Invited Testimony: Same Shift, Different Day for Latinos and African Americans

Will the tracking of Latinos and African Americans into “practical” careers redouble? Will politicians and districts pass it off as “choice”? Morgan Smith from the Texas Tribune wrote:

Only high school students who pursue an honors plan or a diploma specializing in math and science will have to take algebra II under recommendations that the Texas State Board of Education preliminarily approved Thursday.

Despite an initial proposal that had included the advanced math course in all five new diploma plans, the 15-member board was nearly unanimous in its decision Thursday. The single no vote came from Martha Dominguez, D-El Paso…

 An unexpected visit from House Public Education Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, and Senate Education Chairman Dan Patrick, R-Houston. Both lawmakers urged the board to reserve as much flexibility for local school districts as possible — and not to require algebra II to fulfill all of the graduation plans.

The new law came with the support of many educators, parents and a coalition of business leaders who cited the need to provide more relevant courses for students who might not continue to college.

“There are many children that we are crowding to the side of the system because they do not see relevance in their courses,” said Aycock.

But opponents of the policy, including the Austin Chamber of Commerce, the Texas Association of Business and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, have continued to raise concerns that emerged during the legislative session about how the new graduation plans would affect the academic achievement of low-income and minority students.

“With all due respect, the notion that not all students are college material or that our school system should not have a college expectation for all students is not something that is coming from African-American and Latino parents,” former state Rep. Dora Olivo, D-Richmond, said in testimony Wednesday.

Relevance=tracking is not a new conversation or outcome in Texas or elsewhere. In fact, 100 years ago an influx of African American and Latino students into segregated schools due to compulsory schooling laws drew the same response from policymakers in the Lone Star State. I discussed this retro shift in my testimony to Texas State Board of Education on November 20, 2013 (See YouTube video above):

Today I will discuss the historical context of this debate. What’s interesting about the conversation we are having today is in essence it is the…Same Shift, Different Day

That’s S-H-I-F-T

During our background research process for peer-reviewed manuscripts that examined African American and Latino college enrollment in state of Texas in the midst of the Top Ten 10% plan, we came across several primary sources from nearly a hundred years ago that described a similar discussion in Texas to the one we are having today. Compulsory schooling laws have not always been on the books. In 1915, Texas was one of the final states to require young Texans to attend school. The influx of students into segregated “Mexican” and “colored” schools inspired a policy approach that education should follow along “practical lines.”  In other words, training in agricultural and other manual jobs as well as domestic service should be the goals of education. It became “the general view that this type of training was more suitable for the “colored” population because it fit them for more efficient service in the basic industries of the country” (Eby, 1925, p. 270). Although there was a strong opposition to this thought from some in the African American and Latino communities— practical training “prevailed.”  In fact, schools and districts doubted “the wisdom and judgment of confronting the Negro pupil with a course of study that little fits his life needs.” (Taylor, 1927, pp. 105-106).

Fast forward to 2013. We still find some districts subscribing to deficit thinking— essentially tracking students. I posit that for Texas students to remain competitive in the national and international contexts, Algebra II and other higher order curriculum and standards are important for the long-term economic success of Latino and African American communities in the Lone Star State.

Thank for the opportunity to testify on this very important issue. For a wide-ranging discussion on educational policy, please visit my blog Cloaking Inequity. I will post my full testimony there later today.

Photo Credits: Anita Quintanilla

Photo Credits: Anita Quintanilla

The research that uncovered the early history of tracking of Latino and African American students was aimed at understanding the pipeline of minority students into higher education (See Actuating equity?: Historical and contemporary analyses of African American access to selective higher education from Sweatt to the Top 10% Law and From Jim Crow to the Top 10% Plan: A historical analysis of Latina/o access to a selective flagship university)

In those peer-reviewed papers we were trying to understand the historical policy contexts that have caused the pipeline of African American and Latino students into higher education to leak. Not surprisingly, with this retro move by the Texas State Board of Education, it’s quite obvious why Texas continues to gush minority students out of the proverbial pipeline to college. The Texas Tribune also reported this week that while the Texas SBOE was reducing standards and talking about practical vocational education for some students, Raymond Paredes, Texas Commissioner of Higher Education, stated that Meeting Goals Will Require Big Changes. Abolishing Algebra II in the majority of graduation plans, an important gateway to higher education, is the opposite action necessary in a state if we are actually interested in “Closing the Gaps” and increasing “postsecondary productivity.” It is also problematic if Texas hopes to compete with Common Core states on the SAT and ACT (See also Education Outcomes: Texas vs. California vs. New York vs. Nation) because those students will have access to Algebra II. It’s the same shift, different day.

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  • Monty J. Thornburg, Ph.D.

    “In their place” – African American and Latino Intellectual ability is still hidden and denied in America. Even our President’s abilities are “denied” because of racism, in my opinion!

    Dear Dr. Vasquez Helieg: It was most appropriate to point out the history in Texas with respect to keeping African American and Latino students “in their place” as was once the refrain not so many years ago. “In their place” is the attitude still prevalent in the minds of too many with political power in my opinion. I hope your message didn’t fall on deaf ears.

    Let me illustrate this same “attitude” based on another, recent history paper- research presented this November 2, 2013, at the History of Education Society meeting. The paper was titled: “Professor Robert Brown. Social Justice, Voting Rights, Inspiration, and Legacy: A history of educational leadership – Missed, Hidden and Denied”

    As resent as 2012, at (UWA) University of West Alabama award ceremony Professor Robert Brown a WWII hero, and the South’s first African American Superintendent of schools, was inducted into the UWA “Black Belt Hall of Fame” to honor him alongside George Washington Carver, a great scientist. He was selected because of his civil rights and educational leadership accomplishments, and he was recognized particularly for fighting at the Battle of Bulge with the now famous 761st Black PantherTank Division, under Gen. Patton and for saving a buddies life on Omaha Beach at Normandy. But, his contributions as a science professor at UWA, as an intellectual, was “hidden” even “denied” and never mentioned. Why?

    I brought attention to UWA at Brown’s induction ceremony, and prior to the ceremony, the historic fact of Professor Brown’s tenure as the first African American to teach (UWA) then called Livingston University. In its 130 plus year history, Livingston University had been a White segregated university until 1966-1967 and one of the last to admit black students. The first student came to UWA in 1966. His tenure there as a professor was “silenced” never mentioned by officials at UWA, ironically, where the ceremony took place.

    Robert Brown was hired as a science professor at UWA in 1967! Before being hired he’d been a science teacher for years at the Greene County Training School. Moreover, he’d earned a Master’s Degree at Tuskegee Institute, University. Also, he had begun a doctoral program in science education at the University of California, Berkeley where he’d attended for two summers. One of UC Berkley’s most famous bio-chemistry professors was so impressed with his abilities, he tried to hire him. Henry Rapoport (November 16, 1918 – March 6, 2002) was an internationally renowned organic chemist and Professor of Chemistry at the University of California, Berkeley. He is widely recognized for his work in the development of the chemical synthesis of biologically important compounds and pharmaceuticals.

    Brown told me in an interview:

    Dr. Rapoport wanted me to stay at Berkeley … they wanted me to stay and work in their Science Laboratory. He asked me, he said they had a position. This wasn’t politics or anything like that. I just couldn’t do it. I felt compelled, Monty, for starting the hell in Greene County and I just couldn’t run away. I’d had a job offer in Tuskegee too, and I declined it. I gave him an excuse! I told him that my wife had a teaching job in Greene County and my kids were in school there. They said, well, if you will stay we’ll give your wife a job … here in Berkeley … I’ve got to go back, I said.

    Brown returned to Alabama and in a move to keep him out of Greene County, for Civil Rights reasons, the Superintendent arranged with UWA to hire him at UWA. He was recognized when it suited their purposes for his qualifications to teach science courses at the college level. When he left UWA two years later, to return to Greene County Training school, and led a movement to rename the school, Paramount High School. He returned as the Principal before becoming Superintendent of Greene County. The Dean at UWA begged Brown to stay. The dean told Brown, at the time, he’d be able to work up and become chair of the Science Department.

    These facts were passed on to UWA, yet, mysteriously in the nomination and induction process, March 8, 2013, Brown’s tenure at UWA’s ceremony wasn’t mentioned, accept by myself. Paramount High School had been re-named in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s final speech in Memphis, TN, in 1968 where he’d said, “I’ve been to the mountain top” and, Robert Brown had led the effort to re-name the school “Paramount High School” in honor of King’s 1968 speech. The “metaphor” “Paramount” as in “What’s Paramount for authentic education” was used by me in Robert’s induction speech as a theme.
    More research will be needed to untangle the motivations, the reasons, that Robert Brown wasn’t recognized for his intellectual abilities as a science professor at UWA. My suspicion and belief is that those in power insisted on “keeping- Professor Brown- in his place” – intellectually.

    Robert Brown’s experience, his ‘recognition” and at the same time, his being “denied intellectual competence” in a different historic context, I think, is what you are referring to with the title: “Invited Testimony: Same Shift, Different Day for Latinos and African Americans”


  • Great post! As a former Texas math teacher, I’m torn. The alignment of the math TEKS sets up our students for failure. I began my teaching career as an 6th grade math educator and my students would often ask me to teach them how to divide. Division is a foundational math concept that is crucial for success in Algebra II, a gateway course. I was baffled! Years later, I taught 5th to 8th grade math. Even though it involved much daily preparation, (I taught 4 separate math lessons a day) I was passionate about this labor intensive position since I would be with my students throughout their MS math years. Again, these years are crucial to foundational math concepts that are needed to be successful in Algebra II. However, throughout my experience of teaching 5th to 8th mathematics, I found that the TEKS are terribly aligned and are too broad, not allowing students to have a deep understanding of key math concepts. Although they were recently revised and go into effect in the 2014-2015 school year, I still feel that they are too broad. Here is the link for the current ES Math TEKS and MS Math TEKS

    A close friend works at KIPP and he recently told me of a bright 8th student that shut down in class when they had to work on a math problem. The student, who often actively participates in class, placed his head down and refused to work. After much reflection, my friend realized that this student was struggling with division. He asked the student, who burst into tears when he told him that he didn’t understand how to do it. This student, like many others, knew how to be successful by using math reasoning to eliminate the wrong answer choices, but he never had the chance to fully understand division. That is a huge problem that we need to address in the Math TEKS. It is a problem that if addressed properly would help in repairing the leaking school-to-college pipeline and reduce the dropout rate.

    More Texas students would be successful if the standards allowed for a deep understanding of key mathematical concepts rather than addressing a broad checklist. It is these foundational concepts that are needed for students to be successful in Algebra II, a gateway course. When students in Middle School are struggling with division, it is not the student or teacher that has failed, it is the standards that have failed.


  • This was a wrong move for the SBOE. It contradicts what they are emphasizing, “College Readiness”. How are we supposed to close the gaps and be competitive with other states? with other countries?”
    As a Hispanic woman, all of the odds were against me as a child. I had parents that immigrated from Mexico, didn’t speak the language, and didn’t have much more than an elementary education, yet they always emphasized the importance of a higher education. I don’t think my parents did too bad. All of their children are college educated and two of us have Masters degrees.
    I’m a high school chemistry teacher at a Title I school here in Texas. My students are all Hispanic, many are limited English proficient, and economically disadvantaged. I find myself having to teach math in conjunction with chemistry because many of my students are very weak in math. This move from the SBOE isn’t going to help. I always compare myself to my students because we come from similar backgrounds. I tell them that as Mexicans we shouldn’t settle for the jobs that no one else wants to do: hard, manual labor. Sure they are honest jobs but they should want more. They should beat the odds and try to better themselves. Sometimes, I’m the only one that’s pushing them to achieve and telling them that I believe in them because they don’t even hear that at home. Something I always tell them “Si se puede!”.


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