Education Week - October 28, 2015 - (Page 14)

BEYOND BIAS Countering Stereotypes in School In Minneapolis, a Targeted Effort to Bolster Black Boys By Denisa R. Superville In a small conference room at a South Minneapolis school, the principal and assistant principal were trying to come up with ways to get a group of eight black boys to be more engaged in school. The administrators said they were concerned that the 8th graders, whom they described as extremely "smart" and potential "leaders," were disconnected from their classrooms and did not think it was "cool" to be smart. The administrators wanted to figure out how to get the boys to harness their strengths in a positive way. They were brainstorming with Michael V. Walker, the director of the Minneapolis school district's Office of Black Male Student Achievement. As the lead figure in a district effort focused on its 8,963 black boys, Walker has the job ultimately, of helping close the achievement gap between them and their peers. In the 2014-15 school year African-Americans made up 37 percent of the 35,300-student district, Minnesota's largest. In this city, as in many others, the data show the impetus for this effort. On almost every indicator related to school success, black boys are at, or near, the bottom. Nationwide, black boys are more likely than almost any other demographic slice of the school population to be suspended or expelled from school and to score at the lowest achievement level. They are also less likely to take honors classes or go to college. Thus, Minneapolis is among a growing number of districts looking to right such imbalances by establishing specialized offices or dedicating staff members to work on equity, diversity, and inclusion. Although many districts were already doing that work, President Barack Obama's My Brother's Keeper initiative has been a galvanizing force for others, said Michael Casserly, the executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools, which represents the nation's largest school districts. Courtney Perry for Education Week Minneapolis Michael V. Walker, who directs the Office of Black Male Student Achievement for the Minneapolis public schools, advises students on how to interact with college representatives at a college fair. The district has proposed putting $1.2 million into the office this school year in an effort to bring about better outcomes for its black boys. The program is focused on improving educational and employment opportunities for boys of color. Around the Country The Oakland, Calif., district was among the first to establish an office of African-American male achievement, and its approach is seen as a model. Other efforts to promote equity among diverse groups are also underway in Orange County schools in Orlando, Fla.; in Wake County, N.C.; Beaverton, Ore.; and Virginia Beach, Va., among other locations. The Minneapolis district's office is patterned after Oakland's. Walker is working here to ensure that students-like the 8th graders who were worrying their school administrators-have positive role models. They and their parents take an active part in their own education. The office is also ensuring that culturally responsive practices are in place in schools, that parents know who to call if issues arise, and that principals who want to develop programs for black students have a ready resource. The office started last year under former schools chief Bernadeia Johnson, and has continued with her interim successor, Michael Goar. This school year, it has a proposed $1.2 million budget and is partnering with 12 schools, four each at the elementary, middle, and high school levels. In those schools, teachers are expected to participate in five professional-development sessions, including ones focused on strategies to engage black male students; how to recognize unconscious bias; and how to be connected to the communities in which they teach. Changing adult behavior is also an important part of Walker's work. "It's not about fixing the young people," he said. "It's about us [adults] changing the way we go about working with young people; us changing how we go about allowing them to be able to make mistakes, and not let that be the end for them." Special Curriculum At the high school and middle school levels, about 110 students are participating in a class called Building Lives Acquiring Cultural Knowledge (BLACK), a five-day-a-week course where they learn about African-American history, literature, and leadership development. One session a week is spent on tutoring and helping the students with other academic work. Students and instructors are all referred to with the honorific "king." The class was developed in conjunction with a professor at the University Schools Work to Combat Biases, Buffer Students CONTINUED FROM PAGE 13 to bring in more students from minority and low-income backgrounds. The school is highly diverse; nearly half of its students are low-income, and white, black, and Hispanic students each make up 22 percent to 23 percent of the population, with the rest composed of Asian, Pacific Islander, Filipino, and multiracial students. "You can't just run these programs," said Doug Craig, the principal. "These are teens; they don't know how to cope with stress yet. And kids from [disadvantaged backgrounds] need to be told over and over that they can do it." The school now provides a fouryear support course for students entering honors or IB courses, according to Sato. In addition to academic issues like time management and college planning, students learn to recognize signs of stress, speak out in class, and advocate for themselves with teachers, she said. The school is trying to help students see themselves as successful learners, a strategy that studies suggest can help counter stereotype threat, particularly for low-income students. Focus on Empowerment At Northwestern University, firstgeneration college students became more likely to ask for help and more comfortable discussing academic challenges with a professor after completing a five-minute writing assignment about who they would be after college 14 | EDUCATION WEEK | October 28, 2015 | and how people would think of them. By contrast, students who wrote about who they were and how they were perceived before attending college became more anxious and less comfortable asking a professor for help. "The lower your income, the more anxious you felt even going to a professor," said Vida Manzo, the lead researcher and a social psychology doctoral student at Northwestern University, who discussed the study of first-generation students. "For low-[socioeconomic-status] students thinking about their future identity, they performed better and were more confident in a high-pressure social situation" after writing about their visions for themselves. To counter the effects of racial or gender microaggressions, schools can focus on building the social support for students coming into an advanced class. "Since African-Americans don't see a lot of black faces in advanced classes, they may have internal feelings of inadequacy," said Eliza Brooks, a senior and one of three black girls working toward the two-year IB diploma at Laguna Creek. "That's why I love the Black Student Union, because I can use my position as a black girl in advanced classes dominated by white and Asian students as a way to empower other minority students." In a series of studies led by Gregory Walton of Stanford University, students from different stereotyped groups-black college students and women in engineering classes, among others-went through a "social belonging" intervention that of Minnesota. The district's teaching and learning team helped to shape the learning targets for the curriculum. On a recent day, a group of boys in the class at South High School was preparing for an assignment to interview teachers about their expectations and perceptions of black boys. In a middle school class, students were working on autobiographical essays. The classes are taught by two black "community experts," a special designation given by the Minnesota Board of Teaching for individuals who are not traditional educators. Having the classes taught by African-American men, Walker said, allows black boys to see teaching as something to which they can aspire, and nonblack students get to see black men in a professional setting. Simultaneously, the district is working to cut discipline rates. Last year, it entered into a voluntary agreement with the office for civil rights in the U.S. Department of Education over disparities in how it disciplines black students. According to the OCR, black students made up about 40 percent of the district's enrollment in the 201011 and 2011-12 school years, but accounted for 74 percent of recorded disciplinary incidents and 78 percent of out-of-school suspensions. There were also disparities in how black and white students were punished for the same infractions. In September, the district announced that it would eliminate suspensions for students in 1st through 5th grades. Last year, it officially ended suspensions for pre-K-1 students who got into trouble for nonviolent infractions, but the Minneapolis Star Tribune found additional incidents in which such children were sent home. A principal on special assignment is also working with teachers on strategies to reduce discipline referrals. "We think it's important to recognize that [inequity] exists, and begin to acknowledge it, and begin to tackle that issue directly, and that's why we created Michael's office: to acknowledge it, and also give opportunities to identified common feelings of frustration and isolation among new students. "The worry that 'people like me' might not belong in a school setting sensitizes students" and leads them to interpret interactions through that lens, Walton concluded. Students who participated in the intervention, by contrast, were more likely to "see adversity as normal for all students as they enter a new school and as lessening with time." For black college students, a halfhour social-belonging intervention in freshman year was associated with halving the gap in GPAs between black and white students over three years. An intervention adapted for science majors all but eliminated gaps between men's and women's GPAs in the male-dominated engineering major. At Eureka High, Ellie Bennett helps lead East Square, an equity

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - October 28, 2015

Education Week - October 28, 2015
Study Paints Chaotic View of Testing
In L.A., Tensions Rise Over Teacher Investigations
DIGITAL DIRECTIONS: ‘Ephemeral’ Apps Put School Leaders in Tricky Spots
Unequal Access to Advanced Classes Targeted
Fighting Subtle Bias
News in Brief
Report Roundup
Oak Foundation Aiding Those With ‘Learning Differences’
Long-Term Study to Track Adolescent Brain Development
Blogs of the Week
In Minneapolis, a Targeted Effort To Bolster Black Boys
School-Parent Linkages Chip Away at Cultural Barriers
Fate of Programs Complicates Path To ESEA Compromise
Some School Choice Backers Tepid On Title I Portability Proposal
State Chiefs Look to Montana For Ways to Meet the Needs Of Native American Students
Signs Point to Increase in High School Graduation Rates
Blogs of the Week
SETH KERSHNER & SCOTT HARDING: Do Military Recruiters Belong in Schools?
JEREMY A. STERN: On the AP U.S. History Framework
Unearthing the Humanity Beneath Stereotypes
TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
JOHN HATTIE: The Effective Use of Testing: What the Research Says

Education Week - October 28, 2015