Town Square

Bucking the trend

Original post made on Dec 20, 2007

Race may be used to define the Palo Alto school district's achievement gap -- black and Hispanic students as groups score lower than other ethnicities -- but a look at students in Gunn's English Language Development program shows that social factors also play a role in the disparity.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Tuesday, December 18, 2007, 3:27 PM


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Posted by Will Ray
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 20, 2007 at 12:18 pm

The article "Bucking the Trend" may be a story about something that shouldn't exist, "racial achievement data" on kids in school. Minority success in academics is most likely tied to neutralizing this idea. This is done either by being deeply embedded into a group that shares similar visible traits or completely rejecting any group association based on visible traits. Culture makes an affirmative group association choice much easier, similar to religion, and has trumped race—e.g. the Black Jews in Israel, or the lighter complexion Nigerians in Africa.

Why do we keep dwelling on race and academic progress? First, there is no such thing as race unless you make it up. Race (categorized by visible traits) is a negative social construct which has lead to oppressing certain individuals, and therefore as it exist in schools there is no positive race experience per se. Within racial groups positive comments about skin complexion and tone can occur, but it does not carry much intellectual significance or deserve grand conversation. Therefore on the issue of race, there is nothing to talk about except irrational fears that require the assistance of a psychiatrist or a good book.

Back to the schools. As long as we classify kids in skin color groups or by visible traits, someone will create statistics on behavioral similarities like test scores, grades, and crimes, etc.. on these kids. Eventually, they will begin imitating each other, and like behavioral patterns will develop. This behavior can cross cultural lines.

Why aren’t kids of color (even middle class kids) doing very well in Palo Alto schools? Are these achievement gaps based on race or culture? Really we shouldn’t dignify anyone with an answer who ties in race. How are the people with big noses doing? Most African Americans in this area are not experiencing African American culture, so it is obvious they have a identity crisis going on. White Americans exhibit this problem that is manifested in so many deviant behaviors that are not under a microscope. And, for the record, poverty and slang are not indications of someone who has experienced a significant amount of time in the African American culture. This is called ignorance among minorities–-although fun, exciting, and seductive in our pop steroid world—this behavior is not representative of African American culture. The same people that have made peace in a nation that condoned their brutal oppression, have contributed to America because educators took an interest in their personal development.

Latinos are trying to live a dual consciousness much like African Americans in the 1950's. I noticed how the article avoids discussing Asians who have a substantial stake in Palo Alto education--as if they are no longer minorities--there are poor Asian communities with the same problems as Latinos and African Americans. African Americans understand there is a game that must be played, but they hunker down to save what may be their souls at the expense of an awkward educational experience. They are probably trying to preserve their identity in its fragmented state due to much economical dislocation. Asian families are under great stress trying to prove, prove, prove. Do you really think it is fun playing the violin, being a nerd (a synonym for "square" or "drip."), sitting down doing homework all night under the pressure of your parents? There parents are looking at the material opportunities. It is documented that kids of color have more self esteem than Asian kids, so why do we over-value academic performance? Are they really getting the education they need? Something has to suffer, and it might as well be self esteem. Why? It is not documented, and you are not evaluated because you have poor self-esteem. How did race become so important? It is a way of getting a favor above your neighbor. Race is not culture, but many treat it this way do to past hostilities toward people of a certain skin complexion. It is as ridiculous as jailing all men with big noses and curly hair.

That brings up the question about classifying people as a culture. Culture is not race, race is a by product of breeding and has nothing to do with intelligence. Opportunity has everything to do with success. Worse Socio-Economical conditions than others creates a higher hurdle to success. Showing poor academic performance by race is simple. Show me a micro or macro environment where numbers of students or scoring low, and I will show you the key conditions that are undermining academic performance.

The schools have a simple problem. Although it is competitive, the playing field is not level for minorities. You say you want to raise academic achievement of minorities in school. End racism and discrimination (disparate treatment by teachers) in schools. It is easy, simply end racial classification and view each student as an individual. Stanford has had Ph.D.'s graduate who have brought every quirky habit and cultural custom from every corner of the globe. These things have nothing to do with embracing and educating. Intelligence, motivation, or desire to be educated must be nurtured in those that feel they are at a disadvantage when they start the game. A student knows when he/she is being mis-educated, and they think they can't really do anything about it. The helpless feeling makes them disengage mentally from the school environment. While they are there physically, they are not engaged. It is difficult to say, "Just buck up, pay attention, learn all you can by watching, in a place where certain kids can get a $40,000 to drive five blocks to school--to most life is a party--I doubt more than half have career ideas. This is a luxury. How do you buck up in the midst of luxury unless you compete with it.

When you walk into a situation in some parts of America, everything going on reminds you of the historical patterns of racism. Even minorities fall into the trap of mediocrity, grouping together for survival in the workplace in the lower level jobs. We can do better.

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Posted by esl teacher
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 20, 2007 at 3:22 pm

Whether a student resides in an EPA apartment or one next to Gunn makes no difference. It takes six years to acquire a language and California's ELD population cannot pass the English portion of California's high school exit exam. We need to curb immigration so that California public schools can return to their former first place position.

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Posted by Joel K
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 20, 2007 at 5:05 pm

The issues involved in this matter are in vigorous debate on this forum seeWeb Link

I must say that the forthright nature of the debate on that forum is encouraging, for once we have clear divergence of opinion, its a bit conflictual and not for delicate sensitive souls but in my experience creative solution come from conflict and forthright debate such as that

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Posted by Paly parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 20, 2007 at 8:55 pm

I know some students move here from overseas and quickly acquire (or come up to speed in) the English language. That's not what happens with some, though, as we well know...and now we're desperately trying to help them pass the CAHSEE?!
It does seem a bit much for us to be required to provide endless years of ESL classrooms, etc. There should be a limit or the students' families should be charged a fee.
I understand if you (American person) move to other countries that don't speak English first - let's use France for example - you have to speak French in the schools or pay for a private school to speak English. What happens if I (English speaker) suddenly move with my kids to Japan? Will Japanese taxpayers pay to put my kids through their public schools in English while teaching them the Japanese?

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Posted by Yes...
a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Dec 20, 2007 at 11:38 pm

Yes. In France, yes, they will. Instead of ESL, the equivalent is found in FSL.

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Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 21, 2007 at 8:39 am

No idea if it is the same now, or at least as prevalent, but back when I was in school, in Britain the immigrants coming into the local schools were put into the same classrooms as the locals and the teachers spent 75% of their time teaching the new arrivals, and it wasn't only English they had to teach them, but how to use toilets which were something completely foreign to them as well! The local kids did not want to share toilets with those who knew not how to use toilet paper (left it used on the floor if they used it at all) and how to flush.

Yes provide ESL classrooms please, because otherwise putting a non english speaking child in the same room as the rest equals less time for the class to move forward. A teacher tends to teach to the lowest common denominator and if the lcd is language handicapped, then the majority will suffer.