Category Archives: Education

Star player who expressed interest in going to an HBCU may shake up how athletes select a college

by Jasmine Harris, Ursinus College

Mikey Williams, one of the nation’s best 15-year-old basketball players, sent shockwaves through the sports world when he tweeted that he might go to a historically black college or university, also known as an HBCU. Here, Jasmine Harris, a researcher who studies student-athletes, elaborates on why Williams’ potential decision is generating so much interest.

Mikey Williams dribbles through a crowd during the Pangos All-American Camp on June 2, 2019 at Cerritos College in Norwalk, CA. 

 

1. What’s the big deal?

There is a lot of money at stake. Before he became an NBA star, Zion Williamson was worth an estimated US$5 million per year for Duke University. That figure is based on media exposure, marketing deals and ticket sales.

Williamson is not unique. Many a college sports star have made a lot of money for their college. Convincing a talented high school player to commit to a particular school is one of the most critical aspects of recruitment. A star player can help a school generate lots of revenue and expand their sports program. This is why I believe that college sports programs are more like businesses than part of a school.

HBCUs are historically underfunded. For that reason, HBCUs can’t recruit as competitively as some of their Division I peers. Without the funds to build programs and modern facilities capable to showcase star players in their quest to go pro, HBCUs are unlikely landing spots for the country’s most talented student athletes.

When HBCUs can’t attract the best young players, they miss out on the larger shares of NCAA revenue they could get from televised games, March Madness tournament participation and apparel and ticket sales. An HBCU has never won an NCAA national championship in football or men’s basketball. Instead, HBCUs compete in their own championship tournaments for the semi-segregated Mid-Eastern Atlantic Conference (MEAC) and Southwestern Atlantic Conference (SWAC). One player may not change the entire system, but one player can make a big difference for an individual school.

2. Is there anything special about the timing?

The convergence of increased discontent regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, news coverage of videos that show the killing of George Floyd at the hands of police, and the persistence of racist rhetoric, has created a perfect storm to re-envision which college a young black student should choose. College men’s basketball teams are made up of 56% black players student-athletes, but only about half of those athletes graduate from college after six years, in some cases that number is well below 50%. Less than 2% will be drafted into professional leagues.

These are black kids who are grappling in real time with their own racial identities, their place in the social hierarchy, and the systemic disadvantages of race in the U.S.

As the NCAA tries to maintain institutional status quo where student-athletes are prevented from being paid for sports participation, while players advocate for their right to generate their own revenue, black student-athletes like Williams are recognizing their role in the financial health of the schools for which they choose to play. As Williams stated on Instagram, “WE ARE THE REASON THAT THESE SCHOOLS HAVE SUCH BIG NAMES AND SUCH GOOD HISTORY … But in the end what do we get out of it?”

Committing to play for an HBCU isn’t just a neutral, short-term decision in this case. The potential for change instigated as a result of a top player rejecting a predominantly white college in favor of an HBCU is particularly significant, specifically in 2020 as black colleges struggle to stay afloat, but also more possible than ever.

3. Can just one player shake things up?

In the short term, probably not. However, Williams has the potential to influence other players in the future – and that may be more important. Colleges and universities depend heavily on revenue from men’s basketball and football games to maintain stable operating budgets across the entire institution. The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed how precarious the financial relationship is between sports and Division I programs. Forfeiting 2020 revenue means these schools will have even thinner margins, and reduced budgets in the years immediately after the pandemic. This will create greater opportunity for a reorganization of the Division I sports hierarchy.

If Williams were to attend an HBCU, his presence would immediately improve the school’s bargaining position for television contracts and marketing deals. It could also lead to an increase in ticket sales and attract additional potential star players.

His decision could ultimately change how star high school athletes choose which college to attend. And if more choose HBCUs, these players have the power to shift a longstanding system which benefits predominantly white schools, to one where black colleges can become more competitive in sports.


Republished with permission under license from The Conversation.

Birthed by HBCU students, this organization offers important lessons for today’s student activists

by Jelani Favors, Clayton State University

April 15, 2020 marks 60 years since the founding of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, perhaps better known as SNCC, and usually pronounced as “snick.” SNCC became one of the most important organizations to engage in grassroots organizing during the modern civil rights movement and radically transformed youth culture during the decade. Jelani Favors, an associate professor of history and author of a book on how historically black colleges and universities ushered in a new era of activism and leadership, discusses SNCC’s legacy and what lessons it can offer today’s activists.

What role did SNCC play in the civil rights movement?

The founding of SNCC in April 1960 represented an important paradigm shift within the modern civil rights movement. SNCC encouraged black youth to defiantly enter spaces that they had been told to avoid all of their lives. The founding in 1960 resulted in a wave of SNCC activists being sent into the most hostile environments to register voters and mobilize African Americans for change. In doing so, SNCC ushered in the direct action phase of the movement.

Previous generations of activists had embraced lawsuits, such as the 1944 Smith v. Allwright against racial discrimination in voting, and the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education case against racial segregation in public schools. Previous generations also embraced non-direct protest tactics, such as boycotts, to bring slow change. But the sit-ins – popularized by black college students who would later form SNCC – placed black bodies on the line in ways that other tactics had not. They clogged “five and dime” stores across the South, effectively shutting them down, dramatizing the movement for black liberation as the entire world looked on through television and media coverage.

Black youth courageously courted the danger that often accompanied breaking the color line in the racially segregated South. Their actions resulted in violent clashes that fully displayed the immorality of white segregationists and simultaneously captured the nobility and courage of black youth. Perhaps most importantly, SNCC radically transformed youth culture in America. The organization took a generation of youth that Time magazine had previously labeled in 1951 as the “silent generation,” and ushered in a decade – the 1960s – that would be widely characterized and defined by the militancy and dissent of young Americans.

How did historically black colleges and universities help form SNCC and its agenda?

Black colleges served as the incubators for this militancy. For generations, historically black colleges and universities – also known as HBCUs – exposed students to a “second curriculum” that was defined by race consciousness, idealism and cultural nationalism. These concepts not only blunted the toxic effects of white supremacy, but they also empowered youth and deliberately fitted them with a mission to serve as change agents within their respective communities and professional fields. It was not happenstance that the origins of SNCC were rooted within the crucial intellectual and social spaces that were carved out within HBCUs.

The overwhelming majority of students who convened in Raleigh, North Carolina, on April 15, 1960 were from southern black colleges where the sit-ins had unfolded. And it was also no mistake that they met at Shaw University, an HBCU located in Raleigh. After all, the woman who had the vision to bring those students together – Ella Baker – was a 1927 graduate of Shaw.

For generations, black college alumni like Baker worked within religious institutions, civil rights organizations, labor unions and special interests groups. Their work within these spaces was largely informed by the “second curriculum” they had been exposed to as HBCU students. SNCC was therefore part of a long tradition of radicalism that was cultivated and produced within black colleges. This exposure equipped them with the necessary intellectual and political tools they would use to take on white supremacy and Jim Crow – the system of legalized segregation in the South.

What is SNCC’s legacy?

SNCC had a relatively short lifespan compared to other civil rights organizations. By the end of the decade their operations were defunct. Much of this was due to both external and internal pressures. Nevertheless, SNCC distinguished itself as “the most powerful energy machine” for the freedom struggle. I argue that SNCC was the most important and effective civil rights organization of the 1960s.

Unlike most other organizations, SNCC eschewed “top-down” operations that fostered elitism and “helicopter” tactics in which organizers would swoop in to inspire local folks and then leave them to manage local struggles on their own. SNCC’s objectives were completely opposite. They entered into the most dangerous, racially hostile and violent regions of the country, such as Albany, Georgia, the Delta region of Mississippi, and Lowndes County, Alabama. Once there, they set up operations that listened to and empowered local people, such as Fannie Lou Hamer, Amzie Moore, Unita Blackwell and countless others.

The relationship between SNCC and local people was reciprocal. SNCC activists learned and lived among the black proletariat – sharecroppers, farmers and day laborers. These people’s wisdom, shrewdness and practical knowledge of how to survive and navigate the worst of the Jim Crow South proved invaluable as SNCC took the fight for black liberation into the rural communities and remote areas of the South. Their blueprint became the template for local organizing for the Black Power Movement and beyond. Perhaps most importantly, their actions played a crucial role in expanding the ballot to millions of Americans who had been marginalized by racist policies and violence.

What lessons can today’s student activists learn from SNCC?

Both SNCC’s victories and defeats are very informative on the history of black social movements. Internal debates are both necessary and healthy for activist organizations. However, by 1964 SNCC’s ability to function as a cohesive unit was under serious threat. Disagreements concerning the infusion of young white activists in the organization and field operations, arguments concerning the use of non-violence as a tactic, and debate over other competing ideological tenets, such as Marxism and Black Nationalism, greatly impaired the organization’s ability to keep a unified front.

Perhaps most challenging were the external threats to SNCC’s existence. The potency of SNCC drew the attention of federal and state agencies that wanted to curb its influence and power. SNCC activists were constantly under surveillance. They lived their lives under the looming shadow of intimidation from law enforcement and the threat of being infiltrated. Today’s student activists can and should be wary of arguments that are unproductive and those who seek to derail their organizations with their own toxic agendas.

In spite of these challenges, SNCC presented a model that empowered local communities and radically transformed American democracy. By listening to and learning from aggrieved populations and empowering local folks to carry out their own agendas, today’s student activists can extend the radical tradition established by SNCC.

We'll Never Turn Back (1963) | SNCC Film feat. Fannie Lou Hamer


Republished with permission under license from The Conversation.

Librarians could be jailed and fined under a proposed Missouri censorship law

Nicole Cooke, University of South Carolina

A bill pending in Missouri’s legislature takes aim at libraries and librarians who are making “age-inappropriate sexual material” available to children.

The measure, championed by Ben Baker, a Republican lawmaker, calls for establishing review boards who would determine whether materials in libraries contain or promote “nudity, sexuality, sexual conduct, sexual excitement, or sadomasochistic abuse.” In addition, the boards, which would be comprised of parents, would root out materials lacking “serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.”

Librarians who defy the review boards by buying and lending such materials would be subject to misdemeanor charges, fines upward of US$500, and a potential jail sentence up to one year.

As a librarian, and now as an educator who teaches aspiring librarians, I see this bill as the latest chapter in a long history of books being banned from public and school libraries.

A sign of the times. 

Censorship and book banning

Often, efforts to censor and muzzle libraries originate with members of the public rather than public officials or school leaders.

Censoring and banning library materials and programs is nothing new. Many classic books have been challenged and banned, including classroom favorites like “1984” by George Orwell, “The Catcher in the Rye” by J. D. Salinger, “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee, “The Color Purple” by Alice Walker, and “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou.

The children’s book “And Tango Makes Three,” by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell and illustrated by Henry Cole, was challenged and banned from libraries around the country for many years after its publication in 2005. The picture book is based on a true story of two male penguins in New York City’s Central Park Zoo who adopt and care for an egg and then keep caring for their daughter, Tango, after she hatched.

J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series is also regularly challenged and banned.

Separately, opponents of the storytime program known as “Drag Queen Story Hour” at libraries and other community venues, have held protests to ban and condemn such events aimed at children. The objections voiced by protesters stem from their belief that drag performers are evil and amoral and that exposure to drag queens will, in their view, cause children to become gay.

The Missouri bill is not the first of its kind. State lawmakers in Colorado and Maine both tried to pass similar legislation in 2019. Both efforts failed.

The drag queens who read to kids in libraries are attracting protesters. 

A profession

American Library Association’s Office of Intellectual Freedom, the Missouri Library Association, and PEN America – a nonprofit that defends free expression – are among the literary and library groups that have voiced their objections.

Many of the drag queens who read to kids are planning a protest against the measure on March 7. Baker has said his concerns about these readings were a factor in inspiring him to draft the bill.

Librarians are professionals. Librarians working in K-12 school libraries also earn certification as school library media specialists. Librarians have expertise in children’s literature, collection development, child development, psychology, readers’ advisory, reference services and other specialized skills needed to serve children and young adults in a variety of settings.

In short, librarians are more than capable of selecting and purchasing quality books and other materials for people of all ages.

To imply otherwise, as I believe the proposed Missouri measure would, is to insult these skilled educators. If it should be enacted, I would consider it a potential threat to information access, intellectual freedom and the freedom to read.


Republished with permission under license from The Conversation.

7 lessons from ‘Hidden Figures’ NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson’s life and career

Della Dumbaugh, University of Richmond

Katherine Johnson, an African-American mathematician who made critical contributions to the space program at NASA, died Feb. 24 at the age of 101.

Katherine Johnson spoke at the Oscars about her work depicted in the 2016 film ‘Hidden Figures.’

Johnson became a household name thanks to the celebrated book “Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians who Helped Win the Space Race,” which later became a movie. Her legacy provides lessons for supporting women and other underrepresented groups in mathematics and science.

As a historian of mathematics, I have studied women in that field and use the book “Hidden Figures” in my classroom. I can point to some contemporary ideas we can all benefit from when examining Johnson’s life.

1. Mentors make a difference

Early in her life, Johnson’s parents fostered her intellectual prowess.

Because there was no high school for African-American children in their hometown of White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, the family relocated to Institute, West Virginia, during the school year. Johnson entered West Virginia State College High School as a preteen and enrolled at the age of 14.

While at West Virginia State, Johnson took classes with Angie Turner King. King taught at the laboratory high school while she worked to become one of the first African-American women to earn masters degrees in math and chemistry. She would go on to earn a Ph.D. in math education in 1955.

King taught Johnson geometry and encouraged her mathematical pursuits. Thirteen years older than Johnson, she modeled a life of possibility.

Johnson graduated from West Virginia State College at the age of 18. While there, she had the good fortune to learn from W. W. Schieffelin Claytor, the third African American to earn a Ph.D. in mathematics in America. Claytor encouraged Katherine to become a research mathematician. In the 1930s, a little over 100 American women counted themselves as professional mathematicians.

Barack Obama awarded Katherine Johnson the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015. 

2. High school mathematics adds up

Once Johnson completed the standard mathematics curriculum at West Virginia State College, Claytor created advanced classes just for her, including a course on analytic geometry.

Mathematics concepts build on one another and the mathematics she learned in this class helped her in her work at NASA many years later. She used these analytical skills to verify the computer calculations for John Glenn’s orbit around the earth and to help determine the trajectory for the 1969 Apollo 11 flight to the moon, among others.

3. Grit matters

Long before psychologist Angela Duckworth called attention to the power of passion and perseverance in the form of grit, Katherine Johnson modeled this stalwart characteristic.

In 1940, she agreed to serve as one of three carefully selected students to desegregate West Virginia University’s graduate program. She also had to be “assertive and aggressive” about receiving credit for her contributions to research at NASA.

In 1960, her efforts helped her become the first African-American and the first woman to have her name on a NASA research report. Currently, the NASA archives contain more than 25 scientific reports on space flight history authored or co-authored by Johnson, the largest number by any African-American or woman.

4. The power of advocating for yourself

Katherine Johnson worked at NASA in 1966. NASA

When NASA was formed in 1958, women were still not allowed to attend the Test Flight briefings.

Initially, Johnson would ask questions about the briefings and “listen and listen.” Eventually, she asked if she could attend. Apparently, the men grew tired of her questions and finally allowed her to attend the briefings.

5. The power of a team

In 1940, Johnson found herself among the 2% of all African-American women who had earned a college degree. At that time, she was among the nearly 60% of those women who had become teachers.

Later, she joined the West Computing Group at Langley Research Center where women “found jobs and each other.” They checked each other’s work and made sure nothing left the office with an error. They worked together to advance each other individually and collectively as they performed calculations for space missions and aviation research.

Katherine Johnson was at the Virginia Air and Space Center in Hampton, Va. in 2016. 

6. The power of women advocating for women

Although Johnson started as a human computer in the West Computing Group, after two weeks she moved to the Maneuver Load Branch of the Flight Research Division under the direction of Henry Pearson.

When it was time to make this position permanent after her six month probationary period, Dorothy Vaughan, then the West Computing department head and Johnson’s former boss, told Pearson to “either give her a raise or send her back to me.” Pearson subsequently offered Johnson the position and the raise.

7. The legacy of possibility

In March of 2014, Donna Gigliotti, producer of Shakespeare in Love and The Reader, received a 55-page nonfiction proposal about African-American women mathematicians at NASA in Hampton, Virginia.

I kind of couldn’t get over the fact that this was a true story and I didn’t know anything about it,” Gigliotti confessed. “I thought well, this is a movie.” Gigliotti’s hunch ultimately led to the movie “Hidden Figures” and an entire generation of young people learning about the possibilities of math and science.

The U.S. State Department showed Hidden Figures throughout the developing world to encourage girls and women to consider the possibilities of careers in math and science. Mattel created a Katherine Johnson Barbie in its “Inspiring Women” series to celebrate “the achievements of a pioneer who broke through the barriers of race and gender.”


Republished with permission under license from The Conversation.

The made-up crisis behind the state takeover of Houston’s public schools

by Domingo Morel, Rutgers University Newark

If the state of Texas had its way, the state would be in the process of taking over the Houston Independent School District.

But a judge temporarily blocked the takeover on Jan. 8, with the issue now set to be decided at a trial in June.

The ruling temporarily spares Houston’s public school system from joining a list of over 100 school districts in the nation that have experienced similar state takeovers during the past 30 years.

The list includes New York City, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, Detroit, New Orleans, Baltimore, Oakland and Newark. Houston is the largest school district in Texas and the seventh largest in the U.S.

While the state of Texas claims the planned takeover is about school improvement, my research on state takeovers of school districts suggests that the Houston takeover, like others, is influenced by racism and political power.

States fail to deliver

State governments have used takeovers since the late 1980s to intervene in school districts they have identified as in need of improvement. While state administrations promise that takeovers will improve school systems, 30 years of evidence shows that state takeovers do not meet the states’ promised expectations. For instance, a recent report called Michigan’s 15-year management of the Detroit schools a “costly mistake” because the takeover was not able to address the school system’s major challenges, which included adequately funding the school district.

But while the takeovers don’t deliver promised results, as I show in my book, they do have significant negative political and economic consequences for communities, which overwhelmingly are communities of color. These negative consequences often include the removal of locally elected school boards. They also involve decreases in teachers and staff and the loss of local control of schools.

Despite the highly problematic history of state takeovers, states have justified the takeovers on the grounds that the entire school district is in need of improvement. However, this is not the case for the Houston takeover because by the state’s own standards, the Houston school system is not failing.

Low threshold for state intervention

Following a 2015 law, HB 1842, the state of Texas was granted authority to take over a school district if a single school in that district fails to meet state education standards for five or more years. The bill was passed by the Republican controlled state legislature with Democratic support. However, Democratic state lawmakers representing Houston argue that the law was a mistake and urged for it to be revised.

Although the state has given the Houston Independent School District a B rating, it plans to take over the Houston schools because one school, Wheatley High School, has not met state standards for seven years. According to state law, the state can take over a school district or close a school if it fails to meet standards for five years.

The Houston Independent School District has 280 schools. The district serves over 200,000 students. It employs roughly 12,000 teachers. Wheatley High School serves roughly 800 students and has roughly 50 teachers.

So why would a state take over a school district that has earned a B rating from the state? And why base the takeover on the performance of one school that represents fewer than 1% of the district’s student and teaching population?

In order to understand the logic of the planned state takeover of the Houston schools, it pays to understand the important role that schools have played in the social, political and economic development of communities of color. Historically, communities of color have relied on school level politics as an entry point to broader political participation. School level politics may involve issues like ending school segregation, demanding more resources for schools, increasing the numbers of teachers and administrators of color, and participating in school board elections.

The process of gaining political power at the local level – and eventually state level – often begins at the schools, particularly the school board. For instance, before blacks and Latinos elect members of their communities to the city councils, the mayor’s office, and state legislatures, they often elect members to the school board first.

Political representation at stake

In Texas, communities of color are politically underrepresented. Although blacks, Latinos, and Asians represent nearly 60% of the population in Texas, their political power at the state level is not proportional to their population. Whites make up 64% of the state legislature. The Republican Party controls the governorship, state House of Representatives and state Senate, but only 4% of all Republican state legislators are of color. Communities of color in Texas have filed lawsuits arguing that they have been prevented from gaining political representation at the state level by Republicans through racial gerrymandering and voter identification laws that disenfranchise black and Latino voters.

However, despite years of systematic exclusion of people of color, the political landscape is changing in Texas. Texas is increasingly urbanizing as a result of population growth in the state’s cities. Since urban voters are more likely to vote Democratic, the growth in the urban population may potentially alter political dynamics in the state. Also, while African Americans have solidly identified with the Democratic Party in Texas, Latinos have not. But that, too, is changing. Polls show that Latino support for Republican presidential candidates in Texas went from a high of 49% during George W. Bush’s reelection in 2004, to 35% for McCain in 2008, 29% for Romney in 2012, to a low of 18% for Trump in 2016.

Houston, as the largest urban center in Texas, is at the forefront of this challenge to the Republican grip of state power in Texas. The Houston schools, in particular, are representative of the state’s demographic and political future. The nine-member Houston school board is reflective of the community it serves. It has four Latinos, three African Americans, one Asian and one white. This, in my view, is what has put the Houston public school system and school board at the forefront of a battle that is really about race and political power.

The Houston public school system is not failing. Rather, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, Education Commissioner Mike Morath and the Republican state legislature are manufacturing an education crisis to prevent people of color in Houston from exercising their citizenship rights and seizing political power.


Republished with permission under license from The Conversation.

GI Bill opened doors to college for many vets, but politicians created a separate one for blacks

By Joseph Thompson, Mississippi State University

When President Franklin Roosevelt signed the GI Bill into law on June 22, 1944, it laid the foundation for benefits that would help generations of veterans achieve social mobility.

Formally known as the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, the bill made unprecedented commitments to the nation’s veterans. For instance, it provided federal assistance to veterans in the form of housing and unemployment benefits. But of all the benefits offered through the GI Bill, funding for higher education and job training emerged as the most popular.

More than 2 million veterans flocked to college campuses throughout the country. But even as former service members entered college, not all of them accessed the bill’s benefits in the same way. That’s because white southern politicians designed the distribution of benefits under the GI Bill to uphold their segregationist beliefs.

So, while white veterans got into college with relative ease, black service members faced limited options and outright denial in their pursuit for educational advancement. This resulted in uneven outcomes of the GI Bill’s impact.

As a scholar of race and culture in the U.S. South, I believe this history raises important questions about whether subsequent iterations of the GI Bill are benefiting all vets equally.

Tuition waived for service

When he signed the bill into law, President Roosevelt assured that it would give “servicemen and women the opportunity of resuming their education or technical training … not only without tuition charge … but with the right to receive a monthly living allowance while pursuing their studies.” So long as they had served 90 consecutive days in the U.S. Armed Forces and had not received a dishonorable discharge, veterans could have their tuition waived for the institution of their choice and cover their living expenses as they pursued a college degree.

This unparalleled investment in veteran education led to a boom in college enrollment. Around 8 million of the nation’s 16 million veterans took advantage of federal funding for higher education or vocational training, 2 million of whom pursued a college degree within the first five years of the bill’s existence. Those ex-service members made up nearly half of the nation’s college students by 1947.

Colleges scrambled to accommodate all the new veterans. These veterans were often white men who were slightly older than the typical college age. They sometimes arrived with wives and families in tow and brought a martial discipline to their studies that, as scholars have noted, created a cultural clash with traditional civilian students who sometimes were more interested in the life of the party than the life of the mind.

Limited opportunities for black servicemen

Black service members had a different kind of experience. The GI Bill’s race-neutral language had filled the 1 million African American veterans with hope that they, too, could take advantage of federal assistance. Integrated universities and historically black colleges and universities – commonly known as HBCUs – welcomed black veterans and their federal dollars, which led to the growth of a new black middle class in the immediate postwar years.

Yet, the underfunding of HBCUs limited opportunities for these large numbers of black veterans. Schools like the Tuskegee Institute and Alcorn State lacked government investment in their infrastructure and simply could not accommodate an influx of so many students, whereas well-funded white institutions were more equipped to take in students. Research has also revealed that a lack of formal secondary education for black soldiers prior to their service inhibited their paths to colleges and universities.

As historians Kathleen J. Frydl, Ira Katznelson and others have argued, U.S. Representative John Rankin of Mississippi exacerbated these racial disparities.

Racism baked in

Rankin, a staunch segregationist, chaired the committee that drafted the bill. From this position, he ensured that local Veterans Administrations controlled the distribution of funds. This meant that when black southerners applied for their assistance, they faced the prejudices of white officials from their communities who often forced them into vocational schools instead of colleges or denied their benefits altogether.

Mississippi’s connection to the GI Bill goes beyond Rankin’s racist maneuvering. From 1966 to 1997, G.V. “Sonny” Montgomery represented the state in Congress and dedicated himself to veterans’ issues. In 1984, he pushed through his signature piece of federal legislation, the Montgomery GI Bill, which recommitted the nation to providing for veterans’ education and extended those funds to reserve units and the National Guard. Congress had discontinued the GI Bill after Vietnam. As historian Jennifer Mittelstadt shows, Montgomery’s bill subsidized education as a way to boost enlistment in the all-volunteer force that lagged in recruitment during the final years of the Cold War.

Social programs like these have helped maintain enlistment quotas during recent conflicts in the Middle East, but today’s service members have found mixed success in converting the education subsidies from the Post-9/11 GI Bill into gains in civilian life.

This new GI Bill, passed in 2008, has paid around US$100 billion to more than 2 million recipients. Although the Student Veterans for America touts the nearly half a million degrees awarded to veterans since 2009, politicians and watchdogs have fought for reforms to the bill to stop predatory, for-profit colleges from targeting veterans. Recent reports show that 20% of GI Bill disbursements go to for-profit schools. These institutions hold reputations for notoriously high dropout rates and disproportionately targeting students of color, a significant point given the growing racial and ethnic diversity of the military.

In August 2017, President Trump signed the Forever GI Bill, which committed $3 billion for 10 more years of education funding. As active duty service members and veterans begin to take advantage of these provisions, history provides good reason to be vigilant for the way racism still impacts who receives the most from those benefits.The Conversation


Republished with permission under license from The Conversation.

HBCUs pay higher fees to borrow money. Research links that premium to racism.

by Clark Merrefield

Historically black colleges and universities looking to raise money for major projects face higher fees than their non-HBCU counterparts, even when agencies that rate credit risk give HBCU-issued bonds their highest scores, according to research recently published in the Journal of Financial Economics.

There’s one big reason for the additional cost, according to the authors: racial discrimination.

Colleges and universities typically issue bonds to pay for big-ticket items, like a new dorm or athletic facility. Bonds are loans, paid back over time with interest. Multimillion dollar bonds are usually split across different investors, but schools don’t track down those investors. Instead, they pay underwriters. An underwriter buys an entire bond and then finds investors to buy chunks of it.

Out of the pool of bonds the authors studied, non-HBCUs pay on average 81 cents of every $100 raised to underwriters. For a $10 million non-HBCU bond, that’s $81,000 in fees going to an underwriter.

But HBCUs pay on average 92 cents per $100 raised to underwriters — about 14% more, the paper finds.

That’s $92,000 in underwriting fees on a $10 million HBCU bond. HBCUs are higher education institutions founded before 1964 primarily to educate black students, many of whom were barred from predominantly white institutions.

“The underlying notion is it’s harder for an [HBCU] underwriter to find a buyer and they pass the cost on to the schools,” says Bill Mayew, professor of accounting at Duke University and one of the paper’s authors. “That’s where the difference comes from.”

The financial premium is even higher for HBCUs in Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi, where racial animus runs higher than in other states, according to data the authors analyze. In those three states, the cost to HBCUs for bond underwriting is 106 cents per $100 raised. That’s $106,000 going to an underwriter on a $10 million HBCU bond.

Understanding two types of discrimination

Economists point to two things that typically underlie actions a reasonable person could perceive as racist: statistical discrimination and taste-based discrimination.

Statistical discrimination happens when people take actual or perceived aggregate information and apply it to a specific situation. This happens sometimes in labor markets. A hiring manager considering two candidates from two different demographic groups might believe people from one group are less productive on average than people from the other. The hiring manager might argue they are not being racist in relying on stereotypes. They might say they are simply considering the company’s bottom line productivity.

Taste-based discrimination is discrimination based on personal taste. Someone, “simply has a preference for working with one type over the other,” as economists William Neilson and Shanshan Ying wrote in 2016 in a paper on the relationship between these types of discrimination. The hiring manager’s decision is based purely on distaste or preference for a candidate’s skin color.

“When you think of the notion of race discrimination, that’s a taste-based preference,” Mayew says.

Differentiating between statistical and taste-based discrimination is difficult to do, but important toward understanding why people make decisions that might appear discriminatory.

Credit ratings and insurance: disentangling HBCU discrimination

The authors look at a sample of 4,145 tax-exempt bonds issued from 1988 to 2010 from 965 four-year colleges totaling $150 billion. HBCUs, both public and private, issued 102 of those bonds.

Creditworthiness scores make it possible to parse the two types of discrimination. Ratings agencies like Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s rate higher education institutions’ credit risk. They provide a score that tells investors how likely the school is to default on its bond payments. A triple-A rating, the highest possible, means the college or university is practically assured to make their payments on time.

“You might say it’s not that buyers of bonds are racist, it’s they think those bonds are more likely to default,” Mayew says. “It’s really hard in most settings to disentangle those indications. But in the bond market, we can measure that really well with the credit rating so we can dig into and isolate race effects.”

Insurance is another way the authors rule out statistical discrimination. Universities can get bond insurance, so if they default the bond financer still gets paid back. Credit ratings and bond insurance give financers a sense of an institution’s likelihood of defaulting.

Still, the authors find that “identical [fee] differences are observed between HBCU and non-HBCUs with AAA ratings or when insured by the same company, even before the 2007–2009 financial crisis.”

HBCU bonds also take longer and cost more to offload in secondary markets. Those are markets where investors trade bonds that have already been financed. The authors find that HBCU bonds are 20% pricier than non-HBCU bonds to trade in secondary markets. Larger bonds — those over $50,000 — face a 60% premium. HBCU bonds overall linger 25% longer on secondary markets.

“If you’re going to say you’re talking about race discrimination you’ve got to provide a lot of evidence to make that case," Mayew says. "That’s a tough piece of evidence to refute.”

Premiums are much higher in parts of the Deep South

If racism were the main driving factor behind higher HBCU bond fees, then HBCUs in states that are more racist should face even higher fees, according to the authors. Broadly capturing racism is not necessarily straightforward. The authors try to do it using a variety of data to rank racial animosity in the 50 states plus the District of Columbia.

They use survey responses capturing resentment and opposition to affirmative action from the Cooperative Congressional Election Study, a large yearly survey of American adults by county. They also turn to state-level data on racist Google searches, and the percentage of white voters in each state who voted for Barack Obama in 2008 compared with the share of white voters who chose John Kerry in 2004. And they consider geocoded racist tweets just after Obama was reelected in 2012.

Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi scored highest for racial animosity. Georgia was next, but with a sharp drop-off. Those top-three states for racial animosity account for 4.7% of all bond issuances in the sample studied — but 26% of HBCU issuances. In those states, HBCUs pay about three times as much in bond underwriting fees as non-HBCUs, the authors find.

Tax exemptions limit the size of the market

The U.S. municipal bond market is worth almost $4 trillion. Though higher education bonds are a fraction of the total, that submarket is still big enough that taste-based discrimination shouldn’t matter. Anyone can finance a university bond issuance. If a racist investor doesn’t want to finance an HBCU project, there should be plenty of other investors to pony up capital.

But tax exemptions tend to limit university bond markets to the state a school is in. Interest payments are tax exempt if the bond is issued by an entity in the state where the financer is based. Someone living in Louisiana would receive tax-free interest payments by financing a Xavier University of Louisiana bond but not an Alabama State University bond.

The authors argue that a triple tax exemption — with interest payments on university bonds exempt from federal, state and local taxes — could take racism out of the equation. Triple tax exemption would allow HBCUs to, “tap into a larger market where racial preferences are different,” Mayew says.

Barriers to bonds

There’s no good way to quantify how much higher education institutions pay insurers and credit rating agencies, Mayew says, but those entities need to be paid in addition to underwriters. So there are costs to entering bond markets — and when it comes to underwriting, those costs are higher for HBCUs. That may mean some HBCUs pass up raising money through bonds, potentially forgoing major campus improvements.

“Bond markets should be one of the cheapest forms of capital,” Mayew says. “It’s many individual investors, and schools should be able to raise lots of money. And maybe 25 years ago, an HBCU passed up renovating a dorm. These are the opportunity costs schools face.”


Republish with permission under license from Journalist's Resource.

For male students, technical education in high school boosts earnings after graduation

By Shaun M. Dougherty, Vanderbilt University

Job prospects for young men who only have a high school diploma are particularly bleak. They are even worse for those who have less education. When young men experience joblessness, it not only threatens their financial well-being but their overall well-being and physical health.

Could a high quality and specialized technical education in high school make a difference?

Based on a study I co-authored with 60,000 students who applied to the Connecticut Technical High School System, the answer is: yes.

Students in the electrical program at H.C. Wilcox Technical High School in Meriden, Connecticut practice their skills. Connecticut Technical Education and Career System

To reach this conclusion, we studied two groups of similar students: Those who barely were admitted to the Connecticut Technical High School System and those who just missed getting in. Students apply to these high schools and submit things such as test scores, attendance and discipline records from middle school. Then, applicants are ranked on their score and admitted in descending order until all seats are filled. We compared those whose score helped them get the last space in a school, to those who just missed being admitted because the school was out of space.

This enabled us to determine whether there was something special about Connecticut’s Technical High School System education that gave students an advantage over peers who also applied, but didn’t get into one of the system’s 16 technical schools across the state.

Widespread appeal

Connecticut Technical High School System is a popular choice for students – about 50% more students apply than can be admitted.

Students in the Precision Machining program at Vinal Technical High School in Middletown, Conn., gather around their teacher for instruction. Connecticut Technical Education and Career System

The system functions such that students can apply to attend a school in the tech system instead of their assigned public school. Statewide, the system schools – which offer specialized instruction in a variety of career fields – serve about 10% of the high school students. Most students who don’t get into the tech schools stay in their public high school.

What we found is that students who were admitted to the Connecticut Technical High School System went on to earn 30% more than those who didn’t get admitted. We also found that the tech school students were 10 percentage points more likely to graduate from high school than applicants who didn’t get in – a statistically significant finding.

Our research suggests that expanding a technical high school system like the one in Connecticut would benefit more students. I make this observation as one who examines outcomes associated with career and technical education.

The track record

Career and technical education has already been shown – at least on an individual or small scale level – to positively impact earnings and high school graduation rates.

Career and technical education does this without taking away from general learning in traditional subjects like math and English. But based on my experience, it has never been clear as to whether career and technical education makes a difference on a system-wide level rather than at just one or among a few select schools.

Our recent study finally answers that question because we studied an entire state technical high school system. Specifically, it shows that, yes, career and technical education can give students the same benefits that it has already been shown to give on a smaller level even if it’s scaled up. This has implications for school districts and states, especially as growing interest in what works in career and technical education.

The appeal of technical education in Connecticut

Once admitted into the Connecticut technical high school system, all students take career and technical education coursework instead of other electives, such as world languages, art or music. Typically, coursework is grouped into one of 10 to 17 programs of study, such as information technology, health services, cosmetology, heating ventilation and air conditioning, and production processes, among others. Traditional public high schools in the state, on the other hand, tend to offer at most four career and technical programs through elective courses.

In the Technical High School System schools in Connecticut, students explore various programs of study during their first year. Then – with help from an adviser – students select a program of study. Within these programs, students take at least three aligned courses and often more. They also have more opportunity to align academic and technical coursework materials, so that math and English content can often be integrated into technical courses. Chances for work-based learning and job exposure can also be enhanced in these settings, which may contribute to their impact.

Better outcomes

To figure out if these technical schools were making a difference, we looked at admissions from 2006-2007 through 2013-2014 for 60,000 students.

We found that – compared to students who just missed being admitted – technical high school students had:

• Better 9th grade attendance rates; absenteeism rates fell by 14%

• Higher 10th grade test scores (like moving from the 50th to the 57th percentile, which is a significant jump for high school test scores)

• A greater likelihood of graduating from high school, about 85% versus 75% for those who just missed being admitted

• Higher quarterly earnings, over 30% higher

• While we found a lower likelihood of attending college initially, no differences were seen by age 23

As educators, elected officials and parents search for more effective ways to give young men in high school a better shot at being able to earn a living, our study suggests that Connecticut might have already figured it out.


Republished with permission under license from The Conversation.

Arrests of 6-year-olds shows the perils of putting police in primary schools

By F. Chris Curran, University of Florida

When states like Florida pass laws to put more police officers in schools, the idea is to keep kids safe.

But as the arrest of two six-year-olds in a Florida school in October has shown, sometimes one threat to the students is the officers themselves.

The portion of primary schools that have police officers on site has risen dramatically in recent years.

Instead of being protected, these very young students were placed in handcuffs and arrested. Each one faced misdemeanor battery charges as a result of behavioral outbursts at school, including one instance in which one of the children kicked a school staffer.

While the arrests of the two elementary students in Orlando are not everyday occurrences, they do reflect a body of research that suggests cops in schools – they are formally known as school resource officers, or SROs – can take what would otherwise be a routine school disciplinary situation and escalate it to a whole different level.

I base that assertion on my work as a researcher who has studied school discipline, school safety and the role of school resource officers in elementary schools.

My work sheds light on the potential unintended consequences of school resource officers – as well as ways that school leaders can prevent situations like the arrests that unfolded in Orlando.

A growing presence

School resource officers, who are sworn officers with full arrest powers, are increasingly common in primary schools. Between 2005 and 2015, the percentage of primary schools with school resource officers increased 64%. Now, nearly one in three elementary schools has one of these officers at least part-time.

This trend is set to continue as states like Florida and Maryland passed legislation in 2018 to increase the presence of police to all schools.

Response to student behavior

Certainly, elementary schools must occasionally deal with violent behavior. In fact, my colleagues and I have found that as many as 12% of teachers experience threats of or actual physical attacks from students each year. Indeed, in the case in Orlando, one of the six-year-olds was arrested in part for kicking a staff member during an outburst.

In 2012, kindergartner Salecia Johnson, then 6, was handcuffed by police after she threw a tantrum at her school. A police report stated the girl knocked over a shelf that injured the principal. 

What’s increasingly changing, however, is how schools respond to these violent incidents. The presence of police in schools has been shown to increase the likelihood that students are arrested for school misconduct. For example, prior research has found that police agencies that get funding for school police increase arrests of youth under age 15 by as much as 21%. This may be because the presence of police can shift the mindset of schools to one that is more about punishment than it is about teaching students why their behavior is wrong and what they can do to make amends.

In our work, we have found that even when school district policy specifies that school resource officers should not be involved in discipline, many of the officers interpret this policy differently. For example, school resource officers may use their proximity to deter misbehavior, may pull misbehaving students aside to talk or may be present while school personnel interrogate or search students.

School officials have a lower standard to justify a search than law enforcement. Similarly, school officials can interrogate students without providing a Miranda warning – the legally required notice of the right to remain silent or have legal counsel that police must give when they have someone in custody. So, if officers are present during interrogations or searches in schools, it could enable them to bypass legal protections that exist outside of schools.

A school police officer stands watch as students eat lunch at a school in Ohio. 

School resource officers are trained primarily as law enforcement agents. It should, therefore, be little surprise that they sometimes default to responses like arrest.

Keeping school police in check

Florida State Attorney Aramis Ayala declined to prosecute the students arrested in Orlando. She said she refuses to “knowingly play any role in the school-to-prison pipeline.”

Florida State Attorney Aramis Ayala speaks at a news conference Monday, Sept. 23, 2019, in Orlando, Florida. She confirmed that her office would not prosecute two 6-year-old students that were arrested by an Orlando police officer. 

The local police agency has fired the officer involved, citing violation of their policy requiring supervisor approval of arrests of children below 12 years of age.

While these actions demonstrate a commitment by state and local leaders to avoid repeats of this incident, there are other ways that schools can prevent student misconduct from ever reaching the point of an arrest.

Our work suggests that schools and law enforcement agencies should have clear, mutually agreed upon guidelines for when school resource officers become involved in student misbehavior.

In interviews with school resource officers, we find that many are responsive to district policy that prohibits involvement in discipline. Yet, nationally, around half of schools with school resource officers do not include language around school discipline or arrests in formal agreements with law enforcement. Based on our research, we conclude that school resource officers should only get involved in cases of very serious legal violations such as a weapon or acts or threats of violence and should take into consideration the age of students involved and circumstances of the situation.

Educators need training

We have found that many times, a school resource officer’s involvement in student discipline comes as a result of pressure from teachers and administrators to be involved. For example, in our ongoing interviews with school resource officers and school personnel, we encounter a number of principals and teachers who specifically ask the school resource officer to lecture students on misconduct, be present for disciplinary hearings, and, in some cases, go to a classroom to handle a defiant student instead of leaving that work to the principal.

Instead of asking school resource officers to help out with matters of discipline, in my view, teachers and school administrators should be given training and resources that equip them to respond to student misconduct without relying on school police. In a recent national report, almost 50% of teachers reported having to put up with misbehavior due to a lack of administrative support. Only 6% of teachers thought schools should hire additional police to help with student behavior. Instead, they preferred that resources be put to additional mental health professionals, teaching assistants and social workers.

Similarly, school resource officers should be given training that emphasizes the developmental stages of students and how to respond to student misconduct. As others have noted, training for school resource officers is often limited and varies in length and quality across districts. Nationally, 93% of school resource officers report training for active shooters. However, only about one third report training in child trauma or the teenage brain.

It is critical to keep students safe in school. That said, districts should carefully consider whether police should be in schools and, if present, what role they should play in student misconduct.


Republished with permission under license from The Conversation.

Study shows private schools aren’t better for low-income students

Low-income students don’t benefit more from private school than public school, suggests research from scholars at the University of Virginia.

The study, forthcoming in the Educational Researcher, offers new insights to help inform debates about whether children from poor families would learn more and earn higher test scores if they were able to attend private school.

Several states use public money to offer lower-income students vouchers to pay for private school. More than a dozen states allow individuals and corporations to donate a portion of the state taxes they owe to nonprofit organizations that provide private school scholarships to certain types of students – generally, those who have a disability or come from lower-income households, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. These private school vouchers and corporate tax credit scholarships are among several school choice options that have grown in popularity in the United States despite widespread criticisms.

For this new study, researchers analyzed data collected from a group of 1,097 kids in nine states who were followed from birth through age 15. The scholars looked at how many had attended private school between kindergarten and their freshman year of high school. They also looked at how the kids performed as ninth graders on a range of benchmarks, including test scores.

When the scholars did a simple comparison, they learned that students who had attended private school at any time in their academic career performed better on most benchmarks than students who only attended public school. But when the scholars controlled for factors related to family resources — the household income-to-needs ratio, for example — they got a very different picture.

They discovered that kids who went to private school and those who only attended public school performed equally as well in the ninth grade in terms of math achievement, literacy, grade-point averages and working memory. They were just as likely to take more rigorous math and science courses, expect to go to college, have behavioral problems and engage in risky behavior such as fighting and smoking.

The findings didn’t change based on where students lived. In other words, the findings also applied to students in urban and rural areas.

“By simply controlling for variation in family income, the majority of these differences in outcomes were eliminated,” explain the researchers, Robert C. Pianta, who’s the dean of and a professor at UVA’s Curry School of Education, and Arya Ansari, a postdoctoral research associate there.

“The apparent ‘advantages’ of private school education … were almost entirely due to the socioeconomic advantages that selected families into these types of schools and were not attributed to private school education itself.”

Some of the other key takeaways from their study:

  • About a third of children had attended private school for at least a year at some point between kindergarten and grade 9. Those who attended private school went for an average of 5.73 years.
  • Among the kids who went to private school, the largest proportion enrolled during kindergarten. Twenty-three percent started in kindergarten compared to 17 percent in third grade, 16 percent in sixth grade and 14 percent in ninth grade.

Looking for more research on private schools? Check out this collection of research on private school vouchers and student achievement.  We also have write-ups on private colleges, including a research roundup on historically black colleges and universities and another one on affirmative action in university admissions.

Republished with permission under license from Journalist's Resource.