Dec 30, 2011

Education Week: More Districts Sending Teachers Into Students' Homes

Image Credit: Flickr/The Voice of Eye

Would you welcome your child's teacher into your home? 

To be honest, I have extremely mixed feelings about the whole home visit thing. A recent article made me think even more critically about my misgivings. Here is a quote from the article that caught my attention:
"There is a gold mine of information in that home—whether it's fully furnished or whether they don't have electricity," said Karen Kalish, a philanthropist based in St. Louis who has led the creation of teacher home-visit programs in several Missouri districts.
For example, just one visit home can help a teacher understand that a particular student doesn't have a desk or a place to do homework. "The teacher can now do something different with the child, instead of sending homework home and getting mad when it's not done," Ms. Kalish said.  --from Education Week: More Districts Sending Teachers Into Students' Homes

Is it just me? or is this an extremely insensitive comment? I work primarily with kids who are on the lower end of the income spectrum. Some of their families may invite me to their homes for social events; but I don't know any of them who would want me to visit as part of a school program. Most of my students' families wouldn't enjoy having someone witness their struggles. Their pride would be hurt if I saw that they had no electricity or no table to sit at to do their work. Many of my students come to school to escape their home situations. They like to have a part of every day where they don't have to worry about the struggles of home life, and they want the freedom to choose whether or not to share those struggles with me. I talk with them and listen to them whenever they want to share, but it is their choice to share. If they choose to share details with me at school, they still might not want me to visit them in their homes (just like I wouldn't necessarily want my students to visit me in my home.) There is a separation between our personal and professional relationships. I have close relationships with my students, but there are boundaries. Home visits cross those boundaries, but only in one direction: teachers visit student's homes but not vice versa.

The whole situation seems like it sets teachers up to be scientists observing lab rats. 

What bothers me even more is the fact that there is also the complex issue of diversity to consider. The U.S. Department of Education's report entitled Increasing Teacher Diversity states that, "Nationally, minority students make up 40.7 percent of the public school population. Although many schools (both urban and rural) are increasingly made up of a majority of black and Latino students, black and Latino teachers represent only about 14.6 percent of the teaching workforce."

Did you get that? Over 40% of the nation's students are not white, while more than 75% of the teachers are white. Following Ms. Kalisha's comments in Education week, it would appear that many schools are sending their white teachers into the homes of non-white students in order to witness their poverty. This is supposed to make them less angry at students when they don't have their homework completed.

Again...this sounds a lot like scientists observing lab rats. This does not describe not socially equal human beings interacting with one another.

There has got to be a better way to get teachers to become more aware of their students' backgrounds. There has got to be a better way of getting parents involved--one that doesn't potentially cause families shame or make them feel objectified.

There are several research studies out demonstrating the connection between parental involvement and student success (see the Harvard Family Research Project or the National Coalition for Parent Involvement in Education websites for research summaries.) But there isn't really any research saying that home visits are the best way to make that increase happen. I personally think school district dollars would be better spent trying to get parents into schools, rather than getting teachers into student's homes.

What do you think? How would you feel if school staff visited your home?

Dec 11, 2011

Being African-American in Iowa: Politics

Iowa Pubic Radio (IPR) correspondent Rob Dillard (@IPRDillard) has been working on a year-long assignment on diversity. In March-April 2011, IPR ran series of stories on Being Latino in Iowa that highlighted the Latino experience in my home state. Dillard covered stories on the effect of Latino populations on small towns and the importance of Latino food and culture. The series returned to focus on a different population in our state--African-Americans.  According to IPR, U.S. Census data show there are now 90,000 African-American adults living in Iowa. According to state department of education enrollment figures, there are almost as many African-American children enrolled in our public schools. My husband and his family have lived in the state since the 1960's and I found it interesting to hear what Rob Dillard learned about Being African-American in Iowa in 2011. His series was divided into five parts: education, economy, politics, health, and spirituality. I have written about my family's experiences with education and economy.

Last night I was watching the Republicans verbally duke it out at the Iowa Debate (thanks Ezzy, for reminding me to watch) and decided to watch the Twitter response. Besides all of the commentary about what $10,000 can buy and Newt's statement that Palestine is "an invented state", several tweeps noted that the audience was overwhelmingly white. They questioned why this debate was held in Iowa, a state that is 95% white and mostly rural.

The reason the debate is held in Iowa is simple: we are the first in the nation to caucus (i.e. elect) a candidate in any political party. According to the Iowa Caucus Project, a move by our state legislature in the 1970s to improve the delegation process led us to be first in the nation. Our government wanted more people to be able to take part in the political process, so they pushed for election reform and required a minimum of 30 business days between precinct caucuses and the county, district and state conventions.  During those 30 days, the caucuses are advertised so that more people know about them and can participate. In 1972 the State Convention was slated for May 20. Allowing for 60 business days to occur before the State Convention made the Iowa Caucus date January 24--first in the nation. It has been that way since 1972. (See Slate magazine's great article about the Caucus here.)

What tweeps watching the Iowa Debate may not know is that we do have some diversity in Iowa: I am sitting in a house where I am the only white person, and my children attend a school that is over half non-white. There are pockets of extreme diversity in our state. Those pockets of diversity have greatly influenced our politics, and as I've written in the past, Iowa has a history of doing what is right instead of what is popular when it comes to some political issues--especially Civil Rights.

The Iowa Public Radio podcast, Being African-American in Iowa: Politics, was aired in July of 2011. It taught me a lot of about the history of African-American involvement in Iowa politics at the state-level. It is an impressive history to me because for African-Americans to be elected, they need to cross the so-called "color line" and gain the votes of whites in their districts. The African-Americans interviewed in the IPR podcast did that--they went door to door, they hosted events, they communicated their concerns and interests. A repeated theme in those interviews is this: "We need to focus on what we have in common vs. what we don't have in common." Those who were elected got there by focusing on the issues, but not necessarily by talking about race. The podcast talks about Helen Miller, an African-American woman who currently serves in the Iowa House. Miller is the ranking member on the House Agriculture Committee, which is not a committee dealing with a traditionally African-American issue. She states that she got there by really communicating and focusing on the issues. There seems to be a significant amount of "colorblindness" in campaigning that leads to African-American success in politics.

In my mind, the notion of focusing on the issues to get elected is one that is very idealistic. It can happen in a state like Iowa because there isn't much diversity in the state as a whole. But there are definitely issues that need to be addressed without a "colorblind" lens. These issues are human rights issues, and it is my hope that eventually a candidate--of any color--will begin to discuss them.

These statistics are from the Iowa Commission on the Status of African-Americans:
  • The poverty rate in 2008 for African Americans was 35.6%. The corresponding rate for Iowa is 11.5%
  • 70.9% of African-Americans rent, as opposed to owning, their own home. The corresponding rate for the state as a whole is 27.1 %.
  • The unemployment rate for African-Americans in 2008 was 8.9%. For Iowa as a whole, it was 3.9%
  • Median earnings for African-Americans was $19,174. For Iowa, it was $26,959. 
Then there is also a considerable achievement gap for all people of color in Iowa. According to the Iowa Department of Education's "Gap Paper,"
Gaps exist in the achievement of Iowa students. In 2010, the percent of all students in grade four enrolled for full academic year (FAY) scoring proficient, as measured by the Iowa Tests, was 78.5 percent. The percent of Black (54.5 percent), Hispanic (61.2 percent), free or reduced lunch eligible (66.6 percent), or English Language Learner (ELL) (51.3 percent) students was considerably less.
Interestingly enough, these Iowa issues are also issues we face as a nation. Yet none of them were mentioned in last night's Republican debate. In my mind, these are human rights and social justice issues that concern us all. Politicians, no matter what their color, can no longer afford to be colorblind.

I am interested to see when, if ever, the 2012 candidates will really and truly discuss issues of poverty, unemployment and achievement.

What issues do you think politicians should be discussing? What was your reaction to the Iowa Debate?


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