Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Why Are We Criminalizing Black Students?


Why Are We Criminalizing Black Students?

Five steps to address racial disparities in school discipline

A recent special report in Education Week revealed serious concerns about the prevalence of school resource officers at elementary and secondary schools across the nation ("Policing America's Schools: An Education Week Analysis," Jan. 25, 2017). On the surface, the presence of law-enforcement personnel would seem to be a good step in helping to create and sustain safe learning environments for students and school personnel. However, a deeper look at the presence of SROs on school campuses raises serious concerns that reflect a pattern of racial inequities about who is policed, who is profiled, and who is punished.
Consider the fact that black students are most likely to be punished despite often being one of the smallest populations in many school districts across the country. Data shown in Education Week reveal that black males are three times more likely to be arrested at schools than their white male peers. Black girls do not fare much better: They are arrested 1.5 times more than their white male peers. It is not the sheer number of arrests that is so disturbing, but the disproportionality: Of the schools that referred students to law enforcement, 17 percent of their enrollments were black, yet 26 percent of all students referred to law enforcement were black. Across a majority of states, no other group has such a high arrest-to-enrollment ratio.
Why Are We Criminalizing Black Students? School resource officers are making racial disparities in discipline worse, not better, writes UCLA professor Tyrone C. Howard.
—Jared Boggess for Education Week
The first reaction for some when seeing disproportionality data is to conclude that SROs are on campuses where violent acts are most likely to occur. The presence of school resource officers is most prevalent at schools with black students, as well as low-income and racially segregated schools, where children of color are most likely to attend. This should trouble educators. In truth, incidents of violence are not higher where black students attend school, and this raises serious concerns about how schools may be contributing to damaging racial profiles of particular students.
The irony of school discipline is that the increased presence of SROs is a direct result of the "zero tolerance" disciplinary policies of the early 2000s. Such policies emerged largely as a result of mass shootings on school campuses. However, over the past two decades, a majority of mass school shootings have been in largely white, middle-class, rural, or suburban communities. They were also overwhelmingly perpetrated by white males. Consider Littleton, Colo.; Paducah, Ky.; Jonesboro, Ark.; and Newtown, Conn.
The presence of resource officers seems to create a campus environment in which a school looks more like a police headquarters than a community of learning. And those officers are given the responsibility of interacting with students, typically without having any training on youth development, theories of learning, student disabilities, and overall child behavior.
To underscore the severity of the problem of SRO presence on campuses, consider that the U.S. Department of Education estimates that there are close to 31,000 resource officers or other law-enforcement officers stationed in the nation's nearly 100,000 public schools. The Education Department states that another 13,000 sworn law-enforcement officers are spending at least part of their time at schools. On some campuses, the number of officers is greater than that of school psychologists, nurses, psychiatric social workers, and learning specialists combined. It prompts the question: What is the priority? Is it to police children or to support them?
"What message does this tendency send to other students about black students?"
Instead of punishing students, schools might be better served allocating limited resources to provide additional supports for mental-health services and programs instead of SROs. Much of what is seen from students who engage in conflict is a need for intervention for depression, anxiety, bipolar issues, or untreated trauma. More schools are adopting restorative-justice practices, which in some cases are showing positive outcomes. More resources should be devoted to such programs that seek to help and heal students as opposed to criminalizing them.
Finally, a sustained focus on mental-health supports and a focus on mindfulness would take significant steps toward ameliorating the chronic gaps in school outcomes that have plagued low-income students and children of color. Moreover, there is a need for schools to have an explicit focus on creating a school culture which neither criminalizes students nor creates an unfair racial climate. Other steps that could make a difference in changing these outcomes, for example:
• Eliminate the criminalization of low-level behaviors that pose no public-safety threat to students, teachers, or staff, such as "willful defiance," dress-code violations, and talking back to teachers. Also, reduce the ability of school personnel to refer student-behavior cases to juvenile court for minor offenses.
• Eradicate zero-tolerance policies and develop more culturally sustaining and appropriate pedagogies centered on student communication and learning.

School resource officer
—Melissa Golden/Redux for Education Week
• Create more trauma-sensitive schools and classrooms, which identify the roots of student behavior and provide the appropriate resources for them and families.
• Ensure that suspensions, expulsions, and arrests can be used only when immediate safety threats exist and no other interventions are available.
• Provide more sustained training for school personnel and SROs on unconscious bias and racial microaggressions. In some cases, white children and children of color engage in similar types of behavior in schools, yet the responses and punishments can differ notably. Unconscious attitudes and beliefs may explain much of the racial disproportionality of school arrests.
Why do schools criminalize black students? What message does this tendency send to other students about black students? And, more importantly, what is the message that black children take away from continually being depicted as problem children? To upend the inequities, students, school leaders, and classroom teachers must discuss the data around discipline, talk openly about race, and recognize how they could be contributing to a hostile learning environment for black children. It is time for schools to be accountable to the students they serve.

Faculty Statement on Charles Murray Lecture

Faculty Statement on Charles Murray Lecture

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Stop Calling Some Needs ‘Special’

Stop Calling Some Needs ‘Special’

Divisiveness Is Not Diversity, Linus Owens, Maya Goldberg- Safir and Rebecca Flores Harper

Divisiveness Is Not Diversity

Linus Owens, Rebecca Flores Harper and Maya Goldberg-Safir share their views as to why students are protesting at Middlebury College.
Linus Owens, Maya Goldberg- Safir and Rebecca Flores Harper
March 17, 2017

During the coverage of the protests against Charles Murray’s recent visit to Middlebury College, something got lost in the scuffle: the actual students.

Commenters lumped all college students into a homogeneous group as an object to condemn. But not all college students, even at an elite place like Middlebury College, are monolithic. Before criticizing them on the grounds of privilege, perhaps we should do what no one has done and try to understand why those who protested were so angry.

It was about Murray, true, but what other factors were involved? Allison Stanger, the Middlebury professor who moderated his remarks and was injured in the ensuing fracas, suggests protesters are reacting to their anxieties of life under Trump. However, it goes even deeper, to the contradictions of being a student of color at a predominantly white college and being asked to respond civilly while having one's humanity attacked.

This situation is more complex than just being an issue of free speech or diversity of ideas. Any effective response requires taking the students seriously -- which is, after all, the primary job of educators.

Many people deride students as coddled snowflakes who use safe spaces and trigger warnings to protect themselves against the big, bad outside world teeming with microaggressions. This image, always a caricature, could not be farther from the truth at Middlebury. The protesters, primarily students of color and working-class students, are hardly coddled. Life on the campus for them is and has historically been anything but easy. Students and former students frequently confront blatant and subtle forms of racism and classism. Students of color are often assumed to be on financial aid or are told they are only here because of affirmative action. Some professors make assumptions about their intellectual abilities or single them out in class to play the spokesperson on race issues. The overwhelming culture of whiteness and wealth leaves many working-class students or students of color feeling depressed and alienated.

To suggest that they needed a visit from Murray to expose them to “controversial” ideas is laughable and offensive. They confront racism and classism every day on campus. Moreover, they talk about race and class all the time, whether they want to or not -- in personal conversations, in the many courses exploring these subjects, at town hall forums recently held on the campus to address incidents of racial insensitivity, as well as at the numerous meetings organized in the days leading up to Murray’s visit. Those discussions all took place with the high level of civility many commenters assume cannot happen.

Civil discourse on hard issues does happen here, primarily through the labor of students of color and working-class students. It is an insult to call these students sheltered. They aspire to turn the campus not into a safe space, but simply a safer one. In this context, Murray’s divisive ideas offered a sharp rebuke to all their hard-won achievements to create a campus where they, too, feel they belong.

We must not confuse divisiveness for diversity. Conservatives seek to push debates on settled topics, using free speech as a club to reopen discussions long ago resolved. The primarily white faculty members and students at Middlebury feel comfortable welcoming “all debates” because they never worry about their own humanity being called into question.

If free speech can justify a platform for Murray, it also justifies students talking back. We don’t have to agree with the protesting students’ tactics to still recognize that the nonviolent demonstrators were defending speech just as much as the people now rushing to condemn them.

Actions have consequences. People use this claim to demand punishment, but it provides an even more compelling reason for considering the type of community we want. Middlebury will not punish abstract “college students,” but actual people, many of them students of color and/or from working-class backgrounds. Currently, many find themselves the targets of widespread harassment, bullying and attacks on social media and in the national press. Punishing them for making the moral choice to protest a racist provocateur would add another injury to the initial insult.

This current fight focuses on speech, but the true war is over diversity at colleges and universities. Controversial speakers are not the key to expanding the marketplace of ideas, contrary to what many have argued. In fact, the single most robust source of a broad and varied range of ideas on a campus is a student body and faculty composed of people from many diverse backgrounds. They will do the most to upend orthodoxy and challenge comfort levels. Treating divisiveness as a proxy for diversity is, at best, naïve. At worst, it is an active step to roll back progress.

Institutions like Middlebury need to change, but not in the way many people currently demand. Such colleges and universities cannot accept students, take their tuition and use them to market their diverse campus, and then refuse to recognize their individual needs. Doing so gives the impression that institutions do not want actual diversity to enhance learning but rather just want to look good publicly and improve their bottom line.

Colleges and universities have always needed to balance the goals of speech and inclusion. In the “good old days,” when faculty members looked like the students, who all looked like one another, this largely went unnoticed. Today, however, using old standards for a more diverse community does not work. The biggest danger now is a response from Middlebury that leads to a less diverse student body, one that is whiter and richer. Let’s not let that happen.


Linus Owens is an associate professor of sociology at Middlebury College. Rebecca Flores Harper is a 2011 graduate of the college and served as chair of diversity for the student government there from 2008-11. Maya Goldberg-Safir is a 2012 graduate.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Learning Styles | Center for Teaching | Vanderbilt University

Learning Styles | Center for Teaching | Vanderbilt University

by Nancy Chick, CFT Assistant Director

What are Learning Styles?

The term learning styles is widely used to describe how learners gather, sift through, interpret, organize, come to conclusions about, and “store” information for further use.  As spelled out in VARK (one of the most popular learning styles inventories), these styles are often categorized by sensory approaches:  visual, aural, verbal [reading/writing], and kinesthetic.  Many of the models that don’t resemble the VARK’s sensory focus are reminiscent of Felder and Silverman’s Index of Learning Styles, with a continuum of descriptors for how learners process and organize information:  active-reflective, sensing-intuitive, verbal-visual, and sequential-global.
There are well over 70 different learning styles schemes (Coffield, 2004), most of which are supported by “a thriving industry devoted to publishing learning-styles tests and guidebooks” and “professional development workshops for teachers and educators” (Pashler, et al., 2009, p. 105).
Despite the variation in categories, the fundamental idea behind learning styles is the same: that each of us has a specific learning style (sometimes called a “preference”), and we learn best when information is presented to us in this style.  For example, visual learners would learn any subject matter best if given graphically or through other kinds of visual images, kinesthetic learners would learn more effectively if they could involve bodily movements in the learning process, and so on.  The message thus given to instructors is that “optimal instruction requires diagnosing individuals’ learning style[s] and tailoring instruction accordingly” (Pashler, et al., 2009, p. 105).


Despite the popularity of learning styles and inventories such as the VARK, it’s important to know that there is no evidence to support the idea that matching activities to one’s learning style improves learning.  It’s not simply a matter of “the absence of evidence doesn’t mean the evidence of absence.”  On the contrary, for years researchers have tried to make this connection through hundreds of studies.
In 2009, Psychological Science in the Public Interest commissioned cognitive psychologists Harold Pashler, Mark McDaniel, Doug Rohrer, and Robert Bjork to evaluate the research on learning styles to determine whether there is credible evidence to support using learning styles in instruction.  They came to a startling but clear conclusion:  “Although the literature on learning styles is enormous,” they “found virtually no evidence” supporting the idea that “instruction is best provided in a format that matches the preference of the learner.”  Many of those studies suffered from weak research design, rendering them far from convincing.  Others with an effective experimental design “found results that flatly contradict the popular” assumptions about learning styles (p. 105). In sum,
“The contrast between the enormous popularity of the learning-styles approach within education and the lack of credible evidence for its utility is, in our opinion, striking and disturbing” (p. 117).

Why Are They So Popular?

Pashler and his colleagues point to some reasons to explain why learning styles have gained—and kept—such traction, aside from the enormous industry that supports the concept.  First, people like to identify themselves and others by “type.” Such categories help order the social environment and offer quick ways of understanding each other.  Also, this approach appeals to the idea that learners should be recognized as “unique individuals”—or, more precisely, that differences among students should be acknowledged—rather than treated as a number in a crowd or a faceless class of students (p. 107). Carried further, teaching to different learning styles suggests that “all people have the potential to learn effectively and easily if only instruction is tailored to their individual learning styles” (p. 107).
There may be another reason why this approach to learning styles is so widely accepted. They very loosely resemble the concept of metacognition, or the process of thinking about one’s thinking.  For instance, having your students describe which study strategies and conditions for their last exam worked for them and which didn’t is likely to improve their studying on the next exam (Tanner, 2012).  Integrating such metacognitive activities into the classroom—unlike learning styles—is supported by a wealth of research (e.g., Askell Williams, Lawson, & Murray-Harvey, 2007; Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, 2000; Butler & Winne, 1995; Isaacson & Fujita, 2006; Nelson & Dunlosky, 1991; Tobias & Everson, 2002).
Importantly, metacognition is focused on planning, monitoring, and evaluating any kind of thinking about thinking and does nothing to connect one’s identity or abilities to any singular approach to knowledge.  (For more information about metacognition, see CFT Assistant Director Cynthia Brame’s “Thinking about Metacognition” blog post, and stay tuned for a Teaching Guide on metacognition this spring.)

Now What?

There is, however, something you can take away from these different approaches to learning—not based on the learner, but instead on the content being learned.  To explore the persistence of the belief in learning styles, CFT Assistant Director Nancy Chick interviewed Dr. Bill Cerbin, Professor of Psychology and Director of the Center for Advancing Teaching and Learning at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse and former Carnegie Scholar with the Carnegie Academy for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning.  He points out that the differences identified by the labels “visual, auditory, kinesthetic, and reading/writing” are more appropriately connected to the nature of the discipline:
“There may be evidence that indicates that there are some ways to teach some subjects that are just better than others, despite the learning styles of individuals…. If you’re thinking about teaching sculpture, I’m not sure that long tracts of verbal descriptions of statues or of sculptures would be a particularly effective way for individuals to learn about works of art. Naturally, these are physical objects and you need to take a look at them, you might even need to handle them.” (Cerbin, 2011, 7:45-8:30)

Pashler and his colleagues agree: “An obvious point is that the optimal instructional method is likely to vary across disciplines” (p. 116). In other words, it makes disciplinary sense to include kinesthetic activities in sculpture and anatomy courses, reading/writing activities in literature and history courses, visual activities in geography and engineering courses, and auditory activities in music, foreign language, and speech courses.  Obvious or not, it aligns teaching and learning with the contours of the subject matter, without limiting the potential abilities of the learners.


Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Spanking and child outcomes: Old controversies and new meta-analyses.

Spanking and child outcomes: Old controversies and new meta-analyses.

Gershoff, Elizabeth T.; Grogan-Kaylor, Andrew

Journal of Family Psychology
, Vol 30(4), Jun 2016, 453-469.

Whether spanking is helpful or harmful to children continues to be the source of considerable debate among both researchers and the public. This article addresses 2 persistent issues, namely whether effect sizes for spanking are distinct from those for physical abuse, and whether effect sizes for spanking are robust to study design differences. Meta-analyses focused specifically on spanking were conducted on a total of 111 unique effect sizes representing 160,927 children. Thirteen of 17 mean effect sizes were significantly different from zero and all indicated a link between spanking and increased risk for detrimental child outcomes. Effect sizes did not substantially differ between spanking and physical abuse or by study design characteristics. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2016 APA, all rights reserved)

Risks of Harm from Spanking Confirmed by Analysis of Five Decades of Research

Thursday, March 2, 2017

From Bruce Baker

Wednesday, March 1, 2017