Tag Archives: Race

A Day in the Life: Q&A with Kat Black, Bellwether Talent Services Intern

Kat Black

Kat Black, Bellwether Intern

Bellwether was thrilled to have Kat Black join our Chicago office as a summer intern on the Talent Services team from June to August 2016. She came to us in between graduating from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and beginning a full-time role in human capital consulting at Deloitte Consulting in New York City.

We spoke to her about her career goals, highlights from her time with us, and what makes Bellwether unique.

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

How did you get inspired to work with underserved kids?

My love for helping students started in undergrad at Amherst College, where I worked as an intern in the admissions office helping with diversity initiatives. Following graduation, I accepted a fellowship role as an admissions officer at Amherst. One visit to a particular school, the High School of Leadership and Public Service in New York City, had a great impact on me. I’ve never forgotten the kids there. It was a predominantly black and Hispanic school, and for those students to see someone who looked like them coming from a school like Amherst meant a lot. It also reinforced my awareness of the lack of resources so many students face. Since then I’ve done a substantial amount of college preparatory tutoring for students at different under-resourced high schools in NYC and Chicago, but want to do more in the future.

My dream is to open up my own organization that works directly with kids doing college prep work. Starting an organization requires resources and knowledge in terms of how to actually run things. I have the passion from my experience at Amherst, and now I’m working to put the skills behind it.

How did you hear about Bellwether?

I came to Bellwether through Education Pioneers. I was studying abroad in South America and said look, I’ll have four months off between graduation and my next full-time role, how can I keep growing? I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, but from the moment I spoke to the Talent Services team, I have never looked back.

I don’t think I’ll ever work in another organization where one of the cofounders invites me out to brunch before my start. Coming into an organization and already feeling like I was part of it was a big deal. My first day didn’t feel like a first day because I’d already been welcomed so much in advance.

I went from wavering about how I wanted to spend my summer to meeting the people at Bellwether and saying this is literally a dream job. Continue reading

There’s a Reason the Movement for Black Lives’ Education Platform Rejects Charter Schools

You can also read my colleague Hailly Korman’s coverage of the Movement for Black Lives’ education platform in this post from yesterday.

BLM image for post

Student march in Minneapolis, MN via flickr user Fibonacci Blue

The Movement for Black Lives’ K-12 education platform has only been public for a few days, but it’s already a success in one sense: It got people talking about the education of black students. Perhaps no part of the education platform was more provocative than the call for a moratorium on charter schools. It forced this uncomfortable question: Why – if so many black families are choosing charters – would the Movement reject them?

Looking at the data, it’s a hard position to explain. It’s no secret that traditional public schools are failing black students. Nationally, the eighth grade black-white achievement gap in public schools is 29 points in reading and 32 points in math. Only 72.5 percent of black students graduate high school on time, almost 15 points behind their white peers. On the other hand, many charters appear to be doing better. A recent study found that nationally urban charters provide higher levels of growth in reading and math. Furthermore, the majority of black parents report supporting charter schools.

So, why would the Movement for Black Lives want to stop the expansion of charters when the evidence seems to suggest that they should want just the opposite? Continue reading

The Error of Our Ways: Education and Mass Incarceration

Originally published on Bellwether and The 74’s live blog of the DNC.

In 1996, Hillary Clinton, in support of her husband’s sweeping crime bill, gave an interview in which she invoked the “superpredator,” a criminal so corrupted that they were irredeemable. That narrative stoked the fear that has driven two decades of prison and jail expansion, militarized local police, and zero tolerance school discipline policies. But times have changed.

prison-370112_960_720In just the last few years, we’ve watched the tide turn in our national discourse on incarceration, and it’s clear that the speakers at last week’s convention have joined the call by Education Secretary John King and others to shift resources away from the criminal justice system and into our schools. It’s not just our federal leaders in a crisis of conscience, states, school districts, and charter schools are rethinking their approaches to student behavior. They’re spurred by a realization that they have been complicit in a broken system.

Dr. Maya Angelou once reflected, “I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.” During the primary campaign, there were loud voices insisting that Hillary’s 1996 comments were fair game for criticism. And they were. But if we as a society take the principles of growth and redemption seriously, then we need to take a close look at what’s different about this campaign and how Clinton has changed in the last 20 years. If you believe in second chances, then that stuff matters.  

Hillary has spoken explicitly about racial justice, mass incarceration, and the need to invest in supportive services in communities. Kate Burdick, a long-time education advocate, Eric Holder, and the students of Eagle Academy, joined the lineup of speakers at the DNC last week to talk about Hillary’s focus on education and justice reform. And in his speech last Monday, Bernie Sanders credited Hillary Clinton with understanding that we need to make sure that young people “are in good schools and in good jobs, not rotting in jail cells.”

While Hillary shouldn’t be accountable for her husband’s policies, she is responsible for her own words — words that she now publicly regrets. If she follows that up with real action on education like her platform suggests, it could be a demonstration of the self-aware leader who does better once they know better and an example for us all.

What Should An “Empowering Girls of Color” Initiative Look Like?

Improving education for low-performing groups of students shouldn’t be a zero-sum game. DC Public Schools (DCPS) have drawn attention (some of it negative) for their Empowering Males of Color initiative, which includes a new all-boys high school. But girls of color need specialized supports, too, in DCPS and nationwide. The graduation rate for black girls in DCPS is 20 percentage points lower than that of white students.

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Photo by Noah Scialom

What should a high-quality support system for girls of color look like? DCPS shouldn’t open an all-girls high school across the street from the boys’ school and call it a day. Here are some focus areas for DCPS and other school systems to consider:

  • Support girls of color in STEM and CTE. Black girls are less likely to take AP courses in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) subjects, and less likely than white men or white women to graduate college with a degree in a STEM field. In recent NAEP Technology and Engineering Literacy results, girls beating boys by three points made headlines, but black and Hispanic girls still lagged behind white boys and girls by 20-30 points. Schools should encourage girls to take advanced courses in STEM subjects and enroll in career and technical education (CTE) programs linked to high-earning careers in traditionally male-dominated fields.
  • Confront racial and gender bias in school discipline. Racial gaps in school discipline impact all students of color, but boys and girls experience it differently. In DC schools (including charter schools) in 2011-12, 13% of black girls received out-of-school suspensions vs. 1% of white girls and 2% of white boys. While good data on discipline causes are scarce, researchers suggest that girls of color are more likely to be punished harshly for minor behavioral issues, such as dress code violations. More data on discipline by race and gender are needed, as are better school policies and resources to show educators how to respond to behavioral challenges fairly.
  • Enhance pregnancy prevention and support for teen parents. Teen pregnancy and parenting are cited as key factors among 38% of black girls and 36% of Hispanic girls who leave school. In DC, efforts to reduce teen pregnancy have been very successful, and the number of teen births fell by 20% from 2009 to 2012. DC is already doing more than many jurisdictions to prevent pregnancy and keep teen parents in schools: comprehensive sex education is the norm, condoms are available in all high schools from the school nurse and student volunteers, educational programs aimed at supporting teen parents are available in DCPS high schools, and the DC Department of Human Services sponsors pregnancy prevention education in afterschool programs.
  • Acknowledge other family responsibilities. Girls are more likely than boys to be responsible for caring for younger siblings or other family members. This kind of care is not as well-documented as teen pregnancy, but it can be just as stressful. DC has the most expensive childcare in the country, and struggling working parents have to rely more on informal care, like teen sisters. Policymakers should expand the availability of high-quality affordable child care, and school leaders should allow for more flexible attendance/scheduling policies, transportation assistance, and other educational supports for girls who need to get their siblings to school or help siblings with homework.
  • Target bullying and sexual harassment that disproportionately affects girls. Girls cannot learn successfully if they feel unsafe. A national survey by AAUW found that 56% of girls in grades 7-12 experienced some kind of sexual harassment in the 2010-11 school year. And girls from low-income families were more likely to stay home from school in response to harassment. Girls also experience bullying in ways that may be less visible: girls are more likely to be the victims of cyber-bullying and relational bullying (where someone is ostracized or gossiped about, rather than being directly confronted). School policies on bullying and sexual harassment should address these different experiences, and educators should be trained to recognize signs of distress and trauma in girls.
  • Break out the data. One of the most basic things all states can do is publish easily accessible “cross-tabs” of key achievement metrics, so communities can see how boys and girls are performing across racial/ethnic and socioeconomic lines. Separate data on gender, socioeconomic status, and race/ethnicity tend to be more accessible, but going deeper, to look at black students by gender or gender groups broken out by socioeconomic status, is not common or consistent even though state data systems would support it.

Schools should intervene to help students who are struggling most, and in most school systems, that means supporting boys of color; initiatives like Empowering Males of Color could be a good start. But girls of color need unique supports, too. If schools go the route of gender-differentiated strategies to close racial achievement gaps, they should articulate plans for both boys and girls. This is not a meaningless gesture to give the appearance of fairness, it’s about recognizing that intersections of race and gender and lots of other factors can affect students in different ways and demanding strategies that are responsive to students’ experiences. This can have real positive effects on student learning — just don’t leave girls out of the picture.

Really NYT? Harmful Stereotypes About Women and Math?

Hidden Figures

Image from “Hidden Figures” – from empireonline.com

I’m not a big movie buff, but I’ve been fascinated by Hidden Figuresthe forthcoming film about the largely unknown African-American women mathematicians and engineers whose calculations were crucial to enabling the Apollo moon missions. Their contributions are particularly monumental since they came at a time when segregation and racism constrained educational and professional opportunities for so many black Americans. So I was excited to read this weeks’ New York Times profile of the movie.

That said, I couldn’t help being put off by how the article reported on the math aversion of the film’s leads. The opening sentence reads:

Taraji P. Henson hates math, and Octavia Spencer has a paralyzing fear of calculus, but that didn’t stop either actress from playing two of the most important mathematicians the world hasn’t ever known.

The article continues to reference Henson’s and Spencer’s discomfort with math as if it’s slightly endearing, without ever questioning the educational and life experiences that might have led these two highly accomplished women to hate math.

Why is it acceptable and cute for grown adults to say they’re not comfortable with math? Why do we treat discomfort with math as something to be taken for granted rather than the result of our education system’s long-running failure to teach math effectively, combined with low expectations for women, girls, and students from historically underserved racial/ethnic groups and low-income families? Continue reading