Monday, April 15, 2013

How the Obama administration is taking on the achievement gap

Someone in a meeting I attended a couple of weeks ago called it "the civil rights issue of our time." What he was referring to is the fact that less than 50% of African American boys in this country graduate from high school on time (pdf).

In circles where this problem is actually talked about (too many are content to ignore it), there are a lot of theories thrown around about why. But for many, its hard to ignore the impact of another statistic...the fact that 1 in 3 black boys will spend time in jail during their lifetimes. The Children's Defense Fund calls this the Cradle to Prison Pipeline that exists at the intersection of poverty and race.

I've mentioned several times the impact that deep poverty has on children.
Neuroscientists and developmental psychologists can now explain how early stress and trauma disrupt the healthy growth of the prefrontal cortex; how the absence of strong and supportive relationships with stable adults inhibits a child’s development of a crucial set of cognitive skills called executive functions...

When you cluster lots of children with impulse-control issues together in a single classroom, it becomes harder for teachers to teach and for students to learn. And when these same children reach adolescence...they are more likely to become a danger to themselves, to each other and to their community.
What that author fails to mention is that when you cluster lots of black and brown children with impulse-control issues together in a single classroom, you tend to get a criminalization of their behavior. That starts with harsh discipline (ie suspensions and expulsions) and ends in arrests.

Last year I wrote about the fact that Obama's Department of Education had begun to collect information on civil rights and education - something that had stopped during the Bush administration. We now see that experts are studying that data and highlighting remedies. What they have found is that one in four black students have been suspended from school. And here are the consequences:
These findings are of serious concern given that research shows being suspended even once in ninth grade is associated with a 32% risk for dropping out, double that for those receiving no suspensions.
But the Obama administration isn't just collecting data. You might have heard that the Department of Justice investigated the school district and law enforcement systems in Meridian, Mississippi for their gross violations of student's civil rights in disciplinary practices.

In addition, the Department of Education is investigating the disparities in discipline of school districts in Seattle, Oakland and Wilmington.

I know these efforts are impacting schools all across the country because the two large districts here in the Twin Cities have recently undertaken major initiatives to deal with the disparities.

Finally, in his budget President Obama has included funding to provide alternatives to these practices.
President Obama’s budget proposal will include $235 million in funding for new mental health programs, focused initiatives to help schools detect early warning signs and train thousands of new mental health professionals...

Another $25 million would be put towards helping schools, where violence is pervasive, to address the trauma experienced by children and test violence prevention strategies.
To me, this is another example of the on-the-ground work the Obama administration is doing to address issues that often do not rise to the level of awareness with the general public. In this case, he's taking on "the civil rights issue of our time."

1 comment:

  1. I continued to be stunned by the scope of this man's vision. With all the other initiatives that he has going on, it is amazing that he takes on one more. In contrast to the rest of his education policy, which I tend to dislike, I think this is great stuff.


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