October 30, 2009

Panelists to talk about race, segregation and achievement in schools

The Open Society Institute-Baltimore is hosting a panel discussion Monday evening called "Can We Talk About How Race Affects Our Classrooms?". It's the next installment in OSI's "Talking About Race" series, and will focus on the impact of continued segregation in public schools on achievement, among other issues.

Monday's panel discussion, which is free and open to the public, is to be led by Beverly Daniel Tatum, president of Spelman College, and David Hornbeck, the former superintendent of Philadelphia schools. 

The event will be in the Wheeler Auditorium at the Enoch Pratt Free Library, 400 Cathedral Street, and starts at 7 p.m. 

Posted by Arin Gencer at 6:00 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Around the Nation, Baltimore City, School Diversity/Segregation

May 16, 2009

Fifty-five years after Brown vs. Board of Ed

I'm working my last night police shift at The Sun tonight. Despite having done shifts like this at various newspapers for more than a decade, my grandmother still asks every time if I'll be safe. Every time, I can assure her that I will be.

Why? On weekends late at night, we're only looking to report on major crimes, most notably murders. But as long as the killings happen in certain neighborhoods, fitting the city's typical pattern where a 20-something-year-old black male is shot in a high-drug area, we only give them a few sentences. I sit listening to the police scanner and call the public information officer on duty at the police department. Almost invariably, I never have to leave the office. (Now, if mayhem breaks out at the Preakness tonight, I'll have to eat my words, but I'm speaking generally about my experience over time, and the same is true across newspapers.) I feel guilty every time I do it, reduce someone's life to a paragraph or two. And yet, I don't see a way around it. Newsworthiness is determined in large part by rarity, and shootings happen in Baltimore's impoverished, majority-black neighborhoods all the time. Of the 234 homicides in the city last year, 214 of the victims were African-American. Eighty-three percent of them had a criminal record, and 70 percent of them had prior drug arrests.

Wait, isn't this an education blog? Well...

Continue reading "Fifty-five years after Brown vs. Board of Ed" »

April 3, 2009

Jonathan Kozol on "separate and unequal" schools

I had a great conversation with Jonathan Kozol before his talk last night at the University of Baltimore law school's Urban Child Symposium on the dropout crisis. He says the heart of the problem is segregation. Of Baltimore, he told me, "this is one of the most segregated school systems in America... this must be one of the closest to absolute apartheid." (I told him there are some schools in the city that are an exception to that. Folks at City Neighbors Charter had wanted to give him a tour of their well-integrated school, but it didn't fit into his schedule.)

Kozol quoted a recent speech by President Obama who said high school dropout rates have tripled since the early 1980s -- when, Kozol says, the schools began to "massively resegregate" and Brown vs. Board of Ed was effectively dismantled. He says black and Latino children are more segregated now than they have been since 1968, the year of Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination.

"I'm utterly out of fashion these days in that I actually believe Dr. King was right," said Kozol, 72, who doesn't use a computer and had hand-written notes for the address he was about to deliver to more than 100 people in a university auditorium. He says segregated schools convey the message to the children there that "you have been sequestered in this institution so you will not contaminate the education of white people." Children get this message from the condition of the buildings (often "squalid surroundings") and from dispirited teachers who have to "give up joy and creativity to become drill sergeants for the state." (Kozol went on a hunger strike in 2007 to protest No Child Left Behind.) He says the most successful African-Americans he's seen -- including Obama and Kurt Schmoke (a student of Kozol's once upon a time at Yale) -- did not have to attend segregated inner-city schools.

So what's the solution? Kozol likes what Dr. Alonso often says in jest about closing down all the private schools of the city. And he supports cross-city busing to integrate schools. But clearly, those things aren't going to happen anytime soon. Kozol says that when he began his work in education decades ago, he thought he could effect change. Now, he says, he's just a witness.

On another note: Kozol is also on the same page as Alonso in saying that good schools don't resort to suspension or expulsion as punishment for truancy and other non-violent offenses. "Nothing could be more Orwellian in its absurdity," he told the crowd at UB. He also says that full-day pre-kindergarten (preferably for multiple years before kindergarten) is essential, and holding children back for failure increases their chances of dropping out of high school exponentially. We're willing to hold an 8-year-old accountable for her performance, he said, yet we don't hold government leaders accountable for their failure to give inner-city children the same resources as they insist on for their own children.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:05 AM | | Comments (30)
Categories: School Diversity/Segregation

July 23, 2008

Class-based integration

Fascinating article in last Sunday's New York Times Magazine about new efforts to integrate school districts by class, now that the Supreme Court has outlawed assignments based on race.

While the issue is probably irrelevant in much of Baltimore City, where many white, middle class parents send their children to private schools, I could see it having legs in diverse suburban districts like Baltimore County and Anne Arundel County.

The article raises a host of interesting questions: How many poor students can a majority-affluent school accommodate without a perceived decline in quality? A significant number, the researchers quoted conclude. What conditions need to be in place for class-based integration to work? A Harvard economist says affluent and poor students must be together not only in the same building, but also in the same classes. If the poor kids are all put in low-level classes, it defeats the purpose. Will class-based integration lead to racial integration? In some cases yes, in others no.

The article mentions at least one school system where economics-based school assignments seem to be working. In Wake County, N.C., the system ensures that no more than 40 percent of students at a school come from a low-income area, and no more than 25 percent speak English as a second language. Test scores have improved among both black students and poor students. But in San Francisco, a diversity plan based on socioeconomics has resulted in racial resegregation of schools.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:07 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Around the Nation, School Diversity/Segregation

May 15, 2008

Canton students write their councilman

Canton Middle School students participating in a civic engagement program run by the nonprofit Students Sharing Coalition have written letters to City Councilman Jim Kraft explaining why they want a new middle/high school to go in their building. While the decision is not Kraft's to make and the school system is going ahead with plans for the new school despite community opposition, Kraft has threatened to hold up the system's budget, which goes before the council at a hearing on Friday. 

In their letters, the students describe why they want a better education and what they will do to make Canton a better community. I'm posting 10 of the letters here.

Continue reading "Canton students write their councilman" »

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:06 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Baltimore City, School Diversity/Segregation

April 10, 2008

Maryland students with disabilities will get increased access to high school athletics

Just in case you missed it, the General Assembly unanimously approved a bill Monday night requiring schools to provide disabled students access to sports programs, either among themselves or with able-bodied students.

 Under the measure known as the Fitness and Athletics Equity for Students with Disabilities, schools have three years to fully implement the requirements.

The legislation, which takes effect in July, requires local school systems to submit their plans to the state education department, which would investigate complaints and could sideline noncompliant teams or withhold money from schools or school systems. 

Not everyone is pleased with the law. I received a number of e-mails from angry readers since this story ran.


Needless to say there was a lot more of the same in this e-mail.

I wonder if this was the same opinion shared by some when women and people of color attempted to break down athletic barriers in the past?

Supporters of the new legislation say that it will essentially level the playing field for all students.
 What do you think?

Posted by John-John Williams IV at 2:45 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Around the Region, School Diversity/Segregation

March 28, 2008

Racial slur results in resignation of Carroll County school board member

In the past year, we’ve repeatedly seen the need for racial sensitivity. Just ask Don Imus. This week, Carroll County has been grappling with its own controversy connected to a school board member, Jeffrey L. Morse, who admitted using a racial slur during a visit to a high school construction site.

Fellow Sun education reporter Arin Gencer reports that Morse resigned Wednesday from his position after a board meeting where several people expressed outrage with him and the decision-making of the group.

According to Arin’s article, the incident where the racial slur was used occurred a few weeks ago at the construction site of the new Manchester Valley High School. Morse was at the site to learn about problems encountered with some dark rock, according to the article. Arin reports that when a large boulder was pointed out to Morse, he mentioned a term that he said contractors in the area around Littlestown, Pa., not far from where he lives, used to describe it.

Morse, who was appointed by the governor to fill a vacant board seat last year, currently teaches biology at Littlestown High School and was running for his first full term this year.

According to the article, Morse previously offered to resign in a closed session that the board held a couple of weeks ago to address a complaint filed against him. His fellow members instead told him to apologize, according to Edmund O'Meally, the board's legal counsel.

What do you think? Should Morse have resigned immediately? Should the school board have requested his resignation instead of relying on a simple apology? Or are you tired of apologies associated with this type of behavior? Talk to me.

Posted by John-John Williams IV at 12:26 PM | | Comments (3)

March 26, 2008

Jonathan Kozol coming to Goucher

The renowned author on educational inequality, who waged a hunger strike last fall to protest No Child Left Behind, will speak at Goucher College at 8 p.m. April 16 in the Haebler Memorial Chapel. His talk, called "The Soul of a Profession," is free and open to the public, but tickets must be reserved in advance. Call 410-337-6333 or email

Kozol is speaking in honor of Goucher education professor Eli Velder's 50th anniversary with the college.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 10:39 AM | | Comments (0)

March 3, 2008

How do schools treat gay and lesbian parents?

Not well, according to a new report by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network and two other advocacy groups. The study looks at the experiences that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender families have in K-12 education. Its title: "Involved, Invisible, Ignored."

The study's authors received completed surveys from 588 gay and lesbian parents nationwide and from 154 of their middle and high school-aged children. Compared with a national sample of all parents, the gay and lesbian parents were more involved: 94 percent had attended an event such as a back-to-school night or a parent-teacher conference in the past year, compared with 77 percent in the general parent population. They were also more likely to have volunteered in their children's school and, in high schools, more likely to be a member of the PTA.

Yet more than half of the parents reported being excluded from their school community in some way, and more than a quarter said they had been mistreated by other parents. Among students, 42 percent said they had been harassed in the past year because of their parents' sexual orientation. Twenty-two percent said that a teacher, principal or other school staff member had discouraged them from talking about their family at school.

What steps can schools take to make all families feel welcome? In this case, the report recommends anti-bullying policies and legislation; training school staff to intervene in cases of bullying and harassment; supporting of clubs such as gay-straight student alliances; and increasing student exposure to information about gay and lesbian people, history and events.

February 26, 2008

Speaking Spanish on the school bus

This news release from the ACLU made me shake my head.

In response to an ACLU complaint, Nevada's Esmeralda County School District has lifted a ban prohibiting students from speaking Spanish on the school bus. The ban was approved by the Esmeralda County school board in October.

According to the press release, the Spanish ban directly impacted about a dozen high school students from a small farming and ranching community who ride the bus an hour and a half each way to a school in a neighboring county. In the afternoons, there is a 45-minute academic period on the bus, during which time the students are expected to speak English. The second 45 minutes is supposed to be free time.

A letter from the school superintendent, posted on the ACLU's Web site, says students are still required to speak in English to the bus driver and to the tutor aboard the bus.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 2:14 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Around the Nation, School Diversity/Segregation

October 23, 2007

Media attempts to open 'Jena 6' proceedings

A slew of media outlets - including our sister paper The Chicago Tribune - have filed a motion challenging the decisions by a judge to close the proceedings in Mychal Bell's juvenile case. The judge, J.P. Mauffray, also called for a gag order for all parties involved in the case.

Bell is the first of the six black Louisiana teenagers known as the “Jena 6” to face trial.

Read more about the legal debate here.

Posted by John-John Williams IV at 12:18 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Nation, School Diversity/Segregation

October 10, 2007

"Jena 6" Copycats abound

"Jena 6" gave Americans a wake up call to a major soft spot in society today – race relations.

In this USA Today article, Marisol Bello, a talented reporter who used to work at my old paper the Detroit Free Press, compiles examples from across the country. She leads with a familiar anecdote from the University of Maryland.

Another example in Winchester, Ky., was particularly disturbing. In that case, four teens were charged with terroristic threats for taunting a black classmate with drawings of a noose, a Confederate flag and someone being whipped and lynched. I wasn’t necessarily disturbed by the actions of the teens – heck, it takes a lot to surprise me at this point. I was disgusted by the reaction of the parent of one of the offenders.

“I know he meant nothing by it,“ she said. “I know he’s not racist. He said he was just joking around. They were passing time in class."

Joking around? Passing time in class? Are you serious? I’m so sick of hearing the “he/she was just fooling around” excuse. People, take some ownership for your hate. Stop passing the buck…

Also, check out these stories about nooses found at the Coast Guard Academy and at Columbia University.

Race-relations in this country are in need of some serious attention. Read the entire article, and look at the description of the perpetrators. Are you also bothered by the fact that these incidents are taking place in learning environments?

What is being taught in the classroom to encourage civility and tolerance? What are schools doing to thwart the damaging, hateful thoughts that many parents are forcing upon their children? Are there any programs/ teachers that you know about that are working to encourage a better heterogenous tomorrow?

Posted by John-John Williams IV at 3:37 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: School Diversity/Segregation

October 2, 2007

What’s going on in Louisiana?

Yet another chapter in the Jena 6 saga. This time, the AP is reporting another noose incident that occurred. This incident occurred at Alma J. Brown Elementary School in Grambling, La. A teacher at the school wrapped a noose around a student’s neck to teach a lesson about racism. The lesson was actually prompted by the Jena 6 happenings.

Another interesting wrinkle to the story is that the school is run by Grambling State University, a historically black college and university.

Check out the interview with Grambling’s president, Horace A. Judson. Also check out this YouTube video of a newscast.

Posted by John-John Williams IV at 2:14 PM | | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (1)
Categories: School Diversity/Segregation

September 21, 2007

Students stand for Jena 6

Milford Mill Academy teacher Pamela Nevel sounded like a proud mother in her email as she wrote about the hundreds of students who showed up yesterday morning to protest in support of the "Jena 6," as thousands of others did across Maryland and the rest of the nation.

"It was super and moving," she wrote.

Several of her students also wrote in yesterday with their own accounts of how the protest had affected them. Read comments they sent to us here at Classroom Connections. Among the comments was this gem from 10th-grader Janakhte' Page:

"I, along with Briana Haden, held up a sign that read "Honk if you support the Jena 6". We held that sign up with pride and screamed to the top of our lungs. ... Most people just ignore racism or pretend that it doesn't exist because they do not want to face the truth and the pain of racism. No one pays attention until somebody gets hurt or gets put in jail and that is exactly what happened. Racism is alive and I feel that the protest let people know that it still is. I was proud to be a part of a positive protest that reflects our community's consideration for others."

September 20, 2007

The lost boys: from Baltimore to Jena

I met this morning with Edwin Johnson and Carl Stokes, two of the founders of the Bluford Drew Jemison Math Science Technology Academy, Baltimore's new charter middle school for boys. Four days a week, the school has a 12-hour academic day, an attempt to keep its students off the city's dangerous streets and out of trouble.

Johnson and Stokes are also heavily involved at Dunbar High School, one of the Baltimore's magnet high schools with stringent admissions requirements. At Dunbar, a historically African-American school, there are more than twice as many girls as boys because there aren't enough qualified male applicants. The charter middle school is an attempt to change that.

Back in the office, over lunch at my desk, I read this blog post on Jena 6 by Byron Williams, a syndicated columnist and pastor in Oakland, Calif. In it he suggests that the six boys from Jena, La., instead be called the American 6, since their case serves as a microcosm of our society. He cites a disturbing report from the Urban League about incarceration. Among the findings: African-American men in the United States are three times more likely than white men to face jail once they have been arrested. African-American men receive jail sentences on average 15 percent longer than white men convicted of the same crime.

How do you think our education and criminal justice systems can be reformed to produce better outcomes for African-American males? Share your thoughts by posting a comment below.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 2:45 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Baltimore City, School Diversity/Segregation

September 19, 2007

Rising against racism

Aisha Carr, a 10th grader at Milford Mill Academy in Baltimore County, was just on the phone with me explaining why she and her schoolmates plan to protest tomorrow morning in support of the "Jena 6." They are the group of black students in Jena, Lousiana, who were originally charged with attempted second-degree murder in connection with beating a white student in December after nooses were hung from a tree at the school. Their case has drawn criticism from people, who like Aisha, feel that the blacks were being unfairly treated more harshly than whites after racial confrontations and fights at Jena High School.

"We know racism existed, but we never knew it would become so real for us," Aisha said, as she worked with schoolmates to create posters for tomorrow's protest. "It's clear we have a long way to go."

Aisha --- who is enrolled Milford Mill's International Baccalaureate program -- said she has heard some people say the white students hung the nooses as a joke, "but that wasn't funny."

She said she and her schoolmates decided on a protest after hearing announcements on the radio, at church and at school calling on people to wear all black tomorrow as part of a national call that has designated Sept. 20 as "Support the Jena 6: A National Day of Action."

"It's time for the youth of America to have a say," she said. " 

Their protest is scheduled for 6:45 a.m. tomorrow at the school.

Posted by Gina Davis at 2:27 PM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Baltimore County, School Diversity/Segregation

September 4, 2007

Black and Latino students increasingly segregated, report finds

The Pew Hispanic Center has released a new analysis of public school enrollment data, concluding that black and Latino students became more segregated from white students over a dozen-year period. And Latino students in Maryland became more isolated from their white peers than in any other state.

In the 2005-2006 academic year, 21 percent of Latino students in Maryland attended public schools where the enrollment was virtually all minority. That compares with 7 percent in 1993-1994.

The state's black students became more isolated, too. Maryland's increase in the percentage of black students attending nearly all-minority schools was the fifth highest in the nation, jumping from 32 percent in 1993-1994 to 45 percent last year.

At the same time, in what would appear to be a contradictory finding, the report found that white students nationwide have become less isolated from minority students. That, the report says, is a result of a 55 percent increase in the percentage of the public school population that is Hispanic. Latinos accounted for 19.8 percent of all public school students in the 2005-2006 academic year, compared with 12.7 percent in 1993-1994.

The full report is available at

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 12:47 PM | | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (1)
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