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The Mellon Visiting Minority Scholars Program at Teachers College

The Institute for Urban and Minority Education (IUME) at Teachers College has received $300,000 from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to bring several visiting minority scholars to campus each year over the next three years.

Commenting on this new grant, Professor Edmund W. Gordon, Director of the Institute for Urban and Minority Education said, "As an institution that historically has led the effort to improve education for populations that are underserved, the College is grateful for this opportunity to bring to campus these outstanding minority scholars. The ideas and perspectives of these scholars will help the College pursue its principal activities of researching the critical issues facing education, educating current and future leaders, encouraging the national debate on what is best for education, and improving educational practice, all with a view to the advancement of academic excellence and social justice."

The grant provides $100,000 per year, which covers honorariums, travel, and housing for the visiting scholars, as well as expenses for several gatherings of local scholars to meet the visiting scholars; and an annual summative paper on the minority education issue developed by the visiting scholars and selected Teachers College faculty.

Lydia L. English, the Director of the Mellon Foundation Minority Fellowship Program, called the Visiting Scholars Program, "an opportunity over the next three years for the college to bring in a diverse group of senior scholars from all over the country to present their research and scholarship and to bring an enhancement, not only to Teachers College, but to the whole Columbia community."

English spoke about the role of the scholars. "Each of the scholars that have been invited for the next academic year have different research foci, they are coming from different perspectives, that will add enhancement of their research where perhaps there isn't research right now, presently in the College." Scholars will also co-teach graduate classes, lead small discussion groups with faculty and graduate students, consult concerning ongoing research and participate in public panels or debates.

Each year the program will focus on a theme or issue relevant to minority education. This year the theme is Uncoupling High Academic Achievement from Class, First Language, and Race.

John Huston Stanfield, one of this academic year's Mellon Scholars, presented a colloquium at IUME called "Peer Cultures and Hierarchies of Schooling Control: Implications for Black Male Status Attainment." Stanfield is the Chair of Indiana University Bloomington's Department of African-American and African Diaspora Studies who previously served as Executive Director of the Morehouse Research Institute in Atlanta. Stanfield's 1993 book, A History of Race Relations Research, won the Gustavus Meyer Center 1994 Best Book Award on Racial Intolerance in North America. He is currently writing a book entitled Empowering Each Other: Academics and Community People Working Together.

Stanfield spoke about why he is serving as a Mellon Scholar. "I think that it's very important in this day and age for American institutions for higher learning to creatively pluralize perspectives in areas like education. It is an opportunity for me to share some of my research interests and findings, which have a different cultural twist than conventional areas of analysis. I just see this as one more example to broaden the net, so to speak, the intellectual net in regard to research." Professor Ronald F. Ferguson of the Malcolm Weiner Center for Social Policy at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government, talked to the TC community about "Why America's Black-White School Achievement Gap Persists."

Ferguson, an economist, is Senior Research Associate at the Wiener School of Public Policy at the Kennedy School. He has published widely on educational policy and co-edited "Urban Problems and Community Development."

According to Ferguson, "Fifty years after the U.S. Supreme Court outlawed forced racial segregation in schools, there continues to be test-score disparity between school-aged African-American and European-American children."

He said this topic is important for two reasons. "One is that test-score disparities among children turn into other forms of disparity among adults. For example, studies in the 1980s and 1990s found that test score disparities predicted at least half of the hourly earnings gap between black and white young adult workers."

A second major reason that the topic is important, said Ferguson, concerns the future of the U.S. economy. "The U.S. labor force is changing. The size of the prime-aged workforce-adult workers who are ages 25 to 55-grew by 54 percent during the last two decades of the 20th century. In sharp contrast, it will grow hardly at all during the first two decades of the 21st century. However, its racial and ethnic composition will be shifting: by the year 2020 the number of prime-aged non-Hispanic whites in the labor force will decline by 10 percent. Eventually, whites will be a minority in both the population and the workforce. No single racial or ethnic group will be a majority. Consequently, leaders in the U.S. are beginning to understand that the future of the economy will depend in large measure on the skills of its non-white citizens."

The black-white achievement gaps persists because "because current routines in homes, schools, communities and society at large are not configured to accelerate the disappearance of historic disparities."

Ferguson believes that "All children deserve the opportunity to reach their full potential and to make whatever their distinct contributions might be to the well-being of the society. A burden on leaders is to mobilize sufficient resources for this work, including attracting more talent to the teaching profession, so that progress will not be perceived as a zero sum game, in which helping some groups to excel requires denying opportunities to others."

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