Paul R. Lehman, Flawed School evaluation formula uses race in assessing achievement gaps.

December 2, 2013 at 10:06 pm | Posted in discrimination, equality, European American, minority, Oklahoma education, Race in America, socioeconomics, The Oklahoman, whites | Leave a comment
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Researchers at Oklahoma University and Oklahoma State University did an analysis relative to the grading of schools in an A-F system and found that system was flawed for a variety of reasons. This analysis was supported by a number of teacher and educational organizations in recognizing the failure of the A-F system to give an accurate assessment of the schools. According to an article in The Oklahoman, “Education Department criticizes grades study,” (12/1/13) the Oklahoma State Department of Education had some concerns with the analysis by the two Oklahoma Universities.
The writer of the article, Kim Archer, gave more specific information about the study:
In mid-October, researchers from the University of Oklahoma’s Center for Education Policy and Oklahoma State University’s Center for Educational Research and Evaluation released an analysis of the A-F school grading formula that concluded Oklahoma’s school evaluation system has fundamental flaws that make letter grades virtually meaningless and ineffective for judging school performance.
The analysis of the grading system has been questioned by “Megan Clifford, a Harvard University strategic data fellow ‘on loan’ to the state Education Department for the next two years, [she] conducted her own analysis of the system with input from her Harvard professors.” Clifford stated that one problem with the OU/OSU analysis was “that it relied on a ‘small, nonrepresentative sample of state data.” Consequently, the article continued, “State Superintendent Janet Barresi asked Clifford to see if she could replicate the OU/OSU research findings to determine how to use results from the critiquing study.”
As a result of the request, the department decided to look at three primary concerns of the A-F grading system from the OU/OSU analysis. First, the analysis indicated that “Differences between predicted A-F letter grades are small and effectively meaningless;” next, the analysis found that “Summarizing a school’s test performance on math, reading and science is neither a clear nor reliable indicator of school performance;” and finally, that “letter grades mask achievement gaps between poor and minority children and their wealthier, nonminority peers.”
In her response to these three concerns of the OU/OSU analysis, Clifford found for the first concern, that the “differences between ‘A’ and ‘F’ schools were much greater” than the analysis suggested. Her response to the second concern relative to performance grades, she stated that “It definitely is accurate in telling everyone what percentage of students at the school are proficient in” course and levels from low to high achievement levels. Her final response relative to gaps between poor minority children and their wealthy peer, was that “there is an achievement gap based on race, but that poor students in an A school did better than a poor student in an F school.”
While these concerns might appear to be logical and appropriate with respect to criticism of the OU/OSU study, they in effect support the conclusion of that report. In essence, the idea of a fair and accurate A-F letter grading formula must first of all take into consideration the specific demographics of each school. Once that is done, the value of each letter grade must be established based on the demographic information of especially the social, economic and educational levels of the communities in which the schools are located. In no manner should all the schools be assessed by the same standards, because they are generally, all different.
In his book, Coming Apart, Charles Murray talked about the problems we face in America today based on class structure. The problems have some influences on collecting data. From his book we learn that “a new upper class and a new lower class have diverged so far in core behaviors and values that they barely recognize their underlying American kinship.” Based on five decades of statistics and research, he added that “divergence that has nothing to do with income inequality and that has grown during good economic times and bad.” With this information in mind, an A-F letter grading formula would favor one group while it discriminates against another if the standards for the evaluation are based on one group, the upper class.
In addition, Murray noted that
The top and bottom of white America increasingly live in different cultures, Murray argues, with the powerful upper class living in enclaves surrounded by their own kind, ignorant about life in mainstream America and the lower class suffering from erosions of family and community life that strike at the heart of the pursuit of happiness. That divergence puts the success of the American project at risk.
So, regardless of the approach taken to assess each school with a letter grade, consideration must be given to the uniqueness of each school and the children attending those schools. If these concerns are not taken seriously, then the results of any evaluation will be faulty and unreliable.
Clifford’s assessment of the achievement gaps associated with race is of concern when race is never defined, but assumed. We would have to examine the data from the schools to determine how race is identified and used relative to the students. Since the concept of race defined by color or some other method is defective, one wonders just how the results from unreliable information can accurately reflect student or school performance. If the objective for evaluating each school is to discover what areas need addressing, then an accurate assessment that takes into consideration the basic demographics and other relative information must be brought into the equation-one size does not fit all.
The assessment by the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University were accurate when they indicated that the A-F school grading formula was flawed and made “letter grades virtually meaningless and ineffective for judging school performance.” We would hope that Clifford takes another look at the data in an effort to recognize what is best for the schools and their students. Whether it was meant to serve as a reward/punishment system, the A-F grading formula does just that when it passes judgment on the schools and the students representing those schools. We can do a better job in addressing the needs of our schools through evaluations


Paul R. Lehman, Letter writer fails to understand MLK’s words and actions for America

February 3, 2013 at 12:13 pm | Posted in Affirmative Action, African American, American Bigotry, American Dream, blacks, Congress, desegregation, Equal Opportunity, equality, European American, fairness, minority, President Obama, state Government, The Oklahoman, whites | 2 Comments
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A letter writer by Georgia Sparks, published in The Oklahoman on the “opinion” page, “Follow King’s Example,”(1/26/13) was surely meant to be well-meaning and kind in addressing King’s words and actions. What becomes apparent in the letter, however, is the lack of understanding the writer had of King’s objective. Most people upon hearing King’s name immediately think of his “I had a dream” speech and all the things he wanted for his children in America. When they think those thoughts, they miss the essence of King’s words and actions. If people would take the time to read the entire speech, they would recognize it for what it is—a protest speech. King was angry at America for not living up to its promise of a fair opportunity to all its citizens, especially to African Americans and other Americans.
The Sparks’ letter stated that “Most people in America are glad that Martin Luther King Jr. was able to help push back the bars keeping minorities from achieving success. He would be glad to see the progress that’s been made toward equality of opportunity.” On the contrary, most people aware of King’s challenge for the nation would be very upset and angry of the little progress that has taken place over the last fifty years. Since Sparks mentioned specifically “minorities,” we might take a look at the progress made by African Americans since King’s death. What we discover is that in many cases they have experienced a lack of progress—more African American young men are in prison than in college, the unemployment rate for African Americans is twice that of European Americans, the death rate is higher, the home ownership is lower. So, what would King be glade about? Of course, not only African Americans have experienced set-backs but also many Americans in general for a variety of reasons.
The bars referred to by Sparks that King tried to bring down or push back are still in place, for the most part. They are represented in the bigotry and prejudice still very much a part of the American fabric and manifest themselves in a variety of ways. Many of those ways were apparent during the last presidential election when some state governmental officials tried to prevent many minority citizens from voting. They are present in the laws that many Congressmen want to pass that would place a hardship of many needy Americans. King would be very up-set at the negative attitude of many Americans for wanting to deprive some citizens of much needed help.
The letter continued , “He [King] would not be happy to see how many people who could have succeeded but instead failed because they abused drugs, failed to secure a good education, chose to go into gangs and drug cartels or chose to go into crime and didn’t marry before having children.” These comments reflect a conception that has not kept pace with reality, but rather remains in a somewhat naive, but warm and secure cocoon. One of King’s primary complaints relative to government’s lack of concern focused specifically on the needs of poor people. Sparks seem to suggest that people want to be poor, ignorant, drug abusers, unemployed and work towards those ends. We know that despite the best laid plans made by people, circumstances occur that disrupt and destroy those plans, and people find themselves in predicaments not of their choosing. Once people find themselves in dire straights, extricating themselves usually prove extremely difficult; some people find it impossible to regain their once enjoyed level of life.
King believed that it was incumbent on society to lend a helping hand as well as a hand up to the people who were in need. We have a perfect example of how King imagined the government could benefit people in need by looking at many of the victims of Hurricane Sandy. The people from that experience who were displaced were not displaced because they wanted to be. Most of them are ordinary, decent, hard-working people who had no say in what Mother Nature did to them. Part of our responsibility as citizens of this great country is to help our fellow citizens when they are in need. Sometime the needs are not as obvious as helping victims of natural occurrences or as immediate. Sometimes the needs include job training and education as well as health care and housing. These are the things King saw as necessary concerns and responsibilities of our society.
Sparks’ letter stated that “People who choose to succeed make good decisions. They work hard to prepare themselves for success. They delay having children until they can marry and take care of them inside a family.” Really? Someone not choosing to be successful might be a possibility, but most people must define success according to the reality of their situation. If all it took to be successful was to choose it and work hard to accept it, certainly more people would be successful. What seems to be missing from Sparks’ comments is an understanding of the various levels of the social-economical conditions in America. She has an idea of what the American dream is and it belongs to everyone—the same dream. One way people can be successful according to Sparks would for them to “…work before they play.”
Although ethnicity is never mentioned in the letter, one cannot avoid the obvious references that suggest and stereotype groups of ethnic Americans. The mere reference to Martin Luther King Jr. usually brings to mind African Americans even though King spoke for all Americans. Sparks again seemed to misplace her focus when she closed her letter with the words about King: “He valued the family structure and took care of his own family. Instead of marching to honor King, I’d like to see people follow his example in their own lives.” What a wonderful thought. King certainly would want people to have families if they desired, but more importantly, he would have wanted society to treat all people fairly so they could choose what they defined as life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. To follow King’s example in light of conditions today would mean people marching in protest everyday.

Paul R. Lehman, Gen. Powell identifies concerns for the Republican Party

January 15, 2013 at 8:33 pm | Posted in African American, black republicans, blacks, Colin POwell, Congress, Democrats, Disrespect, equality, European American, fairness, GOP, justice, minority, Prejudice, President, President Obama, presidential election, Respect for President, Slavery, socioeconomics, the Republican Party, whites | 2 Comments
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On Sunday (1-13-13) General Colin Powell was on “Meet the Press,” and spoke with David Gregory about some of the problems with his political party, the Republican Party. General Powell, a former Secretary of State in the last Bush administration, is a well-respected statesmen as well as an African American. Most people listen when Powell talks because he does not generally engage in idly chatter. If anyone witnessed the interview then there is no question about the seriousness of Powell’s comments. He talked about the Republican Party’s identity problem, its shift, its need to be concerned with society’s needs.

The first party problem Powell identified was that of the Party’s identity. He stated that “In recent years, there’s been a significant shift to the right and we have seen what that shift has produced, two losing presidential campaigns. I think what the Republican Party needs to do now is take a very hard look at itself and understand that the country has changed.” In what can be considered constructive criticism, Powell makes the suggestion that the party takes a good look at itself and recognizes the variety and diversity of its membership to see what need to be addressed for a successful future. With the failure of the party in the last two elections, something must be done to correct the problem. Powell even pinpoints the problem regarding the party’s identity: “The country is changing demographically. And if the Republican Party does not change with that demographic, they’re going to be in trouble.”

Powell’s comments come as no surprise since most news pundits as well as ordinary citizens realized that after the elections the majority of minority and women voted for Obama. A number of republicans also noted the lack of support of ethnic Americans for Republican candidates. All Powell was doing was underscoring the problem and challenge his party faces. The lack of ethnic diversity in the Republican Party calls attention to itself.

The shift Powell refers to, meaning to the right, is cause for concern also. Many of the party representatives hold views that show a lack of concern and compassion for the well-being of some of our less-fortunate citizens. Their primary concern seems to be in total support of the rich and powerful at the expense of the working and middle class citizens. All one has to do is look at the record of Congress the last four years for verification of this fact. If the party wants to be successful in the future, according to Powell, it must expand its membership and become more receptive to the middle-class and minorities.

With respect to the party’s identity, Powell stated that it has developed what he called “a dark vein of intolerance” in its perception. For example, when President Obama was first elected, Mitch O’Connell made the statement that the number one objective of the party was to make Obama a one term president. All the efforts of the party since that statement seem to throw support towards that objective. Unfortunately, the first order of business for many of the Republicans was to show disrespect for the President. This show of disrespect became apparent in a variety of ways. Although Powell does not say so directly, his examples show that the disrespect was meant to convey a specific message regarding the President’s ethnicity. Powell mentions the reference made by ex-Governor Palin regarding his “shucking and jiving,” which can only be associated with African Americans and the slavery experience. Another reference made by a republican official after the first Presidential debate to President Obama as seeming to be “lazy,” a term generally associated with a negative stereotype of African Americans, as opposed to some other term. To Powell, these references show a negative and mean-spirited attack on the President’s ethnicity. The birther movement challenged his citizenship in spite of the documentation shared with the public– birth certificates, newspaper birth announcements etc.

Powell also included the party’s negative actions regarding immigration, voter suppression, and general actions underscoring an attitude of intolerance of minorities. Although Powell’s comments were meant to alert his party to many of its problems, the likely-hood of some of the people in his party receiving his comments as constructive criticism is questionable. Some will attack Powell because he spoke at all; some will criticize him of pointing out the problems and challenges; some will condemn his as a turn-coat or a democrat in disguise. In any event, his comments will be met with ungrateful attitudes especially because he is an African American.

Powell sees himself as a mainstream Republican who cares deeply for his party and would like to see it address its many problems. His final comments during the interview underscore that idea:

I think the Party has to take a look at itself. It has to take a look at its responsibilities for health care. It has to take a look at immigration. It has to take a look at those less fortunate than us. The party has gathered unto itself a reputation that it is the party of the rich. It is the party of lower taxes. But there are a lot of people who are lower down the food chain, the economic chain, who are also paying lots of taxes relative to their income, and they need help. We need more education work being done in this country. We need a solid immigration policy. We have to look at climate change.

Chances are the Republicans will over-look Powell’s comments and move ahead with the plans they have in place. After all, they do not have to worry about being re-elected to office since most come from gerrymandered state districts. Some probably see Powell as an unfortunate nuisance.

Paul R. Lehman, Study shows poor women’s health affected by housing

October 23, 2011 at 12:43 pm | Posted in equality, fairness, minority, Prejudice | 1 Comment
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The Associated Press
recently ran an article by Mike Stobbe that stated the “poor are more likely to
be ill.” The article, “Study ties wellness to housing location,” recounts a
housing program of the 1990’s sponsored by the government that “offered
thousands of poor women in big-city housing a chance to live in more affluent
neighborhoods.” The study showed that a decade later, the women who were
relocated had lower rates of diabetes and extreme obesity.” In other words,
where one lives and one’s social-economic status can affect one’s health.

The program was initiated to discover “whether moving
impoverished families to more prosperous areas could improve employment or
schooling. But according to a study released Wednesday {10-19-11}, the most
interesting effect may have been on the women’s physical condition.” In
essence, the study suggests that where one lives can have an effect on one’s
health “especially if your home is in a low-income area with few safe places to
exercise, limited food options and meager medical services.” Most people using
common sense can reason that social conditions usually accompany each other
like poor housing, unemployment, high crime, violence, little educational
opportunities. These elements are common in areas of high concentration of
ethnic groups at the bottom of the social ladder—usually African Americans and
Hispanics, but not limited to them.

Stobbs’ article notes that “‘This study proves that
concentrated poverty is not only bad policy, it’s bad for your health,’ Shaun
Donovan, secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development.” Later
in the article, we note that the study suggests some interesting findings:”Ten
years later, the women who moved to richer areas had the lowest rates of
extreme obesity and diabetes.” The conclusion was that “The difference suggests
that a person’s risk of diabetes or extreme obesity dropped by about 20 percent
by moving to a higher-income neighborhood.” We are told that the study was not
designed to answer why these changes occurred.

Before we close the book on this report and conclude that
the government or social agencies should start making plans to try and place
every poor woman living in big-city housing in an affluent neighborhood, we
need to consider another important fact—the mental health of these women.
Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett wrote in their bestseller, The Spirit Level, that according to
their research that “Generally, living in a poorer area is associated with
worse health. Members of ethnic minorities who live in areas where there are few like
themselves tend to be more affluent, and to live in better neighbourhoods, than
those who live in areas with higher concentration.” They continued, “So to find
that these more ethnically isolated individuals are sometimes less healthy is
surprising. The probable explanation is that, through the eyes of the majority
community, they become more aware of belonging to a low-status minority group
and perhaps encounter more frequent prejudice and discrimination and have less

By simply looking at the results of the study reported by
Stobbs we might be led to conclude that all was well with the women and their
families who made the move to the affluent areas. Wilkinson and Pickett,
however, notes “That the psychological effects of stigma are sometimes strong
enough to override the health benefits of material advantages tells us a lot
about the power of inequality and bring us back to the importance of social
status, social support and friendship, and influence of social anxiety and
stigma….” While the study reported on the physical health of the women, no
mention was made regarding their mental well-being and those of her family.

African Americans have historically been negatively affected
by society’s view of them in various forms of bigotry, discrimination, and
prejudice. The areas of education, employment, housing, medicine and politics
have been the focus of social areas where the negative actions have occurred.
All those areas affect the sense of value or self worth of most individuals,
but especially minority ethnic Americans. Since the study focused only on the
physical health of the women, we have no way of knowing the state of their
mental well-being. One might surmise that if these women were welcomed into their
communities and made to feel a sense of value as a fellow human being, then
chances are their mental state is good. However, if they were made to feel a
social difference, especially a feeling of inferiority in comparison to the
majority population, then life for them is not very pleasant and probably
accompanied by much stress.

The fact that African Americans as well as Hispanics are
generally seen as being at the bottom of the social ladder regarding value or
worth goes without saying. That view is not, however, how the African Americans
and Hispanics view themselves, but how others might view them based on social
history. A sense of community that offers protection and comfort from the
negative experiences of the majority has always been an important element of
the ethnic community. In essence, when one is totally estranged from one’s usual
community, some feelings of anxiety and stress are naturally expected. So, to
conduct a study that takes women away from their community and places them in a
totally different environment and expect no mental consequences is foolhardy.

No one will question the merit of good research that seeks
to examine social activities such as those experiences affecting health of the
women in the study. What can be misleading about the results of such research
studies is the interpretation of the results of such studies. Certainly, the physical
health of the women in the study is important; however, because of the mental
impact of these women leaving their familiar community for one that represents an
extreme difference, the results of their mental well-being should be equally
important. The importance becomes more significant when we realize that the
elements of social self-worth and self-value will be in play.

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