The hidden message schools send poverty students and students of color

Although recent twitter posts by Arnie Duncan laud a rise in graduation rates for American students, a recent report published by the Dana Point – U.S. Department of Education shows much work remains to be done. Report demographics of students who entered high school in 2009 and dropped out before the junior year (2012) show 4.3% are Black and 3.5 are Hispanic in contrast to 2.1 White and .3 Asian.  Additionally, the report shows students from families in the lowest socioeconomic status group drop out at a rate of 4.7% while those in the highest group drop out at .6%.  It would appear that students of color are at risk…and if they are Hispanic or Black AND poor…while they are REALLY at risk.

This is really not new.  Any one who has worked in a poverty school could tell you this. The calls for school reform have echoed for years. There are pockets of success – where students rise above and gain a foothold on their way to a better life.  But it is not enough.

When I would visit elementary schools, I would ask the students how many planned to go to college.  The arms of the students rose in the air and voices excitedly would call out, they wanted to be doctors, teachers, even the President.  These were poor children and most were Hispanic or Black. These are the same children who as freshmen, sophomores, or juniors are quitting school.  What happened to their hope for a bright future?

During those critical middle school years, we need to do things differently.  The traditional policies and structure have failed our poorer students, especially those “minority” students.  We need to show them in words, actions, and policies that we believe they can succeed. With parents working hard at multiple jobs and still struggling to make ends meet, our students need to see the possibilities for their future.  Media highlights stories of minorities as criminals– shot by police, marching against brutality — our students need images and stories that create an alternative for the future.

By middle school, students become aware of their family situation, the neighborhood condition, and the way the “world works” for “people like them”.  It can be hard to hold on to that young dream of going to college and  living the American dream.  Too many of our schools, contribute to the killing of student dreams with punitive grading, labeling struggling students, and reactive, traditional discipline policies — often in spite of individual teacher attempts to build meaningful relationships.

When a school assigns zeros, penalizes students for not learning as quickly as peers through late work deductions and lack of re-testing opportunities, or allows failing grades to be assigned without requiring reteaching/retesting, they allow some students to move through the systems without learning the required content and skills for success.  Setting them up for future academic struggles that will manifest in poor attendance, acting out, and gaps in their learning.

When a school creates lists of students, labeling them as “lagging” or “low” and assigns prescribed interventions for the group, including remedial classes that remove students from electives and mainstream classes, they lessen the student’s self-efficacy and self-concept.

When a school follows a policy that assigns suspensions — in school and out of school — that remove a student from the educational environment for a period of time, they contribute to the academic gap.  This practice also contributes to a student seeing them selves as a “bad” person.  Often in hopes of hiding their suspension rates, schools use different codes or words for classroom removal.  Even policies where students walk silently in the halls or are escorted out of the building at the end of the day send messages to students about how they are viewed by the school. This is especially harmful for our poor minority students who are finding their self-image in a world filled with negative media stereotypes.

If we want to get serious about solving the achievement gap for our poverty students and students of color, we need to take a long look at the message our policies send students about their ability to succeed. One of my favorite sayings came from the Negro College Fund:  “A mind is a terrible thing to waste.”  Too many minds are being wasted still!


The Heart of Teaching: What It Means to be a Great Teacher | Edutopia

We write often about the attributes desired of teachers who work with our students.  How teachers approach and work with our students is critically important as they shape the future of our communities and nation.  Where the students come from homes of poverty or the students could be called “tough to teach”, these attributes become as important as the content taught.

Although teachers bear so much of the burden for educating our students, we must also charge our administrators–both building and central office–to model these attributes in their dealing with teachers and students. If being kind, compassionate, empathetic, positive and a builder are important for teachers, they are also important qualities for administrators.  A great administrator will set the tone for the building, showing their heart in their interactions with teachers…and students.


The Heart of Teaching: What It Means to be a Great Teacher | Edutopia

Technology for the Whole Child

Many of today’s teachers seem to integrate technology seamlessly into their classroom instruction, creating lessons that engage students with content in ways that stimulate higher order thinking and collaboration.  Other teachers feel overwhelmed with the demands to use technology in their classrooms or are dismissive of technology strategies that appear to be just an electronic pencil.  Dr. Gerstein has an interesting twist on implementing technology by linking it to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.  She proposes ways that technology can be used beyond meeting the cognitive or academic needs of students alone and aligns several suggestions and accompanying resource links to other social-emotional needs of students. Although Maslow designed his hierarchy with ascending levels of needs and premised that lower needs must be met in order to become eventually a self-actualized person, the technology suggestions do not rest upon each other in such a hierarchy.  The premise of her article of using technology in the classroom to meet not only academic but social and emotional needs is a great resource for teachers looking for a way and a reason to expand their technology implementation in the classroom.


Addressing Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs with Technology