Tag: Systems Change

Marking the One Year Anniversary of Our Local Equity Report

Marking the One Year Anniversary of Our Local Equity Report

Reading Time: < 1 minute

One year ago today, the Coalition for Racial Justice released the report, Racial Equity in Iowa City and Johnson County.  This report was a major impetus for the partnership we have developed with Diversity Focus, so that we might address some of the challenges described within.

Our very own Alecia Brooks wrote an op-ed to mark the occasion, which was published in our local newspaper today, All residents deserve an equitable chance to thrive.

I hope you will join us as we embark on the exciting work ahead to ensure our community is inclusive and responsive to all!

West Wind and Diversity Focus to Partner for Educational Equity

West Wind and Diversity Focus to Partner for Educational Equity

Reading Time: 2 minutes

West Wind Education Policy and Diversity Focus announce a new partnership, The Creative Corridor Center for Equity.

We invite you to collaborate with us!

Our communities have experienced tumultuous change in the past decade as our population has diversified, we weathered the 500-year flood, and we strive to bring 21st century practices to an effective 20th century education system. The Creative Corridor Center for Equity was created to develop a systematic, collaborative approach to overcoming challenges in the Cedar Rapids/Iowa City corridor. Through partnerships that extend north to the Cedar Valley region and on to Minneapolis, MN, we expand the networks, time, talent, and treasure to support our youth here at home. Continue reading “West Wind and Diversity Focus to Partner for Educational Equity”

What We Are Doing for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service

What We Are Doing for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Everybody can be great, because anybody can serve.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

In 1983 legislation was signed declaring the third Monday in January Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.  In 1994 Congress designated MLK Day as a national day of service and charged the Corporation for National and Community Service, a federal agency, with leading the effort.  Founded in 1993, the Corporation for National and Community Service’s purpose is to “connect Americans of all ages and backgrounds with opportunities to give back to their communities and their nation.”  This agency manages the SeniorCorp (2009), and AmeriCorp (1993) programs. Continue reading “What We Are Doing for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service”

Seeing Through and Beyond

Seeing Through and Beyond

Reading Time: 4 minutes

I just opened an email from a colleague asking me if I could help her find an article she needed for her work with local district administrators across the state. She was looking for The Singular Power of One Goal (Sparks, 1999) to encourage superintendents and principals to consider the importance of establishing a focused school improvement plan. After locating the article in my files and sending it off, I poured a cup of coffee and re-read this familiar work. The article, featuring an interview with Emily Calhoun, is just as current today as it was twelve years ago, and the message is more important than ever.

Dr.Calhoun is a national expert and author who supports schools, districts and state agencies in designing and implementing school reforms that focus on instruction, curriculum and assessment. In this publication, Emily reminds readers of the importance of setting goals sharply focused on student learning. She contends that one powerful student learning goal is sufficient for a school staff to work on. Having too many goals makes it difficult for educators to work collectively to study teaching practices and results. Focusing on one powerful goal enables teams of teachers to engage in highly focused professional learning, dig into the external knowledge base, thoroughly examine student data, and to carefully study the implementation of strategies identified by the faculty.

One of the most important concepts put forward by Emily in the interview is called “seeing through and beyond,” which is a process of identifying all the changes that will be required to accomplish the goal by looking through the goal to the student performances that are expected. The next step is to determine what teacher behaviors in curriculum, instruction, and assessment are needed to promote the desired student behaviors. Continuing the process, the faculty must see right through the teacher behaviors to what the principal and central office need to do. Seeing through and beyond enables program implementers to make better use of data, to design comprehensive staff development, to employ technical assistance and leadership, and to make critical decisions about the effective use of time and resources. A singular goal helps the faculty to focus and to push through to address the things that everyone must be working on to fully accomplish the goal. Of course, limiting the focus of a school’s improvement plan to a single goal is not easily done and achieving the goal is not that simple, and Dr. Calhoun comments on the many barriers and challenges.

When the article came out twelve years ago, districts were struggling to comply with NCLB and having difficulty managing the expectations to meet student achievement goals in multiple subject areas at the same time. Today, districts are still struggling to figure out how to design reforms that accomplish everything that is expected of them, with even fewer resources. The concept of seeing through and beyond is intriguing to think about in our current context.

Schools are being expected to adjust to newly revised student learning standards, modify curriculum, improve formative assessment processes, add more summative assessments, apply new technologies for both classroom and organizational purposes, implement new data management stems, engage parents more fully, respond to revised teaching standards, add new teacher and leader evaluation procedures, deliver intensive professional development, reform hiring and retention practices …and the list goes on.

How might applying the idea of “seeing through and beyond” to policy development change this picture? What if school leaders and policy makers started the policy making process by considering how the policy would enable districts and schools to focus on fewer priorities rather than adding more. Just as school leaders should look through the learning goal and the desired student performance to consider all the actions needed at various levels of the system, policy makers need to see beyond the specific actions and immediate consequences of the policies and reforms they are promulgating. Are there protocols that could help leaders to think about how their policies affect student learning and how they change the behaviors of teachers, principals, central office staff, and other role groups at all levels of the system? Is there a way to consider whether the policies are likely to lead to systemic changes that yield improved practices in instruction and assessment with enough fidelity to the design of the innovation and with enough teaches to make a difference? Reforms where innovations are done incorrectly or partially by many teachers or reforms that are fully implemented by only a small percentage of the teachers responsible for instruction are not going to yield the intended outcomes.

There are processes available to help planners to see through and beyond the policy goal. The new field of implementation science offers strategies for increasing fidelity and ways of accomplishing full scale replication across a large system. The work of Dean Fixsen and the National Implementation Network give policy makers and practitioners a way to intentionally explore and adopt the innovation, consider the various organizational complexities and the context that contributes to the success or failure of an implementation, and address both expected and unexpected barriers to putting a reform in place. Attending to the factors of implementation early in the planning process by using implementation science would give reformers tools they need to increase the likely hood that the policies they advance will make a difference.

In her article from over a decade ago, Emily advised that it takes both leadership and willpower to face the challenges of school reform. It will take leadership to intentionally use today’s implementation science and other processes to “see through and beyond”. It will take will power to narrow the focus of reforms, to selectively abandon projects and reforms that aren’t working, to eliminate barriers to reforms that are likely to accomplish goals of improved teaching and learning and to target actions to the ultimate goal – student learning.

Sparks, D.(1999). The singular power of one goal: Action researcher narrows focus to broaden effectiveness. JSD, Winter, 54-58. Retrieved from http://www.learningforward.org/news/jsd/calhoun201.cfm

Image from Flickr user: Kristin Mckee

What’s Missing from the Conversation?:  The Trayvon Martin Shooting and Race

What’s Missing from the Conversation?: The Trayvon Martin Shooting and Race

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Yesterday morning as I prepared for work, I heard someone speak about the February 26 shooting of Trayvon Martin stating that he should have stayed with his father on that fateful night.  Last week, in the first public interview of Martin’s parents, on The Today Show, one of Matt Lauer’s first questions to Trayvon’s mother and father was if there was any reason why Trayvon might have been agitated that night?  The lawyer and friends of George Zimmerman have come forward to emphatically state that he was in a fight for his life, having emerged from the scuffle with a broken nose, scrapes, and grass stains on his clothes.  They also state that he is not racist and has cried for days over the incident.  In the released 911 calls, in George Zimmerman’s own words, he describes the boy as a suspicious person who keeps looking around and into windows.  These thoughts and statements are all parts of the conversation as it continues to play out in the media each day. There are, I believe, key considerations missing from this conversation.

Stand Your Ground

The 2011 Stand Your Ground statute, Chapter 776 outlines  justifiable use of force on the “presumption of fear of death or great bodily harm.”  One question missing from the current conversation is, wouldn’t Trayvon Martin have the right and responsibility to stand his own ground as well?  In all of the conversations I have not heard enough emphasis of the degree of the fright and alarm that Trayvon experienced by being followed by an adult man.  In Trayvon’s case, it’s not hard for me to imagine that he was aware of his surroundings.  In the clip of recorded conversation between Trayvon and his girlfriend, we hear her tell him to run.  Should Trayvon have run home that night to avoid a confrontation?  From an adult perspective certainly, he would likely be here today to share his own point of view if he had.

However, would it have been wrong for him to turn and face his follower?  Certainly not.  Who was this man who continued to follow him through the complex as he made his way from the 7-11 to his father’s townhome with his candy and tea?  What had Trayvon done to be considered suspicious?

In my own imagination, I can easily see Trayvon, feeling relatively safe in his own neighborhood.  He may have been tired of being treated as a suspect first, and 17-year old boy second and not wanting to be subjected to that behavior from others anymore, and so instead of running he turned and stood his ground.

Or, I can also see him as a somewhat cocky young man who, knowing that he was being followed, figured that he could handle the man on his own and turned to face him, thinking if it came to a fight, he would easily win.  I can also see that as a young African American man, to run can be considered to be a coward, and with the mixture of the two scenarios, Trayvon turned to stand his ground.

We don’t  yet, and might never, know exactly how Trayvon and George Zimmerman came to be in a struggle on the sidewalk that night, but I can imagine that Trayvon felt as threatened and in defense of his own life as George Zimmerman is reported to have felt, with the exception of the fact that Trayvon only had his fists to defend himself while George Zimmerman had a loaded gun.


Secondly, in all of this, history is curiously absent.  It was not even 70 years ago (the 1950s and early 1960s) when lynching occurred with some regularity in the south.  In the intervening years, where these incidents have widely been condemned and more people have been brought to justice for their participation, we continue to hear of incidents where Black men are dragged, tortured, and killed.  In fact in the wake of this case, a recent NPR Morning Edition show featured writer Donna Britt regarding “the talk” she’s had with her two sons.  The fact of the matter is I too have had similar discussions with my own 15-year-old multiethnic son.  “The Talk” concerns how the world perceives them and their own responsibility to be aware of the perception, no matter how real or imagined, and to be prepared for the reaction they may likely receive at times.

I imagine that Trayvon’s parents had similar discussions with him regarding the dangers of the police and his interactions with White people in general that could lead to tragic consequences.  Today a young Black man can’t be picked up simply for failing to yield the sidewalk to a White person, or for being “fresh” or overly friendly towards White women; however, it seems, if someone feels threatened, especially in states with Stand Your Ground statutes like Florida, there continues to be legal justification for killing young Black males.

Walking While Black

Thirdly, part of the conversation that remains largely absent is that I still have not heard of just cause for George Zimmerman to have followed Trayvon in the first place.  Yes, there had been a few robberies in the area recently.  Yes, according to reports, it is suspected that those crimes were committed by Black men.  However, does that mean that every Black male is suspect?

It appears Trayvon became suspicious to George Zimmerman for “walking while Black.” He was a young Black man, unfamiliar to Zimmerman, walking at night with a hoody on.  Our society perpetuates the notion of Black men as dangerous and criminal. People respond with fear and suspicion when we see Black males, particularly at night.

The continued perpetuation of fear of Black men every day in the media, in entertainment, and in our own imaginations, results in someone like George Zimmerman seeing Trayvon and easily justifying the ensuing actions in his own mind.  Zimmerman, like all of us, consistently sees the message that Black men are dangerous, whether they are 12 or 35.  He saw Trayvon and said to himself, this shadowy figure is up to no good.

What’s more, this doesn’t simply happen in our neighborhoods or on the streets…this also happens in our classrooms and schools.   We can examine the recent reports regarding disproportionate suspensions and actions of discipline in schools where  Black males especially, but Latino males as well, are disproportionately suspended in schools[1].  Here we see school officials disciplining Black boys, in particular, for like-transgressions, often with the intent of “sending a message” as if Black boys are somehow in need of extreme measures to learn the same lessons about behavior, rules, and right and wrong as other kids.  Rather it is the imagined consequence that “lenience” (which I consider to be more proportionate responses) does in light of the exaggerated notion of Black males as dangerous and criminal that underlies such decisions regarding appropriate discipline.

Underlying Beliefs

I’m troubled by a seemingly double standard.  In our media and popular entertainment, we see the image of White males taking charge.  On more than one occasion, I’ve seen stories of Iraq and Afghanistan vets, in particular, hailed for their quick thinking and response to threatening situations.  In their cases, they emerge not only unscathed, but admired for their response and bravery.  This to me demonstrates how our culture on the whole values brashness and no-holds bar behavior from White males, yet these same behaviors are considered aggressive and undesirable in minorities, especially Black males.   According to Zimmerman’s lawyer and friends, he was justified in his pursuit of Trayvon, yet, in their minds, Trayvon was not justified if he had turned and faced his pursuer in the very least, and defended himself at the most.  How can both perceptions exist at the same time?  It goes back to what we value as appropriate responses from specific subject positions.  How is it that the only seemingly acceptable response that Trayvon should have had was to run?

A recent blog by Michael Skolnik points out, if it had been him, rather than Trayvon, he doubts that Zimmerman would have seen him as suspicious.  He states:

No matter how much the hoodie covers my face or how baggie my jeans are, I will never look out of place to you.  I will never watch a taxi cab pass me by to pick someone else up.  I will never witness someone clutch their purse tightly against their body as they walk by me.  I won’t have to worry about a police car following me for two miles…I will never look suspicious to you, because of one thing and one think only.  The color of my skin.  I am white.

The point being, if Trayvon were White, how different would the conversation be?  Based on which underlying beliefs and values would the media and others’ respond?  How does this notion change the conversation completely?

Reversal of Fortune

The last and most important question that remains unaddressed is if the situation was reversed, would we even have this same degree of speculation?  I suspect that had Trayvon been the one to carry a weapon, even with a permit, Trayvon Martin would be held in jail with a hefty bond.  The media would ponder why this “troubled teen” went out to kill a law-abiding Neighborhood Watch captain.  Not only would the questions surrounding the incident (I doubt anyone would have asked if George Zimmerman was agitated that night) would have been different, but also the language used to frame the incident would likely have included emphasis of murder and killing rather than a death.   How do we continue to talk about Trayvon’s death as if his death wasn’t the result of another’s intentional or unintentional actions.

Missing Conclusion

It seems to me if George Zimmerman never spends a night in jail, if the Stand Your Ground law only applies to him and is a means of his escaping criminal liability for his actions, and not to Trayvon who reasonably felt he was defending his own life, then  we are saying to everyone that it’s okay to shoot an unarmed 17-year old Black male, as long as you feel threatened.  And in doing so, we continue to justify the perpetuation of fear of Black men and boys.

How is this substantially different than our recent and unfortunate racial history?

Creating Risk

Creating Risk

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Minnesota state officials recently released the Minnesota Readiness Study showing that children of color and children who live in poverty are “less likely to be considered ready for kindergarten”[1] than their White and middle class counterparts.  As we try to understand, I want to focus attention on the notion of what it means to be “ready” for kindergarten.

According to a 2010 report[2] summary, the Minnesota Department of Education defines readiness as:

The skills, knowledge, behaviors, and accomplishments that children should know and be able to do as they enter kindergarten in the following areas of child development: personal and social development; language and literacy; mathematical thinking; physical development; the arts.[3]

Although I understand given the pressure to produce a highly educated and qualified citizenry that there is such emphasis of skill and knowledge development for five year olds; I do believe that these indicators, don’t tell the full story.  Not only that, but I am even more alarmed when last year’s summary goes on to “[c]onclud[e] that the result of the School Readiness Study are predictive of the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment (MCA) proficiency outcomes at grade three, especially in reading and math…”[4]

Essentially this report, like so many others like it, indicates that poor children and children of color not only enter school behind, but are more likely not to catch up to their White and middle class peers even by third grade.  To go further, many education reports like these and the subsequent media coverage contribute to a narrative and mental model that lead people to believe that it is the fault of the parents, the home environment, the culture, or circumstances that no one can control that leads to such disparate outcomes.  This is implied due to the emphasis that these kids are behind even before they enter school.  However, for a moment, let’s suppose we take this at face value and agree children enter into kindergarten at different levels of “readiness” in terms of their skills and knowledge.  So what?  To me, the obvious solution is to teach them the skills they need to be “ready” for kindergarten.  Is that such a radical notion?  It is true that learning accumulates with some skills building from others, but does that mean that once behind, always behind?  I would guess that in a country like our own that prides itself on upward mobility and the self-making of each citizen, the rather obvious conclusion should be no.  Yet, that’s exactly what happens.  Why?

To answer this, I go back to one of the first texts I read as a graduate student, Shirley Brice Heath’s Ways with Words (1983)[5].  She studied three communities, Roadville, a predominantly White working class community; Trackton, a predominantly Black working class community; and the Townspeople, a more racially mixed middle-class community.  She examined the orientation and use of language that each community exhibited in their day-to-day interactions amongst each other, and especially with their young children and looked at how their relationship with literacy and language related to their children’s degrees of success in school.  Heath found that each set of students entered with different relationships, understanding, skills, and knowledge of literacy and that school heavily favored the orientation and skills that the Townspeople’s children brought with them to the detriment to the other students.  It wasn’t that children from Trackton and Roadville didn’t know, but that they had different ways with words.  Specifically Heath (1983) says, “The school’s approach to reading and learning establishes decontextualized skills as foundational in the hierarchy of academic skills,” (p. 353) which indicates the need to reassess how school approaches such skills and knowledge and examines who is privileged in this process and who is marginalized.  Without this understanding and without taking the time to examine the taken-for-granted knowledge and skills teachers bring from their own homes and then perpetuate in the classroom, the achievement gap will continue to exist.  As she says,

The school is not a neutral objective arena; it is an institution which has the goal of changing people’s values, skills, and knowledge bases.  Yet some portions of the population, such as the townspeople, bring with them to school linguistic and cultural capital accumulated through hundreds of thousands of occasions for practicing the skills and espousing the values the schools transmit…

In any case, unless the boundaries between classrooms and communities can be broken, and the flow of cultural patterns between them encouraged, the schools will continue to legitimate and reproduce communities of townspeople who control and limit the potential progress of other communities and who themselves remain untouched by other values and ways of life (p. 367-369).

My point is that such reports, while sounding the alarm are indicating all the wrong sources for the achievement gap.  It is not that students enter kindergarten deficit of skills, it’s that kindergarten in its current form is not created to recognize and honor the skills children bring with them and utilize those skills as a means of learning others.  It’s a lack of knowledge, interest, and skills built into the institution itself that fails to welcome all its citizenry with the same equitable embrace as those who best exhibit the institution’s own ideologies and ways of knowing and being.  Until we change that, I believe we will continue to create risk where none actually exists.

[1] See Tom Weber, “Achievement gap exists for kids even before kindergartenMinnesota Public Radio.

[2] Due to technical errors, the report from this year is inaccessible online; therefore, I used the summaries and results from last year’s report, which makes many of the same points.

[3] See School Readiness Study Summary found HERE.

[4] Also see the School Readiness Study Summary.

[5] Heath, Ways with Words Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Instructional Rounds: A Powerful Reform Strategy

Instructional Rounds: A Powerful Reform Strategy

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Collaboration, networking, school improvement, instructional support, a collaborative learning culture, knowledge building, and rigorous and relevant teaching—these are all attributes and practices school reformers strive for by awarding funds, promulgating rules, instituting strategic plans, launching training initiatives, and extending promises to stakeholders. One approach that truly advances all of these attributes and practices is the instructional rounds process – “an explicit practice that is designed to bring the discussion of instruction directly into the process of school improvement.”[1] Instructional rounds are adapted from a routine used in medical education in which interns, residents, and supervising physicians visit patients, observe, discuss evidence for diagnoses, engage in dialogue to analyze the evidence, and share ideas for possible treatments. Educational rounds brings networks of educators together using protocols and routines to articulate a theory of action, identify a problem of practice, observe classroom instruction, debrief with colleagues to analyze any patterns that emerge, and recommend the next level of work to help the school achieve their desired goals.[2]

Richard Elmore, Lee Teitel, Liz City, and their colleagues from Harvard have developed processes, protocols, and technical assistance resources for establishing networks to implement instructional rounds. They have worked closely with networks and district leaders to apply the practice of rounds, refine the model based on lessons learned, and to expand the community of learners who are able to facilitate the rounds process. Examples of these networks include the Cambridge Leadership Network, the Connecticut Superintendents’ Network, the Ohio Leadership Collaborative, and the Iowa Leadership Academy Superintendents’ Network. I have had the privilege of being a member of the Iowa Leadership Academy Superintendents’ Network – an experience that has allowed me to participate in intensive training provided by Dr. Elmore and the Harvard team, engage as both a member on various rounds teams and as a facilitator of the rounds process in several Iowa school districts, and to continuously learn from my fellow rounds facilitators through our Network meetings.

The instructional rounds model seems to be gaining more traction and is recently being advanced as a model for  school leaders and  teachers as a means to transform educator practice.  What I have noticed in my work with the rounds model in Iowa is that it offers tremendous benefit to the Network members and to the participating schools.  The process focuses the district’s efforts on, what Elmore calls, the instructional core. Engaging in rounds builds the capacity of superintendents to recognize quality instruction, enhances trust among Network members, increases their willingness to take on the challenges of influencing change, and leads to a culture of inquiry that enhances professional learning.

On a cautionary note, I have also noticed some aspects of the model that anyone aspiring to adopt this approach should consider.  Some of the lessons learned from my own work with rounds and from sharing experiences with other facilitators in Iowa are listed below.

  • Though the steps for conducting rounds may seem straightforward, in practice, it is a very difficult program for participants to implement.
  • Establishing a network takes an extraordinary amount of work and leadership. In Iowa, Bonnie Boothroy of School Administrators of Iowa and several of the Area Education Agency Chiefs have committed extensive amounts of time and effort to establish and sustain Iowa’s Network.
  • Being a member of a network takes a lot of time, commitment to learn, and perseverance to follow through and apply new learning. It is not a model for anyone who wants their professional growth to be quick and easy. Becoming a facilitator is an extremely valuable professional learning experience, but the work of developing the skills needed to support a network and run the rounds process can’t be shortchanged.  The “faint of heart” should not apply.
  • New capacity building is needed to do this work. School leaders shouldn’t consider running rounds without background knowledge. Instructional Rounds in Education: A Network Approach to Improving Teaching and Learning a well written book by City, Elmore, Fiarman, and Teitel (2009) is a great resource, but just reading the book is not a substitute for learning how to conduct rounds from those who have had extensive direct experience.
  • Going to scale across multiple districts and running rounds with fidelity is a constant effort and requires ongoing vigilance. Our network meets several times a year to address how best to support the rounds process and we continuously confront issues that have the potential to seriously domesticate the delivery of the model.

It takes a community of committed practitioners for the networks and rounds process to work well. Isolated implementers who just pick up the book are likely to implement the model partially or incorrectly. Plus, the experience of engaging in collective learning in an organized way will serve school leaders well as they work to establish learning communities in their schools.

School reformers might want to take a look at this promising and exciting approach to school reform. While they should be excited about the potential, reformers also need to be cautious about selecting a model that is demanding to implement.  To fulfill the promise of this approach, school leaders will need to make a serious commitment to engage deeply in the work and be intentional about fully learning the model from experts. The policy makers and administrators who are responsible for designing the roll-out of the rounds networks must attend to the all the factors that are necessary to advance  a model to scale and be vigilant about expecting careful replication of the model.

[1] City, E., Elmore, R. , Fiarman, S. and Teitel, L. (2009). Instructional rounds in education: A network approach to improving teaching and learning. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.

[2] Ibid.

The Myth of Meritocracy

The Myth of Meritocracy

Reading Time: 5 minutes

People who know me know that I have a healthy National Public Radio (NPR) addiction.  As of late, it has become a habit to tune in at work.  On Tuesday as I sat at my desk, On Point, a daily opinion call-in show, aired a segment, “Jobless in America” (http://onpoint.wbur.org/2011/08/16/jobless-today-in-america).   Two of the guests, both white and unemployed, talked about their experiences with unemployment and their sense of betrayal for “having done everything right,” yet finding themselves unemployed: a situation they never anticipated.

Although I empathize with those who have lost their jobs during the ongoing recession and are experiencing economic hardships, I must admit that I’m also partially annoyed by the notion that White middle class workers should expect a guaranteed job and a certain lifestyle.  As the introduction to the show states:

…There are not enough jobs, by a long shot. It’s crushing individuals and families right now. We’ll hear from some today.

And it’s putting a huge dent in our national future. Changing things we love most about this country.

As I listened to the show and even now as I read these words, what I hear is the collective anxiety and loss of identity that middle class White Americans are experiencing.  This is not the first NPR or other media outlet show that has broadcast the woes of our society as being the conundrum of those who ordinarily would expect to never have this problem.

From my position as an African American woman, people of color have historically experienced unemployment and underemployment without questioning whether or not we should believe in the American Dream.  In fact my favorite poem, Langston Hughes’, “Harlem” or “A Dream Deferred” (depending on the publication source) as well as the Lorraine Hansberry’s play, “A Raisin in the Sun” speak to the frustrations that people of color, in this case African Americans, have suffered historically when they have tried to assert their right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  Rather than the NPR story continuing to promulgate the notion that our current joblessness threatens the fabric of our society, I posit that this is an opportunity to really question the notion of meritocracy.

We live in a society that promotes the idea that as individuals we all have the right and ability to realize our dreams through our own hard work and effort.  But when you peel back the layers of that notion, you find that we are a nation of individuals who stand on the shoulders of those who have come before us.  David Horwitt (2008) reminds us that every society employs myths in order to explain how those who are privileged are more deserving that those who are not.  In his essay, “This Hard-Earned Money Comes Stuffed in Their Genes,” Horwitt discusses the multiple ways in which people gain advantage through no effort of their own.  A primary means of unearned gains is inheritance.  Though he cites a Forbes article about the wealthiest 400 people who largely inherited their wealth, consider the more typical types of inheritance: a house that is passed down, or jewelry, stocks and bonds, property, vehicles, and so on.  These are all units of wealth that lessen the burden upon the individual who now has a commodity simply because the parent left it to the child.  Another form of this is a business.  Lucrative or not, it is collateral that can be negotiated for personal profit and gain.  Other, less obvious advances are college admissions.  Many colleges and universities (particularly those top-ranked colleges and university) admit just as many legacy applicants as they do non-legacy applicants.  Today, getting into a college or university has become increasingly important.   Even with our current downturn, those who have a college education have lower rates of unemployment[1] 5.4% in comparison to 10.3% for those who only have a high school diploma

We are suffering from an unprecedented economic shift.  We are no longer alone, but are competing for jobs in a global economy where no one is safe.  However, for me the great concern is the jobless rate among people of color.  According to the BLS Monthly Labor Review (2011), although the fourth-quarter unemployment rate for Whites fell by .05% to 8.7% it remained in the double digits for African Americans and Hispanics at 15.8% and 12.9%.  Prevailing myths may try to convince us that the disproportionate rates among people of color is due to their lack of educational attainment and experience, but as the recent settlement of a 1995 lawsuit against the Chicago firefighter’s entrance exam demonstrates, African American applicants who otherwise qualified[2] were not hired or denied promotions.  As a result, the Chicago Fire Department will have to hire 111 firefighters between now and March 2012 as well as pay the remaining 6000 candidates $5000.[3]

A final example is a recent article in Science which investigated the National Institutes of Health reveals that Asians were 4% and African Americans were 13% less likely to win NIH funding.  Even when controlled for education, training, previous research rewards and publication record, African Americans were still 10% less likely to receive funding.

These examples represent a need for our society to turn and face ourselves. In order to actually have a meritocracy, we have to be able to guarantee equal access and compensation for equal talent and skill which will require the reformation of policies, procedures, and frameworks that continue to marginalize people of color.

Works Cited

“City to Hire, Pay Back Black Firefighters as Part of Settlement.” Chicago Fox News: Chicago.  17 August 2011.  Web. 18 August 2011.

“Education Pays…”  The Bureau of Labor & Statistics.  4 May 2011.  Web.  18 August 2011.  http://www.bls.gov/emp/ep_data_occupational_data.htm

Ginther, Donna K.;  Schaffer, Walter T.;  Schnell, Joshua ; Masimore, Beth;  Liu, Faye;  Haak, Laurel L.; Kington, Raynard.  “Race, Ethnicity, and NIH Research Rewards.  Science 333.  19 August 2011. 1015-1019.

Horwitt, David.  “This Hard-Earned Money Comes Stuffed in Their Genes.” Eds. Karen E. Rosenblum & Toni-Michelle C. Travis.  5th Edition.  New York: McGraw-Hill, 2008. Print.

Jobless in America.” On Point.  NPR: WBUR, Boston.  August 16, 2011.  Radio.

Theodossiou, E & Hipple, S. “Unemployment Remains High in 2010” Monthly Labor Review March 2011.  Web.  August 18, 2011.  http://www.bls.gov/opub/mlr/2011/03/art1full.pdf

Vedantam, Shankar.  “In the Boardrooms and in Courtrooms Diversity Makes a Difference.”   Washington Post .  17 January 2007.  Web.  18 August 2011.  http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/01/14/AR2007011400720.html

“White Fire Fighters to Share $6M Settlement.”  NBCUniversial, Chicago. 11 March 2009 Web. 18 August 2011.  http://www.nbcchicago.com/news/local/White-Firefighters-to-Share-6M-Settlement.html

Comic © Gary Varvel (http://blogs.indystar.com/varvelblog/)

[1] For more specific information see the Bureau of Labor & Statistics May 4, 2011 graphic showing that in 2010 those who have less than a college education the unemployment rate was 14.9% compared to 10.3% for high school graduates and 9.2% for those who have some college compared 5.4% for college graduates.  The graph includes rates of unemployment up to those who have a doctorate degree as well as gives the median weekly earnings for each of the educational attainment levels from less than high school up to the doctorate level.

[2] According to the Associated Press article (2011), “Before being hired, they must pass the physical abilities test, background check, drug test and medical exam” (online, http://www.myfoxchicago.com/dpp/news/metro/chicago-black-firefighters-lawsuit-settlement-city-hire-pay-candidates-20110817)

[3] It’s interesting to note that in 2009 the same fire department settled a lawsuit in which 75 White firefighters alleged that because the 1986 lieutenants’ exam were “race normed” they suffered from reverse discrimination.  They received $6 million to distribute amongst the group of 75, with a separate 100 firefighters receiving “tens of millions” with benefits for the same lawsuit.  Even in settling litigation disputes, it seems, those who already had the advantage of gaining employment and moving through the ranks still received more compensation for discrimination which was not as economically and socially impactful.  For more information see: http://www.nbcchicago.com/news/local/White-Firefighters-to-Share-6M-Settlement.html.  Again the notion of a meritocracy where Whiteness should be rewarded for “doing my part” plays a role in the argument.

Fullan Challenges Reformers to Think About Whole System Reform

Fullan Challenges Reformers to Think About Whole System Reform

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Seminar Series 204: Choosing the Wrong Drivers for Whole System Reform The aspiration to “close the gap” in test scores between students of color and whites has been the focus of public policy makers for some time.  Policy makers have established the expectation that schools must do more to ensure that all students of every income, race/ethnicity, language background, and disability status graduate from high school ready for college and a career. Schools and the institutions that support schools are under pressure to improve the achievement of all students by improving teacher quality, providing information and supports to parents, establishing standards and assessments, providing intensive supports and interventions to low performing schools, and other reform strategies. There has been an increasing emphasis on closing the gap by improving the quality of teachers and leaders through reforms to educator effectiveness systems including preservice preparation, teacher and leader evaluation, and professional growth systems.  In a recent publication, Michael Fullan challenges reformers to think carefully about the way to set the course for these reforms.  Choosing the Wrong Drivers for Whole System Reform describes how school leaders and policy makers are selecting the wrong drivers to accomplish the changes needed to increase achievement and close the achievement gap. The article prescribes an alternative set of drivers that have been found to be more effective in accomplishing, what Fullan calls, the moral imperative of raising the bar for all students and closing the gap for lower performing groups. For all students to attain the higher order skills and competencies required to be successful world citizens, drivers need to be pursued as part of a coherent whole and be implemented in a highly interactive way.

As part of the recent National Summit on Educator Effectiveness hosted by the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) State Consortium on Educator Effectiveness, Fullan discussed the concept of effective drivers and the need for whole system reform in a webinar and a keynote address. He challenged the reformers in audience to think about whether the priorities they have set will:

1. foster intrinsic motivation of teachers and students;

2. engage educators and students in continuous improvement of instruction and learning;

3. inspire collective or team work; and

4. affect all teachers and students – 100 per cent?[1]

I believe that the initial response to Fullan’s presentation has been striking. Individuals who were part of the Summit and read his article are now asking questions such as, “Are we aiming at the whole system or tinkering with selected elements?” “What are the drivers we are investing our time and money in, and should these be replaced with more powerful drivers?” “How can we be more collaborative in our work?” Who are the right stakeholders?”

Some questions I thought of include: If ensuring that all students are able to compete in a global economy is really our goal, what can we learn from Fullan about designing reforms that take on issues of inequity? What would it take to launch a whole-system reform that pushes the deeper changes needed to make a difference for those students who are currently not learning at the level needed to be successful in a changing world? What might happen if we involved more teachers of color in leadership roles for designing reforms? How can we capture the voices of students of color to help design learning experiences that are more motivating and have more real world applications?  What factors contribute to collective team work in a diverse workforce?  How might implementing  the drivers Fullan talks about make a difference in the graduation rates, particularly among Black African American males?

I am looking forward to ongoing discussion about this publication. I am hopeful that it will be the catalyst for important changes in the way we go about influencing the work of policy change in the future.

U.S. Department of Education. (2010).Blueprint for reform: The reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development.

[1] Fullan, M. (2011). Choosing the wrong drivers for whole system reform.

Centre for Strategic Education Seminar Series Paper, 204. East Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.

SCEE National Summit on Educator Effectiveness

SCEE National Summit on Educator Effectiveness

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Two weeks ago, several West Wind Education Policy Inc. staff were in Washington, D.C. to lead the inaugural SCEE National Summit on Educator Effectiveness, Transforming State Systems for the FutureSCEE, the State Consortium on Educator Effectiveness, was convened by the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) in the fall of2010.

Nearly thirty states convened to dissect educator effectiveness from many different lenses.  With facilitation from West Wind, Council of Chief State School Officers staff, and the national Comprehensive Center network, the 28 state teams set out to think about the current “state of [their] state,” their students’ and educators’ needs, and what effectiveness looks like from many different standpoints.

For West Wind, it was rewarding to see the summit unfold after much planning, conceptualizing,  webinars, blog posts, and more than a little sweat that led up to the Summit.

West Wind was particularly proud of the work we led in four of the six breakout strands:  Teacher Evaluation; Leader Evaluation; Professional Development and Policy and Systems Change.  Deb Hansen was the strand leader for Professional Development, where she worked closely with Stephanie Hirsh of Learning Forward to design an interactive and engaging series of activities for state teams using—believe it or not—the principles of high quality professional development in their delivery.  Circe Stumbo and Deanna Hill coordinated the Policy and Systems Change strand, where we wove into the work not only our framework for Systemic Equity Leadership but also the work of Summit keynoter Michael Fullan.  Fullan’s two articles on whole-system reform helped states recognize the need for thinking broadly about their vision for education and strategically about the drivers they prioritize in rolling out reform.

Playing as a tag-team, Deanna helped Circe to represent West Wind in the set-up session to both the teacher and leader evaluation strands.  There, we were able to interject considerations of equity into the policy and technical conversations about the design of statewide evaluation systems.

All in all, the hope remains that these deliberations, which were initiated from the many discussions at the summit, can bring continued collaboration and participation.  West Wind looks forward to continuing its work with the states as they progress.

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