minorities in our schools and the bigger picture

I grew up in West Central Minnesota and then lived in the Twin Cities for many years. My family (my husband and three children) and I moved back to this rural west central community about two and half years ago.

My son attended a school this past year that was noted recently in our local paper to have one of the very lowest scores in the state. This wasn’t a surprise for several reasons, but especially because upon moving here, several people from this community  warned us about the school district, stating that the minorities at the school were making it impossible for their kids to learn because of their struggle with the language and other cultural differences. These people felt that the minority students were taking up too much class time as a result of these differences.

Our fears in hearing so many people talk about this weren’t related to what you might expect. We have a good understanding of No Child Left Behind and the ever-increasing budget crisis that our country’s schools are facing. We knew better than to blame the minorities in our community for the state of the schools. We could see the much bigger picture. We could see that even if someone started school while struggling with English, they may actually be making great progress that can’t be reflected because of the way our testing must be done. In fact, much of the time, they are improving at the same rate as an English speaking child, but the test results are such that this fact is not reflected. We also had no issues this past school year with our son getting limited attention in the classroom. This was not a concern because it appeared to us that each child was receiving what was needed. Therefore, our fear was related to the increasing tensions in the community and the schools–in the way blame is so often shifted to hate and returned with fear and anxiety and sometimes more hate.

It is so much easier to place blame on someone–a particular group of people–who are different from you, be that politically or religiously or ethnically. It is a natural yet unfortunate response to even look for these differences, and then highlight them and exaggerate them in an effort to feel a sense of control and superiority. The reality in our situation is that our son had a great year. He had an excellent teacher and everyone on the staff that we encountered were smart, helpful, energetic and kind employees of the school. We also–surprising to many–appreciated the diversity of our son’s classroom.

Yes. When we were planning to move here, we saw having a multicultural community and classrooms as postive things. We continued to feel this way after our son’s first year in the school came to an end. In the past two years we’ve felt very alone in that perspective.

I grew up here. I know the majority of people here hold fast to their roots, to allegiance to this country, to hard work and family. I am a part of that and I appreciate that I grew up in this place. I am a Scandinavian white girl with generations of farmers and postmen and contractors before her. I am a woman who loves her own hard work and family largely because this is the beautiful place she experienced childhood. I also believe that I had it pretty easy as a kid. I never wanted for shelter or food or clothing. This naturally gave me a confidence that I consider a privilege–to not live needing more than I had to survive and to feel very undifferent from my peers.

All that said, when our schools recently received their low scores and the superintendent was quoted saying,”The white kids are doing great” and then went on to say that “we need to get the other communities interested in education” it pained me, and I believe it should have. It smacked of racism like a slap and hung over my head like the passive aggressive response that it was. These were statements obviously made to be sure to point out that the opinion is that the Hispanics and Somalians and other minorities in our schools are the problem, not the system. Even if these words were taken back later or taken out of context before being published in the paper, there is no denying there is an underlying and also obvious opinion in our community that’s held even by the leader of our school district. It’s a stereotype and it’s wrong. I won’t deny that a few of the superintendent’s words in the paper were good to see–that the school will rise to the challenge and do its best to bring those scores up–but I would like to have seen that said without finger-pointing as a means to escape a negative reputation.

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I have a friend who worked in the early childhood ESL program. She has experience with the families (communities) that the superintendent was accusing of a lack of interest in education. My friend stated that she has never seen parents as invested in their children’s ability to learn as the parents she worked with. They wanted their kids to know English and checked in frequently with teachers to learn more about their children’s progress. Of course, just as not every white child could possibly be doing great, not every minority child is doing great either. There are roadblocks and challenges in every community–the difficulty for the educational system serving all children is not about one class or group or community or ethnicity. It is about a broken and broke system that has trouble meeting unique needs no matter what they are.

Every day this year when I would pick up my son from school, I would spend time in the parking lot and hallways with the parents of minority students. I quickly learned that many of my smiles were not easily returned and I didn’t take this personally. I understood it. I guess I’d be hesitant about me too. I’ve already recognized and admitted I’m a privileged girl and privilege often makes people feel first and better and proud and that’s intimidating and frustrating. I strive not to be any of those things and my fear is that if we are those things in response to the diversity in our community,  they will wear off on our children, creating even more racial tensions at school, especially as our children get older and form more stubborn opinions that replicate the ones they’ve been taught.

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As I have the honor of getting to know each of my children, I look at them and I hope that they will continue to love the way they do now. I see it in them, the propensity to do just that–the lack of judgment, the limited need they have to feel superior and the way they seem so free of the assumption that if someone is different from them, they are obviously somehow wrong. I have wanted them to hold on to this beautiful unconditional thing that they came into this world owning. This is one of the things we are passionate about our children learning in this life. Of course, we want them to read well and get good test scores and maybe even play a sport really well. And we want them to follow the rules and maybe get the blue ribbon at the science fair and first place at the spelling bee. But more, so much more, we want them to know that the world does not revolve around them. We want them to never, not once, assume that they are superior because they are two white men and a white woman. We want them to live a life of compassion with a heart of service and if they are already receiving the message, in elementary school, that another people group is at fault for low scores or all the messes in the hall or all the bad behavior, we will be raising people who will never have the capacity to live in a way that honors faith, hope or love–that chooses to take responsibility instead of placing blame and to see themselves as the same as other people, no matter who those people are, how they live, what they believe or where they came from. After all, these differences do not threaten who we are, forcing us to change. We can make the choice to allow diversity to live vibrantly around us without turning it over to find the so often contrived dark underbelly we fear and too often flee.

When my kids head off to school, I want them to know that the reality is that the “white kids” make messes and behave badly and get low test scores too. That each and every individual in this city and beyond is unique, with positive qualities and gifts and defects of character and the potential for mistakes, just like myself and themselves.

In the schools right here, our children have this opportunity to learn that the world doesn’t revolve around them. That not every face is similar to theirs and not every culture has the same values and traditions. They have this chance to learn from that and not step out one day beyond these city limits in shock. They have a chance to gleen wisdom and broaden their horizons and embrace differences and I imagine things would run more smoothly if we could all do that–we grown up big kids too–in everything from our schools to our businesses and our churches.

But, for the most part, we have chosen division. We have chosen to point fingers and place blame and to love less. I have heard the hard-working, church affiliated men and women of this community say awful, hateful and judgmental things about the people living around them–things I would never want my kids to hear. So no, I wouldn’t pull my child out of his school because I fear that his non-caucasian friends are ruining his education. If we ever did decide to take our children out to homeschool or otherwise it would be because we fear they’re getting the message in both subtle and overt ways that the minorities in the school should not be accepted.

What we’ve seen in the last two and a half years of living here, for the most part, is a desire for the way of life here to always stay as it once was–our city and our schools and businesses run by white men with white students and customers. But the last thing my husband and I want our children to learn is that life should be easy, free of challenges or changes, and if it is not, it is the fault of someone else. We can’t have them learn that because neither is true. Life is always both good and hard, only at times smooth and easy and constantly gives us the chance to learn from its changing tides.

Perhaps we need to let go of the idea that if someone has come our way for work and therefore lives among us, they are somehow here to wrong us. Maybe it isn’t about us…maybe it isn’t about you. Maybe this is life, the ebb and flow of change. Maybe how we adjust and respond to that is either teaching our children to love or it is not. Perhaps it’s best not to fight these changes or even to simply tolerate our discomfort, but rather, maybe this is about embracing change. Maybe we can learn from it and allow it to broaden our limited understanding of what it means to be human.

 

{If you were to visit my  main blog, The Extraordinary Ordinary, you would learn quickly that I don’t normally write about controversial things. But sometimes a girl needs to speak up when she feels led to speak up. I humbly ask that you keep your comments kind and respectful, even if you disagree with me. Thank you.}

32 thoughts on “minorities in our schools and the bigger picture

  1. Heather,
    a very thoughtful, thought provoking and brave post! I could not agree more with you!
    Especially about the fact that sometimes we have to speak up, I just had to deal with that myself in a work situation and wrote about it as well…

    As far as education goes:
    my family and I moved to Canada (from Germany) four years ago and we consider ourselves lucky to live in a country with a great educational system. Canada has scored in the top ten countries in the PISA study consistently, yet there are – just like in Minnesota – people here in our rural area, who blame a high quota of native kids in the schools for low average grades.
    Just like you we have had only good experiences with the school and the teachers. One of the great things here is that not only does every child receive the attention it needs, but the students are also graded on their personal achievements and development, without using the best student as a scale to judge everyone by.

    Change is hard and often rejected and fought in “sworn-in” communities, but it is possible. And it starts by people standing up and speaking up for what they believe in – just like you.

  2. As you know, I am passionate about these things, too. I am astounded and embarrassed and horribly shocked that the superintendent chose divisive blame as the entire reasoning on which to rest test scores. When the adults in charge further marginalize an entire population without so much as taking the tiniest bit of responsibility it is beyond shameful. Those minority parents you see in the hallways will always look at you and other white parents like you as a threat (or a non-entitiy or the enemy or whatever word you choose) simply due to the head of the district’s faulting them for failure.

    May your district see the enormous fault in this and demand higher expectations from both the children and the leader of the district. There is no hope without that.

  3. Heather, I can’t thank you enough for writing this. Similar thoughts floated around our “city school” a few years ago and my response was very similar. Blaming one group, any group is not fair to all the children. It teaches them nothing, except a message I dread them hearing.

    Thank you my friend. Your words speak so true.

    Kellyn

  4. Whoa, wait a second. Can you tell me what are the reasons for the low scores? Do you have the facts? The facts are this district is trying to teach minorities English, as well as the other subjects that they are being tested on. Unfortunately, the test does not care if you are a minoritiy; it does not ask you where you are from. This is not a racial issue, this is a educational issue and maybe it is time that the school district segregates the minorities that do not know English enough to take a test and allow them another avenue for testing. That is not a racist statement, that is realistic statement. The only way that we can get beyond racial boundries is to accept the fact that everyone is not equal when it comes to education. Are they as smart, absolutely, but they have a boundry and that is the language. We need to stop the warm, fuzzy approach to this and let the facts guide the solution. Why are minorities tested on a level because of their age? They should be tested based on what they know, and if that puts a 15 year old at a first grade level, then so be it. You educate from that level.

    • James, I don’t really know where to start in response. I don’t consider teaching my children the values I described to fall under “warm and fuzzy” first of all. These values are increasingly important and not just an attempt to raise children who are kind on a superficial level, but children who actually see their role in the world in a healthy way. And regarding the test scores? I’m not sure that you understood my stance on that (which is why I don’t know where to start with that part). You took that to a “segregation” level and that, quite frankly, disgusts me. Let me ask you, if you had a child who had dyslexia or another hurdle to their education, or just happened to be struggling for a period of time, to gain some ground in reading or math…would you want them removed from their peers and put in a separate classroom or school? What if that child (yours) overcame that hurdle with the help of their teacher, over time, and started to therefore receive higher standardized test scores? That’s just something that came to mind in response.
      Also. This IS about race because of the opinion held by most of our community. It’s no secret that many people quickly assume minorities a) don’t speak english and b) don’t have a lot of respect for education. This is simply not true. I’m simply starting a conversation from another perspective. If you see that as only a warm and fuzzy perspective rather than factual, I can certainly expound further on the facts. This was a post about the bigger picture and that’s the only reason I didn’t list facts, evidence and research. I think there’s a good chance you were seeing my point as something that it wasn’t. This is about much more than testing.

      • Heather, My use of segregation was a little harsh, but the message that I am trying to convey is one that would teach everyone that struggles with English in another setting that yes, would take them away from their peers, but would also help focus on the needs of that child. If I had a child that was in need of special education, I would not want other children to get less of an education because my child took all of the resources away from them. I would want my child to get the best education possible, but I would also understand that the needs of my child are different than that of other children. That is where we stand, we have many children that are in need of extra education beyond what the school system is set up to provide, so where do we go from here?

        • I understand, James. The reality is that the system IS broken and I don’t claim to have all the answers of how to fix it. I just know that what we’re doing (assuming it’s all about the minorities) isn’t working. I just don’t think we can make blanket statements or assume that the problems are all or mostly because of a lack of attention in the classroom because of kids that don’t speak English as well. That wasn’t true of my son’s classroom and there are many commenters here and on facebook that say the same with their experience here. Many of them are teachers.

          It’s really hard to improve a broken system when there is no money to do so. I think we can totally agree on that.

          You may not mind your child being moved to another class or school if they were struggling…but I think I would mind. Here’s why: Where does it end? How do we decide who stays and who can’t? And I think it takes a rich experience away from the kids, to be surrounded with only people who are learning in their exact same way. Part of my post hits on kids needing to learn that life is complicated and change is hard and each and every day we have to adjust and adjust over again. We have to learn to wait more patiently and allow someone else’s needs to come before our own, etc. And if what the Superintendent said is true–that many of our kids are doing well (my son included) then it doesn’t seem that they aren’t learning what they should on account of anyone else. Nothing is being taken from them.

          In an effort to be totally honest here, the only student my son struggled with this year was someone with a developmental disability. This boy couldn’t help that he was hard to understand and inappropriate at times. At the beginning of the year, my son was scared of him. This opened a door to a very important conversation in our family and a lesson for him. He heard from his parents that this person needs a chance to learn just as much as anyone else. This person has a right to learn, to be there with the other kids. He learned that we all have different strengths and weaknesses and he learned more about acceptance. That may be warm and fuzzy, but I for one have no shame in considering the presence of that child in the classroom to be a gift. It was uncomfortable at times, yes, but so is life. If we separate these kids, they don’t get to learn a level of compassion and empathy that they need, or just the basic skills of acceptance–those that lead kids to have an easier time adjusting to the world at large.

    • The only part of your statement I can agree with, James, is this:

      “everyone is not equal when it comes to education”

      In which case, you have a systemic issue and not one on which to blame parents. Where is the accountability from the school system to teach ALL children and leave none of them behind. The scores are what they are and I have to wonder where the interventions were for these students and if they can actually USE THE DATA to affect what they can change without immediately blaming the children and the parents. There is absolutely no room for that in a discussion on trying to make certain that all children achieve.

  5. Thank you for your thoughtful commentary on the situation in the Willmar schools. It says many things people in our community need to hear.
    However, as the writer of many stories about our local school district, I disagree with your interpretation of our superintendent’s comments. I was at the meeting where he said that, and I wrote about it in the paper. I saw his comments as a call to action for the school district to work even harder to reach out to the minority communities. I did not see him as blaming the minority children, and I do not believe that he was doing that in any way.
    If his meaning was not clear in the story, that’s my fault, not his.
    He has often said that the school district welcomes every child that comes to the door, “and we love them all.”

    • Hello Linda,
      Thank you for your response here. I appreciate it a lot. I understand what you’re saying and at the same time I hesitate because no matter what the context, the statement, “the white kids are doing great” still, in my opinion speaks a very leading message. The only conclusions I could come to after reading that were the ones I described above. I’m sure that our superintendent is a good, well-meaning person, but even if he was speaking about acceptance and striving harder, he chose to say some things that only fuel the fire that is the general opinion about the minorities in our schools. I realize I wasn’t there, but unless someone can tell me that he didn’t say the two things I quoted above in any context, I don’t think I can see this particular conversation of his any other way.

      Thank you again. I appreciate how you took the time to take responsibility where you believe it lands. I hope you can see where I’m coming from as well.

      Heather

      • Gosh, I hate to comment on serious posts like this because I am absolutely terrified that I won’t get my point across. I just can’t be silent on this one though, it’s too important to me. I’m really sick of people blaming the kids or making it seem like something is inherently faulty with our students. It seems to me that the comment made by the superintendent should have been, “our white students are performing well on tests which shows that our teachers are competent in teaching white students and our tests are geared towards white, English speaking students.” I know that sounds crazy harsh but I’m a teacher in a first ring suburb and my perspective is such that if a child is not succeeding, I haven’t found the way to reach them yet. Now, of course there are a whole host of issues that ANY child comes to school with and we can do the best we can with what we’re given but if a test score is reflective of a student’s understanding and a GROUP of students are performing similarly poorly on tests, then as a teacher, I haven’t found a way to adjust MY teaching to meet their learning needs adequately. The tests are ridiculous anyway- and teachers all over the state, and country have found ways to teach rich content that’s understanding is reflected by standardized tests. Then, there are our non-English speaking, and yes, sometimes even non-verbal students who are required to take the same exams! It’s insane! It’s a constant struggle to close the achievement gap and an immeasurably important one. This shows me, that the majority of education and testing is geared towards a certain type of learner (in this case, white of western-European descent) and because of that, they will inherently be more successful on a test that reflects their cultural understandings, language, and learning styles. We can’t always change what parental involvement looks like, nor should we necessarily- that is imposing OUR idea of what parental involvement looks like on someone who may have a completely different idea. Our students of color are constantly code-shifting to fit into the white education model. Why shouldn’t we as educators do everything in our power to adjust our teaching to best meet the needs of ALL our kids, even if they look, learn, or live differently than we do? I don’t claim to be an expert, not by a longshot, but I do claim to try… DAILY to reach my students in ways that show me that they have understanding of the content. Those strategies may look a hundred ways different for a hundred different kiddos. That’s education, people. It sure isn’t easy, but I believe it’s the most important job in the world. On that, I may be biased! :)

  6. Thank you for standing up.

    First of all we are all similar – same body parts, same face – 2 eyes, 1 nose, 1 mouth – look at the similarities rather than the differences – it is only the various shades of color that differentiate us – like very blond/blue-eyed – assumption: Scandinavian.

    Second, just 15 minutes ago finished reading, a book for all ages, “Old Turtle and the Broken Truth” by Douglas Wood. It is a follow-up to “Old Turtle” by the same author. I was exposed to “Old Turtle” when the local priest read it as his homily, and then I subsequently read “. . .”Broken Truth.” I have 2 granddaughters, 5 and 2 years, and will be giving these books to them for Christmas.

    Again, thank you for beginning a dialogue long overdue.

  7. This is so well said. The issues of testing and educating children who are at different levels of English proficiency is so very complex. There is no simple solution to this challenge- which is why we all need to work together in a positive let’s-find-solutions rather than finding-blame mode. Stories and perspectives shared in posts such as this one should be catalysts to that conversation.

    Thanks so much for sharing this with us.

  8. Bravo to you, girl. I also am a newcomer to Willmar, am a white girl, and I am also bothered by the racist comments I hear. I feel sad when I hear a supposed religious person say unaccepting things about non-white people. I blog also, about living in Willmar. I have been keeping my blogs pretty safe and non-controversial. However, you have inspired me to speak up. I am a substitute teacher in the Willmar schools and have not seen ANY slowing down of curriculum teaching based on the presence of minorities in the classroom. I wrote a safe blog about the recent article in the paper about the bad scores when I saw your blog post. I have changed what I wrote because of your bravery. I will refer to your blog in my article. Thank you.

    • Hello Sarah! Nice to “meet” you. I visited your blog and appreciated your words. I’m glad you’ve had the experience you’ve had as a sub (except for having to send kids to the principal and the sugar breakfast :)

      Thank you for saying hello and pointing me your way!

  9. First of all, I LOVE the name of this blog! Mamasota! BRILLIANT!

    Secondly, It’s so irritating that we have to have a solution for everything.
    I agree with James on the stance if a 15 year old is at a 1st grade level then that’s where he should be taught. I am annoyed with the teachers that say, “this is where your daughter SHOULD be.”
    NO! My daughter is doing the three things we have instilled in her: obey her teachers, love her classmates, and try her hardest. THAT is where she should be.
    I don’t care if she can’t count to 100 (she can), I don’t care if she is struggling to learn her spelling words (which she is). As long as she is trying her hardest, that’s all that matters.
    BUT schools have a problem: they only get money if they are “succeeding.” If they are not “succeeding,” they are not given any help (funding). This is part of the root of the problem. And if they aren’t getting any money, then they have to blame someone. And where do they turn? To the “minorities.”
    The truth is, the expectation is wrong. Not that the people are wrong.
    AUGH!

  10. Excellent post! As a person involved in education for 43 years, why doesn’t the education mafia call off all of this silly testing and use the money saved to directly instruct the students? If you come to this country at age 8 or 9 and must take the third grade state test, chances are you will have a poor score especially if you are learning English as a second language. From my limited knowledge of religion, I would guess Jesus was not white, nor was he born to Northern European parents. We all need to examine our views on race, and then go about treating others as we wish to be treated!

  11. Unfortunately, regardless of race, religion, handicap, whatever it may be, test scores are the best indicator not only of how students are doing, but also how teachers are doing. This discussion goes far behind education, but is actually quite a bit more simple than you really might think.

    This problem didn’t exist 10 years ago.. why does it now?

    That is a rhetorical question.

    • Hi Justin,
      I realize it’s a rhetorical question, but it got me thinking. I guess we could make a lot of assumptions as to why the problem of lower scores on standardized tests exists now and not ten years ago. We could start with the budget crisis and continue with just the general global erosion of the educational system and then move on to No Child Left Behind because over time, let’s say if you have a “bad” year and have lower scores, you lose more money at that school and therefore feed the problem of not having the right support and then the scores are even lower, etc. etc. Yes, we could also add that there are more minorities because it does add different dynamics and in some cases, more challenges, but that is definitely not even close to the entire problem. I guess that’s the point I’m trying to make here. The message I get from a lot of people in this city is that it IS all about “them” and I just don’t think that’s right.

      • Heather, I agree with you on so many levels. The racism has to stop, and it’s sad to me to read how prevalent it seems in rural MN based on your experience. (You can come “home” at any point. I’m here waiting for you.)

        Additionally, in regards to Justin B’s comment, test scores are not the only indicator of how a student is doing, nor is it an indicator of how a teacher is doing. Studies have been done that show how different kids react to testing, and computerized timed testing, and testing shows only that kids have been taught how to take that test. With four kids in the school system, I feel pretty certain that my children have not been hindered by the number of minorities in their classrooms. On the contrary, I feel their learning experience has been benefited by the diversity of their classrooms.

        Interestingly, MN received a waiver from No Child Left Behind this year that goes through the 2013-2014 school year. My understanding is that schools will be evaluated based on graduation rate and individual student growth.

  12. Hi Heather:

    Thanks for looking at my blog! It’s nice to “meet” you also! Like you, I came here from the Cities too, although I am not originally from West Central Minnesota. I have been in Willmar for just over 1 year.

    Thanks again!
    Sarah

  13. As an educator, I have to respectfully say I think you are misinterpreting his words. Students are NOT equal in ability and as tough as it is to say, the lines of success generally fall along poverty lines (which tend to reflect racial groups, as well). They way that you teach a student pf privelege from supportive and involved parents is very different than most (this is of course a generalization, but one that is supported by data) children in poverty. Your superintendent was simply making a call to action among the schools AND community. In public schools, we are constantly beaten by comments not that different from those that some commenters expressed here: that educators are failing and that we don’t care. A commenter made the comment that schools need to actually use the data to affect change and that comment made me frustrated. We spend hours a year pouring over data, breaking it down, and studying how to reach those missed groups. Most teachers and schools are working much harder than the public even knows. Unfortunately, we are only a SMALL part of the equation. The single most important indicator of success is the home. All data shows that if a student is motivated and has a supportive home life, that means much more than any other factor towards that student’s success. As most people would agree, instead of testing our students to death, we should focus our energy and noticeable student based improvement!

    • Laura,

      I agree with you–students are not equal in ability, of course not. I didn’t mean to come across as if I was saying that they are. I was saying that students of differing abilities (and differing races and socio-economic status) can actually be improving at the same rate while at different levels. But the test scores don’t reflect *that*. And the reality is that there are a lot of poor white kids with a bad home life, too. Every home life is different and sometimes even the wealthiest and whitest families are more messed up at home than a loving family of a poor minority student, you know? That’s my point. even though every human being is different from the next, we are all the same. This is a bigger picture mentality I’m talking about…I’m talking about something I want my kids to have and that is acceptance, positive views about people that differ from them and beneficial multicultural experiences (that they are honored to have in a multicultural classroom).

      I think what the other commenter was trying to say is that the data is often mis-read and misunderstood–no, not in every school district, I don’t think, but maybe where she is from?

      Also, I do realize how hard teachers and schools are working. My intention was not to blame at all. I believe, like I said in the post, that my son had an excellent teacher and all the other staff we’ve worked with have been so good, too. I don’t think teachers OR students are to blame and I hesitate to blame parents unless it’s very clear they are the problem. And I just don’t want to assume that all minority children have poor families, uninterested or neglectful parents and difficult home lives because that’s just not true.

      There are so many aspects to this–layers–and that’s exactly why I feel strongly that a leader in a school should be very careful with words that could feed the assumption that one or another people group is the problem (whether that was what he intended or not).

  14. You do realize that as part of No Child Left Behind, school systems are responsible for the scores of each separate socio-economic group as well as race. The system is developed that way ergo the scores/results are divided up that way as well. So the Superintendent was merely sharing the results as they are evaluated as a system.

    • Kristen,

      I understand. The bigger picture point of this post goes beyond the discussion of scoring and how its laid out though.

      In a response to an article on the low scores, the Superintendent felt the need to point out that “the white kids are doing great.” This was then put in the newspaper. It of course comes across as a defense. I’m not blaming teachers or principals or superintendents and I understand the testing.

      This is a community that breathes a lot of racial tension and every person that read that article and saw that quote got the message–it comes across as stating that minorities are at fault for the low test scores. No matter the intention, it is heard that way. The majority of people here already feel negatively toward minorities and this adds more fuel to that ugly fire. That’s unfortunate. Because as I stated above, I find it sad when people think the world revolves around them and that everyone should be like them and look like them and do things the same way they do. That was my point. And no matter how the testing is done, the reality is that a child from Somalia could be improving at the same rate as a child who is white but because he/she started at a lower level, they still appear “behind” when they’re doing well and their teachers are doing well.

      As a mom, I’m thinking far beyond testing and into the rich experience of having multicultural classrooms and I’m thinking about the racism that exists in this community and I want to steer my children to love everyone the same…so it bothers me when the negative views and feelings are publicly encouraged (intentionally or not) by a school leader.

      • I should have gone further to say that as long as the testing scores and accountability are broken up in this manner, it will only perpetuate those feelings. Even more harsh are scores for Special Education students. A LOT of blame is placed on them when the schools don’t meet AYP. Even among my colleagues, when teacher pay based on student performance was discussed there was a lot of discussion about teachers wanting to leave Special Education and discussion included an unfair advantage to those who taught gifted students.

        • Oh my…yeah. That’s just so awful. And you’re right, as long as the testing is done this way, it’s just going to be frustrating and perpetuate these feelings. I hope it changes!

  15. What a lot of wonderful discussion!
    It is refreshing to read so many people express themselves politely and with conviction. Respect definitely reigns here because of how well Heather began this possibly hot topic discussion.

    If you can see all the TRUTH written here… yes, our system of educating in our society is failing many of our children. Maybe because we have tried so hard to bring all kids at all levels along at the same pace? No two beautiful unique individuals learn or absorb exactly the same. It is impossible.
    So it takes an amazing teacher to be able to reach out to each individual (full classroom) in a constructive way. It is all about each individual learning the fundamentals and not going on until they have mastered each building concept. We all learn best one building block at a time.
    It is ok to help individuals separately, if necessary, so that they can improve in actual skills and therefore gain true self esteem because they accomplished real results! I have experienced this, but it rests on the parents, not the school to actually give that individual attention. For example… don’t blame a teacher for a lack you are not willing to address as a parent. I believe that is a societal problem, deeper than was expressed because we have learning and poor test scores issues in NW MT. a ‘welfare’ or ‘high unemployment’ area without the race issue.
    I feel bad for said Superintendent as from what I have read it doesn’t seem that he was meaning to draw a race line. Now is he labeled as racist, or is the system labeled as inefficient?
    We all need to be sensitive and compassionate but I think we go overboard analyzing every possible slander – you can tell when people are literally being hateful, which seems to be common and in your case prevalent in the area. I am proud of my heritage as are most individuals so if we teach our children to love and love learning we will be creating a better environment as a country.

    It isn’t about being racist as much as it is about being VERY careful about not saying what may be construed as racist. In my varied experience minorities I know are hard workers, it all comes down to people not heritage orientation. So many teachers in our area (without this particular issue of so many non English speaking students) still struggle with test scores, teaching individuals and dealing with behaviors which limit their classroom effective teaching time.
    My children struggle with disorderly and rude distracting kids and you don’t dare say a word – because we would be pointing fingers at ADD, ADHD, poor home life…you name it! It is very sad that this limits the whole class and the trend is to lower the standards to try to keep them all in the same class and not leave any behind! It doesn’t help those who don’t care and limits those trying to make the most out of their education. (This from my students within.)

    Just a thought as it is very worthwhile to consider. I have both public schooled and home schooled children and don’t feel that sticking our students in one ‘box with same age group’ at school teaches them how to deal with a wide variety of others. It can be very limiting and self-oriented in my experience. We, as parents, have to teach our own to live well, proud of who they are – and proud that they know how to work hard and well. I had to put my 2 cents in because we are all passionate, obviously, about children and them growing into responsible adults.
    I hope you find some common ground to improve the area for all students and your article opens some eyes in your neighborhood!
    Respectfully,
    Gail

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