survey says

Fear of black students, unfair treatment rampant in Denver schools, black educators say

PHOTO: Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post
Five-year-old Samatar Abhullahi works during his kindergarten class at Denver's Ashley Elementary School.

After hearing concerns from black educators about how they and their students are treated, Denver Public Schools commissioned a study to capture the experiences of African-American teachers in a school district that acknowledges a history of racism.

The recently released 82-page report found that many feel isolated within the district and see stark contrasts in how black children are handled in and out of the classroom compared to their white counterparts.

In April, the district hired Sharon Bailey, a former DPS school board member who studied the district’s court-ordered school integration program and racial dynamics in Denver, to interview black teachers and administrators about their experiences in the district and how race influenced them.

During several months, Bailey spoke with 70 teachers and administrators who ranged in age from 26 to 74. Some had more than 30 years of experience, while others were finishing their very first year working in education.

Deputy Superintendent Susana Cordova said Bailey will continue her work with the district for the time being.

“We are extending her contract to continue to support the dissemination of the report,” Cordova said in an email. “We have kicked off the creation of a taskforce to create recommendations that may have both policy and practice implications.”

The group will be made up of community members and district employees, and it is expected to make recommendations to the district by the end of the calendar year, Cordova said

Here are some of the most notable points from Bailey’s report:

By and large, teachers who are not black don’t expect black students to do well in the classroom, which affects perception and the vigor with which teachers approach those students, respondents said. A workforce of teachers that looks more like the student population could help black students perform better in the classroom because those students will have someone they can relate to, the teachers and administrators said. Some respondents suggested that teachers get a certification that verifies they can respond to the nuances of another culture, similar to the qualifications for teaching English language learners

There are many teachers who are outright afraid of black students, those interviewed said. That fear plays into how those students are punished in the classroom. Respondents named young white female teachers in particular as being fearful of black students, which can keep them from forming meaningful relationships with those students. The report also asserts that white students are punished differently from their black counterparts. Two teachers from an unnamed school discussed the respective outcomes for two students, one black and one white. The white student, who threw chairs around the classroom, was promoted to a higher math class after someone deemed his actions the result of being bored in class. The black student, who simply balled his fists, was suspended.

DPS has increased the resources available to teach English language learners but respondents said the district has not done the same for black students. Respondents see the moves as overshadowing the needs of both black students and non-English language learners. At many schools, respondents said, black and Latino families are at-odds because of the difference in resources. The increase in pay for Spanish-speaking staff was a point of contention, partly because there is no increase for being able to connect with black students.

Instead of promoting the black professionals already in the district, respondents said DPS brings many of its candidates from out of state, which is perceived as overlooking the homegrown candidates. Many respondents also think that black educators are reprimanded and removed from their positions at a higher rate than their white counterparts. Many of the out-of-state hires have no connection to Denver, and the district does nothing to lessen the learning curve, teachers and administrators said

Just 4 percent of the teachers in DPS are black, and since they are dispersed throughout the city, many are the only black teacher at their school — which those interviewed said complicates their jobs. Some respondents reported becoming disciplinarians by default because of the notion that they relate to black students better. Others said they feel unable to fight passionately for their students because of the looming “angry black woman” stereotype.

More than 90 percent of those interviewed said institutional racism exists in DPS. Hostile work environments and the lack of African-Americans in top leadership positions were both mentioned at length, as were the aforementioned feelings of isolation.

Bailey report

PSA

Have you thought about teaching? Colorado teachers union sells the profession in new videos

PHOTO: Colorado Education Association

There are a lot of factors contributing to a shortage of teachers in Colorado and around the nation. One of them — with potentially long-term consequences — is that far fewer people are enrolling in or graduating from teacher preparation programs. A recent poll found that more than half of respondents, citing low pay and lack of respect, would not want their children to become teachers.

Earlier this year, one middle school teacher told Chalkbeat the state should invest in public service announcements to promote the profession.

“We could use some resources in Colorado to highlight how attractive teaching is, for the intangibles,” said Mary Hulac, who teaches English in the Greeley-Evans district. “I tell my students every day, this is the best job.

“You learn every day as a teacher. I’m a language arts teacher. When we talk about themes, and I hear a story through another student’s perspective, it’s always exciting and new.”

The Colorado Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, has brought some resources to help get that message out with a series of videos aimed at “up-and-coming professionals deciding on a career.” A spokesman declined to say how much the union was putting into the ad buy.

The theme of the ads is: “Change a life. Change the world.”

“Nowhere but in the education profession can a person have such a profound impact on the lives of students,” association President Amie Baca-Oehlert said in a press release. “We want to show that teaching is a wonderful and noble profession.”

As the union notes, “Opportunities to teach in Colorado are abundant.”

One of the ads features 2018 Colorado Teacher of the Year Christina Randle.

“Are you ready to be a positive role model for kids and have a direct impact on the future?” Randle asks.

Another features an education student who was inspired by her own teachers and a 20-year veteran talking about how much she loves her job.

How would you sell the teaching profession to someone considering their career options? Let us know at co.tips@chalkbeat.org.

New Arrivals

In a letter to Betsy Devos, Michigan officials highlight the plight of refugee students — and ask for testing waiver.

PHOTO: Warren Consolidated Schools
Students at Warren-Mott High School in the Detroit suburbs. Officials there say that many students are arriving at the school from refugee camps, including 11th graders who had no formal schooling for nine or ten years. Such students would currently be required to take a state English test during their first year in school.

To teachers who work with recently arrived refugee students, the problem is clear. Although their students will eventually learn English, their language skills at first aren’t comparable to those of native speakers. They’re hoping that officials in the Devos education department won’t be able to avoid coming to the same conclusion after reading the state’s detail-rich request to delay testing new immigrant children in English.

That puts Michigan on track to become the second state to ask for a waiver from the federal law that requires a child who arrived in the U.S. this year to take a standardized English test within a year after arriving — even if they’re just being introduced to the language. The law also requires states to count such students’ scores in decisions about whether to close low-performing schools.

“We wanted to balance between presenting hard data and some anecdotes,” said Chris Janzer, assistant director of accountability at the Michigan Department of Education. “We’re hoping that the case we present, with some of the stories, will win us approval.”

The stories hone in on the Detroit area, home to the nation’s largest concentration of Arabic speakers, including many newly arrived refugees fleeing wars in the Middle East. This population is unique in more ways than one: It includes more than 30,000 Chaldean Christians who arrived after the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 — the largest such population in the world outside Iraq. And many of its children must deal with the aftereffects of violent displacement even as they attempt to attend school in what is in many cases an entirely new language.

The state’s waiver request offers Hamtramck, a hyper-diverse city enclave in Detroit, as an example:

Hamtramck has many recent arrivals from war-torn regions in Yemen and Syria and has students from remote villages with no formal education background, as well as many others with interrupted learning. New students can have toxic stress and can even be suicidal, and often require wraparound services. Older students are also often burdened with the responsibility of helping their families financially, emotionally, and with childrearing.

Even the luckiest new arrivals would benefit if Michigan receives a waiver from parts of the federal Every Students Succeed Act, says Suzanne Toohey, president of Michigan Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages.

“The intent of the waiver is for the most needy students, but it will help all students,” she said, adding that it typically takes 5-7 years for an English learner to catch up to her native-speaking peers.

With that in mind, Toohey says current federal requirements don’t make sense.

“It would be like an adult who is many years out of school, and who took French for two years of high school, going to France and trying to take a college course,” she said. “It’s just not going to happen.”

Following the same logic, Michigan officials are asking Devos’ education department to put the brakes on federal requirements for testing recently arrived English learners. If the waiver request is approved:

  • In their first year in Michigan schools, those students wouldn’t be required to take the state English language arts exam.
  • In their second, they would take the test, but schools wouldn’t be held accountable for their scores.
  • In year three, the growth in their scores on the English exam would be factored into school ratings.
  • And in year four their overall score — known as proficiency — would be counted as well as their growth.

That’s still too soon to begin testing English learners, Toohey said, noting “the waiver is a start, but we haven’t gotten all the way there.”

Even so, the proposed change still faces substantial obstacles. New York’s request for a similar waiver was denied by the U.S. Department of Education in January. In its response, the department said it was holding New York to its responsibility to “set high expectations that apply to all students.” Janzer says his staff studied New York’s waiver and concluded that Michigan’s should include more details to humanize the situations of the affected students.

Michigan officials are currently working to incorporate public comments (there were seven, all of them supportive, Janzer said) into its request, which is expected to be submitted in the coming weeks. A decision isn’t expected from federal officials for several more months.

Whoever reads the 10-page document in Washington, D.C. will be confronted with details like these:

  • Lamphere Schools, of Madison Heights, MI, has received a significant influx of students from Iraq and Syria, and at least one elementary school’s student body is roughly 70 percent recently arrived students from these two nations. Lamphere reports that some students initially undergo temporary “silent periods,” a researched stage of second language acquisition, where children are watching and listening, but not yet speaking.
  • Warren Consolidated Schools, of Warren, MI, reports that they have many students from refugee camps, including students who are testing in 11th grade after having no formal schooling for nine or ten years. Warren Consolidated has received 2,800 students from Syria or Iraq since 2007.

Read the full document here. Most local details are on pages 7-9.