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John Gross

Excuse me! Talking about the disproportionately isn't going to change it a bit. I'm a firm believer in what Bill Cosby talks about. It's not the whites that are keeping the blacks from being disproportionate in relation to the whites. It's EDUCATION that will make the numbers more proportionate. I'm sorry but some of the "minorities" have gone so long without caring and speaking their own "languages" and doing their rap music that their culture is not valuing an education etc as much as need be to succeed. Lowering standards to include more blacks isn't going to go anywhere in solving this problem. They are disproportionate in many groups because they are perhaps disproportionate in their personal effort to change things. We can't change it by lowering standards for inclusion or exclusion from your above stated concerns. I might not be PC here but that's the way I see it.

Tracy Rosen

I did not read anywhere in Jonathan's post that he suggest we lower standards in order to include/exclude students from different programs.

What I did read is a valid concern that students of colour are under/over represented in certain academic and disciplinary areas.

Help me to understand, are you suggesting that high percentages of students of colour in special education programs is a direct result of their innate academic abilities or desires? That there is no other reason for this?

I urge you to read Jonathan Kozol's 2005 article, Still Separate, Still Unequal http://tiny.cc/kozol
or to view the documentary Unequal Education http://tiny.cc/unequaled

Jon Becker

Yes, Tracy, agreed. I'm also troubled by a number of aspects of John's comments. First of all, the idea that talking about problems is not going to help is antithetical to everything I believe in as an educator; it also de-values the beauty of asynchronous yet interactive forms of communication like blogs. If we don't want to talk to each other about things, why do we do this at all? Second, I didn't blame anyone for these problems; that wasn't my point (or among my points). Third, it is the sort of marginalization in which you engage, John ("their own languages...their rap music"), that exacerbates the problems about which I wrote. I could go on, but I won't...

John Gross

I state respectfully, horsefeathers. I quote your concerns.

Overrepresented in Special Ed. My question is: Whose fault is this? Education's? You sound as if we in education are deliberately placing more blacks in special ed. Maybe they belong there and if not then why are they there? We putting them there on purpose? I think not.

Underrepresented in Gifted and talented programs. Same response as above. Show me a remedy, don't just write about it.

Underrepresented in the higher academic tracks. Again, why? You sound as if we in education are again deliberately not placing all of these minority students in the higher track. If they earn it, then they'd be there. Of course you aren't gonna agree. Your opinion is they aren't there because education is deliberately not placing them there. Do we lower standards to get them there, sounds like thats what you're advocating to me.

Overrepresented in the population of students subject to serious discipline (suspension, expulsion, etc.); Ok, now who's fault is this. Schools, again, doing this on purpose regardless of whether they belong there or not. You're saying that because a kid is black or Hispanic they are more apt to be expelled. I'm saying they may be more apt to do something to deserve it.

Under-served by highly qualified and/or highly experienced teachers. You have to clarify this because I don't see it being possible. Kids are in classes period. You're saying that we in education are going through the rolls and putting white kids with the best teacher and black kids with the mediocre or worse teachers. I take exception to this also.

Don't get me wrong, I'm concerned about these things also, but I still maintain we can talk about the problems all we want to, but nothing will change until attitudes, home life, priorities and behavior outside the educational system change drastically. And this has nothing whatsoever to do with what race the students happen to be.

Charol Shakeshaft

John, There is considerable research that yes, we are more likely to place brown skinned kids in special education classes than we are to place similar white skinned kids in these classes. There is research that indicates that brown skinned children are more likely to have teachers with less classroom experience, who earned lower grades in college, and who have fewer years of higher education than are white skinned students. Yes, there is research that documents differing standards for selecting students for gifted or accelerated classes. And yes,...
That parents and children have responsibilities for their futures does not invalidate the existence of differential inputs which lead to differential outputs.

John Gross


Research can be made to show anything needed in every single category above. Until someone convinces me that it's education's fault for the above mentioned disproportionate placement etc, I'll continue to have my opinions regarding this problem. You'll have quite a time convincing me that this is done because of the particular color of a student's skin. IMO, it's done because of the student's ability etc. It's being said here that administrators, teachers and educators in general do this regularly, on purpose and I think that's horse feathers as I said above.

I'm not arguing the differential inputs and outputs, I'm arguing the reasons for their existence. You continue to place the blame for these problems squarely on education's shoulders and it just, IMO, isn't a fact.

Jon Becker

I still don't see where anybody is blaming anybody else. Furthermore, if there were clear explanations, answers, solutions, we wouldn't be having this discussion. That being said, I suspect that there are lots of reasons these inequities exist, many (most?) of which ARE within the control of the school systems. I'm NOT willing to say that all kids who are white skinned are just inherently disproportionately less disabled, more gifted, less behaviorally disturbed, etc. Also, I don't think any of these assignments are done purposefully, as you suggest; I do think, though, that one significant factor is racial biases which we all have, including me. To eliminate racism as an explanatory factor in favor of ability as a lone predictor, is, IMO, well...horsefeathers.

John Gross

No one is eliminating racism as a factor, I'm just saying you're putting more emphasis on it than is fair. You're saying that education is basically racist and I don't agree. Racism exists no one denies that.

What I'm saying is that to eliminate these discrepancies isn't, and shouldn't be placed on the back of education. IMO, the change has to be instituted in the homes of all concerned. black, brown, white skinned kids are suffering because of at least 2, maybe 3 generations of homes where education isn't at the same priority level as it was in past history. The kids are raised with a problem, and it's worsened by environment, general attitudes and just plain ignorance. No one can expect anything to change if this continues as is. I don't care what education does as far as these disproportionate factors above are concerned, nothing will change before our society puts some more value to an education and the home reflects that change.

Tracy Rosen

From the article I linked to above:

"Many Americans who live far from our major cities and who have no firsthand knowledge of the realities to be found in urban public schools seem to have the rather vague and general impression that the great extremes of racial isolation that were matters of grave national significance some thirty-five or forty years ago have gradually but steadily diminished in more recent years. The truth, unhappily, is that the trend, for well over a decade now, has been precisely the reverse. Schools that were already deeply segregated twenty-five or thirty years ago are no less segregated now, while thousands of other schools around the country that had been integrated either voluntarily or by the force of law have since been rapidly resegregating."
~Jonathan Kozol (2005) Still Separate, Still Unequal

John Gross

It's been fun. Let's just agree to disagree because books written by authors who are self proclaimed experts on the subjects will never convince me and nothing I say will convince you folks. So now I'm living far out of the city and have no first hand knowledge. So be it.. End of discussion.

Jon Becker

Fair enough, John. But, I just want to conclude on my end that I'm not discounting differences in social capital and their contributions to various educational outcomes. But, from a policy perspective, we can't do much to improve social capital in the homes. So, I'm interested in the part that the school system can play in eliminating inequities. You suggested a couple of times that nothing will change until attitudes and behaviors outside of school change. I'm not going to wait for those changes. Most of the variance in student achievement can be accounted for by non-school factors. So, should schools give up on trying to improve student achievement?

I've enjoyed this discussion; the blogosphere is an interesting space!


Ok, the quote from Kozols' book is interesting, but where would we find the hard evidence....the studies and the numbers. This is something I don't discount and I hear about it and read about often,but I never see the numbers.

Are there links to any of these studies?

Linda F

I have taught low-income kids (Black, Hispanic, and White) for some time (15+ years). I don't believe that it's native ability that keeps them out of the higher-level classes, but skill level. In general, they have poorer Standard English skills, and, often, VERY poor math skills. Raw ability is roughly the same - some of the kids in high level programs who are privileged "ain't all that smart" - but - they do have a leg up, due to preschool experiences and a resource-rich environment.

Some people would put mkinorities in the gifted program or honors program, without support. Then, they would be surprised that they fail, which is almost predictable, without some assistance. Where are the programs that will give them that boost up they so sorely need? I'm talking about after-school and summer tutoring, study-skills lessons, peer support, etc. (I'm talking about the kids who are not already working at a comparable level with the rest of the class. BTW, some of those may be White kids - some of whom come from impoverished homes).

Same thing with the discipline problems - they are usually those kids who are WAY behind on skills and content knowledge. They'd rather be thought a problem child than stupid (which is what they feel like). This is especially common with Black kids - many of them are hypersensitive to slights on their intellectual capability. To admit they didn't understand is to say "I'm dumb" in their minds.

I'm not totally surprised that low-income kids show up in Spec Ed classes - many of them did not have a stellar start, and, in some cases, poor nutrition, too-young mothers, and/or substance abuse make catching up not possible. In too many cases, the damage is permanent and irrepairable.

Jon Becker

If you e-mail me directly (jbecker@vcu.edu), I can send you some articles that report some of the studies to which I referred.

Linda F., my preference is to focus on the schools and what we CAN do, rather than to focus on the kids and on deficit thinking.

A. Mercer

I like that idea Mr. Becker about equal protection. I’ve heard something like it suggested in my district. Currently in my state, California, the poorest schools are under a consent decree settling a lawsuit brought on behalf of students in the “poorest” schools in the state. Schools falling under that settlement are called, “Williams” schools (http://mizmercer.edublogs.org/2007/08/24/going-legal-on-their-butts/). As part of that settlement, schools undergo annual inspection to ensure that we have a textbook for every child, facilities are in good repair, etc. Regarding technology, an administrator in my district when discussing technology infrastructure suggested that if we didn’t have digital projectors in each classroom, that might become an issue under Williams (because some schools have them, and others do not. I’m waiting for someone to make the case that Williams schools need to have a minimum level of tech hardware.

On the other commentary thread, sigh...

I’ve always taught in minority majority school sites where there are high levels of poverty, so I have some experience working in that environment. I’m no Jonathan Kozol. To be honest, I’ve wenched about druggie parents, clueless parents, etc. BUT, those are not ALL of my parents. It’s easy to label all poor families as dysfunctional, but they’re not. Many kids and parents are doing their best, and the kids may still not be making the grade for a host of reasons outside of school (although, let’s be honest, sometimes it’s inside school that does them in), so this part about painting them all with the brush of “poor people having poor habits” is really not fair.

BUT even in the case where the families are a scene right out of your worst teacher nightmare, wenching can be cathartic, but in the end as a professional, I have to deal with the cards (and the students) I’m dealt. It would be easier if the parents could or would help, but if they won’t I still need to do my job. I would like conditions that would help me do that more effectively: smaller classes, more resources, developmentally and appropriate standards.

Why not just throw up my hands and be done with it? Well, I’m stubborn for one thing. The other is that we as a society cannot afford to do that. This is LOST productivity and potential when these students fail. We could let it just happen, but what will that do for our society? What would it say about us? I know what it would say to me, “I don’t care about my fellow human beings,” and “I’m too lazy to do that right thing.” I will not claim to be Jaime Escalante, or Jonathan Kozol, or Alfie Kohn, or Anne Sullivan. I am not a miracle worker. What I am is a professional, and I take pride in that fact.


I love how people love blaming the victim. Unfortunately, MLK's dream for a promissory note never came true, either. Institutionally, this country has benefited and continues to benefit from the ostracization and oppression of certain peoples ideologically as well as financially, including the students we see everyday. As educators, we have a responsibility to make the best effort of recognizing the populations we deal with. (not necessarily be their saviors, but help them grow in their own identities).

For so few of us though, we don't take the time to distinguish between informal case study and actual hard facts. We would prefer to look at the few people who do spend their finances lavishly when they already have fiscal issues and think "I wish they weren't so gaudy." In the meantime, we still have almost 80% of the American population making less than 50K, which is becoming less livable by the day. Only 1% constitute those who make more than 100K, despite how many opportunities this country suggests that we have. And worse yet, we still have people who would rather pander to audiences they've been getting rich off of since they started their careers than actually discussing the dichotomies that exists within the classes, races, and sexes.

Jonathan Kozol provides statistics on this, and so do other independent groups out there, but the argument of those who make gross generalities always becomes "let me see the articles." I can't call it.

Anyways, this was a great piece and it made me think. Tracy linked me to this.

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