Teacher Diversity and Learning – Part II, Letters

Readers discuss findings that students learn better when they are the same race and gender as their teacher.

Sept. 22, 2018

Zara Gibbon helps a new sixth grader at Animo Westside Charter Middle School in Los Angeles. A majority of teachers in American schools are women.

To the Editor:

Re “Students Thrive When Teachers Are Like Them” (The Upshot, front page, Sept. 11):

So now I have to apologize for being a white female teacher to the nonwhite students in my classes? News bulletin: My black and Asian and Hispanic and Native American students did as well as my white students. I treated them equally. I helped them as often. I laughed at their jokes, and they at mine, just as often. I phoned their parents if they were misbehaving just as often. I hugged them as often when they needed that support.

I understand the point of your article, and I assume there is some truth to it. But good teaching and hard work by the students are far more to the point.

Ann Bourman

Los Angeles

The writer is a retired middle school English and history teacher.

To the Editor:

“Students Thrive When Teachers Are Like Them” had a terribly misleading headline. Though the story had more nuance and acknowledged that biases and expectations are playing a role in student performance, such reporting will continue to perpetuate two misguided arguments rampant in this country’s discussion of education.

The first is that differences in student outcomes are mostly because of (bad) teachers, even though research shows that differences in teacher quality explain only about 10 percent of the differences in student performance. If we are serious about improvement, there are more effective strategies than continued teacher blaming.

The second misguided argument is that diversity in the teaching corps is important because it can somehow magically improve outcomes for lower-performing students of color. A diverse teaching corps should be a goal of every school not because it may raise the test scores of some students, but because it will help all students understand that our country is made up of many different kinds of people and that this variety is one of the strengths of our democracy.

Jeremy Glazer

Glassboro, N.J.

The writer is an assistant professor at the College of Education at Rowan University.

To the Editor:

While separate was never equal in our national schools, the Rosenwald model demonstrated the enormous value of engaging the black community in the education of children. Julius Rosenwald, a man of formidable character, sought the help of Booker T. Washington in designing more than 5,000 schools, mostly in the South, built by and for black communities, and staffed by black teachers.

The results were extremely valuable: Representative John Lewis and Maya Angelou were graduates of Rosenwald Schools, among thousands of other productive members of communities throughout this country.

Segregation stinks, but integration is hollow when it does not empower the intended recipients. Mr. Rosenwald understood one bedrock principle: If it is yours and you value it, the trajectory is upward. We have evidence of what works but, alas, we prefer our theories to facts.

Tama Zorn

Brookline, Mass.

Ray Myers

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Online Global Education Conference – Reminder

The online Global Education Conference began on Monday, September 17. Please join in throughout the week.

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/the-2018-global-education-conference-registration-49538109820?aff=erelexpmlt

Americanization of Swedish Schoolsoi

In the last 15–20 years, Sweden has suffered a downturn in several important aspects of the elementary and secondary education system. To begin to illustrate the state of Sweden’s schools, we can make a comparison with the heavily criticized American education system. It is a common and understandable belief, in the U.S. and elsewhere, that Swedish schools compare favorably with American schools in terms of educational outcomes. But the weakest American students in 8th grade performed significantly better than the weakest Swedish 8th graders in the TIMSS Mathematics assessment in 2011, one of the international comparative tests that have existed since the 1990s. In the latest cycle of the TIMSS Mathematics assessment, conducted in 2015, the weakest U.S. and Swedish students performed identically, but American students outperformed Swedish students in all other percentiles.

In contrast, Swedish students outperformed their U.S. peers across the entire distribution in 1995. A similar negative development can be observed in Swedish students’ performance in the PISA. Swedish 9th graders performed above the international average in the first cycle of PISA in 2000, but then Sweden’s results steadily deteriorated in each of the three PISA core areas—reading, mathematics, and science—until a low point was reached in 2012. Another PISA assessment conducted in 2012 revealed shortcomings in creativity, critical thinking, curiosity, and perseverance, and ranked Sweden 20th out of 28 countries. The findings in the TIMSS and PISA assessments suggest that there has been a significant decline in knowledge among Swedish students in recent years.

Yet the average merit rating (based on grades) in the final year of Sweden’s elementary schools has markedly improved since the late 1990s, which is highly suspicious. Indeed, the disconnect between international assessments of Swedish students’ performance and their grades is compelling evidence of rampant grade inflation in Swedish elementary schools, and the same problem is showing in secondary education as well.

Furthermore, Sweden has one of the highest levels of absenteeism and late arrivals in the OECD. Depression and anxiety among children aged 10–17 also increased by more than 100 percent from 2006 to 2016. According to Sweden’s National Board of Health and Welfare, the reasons for this dramatic increase are most likely linked to schooling and the transition from school to adult life. Similarly, physicians have suggested that the soaring prescriptions for ADHD drugs in Sweden, where as many as nine percent of boys are medicated for ADHD in some counties, are related to factors within the school system.

Finally, there is a kind of malaise in the teaching profession. There is an acute shortage of teachers, mainly caused by a high dropout rate among students in education degree programs. A further crisis component is the selection of applicants. Today, only five percent of teachers deem their profession prestigious, and barely half of them would choose the same occupation again. This fall in teaching’s status is reflected in the sizable share of applicants with low grades from secondary school and who grew up in homes with less cultural capital. Moreover, teachers are one of the least satisfied groups in the Swedish labor market, even though teachers’ relative wages have increased sharply in recent years. A recent study showed that four out of ten active teachers are considering leaving the profession.

What on earth is going on

Ray Myers

(Excerpted from “Post-Truth” Schooling and Marketized Education: Explaining the Decline in Sweden’s School Quality)

What’s Gender Got to Do With It?

Research shows that students, especially boys, benefit when teachers share their race or gender. Yet most teachers are white women.

By Claire Cain Miller

Sept. 10, 2018

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Zara Gibbon helps a new sixth grader at Animo Westside Charter Middle School in Los Angeles. A majority of teachers in American schools are white women.

As students have returned to school, they have been greeted by teachers who, more likely than not, are white women. That means many students will be continuing to see teachers who are a different gender than they are, and a different skin color.

Does it matter? Yes, according to a significant body of research: Students tend to benefit from having teachers who look like them, especially nonwhite students.

The homogeneity of teachers is probably one of the contributors, the research suggests, to the stubborn gender and race gaps in student achievement: Over all, girls outperform boys, and white students outperform those who are black and Hispanic.

Where Boys Outperform Girls in Math: Rich, White and Suburban DistrictsJune 13, 2018

Yet the teacher work force is becoming more female: 77 percent of teachers in public and private elementary and high schools are women, up from 71 percent three decades ago. The teaching force has grown more racially diverse in that period, but it’s still 80 percent white, down from 87 percent.

(Excerpted from NY Times, 9 /11/18)

Ray Myers

Libraries to the Rescue – Bedrock of Civil Society

Is the public library obsolete?

A lot of powerful forces in society seem to think so. In recent years, declines in the circulation of bound books in some parts of the country have led prominent critics to argue that libraries are no longer serving their historical function. Countless elected officials insist that in the 21st century — when so many books are digitized, so much public culture exists online and so often people interact virtually — libraries no longer need the support they once commanded.

Libraries are already starved for resources. In some cities, even affluent ones like Atlanta, entire branches are being shut down. In San Jose, Calif., just down the road from Facebook, Google and Apple, the public library budget is so tight that users with overdue fees above $10 aren’t allowed to borrow books or use computers.

But the problem that libraries face today isn’t irrelevance. Indeed, in New York and many other cities, library circulation, program attendance and average hours spent visiting are up. The real problem that libraries face is that so many people are using them, and for such a wide variety of purposes, that library systems and their employees are overwhelmed. According to a 2016 survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, about half of all Americans ages 16 and over used a public library in the past year, and two-thirds say that closing their local branch would have a “major impact on their community.”

Libraries are being disparaged and neglected at precisely the moment when they are most valued and necessary. Why the disconnect? In part it’s because the founding principle of the public library — that all people deserve free, open access to our shared culture and heritage — is out of sync with the market logic that dominates our world. But it’s also because so few influential people understand the expansive role that libraries play in modern communities.

Libraries are an example of what I call “social infrastructure”: the physical spaces and organizations that shape the way people interact. Libraries don’t just provide free access to books and other cultural materials, they also offer things like companionship for older adults, de facto child care for busy parents, language instruction for immigrants and welcoming public spaces for the poor, the homeless and young people.

I recently spent a year doing ethnographic research in libraries in New York City. Again and again, I was reminded how essential libraries are, not only for a neighborhood’s vitality but also for helping to address all manner of personal problems.

For older people, especially widows, widowers and those who live alone, libraries are places for culture and company, through book clubs, movie nights, sewing circles and classes in art, current events and computing. For many, the library is the main place they interact with people from other generations.

For children and teenagers, libraries help instill an ethic of responsibility, to themselves and to their neighbors, by teaching them what it means to borrow and take care of something public, and to return it so others can have it too. For new parents, grandparents and caretakers who feel overwhelmed when watching an infant or a toddler by themselves, libraries are a godsend.

In many neighborhoods, particularly those where young people aren’t hyper-scheduled in formal after-school programs, libraries are highly popular among adolescents and teenagers who want to spend time with other people their age. One reason is that they’re open, accessible and free. Another is that the library staff members welcome them; in many branches, they even assign areas for teenagers to be with one another

To appreciate why this matters, compare the social space of the library with the social space of commercial establishments like Starbucks or McDonald’s. These are valuable parts of the social infrastructure, but not everyone can afford to frequent them, and not all paying customers are welcome to stay for long.

Older and poor people will often avoid Starbucks altogether, because the fare is too expensive and they feel that they don’t belong. The elderly library patrons I got to know in New York told me that they feel even less welcome in the trendy new coffee shops, bars and restaurants that are so common in the city’s gentrifying neighborhoods. Poor and homeless library patrons don’t even consider entering these places. They know from experience that simply standing outside a high-end eatery can prompt managers to call the police. But you rarely see a police officer in a library.

This is not to say that libraries are always peaceful and serene. During the time I spent doing research, I witnessed a handful of heated disputes, physical altercations and other uncomfortable situations, sometimes involving people who appeared to be mentally ill or under the influence of drugs. But such problems are inevitable in a public institution that’s dedicated to open access, especially when drug clinics, homeless shelters and food banks routinely turn away — and often refer to the library! — those who most need help. What’s remarkable is how rarely these disruptions happen, how civilly they are managed and how quickly a library regains its rhythm afterward.

The openness and diversity that flourish in neighborhood libraries were once a hallmark of urban culture. But that has changed. Though American cities are growing more ethnically, racially and culturally diverse, they too often remain divided and unequal, with some neighborhoods cutting themselves off from difference — sometimes intentionally, sometimes just by dint of rising costs — particularly when it comes to race and social class.

Libraries are the kinds of places where people with different backgrounds, passions and interests can take part in a living democratic culture. They are the kinds of places where the public, private and philanthropic sectors can work together to reach for something higher than the bottom line.

This summer, Forbes magazine published an article arguing that libraries no longer served a purpose and did not deserve public support. The author, an economist, suggested that Amazon replace libraries with its own retail outlets, and claimed that most Americans would prefer a free-market option. The public response — from librarians especially, but also public officials and ordinary citizens — was so overwhelmingly negative that Forbes deleted the article from its website.

We should take heed. Today, as cities and suburbs continue to reinvent themselves, and as cynics claim that government has nothing good to contribute to that process, it’s important that institutions like libraries get the recognition they deserve. It’s worth noting that “liber,” the Latin root of the word “library,” means both “book” and “free.” Libraries stand for and exemplify something that needs defending: the public institutions that — even in an age of atomization, polarization and inequality — serve as the bedrock of civil society.

If we have any chance of rebuilding a better society, social infrastructure like the library is precisely what we need. (NY Times, 8/9/18)

Ray Myers

Need a Hobby? Go Online!

On Monday, I posted a blog about one NY Times’ writer’s decision to stop “Tweeting” and spend time on other pursuits. Perhaps she would like to take up a new hobby? That seems to have been the solution for many other who have now found that the Internet can be a place to learn new skills by connecting with other “hobbyists.” Pottery, painting, cooking, you name it!

While much of this is not new, the way the Internet can help steer us toward something useful bears mentioning in the name of growing digital skepticism (see Monday’s blog). It is a reminder that the Internet’s most effective trick is connecting disparate individuals into a coherent whole. There may only be a small number of potters in any given city, but online there is a whole ceramics metropolis willing to help.

Art, for example, is an empowering thing. Most people think they can’t do it, and when they realize they can, it’s amazing – it opens up a whole new world, and that world doesn’t really have time for a lot of “fighting and fussing.”

Ray Myers

Some Springtime Tech Facts and Saudis Go to Silicon Valley

The recent rankings of Educational Technology firms’ market performance are surprising and curious to me. I had always assumed that Apple had the lead in America’s classrooms, but not so. Here is the latest as reported in this week’s NY Times. “In a bid to take back some of the education market from Google, Apple on Tuesday plans to introduce new hardware and software for schools and students. But Apple has fallen to third place, behind Google and Microsoft, in the battle to own America’s classroom. So the new items may not move the needle much.”

Speaking of Microsoft, a delegation of Saudi Arabian officials including the country’s Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, will be meeting with Bill Gates some time this week. I guess they are still looking for that “secret sauce” that will revolutionize Saudi education through a critical combination of hardware and software that will make them the envy of school systems around the world. But I am still wondering what they will do to involve their classroom teachers as part of this revolutionary mission? Maybe I should just stop worrying so much. Trump will obviously do whatever he can do to help them, for whatever reasons?

Educational Technology is certainly changing our world in how we educate our younger generations, but all these new tools are only as effective as the teachers who use them, and have some part in choosing them.

Ray Myers

P.S. A short spring time break for me this weekend. Enjoy your holidays. I will return on Monday, April 2.

The New Educational Technology – NRA Creates New Markets!

Just sell more guns and and school security equipment! Do you think our kids will be any safer in school, or even in their homes? I don’t. Please see below for some recent reporting on the surge in sales of school security equipment that is going to make a lot of Americans (outside investors?) richer at the expense of common sense vigilance. And you thought it was inconvenient going through airport security screening. This is the new educational technology. Judge for yourself!

“Security options are manifold: Palm scanners, mobile barricades, heat detectors, walkie-talkies, trauma kits, active shooter resistance training and more. In the fall, Florida Christian School in Miami began selling $120 ballistic panels for students to put in their backpacks. At a gun show in Tampa, Florida, last weekend, administrators and parents swarmed a booth offering similar panels for nearly $200 each. . . . Some campuses are starring to rely on outside help, taking donations from families, neighborhood businesses and local Rotary clubs. One company pledged to donate proceeds from its bulletproof backpacks to Parkland victims and families (NY Times, 3/5/2018).”

How about school bake sales for school security? Just like the old days. MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!

Ray Myers

Reading Skills in the U.S.A. and the Rest of the World

I guess the title of this blog is not a real “attention-grabber” but it is still very important if we want to better understand how technology is playing an increasingly important part in reading instruction. Here is the link if you would like to read the complete report: https://nces.ed.gov/pubs2018/2018017.pdf. The report focuses on reading achievement levels across fourth graders in sixteen countries and their proficiency in reading ONLINE.

In terms of the percentage of fourth-grade students who performed at an advanced level, the United States was the fourth highest in reaching this level. Students in Singapore, Ireland, and Norway tested higher on this online measure of informational reading (ePIRLS, National Center for Education Statistics, 2017). “The report has at least one silver-lining: Students in the United States fared far better on an Internet-based version of the assessment that tested their ability to process information online. U.S. students placed fourth out of 16 education systems that participated.”

Unfortunately, for American students who are reading in a more “text-based” manner, the results are not as high when compared to their international peers. They dropped to 13th place. “The decline was especially precipitous for the lowest-performing students, a finding that suggests widening disparities in the U.S. education system (National Center for Education Statistics, 2017).”

Ray Myers

P.S. Please have a look at mypeacecorpsstory.com, podcast #018, where I discuss my “technology-free” Peace Corps years in India

Put Down Your Laptops, Pick Up Your Pencils

Silicon Valley may find this all too hard to believe, but researchers are now finding that bringing your laptop to class and typing your notes verbatim as the professor speaks, may actually undermine the learning process. Typing out your handwritten notes later on your preferred digital device may be the better practice to reinforce your retention of material that has been presented in class.

“But a growing body of evidence shows that over all, college students learn less when they use computers or tablets during lectures. They also tend to earn worse grades. The research is unequivocal: Laptops distract from learning, both for users and for those around them. It’s not much of a leap to expect that electronics also undermine learning in high school classrooms or that they hurt productivity in meetings and in all kinds of workplaces (Dynarski, University of Michigan, 2017).”

I guess it’s time to sharpen our pencils, and put our “thinking caps” back on!

Ray Myers

P.S. I will be posting again on next Wednesday, December 6. In the meantime, please have a look at mypeacecorpsstory.com, podcast #018, where I discuss my “technology-free” Peace Corps years in India.

Obama Farewell: Education Needed to Keep Up With Automatiom

Thank you, President Obama, for all that you have done for this country.  Please keep helping us in ways that only you can do.  You have clearly seen the power of technology as an added instructional tool for the twenty-first century, but you are definitely not obsessed with the instant self-gratification of social media/Twitter as a tool to attack political and personal enemies (real or imagined).  Are you listening, Mr. Trump?  It’s not all about the technology.  Education is still the key as advocated by President Obama.

Maybe a little history lesson will help.  When the United States moved from an agrarian economy to an industrialized economy, it rapidly expanded high school education: By 1951, the average American had 6.2 more years of education than someone born 75 years earlier.  The extra education enabled people to do new kinds of jobs, and explains 14 percent of the annual increases in labor productivity during that period, economists say.  Now the country faces a similar problem.   Machines can do many low-skilled tasks, and American children, especially those from low-income and minority families, lag behind their peers in other countries educationally.  President Obama named some policy ideas for dealing with the problem: stronger unions, an updated social safety net and a tax overhaul so that the people benefitting most from technology share some of their earnings.

The Trump administration probably won’t agree with many of these solutions.  But the economic consequences of automation will be one of the biggest problems it faces.  It won’t go away.  It can’t be FIRED!

Ray Myers





Facebook in India – Poor Internet for Poor People?

Some may remember that I wrote about Facebook’s efforts in India at the end of December, and was not overly optimistic about their chances of success since the Indian government was just then instituting a “review” of Facebook’s practices.  Please belief me that I am not posting this follow-up blog with any sense of joy or vindictiveness.  India is a country with 1.2 billion inhabitants in a country approximately a third the size of the U.S.  While it may have 130 million Facebook users, second only to the U.S., telecommunications experts there note that more than ten percent of the country does not have mobile phone coverage, and that India’s progress in extending fiber-optic cable to village centers is proceeding at a glacial pace.

The current Indian Prime Minister Narenda Modi has set a goal of linking 250,000 village centers with fiber-optic cable and extending mobile coverage under his “Digital India” plan by 2016.  Well 2016 has arrived, and reaching that goal by the end of this year, appears to be an impossibility.  According to a recent Indian government report, only 25,000 village centers have cable so far, and it is ready for use in only 3,200.  But maybe Facebook (Zuckerberg) is actually being used as a scapegoat for the failure of the Indian government to provide the basic technological infrastructure that is sorely needed.  Government broadband access often sputters, wages are low, and hours are long.  Girls and women have disproportionately been excluded from the educational and employment opportunities that technology offers.

Facebook has certainly captured the imagination of younger generations around the world.  It clearly provides students with individual access and connectivity on a global scale whenever they want and wherever they are.  As one young Indian villager noted: the first thing he would do when the Internet finally arrived is to sign up for Facebook.

Ray Myers



Time and Tech and Remembering

Monday will be Memorial Day in the U.S., and we are all reminded to take time to remember those who are no longer with us, and perhaps spend more time with those who are the most important in our daily lives.  Perhaps the title of this blog deserves some explanation in this respect.  “TechtoExpress” is not only intended to reflect an “express” mode in the rapidity of our dealings with others.  It surely has that capacity in terms of how quickly we can communicate on any topic with anyone in the world.  Technology also empowers us with many more tools to “express” our thoughts and emotions using new powerful digital tools.  More expressive opportunities are now available for more people, who may become the new “artists” of a new century.

Happily we can also now connect with family and friends even when we are not able to be with them personally.  Such tools as FaceTime and Skype enable us to do that in real time.  So let’s always remember those we love and those who loved us and now live in our memories.  And be grateful for the technology that enriches our daily lives so that we can “be” with those we love in so many ways.

Many worry that technology is rapidly accelerating our loves so that we have less time to spend with our closest friends and family members.  I don’t think it has to be that way.  Do you?

Happy Memorial Day Weekend!

Ray Myers

Aerogrammes to Emails to FaceTime

So now there are a lot of ways to communicate globally.  Thanks to the Internet we may no longer have to write and read to connect remotely with colleagues, friends and family wherever they may be.  There are now many interactive technological tools that enable us to make these connections without being literate.   The telephone may be the most universally used in this respect.

Let’s consider some of the implications for students in learning about the world around them.  If we replace the book with the digital tablet, are we promoting electronic imagery and sound over printed text and individual imagination.  I recently read that college textbooks were still coveted by students for digesting and reviewing subject matter presented in their classes.  Perhaps this is not very scientific evidence in support of the best methods of learning, or maybe it is more an indication of how lecturing is still the most dominant pedagogy on college campuses?  Could it be that real learning is not going on in the classroom, but on the Internet or with the multitude of digital tools that today’s students possess if they are connected and affluent enough to possess.

The real issue may still be more about an economic divide than a digital one.  But as the title of this article suggests, we can still connect globally in a number of ways.  It may all be a matter of how fast you want it to be, but in this new century, speed makes all the difference.

Ray Myers