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Schools Of Conscience, Issue #002 -- Q&A on African American Children plus Book Update
December 09, 2014

Link to Q&A- Why don't African-American children perform as well as white students in school?


I am truly thrilled to share with you the news that my latest book is due to be released very soon.

I was in the process of writing a different book when this one jumped out, wrote itself, and insisted on being published first.

I was almost done with other one, so depending on how well this one is received I expect that the other will be completed within a few years.

Together they provide a solid foundation for moving forward to build the nurturing capacity of all K-12 schools.

This first book, Every Parent's Dilemma, provides a solid practical next step for policy makers.

I hope that it will also enable the diverse alternatives of home schooling, democratic schooling, and all other self-directed learning communities to come together in supporting policy makers at every level to take that step.

From the back cover of Every Parent's Dilemma: Why Do We Ignore Schools That Nurture Children?

Fact
The required foundation for effective and efficient learning is well-being.

Good News
Children's psychological well-being is supported in K-12 schools that facilitate self-directed learning.

Bad News
The psychological well-being of children in mainstream K-12 schools is consistently diminished.

Silver Lining
This good news can transform the bad news.


Why are K-12 schools that facilitate self-directed learning
serving less than 5% of all students in the USA
despite over 100 years of good results?


The systematic growth of school models that support self-directed learning has been stunted by hidden barriers.

The hidden barriers also prevent more mainstream schools from sustainably adapting their practices to become more nurturing.

The barriers are based on a theory of education that is wrong.

K-12 policy makers at every level can remove those barriers by making an explicit commitment to ensuring that the schools they oversee support well-being.

This book includes the "Resolution to Build on Well-Being to Achieve K-12 Equity" which you can take to your favorite policy makers to advocate for the well-being of all students.


For those who may have seen a request for reviews a couple months ago, this is a new version.

I received important feedback from the early readers which caused me to rethink the beginning and ending.

I added additional material to more thoroughly address key issues and provide a solid practical next step for advocates in the form of the resolution.


My plan is run a crowdfunding campaign from January 21 to February 14, that's from my birthday to Valentine's Day.

In order to ensure there is solid momentum for a successful campaign, I'd like to collect pledges for at least the first $1,300 of the $3,800 goal before the campaign starts.

So, please let me know if you can make your contribution on January 21st.

The book will be released after the funding campaign is concluded.

Schools of Conscience Q&A

Why don't African-American children perform as well as white students in school?


People are always suggesting reasons why African-American children don't perform as well as white students in school.

Some people say that it's their poverty. Some say that their parents don't value their education.

Some say that the problem is that African American Vernacular English (AAVE) is different enough than the standard English most teachers use that there is a problem with kids' understanding. Others blame cultural resistance.


There are certainly examples of African-American students performing well in school, but all too often, their performance can be traced to the fact that their parents were interested enough in their education to send them to special schools, they are above average in intelligence, or their families are better off than their neighbors.


I would love to hear your opinion as to why this group--or any historically disadvantaged group you are familiar with--doesn't do well.


Peace,
Greg Burrill


Answer with a closer look at "performance":


Let's consider a parallel example.

In anticipation of resistance to this example because driving and schooling appear to be in different classes of activity, I ask for a patient reading of my explanation before you judge the appropriateness of my chosen analogy:


People are always suggesting reasons why drivers from regions with high mean temperatures don't perform as well on icy road conditions as drivers from more frigid regions.

Some people say that it's their perceptual abilities.

Some say that their driving instructors didn't teach them properly.

Some say that the problem is that there are too many variables in traction for different combinations of road conditions and vehicle features and maintenance for certain people to be able to handle it.

Others blame cultural resistance.


There are certainly examples of drivers from regions with high mean temperatures performing well on icy road conditions, but all too often, their performance can be traced to the fact that they were sent to special schools, they are above average in intelligence, or their families are better off than their neighbors.


I would love to hear your opinion as to why this group doesn't do well.


First, it is perfectly reasonable to explain a lack of driving success under icy conditions in terms of perceptual abilities, training opportunities, and the characteristics of the roads, vehicles, and drivers.

All the suggested reasons for the failures are certainly worth investigating and I would guess that evidence for all of them could be found.

Those details are all relevant to a proper analysis of why a lack of success might occur.

However, there is a solution to the problem that makes many of those details irrelevant.

They are rendered irrelevant because the solution alters the causal chain of events at a link that precedes the point when those factors became relevant.


The plain language description of the solution is to explain the strategies of steering into the direction of sliding and how to properly use a very light touch on the brakes and then give the drivers a safe wide open space covered in ice on which to practice those strategies, preferably with some appropriate obstacles like traffic cones to help them fail safely and repeatedly, until they get the hang of it.

A more technical description of the solution is to update the drivers' causal models for steering and braking under the contingency of icy conditions and then facilitating appropriate behavioral application of the causal models in a situation with minimal risk of damage and/or injury.


In this way of thinking, the most salient reason for the differences in performance are due to frequency of exposure to the conditions in question.

It is simply a problem of exposure and having enough time to develop appropriate responses to that exposure.

The solution to the problem is simply to provide the needed exposure and facilitate the development of appropriate responses.


There are two levels of response that are required: the systemic and the behavioral.

The system level is how we create a situation in which the driver can effectively improve, update, or replace their causal model for driving in icy conditions.

The behavior level is how we provide instruction, exhibit leadership, and give feedback during and after practice. Here's how this analogous situation can be restated as a metaphor for the situation in schools: K-12 schools have been trying to learn without any guidance through mere trial and error to drive on ice under challenging traffic conditions.

They have been crashing the car on a regular basis, and while the disadvantaged groups receive the worst injuries, the advantaged groups have a blind spot that prevents them from realizing how badly they have been affected by this situation.

All of the potential reasons for this situation that have been suggested can probably be supported with evidence.

However, many of those reasons may become irrelevant if the understanding of education can be updated and educational practices can be altered in accordance with that understanding.


Here's a relatively technical summary of what I am saying:
Implicit causal models have determined what measures of performance are used in schools.

The implicit causal models used at both the system and behavioral levels in mainstream K-12 schools are currently wrong.

Therefore, performance has been systematically mis-measured.

Consequently, K-12 policies are mostly misguided and, due to human nature, systematically exacerbate the inequities that are already reinforced in the larger society beyond schools.


To finally answer to your question: The reason for most performance issues in K-12 schooling is systematic neglect or thwarting of the primary human needs, especially the psychological needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness.

The main reason for the neglect and thwarting of primary human needs is that the implicit causal model of education that informs the policies and practices of mainstream schooling ignores primary human needs.

That incorrect causal model has also led to the high stakes use of measures of performance that would only accurately reflect the true performance capabilities of students who have had their primary human needs supported.

Due to the neglect and thwarting of primary human needs, those measures are rendered useless and the high stakes attached to their use arbitrarily punishes those whose needs are neglected and/or thwarted the most (such as African-American children).

Thus, disadvantaged populations of all kinds are being victimized.

Corrective action must begin with a concerted effort to pervasively support primary human needs.

After needs are adequately supported, then performance should be re-assessed to find out how much inequity remains.

Until needs are adequately supported in a pervasive manner, the typical performance measures are irrelevant.


In this way of thinking, the most salient reason for the differences in performance are due to frequency of exposure to support for primary human needs.

It is simply a problem of exposure and having enough time to develop appropriate responses to that exposure.

The solution to the problem is simply to provide the needed exposure to primary human need support and facilitate the development of appropriate responses.

In the case of primary human need support, the development of appropriate responses involves becoming skilled at finding or creating and then maintaining connections to the myriad of societal systems that are available for supporting primary human needs.


A Closer Look at "Performance"


There are a variety of ways that performance is viewed in schools.

There is a whole suite of traditional performance measures such as grades, test scores, rates of graduation, and so on.

In the entrepreneurial circles that I enjoy, there is a new idea from Eric Reis that one of the keys to understanding the high rate of failure of new enterprises is the inability of aspiring entrepreneurs to make an appropriate distinction between vanity metrics and actionable metrics.

Vanity metrics consist of data that gives the businessperson the illusion of knowing something useful.

Actionable metrics are the opposite, meaning that they are data that give the businessperson clear information that logically leads to actions that can improve key business functions.


The classic example of a vanity metric is the hit counter on a website.

In the 90's, when websites were a new and largely unproven channel for doing business, many web pages sported a little counter that indicated how many hits it had received.

It is quite intoxicating for the creator of a web page to imagine that millions of people have hit upon their site.

Unfortunately, this is not useful information. Most of the hits are actually robots that are just taking a quick automated glance and will never amount to any kind of productive outcome such as buying something.

And even if you could filter out the 'bots, there is nothing inherent in the counting of hits to suggest what you could do to get the real human visitors to do something productive.


Actionable metrics, on the other hand, would be dependent on the business purposes of the website.

For the sake of simplicity, let's assume that your site is selling some interesting product.

What you need to know is not just how many people show up on your home page, but what they do after they arrive.

If you find out they tend to spend only a minute on the home page and then click to an article you wrote about how your cat did something cute instead of the article about your product's benefits, then you have useful information and should reconsider whether the article about your cat is appropriate.

Of course, if you sell some interesting cat products, then it might be just fine.

The point is that you have to measure the potentially productive behaviors.

It is not enough to measure any random behavior; you have to measure behaviors that matter.


Currently, the suite of traditional measures of performance in schools are vanity metrics.

Humans have a set of primary needs that are causal factors in producing an education; only rarely have the supports for those needs been measured.

There is no systematic awareness, let alone measurement, of how well human needs are being supported in schools.

Measuring how well students' (and teachers') needs are supported provides actionable data because there are clear behavioral guidelines that specify what to do, and, just as importantly, what not to do, in attempting to support those needs.

The causal role of primary human needs in education is what is currently missing from both policy (systems level) and practice (behavioral level) in K-12.


My new book, entitled Every Parent's Dilemma: Why Do We Ignore Schools That Nurture Children? (due to be released in February 2015), proposes a policy resolution that schools, districts, education management organizations, and departments of education can use to correct their understanding and reset their priorities in order to ensure that the correction gets appropriate attention and evokes appropriate changes.

My next book will address 1) the design criteria for creating a situation in which need support is pervasive, and 2) the behavioral changes that are necessary for facilitating appropriate practice.

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