Author: RiShawn Biddle

Rick Hess’ DeVos (and White Supremacy) Problem

Hess Protests Too Much: Your editor keeps a few things in mind when it comes to American Enterprise Institute education czar Rick Hess’ jeremiad in Education Week about a protest banner…

Hess Protests Too Much: Your editor keeps a few things in mind when it comes to American Enterprise Institute education czar Rick Hess’ jeremiad in Education Week about a protest banner accusing U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos of being a White Supremacist during her appearance last month at Harvard University. The first is that AEI’s star-studded board includes the education secretary’s brother, Erik Prince, who is also a prime donor to the think tank. That conflict must be considered when reading anything Hess writes in defense of her. Secondly: Hess himself has earned a reputation for being racially myopic, especially in his dismissal of focusing on achievement gaps in transforming public education as well as his statement that expanding school choice rewards the supposed irresponsibility of poor and minority families. Simply put, when Hess discusses any issue involving race, he is often projecting.

All that said, let’s concede one of Hess’ key arguments in that piece: That the Harvard student who displayed the banner could used better choice of words. Not because, as Hess argues, accusations of White Supremacy are tossed around too liberally these days (more on that in a second). But because the protester could have offered more-direct complaints about DeVos’ tenure that are on the mark.

There’s the move made by the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights to reduce the scope of its investigations into systemic overuse of suspensions, expulsions, spankings, and even restraints and seclusion (solitary confinement) against Black, Latino and other minority children, essentially scaling back the agency’s mission of protecting the most-vulnerable children. There’s DeVos’ tepid response in August to the violence by White Supremacists in Charlottesville (which echoed that of the rest of the Trump Administration). There’s also her consistent failure to condemn the bigotry of her boss, the current Occupant of the White House, who has consistently accused undocumented Latino emigres of being rapists and members of gangs. Finally, there is her unwillingness and inability to stand up for other vulnerable children, from transgendered youth to the 800,000 undocumented youth and adults brought to America as kids who now face deportation thanks to the Trump Administration’s move to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

None of this, by the way, includes her general unwillingness to embrace the civil rights mission of the Department of Education as laid out in the Every Student Succeeds Act and other federal education policies. An issue made clear again earlier this week when her priorities list was revealed, none of which mentioned doing right by poor and minority children.

As you would expect, Hess didn’t mention any of those issues in his critique. After all, he would have to concede that those protesters would have a legitimate point to make, even if he disagreed with them. More importantly, in acknowledging those issues, he ends up weakening his main argument: That far too many people, including progressive and civil rights-oriented school reformers, are too willing to accept (and toss around) accusations of White Supremacy and racial bigotry.

This is because, like a number of prominent White intellectuals outside of education policy such as New York‘s Jonathan Chait, Hess fails to admit is that bigotry in general, and White Supremacy in particular, isn’t some binary thing. That is, White Supremacy isn’t simply about someone being an active bigot or professing their hatred of people from other racial and ethnic backgrounds.

All racism, including White Supremacy, is a continuum of actions that are often divorced from personal and social intentions. A Klansman or Skinhead can occasionally do good for — and even save the life of — people who he generally hates. At the same time, a person who isn’t a bigot, even someone who has committed themselves to helping those who don’t look like them, can support or remain silent about policies and practices that maliciously or incidentally damage the lives and futures of poor and minority people. More importantly, as author Richard Rubin once surmised in his famous essay on the jurors who let off the murderers of Emmett Till, individuals regardless of their position and power can find themselves unwilling to challenge and oppose those policies as well as the men and women who are promulgating them.

This reality, of course, creates a conundrum for many White reformers, especially those of a conservative bent, who support practices done by others in and out of the movement that have been proven by data and evidence to damage the very children they proclaim their concern. In the case of Betsy DeVos, the reality is magnified by her decision to join a regime deliberately dead set on harming those very same kids.

Certainly, DeVos’ admirable record in expanding school choice does argue against her being an active White Supremacist. But since Trump’s election to the presidency last November, she has been unwilling to challenge him on his bigoted statements, both before and after being nominated to serve as the nation’s top education officer. More importantly, she has done nothing to intervene on behalf of children, especially those who are undocumented as well as native-born children of emigres, as they deal with the Trump Administration’s active efforts against them and their families (including moves by the U.S. Department of Justice to deny due process in deportation hearings).

In fact, by simply joining Trump’s administration, DeVos tacitly agreed to not stand up for the children Black and Brown whose families (along with their futures), the regime has essentially targeted for condemnation to the economic and social abyss. Even worse, as a philanthropist who already had an influential role in shaping education policy through roles such as chairing the American Federation for Children, she didn’t need to join. DeVos made a calculated decision to associate herself with the likes of Attorney General Jeff Sessions (who was once denied a federal court judgeship because of his rank bigotry) and Trump himself, whose long record of racism existed long before he decided to run for public office.

While DeVos may not be a bigot or a White Supremacist, she is a willing collaborator with one. That Hess fails to realize or accept this speaks more about his issues than about others within the movement who have been unwilling to defend his favorite education politician.

More on Making History and Civics Personal: There have been plenty of responses to this month’s essay on how genealogy records and other data can be used to help children better-understand American history and civics. One of the questions raised was what are other ways can teachers make history personal and relevant to the children they teach. Just as importantly, beyond understanding the nation’s tangled racial legacy, how can they gain empathy and insight on how the nation’s wars have affected society, and even understand current geopolitical issues facing us today.

One idea lies with the monuments our nation has erected to the men and women who have died in the wars of the last century. This can easily be done by teachers in places such as Indianapolis, Ind., which is home to the more war monuments than any other part of the nation.

A teacher at North Central High School in the city’s Washington Township district can take her class down to the Vietnam and Korean War memorials where the letters of soldiers killed in action are etched on the walls for contemplation. There, they can read the letter of Frederick Ben King, a native of Hammond, Ind., who was killed by sniper fire in 1968. Through a Google search, they will learn that King had a mother named Rosell and a father named Floyd. They will also find a Chicago Tribune article that will mention that he was 17 years old (and attending Oliver P. Morton High School) when he chose to enlist in the army. That article will also tell them that he had told his mother that he planned to be home by Christmas — and that he was killed one month before he could see them.

In researching Frederick Ben King’s story, the students will learn in a personal way how devastating Vietnam was on the lives of young men and women, both those who never made it home and the ones who came back scarred physically and emotionally. Through that, they will also understand how that devastation led to the end of the involuntary draft, which had been previously used to staff our armed services during times of war, as well as the passage of the 26th Amendment, which lowered the voting age from 21 to 18 in reflection of the reality that those who can serve the nation should also be able to pick its political leaders.

Students can then go the letter of another Indiana native, John E. Welches, who was killed in action during the Korean War in 1951. Through Census data as well as state death records, they can learn that he was the only son of a machinist named August, who never left the Hoosier State and outlived his son by 29 years. By looking at online archives on the Korean Conflict, they will also learn that John spent his last days in the Haean-myon Valley, the infamous Punchbowl, which was located just miles from the now-demilitarized zone that separates South Korea from North Korea.

Through that research, students can then learn more about the origins of the Korean War, how the United States entered into the conflict, and understand why the sparring between the Trump Administration and the government of North Korea’s dictator, Kim Jong-un, is so perilous for Asia and the rest of the world.

This isn’t to say all monuments are useful in instruction. The Confederate war memorials littering the nation, for example, have little use outside of showing how people use public spaces to reshape understanding of the origins of wars and debates over civil rights. Other memorials, including many devoted to the Second World War, leave out the roles of Americans of Japanese descent who were forced into concentration camps by  the federal government after Pearl Harbor, as well as the American Indians who fought ably for the nation despite the federal government’s genocidal acts towards them and their tribes.

Yet there are plenty of monuments, including the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C., the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial in Hawaii, and the monument dedicated to Japanese-American war heroes of World War II, that offer plenty for students to contemplate and reflect upon. Which makes them useful in helping those kids gain greater understanding about their nation and its long struggle to bend the arc of history towards progress for all.


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AFT’s One Step Forward

The American Federation of Teachers spectacularly failed last election year in its effort to preserve its influence at the federal level. Its big bet on Hillary Clinton’s unsuccessful campaign for…

The American Federation of Teachers spectacularly failed last election year in its effort to preserve its influence at the federal level. Its big bet on Hillary Clinton’s unsuccessful campaign for the White House, along with its support of Democrat candidates in House and Senate races have left it with even less voice in education policymaking at the national level than it had under the Obama Administration.

But as the AFT reveals in its 2016-2017 filing with the U.S. Department of Labor, it has done somewhat better at the state and local levels where it has considerably more influence. Whether or not the Big Two teachers’ union can stem past losses in clout still remains an open question.

On one hand, AFT, along with the National Education Association, was successful in defeating an effort to expand the number of charter schools in Massachusetts contained in Question 2. While the NEA and its Bay State affiliate did the bulk of the work, AFT did its part. This included $1.7 million to Save Our Public Schools, the coalition run by the union’s Bay State affiliate and NEA’s longtime vassal, Citizens for Public Schools, to defeat the measure. AFT also handed out $200,408 to its Bay State affiliate’s solidarity (independent expenditure) operation, and $19,358 to the political action committee of its Boston Teachers union local in order to stop Question 2 from passing. All in all, AFT spent $1.9 million on the effort.

A bigger (and less-expensive) win for AFT happened in Georgia, where it worked to defeat Amendment 1, which would have allowed the Peach State’s government to form a statewide school takeover district similar to the now-defunct Recovery School District in Louisiana that would have taken over failure mills throughout the state, including Atlanta (whose schools are unionized by AFT’s affiliate there). Considering how both AFT and NEA were defeated by reformers two years earlier on a ballot measure to allow the state to authorize charters, the defeat of Amendment 1 was a surprise to the movement.

What helped stop Amendment 1’s passage was the $250,000 AFT contributed to the Committee to Keep Georgia Schools Local, a coalition of unions and traditional districts oppose to the measure. Best of all, AFT’s donations piggybacked on the$4.7 million given by NEA to Committee to Keep Georgia Schools Local, accounting for the bulk of the $5.1 million the group spent in defeating the ballot initiative. AFT also gave $119,904 to its Peach State affiliate and its political action committee, dropped $50,760 on hotel rooms and conference space at the Atlanta Marriott Century Center near the campus of Emory University, and gave $20,000 to the Peach State affiliate of AFL-CIO. Altogether, AFT dropped just $440,664 on stopping Amendment 1.

AFT didn’t have to spend much (or lift a finger) to gain a victory in Georgia by defeating the school takeover plan contained in Amendment 1. [Photo courtesy of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.]

But AFT suffered a major loss in Oregon, a state in which its teachers’ union and nursing affiliates are dominant forces in policymaking. There, the union failed to gain passage of Measure 92, which would have levied a gross sales tax on businesses selling more than $25 million in products annually, as well as allowed the state to collect gross sales taxes on business producing more than $100,000 in revenue a year. If the measure had passed, 70 percent of companies currently paying a minimum tax would end up paying more money. This would likely mean more revenue for traditional districts in the state as well as cash for healthcare funding, both of which benefit AFT and its affiliates through higher salaries as well as more teachers and nurses forced to pay into their coffers.

To help its affiliates out, AFT dropped $1 million into Yes on 97, the ballot committee that initiated the measure. It also tossed in some more coins — $136,576 to be exact — into the solidarity fund of the union’s AFT Oregon unit. To add some further help, AFT sent out Executive Vice President Mary Cathryn Ricker to help kick off an effort to knock on the doors of 100,000 voters. That, along with other hotel stays in the state, cost the union $25,159. But that $1.2 million in spending achieved nothing; Measure 92 went down to defeat by a whopping 300,000-vote margin.

Oddly enough, AFT didn’t weigh in on California’s Prop. 51, which initiated a $9 billion bond issue for constructing traditional district and charter school buildings as well as new construction for higher ed. The initiative, which was supported by most of the state affiliates of the nation’s construction trade unions, was approved 55 percent-to-45 percent last November. One likely reason: Golden State Gov. Jerry Brown, who opposed the initiative because it is adding to the state’s virtual insolvency; the fact that the proceeds wouldn’t go to employing more teachers was also likely a factor.

But all of AFT’s politicking won’t matter if it doesn’t reverse its rank-and-file declines and address its long-term problem of convincing teachers and other school employees to pay into its coffers if the U.S. Supreme Court ends compulsory dues, as many expect it to do. The union has spent the past few years expanding into healthcare and general government operations in order to diversify its rank-and-file. But that hasn’t worked out all that well. So the union has had to go back to pouring money into unionizing new members (and getting monopolies on workplace bargaining for decades to come) through the various “organizing projects it runs with help of its units.

In New Orleans, AFT poured $387,926 into the charter school teacher unionizing effort it runs with its Crescent City local in 2016-2017. That’s 32 percent more than it gave to the project in the previous period. Altogether, AFT has poured $739,219 into its organizing effort with United Teachers New Orleans over the past three years. Whether AFT is making inroads in New Orleans, where charters are the primary schools children attend, is a different matter. While the union was able to unionize Lusher Charter School in the city’s Uptown section, as well as four other schools in the past two years, most teachers in the city’s charters are still out of its grasp.

AFT also poured $608,419 into the California Organizing Project it runs with the state affiliate, 34 percent more than it gave in 2015-2016. Much of the work it has been doing has been in the state’s wealthy communities surround the Silicon Valley. [The union also poured $31,038 into its effort to organize charter school staffs in Los Angeles.] Another big push by the union is in New Mexico, where it is working to organize teachers and other employees in prekindergarten programs run by districts as well as privately-run preschools. AFT poured $356,042 into the Land of Enchantment project, slightly more than it devoted to the effort in 2015-2016. Colorado, the union devoted $55,561 to the organizing project there in 2016-2017, slightly less than in the previous fiscal year.

Looking to shore up its position in the American Midwest, AFT poured $581,675 into its Great Lakes Organizing Project last fiscal year, 26 percent more tan in the previous period; the union also poured $276,281 regional office. AFT also put big bets on Texas, a red state whose growing Latino and Asian populations offer it hope for future unionizing. It poured $1.3 million into several organizing projects in the Lone Star State, including one focused on Houston’s growing suburbs, in 2016-2017. That’s an 18 percent increase over spending in the previous fiscal period.

But AFT is skipping out on some places. In Florida, where the union shares control of the Florida Education Association with NEA, it gave just $122,771 to its four organizing initiatives there in 2016-2017, less than half the amount devoted in the previous period. Despite the growing numbers of Latino and other minority communities in the Sunshine State, the fact that many of those potential teachers will end up with the NEA side of the affiliate likely makes additional spending not worth doing.

Given the likely future prospects of compulsory dues coming to an end, AFT will have to find new ways to bring more teachers into its fold. Especially since those six-figure salaries don’t pay for themselves.

You can check out the data yourself by checking out the HTML and PDF versions of the AFT’s latest financial report, or by visiting the Department of Labor’s Web site. Also check out Dropout Nation‘s Teachers Union Money Report, for this and previous reports on AFT and NEA spending.

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End Maryland’s Indifference to Black Children

Below are prepared remarks by your editor for a panel at a confab hosted yesterday by Faith Leaders for Excellent Schools’, a coalition of pastors in Baltimore working to transform…

Below are prepared remarks by your editor for a panel at a confab hosted yesterday by Faith Leaders for Excellent Schools’, a coalition of pastors in Baltimore working to transform public education in both Charm City and the nation. The event, which featured former U.S. Secretary of Education-turned-Education Trust President John B. King, FLES cofounder and Maryland State Board of Education Board Member Pastor Michael Phillips, and Baltimore City Schools Chief Executive Sonja Brookins Santelises, focused on helping pastors and others understand what they must do for kids in order to make the state fulfill its obligations under the Every Student Succeeds Act as well as address school finance. 

Good morning! It is great to see all of you champions for our children. You are already working to transform our communities and the world for our children and families, and serve the least of us as the Beatitudes command. I am here to help you gain perspective on the issues in education here in Maryland that need to be addressed so that all of our people get the knowledge they need to survive.

As Secretary King has noted, the current administration has little concern for our children, especially our Black children. I go further and say that this is a regime bent on committing educational genocide and, when it comes to our immigrant children, what can only be called low-grade ethnic cleansing. We are a nation in moral and political crisis.

But I always say that the problem isn’t the active bigotry and evil of the very few. This administration is the very few. The problem lies with the vast indifference of the unhuddled masses to the futures of children and communities not their own. It is the failure of all of us to remember, as Hezekiah Walker would tell, to pray for you, to pray for me, to love each other, we need you to survive.

The evil may be in Washington, But the indifference is happening here in Maryland, in our very own communities, and it has been happening long before the current Occupant of the White House took office. It is rooted both in the legacies of the bigotry that is America’s Original Sin, and, at the same time, a result of current policy decision that are harmful to our children.

I think about a farmer named John Hawkins, who is buried in Sacred Heart Church in Bowie, where I live. He was born into slavery in 1832 and spent his first three decades of live without freedom or education. By 1870, when the U.S. Census was taken that year, John had to admit that he never learned to read or write. All because systems and people made decisions to deny him the gateways to the world.

John would eventually learn to read and died in 1912 literate and as free as they allowed Black people to be back then. But imagine what his life would have been if he had free to live, free to learn, and given access to high-quality education for the time to maximize that freedom

Today in Baltimore and in Maryland, we have plenty of Johns and Janes in our schools and in our communities. They weren’t born into chattel slavery. But thanks to legacies of the past and decisions made by people today, these young people have been denied knowledge that can help them build brighter futures for themselves, their families, and their communities.

Maryland leaders lie about how well children are being educated, especially Black children often been wrongly placed into special education because they can’t read. Over the years, the state has excluded as many as 60 percent of special ed students from the nation’s chief exam of measuring how schools educate children.

This means Maryland lies to parents, to caring adults, to faith leaders just like you. Even worse, its leaders lie to children who deserve great teachers and comprehensive curricula.

Maryland leaders lie about the opportunities our children have to gain high-quality learning. Districts here provided calculus, trigonometry and other higher levels of math to 18 percent of Black high school students. Districts in Maryland provided Advanced Placement courses to just 16 percent of Black high school students.

Your editor (right), along with former U.S. Secretary of Education John King, Sonja Brookins Santelises of Baltimore City Public Schools, and Pastor Michael Phillips of Faith Leaders for Excellent Schools discuss transforming public education for the state’s Black and other minority children.

Most Black children in Maryland are ill-prepared to graduate from college or technical schools or apprenticeship programs. They have been condemned to poverty and despair.

Maryland leaders lie about the roles families and communities can play both within schools and in the decisions being made in Annapolis about what we should know about how well our schools are serving children. The state just passed a law effectively allowing many schools to continue failing our kids, and make it difficult for us to do anything about it.

Maryland leaders are keeping people like you, faith leaders, from transforming schools and systems on behalf of the children who sit in your pews — and those who are outside on our streets.

Finally, Maryland leaders lie about how they want Black children to be treated. They may talk about their concern for them. But they support harsh school discipline policies that keep them from learning — and worse, don’t address the learning issues often at the heart of bad behavior. There is no reason why thousands of Baltimore City Black children are suspended, expelled, arrested, and sent to courts year after year after year.

The solutions to this crisis in education require the hearts and hands and voices of many people. This includes faith leaders such as you. This is because you touch all of the men and women in our communities who are the messengers we need to demand high-quality education for our children, the villagers who raise all of our kids.

Your churches are home to Divine Nine fraternity and sorority meetings. Politicians come to your doors t solicit support. You are the only ones who will be in these communities long after teachers leave and superintendents move on to greener pastures. You have power that only those called by God can wield.

All of us, from faith leaders to those in and out of the pews, must be the ones who knock down the doors and are in the meetings where policy is being made. Because, as they say, if you aren’t at the table, you are the menu. And throughout history Black people aren’t the apple pies decision-makers enjoy eating, but the broccoli they throw into the trash.

We cannot be surprised that school reformers, especially some folks on our state board of education, didn’t solicit us earlier this year in the fight against eviscerating school accountability. They have never thought about including us in crafting policy. Same is true for those who defend the policies and practices that have damaged generation after generation after generation of Black children in our state. Our children and communities are the furthest from their minds.

Because we know that our concerns aren’t necessarily those of the people at the state capital, we have to stick our noses into the rooms and stick our necks out for all of our children. The children who are our own by birth. The children who we never birthed or conceived. Even the children we will never see in the pews and never know by name.

We have to ask every child we meet how they are doing in school. We have to demand teachers, principals, even superintendents, to show, not tell, how they are helping build brighter futures for all of our children. Particularly as faith leaders, you must organize, work the corridors of power, feed the children intellectually, spiritually, and physically, and advocate tirelessly.

Because as Christ commands, when we do for the least of us, for the most-vulnerable of us, we are also doing for Him. We must end the vast indifference of the unhuddled masses. Which means we must be few who galvanize the many to transform schools and systems and futures for children on behalf of He who created us.

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Making History and Civics Personal

The most-important way to learn and appreciate the fullness of American history, to fully understand how we have both lived up to its ideals and yet remain far from making…

The most-important way to learn and appreciate the fullness of American history, to fully understand how we have both lived up to its ideals and yet remain far from making them real, and to comprehend how the past shaped our civics, won’t from simply reading dusty history books. It comes from looking at the graves of people named John and Monica, from visiting the lands owned by women named Eliza and Mary, from reading deeds and Census records that detail their lives, and from understanding how our own family histories intertwine with the nation’s struggles towards progress and liberty for all.

This is a lesson our teachers, school leaders, and school operators must embrace in order to help all children gain the proper civics and history education they need to be the leaders and citizens their communities need them to be, as well as to continue bending the arc of the nation’s history towards progress.

Prompting this discussion was last month’s Dropout Nation essay on one of my ancestors, Sampson Moore, and how learning about the lives of enslaved Africans, as well as the oppression they endured, is critical to improving history, civics, and social studies. More than a few readers thought it would be interesting if children learned about American history through their own genealogies. Which makes sense. The more-relevant we make lessons to the lives of the children in classrooms, the more-likely they will gain the knowledge and understanding needed to be fully part of the great experiment called America in adulthood.

Making history and civics relevant and personal is especially important in a time as turbulent as those of the past. Even as think tanks and pundits such as the Brookings Institution and Chester (Checker) Finn, Jr. bemoan polls showing that some collegians have little understanding about the Bill of Rights and civil liberties (as well as the usual and often overblown complaints about freedom of speech on college campuses), they fail to grasp an important reality: That many adults have little understanding about American history and about the development of civil liberties. This is because they were never properly taught in the first place, and because such exercises such as reciting the Pledge of Allegiance are mere propaganda exercises that don’t build proper appreciation. Proper teaching of American history – and ultimately, a strong appreciation of its past and present – begins with placing their lives and that of their families in the contexts of those developments.

The best part is that making history personal and relevant doesn’t take that much effort. Thanks to professional and amateur genealogists, the wide array of historic preservation efforts, the digital release of narratives such as those of former slaves recorded by the Federal Writers Project in the 1930s, and even works of scholarship from historians such as Wilma Dunaway, any teacher, school leader, or operator can craft history and civics curricula that make cold facts personal. This can easily be seen in Bowie, a city in Prince George’s County, Md., that is also the home of this publication.

Documents such as the U.S. Census Bureau’s schedules of slave ownership can be used along with other sources to make American history relevant to the lives of children.

A teacher at Samuel Ogle Middle School in Bowie, Md., the home base of this publication, could begin that education just by taking children to one of the many old churches and grave sites in the community. There’s the famed Sacred Heart Catholic Church. There, the teacher can tell children how it played a role in advancing religious freedom, especially as the site of the founding of the nation’s first Roman Catholic diocese in 1789, and the consecration of John Carroll as the nation’s first bishop.

She can also explain how the church and the priests who worked there maintained the institution of slavery that is at the heart of America’s Original Sin, as the centerpiece of the White Marsh plantation that financed Georgetown University and, through a series of sales, breaking up Black families and sending them as far as Louisiana, where they endured even more oppression. Thanks to Georgetown’s project on the slaves owned by the Jesuit order (as well as by the priests personally), the students even see if their ancestors were enslaved on that plantation.

At Sacred Heart’s cemetery, a teacher can go to the grave of John Hawkins, which sits separate from those of White men and women who passed on to the hereafter. She can talk to them about how to research Census data from 1870 into 1910, two years before John died, and they can learn how had a wife named Hannah, had eight children. They can learn why we know so little about his life before 1870 — because Black people enslaved weren’t considered human beings, and thus, unworthy of having their lives recorded for posterity.

They can learn how he started out being illiterate, but ended up being able to read by the 1900 Census. They will also find out that John eventually managed to own his own land. They will also learn that this was a rare thing. Because of Jim Crow segregation laws that emerged amid Reconstruction in the 1870s, most Black people were forced into sharecropping, a system of renting land, equipment and even feed from former masters that often deprived them of the ability to earn a profit.

A teacher can then travel around some of the areas in their communities where people once lived and what used to be there. The Samuel Ogle teacher can take her students to a stretch of Gallant Fox Lane (named after the Triple Crown-winning horse bred on the nearby Belair Plantation), and talk about how it was once owned by Eliza Isaac, who was one of the few women in her time to own property of her own, and about a woman named Mary Brown, who managed to do the same. Back in the classroom, children can look up the acreage on Prince George’s County’s online atlas, then compare the current land to old maps dating back to 1861, and see how the community was mostly plantations and farms.

By researching the U.S. Census slave schedule for 1860, the students can learn that Mrs. Isaac owned 1o human beings as part of her worldly goods — including three little girls aged 4, 5, and 6. Through other books, the class will learn how those little girls had only a 50 percent chance of living beyond age 15 because they were often malnourished by slaveowners, and their mothers were forced to wean them off breastfeeding so they can feed the children of those who enslaved them. The students would then learn that if those little girls made it to adulthood, they were doomed for lives in which they would be passed down by the slave master to their children or worse, sold to another slave owner as if they were common goods. And if not for the Union’s victory in the Civil War, those little girls would have never become free.

A trip to both historic places and land that has never been marked as historically significant such as this tract here can help children understand the development of American history over time.

But teachers and schools don’t even need to always go out in the field to provide children a comprehensive and personal understanding of American history. They can simply have children and youth trace their own genealogy to comprehend how the nation’s past affects their present.

During this exercise, a child may go on Ancestry or Family Search and learn about the life of an ancestor named Jacob. He will learn from the 1870 Census that he was born in Halifax County and lived in nearby Martin County. A search of Civil War records will tell him that Jacob fought for the 37th Colored Infantry, one of the first U.S. Army units that allowed Black people into the ranks, and that he likely fought in the Siege of Petersburg, one of the deadliest and most-important conflicts in the War Between the States. That child and his peers will learn in a personal way how Black men and women fought for their own freedom and for this nation even when it had no interest in making them full citizens.

Another child may research the 1860 Census and learn about an ancestor named Duncan, who was also born in North Carolina, but had arrived in Attala County, Mississippi by the 1850s. She will learn that Duncan was a White man who fought for the Confederate cause to keep Black people in bondage – and later helped enact Jim Crow laws that kept them from being full citizens for another century – even as he had 12 children with one of his slaves. Along with her schoolmates, the young woman will learn how the contorted, hypocritical situations in which more than a few White people owned their own relatives made slavery the peculiar institution. She will also gain an appreciation of how her ancestors (and even herself) benefited from institutions that oppressed enslaved Africans — including people who were also her family.

A third child may go to the passenger lists of immigrants arriving to the United States through New York City and learn about an ancestor named Francis, who arrived in this nation from Ireland during the Great Famine of 1845-to-1852. After learning about the bigoted policies that led to an economic and social catastrophe that included the deaths of one million people, he will learn how the lack of immigration laws allowed Francis and others were able to flee to safety in this country. The child will then learn how Francis and other Irish emigres were discriminated against by Protestant native-born Americans because they were Catholics — even when they volunteered and fought for the nation in the Civil War — and how bigotry towards them, as well as Chinese and Jewish emigres, led to the immigration laws and policies that deny people in situations just like that of Francis the ability to flee oppression and poverty.

Certainly there will be some who will object to such approaches to learning history. Some will say that such lessons are too harsh and traumatic for children to learn. Others will complain that it may paint a negative picture of the nation’s history. What the first group fail to understand is that children are incredibly capable of dealing with harsh knowledge about life. As for the second: The lack of honest knowledge not only contributes to their ignorance of history and civics, it even makes them unable to fully appreciate how far the nation has come (as well as how far it has to go).

What we owe to children as well as to our nation is history and civics instruction and curricula that makes the facts real and relevant to their lives. If we are to keep progressing as a nation, our education must also do better than be dusty and lifeless.

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AFT’s Bleak Future

As this morning’s Teachers Union Money Report shows, the American Federation of Teachers knows how to spend well. Especially on its leaders and staff. Whether or not it will be…

As this morning’s Teachers Union Money Report shows, the American Federation of Teachers knows how to spend well. Especially on its leaders and staff.

Whether or not it will be able to do so is a different story.

Some 236 staffers were paid six-figure sums in 2016-2017, according to the union’s latest disclosure to the U.S. Department of Labor. That is 14 more than in the previous fiscal year. That well-paid group includes Michelle Ringuette, the former Service Employees International Union staffer who is chief political aide to President Rhonda (Randi) Weingarten; she was paid $240,437 last fiscal year. Michael Powell, who is Weingarten’s mouthpiece, picked up $252,702 from the union.

Kombiz Lavasany, an AFT operative who oversees Weingarten’s money manager enemies’ list, earned $177,872 in 2016-2017. Kristor Cowan, who handles the union’s lobbying, collected $189,808 last fiscal year. Then there is Leo Casey, the vile propagandist who currently runs the union’s Albert Shanker Institute; he was paid $232,813 in 2016-2017 for doing, well, whatever Leo does these days that doesn’t include accusing reformers of committing “blood libel“.

Of course, the leaders are well-paid. Weingarten was paid $492,563 in 2016-2017, just a slight decrease over the previous year. She still remains among the nation’s top five percent of wage earners, and thus, an elite. Her number two, Mary Cathryn Ricker, was paid $337,434 last fiscal year (an 8.3 percent increase over the previous period), while Secretary-Treasurer Loretta Jonson was paid $392,530 in 2016-2017, a 9.6 percent increase over the past period. Altogether, AFT’s top three took home $1.2 million last fiscal year, virtually unchanged from the same time in 2015-2016.

The current occupant of the White House’s appointment of Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court dooms the financial and political future of AFT — and even has risks for some players in the school reform movement.

The additional salaries and bodies explain why AFT’s union administration costs increased by 17.8 percent (to $10.2 million) over 2015-2016, while general overhead costs increased by 14 percent (to $42 million). The union still managed to keep benefits costs from increasing. It spent just $10.4 million in 2016-2017, barely unchanged from the previous period; that can be credited in part to the fact that, unlike the districts its rank-and-file work in, AFT doesn’t provide defined-benefit pensions and only gives its workers defined-contribution plans that the union can avoid contributing to during times of financial stress.

It takes a lot of money to keep Weingarten and her team on board. Of course, they can thank compulsory dues laws that force even teachers who don’t want to be part of AFT. But those dollars are on the decline.

The union collected just $177 million in dues and agency fees in 2016-2017, a 7.9 percent decline from the previous year. This is despite the fact that the union’s full-time rank-and-file increased by 5.2 percent (to 710,865 from 675,902) over the previous period, reversing a three-year decline. One reason for the decline: A 12 percent decline in the number of one-quarter rank-and-file (to 81,191 from 93,047), a group that includes nurses and government employees represented by the AFT’s non-teachers’ union affiliates, and a 29.2 percent decrease in one-eighth rank-and-filers (to 24,180 from 34,104).

Another factor lies in the move last year by United Teachers Los Angeles to jointly affiliate with the National Education Association. That move contributed to a 23 percent increase in the number of AFT rank-and-filers in affiliates also tied to NEA and other rival national unions (to 158,225 from 128,221). With more states attempting to end compulsory dues laws, a possible U.S. Supreme Court law striking them down altogether, and a desire by state and local affiliates to wield more influence in education policy at all levels, expect more AFT affiliates (and even some NEA affiliates) to also align themselves with other national unions.

Overall, AFT generated revenue (including debt borrowings) of $332 million in 2016-2017, a 1.2 percent increase over the previous year. This included $88.2 million it borrowed during the year to shore up operations (of which $68 million was repaid by the end of the fiscal period); that’s 59 percent more than the amount the union borrowed in 2015-2016. Excluding the borrowing, AFT’s revenue for 2016-2017 was $244 million, virtually unchanged from the previous year.

But as today’s report notes, AFT faces trouble in the next year. If the U.S. Supreme Court strikes down compulsory dues laws as expected in Janus v. AFSCME, the union and its affiliates will lose big. The union has already seen its affiliate in Wisconsin attempt a merger with NEA’s Wisconsin Education Association Council after losing half of its rank-and-file since the state abolished its compulsory dues law six years ago. [The merger was aborted because of the difficulty of merging dues structures.]

While AFT’s presence in Democrat-dominated states could help it stem rank-and-file losses, the reality is that it will likely lose at least 25 percent of its membership. This means a likely loss of $44 million (based on 2016-2017’s dues collections), and less revenue that it can use for influence-buying, political campaign activities, and lobbying. Not even AFT’s stalled strategy of expanding its presence into nursing and healthcare would have offset those losses,  especially since the Supreme Court ruling will also apply to public employees working at hospitals and health centers.

Those possible revenue and influence losses is one reason why AFT, along with other NEA and other public-sector unions, spent so furiously last year to support Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. If she had one, it was likely that either she would get to appoint a Supreme Court justice more-amenable to their cause, or, given congressional Republican opposition to Obama’s efforts to select a replacement for Antonin Scalia, would have kept the court split equally between conservative and more-progressive justices.

But with Trump in the White House and his appointee to the high court, Neil Gorsuch, confirmed and in the job for life, AFT and its affiliates now needs a new strategy for actually attracting members. This will be difficult.

Because AFT hasn’t had to actually win bodies since the 1960s, it lacks the strong organizing infrastructure that has made SEIU a major force in both the public and private sectors. The fact that the union has seen a 15 percent year-to-year decline in associate members (who are members of the national union) means that there is also little appetite for its presence, especially since, unlike state and local affiliates, it doesn’t have the means to help associate members out when they have workplace disputes.

While the state affiliates are strong in lobbying legislatures, they, along with AFT National, play little role in addressing the day-to-day concerns of classroom teachers; that’s what locals such as UTLA, Chicago Teachers Union, and United Federation of Teachers in New York City do. That the big locals also tend to be major players at the state levels, dominate the operations of the affiliates, and, in the case, of UFT, virtually controls the virtually-insolvent state affiliate, means that they have little need for either the state operations or national. Even without a Supreme Court ruling, you can expect the local affiliates to develop new structures that bypass AFT and allow them to try new approaches to education policymaking and organizing.

Reformers can’t exactly celebrate, either. A dirty secret of centrist Democrat and civil rights-oriented reformers is that they are as dependent as AFT on compulsory dues. This is because AFT and other public sector unions are the biggest financiers of the Democratic National Committee operations (as well as those of state parties), and also give plenty to reform-minded groups for their activities outside of education. Center for American Progress, Leadership Council on Civil and Human Rights, and UNIDOS are among the reform-minded outfits who will also take a hit if the Janus ruling goes against AFT and its fellow public-sector unions.

You can imagine Weingarten and her staffers shudder at the prospect of a future without compulsory dues. What they will do to preserve traditionalist influence (and keep their jobs) will be fascinating to watch.

Dropout Nation will provide additional analysis of the AFT’s financial filing later this week. You can check out the data yourself by checking out the HTML and PDF versions of the AFT’s latest financial report, or by visiting the Department of Labor’s Web site. Also check out Dropout Nation‘s Teachers Union Money Report, for this and previous reports on AFT and NEA spending.

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AFT’s $44 Million Spend

The American Federation of Teachers just filed its 2016-2017 financial disclosure to the U.S. Department of Labor. Once again, it has spent big on preserving its influence over education policymaking….

The American Federation of Teachers just filed its 2016-2017 financial disclosure to the U.S. Department of Labor. Once again, it has spent big on preserving its influence over education policymaking. Whether or not the spending will help in the Trump era — or if it will have the money down the road — is a different question.

The nation’s second-largest teachers’ union spent $44.1 million in 2016-2017 on political lobbying activities and contributions to what should be like-minded groups. This is a 29.6 percent increase over the same period a year ago. This, by the way, doesn’t include politically-driven spending that can often find its way under so-called “representational activities”.

As you would expect, AFT gave big to the nonprofits controlled by Hillary and Bill Clinton — including their eponymous foundation and the now-shuttered Clinton Global Initiative — collected $400,000 from the union in 2016-2017; this includes $250,000 directly to the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation and $150,000 to the Global Initiative, which was shut down during the former Secretary of State’s unsuccessful presidential bid. Altogether, AFT gave $2.2 million to the Clinton-controlled groups over the past five years.

As Dropout Nation detailed over the last two years, the AFT worked assiduously to win over the Clinton machine in order to assure that it had influence over federal education policy if she won the White House. Besides the donations to the Clinton foundations as well as direct campaign spending, AFT had key supporters (including Democratic National Committee member Hartina Flournoy, a former union apparatchik, as well as Clinton campaign education adviser Ann O’Leary ) positioned to support its efforts.

As part of its effort to buy influence with the Clintons, AFT spent $10,000 with now-former acting DNC Chair Donna Brazile’s eponymous firm, a 90 percent decline over levels in 2015-2016. Oddly enough, it gave no money to Democrats for Public Education, the astroturf group that was attempting to replicate the efforts of the reform-oriented Democrats for Education Reform. Meanwhile AFT gave $175,000 to Center for American Progress, the ostensibly reform-oriented outfit founded by former Clinton Administration honcho (and Hillary’s campaign chairman), John Podesta; his communications with Weingarten (as well as with other key players) were leaked last year by Wikileaks.

Meanwhile AFT spent big on political campaigns on the national level. It poured $2.5 million into its Solidarity 527; those dollars, along with the $10.3 million spent by its main political action committee, worked hard to support Hillary and other unsuccessful Democrat candidates. AFT Solidarity, in particular, spent $843,614 against Florida U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio on behalf of Democrat rival Patrick Murphy, and spent another $328,590 against Ohio Sen. Rob Portman on behalf of former Gov. Ted Strickland, who co-chairs Democrats for Public Education on the union’s behalf.

AFT also gave $190,000 to Immigrant Voters Win, a PAC that was part of the Families Fight Back campaign organized by supporters of expansive immigration reform. The union also gave $345,000 to the Democrat-supporting House Majority PAC and poured $110,000 into the America Votes super-PAC.

AFT bet big on Hillary Clinton (right with John Podesta and Neera Tanden of Center for American Progress) — and lost even bigger.

None of the AFT’s spending helped either its cause, or that of Hillary and her fellow Democrats. The election of Donald Trump to the White House not only endangers the futures of poor and minority children, it also assures that neither AFT nor rival school reformers (including centrist Democrat s who supported Clinton), will have a voice in the executive branch. Trump’s appointment of school choice activist Elizabeth Prince (Betsy) DeVos hasn’t done much for conservative reformers and hardcore school choice activists. But it also denies AFT a role in policymaking at L’Enfant Plaza.

Matters may get even worse next year, thanks to the March’s confirmation of Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court. If the federal high court likely to strike down compulsory dues with a ruling in Janus v. AFSCME, which is likely based on Justice Samuel Alito’s majority opinion three years ago in Harris v. Quinn, the AFT could lose at least 25 percent of its rank-and-file, leading to a major hit to its coffers as well as its ability to wield influence. Questions about Gorsuch’s conflict of interest on this matter (including giving a speech last week to a group that is involved in the lawsuit) may end up forcing him to recuse. But if it doesn’t, AFT, along with NEA, face a bleak political and financial future.

But until that ruling happens (if it does), AFT is spending big. Center for Popular Democracy and its action fund, which has done the union’s business by publishing reports aimed at stopping the expansion of public charter schools, collected $210,000 from the union in 2016-2017, about a third less than it received in the previous year. The fact that AFT President Rhonda (Randi) Weingarten no longer sits on its board is likely a factor in the lower levels of support.

Another big group of recipients is the NAACP and several of its affiliates. The old-school civil rights group itself received $90,000 from the union in 2016-2017, while chapters in Florida, New York and North Carolina collected another $65,000. Altogether, AFT financed NAACP to the tune of $155,000; of course, this doesn’t include the help NAACP receives from the union through payroll deductions from union dues that go towards paying membership fees.

Leah Daughtry now gets more money from the union than either Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton.

AFT’s has gotten plenty for its chicken wing money. NAACP has pushed hard to halt the expansion of charter schools, presenting its arguments at events such as the annual education policy ‘braintrust’ hosted by another AFT beneficiary, the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation.  NAACP’s message is incoherent, often incorrect, and on education policy matters, irrelevant. But thanks to school reformers, who haven’t yet figured out that the outfit can be ignored, NAACP’s effort has gotten national attention, for which AFT is most-grateful.

AFT gave $60,000 to Democracy Alliance, the secretive progressive campaign collaborative to which it (along with National Education Association) belongs. That is unchanged from 2015-2016. Receiving even more money from the union is State Innovation Exchange, which aims to duplicate for progressives and Democrat state legislators the kind of legislative writing work done by American Legislative Exchange Council on behalf of Republican and conservative counterparts. SIX picked up $115,000 from the union in 2016-2017, double what it received in the previous year.

As for co-opting progressive groups? AFT handed $25,000 to Netroots Nation in 2016-2017, unchanged from the previous year, while it gave another $10,000 to Demos, the progressive think tank. The union also gave $60,000 to Gamaliel Foundation, whose efforts to fund supposedly grassroots progressive outfits are also funded by the union’s reliable vassal, Schott Foundation for Public Education; that is also unchanged. Speaking of Schott: AFT gave it $85,000, an 13.3 percent increase from 2015-2016; apparently, its efforts on behalf of the union and other traditionalists at the expense of Black children is making the union happy.

AFT gave $200,000 to Sixteen Thirty Fund, the outfit run by former Clinton Administration player Eric Kessler’s Arabella Advisors in 2016-2017; the group has also collected cash from NEA. It also gave $20,000 to Center for Media and Democracy, the parent of PR Watch (a 28.6 percent decrease). It also gave $60,000 to the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, which is also well-funded by the union’s Chicago affiliate; $50,000 to the Tides Foundation’s Advocacy Fund; and $10,000 to UnKoch My Campus, which is targeting the array of libertarian student and academic training outfits funded by natural resources billionaires (and Soros-like bogeymen for progressive groups) Charles and David Koch. United Students Against Sweatshops, which has helped AFT in its battle with Teach for America, picked up $10,000 in 2016-2017.   To reach youth, AFT also gave $31,500 to Community Labor United’s  Boston Youth Organizing Project.

Meanwhile AFT attempted to further inroads with Black and other minority outfits.

The union gave $80,000 to the aforementioned Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, allowing it to rub shoulders with the likes of House Education and the Workforce Committee Ranking Democrat Bobby Scott (who has already collected a $5,000 donation from the union to his re-election campaign), as well as buy prominent speaking spots for its leaders (including Weingarten’s number two, Mary Cathryn Ricker, who spoke on her behalf) at CBC’s annual conference. The union gave another $25,000 to CBC’s Political Education and Leadership Institute, giving it even more access to future Black leaders. It also gave $35,000 to the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute as a way to win over Latino congressional leaders.

AFT also gave $10,000 to Rev. Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow PUSH Coalition, $5,000 to Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network, $10,000 to the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, $12,500 to National Black Caucus of State Legislators, $15,000 to National Association of Black Journalists, $15,000 to Higher Heights Leadership Fund (which is tied to Women’s March organizer Tamika Mallory) and $25,000 to National Alliance of Black School Educators. The biggest single recipient of AFT’s largesse not named Schott: Rev. Leah Daughtry, who presided over last year’s Democratic National Convention; she collected $165,000 from the union in 2016-2017, getting a lot of teachers’ money.

At the same time, AFT gave to a variety of Latino organizations. This included $15,000 to UNIDOS, the former National Council of La Raza that changed its name earlier this year; $7,500 to the school reform-oriented MALDEF; $10,000 to National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators; $5,000 to National Board of Hispanic Caucus Chairs; $10,000 to U.S. Hispanic Leadership Institute; $16,667 to Hispanic Federation; $5,000 to Hispanic Heritage Foundation; $5,000 to the foundation named after labor leader Miguel Contreras, and $6,500 to Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities. To build support among immigrant communities now endangered by the Trump regime, AFT has given more money to outfits working on their behalf. This includes $5,000 each to National Immigration Forum, National Immigration Law Center, and Black Alliance for Just Immigration.

AFT continues its efforts to co-opt the Atlantic Monthly. It gave $1.2 million* to the magazine in 2016-2017, double the previous year.  You have to wonder if Weingarten and her mandarins are kicking themselves for not offering to buy a stake in the Atlantic, which will soon be controlled by Laurene Powell Jobs’ reform-minded Emerson Collective, which has become a landing spot for U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and his former honcho on civil rights enforcement, Russlyn Ali.

As for the usual suspects? AFT gave $250,000 in 2016-2017 to Economic Policy Institute, whose policy solutions almost always resemble those of the union; that is unchanged from the previous year. The union also gave $25,000 to the American Prospect, which garnered notice back in August when it ran an interview of now-former Trump aide Steve Bannon by Robert Kuttner (who also cofounded Economic Policy); that is two-thirds less than what the union gave it a year ago. AFT also gave $75,000 through the University of Colorado Foundation to Kevin Welner’s National Education Policy Center, a 67 percent increase over 2015-2016; poured $10,000 to Committee for Education Funding (a 43 percent decrease over 2015-2016); and gave $50,000 to Alliance for Quality Education (unchanged from last year). As a reminder of the AFT’s unwillingness to support efforts to elevate the teaching profession it supposedly defends, the union gave $71,410 to Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation, a key player in vetting the nation’s university schools of education.

Dropout Nation will provide additional analysis of the AFT’s financial filing later today. You can check out the data yourself by checking out the HTML and PDF versions of the AFT’s latest financial report, or by visiting the Department of Labor’s Web site. Also check out Dropout Nation‘s Teachers Union Money Report, for this and previous reports on AFT and NEA spending.


*Dropout Nation originally reported that AFT gave the Atlantic Monthly $900,000 in 2016-2017. But thanks to a reader, another spend with the magazine increases that number to $1.2 million.

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