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November 8, 2009 standard

Special education is the place where graduation doesn’t happen. Less than one-fifth of students ever graduate. Seventy-three percent of students with learning disabilities or emotional disturbances will end up being arrested and incarcerated over time. Yet despite evidence that overdiagnosis of learning disabilities is leading to more labeling of students, especially black and white males, there is ample fiscal incentive for school districts to engage in the gamesmanship.

A look at Atlanta’s public school district offers some clues as to what is happening to far too many young men and women, especially black and poor whites:

2,181: Number of special ed students in Atlanta’s public schools in 2005-2006, as funded by the Georgia state government. This doesn’t include kindergartners or elementary school students who are special ed, but are served under the state’s program for early intervention. About 3,035 students in Atlanta schools are diagnosed with a learning disability.

$7,550: The amount given for each special ed student by the State of Georgia. The state just provides $2,181 for each student in regular academic programs and $2,705 for every student in gifted and talented programs.

49: Percentage of special education/learning disabled students who spend 60 percent or more of their time outside regular classes, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Essentially, they are not likely to participate in academic courses that lead to college and beyond.

1,515: Number of special ed students (all served under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act or other federal laws) either suspended, expelled or subject to corporal punishment  in 2005-2006. The more often children are suspended, the less likely they are to graduate from school.

9: Percentage of black males labeled with a specific learning disability — and likely in special education classes; this is three times higher than the likely occurrence of such disabilities.  Three percent of black females are labeled.

4: Percentage of white males labeled with a specific learning disability. Just slightly above the likely occurrence of such disabilities. Only two percent of white females were labeled.

92: The percentage of the labeled learning-disabled enrollment who are black; blacks make up 86 percent of all student enrollment overall in Atlanta public schools. Whites account for three-hundredths of one percent of learning-disabled students, despite making up eight percent of overall enrollment.

42: The percentage of Atlanta’s gifted and talented program students who are white; that is eight times higher than their overall enrollment. Blacks do account for 53 percent of students in the gifted and talented program; but that is below their overall enrollment in the school district.

November 6, 2009 standard

As head of the Black Star Project, Phillip Jackson is often fighting a lonely battle to keep America’s black children in school and out of prison and trouble. These days, in his hometown of Chicago, it has become even harder. The city where “diploma dreams go to die”, has also seen hundreds of young students die inside and out of its public schools. In this piece, Jackson offers his own solutions for stemming youth violence for the long run.

Youth violence is a national issue. Since we began the Iraq war in 2003, an estimated 32,000 American youths lost their lives to violence — far more than the 4,349 U.S. soldiers who died in battle. Yet the United States treats youth violence as a nuisance, not as a war it wants to win.

We cannot fix the problems of children or schools in America without first fixing the problems of the adults in their lives and of the communities in which the children live. Anything else is pretending to fix the problem and is a community disservice!

So far, the most popular approaches to address youth violence have not made any significant nor long-term impact. More police merely militarizes and destabilizes communities. The other offering that haven’t worked includes: Stiffer sentencing for young offenders; direct intervention at the point of impending violence; vigils, peace rallies and peace marches through communities;  and prayers without concrete, supportive actions.

Meanwhile there are effective approaches cited by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that have been shown to reduce youth violence over time and produce long-term, lasting, positive results. Build strong families and communities and employ good parents as the chief agents to reduce youth violence. Teach young children ways to resolve conflict peacefully. Provide mentors to serve as guides and role models for positive youth behavior. Reduce social and economic causes of violence in young people’s environments. And ensure spiritual or character-based training for young children and reinforce that training throughout their early teen years.

In Chicago, the youth, themselves, are asking for more mentors, more parent involvement in their lives and more job and economic opportunities. Their requests parallel CDC’s recommendations to reduce violence. But these requests – and the solutions – are ignored. While government attempts to study, analyze and understand youth violence, the Black Star Project is implementing workable solutions in Chicago — ground zero for the war against youth violence.

Each day, the Black Star Project has 250 male and female volunteers who mentor youth on school days.  Since 1996, the Black Star Project has provided classroom-based mentoring to nearly 200,000 Chicago-area students. We also have 100 Peace Walkers who patrolled high-risk neighborhoods in Chicago this summer; 70 Parent University professors who have taught thousands of parents to be great parents since 2004 and 25 college coaches who have helped prepare thousands of elementary school students for college.

Through our Million Father March 2009, we organized 625,000 fathers in 500 cities across America to take their children back to school on the first day. These are the kinds of “armies of hope” that the federal government needs to win this war.

If we continue to address this problem with the current lack of resolve, including misdirected, piece-meal efforts with too-few resources — just as we lost the war in Vietnam, then we are destined for a resounding defeat in the war against youth violence on the streets of America.

The effort to eliminate youth violence commands a national response that includes national resources, a national infrastructure and national leadership. This effort must be comprehensive and coordinated across foundation, government, faith-based and community-based organizational lines. Many organizations such as The Black Star Project are working to restore order in chaotic and violence-ridden neighborhoods.  Our efforts are essential to eliminate violence, restore hope and reduce the need for militarizing our many troubled communities.

Our war to save the minds and spirits of our children is the most important war that America will ever fight.  Saving our children is difficult because of the “No Snitching” code-of-silence among our American youth, which has proved devastating and unacceptable in this war.  Yet our government’s “No Support” policy for organizations that work for long-term solutions to fix this problem of youth violence in American communities is inexcusable.  In fact, “No Support” is far, far worse than “No Snitching,” and our children know it!

November 3, 2009 standard

Jammyra Weekly is a rare graduate of Manual High.

Education advocates have a tendency to want to present ‘examples’ of schools that go against the grain of academic failure. But isn’t without problems. Sometimes the examples aren’t nearly as good as they may seem, especially when facts are borne out against rhetoric.

Take Emmerich Manual High School in Indianapolis, the subject of this video by the Annie E. Casey Foundation for its  Schools that Work series. As Eugene White, the superintendent of the Indianapolis Public Schools likes to point out, the high school has increased the number of students heading to college by 50 percent. The problem? Manual has long been — and remains — one of Indiana’s (and America’s) most-persistent dropout factories.

Just 39 percent of the school’s original Class of 2008 graduated four years later, according to the Indiana Department of Education. Just 24 percent of the original Class of 2009 were promoted to 12th grade (2009 graduation rates have yet to be posted). In fact, within the past three years, at least 40 percent of Manual’s freshmen have eventually dropped out, at least according to official numbers. The real dropout rate, when one considers that fifth-year students aren’t likely to complete, is more like 60 percent.

The woefulness of Manual’s performance — and IPS’s problems overall — can be seen in the broken-down graduation rates for each socioeconomic group counted in the No Child Left Behind Act. Fewer whites graduate from the school than blacks. Meanwhile the graduation rates for middle-class students is nearly as abysmal as that for poor students receiving free or reduced lunch.

Unfortunately, Manual is also a microcosm of IPS and of many parts of the nation. After all, IPS is home to the worst graduation rates for both black and white males. The city itself, more white than black, is representative of other urban locales. The graduation rates in other districts within Indianapolis, although slightly better, are also not where they should be.

Ultimately, increasing levels of college completion doesn’t matter if one out of every two students is dropping out of high school in the first place. In any case, a high school that inadequately educates its students isn’t likely to do a good job of college preparation; the kids will just flunk college once they get there.

Now, the Annie E. Casey Foundation is an great organization. Its staff, including Bruno Manno, does admirable work in improving the lives of America’s children. Unfortunately, the problem Casey faces, as does many reformers, is that the nation’s public schools aren’t helping much in offering examples of successes in college attainment and completion. This, of course, is should be a concern to the communities in which these schools are located. As Indianapolis can attest, poor-performing schools can hinder economic and social growth for the city and all of its residents.

Manual High proves, as I have mentioned earlier, that the issue isn’t whether enough children are attending college — or if too many are attending, but whether they are adequately prepared to take advantage of every educational and economic opportunity before them. A child who isn’t adequately prepared for higher education — be it college, trade school, or apprenticeships — also isn’t likely to be fit for work at McDonald’s or Family Dollar. In this economy, every job is likely to be knowledge-based, and thus require high levels of math and English competency.

Manual High represents a lot of things. But it doesn’t represent a school that works for its students. The video, however, is nicely shot.

September 28, 2009 standard

Washington Mayor Adrian Fenty may be getting acclaim nationally for his overhaul of D.C.’s traditional public schools. But there is more to being mayor than education reform  — and Fenty still struggles in those roles. Read more in my latest piece in The American Spectator.

September 27, 2009 standard

Last year, I noted in The American Spectator that President Barack Obama’s appointment of Arnie Duncan as U.S. Secretary of Education was evidence of the increasing strain in the relationship between teachers unions and the Democratic Party.  A younger generation of Democrat school reformers, led by such stalwarts as Education Sector’s Andy Rotherham, along with the school reform efforts of urban mayors such as Adrian Fenty in Washington, D.C., would prove to be strong foes against  efforts to maintain the status quo by the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). As a result of diverging positions between the two groups on such matters as national standards and teacher compensation, the relationship between Democrats and teachers unions would get interesting, to say the least.

A year later, NEA and AFT leaders finally realize that they can’t count on unquestioned Democrat support. From the divide within the AFT’s DC local over the alternate salary scale (in exchange for ending tenure) proposed by DC Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee to the mandates for expanding charter schools and implementing performance-based teacher pay contained in the Race to the Top guidelines, teachers unions find themselves in an uncomfortable position. The lack of support from their allies makes the positions of union leaders and the rank-and-file untenable. And the tenuous conditions of heavily-underfunded teacher pensions, along with the desire among new teachers to be rewarded for successful work also means that NEA and AFT locals must think over their stances.

This doesn’t mean that teachers unions won’t hold on for dear life and it certainly doesn’t mean that Democrats will suddenly abandon their most-consistent source of campaign financing and electioneering support. The ascent of Sen. Tom Harken to the chairmanship of the Senate’s education and labor committee means the loss of a strong supporter of school reform (in the form of the late Ted Kennedy) — and gives the AFT and NEA some hope. Whether Duncan (and Obama) will stand behind school reforms will depend as much on Obama’s approval ratings as on finding dollars to add to the funding once Race to the Top dollars are spent.

Meanwhile conservative school reformers such as the Thomas B. Fordham Institute — once stalwart supporters of school reform — have retreated as support from Republicans and institutional dollars has dissipated. If Republicans win back at least the House next year, this will likely mean step backs in school reform efforts at the federal level — which would favor the NEA and AFT overall.

Again, the positioning by school reform Democrats and teachers unions will remain the most-interesting drama in federal education discussions for some time.

September 20, 2009 standard

One dropout at a time.

This video, by the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD),  highlights the importance of keeping every child in school until high school graduation.