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Black Doctorates Clustered in Education, Ed.D. at Risk May 13, 2008

Posted by twilightandreason in Higher Education.
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In Feburary a report on Black graduate students in the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education moved me to blog on the clustering of Black graduate students in the fields of Education and Business. You can read that blog post HERE. This issue made the news again just last week when the Baltimore Times published “Fewer Blacks Earning Degrees,” an analysis of the current state of African Americans and doctoral education, written by education advocate Jayne Matthews. Click on the highlighted title to read this article in its entirety.

Early in her piece, Matthews cites the familiar statistic, that 36.5 percent of African Americans with doctorates hold those degrees in the field of education. She then goes on to explore some of the more disturbing implications of Black clustering in that field. Matthews reveals that the pursuit of the Ed.D. as a professional degree (commonly used as a stepping stone into principalships, school superintendent positions, and certain college administrative posts) has prompted a reconsideration of the necessity of pre-administrative training at the doctoral level, noting that Arthur Levine, president of the highly influential Columbia Teacher’s College, has suggested removing the dissertation component of the Ed.D., which would effectively eliminate it as a doctoral degree option, and replacing it with a professionally-oriented M.Ed. Matthew’s writes:

Arthur Levine, president of the Teachers College at Columbia University, has proposed that Ed.D. degrees be abolished and be replaced with a master’s degree in educational administration. He believes that people who aspire to be school superintendents or college administrators are wasting their time doing a research dissertation on a topic that will have little or no bearing on the job that they plan to hold.

The effect on the numbers of Black doctoral numbers would be dramatic:

Should the Levine view prevail, the black percentage of all doctoral awards would fall dramatically. If we eliminate educational doctorates from the 2006 statistics, we find that blacks earned only 4.8 percent of all doctorates in fields other than education.

While the sharp downward shift in black percentage of doctoral awards would be troubling on many levels, it would not have much of an effect on the real-life experiences of Black faculty and students on college and university campuses, where the clustering of Black doctoral degree holders in primary and secondary school administrative posts has had little or no direct impact on the number of Black instructors that undergraduate and graduate students encounter in their college classrooms.

It is possible to argue that there should already have been an M.Ed. oriented specifically toward to aspiring administrators, possibly along the lines of an M.B.A., but for education professionals rather than business professional. Then, as is the case in the field of business, the doctorate in education would be a Ph.D., oriented specifically toward those who have an interest in college-level teaching and research.

As a Black academic I have to wonder, though, whether or not the popularity of the Ed.D. among African Americans has anything to do with some institutions’ willingness to consider doing away with it. This very question may seem fraught with racial paranoia; but given the history of Black people in the academy, to ignore such a possibilty would be foolish.

Posted by Ajuan Mance


“Acting White” Myth: Code Orange Advisory May 7, 2008

Posted by twilightandreason in Higher Education.
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Algernon Austin

Algernon Austin is director of the Thora Institute. Austin is a 1990 graduate of Wesleyan University. He earned his M.A. (1995) and Ph.D. (2001) in sociology from Northwestern University.

The myth that Black students equate getting good grades in school with “acting white” took a major hit last week. In a piece published on the “The Daily Voice” Black news site, author Algernon Austin took the rising campaign against this dangerous myth one step further in his May 2 post, “Are Black Students Really Afraid of Acting White.”

According to Austin, the “acting white” myth grew out of a single study, published in 1986. Anyone who has even a passing familiarity with contemporary debates on Black academic achievement can affirm that, 22 years later, the “acting white” myth continues to figure prominently in discussions of all issues related African American educational attainment. Austin describes the study, it’s limited scope, and the problematic nature of the researchers conclusions:

In 1986, in an Urban Review article, two scholars studying a Washington D.C. high school claimed that black students did not achieve academically because of a fear of being perceived as “acting white.” People pounced so quickly on this idea that they failed to realize that the researchers did not actually present any black students who said they were afraid of being called “white” [emphasis mine].

Of the eight students discussed in the article, four indicated that they were worried about being called “brainiacs.” The other four raised other issues. A fear of “acting white” was the researchers’ highly debatable interpretation of what was going on, but it was not a direct quotation.

Many white students have been called “brainiac,” “nerd,” “geek,” and similar names by other white students. It is unfortunate that students tease and bully each other. But this is not “a black thing.” The real question therefore is whether academically-oriented teasing is more common among black students than among whites. There is no convincing evidence that this is the case. A 2003 study by the Girl Scout Research Institute, for example, found equal levels of concern about school-related teasing among black and white girls.

Austin’s juxtaposes the considerable attention given 1986 Urban Review findings with the limited exposure given to those studies whose findings suggest that African American youth place a high value on education. This throws into relief the sad fact that, when it comes to African Americans, research is rewarded, not for the validity of its conclusions or for the quality of its analysis, but for the degree to which it reinforces familiar stereotypes.

Just below, I have included three of my favorite passages from Algernon Austin’s “Are Black Students Really African of ‘Acting White'” ; or click on THIS link to read the entire piece:

Contrary to the popular stereotype, much of the evidence suggests that black students value education more than whites. The same year the Urban Review article was published, the Monitoring the Future survey found that 74 percent of black high school seniors believed that getting good grades was of “great” or “very great importance,” but only 41 percent of white seniors felt as strongly. Half of black seniors reported that knowing a lot about intellectual matters was of “great” or “very great importance,” but only one-fifth of white seniors felt the same […] and more recent surveys have had similar results. A 2006 survey by Public Agenda found that black students were more likely than white students to believe that “increasing math and science education would improve high school.” The Higher Education Research Institute’s 2006 survey of college freshmen found that the majority-black students at historically black colleges were more likely to aspire to obtain a Ph.D. than college freshmen generally.

Since the 1970s, the best standardized tests have shown a greater increase in black students’ scores than in white students’ scores. The long-term trend National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) math test for eight graders, for example, shows a 14 point gain for white students but a 34 point gain for black students. There remains a large gap in scores on this test, but it was 20 points larger in the 1970s.

What the current academic research shows is that much of the black-white achievement gap exists prior to first-grade, many years before academic teasing begins. This gap is due to broad social and economic disadvantages among black families in comparison to white families. The gap grows during school years because these disadvantaged black students then attend schools of lower quality than white students.

Posted by Ajuan Mance

Those Wacky American Blacks and that Crazy Achievement Gap April 21, 2008

Posted by twilightandreason in Higher Education.
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This past weekend I stole a few moments to catch up on some of my favorite blogs. The March 18 post on the New York Times Freakonomics blog made me pause in my tracks. The entry, titled “How Can the Achievement Gap Be Closed? A Freakonomics Quorum,” was posted by Freakonomics co-author, Stephen Dubner.

The blogpost iteself was benign enough, though decidedly slanted toward a social sciences analysis of a problem that I believe requires a multi-disciplinary approach. Through the miracle of online communication, Dubner assembled a diverse group of economists, policy analysts, and education administrators and posed this single question: “How can the U.S. black-white achievement gap be closed?”

The assembled respondents — Caroline Hoxby, Daniel Hurley, Richard J. Murnane, and Andrew Rotherham — offered compelling, thoughtful, and earnest solutions, mostly based in the notion that a combination of school transformation and community investment and family support could effect great enough change in the U.S. education system to at least begin to close the racial achievement gap between Black and white students. Click HERE for a link to the blogpost in quesiton.

The reactions that followed, however, were a completely different story. I remember a Vibe Magazine interview with Black feminist scholar bell hooks in which she made a truly thought-provoking observation about how in the U.S. the white majority uses the highly publicized foibles, errors, and crimes of the most troubled and vulnerable members of the Black community as a vehicle for confronting and exploring its own challenges and issues. Hooks gave the examples of O.J. and Mike Tyson, each of whose highly publicized arrest and trial served as a launchpad for white America’s discussion of domestic violence and acquaintance rape, respectively and including the impact of this crimes in majority communities.

The curious collection of readers’ reactions to Dubner’s assembled experts (which range from the measured and constructive to the bizarre to the patently racist) can be explained in no other way than as the phenomenon that bell hooks describes, as a bizarre ritual of objectification, honing in on issues facing all young people in crisis (failing schools in impoverished areas, lack of parental involvement, inadequate education funding), but filtering it through the experiences of Black youth who are, throughout, characterized as always already underachieving and underprepared.

Many readers’ reactions to this post were engaging, creative, thoughtful, and provocative. The excerpts below, however, represent two of the most disturbing trends I noted among the responses. They are 1) the pathologization of U.S. Black culture as degraded and degenerate compared to those of other American minority groups, including the culture and values of Caribbean and African immigrants and 2) the assertion that the problem of Black student underachievement is rooted in their generally lower I.Q. scores, and issue whose only apparent solution would be the removal of African American children from their families of origin. Here are a few choice excerpts from the reader responses to Dubner’s March 18th post: 

  • “Achievement is something that is earned by the student through work, not something that can be given by the state. Only opportunity and help can be given. If a student does not want to learn, or has other factors in their lives that make it difficult for them to learn, then there is very little that the state can do for that person.”
  • “I agree that Richard J. Mundane ignored the elephant in the room by blaming it on “poverty” when in fact all the empirical evidence shows that Asian and white kids do better in poor areas than Latin and Black kids, and ditto in wealthy areas – on AVERAGE. We also know from international testing that kids in poor countries often score much higher than American kids. Finally, we know that Black kids in American schools who have at least one grandparent who is Caribbean or African score much better than other African Americans. All of which points to the fact that its largely a family/social expectation thing. And I should know – I am half Mexican, half black, went to Berkeley undergrad and Stern for MBA (so I did well academically) but ALWAYS heard from my black and brown peers that I was “acting white” or “thought I was too good for them” because I took AP classes, etc. The fact is, we know from looking at the scores of Black and brown kids in wealthy school districts that until their is more social and parental pressure to do well, White, the Indian and Chinese (and even Caribbean Black) kids will do better.”
  • “My family is black. My sister attends Columbia, and I went to Stanford… We both did very well on our SAT’s (exact same scores although I did better on the math 730, and she did better on the verbal). Why have we had relatively successful academic careers?

    “I attribute much of it to our parents who are immigrants from Nigeria. Our parents view education as the ONLY means of social mobility. Better to become a doctor or professor where you are judged more on your schooling, than go in business or ‘wing it’ without a degree, where white people can more easily discriminate against you. Most of my Asian friends had parents who felt the same way.

    “Black Americans will have to make a cultural shift and begin placing more importance on education. They have to do this even in the formative years, otherwise not even a good school can close the gap. Ebonics doesn’t help either…but that’s another issue”

  • “What about corporal punishment and discipline? Doesn’t the army have a good track record of improving achievement and straightening out youth from all races? And isn’t part of that success due to tough discipline and what is effectively legal corporal punishment?”
  • “In order to increase student engagement in school, it needs to be a privilege instead of a right. Why do classrooms in China with sixty students brim with excitement for learning while classrooms in the U.S. with fewer than half that teem with boredom and disinterest? Simple, in China if your not in school, then you are at work in the fields or factories.”
  • “Now that we have black history month, the poles are agitating for polish history month and the Mexicans want a Mexican history month. There are only so many hours in the school day and school year available for instruction. No wonder American university students don’t know what century the American civil war occurred in. No political constituency exists for teaching American history. In foreign schools which outperform ours, the curriculum is narrow and deep, by that I mean that communication and quantitation skills are developed in depth. It is not diluted with mandates for broad superficial coverage of topics of slight educational importance. This has led to a curriculum here that is overbroad and superficial as a whole. Many schools here are doing something called character education, emphasizing a character trait each week or month of the school term. My parents would have regarded that as presumptuous nonsense. Today we generally think it’s a good idea because we have no confidence in the parents’ ability to teach such things. The same lack of confidence in parents gives cover to the sex,drugs,alcohol, and tobacco ed and perhaps also the the various ethnic history curricula.”
  • “I am amazed that there has been only one mention of one of the most controversial aspects of this problem. Mental ability has been consistently shown to differ amongst different racial groups, just as athletic ability, height, and facial features differ amongst different racial groups. Mental ability as measured by the SAT, LSAT, GMAT, or even by IQ tests, have a very strong correlation with educational achievement. The only know persistent method of increasing IQ lifelong is adoption, regardless of what race the child or the parents are. This means that all the effort and special programs and money thrown at the issue will all fail miserably because they don’t address the underlying issue of IQ differences in different racial groups.”
  • “Anyone who seriously delves into the matter will quickly conclude that of course the real reason that lower IQ ethnic groups (blacks and Hispanics) have lower academic achievement is because on average they tend to be less intelligent. Any honest teacher will tell you that the three main factors that predict academic achievement in a student are 1. IQ, 2. IQ, and 3. IQ; beyond this raw intelligence factor then more minor things like effort and discipline can also be significant…All this talk about how blacks and Hispanics would perform far better academically if only they could attend better schools is ridiculous nonsense! There are countless examples of affluent blacks who attend the same schools as middle class and upper class whites and asians, yet the upscale blacks and Hispanics still show much lower academic achievement compared with their white and Asian classmates. In fact the late U Cal Berkeley sociologist John Ogbu wrote a book about how black students from affluent homes in a suburb of Cleveland (Shaker Heights) still performed much worse than their fellow white students. In most cities if you switched the student body from all black inner city ghetto schools with the student body from the most affluent suburbs and left the teachers in place, I am certain that suddenly all the upscale parents would be talking about bad the suburban schools are and how excellent the inner city schools are. It is all about how smart the students are, not how fancy the building is or how “good” the teachers are. This is really nothing new, the Johns Hopkins sociologist James Coleman proved this during the 1960s in his famous “Coleman Report”.
  • “The problem is not the education gap, it’s the IQ gap. Unfortunately, no amount of social engineering or politically correct doublespeak is going to make that go away.”
  • “To Veritas:

    “There IS one consistent, measurable way to permanently raise IQ: adoption. Adopted children score 5-7 points higher than their racial average on IQ tests.”

Posted by Ajuan Mance

The Culture of Testing (Part 2) March 12, 2008

Posted by twilightandreason in Higher Education.
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For many of the young Black men and women who take standardized tests, neither the language of the questions, nor the subjects addressed reflect or validate the local environment in which the test taker was raised, the values, interests, and experiences that young Black man or woman was exposed to, or the stories he or she read or was told. Too many of the scenarios presented in the word problems and too many the settings addressed in what used to be called the “reading comprehension” sections depict activities, places, and ideas that he or she has never heard of or experienced.

It is essential that young Black men and women, boys and girls have the opportunity to see, hear, visit, read about and otherwise encounter a broad range of experiences that transport them literally and figuratively beyond the boundaries of their communities. Such opportunities will not only broaden our young people’s vocabularies and decrease their alienation from the standardized testing experiences, but it will also help them develop interests, and hobbies, their passion for which might well become the motivation for excelling in high school and moving on to college and even graduate education.

And such activities don’t have to focus exclusively on dance and theatrical forms rooted in the European or white American experience. The Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre tours the U.S. regularly; and The Dance Theater of Harlem is currently holding a national audition tour, open to young people between the ages of 8 and 24.

Black-oriented Broadway productions like The Lion King and Black written, produced and directed theatrical productions like The Color Purple are currently on tour. My mention of these big-budget national shows should not, however, overshadow the often exceptional local Black theater groups (and dance groups, for that matter), many of which are considerably more affordable than some of the big Broadway touring companies.

My passion for this issue — the increased exposure of Black boys and girls to a broader range of settings and experiences — is quite clear. This issue is — big surprise — very personal to me. I was one of those Black kids whose parents took it upon themselves to make sure that I had a range of experiences. Newly migrated to the NY metropolitan area from the deep south, and living modestly on one public schoolteacher’s salary (my mother was a stay-at-home mom until I was in middle school), they joined the American Museum of Natural History, where we became regulars. Between subscriptions to Natural History magazine (free to members), the late and great Omni magazine, and Smithsonian and weekly trips to New York’s discount book shops, museums, flea markets, and salvage shops, piano lessons, ballet lessons, and frequent (and economical) trips to the public library, my parents created an environment for us that was as culturally stimulating and intellectually rich as any I can imagine.

When, at the age of 16, I took myassigned seat in the school library rearranged–for the day–to function as a testing center, I was no more or less nervous than the other kids in the honors track at my overwhelmingly white high school. My experience taking the SAT affirmed this belief. I left the testing center with a feeling of accomplishment and cautious optimism. It never even occurred to me to feel alienated, largely because three prior years of taking classes with my intellectually precocious peers taught me that, although some of my classmates had traveled abroad or grown up on the college campuses where their parents were faculty and administrators, they knew no more of the sciences, the arts, history, literature, or mathematics than I did.

I wish that kind of confidence and that kind of breadth of experience for all Black children. I’m still not quite sure how my young, new-migrated parents knew to saturate their kids in such a broad range of the experiences and tastes, colors, and sounds — the range of possibilities — that the world had to offer. I have a feeling it has something to do with the value placed — in the pre-integration communities of their youth and in the historically Black college where they met, in their homes, and in their churches — on the importance of learning and on a very specific definition of what it mean to be “educated.”

Not every Black child will have the happy privilege of being born into a stable family of intellectually curious, college-educated, emotionally available parents. Not every child will have the benefit of being born into the safe, stable, and supportive environment that he or she deserves. The challenge, now, is how to fill the gap — how to enter the lives of those children whose families, however well-intentioned, struggle to provide even the most basic staples of survival and help instill in them a sense of self-love, possibility, and entitlement to a life as remarkable as they can imagine.

The now familiar mantra, “each one teach one” seems too gradual for the dramatic transformation that needs to take place in so many young Black lives. We need broad action that penetrates deeply into all Black communities in need, and we need it soon. We need magic, but not the type of magic that we see in the pages of Harry Potter or on the stages of Las Vegas. We need the kind of magic that happens when a people moves as one to aid and transform the lives of their most vulnerable brothers and sisters.

The kind of magic that young African American children need is the magic that Amiri Baraka is speaking of at the end of Ka’ba, his love poem to Black communities in struggle. Baraka writes,

We need magic
now we need the spells, to raise up
return, destroy, and create. What will be
the sacred words?

Posted by Ajuan Mance