Author: RiShawn Biddle

The Real Conversation About DCPS That Should Be Had

No one should be surprised by last night’s resignation of Antwan Wilson as Chancellor of D.C. Public Schools. In light of Friday’s revelations that he successfully subverted the district’s school…

No one should be surprised by last night’s resignation of Antwan Wilson as Chancellor of D.C. Public Schools. In light of Friday’s revelations that he successfully subverted the district’s school zoning rules to place his daughter into a highly-coveted spot in Woodrow Wilson High School, it was only time before Mayor Muriel Bowser (mindful of her re-election campaign) told him to pack up his office.

The real question is where does DCPS go from here? This can only be answered by looking honestly at both the district’s successes over the past two decades in improving student achievement that many reformers prefer to think about as well as admitting the shortcomings that conservative reform camps and many traditionalists prefer to harp on.

Even before Wilson’s resignation, his tenure was becoming more of a clean-up of the mess left behind by predecessor Kaya Henderson than an effort to continue overhauling DCPS’s teaching and curricula. He had to deal with wide public scrutiny (as well as a federal investigation) into last month’s revelation that the district allowed one-third of its graduating Class of 2017 to leave its high schools without taking the credits, courses, or attendance needed to get legitimate sheepskins.

Wilson also had to deal with criticism from conservative school reformers (especially hardcore school choice activists) who, despite the fact that the problems happened under Henderson, blamed him for the academic fraud. This, in turn, opened the door for that group of erstwhile reformers to tag team with traditionalists in arguing that the gains in student achievement made by DCPS under his predecessors were illusory at best.

Now that Wilson is gone, it is now up to Bowser and whoever she ultimately appoints to succeed him as chancellor to clean up the mess. More importantly, continuing the overhaul of DCPS is critical, especially for the Black and Brown children who make up the vast majority of the students attending its schools. This must start with honest consideration, based on objective facts and evidence, of how far the district has come in the goal of helping all children succeed and how many steps it must continue to take. Something that nearly everyone, including reformers defending DCPS’ efforts and those criticizing them, have so far failed to do in an honest way.

This must start with this basic fact: The overhaul of DCPS has helped more children in the District — including poor and Black children who make up the majority of enrollment — gain high-quality education.

Between 2002 and 2015, the percentage of D.C. fourth-graders reading Below Basic on the National Assessment of Educational Progress declined by 25 percentage points (from 69 percent to 44 percent) while the percentage reading at Proficient and Advanced levels tripled (from 10 percent to 27 percent). This included a 17 percentage point decline in the number of Black fourth-grade children on free- and reduced-priced lunch reading Below Basic (from 76 percent to 59 percent) and a doubling in the percentage reading at and above grade level (from five percent to 12 percent in that same period). Not only did DCPS keep pace with the nation in improving student achievement, it outpaced it. The 17 percentage point decline in poor Black fourth-graders struggling with literacy, for example, is greater than the 13 percentage point decline nationwide during that period, while the 12-point gain in math scores by eighth-graders in poverty outpaced the nine-point national average.

While traditionalists and hardcore school choicers among conservative reformers want to attribute these improvements to wealthier White and Black families moving into the District (you know, gentrification), that assertion isn’t borne out either by demographic or NAEP data. While the percentage of White children served by DCPS tripled between 2001-2002 and 2014-2015 (from 4.6 percent to 12.7 percent), Black children, especially those from low-income households, still make up the vast majority of students in the district’s care.

DCPS has achieved some real improvements. But it still has a long way to go before it can be considered successful in educating all children. Photo courtesy of Kate McGee of WAMU.

Meanwhile DCPS has also increased the opportunities for families to gain college-preparatory learning. The percentage of DCPS high schoolers taking Advanced Placement courses doubled between 2009 and 2013, from 10.1 percent to 23.5 percent, according to Dropout Nation‘s analysis of data from the U.S. Department of Education’s Civil Rights database. This included a tripling in the percentage of Black high schoolers taking A.P. coursework (from 6.4 percent to 19.2 percent) in that same period. The percentage of DCPS high schoolers taking calculus, trigonometry, statistics and other forms of advanced math quadrupled (from 10.1 percent to 41.8 percent), including a six-fold increase in the number of Black high schoolers taking such courses (from 7.9 percent to 43 percent).

Put simply, DCPS, under the leadership of four different mayors (Anthony Williams, Adrian Fenty, Vincent Gray, and Muriel Bowser), six different chief executives (including Henderson and her predecessor, Michelle Rhee), and two different forms of governance (elected school board and mayoral control), has made demonstrable and substantial improvement in how it serves the children in its care.

Yet it is also clear that DCPS has miles to go and promises to keep. The graduation fraud merely exemplifies this basic fact.

As Dropout Nation detailed last month in its report on college-preparatory education, both DCPS and the city’s charter schools are struggling mightily to provide children with the knowledge they need for success in adulthood. Even worse, the achievement and expectations gaps that have long plagued the district remain a problem, especially during the high school years. There is no reason why there is a three-fold disparity between the number of Black and White high schoolers taking AP courses, especially when Black children are the majority of students at elementary and secondary levels.

DCPS is no longer the Superfund Site of American public education. But there are still far too many children who cannot gain higher education and employment after they graduate from school, something that is also clear from the Alvarez & Marsal report on the district’s graduation fraud. The fact that DCPS’ improvements, strong as they have been, have trailed those of the city’s charter schools, is also a reality that must be acknowledged.

The gamesmanship of DCPS’ leaders, a problem that has been around long before Rhee’s tenure as chancellor, remains as troubling and unacceptable as ever. Even before the revelations of the graduation fraud, the district still struggled with allegations of test-cheating during the Rhee era that neither she nor Henderson addressed. Over the past year, the allegations of fraud became more-prominent, especially with revelations after Henderson’s departure that principals and others were hiding their overuse of out-of-school suspensions in order to reduce their numbers. Meanwhile Henderson got into trouble for her moves allowing some city officials to send their children to schools outside of their school boundaries (when ordinary citizens would find themselves in trouble for doing the very same thing). [Oddly enough, Wilson ran afoul of that very policy after having approved a restriction that keeps him from doling out such favors to the well-connected.]

The biggest problem for DCPS — and for the District of Columbia at large — is the reality that there are limited opportunities for high-quality education, especially for poor Black and Latino families in the city. The school zones and other Zip Code Education policies that help middle class White and Black families in Northwest D.C., gain access to the top-performing schools in the district also keep out the poor families who live in the Southeast parts of the city. Just as importantly, even when the schools serving the poorest kids do well academically, they are still lacking the variety in extracurricular experiences — including those found in private schools and the toniest suburban districts — that all parents regardless of income want for their kids. While DCPS announced plans last year to add lacrosse, archery and other such programs to its schools, that effort may have stalled with Wilson’s exit.

This lack of opportunity isn’t just a problem in DCPS alone. When you consider that the many of the city’s high-performing charter schools are located in Northwest, far from the southeast communities where the vast majority of poor Black and Latino children and their families live, the reality remains that those youths bear a burden in the form of time required to go to and from school that isn’t borne by middle class Black and White counterparts. As Dropout Nation noted last month, the lack of college-preparatory education provided by the city’s charters to the children in their care is absolutely unacceptable, especially given the need for such knowledge in achieving lifelong economic and social success. Put this way, contrary to what some conservative reformers want to argue, school choice in the Nation’s Capital hasn’t worked nearly as well as they proclaim.

Addressing these challenges requires DCPS and the city’s political leaders to build on the successes of the past two decades as well as heeding the lessons from its shortcomings. This starts not by engaging in sophistry that denigrates those achievements nor in propagandizing that ignores the problems. It starts by being honest about where the district has been, where it is and where it needs to be.

Whether this will actually happen is ultimately up to D.C.’s leaders and the families whose children they are supposed to serve.

Featured photo courtesy of the Washington Post.

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Reformers Can Help Fulfill the Dream

There has been some important news on the future of the 780,000 undocumented immigrant children, young adults and even teachers protected from deportation under the now-cancelled Deferred Action for Childhood…

There has been some important news on the future of the 780,000 undocumented immigrant children, young adults and even teachers protected from deportation under the now-cancelled Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and now facing the possibility of being removed from the country they have called home for nearly their entire lives. That news should rally school reformers to do more to help the Dreamers who are in our schools and teaching in classrooms — and stand up against a political regime engaged in what can best be called low-grade ethnic cleansing.

First came yesterday’s ruling by a U.S. District Court Judge in Brooklyn that, along with a ruling handed down earlier this month, halts the Trump Administration’s effort to fully shut down the program. In the case, Vidal et. al. v. Nielsen, Judge Nicholas Garaufis ruled that the plaintiffs, which include TK Dreamers under threat of deportation, will likely win their effort to stop the cancellation of DACA because the regime didn’t offer “legally adequate reasons” to do so.

In his injunction, Garaufis found that the Trump Administration’s main justifications for ending DACA — that it would be found unconstitutional if challenged in court by a group of attorneys general that had threatened a lawsuit over the initiative, and that it violated the Administrative Procedure Act and the Immigration and Naturalization Act — were “legally erroneous” and were based on faulty interpretations of both laws. Just as importantly, the administration’s own files prove lie to those justifications; essentially, the judge found that the regime was making things up as it went along. Finally, as Garaufis points out, the fact that the Trump Administration cannot reconcile its argument that DACA would be found unconstitutional (and places the federal government at “litigation risk”) and still continue to operate certain aspects of DACA; either it had to shut down the program entirely or keep it operating and find another justification for shutting it down.

You can expect the Trump administration to appeal the ruling as it has the similar injunction handed down last month by U.S. District Judge William Alsup in University of California v. Department of Homeland Security. Nor does the ruling help those Dreamers whose protections from deportation have already expired; they are probably unable to reapply for those protections because their deadlines have already passed. But it can help those Dreamers still covered under DACA even after March, when the administration planned to end the program altogether.

The bigger and more-important play is happening on the floor of the U.S. Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, in his usual unwillingness to lead, has allowed a free-for-all debate on immigration policy that has often added more-confusion over matters than anything concrete.

The Trump Administration has already staked its ground, calling for Congressional Republicans to support a proposal from Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley that would allow Dreamers (including an additional one million who could either not qualify for DACA or didn’t apply out of fear of being tracked down and deported if an administration decided to cancel it) to gain citizenship after 12 years after meeting a series of steps that include gaining a higher education credential and not getting a criminal record. It is essentially a version of the immigration restriction plan Trump proposed last month.

As it was the case last month, Congressional Democrats and some Republicans, including Arizona’s Jeff Flake and John McCain, have already balked at the Grassley plan because of the restrictions and because Dreamers who have already spent their entire lives in this country shouldn’t have to wait another 12 years to become citizens. It has also been rejected by nativists among Congressional Republicans who want to do even more to keep out Latino, Asian and African (in short, non-White and non-European) emigres from becoming part of the American Dream. They would prefer a plan offered two months ago by Rep. Bob Goodlatte, which would be even more-restrictive than what Grassley has offered.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, in his unwillingness to lead, has brought even more chaos to the discussion around helping DACA youth.

Meanwhile the other plans being offered up — including bills that would simply focus on giving Dreamers the citizenship status that nearly all of them have rightfully earned by being good citizens in all but paper — face tough odds of passage. Which isn’t shocking. Over the past two decades, thanks to opposition to expansive immigration as well as political machinations by both parties geared towards denying political victories for both George W. Bush and Barack Obama, little movement has been made on either granting Dreamers citizenship or addressing the immigration system itself, which is a legacy of America’s racialism and bigotry toward Asians, Eastern European Jews and the Irish (who were deemed too Catholic and loyal to the Pope to be sufficiently American).

With the future of Dreamers needlessly in flux, there’s a need for all Americans to stand up and fight for youth who have been Americans and good citizens in all but name. The school reform movement, in particular, can help in some important ways.

At the national level, there are already reform outfits such as Teach For America, Emerson Collective and the Education Trust who have actively advocated for Dreamers to gain the citizenship they deserve. Yet as I have noted on Monday and over the past few months, the movement itself hasn’t done enough on their behalf. Given that 606,000 of DACA youth (both eligible and already covered) are in elementary, secondary and postsecondary schools (and another 9,000 are teaching children in classrooms), it is absolutely immoral for reformers to not fight for them. That it is also the politically savvy thing to do (you know, a way to win allies for transforming American public education) is also true. But first and foremost, do right for children.

One simple and easy reformers, especially Beltway players, can help out: Sign onto to letters and petitions being circulated on Capitol Hill by outfits such as United We Dream; a simple call or e-mail to these groups to become signatories is easy to do. [Calling up Teach For America to help with its efforts also makes sense.] Reform outfits with stronger connections to Congress, including National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, can do more by sending letters and asking their members to call their senators and representatives to demand a reasonable (that is, not 12 years of hoops) path to citizenship. They can even bring up the issue during meetings with congressional staffers during day visits to Capitol Hill. On a financial level, individual reformers and organizations can support efforts such as the Journey to Stay Home, a march from New York City to Washington, D.C., to bring further attention to the individual plight of Dreamers.

What about on the ground? There are things that can be done. Charter school operators who have DACA youth (as well as children of undocumented emigres) can take the step of being sanctuaries for those children. This means not cooperating with ICE cops in their inquiries as well as keeping watch for attempts by immigration officers to round up parents and children in front of their schools. Traditional districts such as Chicago Public Schools have already taken similar steps. Reformers working in communities can also talk to immigration rights activists about how they can provide support and cover on the ground.

The most-important thing reformers can do for DACA youth and other Dreamers is to stand up, speak up, and be counted. As individuals, you can write to your senators and representatives and ask them to defend Dreamers by supporting legislation that focuses solely on their path to citizenship. If you work in schools and know a Dreamer, let them know that you have their back. Within your organizations, make the case for leadership to stand up and be counted; how can an outfit be a credible advocate for kids when it isn’t working for all of them?

Champions for children must stand up at all times for every child no matter who they are. The time to defend the lives and futures of Dreamers is now.

 

Featured photo courtesy of NBC News.

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DeVos and the Harm to the Most Vulnerable to Come

Your editor will start with this one reality: That the Trump Administration’s proposed budget for the Department of Education and education programs, along with the rest of the 2018-2019 spending…

Your editor will start with this one reality: That the Trump Administration’s proposed budget for the Department of Education and education programs, along with the rest of the 2018-2019 spending plan,  is dead on arrival. Put simply, its budget is just a waste of good paper.

At the same time, while the Trump Administration’s budget will not gain passage, it deserves some consideration. Why? Because the specific program eliminations proposed exemplify the regime’s lack of concern for the futures of poor and minority children — and how their disdain will be made manifest even without congressional approval. While the programs will likely remain in place, the administration and its education boss, Betsy DeVos, have clearly shown how they will decimate them and ultimately, harm the children for which they are charged with defending.

As I already noted briefly yesterday, none of the proposed reductions and program shutdowns will pass congressional muster. This was demonstrated last year when House and Senate appropriators tossed out the Trump Administration’s 2017-2018 spending plan on which this year’s budget is mostly based. Roy Blunt, the Missouri Republican who chairs the Senate’s appropriations subcommittee on education, has likely killed the regime’s proposal to voucherize $500 million in Title 1 funding before it was printed on the page. Other programs such as Promise Neighborhoods, one of the Obama Administration’s signature initiatives and one based off Geoffrey Canada’s highly successful Harlem Children’s Zone, will likely stay alive.

The proposed elimination of the $65 million-a-year Native Hawaiian and Alaska Native education programs, which supports culturally-based curricula and instruction for two groups of Native children, won’t make it past either Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski or Oklahoma Rep. Tom Cole, both of whom are strong defenders of those programs and are lead congressional appropriators. That a good number of Congressional Republicans need American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian votes to keep their jobs — especially in an midterm election year in which Republicans are likely to lose some of the 31 seats that incumbents are vacating so far and Trump’s unpopularity looms large — means that Native education programs will likely remain.

The administration’s proposal to gut TRIO, the collection of programs geared toward helping Black, Latino and Native children attain higher education as well as enter careers in areas such as science, have strong constituencies that Congressional Republicans are loathe to fight head on. That one of those programs, the Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program, is named after the African-American astronaut who died in NASA’s botched launch of the space shuttle Challenger, makes it even harder for even the most hardcore deficit hawk to cut off. Meanwhile the presence of Teach For America and its alumni, along with Catholic Charities and other groups, will also probably ensure that Trump’s plan to shut down AmeriCorps, the national service program outside of the Department of Education’s purview, never becomes reality.

What makes the Trump plan even less likely to become reality is the inability of Congress itself to pass a full-year budget. Thanks to the one-month spending plan passed last Thursday, the federal government is still spending at levels set for the 2016-2017 fiscal year. The two-year budget outline passed last week by the Senate and House also lays out spending increases for education as well as for other programs that aren’t Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security (and theoretically, protected from reductions in spending increases and actual dollars), thus rendering the administration’s plan moot. Add in the Trump Administration’s overall lack of leverage with Congressional Republicans and it becomes clear that its spending plan is already in the trash.

But as your editor has noted, the budget does deserve some attention, and not because it has a snowball’s chance in Hades of passage. The budget deserves attention because it signals what the Trump Administration will do to the programs — and ultimately to poor and minority children — regardless of congressional action.

After all, while the House and Senate are charged with passing budgets and setting spending priorities for the federal government, the Occupant of the White House and his appointees actually run the day-to-day operations. Thanks to executive orders, administrative rulemaking, interpretation of statutes on the books, and staffing decisions (including the selection of temporary and permanent political appointments as well as civil servants who do the real work on the ground), the administration has plenty of leeway to do what it wants.

Over the past year, the Trump regime has made clear in word and deed that it is engaged in what can best be called low-grade ethnic cleansing. The move last September to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and put 780,000 undocumented immigrant children, young adults and teachers on the path to deportation, along with the various bans against entry of Muslims and others from several nations into this country, a proposed restrictions on legal immigration (which would advance the administration’s goals of a majority-White nation), and a proposal to replace food stamps with boxes of canned goods and less-than-fresh produce are just the most-visible examples of this bigotry-driven policymaking.

Other moves include efforts at the Department of Homeland Security’s ICE to deport even undocumented emigres who most would call good citizens in their communities; Customs and Border Patrol officers kicking water jugs left for migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border (and let them die of thirst); moves by Attorney General Jeff Sessions to not enforce consent decrees against police departments engaging in systematic brutality and corruption against poor and minority communities; and the move last month to allow states to implement work requirements for Medicaid recipients which make it easier to kick off the poorest Americans (including Latino communities as well as rural White people).

Overseeing the administration’s war against Black and Brown children on the education policy front is DeVos and her crew at the Department of Education. They have worked seriously and diligently at fulfilling the regime’s mission against the most-vulnerable.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions isn’t the only collaborator in harming children that reformers and others must fight.

Dropout Nation has already documented how DeVos and her crew have slowly rolled back the Obama Administration’s efforts to stem overuse of out-of-school suspensions and other forms of harsh school discipline. This has included issuing guidance that effectively stops Office for Civil Rights investigators from looking at three years of past complaints to prove that a district or other school operators has engaged in systematic overspending of Black, Latino, and Native children, as well as the hiring of Hans Bader, a vocal opponent of school discipline reform.

But an even bigger play came late last year when the agency gave buyouts to 16 investigators and other staff at OCR. [DeVos proposes to eliminate another 34 positions in 2018-2019.] By reducing staff levels, DeVos and her team are ensuring fewer investigations into civil rights violations of all types. After all, an agency can’t probe into complaints if there isn’t enough staff to do the work. Add in likely plans to toss out existing complaints by restricting the level of investigations that can be done, and suddenly, districts and school operators will know that they can abuse and neglect vulnerable children with impunity.

How this can play out can be seen in the Brentwood district in New York, which is the subject of a lawsuit filed last year by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of three undocumented immigrant youth. In that tort, the civil liberties outfit alleges that the district conspired with Suffolk County’s police department and ICE  in identifying, suspending, detaining and deporting undocumented immigrant students for allegedly being members of MS-13, allegations that immigration cops could not substantiate in court. An attempt to file a civil rights complaint with OCR against Brentwood alleging systematic discrimination would likely be shortcircuited, both because of the lack of bodies to investigate the claims and because investigators can’t look at previous complaints against the district.

What is happening at OCR is a preview of what will happen at other programs run by the agency — and the administration’s proposed budget makes that plain to see. Expect to hear more news about staff cuts and buyouts, especially in the offices that oversee Title I, Native education programs, and even TRIO. With fewer employees on board, especially in strategic positions critical to administrating those efforts, there will be delays in things getting done. Which will, in turn, affect real live children and young adults.

There are other moves DeVos and company can make in sustaining the administration’s war against Black and Brown children. This includes crafting administrative rules that can require districts and other school operators to cooperate with ICE in the latter’s efforts to deport undocumented immigrant children and their parents, as well as withhold funds to districts such as Chicago Public Schools which are refusing to cooperate with deportation attempts. It would not be a shock if folks at 1600 Pennsylvania and the Department of Justice are already pressing for such rulemaking to become reality.

Even those few budget proposals that may make sense in theory cannot be trusted, both because of the administration’s mission against minority communities as well as the incompetence within the regime. The proposed elimination of some 50 appointments (out of 150) can make sense, especially given the 27 “confidential assistants”, “special assistants” and other mandarins that are supposed to work directly for DeVos and her chief of staff, Josh Venable. But given the rather public failure to release on time the results from the latest edition of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, how can anyone trust that DeVos and her team knows which positions should be eliminated?

[Of course, many of those spots targeted, along with others such as the 14 on the Commission on Presidential Scholars (along with its executive director) have gone unfilled for months. Because no decent person wants to be associated with this regime.]

You can only trust that the Trump Administration will do nothing well, do things incompetently, act without integrity and operate with intent to harm the poor and minority communities it is supposed to serve. DeVos and the Department of Education are not exempted from this reality. And reformers need to step up and oppose the administration at every turn on this and other fronts.

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Doing Right for All Children at All Times

Your editor could spend the day tearing apart the latest claptrap about the apparent “failure” of D.C. Public Schools from Manhattan Institute’s Max Eden and Lindsey Burke of the Heritage…

Your editor could spend the day tearing apart the latest claptrap about the apparent “failure” of D.C. Public Schools from Manhattan Institute’s Max Eden and Lindsey Burke of the Heritage Foundation. As you would expect, it is a shoddy piece co-written by a ‘wonk‘ whose ‘research‘ on so many issues is slipshod at best. But there are far greater concerns that must be addressed this week — and school reformers must do more than be studiously silent about them.

There’s the upcoming debate happening on the floor of the U.S. Senate over whether the undocumented immigrant youth who are under the threat of deportation thanks to the Trump Administration’s decision last September to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (as well as its low-grade ethnic cleansing effort against Black and Brown communities). Not only are those children’s lives are stake, so are the futures of native-born children of undocumented emigres being deported by the Trump regime.

With 100 or so Dreamers losing their DACA status each day, and more than 780,000 children and adults (including 9,000 teachers in classrooms) under the threat of being thrown out of the communities they have called home nearly all of their lives, ensuring that Congressional leaders do the right thing by them is as important to ensuring brighter futures for them as addressing the quality of teaching and curricula.

But keeping the Dreamers in schools is also important on educational grounds. As a team led by Kevin Shih of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute determined in a study released today, DACA’s protections contributed to an 11 percentage point increase in graduation rates among undocumented Latino emigres, leading to 49,000 more high school graduates. These benefits, along with increases in college attendance, accrue to the youth as well as  their communities, and ultimately, to the nation itself.

There’s also the continuing evidence that Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos will do nothing to protect the civil rights of our most-vulnerable children. The latest example came today when the U.S. Department of Education announced that it would no longer accept complaints filed by transgender children over policies that ban them from using restrooms fitting with their gender preferences.

Given that the Trump Administration has already repealed an executive order requiring such accommodations as recognized under Title IX of the Civil Rights Act, the move was not a surprise. But it is still an outrage. Not only is DeVos supporting active discrimination against vulnerable youth, she is abdicating the federal government’s obligation to protect them from harm. Which is as damaging to these children  — if not more so because of their increased risk of physical harm — as forcing them to attend failure mills.

As with protecting Dreamers, helping transgender youth is also an educational concern in extraordinarily concrete ways. Some 41.8 percent of transgender high schoolers reported being subjected to out-of-school suspensions and other forms of harsh traditional school discipline, according to a 2016 survey by GLSEN. When the Department of Education holds school operators to account for overusing harsh discipline against all children, they are helping our youth gain the school cultures they need to thrive beyond classrooms.

These are two of the most-immediate issues outside of the usual education policy and practice matters that should concern reformers as well as all champions for children. But they aren’t the only ones.

Supporting the efforts of criminal justice reformers and Black Lives Matter activists in addressing police brutality and corruption that touches the lives of our children remains important. Especially given the outsized role American public education plays in perpetuating the school-to-prison pipeline (especially as the second-highest source of referrals to juvenile justice systems).

The disenfranchisement of Black and Latino voters (as well as other communities) through gerrymandering and vote suppression tactics are also important matters on which the movement should weigh. Why? Because most of the nation’s 14,000 or so traditional districts are still run by elected boards who should be accountable to the families they serve, while chief state school officers are elected in 13 states. This, by the way, is an election year.

Certainly school reformers have to devote much of their time to addressing policy and practice. But there is no reason why reform outfits aren’t signing on to letters from immigration rights activists in support of DACA youth, or issuing statements calling out DeVos for refusing to meet the federal government’s civil rights obligations to children, or working with voting rights activists on registration drives.

These moves are the right things to do on behalf of our children. They are also politically sensible. As your editor has stated over and over again, and it has been proven by both reformers such as Green Dot founder Steve Barr, sustaining systemic reform means gaining support from poor, minority and immigrant communities. Reformers can’t win support for their long-term agenda from those men and women if they aren’t willing to stand alongside them on the immediate concerns facing their neighborhoods. You can’t gain allies if you’re not willing to be one — and no one cares about your ideas until you show that you care about them.

Yet while some in the movement (especially civil rights-oriented reformers, as well as Teach For America and the Education Trust) have stepped up, many others have exhibited almost no concern.

Charter school lobbyists are fretting about whether the Trump Administration will provide help to charter school operators in its possible $1 trillion infrastructure plan — even though most expect that the regime’s plan will mostly be funded by states and local governments from which charters can already lobby for more money.

Conservative reformers are more-interested in arguing that the graduation scandal at D.C. Public Schools proves that overhauling traditional districts is not worth doing — despite the fact that a close look at the objective evidence proves such arguments to be ill-considered, lacking in nuance, and have no regard for actual facts.

Hardcore school choice advocates are complaining (as they always do this time of year) about the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools’ latest ranking of charter school authorizing laws. They have some legitimate concerns. But they won’t matter if children are being deported and cannot attend schools in the first place.

Other reformers will wag their tongues about the Trump Administration’s all-but-dead-on-arrival budget for the 2018-2019 fiscal year. As with last year’s proposal, it will push for a pilot program to voucherize $500 million in Title 1 dollars (will never happen) and increase federal charter school funding by 47 percent (also unlikely), while proposing the elimination of other programs such as TRIO, which has helped generations of poor and minority children attend and complete higher education.

Not one of these things have to do with the immediate pressing need to protect all children, especially those Black and Brown as well as immigrant and transgender, from the Trump Administration’s predations against them. Not at all. Even worse, in their failure to speak out constantly and zealously against the damage this administration does against our children and their families, reformers become the kind of “friends” that Martin Luther King warned against six decades ago. The silence of the movement will rightfully be remembered without kindness or charity — and, as seen in the past couple of years, will be repaid at a high cost, both to the movement, and ultimately, to the children for which reformers proclaim so much concern.

The time for silence has long passed. It is time to stand up and be counted.

 

Photo courtesy of Pax Ahimsa Gethen.

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Banishing Bad Anti-School Discipline Reform Reports

Last week’s Dropout Nation exposes of the use of shoddy data and analysis by anti-school discipline reform types such as Max Eden of the Manhattan Institute and Thomas B. Fordham…

Last week’s Dropout Nation exposes of the use of shoddy data and analysis by anti-school discipline reform types such as Max Eden of the Manhattan Institute and Thomas B. Fordham Institute President Michael Petrilli generated a lot of discussion, both on social media and within education policy circles. This is good. Exposing intellectual sophistry, especially the kinds of data manipulation and trumpeting of poorly-constructed research as done by Eden, Petrilli and their ilk (along with their willing ignorance of high-quality studies based on longitudinal student data that they prefer to ignore) is critical to honest policy and practice in the overhaul of American public education.

Yet we must continually remember that the problem with bad studies based on shoddy data is that they don’t disappear. If anything, they are recycled over and over again, both by advocates who deliberately engage in sophistry in order to further their cause (and influence policymakers who want to agree) as well as by well-meaning pundits who only read the executive statements, less-than-thorough news reports and little else.

Two analysts at the D.C. Policy Center, Chelsea Coffin and Kathryn Zickuhr made this mistake earlier this month when they cited several low-quality anti-school discipline reform studies in their otherwise-interesting policy paper advising the District of Columbia’s city council to provide adequate support for implementing a proposed ban on meting out suspensions for minor infractions. As some of you may know, the Nation’s Capital is considering a proposal from Councilmember David Grosso (who chairs the council’s education oversight panel) that addresses concerns raised by families, traditionalists and some reformers, both over the overuse of harsh discipline by both D.C. Public Schools and charter school operators, as well as revelations that some operators have been understating their out-of-school suspension levels.

One mistake made by Coffin and Zickuhr? Citing the Thomas B. Fordham Institute’s latest study of Philadelphia’s school discipline reform efforts. As Dropout Nation pointed out last week, the report’s assertions that asserts that reducing suspensions for non-violent offenses have little effect on achievement is based on two years of school level data that doesn’t actually measure how the reforms impact individual or subgroups student learning. It also doesn’t consider how well individual schools implemented the reforms in that period, a matter that is discussed by the University of Pennsylvania’s Consortium for Policy Research in Education in a similar study also released last month. [By the way: D.C. Policy Center doesn’t even link to University of Pennsylvania’s findings.] As a team of researchers led by Karega Rausch, a leading expert on school discipline who now heads research for the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, pointed out last year in a report for the Center for Reinventing Public Education, longitudinal student data, which shows how children are affected by changes in discipline policies, is the best measure, one that Fordham’s researchers could have accessed if they worked with the City of Brotherly Love’s traditional district.

Another problem with Coffin’s and Zickhur’s report? That it also links to Eden’s ‘study’ released on school climate throughout the city and the school discipline reform efforts undertaken by the New York City Department of Education under Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his successor, Bill de Blasio. As your editor also noted last week, it is also too flawed to be taken seriously. One reason why? Eden didn’t just simply measure the raw results from the Big Apple’s school climate studies over the five-year period (2011-2012 to 2015-2016) being measured, which is the most-reliable way of analyzing what is already unreliable subjective data. Instead, Eden cobbled together a “distribution-of-differences” analysis in which any change of 15 percentage points on each of the questions represented “a substantial shift” in attitudes on school safety, especially for each school in the district. How did he arrive at 15 percentage points instead of, say, 20 or 10 or even five? Eden doesn’t explain. The data alchemy, along with the substandard nature of the underlying survey data, makes Eden’s report even less-reliable than it already appears.

Your editor can’t totally blame Coffin and Zickhur for relying on shoddy research. As with everything in education policy, it takes years for the release of high-quality research. In the case of impacts of school discipline reforms that are currently being undertaken in places such as Philadelphia, the need for four-to-eight years of longitudinal student data to gain a good handle on what is happening will make life more-difficult for pundits and wonks who care a lot about policy wins and making big splashes. Which means it will be tempting to base opinions and recommendations on shoddier work product, especially from big-named think tanks who are willing to shovel out shoddy white papers instead of doing solid work.

That said, Coffin and Zickhur could have easily looked at University of Pennsylvania’s report, whose interviews provide much-stronger insights on the challenges districts can face during the first two years of implementing a discipline reform (as well as how schools are implementing them at the beginning), or even gain access to a study of Minneapolis Public Schools’ pilot program to use restorative justice for children facing expulsion for violent infractions (which gives an idea of possible benefits as well as issues in implementation at scale). Both have limitations, but can add some color to the discussion if properly limited. [Happily, Coffin and Zickuhr do cite one of University of Chicago Consortium on School Research’s two reports on school discipline reform efforts in Chicago, which, unfortunately, don’t provide longitudinal student achievement results.] A call to school and community leaders on the ground working on this issue would have also help. This includes Oakland Education Fund Executive Director Brian Stanley, who helped implement the Bay Area district’s ban on suspensions for minor infractions.

As for other wonks and polemicists (as well as traditional news reporters) looking to write more-thoughtful pieces on school discipline reform? Your editor offers some advice. The first? Always read beyond the executive summaries. This includes reading the list of cited references and sources usually in the back of a report or study. Put this way: If the study’s citation and reference lists include the likes of Eden and his Manhattan Institute colleague, Heather Mac Donald (the latter of whom focuses law enforcement and immigration, and tends to dismiss any discussion about racial disparities), ignore it.

Also, if it doesn’t mention work by respected researchers on school discipline such as Russell Skiba of Indiana University, Johns Hopkins University’s Robert Balfanz, John Wallace of the University of Pittsburgh or Rausch (all of whom use longitudinal student data in their research), then it deserves no consideration at all. Therefore, ignore this anti-school discipline white paper on Wisconsin’s efforts making the rounds this week — unless you want to give your child paper for cutting and origami. [Which is what happens to a lot of white papers coming to my office.]

Another alarm bell: When the report or study makes assertions that it later admits cannot be supported either by the underlying data or after going through additional analyses, including stress tests to verify results. In the case of discipline studies using school-level data championed by the anti-school discipline reform crowd, the results are often not going to be “granular enough” (or offer enough detail on how individual or groups of students are impacted by a reform or intervention) to support anything more than the most-tepid assertions.

Additionally, if the study doesn’t admit that other research bears out other sensible reasons supported by research and data for embarking on a school discipline reform, then it shouldn’t be taken seriously. Why? Because the failure to admit this is evidence that the study is little better than the kind of white papers that you would expect out of Forrester Research and other market insight firms whose predictions, as legendary former Forbes Editor William Baldwin would say, won’t come within a country mile of being realized. This is why a study by Boston University grad student Dominic Zarecki, which was used by Eden in an op-ed last week, has little value to anyone seriously discussing school discipline reform.

Finally, school reformers, most-notably those who are champions of discipline reform, must challenge, call out and dismiss shoddy data, especially when used by allies opposed to overhauling how children are corrected in schools. Researchers such as Daniel Losen of the Civil Rights Project at UCLA, along with advocates on the ground, already do this. There’s no reason why colleagues are allowed to engage in patently dishonest data usage, especially when they chant the mantra of using high-quality data when addressing other issues.

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Betsy DeVos’ Silence is Deafening

Last night, during his State of the Union Address, the current Occupant of the White House did what he almost always does when it comes to undocumented immigrant children and…

Last night, during his State of the Union Address, the current Occupant of the White House did what he almost always does when it comes to undocumented immigrant children and the native-born offspring of undocumented (and even documented) immigrant parents: He denigrated them.

The mother of four who serves Trump as U.S. Secretary of Education, an avowed Christian charged with transforming American public education as well as defending the futures and lives of those very children and youth, sat there, tacitly agreeing with every profanity he lodged against them and their communities.

Given her past record, this is certainly not shocking. But it also shouldn’t be this way. This silence in the face of demagoguery, this acquiescence to policies, practices and ideas geared toward harming our most-vulnerable children and the communities who love them, is one more example of how Elizabeth Prince DeVos is unqualified to lead in American public education.

Contrary to the statement of American Enterprise Institute scholar (and Maryland State Board of Education President) Andrew Smarick, there was a lot of awfulness about Trump’s speech, both in its delivery and its rhetoric. Elizabeth Bruenig of the Washington Post astutely noted that his speech was little more than a litany of “ethnically-inflected nationalism”, that consisted of “scapegoating” and appeals to “creating thick borders between us and them so that we will feel more like an us.” As Dropout Nation readers already know, Trump and is ilk think mothers, fathers, and children who aren’t White or of European descent are the ‘them’ that need to be cleansed from American society.

The fact that Trump didn’t offer much in the way of a thought on education — other than touting vocational education programs long used to keep poor and minority children from high-quality college-preparatory education (as well as fail in terms of addressing the reality that the knowledge needed for success in traditional colleges are also needed for success in technical schools and apprenticeships run by community colleges) — was the only comforting thing about it. Because he didn’t tar systemic reform with his endorsement.

But the worst of his vitriol was reserved for immigrants regardless of legal status.

Trump wrongfully argued that America’s immigration laws, a dysfunctional messy legacy of racial, ethnic and religious bigotry, allows too many emigres to sponsor “unlimited numbers of relatives for citizenship when, in fact, they can only spouses, children, parents and siblings (and even for the last group, it can take as long as 20 years to gain legal entry in the first place). He also claimed that the immigration system’s so-called “visa lottery” — which actually involves a background check, an interview and requirements such as having a high school diploma or two years of training in a high-skilled job — doesn’t have any requirements for entry.

Trump also insinuated that undocumented emigres were little more than criminals. This  prominently mentioning MS-13, the gang originally formed in Los Angeles, Calif., that has become a menace to Central American nations since the early 1990s thanks to U.S. foreign and immigration policies (including deporting its members to Central American nations such as Honduras and El Salvador) that have led to more people from those nations (including so-called Border Children that several Congressional Republicans have denigrated) fleeing to our shores. Despite the fact that most MS-13 members are native-born Americans, Trump still claimed that they were an invading horde because of supposedly open borders.

Betsy DeVos has been a silent and willing collaborator in Trump’s bigotry against Black, Brown, and immigrant children as well as their families and communities.

Even worse than that, Trump insinuated throughout his speech that Dreamers, the 780,000 children, youth, and young adults (including 9,000 teachers working in classrooms) who now face deportation thanks to his move last September to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, weren’t worthy of protection or even contributors to American society. This included his declaration that “Americans are dreamers too”, essentially arguing that only native-born Americans are worthy of consideration He also doubled down on the proposal his administration issued last week, which would only allow Dreamers to gain citizenship after a cumbersome 12 year process– even though most of the youths have already been in this country all but a few years of their lives, end up gainfully employed as adults, and been citizens of this country in all but paper.

There was nothing in Trump’s speech that acknowledged how Dreamers working in our traditional public, charter and private schools (including those recruited by Teach For America) are helping native-born and immigrant children gain the knowledge they need for lifelong success. Not one word accepting the reality that America has always been a nation of immigrants, men and women who, despite state-sanctioned bigotry (which always extended to the descendants of enslaved Africans as well as American Indians and Alaska Natives already on this soil), managed to be contributors to the nation’s political, social and economic fabric. What he did instead is engage in even more of his bigoted demagoguery, doubling down on his nasty statements about immigrants made earlier this month during a meeting to work out a deal to help Dreamers gain citizenship.

What did DeVos do while Trump smeared the immigrant children under her watch and the emigres who teach in schools? Nothing. Last night, she issued one statement focused on a meeting she will have with the Occupant today. Then this morning, she issued another, calling on Congress to “to act in the best interest of students and expand access to more education pathways“, a nice way of she wants to keep poor and minority children from accessing traditional higher education and gaining college-preparatory learning.

Sad. Immoral. But not shocking. Because this isn’t the first time Betsy DeVos has had little to say about President Donald Trump’s bigotry.

As chair of the American Federation for Children, she was silent after he won the Presidential election back in November 2016. Instead of demanding that he apologize for his rank demagoguery against immigrant and minority children during his campaign, she declared  that she would work with him.

When Trump nominated her to become Secretary of Education, she neither refused his invitation nor called on him to recant his bigotry nor sought to distance herself from his nastiness. Again, she said nothing at all, and, in fact, appeared at one of his events celebrating his victory.

Months later, when Trump false claimed that White Supremacists participating in the Unite the Right terrorism in Charlottesville, Va. were only partly responsible for the violence that resulted, DeVos, now firmly in her job as Secretary of Education, still said nothing. Save for a memo to her staff that condemns bigotry, she stayed silent.

A month later, when the administration announced that it was ending DACA and putting undocumented immigrant children, youth and adults on the path to deportation, DeVos and her minions at the Department of Education offered nothing in the way of a plan to help them. She kept her silence while proceeding to scale back the agency’s role in protecting the civil rights of poor and minority children.

DeVos only seems willing to speak out when it comes to denigrating systemic reform, especially when it comes to the focus on stemming achievement gaps and protecting the civil rights of children. But when it comes to defending children, especially those targeted by the Trump regime, she utters nothing and proves her complicity in the administration’s efforts at low-grade ethnic cleansing.

Of course, DeVos hasn’t been alone in her silence in the face of Trump’s bigotry. Far too many erstwhile school reformers have been all too willing to say nothing. Rick Hess and his team at the American Enterprise Institute, along with other conservative school reformers, have spent more time being the amen corner for DeVos and the administration than being moral champions for our most-vulnerable children.

Save for civil rights-oriented reformers, a few in the conservative and centrist Democrat camps such as former Thomas B. Fordham Institute President Chester Finn Jr., and, most-notably, Education Trust, Emerson Project, and Teach For America (the latter of which has been criticized for its steadfast support for Dreamers), other camps within the movement have stood idly by or have chosen to focus on other things. This is especially clear from weak and lackluster responses from reformers before and after yesterday’s State of the Union Address.

For a number of reasons, including an unwillingness to work with traditionalists such as the American Federation of Teachers (which has also been steadfast in defending DACA youth), they have offered little support for helping undocumented immigrant children, either on the policy front or on the ground in places such as Philadelphia, where they face the risk of detention and deportation just for trying to gain knowledge they need and deserved.

All of these reformers deserve shame. But DeVos, whose family remains a major player in subsidizing the movement, should be especially ashamed. By being more-concerned about ideology and agenda than about defending every child no matter who they are, she has made mockery of her professed faith, violated God’s Commandments (especially in the Beatitudes), and denigrated what was once a respectable legacy of expanding public charter schools and other forms of school choice. Like any Christian, DeVos is supposed to be a living sanctuary, not the tool of evil men. As Jesus Christ, who commanded all of us to do for the least of us, the Children of God, would not approve.

Each and every day, DeVos continues to prove that she is unfit for her office. Yesterday was just another example. For shame!

 

Featured photo courtesy of the New Yorker.

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