Tag Archives: Brown Education Speaker Series

Recap of Travis Bristol, “Policy Levers for Increasing the Ethnoracial Diversity of Teachers in Urban Public Schools”

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Our Brown Education Department Spring 2018 Speaker Series kicked off in February with Dr. Travis Bristol, Peter Paul Assistant Professor at the Boston University School of Education, presenting “Policy Levers for Increasing the Ethnoracial Diversity of Teachers in Urban Public Schools.” Bristol’s combination of research, policy and practice, particularly on the intersection of race and gender in schools, was topical for Brown’s UEP and MAT graduate students.

Bristol had become inspired to be a teacher as a student at Washington Irving High School in New York, where he’d begin his day passing through grim metal detectors, wondering if there was an effect on how people learned when they were made to feel as if they were policed. Bristol later created an afterschool program in response to a disproportionate amount of suspensions for Black male students. In the program, these overly policed students met with men of color, fostering relationships with people who looked like them, encouraged them, and stayed in touch with them. The result: students became more engaged in class.

But there’s a glaring student-teacher ethnoracial mismatch in U.S. public schools, Bristol reported. In 2014, less than 2% of U.S. teachers were Black males, even after U.S. Secretary Arne Duncan’s 2011 “Calling Black Men to the Blackboard” initiative. More recruitment attempts have targeted Black male teachers in recent years, such as Boston Public Schools’ 2014 launch of the Male Educators of Color Executive Coaching Seminar Series, but Black male teachers also leave their positions at a higher rate than their counterparts. Why?

Bristol3Bristol researched this issue in part by interviewing 27 Black male teachers across 14 schools in Boston. His data aligned with other findings: that workers in the majority create conditions that challenge minorities. Role encapsulation (tasks that appear to be assigned based on a social identity, such as placing Black males in the role of behavior managers rather than teachers) and  administrative perception that Black males are intellectually inferior, leading to a lack of respect for their opinions and a distance from inviting them into other spaces, affect how Black male teachers feel and are viewed, making their work more challenging than for their colleagues. Black male teachers feel called to teaching because kids lack Black male role models, but they also feel more feared and less supported than their non-Black or non-male counterparts — especially when they are the only Black male teachers in their schools. Some reported feeling expected by leaders to run schools like prisons, making it difficult to keep the work meaningful and engaging. Hiring discrimination prevents some Black male teachers from even getting into schools. Those who do tend to lack differentiated professional development and a safe space to talk candidly about preparation. How can we retain and support Black male teachers?

Research shows that socio-emotional teaching does matter, Bristol stated; creating a positive environment increases learning and long-term outcomes. There is added value when students of color are taught by teachers of color. Research shows that Black students who had at least one Black teacher were significantly less likely to drop out of school and more likely to aspire to attend college, as well as showing improved performance on standardized tests.

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Bristol, a former high school English teacher and clinical teacher educator with the Boston Teacher Residency program, employed a popular classroom technique, “turn and talk,” to immerse Brown University audience members in discussing whether we’re in a situation where we need Latino teachers teaching Latino students or White teachers teaching White students. When reporting out on their conversations, audience members listed disparities in resources among schools and districts, the importance of diversity in and outside of classrooms, and the importance of engaging, rather than punishing, students of color. In response to an audience member’s question about what states outside of Massachusetts and New York are doing about this issue, Bristol stated that nine U.S. states have signed up on an initiative aiming to match teachers of color to students of color by 2060.

Bristol briefly presented on other hopeful initiatives, including NYC Men Teach, which aims to recruit an additional 1,000 Black male teachers into New York schools; the Relay Graduate School of Education, an alternative school leader program that helps design professional development for Black male teachers; LA Unified, whose district work includes teacher of color recruitment, support, and retention campaigns; the Organization for Economic and Cooperative Development, which documents school-based experiences for ethnic minority teachers across 35 member countries; and Pathways to Teaching, a longer-term investment that gives high schoolers teaching experience in exchange for college credit.

Bristol6Brown University is redesigning its teacher education program, Bristol was informed. What should that redesign include to keep the content rigorous and yet address the diversity pipeline? That pipeline starts in K-12, Bristol responded, and people of color get lost in it much earlier than when they apply to an MAT program. When schools discipline first and teach second, when students of color are expelled, those students are lost before they can ever decide to teach. For those who do pursue teacher education, Bristol suggested, the best thing Brown can do is to recognize that cost for teacher education programs matter. Find the finances to help more people of color afford to pursue teacher education.

A last question asked about additional barriers to the pipeline, and Bristol noted that biases in tests such as the MCAS and the Praxis exams can affect the self-esteem of exam takers. Passing a test can’t guarantee an ability to increase learning for students. Rhode Island’s Commissions of Education, Ken Wagner, spoke up from the audience, stating that he’d been present at meetings in which national leaders are trying to break down barriers and examine other performance measurements beyond tests, such as cultural competency. The edTPA (formerly the Teacher Performance Assessment) provides a multiple-measure assessment system aligned to state and national standards that can guide the development of curriculum and practice around the common goal of making sure new teachers can teach effectively and improve student achievement.

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L to R: David Rangel, Travis Bristol, Kenneth Wong, and Andrea Flores

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Recap of Education Department Fall 2016 Speaker Series Lecture: Hilary Levey Friedman

friedman1On Nov. 10, 2016, dozens of Brown students, faculty and staff gathered in the Barus Building to hear Hilary Levey Friedman, Visiting Assistant Professor in American Studies at Brown University, present “Playing to Win: Raising Children in a Competitive Culture” in the fourth installment of the Brown Education Department Fall 2016 Speaker Series.

Dr. Levey Friedman, whose presentation shared the title of a book she authored a book, has done extensive research on competitiveness among American children. She noted that in 1980, children had a roughly 90% likelihood of earning the same salary as their parents. By 2010, that number had plummeted to just 50%. People are responding pathologically to a fear of inequality, worried that their children won’t be as successful as they were. Thus, Levey Friedman has studied how “winning” has become central to many American children’s lives.

All of her data, Levey Friedman explained, is on elementary school children in the 5th grade or younger, and all on organized sports and activities run by adults. On a spectrum between “just for fun” and “training for the Olympics,” the groups in her data fell very slightly to the right of center; the parents didn’t want their kids to be professional players, but they did want them to succeed and win. Everyone was already involved in the activities when Levey Friedman began her field work.

friedman2In 2013, 7.7 million U.S. children were on high school sports teams. In soccer alone, there were 3 million kids between the ages of 5 and 19. Sports have become a part of middle class and upper middle class culture. 100 years ago, competitive sports would have been considered a staple of poor and immigrant families, while wealthier American children practiced non-competitive sports and activities such as dance and music.

Mandatory schooling laws during the 19th century planted seeds of competition, Levey Friedman stated, which brought about a social shift for kids. Sports leagues evolved, eventually coming into the spotlight. By 1910, many states featured sports clubs (although many closed during or immediately after the Depression). Then the YMCA shifted to a fee-based model, which spread across the country and remains today. In 1929, Pop Warner football was founded; in 1939, Little League was founded. Just ten years later, Little Leaguers played their first World Series, which shows how quickly the movement to competitiveness happened in the U.S. By 1959, there were 5,000 sports leagues, a model which became the norm for today’s Americans.

In the 1970s, California became the base for a self-esteem movement in schools that spread across the nation over the next decade. Physical education teachers helped push organized activities out of schools, which resulted in tying sports into the private sector. Pay-to-play sports became popular. By 2005, the number of national championships had grown from 100 to 250. The ages that a player could be a champion had also lowered across the nation, creating competitiveness at younger and younger ages.

friedman3College readiness also became a factor, as the more elite sports and activities were tied into admission practices. College admissions in the U.S., Levey Friedman noted, have had an interesting history. She cited Jerome Karabel’s book The Chosen: The Hidden History of Admission and Exclusion at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton on how “the big three” kept out undesirable students, mainly the poor and the immigrant. The “all-around man” rose in admissions interviews, and it became important to be an athlete and to belong to clubs in order to attain quality higher education.

The three activities Levey Friedman focused on represented academic activities (chess, an individual activity, mainly populated by boys); artistic activities (dance, a solo or group sport, mainly populated by boys); and athletic activities (soccer, a team sport, played equally by boys and girls).

Competitive Kid Capital – Levey Friedman collected various quotes from kids and parents about their experiences with sports and analyzed the sports’ impact. She found that sports:

  1. Internalize the importance of winning
  2. Allow kids to bounce back from a loss to win again in the future (but, Friedman noted, also represent higher stakes, as scores and stats are usually public information)
  3. Help kids learn how to perform in and adapt to stressful situations, and time pressure
  4. Allow kids to perform under the public gaze of others

Gender Scripts in Sports

friedman4When asked how they chose these activities, parents differed in what they sought for their kids. Soccer parents wanted their girls to be more assertive and aggressive; dance parents wanted their girls to be more feminine and graceful. The dance environment was kinder and more supportive, with indirect competition and relational skills. Soccer taught kids to be forceful; it discouraged “girly girls.” Women who chase balls and score on a soccer field are metaphorically being trained to chasing and scoring other things in life. Chess is similar to soccer for girls; the girls learn to be aggressive when playing.

Skills learned by kids in sports and activities translate into job acquisition skills, Levey Friedman noted. Lauren Riviera’s Pedigree: How Elite Students Get Elite Jobs exposes how employers draw ideas about candidates’ talents based on their activities, sports, and social status. Levey Friedman shared a slide on how the parents she studied are grooming their children. For example, 52% of children who played chess had two parents who had earned graduate degrees; only 8% of children taking dance had two parents with graduate degrees. Chess parents thought of the game as a path towards success in higher education, while dance parents thought dancing well would help their daughters attract a mate and find success in marriage. Parents were feeling stress to help their kids succeed on a potentially unequal playing field and were enrolling them in activities on a path to attaining things they felt were important to them.

friedman5The Education Department thanks Dr. Levey Friedman and all the other presenters of the Fall 2016 Speaker Series for taking the time to present their research to the Brown community.