Sunday, May 4, 2014

Indiana schools fail to advance black students

Posted By on Sun, May 4, 2014 at 4:00 AM

  • Courtesy of HowNow via Flickr Creative Commons

Contrary to the Governor's Claim of Indiana School Success, The Research Clearly Shows That Indiana Has Not Improved Educational Success for Black Children in the Last 20 Years

By Jim Scheurich and Nate Williams

Recently Gov. Mike Pence released his 2014 Roadmap for Education, and on Dec. 10, he gave a speech about that roadmap.

In his speech, he said, "Our moral obligation as policymakers is similar: to ensure that children in Indiana are learning in a way that prepares them to succeed in the future."

We completely agree with this statement. It is the moral obligation of policymakers to provide policy that ensures that ALL children "are learning in a way that prepares them to succeed in the future."

Unfortunately, with the very next paragraph, Pence begins to brag about the progress that has been made by Indiana policymakers in creating those conditions for educationalv success. To do this he draws on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores for math and reading (released in early November).

The NAEP is an independent national test given to a sample of students in each state and thus is not part of the state's accountability system. As the NAEP is a national, high-quality testing instrument, it is typically thought to provide a less biased assessment of the educational skills and knowledge of students.

What is unfortunate about Pence's use of this report is that he and his staff were highly selective in what they mention about Indiana from this report. Here's a word-for-word quote from the same NAEP report from which the governor quoted:

"In 2013, black students had an average score that was 25 points lower than white students. This performance gap was not significantly different from that in 1992 (29 points), over 20 years later."


This is unquestionably horrible. This is devastating, especially for children from low-income black families. Every year that those students do not get a good education is literally devastating to them, their families, and their communities. No question, 20 years of failure is disastrous.

If the governor is as committed as he repeatedly says he is, this is what he should have led with.

We Hoosiers who care about the education of black children have a true education crisis. We have not improved the education of black children in Indiana during 20 years of so-called education reform.

What this means is simple: Reform efforts - charter schools, vouchers, entrepreneurial innovation, etc. - have nationally not yielded any substantial and consistent improvements to an education system that for decades has failed black students. Thus, these "new" efforts have largely not changed the overall landscape of learning for black children in America or in Indiana. Furthermore, some researchers, such as Loveless and Kelly (2012), have suggested that starting a new traditional public school would be better than starting a new charter school.

Certainly, there are some excellent charter schools, but there are also some excellent traditional public schools as well. However, most schools - traditional or charter - serving black children are not doing well. Often both charters and traditional publics are dismal for black children.

This means that for the governor and everyone else concerned about the success of education in Indiana for ALL children, we need to honestly and openly assess the intent and impact of reform efforts, rather than just keep supporting them for political reasons.

However, more importantly, we need to redirect our energy from fighting the pros and cons of these reforms and get to the true issue of why education has not improved for black children in Indiana.

Fortunately, it is not all doom and gloom. There are outstanding schools serving black children, schools of all kinds. Rather than charter versus traditional public schools, we should focus on the nature of schools that are highly successful with black children no matter what kind of school they are.

For example, some university colleagues at San Diego State, - Johnson, Uline, and Perez - have just come out with a book entitled, Teaching Practices in America's Best Urban Schools: A Guide for School and Classroom Leaders.

Joe Johnson has been studying schools that are successful with urban students for decades. He, some other university colleagues, and I (Jim) have been doing research on schools and districts that are highly successful with black students for nearly 20 years, as have many others, like Anthony Bryk who used to be with the University of Chicago and now heads up the Carnegie Foundation.

Furthermore, scholars for some time have articulated how classroom instruction plays a central role to the academic attainment of black students. Coined as culturally [relevant] and responsive teaching (CRRT), scholars such as Gay (2000) highlighted and discussed the six elements of CRRT that included components from the work of Ladson-Billings (1994, 1995a), Villegas (1998) and Banks (1994, 1997). The following six characteristics of CRRT are summarized below:

* Multidimensional: All parts of the classroom are configured for academic success.
* Comprehensive: All staff, parents, and community members are available to help the different aspects of the child for his/her success (academic, social, intellectual).
* Transformative: Teachers see the students as social critics and not just consumers of knowledge.
* Validating: Teachers work to embrace a student's heritage as a resource and not a hindrance.
* Empowering: Teachers introduce and encourage students' awareness of other cultures and create a learning environment where ethnocentrism does not exist.
* Emancipatory: Teachers conveying to students that they are not tied to one way of knowing and that multiculturalism is an opportunity.

We probably know from the previously discussed research 70-80 percent of what is needed for schools to be successful with black students. This is what our education reform focus should be.

If the governor and other policy makers are serious about improving education for black children and if we don't want to spend another 20 years of no significant improvement, our education reforms need to move away from all of these political games about charter schools pro and con and move toward what the research repeatedly says will work for black students.

Jim Scheurich is the professor coordinating IUPUI's new Urban Education Studies doctoral program, and Nate Williams is a long time Indianapolis resident who is a doctoral student in this program.


Banks, J. A. (1994) "An Introduction to Multicultural Education," Needham Heights, MA: Allyn and Bacon.

Banks, J. A., & Banks, C. (1997) Multicultural Education: Issues and Perspectives. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.

Gay, G. (2000). Culturally Responsive Teaching: Theory, Research, & Practice. New York: Teachers College Press.

Ladson-Billings, G. (1994). The Dream Keepers: Successful Teachers for African-American Children. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Ladson-Billings, G. (1995) But That's Just Good Teaching! The Case for Culturally Relevant Pedagogy. Theory into Practice, 34(3), 159-165.

Villegas, A. M. (1998) Equity and Excellence in Education; Princeton, NJ: Educational Testing Service.


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