On the Issue of Achievement Gaps

On the Issue of Achievement Gaps

Each individual has a sensory learning style that allows for optimum absorption and processing of knowledge based on the connection to the student’s auditory, visual or tactile centers of the brain. This is the key to bridging learning gaps. To foster accelerated learning, and allow students to ‘catch up’ to higher performing peers in their age group, the system has to organize classes based on learning style and then teach to the learning style with state-of-the-art methods.

DCPS should launch a pilot program to implement small group learning aimed at developing individual creativity and love for knowledge. Methods used in independent schools may be effective at fostering accelerated development. Use of the Harkness Table, for instance,is a method in which an oval table seating 11 students is the centerpiece of a classroom. Students are involved in a collaborative discussion of material and the teacher demonstrates how to learn as well as what to learn. Early childhood implementation of this system could revolutionize classroom experiences for our children.

Harkness Tables originated at Exeter Academy in 1931 when philanthropist Edward Harkness challenged the Exeter faculty to create an innovative way of teaching. The purpose of the Harkness Table was to make class more involving. The 1930s faculty also understood that Harkness Tables would make being smart more fun. They knew that discussing even your least favorite subject around the Harkness Table would make that subject more interesting. But did they know that the Harkness Table would teach students to collaborate rather than compete with each other inside and outside class? And did they know that it would make the whole community respect one another’s ideas and become a safer place to learn and live? (Duke TIP Digest of Gifted Research)

Our broadcast discussion on 12/20/2012 touched on a description of the social and psychological challenges inherent in being smart. We have arrived in the era where fostering a new urban value system that embraces exceptional school performance requires us to confront the hard issues arising from the definition of what it means to be ‘cool’ or acceptable within the social peer group. Is it safe to be smart in the African American community? Do we value learning to the same degree as our peers in other groups? Are we really cognizant of how lack of education plays into limited life choices later on? Who gets to start this dialogue and what are the potential pitfalls? Do we have the courage to ask the questions, and will God help us face the answers?

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Playing in the Schooltime of Others

A typical day in the life of an American toddler might include a trip to the playground, some television, snack time and perhaps a play date with a friend. With a few inexpensive additions to the normal routine, a youngster’s pre-school experience could be transformed from mundane to spectacular. A field trip to the museums, or a day at a petting farm are just two of the many exciting adventures that might spark a child’s imagination and eventually make an enormous difference in his or her performance in school and on standardized tests.

Very young children learn best when exposed to information that is visual or tactile in nature, that is, if a 2 year old can feel a bunny’s fur or hear a donkey braying, he is likely to recall those events, even unconsciously, when asked to make word associations on standardized tests. Observing the patterns in the veins of a leaf, or watching the legs of a caterpillar as it crawls, or listening to the chord progressions in a Bach melody are mathematical learning experiences more valuable than a thousand classroom hours could ever be.

When my oldest child was an infant, my law school professor suggested I try the Glenn Doman programs. “Teach Your Baby to Read”, and “Teach Your Baby Math” are effective strategies to introduce letters, words and numbers to young children, and we had lots of fun with them.

Aside from the educational value, the time that parents invest in their toddler’s early learning experiences will reap priceless psychological benefits. The emotional bonds developed between parent and child are the foundation for the child’s self concept. A healthy, well-adjusted sense of self is critical in the child’s later efforts to build positive relationships throughout life.

For parents, the seemingly childish act of laying face up on the grass to observe white clouds pass across the sky could be a profoundly relaxing departure from the challenges of the grown-up world. For a child whose parents took that time to spend with them, it could mean the world.

Book Review: War Anthem by Keith Andrew Perry

War AnthemWar Anthem by Keith Andrew Perry
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

War Anthem, A Review

From the evocative use of language to the stirring plot, this novel provides an insightful analysis of human behavior and politics.

The rich emotional life of the main character, Jason Diggs, is the backdrop for a description of historical events few have known of before now. From the rise of Washington, D.C.’s Black intellectual class to the development and implementation of DC Home Rule, the writer, Washington, DC lawyer Keith Perry, chronicles the dazzling changes which occurred in Washington from the late 1950’s to the present time.

War Anthem takes an unblinking look at the superficial value systems and shortcomings of the Black middle class, much like E. Franklin Frazier’s Black Bourgeoisie. However, Mr. Perry also makes a largely positive and optimistic critical analysis of the way in which unique challenges and opportunities were confronted by Black Washingtonians.

Many DC political figures will recognize themselves on the pages of War Anthem. From the late Dave Clark and Walter Washington to Marion Barry, the personalities and behavior patterns of well-known individuals are clearly described. Without exception the writer treats individuals characters with respect and kind detachment.

Like all good literature, War Anthem tells more than one story. This book is a beautifully-written memoir about coming of age in Washington, D.C. as a fully conscious, self-aware Black male who understands the leadership responsibilities placed on gifted individuals.

“I understood how death changes both the future and our understanding of the past.

Gray images flashed before me of mother’s heroism during her illness and I considered the vacuum she was leaving behind. Had I been a weaker man, I might have passed through this time immune to my suffering, spurred by some grief induced amnesia; but like my mother, it was my privilege to consciously endure.”

Mr. Perry amplifies many archetypal themes in War Anthem, and in so doing provides a great service for us all. His achievement in this book is that he has woven a magnificent human tale regarding rites of passage and manhood with a story of political intrigue and municipal history. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, and I most assuredly recommend it as a piece of literature which I suspect will soon be required reading for young men matriculating through colleges all over the world.

Julianne Robertson King

When Disrespect is the Status Quo

I admit it, I’m fascinated by the national celebrity status recently conferred on DC School Chancellor Michelle Rhee. With the powerful Oprah Winfrey media machine and the blessing of U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, she appears headed for an illustrious career as the national poster girl for educational reform.

There’s only one problem:

The objectively quantifiable data shows that her efforts have hurt student progress in District of Columbia Public Schools.

Math Proficiency Scores:

-14 schools are worse off in 2010 than in 2007 with declines as high as 25% and an average of 8%
-41 schools are worse off in 2010 than in 2008, with declines as high as 35% and an average of 11%
-61 schools (52% of all schools) are worse off in 2010 than in 2009, with declines as high as 30% and an average of 10%

Reading Proficiency Scores:

-40 schools are worse off in 2010 than in 2007, with declines as high as 45% and an average of 6%
-58 schools are worse off in 2010 than in 2008, with declines as high as 36% and an average if 9%
-66 schools (56% of all schools) are worse off in 2010 than in 2009, with declines as high as 41% and an average of 9%

(source withheld)

Other performance facts:

-AYP (Annual Yearly Progress) under Leave no Child Behind, results for DCPS: 10 schools achieved AYP in 2010 a 70% decrease from 2009, when 34 achieved AYP.

-The achievement gap between White and African-American 4th grade students for Math has increased to a 58 point gap in 2009 from a 53 point gap in 2007.

-DCPS tested 14% fewer African-America children in 2009 indicating that many African-American families are leaving DCPS for charter or private schools.

-Since 2007 DC School construction shows favoritism toward Wards 2 and 3, where outlays average between $118 and $152 per sq. ft. compared to Wards 7 and 8 where expenditures drop between $40 and $54 per sq. ft.

(source withheld)

The truth is that systemic educational reform is holistic in nature. The history, economic development, and social structure of the student population has to be accommodated before lasting change occurs.

Positive educational outcomes for all children require analysis of the learning styles, and teaching strategies that work best for each demographic group. I strongly urge that educators study a focus group created by DCPS in the 1970’s called The Innovation Team, which was formed to study the challenges and opportunities specific to Urban education.

Washington, D.C. was decimated by the crack and gun wars of the 1980’s and 90’s, and some of those lost were among our most vibrant, creative and intellectually curious. Domestic and educational policy of the Reagan Bush years has had the effect of stifling the momentum of the 1970’s as related to Black consciousness and upward mobility. The collective psychological development of the Black community is diminished as a result. The children we see in the classroom today are essentially postwar survivors, yet we haven’t developed a plan that faces that excruciating truth. The sick joke is to send Rhee here, to insult and demean and blame our community for failing to effectively protect our young people.

If Oprah cares, and I believe she might, if properly informed, she needs to focus, not on personalities and style and money, but on history. Refugee and post-war children around the world have to be nurtured in a very focused way to be returned to their natural brilliance.

A Sheep in Lion’s Clothing

When news of the Eddie Long scandal broke, people didn’t want to believe that he was guilty. He may not be guilty. The events leading up to this scandal, however, are reminiscent of horrific stories coming forth from Catholic congregations for decades. No one wanted to challenge the power structure or question the behavior of the seemingly Godly men in whom they placed their trust. Now the Catholic Church is paying billions of dollars in damages because the population failed to take precautions and speak out against sexual abuse of children. To be sure, someone within the New Birth congregation had an inkling, a feeling that something was amiss in their pastor’s behavior toward boys and young men.

Now, incredibly, people are postulating that this crisis should spur new dialogue regarding homophobia in the Black community. To be sure, that is a critical piece in the healing and reconciliation that has to occur among segments of the African-American community. Would Eddie Long have been as successful in the ministry as he was if he had been openly gay? Is it unrealistic to place the expectation of genuine moral purity on powerful men? Do their words mean less if we find them to have fallen from Biblical precepts? These are important questions.

However, the conversation regarding sexual orientation should take a back seat to the conversation about protecting our children from sexual predators.

Future generations of African American people will ponder the way we handle this current crisis in the Church. There are other sexual scandals brewing in several Black mega churches in the U.S., and whether they are quietly settled or brought to the public by the media, we all have to confront the inconsistencies between what we say we are and what we really are.

This situation calls for more than prayer. Someone has to speak for our children. Do we cherish our children enough to put their safety above the need to idolize men like Eddie Long?

Mirror, Mirror

The Evil Queen

The queen stepped before her mirror:

Mirror, mirror, on the wall,
Who in this land is fairest of all?

The mirror answered:

You, my queen, are fair; it is true.
But Little Snow-White with the seven dwarfs
Is a thousand times fairer than you.

When the queen heard this, she shook and trembled with anger, “Snow-White will die, if it costs me my life!”

Standing apart from the widely-accepted archetype of the female as life giver, care-taker, and warm nurturer, is the seemingly aberrant character of the Evil Queen. She crops up in folklore and fantasy literature as the arch nemesis of the likes of Snow White and Cinderella (that’s the evil stepmother upgrade.) Her jealousy, her spiteful and bitterly vindictive nature, and her apparently Godless lack of compassion or empathy are legendary. As villains go, the Evil Queen presents a disarming conundrum since she is usually endowed with physical beauty.

..and as we all know, beautiful people are always good. Right?

In our admiration of the beautiful, do we tend to lower the behavioral standards and norms the rest of us have to follow? Conversely, how accurate or fair is the stereotype of the beautiful, but superficial person who is consumed by ego-dictated goals and desires? Perhaps the Evil Queen and Snow White are two halves of the same whole. Maybe their extremes of character are posed in a manner that allows the reader to reflect on the idea that true beauty lies somewhere deep beyond the formation of cheekbones and eyelids and lips. Maybe real beauty is all about someone’s heart and soul.

Proverb. First found in a work by Sir Thomas Overbury’s, 1613:

“All the carnall beauty of my wife, Is but skin deep.”

In Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters author John Steptoe describes similarly polarized opposites. Manyara and Nyasha are both dazzlingly beautiful, but one is compassionate and sweet while the other is ambitious, cruel and spiteful. They are both sent to see the king as he prepares to chose a wife who is the most worthy and beautiful young woman in the kingdom. Since Manyara and Nyasha share the same upbringing, parents and life experiences, the differences in their character and personality must be the result of deeper, inborn traits. These traits are exposed as they endure the journey to the palace, and the king chooses the daughter who is beautiful both inside and out.

The story raises the twin questions of the nature of worth, and its relation to beauty. In the story, the King desires ‘The Most Worthy and Beautiful’ daughters in the land. What does it mean to be worthy, and must one be beautiful in order to be worthy? If not, why does the King have this added request for beauty? Would he reject a worthy queen who was not beautiful, or a beautiful queen who was not worthy? Which is better, and what do you think? http://www.teachingchildrenphilosophy.org/wiki/Mufaro%27s_Beautiful_Daughters#Questions_for_Philosophical_Discussion

For me, American society’s fascination with external appearance and body consciousness is as destructive a force in our collective psyche as any mass hallucination to ever take hold on a people. The questions of who is beautiful and who gets to decide is a never ending fairy-tale that drives sales in cosmetics, hair care, jewelry, advertising and a dozen other sectors of the economy. The deeper, more fascinating inquiry is in the nature of a personal individual quest: If my spirit shines brightly enough to overshadow any physical flaw or imperfection, how could it matter?

Wayne’s World

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I received a priceless gift one afternoon as I left my office to grab a bite to eat. Before I focused on the temperature, or the people jostling along the sidewalk, or even my appetite, my attention was drawn to a man sitting in front of the building in a motorized wheelchair. He had an oxygen tank beside him which was hooked up to an outlet in a bank lobby next door. As I walked by him, as is my custom, I made eye contact, smiled, and said “hello.”

Because Washington, D.C. has so many homeless people, the average pedestrian has to make numerous split second decisions about whom to engage or avoid. The criteria for these choices probably arise from each individual’s values, beliefs and upbringing, mixed with the survival skills, or “street smarts” all city dwellers acquire over time. Also, The House of Ruth, a Washington shelter, used to have a van run, in which volunteers distributed food, blankets and warm conversation to homeless people. Working the van run taught me to trust my instincts about people, whether they were homeless or not.

I was drawn to this man in the chair. His face showed a kindness and intelligence that forced me to ask myself: “Oh God, how did he wind up here?” We introduced ourselves: “My name is Wayne.” He said. We talked for a good hour, about his term of Army service in Vietnam and having been confined and tortured for a time. It didn’t matter whether the story was factually accurate, he believed it, and the events he described were clearly a source of emotional trauma for him.

I eventually left to get a sandwich. As I passed by again to return to work, he asked me to look at the paperwork for a 501 (c) 3 filing. He was creating a non-profit organization for vocational training for homeless veterans. His filing was in order, and I took the papers back to him after I looked at them.

By this time it was cold outside. I had to work until 11 that night, and I was alternately worried about where he was going that night, and how, if at all, I would ever know what happened to him. When I told him I was going back in to work, he thanked me and handed me a bag from a local bakery.

That day was 3 years ago. I never saw Wayne again. The bag, which I opened later that evening, contained fresh bran muffins. Of course I had a fleeting doubt about consuming something given to me by a homeless person, and I examined them very carefully before sharing them with my family. The bigger lesson, however, was that someone who had suffered more than I can ever imagine had offered me what he could afford. Believe me when I say the muffins were all the more delicious because they were offered from the heart.

I think about Wayne frequently. I will never know where he is, or how he is. His innate nobility surpassed that of many of the ‘bluebloods’ I encounter throughout life, and pointed out that degrees and social status are not the primary indicators of a person’s quality. My wish for Wayne is that he is healthy and happy in whatever he chooses to do. My wish for the rest of us is that we allow ourselves to be touched and affected by the plight of others around us, because truly, you receive as much as you give.