Tag Archives: black students

Who’s Hurt When We Cheat?

22 Oct

From the flurry of reports in the media about cheating in our nation’s public schools, it seems children may not be the only ones in need of character education.  Educators, it seems, need it too.

Cheating scandals have surfaced in Georgia, Pennsylvania, Maryland, D.C., Illinois, Alabama, Indiana, Ohio, and Texas to name a few. It’s a growing epidemic according to investigative reports that educators appear to be inclined to ignore, minimize, deny, contain and gloss over as we fall further and further behind in global academic and labor measures.

Incidences of cheating are being blamed on everything from teachers seeking to earn job security and monetary rewards by producing artificially high test scores, school officials’ lackadaisical attitudes towards standardized testing and a lack of test security measures system wide.

I’ve yet to hear “the devil made me do it,” but I suspect we’re getting close.

In response to these scandals, there are calls for more attention to cheating prevention training, better standardized testing procedures, greater oversight by state and local officials, and calls for more federal oversight – a move that would undoubtedly lead to costly and complicated bureaucracy. Can you say federal testing police?  These solutions all but presume cheating is inevitable; but, what about not cheating?

When educators cheat our children are the biggest losers. The proficiency gains that have been touted to rationalize the distribution of bonuses and awards to educators have been as imaginary and ghost-like as inflated test scores.  Students’ confidence in the adults who they should be able to trust to teach them has been broken.

When our children lose we all lose since, as we know, they are our future. Even scarier is the reality that they are also learning that cheating is acceptable under certain circumstances like when you’re highly incented to perform, under pressure to achieve results or … when no one is looking.  Character is born in the private moments when we are called upon to consider and do what is right.  Martin Luther King, Jr. said it best – the function of a true education is to teach one to think intensively and critically – intelligence plus character that is the true goal of education.

It is disappointing that educators implicated and not yet implicated in these scandals think so little of their profession that they would choose dishonesty over integrity and their students’ best interests.  The actions of a few have compromised the veracity of the entire profession. Sharon Rideau, a doctoral candidate at Arizona State University, found in a survey of 3,000 Arizona teachers that 50% of them either had cheated or knew of a colleague who had cheated.  If she’s right, we’re in big trouble.

Let me be clear, not all educators cheat, but you only need one bad apple to spoil the bunch or sully the reputation of the entire profession. Even in Finland, a country that is out competing the US on most academic measures, only 1 out of 10 applicants becomes a teacher.  It’s a challenging, important job for which we only need the few and the ethical.

Etienne R. LeGrand is president and co-founder of the W.E.B. Du Bois Society.


To Everything There Is A Season

11 Sep

We have been working over the past 8 years to transform the lives and learning of minority children by celebrating and inspiring academic ambition.  From the beginning we’ve demonstrated that celebration and motivation are the keys to improving students’ academic outcomes. We’re proud of the many students that we’ve challenged thus far, and grateful to their parents and collective communities for stepping up to change the path of their lives.

We remain a long way from causing the change we’re after, but we have learned a great deal about the complexities of the public education system and the challenges to financing this work.  We’ve audited our processes, reviewed the landscape of education in this country and determined that the current conversation about education reform overlooks one important focus.

We’re convinced that learning is enhanced and transformed when the culture or conditions for learning in schools, homes and in our communities are aligned to foster learning.  Beginning with the 2013 school year, we will place an acute focus on school culture, and the dynamic educational and motivational shift that occurs when all connected to a school are aligned to focus on learning. What do we mean by “school culture”?

A collaborative educational system that celebrates the accomplishments of students and teachers, allocates the necessary time for teachers to collaborate and improve; invites parents to contribute their ideas and opinions, in addition to their resources; and coalesces necessary partners to support the myriad needs of poor students.

Why school culture?

Few are talking about it.  Research shows that schools with a positive culture foster academic improvement, cohesion, collaborative decision-making, professional development and staff and student learning.  Even as we tend to overlook it because we can’t adequately measure it, school culture influences what the school cares about, the way people behave, what the people in the school spend time doing, and what they celebrate. The school whose leadership does the best job of deliberately influencing culture does a better job at producing student and teacher learning.

As we focus on the link between school culture and performance we need your help.  We want to know:

  • What does culture look like in your child’s school or a family member’s school?
  • How does the school nurture and celebrate learning?
  • In what ways do the people in your child’s school work cohesively to foster learning for all children?
  • Are the teachers engaged and active in problem solving challenges or have they checked out?
  • What could the school do better?

Email me at etienne@webduboissociety.org and share what’s going on in your schools. Your stories and testimonials add value to the discussion, and are a critical factor in the success of our outreach.  Together, we can begin to disrupt the education reform debate to get this country focused on change that will make a difference in our children’s learning.

With investment, engagement, and support, we can make a difference.


Etienne R. LeGrand


The W.E.B. Du Bois Society

Are black parents ready for the “parent trigger”?

29 Sep

As thought leaders, administrators and educators explore a myriad of solutions for what we all agree is a looming state of crisis in American education, the subject of parental engagement has made the short list of proposed strategies.

In a NY Times editorial last week, author Peg Tyre elevated this dialogue to another level when she raised then option of the “parent trigger”–a concept that is being proposed in more than 20 states to recognize and increase the impact of engaged parents and, I would argue, possibly bring another layer of complication.

According to Tyre, California was the first to adopt this trigger. Here’s how it works there: “parents whose children attend a failing school can band together. If 51 percent of them sign a petition, they can demand, and the district must provide, a new set of administrators to run the school. Alternately, the disgruntled parents can ask that a charter school operator be brought in to take over.”

On the subject of parental engagement in a child’s education, the research is clear: parents matter…a lot! Research consistently shows that parent involvement—in the home and at the school—has a significant influence on student achievement. Literature shows that students whose parents are involved in their children’s schooling have increased academic performance and overall cognitive development. For most people, that’s somewhat of a no brainer.

And while the notion of institutionalizing and operationalizing parental engagement has some appeal, how would it work in communities and districts where parents are systemically disengaged, uninformed and, themselves, undereducated?

Several research studies highlight the differences in the parental involvement of African American and Hispanic parents as compared to their white and Asian peers. This topic has also been reflected in discourse among educators and administrators. This phenomenon was reinforced for me recently when I encountered African-American parent who had no clue that her child had been truant for three weeks.

There are several reasons and barriers that inform this reality, but in many school districts, it is a reality nonetheless. If parental engagement is to elevate as the next big “it strategy” for reforming public schools, then attention must be paid to this racial/ethnic gap in parental engagement, and to getting more black parents up to speed to ensure this does not become yet another area where glaring disparity is perpetuated. If ever there was a case of “be careful what you ask for,” this is it.

I don’t propose to have a silver bullet either. In all honesty, it is a phenomenon that has left me at times dispirited in my work with African-American students over the past decade. But, I do think it has to start with this conversation. With juggling the various barriers and limitations in everyday life, many parents simply don’t have time or know how to support their child’s academic success…simply don’t know where to start.

We are trying to help with our parent-student contract that enables parents and children to talk about expectations for success in school and the behaviors that lead to it, and to hold themselves and their children more accountable to communicating and staying actively engaged during the school year. It’s a good start at helping parents express their commitment to their children, incorporate incentives along with consequences, and to set specific milestones for monitoring their child’s progress.

If you are a parent who is not fully engaged, or if you know one, let the discussion and the move to change start with you. How can you commit to ensure that, as parental engagement becomes a part of our public policy to reform education, minority parents are not left behind?

Students need sticks, but they need carrots more

22 Mar

Imagine how fed up you must be if you’re willing to risk your child’s humility to save him.  That’s what a Tampa mother recently did when she stuck him on a street corner with a sign around his neck saying among other things “GPA 1.22. … Honk if you think I need education.”

Being a fan of tough love myself, I immediately thought “hooray for her!” According to this recent AP story, Ronda Holder says she and the boy’s father have tried everything to get their 15-year-old to shape up academically. They’ve offered help, asked to see homework, grounded, lectured him and confiscated his cell phone. Sound familiar?  Apparently, James Mond III’s indifference at a school meeting was the final straw. The following day, Holder made the sign and made her son wear it for nearly four hours.

Yes, she was reported to the Department of Family and Children’s Services and of course experts were highly critical of the move.  Holder insists she’s fighting for her child’s education.  She’s right of course. The real truth is: she’s fighting for his life.  With so much at stake in this fight, the undeniable question is: how can Holder and other engaged parents motivate their young students as a complement to reprimanding them?

There’s much we don’t know about this situation.  I’d like to presume James was performing in school at some level before he fell to his current 1.22 status and that he had a level of motivation; however fleeting.  I’m curious to know whether his parents understand what motivates him – – what, if anything he’s invested in.  I don’t know the basis on which his cell phone was returned.  Given his grades ultimately fell to a 1.22, I’d say it was returned prematurely.

We don’t know if “carrots” were offered to James when he climbed himself out of his previous academic performance holes.  He had to have, right? After all, he got his phone back.  Was he rewarded by word or deed for the increased effort, given an additional carrot on top of the returned phone?  We need to expect academic success and then recognize and reward students’ effort, progress and achievement at every juncture along the way.

We all need to be motivated to engage – to be emotionally concerned and invested – in what we want to achieve: do well in school, lose 10 pounds, eat more healthfully, clean out the garage, or learn a new language.

As we all continue to “fight for children’s education” as Rhonda Holder says she is doing, let’s add some carrots to jump-start the intrinsic motivation students need to get in done in the classroom.

After James’ recent experience, perhaps he has newfound sources of motivation to draw on when the work seems uninteresting or he’s just not motivated to work hard.  I pray the drastic step his mother felt compelled to take got his attention.  I also pray that we add some carrots to the sticks and support our children need to achieve in school and in life.

Click here to view the news story and to hear about James’ story firsthand from his mom’s perspective.

Climbing UP the ladder: From actor to teacher

26 Oct

TV sitcom star Tony Danza (well known from his roles on Taxi and Who’s The Boss) recently participated in a media blitz to promote his new reality TV show “Teach,” currently airing on A&E.  When we first heard Danza was leaving his family and cushy Los Angeles lifestyle to teach 10h Grade English at an urban Philadelphia high school, the first word that came to our minds was: “Gimmick!”

Why else would an actor leave his privileged lifestyle and the esteem that comes with a decades-long TV career to “slum it” in the halls of Philadelphia’s largest public school?

That’s what we first thought, and then we had to catch ourselves.  Why should we see it as a gimmick?  There is, arguably, no more noble, glamorous or prestigious profession than that of teaching.  How is it that one of the most critical careers of all time has descended to the position of bottom rung on the ladder…that we would automatically count it as a gimmick for an actor to elevate his standing to teach.

As we went on to further explore the story, we learned that this was actually (likely) not a gimmick for Danza.  He had actually studied to become a teacher before he took advantage of an opportunity to pursue a career in acting.  It turns out that Danza did what many of us always wish we could: he took advantage of an opportunity to walk down his own personal “road not taken.”

Kudos to him!  This is the kind of Reality TV we can all get behind.  We’re hopeful that this could help contribute to our efforts, and the efforts of others, to elevate the teaching profession higher up–to its rightful place on the proverbial career ladder.   Check out a couple of links below to some interviews with Tony Danza regarding this dynamic season in his life.  And, visit A&E’s site to check out some of the episodes you’ve missed.

We applaud his efforts and support the messages he’s sharing with the youth in his classroom: that they can “have a good time and have good grades”; that they should “get smart early”; and that “there’s only one way out and that’s an education…a real education.”

It’s the Culture, Stupid!

15 May

Graduation ceremonies are book-ending the academic year and schools are closing for summer break.  Soon, the topics of education and the stubborn academic achievement gap will retire from public discourse for its annual 2-month hiatus.  But, sadly, the facts that continue to tell a disturbing story will reemerge just as strong by the fall:

  • There are significant gaps between blacks and whites in virtually every measure of achievement: NAEP math and reading test scores, high school completion rates, college enrollment and college completion rates.
  • Blacks are not faring well in high school graduation rates—only 55 percent, compared to 78 percent for white students and 72 percent for Asian students.
  • The dropout rate for black students is almost double the dropout rate for their white peers.
  • By the twelfth grade, on average, black students are four years behind their white or Asian peers.

But, discussion about this ominous academic achievement continually ignores one larger-than-life elephant in the room: the reality that African-American children are growing up in a peer culture and community network that, in too many ways, does not foster academic ambition. Instead, it’s a culture that, in too many ways, celebrates achievements in sports and entertainment more than academic achievement.

Consider these realities: Studies show African-American students are the least likely out of students in all racial and ethnic groups to:

  • Spend more time on their studies outside of school
  • To participate in academically-oriented peer groups or study groups
  • To believe success is based on effort rather than innate ability

They are more likely to view a C as a decent letter grade.  They spend 40% less time on homework than their white peers and 80% less time than their Asian peers.  And, nearly half of African-American fourth-graders and eighth-graders spend five hours or more watching TV on a typical school day.  This is compared to less than 20% of white fourth-graders.

It’s time administrators, educators and parents opened their eyes to the impact of the peer culture and community norms on how African-American children are faring compared to their peers in other racial/ethnic groups.  It’s time to consider new approaches for motivating student engagement in learning and commitment to achieve in school.

Consider the time and energy many parents invest in their sons’ and daughters’ athletic careers, yet they may not take 60 minutes to review their child’s academic standing or assist with homework. And, consider that students in general, and African American students in particular are often ashamed to excel academically. According to Lawrence Steinberg’s Beyond the Classroom, one out of every six students hides her intelligence and interest in academic achievement because she is worried about what her peers think.

We have to remove the blinders that relegate us to standard approaches to remedying this problem.  We have to recognize that school reform, while a viable part of the solution, is only a part of the solution.  We must supplement reform by confronting the overwhelming and powerful influence of peer, family and community culture—promoting a culture that routinely recognizes and rewards academic achievement as much as, if not more than, achievement in athletics and entertainment.

This is a battle we can win, but we must recognize the elephant in the room and see that a culture that respects education pays dividends.