Sex Ed in the Era of Trump: City-Led Reform and Standardization on a Scale that Works

Sex Ed in the Era of Trump: City-Led Reform and Standardization on a Scale that Works

Caroline Francisco / Public Schools & Public Policy / May 2017

Executive Summary

This paper is not intended solely to make the case for comprehensive sexual health education in the United States, nor is it intended as a complete and holistic curriculum proposal; a vast body of research and literature have already established both. Instead, what I hope to explore here is, who should lead the way? Why have some attempts to standardize sex ed been non-effective, and where are more effective policies in place? What political actions can be taken to bring better sex education to American students, and from where should those actions stem? Ultimately, my research suggests two findings. First: that American cities, as mid-levels between school-by-school/teacher-by-teacher action and federal government action, have the most potential to enact effective standardized sex education curricula in schools. I highlight the 2013 implemented in Chicago Public Schools and analyze its effects. Second: that despite a public school system labeled “antiquated,” “failing,” and under fire from the federal government, sex education is a particular area where public schools have potential to excel. (American Federation for Children 2015) (PhilanthropyRoundtable 2013)

Introduction: What is at Stake

 Arguing for radical reform of sex education often requires fighting for its existence in the first place. Due to the topic’s charged moralized nature, sex ed has a long history of criticism, especially from religious advocates and those who believe sexual and reproductive conversations belong exclusively in the privacy of the home. Yet in practice, only 43% of parents say they feel “very comfortable” talking to their children about sex, and 50% of teens say they feel uncomfortable talking about sex with their parents. (Planned Parenthood 2011) (Planned Parenthood 2012) Following an incident in Chicago Public Schools (discussed later in this paper’s “Evidence” section), parent Rachel Gigliotti described topics of “sex with a condom, sex without a condom, sex with lube” as “things I wouldn’t even discuss in my own personal life.” (NBC Chicago 2014) If parents are unwilling to discuss fundamental topics like contraception and lubrication in their personal lives, much less with their children, the question is begged: then where, if at all, will young adults learn?

This paper treats education as a public good, and comprehensive sexual education (CSE) as a vital component of that public good. Even differing philosophies of the ‘purpose of education’ offer ample justification for curriculum that includes not only ‘core’ subjects like math and history, but also topics of personal biology, health, safety, risk, and social skills. David Labaree (1997) groups “the root of educational conflicts” into three alternative goals for American education…: democratic equality (schools should focus on preparing citizens), social efficiency (they should focus on training workers), and social mobility (they should prepare individuals to compete for social positions.)” Even though the last goal treats education as a private good, CSE arguably serves all three goals, as its overarching aim is not to encourage premature sexual activities but to empower young people to know the facts, know their rights, and make informed decisions.

Consider the topic of informed consent—when a young person is taught that they equally have the right to say “yes” and the right to say “no,” and a universal right to have their answer honored, they are not only more equipped in sexual situations, but in everyday interactions, in the workplace, legally, and in any situation involving power dynamics. The ripple-effect social implications of this are huge; consider that in 2016, 46% of Americans voted for a candidate well-known for saying, about “beautiful women,” “Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything.” (Leip 2016) (NY Times 2016) Would this be the case if every American were educated about consent from a young age? Furthermore, plenty of evidence suggests that good sex education keeps more kids in school longer, to complete the rest of their education: “Nearly one-third of teen girls who have dropped out of high school cite early pregnancy or parenthood as a key reason. Only 40 percent of teen moms finish high school, and less than two percent of teen mothers (those who have a baby before age 18) finish college by age 30.” (Shuger 2012)

The term “comprehensive” sex ed has emerged to distinguish itself from “abstinence-only” sex ed which advises—in many cases morally requires—abstaining from sexual activity until marriage. (By extension, this implies that humans relinquish their right to sexuality if they do not conform to social constructs of marriage.) Abstinence-only education is historically ridden with value judgments against sexually active individuals and double standards against women. In various abstinence-only curricula around the country, a woman who has lost her virginity before marriage is likened to a dirty sneaker, a chewed stick of gum, a used piece of tape, or a piece of chocolate that has been passed around the class: used, dirty, undesirable, and worthless. (LastWeekTonight 2015) (Semuels 2014) This sends messages to young girls that they exist to marry and be valuable to men, that sexual activity devalues them, that “they cannot be sexual beings in the way that boys can,” and for female victims of sexual assault, that the fault is theirs. (Beyoncé 2014)

Is this kind of education the norm or the outlier? What does sex ed look like in most American public schools? A proper diagnosis is elusive; despite the growing trend towards accountability measures in core subjects, almost no accountability or effective standardization exists for sex ed. Research shows however that even in 2017, sex ed in America looks more like the “chewed stick of gum” model than not. Guttmacher Institute, which provides the leading data on sex ed standards, reports that as of May 1, 2017, only 24 states and Washington DC mandate sex education, and only 13 require that the information presented be “medically accurate.” 37 states require that when sex ed is offered, abstinence be either “stressed” (26) or “covered” (11), while only 18 states require offering information on contraceptives. Only 2 states explicitly prohibit sex ed programs from promoting religion, and in 3 states—Alabama, South Carolina, and Texas—any information presented on non-hetero sexual orientation must be explicitly negative. Furthermore, countless schools rely on outsourced curriculum materials—public or private—to show in their classrooms, which means that variance from school to school is almost impossible to track. Some kids are getting Planned Parenthood representatives in class, some kids are getting condom-on-banana demonstrations in class, some kids are getting the chewed gum analogy, some kids are getting a lady John Oliver describes as “trying to yell the horniness out of teenagers,” some kids are getting exhaustive lists of sexually transmitted diseases without ever being taught what sex is or how it works or why humans have it in the first place. (LastWeekTonight 2015) Some kids are getting nothing at all.

Figure 1. Map from the Huffington Post via Guttmacher Institute. (Klein 2014)

What are we trying to prevent? Are we trying to prevent students having sex? Or are we trying to prevent early pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, sexual assault, and unhealthy sexual relationships? Abstinence-only education leans on the former even if under the guise of the latter. And while there is a strong philosophical case to be made that only the latter deserves a place in public education, extensive research shows that abstinence-only education is already failing at both. In 2014, the same Mississippi town that used the dirty chocolate classroom lesson reported that 76% of teenagers are sexually active while in high school, and that the local birthrate was 73 out of 1,000 females between 15 and 19: nearly triple the national rate at the time, which while declining, is still among the highest in the developed world. (Semuels 2014) (Holpuch 2016)

By contrast, a “comprehensive” sex education is set apart not only by medical accuracy but by inclusivity. While abstinence is technically medically accurate (yes, it is the only 100% effective way to prevent pregnancy and STIs), it omits much of the larger picture: the normalcy of sexuality in development, informed consent, contraceptive methods (especially those beyond the male condom), abortion, sexual pleasure, masturbation, forms of attraction, gender identity, sexual orientation, healthy relationships, and more. (Advocacy for Youth)

Ironically, the crux of the dilemma is that while CSE programs are elusive, support for them isn’t. National endorsement of CSE is overwhelming, not only among medical, scientific, and public health professionals, but also among education authorities, and even the American public. (SIECUS) So why is CSE so difficult to implement? The next sections explore attempts to enact and enforce CSE on various scales, and where this has been most effective.

Background: Attempts at Standardization

 A 2015 editorial by Alice Dreger—writer, medical historian, bioethicist, and parent of a high-school boy—asked “Why isn’t sex education a part of Common Core?” Her question raises a confusing trend in national accountability: Common Core has embodied the huge push in national curriculum standardization, yet it only accounts for math and language, leaving other subjects relatively untouched. In some cases, Common Core’s emphasis on these two subjects has even had adverse effects on other subjects: in schools where standardized math/ELA test scores are low and budgets are increasingly skimpy, ‘non-core’ programs such as art, music, technology, physical education, vocational education, and health are often first on the chopping block to accommodate more time, money, and resources towards raising scores. In her article, Dreger advocates for consent and pleasure education to replace time spent on “endless lessons about how to put on a condom,” apparently not realizing how many American students won’t get condom education at all, much less consent or pleasure education. Oddly enough, she addresses the disparities in American sex ed twofold, both explicitly in her call for national standards, and implicitly in her ignorance of ‘how bad some other kids have it.’ (Dreger also gained media attention later that year for live-tweeting her son’s East Lansing, MI sex ed class, which featured abstinence-only speakers connected with a local anti-abortion “crisis pregnancy center.” (MLive 2015) The awareness she raised eventually pushed the school board to pull the religiously-affiliated speakers from their curriculum. (Culp-Ressler 2015))

Ultimately, Dreger’s article does more to advocate for why CSE should be nationally standardized than explain why it is not already. To answer this question, it’s necessary to delve into the history of sex ed standardization attempts, and examine the stark contrast between the drivers of Common Core and the drivers of nationalized CSE.

Though not remotely affiliated with Common Core, national sex education standards do exist, and they are comprehensive. “The National Sexuality Education Standards: Core Content and Skills, K-12” were released in 2012 by the Future of Sex Education (FoSE) Initiative, a “partnership between Advocates for Youth, Answer, and the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the U.S. (SIECUS).” They differ from Common Core in several key ways.

  • Curriculum and tools for teachers are free, online, and open-sourced. FoSE’s website provides not only a detailed list of the standards for each grade, but a long list of tools for implementation that hone in on training teachers and other personnel (nurses, psychologists, etc.) and supplying administrators with templates to assist and evaluate budding CSE programs in their schools. (FoSE 2012) These tools are available to any teacher or school who wishes to access them, yet they require bottom-up self-implementation and enforcement. FoSE does not explicitly provide funding or personnel for teacher training, only written materials. By contrast, Common Core is implemented top-down in schools and classrooms. Teacher participation is mandatory, and both teacher and student performance is evaluated by national tests that the state has adapted.
  • The stakes and accountability are different. Because of the personal and social nature of sexual education, it’s harder to track successful implementation in the same way. A math test generally gives a pretty good sense of what math a student knows and how they will use it in the real world. A sex education test, even if it measured what a student knew, wouldn’t necessarily provide any insight into how that student would make decisions in the future. (Given some of the abstinence-only programs we examined previously, it wouldn’t take a genius to figure out ‘sex is bad, don’t have it’ is they key to a high score on a test in an abstinence-only school.) While the stakes of both are high, sex education is more about social skills and personal health than competition and employability.
  • The National Sexuality Education Standards were created by non-profits. These standards are crafted to be national but have no explicit federal government ties or endorsements. By contrast, Common Core is written by a coalition of states and incentivized as part of Obama’s federal Race to the Top program, and is surrounded by a wide support web (funding, public relations, content contributions) of state governments, third party companies, and prominent individuals. (Bernd 2013)

These three key differences shed light on the most important difference between NSES and Common Core, namely that the latter has been widely adopted by states, and the former hasn’t: unlike Common Core, states have essentially no tangible incentive—that is, financial incentive—to adopt NSES. While Common Core is tied to a bundle of federal carrots including Race to the Top grants and Title I funding for struggling schools, the non-profits that created NSES cannot fund the implementation of CSE standards, much less fund rewards for implementing CSE standards. (Kertscher 2013) (Ravitch 2016)

It’s no secret that the current federal administration’s views on public schooling, women’s rights, public health, gender, and sexuality make for a bleak outlook for federally-incentivized CSE; an administration that recently attempted to revoke transgender students’ Title IX protections in public schools is highly unlikely to support CSE that includes discussion of sexuality and gender identity in the first place. (Peters et al. 2017) There are some arguments to be made for how nonprofit coalitions like FoSE could incentivize implementation: perhaps by reorganizing spending to offer aid to districts implementing CSE, or to broaden their coalitions (maybe to include for-profit allies) to increase funds and support, or to emphasize how CSE could ultimately lower costs for states and schools (decreases in teen pregnancy and STIs could potentially lessen government funds spent on public assistance and state-subsidized health services.) However, perhaps in the name of efficacy, national standardization isn’t the necessary route at all: the next section will explore the pros and cons of alternatives.

Evidence: City-Based Public CSE Projects, Chicago as a Model

 We find ourselves in search of a middle ground: good sex ed is so important that it can’t depend solely on the luck of a good teacher (a fictional 2014 movie popularized this narrative, placing a virginal straight white male teacher in a majority Latinx school to ‘save’ their sex ed program) but there’s also evidence to suggest that federally and nationally implemented standardization is neither probable, enforceable, nor measurably effective. City-led CSE reform just might be the middle ground that is needed to balance some level of large-scale standardization with small-scale implementation.

Chicago Public Schools (CPS), the third largest public school district in the continental US, has led the way in forging CSE reform at the city level. The Chicago Board of Education effectively implemented NSES in CPS in February 2013, with no clear catalysts or financial incentives at the time. (CPS Policy Manual 2013) By May 2013, House Bill 2675 mandating “medically accurate, developmentally and age-appropriate” Comprehensive Health Education was passed by the Illinois General Assembly, and eventually signed into law by Governor Quinn; prior to this, Illinois had not mandated teaching sex education at all, and when provided, mandated medical and moralized stress on abstinence. (NCSL 2016) By June 2013, the Chicago Dept. of Public Health (CDPH) published a policy brief in support of the recent city and state reforms, lending its support to the CPS CSE rollout and announcing a federal Teen Outreach Program (TOP) grant jointly awarded to CDPH and CPS for their cooperation in reducing teen pregnancy.

Chicago is a remarkable case study for several reasons. First: Chicago is a rare example of where NSES standards and trainings have been explicitly adopted in actual classrooms. Second: this reform occurred at a time when the federal government was in fact increasing spending for abstinence-until-marriage programs by $75 million a year. (de Melker 2015) Third, and most importantly: although Chicago’s CSE initiative eventually received state and federal reinforcements (both legally and financially), this reform was city and district-led. Only after the district policies were enacted did state law and federal dollars follow suit.

Chicago’s road to CSE reform hasn’t been an entirely smooth one; it hit its most public snafu in November 2014, after parents encountered material that detailed “the basics of female condoms,” “feel-good reasons to use them,” and “other forms of contraception, sex toys and sex acts” in CSE curriculum materials for fifth and sixth graders. CPS responded with, “The objectionable material presented at Andrew Jackson Language Academy this week is not and never was part of the student sexual education curriculum. It was mistakenly downloaded and included in the parent presentation, and we agree with parents it is not appropriate for elementary school students.” (NBC Chicago 2014) Indeed, most parents involved in the controversy supported CPS’ CSE reforms, but were largely concerned with the age-appropriate timing of material rather than CSE itself.

Improvement of the initiative may require some ‘tinkering towards utopia’ (to use a choice phrase in educational reform), but on the whole, response has been positive. In December 2014, CPS Sexual Health Program Assistant Maalika Bannerjee wrote: “Though there are hiccups, and progress can take time, it’s happening. Even I, coming from a liberal school in Massachusetts, didn’t have a chance to discuss gender identity or consent or healthy decision making in the classroom. By 2015, students in over 600 CPS schools will be able to do just that.” In distinct difference from the mistaken material, her accounts detailed activities that were far more commonplace in CPS schools as a result of the rollouts: for instance, a teacher-training exercise where participants had to describe their weekend without using gendered language. Bannerjee writes,

“There’s a pause. I notice some teachers begin sentences, and then stop. But after a few minutes, the conversations begin to flow. At the end, I ask them how it went. One gym teacher said he struggled with the activity. ‘I said ‘I’ a lot, and it felt really impersonal,” he said. Another person chimed in with some alternatives; he suggested the use of “they” in place of “he” or “she,” and “partner” or “significant other” in place of “boyfriend” or “girlfriend.” Another teacher said the activity helped her think about how difficult it is for some LGBTQ students, who may need to revise their language in school to avoid harassment from their peers. And yet another person said it made him think about using more inclusive language in the classroom, to make all students feel safe and comfortable at school.” (Bannerjee 2014)

Although Chicago’s 2015 Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) data is not yet available to compare with 2013 data and gauge rollout effects, CPS has seen tangible positive impacts of the reforms in other ways. Some take the form of the classroom interactions like the one Bannerjee recorded above. Others take the form of student activism in the wider Chicago community. In December 2015, the Chicago Tribune reported on a 17-year-old CPS high schooler, Heaven Johnson, who partnered with the city’s Public Health Department to “launch a citywide safe-sex initiative that includes posters at CTA [metro] hubs and other parts of the city, a social media campaign (#ChicagoWearsCondoms) and volunteers periodically handing out free condoms.” Johnson’s efforts are quite literally seen all over the city, and her website directs citizens to “169 locations around Chicago that distribute free condoms, as well as addresses, phone numbers and hours for facilities that provide free sexually transmitted infection and HIV testing and treatment.” (Stevens 2015)

Figure 2. Photo from CPS high-schooler Heaven Johnson’s Chicago Wears Condoms Campaign. (Stevens 2015)


As with any policy model, city-led CSE reform is not proposed as a catch-all panacea to rescue America from sex ed’s victimization at the state and federal level. Some locations prove more difficult than others: for instance, in New Orleans, city-led CSE proposals faced similar roadblocks and backlash from the state level as state-led CSE proposals. (O’Donoghue 2015) Some locations don’t have the luxury of a school board large enough to encompass many schools nor formidable enough to spar with conservative municipal governments: persistent advocacy is still needed at the state level, especially to make sure rural students don’t ‘fall through the cracks’ of CSE reform.

However, I present the Chicago model as an exciting case where national CSE standards are actually starting to reach classrooms and have a positive impact on students as a result of localized bottom-up action. Despite initial state and federal resistance, Chicago’s great strides in CSE represent not only the potential of American cities, but indeed of public schools.

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Special thanks to peer editors Eliza Scruton and Molly Ono.

Works Cited

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Building Failure Factories: How Pinellas County is failing its Black Students


In 2015, “Failure Factories,” a Tampa Bay Times exposé on the failure of hyper-segregated south county elementary schools called Pinellas County “the worst place to be black and attend public schools in Florida.”

After a 2007 decision by the school board to abandon integrative busing measures, five elementary schools in a small, historically black area of the southern part of the county quickly became five of the worst schools in Florida. Since 2015, the series “Failure Factories” won a Pulitzer Prize in local reporting, a new superintendent was hired, the federal government launched a civil rights investigation into the district’s practices, and black students in Pinellas are no better off.

Indeed, the effects of hyper-segregation soon bled into every facet of the school system, including disciplinary measures that increasingly began to affect black students at a widening, disproportionate rate (National Juvenile Justice Network 2015, and Florida Department of Juvenile Justice 2015).

Analysis of Pinellas County discipline records show that black students are more likely than their white peers to face in-school-suspension, out-of-school suspension, and school arrests (National Juvenile Justice Network 2015). I plan to argue that the racial disparities seen in disciplinary practices and the 2007 decision to end busing efforts have contributed to the racial achievement gap in Pinellas County Schools.

I will then analyze data from the eighth worst performing school in Florida, Campbell Park Elementary, tracking changes to academic performance following resegregation. Although I will not attempt to prove causality, the unique plight of south county schools cannot be explained by factors like poverty as these schools are performing worse than schools in districts with fewer resources (Bureau of Economic Analysis 2006).

Finally, I will consider literature that suggests these factors are disproportionately harming black students in Pinellas. Other reports have studied the achievement gap and disciplinary disparities in Pinellas County but none have discussed the intersection of these as a direct result of the 2007 to stop integrative busing.


As is common across the nation, Pinellas County Schools has struggled to integrate schools since Brown v. Board due in large part to the unequal demographic makeup of the district neighborhoods (Rothstein 2014). School enrollment data shows that 55.9% of students are white, 18.6% are black, and 16.4% percent are Hispanic (Pinellas County Schools 2016). However, black students in Pinellas are concentrated in the southern part of the county so much so that 85% of African American families live within a 12-square-mile section in St. Petersburg, the fourth largest city in the state of Florida (Fitzpatrick, Gartner, & LaForgia 2015, DeBray 2007). Julie Janssen (2001) describes the unique demographic pattern:

This school district has specific and unique geographical politics, stemming in part from the division of the County into north and south by Ulmerton Road. The racial composition of students in the two geographic regions are notably dissimilar with the majority of black students living in the southern part of the district and only small “pockets” of black students living north of the dividing line, Ulmerton Road. (p. 13)

This pattern is longstanding and the racial makeup of the district looked similar in 1971, when the court decision Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg (1971) forced the school district to implement busing to integrate the county (DeBray 2007). This court ordered busing was for all intents and purposes effective. In 1976, only 3.8% of black students went to majority African American schools whereas 54.5% of black students had gone the majority African-American schools in 1970, prior to the Swann decision (DeBray 2007).

The 1971 court order also laid out enrollment limits that stated no school would exceed 30% African American students (later changed to 42% for the 2003-2004 school year) (DeBray 2007).

Yet this 1971 plan to begin busing in Pinellas County was implemented in such a way that the predominantly white residents in the northern part of the county were excluded from the orders. And so, black students south of the Ulmerton road divide were bused outside of their neighborhood to achieve racial diversity (DeBray 2007).

Understandably, black residents spoke out against this inequity and in 1998 the plan for school choice was revisited. Families across the county and the local National Association for the Advancement of Colored People chapter met with the School Board, which then voted to ask the U.S District Court for a unitary designation for the county, essentially freeing the district from the court order laid out in Swann. This was done in hopes of developing a method for voluntary choice that would put a stop to the unfair treatment of families in the south county neighborhoods (DeBray 2007).

The district court ruled in favor of the unitary distinction, allowing the county to develop a method of choice integration so long that it complied with the previous limits of racial makeup for individual schools. Choice “zones” were created and so long as families made choices that adhered to the racial makeup limitations, their choices were granted. Additionally, students in north county were no longer exempt and thus busing became more equitable across the county (DeBray 2007).

In 2007, the Parents Involved vs. Seattle School District Supreme Court case ruled that schools could no longer control enrollment by race. This decision meant the end of the practice of obligatory racial proportions that Pinellas County and other districts across the national had been using to balance diversity within the county. So, in 2007 the Pinellas County School Board voted to end integrative busing. Families across the country rejoiced that their children would no longer have to commute 30-45 minutes to a school outside of their residential neighborhood. But black community members were not as pleased and voiced concerns that the predominantly black neighborhoods in southern county would suffer for these changes. The district ensured that the quality of the schools would not falter, promising extra funding and resources that never came (Tampa Bay Times Staff 2007, and Fitzpatrick, Gartner, and Laforgia 2015).

Thus, the hypersegregation of Pinellas County began.

Figure 1: This shows the proportion of black students in Pinellas County schools prior to and post 2007. The map in the top right corner displays Pinellas County, showing that the mostly black schools are heavily concentrated in the southernmost part of the district.

 Academic Failure after Resegregation

The decision to end busing turned out to be a disastrous one for black families in Pinellas County. Resources were not funneled to schools in historically black neighborhood schools as was promised. Instead, the district used shady tactics to attempt to shortchange south county schools from their district funding, counting money received from the federal Title I allotment towards their district budget total (Fitzbatrick, Garter, and Laforgia 2015).

It didn’t take long for the effects of implementation to negatively impact school performance. The state of Florida uses a grade-based accountability system to evaluate each of its schools at the end of the academic year. Schools are measured by metrics including performance on state standardized tests but also learning gains for all students and for the lowest performing 25% of students. Academic outcomes in Pinellas County took a dive across the district after 2007. The charts below show the number of Pinellas County Schools that received an “A” on Florida’s annual school grading system and the number that received an “F”.

Figure 2: The number of schools receiving an A grade on the annual accountability report dropped after 2007.

Figure 3: The number of schools receiving an F grade on the annual accountability report rose from 0 schools to 14 schools in just six years.

Source: Florida Department of Education. School Accountability Reports 2006-2014.

Academic Inequality

Even though Pinellas County showed a decline across all schools’ performance after 2007, it was the south county schools that felt the brunt of the impact. Without the resources that the white, north county students brought to the south county schools, the schools quickly became some of the worst in Florida (Fitzpatrick, Gartner, LaForgia 2015).

And since the southern county schools are predominantly black, a pronounced black-white racial achievement gap emerged in Pinellas County. Testing results from Florida standardized tests administered to all student in the 2015-2016 school year are shown below.

Figure 4

Pinellas County boasts an achievement gap between their black and white students that is markedly higher than state averages in both English Language Arts and Mathematics

Figure 4.1: The achievement gap in Pinellas County (right) as compared to state averages (left) in English Language Arts. Florida Department of Education. 2015-2016

Figure 4.2: The achievement gap in Pinellas County (right) as compared to state averages (left) in Math. Florida Department of Education. 2015-2016

A Case Study

In 2007, prior to resegregation in Pinellas, Campbell Park Elementary was a “B” school with a school population of 32.8% white students and 47.8%. By 2015, Campbell Park had become segregated with a population made up of 13.6% white students and 79.9% black students. It was consistently receiving an “F” grade on its annual accountability report (Florida Department of Education).

Here, I track Campbell Park’s decline from an average elementary school to one of the worst in the state. This decline took place in the years following the 2007 decision to abandon busing. The school quickly became hyper-segregated, lost teachers, saw an unprecedented increase in violent incidents and exclusionary discipline practices (Fitzpatrick, Gartner, and LaForgia 2015).

Figure 5: While academic achievement suffered across the board at Campbell  park, the black-white achievement gap perisisted, with only 20% and 10% of black students being proficient in reading and math respectively in 2013.

While each of the aforementioned factors can independently cause students at a school to suffer losses in academic performance, the decline at Campbell Park Elementary was unparalleled by any other school in Florida. In fact, schools in communities with the same racial and socioeconomic makeup were not performing as badly as Campbell Park (Fitzpatrick, Gartner, and LaForgia 2015).

Discipline in Pinellas County

On the Pinellas County School Board website, it states that “In all instances, school discipline should be reasonable, timely, fair, age-appropriate, and should match the severity of the student’s misbehavior.” And for some students, this might hold true. However, investigation into county discipline records shows that black students are disproportionately on the receiving end of disciplinary practices, and to a greater degree than their white peers.

Compared to the State

Pinellas County boasts an unusually high number of suspensions. In fact, Pinellas County employs suspension as punishment more often than 70% of the other counties in Florida (National Juvenile Justice Network 2015).

Similarly, Pinellas has a high rate of school arrests, recording a higher number of school arrests for 2015 than 81% of counties in Florida (National Juvenile Justice Network 2015).

Racial Disparities

While these numbers alone should be enough to make Pinellas officials pay attention to the district’s disciplinary problems, the underlying racial disparities taking place in all facets of school discipline are even more concerning.

  • 54% of black students received an in-school suspension compared to 20% of their white peers
  • Pinellas is 3rd in the state for disproportionately arresting black students

While 20% of the students in Pinellas County are black, black students are overrepresented in the number of school arrests, out-of school suspensions, number of students labeled “Emotionally/Behaviorally Disabled”, number of students held back a grade, and the number of students sent to an alternative school. Black Pinellas students are underrepresented in gifted classrooms. Moreover, only 8% of Pinellas County teachers are black, 12 points below the proportion of black students and nearly half the state average (National Juvenile Justice Network 2015).

Figure 6: Black students are overrepresented in discipline numbers and special needs classrooms and underrepresented in the teaching force and gifted classrooms.

Furthermore, black students in Pinellas represent 68% of the students arrested for school related incidents.

Figure 7: Even though black students comprise less than 20% of students enrolled in Pinellas County schools, they make up almost 70% of school arrests.

And despite a downward 5-year trend of school arrests in Pinellas County, the county’s Relative Rate Index, a measure used to compare arrests of black juveniles versus white juveniles has been steadily increasing since 2010 (Florida Department of Juvenile Justice 2015).

Information gathered in the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice Disproportionate Minority Contact Benchmark report for the FY 2014-2015 measures the occurrences of juvenile interaction with the juvenile justice system. A Relative Rate Index score of 1.0 indicates that the rate of occurrence for white juveniles is the same as the rate of occurrence for minority juveniles. An RRI score greater than 1 indicates that the rate of occurrence is higher for minority juveniles than white juveniles, and vice versa for a RRI score less than 1.

Pinellas County has an RRI score of 6.2, making it the 4th highest in the state.

 Figure 8: The growing Relative Rate Index shows that racial disparities in school arrests and the juvenile justice system are increasing.


While I cannot definitively say that either the disparities in discipline practices nor the 2007 decision to end busing directly caused the lower academic performance in Pinellas County and the southern county schools specifically, national studies point to the conclusions that these phenomena negatively affect student performance.

Time spent engaged in academic learning and student performance have consistent positive correlations (Greenwood, Horton, & Utley 2002). The National Juvenile Justice Network found in 2015 that black students in Pinellas County had lost a combined 250,000 school days to out-of-school suspension.

In 2010, three researchers (Gregory, Skiba, and Noguera) studied the correlation of racial disparities in achievement and discipline and found that “Suspended students may become less bonded to school, less invested in school rules and course work, and subsequently, less motivated to achieve academic success.”

In 2016, a study concluded that 1/5 of black-white differences in school performance can be attributed to school suspensions (Perry & Morris 2016). Furthermore, the common narrative in support for the use of suspension holds that removing the disruptive students is necessary for the obedient students to succeed. However, exclusionary discipline measures (like out-of-school suspension and arrests) have been shown to hurt not only the disciplined students but even the non-suspended students (Perry & Morris, 2014). In their 2014 study, Perry and Morris discovered that when school’s suspended large numbers of student it has indirect adverse effects on the non-suspended students by creating a punitive environment within the school.

Seeing that Pinellas tops the list of districts in Florida for its use of suspension, the academic failure of its schools (and specifically its black students) should not come as any surprise. Indeed, while these phenomena hold true regardless of race, Pinellas’ disproportionate use of exclusionary discipline measures on black students undoubtedly contributes to the double-digit achievement gap.

Likewise, studies have shown that integrated schools can narrow the black-white achievement gap (Rothstein 2014). And like discipline reforms, focusing on integration benefits not only low-income, minority students like those in southern Pinellas County, but all students. In their report on the benefits of diversity in K-12 schools, Amy Stuart Wells, Lauren Fox, and Diana Cordova-Cobo find the following:

Researchers have documented that students’ exposure to other student who are different from themselves and the novel ideas and challenges that such exposure brings leads to improved cognitive skills, including critical thinking and problem solving.”


Pinellas County failed its black students in 2007 by voting to end integrative busing. But it continues to fail them every day by keeping policies in place that disproportionately hurt black students.

In order to move toward a more equitable system, Pinellas must abandon its use of exclusionary discipline practices. By implementing more specific guidelines for administrators to use before punishing a student, schools can work to bring down the number of suspensions, thereby creating a more positive school environment for all. Additionally, anti-bias training for teachers ought to be implemented as a way to decrease the disparity between black and white disciplinary actions (National Juvenile Justice Network 2015).

School Resource Officers should be likewise trained in anti-bias protocol and additionally in de-escalation techniques. When students are taken out of school for non-violent offenses, no one wins.

To address the stark achievement gap between black and white students and north and south county schools, there exists a few options.

  1. The county could reinstitute busing

This seems like an unpopular solution based on the public support for the end of busing and without a plan in place to avoid settin racial quotas, the county could inadvertently place itself in violation of the Parents Involved Supreme Court Decision.

  1. Students could be sorted by economic diversity

Studies have shown that creating economic diversity in schools allows student to receive some of the same benefits that going to a racially diverse school would give them (Schwartz 2009). Additionally, this method of integration is compliant with the Parents Involved ruling.

  1. Rework the allocation method for county funds

This could work to give south county schools the resources they need in the absence of wealthy community members. Metrics would need to take into account the wealth of the surrounding community. This policy would be difficult to implement within a county because taxpayers who are able move to more expensive neighborhoods to go to higher-achieving schools.

  1. An expansion of the county’s magnet and fundamental school programs

While this method has done a successful job in the past of creating more integrated schools, it raises the concern that although demographically the schools are desegregated, the school community is not as students exist in racially homogenous pockets.


Until the school board and community leaders can agree on a plan that institutes some combination of these proposals in Pinellas County Schools, the hyper-segregation that has plagued the district will continue to grow alongside the black-white achievement gap. It is no coincidence that these schools became failure factories once the county turned a blind eye to the importance of racial integration. If separate but equal didn’t work in 1954, it surely isn’t working for black children in 2017 Pinellas County.


Adams, Jane Meredith. 2015. “Study: Suspensions harm ‘well-    behaved’ kids” EdSource. January 8. Accessed April 30th, 2017.

Bureau of Economic Analysis. 2006. Per Capita Personal Income – Florida Counties, Florida and the U.S

Delbray-Pelot, Elizabeth H.. 2007. “NCLB’s Transfer Policy and Court-Ordered Desegregation.” Educational Policy. Vol 21, Issue 5, pp. 717-746.

Fitzpatrick, Cara, Gartner, Lisa, and LaForgia, Michael. 2015. “Failure Factories,” Tampa Bay Times, August 14.

Florida Department of Education. 2015. Closing the Achievement GAP. Interactive Report.

Florida Department of Education. 2006. School Accountability Reports.

Florida Department of Education. 2007. School Accountability Reports.

Florida Department of Education. 2008. School Accountability Reports.

Florida Department of Education. 2009. School Accountability Reports.

Florida Department of Education. 2010. School Accountability Reports.

Florida Department of Education. 2011. School Accountability Reports.3

Florida Department of Education. 2012. School Accountability Reports.

Florida Department of Education. 2013. School Accountability Reports.

Florida Department of Education. 2014. School Accountability Reports.

Florida Department of Juvenile Justice. 2015. Delinquencies in Schools 2013-2014.

Florida Department of Juvenile Justive. 2014. Racial and Ethnic Disparities Benchmark    Report  2012-2013.

Gregory, Anne, Skiba, Russell, & Noguera, Pedro. 2010. “The Achievement Gap and the Discipline Gap: Two Sides of the Same Coin?” Educational Researcher, Vol 39, Issue 1, pp. 59-68.

Janssen, J. (2001). An analysis of the legal and historical context of the Pinellas County  School District’s separation from court-ordered desegregation established in Bradley v. Board of Public Instruction. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of South Florida.

Morris, Edward W., and Perry, Brea L. 2016. “The Punishment Gap: School Suspension and Racial Disparities in Achievement.” Social Problems. Vol 3, Issue 1, pp. 68-86.

National Juvenile Justice Network. 2015. Pinellas County Schools Report Card.

Perry, Brea L., and Morris, Edward W. 2014. “Suspending Progress: Collateral Consequences of Exclusionary Punishment in Public Schools.” American Sociological Review. Vol 79, Issue 6, pp. 1067-1087.

Pinellas County Schools. 2017. Facts-at-a-Glance. Accessed May 3, 2017.

Pinellas County Schools Office of Assessment, Accountability and Research. 2015. Discipline Disparity.

Rothstein, Richard. 2014. “The Racial Achievement Gap, Segregated Schools, and Segregated Neighborhoods – A Constitutional Insult.” Economic Policy Institute. Vol 6 Issue 4

Schwartz, Heather. 2009. “Do poor children benefit academically from economic   integration in schools and neighborhoods? evidence from an affluent suburb’s affordable housing lotteries” PhD dissertation, Department of Philosophy, Columbia University,             New York City.

Wells, Amy Stuart, Fox, Lauren, and Gordova-Cobo, Diana. 2016. “How Racially Diverse Schools and Classrooms can Benefit All Students.” The Century Foundation.

Mentor for America: Exploring Unified Best Practices in After-School Mentoring Programs

Mentor for America: Exploring Unified Best Practices in After-School Mentoring Programs

Hannah Alexander and Laura Londoño


The United States experiences a strong culture of mentorship programs for all ages. Schools, churches, community centers, service groups, and universities set up opportunities for young people to engage with older, more experienced mentors that guide them through a wide range of life decisions and areas of personal growth. These mentoring relationships vary in core purpose, format, setting, frequency of meetings, and overall scope. Given the diverse nature of mentoring programs in the United States, this report explores the value and scalability of a specific mentoring model in which college students are paired with local middle school students in a three year program.


The Jones-Zimmerman Academic Mentoring Program, hereafter referred to as JZAMP, is a three year academic mentoring program that pairs college students at urban universities with local middle school students at risk of dropping out. This free after school program creates an environment in which local middle schoolers can further their academic and life skills while developing a close relationship with a college student wholly invested in their success. Our experience with JZAMP’s successes in building on the motivation of students who have committed to the program, combatting the trend toward low performance in math and reading, have inspired us to explore the expansion and scalability of this model currently concentrated in three Connecticut based  universities and their four corresponding middle schools.

In this report, we will couple our understanding and experience with the structure of the Jones Zimmerman Academic Mentoring Program with the Teach For America model. We will explore how TFA’s recruiting, training, and impact model can be applied in standardizing and scaling up three-year college mentoring programs throughout the United States.

Teach for America has a streamlined recruiting, placement, and training structure for its corps members. It provides on-campus recruiting at universities, encouraging college juniors and seniors of all academic backgrounds and interests to consider teaching. Beyond recruiting, Teach for America bridges the gap between new teachers and their placement schools through placement relationships and matching. This reduces the barrier between new teachers, and schools seeking to recruit new teachers, in working with one another. TFA additionally guides new teachers through training, certification, and preparation for their first day of teaching.

The aforementioned model allows Teach for America to place over 3,300 new corps members in schools throughout the country each year, providing them with a “skeleton” of tools they need to make a successful transition from college to the world of teaching. (TFA, 2017) Though different in nature, purpose, commitment level, and scope, this report will explore the ways in which TFA’s scaling model can be used to implement the J-Z AMP model throughout the country. More specifically, it will consider how a standardized method for recruiting and training college mentors for a three-year mentoring commitment can curb trends of low-impact programs throughout the country, changing the culture of mentorship altogether.


Mentoring Programs

Academic research pertaining to mentoring programs shows mixed results. In a meta-analytic review conducted by a group at the University of Missouri, it was determined that there was “evidence of only a modest or small benefit of program participation for the average youth.” (Allen et al., 2008) However, the data demonstrated that, “program effects are enhanced significantly, however, when greater numbers of both theory-based and empirically based ‘best practices’ are utilized and when strong relationships are formed between mentors and youth.” (Allen et al., 2008)

This data demonstrates an imminent need to disseminate, employ, and enforce these “theory-based and empirically based ‘best practices.” Perhaps more importantly, it alludes to “practices” that do not work, and a responsibility to ensure that they are not universally employed. Given the wide scope of mentoring programs in the United States, however, bad practices are both ubiquitous and diverse in nature. We now will briefly explore what some of these practices look like.

Models That Do and Don’t Work

In the study conducted by a group at the University of Missouri, it was determined that “best

practices coincided with “multifaceted intervention program[s]” where “mentoring is linked to other supportive services.” (More specifically, they are usually installed to promote “positive youth development” and/or “instrumental goals relating to areas such as education or employment.” (Allen et al., 2008) Thus, it has been determined that the general philosophy with which mentoring programs are founded and approached is relevant in determining its success rate.

In analyzing these philosophies, it is also relevant to explore philosophies as such that have led to failing programs. In an analysis of the educational impact of a mentoring program at Wesleyan University, several of these less effective program philosophies were exhumed. In their mission, the NEAT program states that, “The North End Action Team (NEAT) is a community-based organization whose mission is to empower residents and stakeholders to participate in and advocate for the interests of the North End neighborhood within Middletown, Connecticut.” (NEAT, 2017) This program’s philosophy does not fall under the two aforementioned categories that the University of Missouri qualified as “effective,” and thus might explain the reasons why its mentors felt dissatisfied in its effectiveness.

Beyond the content of the program and the services provided to the individuals involved, the structure and methods by which the program and its services are provided fall into the aforementioned “practices.” Among them, the methods by which mentors and mentees are recruited, the timing and frequency of mentoring sessions, the setting in which mentoring takes place, and the time allocation within mentoring sessions are relevant.

Assessing Effectiveness

Though these factors can be objectively observed and disentangled, the capacity to subjectively evaluate them is limited for several reasons. In the study conducted by the University of Missouri, the team pointed to to the difficulties involved with the “Assessment of Outcomes.” They state that, “the type of data source or informant utilized as well as the timing of outcomes assessment relative to the active period of program operation,” affect the already difficult process of evaluating the outcomes of varying “patterns of interaction’ from program to program.

Having addressed these challenges in assessing effectiveness in mentoring programs overall, in addition to “best practices,” we will outline four factors that will define the way in which this report identifies an effective mentoring program. They will be: consistency, goal-oriented philosophies, mentoring relationship strength, and purpose-driven program structures.

JZAMP within the context of mentoring programs overall:

JZAMP employs many of the aforementioned theory and empirically based best practices as well as strong relationships between mentors and youths to ensure a successful mentorship program, improving academic and social outcomes for the students involved.  The aspects of the program fall under the categories defined for assessing program effectiveness: consistency, goal oriented philosophies, mentoring relationship strength and purpose driven program structure.  For the purposes of this report, we will focus on the particular JZAMP site of Wexler-Grant Community School in New Haven, CT and its partner university, Yale.

Goal Oriented Philosophy:

JZAMP was created in 2000 when then Connecticut State Representative Reginald Jones partnered with fellow school board member John Zimmerman with the aim of combatting school drop-out rates. This goal oriented philosophy is the foundation upon which the other effective strategies the program employs are built. To combat school drop out rates, JZAMP seeks students who are below grade level proficiency in reading and math; the students are selected based on recommendations from their fifth grade teachers and results of standardized tests administered by the state of Connecticut. The tests determine the baseline of the students proficiency in math and reading and the teachers recommend students who are highly motivated to do better in these areas.

With this benchmark goal of increasing proficiency in reading and math to combat the risk of dropping out firmly in place, mentors can build  proficiency throughout the three years by setting smaller quarterly and semester goals of achievement for their mentees.  Concrete goal setting is important for both mentors and mentees because “seeing oneself gain progressive mastery strengthens personal efficacy, fosters efficient thinking and enhances performance attainments” (Bandura, 1993). This self efficacy in combination with goal setting contributes to academic attainments (Zimmerman, Bandura, Martinez-Pons, 1992).

Students gain confidence by meeting goals they set in conjunction with, and with the support of, their mentor and improve academically. Examples of smaller goals set by some mentors and their mentees range from general improvement of grades, to speed and accuracy with which students complete specific types of math and reading problems in homework, to increasing the amount of time spent focused on work during academic time. Setting and reaching these goals allow both the mentor and mentee to gauge their academic progress over time .


This goal oriented philosophy is reinforced by the consistency of the program, another area in which JZAMP maintains mentoring effectiveness.  Consistency is manifested both in the duration of the mentoring cycle as well as the frequency with which mentors and mentees work together.  Both mentors and mentees are recruited to JZAMP knowing that the program lasts for a full three years.  College students apply to mentor with the program at the end of their freshman year and are selected on the basis of their experience with tutoring and mentorship as well as their willingness to commit to the full three years of the program. During these three years, mentors and mentees meet twice a week for the duration of the school year–barring school holidays.  This year to year, week to week, and day to day consistency is crucial to the achievement of the aforementioned academic goals because mentorship has been shown to increase in effectiveness over time (Grossman and Rhodes, 2002). Grossman and Rhodes found in a 2002 study that the benefits of a mentoring relationship are best achieved if the relationship lasts at least one year (Grossman and Rhodes, 2002). JZAMP’s three year duration ensures that not only the minimal benefits of a mentoring relationship can be achieved, but that they can be maximized over an even longer period of time.

Mentor Relationship Strength:

Strong mentor-mentee relationships that are also core to the success of the program.  Herrera, Sipe and McClanahan identify eight characteristics that contribute to a strong mentoring relationship: mentor and mentee engagement in social activities; mentor and mentee engagement in academic activities; hours per month mentee and mentor spend together; decisions made about how mentors and mentees spend time; similarity of interests; prematch orientation and training; post match support and training from program staff; and age of the mentee (Herrera, Sipe, McClanahan, 2000). JZAMP builds mentor-mentee relationship strength along each of these eight metrics. The strong mentoring relationships of JZAMP are due in part to the duration of the program and the frequency with which mentors and mentees interact, discussed in the consistency section above. Engagement in social activities, academic activities, time management decisions, training, matching and support each fall under the category of purposeful program structure which will be discussed in the following section.

The mentor-mentee relationship is also strengthened by pairing mentees with mentors in a ratio no higher than 2:1. Because the mentor’s time is not split between many parties, the mentees receive more focused academic and social attention from their mentors. This focused attention allows mentors to tailor the time spent with their mentee or mentees to maximise effectiveness. In practice, this takes the form of concentrating on academic areas of weakness specific to the mentee or mentees;  pushing the mentee or mentees to move at a specific pace; or spending focused social time getting to know mentees on a personal level.

Purpose Driven Program Structure:

The effectiveness of JZAMP is also owed to the structure of the program, both at its higher programmatic level and in the day to day structure at the schools, for this section we will examine Wexler-Grant School in New Haven and its partner university, Yale, as a case study.

JZAMP at Yale is administered through the university’s undergraduate student lead community service organization, Dwight Hall.  Dwight Hall appoints a site director that acts as a liaison between the university and the foundation that supplies the funding for the program. Day to day operations of the program at the local middle school are administered by the student director appointed by the site director at Dwight Hall. This separation of overall programmatic administration from day to day operations at the school relieves the administrative burden on both parties, allowing for efficient running of the program.   The two act in conjunction, trading information and reinforcing each others roles to maximize program effectiveness.

The Dwight Hall site director acts as support for the program, providing training and resources to the student director and mentors. The site director oversees the program’s budget, accounting for mentor pay, funding for supplies and field trips. The director also oversees the period of onboarding and training each each year for the mentors during which data from the previous year are assessed and improvements and adjustments are made to ensure a better experience for mentees.

The student director acts as on the ground support for the mentors–interacting with school administration and teachers to smooth the day to day operations of the program. The student director acts as a resource for the mentors on site, facilitating communication with teachers about mentee progress and keeping the school administration abreast of program activities.

A day of JZAMP at Wexler-Grant is as follows:

2:00- Mentors arrive before the end of the school day and prepare by bringing JZAMP materials to the classroom used for the program.  Mentors arrive with any specific materials needed for that days activities and bring the materials left at the school to our mentoring site.  

2:10- School day ends and mentors usher their mentees to the classroom and wait until everyone has arrived.

2:20-2:40- Mentors and students go to the gym or outside if the weather permits to decompress after the school day and relax before resuming academic activities. This is a period during which mentors and mentees can interact in a more casual and social setting.  Mentors and mentees may play a game of basketball or tag, or sit and exchange stories about their days or engage in a discussion about current events. This is a time during which mentor and mentee relationships can be strengthened in a social setting.

2:40-3:00- Mentors and Mentees return to classroom for snacks, announcements and prepare for academic time.  During this period, the student director may make announcements about upcoming field trips or group activities. Students also have the opportunity to share about their lives in a larger group setting through “Rose, bud, thorn” an activity in which students share something good that happened, something they’re looking forward to, and something negative that has recently happened. During this time, mentors may poll the crowd about upcoming school assignments that mentees can work on.

3:00-4:00- Mentors work with mentees on homework and projects, or tutor to reinforce areas of academic weakness. During this time, mentors and their mentees break off into their assigned matches and work on whatever mentor and mentee agree should be done that day.  Mentors and mentees may employ goal setting by setting daily goals such as finishing x number of assignments or getting to a certain point in a larger homework packet assigned for the week. With both parties aware of  the daily goal, mentors can chart a pace for their mentees and provide support needed to succeed for the day. Shared goal setting and small group or one on one pairing lends the interaction a collaborative feel rather than a teacher-pupil hierarchy that strengthens mentor and mentee bonds.

4:00-4:30-Mentors lead a session of academic enrichment, the theme of which changes weekly, giving each mentor a chance to elect the theme of the week. Academic enrichment themes can include but are not limited to political debate, historical discussion, and recent scientific discoveries. This time is intended to encourage students to engage in intellectual pursuit outside of work assigned in school.  This time is opened with an introduction and transitions to an activity related to the topic, with the second day of mentoring building upon the first.

4:30-5:00 Mentors and mentees return to the gym or outside until transportation arrives to take students home.

This schedule is strictly followed each day of mentoring and ensures that mentees are getting the most out of their time with their mentors, both academically and socially.

These elements of consistency, goal oriented philosophy,mentoring relationship strength and purpose driven program structure have proven effective in improving academic outcomes for JZAMP mentees.  JZAMP has achieved its goal of combatting drop out rates. JZAMP’s first cohort graduated high school in 2008 and JZAMP participants had a graduation rate of 85% (JZAMP, 2016), higher than the state average of 79.2% (Lohman, 2011) for that year. JZAMP mentees at Wexler-Grant outperform their school peers in both school assessments and standardized testing; two JZAMP mentees scored the highest in the schools administration of the PSAT 8/9 test.

TFA Within the Context of Training and Disseminating Universal Practices

This report has already established the fundamental differences between TFA and mentoring programs like J-Z AMP. It has indicated that the TFA model will be used in order to extrapolate methods by which mentoring “best practices” could be universally employed and applied. In this section, we will more concretely evaluate what elements of the TFA model would be most effectively applied to a “Mentor for America” model. This section will briefly elaborate on concrete elements of these practices to be implemented.

Broad Scope

Teach for America is both applauded and criticized for its broad recruiting efforts. More specifically, Teach for America seeks to encourage a diverse range of college students– regardless of their background or academic interests– in order to pull from a significant pool that selects for competitive applicants. At the point in which it most invested in recruiting, around 2013, Teach for America, “attracted 57,000 applicants, yielding a corps that year of 5,800 teachers.” (Washington Post, 2016)

This data begs questions pertaining to the reach with which Teach for America recruits. Critics argue that because of its mission to recruit in high numbers, Teach for America focuses marketing on people who are not necessarily interested in education, affecting TFA’s retention rate. (Donaldson, Johnson, 2011) These critics might cite the fact that more than two thirds of TFA teachers leave their positions at public schools beyond their two-year commitment. (Donaldson, Johnson) However, this data is limited given its framing. Though two thirds of TFA teachers leave their positions after their two year commitment, almost 90% of them remain in their positions during the first two years. We will now briefly explore this paradox, arguing that it is okay that a majority of teachers leave after their two year commitment given the leverage that this provides TFA in its recruiting efforts.

In analyzing this data, it is relevant to further explore the methods by which TFA goes about recruiting at this scope. One of the main marketing efforts that TFA employs in this effort is its emphasis on “exit options.” By “exit options,” we refer to the cues that it provides potential corps members pertaining to ways in which TFA will expand, rather than stunt, their future alternative career options. On one of its alternating website tiles, TFA emphasizes that corps members will, “join an extraordinary, diverse network 53,000 strong tackling inequity from every sector.” (TFA, 2017)

TFA asserts to its potential corps members that TFA will not lock them into a career path in teaching, using the fact that they can leave after two years as a selling point. Through we have explored the reasons why critics find this problematic, this report will argue that this framing and emphasis is beneficial.

This method is practical and beneficial for several reasons. Given that it targets people beyond those seeking to enter an education track, it increases its numbers substantially. TFA does this knowing that there is a teacher shortage, and that finding people that are good teachers, and who can fill the gaps in today’s teacher deficit, requires a broad selection method. This type of recruiting emphasizes the fact that effective teachers come in many different “shapes and sizes,” and that it is in many bests interests to welcome and acquire a diverse pool of teachers. By embracing the fact that their goal is not to commit teachers for a lifetime of teaching, TFA maximizes its ability to recruit a pool of diverse and effective teachers.

Establishing Commitment & Constant Contact

Recruiting a high number and wide variety of corps members does not cause Teach for America to compromise in its high expectations for corps members. From the beginning of its recruiting path for corps members, it ensures commitment through a high-level investment threshold on the part of the potential new corps member.

In practice, this means that Teach for America develops a constant feedback relationship with its corps members, establishing a level of commitment that goes beyond average onboarding practices.

From its application process, TFA requires new corps members to dedicate time to submitting personal statements, answering purpose questionnaires, and complete activities that require upwards of five hours. (TFA, 2017) After the application process, TFA requires all potential new corps members to conduct a day-long in-person interview that is tiered to challenge the applicant’s individual and collaborative background, goals, and intentions. (Glassdoor, 2016)

Once corps members are hired, the methods by which they are prepared to teach in classrooms vary from region to region. In TFA’s New York Region, for example, new corps members are required to attend multiple preparation webinars, upload videos pertaining to their intentions and goals, and participate in a busy “grooming” process where they are prepared for the licensing process and placement. (Teacher Certification Degrees, 2017)

In analyzing this process, it is relevant to extrapolate the broad factors of consistency, commitment, and contact. Teach for America ensures teacher commitment— amounting at the previously cited 90% retention rate during the two-year placement– through creating a process of substantial investment on behalf of its new teachers.

Self-Evaluative Tools

Teach for America is capable of holding its large pool of new corps mentors universally accountable through its methods of self-reflection and evaluation. More tangibly speaking, TFA’s “Teaching As Leadership Comprehensive Rubric” is a model of the ways in which TFA requires and perpetuates the importance and magnitude of this process. (Teaching as Leadership, 2017) This rubric provides new corps members with the framework from which to set goals that are tangible and tiered; they seek to assure that new teachers constantly improve themselves through self-evaluation and incrementally higher goals.

The “Self-Evaluative Tools” element of Teach for America’s  “universal practices” is perhaps one of the most worthy of extrapolation and ubiquitous implementation. This is due to the fact that it ensures constant increased output from each of its new teachers and staff members, thus generating optimal results for children in classrooms.

Combining the Two: Scalability of Good Mentoring


This report has extrapolated “best practices” from J-Z AMP, mentoring programs at large, and Teach for America in order to consider the ways in which the United States could improve statistics that currently demonstrate the ineffective nature of youth mentoring programs. (Aben et al., 2006) This section will explore how these aspects can be tangibly combined in order to improve mentoring programs nationwide.

In implementing a program with such goals and practices, we propose a large-scale, centralized mentoring institution that recruits, trains, and places mentors in localized regions. These regions are broken down into campuses and schools of contact. However, the process of creating such a hierarchy allows for the “universal best practices” implemented by TFA to be disseminated throughout the United States.

Mentor for America will recruit, train, and place college-aged mentors within partner schools throughout the country, seeking to universalize the effective strategies and structures utilized in JZ AMP. It will use universities, as does TFA, as the centers in which these actors are prepared to effectively mentor in schools. The ultimate goal of this organization will be to implement the best practices of JZ AMP and TFA to universalize good mentoring throughout the United States, and change the status quo of mixed successes in the variety of programs that currently exist in the country.

Potential Problems

The implementation of the expansion of JZAMP following the TFA scalability model is not without  potential problems.  Scaling any program, despite its effectiveness and organization at the micro level, will have its problematic areas at the macro level.

The first potential problematic area may arise in funding the program. JZAMP is funded through a grant from the Jones-Zimmerman Foundation to pay for all costs associated with the program. Securing adequate funding to run the program on a larger scale may be difficult.  This could be mitigated by addressing the need for funding through each university’s Dwight Hall equivalent.

The existence of a Dwight Hall like entity within each university is also unlikely and may cause problems in implementation. Embedding JZAMP at Dwight Hall aids in the smooth running of the program, but may not be necessary.  There would have to me extensive structure building at the new universities to accommodate a program of this type.  


Existing literature pertaining to mentoring programs in the United States shows mixed results with regard to their effectiveness. At this point, the benefits of mentoring programs are not concretely defined or discernable, and many studies point to net losses. This report identified one of the reasons for these existing results: given an absence of ubiquitous best practices, mentoring programs fall on a broad spectrum of general success.

Due to the broad range of mentoring programs and corresponding success rates in the United States, this report has considered the ways in which uniting best practices pertaining to mentoring, and those pertaining to running an effective, nation-wide educational program (TFA), might increase success rates of mentoring programs around the country.

From a proscriptive standpoint, this report has suggested the implementation of a mentoring-based program modeled after the best practices of Teach for America’s recruiting, training, and placement practices and JZ AMP mentoring techniques called Mentor for America.

Moving forward, there is room to consider the practical elements of implementing a program such as Mentor for America. More specifically, it will be relevant to consider financing, fundraising, staffing, leadership hierarchies, and distribution channels. Though these factors have not been examined at this point, the theoretical evidence of the need and projected success rate of such a program has been established in this report.

Works Cited


Bandura, A. (1993). Perceived self-efficacy in cognitive development and functioning. Educational psychologist, 28(2), 117-148.

Director, Judith Lohman Assistant. DIFFERENCES IN GRADUATION RATES FOR THE CLASS OF 2008. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 May 2017.

Grossman, J. B., & Rhodes, J. E. (2002). The test of time: Predictors and effects of duration in youth mentoring relationships. American journal of community psychology, 30(2), 199-219.

Herrera, C., Sipe, C. L., & McClanahan, W. S. (2000). Mentoring school-age children: Relationship development in community-based and school-based programs.

“How to Apply.” Teach For America. N.p., 24 Apr. 2017. Web. 04 May 2017.

“J-Z AMP™ – About Us.” About J-Z AMP. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 May 2017.

Morgaen L. Donaldson and Susan Moore Johnson, Phi Delta Kappan. “TFA Teachers: How Long Do They Teach? Why Do They Leave?” Education Week. N.p., 10 Mar. 2017. Web. 04 May 2017.

“New York Teacher Certification and Licensing Guide 2017.” Teacher Certification Degrees. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 May 2017.

North End Action Team. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 May 2017.

North End Action Team. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 May 2017.

Post, The Washington. “Teach for America Retools Efforts to Recruit Top Prospects.” N.p., 01 June 2016. Web. 04 May 2017.

“So Why You?” Teach For America. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 May 2017.

“Teach for America Interview Questions.” Glassdoor. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 May 2017.

“Teaching Leadership Skills.” (n.d.): n. pag. Web.

Zimmerman, B. J., Bandura, A., & Martinez-Pons, M. (1992). Self-motivation for academic attainment: The role of self-efficacy beliefs and personal goal setting. American educational research journal, 29(3), 663-676.

Bilingual Education in Connecticut: Failing Those Who Need Us

         One of the most controversial topics in the history of American education has been Bilingual Education or ESL education. In the 1980s, the U.S. English movement sought to make English the official language in the United States. Fortunately, the country has mostly moved away from this rhetoric that was mostly anti-immigrant and a lot of the policy now recognizes the importance of valuing native languages and seeks to preserve them. Despite these monumental advances, the education of bilingual students continues to be undermined and attacked by many factors. For the purposes of this policy memo, I will focus on the state of Connecticut. The education of (English Language Learner) ELL students continues to be underserved by the state.

The number of students in the state of Connecticut continues to expand, but it is still identified as a program that is suffering from a variety of factors. The state is currently facing a teacher shortage (not enough qualified candidates are applying for the positions available in bilingual education). They continue to underperform on state tests when compared to native English speakers and they have lower graduation rates. They are in diagnosed with a learning disability at a higher rate than the national rate, and they are more likely to be disciplined or suspended than the rest of the student body. Connecticut State Department of Education, 2015a). The English Learners site on the Connecticut State Department of Education (CSDE) page has very few resources for families in their native languages (Connecticut State Department of Education, 2017c). Finally, although the CSDE highlights the importance of getting all students to be excelling students, there are no resources on the website to help them or their teachers know about the college process for someone with limited English proficiency. In this policy memo, I will focus on a few proposals that encourage the advancement of this group of students so they can take their rightful place as members of our community.

We must encourage a certification process that allows qualified teachers from other states to move easily to Connecticut and to start teaching as soon as possible. We must try to reflect the demographics of the children in the staff. We must increase the number of months that ELL students can have in a bilingual program from 30 months to 60 months when possible and introduce Dual Language Bilingual Education Program in districts where one language is overwhelmingly dominant among the ELL students. We must increase the amount of money that the state invests on ELL/Bilingual education—it is currently $54.52 annually per child (Candelaria and Roldán, 2015). We must Improve the English Learners page on the CSDE website so students and parents can access it easily. We must believe that these students can get into competitive colleges and provide services that allow them to take the TOEFL exam if they are eligible. We must add a page on the CSDE website that provides not just information for them, but also for their families, counselors, teachers, and principals about the available options for higher education. All districts must also be instructed to create these pages on their websites.


Bilingual education has had a turbulent history in the United States. States and the country have not always been receptive to the idea of encouraging the teaching of a language other than English. The great expansion of the United States during the nineteenth and early twentieth century brought pride to Americans, but also fear. U.S. officials wanted all Americans to have something in common, and they looked at the possibility of an official language. This also put emphasis on making “American” mean assimilation of language and culture (García Garrido & Fernández Álvarez, 2011).  “In 1968, Congress passed an amendment to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965 known as the Bilingual Education Act” (Kim, Y., Hutchison L. A., & Winsler A., 2015, p. 239). This helped ELLs receive services in their native languages. In the 1980s the U.S. English movement identified a bilingual country as a threat to America and its identity (García Garrido & Fernández Álvarez).

In the early 1990s, the opposition for bilingual education, at least at the federal level, dwindled. Unfortunately, as soon as President W. Bush came into office, he undermined bilingual education. Congress passed the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) in 2001 (San Miguel, 2004). This act put pressure on bilingual programs to prioritize the learning of English (Kim, et al., 2015). It imposed penalties on schools that failed to make “adequate yearly progress” or to test less than 95 percent of students (García Garrido & Fernández Álvarez, 2011, p. 52).  It did not address the shortage of teachers for ELL programs (San Miguel, 2004). The passage of Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) by President Obama in 2015 granted more freedom to states on testing, but it required them to track students, especially high-need students. It “requires—for the first time—that all students in America be taught to high academic standards that will prepare them to succeed in college and careers” (U.S. Department of Education, 2017). It has now allowed for ELLs to be tested in their dominant language or at least have access to translation tools during assessments. (Taylor, 2016).

In the state of Connecticut, students are entitled to receive bilingual education if in a given school there are at least twenty students in the same language group who have been identified as ELL. (Connecticut State Department of Education, 2015c). If a school has less than twenty students, or if the student’s parents have opted out of the bilingual program in the school, the school is still required to grant ELLs access to an ESL classroom. This means that even though English in the language of instruction, it still focuses on obtaining English proficiency and  mastery of the subject matter. According to Section 10-4a of the Connecticut General Statutes states, every child must receive a “suitable program of educational experiences,” and this has been interpreted as an obligation of the state to provide adequate ELL education.  (Connecticut State Department of Education, 2017b). There is “no state legislation that mandates and describes specific requirements of a English as a Second Language program,” the Civil Rights Act of 1964 requires that all states provide suh services (Connecticut State Department of Education, 2015c, p. 7). Although the state has to ensure support for these students, there are a variety of options to do so and I provide a small glimpse of the most popular programs used in the state.

In previous decades, schools practiced “submersion” (A.k.a sink-or-swim) methods where ELL students were placed in an all-English classroom all day every day. Thankfully, this program was deemed illegal after a U.s. Supreme Court case( Lau v. Nichols-– 1974). The second method most used is English as a Second Language (a.k.a. ESL). Students attend classes in English but they are pulled out of the classroom to work with ESL certified teachers. The third option is the Transitional Bilingual Education program. Instruction is in the student’s native language and in English and as the year progresses, the use of the native language is decreased while English is used more. A fourth option is the Developmental Bilingual Education program. Although this program is very similar to TBE programs, its goal is bilingualism and biliteracy. This program is normally a 5 year program that is hardly feasible in the state because ELLs are restricted to 3 years of ELL education. Finally, there are Two-way Bilingual Programs. The goal of this program is to put English-speaking students and ELL students who belong to the same language group and get them to achieve bilingualism. Instructors need to teach in both languages. Students benefit from the program the longer they find themselves in it and in the state of Connecticut, the students can remain in it indefinitely (as opposed to having a limit of 30 months like in the other programs) (Connecticut State Department of Education, 2015c, pg. 18-19).

The state of Connecticut must take on the tough task to provide a rigorous and rewarding education to ELL students. It must make sure that its students are ready to go into the world and be able to interact within their communities. The Connecticut State Department of Education is aware of many of the crises in bilingual education across the state. In the following section I identify key demographic characteristics of ELLs and also some of the problems facing bilingual education in the state of Connecticut.

Evidence/Data Analysis

Who is an ELL? Who determines if they need an EL program? How?  

Identification of English Learners

“English learners must be identified within 30 days after the beginning of the school year or within the first two weeks following their enrollment if it occurs during the year” (Connecticut State Department of Education, 2015c, p. 10). Upon enrollment, all parents/guardians must complete the Home Language Survey which inquires about the languages the kid has been exposed to at home.  Secondly, the school must administer a language proficiency test. The Language Assessment Scales (LAS Links) allows the student to be tested in English and his/her/their native language. The results of this exam, or other components of the student;s academic standing could be considered to determine whether or not the child is an English Learner (Connecticut State Department of Education, 2010). [ref] 

Schools now administer the Smarter Balance Assessment which is considered a more rigorous test to only allow students who possess the necessary oral and academic skills to succeed in a regular classroom (Connecticut State Department of Education, 2015a) [ref]

Most Dominant Language

(Connecticut State Department of Education, 2015a, p. 1)  

Spanish is the most common native language among ELLs (72.4 percent of ELL students) (Connecticut State Department of Education, 2015a).
Free and Reduced Lunch

“ELs were more than twice as likely as others to be eligible for free or reduced-price meals (76.8 percent compared with 35 percent), illuminating that many ELLs have multiple service needs” (Connecticut State Department of Education, 2015a, p. 4).

ELLs with Disabilities

This is one of the most challenging areas of ELL education. Several reports have exposed the high levels of disabilities that are found among english learners. In 2011, the Connecticut Administrators of Programs for English Language Learners published a handbook. In one of their sections, they caution teachers to be careful about over-identification of learning disabilities, but it also warned teachers that to wait several years to report could be incredibly detrimental for an ELL with a disability. Unfortunately, “[since 2010], the numbers of ELs who were identified for special education increased by 36.1 percent, compared with a 5.8 percent increase for others.” (Connecticut State Department of Education, 2015a, p. 5)

Discipline Levels

ELL students tend to suffer high levels of expulsion or suspension. For example, in “the 2013–14 school year, the suspension/expulsion rate was higher for ELs than for all students (10.6 percent versus 7.5 percent), meaning that a higher percentage of all ELs received at least one of these sanctions than all students” (Connecticut State Department of Education, 2015a, p. 7).  This seemed to correlate with progress made in English Language proficiency. “Only 37.2 percent of ELs who were either suspended or expelled demonstrated progress in English language acquisition compared with 59.4 percent for all ELs (Connecticut State Department of Education, 2015a, p. 8).

Where are they?

Connecticut state had 34,833 ELLs in 173 public local educational agencies (LEAs) in the 2014-2015 school year. Most of ELLs are in Education Reform Alliance Districts. [ref] “Education Reform Alliance Districts are Connecticut’s 30 lowest-performing districts. The Alliance District program is a unique and targeted investment in these districts to dramatically increase student outcomes and close achievement gaps by pursuing bold and innovative reforms.” (Connecticut State Department of Education, 2017a) [ref]

(Connecticut State Department of Education, 2015a). Over 60 percent of all ELLs were in grades K-5, but in the last four years, the largest numeric growth has been in high school with 1,109 students. 79.8 percent have been in Spanish and 8.6 have been in Arabic (Connecticut State Department of Education, 2015a, pg. 3).

Are they going to school?

It has been proven that absenteeism has detrimental effects on the academic performance of students and their high school graduation rates (Balfanz & Byrnes, 2012). It is particularly disheartening to know that the ELL student body in the 2013-2014 school year showed to have higher rates of chronic absenteeism than English speakers (Gopalakrishnan, 2014).

(Gopalakrishnan, 2014, p. 9).
It is clear to see in this table that not only are ELLs more likely to be impacted by chronic absenteeism, but the other identities that heavily overlap with the ELL category are also disproportionately affected by this phenomenon. In other words, most ELLs tend to have hispanic heritage and this is the race/ethnicity, most affected by chronic absenteeism. ELLs overwhelmingly benefit from free meals, and that is the group of students who are more likely to suffer from chronic absenteeism. Although most ELL in the state of Connecticut can be found in ≤5th grade, according to the Connecticut State Department of Education, “in the last four years [2011-2015], the largest numeric increase in ELs occurred in high school” (Connecticut State Department of Education, 2015a, p. 4). This already marginalized community is more likely to be a victim of chronic absenteeism if the children are in high school–which can be the case for many immigrants.

How are they doing in school?
The arrival of new technology allows states to clearly look at how well a particular student understands the subject matter regardless of whether or not he/she/they is proficient in English. Unfortunately, we are still not seeing the desired outcomes in ELLs. One of the few good things that the passage of the No Child Left behind law created was the annual tracking of deserving students (e.g. students of color and ELLs) to make sure that districts could not ignore these neglected communities. During the NCLB era, ELLs students heavily underperformed when compared to their English-speaking counterparts (Connecticut State Department of Education, 2015a). In 2015, schools had the opportunity to use the Smarter Balanced Assessment (SAB) and little changed. This test allows Math exams to be taken in Spanish or provides directions in a variety of languages (Smarter Balanced: Assessment Consortium, 2016). These accommodations, however, had little effect on improving the scores of ELLs. The CSDE released the SAB test scores of the 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 school years for English Language Arts (ELA) and Math [ref] Children continue to use the Connecticut Mastery Test (CMT: grades 3–9) and the Connecticut Academic Performance Test (CAPT: grades 10–12) for science (Cheshire Public Schools, 2017). [ref]  (Connecticut State Department of Education, 2016c).

Although all subgroups seemed to improve, it is no time for celebration. ELL students in Connecticut are the subgroup with the lowest performance even with exams in their language.
Furthermore, “Connecticut students who learn English as a second language drop out of high school at a rate higher than any other New England state, according to an analysis by the New England Secondary School Consortium” (Desroches, 2015).

Teacher Shortage: Where are the (Qualified) Teachers?

Connecticut has struggled to find and retain qualified teachers for ELL programs since 2004. One of the biggest problems is that teachers cannot simply move from one state to another and start teaching. The certification requirements could be very different, deterring qualified teachers from moving into the state. Also, bilingual certification is still considered a “secondary” certification. This means that teachers must first get a regular teacher certification and then choose to take more courses and become a bilingual teacher (Sanchez, 2015). Currently, Connecticut’s bilingual programs cannot seem to find qualified teachers.

[ref]  “Applicant pool ratings: 1) Few or minimally qualified applicants; 2) Some acceptable applicants; 3) Many acceptable applicants; 4) Some high-quality applicants; 5) Many high-quality applicants” (Connecticut State Department of Education, 2015b. p. 6). [ref]

“The CSDE Bureau of Data Collection, Research and Evaluation and the Bureau of Educator Standards and certification collaborated to develop a methodology to identify teacher shortage areas.” These factors included the number of people renewing or receiving CT certificates, how many long-term substitutes (serving for longer than 40 days) were in each field, the median number of credentialed applicants per available position, and how many minimally qualified hires had to be done, and how many positions the schools were unable to fill with qualified applicants (Connecticut State Department of Education, 2015b. p. 7).

In 2015, the state passed a bill that attempted to address this shortage. The bill mandates the state to create or join an interstate agreement so as to reduce the years of experience that out-of-state teachers need to be certified (two years and not three). Applicants in shortage areas (like in ELL education) receive a 90-day temporary teacher certificate. The state budget allocated $3 million dollars for bilingual education for the 2015-2016 school year. ($1.1 Million more than 2014-2015). The budget was expected to increase to $3.5 million in 2016-2017 (Rigg, 2015). Unfortunately, the final budget was $3.16 million.

It is facing all of these obstacles that ELLs are expected to go to school and be hopeful about their future in this education system. In the following section I explain some of the strategies that the CSDE must employ to guarantee a rigorous and promising education to these children.

Policy Alternatives/Recommendations:

Teacher Shortage: A lot of the scholarship urges the state to create collaborate with other states and to develop a certification process that allows teachers to move easily from state to state. As tempting as this option sounds it does not address the fact that the entire country is suffering a  shortage of qualified bilingual teachers (Camera, 2015). To encourage people to go into bilingual education, we must make the certification process worthwhile. While we might still keep bilingual certification as a secondary path, we can allow teachers who choose to become bilingual teachers to have loan forgiveness for their regular certification program if they choose to receive it from one of the Approved Educator Preparation Programs in the state (Connecticut State Department of Education, 2016a). Hopefully this allows teachers of color who might not have the means to put themselves through college to become bilingual teachers and to teach in communities that look like them. It has been extensively proven that teachers of color can have higher expectations from their students. They could help their students with “cultural shock” given that many ELL students tend to be immigrants or children of immigrants. This could also help increase the retention of teachers in this field (Summerhill, 2016).

Connecticut currently allows people Teach for America to teach bilingual classes and it also allows the Area Cooperative Educational Services (ACES) to offer Alternate Route to Certification for Teachers of English Language Learners (ARCTELL). This program is only a few months long. It costs $4,800.00 plus $75.00 (application). This program does not offer financial aid because it does not participate in Federal student aid programs (Area Cooperative Educational Services, 2017). We should invest in financial aid and make this program as accessible as possible while keeping in mind that this is not a great solution. If the state invests in this program, it should do so carefully.

Timeline of ELL Education: The English Language Acquisition and Educational Equity Work Group (formed by the Connecticut General Assembly) released a report in 2015 with recommendations to improve Bilingual Education in the state. The group concluded that ELLs must have access to 60 and not only 30 months of bilingual instruction and that to make this shift, the state must collaborate with institutions of higher education to develop adequate standards. They emphasized the importance of including the culture of the children into instruction and to include the families of the students as much as possible (Candelaria & Roldán, 2015). While I agree with these recommendations, I must also emphasize the importance of having an Bilingual program for children who arrive at to United States while they are in high school and cannot take full advantage of the extended period of time. I see this being a challenging program to implement, however, as a state, we cannot guarantee that when these kids graduate that they will be able to go to college or find a good job if they have not mastered the language. It is our duty to make sure that that they have a chance to have a good life.

I see this program being smaller, so the students may come from high schools across the same city. We could hire extra bilingual teachers, especially those who get their certification through alternative programs, so they can have more practice.

Dual Language Bilingual Education Program: In the “background:” section of this Policy memo, I introduced the different ways in which “bilingual education” takes place in the state of Connecticut. Dual Language Bilingual Education programs have long been revered as the golden model to teach bilingual education that benefits all students. This program, however, is recommended at a very young age. It requires a minimum of 4 to 6 year of bilingual instruction, so researchers advocate for a program that starts in the first grade. 50% of the instruction must be in English. There must at least be a 50:50 ratio of only-English-speakers and ELLs in the classroom. This strategy definitely needs well prepared teachers. So it might be hard to implement in the current shortage crisis. The teacher must be able to foster positive interactions among students (Candelaria & Roldán, 2015). Given that the majority of ELLs in the state of Connecticut live in cities like Hartford, New Haven and Bridgeport (Connecticut State Department of Education, 2012), these programs must start here with Spanish/English. They could give an advantage to only-English speaking children in these cities to have access to a new language. It could also help ELLs integrate into a new culture and to share theirs more easily.

English Learners page on the CSDE website: In the course of this Policy memo, I visited the English Learners page on the CSDE website many times ( The website lists a variety of sources but most of them seem to be catered for policy makers, teachers and administrators. These are very important to have, however, a ELL student or much less his non-English speaking family would be able to navigate this website. This limits the agency that these communities could exert over the kind of bilingual education that their kids could get. It keeps them from being advocates and from feeling welcomed in this state. This is particularly important because “parent permission is necessary to enter a student into or to continue a student in ESL/bilingual education services and program and to refuse or remove a student from ESL/Bilingual Education services and programs” (Connecticut State Department of Education, 2015c). We must make sure that all the websites in Education Reform Alliance Districts’ Schools can be translated to the native languages of the ELLs students in that district.

Going to College: The English Learners site on the CSDE website makes no mention of the college path for ELLs. It makes no mention of the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL). Given that many ELLs might be immigrants, knowing about the TOEFL might be important if they are considering college. It is a very expensive test ($190.00 in the United States). You only need a high school diploma to take it and universities like Yale accept it as long as the taker is “not a native English-speaker and [has] not taken at least two years of secondary education where English is the medium of instruction, Yale strongly recommends that [he/she/they] take any one of the proficiency tests listed below [among them TOEFL] (Yale University, 2017). These kinds of opportunities could change how teachers, schools and districts as a whole see English Learners. They should aspire to go to college and if they get to the United States as a junior in High School, the state must do all it can to grant them a chance to see those dreams come true. According to the New England Secondary School Consortium, in 2013 English Language learners had lower college persistence than their non-ELL counterparts (74.9% as opposed to 87.2%) (Desroches, 2015).


Education has never been an easy problem to solve but as citizens who aspire to see a democratic country, we must do our best to reach this ideal. We have been short on this promise when it comes to ELLs. Throughout this Policy Memo I attempted to highlight the many obstacles that these children face in our state of Connecticut. Many of them came to the country and must face what it means to be away from home and craft your own in a new place. They also suffer from poverty, academic challenges, unqualified members of staff, etc. These factors sometimes mount to low graduation rates, suspensions, expulsions, low-college attendances, that simply replicate the cycles of poverty that put them there in the first place. I hope that my contributions in this policy memo not only express how disappointed I am with the state of Connecticut for failing so many children and families, but that I also offer possible solutions to these problems. I hope I empowered not only more teachers to go into bilingual education, but I hope I emphasized the importance of having teachers of color in bilingual classrooms as opposed to only more bilingual teachers. I hope I moved away the popular narrative that blames the state for failing to graduate students who can master the English language and that instead, I raised the expectations we must have for these children. We must put more resources into getting these students to college; we must include their families in the discussion of their education and assure them that that not speaking English could be an asset to the state and our country and not a setback.


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The Liminal Presence of Arabic in American Public Schools

Executive Summary

        In American schools, Arabic is not a widely taught language; one would be hard-pressed to find schools that offer the language, especially into the more advanced levels. However, despite Arabic’s rarity, schools exist from across the spectrum that offer it, sometimes in the most unexpected of places. These unique schools span private, magnet, charter, public, and dual-immersion schools, and, while concentrated on the coasts of the U.S., will crop up right in the midst of central, rural America.

        Of these American schools that offer Arabic as a foreign language, however, a disproportionate number tends to be private or magnet schools. Schools that serve predominantly privileged students are far more inclined to offer what can be considered a more contentious language than the widely taught Spanish or French languages, or even Chinese. On the other hand, public schools that try to implement the teaching of the Arabic language more often than not become mired in controversy and source of controversy themselves.

        In light of this phenomena, as well as a multitude of reasons relating to the utility of exposure to Arabic that will be later extrapolated more in-depth, there should be a future push to further include the Arabic language within foreign language study at public schools, and ideally in public schools in rural and potentially more intolerant places, given the recent rise of a fiercely nativist and xenophobic attitude towards immigrants and especially Islam-practicing people, many of who originate or whose families originate from Arabic-speaking countries. Specifically, large cities should make policies that create and protect Arabic language programs for public schools in order to increase the accessibility of the language and stymie prevalent prejudices. 


        The Arabic language is the fifth most spoken language in the world, with an estimated 250 million native speakers (Lane). Yet, as prolific and widely spoken as Arabic is, it is all but unheard of in the choices of foreign languages given to American students across the country. In comparison, the Chinese and Spanish languages (the first and second most spoken, respectively) abound in classrooms, along with French, which does not even make the top ten most spoken languages. In fact, when there are 250 million native speakers of Arabic, it seems almost anachronistic to teach French at the scale that it is currently taught in American schools.

        Moreover, Arabic is also the fastest growing language in the U.S. In fact, according to a Pew Research Center report, the number of Arabic-speaking people ages 5 or older grew by 29% from 2010 to 2014 to a total of 1.1 million speakers in the U.S., although advocacy groups like the Arab American Institute place an estimate at about 3.7 million Arab people in the U.S. with ability in the Arabic language (Brown 2016; Demographics).

SourcePew Research Center

The data above shows the number of students enrolled in foreign language programs at American universities. Arabic is one of the fastest growing languages in speakers and popularity in the US. Source: Modern Language Association

Despite the magnitude of Arabic speakers and its rapid increase in the U.S., it is not a popular foreign language to be taught in American schools. This even extends to the realm of higher education; according to the Modern Language Association of America, in 2013, Arabic had one of the lowest percentages of enrollments in advanced levels in United States institutions of higher education, on par with American Sign Language and Latin (Goldberg et al. 2015). But unlike higher education institutions, the availability of learning the Arabic language is limited or nonexistent for American students below the age of eighteen. However, some precedents do exist.


        In American schools at large, there exists a very obvious trend to the teaching of Arabic. In 2009, there were approximately 220 private and private charter schools in the U.S. teaching Arabic,  in comparison to only approximately 93 public and public charter schools(Schools Directory). Indeed, while public schools have yet to strongly introduce Arabic into their curricula, several private schools have already established strong Arabic programs. For instance, according to the website of Friends Seminary in New York City, the school offers five levels of Arabic study, culminating in a class taught in full Arabic (World Languages: Ancient and Modern). The language there is becoming a more popular choice among students since being introduced in 2008, and even incorporates some Arab pop culture that the students would likely otherwise go unexposed to (Dominus 2010). Similarly, schools such as the all-male private Brunswick School in Greenwich, Connecticut and the private Choate Rosemary Hall in Wallingford also offer Arabic to their students (Holtz 2006). Several magnet schools also offer Arabic, such as the Metropolitan Business High School in New Haven and the Center for Global Studies in Norwalk, at least in the fall of 2006 (Holtz 2006). However, as it will be later mentioned, Arabic programs are prone to obstacles and failure, especially outside the private realm. But as for Arabic programs in public schools, the precedents are as varied as they come.

        At the selective end of the scale is elite public high school Stuyvesant in New York City, where a student-organized push for Arabic in 2004 led to the language being offered alongside a multitude of other less commonly taught languages (Bahrampour 2004). But even at Stuyvesant, there were obstacles in introducing Arabic as an elective: it took the school’s Muslim Student Association three years and a lot of fundraising to put the idea into motion, even after comparably uncommon but arguably less pertinent languages like German, Japanese, Hebrew, and Korean had long been offered. (Levin 2005). But if the obstacles of getting Arabic into Stuyvesant were tough, the challenges other public schools have faced are more or less insurmountable.

        At the forefront of public schools embroiled in the battle to instruct Arabic is a public school in Brooklyn called the Khalil Gibran International Academy. A small public school that was founded in part by the New Visions for Public Schools organization in New York City, its mission to “develop, maintain, and graduate life-long learners who have a deep understanding of different cultural perspectives, a love of learning and a desire for excellence with integrity” was brought to a halt by backlash (About Our School).

A 2007 protest in favor of Khalil Gibran International Academy. Source: In These Times

Expected to be an Arabic-English dual-language program and a promising start for instruction in the Arabic language, the school in its infancy of the spring of 2007 began to feel the wrath of bigots and critics alike. Only months after plans for the school were announced, vocal administrators and parents at neighboring school PS 282 in Park Slope, the originally planned area for the school, forced KGIA to move to a new location (Bosman & Medina 2007). Even Diane Ravitch “questioned why the city should have specialized language and cultural schools at all”. But the most vicious attacks would come from a now-defunct neoconservative newspaper called the New York Sun which published an op-ed by Daniel Pipes, a director of a right-wing neoconservative think tank and vehement enemy to Arabic instruction (Wessler 2009). Calling the school a “madrassa”, an Arabic word for a school that has connotations with Islamist extremism, Pipes said of the school, “Arabic-language instruction is inevitably laden with…Islamist baggage”. Not soon afterwards, a group formed called the Stop the Madrassa Community Coalition sprang up and also began to attack Khalil Gibran Academy and its founding principal, Debbie Almontaser, who was eventually forced to resign due to an incident involving a t-shirt reading “Intifada NYC” (intifada being an Arabic word associated with Palestinian uprisings against Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza), despite the t-shirt not relating to the school in the slightest. Due to the ruthless attacks of Pipes and Stop the Madrassa, Almontaser was forced to resign from the school she helped to found and enrollment at the new school plummeted.  

       Consequently, the discussion on Middle Eastern culture and history as well as instruction in Arabic was significantly cut back on in class, with teachers going so far as to cut pictures of mosques out of textbooks in fear of retribution. A former student of the school is quoted as saying, “I know there are so many people being racist against the school. I don’t read the articles, but everyone is against learning Arabic as a second language”. On the current site for the Khalil Gibran International Academy, the only mention of Arabic instruction anywhere on the website is one sentence at the end of information page: “Through our English and Arabic language program, students graduate with the bilingual and bi-literate skills needed for multicultural contexts” (About Our School). Nowhere else is it found.

        Similar to this experience was an effort to implement a language programs for Arabic in public schools in San Francisco. In an interview with Lara Kiswani, the executive director of Arab Resource & Organizing Center in San Francisco and leader of the effort, parallels are in fact made with the plight and virtual failure of Khalil Gibran in the face of racism and xenophobia. However, in San Francisco, the implementation of the Arabic program has yet to get off the ground, since the process has nearly constantly been stalled by a wealthy, private, pro-Israel institution called Jewish Community Relations Council that seeks to attack and marginalize anything it perceives to be critical of Israel (Sokolower 2017). On top of this obstacle, there has been some opposition to the program, along with the implementation of a Vietnamese language program, among the teaching staff of the schools to be affected by the implementation; they sent petitions to the district saying that they did not want to attract more Arab or Vietnamese families and change the demographics of their schools.

        Comparable attacks can be seen elsewhere. The Glenn Beck-founded conservative platform The Blaze levelled criticism at the New York City public elementary school PS 368 after it was announced that the principal planned to introduce Arabic instruction requirement for all grades in order to boost the school’s standing and enrich the students’ education. Says the author, “Rather than focusing on more common (some would argue even more useful) languages like French or Spanish, [the principal] has chosen Arabic in an effort to achieve an International Baccalaureate, which would apparently be a wonderful sentiment for the school’s reputation” (Hallowell 2012). As a reminder, Arabic is the fifth most spoken language worldwide.


Data & Proposal

        And yet amid all of criticism and protest leveraged against the Arabic language being taught in public schools, there have been instances of success. Although not a program in a public school, the High School Cooperative Language Program at Yale University has offered classes in Arabic to New Haven high school students for twenty years (Holtz 2006). And while the program does have a tuition, it specifically gives students in the New Haven public school system the chance to learn uncommon languages, Arabic among them, for free (Zorthian 2013). In Northern Virginia, amid rising SAT scores and graduation rates in the same district, elementary schools in Fairfax county will have the option to teach Arabic as a language courtesy of a program called FLES (Foreign Language in Elementary Schools). Specifically, Beech Tree elementary school already introduced the Arabic language into its curriculum (Benton 2007). In Kalona, Iowa, with a population of approximately 2,200, is Kalona Elementary, a public school mainly populated by the children of either Mennonite families or of long-settled German and Czech groups. Due to an acquisition of a federal grant through the Foreign Language Acquisition Program, Kalona Elementary then began teaching Arabic to its students, imparting aspects of Arab culture while scrupulously trying to avoid mention of religion of any sort (Freedman 2008). And though the school has faced some early opposition from the town—questions of why Iowa children should be learning the “language of the enemy”—the program seems successful not only in educating the students in a foreign language but promoting a cultural education rarely seen in American schools.

        Then there is the Arabic Immersion Magnet School (AIMS) in Houston, Texas. Despite being a magnet school (although the school considers itself a Houston Independent School District public elementary school), it is still noteworthy in its aspect of Arabic immersion; aside from Khalil Gibran, which has all but moved away from the original dual-language intent, and one of the only of its kind (Our Mission). Although this school also faced protest (“You’re taking little babies here, you’re taking little Pre-K, and you’re not allowing them to participate in the American family by assimilating them”, one of the protestors commented), AIMS seems to be thriving (Isensee 2016).

Source: Houston Press

Beyond the success of previous Arabic language instruction programs, there exists a plethora of reasons to teach public school children Arabic. It listed by the Central Intelligence Agency as a critical language, and is thereby not only sought out by the government, but also may allow learners to more easily get government jobs (CIA Values Language Capabilities Among Employees).  In a very broad sense, early language exposure and a multilingual environment may enhance the empathy and effective communication of children, who then carry those skills into adulthood (Fan et al. 2015). And with Arabic, the advantages only multiply, especially in the context of learning about and empathizing with Arabic-speaking cultures which are especially demonized in this day and age, considering the xenophobic platform upon which our current president ran and Executive Order 13769, otherwise known as Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States (six out of the seven countries included in the immigration ban are Arab countries). In light of this, the U.S. is almost certainly going to be involved, whether via conflict or diplomacy, in the Arab world, and ability in Arabic will only become more pertinent.

        And it is these reasons that build up the base of the proposal to push for more Arabic education in public schools, especially beginning in elementary school. In order to put this into motion, the governments of larger coastal cities where the Arab populations are larger should allocate more money for grants to give to elementary schools to specifically begin teaching Arabic, and remain in support of Arabic language programs even in the midst of opposition from xenophobic critics and wealthy, private organizations alike (Demographics). These are the obstacles in particular that led to downfall of the Khalil Gibran International Academy and thwarted the efforts to create the Arabic language pathway in San Francisco; in removing these, implementation of Arabic instruction will likely become much easier. And in the long-term, popularization of the Arabic languages in larger cities may incite further programs in more rural areas of the U.S., with the potential for more Kalona Elementaries to crop up.


        The teaching of the Arabic language in American public schools is both highly contentious and incredibly important. In terms of current global events to even simple cultural enrichment and empathy, the ability to speak and understand Arabic is invaluable. And yet, because of near constant protest and pushback, Arabic instruction remains firmly rooted in private and charter schools, accessible mainly to the wealthy and privileged. If policies by large cities such as San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, or New York City were to be made to create and protect public Arabic programs, the aforementioned limited accessibility would come to an end, and perhaps the current tide of xenophobic sentiment towards the Arab world could be convinced to reevaluate its stance.


        I would like to thank Clare Kambhu for being an awesome TA and Professor Mira Debs for being a wonderful instructor for an extremely important class. Many thanks also to my peer editors Alejandra Corona Ortega and Mariana Suárez-Rebling.

Works Cited

“About Us – Khalil Gibran HS.” 2017. Khalil Gibran High School. Accessed April 29.

“Arabic-K12 Teachers Network – Schools Directory.” 2009. The National Capital Language Resource Center. Accessed April 28.

Bahrampour, Tara. 2004. “NEIGHBORHOOD REPORT: NEW YORK SCHOOLS; Arabic Is in the News. How About at Stuyvesant?” The New York Times, February 1.

Benton, Nicholas F. 2007. “New Chinese, Arabic Language Focus in N. Va Public Schools.” Falls Church News-Press Online. August 29.

Bosman, Julie, and Jennifer Medina. 2007. “How New Arabic School Aroused Old Rivalries.” The New York Times, August 15.

Brown, Anna. 2016. “The Challenges of Translating the U.S. Census Questionnaire into Arabic.” Pew Research Center. June 3.

“CIA Values Language Capabilities Among Employees — Central Intelligence Agency.” 2010. Central Intelligence Agency.

“Demographics.” 2017. Arab American Institute. Accessed April 28.

Dominus, Susan. 2010. “Interest Grows in Arabic Class at Friends Seminary.” The New York Times, June 11.

Fan, Samantha P., Zoe Liberman, Boaz Keysar, and Katherine D. Kinzler. 2015. “The Exposure Advantage: Early Exposure to a Multilingual Environment Promotes Effective Communication.” Psychological Science 26 (7): 1090–97. doi:10.1177/0956797615574699.

Freedman, Samuel G. 2008. “Bridging Cultures, and Taking Arabic to Iowa.” The New York Times, January 2.

Goldberg, David, Dennis Looney, and Natalia Lusin. 2015. “Enrollments in Languages Other Than English in United States Institutions of Higher Education, Fall 2013” Accessed April 28.

Hallowell, Billy. 2012. “NYC Public School Mandates Arabic Language Studies for All 2nd Through 5th Graders.” TheBlaze. May 24.

Holtz, Jeff. 2006. “THE WEEK; Arabic Language Classes Are Added at High Schools.” The New York Times, August 6.

Isensee, Laura. 2016. Arabic Immersion Magnet School Opens Doors Amid Protest. News 88.7 Education Desk. Houston.

Lane, James. 2017. “The 10 Most Spoken Languages in the World.” The Babbel Magazine. Accessed April 28.

Levin, Sara G. 2005. “Stuyvesant Muslim Students Now Able to Study Arabic.” The Villager. September.

“School Information / Our Mission.” 2017. Arabic Immersion Magnet School. Accessed April 29.

Sokolower, Jody. 2017. “Advocating for Arabic • An Interview with Lara Kiswani.” Rethinking Schools.

Wessler, Seth. 2009. “Silenced in the Classroom.”

“World Languages: Ancient and Modern.” 2017. Friends Seminary. Accessed April 28.

Zorthian, Julia. 2013. “CT Students to Take Languages Courses on Campus.” Yale Daily News. September 26.

The Boys Are Back: All-Boys Education in New Haven and Beyond

Otis Baker
Professor Mira Debs
EDST 245: Public Schools and Public Policy


        People often attribute the achievement gap between boys and girls to learning differences between the sexes [1]. One way educators address these differences is by placing boys into single gender classrooms. An all-boys school is seen as a way to tailor education to the specific learning needs of boys. According to the UCLA Center for Mental Health in Schools, all-boys schools do provide advantages. They make boys less competitive, and more collaborative. The report also concludes that all-boys schools are better at providing same gender role models and makes for a less distracting learning environment [2]. All-boys schools have the ability to reverse educational trends for males, especially in environments where they may have more distractions or fewer role models.  

In New Haven, Dr. Boise Kimber believes so. Dr. Kimber believes that such an environment could help young Black boys in New Haven achieve more than the current education statistics show. He has recently proposed an all-boys school, focused on young men of color in New Haven. There are now strong factions in support of Dr. Kimber and his plan as well as factions in opposition. After analyzing his plan to help these students and then evaluating his model, I believe Dr. Kimber’s plan is certainly noble and deserves its desired funding. However, based on the results of its model schools any future plan should include strong measures for accountability of the academy.

The State of Current Affairs

        In 2013, the state of Connecticut published a report boasting about the current status of education in Connecticut. It highlighted that higher percentages of students were graduating high school than in years past.

Figure 1: Chart compares state vs. district graduation rates for specific groups

The report boasted an 84% graduation rate for all students, a 2.1% increase from 2011. The rate of graduation for Black students in Connecticut was 73%, a 1.3% increase [3].  This report was encouraging but misleading. The city of New Haven fell significantly short of the rest of the state. In the fine print (a link to the rest of the data) the survey provided the graduation rate for students in New Haven. In the Elm City, 70% of all students graduated, 14% lower than Connecticut at large. While the rest of the state might be improving, New Haven is falling behind. The discrepancy between the district and the state was not even across all student student groups. There were small reductions in the rates of graduation for Asian and white students, but the largest change was in male students vs. female students. The state graduation for males in Connecticut is nearly 82%. In New Haven, that rate for males drops to 63%, an alarming 19% decrease [4]. The drop for females in New Haven is only 10% below females statewide. In terms of Black males, the graduation rate in the state of Connecticut is 53% [5]. The datas show two trends. New Haven is significantly behind the state in education. And, the ones suffering the most are Black males.

        There are several possible explanations for why male students in New Haven are suffering. One of the principal explanations is that Black males are poorly represented in the teacher force. In 2013, of 1,883 teachers in the New Haven school district, only 56 of them were Black males. The New Haven district students are 42% Black and 41% Hispanic [6]. There is a mismatch between the number of minority male students in New Haven and the number of minority male teachers. The potential implications of this gap extend beyond simply having a diverse workforce. Young Black and Hispanic males have fewer teachers that they can view as role models who look like them. A Johns Hopkins report found that young Black boys that have at least one black teacher from grades 3-5 have a 39% lower chance of dropping out of high school. The study also discovered that these same boys have a 29% increase in college matriculation.[7] Black students, especially young Black males benefit immensely from having Black teachers as role models. One teacher interviewed for Through Our Eyes, a study on Black teachers, offers an explanation: “I think we don’t have the trust barrier sometimes that other teachers of a different ethnicity may” [8]. Black students, especially males, benefit from having a trusted advisor with shared experiences. This trust translates to students being more willing to engage in and out of the classroom as well. In New Haven, there is a substantial shortage of Black Male teachers, which is likely a primary contributor to the lower graduation rates of Black male students.

Violence is a contributor to the lower graduation rates of Black males. In 2013, of the 20 homicides that occurred in New Haven, 9 of the victims were between 18-23 years old.[9] Of these 20 homicides, 17 of the victims were Black. Though these victims were just beyond the age of high school graduation, the evidence shows that violence is prevalent around young males in New Haven. Gun Violence in these urban areas distracts students from their studies. Obviously, gun violence can result in traumatic experiences. But it can also create an atmosphere of hyper alertness, making students stress about details like their route to school [10]. This violence can lead many away from school and often into destructive behaviors and pursuits. Spending time in juvenile detention lowers the rate of high school graduation by 13% according to a study by MIT [11]. The prevalence of violence and crime in New Haven magnifies the need for more guidance, structure, and mentorship to keep young males away from crime and in school.

Dr. Kimber’s Proposed Solution

        Dr. Boise Kimber, a pastor at the First Calvary Baptist Church in New Haven, first envisioned an all-boys school for young Black men in New Haven in 2007. He had become extremely concerned with the opportunities and paths laid out for young men of color in his larger community [12]. He knew that as the achievement gap between Blacks and Whites in New Haven schools grew, too many Black boys were being left behind, dropping out of school, and turning to lives of crime or unemployment. He saw that there was a lack of mentorship for boys of color and a dearth of educators who looked like them. Dr. Kimber felt that these factors were all intertwined. So, he decided that he wanted to create a school that could do something about it. He told an interviewer that he, “wanted to create an environment where boys of color in New Haven could participate in a structured environment where they could learn to become young men. Young men with a purpose. Young men being men in this 21st century.” Kimber’s vision manifested itself into what he called C.M. Cofield Academy [13].

Kimber envisioned C.M. Cofield Academy as a school that would serve at-risk boys of color in New Haven. He wanted to model the school after the mission of Morehouse College, the historically Black Men’s college in Atlanta: “to develop men with disciplined minds to lead lives of leadership and service by emphasizing the intellectual and character development of its students and by assuming a special responsibility for teaching the history and culture of black people.”[14] The all-boys school would have a strict uniform policy, and it would focus on teaching both academics and values like responsibility and discipline. Kimber’s school would also have predominantly Black male teachers, providing an image of role models who are positive contributors to their community and beyond. When Kimber originally proposed the school, he wanted to make it a state-funded charter school. The New Haven Board of Education (BOE) rejected his original proposal citing “too many charters” as the reason for its failure. Kimber has now returned to the BOE several times with different elements to the proposal. He has achieved a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the New Haven division of the American Federation of Teachers to build the school and has now proposed it as an inter-district charter run by the New Haven BOE, the first of its kind in New Haven. Kimber is modeling the structure of the school on Eagle Academy, which operates six all-boys schools of predominantly boys of color in and around New York City. These schools focus on mentorship for at-risk youth and work to achieve many of Kimber’s same goals [15].

Many of the modifications Kimber has made to his proposal are specifically to gain Board approval and move forward. He plans to start with approximately 60-80 students, divided into just 4 classrooms. He claims that the school will not require the construction of any new building, but rather will utilize rented space. This means that the school would likely not require any “new” funding. Instead, Kimber and his supporters propose that the district redirect existing education dollars to fund the school. Ultimately, Kimber hopes that the board will approve his proposal and hire an outside consultant to formalize a partnership between C.M. Cofield and the Eagle Academy Network. This would finally grant him a contract of education, making the C.M. Cofield Academy official [16]. There are several members of the BOE currently in opposition to Dr. Kimber’s proposal. The biggest obstacle for the plan is a question of per student funding. Because C.M. Cofield plans on being an inter-district charter, monitored by the New Haven BOE, it cannot receive per student state funding. Instead, the New Haven school district must pay for each student. This would be a smaller problem if Kimber didn’t insist on the policy of accepting students from other districts. The BOE is hesitant to accept a proposal for where the New Haven taxpayers would have to pay for other district’s students [17]. However, Kimber still contends that opposition from the BOE is personal, not because board members believe that the plan fails to help close the achievement gap in New Haven. However, Kimber also has some supporters for the school. Mayor Toni Harp has endorsed the idea. She believes that the BOE should have an open mind on different ways of addressing the achievement gap.[18] Kimber expects that with the election of two new BOE members, the proposal will finally be approved in January of 2018.

Eagle Academies and the Model

        The original Eagle Academy was founded in 2004 in the South Bronx. The school was founded by the 100 Black Men of America group and David Banks, who now serves as the president of the Eagle Academy Foundation. The group’s mission is to improve conditions for young Black men in their communities with the motto “what they see is what they’ll be” [19]. Banks and the group set up the school with the belief that boys learn differently than girls and need more guidance and mentorship, especially in at-risk communities. The original Eagle Academy then spawned the creation of several other Eagle Academies around New York City, as well as one in Newark, New Jersey.

The schools have several general practices that push these goals forward. The Eagle Academies aim to create a strong sense of brotherhood through unique traditions and rituals. The students at Eagle Academies attend town hall meetings each morning where they discuss current issues in their community and beyond. They close each of these meetings with “libations” where boys water a tree and give thanks to people in their life. Finally they all recite William Ernest Henley’s Invictus before the start of classes.[20] The students also compete in academics and service through a “house” system. Students earn points for their house by achievement in and out of the classroom. These all contribute to the school’s goal of creating brotherhood.

        Eagle Academies also work to foster significant parent involvement with schooling. Each school has a parent liaison that is a full time employee dedicated to helping parents understand what is going on at school and explaining how they can help their sons. Two other key elements to the Eagle Academies’ approach are early college preparation and Black male teachers who come from the business world. Early college preparation for Eagle Academy students sets forth goals to work towards. Having these specific goals makes it more likely that the students continue their education after high school. But arguably the most important feature at Eagle Academies is the presence of strong black male role models for the students. The Eagle Academies believe that the young men of color need to see the world of possibilities through strong Black male mentors. These mentors inspire the students to believe that these positions in society and in their community are not just possible for them, but expected of them [21].

        The mission of Eagle Academies is rosy, but in practice many of the results of the school are not as inspiring. In a survey provided to all parents and teachers in the New York Public School system, Eagle Academy often scored lower than its surrounding borough, the Bronx, and the citywide average. Eagle Academy received only a 70% positive rating for rigorous instruction while the borough and city averages were 79% and 81%, respectively [22]. Eagle Academy’s reviews on providing a supportive environment were even more concerning than their ratings academic for rigor. Supposedly a key component of the school, only 63% of survey respondents believed the school provided an adequately supportive environment in which its students could achieve. This number was also lower than the borough and city averages. Graduation rate was the one area where the school had more success. Eagle Academy was able to graduate 79% of students compared with a 70% graduation rate of schools in similar environments. Eagle Academy also beat the borough and city graduation rate averages. A concerning corollary to this graduation rate statistic is that of the Eagle Academy graduates, only 12% passed a college preparedness examination. Surrounding schools serving similar demographics averaged 25% [23].

Figure 2: Eagle Academy statistics compared to NYC counterparts

The primary conclusion that this data suggests is that Eagle Academies are not academically rigorous. This could be a result of prioritizing keeping students in school rather than discouraging students by having them fail. The other troubling conclusion is that the reviews of the school environment were not overwhelmingly positive. This might not be a structural problem with Eagle Academies and their mission, but rather a problem of leadership and personnel. Regardless, it is concerning that the school is not able to definitively achieve one of the initiatives that it cites as a primary goal.


        It is impossible to argue that Dr. Kimber’s vision is not a noble one. He believes in young Black men, and he believes in creating a system through which they are placed on a better path to succeed. However, it is still unclear whether the C.M. Cofield Academy, as proposed, is the best way to achieve that. The potential pitfalls of Kimber’s plan are many. The Eagle Academy model shows that while Kimber’s school could succeed in its goal of engaging young men of color and keeping them in school, it is possible that the students remain unprepared for college or other secondary education. Kimber also could have difficulty attracting Black men from the business world, an essential element of the mentorship component in the Eagle Academy model.

C.M. Cofield Academy has many advantages over its intended model, the Eagle Academies. Kimber’s school, as it is currently proposed, aims to serve a small group of students. Therefore, Kimber would have to find fewer exemplary Black male teachers. The smaller scale would also make it easier for administrators and the Board of Education in New Haven to monitor the school. C.M. Cofield could be accountable for its smaller number of students and work at a micro level to make a strong impact on the at-risk young men of New Haven.

To close, I would make the following policy recommendation: I would approve Dr. Kimber’s plan for C.M. Cofield Academy. However, I would place strict accountability policies on the school for academic rigor. I would also place the school on a trial program that grants them a conditional contract for education for 4-5 years, at which point the Board of Education re-evaluates the school’s contract. I think Kimber’s plan could make a significant impact on a the young males of New Haven, but it needs to proceed with the proper accountability measures placed on both academic achievement and on C.M. Cofield Academy’s adherence to Eagle Academy’s focus on mentorship for at-risk boys.  


  1. National Education Association.Research spotlight on single-gender education
  2. Yayang Xiong, C.Single sex education.
  3. CT Department of Ed. (2015). Connecticut 2014 cohort graduation rate
  4. Ibid.
  5. John, P. (2015). The schott 50 state report on public education and black males.
  6. Bailey, M. (2013, ). Out of 1,883 teachers, 56 black males. New Haven Independent
  7. Rosen, J. (2017). Black students who have at least one black teacher are more likely to graduate.
  8. Griffin, Ashley and Hilary Tackie. 2016. Through Our Eyes: Perspectives and Reflections From Black Teachers. Education Trust.
  9. Ortiz, J. (2016, ).New haven homicides and shooting down in 2016. New Haven Register
  10. Quick, K. (2016).Gun violence puts education under fire, stifling achievement. Retrieved from
  11. Dizikes, P. (2015). Study: Juvenile incarceration yields less schooling, more crime.
  12. Baker, O. (2017). Interview with Dr. Boise Kimber
  13. Ibid.
  14. Ibid.
  15. Ibid.
  16. Ibid.
  17. Bass, P. (2017, ). Kimber swings back at school critics.New Haven Independent
  18. Baker, O. (2017). Interview with Dr. Boise Kimber
  19. 100 black men of america. (2017). Retrieved from
  20. Eagle Academy Bronx. (2016). Traditions. Retrieved from
  21. Ibid.
  22. NYC Dept. of Education. (2016). 2015-16 school quality snapshot.().NYC DOE.
  23. Ibid.


100 black men of america. (2017). Retrieved from

Bailey, M. (2013, ). Out of 1,883 teachers, 56 black males  . New Haven Independent

Baker, O. (2017). Interview with dr. boise kimber

Bass, P. (2017, ). Kimber swings back at school critics. New Haven Independent

CT Department of Ed. (2015). Connecticut 2014 cohort graduation rate. ().

Dizikes, P. (2015). Study: Juvenile incarceration yields less schooling, more crime. Retrieved from

EAFNY. (2016). The eagle academy foundation. Retrieved from

Eagle Academy Bronx. (2016). Traditions. Retrieved from

Liu, M. (2017, ). Kimber’s charter sparks creed backlash. New Haven Independent

National Education Association.Research spotlight on single-gender education. Retrieved from

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What can we learn from the Perkins Act?: Assessing vocational schools’ performance standards and accountability measures

See PDF of paper here.

Executive Summary / Introduction

The Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Improvement Act was signed into law in 2006. As a reauthorization of the original 1984 Perkins Act, the purpose of this law was to promote the further development of career and technical education and to create accountability system to understand state and school performance. While other reports have detailed many elements of Perkins accountability, this report is the first to assess them alongside broader accountability trends in education policy. In this report, we examine this accountability system in the context of vocational education and current accountability measures. Ultimately, we make two large-scale recommendations: first, we recommend that the model used for Perkins performance standards be adopted for all public schools; second, we propose a fused model of Perkins accountability and No Child Left Behind accountability measures in response to these performance standards.


Vocational schools

Vocational schools in the United States refer almost exclusively to secondary and postsecondary institutions designed to provide students with a skilled trade, as opposed to the academic-focused programs of traditional high schools and universities. While some high schools and universities incorporate vocational training, true vocational schools are generally distinguished from traditional four-year colleges. The primary difference (other than career paths and opportunities) between vocational schools and traditional colleges is the time and investment it takes to complete the education. Traditional universities generally take at least four years to complete and can cost upwards of $200,000 dollars for tuition alone. Vocational institutions will take usually take one to two years and only cost about $33,000 on average. A huge reason for the time and investment disparities is that universities require students to enroll in a broad range of classes that may not have to do with the student’s intended field of study. Vocational schools will focus exclusively on the student’s intended field of study dealing with her particular trade. Effective vocational schools can propel a student into a rewarding career path, while ineffective ones can severely limit a student’s post-secondary career/educational options. Vocational schools at the secondary level are similar in purpose to post-secondary institutions, but function within the school district system. Consequently, they are subject to state/federal funding and regulations.

There are over 11,000 vocational secondary schools and 2,600 post-secondary vocational schools with over 14 million students enrolled at the institutions across the country. Critics of vocational schools often point to the absence of academics and an overfocus of programs on simply getting people to work. Particularly at the secondary level, when the students are not adults in need of a carer and just high school students, this can have some negative implications. One negative implication is tracking. Tracking is a major criticism of secondary vocational programs. Putting students, especially low income students, on a certain path can steer kids away from opportunities, such as a traditional university,  in education in favor of their learned trade. This can lead to increases in educational inequality and discourage future generations of low income students from pursuing a traditional university education. Vocational schools are also sometimes viewed as institutions where low income students are pushed who cannot succeed in traditional academic settings. As a result of administrative neglect, students who become victims of tacking can become outpaced by their peers career-wise and financial-wise. Additionally, because of the increased demand for vocational schools, for-profit vocational programs have entered the educational market. These schools are potentially more expensive and unaccredited, which poses a financial risk to low-income students on federal loans that may be targets for these predatory programs.

Advocates of vocational schools point to the extensive on-paper benefits of vocational schools. The cost of investment is certainly lower, and advocates may even argue that this presents a better situation for low income students who would otherwise be unable to afford a traditional education. An absence of college debt and an increased likelihood of finding a job outweighs any negatives that are found with tracking students. It is no secret that some college graduates are in higher demands than others, and not all majors are going to guarantee a high paying job, or any job, upon graduation. The more pessimistic statistics point to as much as 50% of college graduates being unemployed or underemployed.

It is important to note there is a distinction between secondary and post-secondary vocational institutions. Secondary vocational schools are public high schools that may offer the same advantages of any traditional high school – AP classes, the opportunity to participate in sports and other extracurricular activities. There exists opportunity for both technical and and academic training, where students get to test the theory behind the academics that they are studying. Additionally students still have the opportunity to attend college upon graduation. Advocates will additionally point to students being able to explore different fields of study as an opportunity to make a more informed decision regarding their college endeavors.

Accountability standards

With any allocation of funding from the federal level, there is some attempted measure of accountability, that comes with it. Accountability in secondary education in the United States can come from many levels, from the school to federal mandates. The most obvious example of a recent push for (and against) accountability can be found in the implementation and removal of Common Core into and from curriculums across the country. While Common Core had national implications, it started out as a movement at the state and local levels. It was proposed partially in response to different educational standards and benchmarks across state lines that resulted from No Child Left Behind, which allowed different states to set their own metrics for accountability. Consequently, some states set higher standards for education than others. This resulted in a number of issues, one of which is the discrepancy in performance based funding. The intent of performance based funding involves tying a positive correlation of student performance with funding to these schools. The purpose is to more efficiently allocate funding to schools with key student performance benchmarks to incentivize continued, improved measurable performance of students and schools. Performance based funding empowers individual schools and school administrators to more effectively allocate state funding in areas that they deem most impactful to student performance. These investments would ideally result in continued success and more desired results. Incentivizing schools by offering them monetary awards can potentially promote school growth, competition, and ultimately lead to better schools.

However, when the roads of individualized state standards and performance based funding cross, issues can arise. Currently, there are 35 states that are instituting some kind of performance based funding. With a system involving so many states, it is going to have national implications. The idea of performance based funding is generally an easy sell to most people and politicians, given its relatively simple theory. The better you do, the better your schools is funded, the better you keep doing. The benefits of school competition can be highlighted, and this will overall improve education in the United States. Unfortunately, the situation is much more complicated than it appears at the surface. A report from the Century Foundation indicates that despite the intentions of performance based funding, such practices failed to yield long-term benefits to schools that received this funding. Perhaps performance based funding can have an impact in issues where the problem facing a school is not multi-faceted, but this is rarely the case. Issues that impede school progress and development are likely highly complex and require a variety of different practices and policies to result in sustained high performance. They can exacerbate inequality when already high-achieving and well-funded schools are judged based on this system, leaving behind lower-performing schools that that will have a harder time adapting to new standards. They do not address issues of inequality and do not take into account the relative starting points for each school. Under No Child Left Behind, they also provided state and school administrators the opportunity to set  their own standards, which caused some states to lower standards to seemingly increase their performance (see Figure 1). Performance based funding can certainly play a role in incentivizing school performance, but its success will be limited if it fully takes over the role of accountability for public schools.

Figure 1. State performance standards under No Child Left Behind, 2005.

The Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act

There has been increased support from the federal government for vocational education at the secondary level in the United States, particularly with the authorization of the Perkins Act in 1984 and its reauthorization in 1998 and 2006. Carl D. Perkins was a Democrat from Kentucky who served in the House of Representatives. He was a strong support of technical education, and his legacy can be found in both the Perkins Loan and the Perkins Act. While colloquially referred to as vocational education, new wording in the law changes the vernacular from “vocational” to “career and technical education”.

Perhaps the most impactful aspect of the law makes federal funding available for career and technical education to high school students and adults. The federal government allocates almost $1.3 billion to the Perkins Act every year, which is administered under the Department of Education’s Department of Vocational and Adult Education. These grants are allocated to the states and are intended to develop state and local career and technical education. Perkins Basic State Grants are given directly to the states that determine their own method for funding to school districts and postsecondary vocational schools. States are allowed complete discrepancy in allocation of funds between these secondary and postsecondary institutions. Further delegation of funding occurs when states are required by law to distribute a minimum of 85% of their federal funding to local programs and districts.

The federal government does require that the method of resource allocation be advantageous to disadvantaged schools and low income students. This needs-based allocation method must be explicitly stated in the law. The most flexible aspect of the law comes from the remaining 15%, which are earmarked for “leadership” and “administrative” activities. This funding is not required to be distributed to the local level. Overall, however, the newest reauthorization of the Perkins law enables more local flexibility than previous versions. It also requires states to set specific and reliable accountability standards. It requires secondary schools to be accountable to the “Perkins Core Indicators of Performance”. These include standard academic achievement in traditional subjects such as reading and mathematics, their technical school attainment, graduation, and post-secondary vocational school placement.

Accountability under the Perkins Act

An essential element of the Perkins Act is its set of accountability measures, which are used to ensure that recipients of federal funding from Perkins grants produce quality educational outcomes for students.

High school programs are held accountable to three criteria: academic achievement and high school graduation rates, technical skill attainment, and transitions to college, employment or the military. States are required to use their No Child Left Behind accountability standards, focusing on achievement in math and English, and high school graduate rates.

Technical skill attainment is measured via industry-recognized standards to ensure that they are rigorous and are translatable to skills used in post-graduation employment. Virginia’s Department of Education, for example, uses a High School Industry Credentialing initiative that requires students to complete a recognized industry certification or receive a state-issued professional license in order to graduate high school. Where industry-standards are not available, states are required to justify the validity and reliability of their chosen assessment system.

Beyond this, states have the authority to determine their own performance indicators and yearly targets. These targets are established at the state level, and then again at the local level. If states or schools do not meet their performance target, they are required by law to develop a plan of action as to how it will improve its performance. However, the federal government is not required to impose sanctions on any career or technical program on the basis of not meeting its yearly performance targets. Rather, the Perkins Act requires the federal government to provide “technical assistance” to allow schools to better their programs. The terms of this assistance are left to the federal government and individual schools.

Reporting of accountability data occurs at both the local and state level. The data is separated by categories established in the No Child Left Behind Act. The data is analyzed at the state and local levels based on performance gaps across student subpopulations. However, neither local schools nor states are held accountable for student performance according to subgroup categories.

There are many benefits to the design of the most recent authorization of the Perkins Act. First, its performance indicators are relevant to its mission — it uses industry standards and postgraduate pathways to determine whether students have been prepared for college and/or career. It also is focused on alignment between state and school accountability.

At the same time, there exist several drawbacks to the implementation of this act. First, states have experienced difficulty in collecting accurate data on performance indicators. The requirement to track post-employment plans in particular presents an obstacle, in that it can only collect data via surveys so as to not violate FERPA privacy protections for students. Second, CTE’s lack of consequences for performance gaps in subpopulations present an issue for issues of access and inclusion. Such relaxed accountability is beneficial to schools where performance gaps are inevitable and not likely at the sole expense of the school’s instructional quality. However, if schools are not held accountable to performance gaps among subgroups, it is difficult to ensure equity for disadvantaged groups in career and technical education. Given that women and people of color are underrepresented in many CTE programs in math and science, holding schools accountable to access and inclusion is of paramount importance.

What can be learned from Perkins accountability?

As evidenced in this report, the Perkins Act’s accountability structure has marked differences from traditional accountability measures as laid out in the No Child Left Behind Act. In this section, we assess the benefits and drawbacks of both programs on two key differences, and make recommendations as to how elements of both accountability structures can be fused to make a more just accountability system for the future.

Perhaps the most salient of differences is in the extent which states are able to set their own standards. According to the No Child Left Behind Act, states have the power to lower or raise their performance targets – which often leads to unfocused and misaligned standards of rigor that vary from state to state. However, many of the performance indicators embedded in the Perkins Act do not allow for states to make their curriculum or standards less rigorous – rather, they must be aligned to industry-defined standards that ensure that students deemed proficient are actually prepared to enter the workforce. We find the Perkins Act to be far superior in this regard. The accountability structure of No Child Left Behind places too much autonomy on states to create their own standards with no regard for whether they mark legitimate proficiency of students. Students from state to state should not be held to different standards based on the leniency of policy-makers, especially when those who set standards are rewarded for setting low standards for students. The accountability standards detailed in the Perkins Act, however, have clear links to the mission of vocational schooling – to be prepared for a career out of high school. Standards are created by an independent body in industry rather than officials within state departments, and thus have a vested interest in students meeting high standards so as to actually be skilled in their trade when they plan to enter the workforce.

Recommendation 1: Preserve the performance standards of the Perkins Act, and expand them to all public schools. Require states to better align their performance standards to a common set of standards that is proven to be college and career ready. Have an independent body – perhaps out of a university or other independent institution — create these academic standards and maintain them to keep up with the changing academic expectations of post-graduates. Develop reliable systems for reporting performance data accurately and consistently.

Yet another key difference lies in the ways in which schools and states are actually held accountable towards their performance. Under NCLB, states and schools are punished severely for not achieving their Adequate Yearly Progress. Schools face heavy restructuring, or worse, complete closures, for failing to meet their yearly performance standards. These extreme measures have been shown to target schools with predominantly students of color enrolled, and have negative effects on learning outcomes on the most at-risk students. Meanwhile, the Perkins Act offers little consequence for not meeting performance standards, and thus does not hold schools or states accountable to high performance. Seeing as there is a large amount of underrepresented and at-risk students in CTE programs, we believe that there must be some form of accountability that ensures that they are given a high-quality education. Without stricter accountability measures, it is impossible to ensure access and equity for all students.

Recommendation 2: Abolish the accountability measures of both the NCLB/ESSA and the Perkins Act. Instead, create accountability measures that promote meeting performance targets without sanctioning schools in ways that affect learning outcomes for students. Provide extra resources to schools who do not meet their performance targets rather than punish them for not doing well.


The Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Improvement Act plays an essential role in offering what Labaree considers a fundamental purpose of education: social efficiency. Under this model for education, which aims to ensure that every role in the economy is filled by skilled workers, career and technical education is of great importance. The Perkins Act provides greater attention and resources towards vocational education, and creates a uniquely standardized yet loose system of accountability to accompany it. In this report, we assessed this accountability system as it relates to pre-existing systems of accountability measures, and made two recommendations of how to expand this system. First, we propose toe expand the attributes of Perkins performance standards such that all public schools must adhere to them. Second, we recommend a combined model of both Perkins and No Child Left Behind/Elementary and Secondary Education Act accountability measures to incentivize meeting these standards. We find that such recommendations will help hold states and schools accountable to providing quality vocational education to students across the United States. Without them, we may lose sight of one of the most important purposes of American education.

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End notes:

[1] Information Literacy in Vocational Education: A Course Model. Web. 03 May 2017.

[2] “Trade School vs Traditional College.” Trade School vs College | What You Want (and Don’t Want) to Hear. Web. 03 May 2017.

[3] “Career and Technical Education: Perkins Act Reauthorization.”Career and Technical Education: Perkins Act Reauthorization. Mar. 2006. Web. 03 May 2017.

[4] Hanford, Emily. “The Troubled History of Vocational Education.”American RadioWorks. N.p., 9 Sept. 2014. Web. 03 May 2017.

[5] Bowles, Samuel, and Herbert Gintis. Schooling in capitalist America. Vol. 57. New York: Basic Books, 1976.

[6] Watson, Bruce. “Why College May Not Be the Best Choice for Your Education Dollar.” AOL, 14 July 2016. Web. 03 May 2017.

[7] Yen, Hope. “1 in 2 New Graduates Are Jobless or Underemployed.”Yahoo! News. Yahoo!, 23 Apr. 2012. Web. 03 May 2017.

[8] Bidwell, Allie. “Vocational High Schools: Career Path or Kiss of Death?” US News, 2 May 2014. Web. 3 May 2017.

[9] Gewertz, Catherine. “The Common Core Explained.” Education Week. N.p., 03 May 2017. Web. 03 May 2017.

[10] Strauss, Valerie. “Everything You Need to Know about Common Core — Ravitch.” The Washington Post. WP Company, 18 Jan. 2014. Web. 03 May 2017.

[11] Klein, Alyson. “No Child Left Behind Overview: Definitions, Requirements, Criticisms, and More.” Education Week. N.p., 10 Apr. 2017. Web. 03 May 2017.

[12] Hillman, Nicholas. “Why Performance-Based College Funding Doesn’t Work.” The Century Foundation. N.p., 01 June 2016. Web. 03 May 2017.

[13] Fain, Paul. “Critique of Performance-Based Funding.” Inside Higher Ed, 25 May 2016. Web. 03 May 2017.

[14] Hillman.

[15] M. Steinberg and L. Sartain, “Does Teacher Evaluation Improve School Performance? Experimental Evidence from Chicago’s Excellence in Teaching Project,” Education Finance and Policy  10.4 (2015): 535–72.

[16] Debs, Mira. “Accountability as Education Policy.” Public Schools and Public Policy. Yale University, New Haven. 20 Feb 2017. Lecture.

[17] “Reauthorization of Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act.” Home. US Department of Education (ED), 16 Mar. 2007. Web. 03 May 2017.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Threeton, Mark D. “At issue-the Carl D. Perkins career and technical education (CTE) act of 2006 and the roles and responsibilities of CTE teachers and faculty.” (2007).

[21] Meeder, Hans. “The Perkins Act of 2006: Connecting Career and Technical Education with the College and Career Readiness Agenda. Achieve Policy Brief.” Achieve, Inc. (2008).

[22] Hoachlander, E. Gareth. “Designing a Plan to Measure Vocational Education Results, Developing Accountability Systems to Meet Perkins Act Requirements.” Vocational Education Journal 66.2 (1991).

[23] American Vocational Association. “The official guide to the Perkins Act of 1998: the authoritative guide to federal legislation for vocational-technical education.” Alexandria, VA: AVA (1998).

[24] McDermott, Kathryn A. “What causes variation in states’ accountability policies?.” Peabody Journal of Education 78.4 (2003): 153-176.

[25] Dee, Thomas S., and Brian Jacob. “The impact of No Child Left Behind on student achievement.” Journal of Policy Analysis and management 30.3 (2011): 418-446.

How Housing Policies Serve as Education Policies

Jake Fender

Tran Le

How Housing Policies Serve as Education Policies

I. Executive Summary

This policy memo describes the historical and contemporary mechanisms by which government and individual action maintain both housing segregation and school segregation, as the two forms are inextricably linked. We first explicate how government action, private actions based explicitly on race, government inaction, and private, neutral choices with racial impacts all normalized racism that led to housing segregation. We then examine how school funding and school quality is affected by the wealth inequality resulting from housing segregation. Lastly, we investigate the exclusionary zoning laws that perpetuate housing inequality, and suggest interventions that may alleviate the current dependency of school quality on housing.

II. Introduction

Schools are at the heart of the democratic ideals so loved by the United States of America. Scholars from a variety of time periods have emphasized how education can foster critical thinking and dialogue, and give citizens the tools they need to live flourishing lives in a well-functioning democracy (Gutmann). However, an education system can only be considered a boon to democracy if it, in the spirit of the democratic tradition, is provided to each and every citizen regardless of their background. This is not the case in the United States today: a history of racialized housing segregation combined with varied funding formulae and exclusionary zoning laws have contributed to a vastly unequal educational landscape, resulting in differing degrees of economic success for children from different backgrounds that have potentially exacerbated existing economic inequalities of minority racial and ethnic groups in the United States. Our policy memo aims to explore what has caused this problem and to identify its constituent parts so that we can devise a solution in the pursuit of a truly equal education for every child.

III. Historical Background of Housing Segregation

Housing segregation in the United States has a disturbing history of continued oppression of minority groups, specifically African Americans, by maintaining racialized patterns of housing throughout the nation. Spatial inequality, or segregation by race, is one of the most defining features of American history. The history and current situation of spatial isolation have been crafted, in historical order, by government action, private actions based explicitly on race, government inaction, and private choices based on non-racial factors that nonetheless have a racialized impact. It is important to note that these are often happening simultaneously, and they are only grouped in this historical faction because they have been the dominant force driving racial segregation at the time listed relative to the other events (i.e. government action is listed first, not because it is over but because it was the most significant force shaping early housing segregation).

Government Action
The United States federal government played a crucial role in the formation and solidification of racial segregation. In the same sense that the growing wealth inequality has been a stretching away of the upper crust and not simply a widening of the income distribution, the federal government exacerbated existing wealth inequalities by giving certain families (white families) a significant boost in the form of loans for suburban housing. Federal government action, the prototype of which is the lending practices of the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation, consistently invested in white homeowners, and therefore promoted white flight and invested in the formation of white communities, at the expense of their black counterparts (Massey, p. 51). This public endeavor was the beginning of a long history of racial housing segregation which persists to this day.

Private Action with Racialized Intent
Another way in which racial segregation has been cemented in the American housing landscape is through private preferences based explicitly on race. These insidious, racist perceptions range from intimidation and harassment of blacks moving into white neighborhoods in the 1950s to the usage of racial covenants to ensure that neighborhoods would remain white, to the common practice of “white flight” in which white residents will flee from a neighborhood they fear is “becoming black” (Massey, p. 38). Modern-day sensibilities allow us to see this type of behavior in the past and condemn it, but the truly insidious nature of this aspect of the issue is its deceptive nature: because of the social desirability effect – essentially, a reporting bias in which people do not disclose truly racist motivations because we collectively repudiate racism as a concept, at least in name – people today would most likely not admit to moving out of a neighborhood due to an increase in its black population even if that were the reason. This should not blind us to the fact that it could very well still be a motivating factor in affluent whites’ decisions to move, and continues to shape the housing and educational landscape to this day.

Government Inaction
Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson theorize about “policy drift,” which is “the politically driven failure of public policies to adapt to the shifting realities of a dynamic economy and society” (p. 170). Although they use the idea to discuss issues related to economic inequality, the concept can also be applied to housing inequality. By allowing segregation to persist and not taking an active role in addressing the underlying causes of spatial inequality (an intense history of racial isolation and disinvestment in communities of color), the federal government has a role in sustaining the current regime of segregation.

Private Action with “Neutral” Intent
The fourth area impacting residential segregation, and the one proving hardest to combat, is the exacerbation of spatial inequality by the choices of private citizens that are not motivated by race, but by other factors that are often correlated with race; these factors have racialized consequences when acted upon. In “Shopping for Schools: How Public Education and Private Housing Shaped Suburban Connecticut,” Jack Dougherty demonstrates how “the connection between private housing and public schools has helped increase the region’s racial and economic stratification,” (p. 219).  
In this example, white citizens based their decision about where to live on the school districts that served the area, using test scores to select school districts in which they wanted their children, and therefore which neighborhoods to which they wanted to move. A combination of two factors – 1) that black students, on average, perform at a lower level than their white peers on standardized tests (Jencks and Phillips), and 2) that school funding is often based on local property taxes – meant that these decisions by white parents, though based on something as facially neutral as a school’s average test scores, actually ended up increasing racial stratification in the area.

What does this mean for education?

In the sections below, we will explore how varying funding formulae and tax bases (based on a history of housing segregation and concentrated poverty) have provided an unequal financial footing for schools, but first, it bears mentioning how low-income status and mobility affects the individual student, independently of their schools’ funding sources. In the United States, residential mobility, or the frequency of changes in residence, is higher for both racial minorities and for low income families (Ihrke and Faber). This, combined with the fact that there is a directly negative relationship between residential mobility and student academic performance, particularly for students in low-income or single-parent families (Scanlon and Devine), shows how mobility patterns based on a long history of housing segregation can have direct impacts on individual students before they even affect institutional matters like funding.

IV. Disparities in School Funding

The Dougherty article, discussed above, is a prime example of how housing markets and schools interact, but even moreso, how the funding formulae for schools can disproportionately favor students from higher property-value areas as opposed to their counterparts in schools located in areas where property is worth less.

We have included a chart below, detailing interstate differences in per-pupil spending during 2014. We obtained the data from a publication titled “Governing”; the original data source is the U.S. Census Bureau Annual Survey of School Systems (“Education Spending”). The reality of the situation, however, is that spending differences are not just dollar amounts – spending $100 on a child in rural Alabama will probably go a lot further than $100 in Manhattan because purchasing power changes depending on where you’re at in the United States. To account for this, we used a metric to convert the 2014 per pupil spending amounts to amounts adjusted for how far money goes, varying on a state by state basis. We were able to do this by using a figure called the liveable wage – a product of a 2007 project by Dr. Amy Glasmeier at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, called the Living Wage Calculator (Glasmeier). The living wage for a state is the lowest per hour wage a worker would have to earn (assuming a forty-hour work week) in order to make ends meet. It is useful for measuring purchasing power variance between states because as the amount of purchasing power changes by state, so will the minimum living wage – if the cost of living is higher, then people will need higher wages.

Of course, interstate variance isn’t the only inequity in school funding. The chart below displays, district by district, how funding per pupil differed from the national average in 2016.

Challenging the Existing Funding Framework for Disadvantaged Students

Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) is a program designed to funnel money into schools serving significant proportions of students in poverty (“Improving Basic Programs”). This federal program was designed as a way to ensure that students in poverty had access to resources to help them meet state standards, and progress at a similar rate to their non-poverty classmates. Unfortunately, however, Title I falls short: a report from the Brookings Institution highlights the problems with the funding formulae: money is indeed going to high-poverty schools, but not necessarily to students living in poverty; once a school receives a funding designation, that money can be used across the board for any student, and the allocation is often based on performance. Thus, if a student in poverty is performing well, they may never see the effects of funds intended to combat their poverty. (Dynarski and Kainz).

In order to combat economic and, in turn, school inequality, the federal government could mandate that school funding be linked to individual children rather than schools, such that a child could apply to multiple public schools in his or her area (Whitehurst). Because of the circumstances we have described already, the ability for families to leave school districts with which they are dissatisfied is largely constrained for low-income populations that are, ironically and unfortunately, most likely served by low-performing schools. Our current system leaves the poor and immobile to inferior schools and gives school choice to those who benefit most from the status quo. If school funding followed students instead, then local property taxes would not dictate the number of resources and quality of a school, and this new competitive nature would compel schools to be more productive in order to retain students, and thus, funding (Fordham Institute).

However, we must acknowledge that a few steps must be taken before this possible solution would even be able to occur, and that even if per-pupil funding were to occur, it would not guarantee all students an equal quality education, due to the many factors that constitute school quality. The federal or state governments would have to first level the current playing field to compensate for historical under-investments in some schools compared to others. Policymakers would also have to incentivize high-quality teachers to work in high-poverty schools; maybe this could be accomplished by higher salaries or improved working conditions (Clotfelter, Charles, Ladd, Vigdor, and Wheeler). The transition to a new education finance system would be difficult in practice of course, but in the long term, a more equitable approach to how schools receive funding may bring about a more equitable education system as a whole (Baker, Bruce, and Green).

V. School Test-Score Gaps, Housing-Cost Gaps, and Restrictive Zoning

Knowing what we do about the historical background of housing segregation along with the impact of funding on school quality, it is clear that, across income and racial or ethnic groups, the access to high-scoring schools is severely unequal. While parents of disadvantaged students do attempt to enroll their children in higher-scoring schools (when knowledgeable about the data) (Hastings, Justine, and Weinstein), middle and upper-class parents are often more successful because they are not confined by local governmental laws that block low-income students and their families from living near or attending these schools.

In 2012, the Brookings Institution did a study using data from the 100 largest metropolitan areas in the U.S., and found that housing costs an average of 2.4 times as much, or nearly $11,000 more per year, near a high-scoring public school (based on state test scores) than near a low-scoring public school (pg. 14). The “housing cost gap” refers to the difference in median housing costs (rental or mortgage payments) between neighborhoods with the highest-scoring and lowest-scoring elementary schools.


Additionally, because wealthy residents of major metropolitan areas typically live in municipal jurisdictions or zoning districts (homogeneously zoned areas within a jurisdiction) that discourage or even overtly block the construction of less expensive housing units (Fischel), low-income residents who wish to send their children to better schools in those areas are unable to do so. We can see how pervasive zoning restrictions are in the U.S. by how, for example, 84% of jurisdictions impose minimum lot size requirements to some degree (the average jurisdiction with zoning power has a minimum lot size of .4 acres), and 22% of jurisdictions have laws that forbid housing units on lots smaller than 1 acre (Gyourko, Joseph, Saiz, and Summers).

Zoning regimes are a crucial factor in the cost gap within large metro areas between housing in neighborhoods with high-scoring and low-scoring schools: the Brookings Institution found that areas with the least restrictive zoning have housing cost gaps that are 40 to 63 percentage points lower than areas with the most exclusionary zoning (pg. 16).

Thus, school test-score gaps, housing-cost gaps, and levels of restrictive zoning are all interrelated. Similar to how explicitly race-based policies (such as covenants) and discriminatory lending and real estate practices we previously discussed kept blacks out of white neighborhoods, restrictive zoning in the present day keeps low-income families out of wealthy neighborhoods, which contributes greatly to the school test-score gap between low-income children and their peers. So long as test scores are used as an indicator of school quality, parents will choose schools with better test scores – and of course, since middle to upper-class parents are more able to have their children attend their desired schools, and zoning laws better enable housing segregation by class, then school segregation is a function of housing segregation.

Challenging the Existing Zoning Policies

At the national scale, the most radical reform to combat housing segregation on a policy level would be to abolish exclusionary zoning. The justification for zoning is superficially in terms of controlling externalities, but zoning is frequently put in place due to other motivations – the two main ones being a) fiscal zoning, which is intended to improve a local jurisdiction’s tax base by attracting occupants whose tax contributions surpass their use of public services, and b) exclusionary zoning, which is meant to exclude or restrict a member of a racial, ethnic, or social class from occupying a jurisdiction (Pogodzinski, pg. 145). While exclusionary zoning is commonly regarded as illegitimate and fiscal zoning sometimes considered benign, fiscal zoning can still operate in an exclusionary fashion. Typically, the class that is excluded consists of the poor, whose use of public services is expected to exceed their tax payments, and because a disproportionate number of minority households are poor, fiscal zoning serves as an exclusionary filter. If the federal government were able to prohibit local governments from discriminating on the superficial basis of housing type (i.e. single-family attached or multi-family) or size (i.e. lot, floor, or frontage size) that underlyingly denies admittance to the poor, then low-income and minority children and their families would benefit educationally and economically from better schools and neighborhoods.

On a state level, housing and land use legislation could be enacted to generally increase economic integration, and more particularly ensure low and moderate income housing in the suburbs. In New Jersey, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire, enforceable “rights” to develop affordable housing in towns that are not providing their fair share were created for developers to challenge denials in court in an expedited manner (Von Hoffman). It is also possible to mandate that new construction include a certain portion of affordable units; in California, municipalities are required to include planning for affordable housing in their zoning laws. However, if states do not wish to force affordable units to that extent, they can incentivize it rat: in New York, developers are rewarded with a “density bonus” if they include more affordable housing (Center for Housing Policy).

On a regional level, improved zoning coordination could promote a higher density of people where the space is already available. Portland, Oregon, has enacted such a regional planning method by limiting the number of developments in outer suburban areas, resulting in a decrease in segregation, which may have also contributed to Portland’s low test score gap (Nelson, Arthur, Sanchez, and Dawkins). In this way, zoning laws can be written with the intention of inclining people to move to currently low-dense, but convenient areas that are located near job centers or have public transportation routes. Alternatively, but in a similar manner, zoning laws can prevent people from constructing further developments in the suburbs, as this would exacerbate segregation since only people who can afford to move to new, and presumably more expensive, homes will do so. As long as homeowners in affluent suburbs are allowed to benefit from the high density of cities (where they tend to work or find business and social networks) without accounting for the higher costs of public services to support it, they will continue to be barriers to inexpensive housing in their jurisdictions.

VI. Conclusion

The relationship between housing and traditional public schooling has long been evident: the neighborhood a student lives in will determine the school he or she will attend, and to the extent that school quality varies by location either due to differing tax bases or other location-specific variables, the neighborhood one lives in will determine the quality of education one receives. As long as American citizens value neighborhood schools, discussions of school desegregation policies must be rooted in data about residential segregation. A long history of housing segregation and concentrated poverty has also affected school financing, with certain schools benefiting more from local taxes than others affected by lower property values. Consequently, housing policies are de facto education policies, and vice versa.  

Because of the many factors involved in the intersection of housing and schooling, it is a tremendous challenge to extensively improve the quality of education available to low-income children. However, there is promise in reforms to funding, housing, and land use policies that may be implemented at all levels of government in order to make educational opportunity more equal. Inclusionary zoning and other laws in favor of affordable housing must be enacted in conjunction with more sweeping laws that inhibit affordable housing, or even prospective inexpensive housing, where it is most needed. Overall, while other research regarding housing and school segregation focuses on their effects – specifically, detrimental ones on children’s social and academic development (Jencks) – our policy memo rather examines how housing policies in particular can tackle housing and school segregation, and thus, act as education policies.

Word count: 3261


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Clotfelter, Charles, Helen F. Ladd, Jacob Vigdor, and Justin Wheeler. 2007. High poverty schools and the distribution of teachers and principals. North Carolina Law Review 85(5): 345–79.

Dougherty, Jack. 2012. “Shopping for Schools: How Public Education and Private Housing Shaped Suburban Connecticut.” Journal of Urban History 38: 205-224.

Dynarski, Mark and Kirsten Kainz. “Why federal spending on disadvantaged students (Title I) doesn’t work.” Brookings Institution. Published Nov. 20, 2015.

“Education Spending Per Student by State.” Governing.

Fischel, William A. “An economic history of zoning and a cure for its exclusionary effects.” Urban Studies 41, no. 2 (2004): 317-340.

Fordham Institute. 2006. Fund the child: Tackling inequity and antiquity in school finance. Washington, DC: Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

Glasmeier, Amy and Carey Anne Nadeau. “Results from the 2016 Data Update.” Living Wage Calculator. Apr. 13, 2017. .

Gyourko, Joseph, Albert Saiz, and Anita Summers. “A new measure of the local regulatory environment for housing markets: The Wharton Residential Land Use Regulatory Index.” Urban Studies 45, no. 3 (2008): 693-729.

Gutmann, Amy. Democratic education. Princeton University Press, 1999.

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Ihrke, David K., and Carol S. Faber. 2012. “Geographical Mobility: 2005 to 2010.” Current Population Reports, P20-567. U.S. Census Bureau, Washington, DC.

“Improving Basic Programs Operated by Local Educational Agencies (Title I, Part A).” United States Department of Education. Published Oct. 5, 2015/Accessed Apr. 28, 2017.

Jencks, Christopher and Merideth Phillips. 1998. “The Black-White Test Score Gap: Why It Persists and What Can Be Done.” Brookings Institution.

Jencks, Christopher. “Inequality: A reassessment of the effect of family and schooling in America.” (1972).

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Nelson, Arthur C., Thomas W. Sanchez, and Casey J. Dawkins. “The effect of urban containment and mandatory housing elements on racial segregation in US metropolitan areas, 1990–2000.” Journal of Urban Affairs 26, no. 3 (2004): 339-350.

Pogodzinski, J. Michael. “The effects of fiscal and exclusionary zoning on household location: A critical review.” Journal of Housing Research 2, no. 2 (1991): 145.

Rothwell, Jonathan. Housing costs, zoning, and access to high-scoring schools. Brookings Institution, 2012.

Scanlon, Edward and Kevin Devine. “Residential Mobility and Youth Well-Being: Research, Policy, and Practice Issues.” Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare 28, no.1 (2001): 119-138.

Von Hoffman, Alexander. “High ambitions: The past and future of American low‐income housing policy.” Housing Policy Debate 7.3 (1996): 423-446.

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Restorative Justice through Arts Programs

Restorative Justice through Arts Programs

Restorative Justice through Arts Programs

By Alison Levosky

Executive Summary

Restorative justice in schools has made incredible reductions in student punishment and negative behavior in the classroom, and these programs are necessary particularly for schools that provide education for many students from backgrounds of trauma. Perhaps even more necessary, however, is the inclusion of the arts in these models, for the fuller expression of students’ emotions and experiences. Below is a summary of current restorative justice programs involving drama and theatre, with a proposal of what might potentially be an even more effective restorative justice program based around music.


This policy brief will propose a new program to implement in schools, in order to create and structure music programs in ways that facilitate restorative justice. This program will mirror the ALIVE model used at Metropolitan Business Academy in New Haven, CT, but will use music instead of drama and theatre.


Restorative justice is a crucial practice for schools and administrators to begin to consider, because of the impact of zero tolerance policies in the 1980s and the subsequent perpetuation of the school-to-prison pipeline. Zero tolerance policies – which require “out-of-school suspension or expulsion on the first offense for a variety of behaviors” (Kang-Brown et al., 2013) – leave no room for students to be able to express and explain the larger stresses they might be experiencing outside of school. Many “problem behaviors” in classrooms are a result of stressors completely unrelated to school, and could include unhealthy family relationships or unsafe home situations. If students act out because of those stresses, it makes no sense to punish them, especially when there is no evidence that suspensions or expulsions improve school climate or student behavior (U.S. Department of Education, 2016), and especially when evidence exists that suspensions actually increase rates of delinquency and risk for juvenile justice involvement (Losen et al., 2010). And, discipline practices in schools are often racially disproportionate, which puts some students more at risk than others.

Civil Rights Data Collection
Data Snapshot: School Discipline

Instead of immediately punishing students, a few schools have begun to implement programs focused on restorative justice. Restorative justice, as defined by Fronius et al. (2016), “encompasses a growing social movement to institutionalize peaceful and non-punitive approaches for addressing harm, responding to violations of legal and human rights, and problem solving” (p. 1). One student, who is part of a restorative justice program called Umoja, explained it this way:

“Instead of just getting suspended or getting punished, we work to figure out why this conflict is happening, which keeps students from getting in the same sort of issues. When students work out their issues, they don’t get in fights, they don’t get suspended, and they don’t miss school.” (Restorative Justice, 2017)

Practices involving restorative justice do exactly what they say; they aim to restore students in ways that they have been neglected, in order that they might receive real justice, not unjust punishment for having been through a certain experience. Importantly in this policy brief, the ALIVE model, which was implemented at Metropolitan Business Academy beginning in 2007, will be reviewed as a working model of restorative justice. To understand this model, however, it is crucial to first understand the ideas of Boal and Freire as they relate to the pedagogy and the poetics of the oppressed.

Paulo Freire was a Brazilian educator and author who knew firsthand the weight of poverty and hunger especially in reference to education, and in his later years wrote a book called Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1972). In this writing, Freire provided a critical look at the education system as the “‘banking’ concept of education” (p. 72), in which teachers provide narration, which is then deposited into students as they perform mechanical memorization. Freire explained that, instead, education should not be so passive, and should create reconciliation in the gap between the ultimate authority of the teachers and the meek submission of the students, so that both are “simultaneously teachers and students” (p. 72). His explanation of the ‘banking’ concept of education is crucial, because not all students can fit into that model. For example, students who are strained by hunger or by poverty cannot just passively sit in a classroom and receive information because they are clearly distracted, but this happens all the time in modern-day classrooms – and students are minimized and penalized instead of being allowed the time they need to reconcile with the teacher and the educational environment.

Later, as Augusto Boal worked with people in Peru to eradicate illiteracy, he based his methodology on Freire’s work. Just as Freire understood that the classroom favored a certain type of learning, Boal understood that the Peruvian government at the time favored a certain type of literacy, and explained that “the illiterate are not people who are unable to express themselves: they are simply people unable to express themselves in a particular language, which in this case is Spanish” (Boal & McBride, 2013, p. 121). The point for Boal was not to enforce a certain language and to erase another, but to use many forms of language to create a fuller method of expression, and for Boal, the best way to do this was through theatre. His goal was to change spectators – what Freire (1972) would call “containers” or “receptacles” (p. 72) – into actors and transformers of the action through their participation in theatre (Boal & McBride, 2013).

Both Freire and Boal point out the disparity between the lower and upper classes, between student and teacher, between impoverished and privileged. They stake the foundation of education on equalizing these positions, that those in the lower status might be raised up to take action in their own lives, and to be in control of their learning. In the same way, the ALIVE program at Metropolitan Business Academy invites students to take an active role in their education and at their school, by “acknowledging students’ lived experiences” which often involve some kind of trauma (Sajnani & Johnson, 2014, p. 210), and by involving drama therapy which allows children to explore “new and effective ways of coping” with traumatic situations (p. 213).

Specifically, the ALIVE Humanities Course at the school models this kind of learning, where a drama therapist and a teacher come together for this required freshman course in order to “offer adolescents a forum for an honest exchange of ideas and open conversation about emergent, high interest, and universal topics including identity, community, conflict, and peace-building” (Sajnani & Johnson, 2014, p. 217). The classroom includes assessments through many different styles of learning, including journals and writing, role-plays, artistic projects, and group projects, and uses theatre games and acting and other forms of art to elicit and communicate these important conversations. In this way, as Boal and Freire would model, the students are brought into the classroom on equal footing with their teachers, and are allowed the space they need to communicate the traumas they may have experienced, as well as the daily life events that affect them. And this is the beginning of restorative justice – allowing students to express themselves in languages they can better understand and communicate through, so that they do not feel the need to act out and therefore receive punishment for inappropriate behaviors in the classroom.

Students are also encouraged to reflect on Miss Kendra’s List, posted in every classroom, in order that they might feel safe, and that they might know what sorts of experiences should not be normalized. They are also encouraged to write letters to Miss Kendra about any worries they might have, and this helps teachers and counselors to know what kinds of experiences their students might be having after school. Miss Kendra (the staff at the school) writes back to the children to support them both emotionally and academically. Examples are shown below.

A natural question is, then, does this work? Does restorative justice actually change students’ behavior in the classroom? Does it change suspension rates? According to individual data from a number of schools implementing restorative justice programs across the country, it does. Below, data shows that over five years, suspensions and serious fights were significantly reduced, notably after the implementation of the ALIVE Humanities Course in 2008 (Sajnani & Johnson, 2014).

This is particularly crucial, because the results of a survey of Metropolitan Business Academy students in 2011 (below) showed significant stressors outside of school for many students, but between the end of 2011 and the end of 2012, suspensions and physical fighting were significantly reduced in the school.

Sajnani & Johnson, 2014

Metropolitan Business Academy is not the only school that has successfully implemented some form of restorative justice practice. One blog lists a number of successful schools including Oakland Unified School District, Ypislanti High, and Glenview Elementary School (Davis, 2013). Here, Edwina Smith explains the importance of her dialogue circles in setting the classroom environment and creating a setting for restorative justice.

Most data in these schools are similar, with a significant drop in suspension rates after a few years of implementing the restorative justice program. One example is Hampstead Hill, a PreK-8 school in Maryland which implemented restorative practices beginning in January 2008. Below, data shows the significant decrease in suspensions and office referrals, as a result of those practices.

Restorative justice is clearly effective, and particularly so with the involvement of drama therapeutic practices in the ALIVE model at Metropolitan Business Academy. On a baseline level, restorative justice practices are good for schools and for students, shown through quantitative and qualitative evidence, as well as anecdotal evidence.

In light of the effect that drama therapy has had for students in the classroom, it is natural to wonder if other arts might have similar or even better effects as part of a program of restorative justice. There is perhaps even less data on restorative justice music programs than theatre programs, but there is a variety of research on the ways that participating in music has a number of the same effects – at least outside the classroom. For example, choral singing within a prison context, coupled with specific restorative pedagogies, has been shown to humanize and heal those involved (Cohen & Duncan, 2015), and a Canadian organization called Arts Health Network had a conference in 2012 exploring the performing arts and restorative justice, which made new ground in “supporting those made vulnerable by conflict as well as by engaging the community in reframing the performance of justice” (Music and Transformation, 2012). One proposal for more quantitative research on music therapy reviewed research to show the benefits of music therapy, including “mood improvement, self expression, catharsis, facilitating grieving, relaxation, reflection, socialization, community building, stress reduction, and more” (Garrido et al., 2015). In these very broad terms, it is clear that at least in some cases, music can facilitate justice for people in many of the same ways that theatre does, and therefore it would be helpful to see if a restorative justice program based around music could reduce suspension rates and serious fights in schools in the same way that the ALIVE model does for Metropolitan Business Academy.

For a school that chooses to begin a music restorative justice program, the first step will be to create a classroom environment conducive to implementing any kind of restorative justice program. Ideally, high school administrators would begin by creating a mandatory class for incoming students, similar to the required humanities course in the ALIVE model, so that this experience would be one that is common to all students at the school. This is certainly a difficult first step, as it might require restructuring of time, schedules, and teachers, but without this initial shift, the school will be unable to provide this form of restorative justice. Also, this program should not simply take place in the current music classrooms at the school, first because it would not reach all students, and second because music education has a very different focus than music as restorative justice, though there is certainly overlap.

Next, a music therapist ought to be hired, so that he or she can work in tandem with a current teacher to create a space that allows students to explore musically and non-musically their feelings, their experiences of life, and their expression of emotions. This music therapist should have experience with a number of different instruments and with singing, so that he or she can quickly adapt to the mood and emotions of the students through the music.

The first part of the class would be taken up by a time of sharing, so that students could have time to explore the events of the previous day with their classmates, and to bring up any conflict they might have felt in the classroom or with another student. As those conversations progress, the teacher and music therapist can guide the student with questions like “What sounds might you make to help your friend know what you are feeling?” or “What song would you sing to show how you are feeling?” As the conversation deepened, the instructors might find ways for the students to improvise or write a song about their experiences, and maybe even to present those songs to the people who they found themselves in conflict with – depending, of course, on the content. The program might also want to include something like the letters to Miss Kendra, but in the form of song instead. This might be an even fuller form of expression for students than just writing notes, and could be anything from a letter to a poem to a set of song lyrics to an actual song they could record and “send” to the equivalent of Miss Kendra.
The class would culminate in an optional recital, filled with the compositions and expressions of the students over the course of the year – song lyrics, music, poetry, or anything else the students had created that they felt they wanted to share with their classmates. If students chose not to participate in the performance of their own creations, the music therapist could perform on their behalf, or if the students felt very creative, they could form a group to sing or play or their compositions, and direct the group in how to do it.

Anticipated Results
Hopefully, results of a program like this one would show lowered suspension rates and serious fights in the same way that the ALIVE model did. Also, though, it would be interesting to see if a restorative justice program based on music would significantly change school culture. If all students were required to take part in the class and the expression through music, and if some students were able to share their music with their peers, perhaps the school itself would feel safer and more like home, with a baseline of song running through its doors each day.

One possible limitation would be that music is not the same for everyone. It certainly has individual effects on people, but some of those effects might be stronger or weaker than others. Additionally, these restorative justice programs take time to implement; students are not always receptive right away, and it is important that schools wait at least a few years to begin to see results.

In a world where justice is often perverted, and where children go through experiences they do not deserve, it is crucial to begin implementing programs like the one proposed to make students feel safe, welcome, and cared for within the walls of their school buildings, and to make sure students are not punished for the traumas they experience outside of school. For this reason, administrators and teachers must carefully consider their school environments, and should implement music-based restorative justice programs like the one described above in order to create schools where students are restored and not punished.

I would like to thank Julie Zhu, Brian Pok, and Stephanie Addenbrooke for their presence in our class this semester and for our gif-filled group text (mostly thanks to Steph for that). I would also like to thank Edgar Avina and Lindsay Efflandt for their edits, and Mira Debs for her guidance.

Works Cited

Boal, A., & McBride, C. A. (2013). Theatre of the Oppressed. New York City, NY: Theatre Communications Group.

Civil Rights Data Collection Data Snapshot: School Discipline (pp. 1-23, Issue brief No. 1). (2014). Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights.

Cohen, M. L., & Duncan, S. P. (2015). Behind Different Walls: Restorative Justice, Transformative Justice, and Their Relationship to Music Education. The Oxford Handbook of Social Justice in Music Education, 1-16. doi:10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199356157.013.64

Davis, M. (2013, October 04). Restorative Justice: Resources for Schools. Retrieved April 30, 2017, from

Freire, P., & Ramos, M. B. (1972). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. London: Sheed and Ward.

Fronius, T., Persson, H., Guckenburg, S., Hurley, N., & Petrosino, A. 2016. Restorative Justice in US Schools. San Francisco, CA: West Ed Justice and Prevention Research Center.

Garrido, S., Baker, F. A., Davidson, J. W., Moore, G., & Wasserman, S. (2015). Music and trauma: the relationship between music, personality, and coping style. Frontiers in Psychology, 6. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2015.00977

Kang-Brown, J., Trone, J., Fratello, J., & Daftary-Kapur, T. (2013, December). A Generation Later: What We’ve Learned about Zero Tolerance in Schools. Retrieved April 27, 2017, from

Losen, D., Hodson, C., Keith, M., II, Morrison, K., & Belway, S. (2010). Are We Closing the School Discipline Gap? Retrieved April 28, 2017, from

Music and Transformation: The Performing Arts and Restorative Justice. (2012, October 25). Retrieved April 30, 2017, from

Sajnani, N., & Johnson, D. R. (2014). Trauma-informed drama therapy: transforming clinics, classrooms, and communities. Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas, Publisher, Ltd.

U.S. Department of Education. (2016, November 22). School Climate and Discipline. Retrieved April 28, 2017, from

Thinking Beyond the Deficit Model: Culturally Relevant Pedagogy and the Achievement Gap

Executive Summary

Despite the passage of numerous federal education reforms, including No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, the racial achievement gap has narrowed at an extremely slow rate since 2001. In fact, federal accountability schema have exacerbated persistent racial inequalities, as manifested through punitive discipline and high dropout rates. This is because policymakers have failed to move beyond a deficit model of student achievement, where difference is considered a hindrance to educational equality. In this policy brief, we advocate for the opposite approach: policies that promote culturally responsive pedagogy (CRP), which elevates cultural difference as a source of academic excellence. After explaining the theoretical foundations of CRP, we present policy proposals for the integration of CRP in two major domains, (1) professional development (including curriculum construction) and (2) pre-service/new teacher training and induction. Finally, we address challenges of implementation and make a case for the urgency of culturally responsive pedagogy.

Introduction: The Need for Culturally Responsive Pedagogy

Although the racial “achievement gap,” or disparity in academic performance between students of color and their white counterparts, is a well-documented area of concern, nationalized policy efforts to close the gap have been largely unsuccessful. With the 2001 passage of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), federal education policy invested significant resources in closing the achievement gap. In a pivotal address on improving the education system, former President George W. Bush said: “Now some say it is unfair to hold disadvantaged children to rigorous standards. I say it is discrimination to require anything less — the soft bigotry of low expectations” (New York Times, 1999). With Bush came a new rhetoric of high expectations, no excuses, and increased accountability. Rather than critically engage with and account for racial and socioeconomic disparities through the creation of locally and culturally responsive policies, Bush’s reforms sought to bring every student to the same level of educational achievement by standardizing curricula irrespective of background, race, and class.

To this end, NCLB required schools and districts to disaggregate student achievement data by race and class to facilitate increased accountability and effective comparisons between student groups (Ansell, 2011). This disaggregated data revealed a wide gap in student achievement across lines of race and class. As of 2011, black and Hispanic students scored over 20 points lower on NAEP math and reading assessments at 4th and 8th grade levels, putting them almost two grade levels behind their white peers (Ansell, 2011). Though recent NAEP data shows that the achievement gap has narrowed slightly in recent years (see Figure 1), neither NCLB nor Obama’s more recent Race to the Top initiative have made a sizable impact on the gap. Despite reform efforts, the rate of improvement remains unacceptably slow.

Figure 1: NAEP reading scores for black and white students from 1992 -2013 showing a slight but inconsistent narrowing of the racial achievement gap. Source: Chen 2014, Public School Review

While the color-blind logic of Bush’s high expectations rhetoric ostensibly levels the playing field, in reality the policy’s disregard for legacies of institutionalized inequality has done precisely the reverse. Au (2009) argues that, despite the “high-minded rhetoric” around high-stakes testing as means to ensure equity, achievement data suggests that systems of high-stakes, standardized testing are exacerbating rather than alleviating the inequalities they purportedly measure (p. 5). The Advancement Project (2010) echoes Au’s assessment: not only has high-stakes testing failed to close the achievement gap, this “test and punish approach” has had devastating effects on communities of color and low-income students. Since the passage of NCLB, racial disparities in school discipline have become more extreme, with more students of color being suspended or expelled relative to their white peers. According to the U.S. Department of Education, the number of black students expelled nationwide rose thirty-three percent from 2002-2003 school-year (the year following the passage of NCLB) to the 2006-2007 school year (see Figure 2).

Figure 2: Nationwide Change in Expulsions per student broken down by race, showing a dramatic uptick in the expulsion of students of color since the passage of NCLB (Data from U.S. Department of Education, Graph from Advancement Project 2010)

The no-excuses logic of high expectations has translated into zero-tolerance policies and stricter—often racially coded—discipline practices. According to the Civil Rights Project survey of national discipline practices in 2012, one in every six black students enrolled in a K-12 public school was suspended at least once compared to one out of every twenty white students. For black students with disabilities, the numbers are even more sobering, with one of every four black students with disabilities experiencing suspension at least once in the 2009-2010 school year (Losen and Gillespie, 2012). With this increase in high-stakes, punitive testing and racially disproportionate discipline has come an increase in high school dropout rates as more students of color are failing to graduate (see Figures 3 and 4).

Figure 3: Changes in graduation rates from 1996-2002 broken down by number of districts. (Data from U.S. Department of Education, Graph from Advancement Project 2010)
Figures 4: Changes in graduation rates from 2002-2006 broken down by number of districts. (Data from U.S. Department of Education, Graph from Advancement Project 2010)

The Deficit Model

Many critics and policymakers blame the persistence of the achievement gap not on these harsh discipline practices or grueling testing regimes, but rather on the continued low expectations of educators—that “soft bigotry” that President Bush condemned back in 1999. The suggestion that teachers’ implicit racial biases results in them making excuses for students of color and holding them to lower expectations than their white counterparts has been the subject of considerable debate and scholarship. Educational scholar and author Lisa Delpit opens her book, Other People’s Children, with a series of anecdotes capturing this phenomenon. Delpit recounts one African American mother’s frustrations advocating on behalf of her son. Though she had checked in with her son’s teachers repeatedly over the course of the semester to ensure that he was keeping up in school, his end of term grades were shockingly low—something none of the teachers had brought to her attention. Delpit writes that when the mother asked teachers “how they could have said he was doing fine when his grades were so low, each of them gave her some version of the same answer: ‘Why are you so upset? For him, Cs are great. You shouldn’t try to push him so much’” (Delpit 1995, p. xiii). These low-expectations are grounded in the belief that communities of color are deficient in some way and that students, being the product of these deficient communities, cannot be held to the same standards as their white peers because of how much they have to overcome. Case studies and anecdotal evidence of this “deficit model” in practice are abundant in educational literature, but there is considerable disagreement about what policy initiatives most effectively counteract these low-expectations.

Culturally Relevant Pedagogy: The Case Against Standardization

While advocates of high-stakes testing and increased standardization often point to accountability measures as an effective response to the deficit model, we suggest precisely the reverse. Rather than pursue standardization, educators should recognize that histories of racial and socioeconomic exclusion continue to shape opportunities for access in today’s society, and they should structure curricula and accountability practices to reflect that reality. As Au notes, standardized testing regimes ignore the realities of local conditions and historical contexts that critically impact student performance. In this way, “systems of high-stakes testing effectively mask the existence of social relations and structural inequalities… that persist in [students’] lives, resulting in what some have called the ‘new eugenics’” (Au, 2009, p. 43). Delpit echoes Au’s critique, arguing that the proliferation of new reforms and accountability standards can only do so much. Delpit believes that national reforms that seek to erase differences between students will never close the achievement gap. Instead, she argues that schools should facilitate “basic understandings of who we are and how we are connected to and disconnected from one another” (Delpit, 1995, p. xv). To this end, we advocate for the incorporation of culturally-responsive pedagogical practices in professional development, curriculum construction, and new teacher induction and training.

Theoretical Background of Culturally Responsive Pedagogy

Ladson-Billings (1995) achieved a major breakthrough in teacher education when she proposed a theory of “culturally relevant pedagogy” with three major goals.

  • CRP should support students in attaining higher levels of academic achievement, as measured by standardized testing. Although the value of standardized tests is controversial, Ladson-Billings affirms that because students and teachers are evaluated by those standards, any pedagogical technique must allow students to do well on them.
  • CRP should develop students’ cultural competence. Noting research that academically successful African-American students tended to be socially isolated from their peers of all races, Ladson-Billings argued that CRP should allow students to “maintain their cultural integrity” and social connections to their community.
  • CRP should equip students with sociopolitical consciousness to critique injustice; as a teacher educator, Ladson-Billings had noticed prospective teachers’ unwillingness to bring social inequities into the classroom and sought to reverse that trend.

In a close observation of eight highly successful teachers of African-American students, Ladson-Billings found that three distinct attitudes marked a successful culturally responsive pedagogy. First, teachers conceived of themselves and their students as highly valuable. They saw their profession as both an art and a way to serve the community, where they chose to live and/or spend leisure time. These teachers never used the “language of lacking” (or an emphasis on the student’s disadvantages) to describe their students. Second, teachers structured collaborative social relations between students and presented themselves as learners in partnership with students rather than figures of authority. Finally, although these teachers’ students did well on standardized tests, teachers focused on higher-level conceptions of knowledge. Teachers encouraged their students to adopt a “critical stance” toward the school’s curriculum, asking why they were exploring each new topic and collectively choosing to reject district-approved textbooks for higher quality sources.

Gay (2000) defines CRP as a pedagogy that uses students’ experiences, cultural knowledge, and performance styles to affirm students’ strengths. For Gay, CRP is politically emancipatory because it “releases the intellect of students of color from the constraining manacles of mainstream canons of knowledge and ways of knowing” (p. 35). While Ladson-Billings initially focused on the way teachers delivered content, one of Gay’s major interventions was to assert that all students should learn about the contributions of Native Americans, African Americans, Latinx people, and Asian Americans in all subjects. Gay documents the severe absence of curricular materials that appropriately recognize the achievements of people of color. As a solution, she suggests that teachers and students should consider themselves researchers who expose the flaws of existing curricular materials and generate their own materials through archival research, oral histories, cultural exchanges, and visits to multicultural communities and institutions.

Finally,  a recent novel approach to CRP is Christopher Emdin’s “reality pedagogy” (Emdin, 2016). “Reality pedagogy” is focused on understanding how each student, as an individual, is influenced by their cultural heritage. Moreover, Emdin proposes several ways of giving students large amounts of control in the classroom. He urges teachers to have cogenerative dialogues, or discussions with a small group of students about how the classroom environment can be improved (p. 65). He takes Ladson-Billings’s idea of “teacher as learner” even further: he urges teachers to invite students to teach the class, offering them resources but allowing students to create and execute their own lesson plan related to classroom content (Emdin, p.  95). In Emdin’s view, such radical restructurings of power in the classroom are necessary if teachers are to create a school environment that meets students’ needs and validates their identities.

Policy Initiatives

Although there is a rich theoretical literature about culturally responsive pedagogy, there are few tools that equip pre-service and in-service teachers how to implement CRP in their day-to-day teaching activities (Young, 2010). Even more importantly, there is little research on how teacher professional development can successfully empower teachers to use CRP (Sleeter, 2011).  This policy memo suggests district and state level reforms specifically focusing on bringing CRP to professional development and pre-service training.

Professional Development

Morrison et. al. (2008) point out that even though most teacher education programs include readings on CRP, teachers are still unprepared to implement it and consider successful, culturally relevant teaching a “herculean” feat. This is in part because, as described by Ladson-Billings, Gay, and Emdin, CRP calls for a fairly radical and counterintuitive reimagination of the relationship between students and teachers. Young (2010) led a culturally relevant lesson-planning seminar with elementary school teachers, finding that teachers were especially resistant to the “sociopolitical consciousness” element of CRP that Ladson-Billings identifies as crucial. This was in part because teachers deemed their students too young to understand political inequities, but also because teachers themselves did not want to embrace a “critical stance” toward the material they taught. They prioritized getting through the material — especially material that would be on standardized tests — and frequently pointed to limited class time as a barrier to bringing culturally relevant knowledge into their lessons.

Los Angeles implemented the Culturally Relevant and Responsive Education (CRRE) program, one of the largest district-wide initiatives to implement culturally responsive professional development, in the 2005-2006 school year. The program focused on helping teachers move past the deficit model: by the end of the trainings, teachers were expected to hold all students to high standards, provide equitable access to learning resources, embrace social-emotional learning, and center students’ knowledge in lessons (Patton, 2011). However, Los Angeles’s program omitted sociopolitical consciousness: teachers did not, for example, discuss the history of racism and segregation in Los Angeles.

Given this research, professional development for teachers should focus on two significant obstacles to culturally relevant teaching.

  • Teachers must develop their own sociopolitical consciousness before they can impart it to their students. This might take place through anti-racist/anti-bias training, guided conversations where teachers explore their own cultural identity, study of the history of racial politics in their city or neighborhood, or critical investigation of textbooks and other standard class materials.
  • Teachers should receive concrete strategies for balancing CRP with the demands of standardized testing. Ladson-Billings (1995) observed that excellent, culturally relevant teachers and their students “viewed the tests as necessary irritations, took them, scored better than their age-grade mates at their school, and quickly returned to the rhythm of learning” (p. 482). A successful professional development program should codify and articulate successful teachers’ strategies for centering multicultural material while also equipping students to do well on standardized tests; this would provide a concrete model for other teachers to emulate.

Although the Los Angeles CRRE program was far from perfect, it provides a precedent for large-scale, district-wide CRP professional development. Our primary recommendation is that more districts invest in district-wide CRP professional development. Based on their particular educational needs, districts may choose to allow individual schools more flexibility, or they may choose to implement the same approach in all public schools. Different ways of implementing this program might include:

  • Mandating a specific CRP program or activity in each school’s professional development
  • Creating a bank of resources and activities related to CRP and encouraging/requiring principals to use some of these materials during professional development
  • Incentivizing principals and other school leaders to develop their own CRP professional development programs that respond to their particular school environment through competitive grants.  State education agencies could help fund these grant programs.

Curriculum Development

A key challenge for professional development programs to address is the lack of culturally relevant curricular materials. Teachers may simply not know very much about the contributions people of color have made to their field, or they may lack the books, activities, and resources to make those contributions a central part of the curriculum. Gay (2010) notes that many textbooks recount material in the most bland, safe way possible, omitting controversial topics and usually describing the material from only one perspective, which is usually white and male. Similarly, Patton (2011) found that in Los Angeles’s CRRE initiative, the pedagogical component of the program (twenty-nine percent of overall time), which dealt with subject-matter content, could not be considered culturally responsive. Instead, culturally relevant techniques (fifty-nine percent of overall time) included topics like “relating to students’ experiences” and “social-emotional learning,” but was wholly separate from curricular material.

Instead, Gay recommends that teachers bring multiple perspectives to bear on each issue, and center disagreement. She suggests that teachers use materials from mass media (like news materials or pop culture images) to supplement textbooks. For example, Young (2010) documented an elementary science lesson that focused on the chemical composition and properties of water; while the original lesson stopped there, the teacher encouraged students to apply what they had learned to news articles about water shortages and inequitable water access. Another exemplary model is the Social Justice Education Project (SJEP), which leads social studies classes geared toward Latinx students in three public high schools in Tucson, Arizona. In addition to covering the state history curriculum, these classes included advanced readings in Chicano/a studies, critical theory, and critical race theory. Although the students in these classes were historically underperforming, the program encouraged students’ to write their own histories as a bridge into such advanced academic material (Romero et. al., 2009).

State and district education agencies can play a key role in supporting culturally relevant teachers by researching, making accessible, and/or mandating culturally relevant materials in schools. For example, state agencies can research and develop free online resource banks of culturally relevant reading materials, data, posters, and ideas for activities in English, math, social studies, science, and the arts. States may either mandate or encourage the use of textbooks that center the contributions of people of color. Even if states do not cooperate, districts may create supplemental curricula and/or resource banks modeled after the successes of SJEP. If districts choose to do so, we recommend that they invite parents and community leaders to be on the committee that selects culturally relevant supplemental material. This is to ensure that local expertise and history is reflected in students’ classrooms.

Pre-service and New-teacher Training

Sutcher et. al. (2016) underscores the importance of mentoring and induction support for new and student teachers as critical to teacher retention and efficacy. We suggest that this induction support specifically target ways of implementing CRP in the classroom.

  • Establish strong mentoring and induction programs that specifically emphasize CRP. Federal or state matching grants could ensure that districts are able to provide all student-teachers and new teachers with the induction support they need. We suggest that districts tailor their induction programs to promote community engagement and facilitate the development of networks between teachers and community leaders. Emdin (2016) stresses the importance of spending time in students’ communities by attending church services, talking to community leaders and figureheads—including pastors and barbershop owners—and becoming conversant in local codes and styles of communication. Since mentorship between veteran teachers and new teachers is a key part of a successful induction program, we suggest that veteran teachers develop walking tours of the community and lead repeated visits to community institutions as part of their mentorship.
  • Include CRP in principal training programs. Sutcher et. al. (2016) demonstrates that the practices of new teachers are enhanced when their mentors also receive formal training and support. Maloney (2012) documents the enormous effect that a school’s principal can have on new teachers’ success in the classroom, because principals have an enormous impact on school-wide culture and values. It is essential that principals commit to enacting CRP through professional development, individual mentorship, and school culture. In order to ensure that pre-service and new-teacher CRP trainings function effectively, principal training programs should be strengthened to give principals greater support in the integration of CRP into school curriculum and culture.   
  • Districts should require teacher certification procedures and/or hiring portfolios to include a project relating to CRP. Some potential projects might include:
    • A unit that centers on the contributions of people of color to the field in question.
    • A self-reflective autobiography in which teachers interrogate their own racial and socioeconomic background and how that influences their teaching practice. Emdin (2016) stresses this kind of self-reflective work as particularly crucial, arguing: “The teacher must work to ensure that the institution does not absolve them of the responsibility to acknowledge the baggage they bring to the classroom and analyze how that might affect student achievement” (p. 43). Incorporating an autobiographical activity like this into pre-teacher and pre-service training and making it available to principals would also give principals greater insight into the backgrounds, potential biases, and strengths of their incoming teachers.
    • A community history project in which incoming teachers immerse themselves in the local community, developing relationships with key community leaders and institutions in the process.

Challenges of Implementation

Though we maintain that CRP is necessary for closing the achievement gap and facilitating educational parity among students of color and their white counterparts, we foresee several challenges to our proposed reforms.

  • The culture of high-stakes testing that currently drives educational policy would make implementing CRP nation-wide challenging. The fact that funding and government grants are tied to testing performance incentivizes schools to prioritize teaching to the test over incorporating CRP techniques into the classroom (Morrison et. al., 2008).
  • Teachers may resist CRP because it requires them to fundamentally alter the power dynamic between themselves and students. They may also be unwilling to confront their own biases or to acknowledge their prior reliance on the deficit model. Finally, teachers may be unwilling to adopt a critical sociopolitical consciousness because of their own personal political beliefs. (Sleeter, 2011; Young, 2010)
  • The dearth of data demonstrating the correlation between CRP and improved student outcomes will likely make securing federal and state funding for CRP difficult (Sleeter, 2011).

One means of overcoming these obstacles might be to pilot policies promoting CRP in a few schools before implementing them district-wide. Districts could select schools where principals and teachers are excited about  CRP; if the program were a success, that might generate enthusiasm among skeptical teachers and policymakers throughout the district. Moreover, teachers who participated in pilot programs could help develop lesson-planning and time-management strategies that minimize the conflict between CRP and standardized tests, which could then be incorporated into more far-reaching professional development programs.


Ultimately, our proposals seek to respond to the deficit model by better integrating teachers into the communities in which they teach, ensuring that teachers view the cultural diversity of their students as a strength rather than as something to be overcome. As Emdin notes, teachers should not go into communities of color with the presumption that those communities are a barrier to student success. The supposition “that students are in need of ‘cleaning up’ presumes that they are dirty” and the notion that a “school can give students ‘a life’ emanates from a problematic savior complex that results in making students, their varied experiences, their emotions, and the good in their communities invisible” (Emdin, 2016, p. 20). To eliminate the devastating effects of low-expectations and close the achievement gap, we must  create policies that combat the trivialization and dismissal of communities of color by counteracting teacher bias and valorizing the cultural and intellectual contributions of communities of color.

Many different kinds of professional development exist. Policymakers and principals may wonder why culturally responsive pedagogy is the most urgent, the most cost-effective, and the most impactful program for their time and resources. We contend that CRP strikes at the root cause of the achievement gap. Where two decades of massive federal reforms have failed, CRP can succeed. Accountability, with its emphasis on sameness in content and pedagogical approaches, fails to move beyond the deficit model, where difference is a problem to be overcome. CRP treats cultural difference as an asset which can propel students to academic success, and creates a school climate where students of color can succeed. If policymakers are determined to substantially narrow the achievement gap, they should invest in CRP.

Works Cited

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Losen, D. J., & Gillespie, J. (2012). Opportunities suspended: The disparate impact of disciplinary exclusion from school. The Center for Civil Rights Remedies at The Civil Rights Project, University of California, Los Angeles.

Maloney, P. (2012). Schools Make Teachers: The Case of Teach For America and Teacher Training. PhD diss., Yale University Department of Sociology.

Morrison, K. A., Robbins, H. H., & Rose, D. G. (2008). Operationalizing culturally relevant pedagogy: A synthesis of classroom-based research. Equity & Excellence in Education, 41(4), 433-452.

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Young, E. (2010). Challenges to conceptualizing and actualizing culturally relevant pedagogy: How viable is the theory in classroom practice?. Journal of Teacher Education, 61(3), 248-260.