It is just that simple: The better-educated a person is — and the more education they get, the more likely they will avoid economic and social despair. The rewards flow into the communities in which they live, with higher levels of home ownership, entrepreneurial activities, and civic activities that lead to high quality of life that benefits everyone. Yet traditionalists and even some reformers continue to argue the Poverty Myth of Education, claiming that schools cannot provide high-quality education foe the poorest children until we address conditions in communities through oft-ineffective anti-poverty programs.
In this Best of Dropout Nation from August 2012, Editor RiShawn Biddle explains why transforming American public education is critical to stemming the conditions of poverty that filing and mediocre districts help perpetuate. Read, consider, and take action.
Last week, Dropout Nation contributor Matt Barnum noted the penchant of education traditionalists to advance the Poverty Myth of Education through faulty statistics and exaggerated claims that school reformers don’t offer thoughtful ideas on how to help families emerge from being economically poor. These two issues have come up once again, this time, in a “dialogue” between Education Week columnist Anthony Cody and Chris Williams of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation on systemic reform.
Cody took a shot at advancing poverty mythmaking last week when he proclaimed in one of his responses that Gates and other reformers were ignoring “the effects of poverty and racial isolation” on how children perform in school and ultimately, their paths in life upon adulthood. By focusing on improving teacher quality and other reforms instead of attempting to “hold society accountable” for impoverished conditions, school reformers fail to tackle ”the conditions in which [students] live”. Instead of transforming schools, Cody would rather embrace so-called Broader Bolder approaches featuring anti-poverty programs for which education traditionalists unsuccessfully advocated a few years ago (as well as increasing school funding, and support the expansion of public- and private-sector unions). He latter declares that Gates failed to address his points in its counterpoint.
As with so many traditionalists, Cody would rather ignore the fact that reformers actually do talk plenty about addressing poverty, just not in the manner that fits his impoverished worldview on the role education plays in addressing those issues. He also ignores the reality that the education spending has continued to increase for the past five decades, and that much of the troubles with American public education has little do with money than with the fact that so much school funding is trapped by practices such as degree- and seniority-based pay scales for teachers that have no correlation with improving student achievement. But those are matters for a later day. Why? Because Cody’s puts on full displays the problems of the poverty mythmaking in which he and other traditionalists engage.
Through citing a piece from Harvard University’s Center on the Developing Child, Cody attempts to use data from the infamous study on child vocabulary development written by Betty Hart and Todd Risley. But as Boston College professor Curt Dudly-Marling (no fan of the school reform movement) has noted in his own work, the Hart-Risley study is based on a comparison of six poor black families in Kansas City and 13 middle-class households, plagued by “serious limitations in their methodology and analysis”, and essentially plays into stereotypes held by traditionalists that poor families are incapable of helping their kids learn. Simply put, Cody is basing his argument in part on shoddy data and desultory thinking. This shouldn’t be shocking. The use of Hart and Risley’s crap study (along with the even more abysmal pedagogy offered up by Ruby Payne) is typical among traditionalists looking for go-to sources to base their faulty argument.
In citing the impact of crime and violence on children in poverty, Cody fails to consider how dropout factories and failure mills (along with the lack of focus by city officials on addressing quality-of-life issues) feed into crime-ridden conditions. The most-critical area schools struggle is in providing literacy instruction and curricula, especially in identifying and helping struggling students in the early grades. This has tremendous consequences for kids. As Deborah Stipek and Sarah Miles of Stanford University determined in a 2006 study of children from low-income households, third-grade reading performance is strongly associated with social skills — and those third graders struggling with reading tend to struggle with school discipline issues two years later. This is one reason why young black men who are high-school dropouts had a two-to-one risk of landing in prison by age 34, according to Princeton University researcher Bruce Western and Becky Pettit of the University of Washington in their 2004 study — and why high school dropouts made up 40 percent of all first-time inmates in state prisons in 1999 (and even higher when one adds former dropouts who attained General Education Development certificates).
Cody also attempts to recycle one of his earlier arguments: That teachers are not the most-important factor in student achievement. He bases this argument on the generally held assertion (originating from the famed Coleman study) that schools only account for 40 percent of student achievement — and that teachers account for half the impact. But Cody fails to admit is that many researchers think that the percentage may actually be understated and that the role of both schools and teachers on student achievement is even greater than can be quantified. Spyros Konstantopoulos of Northwestern University pointed out in his 2005 meta-analysis that teacher quality may have a much-larger impact on student achievement in areas such as mathematics and science, largely because those are subjects more-likely to be learned by students in school than at home. Another study, co-written in 1998 byValue-Added godfather Eric Hanushek, John F. Kain and Stephen Rivkin, noted that the impact of teachers on achievement could easily be underestimated largely because of grade variation in teacher quality, errors that may be inherent in the tests used at the time, and the problems of using lower-bound estimates. Given the growing evidence that low-performing students with three consecutive high-quality teachers will make gains in achievement, Cody can’t just wish away the importance of high-quality teaching (or excuse laggards who perpetuate educational malpractice on poor kids).
Then Cody makes the rather simplistic statement that family income levels have a tendency to correlate with student achievement. As Dropout Nation Contributing Editor (and research czar for the Schott Foundation for Public Education) Michael Holzman has noted, simply pointing to this tendency tells little about why, and more importantly, ignores the reality that there are schools and entire states where poor kids are achieving at the same levels as middle-class peers. More importantly, by simply arguing that poverty is destiny, Cody ignores the reality that the real problem of poverty lies with Zip Code Education policies such as zoned schooling, and outdated practices and racialist concepts such as ability-tracking, which deny poor families (along with peers from minority backgrounds) opportunities to provide their kids with high-quality instruction, curricula and school cultures of genius.
But the biggest problem with Cody’s piece lies with its rather unjustified contention that anti-poverty programs are the long-term solutions for fighting poverty. One only needs to look at the history of government-run anti-poverty efforts, and pay attention to today’s knowledge-based economy, to understand why this version of the Poverty Myth of Education has no standing.
Starting with the Great Society programs of the 1960s, America has spent five decades pouring billions into anti-poverty efforts. If one goes back to the construction of housing projects such as Chicago’s Cabrini Green during the New Deal era, and the mother’s pensions of the Progressive Era of the first two decades of the last century, these efforts have been around for a century. Yet they have largely been failures. For example, data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that the greatest decline in poverty came between 1959 (when the federal government began keeping such statistics) and 1966, just when Great Society programs were being implemented. This decline in poverty had almost nothing to do with anti-poverty programs than with the strong economic growth that came after the end of World War II, when the United States was the world’s manufacturing center (and before Japan and Germany emerged from respective economic collapse), an unusual period in which high school dropouts could obtain high-skilled middle-class employment. After 1966, poverty rates has bounced around between 11 percent and 15 percent, waxing and waning with economic growth and recession.
If anything, many of the anti-poverty programs (including welfare) has helped foster what Leon Dash would call the pestilences of gang warfare, drug dealing and unwed motherhood that have plagued Black America and Latino communities. Federal welfare rules barring married women from receiving benefits, for example, is one reason why marriage among poor blacks has gone from being the norm to being extraordinarily rare since the 1950s — and why 70 percent of black children are born out of wedlock.
The reason why most of these anti-poverty programs haven’t worked goes back to this reality: Short-term anti-poverty efforts ameliorate the problems, but don’t stem those issues for the long haul. After all the food stamps, the Section 8 housing, the SSIC payments, and the WIC checks, the families still remain poor. The fact that these families must deal with condescension toward from bureaucrats who dole out the benefits, along with the traditional emphasis of these programs on simply handing out dollars without any sweat equity (thus denying recipients their dignity), the corruption of politicians (who tend to use welfare programs as add-ons to their political machines), and the general inability of government to deal with the complexity of family and social issues (including the issues that end up landing in juvenile courtrooms), and one can see how anti-poverty programs are doomed to long-term failure.
Anti-poverty programs don’t address the penchant of floundering cities to ignore educational and other quality-of-life issue — and focus on doling out tax breaks to developers and propping up local bureaucracies that do little to improve life for the poor families (and dwindling number of middle class counterparts) within the city limits. This is particularly the case with Cody’s hometown of Oakland. Save for onetime Oakland mayor (and current California governor) Jerry Brown’s efforts to launch charter schools, city executives have done little to address either education or quality-of-life issues. Its soon-to-be shuttered redevelopment agency, which siphoned off dollars to the local school district, didn’t even help do much to boost quality of life; just 12 percent of the redevelopment agency’s income of $28.7 million actually went to police (and almost all of it likely to those taxpayers in the redevelopment zone). Little wonder why Oakland’s violent crime rate declined by just 13 percent (from 1,851.2 per 100,000 to 1,603.9 per 100,000) between 1985 and 2010; this compares poorly to counterparts that put more energy into addressing educational and quality of life issues such as Washington D.C. ( a 24 percent decline), and New York City (which saw its violent crime rate decline by 68 percent).
Meanwhile anti-poverty programs don’t address the real issues of low educational attainment that is at the heart of the economic segregation that perpetuates poverty. In an age in which what you know is more important than what you can do with your hands, high school dropouts and others who have been given low-quality education are going to be left behind economically and socially. Anti-poverty programs can help alleviate a 15 percent unemployment rate for high school dropouts age 25-and-older, but it won’t get them back into the economic and social mainstream. Education equals empowerment, and a high-quality education is what the children of these dropouts need in order to move out of poverty for the long haul.
There have been three truly successful anti-poverty efforts of the past seven decades: The federal school lunch program; the welfare reform efforts that began with the work of Wisconsin governor (and now U.S. Senate candidate) Tommy Thompson in the late 1980s (and are now being being undone by President Barack Obama in another one of his less-thoughtful efforts; and the expansion of earned income tax credit programs both at the federal and state levels. All three have worked because they are also tied to the most-important solutions to stemming poverty: Education, jobs and empowerment. Amazing things happen when kids get the nourishment they need to concentrate on learning, mothers and fathers can get job training they need to get off welfare rolls and into decent-paying jobs, and families get additional cash alongside what they earn from work to lift themselves above the poverty line.
The reality is simple: Overhauling American public education is critical to fighting poverty for the long haul. Revamping how the nation’s ed schools recruit and train aspiring teachers, for example, would help all children get the high-quality instruction that is the most-important in-school factor in student achievement. Just as importantly, reforming education can even help address the immediate problems that stem from poverty. After-school programs and extensions of the school day (and year) — the latter of which is a hallmark of the Knowledge Is Power Program and other successful schools and systems — can help poor families address child care issues by providing healthy, crime free, and nurturing environments in which kids can continue learning. Expanding high-quality school choices, including charter schools and school voucher programs, can help revive communities by bringing schools into communities that can appeal to both the poor and middle class. And Parent Trigger laws can empower poor families to take over and lead the overhaul of failure mills in their own communities (and help them take the next step of taking on other challenges in their own neighborhoods).
These reforms would especially help poor black, white and Latino men, whose underemployment and imprisonment are among the biggest contributors to economic and social poverty. Remember, the average annual income for male high school dropouts declined by 27 percent between 1973 and 2009, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. When men don’t work, they cannot support families or be productive, active players in their communities. As seen with the 25 percent of male high school dropouts aged 35-to-54 who have never married, they are also less-likely to help build the strong two-parent households needed to help kids get into the middle class.
This isn’t to say that there isn’t a need to ameliorate the immediate effects of economic poverty. This is why the earned income tax credit is one of the best anti-poverty tools that exist. It is also the reason why city governments must focus on fixing the broken windows in and other quality of life issues that make life harder for all families, especially the very poor. And there are some issues that neither schools nor government programs can adequately address. It will take a village to end rampant unwed motherhood and emphasis the importance of marriage and building strong families.
But anti-poverty programs and quality-of-life efforts aren’t going to address the reality that 1.4 million fourth-graders who are functionally illiterate are likely to drop out in eight years. More importantly, we cannot ignore the consequences of American public education’s failures on the very communities at which its schools are the center of the lives of the children who live in them. This can only be addressed by overhauling how educate all children — especially our poorest. They deserve better than last-class schools.
Over the past two years, President Barack Obama’s effort to eviscerate the No Child Left Behind Act and its strong accountability measures has proven to be as counterproductive an effort as Dropout Nation predicted it would be. From revelations of the sloppy policymaking process by which waivers were granted to 38 states and the District of Columbia, Canada to the approval of Plessy v. Ferguson-like proficiency targets that subject poor and minority kids to the soft bigotry of low expectations, to the negative impact of the waivers on other reforms such as the implementation of Common Core reading and math standards, the Obama Administration’s waiver gambit has wrought consequences that centrist Democrats and other reformers are only beginning to recognize.
In this Best of Dropout Nationfrom September 2011, Editor RiShawn Biddle explains why the Obama Administration should have never engaged in this scheme in the first place. Sadly, the administration didn’t listen to good counsel then — and continues on a policymaking path that is already undoing the good its other efforts (including Race to the Top) have done.
As your editor expected, the waivers from the No Child Left Behind Act being pushed by President Barack Obama and his education secretary, Arne Duncan, aren’t worth the paper upon which they are written.
Under the Obama plan, states will be allowed to evade the aspirational 100 percent proficiency provision with a vague set of “ambitious but achievable goals” and an equally amorphous requirement that states must put “college and career-ready” curriculum standards in place. Many surmise the latter means implementing Common Core standards in reading and math — something that 45 states have done so far. But Duncan has had to avoid making such a public statement means in order to avoid the full wrath of congressional Republicans and some reformers who essentially declare that doing so oversteps the Department of Education’s authority. As a result, a state can probably come up with some mishmash, call it college- and career-ready, and easily get it past federal officials.
The rest of the proposed waiver standards, as being unveiled today by the administration, simply point to a full retreat on accountability. States will be able to allow all but 15 percent of the nation’s schools receiving Title 1 funds (including the 5,000 dropout factories and failure mills) to fully avoid accountability. Certainly, the administration wants states to focus on schools that either have “low graduation rates, large achievement gaps, or low student subgroup performance” to be subjected to scrutiny. But there’s no way that the administration can mandate this without reducing the flexibility it argues that the waivers will give. So the merely poor-performing schools — including suburban districts that are failing to properly educate poor and minority kids — will largely be left alone.
Essentially, Obama’s waiver plan amounts to the gutting of accountability. Like the plan offered up last week by Senate Republicans, the waivers don’t address the need to overhaul ed schools, who train most of the nation’s new teachers, or push for the development of alternative teacher training programs outside of university confines. The waiver plan doesn’t address the crisis of low educational achievement among young men of all backgrounds, one of the leading symptoms of the education crisis. As Richard Whitmire and I proposed in June, simply requiring gender to be measured as part of subgroup accountability would do plenty to force states and districts into dealing seriously with this problem. The waivers may allow for the possibility of states targeting gender for subgroup accountability (and thus, addressing the crisis of low educational attainment among young men of all socioeconomic and racial backgrounds) on their own. But the conditions under which the waivers are being granted don’t require states to take on any additional accounting for the performance of young men or other children whose academic failures are the result of the education crisis.
The waivers don’t require states to set a plain, simple measure of chronic truancy — an early warning indicator of academic failure — that would give teachers and principals honest data that they can then use in keeping kids in school. Right now, only two states — California and Indiana — offer some sort of breakdown of chronic truancy data, and that’s not good enough. As for school choice and Parent Power? Not even a consideration.
The waivers, in short, aren’t worth anything when it comes to spurring systemic reform. The Obama plan is a step back, only slightly better than what congressional Republicans and their Senate counterparts are offering.
As Dropout Nation pointed out at the time of Duncan’s announcement in June, this move has weakened the administration’s hand without moving forward its reform agenda. With the waivers, Duncan will give the NEA, the AFT, suburban districts, and congressional Republicans what they really want — gutting accountability — without having to actually do the job themselves. They won’t have to face a full public debate over what this step would mean for addressing the nation’s education crisis and the consequences of laying out their positions in full view. Duncan’s move also allows them to argue that the Obama administration has already ditched accountability while also declaring that the college- and career-ready standards it wants states to put into place in exchange for “flexibility” is unconstitutional because it steps on congressional authority. And for reform-minded governors who have wielded No Child effectively (along with Race to the Top) to push through their own reforms? They are on their own.
In the process, Obama won’t gain traction for the rest of his school reform agenda. Congressional Republicans will not only use this move to bolster their efforts to keep control of the House, they will also refuse to pass any other reform measure Obama offers up. The gutting of AYP is largely unpopular among centrist and liberal Democrat allies such as the Education Trust and congressional Democrat education point man George Miller, as well as by Republicans such as No Child mastermind Sandy Kress and Margaret Spellings, Duncan’s predecessor as Secretary of Education. It is reviled among conservative reformers such as Rick Hess and the Thomas B. Fordham Institute — which, by the way, want to gut No Child themselves, but want to put their stamp on it. Supporters and foes of Common Core standards, who still believe that Obama will tacitly require states to embrace those standards in exchange for receiving waivers, are also dismayed by the waiver effort; particularly among conservative supporters of Common Core, they can no longer dodge accusations that the standards will lead to the creation of national curricula. (Whether or not that is a bad thing, given the low quality of curricula and standards throughout the nation, is a whole different matter entirely.)
This doesn’t bold well for Obama’s re-election prospects. After all, education reform was one of the few issues on which he had bipartisan support. While the president can point to some real successes, those achievements are muffled by a weakening of school reform efforts and ultimately, a set of decisions that have essentially declared to black and Latino constituencies concerned with reforming education that their children are not worthy of concern.
And let’s be clear: Despite what Obama and Duncan may declare, the decision to gut AYP essentially declares that federal education policy is no longer concerned with improving education for the very poor and minority children, be they black, white, Latino or Asian, who were poorly served by America’s traditional public schools before No Child’s passage a decade ago.
No Child has been the single-biggest advance in education policy, both at the federal level and among states and local governments, since the Defense Education Act of 1958. For the first time in the history of American public education, schools were forced to set clear goals for improving student achievement in reading and mathematics; it finally focused attention on using data in measuring teacher quality; it made it clear to suburban districts that they could no longer continue to commit educational malpractice against poor and minority children; and it focused American public education on achieving measurable results instead of damning kids to low expectations. Through AYP, the low quality of education across the nation’s public schools — including urban districts and in suburbia — was exposed while it gave researchers the impetus to look at the nation’s high school graduation rates (and present in clear, stark terms the high school dropout crisis). Without No Child, there is no Race to the Top, no teacher quality reform movement, no discussion about value-added assessment and no real national focus on stemming achievement gaps.
And now, there is no real focus at the federal level on improving education for all children, including our poorest children and those from minority communities. Certainly, reformers may be able to keep pressing in states and districts throughout the country. But there won’t be much in the way of federal support. Given that America is increasingly a majority-minority country, retreating on accountability isn’t the smartest decision for the nation’s future.
Let’s give Obama and Duncan credit for Race to the Top and some of their other reform efforts, which have spurred major systemic reform over the past couple of years. But on the matter of No Child, it is clear Obama and his education secretary have failed where his predecessor, George W. Bush (and his education point people) certainly and laudably succeeded.
High-quality data on state, district, school and even teacher performance is critical for families so they can be lead decisionmakers in education for our children. This is especially true when one considers that the quality of education children are provided can vary from classroom, and not just from school to school. But there are still those — including some reformers — who argue that teacher performance data should not be publicly available. This is unacceptable.
In this Best of Dropout Nation from 2011, Editor RiShawn Biddle explains why everyone — especially high-quality teachers and children — benefit from making teacher performance data public for families (and others) to use. Read. Consider. And take action.
When the Los Angeles Times released it value-added analysis of teacher performance data based on student test scores(and the names of the teachers whose work was analyzed) last year, some school reformers, including American Enterprise Institute scholar Rick Hess, surprisingly joined education traditionalists in opposing the effort. Why? From his perspective, there’s no reason to make such data transparent, and that the data itself is too imperfect for public dissemination. As your Dropout Nation editor showed, Hess’ arguments didn’t stand up to scrutiny.
So it wasn’t surprising when Hess and others joined common cause last week with the American Federation of Teachers’ New York City local to decry the New York State Appellate Division’s decision to allow the New York City Department of Education to release value-added data on individual teacher performance to media outlets and the public. And once again, the objections raised by Hess, other reformers who share his thinking, and education traditionalists, are off-target.
The first argument — that releasing the data serves no compelling public interest — is most-certainly off base. For taxpayers and for families who subsidize New York City’s public school system to the tune of $24 billion a year — most of it spent on teacher salaries and benefits — knowing how well teachers are performing in classrooms is certainly important. Releasing this data is essentially no different than disseminating salary data (which, as the husband of a former state government worker whose salary was exposed by the paper for which he had worked, I know how discomforting this can be). And given that school districts are government agencies accountable to taxpayers — and that New York State law doesn’t ban such release of data (and shouldn’t) — the decision by the Appellate Division is the right one.
For families, there is certainly a compelling interest for knowing the individual success of teachers in improving student performance. After all, they are finally learning what has been emerging as fact for some time: That the quality of a child’s education can vary from classroom to classroom. Even in the best-performing schools, traditional, charter or private, there are high-quality teachers working across the way from those who need help improving their instruction, and those who don’t need to be in classrooms at all. Contrary to what Hess and other foes of releasing teacher performance data may think, empowering parents and caregivers with this information can help them in making high-quality decisions for their families — and spur them to push for much-needed teacher quality reforms that will benefit all of our children.
If anything, releasing the data addresses one of the biggest problems in American public education: The fact that school data is largely a black box, with reporting mostly geared toward compliance instead of helping parents make smart educational decisions. For most parents, the data that is most-important for them is that about the teachers who instruct their kids every given day in the school year. By releasing this data, we finally get parents into important conversations about teacher quality that need to be had — and also take the next step in helping them attain their rightful roles as lead decision-makers in education.
Then there are the benefits of releasing this data for good-to-great teachers. For far too long, high-quality teachers have gone without the proper recognition — both in higher salaries and other rewards — for their success in the classroom. They never get the full recognition (or the wide range of compensation and career opportunities) they so richly deserve. Even worse, because we don’t recognize those teachers, they are often forced by their colleagues to remain quiet about their achievements (or in the case of the John Taylor Gattos and Jaime Escalantes, forced out of the profession because of jealousy within the ranks).
Meanwhile they have had to serve alongside poor-performing teachers, who have lurked in the shadows, aided and abetted by teachers unions, administrators and colleagues who instinctively (if not quantitatively) knew better and did nothing. These teachers, who have gained near-lifetime employment (through tenure) just after three years on the job, are paid as much as $100,049 a year, and get nearly-free healthcare benefits and defined-benefit pensions, are a burden on taxpayers and colleagues alike. And because they help foster cultures of mediocrity in which only some children are considered capable of learning, they reap comfortable compensation at the expense of young boys and girls, many of whom will never enjoy the kind of middle-class salaries and strong job protections.
This isn’t to say that the data is perfect. But value-added analysis has stood up to three decades of scrutiny. As the work of Dan Goldhaber, Jonah Rockoff and others have shown, the data generally remains consistent over time. The arguments made by Hess, other reformers, and opponents of teacher quality reform against such uses are mere hogwash. The solution to the question of data quality is to improve the quality of data, not keep it from being released to the public. And to not use student test data in evaluating teachers, especially when it stands up to scrutiny, is just plain doing a disservice to families, teachers and children.
One can understand why AFT and National Education Association affiliates oppose releasing this data. After all, for them, it is the pursuit of perfection at the expense of the good of improving education for children, largely because the second goal is of secondary importance to them. As for Hess and other reformers who agree with this stance? This is a different story.
The unwillingness to support releasing such data proves one of the problems with some reformers: For all their talk of bold reform — including demanding the use of value-added teacher performance data in evaluations — they are unwilling to embrace it when the proverbial rubber meets the road. As a result, they are looked upon by other elements of the reform movement as being paper tigers, only interested in theoretical and policy discussions instead of real-world application of those ideas.
Releasing this teacher data is the right thing for everyone — and especially our children. Hess and other reformers opposed to the idea should be celebrating its release and developing ideas for improving the use of this data.
It will take every man and woman of iron and good will to continue the transformation of American public education for all of our children. This is especially true for families, clergy, community leaders and others in Black America, whose children are among the ones who end up bearing the consequences of systemic educational failure. Yet old-school civil rights leaders and organizations such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People remain adherents to traditionalist thinking (including opposition to school choice and Parent Trigger laws) that has to young black men being condemned to special ed ghettos and subjected to the overuse of suspensions and expulsions that leads them to dropping out of school — and falling into poverty and prison. And their alliances with affiliates of the National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers who are among the foremost defenders of failed practices does nothing good for black children.
In this Best of Dropout Nationfrom 2011′ Editor RiShawn Biddle calls out the NAACP’s New York City affiliate and its counterparts for essentially defending the very Zip Code Education policies that keep black families from providing their kids with high-quality education. The issues raised two years ago remain a problem today. And we have to hold civil rights groups advocating racialist policies responsible for the harm they help perpetuate against the very black children they say they want to help.
For one to call Jamaica High School in New York City a dropout factory for most of the past couple of decades is an understatement. And this is especially true for the black students who have the misfortune to attend the school located in the city’s borough of Queens. Just 19 percent of black freshmen in the school’s original Class of 2003 — a mere 115 students — were promoted to senior year four years later. This reality hasn’t changed. Only 113 black freshmen — or another 19 percent — of the students in the Class of 2009 made it to senior year.
This is also true for Paul Robeson High School in the city’s Brooklyn borough. The high school’s four-year Promoting Power rate of 31 percent for black students in the Class of 2009 is eight points lower than it was six years earlier. Meanwhile Norman Thomas High School in Manhattan– which in the days before the development of robust school data was once considered one of the more-prestigious high schools during my days attending the Big Apple’s traditional public school system — is also a danger to the educational futures of black children. Just a fifth of its black students in the Class of 2009 were promoted to senior year, just better than its bottom-of-the-barrel promoting power rate of eight percent six years ago.
This reality should be more than enough to convince the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s New York City branch to support shutting down the schools and starting anew as Mayor Michael Bloomberg plans to do. Instead, the NAACP once again proved its irrelevance in the reform of American public education by teaming up with the American Federation of Teachers’ Big Apple local to halt the shutdown of these three schools (and also oppose allowing charter schools to share space with traditional public schools in the city’s often half-empty school buildings). This effort, the second such lawsuit filed by the old-school civil rights group and the union in as many years, once again shows that when the NAACP has to choose between the interests of black children and its relationship with teachers unions, the former is almost always the loser.
As Dropout Nation has continuously pointed out, the NAACP, along with some other old-school civil rights groups, seem more determined to team up with the AFT and National Education Association — the prime defenders of the obsolete and woeful traditional public education practices that have perpetuated the nation’s dropout crisis — than support efforts to improve the educational and economic futures of the very black children about which it is supposed to be concerned. From the unsuccessful move last July by the organization, along with the National Urban League, to challenge the Obama administration’s school reform efforts, to Benjamin Todd Jealous‘ lackluster speech on education at the American Enterprise Institute four months later, the NAACP hasn’t exactly risen to the occasion at the national level (and only done so occasionally at the local level).
This year could have been different. At the national level, the NAACP has had several opportunities this year to make itself more-relevant in the discussion over the reform of American public education and actually take stands that would actually help overhaul schools and give black families the ability to seek out better options for their children. It could have embraced the kind of school choice and data quality measures that can help poor kids escape the worst American public education offers. It could have supported the passage of Parent Trigger laws that give families the ability to overhaul failure factories. And it even had resources that it could have used to move away from stale thinking courtesy of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
What it has done instead is release a report that does little more than proclaim that standardized testing is the cause of the nation’s dropout crisis in spite of evidence to the contrary, while failing to address the systemic problems — from low quality of teaching to reverse seniority layoff rules that lead to the loss of high-quality teachers with less seniority (the ones who are often staffing the schools poor black and Latino kids attend). The NAACP has continued to advocate for integration as a school reform solution in spite of evidence that it doesn’t really work. And instead of pushing for more-robust accountability measures — including those measuring teacher and principal quality — the organization continues to just spin its wheels. What the NAACP is doing in New York City is just one more example of this. Meanwhile the NAACP is neglecting conversations on education that needs to go on throughout the entire black community — including whether we should continue traditional public school districts (many of them run by black men and women) that endanger the futures of our black children.
This isn’t to say that shutting down schools is the only solution. As your editor made clear in this week’s Dropout Nation Podcast, states and school districts must provide principals with robust school data and real authority to improve their teaching staffs and develop new practices that can improve student achievement. The Bloomberg administration also needs to do a better job of informing parents about school shutdowns and including families in the discussion about overhauling and shutting down schools. The city should also embrace the Parent Trigger concept and allow parents to take control of school turnarounds, including deciding whether to shut down schools altogether or bring in a KIPP to handle the overhaul efforts.
But given the reality that school turnarounds are rarely successful, it makes no sense to continue perpetuating cultures of academic failure that continue to subject children — especially black kids — to educational neglect and malpractice. Instead of focusing on school shutdowns, the NAACP’s New York branch should join Mayor Bloomberg in pushing for the overhaul of state laws that keep low-quality teachers in classrooms. And on the national level, the NAACP should realize that it is on the wrong side — rhetorically, morally and even historically – of the school reform debate. It should join common cause with the reformers and advocate for the kind of systemic overhaul that will help all children, especially our black children, succeed in school and in life. This may mean that the association will have to offend old-school members (including teachers in its ranks). But given that the NAACP is losing a younger generation of blacks — including singers such as John Legend and activists such as Derrell Bradford — who realize the importance of systemic school reform, it is time for the organization to finally kick obsolete thinking to the curb.
But this isn’t just true for the NAACP. Yesterday, the head of the National Urban League’s New York branch, Arva Rice, devoted an entire column in the Huntington Post to complaining that efforts to weaken and abolish rules requiring collective bargaining between governments and public sector unions, arguing that such moves hurt “our youth and their children”. Nowhere does it appear that Rice considered the consequences of collective bargaining (and other state laws that keep laggard teachers in the classroom) on the quality of education in the very traditional public schools those young people are forced to attend.
It’s time for old-school civil rights groups to embrace systemic reform and join cause with the school reform movement — and stop defending practices, laws and organizations that have contributed to an education crisis that condemns millions of young black men and women to poverty and prison.
Thirty years ago, the Reagan Administration helped spur an array of systemic reforms when it released A Nation at Risk. By focusing on what was then the available data on the nation’s education crisis, the report helped lead efforts at developing state curricula standards. The report also spurred a series of new reforms that would help families start taking power in education. By 1991, Minnesota launched the first public charter schools, while Milwaukee Mayor John Norquist worked together with then-district superintendent Howard Fuller and state legislator Polly Williams to launch the nation’s first school voucher program.
Since then, the expansion of charters and vouchers have allowed millions of kids and their families to escape failure and mediocrity for brighter futures. Yet we still must do more to help our families take their rightful roles in being lead decision-makers in education. This includes passing Parent Trigger laws that allow families to expand the meaning of choice by taking control of failing schools in their own communities.
In this Best of Dropout Nation, adapted from a speech given at the Restoring Excellence in Education conference in St. Cloud, Minn., Editor RiShawn Biddle explains why families are looking to take power in education. Read, consider, and take action.
It is great to be here. And I have to especially thank the organizers, including AJ Kern, for bringing me here today. Like so many families, AJ and her husband, John, became part of the Parent Power movement the hard way: Through long and frustrating discussions and battles with those who are supposed to be school leaders who, instead, abandoned their responsibility as guardians of our children and stewards of our tax dollars.
Sadly, and also, fortunately, AJ and John – and you – are not alone. Each and every day, in Minnesota and throughout this nation, parents have woken up and realized that they must take their rightful roles as lead decision-makers in education. And what is happening as a result is absolutely amazing.
In Adelanto, Calif., parents of students attending the Desert Trails Elementary School are working to oust the traditional district that has continually mismanaged the school into systemic academic failure.
In Indiana, the families of 3,919 children are using the state’s new school choice program to escape the failure mills and dropout factories in cities such as Indianapolis, Gary, Fort Wayne, and Hammond. And in the coming school year, more will join them.
On the East Coast, the Connecticut Parents Union, are working the state capital this year to push for teacher quality reforms and other policies that will improve the quality of education for every child throughout the Nutmeg State.
And in Los Angeles, a group of parents have filed a lawsuit against the local district demanding that it finally follow state law and properly evaluate the performance of teachers, something that hasn’t been done – at the expense of the futures of thousands of L.A. kids – in four decades.
What we are seeing across this nation is amazing. Families, tired of waiting for politicians and school leaders to do right by their children, are pushing for reform. Parents are pushing to take their rightful place as the lead decision-makers in education. Moms and dads are demanding that they have the ability to choose schools that are fit for the futures of their children. And they are taking on adults who have perpetuated, aided, and abetted educational neglect and malpractice.
They realize that we must expand school choice. They realize that they must have the power to overhaul the very schools in their own neighborhoods. They realize that every parent needs information on what their kids should know. And they realize they need data on the quality of schools and teachers who have their kids in their care.
And they realize this: That we need a revolution, not an evolution, in American public education. And it cannot happen without families fighting fiercely for their children –and all of our children – no matter whom they are or where they live. Our children need Parent Power. And they need it right now.
If you truly want to understand why we need families to lead this revolution –and why Parent Power is critical to reforming our schools – I want to take you back to a time in history. To the middle of the Great Depression. And meet a young girl who would do everything she could for my mother and I to have a better life than her own. My grandmother.
Until she reached fourth grade, the quality of her education was subpar. As much as my great-grandparents loved her and did their best for her, they couldn’t help her because they could barely read themselves. But my grandma got lucky. In fourth grade, she had what we now call a high-quality teacher, who cared for her well-being, nurtured her genius and potential, and worked with her on reading and on her studies until she performed above grade level.
Thanks to this teacher, my grandma became the first person in our family to attend college. From her, came my mom and I, going places that she could only dream of.
This is not the way it should have been. But then, in my grandmother’s time, an education wasn’t important in earning a wage. For most of this last century, a mother and father could send their child to any school or to any teacher, and they would still do just fine. Regardless of the skill of the teacher or the quality of the school, you could drop out and still earn a middle-class wage.
This isn’t true anymore. Today, we know that in an increasingly global economy, education is critical to success and to survival. Whether you are an accountant or a welder, you need to be proficiently literate and have strong math and science knowledge in order to succeed.
But the bad news is that it is as haphazard for a child to get a high-quality education now as it was back when my grandmother was growing up in the Great Depression. And this is as true in the North Star State as it is throughout the rest of the nation.
Thirty percent of Minnesota’s fourth-graders – that’s three out of every 10 fourth-grade students in this state – are functionally illiterate, according to the 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress, the nation’s test of student achievement. That is 18,403 fourth-graders throughout this state. And when you can’t read, you will drop out.
The extent of this crisis extends to every part of this state. One out of every five fourth-graders in Minnesota’s suburban communities from middle-class families are reading at levels of functional illiteracy. So are one out of every five middle-class Minnesotan fourth-graders who live in rural areas.
If you have a son, regardless of your socioeconomic background, he is likely struggling in school. One out of every five young white male fourth-graders from middle-class households is functionally illiterate compared to one out of every 10 of their female peers. Meanwhile two out of every five young Asian men in the state is reading Below Basic proficiency, greater than the three out of every ten of their female peers.
In Minnesota, it isn’t as if it has gotten better. Back in 2002, just 27 percent of the state’s fourth-graders – 16,641 children – were struggling with literacy. Today, we are now talking about 1,763 more fourth-graders who are functionally illiterate now than nine years ago. Meanwhile the rest of America – which has just begun to aggressively reform the rest of public education – has reduced the number of fourth graders who are functionally illiterate by 217,432 kids in that same period.
But as I said, Minnesota is not alone. We have an American public education system that is perpetuating this state – and national – failure.
The quality of teaching is the most-critical factor in student learning, accounting for at least half of the effects of student achievement directly traced to schools. But far too many of our teachers, often for reasons not of their own making, don’t have the subject knowledge, instructional talent, entrepreneurial self-starter drive, or empathy for children needed to be in the classroom.
Meanwhile we far too many principals, superintendents, and school board members who couldn’t cook fries at the nearest Burger King – yet have been trusted with the futures of your children. And failing them badly. In Indiana, for example, a superintendent named Eugene White tried to defend his record of running the worst school district outside of Detroit by blaming kids. He declared that unlike the city’s charter schools, his district had to take in kids that he calls “blind, crippled, crazy”.
It will take myriad solutions to solve this education crisis – and help your kids, and all kids, get the high-quality schools and teachers they deserve. But one of the most important starts with you – and with every mother, father, uncle, aunt, and grandparent in this room today.
We know this: When parents are informed about what education should be and what their kids should know, they will expect more of themselves. And they will demand better for their kids from the schools that are at the centers of their young lives.
How much is your power in education is worth? University of New Hampshire researchers Andrew Houtenville and Karen Smith Conway say that schools would have to come up with $1,000 in additional per-pupil funding to match the gains in student achievement that come from parents taking power in education. In fact, the level of family engagement of power is twice as likely to predict a child’s academic achievement as their socioeconomic background.
We know that all parents, regardless of who they are or where they live, are concerned and discerning about the quality of education. Minorities and parents in high-poverty districts, for example, were more likely than middle-class parents to request a teacher for their child based on how teachers improved student achievement, according to a 2005 study by University of Michigan researcher Brian Jacob and Lars Lefgren of Brigham Young University.
Yet the adults who run our schools essentially regard parents like you as afterthoughts, nuisances, and troublemakers. Sometimes all in one. And this regardless of whether you are rich or poor, black or white, man or woman.
Peter McDermott and Julia Johnson Rothenberg, professors at the Sage Colleges have noted in their research on school engagement, urban and low-income parents often perceive schools to be unwelcoming and interactions with teachers to be “painful encounters.” While some of this may have to do with the negative experiences these parents have had with schools, it also has to do with the reality that there are many teachers who look down at parents — especially those from poor and minority backgrounds.
And that hostility gets even worse when families they want to escape the worst public education offers. Earlier this year, when the families of children attending New York City’s charter schools – families who are mostly black and Latino – protested against a lawsuit filed by the NAACP and the American Federation of Teachers, the reaction from both these organizations was absolute hostility. In fact, the head of the NAACP’s New York branch told one charter school supporter that she and her fellow parents were “doing the business of slave masters”.
But those of us from the middle class and suburbia encounter the same disdain. A few months ago, Washington Post columnist Jay Mathews, reported on an incident in Arlington, Va., where parents looking to send their child to a local magnet school wanted to visit the school and observe classroom activities. See, they wanted to not only know how good the school was, but whether that school would be the right environment for their child. Yet they were denied the ability to do so. Why? Because, as far as the district was concerned, letting parents do so would be a disruption.
These are just the most-visible examples of how American public education – whether in Saint Cloud or in Santa Cruz – makes it difficult for families to play the lead decision-making role in shaping how their kids learn.
The way schools deal with parents of all backgrounds (especially poor families) is particularly disdainful. Parent-teacher conferences are inconveniently scheduled. Parents struggle to contact teachers in order to know how well their kids are doing. Report cards are issued far too late in the school year for families to help their children succeed.
James Guthrie of the George W. Bush Institute has pointed out that the only real way that families can really be engaged in schools is if they actually have the ability to actually shape the education their kids receive. Yet only one in every five children and their families has access to such choice.
Essentially, American public education decides the quality of education your children can get by the zip code in which you live. And even if you live in what you think is the right zip code, your child may not be getting a high quality education. If you are poor, your kids are stuck in dropout factories. And if you are middle class, your kids go to warehouses of mediocrity whose shiny new buildings hide low-quality education. And even if you move from one zip code to another, you cannot guarantee that the school your child attends will be worth the cost of renting that U-Haul truck.
One of the most-critical forms of school choice is the ability to transform the schools in your own neighborhoods. Think about it: As taxpayers and as parents of kids who send your kids to schools that are at the center of their days and of their lives until age 18, you should be able to make that school better – even if it means taking that school out of the hands of a failing district. Yet only four states allow parents to do that now.
Meanwhile we don’t provide parents with the kind of comprehensive, yet simple school data systems that helps you understand how well a school is doing – and know what kind of teachers are working in classrooms. Two years ago, the Los Angeles Times showed in a series that the differences in teaching in classrooms can differ from classroom to classroom, even in schools that are rated high quality. Yet we continue to deny information to parents that they can use in making decisions.
And then, there are parents like you who don’t know what your children should know. How many can tell me what your kids should know by the time they leave kindergarten? Not many know. Every parent should be informed about what their kids should know – and what their kid is being taught in school.
What is needed in American public education is a new vision of parents – as lead decision-makers in shaping the quality of the education they receive.
It starts with expanding school choice. There is no reason why you should have to be zoned to a school that doesn’t serve your child’s needs – and doesn’t even provide an education that is worth the hard-earned dollars that you pay.
We then must pass Parent Trigger laws that allow you and a majority of fellow parents to turn around a failing school by ousting principals, teachers, even the district itself, and put the school under new management. Four states have Parent Trigger laws on the books. And some families are already using those laws to force change.
Then we must have comprehensive yet simple school data systems that tell you and your fellow parents what you really need to know about a school. This includes how well individual teachers are doing in helping kids succeed over time and how safe the school is.
And you should know what your kids should know by each grade, what kind of math curriculum is used in teaching, and even if the school offers interventions that can help your sons and nephews improve their reading and stay on the path to graduation and lifelong success.
Let me tell you something: School districts and teachers’ unions are afraid of parents. Especially when they push for their rightful roles as lead decision-makers in education.
The most-prominent example of this was revealed last year by my publication, Dropout Nation, when we got our hands on a PowerPoint from a lobbyist for the American Federation of Teachers, the nation’s second-largest teachers’ union that was presented at its annual TEACH conference.
In this PowerPoint, the union detailed how it unsuccessfully attempted to “kill” an effort by parents and school reformers to pass a Parent Trigger law. The union also bragged that after it couldn’t stop the effort, it managed to water down the bill, and then, in a fit of “karma”, oust the state legislator who successfully got the law passed.
I can tell you that the AFT squirmed when it was revealed. It was so embarrassing that the president of the national union herself, Randi Weingarten, offered several of what I call non-apology apologies, and met with the president of the Connecticut Parents Union and the official who the AFT helped vote out of his job to offer an in-person apology.
Many of the adults in American public education – those who run schools and those who are their allies – are afraid of Parent Power. In one California district, a teachers’ union local ran a newsletter that essentially tried to claim that the parents are dupes for “heavy hitters” such as Bill Gates. In other districts, teachers’ unions and school districts seemingly work in concert to oppose any effort by families to get better for their kids.
Ideally, helping our kids succeed should be a partnership between every adult touching the lives of our kids, with parents in the lead decision-making role. But if there is going to be hostility, then those who run schools badly should be afraid. Families should no longer have to accept whatever they are given.
It is critical that parents take power. But you need to take the steps required to make this a reality. You have already taken the first step by attending this conference and meeting with parents and school reformers just like you. And I thank you for standing up and showing up.
The next step is to start your own parents union. Strength is always in numbers – and families need all the strength they can muster together. Through parents unions, you can help your children and help other parents help theirs too. You no longer have to stand alone against school district bureaucracies and teachers’ unions that have their own numbers. And believe this: No district is ready to take on well-organized parents.
Then push for expanding school choice. Here’s the thing: School districts have succeeded in opposing choice – and even increasing your property taxes – because they know that they can use your dollars to tell your state legislators that they will oppose charter schools, vouchers When you stand for school choice, you break a monopoly on education that shouldn’t ever exist.
Demand Parent Trigger Laws: Why should you have to abandon a school in your neighborhood – and, more importantly, why should a district that is not serving the needs of your children and other children continue to run the school as it sees fit.
Push for more data and transparency: It is hard to exercise choice when you don’t know what is going on. You spend $10 billion on education here in Minnesota – and $591 billion throughout this nation – and it all affects your child. You deserve to know what is going on and in an easily understandable way.
And finally, ask questions – and demand answers. You should know what your kids should know by third grade, by sixth grade, and by the time they are looking to attend college or technical school. And everyone who runs your district and your child’s school should be able to give you answers. Questions and answers equal power for your kids.
Take this energy today and use it to take power in education. And know this: You have armies of parents across this nation ready to help you.
One can’t help but pay attention to the battles over school closings in Chicago and other big cities goes on unabated; arguments over expanding school choice continue unceasingly; Common Core supporters argue with movement conservatives who call efforts to enact reading and math standards a foreign conspiracy (as well as with rabid traditionalists who call it a Big Business plot); and reformers spar with traditionalists over Poverty and Personal Responsibility mythmaking. But reformers must remember why they fight so hard for the transformation of American public education: The children and their families, especially from poor and minority backgrounds, who deserve better than the worst the super-clusters of failure provide them.In this Best of Dropout Nation from August 2011, Editor RiShawn Biddle explains why we must all make reform a personal matter. Read, consider, and take action.As your Dropout Nation editor, I often try to approach the debates over the reform of American public education with dispassionate analysis and furious, passionate writing. My insight comes from my reporting, often guided by data over anecdotes, a set of first principles, my Christianity and my sense of justice. But for me, this is no academic exercise, no bloodless public policy discussion. And I am constantly reminded that we must reform education because there are real lives, real men and women, who deserve better than fifth-rate.
One of those reminders is this picture right here. It is of a happy young girl, running in around in 1927 just two years before she was to go to school. Take away the black-and-white, and the period clothes, and she looks like any young girl walking around the streets in any neighborhood in America today.
The young girl in that photo is my dear departed grandma. The first years of her life involved joining my great-grandmother along the tracks of the Long Island Railroad, gathering coal that dropped from the trains, so that they could heat their shack in Roslyn, N.Y., and cook food. My grandmother the first nine years of her life mired in the kind of bitter poverty unimaginable even now. Even with that, she was as happy as any young girl could be. But she could barely read.
By the time my great-grandparents managed to get out of poverty into a relatively comfortable life (or as nice as maids and low-skilled workers could do for the time), moving from Roslyn to a nicer home in nearby Mineola, grandma had been to school. But the quality of her education was, to be kind, abysmal and subpar. By the tine she attended fourth grade, she was far behind her peers. And while my great-grandparents did their best to give her a loving home, their level of educational attainment was barely above signing Xs on documents.
My grandma could have remained mired in that state, on the way to dropping out. For the times she lived in, this would have been okay because education wasn’t necessarily critical to earning a living — and this would remain that way until the end of the 1970s. But my grandmother got lucky: She had what we would now call a high-quality teacher, who cared for her well-being, who worked with her on reading and her studies and got her to grade level and beyond. By the time grandma graduated from Mineola High School in 1942, she had been accepted to Wilberforce University, the first person in our family to attend college.
It was education that helped her get out of being poor and into a comfortable middle class life. It was education that helped my grandma provide the knowledge and loving household my mother and I needed to succeed in life. It was education that helped my mother, a single mother of three, get into good-paying jobs that she needed to keep a roof over our head. It is education that, in short, has helped my family, only a generation removed from slavery on my mother’s side, stay out of housing projects, out of Bed-Stuy and the South Bronx, and achieve things that my grandma could only dream about.
I tell this story for three reasons. The first: To remind everyone, including education traditionalists, that the argument that education cannot help move young men and women out of poverty — and that good-to-great teachers cannot transform the lives of children and keep them on the path to success in life — is absolutely ridiculous. Given the evidence from William Sanders and others than high-quality teaching is a more-critical determinant of student achievement than socioeconomic background — and the 1966 Coleman Report’s conclusion that if teaching is of high-quality, schooling will be a bigger factor than socioeconomic background — it is time for the Dana Goldsteins and Diane Ravitches to stop arguing the Poverty Myth of Education that deserves to be tossed into the trashbin.
The second reason? Because the reality remains that for far too many children, it is as haphazard to get a high-quality education now as it was during grandma’s youth in the worst days of the Great Depression. It is more than a tragedy and a travesty when one-third of our fourth-graders are functionally illiterate. It is absolutely immoral and intolerable. If you don’t find this state of affairs in American public education to be intolerable — and its underlying causes to be abhorrent — then I’d like to check your pulse. Because you can’t possibly be human.
And finally, I tell this story because it explains why I approach this education crisis so personally. I know, public policy types, including Beltway reformers, sometimes hate getting personal, dislike naming names, and prefer academic sparring to strong conversations that include calling people on the carpet for faulty thinking. But remember this: For every child, their future is intensely personal. We only have one shot, every day, with every child, to help them get the education they need so they can have futures worthy of their aspirations. The fierce urgency of right now isn’t just some X-axis on a chart.
For me, this isn’t just some bloodless public policy discussion. The young men and women being condemned to poverty and prison look just like I did when I was a child. They look just like my grandmother in her youth. They look like my nephew, my niece and my young cousins — and the children my wife and I will have one day. These are kids who are told every day, in word and deed, by teachers and principals who don’t belong in schools, that they can never amount to anything. And I am incensed every time I consider how hard it is even for middle-class black and Latino families such as mine to ensure that our children are taught by high-quality teachers and get rigorous, college preparatory curricula — and furious when I think about kids in the poorest communities who are forced to attend failure factories because many of us continue to defend a failed, amoral vision.
And it is personal because each day, I listen to men and women, who look just like my grandmother looked as a young parent, who struggle each and every day with principals who ignore them, laggard teachers who condescend them, and adults all around more concerned with preserving influence than with helping their children succeed. After listening to their stories — and listening to those of their children — there is no way to not take this personally.
This writer isn’t just pulling this out of the air. Martin Luther King was as willing to challenge segregationists publicly and by name as he was willing to play nice. The Founding Fathers were among the sharpest-tongued men that ever lived, challenging an actual monarch. As with every movement in the past, there will be a need to have harsh, hard, conversations in which we hold men and women accountable for defending ideas that are indefensible.
This doesn’t mean going after the personal lives of people or calling people nasty names. When it comes to discussions in Congressional hearings and in public policy meetings, the bloodless language is quite appropriate. One should choose words carefully, not carelessly, and sometimes, say or write nothing at all. And should all shake hands and say hello, and even, be able to socialize on occasion, without rancor; we are civil human beings, not savages, and besides, you can’t move people to your side if you call them out and behave like a boor all at the same time. But it does mean calling people on the carpet for the mismatch between their ideals and their practices, especially when they don’t want to acknowledge it.
Certainly we must be thoughtful about our rhetoric. But, as Arthur Koestler would say, one should advocate furiously, ruthlessly, or don’t bother. When 150 young men and women drop out each our into economic and social despair, the school reform movement has to take the waste of these lives personally — and offer rhetoric to match. Or, in short, think about your grandmother and about how every child looked like she once did.