child to permanent illiteracy today given that dysfunction of many families today and far too many of today’s schools as well.

            Your additional comment below, whoever it might be directed at, unfortunately reverts back into your previous style of behavior that so often was driven and blinded by stereotype expressed in mindless rant. As such, it’s not worth a response.

        • Actually NOT! When you advocate criminal justice reform – are you not, in essence, wanting the govt to try to “fix”…. “dysfunctional family structure” if many of those you want to “help” actually came from those circumstances originally?

          Why would you wash your hands of the “dysfunctional family” issue in K-12 then want to do something about it later – with government?

          doesn’t govt ALSO inherit the entitlement costs for such “dysfunctional” families?

          how about you advocate for a non-govt solution since you think they are such failures..

          how would you deal with this – without govt?

          Get rid of entitlements and just lock up anyone who commits a crime ? We’ll just contract out the lowest cost prison facilities, right? 30K a year per prisoner – is that big govt admitting catastrophic failure?

          so – condemn ‘liberalism” – fine – give me your “Conservative” solution…. how about it?

      • why not? because the moral argument becomes one of “liberal” vs “we can’t fix it all”.

        “best family structure” is a joke when you consider that 1/2 of the “good” family structures get divorced.

        it’s not about Mom and Dad being Mom & Dad – as much as it is about Mom and Dad being well educated, gainfully employed – and able to help their kids become literate.

        When Mom & Dad are not literate – they can have the best family structure ever – and it won’t help that child who will show up at school behind his peers .

        Making this about “moral” is missing the reality and allowing one to blame the problem on willful irresponsibility and pretending that even if that were true -we do not end up owning the fiscal costs.

        We own those costs no matter how we feel – morally about it.

        as far your view about having kids. I support “free” IUDs like was done in Colorado and reduced teen pregnancy by 40% (which was already down by the way).

        but if you REALLY want such a program to be REALLY effective -you’d not limit it – you’d put that requirement on every adult that lacked a decent education – right? So, if they did not pass the SOLs – you’d require them to use IEDs or be sterilized? I’m not putting words in your mouth here – . I just don’t know how else you’d implement such a thing.. maybe you have less bad sounding ideas.

  4. what I’m hearing is that in some cases with extreme extra attention we can help in limited ways but in the larger scheme of things the problem is too widespread and too intractable to come up with a standard solution.


    fess up now.. isn’t that the basic theme?

  5. I might be not answering right to paddle a river… will check back if I find a place…

  6. I have more thoughts, but just a reminder of two things in case we want to get into biological determinism…

    1) We have no idea how human consciousness works let alone how to maximize the analytic functions on a strictly physiological level.

    2) There is more genetic variance within racial groups than between them.

  7. re: “liberals hard at work”… destroying the family …

    good lord!

    you have folks whose ancestors started as slaves.. and even when emancipated – still were denied access to a real education – and today – if they live in a economically depressed neighborhoods – 9 times out of 10 – the neighborhood school – totally sucks at dealing with the kids whose parents, grandparents and great-grandparents all lacked a decent education and continued to live in a cycle of poverty where the most of the parents never had the education themselves nor the financial resources to escape that cycle.

    so we blather on about how we’ve given them so much “free stuff” which has not “worked”.

    so now… we should walk away … give up on education and it sounds like stop giving them “free stuff”.

    so I’ve never caught that part of it. You guys want to abandon the education task – do you also want to stop giving “free stuff” also to make up for the failure to educate – or to put it in your terms – the failure to get an education?

    See.. I never quite get from you guys – what your plan is…other than whine and make excuses… and blame things like “family structure”.

    how exactly do you “fix” family structure when dad, grandad , etc all lack an education?

    are we saying, in effect – ” we cannot educate these kids”… because all the liberal solutions have failed and we don’t have any Conservative ones that would work either – and, oh by the way, we’re fat, dumb and happy about the entitlement and incarceration consequences of our decision – can’t be fixed?

    so that’s the basic Conservative view?

  8. As a veteran of public education in Virginia, I know that you cannot effectively educate children unless there is an environment where they feel safe and distractions of all kinds are kept to a minimum. Structured environments where high expectations for personal behavior and personal academic achievement are the norm will typically produce positive results relative to good test scores and overall learning. It should have become obvious to educrats and parents and taxpayers after 45 years of tinkering with our nation’s education system – more Federal dollars, Federal Dept. of Ed., Head Start- that the traditional agricultural model – 8 weeks of summer to plant, cultivate, harvest – is unable to produce the results that we require in the information age in which we live. Yet, every time that there is a proposal in Virginia localities for a change – move to year round school- parents scream that their children need a break, politicians and taxpayers cry that there is no money, and we continue to cling to an outdated, inefficient educational model (19th century). There is no panacea for our educational distress because our education system reflects the distress that exists in society. Currently, Democratic Presidential candidates are singing the praises of pre-K education and the current governor of Virginia as well as our two Senators have promoted this idea as a fix. Yet recent studies have now shown no appreciable benefits are derived from such financial expenditures. Politicians and educrats are always looking to reinvent the wheel in order to get a vote or get published/secure their next job. Paying for the services of good teachers, promoting high expectations for academic achievement and personal behavior, creating and maintaining a safe, suitable learning environment (facilities, technology, resources), and extending the school year( 220 days)- eliminate “summer vacation”- would all serve to improve the climate for students from all socio-economic backgrounds and improve their chances for academic success. There would be an increased cost to the locality and to the state, but the potential for success would be greater. Continuing to throw good money after bad policies – pre-K education expansion- is a losing proposition based on recent data. Why not try something that actually would work????

  9. re: why not try something that would actually work?

    I totally agree. what are those things?

    I do not think Pre-K is a failure myself – if after Pre-K you revert back to conventional teaching of disadvantaged. You have to continue that kind of teaching.

    That’s what Title 1 is and I find it interesting that the critics of the Dep of Ed – ignore the money they provide for Title 1 and other programs that are proven to help. So we’d get rid of the Dept of Ed and Title 1 and let the state do it?

    That’s fine if the State has a real plan that IS going to be held accountable and the General Assembly is willing to fund it after we get refuse the Dept of Ed money.

    Hell. I’m IN FAVOR or non-public school approaches – the only thing I ask is we do hold it accountable for effectiveness so that we just don’t go from the frying pan to the fire.

    so what is the better plan than Pre-K – resisting the urge to deflect by talking about “educrats” and “elites” , etc?

    Just plain say what a better plan is… and how we fund it.

    that’s a hell of sight more than Jim B and HCJ are “recommending”!

  10. “that’s a hell of sight more than Jim B and HCJ are “recommending”!”

    Can’t you read? We are recommending that people do not have children that are all but guaranteed to fail when they are conceived by people that are incapable emotionally or financially to care for them that expect the government to take care of them.

    I’m reminded of a Two and a half Men episode when 10 year old Jake wants to know if you have to be smart to have sex. Heck no but you need to be emotionally mature enough to understand the end result is more than a seven second muscle contraction that can possible result in conceiving another human being for which you are responsible for!

    • You are right on point.

      We are in the west and other mature industrial nations like Japan are now in the process of committing suicide.

      Who are going to be around in 30 years to pay for and support all those Baby Boomers still then around not to mention all the new elderly people then here in the US and in Europe and Japan who today now refuse to have children? The costs to keep those people alive and functioning will be astronomical.

      Meanwhile, the very people who are having children now and then in record numbers will then not only be unable and unwilling to support elderly strangers such as baby boomers and everyone else burning up social monies and incurring costs a mile a minute, those very same people who are having babies now and then will also be unable to support themselves and their children because they lack the means if only because of the collapse of governments and economies, and indeed whole societies, particularly western and other mature industrial nations.

    • re: “do not have kids”. That’s your solution? How would you actually do that as a policy? How would you do that – in Lynchburg?

  11. Just to reiterate, year round schools could serve the disadvantaged in the Commonwealth by providing the needed structure that some are missing at home- behaviorally and academically. In 180 days, typically students from disadvantaged backgrounds are just beginning to make strides and the school year ends. They are released back to a dysfunctional existence, no structure, expectations, no academics for eight weeks under the current school model. By the time the next school term rolls around, they have lost much of what they gained. Petersburg Public Schools is experimenting with a year round model in one of their middle schools and indications are that they have seen significant progress among those students from disadvantaged backgrounds. It seems to me that this model has far more potential than a pre-K program, Head Start which has shown mixed results at best. If we are going to spend money and tax citizens, then we should put a qualified teacher at the head of every class (Harvard research shows that students do better when this is done) and we should provide a school year of instruction (220 days – four quarters of nine weeks each, with 10 days to two weeks break between each quarter. We have to do more in Virginia than just teach to a test and test kids endlessly.

    • wrk2 – your comments dovetail with my observations. Your comments I believe are critically important. I will provide more detail tomorrow.

    • year-round schools I can totally support but you do have fund them.

      but you know that you need to do this for more than one summer – right?

      would you do it for one summer and then judge it a failure later if not continued – like we seem to do with Head Start and Pre-K?

      on the testing – I’m NOT in favor of a lot of high stakes testing and, in fact, for kids that are behind – testing should be assessments and focused on core skills – until they get to a minimum competency.

      But you cannot help many of these kids unless you DO TEST to find out their specific deficits and get them help in those areas.

      it’s not a magic potion education approach. You want to know what they are having trouble with – specifically – and get targeted help for that area – and you cannot do that intelligently nor fiscally responsibly if you don’t focus the resources.

      You also cannot know how good or bad – how effective or not – the extra schooling is or is not without some form of assessments.

      you just can’t put “time on task” – in general – when kids have specific impediments to learning that have to be fixed before they can learn.

      If you are a teacher – then you know there are 15-20 discrete areas that kids have to know. One of the being the Concept of Word.

      if the kid does not understand this concept – you can “teach” him generalize stuff til the cows come home and it won’t be that helpful until he “gets” the Concept of Word.

      But -in general – I’m in favor of Any/all programs to deal with disadvantaged kids with the proviso that we must determine what is effective, what is not and reform and improve as we go – AND that we KNOW that it’s not one grade or course… that’s it’s continues until the kid reaches a documented level of compentency.

      that’s a hell of a lot better than making excuses for why we can’t get that job done or worse – a govt program to determine who can have kids or not. Geeze!

  12. Lynchburg has one year round school, Bass Elementary, failing scores and down from last year even though the retests this year supposedly raised them.
    Buena Vista also has year round schools, their division one of the worst in the state.

    Want to make a liberal mad…show him the stats!

  13. Like Pre-K or Title 1 or any program – it’s more than the name – it’s what you actually do under that name. do you actually do what the program is supposed to do or just have a program with that name?

    If you have summer school or year round school and you don’t hire the specialized teaching resources that are needed for disadvantaged kids and instead hire whoever wants to work – then it’s literally throwing money at the problem without insuring that the money spent is actually being effective. It’s like hiring a guy who calls himself a painter – and he knows little about painting other than buying paint and brushing it on. You need teachers with specific skills to do this work. Most Title 1 teachers have Masters degrees in teaching kids with learning deficits. Someone without those skills and training is going to end up baby sitting even as we call it “year round”. You literally are throwing money at the problem.

    we KNOW from a number of schools throughout Va that with the right kinds of teachers and teaching programs that disadvantaged kids CAN be successfully taught. They have documented success.

    we even have folks who claim that non-public schools and charter schools have figured out how to do it.

    I’m agnostic on who does it as long as what they do is 1. measured and 2. does work.

    In fact – I’d be happy taking this job away from public schools that are failing at it because they can’t or won’t tune their programs to address the harder to teach and prefer to only teach the easy-to-teach.

    Disadvantaged kids need specialized teaching. That’s not a “fail”. That’s like you don’t go to a primary care doc for something you need a specialist for.

    but making this about “liberals” is totally dishonest because basically the folks engaging in this are running away from the problem and blaming others… something we see more and more of these days on the tougher problems we have.

    as long as we are going to inherit the problem downstream with even more costly entitlements, incarceration and prison “reform” – how would you favor those things but oppose the things that could reduce the costs of those downstream costs later?

    or is it that we fail at teaching the economically disadvantaged, admit we can’t fix it, don’t know how, don’t think we can – and are resigned to giving them “free stuff” for life and imprisoning them as necessary and that becomes our basic policy?

    You should not mistake my sentiment here. I’m just as frustrated about these issues – but I just don’t think we can escape them by being irresponsible, and so our choice is to deal with them in the most responsible cost-effective, way we can.

    I’m just fine with someone – anyone saying “this does not work” as long as they follow it with – “we need to be trying other things – instead of this just adolescent “it’s the liberals” pablum.

    own the problem and stop blaming others or admit you’re out of ideas and resigned to paying the costs of what we have now – entitlements and prison. Get out of the way and let others take a run at it – even if they fail.

    it just seems totally incongruous to talk about paying for prison programs when we say we cannot do that for education in K-12.

  14. John Butcher @ CrankysBlog, a statistical wizard, has weighed in with some interesting commentary about Lynchburg’s recent retreat and the discussion on SOLs. While we all know, on average, Whites score better than Blacks, females better than males, and non ED kids better than the EDs, John ponders what the real question should be, why do Lynchburg scores trail their respective peer groups? I too have asked that question.

    Is it possible, with Lynchburg’s Black students having the 4th worst 5 subject SOL average in the state, that those kids are the 4th poorest of all the state’s blacks? I don’t think so.
    Take a look at John’s analysis.

    • Cranky is a spreadsheet wizard! and I much appreciate his ability to slice and dice data and would be even more impressed if he would consider breaking it down by individual school – where I suspect you’ll see some eye-opening differences….

      we know how to classify students that are “at risk”.. economically disadvantaged.

      that would be the first place to start… because it’s pretty much a standard classification – that then would allow one to compare it across Virginia – beyond just Lynchburg.

      and to draw some conclusions that would put Lynchburg experience in perspective.

      but the bigger thing is – in my view that economically disadvantaged/at risk kids in Lynchburg probably are not that different than similarly classified kids in other parts of the state

      which means whatever correlations and conclusions being drawn with Cranky’s data – my shed more light on what schools and school resources and teaching skills are different/better/worse than others…
      as opposed to the kids in Lynchburg being unique to all of Virginia.

  15. I’ll try here to elaborate on a few of wrk2’s many fine comments. For example wrk2’s statement:

    “As a veteran of public education in Virginia, I know that you cannot effectively educate children unless there is an environment where they feel safe and distractions of all kinds are kept to a minimum. Structured environments where high expectations for personal behavior and personal academic achievement are the norm will typically produce positive results relative to good test scores and overall learning.”

    1. A safe distraction free environment is key. Many children today have no safe places in their lives (even unfortunately too often in some classrooms).

    So what is a “safe place free of distractions” for a child?

    a/ Is a safe place free of distractions for a child being at home alone for long periods with unfettered access to a computer or an I-Phone?

    b/ Is a safe place free of distractions for a child being at home with a father and mother in an abusive and dis-functional relationship, and given the child unrestricted access to a computer or an I-Phone, or none at all?

    c/ Is a safe place free of distractions for a child being at home with both parents chronically unemployed, or semi literate, or parents lacking the most basic of life skills – how to speak English, hold a job, maintain a conversation, act in a pleasant manner with strangers, giving their child unrestricted access to a computer or I-phone, or no access at all.

    d/ Is a safe place free of distractions for a child being at home with no father, and with a single mother who is habitually over-stressed at work and unable to cope with the challenges of her daily life and brood, things like feeding a family, finding a mate, getting back and forth to work, paying the bills, finding the strength to deal with unruly out of control free range kids, her own, and those other kids flooding her home, her kids and her life.

    e/ Is a save place free of distractions for a child being at home a with a single mother in an abusive relationship with one or many boyfriends going in and out of the child’s home (and space at home)” constantly, whether for sex, drugs, drinking, or just hanging aimlessly around?

    f/ Is a safe place for a child free of distractions being at home with an over-stressed working mom who does not speak English or does so very poorly, or one who has little education, and no appreciation for the value of education or understanding of what education is, or a mom who does not know how one goes about the tasks of learning to read, write, spell or cultivate a skill. Or being at home with a mom who lacks even the most simple kinds of skills of life that are needed for daily living because her family was unable to provide her (the mom) with the safe place free of distractions within which to learn these skills.

    e/ Is a save place free of distractions for a child being at home with a single mom like the one described in f. above except that now its a single mom who is chronically unemployed, on welfare, and drugs too?

    Of course in today’s society the unhealthy circumstances that too often kids can find themselves facing daily come in endless varieties that have the potential to do them great and irreparable harm. And here we have only described some of the problems too often facing the bravest and most committed among us, the Mothers of the Kids.

    So the question is how do we as individuals, schools, and communities help our kids to face these challenges and overcome them?

    This is why wrk2’s comments and suggestions are so important. And why variations on his themes are very important too.

    More to follow.

    • So one question is obvious. How can we expand the “safe space free of distractions” so that every child has the best chance to learn and thereafter constantly reinforce and expand his achievements rather than have them washed away by what happens out of school, at home, or over the summer.

      This is particularly true for elementary school. There in elementary school the critical task is to give the child the requisite base skills needed to read, write, and spell, and do it before the 6th grade. In and beyond the 6th Grade an ever increasing amount of a child’s academic learning, learning skills, and academic performance, are derived from and depend on his ability to read, and to express himself in writing as well as orally.

      So the benefits derived from elementary school are critical and enormous. Indeed they can be unlimited. For those skills are critical to the child’s developing of the whole range of cognitive skills – IQ and emotional Intelligence, facility with verbal and written expression, capacity to reason, strength of memory, self-awareness and self-control, self-esteem and self-confidence, among many others.

      Should the child not learn those base skills of reading and writing in elementary school, the child most likely will fall ever further behind in subsequent grades unless and until the problem is remediated. His chances of catching up with his educated peers, however, diminish dramatically with each and every passing year at the very time that a whole new series of challenges most likely confront the child at and after the middle grades and high school.

      To be continued.

    • The classic model for expanding the “safe place for a child’s learning free of distractions” is the afternoon after school Learning Center.

      Here typically one might find students after school learning new learning skills that are tailored to their general and particular needs as well as homework reinforcement, and life skills teaching, as primary activities.

      How do your expand after school learning beyond this model?

      The best example that I have seen did it in several ways. The after school learning center brought aboard Americorp workers to supplement and expand their after hours programs in several ways.

      For example, these Americorp workers often lived in the community of the children so as to live within easy and familiar reach of the students homes, school, and after school learning center. Often they lived in the same apartment buildings. From there they could more easily become aware of and deal with the challenges facing their students. So they naturally became advocates for the students at their school and at home and at the learning center and any other place the student frequented. They also became advocates for the students with the Parent(s), and acted as a kind of liaison between the learning center, the school and students parents at home. And in turn they because helpers to the school teachers, allowing the teachers to teach better and more effectively, particularly as regards their individual students.

      These activities too evolved into workshops for Parents, showing them ways to become more involved in their child’s learning experiences outside of the home and within the home. This evolved into the parents learning life lessons after work for how they might build stronger homes for their kids, and stronger educationally support for their child, whether at school, at home, or after school.

      Soon other magic began to happen. Communities of people began to form around the children growing up together in their neighborhoods, the centerpiece of the growing communities being the care and education of their children, while the parents and teachers also found strong re-enforcement in their own daily lives in and outside school.

      This in turn evolved into week-end activities of all sorts.

      And finally all these activities evolved into Summer programs to re-enforce what kids had learned the past year at school, and help them prepare for the upcoming year at school, and give fun learning experiences outside of the school and their normal communities, the summer time experiences free of the classroom being life broadening and changing experiences.

      What was being built here seemed to me at the times as efforts to build the best examples of the strong and vibrant child centered communities that America use to have when I was going up, ones that naturally seemed to take of its own people in its own neighborhoods, not only the kids, but everyone else to, including grandparents, dutch uncles and the like.

  16. re: safe places for kids..

    one of those little known, under the radar govt agencies in every community is called “Social Services”.

    I wish Jim or someone would do a blog post on them.

    these agencies are where you see the govt – intervening to protect the child.

    it’s a lot more widespread than folks appreciate and it’s not just with the “poor”.

  17. here’s a little retrieval I did from the VDOE build-a-table.

    It’s more of an example than a drill down – illustrative

    the point of it is to take a look at the individual elementary schools in Lynchburg and adjacent Amherst… for 3rd grade SOL for economically disadvantaged – whites and blacks – as opposed to one district aggregation.

    The thing I point out – is the big differences in the percentages and scores – and how these fairly significant differences can get submerged when aggregating the data…

    my question is why there are such differences if the basic demographic is being pointed to as if it were monolithic and standard for the races?

    there are big differences not only in Lynchburg and surrounding counties but across Va – where in other counties – you can find – individual schools that produce results where the differences in the races and in fact from non- disadvantaged are small.

    but we take these smaller aggregated results and end up with them essentially portraying something – that is – misleading..

    I think there are schools in Va that do quite well at educating economically disadvantaged – black and white – and they are not isolated flukes… they’ve successfully institutionalized the techniques needs to succeed but there are a ton of them that fail at it – are not particularly interested at getting good at it beyond meeting the minimum thresholds the state was set.

    One thing you can say about George Bush and the NCLB – No Child Left Behind –

    he was right – and it was his intention to shine a light on it.

    and now that we have that light shining on it – people are running for the exits and blaming “top down” government.

    quite the turn around…

  18. No LG, you take the smaller results and attempt to portray the unrealistic and that is misleading. Of course there are exceptions to every rule. I can point you to charter schools that do better for less money but they are the exception and not the rule.

    “What people believe prevails over the truth.”
    SOPHOCLES, The Sons of Aleus

    And you believe the impossible, that government is the answer to all of society’s problems.

    • I misspoke.

      we’re taking aggregated data and suggesting it represents an entire demographic – whereas the underlying data essentially contradicts that premise.

      I do NOT believe the govt is the answer but in some things – we know that the private sector does not have the answers – and I’ve said over and over – if we can find a private sector way to succeed. I’m for it.

      what I dislike is using data to claim something is true when it’s not.

      If you really look at this data on a per school basis – across Va – it totally contradicts what is being claimed in Lynchburg.

      It’s not fundamentally race.

      It’s the way we teach and don’t teach – specific to the makeup of the student – in terms of economic circumstances, race and culture.

      I’ll be the first one to admit – that the Asian numbers are very different – and we think we know why.

      again – I say – this is a fiscal problem. Making it a moral problem is running away making adolescent excuses for the real problem.

      yes – it would be just wonderful if our black culture and demographics were more like the asians – but they’re not. Slavery and decades-long institutional racism – including at the school level has brought the chickens to roost – and the answer is not easy but running away from it just pushes it to the ” we need to reform the juvenile justice system” level where solutions are even more expensive and and more difficult.

      folks who blame race for this … well.. I’m going to shut up…

  19. ” well.. I’m going to shut up…” Thanks!

    In a free society, there comes a time when the truth — however hard it may be to hear, however impolitic it may seem to say — must be told.

    AL GORE, fundraising letter, May 2006

  20. I consider race relevant to ABSOLUTELY NOTHING of substance.

    This world depends on individuals for whatever good happens in this world, what they do, what the say, and how they act, as individuals within their communities and alone every day.

    Race is irrelevant to, of, and within this world, save only how it is twisted and misused as a tool by some, not because it is relevant to anything of substance, but because those demagogues and ideologues, and bigots and racists, use it to promote their own personal and selfish agendas for power and personal agendas, and their own needy seekings after nothing of consequence.

    Race is a false God. It’s an idol used by a few to control the many, to take advantage of others, and abuse others, and enslave them.

    Martin Luther King knew this. He preached this most every day he lived almost 70 years ago today. Why cannot we follow his example and do the same?

  21. Larry, please tell me why…”I’ll be the first one to admit – that the Asian numbers are very different – and we think we know why.”

  22. because in general – across most all education venues – Asians tend to perform better because they have a long standing culture recognition of education as valuable opportunity.

    Having said that – I have no doubt if we had enslaved Asians in this country and practiced institutional discrimination against them for generations – that it would have played a significant role in generational poverty and culture…

    Hispanics also – seem to not revere education the same way as others.

    the folks that want to make this about race and culture have a problem in my view and it’s counter to our own longer term interests of the significant costs of entitlements and incarceration.

    as has been pointed out – generations of “free stuff” has not fixed poverty.

    is the solution to get rid of “free stuff”?

    when the argument is made that generations of “free stuff” has not worked – what do the folks that say that – follow with in terms of what to do or do they just drop the conversation at that point?

    what is your purpose?

    got an answer?

    I answered your question.. how about mine?

  23. ” Social and economic disadvantage – not only poverty, but a host of associated conditions – depresses student performance. Concentrating students with these disadvantages in racially and economically homogenous schools depresses it further. Schools that the most disadvantaged black children attend are segregated because they are located in segregated high-poverty neighborhoods, far distant from truly middle-class neighborhoods. Living in such high-poverty neighborhoods for multiple generations adds an additional barrier to achievement, and multigenerational segregated poverty characterizes many African American children today. ”

  24. Your problem is you are reading EPI propaganda instead of reading from the Heritage Foundation.

  25. I can find other evidence if you want. This is why I advocate that you get numbers on a per school basis when you want to look at student performance.

    you’re going to find – if you seriously want to know answers – that poor neighborhoods correlate with poorly performing schools… which should not really be such a shock.

    ” More Than 40% of Low-Income Schools Don’t Get a Fair Share of State and Local Funds, Department of Education Research Finds”

    so Heritage has answers to this or their answer is “you can’t educate these kinds of folks – walk away” ?

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