Ivory Toldson Challenges Myths About African American Students

By Cierra Kaler-Jones


“Behind every number there’s a person, behind every person there’s a story, and behind every story there’s a solution.”
—Dr. Ivory Toldson"

Dr. Ivory Toldson, author of No BS (Bad Stats): Black People Need People Who Believe in Black People Enough Not to Believe Every Bad Thing They Hear about Black People, shared this profound statement at the talk hosted by D.C. Area Educators for Social Justice and  Eaton DC on Wednesday, April 24.  

In the book, Toldson uses data and anecdotes to dispel common myths about Black people that result from using what he calls “BS” or “Bad Stats.” These bad stats reinforce negative stereotypes about Black people as a means of justifying and denying Black people access to equitable educational opportunities.

Beliefs about Black children such as “There are more Black men in prison than college” and “Black students don’t read” are false narratives used and repeated without looking at the full picture of the data.

Toldson stated,

Never use data to understand people. Use people to understand data.  

As an example, Toldson discussed how we often talk about truancy data and Black students, but we never talk to truant students to find out more about the structural and systemic influences that may bar them from going to school. By not giving students opportunities to tell their stories, we are not able to fully understand the data.

While reflecting on why he decided to write Bad Stats, Toldson explained,

I was tired of seeing so many stats [in education research] that were used simply to create a bar that would show Black people under it. And if there’s ever a bar where Black people are higher than White people, that bar is invalid.

Associate Director of Teaching for Change, Allyson Criner Brown, moderated the event. She asked Toldson for the “glimmers of hope” for educators, despite bad stats. Toldson described how in many of his school visits, he asks teachers, “What is achievement?” They typically answer by talking about grades and test scores. He follows up by discussing the importance of looking at students as holistic human beings, not just defined by numbers or statistics. For example, he questioned how students like those with high levels of empathy or students who participate in student government are factored into definitions of achievement. The students’ contributions can’t be measured in numerical ways, yet they make such an impact.

He shared,

It’s not about closing the achievement gap, it’s about deconstructing it. The achievement gap is a social construct.

After Toldson’s talk, attendees were able to come up and ask questions, followed by a book signing hosted by Mahogany Books. One by one, attendees engaged in deeper conversations with Toldson.

Toldson’s writing, in addition to his experiences as a District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) parent, led to an energizing and critical conversation about how we move past numbers and statistics to find solutions to best serve students.

Cierra Kaler-Jones is the Education Anew Fellow with Communities for Just Schools Fund and Teaching for Change. She is also a Ph.D. student at University of Maryland - College Park studying minority and urban education.