"Malaysia Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and the Sultan of Johor are seen in a blue Proton Saga... "When asked whether there is any tension with the sultan, Dr Mahathir said: “No, I don’t see anything because I went to see him and he drove me to the airport. I don’t want to comment on the sultans because if I say anything that is not good then it’s not nice because he is the sultan”"

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Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Advancing urban educational policy: Insights from research on Dunbar High School

Advancing urban educational policy: Insights from research on Dunbar High School

"For a period of 85 years, the M Street/Dunbar High School was an academically elite, allblack public high school in Washington, D.C. As far back as 1899, its students came in first in citywide tests given in both black and white schools. Over this 85-year span, approximately 80 percent of M Street/Dunbar's graduates went on to college, even though most Americans, white or black, did not attend college at all. Faculty and students were mutually respectful to one another and disruptions in the classroom were not tolerated. Yet, in this era of best practices, this public high school has received virtually no attention in the literature or in policy considerations for inner-city education. The Dunbar High School, of today, with its new building and athletic facilities is just another ghetto school with abysmal standards and low test score results despite the District of Columbia's record of having some of the country's highest levels of money spent per pupil. The purpose of this study is to explore the history of a high school that was successful in teaching black children from low-income families and to determine if the learning model employed there could be successful in a modern inner-city public education environment...

The M Street/Dunbar High School was an academically elite, all-black public high school in Washington, D.C., from 1870 to 1955. As far back as 1899, its students came in first in citywide tests given in both black and white schools. Over this 85-year span, most of M Street/Dunbar's graduates went on to college, even though most Americans, white or black, did not attend college at all. In their careers, as in their academic work, M Street/Dunbar graduates excelled. The first black general (Benjamin O. Davis, Sr.), the first black federal judge (William H. Hastie), the first black Cabinet member (Robert C. Weaver), the discoverer of blood plasma (Charles Drew), and the first black Senator since Reconstruction (Edward W. Brooke), were all M Street/Dunbar graduates. During World War II, M Street/Dunbar graduates in the Army included "nearly a score of majors, nine colonels and lieutenant colonels, and one brigadier general," and a substantial percentage of the total number of high-ranking black officers at that time (Hundley, p. 145).

The M Street/Dunbar High School prepared graduating students for the challenges of college education and for the workforce. The literature on creating high-performing high schools identifies a particular set of components that are remarkably consistent for effecting high school transformation. Among both educators and educational researchers, a new consensus, similar to what M Street/Dunbar provided in the past, is emerging today. This consensus implies that effective school improvement requires:

• A high set of expectations and a rigorous curriculum,
• A repertoire of instructional strategies that engage students in real-world applications,
• An environment that fosters academic and personal relationships between staff and students,
• A vested leadership, and
• A professional community of partnership that focuses on improving teaching and learning for every child (National High Alliance, March 2005).

If nothing else, history shows what can be achieved, even in the face of adversity. Today, black people are achieving less in an era of greater material abundance and greater social opportunities. Yet, a subculture of poverty has become institutionalized through welfare assistance and government dependency. Can the education model of the “old Dunbar” be replicated in these modern times?...

In 1954, when the Supreme Court struck down school segregation (Kelly, 1987), Dunbar was an academic school, drawing the brightest black youngsters from throughout the city and sending about 80 per cent of them on to college. After that decision, it became a neighborhood high school, drawing its students from some of the poorest neighborhoods in the city with difficult problems of discipline, absenteeism and low academic achievement that beset schools in inner-city slums throughout the country...

The historical approach to the 1977 building’s new design signified a rejection of the 1916 building’s past and a focus on contemporary and future needs. It revealed a strong disconnect between past accomplishments of the old Dunbar and the academically unproductive state of the institution in the 1960s and 1970s. Instead of the values and culture of middle-class America, it embraced the social phenomena in economics and sociology under which povertystricken individuals exhibit a tendency to remain poor throughout their lifespan and, in many cases, across generations (Lewis, 1966). In this culture, higher education and higher level professional, managerial, and technology careers are not priorities. The young black adult, especially the male, is forced to base his self-esteem on a stereotyped picture of sexual impulsiveness, irresponsibility, verbal bombast, posturing, and compensatory achievement in entertainment and athletics (Morris, 2007)...

Black families in the early 20th century exhibited the typical values characteristic of the middle class even when they did not have the financial means to obtain this lifestyle. Typical values associated with a black middle class lifestyle included a tendency to plan ahead that foresaw retirement, a desire to be in control of their future, respect for and abidance of the law, and a desire for a good education for themselves and their children. The way to move forward in socio-economic status was through a good education and hard work. The values consistent with this life style included a desire to protect their families from various hardships such as health issues, financial difficulties, and crime (Myrdal, 1944, p. 134)...

[A survey of alumni from the time when it was a good school found that] The Parent-Teachers Association (PTA) was not the major means of parental involvement in the M Street/Dunbar High School setting. Parental involvement was particularly important in black schools, for the black culture was not a permissive culture. If black kids misbehave, it is because their parents do not know or do not care. M Street/Dunbar students’ parents did not tolerate any philosophy allowing black youths to "do their own thing." Where black parents have become involved in a school, they have sometimes urged a stricter discipline than the school was prepared to impose. Moreover, parental involvement did not mean taking "community control" through either an ideological dogma or a public relations ploy. Where a community has a high rate of residential turnover, "community control" can mean the unchallenged dominance of a handful of activists who are not accountable to any lasting constituency. At M Street/Dunbar, it was important to have the widespread involvement of individual parents and the support of the church (Hutchinson, pp. 57-58)...

M Street/Dunbar was allowed to use corporal punishment to discipline students, and the parents supported this. Many of the male students, especially, remember the large paddle in the administrative offices at Dunbar. When a principal in a black school is given the authority to administer corporal punishment at the insistence of the parents, there is clearly more here than meets the eye. The important question was not whether corporal punishment was good or bad, any more than the important question about Dunbar students really needing Latin. The point is that certain human relations are essential to the educational process. When these conditions are met, then education can go forward regardless of methods, educational philosophy, or physical plant (Sowell, Spring 1976, pp. 51-52)...

From the time the Preparatory High School for Colored Youth was established by a group headed by William Syphax, a freedman and civil rights activist, black parents sent their children to school with a respect for learning and a readiness to work. Consequently, the M Street/Dunbar High School, run by a 100 percent black staff and faculty and populated by a 100 percent black student body, was a high-performing educational institution. When asked if they thought the educational and cultural atmosphere of the pre-1960 M Street/Dunbar High School model could be replicated in the environment of today, 51 percent of the respondents said no, 22 percent said yes, and 27 percent were ambivalent.

The reasons survey respondents gave to indicate why they thought replication of the M Street/Dunbar High School education model could or could not occur, were culture, students, and teachers. Culturally, 49 percent of the respondents indicated it would be difficult, if not impossible, to replicate the high performance environment of M Street and Dunbar because the factor of segregation was the major hindrance for the black community. Education during the “old Dunbar” period was seen as the way to get ahead and compete with white people in the larger society. The middle class values of God, country, and family were critical to black aspirations. During the period of 1920 to 1955, black neighborhoods were socio-economically diverse and children were likely to see adults in a variety of positive roles. There was a strong sense of community where parents trusted and supported teachers as true professionals and leaders. Today, the dominant value system of black culture is primarily one of entitlement and the feeling that one is owed a good life.

Twenty-nine percent of respondents felt that black students nowadays are less prepared academically in the elementary and middle schools due to various sociological reasons; i.e., more single parent families, less discipline, more incarceration of black males, and low expectations. Furthermore, the students do not have family support for education, lack self-discipline and a desire to learn, and have too many nonacademic distractions. It was also felt by 22 percent that many of our current teachers are not as well-educated and dedicated as faculty was during the respondents’ time at M Street/Dunbar. Highly educated black professionals currently have economic options beyond that of teaching, while, for earlier M Street/Dunbar faculty with doctorates, master’s, and professional degrees, there were rare opportunities for other work in their fields of expertise.

A new-found freedom from slavery inspired the formation of M Street/Dunbar High School and the black community’s appreciation for education. Segregation dominated the value system of mainstream American society and contributed mightily to the hindrance of black racial progress. Religion and family were the underpinnings of the black community. This combination of historical circumstances that created Dunbar High School can never be recreated. Some of the essential circumstances should not be recreated; for example, the racial barriers, which led a scholar, like Carter G. Woodson, to teach at Dunbar High School, when he should have been conducting graduate seminars at a major university. Such historical experiences contain important lessons for the present...

One can argue that parents may be more educated and more sophisticated today than they were in the past. However, it is not clear that their political activism or community involvement in schools and education has been a net benefit in the black community. At the very least, history shows that their involvement beyond the concerns of their individual children has never been essential. Today, education is politics and, politically, failure becomes a reason to demand more money, smaller classes, and more trendy courses and programs, ranging from “black English” to bilingualism and “self-esteem” (Sowell, 2001, p. 91).

The old M Street/Dunbar did not seek "grass-roots" teachers who could "relate" to "disadvantaged" students, even though a substantial part of its students were the children of maids, messengers, and clerks. They sought the best teachers and M Street/Dunbar faculty included many "overqualified" people, in today's parlance. Almost all of its principals during its 85-year ascendancy held degrees from the leading colleges and universities in the country instead of teacher's college degrees or education degrees from other institutions. They had been trained in hard intellectual fields and had been held to rigid standards. Their discipline was reflected in the atmosphere and standards of M Street and Dunbar High Schools (Sowell, Spring 1976, pp. 54-55). While Dunbar promoted racial pride, it was pride in the achievements of outstanding black persons as measured by universal standards, not special "black" achievements or special "black" standards (Sowell, Spring 1976, p. 48)...

Black neighborhoods are no longer socio-economically diverse and children are not likely to see adults in a variety of positive roles. Today, the dominant value system of black culture is one of low expectations dominated by more single parent families, less discipline, and more incarceration of black males. Consequently, black students are less prepared academically in the elementary and middle schools for entrance into high school. Entering students do not have family support for education, lack self-discipline, and have little desire to learn. Finally, teachers are not as well qualified and committed as the past M Street/Dunbar faculty and good teachers have economic alternatives to teaching. To match that academic environment, a minimum requirement for teaching in a comparable education institution today would be a master’s degree in the field a faculty member is teaching, with preference given to a doctorate or A.B.D. (all but dissertation).

The subculture of poverty is becoming institutionalized through expanded welfare assistance and government dependency. The new entitlement beneficiaries do not work and, instead, receive Food Stamps, welfare checks, Section 8 vouchers, and Medicaid. In this age of neo-slavery, the old M Street/Dunbar is passé"
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