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Guest Opinion | Scott Phelps: Rhetoric vs. Reality and An Unbalanced Approach to Helping PUSD Students

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Required fields are marked * Home of the Week: Unique Pasadena Home Located on Madeline Drive, Pasadena Make a comment faithfernandez More » ShareTweetShare on Google+Pin on PinterestSend with WhatsApp,Virtual Schools PasadenaHomes Solve Community/Gov/Pub SafetyCitizen Service CenterPASADENA EVENTS & ACTIVITIES CALENDARClick here for Movie Showtimes More Cool Stuff Community News Name (required)  Mail (required) (not be published)  Website  Scott PhelpsPasadena Now’s reporting on a recent community discussion included an initial headline that said that the Superintendent of PUSD, Dr. Brian McDonald, had said that PUSD has failed Black students. When I read that, my first reaction was to ask how PUSD had failed his two children—one of whom was the valedictorian of the class of 2020 at Marshall—who recently graduated PUSD, who were admitted to Notre Dame and Johns Hopkins. Then I would ask the recent Muir class of 2020 valedictorian, accepted to a ton of colleges and planning to attend UCLA with the goal of becoming a doctor, how PUSD had failed her. Then I would ask the following list of local leaders and dignitaries, all very successful in their lives—elected officials, a Caltech Ph. D. working in science, a former Democratic National Committee finance vice chair and now political consultant, a former Pasadena police lieutenant and now professor, a local newspaper editor, successful principals of local schools—and all Black graduates of PUSD, how PUSD had failed them:Assemblymember and former Majority Leader Chris Holden, Vice Mayor Tyron Hampton and Dr. Tara Gomez-Hampton, Councilmember John Kennedy, former Vice Mayor Jacque Robinson, Lena Kennedy, PUSD Trustee Michelle Bailey, Dr. Eddie Newman, Dr. Lawton Gray, Andre Coleman, Dr. Phlunte Riddle . . . There are many other Black graduates of PUSD who have gone on to success in many fields and careers, including public agency management, professional sports, medicine, law, etc. How is it that these people have obviously succeeded if PUSD fails Black students?Further, for the last many years, there hasn’t been a significant difference between the graduation rates for different ethnic subgroups in PUSD. In five of the last nine years, the graduation rate for Black students has been higher than the district average. In seven of those years, it was higher than the graduation rate for Latinx students. In three of those years, it was higher than the graduation rates for White students and Asian students. In the last two years, 100% of the Black students in their four-year cohort have graduated from Marshall. In the last three years, over 90% of the Black students in their cohort have graduated from Muir. For each of the last nine years over 91% of the Black students in their cohort have graduated from PHS. How is that failing Black students?Dr. McDonald didn’t like the headline and immediately asked Pasadena Now to change their headline and some of the reporting, which they did, not because they thought their reporting was wrong, but out of respect for him. I looked at his prepared written remarks and listened to an audio recording of them. In one part, referring to previous work done interviewing a few hundred Black students in PUSD in a 2013 initiative, he said:“In general they did not feel that some adults had high expectations of them.”Here’s the controversial part of the audio:“I’m pleased to announce that the California Teacher’s Association, the United Teachers of Pasadena, the California School Employees Association, and the administration of the district have partnered to examine in depth, answer and address issues related to a single question. And that question is how have systems in PUSD failed students of color. Now we’ve convened a guiding coalition that will work with every stakeholder in our district to recommend policy changes that we hope will result in an environment where equity and inclusion is central to the experience of all kids. . . .”He went on to say:“Now, of course, despite these efforts, I am afraid it will not be enough for us as a school system to move the needle of improved student outcomes without your support. The notion of collective impact stands in stark contrast to isolated impact where the school district tries to go it alone. The old African proverb “It takes a village to raise a child” speaks to the importance of the entire community coming together to figure out ways to collectively support our most precious assets, our children.”He did say the question that will be addressed is how have systems in PUSD failed students of color. The context of his remarks is important, though, as he was informing the group about some efforts to do better, and the forum was billed as a discussion about how PUSD can be more culturally responsive—worthy goals of course. Notably, in his remarks he mentioned the interviewed PUSD Black students’ own beliefs that adults needed to have higher expectations of them, and that it would take more than the school district to address the issue, but those statements were not emphasized in the reporting.The larger context is that the statement and the reporting of it—sadly now being used by the Chamber of Commerce in its campaign against the PUSD facilities bond—are illustrative of the the powerful network and ideology of folks in Pasadena who promote the view that the district hasn’t done enough for certain students, including non-profit and for-profit entities and consultants who want more funding to try to do more for the students and their families. Keep in mind that the city and the PUSD have been funding such entities and consultants for years, and yet these folks would say that they need even more funding. Indicators of inequality and poverty, and differences in academic indicators between ethnic subgroups and between family income-based subgroups, such as test scores and the percentage of students completing certain courses to qualify them for UC admission, haven’t really changed over many years. Certain entities will say that their services result in higher outcomes for students than those that don’t use their services, ignoring the fact that the students who take advantage of their services are the same more internally-motivated students that have always had higher outcomes in PUSD for many years before the entities even existed. Despite being funded by the city and the district to help change these outcomes that aren’t really changing, they will blame the district for that result, saying the district is not doing enough. That blaming puts political pressure on the superintendent and the district. It is because of this community pressure that Dr. McDonald made this statement in this context. And because of this pressure, PUSD senior staff are always giving more contracts and scarce money to these entities and consultants. If an entity or a consultant does have a contract, they will tone down their criticism like the Chamber of Commerce did for a few years when the PUSD’s Careers Grant funding paid it several hundred thousand dollars for a person to help students get placed in internships and get career exposure. If PUSD doesn’t contract with an entity, look out, these folks will declare open season for bashing the district.This is the power dynamic and behavior in Pasadena’s unique political form of a classic abusive relationship. For those that say the power of these folks is not that great, the members of the school board who share this ideology last year tried to close schools that more parents are choosing to try and force them to go to schools that fewer parents were choosing, schools with higher proportions of lower socioeconomic status families. That’s how powerful this ideology is. These same board members voted against bringing Armenian families from a closed private school into the district, despite the fact that declining enrollment has had by far the biggest negative impact on PUSD for twenty years. That’s how strongly they prefer only certain students. And they generally do not talk about higher expectations for the students and families, only about how the district is not doing enough for them. When the school district attempts to raise expectations for students, families or even employees, the default approach for the low-expectation type of board member is to fight for lower expectations for individuals, and blame the district administration for somehow not doing enough for the students and families, or in the case of employee performance, not training or supervising the individuals well enough. Individuals cannot be expected to have any internal drive or ability. It is all the system’s fault.The danger with this unbalanced approach is that it puts all of the responsibility for a student’s educational success or an employee’s performance on the school district, and disempowers the individual person. People are not just victims of the very real inequities that exist in society. The individual is also the prime agent of his/her success, and the individual is strongly influenced by his/her parents’ examples and expectations. For example, in the realm of student achievement, many studies have shown that such out-of-school factors have a much greater effect on student outcomes, at somewhere between four and eight times the magnitude of in-school factors. Here’s a good overview of those factors: https://www.schools.utah.gov/file/b6940074-87c4-48b6-b395-4adf9baefbce. Vice Mayor Hampton knows about the power of the individual and speaks as often as he can to PUSD students, telling them to find their passion and pursue it. He has succeeded despite his own self-acknowledged processing issues in school. Dr. McDonald knows this as well, encouraging young people by sharing about his struggles in schools when he was a youngster—a teacher told his parents that he would not amount to anything because of his processing issues—and that if he can do it, they can.Yes, the PUSD can always improve, as we all can, and I fully support changes to the curriculum that make the district more culturally responsive and hopefully more engaging for students and families. But PUSD is not failing Black students; indeed the examples of Black graduates who have achieved great success are many, and in terms of graduation rates, Black students in PUSD have success that is equal to or better than their peers of other ethnicities. Further, changes in the school district alone will not be more powerful than changes in the conditions of the students’ lives outside of school, and definitely not more powerful than the students’ own internal drives for success and parental examples. And more funding by itself will not change certain academic outcomes. For example, we have decades of experience with extra funding such as Title 1 and other special funding for the disadvantaged that has provided more adults and services in students’ lives but hasn’t resulted in any significant changes in the so-called “gap” in test scores or the official UC prep curriculum completion, because in-school factors are much less powerful than out-of-school factors. I hope that Dr. McDonald can help all of PUSD empower students by showing them that we believe in them, by teaching them they can achieve that for which they struggle and work hard and that they enjoy doing, by holding them to high expectations that include struggle and hard work, and by never giving up on them and always being there for them, and I hope the communities and the families realize that their roles will have even a greater effect.Scott Phelps is on the Pasadena Unified School District Board of Educationcenter_img Community News Subscribe Get our daily Pasadena newspaper in your email box. Free.Get all the latest Pasadena news, more than 10 fresh stories daily, 7 days a week at 7 a.m. STAFF REPORT First Heatwave Expected Next Week EVENTS & ENTERTAINMENT | FOOD & DRINK | THE ARTS | REAL ESTATE | HOME & GARDEN | WELLNESS | SOCIAL SCENE | GETAWAYS | PARENTS & KIDS CITY NEWS SERVICE/STAFF REPORT Pasadena Will Allow Vaccinated People to Go Without Masks in Most Settings Starting on Tuesday Opinion & Columnists Guest Opinion | Scott Phelps: Rhetoric vs. Reality and An Unbalanced Approach to Helping PUSD Students By SCOTT PHELPS Published on Friday, October 9, 2020 | 4:53 pm Business News Top of the News last_img read more

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