menu search recent posts
January 10, 2015 standard

There is little hope that the Obama Administration’s proposal this week to subsidize community college attendance for any student who enrolls at least part-time and maintains a 2.5 grade point average will be passed in the next two years. The fact that congressional Republicans have made it their goal to keep the administration from attaining anything other than the most-minor of legislative victories means that the plan is dead on arrival; that movement conservatives activists are already criticizing the plan for reasons legitimate and otherwise also make its passage unlikely. Beyond the opposition, there’s also the fact that the administration’s plan will do more for children from middle class households (who can already afford the cost of community college) than for those from poor and minority backgrounds who are denied high-quality education (and thus, opportunities to attain any kind of higher education).

Yet in offering the community college plan, the Obama Administration deserves credit for reminding all of us, especially some reformers who have lost their way, about why all children need to complete higher education: Because the prospects are bleak for high school dropouts and even those high school graduates without some form of higher education.

This reality, emphasized by the Obama Administration plan, was further highlighted yesterday by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistic with its release of December employment numbers. The news that seasonally-adjusted unemployment rate officially declined by two-tenths of a percent (to 5.6 percent) is belied by the woeful job numbers for dropouts and high school grads who never have never attended (or completed) the traditional colleges, technical schools, and apprenticeships that make up American higher education.

The unemployment for dropouts aged 25 and older of 9.1 percent is just 1.3 percentage points lower than reported numbers for the same period last year. More importantly, the unemployment rate for dropouts is almost double the 4.8 percent rate for high school grads who attended or completed some form of higher education, and four times the 2.7 percent rate for collegians with baccalaureate and graduate degrees. That’s just for the dropouts who are in the workforce: Three-fifths of dropouts aged 25 and older aren’t in the workforce at all — and because of their lack of skills, won’t likely return.

Meanwhile the 5.3 percent unemployment rate for high school grads aged 25 and older without some form of higher education is 1.8 percent lower than in the same period last year. This seems like good news until you keep in mind that more of them are likely to be unemployed than peers who have some higher education and collegians with baccalaureate and graduate degrees. Just as importantly, with 45.4 percent of high school grads without higher education not in the workforce at all, many of them are likely never going to re-enter the workforce anytime in the future.

The long-term prospects for dropouts and high school grads without higher education haven’t gotten better over the last eight years. The unemployment rates for both groups are, respectively, 2.3 percentage points and one percentage point lower than levels in December 2006, just before the financial meltdown that led to the nation’s slowly-retreating economic malaise. Workforce participation rates have also declined; the percentage of high school grads without higher education in the workforce has declined by 5.4 percent within the last eight years.

Since dropouts and high school grads without higher education are among the 2.8 million unemployed for 27 weeks or longer, their prospects for future employment is even dimmer. While there are officially 1.1 million fewer long-term unemployed Americans than in 2013, this is only because of the decision last year by the federal government (resulting from sparring between the administration, Senate Democrats and House Republicans) to not extend unemployment benefits to them. Those out of work for longer than six months still make up 31.9 percent of all unemployed Americans, versus 16.2 percent of unemployed workers in the same period in 2006.

Also keep this in mind: Dropouts and high school grads without higher education also make up many of the 2.3 million so-called marginally attached Americans (or unemployed job-seekers not counted in official unemployment numbers because they usually cannot collect any more jobless benefits and, thus, not considered looking for work); those numbers haven’t improved within the last year and in fact, the number of marginally-attached workers is 1 million more than in the same period eight years ago.

Certainly the hangover from the economic malaise — including the shortcomings of the stimulus efforts undertaken by both the Obama Administration and that of George W. Bush, as well as the consequences of the Affordable Care Act — is one reason why so many dropouts and high school grads without higher education are unemployed. But it isn’t the predominant factor. The reality is that for both groups, their low levels of reading, math, and science proficiency renders them unfit to take on the middle class wage-paying knowledge-based white- and blue-collar jobs in fast-growing sectors. That the industries that used to be their go-tos are either contracting or not growing economically — including construction (which employed 2.5 million fewer employees last year than in 2006) and retail (which employs 1.7 million few workers last year than eight years ago) — means that those dropouts and high school grads who are unemployed will remain so.

For poor and minority communities, higher levels of education equal lower levels of poverty and unemployment.

This is a problem because high levels of education are key to the poor emerging into the middle class. Twenty-seven percent of households in the lowest 20 percent of income earners were high school dropouts and another 36 percent were high school grads without some form of higher education, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau. High school dropouts and high school grads with no college education made up only nine percent of the highest-earning fifth of the nation’s households, and just a quarter of those in the fourth-highest earning fifth of all households. The median weekly wage of $472 for a high school dropout is 35 percent lower than that for a high school graduate with some form of higher education and three-fifths lower than that a high school grad with a baccalaureate; the median weekly wage of $651 for a high school grad without higher education training is half that of a peer with a baccalaureate.

As your editor noted nearly two years ago, lack of higher education is particularly problematic  for workers from poor and minority backgrounds, who are the most-likely to not have been provided high-quality education needed to gain it. After all, black high school dropouts and high school grads without higher ed experience account for 40 percent of all African-Americans in the civilian population age 25 and older and a whopping 58 percent of Latinos; 34 percent of whites and 23 percent of Asians were dropouts and high school grads without college experience. The lower the levels of education in a community, the more-susceptible it is to economic and social distress. Unemployment rates for black high school dropouts 25 and older stood at 20.5 percent in December, 3.8 percentage points higher than at the same time in 2013.

Simply put, higher education is critical for lifelong success in an increasingly knowledge-based economy. But it isn’t just about economics alone. The more children from poor backgrounds attain higher levels of education, the more-likely they are to avoid the pernicious cycle of bad decisions, lack of knowledge, and dearth of resources that keep them in poverty.

As Dropout Nation pointed out last August, higher education is key to keeping young women from falling into out-of-wedlock childhood and ending up in poverty; this is because a longer a young woman is in school, the more-likely she will delay pregnancy until she attains the education needed to gain middle class-paying jobs critical to sustaining marriages and raising children. Higher education also keeps young men out of the school-to-prison pipeline, stopping them from ending up in the woeful economic positions that lead them to makethe kind of desperate decisions to put food on their table that land them in prison, a point highlighted on Thursday by Contributing Editor Michael Holzman in his piece on Chicago’s educational and criminal justice woes. Hoping that earning a high school diploma and avoiding pregnancy alone will keep poor kids out of poverty, an argument offered up by some traditionalists and reformers such as Michael Petrilli of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute (along with the claim that only some children should attend and complete higher education), ignores economic and social reality. Higher education is key to transforming communities and those who live in them.

So the Obama Administration’s theory behind its effort to subsidize community college learning is correct. But it won’t work without addressing two issues. The first? How higher education institutions fail to aid first-generation collegians, many of whom come from poor and minority households that have no previous experience with such matters as annually filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. The second: Continually tackling the nation’s education crisis, the underlying reason why just 18 percent of high school freshmen graduate with a baccalaureate by age 25 (and why college graduation rates for children from poor and minority backgrounds are even lower).

This starts with providing all children with the kind of high-quality teaching and comprehensive, college-preparatory curricula and standards children need to attain knowledge needed to succeed in higher education and in career. [The Obama Administration deserves credit for advancing reform efforts on this front, especially through Race to the Top.] This includes continuing the implementation of Common Core reading and math standards, along with overhauling how we recruit, train, compensate, and manage teachers; that Common Core’s standards are higher quality than those most states had in place before its development should give pause to politicians in states such as Tennessee, where fores of Common Core are pushing to halt implementation. Aligning curricula with high-quality standards is also important to making the promise of the standards a reality for our children.

But the focus cannot be on standards, teachers, and curricula alone Districts and other school operators must be held accountable for improving student achievement. This is where the accountability provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act, which has been weakened substantially by the Obama Administration’s waiver gambit (and could end up being eviscerated altogether if congressional Republicans and traditionalists have their way) come in. By using annual test data to track how districts are educating children, especially those from poor and minority backgrounds, states, families and reformers can advance efforts that will lead to kids getting the knowledge that they need to attain higher education and lifelong success.

Meanwhile we must also provide families with the school choice and Parent Power they need to provide high-quality education to their children. This includes developing data systems that allow for families to make smarter choices, implementing Parent Trigger measures that allow parents to overhaul schools in their own neighborhoods, expanding high-quality charter schools, and launching online learning options. Considering how poorly traditional districts do in providing kids with guidance counselors who can help them stay on the path to higher education success, allowing families to choose alternatives would be helpful.

The Obama Administration’s community college plan won’t become reality. But the proposal, along with the latest unemployment data, is another reminder of the need to help all kids get on the path to higher education and success in an increasingly knowledge-based world.

January 8, 2015 standard

Chicago was one of the main destinations of the 20th -century Great Migration by Blacks from the Jim Crow. It was a beacon of hope shining south along the tracks of the Illinois Central Railroad to the Delta. But these days, the Second City’s light of hope forBlack children has been nearly extinguished.

Today the 860,000 African Americans in Chicago are much less than half as likely to have a college education than White residents of the city, more than twice as likely to be unemployed, almost twice as likely not be in the labor force at all, much less likely to be in management or professional occupations, much more likely to be in service occupations. Black household incomes are half those of White households, the poverty rate of Black individuals is more than twice that of White individuals and the poverty rate of Black families nearly three times as high.

By some of these measures life for the descendants of enslaved Africans is better today in Chicago than in Mississippi; in some ways not as good. All in all, it is both a wash and a clarion call for reforming public education and criminal justice systems.

Every Chicago Black age cohort from 25 to 69 years of age shows a deficit of approximately 6,000 males as compared to females in that cohort. Chicago is notorious for the homicides of young Black men. Total homicides in the city vary from 350 to 400 annually: 80 percent of the victims are Black. However, even 300 murders across all age groups account for only a small percentage of the missing working age Black males among Chicago residents. More die from preventable disease. Many of the rest are in jail.

Nearly half of Black residents of the city have incomes below the poverty level; just 13 percent of White residents live in poverty. On the other end of the scale, 20 percent of White families have incomes over $150,000 per year, as compared to just 4 percent of Black families. Over 90 percent of Chicago’s Black households have no net assets apart from small amounts of equity in their own homes: they could not pay an unexpected medical bill of a few hundred dollars without borrowing.

Few Black children in Chicago grow up to have incomes equal to that of their parents, as low as those may be, and most will have lower incomes yet as a result of the concentration of inferior schools, heightened police activity and unemployment. The Second City is also extraordinary in its housing stratification and, thanks to zoned schooling, officially-tolerated segregation. The White/Black “dissimilarity index” for the city, a measure of segregation on which values of 60 or higher are considered very high, was 82.5 in 2010. The result has been that in some cases adjacent census tracts have mirror-image homogenous populations, one 90 percent or more Black, the next 90 percent or more White.

There are two main causes for the vast racial inequities in the city: The public education and criminal justice systems.

Half of the adults in Black Chicago have only a high school diploma or less. Just 18 percent have a Bachelor’s degree or higher. This is crucial: income is directly related to education and, for Black men, incarceration for the 20 percent of that group without a high school diploma is more likely than not. The comparative low educational attainment of Chicago’s Black adults is a consequence of the failures of Chicago Public Schools to provide adequate educational opportunities in schools in serving the city’s black neighborhoods.

Three decades of reform efforts have achieved some progress in improving achievement for Black children. But it hasn’t been enough – especially for young Black men. While 51 percent of White students are reading at grade-level proficiency, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a mere 11 percent of Black students read at grade level.

Chicago was once a gateway out of Southern poverty and segregation. Today, it is a elevated rail into poverty for black children.

The school discipline practices of the district, like those of other districts and school operations in the rest of the nation, add to the barriers to learning for its African American students. Sixty-nine percent of out-of-school suspensions and 71 percent of expulsions are inflicted on the 41 percent of the district’s students who are the descendants of enslaved Africans. Given this failure to teach basic skills and the routine displacement of African American students from the classroom, it is surprising that even slightly more than half of Chicago’s Black students in ninth grade in 2009 graduated with a high school diploma in 2013.

Which brings the question: What is the value of a CPS diploma? What does it really mean? How well prepared are its graduates for college and career?

We can consider career preparation by examining the district’s success in preparing its Black students for Associate’s degrees. The pipeline to an Associate’s degree for Chicago students begins with 18,000 Black students in grade 9, of whom approximately 9,400 are given diplomas four years later. The seven-campus City Colleges of Chicago system admit a third of those. We will assume for the sake of argument that all of those are Chicago school district graduates. (We do this to balance the number who seek Associate’s degrees in other institutions). The City Colleges of Chicago graduate 200 of those Black students it admits; a graduation rate of just 6 percent.

This is a measure of the success of the Chicago public schools in preparing students who are not immediately seeking a four-year college education.

Chicago has many four-year colleges and universities, including some that draw students from the entire world. One with a more local catchment area is Chicago State University, which admits 340 Black first-time degree-seeking undergraduates in a typical year. It graduates 58 of them; a graduation rate for Black students of 17 percent. Again for the sake of argument, we will double the numbers of Chicago State University to represent district graduates who enroll in 4-year colleges. This gives us about 680 Black admissions and 116 graduates with Bachelor’s degrees.

In round numbers, of 18,000 African American ninth-graders in Chicago schools, 200 (or one percent) would be expected to attain Associate’s degrees and half that number (and percentage) would attain baccalaureates. If we multiply these numbers by, say, five, we are still well below 10 percent of district African American students whom the schools have prepared for careers or college.

This is just looking at numbers for local universities. The Consortium on Chicago School Research determined last year that just six percent of young Black men in ninth grader will graduate from college with baccalaureate degrees within 10 years, while 13 percent of their female peers do so. No matter which numbers you look, Chicago Public Schools fails to fulfill the key part of its mission for most of the Second City’s descendants of enslaved Africans.

And then there are the cops and the courts.

For young black men, the Second City isn’t a place to jump for joy. Photo courtesy of the Chicago Tribune.

Illinois imprisons 10 times the proportion of the state’s Black residents as it does its White residents. Almost exactly half of the state’s prisoners are from Cook County, and nearly a third of those are incarcerated for drug offenses, most frequently, possession of a controlled substance (usually marijuana).

Although under a recent law, possession of small amounts of marijuana can be dealt with by a ticket, rather than arrest, the Chicago police almost always make an arrest, rather than issuing a ticket, as is common in the White suburbs. More than three-quarters of those arrested are Black; just five percent are White, non-Hispanic, although it is well-known that drug use is similar in both groups. The Chicago police arrest eight percent of the city’s adult Black men each year. What are the chances that a young Black man in Chicago will avoid arrest by, say, age 30? An arrest record, even one for such a trivial cause, is enormously damaging to the victim. If someone with a conviction on record is seeks a license in, say, teaching or healthcare, their conviction may make them ineligible. This has direct economic effect on Black Chicago, as education and healthcare are among the chief employers of Chicago’s African American workforce.

The drug laws and police practices in relation to them have deleterious consequences beyond arrest for possession. People generally buy drugs from others of their own race or ethnic group, retailers, dealers, who find this employment available when others may be closed to them. They are liable to more severe jail sentences. As disputes in an illegal trade cannot be settled in the courts, they are settled by recourse to the ubiquitous supply of guns. And so forth.

Meanwhile, Chicago’s young White men go to college.

The laws against possession and use of marijuana, cocaine and the rest are arguably in place in order to have the effect that they do in fact have: to criminalize Black men. This is so blatantly obvious that the mere documentation of the operation of these laws is a demonstration of their purpose.

There are at any one time between 30,000 and 40,000 adult Black men from Chicago under the control of the criminal justice system. That’s 15 percent of all of the Second City’s Black men. That is an average, of course; in some Chicago neighborhoods a third or more of the male adults might be under the control of the criminal justice system—unable to find regular employment, liable to be picked up by the police at any moment for trivial violations of parole, unlikely to make enough money to lift their households out of poverty, or to pay the rent for an apartment in a neighborhood with good schools—if they could rent an apartment in a Chicago neighborhood with good schools.

Inequity in Chicago—the caste-like subordination of much of the Black population—is enforced on the one hand by the education system, which prepares fewer than 10 percent of its Black students for success in college or well-paying careers. It is also enforced by the criminal justice system, with which five times as many Black as White men are entangled. A first, simple step toward progress would be to end the unequal enforcement of drug laws. As it is unlikely that this would be accomplished by bringing the arrest rates of White Chicago residents up to those of Black Chicago residents, it most likely would result in thousands of the latter walking free, able to contribute to economies of their families, neighborhoods and the city. (It would also save tens of millions of dollars in costs to the police department.) Ending the unequal enforcement of drug and other laws can be done any day the Mayor wishes to do so, as is happening in New York City.

Increasing the high school graduation rate of Black students in the Chicago public schools to that of White students, or higher, would reduce the pool of undereducated African American men that the state’s prisons draw from by half or more, significantly lowering their incarceration rate, if policing practices are reformed, and increasing labor force participation. An increase in educational attainment will also have strong positive effects on incomes. If the educational attainment of Black adults reaches the current level of White residents of Chicago, those with Bachelor’s degrees or higher will increase by 150,000. This would increase the annual income of Chicago’s Black community by $5.2 billion.

Improving the schools attended by Black children is also quite possible, given the political will. So is reforming Illinois’ criminal justice system. The question, therefore, is not how to bring about the better lives sought by the generation of the Great Migration. It is why are those with the power to do so are not doing it?

December 22, 2014 standard

Chances are that you don’t think that New York City Patrolman’s Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch has much in common with Randi Weingarten of the American Federation of Teachers. In fact, after Lynch sparred earlier this year with Weingarten protégé Michael Mulgrew, the president of the union’s United Federation of Teachers local, over the unit’s collaboration with Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network on stemming police brutality, you wouldn’t think Lynch and Weingarten share anything in common at all other than being heads of two influential public-sector unions.

But in their respective reactions over the past few months to criticism and less-than-sterling coverage from politicians and media outlets, both Lynch and Weingarten, along with many of their members in their respective rank-and-file, have plenty in common. They have embraced the kind of solidarity mindset that stifle important efforts to transform America’s criminal justice and public education systems that our children and communities need.

As you already know, Lynch and the PBA accused Big Apple Mayor Bill de Blasio and advocates for reforming criminal justice systems nationwide of having “blood” on their “hands” this past weekend after tragic murders of police officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos by Ismaaiyl Brinsley (who had come to town after a rampage that included critically wounding his ex-girlfriend). Why? Because de Blasio dared to sympathize with advocates who are righteously outraged over a grand jury’s decision earlier this month to not indict one of the PBA’s rank-and-file, Dan Pantaleo, for murdering Eric Garner this past July.

Lynch and the PBA were already incensed at de Blasio over protracted negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement, annoyed with the mayor’s move to formally end a police practice called stop-and-frisk (which criminal justice reformers say has been used disproportionately and abusively against young black men), and looking to weaken him by convincing New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to sign a bill passed by the legislature that would allow the PBA to all but stifle any efforts by the city to discipline corrupt and incompetent cops. But Lynch went ballistic, accusing de Blasio of throwing officers “under the bus” after the mayor, who is married to a black woman, commented immediately after the verdict that he advises his son, Dante (who is both black and white) to be careful when dealing with law enforcement. As far as Lynch and the activists in control of PBA’s rank-and-file are concerned, de Blasio’s statement of sympathy with advocates against police brutality was an affront to all of the Big Apple’s police officers because he didn’t have their back. Some of the rank-and-file echoed those sentiments when they turned their backs on de Blasio when he walked into a press conference to address the murders of the two officers.

But Lynch isn’t just mad at de Blasio. As far as the police union boss is concerned, criminal justice reformers are wrong in criticizing Pantaleo’s state-sanctioned murder of Garner as well as criticizing those in the rank-and-file who are engaged in abusing citizens and other forms of corruption. From where he and PBA sit, protests held in the city since the grand jury verdict should be stamped out altogether. The public should be in solidarity with police officers, not calling out bad cops or demanding reforms of laws governing use-of-deadly-force rules that allow rogue officers to get away with murder. [As you would expect, an amen corner that includes congressman-turned-MSNBC host Joe Scarborough and Daily News columnist Mike Lupica, are cheering him on.]

Lynch isn’t saying anything that hasn’t been echoed by his fellow police union bosses over the past few weeks amid protests over the Garner verdict, the decision last month by a St. Louis grand jury to not indict now-former Ferguson police officer Dan Wilson for slaying Michael Brown, and the murders of 12-year-old Tamir Rice and 22-year-old John Crawford by officers too quick to pull out guns (and too scared of unarmed young black men to take less-drastic action). Earlier this month, the St. Louis Police Officers Association demanded the National Football League to punish players for the Rams franchise for engaging in an “inflammatory” display that insulted cops everywhere. What, pray tell, was that nastiness? Walking out onto the field of Edward Jones Dome doing the “hands up, don’t shoot” sign that has become a protest symbol for criminal justice reformers everywhere. [The NFL reminded the union that its players have freedom of speech — other than when it wants them to appear before mandatory press conferences.]

Around that same time, the police union in Cleveland went into uproar after Browns wide receiver Andrew Hawkins wore a T-shirt emblazoned with the names of Rice and Crawford as well as a call for justice on their behalf; the union demanded the NFL franchise to apologize for the football player’s supposed affront to men and women in blue. [The Browns refused to do so as did Hawkins, who noted how he was driven to protest by concern for his own two-year-old son.] Now, with the sad murders of Liu and Ramos, police unions and their allies are accusing protestors of endangering the lives of police officers by, well, exercising their First Amendment rights. You can expect similar statements from the police union in Milwaukee today after criminal justice advocates began protesting the decision of District Attorney John Chisholm to not indict former cop Christopher Manney for allegedly slaying Dontre Hamilton this past April.

Like her PBA colleague Patrick Lynch (in featured photo), AFT President Randi Weingarten (with temporarily sidelined colleague Karen Lewis and Rev. Jesse Jackson, a vassal of the union) is a master of playing to the solidarity mindset that plagues both law enforcement and teaching.

Lynch’s rhetorical charlatanism sounds quite familiar to those of us in the school reform movement. It should. After all, it is no different than defensive statements against criticism of traditional teacher compensation and other failed practices within American public education made over the past few years by Weingarten and her colleagues within both the AFT and the National Education Association.

The latest round came in October after Time came out with a story on Vergara v. California and the sparring between reformers and the Big Two unions over teacher quality reform that featured the headline Rotten Apples and included a cover photo of an apple about to be smashed by a judge’s gavel. Weingarten was so incensed by it that the union rounded up signatures from some 80,000 teachers and other supporters demanding the magazine to “Apologize to teachers.” [Time defended the piece and the cover.] Four months earlier, Weingarten demanded that U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to back down from his mild praise of the California superior court judge’s ruling in the case to abolish near-lifetime employment and dismissal rules, complaining that he was adding to the “polarization” of debates over education policy. Duncan’s refusal to do so — and, in fact, move to double down on his original comments — led the AFT as well as the NEA to pass resolutions at their respective conventions demanding the Obama Administration to fire him. As you already know, that’s not happening.

In fact, when it comes to constantly being outraged, no public-sector union leader is as good at it as Weingarten and her fellow NEA and AFT leaders. And education traditionalists have defenders of existing law enforcement practices beat when it comes to being insulted by any criticism of the established order. There’s AFT honcho-turned-Albert Shanker Institute boss Leo Casey, who tossed an Reductio ad Hitlerum-like statement against Steve Brill three years ago after the Class Warfare writer accused the AFT and other traditionalists of being “deniers” of the underlying causes of the nation’s education crisis. Casey would go on the next year to accuse news anchor-turned-teacher quality reform activist Campbell Brown (along with several other reformers) of committing “the equivalent of a blood libel” against teachers for daring to expose the complicity of the AFT’s Big Apple local (and that of the national union) in keeping criminally abusive teachers on the city’s payroll. [Casey never apologized for his incivility.]

Based on all the data on the depths of the nation’s education crisis — including the fact that three out of every 10 fourth-graders are functionally illiterate as well as how traditional policies and practices keep laggard teachers in classrooms — you would think valid criticism, internal and external, would be welcomed. But it isn’t. Dare any reformer mention how tenure protects laggard and criminally-abusive teachers from being sacked from classrooms and you will see NEA and AFT bosses, along with traditionalists in their amen corner, accusing that person of hating teachers and not respecting their hard work. This is also true for teachers who dare break the thin chalk line and challenge unions and their colleagues.

But why so little tolerance for criticism in both sectors — and so much faux outrage from both Lynch, Weingarten, and their colleagues? Chalk it up to the solidarity mindset, legacy of the old industrial union model (and its mindset of employees as being little more than mules who can only perform singular tasks ad nauseam) borrowed by both police and teachers’ unions that continues to pervade both the law enforcement and teaching professions.

Because unions, by their very nature, thrive on the idea that the rank-and-file are in bitter struggle, they emphasize unity and common cause over and above everything else. Disagreements within the rank-and-file over a policy direction? Treasonous disloyalty that must be squelched. Questioning of longstanding practices by outsiders? Insulting, and therefore, unacceptable. Criticism from within and opposition from without? Hatred of the hard-working people who dedicate their lives to serving others.

Yet the solidarity mindset is problematic for both professions — and for the children, families and communities for who they work.

For one, by placing unity unchallenged above everything else, the solidarity mindset leads to those who bear it failing to do high-quality work for the people they serve. This is because blind loyalty keeps people from thinking clearly about matters before them and engaging issues thoughtfully. For police officers in an age of community-oriented policing (and the Broken Windows Theory that is a key aspect of it), the solidarity mindset can keep them from making smart short- and long-term decision on their own. For teachers, whose jobs are increasingly challenging, the solidarity mindset can keep them from diagnosing and addressing the learning issues of the children in their care.

For Tamir Rice and other children, the solidarity mindset can endanger their futures and even their very lives.

Secondly, because the solidarity mindset prizes the collective (and group cohesion) over anything else, it keeps those blinded by it from viewing others outside their ranks as their fellow men and women. Outsiders aren’t worthy of respect or consideration because they are outsiders. [It can also exacerbate the bigotries of those in the ranks, as well as the shoddy thinking they may have of people from backgrounds different than their own.] This is problematic in law enforcement because police officers must earn the trust of the citizens who they protect (and are dependent on for the taxes used to provide them compensation) in order to preserve law and order. It is also problematic in American public education because teachers are trusted with the futures of children for who they must have empathy and concern, and must work with families of backgrounds who are the rightful lead decision-makers for them. In both cases, solidarity thinking makes it difficult for them to comprehend and empathize with concern families and communities have for their children and each other — and leads to loss of trust from those they serve, as well as increased scrutiny from media and activists.

Thirdly, because the solidarity mindset exacerbates the cultism — be it blue walls of silence or thin chalk lines — that can be a problematic feature of any culture or profession, it enables and protects those who are incompetent, corrupt, even abusive and criminally venal. Those burdened by solidarity thinking cannot accept any statement by colleagues and outsiders other than “all professionals within my sector are hard-working, dedicated, and therefore, competent at their jobs”, or “if not for some outside force such as poverty or bad parents, we could be successful at our jobs.” When coupled with bad policies and practices that govern professions — be they use-of-force laws and dismissal processes in law enforcement, or near-lifetime employment rules and subjective teacher quality evaluation regimes in education — as well as the legacies of the state-sanctioned bigotries that are America’s Original Sins, the damages to both professions, peoples, and communities are devastating. Especially in both professions, the works of those who are honorable and high-quality are marred by the incompetence and evil of those who shouldn’t work with them.

Finally, the solidarity mindset gets in the way of mature professionalism. One of the hallmarks of a mature profession, be it law or medicine or journalism, is that criticism within it of institutions, practices, even people is not only the norm, it is expected. This acceptance of external criticism and productive conflict, a key part of lifelong learning, leads to improvements for the profession, for the people who are in it, and the sector in which it works. Such isn’t the case for a profession burdened by the solidarity mindset. By being unwilling to broach conflict and criticism, professions burdened by solidarity thinking (and those who are its members) end up being ill-equipped to deal with evolutions in sector that challenge it. Part of the decline in influence for AFT and NEA can be attributed to the failures of the two unions to ditch their outdated industrial union model, which is, in turn, partly results from the solidarity mindset plaguing its leaders.

For school reformers and criminal justice reform advocates, tackling the solidarity mindsets of the teaching and law enforcement professions is critical to the systemic overhauls of both sectors. Both are already taking the first step of challenging such thinking with data, advocacy, and action. At the same time, both must address some of the key obstacles to stemming the prevalence of solidarity thinking.

One obstacle lies with the dismissal policies within both sectors that keep rogue cops and bad teachers in their jobs. School reformers, especially Parent Power and teacher quality advocates, have been actively challenging those policies, especially through the launch of lawsuits such as Vergara. Criminal justice reformers should build upon those efforts, while school reformers must press harder on what they are doing so far. In New York, this means demanding Gov. Cuomo to veto the bill effectively giving the PBA control over the process for firing rogue and incompetent cops.

Another obstacle lies with public-sector unions whose coffers and political influence benefit from solidarity thinking. This is another area in which school reformers have led the way, from the successful efforts by governors such as Scott Walker in Wisconsin to end the ability of those unions to forcibly collect dues from teachers regardless of their desire to be members, as well as the development of professional association alternatives such as Educators4Excellence who represent younger teachers who want to elevate their profession. Again, school reformers must work harder on these fronts, while criminal justice reform advocates should work on such efforts within law enforcement. Weakening the PBA, for example, would do wonders for civil liberties.

No matter what reformers in both sectors do, they need to understand the solidarity mindset that pervades the teaching and law enforcement professions. And they must challenge it successfully on behalf of our children, their families, and their communities.

December 18, 2014 standard

The last two months of every year is what your editor calls silly season, when otherwise-sensible people end up writing less-than-sensible things. This is why your editor won’t devote many words to the latest defense of overusing out-of-school suspensions and other harsh traditional school discipline by Thomas B. Fordham Institute President Michael Petrilli. Doing so means giving the data-free claptrap more credence than the unserious piece deserves. Considering that I have torn apart Petrilli’s earlier arguments about the issue so many times before — and has cited decades of evidence to boot — another point-by-point response would just heap on more embarrassment for him.

Nor will I give any more attention than necessary to the shoddy scholarship coming from Fordham last month in the form of a piece by Brookings Institution scholar Tom Loveless arguing that American public education should return to the racialist practice of ability-tracking because it can supposedly help high-achieving kids from poor and minority backgrounds. The fact that the evidence Loveless cites contradicts his hypothesis (and shows that tracking doesn’t help children at all) should have been enough for the piece to be rejected out of hand. At some point, Loveless has to stop trying to revive a legacy of America’s condemning of poor and minority children with low expectations.

I’m not even going to bother with Rick Hess’ latest defense of preserving Zip Code Education policies (and ultimately, the traditional district model), this time during the Education for Upward Mobility conference held by Fordham last month, and his claim that efforts to expand school choice do little more than allow poor and minority families to evade personal responsibility for raising their children. This is a theme he began last year with a piece in National Review last year arguing that reformers were encouraging irresponsible parenting. Conor P. Williams of New America Foundation responded best to Hess’ sophistry by noting that he fails to admit that the very Zip Code Education laws he is effectively defending actually neuters the ability of all families to do the best for their children by taking away their God-given right to structure education for their kids, a point made on these pages ad nauseam. Given Hess’ penchant for look-at-me contrarianism, his argument deserves no serious consideration.

Yet Petrilli, Loveless, and Hess, through their respective polemics and advocacy for traditionalist thinking, raise an important question: Why do traditionalists and even more-sensible reformers advocate for replicating the failed polices and practices of American public Education’s past and present when we must do better for all of our children?

One of the enduring conflicts, both in the battle over reforming American public education as well as within the school reform movement itself, is that there are some outdated ideas that damage the futures of kids to which some hold on to with dear life. Considering the data on how woeful American public education remains — including 33 percent of all fourth-graders in 2013 were functionally illiterate (along with another 33 percent reading at basic levels of literacy) — and that one out of every two dropouts and high school grads without higher ed training aren’t in the workforce, you would think it would be hard to justify holding on to nearly every policy, practice, and institution within it.

Yet as Petrilli, Loveless, and Hess demonstrate in their rhetoric, there are some reformers who are as keen on preserving the worst traditionalist thinking as those opposed to systemic reform. Same is true for some charter school operators such as Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy who have been rightly called out for out-of-school suspension rates that are often as high (if not higher) than those of traditional districts. Same also goes for centrist and liberal reformers who still oppose expanding vouchers and other forms of school choice. And like most traditionalists, they fight vigorously to preserve institutions and practices ultimately because they believe such policies and practices are worth keeping.

This strain of thinking was given some credence this summer when Andy Smarick of Bellwether Education Partners wrote a series of essays asking why the school reform movement seems hostile to movement conservative thinking. One of Smarick’s complaints was that reformers, especially centrist and progressive Democrats within it, are far too disinterested in conserving institutions and policies within public education that may actually have some social and political value. From where Smarick sits, the technocratic approach embraced by many reformers, which can involve tremendous upheaval can lead to “valuable things [being] lost in the process”. From where Smarick sits, reformers should at least think about the reasons why earlier generations put practices and institutions in place before taking them down.

Your editor understands Smarick’s point, at least when it comes to such matters outside of education such as civil liberties. Certainly there are traditions, policies and practices worth preserving because those who came before us, through their hard-earned experience, figured out that some things work best when it comes to fostering liberty, freedom, and civil society. Freedom of speech, for example, protects minority views that may be unpopular in the times in which they are expressed, while freedom of the press allows for media to shed the much-needed antiseptic of sunlight on governments to protect our society and tax dollars. Then there are institutions such as churches and charities, which help foster a humane society from which we all benefit. Not every long-lived idea or institution should be tossed into the ashbin of history.

At the same time, as I noted last July in a critique of one of Smarick’s pieces, preserving traditional ideas and institutions can be as much a flaw as virtue, especially when they perpetuate injustice that is morally and intellectually indefensible. This is because ills, social, educational and otherwise, is often as much a result of bad structure s and approaches that perpetuate human failings. Just as importantly, there is the reality that tradition, like so much else wrought by man, is based on limited human reasoning; the same humility Smarick counsels in favor of preservation also favors change because few ideas and institutions are ever timeless. As famed conservative philanthropist John M. Olin would likely note, because earlier generations don’t have the benefit of data and knowledge that has come since they left this earth, the correct conclusions for their time may be incorrect today (and, with benefit of hindsight, may have been wrong even then).

Why do some reformers continue to join common cause with traditionalists to defend policies and practices that damage children’s futures?

The blind adherence to tradition, or the democracy of the dead, can often result in people being unwilling to address injustice by those institutions even when it is morally and intellectually justified to do so. More importantly, adhering blindly to traditionalism, especially in American public education, has damaging consequences to all of our children inside of schoolhouses and outside of them. Especially since these practices originate from the state-sanctioned bigotry, racial, ethnic, and religious, that is America’s Original Sin; if anything, these legacy practices can end up perpetuating decades of harm done to children and their communities by earlier laws.

Your editor was reminded of these realities over the past five months as the nation became riveted by matters not immediately connected to the nation’s education crisis: The murder of 43-year-old Eric Garner by New York City police officer Dan Panteleo. The execution of 22-year-old John Crawford, who was shopping in a Walmart, by cops in Beavercreek, Ohio. The slaying of 18-year-old Michael Brown by now-former Ferguson, Mo. cop Darren Wilson. And the execution of 12-year-old Tamir Rice (who was outside playing with a toy gun, as any child would do) by Cleveland police officer Timothy Loehmann.

Their state-sanctioned murders, along with the grand jury verdicts in the cases of Garner, Crawford, and Brown letting the officers off scot-free, and the mountains of data on how police officers are often allowed to get away with killing unarmed men (especially black men) with impunity, were reminders that reforming criminal justice systems is as important in addressing the nation’s shameful legacies as it is in preserving our civil liberties today. The use-of-force laws that allow police officers to get away with murder this century are no different in effect and substance than the fugitive slave and Jim Crow laws that effectively gave license to murder of black men in the previous two.

If it is important to abandon criminal justice practices that end up making courts and police departments more harmful than helpful to the communities they are supposed to serve, it is doubly important to ditch policies and practices within American public education that help not one child and end up damaging millions more. Especially since the dysfunction of education’s super-clusters, especially traditional big-city and suburban districts, help foster the very conditions of social and economic decay in the communities they serve. Especially since schools, through practices such as overusing suspensions and overlabeling kids as special ed cases, have become the gateways into criminal justice systems and dependence on the welfare state. [Even Smarick, in his arguments to abandon the traditional district model, admits that the preservation argument, is incredibly flawed when applied to the nation’s education crisis.]

What is clear, in short, is that American public education cannot continue to exist in its current form. This doesn’t mean abandoning the concept of public education, at least as the system of financing high-quality opportunities for children of all backgrounds so that their geniuses are nurtured in order for them to choose their own paths to success and happiness. What it does mean is that the failed policies, practices, and institutions within public education shouldn’t be preserved.

This includes ditching traditional school discipline practices that have been demonstrated to be ineffective in helping children behave themselves, let school operators off the hook for failing to provide intensive reading remediation at the heart of their behavioral struggles, and, in the case of use of restraints and . That the practices perpetuate thinking by those in law enforcement that black, Latino, and Native children are criminals, end up making schools gateways to prison (through referrals to juvenile justice systems and school arrests), and, in the case of seclusion and restraint practices used in special ed ghettos, physically endanger kids, should lead reformers to do all they can to push for abandoning them. There’s no reason why reformers such as Petrilli defend Success Academy and other charter school operators for overusing suspensions and expulsions when they can and should do better.

It also means abandoning efforts to revive ability-tracking, which along with the comprehensive high school model and special education ghettos, did little more than allow teachers and other adults to deny poor and minority children college-preparatory curricula they need and deserve. That ability-tracking is a legacy of early 20th-century eugenicist thinking that black children, along with those from immigrant households, we’re less-capable of academic learning than white Anglo-Saxon children should be enough to render it intellectually illegitimate. Folks such as Loveless, who know both the history and the evidence of the damage ability-tracking has done, should not advocate for its revival.

This especially means that we must put an end to school zones, school residency laws, and other Zip Code Education policies that keep families, especially those from poor and minority households, from choosing high-quality opportunities for their children. Not only do such laws keep parents from acting responsibly as they should, they are also another legacy of America’s racial, ethnic, and religious bigotries. By no means can Hess defend policies that originate with such racialist and religiously bigoted laws such as Connecticut’s Black Law (which banned black families from outside of the Nutmeg State to attend a private school operated by legendary teacher Prudence Crandall) and Blaine Amendments (passed by states to stifle the growth of Catholic and other parochial schools).

Reformers should not be in the business of defending policies and practices that should no longer continue. That Petrilli, Loveless, and Hess (along with their colleagues) do so is just plain unacceptable. They should stop, just stop, with this not-so-intellectual madness.

December 10, 2014 standard

There is well-deserved outrage over the decisions by two grand juries in St. Louis and New York City to not indict police officers Darren Wilson and Dan Pantaleo for the murders of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. The good news is that many of the nation’s school reformers realize that it isn’t enough to transform education. Groups such 50Can Teach For America, and Parent Revolution, along with activists such as Derrell Bradford, Stacy Childress, Alex Hernandez, and James Shuls, realize that reformers must stand up and counted when it comes to addressing the intersection between American public education and our criminal justice systems.

Raising voices is a start. But I declared in this week’s Dropout Nation Podcast, reformers must also take action by working with criminal justice reform advocates to address how schools and courts end up damaging our children. One area in which reformers can play powerful roles lies in keeping kids out of the nation’s juvenile justice systems and overhauling how those already condemned to youth prisons are treated, educationally and otherwise.

The latest focus on our juvenile prisons comes courtesy of the Obama Administration, which issued guidance on Monday to state superintendents and attorneys general on how to stem the high numbers of children caught up in juvenile justice systems, as well as overhaul how teaching and curricula is provided to the 146,979 kids incarcerated in prisons and jails (including residential treatment centers) as of 2011, according to an analysis of federal and state data by the criminal justice reform-oriented Justice Policy Institute. Certainly there will be some reformers who will argue that the Dear Colleague guidance is another form of federal overreach as they did when the Obama Administration began work on reducing overuse of harsh school discipline. But the administration deserves credit for once again shining a light on how schools and criminal justice systems work together to condemn so many children to the worst America offers.

One aspect of the administration’s guidance has to do with the reality that far too many children from poor and minority households are more-likely to end up trapped in juvenile justice systems than kids from white and middle class backgrounds. This, of course, reflects what happens in American public education. Sixty percent of delinquency cases involving black children, along with 58 percent of American Indian, and 56 percent of Asian kids, were petitioned (or led to formal charges) in 2011, according to the U.S. Department of Justice; only one out of every two cases involving white kids led to formal charges.

The Obama Administration’s guidance comes both amid the uproar over the Ferguson and Garner grand jury verdicts, and as Justice Policy released its special report revealing that 46 states (along with the District of Columbia) spent $148,767 per child annually on juvenile incarceration in 2011. Based on those numbers, states (along with the federal government) actually spent $22 billion on imprisoning youth, more than four times the official number of $5.7 billion (which only accounts for kids in juvenile prisons, not those in residential treatment where most incarcerated youth will be placed). Concludes Justice Policy staffers Amanda Petteruti, Marc Schindler, and Jason Ziedenberg: “Policies that needlessly confine youth have an immediate cost for taxpayers and our communities.”

This is an understatement. Twenty-five percent of convicted juvenile delinquency offenders and seven percent of convicted status offenders (or children convicted of activities that would be legal if they were 18 or 21), were incarcerated in 2011. Another 64 percent of convicted juvenile delinquency offenders and 56 percent of those convicted of status offenders end up on probation, which can be just as onerous as prison time because probation usually lasts until a child reaches age 18 or 21 (and could lead to prison if they violate — quite likely given high recidivism rates — or if families fail to pay often-exorbitant monthly probation fees to courts). Given that only 4.6 percent of the 1.5 million juvenile arrests made in 2011 were for violent crimes such as murder, and property crimes accounted for just 23 percent of arrests, children end up in juvenile justice systems either for minor offenses that can be solved through better means or because of referrals by traditional districts and other school operators for matters they should be handling on their own.

This is especially troubling for three important reasons.

Children incarcerated in juvenile prisons such as the now-shuttered Al Price in Beaumont, Texas, often never get high-quality education. (Photo courtesy of the Beaumont Enterprise.)

The first: Once a child lands in juvenile courts, they are unlikely to gain the kind of due process granted to adults. The U.S. Supreme Court’s 1967 ruling, In Re Gault, established that juveniles are entitled to legal counsel and due process the same way adults are. Yet as Seattle University School of Law Professor Janet Ainsworth noted in a 1996 report, 47 percent of accused juvenile offenders in three states went through court without any legal representation; a decade later, the National Juvenile Defender Center and the Indiana Juvenile Justice Task Force reported that 40 percent of juvenile cases in Indiana were handled without defense counsel. Just 19 states allow alleged juvenile offenders to have their cases decided by jury trial in at least some situations, according to NJDC.

Because of the lack of due process and legal representation, children can end up being subjected to arbitrary and capricious behavior by judicial overlords — who often control juvenile jails and probation agencies alongside their own courts — whose decisions can end up causing more harm to kids than any possible good. Your editor detailed what could happen in a 2006 editorial series for the Indianapolis Star on scandal that enveloped the Circle City’s juvenile court. An even more-horrific example was revealed three years later, when then-Luzerne County (Pa.) Court of Common Pleas judges Michael Conahan and Mark Ciavarella were charged with (and later, convicted of) racketeering and bribery charges for funneling $1.3 million a year in taxpayer dollars to cronies operating two private jails by incarcerating alleged youth offenders (many of whom were first-time offenders charged with misdemeanors such as spraying graffiti, writing prank notes, and truancy), often finding the kids guilty in less than two minutes, and denying them their rights to attorneys.

The second reason: Once a child ends up in juvenile prisons and jails, there is little likelihood that they will be safe from harm. Twelve percent of juvenile prisoners report being sexually assaulted by either another inmate or by prison staff, according to a Justice Department study. Last year, the Justice Department revealed that one out of every three children held in 13 juvenile jails and prisons — including the Circleville Juvenile Correctional Facility in Ohio and the Illinois Youth Center Joliet — were sexually abused by guards, other employees, or fellow inmates. And in California, the problems of sexual abuse of children in juvenile prisons was brought to light once again last October when Cesar Navejar, who worked as an officer in Kern County’s juvenile jail, was accused of sexual battery on a child locked up there.

But the damage to kids in juvenile jails extends beyond molestation. Thirty-five percent of juvenile prisoners reported that they spent some time in solitary confinement, essentially being subjected to the kind of psychological abuse that has gotten prisons serving adults into trouble. Because juvenile prisons and jails are ill-equipped to deal with the underlying mental health issues of kids incarcerated in them, suicide ends up being common. The average age of children in juvenile prisons committing suicide between 1995 and 1999 was 15.7 years old, according to a 2009 report from the Justice Department; 72.7 percent of them were locked up for nonviolent offenses, while 65.8 percent had a history of mental illness, and 78.5 percent had a history of physical or emotional abuse. Given that 63 percent of kids incarcerated in juvenile prisons were convicted of nonviolent property, drug, and technical (read: probation) offenses, putting kids into juvenile prisons harms them physically and mentally in the present — and does little to help them change their behavior and become model citizens in the future.

Then there is the reality that most kids in juvenile jails and prisons are unlikely to be provided high-quality education. Just nine percent of children locked up in state juvenile prisons in 2009 graduated with either a high school diploma or lower-quality GED, according to the Justice Department; a mere four percent of inmates were either enrolled or accepted into a higher education program. When they are locked up in juvenile prisons, they are unlikely to get high-quality teaching and curricula; 26 percent of children locked up in juvenile prisons and jails for more than 90 days made any kind of academic progress, according to a report released earlier this year by the Southern Education Foundation. Meanwhile as lawsuits such as one filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center have revealed, few juvenile prisons and jails do much to provide kids with education in the first place.

The failures of public education in juvenile justice systems is especially problematic for kids who have been condemned to the nation’s special ed ghettos when they were attending traditional district schools. Thirty percent of incarcerated youth surveyed by the U.S. Department of Justice were diagnosed as being special ed cases. University of Florida professor Joseph C. Gagnon and his team determined in a 2009 study that between 38 percent and 44 percent of juvenile inmates were taking special ed classes. As Sarah Butrymowicz and Jackie Mader of the Hechinger Report detailed this past October in a report on Mississippi’s juvenile prisons, the likelihood of a juvenile prison following up on an incarcerated child’s individualized education plan is slim to none.

Certainly the complex nature of juvenile justice systems can make it difficult for school reformers to even discuss, much less devote energy to it. As I noted four years ago, the complex behavioral and psychological issues alone are harder to grapple with than matters of teacher quality. Yet reformers must work hand-in-hand with advocates for overhauling juvenile justice systems. Why? Because far too many children are condemned to juvenile systems for problems that have as much to do with the failures of American public education as they do with bad parenting and a fraying civic society.

Corruption and denial of due process to children by juvenile justice officials such as now-convicted former Luzerne County judges Michael Conahan and Mark Ciavarella is far too commonplace.

As Dropout Nation has noted over the past few months, schools account for three out of every 10 status referrals to juvenile courts in 2011, according to the Justice Department. This includes 65 percent of truancy referrals, which account for 33 percent (or the single-largest share) of all status cases handled by juvenile courts. Given that juvenile court judges are incapable of handling matters that have to do with the failures of traditional districts to provide high-quality education and families not keeping their kids in classrooms, there is little reason why truancy cases are even be adjudicated.

The failures of traditional districts on the literacy front are another reason why so many kids are ensnared by juvenile justice systems. Forty-four percent of incarcerated children in state juvenile prisons were at least a grade level behind in reading. As Stanford University researchers Deborah Stipek and Sarah Miles determined in a 2006 study, low literacy levels in first grade are strong predictors of long-term disciplinary problems by third grade; essentially kids act out because they realize that they are falling behind their peers, but are unable (or unwilling to) verbalize it. This was further borne out in a 2011 study by Chuang Wang and Bob Algozzine of University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Thanks to low-quality literacy instruction and curricula (especially in the early grades), along with the lack of intensive identification and remediation of functionally-illiterate children, kids who would otherwise stay out of trouble in and out of schools end up on the path to incarceration.

The failure of districts to help illiterate children end up leading to another problem that ends up in juvenile justice systems: The overlabeling of children, especially young black and white men, as special ed cases. As Dropout Nation noted in reports on school districts in Ferguson, Mo. (where Michael Brown was slain), districts in the Washington, D.C., metro area, and Minneapolis, children in special ed ghettos are at least twice as likely to be arrested or referred to juvenile justice systems as peers in regular classrooms. Because districts fail to address literacy issues, and because teachers and other adults in schools end up labeling certain groups of students as special ed cases because they think they are destined to end up that way, far too many kids end up being put on the path to juvenile and adult prisons. That many special ed ghettos embrace many of the worst practices of those prisons — including use of seclusion (or solitary confinement) and restraints on kids — essentially conditions kids to being mistreated in juvenile justice.

Then there’s the role that state education departments fail to play in regulating schools and other educational programs operated in juvenile prisons and jails. Because education agencies often fail to fulfill their mandates to oversee juvenile correctional schools — as well as because of their struggles in developing robust data systems that can provide data on their performance (as well as allow them to get information from districts) — jails and prisons end up doing little for the kids in their academic care.  In fact, as a 2009 study by team led by Gagnon determined, more than half of principals running juvenile detention schools believe that kids in their care should not be expected to learn at grade level; which means that incarcerated children are being subjected to the soft bigotry of low expectations by those who should do better by them. The neglect of state education departments on this front is one reason why the Obama Administration’s guidance extends to them as well as to attorneys general.

The failures of our schools and juvenile justice systems spill out onto our streets — especially in the form of black kids essentially condemned to lives of incarceration. So overhauling juvenile justice systems must be a priority for school reformers and criminal justice reform advocates alike.

This starts with reformers and juvenile justice advocates, along with the rest of the criminal justice reform community, coming together to support reforms that can keep kids out of juvenile justice systems in the first place. This includes ending mandatory sentencing for all but the most-violent acts of delinquency, as well as backing laws requiring jury trials and legal counsel (in a manner similar to the guardian at litem system for kids going through child welfare systems) for all alleged juvenile offenders. These moves, along with greater oversight of juvenile incarceration (including putting operation of juvenile jails in the hands of city and county jail agencies and out of the hands of judges) should be undertaken.

Youth in detention are routinely searched, at some facilities six times a day is standard procedure. (Photo courtesy of Richard Ross)


Directly addressing the intersection between public education and juvenile justice systems, reformers should support juvenile justice reform overhauls being advanced by outfits such as the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the John T. and Catherine D. MacArthur Foundation. Casey, in particular, has worked diligently in cities such as Indianapolis to reduce the numbers of kids referred by districts to juvenile courts. Crafting laws that require state education departments to keep better tabs on juvenile prison schools must also be a key priority.

Yet there will still be some kids who will be in juvenile prisons and jails because of violent offenses. This is why reformers must play powerful roles in overhauling the schools that serve our kids locked up in juvenile prisons and jails. This is where charter school operators such as KIPP can come in. Outfits such as the See Forever Foundation, which operates schools serving the District of Columbia’s juvenile jail (as well as other charters serving ex-dropouts) have shown that incarcerated kids can and should receive high-quality teaching and curricula. Online and blended learning players such as Rocketship should also help out on this front. Universities, technical schools, and apprenticeship programs can also help by providing kids in juvenile jails the postsecondary education they will need to avoid poverty and incarceration upon adulthood.

Meanwhile juvenile justice advocates should support reformers in transforming American public education. After all, if we ensure that all kids are reading proficiently and on the path to lifelong success, we keep them out of juvenile justice systems. This includes high-level reforms such as implementing Common Core reading and math standards; implementing techniques such as Response to Intervention (which can keep kids from landing in special ed ghettos and help them get reading remediation); building school data systems that can help all schools inside and outside juvenile justice systems serve children well; and expanding school choice and Parent Power, especially for poor and minority families affected most by the dysfunctions of public education and criminal justice.

We must keep our children out of juvenile justice systems and help them, along with those already trapped in them, get the high-quality education they need and deserve. Reformers can’t stand on the sidelines any longer on this matter.

Featured photo courtesy of Richard Ross. Check out his Juvenile in Justice series.

December 9, 2014 standard

As a child, my father taught me how protest, civil disobedience and labor unions were used so farmers would stop spraying our families with pesticides while they worked the fields. We had heroes: They included Cesar, Martin, and J.F.K.

I became a freshman in high school in the fall of 1988. I remember wondering why the next Martin or Cesar never showed up and if I’d ever see another compelling civil rights activist in my lifetime. Instead of taking messages to the streets, activists tried to take to the airwaves, but their messages were lost in an increasingly noisy, short attention-spanned, media industry that was undergoing its own radical transformation and on a public that grew weary of talk about race.

I have spent the past few days processing the New York City grand jury’s decision to not indict a police officer for killing Eric Garner. I didn’t have a single coherent thought. Just anger and two rap lyrics from albums that were released my freshman year of high school. The first, from NWA: They have the authority to kill a minority. The second, from Chuck D and Public Enemy: Five O said, “Freeze” an’ I got numb Can I tell ‘em that I really never had a gun?

It wasn’t Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. talking about the relationship between minority communities and the criminal justice system when I was a kid. It was Chuck D and Ice Cube – 26 years ago. I grew up questioning a justice system that didn’t seem to work for black and brown communities. Chuck D and Ice Cube appeared prophetic when the Rodney King riots broke out just a few weeks before I graduated from high school.

Another institution that didn’t seem to work for us was our schools. My high school had 900 freshman — and only 330 seniors on the path to graduation. No one could say where the other 570 kids went; there was no high school with three times as many graduating seniors than freshmen. As we walked around campus listening to our Walkman radios, our eyes told us that most of us wouldn’t make it to graduation.

Beyond the obvious human rights implications, Eric Garner’s case matters because millions of people are watching to see whether the system works for them or is stacked against them. Every time we interact with our justice system, our public schools, our medical system, our churches and other public institutions, it either confirms or denies a narrative about our relationship with society.

Because if a society works against me and my loved ones, I behave differently. I stiffen. I resist. I despair. I resent. I protect.

We had Dr. King in the 1960s, Chuck D in the 1980s, and now Eric Garner in 2014. A good friend pointed out in disbelief that an unarmed man had to die on video in order to spur the latest call-to-action around civil rights. Why does an innocent man need to die for us to generate a sense of urgency? I also wonder if the Eric Garners of the world will be our leaders going forward exactly because social media is too difficult to ignore.

I need to stop waiting for the next Dr. King, and forget about finding the next Chuck D. This goes for you, too. Because we are the leaders — and the leaders are now us.

I kind of hoped that our society would mature to the point where some of our current racial issues would get resolved. Maybe this is because society began to work very well for me and it was easier not to talk race or civil rights. But we also made this mistake in education reform when we thought everything would work itself out if we just ran good schools. We are realizing in education that running good schools is not enough. We need to match and exceed the political will of those who steal the possible when it comes to children’s education. I think the same is true for civil rights. We just have to fight.

We have a chance to battle demons in 2014 that we brushed away in 1988. My friend Marc Porter Magee recently quoted Winston Churchill’s aphorism that “The United States can always be relied upon to do the right thing — having first exhausted all possible alternatives.” It sure is taking a long time to exhaust all the alternatives. I’m marking my calendar for 2040. We have a lot do between now and then.