Sunday, December 27, 2015

Distant Visions: Putdownable Prose and the State of the Art-Novel by Mark de Silva

As a blogger and undergraduate English major that exposed me to many novels and genres of writing at an early age, I found this piece by Mark de Silva from 3:AM Magazine very interesting.  He reflects on the state of the art-novel and whether it should bear the burden as fiction to be visionary—unlike so many other forms of writing to which we are regularly exposed—especially the ever-expanding appeal of the first-person, "testimonial voice."  

In what he terms the "leisure-contract," de Silva acknowledges the impact of the "blog-memoir culture" and its capacity to both entertain and provide the reader with immediate rewards. Since novels require a different form of commitment, so many are simply "putdownable," that is, not quite as gripping as what one may describe as more "pedestrian" or everyday forms of writing that are consumed ad nauseum by most readers.

For novelists, de Silva offers the "art contract" as an alternative, albeit in a form that is visionary and transformative to the reader.  Here is his helpful definition of vision:
“Vision” calls to mind such a range of things: thought, sense experience, first principles, imagination, discernment, invention, prescience, revelation. It’s this cluster of valences that explains the alchemical effects visionary works, fully appreciated, can have on us. Put simply—and I mean this as a retrieval of a critical ideal, not a novel proposition—such works are capable of reshaping our basic ways of experiencing and conceptualizing the world, ourselves, and the relation between the two. They don’t merely present us with new objects of experience or new information, offering fresh fodder for the mind, but extend and refine our experiential capacities themselves, whatever objects we train them upon.
All is not lost however, as his concluding paragraphs outline:
By now we are only too familiar with the broader cultural reasons nudging us in this direction: the problem of distractibility in the digital era; reality television and its glorification of the banal and demotic; the populist leveling of aesthetic and critical standards encouraged by the ease of publishing online; the seeking out of micro-communities that reinforce our points of view and taste rather than alter them; the rise of the notion that everyone, by virtue of having a pulse, must have a story worth telling and the correlative explosion of blog-memoir culture.

Perhaps these shifts are making us lose not just our taste for visionary fiction, but our belief in its very possibility: that novels, or anything, might have the sorts of transformative powers I’ve ascribed to them. In that case, though, preserving our intellectual integrity would mean that we stop paying lip service to a notion of artistry in literature that no longer carries conviction. This would still leave us free to give ourselves over to the pleasures of leisure fiction (and journalism too), but without the bad faith.

There is another choice, of course. Rather than annul the art contract, we could try recommitting to it. That would mean expecting our best writers to push themselves to visionary heights, and expecting ourselves, as readers, to make the climb, not always easy, to meet them there. In the offing, perhaps, that profound experience of art, for writer and reader both.
In short, this piece investigates that very important space between writer, audience, and expectations held by both (or not).  My read of this is that a fitting trade off to the leisure contract is an art contract where we, as readers, can expect to have a profound experience with art—at least to the degree that writers indeed push themselves "to visionary heights."

Angela Valenzuela

Distant Visions: Putdownable Prose and the State of the Art-Novel

By Mark de Silva

Mark de Silva is the author of the debut novel Square Wave, forthcoming from Two Dollar Radio in February 2016. An excerpt from the book will be published in Guernica Magazine in January. He holds degrees in philosophy from Brown (AB) and Cambridge (PhD) and has written for the New York Times, the New Inquiry, and the Paris Review Daily.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Curriculum for White Americans to Educate Themselves on Race and Racism–from Ferguson to Charleston

I've been posting on the subject of white privilege lately.  Here's a website developed by Seattle Public School teacher, Jon Greenberg, that is specifically dedicated to this.  I incorporate a few of the helpful resources herein below.


‘Beyond Measure: Rescuing an Overscheduled, Overtested, Underestimated Generation’

Here is a book review by Dr. Pedro Noguera that appeared in the Sunday, NYTimes Sunday Book Review this month on a book by Vicki Abeles in what is likely to be a controversial text.  Much to ponder here.  I have long been a critic of the narrow definitions of success in our schools, especially standardized test scores. It'll be interesting to see where the locus of change is/needs to be and whether authentic learning and assessment or culturally relevant curricula are a part of this.

‘Beyond Measure: Rescuing an Overscheduled, Overtested, Underestimated Generation’

Kids and their parents collect flyers before a rally against teacher evaluations in front of P.S. 321 in Park Slope, Brooklyn, last March. Credit Jake Naughton for The New York Times.
In the thought-provoking “Beyond Measure,” Vicki Abeles offers a compelling set of arguments for reconsidering how we define success in American education and for radically altering the approach we’ve taken to get there. High grades, high test scores and admission to one of the nation’s elite colleges have long been embraced as symbols of excellence and, by extension, successful parenting. Abeles suggests that pursuit of this narrow form of success is actually harming children and families, and distorting our educational institutions. Her book is bound to be controversial, particularly to the education establishment — university presidents, the testing industry and the policy makers who support them. For many of them, “Beyond Measure” is likely to be regarded as a threat, if not downright subversive.

Continue reading the main story.

Dear White America by Professor George Yancy

Powerful reflection by Emory Professor George Yancy on internalized sexism and white privilege from The Stone, New York Times Opinionator Blog.  It's refreshing to read from a man owning up to his sexism and then drawing a direct line from this to so-called "white innocence" with respect to white racial privilege.  I like how he asks all of us to be honest and transparent with ourselves, owning up to race and gender privilege, turning the otherwise outward gaze on racial and gender privilege inwardly.  In order for any of us to have any hope of bettering ourselves in ways that makes a real difference in society, he ask us to first put ourselves under the microscope so that we might emerge as enlightened, compassionate, and yes, more loving, human beings.

It provides a good followup to my earlier post, White people react to evidence of white privilege by claiming greater personal hardships.

Credit Todd Heisler/The New York Times
In 2015, I conducted a series of 19 interviews with philosophers and public intellectuals on the issue of race. My aim was to engage, in this very public space, with the often unnamed elephant in the room.
These discussions helped me, and I hope many of our readers, to better understand how race continues to function in painful ways within our country. That was one part of a gift that I wanted to give to readers of The Stone, the larger philosophical community, and the world.
The interviewees themselves — bell hooks, Cornel West, Judith Butler, Peter Singer, David H. Kim, Molefi Kete Asante among them — came from a variety of racial backgrounds, and their concerns and positions were even more diverse. But on the whole I came to see these interviews as linked by a common thread: They were messages to white America — because they often directly expressed the experience of those who live and have lived as people of color in a white-run world, and that is something no white person could ever truly know firsthand.
That is how I want to deliver my own message now. 

Continue reading here.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

See latest updates to

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Study: White people react to evidence of white privilege by claiming greater personal hardships

This Stanford Graduate School of Business study finds that whites claim hardship and deny the existence of inequalities in response to evidence on white privilege.

Since one of my areas of expertise is race and ethnic relations, I can similarly attest to the difficulty of teaching white privilege in the context of contravening ideologies of individualism, individual merit, and white supremacy—as if the right and opportunity to be an individual were equally distributed and as if merit were unmediated by the status of one's racial/ethnic, class, or gender group. Never mind strong and consistent patterning of "merit" (e.g., test scores, educational attainment, income, etc.) indicators along these axes to the contrary.  

Regarding the myth of white superiority, this is not only a U.S. problem, but a global one.  It exists as an ideology—however implicit or explicit—within our majority and minority communities alike.  Even in our own families.  In many families, children that are more fair-skinned than others get more attention or are deemed more attractive than their darker-skinned siblings.  Heck, babies are barely born and parents or relatives are quick to comment on children's skin color.  "Salió muy güerito," they say. "She (or he) came out fair-skinned," they say.  Unfortunately, in some form or fashion, no one on the planet is entirely immune from the ideology of white supremacy.

Central to the very concept of white privilege is to not even have to acknowledge it to begin with.  Were this not the case, we wouldn't be having the offensive conversation in our state right now regarding a "World Geography," McGraw-Hill textbook that eliminates the term "slavery," by referring to slaves as “workers” and then placing them in the section “Patterns of Immigration." You can read about this here.   

McGraw-Hill has backtracked and has corrected the online version.  Yet even this decision fails to get at the depth of white privilege in the curriculum.  For a great, thorough read on the state's politics over its history curriculum written by Texas history professors, read:  Politics and the History Curriculum: The Struggle over Standards in Texas and the Nation (2012) by K. Erekson (Editor) (Note: It's pricey but you can get your local library or university to make sure it is one of their holdings for check out.)

Were this example on slaves an exception, then the claim about white privilege in children's textbooks would indeed be hyperbole. Instead, this is the rule.  That is, our textbooks not only are truly erroneous in instances like these, but they are entirely biased in favor of white histories, stories, accomplishments, and epistemologies (or ways of knowing).

While "micro-aggressions" (discrimination and prejudice) are important to the study of white privilege and minority-majority relations, what should not get lost are the institutional mechanisms for the reproduction of status in society.  Curriculum, in particular, is powerful.  We here in Texas would not be having these contentious battles over curriculum were this not the case.  

Moreover, since curriculum equates to the reproduction of consciousness, systematic exclusion of subaltern histories reinstantiates privilege and ways of knowing and viewing the world in our society and helps account for why so little seems to change.  Fortunately, our children have alternative media for getting a more complete story and many are savvy in this regard. None of this mitigates, however, the power of our state-approved curriculum either to validate (frequently white) teachers' stories or exploit their ignorance.  In my own work, I call this "subtractive schooling."  The alternative is "additive schooling" as a specific antidote.  This is an anti-racist, culturally and linguistically relevant curriculum and pedagogy about which much has been written (e.g., Bartlett and Garcia (2011), Additive Schooling in Subtractive Times).

Educate yourselves.  Read history.  Get involved in textbook and curriculum battles.  Promote equity, inclusion, and honesty.  And not only disavow that the concept of "white privilege" is even a debate, but also acknowledge that our never-ending struggles for inclusion in Texas' textbook selection process is wholly about the ideological agenda of maintaining current arrangements of power that align stubbornly to racial/ethnic, class, and gender divides in our society.

Peace and justice for 2016.
Angela Valenzuela

Study: White people react to evidence of white privilege by claiming greater personal hardship

David Edwards

28 Sep 2015 at 17:10 ET                   
Frustrated man (Shuttershock)
respond to evidence that they are privileged by their race by insisting
that they face greater hardships in life.

In a study published in the November issue of Journal of Experimental Social Psychology,
L. Taylor Phillips and Brian S. Lowery point out that progress on
racial equality is limited by the fact that many whites deny the
existence of inequities.

“Despite this reality, policy makers and power brokers continue to
debate whether racial privilege even exists and whether to address such
inequity,” the researchers noted. “One reason for this inaction might be
an unwillingness among Whites to acknowledge racial privilege —
acknowledgment that may be difficult given that Whites are motivated to
believe that meritocratic systems and personal virtues determine life

“However, claiming personal life hardships may help Whites manage the threatening possibility that they benefit from privilege.”

The researchers argued that understanding the reaction to evidence of
racial inequality was important because whites who did not feel that
they personally benefited from their ethnicity would be less willing to
support policies that were designed to reduce racial inequality.

Subjects in the study were separated into two groups. The group that
was shown evidence of white privilege “claimed more hardships than those
not exposed to evidence of privilege,” the study found.

A second experiment suggested “that people claim more life hardships
in response to evidence of in-group privilege because such information
is threatening to their sense of self.” Researchers observed that whites
who read self-affirming statements before completing the survey claimed
less hardships, and they found that self-affirmations could actually
reverse the denial of white privilege.

“Furthermore, Whites’ claims of life hardships mediated their denials
of personal privilege, supporting our hypothesis that hardship claims
help people deny they personally benefit from privilege — that White
privilege extends to themselves,” Phillips and Lowery wrote.
“Importantly, these denials of personal privilege were in turn
associated with diminished support for affirmative action policies —
policies that could help alleviate racial inequity.”

Researchers recommended that efforts to reduce racial inequalities also 
include the education of advantaged populations.

“Our work suggests that privilege reduction efforts might need to
focus not only on convincing or educating advantaged group members about
privilege, but also on reducing the feelings of self-threat this
information induces,” Phillips and Lowery explained. “The existence of
hardships does not reduce racial privilege, since racial privilege
entails comparison to someone of a different race with equivalent
hardships. People may erroneously think privilege entails complete ease
in life and that the presence of any hardships denotes an absence of

In conclusion, the study postulated that whites may claim hardship
“to maintain not only a positive sense of self, but also the material
benefits associated with racial privilege.”

“Whites’ claims of hardship might also serve to legitimize the racial
advantages they enjoy, and thereby justify a system that benefits their

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Learning English: Accountability, Common Core, and the college-for-all movement are transforming instruction

This is an interesting piece.  It considers the possible "silver lining" to Prop. 227 that eliminated bilingual education in California although it continued via an institutionalized waiver process.  That is, it allegedly eliminated a lot of low performing bilingual education programs.  Since then, particularly among the ranks of white, middle class parents wanting bilingual education for their children, dual language has gained a lot of traction.  Great graphic on "America the Multilingual" from the Migration Policy Institute within. (see below).


Learning English: Accountability, Common Core, and the college-for-all movement are transforming instruction


WINTER 2016 / VOL. 16, NO. 1
Third graders at Redwood City’s Hoover Elementary School present a collaborative group project
Third graders at Redwood City’s Hoover Elementary School present a collaborative group project
Ocean animals was the theme in pre-kindergarten classes at a California school in early May. Some
pre-K teachers introduced “octopus” and “tentacle,” while others taught “pulpo” and “tentaculo.”
In all the pre-K classes, children acted out vocabulary words with hand movements, sang songs,
and played a guess-the-ocean creature game. Then they moved to tables, where some of them
painted paper octopuses, while others gingerly smelled, touched, and then dangled little octopuses
from a local fish market.
Down the hall, kindergartners wrote about their favorite desert animals, talked with a partner about
where cacti grow, and chanted about biomes:
Arid deserts drying
Luscious forests growing
Polar caps freezing
Green prairies growing …
First graders discussed a story their teacher had read aloud in which a grandfather remembers courting
his wife. In Common-Core style, they cited “clues” from the text of the grandfather’s feelings and
learned words to describe emotions.
“How do you know he’s happy?” asked Heidi Conti, the teacher.
“He ‘winked’ at the boy,” answered a student.
“Good,” responded Conti. “You made an inference.”
Ninety-five percent of students at Redwood City’s Hoover School, in San Mateo County, come from low-income and working-class Latino families, and nearly all start school as English language
learners (ELLs). The elementary and middle school piloted the Sobrato Early Academic Language
(SEAL) program in 2009 in hopes of raising reading and math scores and moving more students to
the college track.
Programs like SEAL offer a fresh approach to educating English language learners. The focus in
schools is shifting “from the language of instruction to the quality of instruction,” says Kenji Hakuta,
a Stanford professor who specializes in language learning. As a result, long-standing debates about
whether English learners should be taught only in English or also in their native tongue feel
increasingly obsolete.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

How do we prepare students to think about leadership in education?

 How do we prepare students to think about leadership in education?

 I am happy to share some thoughts that I have about leadership.  This was just posted today on the UT College of Education website. Other commentaries are provided by Early Childhood Education Assistant Professor Jennifer Adair and Educational Administration Professor Mark Anthony Gooden, director of The University of Texas at Austin Principalship Program.

15+ Ways of Teaching Every Student to Code (Even Without a Computer)

According to, 90 percent of U.S. schools are not teaching any computer science. Eyebrows were raised in 2013 as the U.K. passed a plan to educate every child how to code. In 2014, Barack Obama made history as the first U.S. president to program a computer. Yet critics claim that often only the more affluent schools offer computer science courses, thus denying minorities potential to learn the skills required by the 1.4 million new jobs that will be created during the next ten years.
In my opinion, parents of every student in every school at every level should demand that all students be taught how to code. They don't need this skill because they'll all go into it as a career -- that isn't realistic -- but because it impacts every career in the 21st century world. Any country recognizing that will benefit in the long term. Here's how you can start.
With the following resources, you can teach programming with every student and every age.

Apps and Tools to Teach Coding All Year Round Resources

While the Hour of Code is in December, has suggested resources for educators, unplugged lessons (those not requiring computers), and tutorials to help you teach computer science to kids of all ages any time of the year.

Teaching Coding to the Youngest Students

  • Tynker Games: Use these age-appropriate games to teach your elementary students coding concepts. From Puppy Adventures to Math Art and Maze Craze, you'll find games that your grades 1-8 students will enjoy. Tynker also has a curriculum and STEM Product Library that you may want to peruse if you're interested in combining programming with social studies, English, math, and science.
  • Kodable started as an app targeted to students as young as kindergarten age, but it's now a complete curriculum. The first 30 levels are free, more than enough for an hour of code. They recommend this for age 5 and up, but there are stories of kids even younger using the app with great success to learn to program. iPad schools will want this app on every device. Students don’t need to know how to read in order to program using this game.
  • Cargobot (for age 5 and up) starts very easy but becomes more challenging as your progress. In the game, you're moving blocks around with a claw. This is an intriguing game because it was programmed entirely on an iPad using Codea. Students can also record solutions to the 36 unique puzzles and upload the videos to YouTube. This is free on the iPad.
  • Some more advanced programs have “junior” versions. ScratchJr is the version of Scratch intended for ages 5-7 and available as a free iPad app. A favorite of some programmers, LightbotJr targets children ages 4-8.
  • Robot Turtles is a board game to teach children the basics of programming without having to use any technology.

Teaching Coding to Age 8 and Up

  • Hopscotch is the free iPad app for upper elementary and above. Wesley Fryer has created and excellent free ebook (Dropbox account required) for Hopscotch in the classroom, full of challenges that you can use with students. He also recommends activating the emoji keyboard (go to Settings > General > Keyboards) for use with the program.
  • Scratch is a programming game that can be downloaded or used on the Web and is supported by MIT. They've got a powerful Hour of Code tutorial where students can program a holiday card in their web browser. Or, if you want options for other times of the year, use the one-hour "Speed Racer" activity to teach your students Scratch. Teachers can watch this tutorial video to learn how, visit ScratchED's Hour of Code Ideas forum to ask questions, or search "Hour of Code" on the forum for lesson plans using everything from coordinate geometry to Latin. Scratch is considered acceptable for beginners. (Some educators use Snap, originally a version of Scratch but now written in Javascript that is supported by University of California at Berkeley. There are several alternatives to Scratch with a similar interface. Give this list to your IT department if there are technical reasons why you can't run Scratch or Snap.)
  • Lightbot has a version on just about any platform and even has an online one-hour version. This puzzle game has a free version which lasts an hour but sells full versions on iTunes and Google Play. It teaches planning, testing, debugging, procedures, and loops.
  • Alice is another popular platform with a unique storytelling aspect. You can use it to create a game, tell a story, or make an animated video. Like Scratch, Alice is free and supported by a powerful community of educators. There are two versions of Alice. (The newer 3.0 version still has a few bugs but also sports many new, very cool animations.) This longstanding platform is a rewarding tool that kids will want to keep using past the initial hour. Alice is considered more for the intermediate student, but experienced teachers can use this with beginners.
  • Kodu is another programming tool that can be easily used on a PC or XBOX to create a simple game. There's also a math curriculum. This is one method that Pat Yongpradit,'s Director of Education, used in his computer science classroom. (I've used it as well.)
  • Gamestar Mechanic offers a free version that you might want to use for your hour, but if you fall in love with it, the educational package allows teachers to track student progress, among other features. The company supports educators, and there's also an Edmodo community that shares lesson plans and ideas for the tool, along with videos and a must-see teacher's guide.
  • GameMaker is an option if you want to make games that can be played in any web browser. The resources aren't as comprehensive and the community isn't vibrant, but this one has been around for a while and might be fun for a more tech-savvy teacher.
  • My Robot Friend is a highly-rated app according to Common Sense Media. It costs $3.99, but no in-app purchases are required to go to higher levels.
  • SpaceChem is an interesting mix of chemistry, reading, and programming for age 12 and up. As students read the 10,000-word novelette, they have to solve puzzles by assembling molecules. SpaceChem created a helpful guide for educators. This tool is available for download on Steam and installation on Windows, Mac, and Ubuntu. (Download a free demo.)
  • CodeCombat is a multiplayer game that teaches coding. It's free to play at the basic level, and students don't have to sign up. This has the advantage that teachers don't have to know computer science to empower learning in this programming. It's recommended for age 9 and up. See the teacher guide for the information and standards covered in this game.
  • is an option that lets you install and use Minecraft in the classroom. While this does require some purchase and setup, Minecraft seems to be gaining in popularity among educators as an in-house, 3D world-programming environment that kids love. has a Google group and best practices wiki. (My son took a course at Youth Digital that taught him Java to mod Minecraft -- while pricey, it was a great course.)
  • Do you want a board game for older children? Code Monkey Island is designed for children age 9 and up. This is a great addition to your game corner.

Flip Your Classroom or Use an Existing Curriculum

  • Follow the Hour of Code lesson plan tutorial on Khan Academy for ways to teach your students. These lessons are for older students with one computer each, or they could be adapted to a flipped class model.

Use Hardware and Make Something Cool

Programming, making, and creating have never been easier. If you're getting into the maker movement or Genius Hour, these are staples for your classroom. While they may take longer than an hour of code, they're definitely something 21st-century schools can use, because students are programming and building with their hands.
  • The Raspberry Pi is an inexpensive computer. While Kickstarter's Kano kit isn't available yet (but is likely what we'll be talking about next year), there are so many things kids can make with the Raspberry Pi. After setting one of these up with my 15-year-old nephew, I recommend that the teacher be a tad more advanced! This is definitely a tool I'd use in my classroom. (Cost for a kit runs less than $100.)
  • I am in love with the Hummingbird Robotics kit -- it makes Arduino easy. An Arduino is basically a motherboard that you can make, plus a programming kit. I have one of these in my classroom, and the students are fixated for hours. (Cost for a kit is around $100.)
  • LEGO MINDSTORMS are part of my curriculum every spring. Students love LEGOs! I have six older MINDSTORMS kits that we've used for years. The newer NXT kits even have cool robots that can be made and programmed. This product has been around for years, so there are many resources for teachers. If you purchase an older kit on eBay, make sure it will work with newer operating systems.
  • Dash and Dot are two endearing little robots that can be used with age 5 and up. These robots have apps that can be used to program them, for which children age 8 and up can use Blockly, the visual programming language created by Google. Older students can even use Objective C or Java to program the bots.
  • Sphero and Ollie are fantastic robots that can go almost anywhere (my students have taken them across water). The SPRK education program gives teachers and parents a curriculum to use the bots and teach programming even when the adult is still learning.

How Do You Teach Coding in Your Classroom?

In this post, you've seen 15+ ways to teach coding in your classroom, but there are many more. Please join the movement to help reach every child by sharing your story in the comments -- or a link to your favorite resources for teaching kids to code.
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Valenzuela Receives Second Nomination for Distinguished International Prize

Thanks to Sybil Kaufman for writing this story about me and posting it on the front page of the UT College of Education website.  -Angela

Valenzuela Receives Second Nomination for Distinguished International Prize

Founded by John and Donnie Brock of Oklahoma, the Brock International Prize in Education receives distinguished nominations from experts around the world. This year marks the second consecutive nomination of Dr. Angela Valenzuela, professor of Educational Administration, and Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Texas at Austin’s College of Education. Valenzuela’s innovations and big ideas, like her “subtractive schooling” theory of student identity and schooling, make her a thought-leader and ideal nominee for an award that honors meaningful change in how educators think and act. “I am deeply honored to have been nominated twice for this prestigious award,” said Valenzuela, who also serves as director of the University of Texas Center for Education Policy and of the National LatinoEducation Research and Policy Project (NLERAP). Her blog, Educational Equity, Politics and Policy in Texas, highlights issues like accountability, testing, college readiness, bilingual education, and immigration.
Valenzuela’s fellow nominees include theoretical physicist Walter Massey of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, education technology professor Sugata Mitra of Newcastle University in England, and research professor Cecilia Fierro of the Universidad Iberoamericana Leon in Mexico. Dr. Fierro is the 2016 Brock International Prize laureate and shares Valenzuela’s devotion to combating the marginalization of children in rural communities.
As a faculty member in the College of Education’s Educational Policy and Planning Program, Valenzuela continues to inspire change in a field that demands activism and leadership.  Since beginning her professorial career 25 years ago, she continues to advocate outside the classroom, testifying on legislative issues, delivering speeches and lectures across the world, and publishing a number of acclaimed books about Latino education in America.

Sibyl Kaufman
Communications Strategist

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

How Dual Language Learning Could Help Curb Education Inequality

The Colliers' research attests strongly to the achievement-gap-reducing the impact of dual language.

 How Dual Language Learning Could Help Curb Education Inequality
Nov 6, 2015

Rosa Jonasz leads her 2nd grade dual language class in a reading lesson.
Credit Virginia Alvino / Texas Public Radio News 
More than 17 percent of Texas’ public school students learned a language other than English first. There are a number of approaches to teaching these English language learners  - many researchers consider dual language learning to be one of the most effective. They say it allows students to learn English while simultaneously helping them advance literacy in their native language.
Texas Public Radio’s Virginia Alvino reports on the benefits and limitations of dual language learning, and why some educators see it as an issue of social justice.
At Passmore Elementary it’s time for a reading lesson in Rosa Jonasz’ 2nd- grade class.
Some of her students are native English speakers. Most are native Spanish speakers. This is a dual language class. The goal is to help all the students become bi-lingual and bi-literate, by learning from the teacher, and each other.
“Like today it will be Spanish reading, tomorrow it will be English reading," says Jonasz. "So we just continue, so if they didn’t catch it today they will catch it tomorrow, so that’s why we try to make the connections between the two days.”
They also use that pattern with math, and science. It’s not just learning both languages. It’s learning how to learn in both languages.
Many researchers agree – dual language programs are effective. Among them is Howard Smith, professor of bilingual studies at UTSA.
He says language education is a highly political issue - that many educated folks have always seen bilingualism as a sign of being well bred. So while public dual language programs are growing nationwide, Smith says that’s largely at the request of white, middle class families. The plus side is Hispanic students can benefit.
"Here in Texas we have some problems but we are recognizing the rights of children to have access to education," says Smith, "and the bilingual programs and dual language programs in specific are helping that to be achieved.”
While school districts are federally required to provide an option for English learners, they aren’t told which one. The advantage of dual language is that unlike other models, it also cultivates Spanish skills.
“And so when we see so many low economic families being denied bilingualism with the excuse that you have to learn English, English only, etcetera," says Smith. "But then you have these same students who are told forget Spanish, they reach high school, and the high school counselor says you know if you want to  get into college you have to have three years of a foreign language. Then you have kids named Gonzalez and Suarez who fail Spanish 1 in high school, because they are successful products of the system.”
That’s why Smith says there should be more dual language programs, and they should continue through High School - which only one San Antonio district does. But he says there’s a lack of infrastructure – for programs to grow, every district would need way more bilingual teachers, and language materials.
Noelia Benson is Northside ISD’s Director of Bilingual Education. She says  "we don’t have enough ELL’s for the dual language to grow it and have it across the district.”
Benson says NISD is majority Hisanic, but only 7 percent are English language learners. So, the district can’t meet the demand for the program - demand which she says, is coming from English speaking families.   For now  the district is still seeing the win-win benefit of this approach.
"Our dual language students usually outperform our mainstream English only,” says Benson.
Last year at Passmore  78 percent of fourth graders met state writing standards, while 100 percent of dual language ELL’s met the same standard.
In Passmore’s fifth grade dual language class, it’s hard to figure out which students are ELL’s while everyone’s speaking English. Anahi Reyes says she hardly spoke any English when she started. "Since pre-K I've been in dual language," she says.
As far as the Spanish language learners they aren’t fully carrying on conversations with each other in both languages, but they’re following along. At least in this class, a lot of the students seem to get that they’re lucky to be in the program. Plus, 5th grader Anahi Reyes says “people that know two languages get paid more.”
That's a favorite fact of many of the students who do get the opportunity to participate in dual language learning.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

‘Trump effect’ may fuel Latino voting

Presidential candidate Donald Trump has galvanized the Latino vote and we know that this vote makes a big difference in national elections.
"[M]ore than 2 million Latino voters — may head to the polls in November because of the “Trump effect.” Donald Trump’s disparaging remarks against unauthorized Latino immigrants have angered most Latinos because of their family immigrant histories — many of them are second- or third-generation Americans. And many Latinos may know someone dear to them who is or was an immigrant."
 It has gotten personal.


‘Trump effect’ may fuel Latino voting  It’s a common refrain, heard repeatedly before elections: “Latinos don’t vote.”
Increasingly, however, it appears the reverse may be true, according to a new study released by the William C. Velasquez Institute in San Antonio last week. And local elected Latino officials are seeing the same trend.
In the 2014 midterm elections, more than 1 million Latinos turned out to vote in Texas. That translates into 48 percent of Latino registered voters — a considerable percentage when their numbers had gone down by 300,000 since the 2012 elections.
In addition, total voter turnout in Texas and around the country was anemic — 28 percent in Texas, and 36 percent nationwide.
“Never have we seen such a stunning turnout when a state loses so many voters but still performs in the turnout better than in the last two midterm elections,” said Lydia Camarillo, vice president for the Southwest Voter Registration Project in San Antonio.
“The narrative that Latinos don’t vote is just not true,” she said.
She cited other barriers to voting that still may play a role in depressing turnout, such as voter ID laws and a cumbersome electoral system that inhibits rather than encourages easy access to the polls the way same-day registration does in other states.
“You cannot blame Latino voters anymore,” she said. “If you want to change voting patterns for all groups, then you have to change the system.”
Nevertheless, the institute is projecting that a record number — more than 2 million Latino voters — may head to the polls in November because of the “Trump effect.”
Donald Trump’s disparaging remarks against unauthorized Latino immigrants have angered most Latinos because of their family immigrant histories — many of them are second- or third-generation Americans. And many Latinos may know someone dear to them who is or was an immigrant.
Fort Worth City Council member Salvador Espino said he has already seen it at work.
He said he has seen Latinos more engaged early in the presidential election cycle than in past years because of “frustration and concern” about comments by Trump.
He saw a similar situation when Ramon Romero ran for the District 90 legislative seat in 2014.
“There was a concern with Austin and the lack of diversity in the Tarrant County delegation,” Espino said.
Today, it is Trump who is lighting a fire under Latinos to become politically engaged.
“We take Donald Trump very seriously,” he said. “The more outrageous his statements, the more he rises in the polls. If he is not the nominee, no one is going to forget that many in the GOP did not call him out.”
Laura Barberena, president of the political consulting firm Viva Politics, echoed Espino’s sentiment.
“To what extent does his rhetoric define the Republican brand and is shaping it is the question,” said Barberena, who was present at the Velasquez Institute’s briefing last week.
“If they embrace Trump, then they’re embracing these politically charged positions that can be detrimental to the GOP brand in the long term with Latinos.”
The bigger question, though, is will Latinos still turn out if Trump is not the GOP presidential nominee.
Camarillo said that, either way, if Democrats want to win in Texas, “they can’t afford to sit on the sidelines and not invest in turning out the Latino electorate.”
Twitter: @molivera79

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Diversity Makes You Brighter, By SHEEN S. LEVINE and DAVID STARK DEC. 9, 2015

Great piece in today's NYTimes on the Abigail Fisher, Affirmative Action case out of the University of Texas at Austin.  Summative quote:

Imagine how much students might be getting wrong, how much they are conforming to comfortable ideas and ultimately how much they could be underperforming because of this.

Ethnic diversity is like fresh air: It benefits everybody who experiences it. By disrupting conformity it produces a public good. To step back from the goal of diverse classrooms would deprive all students, regardless of their racial or ethnic background, of the opportunity to benefit from the improved cognitive performance that diversity promotes.
Research by Evan P. Apfelbaum and colleagues (2014) is brought to bear on the question of the importance of diversity in a market context with direct implications for higher education.

One can't help but wonder what influence the student movement nationwide that largely is calling for greater diversity in higher education will have (learn about their demands here), if any, on the court's decision today.  One would think that even if not directly addressed by the SCOTUS, the unfolding backstage story will nevertheless give them some pause.

Angela Valenzuela


The Opinion Pages | Op-Ed Contributors

Diversity Makes You Brighter


Credit Matt Chase

AFFIRMATIVE ACTION is back before the Supreme Court today. The court has agreed to hear, for the second time, the case of Abigail Fisher, a white applicant who claims that she was rejected by the University of Texas at Austin because of her race. Ms. Fisher invokes the promise of equal protection contained in the 14th Amendment, reminding us that judging people by their ancestry, rather than by their merits, risks demeaning their dignity.
Upholding affirmative action in 2003, in Grutter v. Bollinger, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor argued that it served the intellectual purpose of a university. Writing for the majority, she described how the University of Michigan aspired to enhance diversity not only to improve the prospects of certain groups of students, but also to enrich everyone’s education.
Ms. Fisher argues that diversity may be achieved in other ways, without considering race. Before resorting to the use of race or ethnicity in admissions, the University of Texas must offer “actual evidence, rather than overbroad generalizations about the value of favored or disfavored groups” to show that “the alleged interest was substantial enough to justify the use of race.”
Our research provides such evidence. Diversity improves the way people think. By disrupting conformity, racial and ethnic diversity prompts people to scrutinize facts, think more deeply and develop their own opinions. Our findings show that such diversity actually benefits everyone, minorities and majority alike.
To study the effects of ethnic and racial diversity, we conducted a series of experiments in which participants competed in groups to find accurate answers to problems. In a situation much like a classroom, we started by presenting each participant individually with information and a task: to calculate accurate prices for simulated stocks. First, we collected individual answers, and then (to see how committed participants were to their answers), we let them buy and sell those stocks to the others, using real money. Participants got to keep any profit they made.
When trading, participants could observe the behavior of their counterparts and decide what to make of it. Think of yourself in similar situations: Interacting with others can bring new ideas into view, but it can also cause you to adopt popular but wrong ones.
It depends how deeply you contemplate what you observe. So if you think that something is worth $100, but others are bidding $120 for it, you may defer to their judgment and up the ante (perhaps contributing to a price bubble) or you might dismiss them and stand your ground.
We assigned each participant to a group that was either homogeneous or diverse (meaning that it included at least one participant of another ethnicity or race). To ascertain that we were measuring the effects of diversity, not culture or history, we examined a variety of ethnic and racial groups. In Texas, we included the expected mix of whites, Latinos and African-Americans. In Singapore, we studied people who were Chinese, Indian and Malay. (The results were published with our co-authors, Evan P. Apfelbaum, Mark Bernard, Valerie L. Bartelt and Edward J. Zajac.)
The findings were striking. When participants were in diverse company, their answers were 58 percent more accurate. The prices they chose were much closer to the true values of the stocks. As they spent time interacting in diverse groups, their performance improved.
In homogeneous groups, whether in the United States or in Asia, the opposite happened. When surrounded by others of the same ethnicity or race, participants were more likely to copy others, in the wrong direction. Mistakes spread as participants seemingly put undue trust in others’ answers, mindlessly imitating them. In the diverse groups, across ethnicities and locales, participants were more likely to distinguish between wrong and accurate answers. Diversity brought cognitive friction that enhanced deliberation.
For our study, we intentionally chose a situation that required analytical thinking, seemingly unaffected by ethnicity or race. We wanted to understand whether the benefits of diversity stem, as the common thinking has it, from some special perspectives or skills of minorities.
What we actually found is that these benefits can arise merely from the very presence of minorities. In the initial responses, which were made before participants interacted, there were no statistically significant differences between participants in the homogeneous or diverse groups. Minority members did not bring some special knowledge.
The differences emerged only when participants began interacting with one another. When surrounded by people “like ourselves,” we are easily influenced, more likely to fall for wrong ideas. Diversity prompts better, critical thinking. It contributes to error detection. It keeps us from drifting toward miscalculation.
Our findings suggest that racial and ethnic diversity matter for learning, the core purpose of a university. Increasing diversity is not only a way to let the historically disadvantaged into college, but also to promote sharper thinking for everyone.
When it comes to diversity in the lecture halls themselves, universities can do much better. A commendable internal study by the University of Texas at Austin showed zero or just one African-American student in 90 percent of its typical undergraduate classrooms. Imagine how much students might be getting wrong, how much they are conforming to comfortable ideas and ultimately how much they could be underperforming because of this.
Ethnic diversity is like fresh air: It benefits everybody who experiences it. By disrupting conformity it produces a public good. To step back from the goal of diverse classrooms would deprive all students, regardless of their racial or ethnic background, of the opportunity to benefit from the improved cognitive performance that diversity promotes.

Sheen S. Levine is a professor at the Jindal School of Management at the University of Texas at Dallas; David Stark is a professor of sociology at Columbia.