Why don’t white people protest?

I have read some really difficult posts on social media this week. People have suggested that welfare is why black communities are poor (because they say it is a disincentive to job seeking) and that our black brothers and sisters are protesting because they don’t understand statistics and are being lied to about data regarding police shootings. There are several problems with these arguments.

I looked up information about if, as one commentator put it, “handouts destroy communities over time.” The majority of families who receive these “handouts” actually have jobs. I simply could not find data to support the claim that people who receive financial assistance from the government are less likely to seek or have employment. It seems that the”handout” arguers agree that the impoverished members of our society should have better and higher paying employment than they do now, but they should note that the financial support these families are getting from the government does not seem to be a causal mechanism that limits opportunities. For example, I found this interesting article in the Wall Street Journal that explains one study about the topic.

Like I mentioned, I have also read comments suggesting that black Americans desire to protest because they are misinformed about data on police shootings. Which, then, would lead to the next logical question: Well then why don’t white Americans protest when a white person is shot by police? The statistics-based arguers imply that the reason for this is because white people are not being hoodwinked and black people are. This also is wrong.

The difference of response is due to a difference of life conditions. These differences are identified in empirical research (e.g. the book Choosing Homes, Choosing Schools), showing that we live in a highly segregated society in which some communities are well-funded and supported and others are not. These differences are not the result of differing values of work and/or mindsets. The differences are the result of a history of institutional racism and government’s financial investment in some communities and not others. For example, in 1944 the federal government created one of the largest policies of offering financial assistance to individuals in its history (i.e. “handouts”). The receivers of this assistance were mainly white men returning from World War II. These subsidies included low-cost mortgages, unemployment compensation, free college tuition, low-interest loans to start businesses, et cetera (thanks for reminding me of the exact details Wikipedia).

Financial investments such as these helped the people who received them, exploding the growth and wealth of the white suburbs. Around the same time, redlining policies literally shut these resources out of black communities. Over time, this led to further divestment and destruction of the community infrastructure in which black Americans live, which exacerbated poverty and crime, which then promoted the ubiquity of an alternate form of community investment: policing.

Based on this history, it should be no mystery why black Americans protest police shootings when the only sustained investment in their communities has been a police force telling them how to behave. It should be no mystery why black Americans protest police shootings, even if it is statistically less likely (which it doesn’t seem to be) for them to be killed by a police officer. It should be no mystery because it is highly emblematic and painful for a black American to see a member of their community killed by the only sustained form of community investment that they have ever received.

What is a mystery is why most white people ignore this history and refuse to join in solving the unfairness of our segregated, unequal society.

The Conversation: Why academics are losing relevance in society – and how to stop it

Why academics are losing relevance in society – and how to stop it

Andrew J. Hoffman, University of Michigan

A January 2015 Pew Research Center study found an alarming chasm between the views of scientists and the views of the public. Here is just a sampling:

87 percent of scientists accept that natural selection plays a role in evolution, 32 percent of the public agree; 88 percent of scientists think that genetically modified foods are safe to eat, 37 percent of the public agree; 87 percent of scientists think that climate change is mostly due to human activity, only 50 percent of the public agree.

This is a cause for concern. In our increasingly technological world, issues like nanotechnology, stem cell research, nuclear power, climate change, vaccines and autism, genetically modified organisms, gun control, health care and endocrine disruption require thoughtful and informed debate. But instead, these and other issues have often been caught up in the so-called culture wars.

There are numerous factors that explain this current state of affairs, but one is the extent to which the scientific community has been unable or unwilling to explain the state and gravity of scientific findings.

We academics will need to evolve to keep up with the major changes going on around us. At stake is how we will maintain our relevance in society.

Sorry state of our public discourse on science

Unfortunately, many excellent scientists are poor communicators who lack the skills or inclination to play the role of educator to the public. Further, we are not trained nor are we given proper incentives to do it. And for that reason, surveys find that many academics do not see it as their role to be “an enabler of direct public participation in decision-making through formats such as deliberative meetings, and do not believe there are personal benefits for investing in these activities.” As a result, we focus inward to our own research communities and remain disconnected from important public and political debate going on around us.

Adding to this growing threat of irrelevance is an alarming antagonism towards science, leading National Geographic to devote its March 2015 cover to “The War on Science.” This manifests itself in a professed lack of appreciation of the academy, particularly within state legislatures that have begun to cut funding to higher education (witness activities in Wisconsin and North Carolina). The problem is not made any easier by the reality that the public, according to surveys by the California Academy of Sciences, the National Science Foundation and others, is not well versed in science and appears unreceptive to attempts by scientists to correct it.

But correct it we must. And, correct it we will, whether we choose to or not. Two forces among many will compel us to change.

Social media washes over academia

Social media is perhaps one of the most disruptive forces in society today, and academia is not immune to its impact. Society now has instant access to more news, stories and information, including scientific information, from more sources and in more varied formats than ever before. For universities to remain relevant, we must learn to engage in the new realities of the information age.

However, the academy is not keeping up. Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), open access journals, online news, blogs and emerging forms of educational technology are altering what it means to be a teacher and a scholar. While we write our articles in academic journals and think we have contributed to public discourse, neither the general public nor politicians read them.


Instead of expecting people outside the academy to come to us, we have to go to them. But other interests are beating us to the punch, publishing their own reports, often with a political agenda, and using social media to have far more impact on public opinion. Add to this changing landscape a rise in pseudo-scientific journals and we must face the reality that if we can continue to write only for specialized scholarly journals, we become relegated further to the sidelines.

A generational shift underway

Today, however, many young people are coming to the academy with a different set of aspirations and goals than their senior advisors.

Many graduate students report that they have chosen a research career precisely because they want to contribute to the real world: to offer their knowledge and expertise in order to make a difference. And many report that if academia doesn’t value engagement or worse discourages it, they will follow a different route, either toward schools that reward such behavior or leave academia for think tanks, NGOs, the government or other organizations that value practical relevance and impact.

The frustration is such that some no longer tell their advisors that they are involved in any form of public engagement, whether it be writing blogs or editorials, working with local communities or organizing training for their peers on public engagement. Will academia eventually spit these emergent scholars out, or will they remain and change academia? Many senior academics hope for the latter, fearing a worrying trend toward a reduction in the level of diversity and quality in the next generation of faculty.

How serious is this threat of irrelevance? In 2010, The Economist wondered if America’s universities could go the way of the Big Three American car companies, unable to see the cataclysmic changes around them and failing to react. Put in less inflammatory, but no less urgent form, University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel offers these thoughts:

“We forget the privilege it is to have lifelong security of employment at a spectacular university. And I don’t think we use it for its intended purpose. I think that faculty on average through the generations are becoming a bit careerist and staying inside our comfort zones. [But] If we’re perceived as being an ivory tower and talking to one another and being proud of our discoveries and our awards and our accomplishments and the letters after our name, I think in the long run the enterprise is going to suffer in society’s eyes, and our potential for impact will diminish. The willingness of society to support us will decrease.”

Signs of hope

Against this gloomy backdrop, there are glimmers of hope as more people rethink the audience for our academic research.

To begin, many faculty are engaging with the public regardless of the lack of formal rewards or training. A 2015 Pew Research Center/AAAS survey found that 43 percent of 3,748 scientists surveyed believe it is important for scientists to get coverage for their work in the news media, 51 percent talk with reporters about research findings, 47 percent use social media to talk about science and 24 percent write blogs. However, another survey at the University of Michigan found that 56 percent of faculty feel that this activity is not valued by tenure committees.

Even on that front, we see changes as promotion and tenure criteria are undergoing experimental changes. For example, the Mayo Clinic’s Academic Appointments and Promotions Committee announced it will include social media and digital activities in its criteria for academic advancement; the American Sociological Association published a white paper on how to evaluate public communication in tenure and promotion; and some schools, like the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan, have added a fourth category to the standard three – research, teaching and service – in its annual review process that captures impact on the world of practice.

Beyond training, scientific institutions are beginning to study the “rules of engagement” more deeply: The AAAS Leshner Center for Public Engagement with Science & Technology, the National Academies of Sciences’ “The Science of Science Communication” Colloquia and the University of Michigan’s “Academic Engagement in Public and Political Discourse” conference. Similarly, donors are stepping forward with funding: such as the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation’s “Public Understanding of Science, Technology & Economics” or Alan Alda’s support of the Center for Communicating Science at Stonybrook University that bears his name. There are also new academically based training programs that are designed to help faculty navigate this new terrain.

Not to be left out, many students are taking charge of their own training in this area. For example, the Researchers Expanding Lay-Audience Teaching and Engagement Program (RELATE) was started at the University of Michigan in 2013 by a group of graduate students to help “early career researchers develop stronger communication skills and actively facilitating a dialogue between researchers and different public communities.”

To help this process move even faster, new kinds of outlets are making it easier for academics to bring their voice directly to the public, such as The Conversation, the Monkey Cage and hundreds more in journals, trade associations and professional societies.

Indeed, it would seem that academia is changing, albeit slowly. The conversation is being engaged by faculty, deans, presidents, journal editors, journal reviewers, donors and students. But in the end, the question is whether the aggregation of these many conversations will reach the critical mass necessary to shift the entire institution of the academy.

Where are we going?

To many, the call for public engagement is an urgent return to our roots and a reengagement of the core purpose of higher education. It is about reexamining what we do, how we do it, and for what audiences. It is part of what Jane Lubchenco called in 1998, “scientists’ social contract,” in which we have an obligation to provide a service to society, to give value for the public funding, government grants or general tuition that we receive and an account of what that money is being used for. The Mayo Clinic nicely outlined the ultimate goal:

“The moral and societal duty of an academic healthcare provider is to advance science, improve the care of his/her patients and share knowledge. A very important part of this role requires physicians to participate in public debate, responsibly influence opinion and help our patients navigate the complexities of healthcare. As Clinician Educators our job is not to create knowledge obscura, trapped in ivory towers and only accessible to the enlightened; the knowledge we create and manage needs to impact our communities.”

While this statement is aimed at health care providers, it applies to all in the scientific endeavor and reminds us that the ultimate value of our work is its service to society.

The Conversation

Andrew J. Hoffman, Holcim (US) Professor at the Ross School of Business and Education Director at the Graham Sustainability Institute, University of Michigan

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Differences in School District Losses to Brick and Mortar and Cyber Charter Schools in Pennsylvania

Below are some maps about how brick and mortar and cyber charter schools have affected Pennsylvania school districts differently during the last decade. Both brick and mortar and cyber charter schools started with minimal distributions across the state (the graphs reflect the proportion of students that left a district for a charter school). Over time, brick and mortar charter schools tended to pull students from metro areas in PA. Meanwhile, cyber charter schools have pulled from all over the state.PA_charter_onlinegif

Wolf Administration Establishes New Division of Charter Schools

Read the press release here: https://www.governor.pa.gov/wolf-administration-establishes-new-division-of-charter-schools/

It will be interesting to see what they will do with this division. How will they regulate cyber charter schools? What academic accountability standards will they enforce? Is this just a political move, or will it have a policy/practical influence on the sector?

These are all questions we’ll have to look out for in the days ahead.

From the Conversation: Why schools should provide one laptop per child

Why schools should provide one laptop per child

Binbin Zheng, Michigan State University and Mark Warschauer, University of California, Irvine

A recent international study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found no positive evidence of impact of educational technology on student performance.

It did not find any significant improvement in reading, math or science in countries that heavily invested in technology to improve student achievement. In fact, the report found that technology perhaps even widened the achievement gaps.

Does this mean we should abandon attempts to integrate technology in schools?

We are researchers of technology and learning in K-12 environments, and our research suggests this would be shortsighted.

Impact of one-to-one laptop programs

For the last 10 years, our research team has been investigating what are called “one-to-one” programs, where all the students in a classroom, grade, school or district are provided laptop computers for use throughout the school day, and often at home, in different school districts across the United States.

The largest one-to-one laptop program in the world is OLPC (One Laptop per Child), which mainly targets developing countries, with the mission “to create educational opportunities for the world’s poorest children.” In the United States, the Maine Learning Technology Initiative (MLTI) launched a one-to-one laptop initiative in fall 2002, which made Maine the first state to use technology to transform teaching and learning in classrooms statewide. Later, these programs were extended to other school districts as well.

In addition to our own extensive observations, we conducted a synthesis of the results of 96 published global studies on these programs in K-12 schools during 2001-2015. Among them, 10 rigorously designed studies, mostly from the U.S., were included, to examine the relationship between these programs and academic achievement. We found significant benefits.

We found students’ test scores in science, writing, math and English language arts improved significantly.

And the benefits were not limited to test scores.

Laptop use led to significant benefits for students.
Tim & Selena Middleton, CC BY

We found students with laptops wrote more frequently across a wider variety of genres. They also received more feedback on their writing. In addition, we found they edited and revised their papers more often, drew on a wider range of resources to write, and published or shared their work with others more often.

Student surveys, teacher interviews and classroom observations in these studies revealed that students with access to laptops worked more autonomously and gained experience in project-based learning. This allowed them to synthesize and critically apply knowledge.

For example, researcher Chrystalla Mouza found that elementary school students with access to laptops were able to create electronic storybooks and publish reports in language arts classrooms.

One-to-one laptop programs also enhanced students’ 21st-century skills – skills needed in an information age – such as the ability to locate and use internet resources. Students also improved their collaborative learning skills – that is, they were more capable of working collaboratively with others.

Research led by Deborah L. Lowther at University of Memphis found that when students were given a problem and related answer to consider, students with laptops exhibited higher problem-solving skills than those in the comparison group.

A closer look at the OECD report also reveals that students in the United States performed particularly well on technology-based tasks such as online navigation, digital reading and using computers to solve math problems.

Can laptop use reduce educational gap?

However, our study did not find firm evidence on whether these one-to-one laptop programs helped lessen the academic gap between academically advantaged and disadvantaged students.

Earlier studies have found that laptop programs could help shorten the achievement gap between low-income students and their peers. We did not find such positive evidence in all programs.

One possible explanation is that difficulty in using technology sometimes places an extra load on already challenged students. In contrast, wealthier students are usually more tech-savvy so they can maximize the benefits of using computers to support learning.

Not all laptop programs are effective

One issue here is that not all programs are successful. In our study, although most programs were successful, there were some stark failures as well.

These tended to be in school districts that treated computers like magical devices that would solve educational problems merely through their distribution, without sufficient planning on how they could best be deployed to improve learning.

Some schools phased out their laptop program. Mere access to a computer does not improve learning.
Schoolchildren image via www.shutterstock.com

Some of these schools, after observing no progress with laptops, decided to phase them out. For example, Liverpool Central School District, a public school district in a suburban community near Syracuse, New York, decided to drop the laptop program from fall 2007.

A school district in Philadelphia had to abandon its program after being sued over its use of laptop webcams to capture pictures of students at home. The district claimed it was an effort to track down missing laptops.

For schools and classrooms that are already poorly organized, merely having access to a computer connected to the internet will not improve learning. However, for classrooms that focus on improving students’ writing, analysis, research, problem solving and critical thinking, those same internet-connected computers could be invaluable tools.

Technology to train future citizens

Perhaps we could learn a lesson from the business world. When computers were first introduced into corporations, it took a number of years to increase productivity.
Today it is hard to imagine any field of commerce or knowledge production succeeding while shunning computers.

Well-organized programs that make individual computers available to students are already getting excellent test score results. Such programs are critical for helping students develop necessary skills for the future. These programs deserve our support.

The Conversation

Binbin Zheng, Assistant Professor, Michigan State University and Mark Warschauer, Professor of Education and Informatics, University of California, Irvine

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Pa. Politics: District Mergers = A Contradictory Policy Position by Republicans

The Pennsylvania House Education Committee voted unanimously to conduct a study about merging school districts in Pennsylvania. I’d urge them also to conduct research on the educational effects that mergers have on students because larger isn’t usually better in educational practice, but that is a different post for a different day.

In this post, I would like to point something out: This proposal by Republican lawmakers is contradictory to their stated philosophy about another educational issue: charter schools. Let me explain.

Republicans in Pennsylvania are very much in favor of charter school policy. That is, more schools, more choices, and more administrators. In a sense, this is de-consolidation policy by providing more schooling organizations to offer a greater array of choices. How is consolidating school districts in line with this philosophy? Do Republicans want to save money? Or do they want a greater array of choices? More school districts = more choices. On the other hand,  having more charter schools and stretching out fixed costs across expanded schooling organizations is not consolidation and does not save money.

Which is it Republicans, consolidation or not? As it stands, this proposal suggests contradiction.

Book Review on *The Prize* that I wrote for American Journal of Education Online Forum

Text and link below:

BOOK REVIEW—The Prize – Who’s in Charge of America’s Schools?

Review by Bryan Mann, PhD Candidate, Educational Theory and Policy, Pennsylvania State University

Book Details: The Prize—Who’s in Charge of America’s Schools? by Dale Russakoff. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014. 246 pp., $27.00.

The Prize, a well-crafted piece of journalism with particular relevance to educational policy scholars, chronicles an urban reform initiative in which corporate elites provide money and ideas to Newark, NJ at the request of Cory Booker, who was mayor and is now a U.S. Senator. The ideas in this book written by Dale Russakoff are predictable: tying teacher pay to student performance, loosening tenure protections, enacting school choice, and using quantitative data to evaluate and manage schools. Educational policy scholars have yet to settle debates related to most of these topics, but Booker and partners claim their ideas are the right ones to save Newark students.

This book, through the stories of individuals (Christie, Booker, Zuckerberg, newly hired Superintendent Cam Anderson, teachers, students, etc.), depicts complicated and contentious dynamics related to educational reform and community politics. Most people in the story want a piece of “the prize” from those who hope to keep cushy district jobs to those who want to prove neo-liberal principles can correct an underperforming school district. In sharing the story of these actors and their struggles, The Prize (originally told in The New Yorker) surfaces a key concern in the Newark plan and, fittingly, an issue with educational reform in the United States generally: Reformers should stop imposing reforms on disadvantaged communities and instead assist and serve alongside of them.

The key actors in the book learn this lesson in a way that resembles dramatic irony. Prior to implementation, Booker, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, and Gov. Chris Christie stand with Oprah on national television and optimistically announce their plan to bring to Newark outside ideas, people, and money ($100 million of which is Zuckerburg’s) with a promise to create dramatic reform to Newark schools. If the plan proved successful, Booker, Zuckerberg, and Christie said that they would have an educational reform model to share with other cities. Scenes like these make it so that the astute policy scholars who read the book will be able to guess from the start that the reformers are a bit hubristic and unaware of the struggles that their reform efforts will encounter.

A major lesson, which is that imposed policy with little buy-in is a flawed strategy to reform U.S. public schools, is best captured through a few glaring quotes that Russakoff shares near the end of the text. The first is evidence of the frustration of many community members and leaders:

“Education reform comes across as colonial to people who’ve been here for decades…It’s very missionary, imposed, done to people rather than in cooperation with people.” (p. 207, Shavar Jeffries).

This lesson is also captured through the moments of self-reflection of other reformers and leaders, such as when Howard Fuller, former superintendent of Milwaukee, commented about Newark:

“I think a lot of us education reformers — and I include myself — have been too arrogant,” he said. “It’s not even what you do sometimes, it’s the way you treat people in the process of doing it. If your approach is to get a lot of smart people in the room and figure out what ‘these people’ need and then we implement it, the first issue is who decided that you were smart? And why do you think you can just get into a room and make decisions for a community of people?” (p. 210).

And, finally, it is captured through the attitude of Gov. Christie: “I don’t care about the community criticism. We run the school district in Newark, not them” (p. 205).

These quotes hint at why the book is a must read for an undergraduate or graduate policy class. Russakoff puts real-life stories to theoretical policy lessons. Actors in The Prize play roles almost as if they were scripted, and the lessons shared are those policy scholars know all too well: relationships matter, context is king, act when the policy window is open, there is no such thing as a one-sized-fits-all solution, and, most importantly, policymaking does not work well unless people on the ground are included in the plan. Thus, the questionable outcomes of the Newark reform effort come not only in their lack of robust results (counter arguments are a bit more optimistic), but also in how the reforms fractured an already delicate community. That is, even if there were major upticks in “metrics of performance,” the efficacy of the reform agenda would still be questionable because of the divisions at tensions the top-down reforms caused in community relationships.

It is in this conversation of “did the strategies work?” where Russakoff does not appear to take a definite stance, instead allowing readers to debate about the specifics. This subject certainly has been debated in the blogosphere. The most wrestled over topic—and maybe the most fought over topic in educational reform in general—is the role of school choice in education, namely charter schools. Arguments and counter-arguments in this debate (outside of the book, but often about the book) range from the Newark reform strategy did not work as well as planned because there wasn’t enough school choice to that Russakoff was too charter-friendly and cherry-picked data to add balance to her story. What is interesting (and telling) is that regardless of one’s stance, charter advocates and opponents agree the book is worth the read.

Russakoff herself tends not to take sides about the efficacy of specific reform solutions, but instead points to flaws in each ideological camp. This review will not be as easy on itself. It seems that yes (and this includes the knowledge of information presented outside of the book), the Newark school district needed support and reform and perhaps, in general, there are circumstances where outside, non-profit alternative programs can provide more efficient educational services to communities like Newark. However, how this happened in Newark, and often how it has happened across the country, feels as if charter schools can be a bait-and-switch. Even as the idea of individual choice is a reasonable request, the policymakers of the book, as well as those elsewhere in the country, need to ask if the choice programs they provide represent genuine choice and if the local community actually is seeking this new system of schooling.

Considering this, and the nature of reform in general, the book itself reminds educational reformers of important lessons as they develop education policy. It is vital to include community members and enhance community relationships in the development of school reform. And, of course, there have been those who read and write about The Prize and lambast others for being ideologically comfortable in how the book is received. Reviewers such as these tend to promote top-down change from a mountaintop of educational righteousness, falsely presuming as if those who critique of both the problems and proposed solutions are accepting the status quo. But when reviewers like these (and the interests groups and policymakers they represent, who are aligned with many actors in The Prize) publicly share thoughts like, “It would be nice if intractable problems like achievement gaps between wealthy and poor or white and African-American students could be tidily collaborated away. But that’s not how big, tough problems work” (cited from the previous link), they need to be called on the irony of their claims. One cannot promote a choice agenda and then say democratic choice is inappropriate in deciding if this reform is appropriate. This is especially true of disadvantaged communities that have been exploited for centuries and whose members have a logical fear of further exploitation. It is time we in educational research circles include local communities in our educational reform suggestions and strategies.

Of course, it is important to provide optimal circumstances for students to learn and for teachers to teach. In some instances this will mean making tough choices about clunky, old educational bureaucracies that are not efficient (or even competent). It is true that old-style districts are inefficient and effective in some areas in this country. It may also be true that charter schools and choice can be an answer to solve these issues. But both can be false, and the ideologues of this story show that when they only follow their ideologies children as well as communities suffer.

And no, not all education reform is bad. And not all charter schools are all good. Or vice versa. Reform ideas are strategies, and The Prize shows that a timeless moral stands: people matter. When outsiders try a new plan to revitalize the homes and schools of disadvantaged communities, they should ask them first and then work alongside of them. Educational scholars cannot think of themselves as playing the hero; they need to be allies and servants. The real heroes are those people like Princess Williams, a teacher in The Prize. Ms. Williams, while the “boys in the back room” were pushing their new agenda, organizes her colleagues at a traditional school in Newark to start her own reform plan. She later felt her only option was to switch to the charter sector, which seemed like a difficult decision because of how she valued traditional schools in her community. So she fought strategically for her kids and her community. Instead of forcing these teachers to take sides in situations like this, we should say: Thank you Ms. Williams. As educational scholars we want to ask you, your peers, and your community one question—What do you need from educational researchers in order to help us help you in serving your students and lifting up your community?

Bryan Mann is a PhD Candidate in Education Theory and Policy at Penn State University and a Managing Editor for the American Journal of Education. His work examines both the effects of charter school policies on student outcomes and performance and the demographic effects of these policies. His dissertation explores charter school policy in Pennsylvania, specifically analyzing cyber charter school growth and enrollment and how these developments generally inform theoretical assumptions related to charter school and choice-based policy.