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Race and Class: Separate and Not Equal

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What matters more—students' socioeconomic status, or their color? As Brown vs. Board of Education becomes more past than present, and the days of separate but equal seem to be over, is race no longer a limiting variable in education? Has poverty eclipsed race as a determining factor in student achievement?

In this Education Week Commentary, Tierney T. Fairchild, a writer and consultant and the former executive director of the Partnership for Leaders in Education at the University of Virginia, warns that overlooking the ever-present power of racial discrimination, or conflating it with poverty and class, will only perpetuate inequalities in the classroom. The persistent black-white achievement gap, she writes, is a testament to the singular power of race in education. If we fail to consider the continuing importance of race, cautions Fairchild, we will never close this gap.

What do you think? Does race still matter in education? Or has class become a more salient factor in policymaking?

18 Comments

Yes, race is still a limiting factor in the educational process because subtle institutionalized raciism still exist in the form of low expectation and the least effective teachers, and the expectation on the part of a significant segment of minority communities that their children will not receive the most effective and approriate educational opportunities as compared to non-minority students.

Yes, race is still a limiting factor in the educational process because subtle institutionalized racism still exist in the form of low expectation and the least effective teachers, and the expectation on the part of a significant segment of minority communities that their children will not receive the most effective and approriate educational opportunities as compared to non-minority students.

A subtle form of racism may be the outcome of the race difference that exists between the mostly white middle class female 25 to 35 year-old population that comprises the teachers and the often black low SES population that is the students. This cultural difference that stems from a inherent understanding of white middle class students from culturally identical teachers leads to yet another disadvantage for the most troubled population of young black males.

Some questions remain: Why are the colleges that are somewhat like factories, producing teachers who are by far mostly young, female, white, and middle class, not more actively recruiting other ethnic and socio-economic groups? Why are there very few programs to bring awareness of the profession to junior and senior high schools?

I fear that the answers might be too obvious - there are enough, nay often too many, applicants to become future teachers that fill the rosters of the colleges and universities' education departments for them to need to even be motivated to recruit anywhere, let alone in places where scholarships and other barriers to admission are more likely to occur.

In a school district where race has not been an assignment factor for students for several years, the emphasis on socio-economic factors has moved the focus in that direction. As student achievement is the primary focus, districts must be careful to not allow any distractor the power to change that focus. Race still is "seen" as a factor by many parents, especially in areas where the racial composition is changing.

In a school district where race has not been an assignment factor for students for several years, the emphasis on socio-economic factors has moved the focus in that direction. As student achievement is the primary focus, districts must be careful to not allow any distractor the power to change that focus. Race still is "seen" as a factor by many parents, especially in areas where the racial composition is changing.

There is no doubt that income (and the educational level of parents) is a powerful predictor of student achievement. However, most studies that I have seen, once accounting for the effect of income, still reveal achievement gaps based on race.

This is terribly difficult for us to accept, as it means that either children of different races ARE different, or that they are TREATED differently (and I think the research supports the latter).

It is particularly important to note--as responsible citizens and educators--that predictors are not destiny. We can choose to confront the inequalities in learning wherever and why ever they occur.

In our society and school system, race remains a critical issue- albeit one that we do not want to deal with. There is something "unsettling" about having only two nonwhite students among 80 plus teacher trainees when most of the local schools have at least 30% or more nonwhite students. Furthermore, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, Maryland is one of the five states next in line to become a majority-minority state with minority populations now of about 40 percent.

Many educators view the achievement gap as the most pressing concern in our schools currently. Yet, how many teacher-training programs address the issue in any meaningful way? Based on a survey I conducted a few months ago, many of the teacher candidates (in their final semester before internship) reported not having covered the topic in any of the required courses. Among those who thought they knew about the topic was a common misconception that the achievement gap is solely related to poverty.

Race is certainly an important factor in education and results of testing seem to indicate that there is a lingering gap in achievement. One problem with any measure of any achievement gap is who constitutes which group. States, school districts and schools, for instance, are required to report achievemnet for various subgroups, one of those subgroups being usually labeled African-American. The problem lies in determining who exactly is or is not African-American. There is no reliable definition. There is, in fact, no reliable scientific basis for the concept of race at all. There is genetic evidence that suggests that all human life began in Africa, which would make everyone African-American. What we have are fairly well served students and underserved students. The reasons are myriad. There is prejudice in public schools that holds students with a particular skin color or with an accent to lower standards. Many go to what can be described as underpriviledged, or underfunded schools. Some children have parents that undervalue education. Some have teachers that undervalye the students. If any group of students is underperforming, it is time to look at the reasons for that underperformance. Do they lack proper textbooks? Many do. Do they need more or better teachers? Some do. Is their school a safe and comfortable place to attend? It is past time to start looking at all students as just that, students, capable of learning, needing only the encouragement and the opportunity to learn. It is also time for schools to teach the truth about race, that is an artificially created means of categorizing human beings. As long as we cling to the concept of race, we will be mired in racism of one kind or another.

It appears that we are never to be free to teach all students, absent some government agent reminding us of each student's genetic makeup or net family financial worth. I detest such "stockyard collectivism", as Rand and Branden used to call it. When I taught my science students and my methods students, who were to be science teachers, It seemed that we were all out to maximize each learner's opportunity to go as far as the learner wished and to assist each in overcoming obstacles to understanding. It appears that I and my colleagues were naive.

It seems that the image of "justice" no longer is the robed lady with the scales and blindfold. Now she wears a special "holovision helmet" and has access to elaborate socioeconomic data banks and genetic profiles of every student. Standing next to her is a blank-faced "man-in-black" type, continually slipping new data cards into her helmet interface, in order to modify her pronouncements according to the political correctness du jour.

Retirement is a good thing.

I recently attended a political debate in which the question was asked: how will you (the candidates) address the achievement gap when/if you go to Washington?
There were seven respondents. 6 white, one black.
the six white candidates managed to say their entire respnse without once mentioning race. They talked about socio-economic status and poverty, never race. Only the African American candidate used the words "white students and students of color" and, more specifically, "African American students and Latino students" in his response.
Race will always be an unaddressed issue as long as white people refuse to talk about it. Race will always be an unaddressed issue as long as white people keep "changing the subject" by making it about class, neighborhoods, poverty, health care, and the miriad of other issues that - while they are important- still ignore the issue of race.

This book is a must read for those who want to inform themselves on this issue.

The Power of Culture: Teaching Across Language Difference, Zeynep F. Beykont, Ed.

The Connection Between Language, Culture, Social Justice, and Education

In classrooms across the country, but particularly in states that have the linguistic diversity of Texas, Massachusetts and California, teachers face the challenge of teaching students whose cultural and linguistic backgrounds are different from theirs. The effectiveness of the instruction received by these groups is impacted by a number of factors.

The diversity among the groups that teachers encounter in their classrooms is obscured by demographic terms that lump students into broad groups. Because of the diversity among these student populations themselves, second language learners vary in the academic support that they need to acquire the academic language that will facilitate their success in school. Some of the ways that these diverse groups vary include age at time of entry into the educational system, level of English fluency, and academic background.

Another problem for diverse students is the educational system itself which is designed for a homogeneous, middle class, white, native speaking population. School policies and school cultures do not support diversity and therefore there is an absence of the pedagogical supports that second language learners need which results in their inability to master the language or the academic content of the instruction that they receive.

There is also a very strong conservative and anti-immigrant political climate whose goal is to institutionalize the cultural, linguistic, and economic power and privileges that are currently enjoyed by middle class English speakers. The English Only movement is a prime example of this political movement. One effect of the English Only Movement has been to eliminate programs that seek to provide the linguistic and educational support needed by diverse student populations.

Laws such as Proposition 203 in Arizona and Proposition 227 in California limit the services that second language learners receive to one year of sheltered immersion with varying requirements for ELD, SDAIE, and ESL reading, writing, listening, speaking, and grammar along with content based instruction in English. This makes the mainstream teachers responsible for using educational approaches and methods that were formerly the responsibility of language specialists. The effect of these programs on second language learners is that they find themselves pushed into mainstream classes for which neither they nor the teachers are ready at a time when there is a strong standards and accountability movement.

It is unreasonable to expect that second language learners will succeed without the support they need from an educational system and culture that is designed for a homogeneous English speaking student population and a teacher training model that does not prepare teachers to teach them.

Also unreasonable is the expectation that language minority students will do well on high stakes, standardized tests. It is nothing less than penalizing the students for the system’s failure to educate them. Results that show progress in this area, particularly in California and Texas, are no more than smoke and mirrors. The scores referred to are a result of excluding various categories of low achieving students from taking the tests. In Texas, if all statistics are considered, thirty percent of all students and forty percent of minority students do not graduate from high school. So reports on the percentage of high school students passing the high school exit exams or the scores of elementary grade students on the SAT 9 or the TAAS in California and Texas conceal an attempt to influence average test scores by changing student grade promotion and placement procedures to exclude low achieving students from taking the tests.

The two primary problems related to the achievement of second language learners are the lack of qualified teachers and policy changes that have exacerbated the problems. This is where it is particularly important to understand the politics of education. There is an increasing achievement gap between native English speakers and second language learners after second grade. Policies need to be put in place to select and train teachers who have a desire and interest in working with language minority students. It does not serve American society as a whole to continue demanding more of second language learners without changing the conditions that have caused language minority student failure.

Mainstream teachers have to make an informed, genuine effort to teach second language learners the academic language, academic skills, and academic culture that they need to succeed in school. These abilities are not developed by merely exposing students to them; they must be taught. The teaching of language must become a part of instruction in content areas along with instruction in strategies and skills. Second language learners will feel more confident if they are taught the information that they will be tested on, and teachers will feel more confident and be more competent if they are given the training they need to meet the needs of the diverse students whose number in their classrooms will only increase.

Teachers will not only need to learn strategies to teach the linguistically different but also learn how to socialize these students to the academic culture of the school in a way that shows that they and their culture are valued. This is another point about the politics of teacher training and academic policies. A teaching force that is mostly white, middle class, and monolingual English needs to be prepared to teach students who are not only linguistically and culturally different but whose culture has a low status in the power structure of the society at large. Teachers, through introspection and training, must face the possibility that they have their own biases and prejudices about linguistically and culturally different groups. These biases and prejudices may be related to stereotypes of certain ethnic, racial or low income groups that categorize them as culturally or intellectually inferior. Another form of bias is the unquestioning acceptance of the dominant culture as superior.

If we can overcome the stumbling blocks in our culture, our educational system, and in ourselves, we will have that just society which is the ideal that our country is founded on.

posted by Richard Spurgeon at 4:23 PM 0 comments

If we really want to serve the "underpriviledged", we must first do is eliminate the priviledge that some groups appear to have. Public school especially should be the equalizing force in our society. Attempts have been made. The Supreme Court decision that separate, but equal was not enough, is a start. Equalized funding by many states is also helpful. Title 1 funding was and is a good idea, but it has always been underfunded. No Child Left Behind sounds good, but merely adds a new level of bureacracy and redistributes already tight funding to schools and districts that need it the least.
Is it hopeless? No. Is there hope? Definitely. The major force for change is the army of teachers that continue to teach the best they can to all of their students despite the regular interference of government and gloom mongers.

President Johnson's 1965 ESEA Title I intervention of the Federal Government into the American education system provided funding to both students and the parents of students working in the public school. This intervention was part of President's poverty program. Reactionary political forces have successfully reframed the debate from closing the poverty gap to closing the achievement gap.

This shift in framing the debate has succeeded in leaving behind many single parent mothers with school age children. NCLB has left these women behind in the name of raising employment standards for instructional assistants. Jobs that went to the hard to employ poor are now denied for lack of two-year college degree. All over America schools that employed members of the local community are no longer funded for the under-educated. The core poor children of America have more and more parents without jobs that ESEA had provided basic health care coverage and a steady income.

Those with English as a second language, and those not white, are disproportionately poor and under-educated and feel the full impact of this policy shift from poverty gap to achievement gap.

The idea that race and class are separated is a false dichotomy. Being not of the dominant race only compounds the challenge of poverty. Race is a caste system. The definition of who is white has shifted over the years with Italian and Irish being two examples of a group crossing over in recent times as well as Jews and Eastern Europeans. Where as the War on Terrorism has pushed many Moslems out of the white caste. Sometimes Asians are given a get-out-of-minority treatment pass, but such passes in America are subject to revocation and no matter what accomplishment an individual achieves in American society their caste is in play.

To a father that can feed, house, and provide health care to his family, class has to matter more than race. But, once basic needs are taken care of, I believe the reality of living in America's caste system matters most.

I am concern that race is used to maintain the status quo of the current American class system. And, as I pointed out previously, shift of attention from class to race is a clever reactionary trick that tags educators with the responsbility for America's class differences.

Taking a broad look at education in the U.S. reveals that the U.S. really has the most diverse student population in the world. All U.S. children, citizens or not are required to attend school until age 16 to 18, depending on the individual state. There are one heck of a lot of public and private schools. There are also a large and growing number of charter schools, which are sort of private and sort of public. There are academies, special needs schools, pre-schools and head start centers, all devoted to educating America's youth. The bottom line is that the U.S. is educating more of its' citizens than any other developed nation, regardless of race, language, religion, whatever else you want to throw into the diversity soup. No other nation has the diversity the U.S. has in schools.
Can we do better? Yes, we can. Are we doing poorly now? No, we are not. Does race matter? Not to me and not to my children, but it does matter to so many others that it pooses a problem. It is a problem that education can help ease by teaching the truth, that we are all one race, the human race with some physical differences that make us interesting. Keep teaching all children and eventually the so called gaps will fade away with the fade of racism.

Race most certainly defines whether a child will have to work smarter and harder to stay ahead. While I enjoyed reading the article on race and class, my ongoing concerns are the constant ommissions by most authors of the educational experiences of Hispanics and other minorites who do not identify themselves as either Black or white. The book "Deculturalization and Struggle for Equality, A brief history of the Education of Dominated Cultures in the United States by Joel Spring, helped me to validate the inadequate feelings I felt in an educational system set up soley for Whites. The book allowed me to compare and contrast the struggles of other cultures, including some white ethnicities, who share the same frustation most people of coler expereince in the learning environment. Class almost always follows race, however I agree with the author of the Race and Class article that some form of attention to race i.e. history and struggles, must be included in all curriculums, when teaching young children to excel in education.


i really do believe so. it is a sad thing but it does. and the only way one could move on is just 4-get about it.

Race does count. Class counts also. This will be the case as long as education persists in ranking students by race and ethnicity as well as class. Students need to be valued for themselves and for what they individually achieve. Teachers need to learn the language and culture of their students to best serve those students. We need also to eliminate the outdated and false notion of white supremacy. The only real achievemnet gap is the gap between what students are able to achieve and what they do achieve. This gap is individual and has nothing to do with race, ethnicity, native tongue or notions of class.

Only in America. America seems to be the most biased, prejudiced country in the world. They put on a great facade (spl?) but its the private thoughts that destroy the ideals. America often looks at a persons outward appearance rather than the content of the persons character. However suttle, racism still remains a factor in educating our children. It will be our downfall if we don't get a grip on what we are actually doing to ourselves as a nation. It is a shame.

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