Sunday, August 26, 2007

Crime and Testing: Is the Issue Black and White?

The headlines scream, “TEEN CRIMES RISE!” This is nothing new to many parts of the country. The caption under the bold headline continues with, “The disparity between black and white juvenile offenders has officials concerned.”

In Alachua County, home of the University of Florida and the center of the Gator Nation, teen crime has shot up over 10% last year. This is not so alarming, however. The previous 5 years showed a decrease to a low in 2005. 2006 had only 4 more crimes reported than in the year 2000. So, we seem to be doing pretty well. The problem reveals itself when we start looking at the racial make-up of the crimes. Though the county is composed of “more than 70 percent whites and 20 percent blacks” (Wallace, 2007, p. 1A), black juveniles are reportedly committing 67.3 percent with white juveniles committing only 32.2 percent. This is a rate of nearly 2:1.

This sad fact wouldn’t be so bad if it were true only in Alachua County. Unfortunately, it is a national problem. “The National Center for Juvenile Justice reported that in 2005, black juveniles committed slightly more than twice the number of offenses of while juveniles nationwide” (Wallace, 2007, p. 4A). Even here, the worst part is that these crimes tend to be more personal and property crimes. Black juveniles committed crimes at a rate of “2-to-1 for sexual offenses, 3-to-1 for personal crimes in general and about 9-to-1 for firearms crimes” (Wallace, 2007, p. 4A).

Of course, the question, “Why?” is asked. Some of the suggestions as to why were: media influence, esteem builder, protection issues, community/peers pressures, poverty risk factors verses “protective factors,” and the simple and still prevalent inequalities in the pursuit of the American dream.

What does this have to do with education? I can’t prove it, yet, but I am suggesting a hypothesis based on entirely different information. My hypothesis says this: a significant part of the black juvenile delinquency problem is due to academic hopelessness caused (inadvertently) by the standardization the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) inspired.

In Florida we have the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT). Consistently over the years, blacks have, on average, tested well below the rest of the subgroups except special education (listed as disabled). They even tested significantly lower than the economically disadvantaged by a margin of an average of 10 percent district wide and 7 percent statewide. This last statistic startled me because I was under the impression that economic disparity was at the heart of the problem. But, there seems to be something else, entirely.

There are only a few conclusions that we can come to when analyzing the data. The first conclusion some come to is that blacks are not as smart as all the rest of the races and other subgroups. They, as a whole, are only a little smarter than our disabled group. This conclusion I reject with little qualification. Not only is politically incorrect, it is also blatantly ignoring the clearly widespread examples of highly intelligent and successful individuals who have conquered unbelievable odds and endured indescribable hardships. These individuals not only have been fine examples for their race, but have graced their respective nations and mankind as a whole.

A second conclusion is that a large portion of blacks (primarily those raised generationally in the United States), for whatever reason, do not test well. Many do quite well at many levels until they are told that they are to be tested. This is especially so when this test is to determine their future. I have heard of some evidence for this, but I have no evidence for this suggestion at this time. However, I do have some anecdotal evidence. My experience with teaching many black students has shown me that this may be true. They will be doing fine with much of the material, until they come in to take a test. At the test, they are nervous wrecks. Not all, of course. And, not all nervous wrecks at tests are blacks. I have seen my share of whites in the same boat. Yet, it does seem to be a higher percentage of blacks. Why? I can only conjecture. It may be because of the history of oppression they have felt over time. I don’t really know. I do think that this conclusion has some merit.

A third conclusion that we can come to is that the test itself is biased. A problem arises here, and I don’t know how to address it. FCAT is done so secretly for security purposes, that it is hard to analyze it properly. And, even then, I wouldn’t know how to begin. However, I suspect that this is the major reason. I just wish someone would make a bold assertion to that end and deal with it aggressively.

Nevertheless, I want to get back to my hypothesis about black juvenile delinquency. Almost every day in the schools that blacks (and everyone else for that matter) attend, education is held up as the way to success in life. Yet, every year, a large portion fails to pass the FCAT that would indicate they are capable. Every year around 60 percent miss out, while around 70 percent of whites make it. Again, we see the figure of a failure rate of close to 2-to-1, blacks to whites. Experiencing failure rates like that, year after year, has to be totally demoralizing.

Right now, this is the elephant in the room that no one is talking about. If they are, I am not hearing it or seeing it.

Maybe my hypothesis is totally off base, but the statistics are very consistent and at the same basic rate. I know it would not fix everything, but if we could help the black community by simply addressing the FCAT and other like tests to reflect a bias toward blacks, maybe we could take away the oppressive sense of failure and replace it with a sense of well deserved success. Maybe, with that, many of the black youth will find a good reason to avoid crime and be productive members of their community and society as a whole. Maybe. Maybe not. It seems such a small thing to try with such huge possible rewards. Let’s at least try it.

References:

Florida Department of Education. (2007). 2007 FCAT results. Retrieved August 23, 2007 from http://fcat.fldoe.org/mediapacket/2007.

School Board of Alachua County. (2007). NCLB school accountability reports. Retrieved August 24, 2007 from http://www.sbac.edu/~wpops/SPAR/NCLB-SPAR/NCLB-05-06.pdf.

Wallace, A. (2007). Juvenile justice: Teen crimes rise: The disparity between black and white juvenile offenders has officials concerned. The Gainesville Sun. August 26, 2007.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Education's Spiritual Roots

“These schools were intended to serve as a barrier against the wide-spreading corruption, to provide for the mental and spiritual welfare of the youth, and to promote the prosperity of the nation by furnishing it with men qualified to act in the fear of God as leaders and counselors” (White, 1903, p. 46).

What schools were "these schools"? If we are to believe Wikipedia, they are the first formal schools on the planet. An article in Wikipedia, called the “History of Education,” suggests these schools were started somewhere around 3300 BCE. These “Schools of the Prophets,” as they were called, were very effective in helping to stabilize and strengthen the nation of Israel.

Interestingly enough, in almost every case around the world, formal education was started for spiritual reasons. Even in China where the reasons were not spiritual, the classics were the object of their study, which, again, promoted a character building foundation for life. Likewise, in almost every case around the world, the main reason for beginning formal education has been jettisoned in favor of one that is almost purely academic in nature.

Now, with No Child Left Behind (NCLB) in place, and standardized testing as the norm, academia is taking great strides away from one whole area of intelligence: spiritual. Though Howard Gardner never suggested a spiritual intelligence, there is plenty of evidence for it in the make-up of our brain (Goleman, 1995). The ancients recognized our need for it to be developed. Yet, with all our modern scientific evidence for it, the United States seems to be stepping further from it.

I am not suggesting that our public schools start teaching the Bible or Christian teachings, or any other religious teachings, per se. But, I am suggesting that we get away from our modernistic ignorance of thinking that academic understandings of life are sufficient for our youth. I am suggesting that our we get back to the main reason for formal education in our society: the spirituality of our youth.

How can that be done without infringing on our very important first amendment to the constitution? I am open to suggestions.

References:

Goleman, D. (1995). Emotional intelligence. New York, NY: Bantam Books

White, E. (1903). Education. Nampa, ID: Pacific Press Publishing Association.

Wikipedia, (2007). History of Education. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_education on August 19, 2007.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Character Development in the 21st Century: Part II

Last week we took a brief look at character development. In this brief look we found the best models are ones that are infused through the whole school. There is accountability at all levels. We found that JROTC was one such model.

However, I did not want to suggest that JROTC is the only model or the best model. There are many character development programs that are meeting with success, many without the involvement of the whole school. One emphasis for character development is a field called service-learning. This seems to be a very promising way of assisting in the development of character in our students.

The National Service-Learning Clearinghouse has a website article that lists many such programs and their benefits. The article is entitled, “Character Education and Service-Learning” written by the RMC Research Corporation in September of 2006. “RMC Research is a national leader in program research and evaluation, professional development, consultation, and product development” (RMC Home Page, 2007).

The RMC either conducted or looked at research done in various parts of the country and in various different types of school settings. They come to the conclusion “that service-learning provides an environment in which the goals and values of character education can be enhanced” (RMC, 2006).

This article goes on to give suggestions as to how one may develop and integrate a character development and service-learning at one’s own school. It also give several examples as to how it is being accomplished at the time of the publishing of the article.

I found this to be a very helpful and encouraging article in the quest for character development in the 21st Century.

Sources:

RMC Research Corporation (2006). Character education and service-learning. Retrieved from http://www.servicelearning.org/resources/fact_sheets/k-12_facts/char_ed on August 12, 2007.

RMC Research Corporation (2006). RMC home page. Retrieved from http://www.rmcresearchcorporation.com on August 12, 2007.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Character Development in the 21st Century: Part I

Over one hundred years ago in her book, Education, Ellen White wrote: "Character building is the most important work ever entrusted to human beings; and never before was its diligent study so important as now. Never was any previous generation called to meet issues so momentous; never before were young men and young women confronted by perils so great as confront them today" (1903, p. 225).

If character building was important at the turn of the 20th Century, it is a hundredfold more important now.

Character education programs have come and gone, and many, though well received, seem to have little impact. After researching some Atlanta area schools, Bulach (2002) made this recommendation: "An effective character education program involves the entire faculty, staff, parents, and community. Cooks, custodians, and bus drivers, as well as the teachers, parents, and community must be involved if student behaviors are to be positively affected. The current practice of designating a character trait of the week or the month is not working because a word such as 'respect' has a different meaning for each person. The student receives mixed messages about the trait. The second problem is that many school systems teach all of the mandated character traits each year. If a system has twenty-five traits to cover and they are repeated each year, students will say, “We did that last year.” They become bored with it and do not take it seriously. Consequently, there is very little change in the behavior of students, and most character education programs, although they may be meeting state mandates, are ineffective and take time away from the regular instructional program" (p. 82).

Bulach adds that another part of the reason for failure is that the character curriculum is time limited and not infused throughout the day. In addition to that, it is administratively mandated and the teachers are the only ones accountable to teach it. Bulach says these three things (not including the whole staff, time limited, and only teachers accountable) ensures that character education fails.

However, Bulach points out a program that has been and still is working quite well. It is not only cognitively taught, but also is behaviorally based and infused throughout the curriculum. Everyone in the program is accountable to each other, so if there is any misbehavior, even the youngest can report it. It is the JROTC program. Bulach was not promoting the JROTC, and I am not either. What Bulach was pointing out was that a behavior based program that includes everybody in the school, will most likely work. I concur.

Recently, I read a book by Nel Noddings. She is essentially saying the same thing as Bulach: Character Education has to be infused throughout the system to have real and lasting impact on the students. The fundamental character trait she advocates is caring. “I want to suggest,” she says, “that caring is the very bedrock of all successful education” (2005, p. 27). Again, I concur.

For the good of our students, schools, community, and society as a whole, let us dedicate ourselves to that most important work: character building.

References:

Bulach, C. (2002). Implementing a character education curriculum and assessing its impact on student behavior. Clearing House, 76(2), 79-83.

Noddings, N. (2005). The challenge to care in schools: An alternative approach to education (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

White, E. (1903). Education. Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press.