How public schools fail to recognize Black prodigies

How public schools fail to recognize Black prodigies

Editor’s note: Amid numerous articles about how Black students lag behind others in educational achievement, occasionally you may hear about a young Black “prodigy” who got accepted into college at an early age. According to Donna Y. Ford, an education professor at The Ohio State University, there could be far more Black prodigies. But it would take the right support from families, who may not be familiar with some of the characteristics of gifted students and the existence of gifted programs, and educators, who often overlook the talents of Black students. Indeed, while Black students represent 15.5% of the student population in the U.S., they represent only 9.9% of all students in gifted and talented programs. In the following Q&A with education editor Jamaal Abdul-Alim, Professor Ford – who has been a consultant for Black families thinking about sending their gifted children to college early – argues that public schools are holding back Black talent rather than cultivating it. The Q&A has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Jamaal Abdul-Alim: Why do public schools so often fail to identify gifted Black students?

Donna Ford: The No. 1 reason for the underrepresentation of Black students in gifted education is the lack of teacher referrals, even when Black students are highly gifted. I definitely think stereotypes and biases hinder educators from seeing Black students’ gifts and talents. In most schools in the U.S., if you are not referred by an educator, you will not move through the identification pipeline for gifted education programs and services, as well as Advanced Placement. It starts and it stops with teachers.

This is why Black families have reached out to me. They’re saying, “This predominantly white-female discipline” – meaning teachers – “is doing my child an injustice.”

They’re saying, “I’m frustrated, I don’t know what to do other than pull my child out and home-school.” You don’t see a lot of Black home-schooling. If the parents are able to do it, they have the means.

Abdul-Alim: Are these children really prodigies or do they just have parents who are just really actively involved and concerned about their children’s education, and recognize the public schools are doing them a disservice?

Donna Y. Ford is a distinguished professor in the College of Education and Human Ecology at The Ohio State University. The Ohio State University

Ford: There’s a lot of controversy in the field about how children become gifted, no less a prodigy. To me, it’s not just nature or nurture. It’s both. So nature is they have the capacity, the potential. And then nurture is they have the experience, the exposure, the opportunity, access. And that includes the families who have the means and wherewithal to advocate for their children or to nurture whatever potential is there. But personally and professionally, I believe that the most important factor – for students being very gifted and prodigies – is the environment. That means their families, and their cultural, social and economic capital.

Abdul-Alim: But doesn’t that kind of point away from the idea of these children being “prodigies”? Because if the thing they have in common is well-educated parents who have high incomes, it seems like almost any child in that situation could achieve similar educational results.

Ford: A prodigy just means that you have children who are performing at the level of an adult; that’s the basic definition of a prodigy. So that has nothing to do with their income and families, education, etc. It is about how they are performing. They’re playing the piano like an adult who has taken lessons. They picked up on these skills and skill sets very easily. Or they are inventing mathematical formulas that you would only see adults doing. They’re in middle school and can do the work of college-level students. You can have this potential, but if you don’t have these opportunities at home, at school, even in the community, then the gifts and talents that you have may not come to fruition at the highest level.

Abdul-Alim: When families come to you about whether or not to enroll their young child in college, what do you generally advise them to do or to consider?

Ford: There’s a lot of variables to consider. One is the child’s emotional and social maturity. I think their size is important. Are they small for their age? That can contribute to some social and emotional issues, in particular bullying or isolation. Do they have siblings who are older who might be intimidated or negatively affected by their younger sibling being accelerated?

Abdul-Alim: What is your advice to families who can’t afford to home-school, but who have children who could very well be higher-performing if given the opportunity? How does society provide opportunities for children who fall in that category?

Ford: I want the families to become familiar with what the barriers are. So when Black families have contacted me about their child not being identified as gifted or not being challenged like their white classmates, then I point them to the Civil Rights Data Collection website, which is run by the U.S. Department of Education. I have them look specifically at what the data says for representation in gifted programs and Advanced Placement classes. I ask them to look at suspension and expulsion by race and corporal punishment, if that exists in their schools, which it does in some states, and very last, take a hard and critical look at all the data.

You can go straight to data for your child’s district or school building. And so, they can come armed with these demographic data showing underrepresentation in gifted and Advanced Placement, but overrepresentation in certain categories of special education as well as discipline, such as suspension and expulsion. And when they come informed, then sometimes – not always – the educators are put on notice. And they do what they’re supposed to do anyway, which is share information with families about how to gain the resources and opportunities that their children need.The Conversation

Donna Ford, Professor of Special Education, The Ohio State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

COMMENTARY: I had a teacher who looked like me

COMMENTARY: I had a teacher who looked like me

Video Courtesy of Education Post


I grew up in the pre-Katrina New Orleans in the 1980s and 90s. The city was impoverished and crime-ridden, but it was home. The diverse cultures that permeated New Orleans, its friendliness and music, were potent enough to make it one of the most amazing places in the world to live. The big downside for a kid like me was the educational system, which had been ranked one of the lowest in the country for decades. The fact that I was able to navigate a failing school system and become a first-generation college graduate was nothing short of miraculous.

Or so it seemed to me until, as an educator, I conducted research on the significance of teachers of color for black students. I now recognize that my success is heavily attributed to the teachers of color who walked the halls of my primary and secondary schools. Yes, I had wonderful white teachers who loved me and supported me, but having teachers who looked like me enhanced my educational experience exponentially.

Shirley Dufour was my second-grade teacher and my first African-American teacher. She was a charismatic, nurturing and extremely knowledgeable educator who commanded the room. She taught us with firm love. She always dressed professionally and spoke so articulately, personifying excellence with every step she made and word she spoke.

I idolized Mrs. Dufour. She looked like me and was able to connect with me in a way my white teachers could not. She set the highest expectations for me and refused to let me settle academically or personally. Her unwavering commitment to the pursuit of excellence is what I wanted to mirror when I became a teacher.

Now, it is my professional purpose to exemplify for my students what Mrs. Dufour modeled for me. When I became a teacher in Dallas ISD in 2006, I knew that I wanted to work at an impoverished school so that I could be for those students what my teachers of color were for me. I always tell my students, “your address doesn’t dictate your success.” They believe that motto so much more when the person saying it looks like them.

In my classroom, my students gain an experience. They are empowered and feel accomplished every day regardless of their academic abilities, because I believe that this dissipates the achievement gap between black students and their peers. Whenever I can, I aim to validate the cultural needs of my students. I affirm the challenges of their environment as I steer them towards opportunities that can eradicate the blatant systemic oppression in their neighborhoods. My experiences as a student of color allow me to provide a unique perspective that only someone like me can give them, and it challenges them to think outside of the box to find solutions and enact change.

Research emphasizes that teachers of color matter for all students, and especially for students of color. It is imperative that we begin to change the narrative of America’s schools; this starts with recruiting, developing and supporting teachers of color so they remain in the classroom. In a just-released report, Teach Plus and The Education Trust lay out the reasons why teachers of color leave the profession. I can relate to many of these, and I know that we must be intentional about creating opportunities for teachers of color to operate with autonomy, authenticity and authority, so that we can address some of the issues that stifle the educational success of students of color across the country.

It is imperative that my students feel like they matter, and that they are accurately represented in their classrooms. I want them to see someone who looks like them, shares similar experiences and provides authentic anecdotes to overcome the challenges they experience. That magnitude of leverage begins with the intentional development and implementation of a pipeline of effective teachers of color.

This article was originally published on TribTalk, a publication of the Texas Tribune.


COMMENTARY: I had a teacher who looked like me

COMMENTARY: I had a teacher who looked like me

Video Courtesy of Education Post


I grew up in the pre-Katrina New Orleans in the 1980s and 90s. The city was impoverished and crime-ridden, but it was home. The diverse cultures that permeated New Orleans, its friendliness and music, were potent enough to make it one of the most amazing places in the world to live. The big downside for a kid like me was the educational system, which had been ranked one of the lowest in the country for decades. The fact that I was able to navigate a failing school system and become a first-generation college graduate was nothing short of miraculous.

Or so it seemed to me until, as an educator, I conducted research on the significance of teachers of color for black students. I now recognize that my success is heavily attributed to the teachers of color who walked the halls of my primary and secondary schools. Yes, I had wonderful white teachers who loved me and supported me, but having teachers who looked like me enhanced my educational experience exponentially.

Shirley Dufour was my second-grade teacher and my first African-American teacher. She was a charismatic, nurturing and extremely knowledgeable educator who commanded the room. She taught us with firm love. She always dressed professionally and spoke so articulately, personifying excellence with every step she made and word she spoke.

I idolized Mrs. Dufour. She looked like me and was able to connect with me in a way my white teachers could not. She set the highest expectations for me and refused to let me settle academically or personally. Her unwavering commitment to the pursuit of excellence is what I wanted to mirror when I became a teacher.

Now, it is my professional purpose to exemplify for my students what Mrs. Dufour modeled for me. When I became a teacher in Dallas ISD in 2006, I knew that I wanted to work at an impoverished school so that I could be for those students what my teachers of color were for me. I always tell my students, “your address doesn’t dictate your success.” They believe that motto so much more when the person saying it looks like them.

In my classroom, my students gain an experience. They are empowered and feel accomplished every day regardless of their academic abilities, because I believe that this dissipates the achievement gap between black students and their peers. Whenever I can, I aim to validate the cultural needs of my students. I affirm the challenges of their environment as I steer them towards opportunities that can eradicate the blatant systemic oppression in their neighborhoods. My experiences as a student of color allow me to provide a unique perspective that only someone like me can give them, and it challenges them to think outside of the box to find solutions and enact change.

Research emphasizes that teachers of color matter for all students, and especially for students of color. It is imperative that we begin to change the narrative of America’s schools; this starts with recruiting, developing and supporting teachers of color so they remain in the classroom. In a just-released report, Teach Plus and The Education Trust lay out the reasons why teachers of color leave the profession. I can relate to many of these, and I know that we must be intentional about creating opportunities for teachers of color to operate with autonomy, authenticity and authority, so that we can address some of the issues that stifle the educational success of students of color across the country.

It is imperative that my students feel like they matter, and that they are accurately represented in their classrooms. I want them to see someone who looks like them, shares similar experiences and provides authentic anecdotes to overcome the challenges they experience. That magnitude of leverage begins with the intentional development and implementation of a pipeline of effective teachers of color.

This article was originally published on TribTalk, a publication of the Texas Tribune.


Stop the BS (Bad Stats)

Stop the BS (Bad Stats)

Video Courtesy of Ivory Toldson


Evidence suggests white teachers are more negative with – and have lower expectations for – black students.

As a counseling professor who specializes in educating black children, these findings do not surprise me. I often hear education professionals and others use simplistic negative statistics to explain complex challenges facing black students.

In my book, “No BS (Bad Stats): Black People Need People Who Believe in Black People Enough Not to Believe Every Bad Thing They Hear about Black People,” I refer to these kinds of negative statistics as “BS.” “BS,” or “bad stats,” are data points that are incomplete, poorly contextualized, usually negative and sometimes wrong. My book uses data, research and anecdotes to confront nine lies about education and black students.

I give three examples of the falsehoods here.

Myth #1: More black men are in prison than college

In 2002, the Justice Policy Institute released a report called “Cellblocks or Classrooms.” The report was meant to spur policymakers to invest in college education for black males. One line resonated and echoed more than others: “Nearly a third more African American men are incarcerated than in higher education.”

Claims that there are more black men in prison than in college are no longer true.gstockstudio from www.shutterstock.com

Was it ever true? As I noted in an interview with the BBC in 2013, the Justice Policy Institute accurately reported the federal education data available at the time. The problem is that data was incomplete. For instance, several historically black colleges and universities, as well as my alma mater, Temple University, where I was enrolled as a doctoral candidate in 2001, reported no black male students in 2001 – which would have been impossible. Colleges have apparently gotten better at reporting race and gender data since.

When documentary filmmaker Janks Morton and I first published our 2011 response to the claim that there were more black men in prison than in college, we refuted it by showing that there were about 1.3 million black men in college and 840,000 black men in prison. By 2015, the total number of black men in college was 1,437,363 and the total incarcerated was 745,660. A chart that I produced in 2013 shows the trend in black male incarceration and college enrollment over the 10 years after the JPI report.

Not only is “more black men in prison than college” false, it may lead to bad policy and practice for black boys. In my view, educators who believe their black male students have a better chance of ending up in jail than college might focus more on preventing delinquency, rather than preparing helping them realize their college potential.

Myth #2: Black students lag in reading ability

During a panel discussion, I once heard a principal of a predominantly black high school state that “100 percent” of the students at her school were reading below grade level. Another panelist added the common myth that low reading scores in the third grade help prison builders calculate the need for future prison beds. But assessing reading ability involves much more than using standardized tests of reading proficiency.

For instance, scoring errors, lack of motivation, fatigue, resentment and attention deficits can reduce the accuracy of standardized reading test scores. These sources of error may be more prevalent in predominately black schools with substandard conditions.

Before writing off an entire school because of test scores, educators should become familiar with the specific assessments used, the circumstances by which the test was administered and the basic concepts of testing theory. Consider Orange County School Board member Rick Roach who – in a quest to understand reading tests better – took Florida’s state test for reading comprehension. Although he has two master’s degrees, he failed. Rick Roach’s experience backs up research that recommends educators look for beyond the tests to assess achievement.

Myth #3: Single mothers are to blame for problems among black students

In a training, a teacher told me that single mothers were the “number one” reason for black boys getting suspended. When I asked the teacher what research supports this conclusion, he insinuated that it was common knowledge.

Household composition and academic outcomes have a tenuous link.
iofoto from www.shutterstock.com

In my book, I detail the research that I have conducted and reviewed on the connection between parents and academic success. Although 69 percent of black children live in homes without both biological parents, there’s little conclusive evidence that household composition determines educational outcomes.

In my 2013 analysis of more than 12,000 parents who completed the National Household Education Surveys-Parent and Family Involvement Survey, I found that parents who were black and Hispanic, non-native English speakers, lived in unsafe neighborhoods and had less than a high school education were less likely to visit school for conferences with teachers and administrators or school activities. My study found that this lack of involvement with school was statistically associated with lower levels of academic achievement among their students.

The study also found that parents of black students received less frequent and more negative communication from their child’s school. Specifically, parents of black students were the most likely to receive phone calls from school because of a problem with their child’s behavior or academic performance. Parents of white children were the most likely to receive regular newsletters.

My book details three parenting factors that increase students’ academic functioning regardless of marital status.

The first is academic socialization – that is, lessons around the goals and purposes of education and strategies for success.

The second is positive parenting, which is when parents frequently tell their children they love them and are proud of them, and reinforce good behavior.

The third is having high expectations, such as expecting children to finish college.

Why we need to stop the BS

The first step to correcting a problem is to acknowledge that it exists.

In my opinion, BS is pervasive in educational settings for black children because educators want quick and easy ways to understand longstanding and complex issues. People should question negative statistics, like those I discuss in this article, and seek a better and more nuanced perspective of the issues, instead of just accepting BS as proof of failure.The Conversation

Ivory A. Toldson, Professor of Counseling Psychology, Howard University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Will LeBron James’ I Promise School defy the odds?

Will LeBron James’ I Promise School defy the odds?

File 20190411 44790 jjwa3s.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
LeBron James speaks at the opening ceremony for the I Promise School in Akron, Ohio. Phil Long/AP

When it comes to dealing with issues of race and social justice, LeBron James has never been shy to speak his mind.

For instance, in a recent HBO series, “The Shop,” LeBron laments how in the NFL, “they got a bunch of old white men owning teams and they got that slave mentality.”

At a time when issues of race continue to play a prominent role in American society – from police killings of unarmed black men to racial disparities in America’s criminal courts – we find LeBron’s boldness and willingness to speak out on these issues commendable.

Which made it surprising to us that plans for a public elementary school in Akron, Ohio that four-time NBA MVP LeBron launched in 2018, to help students who are struggling to stay on track academically, largely ignored how important race is in educational attainment.

While we can appreciate the NBA great using his star power and considerable wealth to open a school for children in his hometown who are struggling academically, much like LeBron once was himself, we levy this criticism from our vantage point as scholars and students who study race in education. One of us – Kevin O’Neal Cokley – is an education scholar who has studied and written a book about the psychological and environmental factors that impact black student achievement. Two of us – Nolan Krueger and Marlon L. Bailey – are doctoral students in an educational psychology department.

Before we explain why we believe the I Promise School should deal with race more boldly and more explicitly, let us first identify the areas where we believe the school is getting things right.

Emphasis on teamwork

The I Promise School employs “rigorous problem-based, inquiry-oriented learning” that involves having students work together to solve problems. This is good because research has found that black students from low-income families prefer a more communal and collectivist approach to school work, not individualistic competition.

Positive disciplinary practices

Instead of relying on suspensions and expulsions, which tend to disproportionately impact black children, the I Promise School relies on what the school’s leaders refer to as the five “habits of promise.” Those are: problem-solving, perspective, partnership, perseverance and perpetual learning. This is especially important given how school suspensions and expulsions lead to higher dropout rates.

Values and supports families

One of the things that stands out most about the school is its “I Promise Family Plan.” This plan offers a range of supports and resources for students and families. The resources include a food pantry, a barbershop and hair salon, and help for parents to improve English comprehension and earn their GED.

This family plan is also designed to help remove barriers to graduation. For example, providing free uniforms, a free bicycle and helmet, a computer to every student and an onsite laundry facility may help families who are short on cash get the things they need. This lessens the likelihood that children will be teased and bullied in school, which would create a negative school climate.

Especially noteworthy is the school’s treatment of fathers. Instead of assuming that fathers are not involved in the lives of their kids, the I Promise School has a Father’s Walk Day in which fathers are formally welcomed to the school.

A student at the I Promise School shows school pride by getting an ‘IPS’ design in his haircut. The school provided nearly 70 IPS students free haircuts from local Akron and Cleveland barbers on site as part of IPS’s celebration of Black History Month. I Promise School

Extended school year

The I Promise School is praised as being the first of its kind because it will have an extended school year that lasts from July to May. It also features longer school days from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Longer school days have been shown to promote attendance and positive academic outcomes.

The school also features a seven-week summer session focused on STEM designed to help prevent the “summer slide” – that is, the loss of learning students suffer during summer vacation.

Questions about race

Despite the many things to like about the I Promise School, we question whether and to what extent the school deals directly with issues of race. Scholars such as Richard Milner suggest that schools must confront both poverty and race in the classroom in order to create optimal learning.

Educators with a critical understanding of how race and poverty manifest in the classroom might rely less on an one-size-fits-all curriculum and instead ground learning in an understanding of the lived experiences of their students.

Renowned educational scholar Gloria Ladson-Billings has stressed the importance of culturally conscious education. She also promotes culturally relevant teaching – which she defines as a “pedagogy of opposition” – especially if schools are to be successful with African American students.

Since the I Promise School has students from diverse backgrounds, some might ask why we think the I Promise School should confront race and poverty.

It is true that students are selected for the school based on their test scores and how behind they are in reading, not on race or any other demographic characteristic. However, the reality is the I Promise School is located in Akron, where the student population is disproportionately black – 46.1% – compared to 13.8% of national K-12 enrollment. Furthermore, Ohio has a staggering “achievement” gap between black and white students, with only 37% of black children in Ohio reading at grade level compared with 70% of white children.

The I Promise School’s 20-page master plan document does not focus on issues of race or race-equity despite research that shows some of the most vexing issues facing students – such as disparities in graduation rate, literacy and higher education admissions – are linked to race and poverty.

Prominent educational scholars such as Tyrone Howard have asserted that when educators ignore race or adopt colorblind approaches, they fail to realize that avoiding the topic denies students an essential part of their being. This in turn only increases the likelihood of race becoming an explosive topic.

Research has also shown that priming students of color to believe race is a social construct, as opposed to biologically based, can actually improve educational outcomes by mitigating the risk of confirming negative racial stereotypes about academic performance.

Teacher diversity

One critical factor to consider is the racial composition of the school’s staff, administrators and, in particular, teachers. Research suggests that students do better when their teachers look like them and can relate to their experiences. For example, it has been shown that black children are assessed more harshly for disruptive behavior when their teacher is white as opposed to black. Research has also shown that exposure to just one black teacher between grades 3 and 5 reduces the rate of dropout for black male high-schoolers.

Based on the school’s staff directory, the I Promise School appears to be lacking in teacher diversity – something we believe that the school should be more mindful of in the future.

Will the school defy the odds?

To be clear, we are celebrating LeBron James for fulfilling his dream and creating the I Promise School. He deserves praise for caring enough to give back to the community where he grew up.

The I Promise School could be a big “win” for students and LeBron James, a man who has dedicated countless hours and millions of dollars toward positively impacting Akron’s youth. We believe if the I Promise School incorporates social justice and the primacy of race into its approach, it could be transformational for its students. If, however, the school fails to address issues of race and equity in its design, the school likely won’t spur the generational change that proponents of the school envision.

Editor’s note: Officials affiliated with the I Promise Academy declined to comment directly for this story but cautioned against judging a school based strictly on publicly available documents.

Nolan Krueger, Doctoral Student Researcher in the Department of Educational Psychology, University of Texas at Austin; Kevin O’Neal Cokley, Professor of Educational Psychology and African and African Diaspora Studies, University of Texas at Austin, and Marlon L. Bailey, Doctoral Student in the Department of Educational Psychology, University of Texas at Austin

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.