TDSB’s plan to tackle racial disparity

John Malloy, director of education for the TDSB, on what they are doing to improve outcomes for all groups. Always like to see data and evidence-driven approaches.

Look forward to any comments from readers in Toronto:

The Toronto District School Board has heard the critiques and acknowledges there are racial disparities in our school system, which we must continue to work on.

It is correct to point out white students in the TDSB are more likely to be found in high-income neighbourhoods, while black students are more likely to be found in low-income neighbourhoods. And while we do face issues of poverty, our job is to provide schools in every neighbourhood that create conditions for all children to succeed.

In particular, Sachin Maharaj’s recent opinion piece in the Star on black students in Toronto schools makes some valid points and defines the challenges many school boards face. It’s important, however, to recognize that the TDSB has taken, and will continue to take, steps to ensure that all students are able to succeed.

The TDSB’s Model Schools for Inner Cities Program, launched in Toronto’s most needy neighbourhoods 10 years ago, has shown that schools can be essential equalizers. With extra resources, such as additional staff, iPads for students, after-school programs, unique field trips and Parenting and Family Literacy Centres, the program has given a great number of students the tools and encouragement they need to succeed.

TDSB research on the impact of Model Schools over time shows evidence of improved academic achievement and student well-being. We have also seen higher credit accumulation by the end of Grade 10 than before the program was in place (from 50 per cent to 64 per cent of students in priority neighbourhoods attaining the expected number of credits). Many of these factors help explain the TDSB’s rising graduation rate from 78 per cent in 2005 to 85 per cent in 2015 — our highest ever.

Having said that, we do recognize achievement levels among some black students are lower than their peers. Our data shows this and we have been open about it. In fact, we collect more data than most school boards across the country and for good reason. We want to know where the gaps are and where extra supports are needed.

Over the past number of years, we have been using this data to boost improvement. This work has been overseen by board-wide and community-driven Equity and Inner-City advisory committees, which bring a collaborative, school-community focus to addressing opportunity, participation and achievement gaps. This work needs to continue and we must also take a more deliberate approach to responding to this data.

In the past, our research has shown opportunity, participation and achievement gaps for historically marginalized student populations and we have acted in direct response with, for example, pre-kindergarten readiness, after school programs and in-school health clinics for students. More of these intervention strategies must be done and they need to have a more direct impact on classroom teaching and learning.

More recently, trustees voted to establish a Black Student Achievement Advisory Committee to examine and make recommendations on strategies to create more equitable outcomes for black students.

We have also put in place a new Learning Centre model across the city that will improve the speed with which we identify and respond to learning gaps. The Learning Centres strategy will place resources closer to schools, decentralize decision-making and reduce bureaucracy so we can get the support students need in the hands of principals and teachers and impact the classroom sooner.

This fall, the TDSB will prepare an Integrated Equity Plan that will spark tough and challenging conversations system-wide and in each and every school. It will engage principals and ultimately classroom teachers to respond more directly to key questions, such as:

  • What barriers exist in the school that might be keeping students from achieving?
  • What bias might persons in the school possess about what certain groups of students are able to achieve?
  • What needs to change in terms of the instruction, the environment in the school and the relationships in the school?

Under the plan, senior management and central departments will oversee the implementation. Their mandate will be to ensure principals and vice principals are engaging staff, students, and parents/guardians to work together to build action plans for schools that promote a sense of belonging, support and well-being and help eliminate barriers to success. As with many TDSB initiatives, we will closely monitor and evaluate this new model’s effectiveness to ensure it’s having the impact we intended.

We recognize that patterns of systemic racism and discrimination exist within our society and this has to stop. For our part, the TDSB is committed to working within our schools, and with our parents, communities, the city and province to reduce and eliminate racism and discrimination in all forms.

Source: TDSB’s plan to tackle racial disparity | Toronto Star

Hambrick, Ferreira and Henderson: Practice doesn’t necessarily make perfect

Much more nuanced and sophisticated analysis than the pop “triple advantage” theory of Amy Chua’s Tiger Mom’s claim that cultures blessed with ‘triple package’ get ahead in America sparks uproar:

It is therefore crucial to differentiate between the influence of genes on differences in abilities across individuals and the influence of genes on differences across groups. The former has been established beyond any reasonable doubt by decades of research in a number of fields, including psychology, biology and behavioural genetics. There is now an overwhelming scientific consensus that genes contribute to individual differences in abilities. The latter has never been established, and any claim to the contrary is simply false.

Another reason the idea of genetic inequality might make you uncomfortable is because it raises the specter of an anti-meritocratic society in which benefits such as good educations and high-paying jobs go to people who happen to be born with “good” genes. As the technology of genotyping progresses, it is not far-fetched to think that we will all one day have information about our genetic makeup, and that others may have access to this information and use it to make decisions that profoundly affect our lives. However, this concern conflates scientific evidence with how that evidence might be used — which is to say that information about genetic diversity can just as easily be used for good as for ill.

This information could just as easily be used to identify children with the least genetic potential for academic success and channel them into the best schools

Take the example of intelligence, as measured by IQ. We know from many decades of research in behavioural genetics that about half of the variation across people in IQ is due to genes. Among many other outcomes, IQ predicts success in school, and so once we have identified specific genes that account for individual differences in IQ, this information could be used to identify, at birth, children with the greatest genetic potential for academic success and channel them into the best schools. But this information could just as easily be used to identify children with the least genetic potential for academic success and channel them into the best schools. This would allow us to identifying those who are likely to face learning challenges and provide them with the support they might need. Science and policy are two different things, and when we dismiss the former because we assume it will influence the latter in a particular and pernicious way, we limit the good that can be done.

Wouldn’t it be better to just act as if we are equal, evidence to the contrary notwithstanding? That way, no people will be discouraged from chasing their dreams — competing in the Olympics or performing at Carnegie Hall or winning a Nobel Prize.

The answer is no, for two reasons. The first is that failure is costly, both to society and to individuals. Pretending that all people are equal in their abilities will not change the fact that a person with an average IQ is unlikely to become a theoretical physicist, or the fact that a person with a low level of music ability is unlikely to become a concert pianist.

It makes more sense to pay attention to people’s abilities and their likelihood of achieving certain goals, so people can make good decisions about the goals they want to spend their time, money and energy pursuing. Moreover, genes influence not only our abilities, but the environments we create for ourselves and the activities we prefer — a phenomenon known as gene-environment correlation. For example, yet another recent twin study found that there was a genetic influence on practicing music. Pushing someone into a career for which he or she is genetically unsuited will likely not work.

The second reason we should not pretend we are endowed with the same abilities is that doing so perpetuates the myth that is at the root of much inaction in society — the myth that people can help themselves to the same degree if they just try hard enough. You’re not a heart surgeon? That’s your fault for not working hard enough in school! You didn’t make it as a concert pianist? You must not have wanted it that badly. Societal inequality is thus justified on the grounds that anyone who is willing to put in the requisite time and effort can succeed and should be rewarded with a good life, whereas those who struggle to make ends meet are to blame for their situations and should pull themselves up by their own bootstraps.

If we acknowledge that people differ in what they have to contribute, then we have an argument for a society in which all human beings are entitled to a life that includes access to decent housing, health care and education, simply because they are human. Our abilities might not be identical, and our needs surely differ, but our basic human rights are universal.

Hambrick, Ferreira & Henderson: Practice doesn’t necessarily make perfect