Certainly the proposed reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act coming out of a Congressional conference committee this week isn’t a done deal. The divide among Congressional Republicans in control of Congress on nearly every policy front — along with the divide between Republicans and the Obama Administration — still lowers the chances of reauthorization. Hardcore movement conservatives within Congressional Republican ranks are already expressing dismay about how the reauthorized bill increases federal subsidies even though research (including a study released last week by the Brookings Institution) have shown that Title I and other programs have not improved student achievement. The Heritage Foundation and its political action fund, which have already criticized the deal because it “fails to restore federalism in education”, will likely make a push on House Republicans to stymie its passage.
Meanwhile the Obama Administration, whose legacy on education policy would be all but eviscerated under the proposed No Child reauthorization, could still exercise plenty of effort to render its passage null and void. Even with the administration’s partial-reverse last month on support for standardized testing, it still has no interest in any proposal that would limit executive authority (both its own and that of future administrations) on education policymaking. Even with proposed law incorporating certain elements of the Obama Administration’s own effort to eviscerate No Child’s accountability provision through its waiver gambit, the overall bill likely still goes too far for Barack Obama’s own liking.
But there is a chance that this reauthorization will make it out of Congress and become law. Even if it doesn’t, twp things are certainly clear: That the strong federal accountability measures that have helped spur reforms that have helped more children succeed will be tossed into the ash bin. And that children, especially those from poor and minority backgrounds, will be the ones who will lose.
It would be an understatement to call the name of the proposed reauthorization, the Every Student Succeeds Act, a mockery of efforts to help all children succeed. By limiting the use of test data, graduation rates, and other objective measures of student achievement to a mere 51 percent of school and district ratings under statewide accountability systems, the bill essentially declares that improving student achievement, the most-important thing schools must do to help children build brighter futures, doesn’t matter. If the legislation is passed, states, districts, and schools won’t have to focus on providing children with the high-quality teaching and curricula they need to be literate and numerate enough to succeed in higher education and life.
Even worse, the reauthorization allows states to measure districts and schools on such amorphous categories as improving school climate and family engagement (and requiring that those categories account for 49 percent of ratings). This wouldn’t be so bad if states were required under the proposal to use objective measures of school climate such as out-of-school suspension rates (which can provide some insight on how school are serving), and were required to develop uniform chronic truancy rates that fully expose how districts are hiding the numbers of kids poorly-served by teaching, curricula, and cultures. But the legislation doesn’t require such data. So it is likely that states will include subjective surveys of school leaders and teachers. This will result in the proposed reauthorization sending the loud and clear message that learning doesn’t matter.
Meanwhile the proposed reauthorization embraces one of the worst aspects of the Obama Administration’s No Child waiver gambit: Limiting accountability and interventions to just the lowest-performing five percent of schools and those with wide achievement gaps. As Ann Hyslop, now of Bellwether Education Partners, demonstrated two years ago in a study for New America Foundation, that aspect of the waiver gambit allowed for 73 percent of 6,058 failure mills in 16 states identified under No Child in 2011-2012 to escape scrutiny. Altogether, 4,458 schools were allowed to provide shoddy curricula and instruction to 2.4 million children; this included 578 failure mills serving 319,000 children that would have been forced to overhaul their operations after six years of failure. Because the five percent limit would now apply to every state (and not just to those currently under the waiver gambit), the futures of millions more children will be ignored.
Further complicating matters is that the reauthorization would weaken the transparency that is critical to any form of real accountability. By allowing traditional districts (with permission from states) to replace state testing regimes with exams such as the Scholastic Aptitude Test, the legislation will make it even more difficult to determine how well school operators and the adults who work within them are serving all children. This also makes a mockery of implementing Common Core’s reading and math standards, which are geared to ensuring that all children receive comprehensive college-preparatory curricula that they will need for lifelong success.
All in all, the proposed reauthorization is a weakening of the strong accountability has that has helped more children gain brighter futures. As Thomas Ahn of the University of Kentucky and Duke University’s Jacob Vigdor determined in a study of North Carolina schools released last year, No Child’s accountability measures have helped the Tar Heel State improve achievement and even helped families in failing schools move into better-performing ones. On average, a North Carolina school failing AYP for the first time improved its math performance by five percent of a standard deviation. A poor-performing Tar Heel State school under Needs Improvement for a fifth consecutive year (and forced to develop a restructuring plan) improved reading performance by six percent of a standard deviation, while math achievement improved by nearly three percent of a standard deviation.
The improvements seen in North Carolina extend to the rest of the nation. As data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress shows, No Child’s accountability provisions (along with other reforms) have led to declines in illiteracy and innumeracy among poor and minority kids. This includes a 12 percentage point decline in the number of black fourth-graders reading Below Basic between 2002 and 2015, as well as a five percentage point decline in the number of black fourth-graders reading at Proficient and Advanced levels. With a five percentage point increase in the number of all children reading at Proficient and Advanced levels within that period — as well as increases in the percentages of kids from poor and minority backgrounds taking Advanced Placement and other college-preparatory courses — the benefits of No Child’s accountability measures have also helped high-achieving kids and those from minority backgrounds often ignored by traditional districts before the law’s passage.
The benefits of No Child’s particular focus on holding states and school operators accountable for improving achievement for children from poor and minority households can also been seen in the other reforms spurred by the law. This includes the expansion of high-quality public charter schools, which have proven to improve achievement for many kids from poor and minority households. As Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes has shown in its evaluation of schools in 41 urban communities, charters help kids attain 40 more days of math learning over their traditional district peers. The percentage of fourth-grade charter school students reading Below Basic served by public charter schools declined by 10 percentage points (from 44 percent to 34 percent) between 2009 and 2015, as measured on NAEP, versus a mere two percentage point decline (from 33 percent to 31 percent) for peers in traditional districts.
This isn’t to say that No Child is an unquestioned success. Because the law reaffirmed the role of states in setting education policy and gave them flexibility to meet the law’s requirements, many states gamed the law by failing to elevate (and in some cases, deliberately lower) standards and proficiency targets, then moving to ramp them up just a few years in order to make the case for ending accountability. No Child also didn’t address the super-clusters within public education that shape what happens in classrooms; this includes university schools of education, which continue to do a shoddy job of recruiting and training the teachers whose talents are the most-critical factor in improving (or bringing down) student achievement.
Yet for all of its flaws, No Child was the single-biggest advance in education policy, both at the federal level and among states and local governments, since the Defense Education Act of 1958. For the first time in the history of American public education, federal education policy set clear goals for improving student achievement in reading and mathematics, and finally focused attention on using data in measuring teacher quality. It also made it clear to suburban districts that they could no longer continue to commit educational malpractice against poor and minority children, as well as focused American public education on achieving measurable results instead of condemning kids to low expectations.
Thanks to No Child’s focus on graduation rates, researchers, news outlets, and advocates shed light on the nation’s education crisis, and revealed how states shamefully reported inaccurate graduation rate numbers to hide the reality that far too many children were dropping out. The revelations forced education officials to take much-needed steps in reporting accurate (and sobering) numbers. Most importantly, No Child also proved that accountability (and the information on performance that it unleashes) works. For reform-minded governors and school leaders, No Child’s accountability measures gave them the tools they needed to beat back opposition to their efforts from traditionalists in their own states. Without No Child, far more children would be illiterate and innumerate than now.
But if the masterminds behind the misnamed Every Student Succeeds Act have their way, the futures of children, especially those from the poor and minority households long-abused educationally by American public education, will be condemned to poverty and prison. This may be pleasing to them and to traditionalists (along with erstwhile reformers) who support passing it. But it is morally reprehensible, intellectually indefensible, and a violation of both the federal civil rights obligation and basic humanity. Everyone involved in crafting and supporting this shoddy replacement for No Child should be ashamed of themselves.
The school reform movement was shocked last week when likely Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton declared to talk show host (and school reformer) Roland Martin that public charter schools fail to work with “the most challenging students”, and made other points about the schools that have no substance in fact. After all, the former First Lady’s husband, Bill Clinton, has been one of the foremost supporters of charters and other reforms during his tenure in the White House; this includes ushering in the federal Charter School Program, which provides $157 million a year to launch high-quality charters.
Reformers became even more enraged on Sunday after American Federation of Teachers released a transcript in which the former U.S. Secretary of State made even more clear that she was no supporter of transforming American public education. Besides doubling-down on her comments opposing the expansion of charters and school choice, Clinton expressed skepticism about using student test score growth data in teacher evaluations (even though evidence shows that it works), declared a general disdain for using standardized testing in tracking how schools and adults are serving children (despite two decades of evidence proving otherwise), and essentially declared the poor and minority kids shouldn’t be provided comprehensive college-preparatory education (in spite of the demonstrated need for them to gain such knowledge). All in all, Hillary declared that she was not going to be a school reformer-in-chief as President Barack Obama and other recent predecessors (including her husband) have been since Ronald Reagan issued A Nation At Risk four decades ago.
But reformers shouldn’t have been surprised by Clinton’s about-face on charters and systemic reform. This is because AFT, along with the National Education Association, have built strong alliances with key members of Clinton’s inner circle. They now have an inside edge over centrist Democrat reformers who have been dominant within Democratic Party politics since Barack Obama beat Clinton for the nomination seven years ago.
Even as reformers were working closely with the Obama Administration on systemic reform efforts, AFT has been working hard to get an in with Clinton Family Inc. Over the past three years, the nation’s second-largest teachers’ union poured $650,000 into the Clinton Global Initiative, the non-explicitly political wing of the Clinton family’s political efforts, and $500,000 into the Bill, Hillary, and Chelsea Clinton Foundation. AFT President Randi Weingarten has become such an important player in the Clinton family universe that Clinton Global allowed her to use one of its events last September to announce the union’s latest Trojan Horse for unionizing the early childhood education sector.
But the ties between AFT and Hillary extend far beyond subsidizing the Clinton family’s numerous adventures. As Dropout Nation reported earlier this year, AFT has also co-opted many within the Clinton inner circle. Weingarten’s former top assistant Hartina Flournoy (who sits on the Democratic National Committee) now serves as Bill Clinton’s chief of staff. Thanks to her longtime friendship with Hillary, Flournoy now serves as Weingarten’s key go-between. Even with some of Hillary’s key campaign staffers having ties to the charter school movement, it has become clear that Flournoy is the one actually calling shots on education policy. Which ultimately means that Randi is calling the shots.
Another key player on behalf of AFT is Donna Brazile, the longtime Democratic Party powerhouse and Friend of Hillary, who now chairs AFT’s front group, Democrats for Public Education. As readers know, AFT subsidized Democrats for Public Education to the tune of $99,000 (not including $12,500 that the union has lent to the group). The organization’s ties to other key Democratic leaders (including former Congressional Black Caucus Chair Marcia Fudge) means that AFT can exert even more influence than ever on Hillary’s campaign. The CNN commentator is also a vassal for AFT, with her eponymous firm collecting $100,000 from the union in 2014-2015 alone, according to the union’s filing with the U.S. Department of Labor.
Meanwhile AFT, along with NEA, are using their ties to progressive groups within the Democratic National Committee to attempt to reshape the party’s stances on key education policy issues. This includes playing more-prominent roles within Democracy Alliance, the secretive progressive group whose players include many of the outfits within the Clinton Family universe. While AFT is a new player within Democracy Alliance giving $85,000 to the group and its Texas Future Project in 2014-2015, NEA has long been one of its key players; the union’s executive director, John Stocks, chairs its board. Thanks to Stocks’ presence, the union have given $1.2 million to Democracy Alliance and its main affiliates between 2009-2010 and 2013-2014, according to Dropout Nation‘s analysis of filings with the U.S. Department of Labor.
Some reformers are trying to downplay the significance of AFT’s and NEA’s influence on Hillary’s campaign. Others are hoping that Clinton is just paying lip service to NEA and AFT, as past Democratic presidential candidates have done, and will reverse course once entering office. But this may be wishful thinking. Given the five decades-long ties between Clinton and AFT’s key vassals, all of whom are in her inner circle, Hillary is unlikely to simply talk out of both sides of her mouth. There’s also the fact that dismay among progressive Democrats over the Obama Administration’s efforts on other fronts, along with administration’s botched No Child waiver gambit, has given traditionalists the opening they need to win over both Hillary and congressional Republicans increasingly uninterested in any kind of systemic reform.
Add in the increasingly polarized nature of politics at the federal level, the general disdain Hillary has long had for Obama, and the failure of the current administration to build a strong political base for Democrats at the state level, and Hillary, being the political animal she is, likely sees embracing reform as more nuisance than helpful in building her political legacy. Clinton also probably appreciates the Weingarten’s willingness to use AFT’s machinery to give her cover — including a press conference yesterday in which Weingarten defended Clinton’s statements on charters — even at the expense of angering the union’s own rank-and-file.
The reality has become increasingly clear that Clinton will not advance systemic reform if she wins entry into the Oval Office. Which is why reformers must become savvier on the political front.
There’s plenty of chatter today about the possibility that House and Senate education committee leaders have reached a deal on a reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act. Based on what your editor has learned, the proposal is likely to be a roll-back of the strong accountability measures that have spurred a decade of reforms that have helped more children succeed. But given that passage of the plan is still unlikely, your editor will offer more-comprehensive thoughts once an actual bill comes out.
Yet there is still a lot to discuss when it comes to the federal role in education policymaking, this time, courtesy of results released recently by the Obama Administration on the progress of the School Improvement Grant initiative. As with the results released three years ago, it is once again clear that the school turnaround effort is anything but a success.
The average percentage of students reading at proficient levels (as measured by state tests) in the first round of schools receiving SIG funding increased by just six percentage points between 2009-2010 and 2012-2013. Although this is steady progress, this still means that on average, one out of every two children in the first cohort of SIG-funded schools are either illiterate or barely able to read. That the average percentage of children in Cohort 1 schools performing at proficient levels in math increased by eight percentage points in that same period still doesn’t mean much. This is because three out of every five children in those schools are innumerate or barely able to do basic arithmetic.
The closer you look at the SIG data, the worse things look. Just 33 percent of schools participating in the first round of SIG made double-digit improvements in literacy between 2009-2010 and 2012-2013, while another 36 percent made single-digit gains over that time. Meanwhile 28 percent — that is, more than a quarter of all the Cohort 1 schools — experienced single-to-double digit declines in reading achievement. Essentially, one out of every four schools who have received several years of SIG funding continued to fail children academically. Which, in turn, means that 133,000 of the 475,000 children served by those schools continued to be subjected to low-quality teaching, curricula, and cultures.
This isn’t to say it is all bad news. The 9.2 percentage point increase in average elementary students in Cohort 1 reading at or above grade level between 2009-2010 and 2012-2013 is certainly to be celebrated. This bears out my assertion three years ago that the Obama administration should have geared future rounds of SIG toward overhauling elementary schools and toward providing children in the early grades with the reading and math interventions they need before they head move further along in their academic careers. That there was just a 3.5 percentage point increase in average middle-schoolers in Cohort 1 reading at or above grade level, along with an average 5.6 percentage point increase in reading proficiency for high-schoolers, further proves the point.
Yet the dismal results once raise this question: Should SIG continue to exist? Based on the data, there’s no way it should continue in its existing form. If it should even keep operating at all.
For one, the evidence is clear that only one of the three models chosen by districts as condition of SIG funding offers any demonstrable possibility of success. [There is a fourth model, which involves just shutting down the school altogether. Naturally, almost no district chose it.] That’s the Restart approach, under which a traditional district school is shut down and put under a charter school operator. On average, schools under Restart improved reading proficiency of children in their care by 8.1 percent between 2009-2010 and 2012-2013. The problem: Just 31 of the 635 schools in Cohort 1 of SIG chose that approach. Schools under the Transformation and Turnaround models, under which districts continue to operate them, did poorly in that same period; respectively, they improved achievement, on average, by just five percent and 6.2 percent. All but 49 of the schools in Cohort 1 were Transformation and Turnaround efforts.
None of this should be a surprise. As I noted five years ago in an The American Spectator column, neither the Transformation or Turnaround models would work because the schools would remain under the control of the very districts that ran them into the ground in the first place. Expecting a failure district to somehow revamp a failure mill — especially when it isn’t overhauling its own operations — is simply insane. After all, the same incompetence at the school (including an unwillingness to sophisticatedly use data to shape instruction) is usually mirrored by bureaucrats in the central office. This reality was borne out before SIG was launched; a mere 11 percent of California elementary schools forced by state officials to undergo turnarounds made “exemplary progress” three years later, according to Andy Smarick Bellwether Education Partners in his primer on school turnarounds. And as Caitlin Emma detailed in Politico, SIG hasn’t changed that reality.
Even when reform-minded school leaders are put in place at the school and district levels, the very dysfunction that has been endemic in the bureaucracy is difficult to remove and overcome. This is a culture problem. Toxic culture, be it within the school or across the district, will overcome efforts to put it asunder, especially when teachers and school leaders cannot be easily fired. As past and current reform-minded school leaders have learned the hard way — and current leaders such as Antwan Wilson in Oakland are finding out now — they often lack strong support for their efforts from boards often controlled by affiliates of the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers.
What has become clear is that there are likely three best approaches to school turnarounds. The first, of course, is just to shut down the schools altogether. The second, as seen in New York City, lies in overhauling the district, which will then lead to better-performing schools. The third? As demonstrated by SIG, hand over control of the schools, either to charter school operators or to families of the children who attend them. Essentially this means moving away from the traditional district model to what Dropout Nation calls the Hollywood Model of Education. The Obama Administration could have advanced this approach, by revamping SIG to only allow districts to use the Restart model and hand over control of the schools, as well as requiring them to pass Parent Trigger measures that would allow families to take control of the schools. Narrowing SIG’s focus to elementary schools would have also made sense.
But with the Obama Administration nearing the end of its tenure, with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan joining the exodus of officials heading for less-stressful work outside of federal government, and with the possibility that a reauthorized version of No Child will senselessly shut down competitive grant programs altogether, it may be too late to give SIG one more shot. Not that it ever deserved to exist in the first place.
As you very well know, Dropout Nation has had plenty to write about the saga of Success Academy Founder Eva Moskowitz’s battle with John Merrow over his report on the charter school operator’s overuse of harsh traditional school discipline. But as you would expect, more has been happening since. And instead of responding to the questions raised about Success Academy’s approach with critical self-examination, Moskowitz has tried to spin a new narrative that ignores the reality of the damage done through traditional discipline to the futures of children.
Two weeks ago, after Moskowitz went on her crisis management campaign against Merrow’s report — an effort that included violating the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act by releasing the school discipline record of the child of Faida Geidi — the effort fell apart when the New York Times reported that a Success school in the Fort Greene section of New York City’s Brooklyn had kept a list of 16 kids who it deemed had “got to go”. Those students, by the way, were suspended multiple times by the school over the year. Nine of those children ultimately left the school.
Those revelations, along with testimony from former Success Academy staffers that leaders in its other schools engaged in similar push-out efforts, forced Moskowitz into damage control (and stopped her from aggressively warding off reporters and critics, be they traditionalist or reformer). By Halloween Eve, she claimed that the Got to Go list was an “anomaly” and that the school leader who put together the list, Candido Brown, was disciplined for being so indiscreet as to keep the push-out effort on paper. [Brown remains principal of the Fort Greene school, at least for now.] The fact that Success Academy had been previously accused of engaging in push-outs on the pages of the Old Gray Lady didn’t seem to make it into the conversation.
The Times‘ revelation, along with the news earlier that week about the assault of a 16-year-old student at South Carolina’s Spring Valley High School by a school cop, also gave traditionalists, including the American Federation of Teachers, the opportunity to put themselves on the moral high ground and call out overuse of harsh school discipline. AFT President Randi Weingarten took to the pages of the Daily News to issue her own mea culpa for supporting (and being silent about overuse of) such practices. The union then recruited its vassals, including Alliance for Quality Education, the New York State branch of the National Alliance for the Advancement of Colored People, and the Black Institute, to issue a letter demanding that Success Academy’s authorizer, State University of New York, open up an investigation into its activities. Meanwhile once-respectable education historian Diane Ravitch ran several pieces from her cadre of fellow-travelers on her eponymous site taking aim at both Moskowitz and the Spring Valley High incident.
Certainly AFT and other traditionalists have other self-interested reasons beyond children to be concerned about Success Academy’s oversuspensions. All that said, legitimate questions have been raised as a result of the Moskowitz-Merrow fracas about Success Academy’s practices, especially in light of incidents of violence by cops in schools resulting from those very practices (and the goal of pursuing school safety and order at any cost). But instead of considering legitimate criticism, especially from fellow reformers raising the tocsin about these practices, Moskowitz, with help from her allies, are now campaigning to turn attention away from the questions about Success Academy’s discipline practices (as well as from the issues of law raised by the release of Geidi’s son’s school discipline records). The narrative: That critics are working, either explicitly or by implication, to kibosh the expansion of Parent Power and school choice.
The narrative, as advanced by Moskowitz and reformers such as Michael Petrilli of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, is superficially seductive. Criticizing Success Academy’s discipline practices somehow harms poor and minority children because it is essentially advocating for denying “strivers” and their families the choice of safe and orderly schools in which they can learn. Particularly, from where Petrilli sits, Success Academy and other schools that overuse suspensions should be allowed to push out children (or “disrupters”) teachers and school leaders in those institutions deem unworthy of high-quality education. Reformers who critique Moskowitz’s practices (or criticize her for releasing Geidi’s son’s discipline record) are therefore no different and, in some ways, worse, than traditionalists who raise the issues as a way to oppose any expansion of choice.
This spin seems to justify Moskowitz’s practices — until you look at the facts. Decades of evidence shows that the traditional harsh discipline practices Moskowitz’s uses in Success — and that traditional districts and other charters implement throughout the rest of American public education — damage children, especially those from poor and minority backgrounds. And as Sarah Yatsko of the Center for Reinventing Public Education points out today in her piece in RealClearEducation, defending Moskowitz’s practices (along with ignoring the overuse of harsh discipline by traditional districts) is a “disservice” to the very children for which we all proclaim concern.
As Dropout Nation has noted again and again, evidence gathered by researchers such as Russell Skiba of Indiana University, University of South Florida’s Linda Raffaele Mendez, John Wallace of the University of Pittsburgh, and the American Psychological Association consistently demonstrate these realities that overuse of suspensions and other traditional discipline (especially those occurring as a result of zero tolerance policies) doesn’t improve school cultures, make schools safer for children, or improve student achievement. This isn’t shocking. As data from states such as Maryland and Indiana, along with research by Raffaele Mendez and Howard Knoff, have shown, most suspensions kids are meted out for the arbitrary category of disruptive behavior (which is based on what teachers and school leaders, through disciplinary codes and their own mind, think are bad behavior), along with tardiness to class, and truancy. Suspensions are rarely meted out as a result of addressing academic issues or improving school safety.
Meanwhile there is the fact suspensions are an ineffective way of dealing with the illiteracy and other learning issues that are often at the heart of most student misbehavior. Deborah Stipek and Sarah Miles, along with Chuang Wang and Bob Algozzine of University of North Carolina at Charlotte, demonstrated this in their research on the connections between literacy and behavior. As Johns Hopkins University researcher Robert Balfanz has also demonstrated (including in his 2007 study with colleague Douglas MacIver and Lisa Herzog of the Philadelphia Education Fund) sixth-graders who have been suspended at least once have just a one-in-five chance of graduating six years later. By suspending children multiple times, adults in schools are using a form of easy button, ridding their classrooms of children they deem unworthy of nurturing and education instead of doing the hard work of helping them succeed.
Success’s own discipline practices bear out their failures in improving behavior and school cultures. One Success Academy school (with 203 children enrolled) meted out 44 suspensions to just 11 kindergartners and first-graders; essentially each child was suspended at least four times during the school year. At another Success Academy school, with 132 children enrolled, 101 suspensions were meted out to 32 students; this includes one kid who was suspended 12 times during the school year. On average, that Success Academy school suspended each of those children three times during the school year. That Success Academy had to suspend each child multiple times over a school year evidences that its approach to discipline isn’t changing the behavior of children for the better. But again, this isn’t surprising. As with so many traditional districts and a good number of charters, Success Academy’s school discipline code is so arbitrary that a child could be suspended for any reason.
For all of Moskowitz’s posturing, the reality remains that Success Academy’s overuse of suspensions isn’t effective. By continuing to embrace traditional school discipline, by ignoring evidence about the ineffectiveness of her approaches, and in dismissing approaches such as restorative justice and Behavior Instruction in the Total School developed by Wang and Algozzine, Moskowitz is also failing to take up better approaches that can improve school cultures and address the underlying academic causes of school misbehavior. Other traditional districts and charter operators in cities such as New Orleans are effectively reducing overuse of suspensions and improving student achievement as well as school cultures. There’s no reason why Moskowitz couldn’t do so, either. Put simply, Moskowitz is failing to embrace the mantle of innovation that she proclaims to embrace as a school reformer and education leader. She, along with those school leaders in traditional districts overusing suspensions, is perpetuating educational abuse.
By overusing suspensions, Moskowitz is also giving credence to the racialist beliefs of many that poor and minority children are undeserving of high-quality education. After all, as your editor continually notes (and as Yatsko points out), black children (along with those from American Indian, Alaska Native, and Latino backgrounds) are the ones who are subjected the most to harsh traditional school discipline. Daniel Losen and his team at the Civil Rights Project at UCLA showed earlier this year that the out-of-school suspension rate of 23.2 percent for black middle- and high schoolers in 2013-2014 (based on data released by the U.S. Department of Education) is three times the 6.4 percent out-of-school suspension rate for white peers. Wallace demonstrated in a 2008 study on referrals to dean’s offices that young black men in 10th grade are 30 percent more-likely to be sent to dean’s offices for punishment than their white male peers — and 330 percent more-likely to be suspended afterwards than white counterparts. But again, not shocking. Skiba and the American Psychological Association have demonstrated that young black men are also viewed by teachers and school leaders as being older, less-innocent, and greater troublemakers than white counterparts. Black children are also denigrated by the soft bigotry of low expectations for them. A school leader can’t argue that she wants brighter futures for black children while engaging in practices that run counter to that mission.
In defending Success Academy’s practices under the guise of school choice, Moskowitz essentially perpetuates ends-justify-the means thinking, one in which it is okay to damage the futures of some children (who they deem undeserving) in order to help others. As both the Bible and moral philosophers have pointed out since the beginning of time, you can never use the right results to justify wrongful actions. At the same time, by implicitly embracing this thinking, Moskowitz (along with her allies) are also justifying the racialist thinking of earlier generations that have led to the educational traditionalism (from the comprehensive high school model, to restrictions on school choice, to denying minority children access to college-preparatory classes) that the school reform movement has rightfully opposed. For black parents and others from poor and minority backgrounds, it is hard to view reformers as their allies and defenders of the high ground for their children when they are defending practices that traditionalists are loudly opposing.
Success Academy’s overuse of harsh school discipline deserves to be criticized. Moskowitz should be willing to address legitimate criticism with self-reflection and a commitment to using alternatives that can help children improve behavior without keeping them from receiving the high-quality education they need as well as deserve. Her allies should also do the same.
Sunday is usually a day of worship for black people and other communities. We pray for peace, guidance and strength to get through a long work week. We may even watch football and basketball with our family and friends.
But for black parents such as myself, along with New York City Parents Union President Mona Davids and @ThinkingintheGray, this weekend served as another reminder of Martin Luther King Jr.’s aphorism that we must remember the silence of our friends and not the words of our enemies.
For me, it began with a Twitter exchange between @ThinkingintheGray and Dropout Nation Editor RiShawn Biddle about the move by Success Academy founder Eva Moskowitz last month to release the school discipline records of a 10-year-old boy in violation of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. Why did Moskowitz do this? Because she and her charter school operation were engaged in crisis management. As this publication reported, the mother of the child, Faidi Geidi, appeared in journalist John Merrow’s PBS NewsHour report on Success Academy’s high suspension rates.
What Biddle and @ThinkingintheGray were pointing out was the fact that many school reformers stood by uncritically, both as Success released the child’s discipline record in violation of federal law and morality, and as Moskowitz’s schools suspended high levels of its students. Some, in fact, outright defended Success Academy’s practices.
I couldn’t just sit by and read. I jumped neck deep into Twitter conversations with my so-called school reform “allies”, demanding how they could justify Success Academy’s violation of a child’s privacy and right to not be brutalized in the name of public relations. I found myself reminding fellow reformers that the first duty of the movement is to children, not to adults regardless of their stances on transforming public education. I had to ask one fellow reformer how he could support Success Academy after they released this child’s record to the public. I even found myself defending both the right of families to choose any school they want and the right of advocates for children regardless of partisan lines to criticize the overuse of suspensions by Success and other operators, traditional, charter, or private.
Unlike Dropout Nation‘s editor, I’m not going to embarrass these reformers by naming their names. What I will say is that Mona, @ThinkingintheGray and I have found that we were on our own. What we heard from our fellow “reformers” and “advocates” for equity were justifications for throwing a child under the bus, all because they fear that traditionalists (including the National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers) will succeed in their efforts to halt the expansion of school choice. They were unwilling to think that you can both celebrate the expansion of school choice that benefits all families and also call it out for practices done by charter schools and traditional districts that are harmful to the futures of children. There were others who clearly believe that black children aren’t worthy of nurturing, think they are little more than “disruptive” presences in schools, and deserve to be kept out of them. Despite calling themselves school reformers, they have long ago demonstrated that they will defend practices that harm black children.
We didn’t expect to ever sway them. But certainly other reformers will jump in on our side. Or so we thought. But outside of your esteemed editor and a couple of other folks (including Alex Medler of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers), all we heard was crickets. And that hurt me more than the exchanges themselves.
I’ve always known that traditionalists, especially NEA and AFT leaders, have low regard for parents and children, especially those black and brown. Dropout Nation revealed this to all of us four years ago when it shared a presentation by AFT’s Connecticut local on how it tried to stop the successful effort by a predecessor of the Connecticut Parents Union to pass a Parent Trigger law.
What I have learned this past weekend is that there are school reformers who have as low a regard for black children and others from poor and minority households as the traditionalists we fight every day. What I also learned is that as a black parent, my voice and thoughts are given less regard than teachers by a good number of those who stand for reform. In some minds, the righteous indignation of a black mother is regarded as irrational anger when what I say is inconvenient for advancing their goals. As Teach For America staffer and Black Lives Matter activist Brittany Packnett once wrote on Twitter, we will always be “the angry black woman” when we “stand up for what’s right”.
What I also realized is that Mona was right when she said that teachers’ unions and reformers are battling over school funding and “the chattel is our black children and poor communities.” This doesn’t mean that every position taken by NEA and AFT affiliates, along with other traditionalists, is wrong. It also doesn’t mean that all reformers are wrong in their positions. What it does mean is that we must always keep in mind that there are many on both sides who have low regard for our poor and minority children. And on that front, they will always eventually show their true colors.
Some of these reformers, both black and white and including those who I call allies, will negotiate a child’s well-being through their silence. They will behave in ways little different than the traditionalists we must also oppose. Such silence is an implicit choice to side with oppression, to support mass incarceration, disproportionate use of harsh traditional school discipline, even to be a champion of the school-to-prison pipeline. No transformer for children can be silent in the face of these injustices and also say that all children matter.
At the end of the weekend, I realized that I must reaffirm my role as a mother, a parent, and a fan of humanity. I must reaffirm my conviction that adults can never negotiate the education, safety and well-being of our children. All children matter. As black mothers and fathers, we must stand between both the traditionalists and the reformers who don’t mean our children well. Because our allies can sometimes be as bad, if not worse, than our opponents.