Author: RiShawn Biddle

Learning the Origins of the Civil War

By now, most reformers have heard about White House Chief of Staff John Kelly’s declarations on talk show host Laura Ingraham’s show that the American Civil War resulted from the…

By now, most reformers have heard about White House Chief of Staff John Kelly’s declarations on talk show host Laura Ingraham’s show that the American Civil War resulted from the “lack of ability to compromise”, that “Men and women of good faith on both sides made their stand where their conscience had them make their stand”, and that Confederate General Robert E. Lee was “was an honorable man who gave up his country to fight for his state.” Nothing in Kelly’s remarks mentioned the reason for the war being fought: The desire by southern state politicians to preserve the enslavement and oppression of Black people.

Certainly Kelly’s statement, likely made as part of the Trump administration’s efforts to sway attention from yesterday’s indictments of key figures in the current Occupant of the White House’s successful presidential campaign, don’t square with facts or original texts. Given the Trump Administration’s comments in defense of White Supremacists in Charlottesville back in August — and the president’s own defense of Confederate monuments — it is also not shocking.

But Kelly isn’t the only person who holds such views. Thanks to the efforts of early 20th century scholars who advocated a romantic “Lost Cause” version of Civil War history that obfuscated the debate over slavery as the main cause of the war (as well as the erecting of statues dedicated to Lee and other Confederate war leaders that served as propaganda), generations of Americans have been misinformed about at least 618,000 Americans died during four years of fighting — and why President Abraham Lincoln was ultimately assassinated just days after the Confederacy finally surrendered to the Union.

Dropout Nation has spent the past three months discussing the steps teachers and reformer can take to overhaul civics and history curricula in order for our children to gain a more-honest understanding of the nation’s history. This has included discussing how to use original texts, Census reports, and even genealogy to help children to know how their lives and that of their families interplayed with the seminal events and issues that have shaped our society. Thankfully, there are also plenty of original texts and books that can help teachers, families, and children fully understand the central role the battles over the continuation of enslaving Black people played in the Civil War.

By studying original texts, we can all fully understand how preservation of slavery was the foremost cause of the Civil War.

One important resource lies with the Civil War Trust, which offers a compendium of the Articles of Secession issued soon after Abraham Lincoln (who wanted to compromise on slavery) won the presidential election in 1860. As you read the original texts, it becomes clear that preserving the enslavement of Black people, an activity that was the underpinning of economies in the southern states, was the primary reason for leaving the Union. The secession ordinance issued by Florida, another one of the states that made up the Confederacy can also be read, as well as that of the Constitution of the Confederate States, which explicitly protected the ownership of African American people.

Even the matter of states’ rights, an argument often used by Lost Causers and others in their discussion about the causes of the Civil War was tied to slavery. One way to fully understand that states’ rights in the context of discussing the Civil War lies in reading through the Articles of Secession. In the case of South Carolina, seceders compained that abolitionists in the norther states, through the federal government “assumed the right of deciding upon the propriety of our domestic institutions; and have denied the rights of property established in fifteen of the States and recognized by the Constitution”. When South Carolina and other states mention “property”, they explicitly meant the ownership of Black people.

You can also look at the Fugitive Slave Clause in the U.S. Constitution, one of the original passages in the Founding Document, which declares that “No Person held to Service or Labour in one State, under the Laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in Consequence of any Law or Regulation therein, be discharged from such Service or Labour”. As Albany Law School Professor Paul Finkelman has noted, when states’ rights is mentioned in context of the Civil War, it is purely about the ability of slaveowners to enslave Black people.

Meanwhile there are plenty of original sources that teachers and families can use in helping children understand the compromises made on the question of slavery. This starts again with the federal Constitution. There is the Three-Fifths Clause, under which slaves were considered three-fifths of a person for the purposes of the Census and congressional representation of southern (and northern) states because they weren’t free people by law. Along with original documents from writers of the Constitution such as James Madison (who took notes during the Constitutional Convention of 1787), you can learn how the battle between those opposed to slavery and those who were slaveholders shaped this and other compromises on the evil that ended up in law.

Another key document is the Compromise of 1820, under which Maine was admitted as a state free of slavery in condition for allowing Missouri to be admitted as a slave state. The original document itself, along with Robert Pierce Forbes’ tome on the significance of the law, demonstrates how congressional leaders of the time felt compromise was necessary to keep together the Union even at the expense of the lives of human beings.

John Kelly’s misstatements about the reasons why the Civil War happened isn’t shocking. American public education has done a shoddy job of providing honest and comprehensive history and civics education.

Then there’s the Compromise of 1850, which admitted California into the Union in exchange for allowing slaveowners in southern states to hunt down enslaved Black people who dared to escape to freedom in the North. An entire compendium is available thanks to the Library of Congress. By studying the documents — including the Fugitive Slave Act that would figure in the infamous Dred Scot decision — children can learn how congressional leaders continued bartering the lives of Black people against a backdrop of increasing opposition to slavery.

The Kansas-Nebraska Act passed four years later, which upset the compromise by allowing voters in both new states to decide whether Black people can be enslaved, also illuminates how political leaders in northern states bent over backwards to accommodate slaveowners and their political representatives in the south. The Library of Congress also supplies the original text as well as the records of the congressional debates involved in its passage. Even as abolitionists such as Frederick Douglass and Charles Sumner convinced many Americans that slavery was evil, politicians such as Stephen Douglas (who authored the act as well as helped pass the Compromise of 1850) thought giving in on slavery was necessary in order to avoid secession. But dissent from Sumner as well as Maine Sen. William Fessenden (who argued that bowing to southern slaveholder demands should no longer be acceptable) foreshadowed the war that was to come.

Meanwhile there are other original documents to consider. There’s Abraham Lincoln’s Peoria Speech in 1854 decrying the Kansas-Nebraska Act; the arguments would eventually be developed by the future president in his debate with Douglas for the U.S. Senate race four years later and in his campaign for the presidency. Douglas’ own first speech in those debates, which would serve as a state’s rights justification for preserving slavery, also deserves to be read. On the side of slaveholders and the south, there are the words of the Staunton Spectator (made available courtesy of the University of Virginia’s Valley of the Shadow project) and James D. B. DeBow, a leading advocate for slavery who justified the Peculiar Institution on the grounds that it preserved the status of white men (including the vast majority who didn’t own Black people for profit).

Then there are Web sites and texts that can be read to fully understand how the defense of slavery (and opposition to it) led to the Civil War. There’s historian Kevin M. Levin’s Civil War Memory, which offers documents and perspectives on slavery and the conflict, and Finkelman’s Defending Slavery, a critical look at the varying rhetoric used to keep the enslavement of Black people status quo ante. The Civil War Trust‘s own Web site provides numerous documents and sources for children, teachers, and families to study, as does Yale University Law School Libary’s compendium of laws. There’s also Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, as well as the Library of Congress and the National Archives, the later two providing online access to original documents for study and understanding. Even Robert E. Lee’s defense of slavery (as well as his mistreatment of them) can be read and considered thanks to the archive operated by his descendants, as well as Elizabeth Brown Pryor’s book about Lee’s writings.

Certainly the original sources won’t change the minds of Kelly, Trump and their allies, or even those defending Confederate monuments. After all, they have become invested in an idea of America that runs counter to the facts in evidence. But this doesn’t mean that future generations of Americans can’t get an honest, comprehensive understanding of how the enslaving of Black people has shaped our nation’s past and present. Reformers should advance this work, and ultimately, help our fellow Americans move towards a more-perfect union for everyone.

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Rosa Maria’s Challenge for School Reform

A lot of people will be talking about the indictment of Donald Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort and his former business partner, Rick Gates, on charges of money laundering…

A lot of people will be talking about the indictment of Donald Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort and his former business partner, Rick Gates, on charges of money laundering and failure to register as foreign agents on behalf of Ukranian and Russian interests. After all, the move by Special Counsel Robert Mueller on that front, along with the guilty plea by George Papadopoulos, a foreign policy advisor to Trump during his successful run for president, are the first steps in what might end up being Trump’s impeachment for colluding with the Russian government in its alleged effort to influence the 2016 presidential election.

But your editor is far more concerned about how the current Occupant of the White House’s regime is harming the life of a 10-year-old undocumented emigre child with cerebral palsy who was detained last week in the midst of a medical emergency. That case is the latest example of how the Trump Administration’s goal of harming the lives of poor and minority children — and another reason why reformers from all sides must stand against the administration’s abuse.

The child, named Rosa Maria Hernandez, was detained by the Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Patrol on her way to emergency surgery for a ruptured gall bladder. The child, who was brought to the country as a three-month-old in order to get better healthcare than she could in Mexico, suffers from a level of cognitive disability that renders her more like a four-year-old than a child in the fourth grade. Even though the Trump Administration has the discretion to let Rosa stay at home with her family in Laredo, Texas, in order to recover from the surgery —  and despite having a cognitive disability that renders her unable to protect herself from the kinds of sexual and physical abuses that happen in immigration jails — it decided instead to detain her in a jail 156 miles away in San Antonio, from which she will likely be sent to a country that she has never known.

As you would expect, Rosa’s case has attracted media attention as well as the presence of the American Civil Liberties Union, which now represents her. It has demanded the Trump Administration to release Rosa from jail within the next 24 hours or find itself facing another of many suits it has filed over the regime’s denial of due process for (and criminal abuse of) undocumented emigres. The administration, having been willing to engage in propaganda campaigns instigated by former Homeland Administration Secretary (and now White House Chief of Staff) John Kelly that smear undocumented emigres as “rapists” and “bad hombres”, and has sparred with congressional leaders such as Florida Rep. Frederica Wilson over the president’s insensitivity to the widows of servicemen killed in action, has shown no willingness to back down.

The Trump Administration is keeping Rosa Maria from her mother and father at a time she when needs them the most.

Given Rosa Maria’s condition, what the Trump Administration has done to her and her family is morally unacceptable. Yet it is the norm for this regime.

President Donald Trump himself has made nativism and White Supremacy the hallmarks of his tenure in the White House — and his demagoguery has been on display long before he ran for the presidency. On the campaign trail, he accused Mexican immigrants, undocumented and legal, of being “rapists” and “bad hombres”; embraced conspiratorial rhetoric from the notorious Protocols of the Elders of Zion in a speech given a month before his victory; denigrating the family of a dead soldier who was also a Muslim; and accusing Gonzalo Curiel, a federal judge presiding over a case involving one of his business of being biased against him because of his Mexican heritage.

Since taking office, Trump’s efforts against immigrants and refugees has continued unabated.This includes the executive orders banning Muslims from several countries from entering the country; to the repeal of the Obama Administration’s executive order requiring traditional districts and other public school operators to allow transgendered children to use bathrooms of the sex with which they identify; to the round-ups and deportations of undocumented immigrants who contribute greatly to the nation’s economy; to even claiming in July that Mexican emigres wanted to take young women and “slice them and dice them with a knife because they want them to go through excruciating pain before they die.”

The major step came last month when the Trump Administration ended Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the Obama-era initiative that protected 760,000 children, youth and young adults (including 20,000 teachers working in America’s classrooms) brought to the country as children from deportation. Since then, the Trump Administration has worked to frustrate efforts by DACA recipients in states affected by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma to register under the program for protection.

By ending DACA, Trump signaled clearly that his low-grade ethnic cleansing would extend to the most-vulnerable, boys and girls who have only known America as their home. Helpless children in the midst of learning now being told by the federal government and by the Trump regime that they are undeserving of being treated humanely like the Children of God and members of the Family of Man that they are. Teachers helping poor and minority children gain the knowledge they need for lifelong success being tossed from this country just because their parents brought them here to have better lives and be builders of this nation. Collegians who will be the nation’s future leaders and builders of society kicked out because they aren’t White or native.

But the Trump Administration hasn’t limited its bigotry to immigrant children. Through the U.S. Department of Education, the regime is working hard not to enforce its civil rights obligation to poor and minority children in American public education. This includes a move to limit evidence that can be used by investigators in determining if districts and charter school operators are overusing such harsh discipline as out-of-school suspensions and solitary confinement.

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has been a collaborator in the Trump regime’s agenda against poor and minority children.

Last week, Politico reported that the administration planned on delaying or eliminating a rule enacted under the Obama Administration that requires districts to limit the number of Black children condemned to the nation’s special education ghettos (and denied opportunities for the high-quality education they need and deserve). By delaying or eliminating the rule, DeVos and Trump would give districts and other school operators free reign to use special ed as a way to not address the literacy issues of young Black men and others, setting back an important part of the school reform effort George W. Bush began in the last decade.

Meanwhile the administration hasn’t lifted a finger on behalf of the 8.9 million poor children who were receiving health care through the federal Children’s Health Insurance Program after Congress let the authorizing legislation expire last month. Without CHIP, those children will now lose out on medical treatments that allow them to thrive in school and make it to adulthood.

Now comes the case of Rosa Maria and her plight in a San Antonio immigration prison. Once again, the Trump Administration has proven that it will do ill to even those children who are disabled all because of who they are and who gave birth to them.

Plenty of reformers, from Teach to America to TNTP, have condemned the Trump Administration’s other actions against poor and minority children. There are still others who remain silent. Particularly among conservative reformers (including those with ties to DeVos and her philanthropies), it is much-easier to change the subject than it is to confront the reality of this administration’s evil towards children for whom they proclaim concern.For them, the case of Rosa Maria should serve as the last straw and should push them to condemn the administration.

Certainly reformers can’t spend the bulk of their time on immigration reform. But they can sign on to the ACLU’s letter demanding her release and ultimately, a path towards citizenship for her and her family. They can go further and demand that DeVos weigh in by expressing support for a plan to help DACA emigres gain the citizenship they deserve.

Finally, those who haven’t actively condemned Trump’s bigotry should do so. If they can take time to castigate traditionalists for defending the superclusters in American public education that fail Black and Brown children daily, they can also denounce an administration that wants to further those failures.

Rosa Maria deserves better. So do other poor and minority children. The time to call out the Trump Administration for its evil is now.

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The Legacies of Education’s Past Before Us

The Rosenwald School Next Door: The legacies of America’s Original Sin run through American public education — and often leave their marks on the nation’s physical landscape even in plain sight….

The Rosenwald School Next Door: The legacies of America’s Original Sin run through American public education — and often leave their marks on the nation’s physical landscape even in plain sight. Your editor and his family sees one each day, as we drive from our home in Bowie to church, passing a humble building on Church and Old Stage Roads surrounded by an old Masonic lodge and trees on what is left of an old farm.

These days, the building is a duplex, a home for those who live in it. But from 1927 to 1952, it was one of many schools funded by the Rosenwald Fund which helped fund schools for Black children in rural communities where Jim Crow-controlled districts were unwilling to serve them with adequate classrooms.

There’s a long history of education on this site. The first school for Black children on this acre of what was then called Collington was built in 1875, a decade after the end of the Civil War. As with so many schools of the time, it was a simple one-room building that often served as many Black children as possible in spite of opposition from White men and women still upset by the end of slavery and the loss of the Confederacy during the civil war.

The first Collington Colored School did its job as well as its could as did the teachers who worked within it. But by 1927, the building was no longer adequate for the job. Even with a declining population of Black people in Maryland and Prince George’s County, many of whom fled to New York City and Philadelphia to escape from Jim Crow, there were still plenty of children in the area who needed to go to school. So the local parents-teachers organization (which, like many of those serving Black people, was separate from a National PTA that tolerated segregation), began agitating for a new schoolhouse.

Photo courtesy of Fisk University.

Being a Jim Crow district in a Jim Crow state, Prince George’s County Public Schools was of no mood to build a new schoolhouse for the Black kids in its care. So the Rosenwald Fund, established a decade earlier by the president of Sears, Roebuck & Co., at the behest of Booker T. Washington to build schools for Black children, stepped in to help. In 1927, thanks to Rosenwald and the Black families in the community, this building was constructed, west of the old school (which has since disappeared into history). For the next 25 years, Black children in the are attended the school, getting as much of an education as allowed by a district uninterested in doing anything for them.

The Collington school would be one of the 5,000 school buildings the Rosenwald Fund would help construct between 1917 and 1931. It would do a lot of good. As Daniel Aaronson and Bhashkar Mazumder  of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago determined in a 2011 study, the construction of the schools contributed to Black children gaining an additional year of education compared to peers who had no access to school. Along with programs such as the Jeannes Fund, which recruited Black men and women to teach in those schools, the Rosenwald Fund reduced achievement gaps between Black and White children and help more African American attain high school diplomas and even college degrees. All of this despite the obstacles erected by White men and women who thought Black children didn’t deserve opportunities for better lives.

As for the Collington Colored School? It would operate until 1952, two years before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education that official segregation was illegal. that year, the Prince George’s County district shut down the school even though it wouldn’t desegregate its schools until two decades later, because it was too small to operate. This fate befell many of the other segregated Black schools built since the end of the Civil War. The old schoolhouse on Church and Old Stage was then sold to the Roman Catholic archdiocese and its Holy Family parish, which them used it to provide religious instruction to the Black children in its pews.

By the end of the 1960s, the building was sold again to Richard Spriggs, who converted the building into a duplex and whose family still owns it. Despite Bowie transforming from a place for the White landed gentry and their horses to a bedroom suburb of Washington, D.C., home to the wealthiest African Americans in the wealthiest Black county in America, the old schoolhouse still remains, one of many Rosenwald Schools still around, though without any historic medallion to signify its past.

As we fight to transform American public education as well as end the policies and practices that damage far too many Black and other minority children, we have to also remember that the dark past isn’t so long ago. In fact, the problems of the past and the solutions for the future can be seen right in front of us, often on little roads that we pass by on the way to fighting the present and shaping the future.

Another Way to Help Improve Civics Education: These pages have devoted part of the past few months to addressing how reformers and others can transform history and civics education so that all of our children gain comprehensive knowledge of the good, bad and ugly of our nation’s past as well as help build a better nation. One way can be seen in a high school in Fairfax County, where the Street Law program is teaching children about the workings of Congress and the nation’s municipal governments.

There in that school, a group of corporate lawyers take time with a class discussing how bills become laws and how celebrities such as talk show host Stephen Colbert participate in shaping how the nation addresses issues such as immigration reform. The high schoolers, in turn, bring up their own experiences in learning the consequences of laws. This includes a move by officials in Falls Church to end a special meal tax that was used to finance the traditional district’s sports activities.

Few in the school reform movement know about organizations such as Street Law and ThinkLaw, which use real-life examples to help kids think through issues in society. Even fewer realize their value. Street Law, in particular, runs annual professional development seminars that help teachers understand the inner workings of the federal judiciary as well as providing mock court sessions and other lessons for children from poor and minority backgrounds. Between 1995 and 2015, Street Law has given high-quality civics education to 300,000 of our youth, while ThinkLaw, run by Teach For America Colin Seale, works in charter and district schools in Nevada, Texas, and Washington, D.C.

But it takes money and bodies to provide more lessons to more children. Street Law, in particular, does this with the help of corporations and law firms donating pro bono time as well as cash. It will take even more money and bodies to expand what these organizations do. This is something the school reform movement and the organizations within it can do if those complaining about the quality of civics and history education wanted to help.

They can start by calling up Street Law and ThinkLaw to learn how they can help out. If they want to know more, they can call up one of Street Law’s past honorees, former New York City Chancellor Joel Klein, or chat up Seale himself. And since some of the leading lights in the movement are Yale Law School graduates and have experience crafting and filing civil torts, they can also take some time out and reach out to these groups to lend a hand. Take the opportunity and become part of the solution.

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Chicago Teachers Union Spends Big on Influence

Since the emergence of Karen Lewis as its president seven years ago, the Chicago Teachers Union has emerged as both a leading foe against systemic reform efforts in the Second…

Since the emergence of Karen Lewis as its president seven years ago, the Chicago Teachers Union has emerged as both a leading foe against systemic reform efforts in the Second City and as a key force among hardcore progressive traditionalists who thought American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten’s triangulation efforts conceded too much to reformers they oppose.

But these days, with Lewis recovering from a minor stroke and the union reeling from a string of political defeats that date back to its unsuccessful effort to oust Rahm Emanuel from City Hall, the AFT’s second-largest local would seem to have done little more than constantly call on the ouster of Forrest Claypool as the Second City district’s chief executive, complaining about the district’s proposed budget for 2018-2019, and fighting efforts to overhaul the virtually-busted defined-benefit pension it controls. But that’s not what the union’s 2014-2015 filing with the Internal Revenue Service — and that of its foundation arm — shows.

Chicago Teachers Union poured $1 million into its political action committee in 2014-2015, a four-fold increase over what it poured into the affiliate in 2013-2014. Of course, that year, the union (along with national AFT) was spending heavily on its effort to oust Emanuel as mayor, an effort that ended in the sound defeat of its candidate, Jesus (Chuy) Garcia. CTU also spent $245,285 on polling services from Celinda Lake’s eponymous firm; the outfit is the pollster of choice for the AFT and its units in the effort to maintain the Big Two teachers’ union’s influence.

The even bigger political spend came through Chicago Teachers Union’s foundation, which has become a key platform for the union’s influence-buying efforts. As with the AFT, the union thinks it can use its wallet to co-opt progressive and grassroots organizations in the Second City.

The foundation gave out $1.9 million in 2014-2015, according to its filing with the IRS, a 92 percent increase over the previous period. Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, the progressive outfit which is also a vassal of the national AFT, received $60,000 from the foundation in 2014-5015, while Action Now Institute (which organizes marches with CTU and its allies among public-sector unions) was given $35,000. The union’s foundation also gave $35,000 to Pilsen Alliance, another loud and vocal backer of CTU’s opposition to Emanuel’s regime, and tossed $5,000 to Arise Chicago, which works on organizing emigres and churches around a progressive agenda.

As you would expect, CTU Foundation poured much of its money into the Second City’s many neighborhood associations. For good reason: Since many of them lack the cash, meeting spaces, and other resources they need to conduct business (and reformers are often unwilling to help out), CTU and its foundation can leverage the grants to win them over to its opposition to systemic reform.

The foundation gave out $35,000 grants to the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council, Logan Square Neighborhood Association, Albany Park Neighborhood Council, and the westside-based Blocks Together. Reaching onto the state level, the foundation gave $35,000 to Community Organizing and Family Issues, which works on parent organizing, and gave $50,000 to the University of Illinois’ foundation, likely to support the school of labor relations on its Urbana-Champaign campus; one result can be seen a ode to the union’s 2012 strike against the Second City district written last year by the center’s resident scholars, Robert Bruno and Steven Ashby.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has proven more than an able foe against the AFT local’s opposition to systemic reform.

The union foundation’s biggest donations in 2014-2015 were to its sister unit, the Children & Teachers’ Foundation of Chicago Teachers Union (to the tune of $250,000) and to the Du Sable Museum of African American History ($100,000). Another $100,000 went to Network for Public Education, the outfit headed up by once-respectable education historian (and Lewis pal) Diane Ravitch; that donation is more than the union gave individually to any of the neighborhood associations from which it buys alliances, reminding all of us that one of Lewis’ long-term goals is to gain national influence over the direction of teachers’ unions and public-sector labor.

None of these donations took a lot out of CTU Foundation. It generated $43.1 million in 2014-2015, a 43-fold increase over the previous year, likely from the sale of more real estate and investments. It ended up with a surplus of $41.1 million, a 161-fold increase over the previous year. With some $54 million on the books (three times asset levels in 2013-2014), the foundation will have plenty of cash from which the union can use for influence-buying for years to come.

As for the parent union itself? It generated $26.6 million in 2014-2015, a slight decrease over levels during the previous year. This included $2.7 million from the AFT’s state affiliate as well as $229,431 from AFT national itself. [National AFT reports that it gave $499,983 to CTU and its political action committee that year as part of its big spend in support of CTU’s unsuccessful effort to oust Emanuel.]

The union’s expenses of $30.7 million in 2014-2015 was 10 percent higher than in the previous period. As a result of the increased expenses, the union lost $821,421 versus a surplus of $2.3 million in 2013-2014. One of the more-curious spends: Some $179,449 with Robin Potter & Associates, a law firm founded by the mother of Jackson Potter, a longtime ally of Lewis who cofounded the CORE coalition that dominates CTU (and to which Lewis belongs). Potter himself is a staff coordinator for the union. The firm itself came on to the vendor rolls soon after Lewis took control of the union. Keeping it in the family, I guess.

Of course, Lewis, the union’s president (who we here hope is recovering from her illness and keep her in our prayers), made sure she got paid real nice. She collected $145,812 from the union in 2014-2015, slightly less than she was paid the year before. Still, she is still among the top five percent of wage earners in the United States. Add in the $62,207 Lewis collected from the AFT’s Illinois Federation of Teachers in 2015 (she has since collected $68,590 from the affiliate in 2016) and the $7,664 she got from the national AFT that year (she’s collected $1,314 from national since then) and she was compensated to the tune of $215,683 in 2014-2015, slightly less than Emanuel’s salary of $216,210.

[Let’s also note that none of these numbers include any salary she may still collect from Chicago’s traditional school district even though she is no longer working in the classroom. Add that in and Lewis is likely earning nearly $300,000 a year.]

The rest of Chicago Teachers leadership also did well. Lewis’ number two, Jesse Sharkey, collected $97,994 that year while number three Michael Brunson was paid $134,712 in the same period. The staff also did well. Lynn Cherkasky-Davis, who handles teacher professional development for the union (which, oddly enough, is under the union’s foundation), picked up $254,219, while Sara Eschevarria, the union’s top organizer, was paid $167,787. Michael Baldwin, the union’s finance director, collected $151,516 for his work.

It’s good to work for the teachers’ union, especially in a city in which the median household income is $55,775 a year. Of course, for the rank-and-file, which merely got a 4.5 percent increase over the next two years as part of a contract negotiated last year, they have to wonder again what are they getting for their money.

Of course, you can peruse CTU’s IRS filing and that of the foundation for yourself. Also check out Dropout Nation‘s Teachers Union Money Report, for this and previous reports on NEA and AFT affiliate spending.

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Teach For America Shows Reformers the Way

Should Teach For America stop being more-explicit in its efforts to build brighter futures for poor and minority children inside and outside of schoolhouse doors? This is a question that…

Should Teach For America stop being more-explicit in its efforts to build brighter futures for poor and minority children inside and outside of schoolhouse doors? This is a question that shouldn’t even be asked in the first place. But it is one that conservative and centrist Democrat reformers are wrongly asking, especially as the nation’s largest (and most-successful) teacher training outfit challenges their perspectives on how to transform American public education.

The first challenge came courtesy of a TFA alum, Sohrab Ahmari of Commentary, who complained that the outfit has “lost its way” because it supposedly spends more time on “immigration, policing, “queer” and transgender-identity issues and other left-wing causes” than on “education-reform essentials” that he prefers. Not surprisingly, Ahmari has found an amen corner from conservative reformers such as Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute, long a skeptic of Teach For America’s focus on improving teaching for poor and minority children, who has been increasingly opposed to its stances on issues outside of education.

Another complaint came from the vanguard of centrist Democrat reformers in a brief from Andrew Rotherham of Bellwether Education Partners on the pages of Eduwonk. From where he sits, Teach For America has a “complicated audience problem at a difficult political moment” because he thinks the outfit’s efforts on issues that touch children outside of schools is somehow an effort to “placate the institutional left ” (namely the National Education Association, American Federation of Teachers, and hardcore progressives) that won’t work. As far as Rotherham is concerned, “the political price [for TFA] could be high.”

Certainly Dropout Nation readers aren’t surprised by the criticism. After all, Teach For America has been getting the business from conservative reformers since it began supporting the work of Black Lives Matter activists (and Teach For America alum) Brittany Packnett and Deray McKesson three years ago after the murder of Michael Brown by now-former Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson sparked protests and renewed focus on criminal justice reforms that conservatives and centrists generally disdain. This, in turn, has fueled a wider feud within the movement over its future direction. Which is not shocking. After all, the school reform movement has long been a bipartisan movement that has conveniently ignored some of the social issues that end up touching (and are touched by) American public education.

Since then, Teach For America, along with TNTP and other equity- and civil rights-oriented reform outfits, have annoyed the conservative and Centrist Democrat reform players who once were in the vanguard of the movement. This has especially become clear in the last year, as Teach For America has taken the lead in criticizing the Trump Administration. It was among the first to oppose Betsy DeVos’ nomination as U.S. Secretary of Education, and, along with the Education Trust, has been among the foremost opponents of the administration’s move last month to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the Obama Administration initiative that kept 800,000 undocumented children, teens and young adults brought to the nation from deportation.

Teach For America’s support for Black Lives Matter activists such as Brittany Packnett, along with its efforts on immigration reform, have angered conservative reformers and annoyed centrist Democrat reform counterparts.

Yet the criticism from both conservative and centrist reformers lack validity.

For one thing, contrary to what Ahmari and other conservative reformers will admit, Teach For America is still focused on its primary goal of recruiting and training high-quality teachers. Some 3,500 new recruits went to work in traditional districts and charter schools in 2017, still within the range of recruits it has sent to classrooms within the last decade. More importantly, the organization remains the foremost pathway for Black, Latino, and Native collegians to get into teaching and, ultimately, helping children who look like them gain the knowledge (and even the role models) they need and deserve.

The other thing to keep in mind is that nothing that Teach For America is doing that is different than what it has ever done. As Ahmari concedes, the outfit’s goal has always been to help poor and minority children gain brighter futures. That is an ideological goal, as ideological as arguing that children should be able to choose high-quality educational opportunities. There are as many conservatives who disagree with this view as left-leaning traditionalists.

While teacher training is its primary goal, it has never stuck to overhauling classroom instruction. After all, within the past 26 years, Teach For America’s network of alumni have formed many of the institutions at the heart of the school reform movement itself, most-notably TNTP (a spinoff of TFA) and the Knowledge Is Power Program chain of charter schools. Meanwhile its alumni, including former Colorado State Sen. Michael Johnston (now running for governor of that state), as well as McKesson (a former candidate for Baltimore mayor) have moved far beyond education to politics and other aspects of society.

If anything, what Teach For America is doing is being more-explicit in its efforts. For many good reasons. One reason, contrary to Rotherham’s assertions (as well as that of other centrist Democrat and conservative reformers) lies with its own alum, who have long argued that it is was far too reticent in tackling both traditionalists and the ills outside of education that harm the very children for which it is concerned. From where they sit, especially after spending time in communities in which they served, Teach For America should be more forthright in tackling issues affecting the most-vulnerable. That most of those 50,000 alumni and current recruits will rally on its behalf means that it also has a level of political protection available to few players in the movement.

Another reason lies with something that Steve Barr, the founder of Green Dot Public Schools, learned long ago: That systemic reforms cannot be sustained without addressing the not-so-educational concerns of the very communities the movement is serving. In the case of DACA, the Trump Administration’s move to end it (as well as its overall effort to deport undocumented immigrants who have contributed to the nation’s economy and society) affects undocumented children and Native-born children of undocumented emigres in traditional districts and charters served by Teach For America recruits. The fact that the move also threatens to deport 2,000 of the outfit’s recruits and alumni (as well as 18,000 other teachers) means that its efforts on this issue is not “out of all proportion”, as Ahmari contends.

By advancing its mission more-explicitly (and politically), Teach For America is conceding a reality that many conservative and centrist Democrat reformers fail to admit: That American public education — especially traditional districts in big cities and increasingly-urbanized suburbs — is at the nexus of the issues facing the nation today.

Teach For America is forcing the rest of the school reform movement to live up to its mission for immigrant children and other vulnerable youth.

Reformers can’t help children succeed in life without addressing the direct ways it fuels the nation’s social ills (including the failures to provide children with high quality education they need to sustain families and be knowledgeable leaders in society), its role funneling children into juvenile and criminal justice systems, and its keystone position in perpetuating the legacies of state-sanctioned bigotry against Black, Latino, Native, and immigrant children. This need to tackle all the ills that harm our children has become especially critical because the Trump Administration has proven to be a regime that intends no good for the minority children that now make up a majority of children throughout public education.

Even beyond Trump and immigration, there are plenty of ways reformers can contribute to addressing issues beyond classrooms. One clear example lies within criminal justice reform itself: The protection of corrupt cops by state laws governing use of force and cultism among their colleagues is similar to how teachers accused and convicted of child abuse (along with the merely incompetent) are enabled by tenure and teacher dismissal laws as well as by the thin chalk line of support from fellow instructors. Two of TFA’s most-prominent alumni, McKesson and Packnett, have focused on that issue through Campaign Zero, which borrows from the National Council on Teacher Quality’s database on collective bargaining agreements to provide transparency on how contracts between unions and police departments protect rogue cops.

Put simply, Teach For America, along with other civil rights-oriented and progressive reformers, is doing the right thing.

Certainly this is discomforting for conservative reformers not named Rick Hess who have found themselves between a rock and a hard place. It is increasingly difficult for them to both be champions for all children and ally themselves with an ideological conservatism that now embraces the kind of rank bigotry from which the legendary William F. Buckley Jr. and other founding fathers of the movement distanced themselves (even as they embraced their own pernicious form of racial myopia).

As for centrist Democrats? We’ll exclude Rotherham from this discussion because he has generally been on the right side of these issues. All that said, the problem for many of them is that they prize bipartisanship and “the politics” over doing good, often at the cost of the vulnerable. [There’s also the reality that many of the policy initiatives they implicitly supported, including the Clinton Administration’s Community-Oriented Policing program, are culprits in fueling the school-to-prison pipeline.]

But in pursuing its path, Teach For America (along with civil rights-oriented reformers) is challenging conservative and centrist Democrat reformers to take a different course on systemic reform that admits the issues that face all of our children. This means crafting a new bipartisanship based on the moral and just agreement that all children, no matter who they are or where they live, deserve institutions that do better by their lives. Which, in turn, will help this nation in its goal of forming a more-perfect union.

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Betsy DeVos’ School Discipline Problem

There were plenty of responses to Saturday’s piece on whether or not U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is a White Supremacist. As I have pointed out, the reality is…

There were plenty of responses to Saturday’s piece on whether or not U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is a White Supremacist. As I have pointed out, the reality is that while the education philanthropist-turned-education czar is no White Supremacist, she has continuously collaborated with a regime whose goal is to harm the communities of Black, Latino, and immigrant children as well as the people who love and care for them.

One of the ways she has done this lies with the moves by the U.S. Department of Education to ignore its civil rights obligations as written in the Every Student Succeeds Act as well as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, including stemming the overuse of out-of-school suspensions and other harsh traditional discipline that damages poor and minority kids. The move to bring in Hans Bader, who has dismissed decades of research on this issue, is the latest example of DeVos’ aiding and abetting of bigotry.

As Dropout Nation readers know by now, DeVos’ appointee to oversee the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, Candice Jackson, has already taken steps to end the Obama Administration’s efforts to push traditional districts and charter schools to use new approaches to discipline that actually help all children learn. This includes issuing guidance to regional directors to stop collecting three years of past complaints filed by against a district or charter when investigating a new complaint. Essentially this means investigators can no longer use previous complaints as evidence of a district systematically overusing suspensions, expulsions, spankings, and even restraints and seclusion (solitary confinement) against particular groups of kids.

Now with Bader, a former scholar at the Competitive Enterprise Institute (and brother of its current president), on board as a member of the Department of Education’s legal staff, DeVos and Jackson are likely to take the next step in ending efforts on school discipline reform: Rescind the “Dear Colleague” guidance issued by the Obama Administration three years ago that reminded districts to stop overusing harsh school discipline against Black, Latino, and Native children because it violates Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. The guidance has been widely opposed by traditionalists and so-called conservative school reformers such as Michael Petrilli of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

Hans Bader (right) will now have a role in shaping federal policy on school discipline. Those who care about the futures of children should shudder at the thought.

Despite having spent little time on studying school discipline and other civil rights issues, Bader has emerged as a go-to guy for movement conservatives and others opposed to federal efforts on school discipline reform (as well as on the effort to address how universities handle rape incidents on their campuses). His arguments against a federal role in school discipline reform can be summed up in two sentences. The first: That the Obama Administration’s guidance is overreach because the federal government has no right to address any form of overuse of school discipline, especially “disparate impact” in which policies can incidentally or deliberately discriminate against poor and minority children. The second: That there is no racial or ethnic bias in how districts and other school operators mete out such discipline in the first place.

There are plenty of problems with Bader’s first argument. On the legal merits, the ability of the federal government to weigh in on disparate impact was settled three years ago when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project that the federal government could address such matters. While the ruling focused on housing, the high court’s ruling effectively kibboshed a previous opinion, Alexander v. Sandoval, that Bader often uses in his arguments against federal oversight on school discipline matters. Put simply, disparate impact is now legally recognized as a form of racism, essentially accepting the reality that bigotry need not be overt to actually exist and harm the most-vulnerable. [More on that in a minute.]

As Dropout Nation noted three years ago in a critique of a similar argument made by Hoover Institution scholar Richard Epstein on the pages of Education Next, Bader fails to recognize that Title IV of the Civil Rights Act is actually fairly broad, giving the federal government plenty of leeway to address any denial of opportunities for equal education. This includes addressing complaints from families over any instance where their children are being denied high-quality learning. More importantly, Bader fails to consider other civil rights legislation, including the Every Student Succeeds Act (the latest version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act) and IDEA, which grants broad leeway on this front. Particularly with  Title IV of ESSA, which gives the federal government leeway to address and fund efforts to deal with school violence, the federal government is given an expansive role in addressing how districts and states use school discipline.

As for Bader’s second argument: Three decades of data and research demonstrate that it doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

As a team led by Daniel Losen of the Civil Rights Project at UCLA noted in their review of suspension and expulsion data, 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. This, too, has been consistent in analysis of data, this time that of state governments. This isn’t surprising because decades of data have shown this. A team led by University of Pittsburgh researcher John Wallace demonstrated in a 2008 study that young black men in 10th grade are 30 percent more-likely to be referred dean’s offices — and 330 percent more-likely to be suspended — for the same offenses than white peers.

The consequences of overusing harsh school discipline isn’t just limited to time out of classrooms.

As with the overlabeling of young men as special ed cases, a key reason why so many children black and brown have been suspended lies with the perceptions of adults in schools about the kids they are supposed to teach. Recent studies of the perceptions of children held by their teachers echo Vanderbilt University Professor Daniel J. Reschly’s longstanding point that adults in schools end up deeming kids as unworthy because they think they are destined to end up that way. These biases, which data has demonstrated to be clear when it comes to discipline, are often reflected in how White teachers view Black children in their care in other areas of instruction and school culture.

As I pointed out on Saturday, White Supremacy (along with other forms of bigotry) isn’t simply about overt acts and outright statements. It consists of a continuum of actions that are often divorced from personal and social intentions. Even if a person doesn’t intend on being bigoted, they can support, be indifferent to, or unwilling to change policies and practices that maliciously or incidentally damage the lives and futures of poor and minority people. In the case of school discipline, the consequences of policies and practices can be as racialist as overt acts by those engaged in explicit racial discrimination.

Even if teachers and school leaders aren’t explicitly targeting black and Latino children in meting out discipline, the decisions they make can result in educational neglect, malpractice and abuse. This isn’t just true for poor and minority children. Children regardless of background condemned to the nation’s special education ghettos are subjected to even harsher school discipline –including restraints and seclusion (also known as solitary confinement when done to adults) — because teachers perceive them to be unworthy of more-therapeutic treatment. The consequences of these failed practices can be seen in and out of schools, especially in how police officers brought into schoolhouses deal with Black and Brown children and even those who are White with special needs.

Given the voluminous evidence, the fact that Bader continually argues against school discipline reform demonstrates his intellectual sophistry and his lack of fitness for serving in any role that tangentially involves public education. That he has little in the way of experience in addressing civil rights issues, especially on the education front, makes him even less fit to serve.

Yet it isn’t shocking that he is in this role. This is because DeVos has long ago demonstrated her lack of knowledge and general incuriosity about the role the federal government can play in addressing the underlying causes of the nation’s education crisis and advancing systemic reform. More importantly, given her unwillingness to criticize Donald Trump’s bigotry and that of the administration before and after taking up space at L’Enfant Plaza, the Department of Education was bound to be as involved as the departments of Justice and Homeland Security in advancing the administration’s efforts against poor and minority people.

Certainly DeVos isn’t an active White Supremacist. Her past record supporting the expansion of school choice demonstrates that. But she is clearly a collaborator in the administration’s agenda. The hiring of Bader exemplifies this reality.

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