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Supporters of the controversial Pacific Educational Group packed the audience for the regular November meeting of the Evanston Township High School District 202 Board Monday night and gave testimonials to the effectiveness of the group’s “courageous conversations” workshops and conferences.

Member Jonathan Baum introduced the measure to the board, he said, because of disclosures that 27 teachers and administrators had attended a PEG conference in St. Louis in October, after the district had ended a contracting relationship with the organization a year ago.

Baum said he had two concerns with the group—that its approach was too narrowly focused on race while ignoring many other elements of diversity and that evidence was lacking that its efforts with the district had any measurable effect on student achievement.

Former board president Mark Metz said he was one of the attendees at the St. Louis conference and that he objected to discussing the matter of professional development at the board level.

“When we start to micromanage,” he said, “we get into trouble.”

Member Pat Savage-Williams, who also attended the conference, praised the content of the meeting and noted that several nearby districts had also sent large teams.

Member Scott Rochelle said the board should be concerned with how the district’s goals are implemented, and he noted that “we were told flat out that PEG was being phased out.” He added that he has not seen “tangible proof” that the PEG effort has been working for the district.

One of the new members of the board, Bill Geiger, said that the present board does not have sufficient information to be discussing it at this time. “Absent facts,” he said, “this discussion is flawed.”

Another new member, Doug Holt, said that the issue came up frequently in discussions with voters during the campaign and said that “some of it I find appalling.”

Board President Gretchen Livingston said she has seen some value to the program, “but the value has decreased over time.” She said that she, too, is concerned about its narrow focus on race while ignoring other issues, such as those pertaining to women.

Following the board discussion, Livingston opened the microphones to comments from the public.

More than two dozen attendees, including teachers, students, administrators, parents, and social workers, spoke on behalf of the program.

A former school principal said that “as a former administrator, I would have been thrilled to have a group of teachers volunteer to get on a bus and go to St. Louis for the confrerence.”

A public librarian said she had attended a PEG workshop in Evanston and that “those two days jump-started a journey that has continued in my life.”

While the present board members were not in office when the PEG contract was first discussed, a former board president, Rachel Hayman, testified that PEG was the only group with solid education experience that had responded to the district’s Request for Proposal when it was seeking answers to the achievement gap between white and black students.

She found their work to be useful to the district and that, personally, “it has given me a new lens” in dealing with racial matters as a board member.

An ETHS teacher of Asian lineage said that “my work with PEG has helped me to ask different questions” when dealing with minority students from various cultural backgrounds.

At the suggestion of Rochelle, with support from Geiger, the board agreed to schedule a future session when it can receive more information about PEG and its potential for helping the district address the achievement gap issue.

Related stories:

PEG is on D202 Board agenda

D202 teachers defend work of racial consultants

Charles Bartling

A resident of Evanston since 1975, Chuck Bartling holds a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and has extensive experience as a reporter and editor for daily newspapers, radio...

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15 Comments

  1. “Courageous Conversations” – NOT

    It is ironic that the PEG program on diversity is called "Courageous Conversations" since it has made anyone who objects to the program fearful of speaking out for fear of being branded a racist. Ok, that kind of inflammatory rhetoric wasn't present at this meeting but it certainly was in the past. And the repeated dismissal of Doug Holt's DIRECT QUOTATIONS from PEG materials as "taken out-of-context" or "misleading" by Mark Metz and Pat Savage-Williams was certainly meant to silence dissent.

    I heard a lot of people talking about consciousness raising last night, but I didn't hear much about pedagogy. I would like to know how PEG is actually used in the classroom to improve the outcomes for students of color. Hopefully, further board meetings will illuminate this.

    1. Disappointing

      I couldn't agree more.  Mark Metz called Doug Holt's reading from PEG's own text  "shameful".  Shameful?    Personal, defamatory remarks have no place in this type of forum.  There was an overwhelming ethic at the meeting last night there is NO tolerance for dissent on this vendor's approach and that is extremely disappointing.  We say PEG was hired to close the academic achievement gap but then we assert that they shouldn't be evaluated on our test scores.  We say PEG was hired to promote cultural sensitivity but then speaker after speaker implied that ETHS students deal with open racism.  So what are they doing right?  I was appalled at the way Mr. Holt was treated last night.  For a place that purports to promote tolerance and diversity in thinking, it sounded incredibly hostile to anyone who dares dissent with this ONE METHOD of solving what everyone agrees is a egregious problem at this amazing school.

  2. There is a grey area

    "But insiders at the district report that a large contingent of teachers traveled last month to St. Louis for PEG’s annual Summit for Courageous Conversation, Oct. 26-30, at a “back of the envelope cost (to the district) of an estimated $20,000.” 

    I begin to see what may be happening here, and it makes sense.

    The District 202 board may have decided to not contract any more with PEG for direct consulting services to ETHS or programming at ETHS. But if the Board budgeted discretionary funds that teachers can use for their own continuing education, and if individuals or groups of teachers can choose what they spend those funds for, then teachers who enthusiastically support PEG's ideas are likely to use those funds to go to PEG's conferences.

    We've entered a grey area. You want teachers to have some discretion over their own continuing education. However, what happens when 27 teachers and administrators decide to further educate themselves on something that is highly controversial? Further, what happens when they unilaterally decide to bring it back to school and spend time on it in the classroom?

    Discretion in education is a good thing, but where's my discretion as a parent? Do I get to choose whether my child spends instructional time on critical race theory? If I don't get to choose, doesn't that mean it's part of the ETHS curriculum and therefore needs to be board approved?

  3. How is it applied?

    I agree with Scott Rochelle and the previous commenters. I would like to see exactly what PEG teachings are applied in the classroom, and how. We heard over and over last night about how racism is rampant at ETHS, but no one cited any examples of how racism is occurring or what is being done to combat it (other than attending PEG presentations). The administration completely overhauled the approach to freshman humanities, and the gap barely budged. What happened to Witherspoon's promise that ETHS would become a model for the nation?

    I can't argue with the notion that conversations about race are appropriate for the classroom, but PEG proceeds from the assumption that white oppression drives the disparity in achievement. I think this is a gross oversimplification, and the truth is much more nuanced. That's what Jonathan Baum (and Gretchen L., to some extent) were trying to get at. Have the conversation, but broaden it, and don't demonize the white teachers, parents and students. We also have a small Asian minority, of which my daughter is one. How about including them in the conversation?

  4. Dear Mr. Holt

    Had you campaigned outside of your comfort zone, or neighborhood, you would have found differing opinions on PEG and many other things.  You were elected to represent the entire community not just your social peers.  Please reach out a bit.

  5. How do your views differ?
    Mr. Holt read direct quotes from PEG’s guiding document, “Courageous Conversations” written by PEG’s founder Glenn Singleton. Those direct quotes state that black and brown culture is more interested in collectivism and is emotional, while white culture is more interested in individualism and private property.

    Mr. Holt said that he found these quotes appalling. How does your opinion differ from Mr. Holt’s? For example, do you agree with those statements by Mr. Singleton? And do you believe that it is appropriate to teach students these theories?

  6. Educational research on this topic and closing the gap

    Our community so often jumps to blame others — the schools are racist and therefore black children can't learn; black parents aren't doing their job at home and therefore kids can't learn.

    Instead of investing in trainings or discussing rhetoric that only reinforce the blame theories of one side or another, I think the community needs to step back and ask "what does success in a school look like and how can we get there?"

    I find it helpful to frame the debate within a global context.  Yearly, high school students from across the globe take a test called the "PISA (Program for International Student Assessment."

    The PISA test is conducted by the Organization of Economic Cooperation Development as a way to measure practicable application of mathematic, scientific, and written language skills that are necessary for success in the job market.

    HIgh school students in the United States rank17th in reading, 31st in math, and 23rd in science.  Before jumping to the conclusion that American schools teach innovation and these tests are all about drill and kill,  I suggest everyone looks at items on the PISA test, as found here. PISA is not drill and kill. It is application of skills in real world contexts.

    The argument that American universities are the best in the world, so our education must be fine becomes murky when one sees that 60-70% of the graduate students in STEM graduate programs (science, technology, engineering, math) within american universities are foreigners. The differences between poor and rich schools in America is even more staggering.

    In this Stanford study, stastisticans essentially are saying "America isn't so bad when you take out the poor kids."  I'd like to ask them how they justify that Poland is still ahead of America, considering Poland is still a second world country socioeconomically.

    So how can America improve?

    A new book compares three educational systems that outperform the US: South Korea, FInland, and Poland. The book weaves first-hand American high schoolers' experiences in these school systems along with research and statistics on what makes each system unique.  Some key findings:

    1. Committment to excellence and the diligence to get there is key. South Korean families put education as a top priority. Students go to school all day, and then go to tutoring sessions at night. Note that the book does go into the significant drawbacks of the South Korean sytem, including the high rate of burn out of its students.

    2. Teacher quality is the most important factor in all high performing countries. In both Finland and Poland, in order to become a teacher, you need to be in the top percentiles of your high school class. Teacher training programs are housed only in the top universities, and it is very competitive to get into these programs. After graduating, teachers go through 1-2 years of rigorous student teaching as directed by a head teacher. By contrast, in America, we produce two to three times as teachers as we actually need, most teacher training programs are housed in second and third tier colleges, and one can become a teacher with weekend and night classses at community college. In Poland, the politicians pushed through changes in teacher training programs including moving all training programs to top tier universities and reducing the number of spots for admittance, and within 5 years Poland moved from the bottom on PISA scores to the top. Top down mandates were also discontinued as teacher quality improved, because the politicians found they just were just not necessary. Smart teachers make for smart kids.

    3. Socioeconomic status and race are not insurmountable impediments to learning. In one part of the book, the author describes a town in Finland that roughly matches the demographics of an inner city school in America. The school does not segregate any data based on race or socioeconomics, as in Finland they believe that all children can succeed and that breaking up scores would just be an excuse for why some kids are not.

    4. Failure is not bad, if you can learn to work harder and overcome it. In all three countries, kids routinely fail classes because they are so hard. Getting straight As as an end result is not the goal- passing is the goal because if you can pass, you have learned and deserve it.  By contrast, American high schools are suffering from a grade inflation problem while the ACT test reports that only 30 percent of American graduates have the basic skills necessary to be able to do basic level science and math college courses. .

    The problem with PEG is that it doesn't look to research backed solutions that work. It doesn't take a global perspective.

    All children can learn. This town needs to take off the colored lenses and see the world.  Our country is not improving, and we are wasting time blaming each other.

    1. Outstanding comment – thank you

      Your comment was thoughtful and helpful. I too agree that all children can and should learn. However, the question remains will they? More and more children and families are facing challenges that can create impediments to learning. Evanston schools need to utilize educational research that demonstrates proven and tested results. Well designed interventions and supports that can support students and families can promote a "partnership culture." 

      There are many challenges in education and pointing fingers and making excuses doesn't help our children. We need more people like you who will dig into the underlying causes, look at different solutions, and help to create plans that will help ALL children succeed. 

      Maybe you should run for school board? We need people who are willing to do the hard work instead of those that "grasp for straws."

      1. Already working to close the gap

        Thanks Thomas.   I am already in the trenches in Skokie working to close the achievement gap. I'm working to establish a parent training program based on results from the hart and Risley study, the longest running study of it's kind, on one of the root causes of the achievement gap in America- which is the gap in the amount of words that children from low income and high income homes hear by the time they are three years old- a 30 million word gap. It is important to note that the study was conducted with mostly caucasian children, as the language gap and resulting academic gap can be divided best by socioeconomic lines and highest level of mother education, not by color. This means that an African american child growing up in a high income, highly educated family is statistically just as likely to succeed as an equally paired white child.  One key finding of the Hart and Risley study is that the AMOUNT of language a child hears by age 3 is directly correlated to IQ scores at age 8, with  age 8 IQ scores are correlated to high school graduation rates.

        In skokie, we are one of the first school districts in the country to utilize LENA software, which provides data feedback to parents on the # of adult words, # of child words, and # of interactions along with normative data to compare to national norms.    Recent studies have shown that providing this hard data feedback can motivate an increase in the number of words by up to 50%.

        Recently, the Gates Foundation gave a large grant to a group in Rhode Island to look at implementing parent trainings to prevent any gap from forming.   I am keenly awaiting the results of this work. If it can be done on a large scale, this will be one key component to reducing the gap in Evanston.

         Please note that this will just be one factor in increased performance. All the other factors I list above are also crucial to maintaining performance in the long term.

        1. A rising tide lifts all boats

          Yes this is all good. Thanks, Jen1.

          Studies also show elementary aged kids who are exposed to foreign language perform far better academically than those not exposed to foreign language. Wilmette and Skokie schools have mandatory foreign language at the elementary school level when kids are sponges.

          D65, however, continues to twiddle its thumbs and appears content with an African-Center curriculum at Oakton and TWI in which a few lucky parents at select schools get to join. No foreign language for the rest of you. Don't you think it's time all D65 students get foreign language instruction? 

          D65 and D202 seem laser focused on filling the achievement gap based on race. What that means to me is that they want minority scores to rise and white scores to either decrease or remain stable. If white student test scores rise then the gap is harder to fill. Right?  

          As we remember the 50th anniversary of Kennedy's assassination yesterday, let's take note of his famous quote that D202 and D65 board members should heed and adopt as the district's motto – "A rising tide lifts all boats." 

        2. Read to them!

          That explains my children's success in school: My wife and I read to our children every day until they could read themselves… that's a lot of words!

          Thanks for the insight……

          1. Reading to your kids is crucial

            Yes, reading to your children when they are little has huge academic impact.  In fact, another portion of the PISA test is parental surveys.  Across the globe, when parents reported that they read to their children daily (or even frequently), their children were stastically more likely to peform higher on the PISA test than parents who read infrequently or not at all.  A full report on this can be found here.

            Other factors, such as PTA involvement, attending school parties, and volunteering in the classroom had no overall statistical impact on PISA scores.  Surpisingly, children whose parents did these things frequently were actually more likely to score LOWER on the PISA tests!

            Surprised?  I was at first, too. One theory is that children whose parents are super involved often have children who are often struggling in school, so parents have to get involved.   I  do believe creating a school culture with parental involvement in things like PTA and party planning,  is important for other reasons.  However, if you are a working parent with limited time, it is far better to be your child's educational coach at home than to be involved in running bake sales or attending PTA functions for your kids' school.

            If you have an older child, discussing complex political issues and current events also correlates with better scores on the international test.  Only around half of all parents do this (see page 55 on the report below)

            A full report is available here:  Page 50 highlights the factors that matter most.

            In lieu of spending money on hiring consultants that blame color for the achievement gap, I would suggest that D65 and D202 spend money to get books into the hands of young children in our community, either by increasing access to libraries, bringing bookmobiles into low income housing areas, or sending home book bags with pre-K kids.

             Spend money at increasing pre-K services, particularly for at-risk  children including low income, single parent homes, and second language at home. 

            James Heckman, an economist at the University of Chicago, has extensively studied the economic impact of spending on early childhood education.  He stresses that spending money on early childhood services is the best and only way to close the achievement gap.  Read on this here:

             

             

             

  7. Are US Universities the “Best”

    The writer repeats the common phrase that US colleges are the best.

    U.S. "Graduate" schools are the best but it is a serious question how many undergrad colleges are "the best."  It is clear that, if you exclude the soft subjects and vocational training like music, communications, that Harvard, Chicago, Princeton, Stanford, Berkeley, Yale and in sciences MIT and Caltech, and a few others can be considered as "the best" undergrad schools.  But it is in the grad schools the U.S. shines. 

    Cambridge and Oxford are clearly in the tops in both under and grad.—though funding is becoming a concern.. European universities, under and grad have been struggling with issues such as 'research' vrs. teaching esp. in grad schools, funding and other things—but are starting to make some changes.  Russian universities and some of the former Soviet country universites are facing a number of issue [economic, control, adminiistration] but have students who are very capable.  China seems to have some roadblocks given its political system, but may make the transistion—the students they send to the US seem to have no problems in grad schools.

     

  8. More controversy on PEG

    Read this article from the Star Tribune in Minnesota. 16 districts have spent $2mm. Has student achievement improved ?

    Running the wrong way on learning gap

    ·         Article by: KATHERINE KERSTEN 

    ·         Updated: March 10, 2012 – 4:43 PM

    Districts are embracing the strange idea that 'white privilege' is to blame.

    The issue of Minnesota's racial learning gap — one of the worst in the nation — is heating up at the State Capitol. It's about time. University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler has called the gap "a catastrophe coming right down the pike at us."

    Social-science research demonstrates overwhelmingly that the gap — evident by the time white and minority children reach age 3 — springs from socioeconomic and family risk factors. These include broken families, low parental educational attainment, and poor parental nurturing.

    In light of these facts, Minnesotans may be astonished to learn that many of our state's school administrators have embraced the extraordinary notion that white teachers are primarily to blame for the racial learning gap. Twin Cities school districts are spending buckets of taxpayer money to convince teachers that their addiction to "white privilege" — conscious or unconscious — is preventing minority children from learning.

    The Pacific Educational Group (PEG), a San Francisco-based "diversity" consulting group, is a central player in purveying this ideology in metro-area school districts. PEG's founder and executive director is Glenn Singleton, a black learning gap consultant and coauthor of "Courageous Conversations about Race" — a kind of bible to many Minnesota education officials.

    At least 16 districts — including Minneapolis, Eden Prairie, Hopkins, Farmington, Rosemount/Apple Valley/Eagan and Rochester — have worked with PEG on "cultural competency" training aimed at closing the gap. The estimated cost as of spring 2011? About $2 million.

    Hundreds of Minnesota teachers have attended PEG's workshops and training activities, and Minnesota educators regularly present at the organization's national conferences.

    Singleton insists that "institutionalized racism" is "the most devastating factor contributing to the lowered achievement of students of color." He claims that teachers' ignorance of minority students' cultures prevents them from communicating effectively with these children, whose daily experience of racial oppression they don't share.

    In promoting the view that white people and "Black and Brown" people have very different cultures, Singleton employs crude racial stereotypes that most Americans rejected years ago. For example, he claims that "White individualism" fosters "independence," "individual achievement" and "upward mobility," and that white people are "intellectual" and capable of "quantitative thinking."

    In contrast, "Black and Brown" culture promotes "collectivism." Black and Brown people are "emotional and "interested in feelings," and communicate through "body motions" like "rolling of the eyes" and "other nonverbal expressions."

    Singleton's "Framework for Systemic Equity/Anti-Racism Transformation" offers little in the way of research-based instructional techniques. Instead, it focuses on getting white teachers to confront and confess their own presumed racial biases.

    School district personnel — "from the Board and superintendent to beginning teachers" — must participate in PEG-led consciousness raising, according to PEG materials. Unless training is comprehensive, "educators who are disengaged will simply move to places in the district where fear, resistance, inequity, and racism remain unaddressed."

    What comes out the other end of PEG's ideological pipeline? Singleton points to Graig Meyer, a "district equity coach" in Chapel Hill, N.C., as PEG's ideal white educator and "anti-racist leader."

    "The truly difficult work is looking deep within myself to recognize where my own reservoirs of Whiteness reside," he quotes Meyer as saying. "My White guilt tends to creep up most when I'm forced to reflect on the power I wield."

    Meyer goes on to condemn his own "engrained Whiteness and my own blindness to its perpetual presence." He laments "the deepest vestige of my own White supremacy that feeds this need to know it all, to be right, and to be in charge."

    Minnesotans of all races are more likely to see Meyer's words as evidence of a need for therapeutic counseling than as educational expertise that will benefit students.

    How does indoctrination like this help children who struggle to master phonics and the multiplication tables? How does the notion that black children are "emotional" and prone to "rolling of the eyes," while white children are "intellectual" and good at "quantitative thinking," support minority children in ways that will reduce the learning gap?

    The tragedy is that schools that embrace such ideological nonsense are harming the very students who most need our help.

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