The excellent researchers at the Pew Research Center have looked at recent Census Bureau data and found that although Asian, White and Hispanic (who may be of any race) child poverty percentages have declined in the last few years, the Black child poverty rate has actually increased both since 2010 and, indeed, from 2000. It is now just under 40 percent, which is approximately what it was 30 years ago. According to Eileen Patten and Jens Manuel Krogstad: “Black children were almost four times as likely as white or Asian children to be living in poverty in 2013, and significantly more likely than Hispanic children.”
Patten and Krogstad leave it there, but these data cry out for answers to the following questions: Why do so many Black children continue to disproportionately live in poverty? And what are the implications of this continuing tragedy?
Obviously, Black children live in poverty because their parents are poor. Black median household incomes are less than two-thirds the White average and while the poverty rate for all White families is 9 percent, it is 24 percent for Black families. And why is that? Part of the reason is that the unemployment rate for Black Americans is twice that for Whites. Part of the reason is differences in educational attainment. Nearly one-third more Black adults over 25 years of age than White are without high school diplomas, while those proportions are reversed for college graduates and nearly twice the percentage of White Americans than Black have graduate degrees. A Black man is much more likely to be without a high school diploma than to have a graduate degree; again, the reverse of the situation for White men. And Black pay rates for every type of job and at every level of educational attainment are lower than the wages of their White co-workers.
Three times the percentage of Black households as White (30 percent versus 10 percent) are those of female householders, no husband present, with children under 18 years. With only one possible wage-earner in the household, nearly half of the children in these households live in poverty. Not that being a single parent household naturally leads to either poverty or educational underachievement. As Ludger Woessmann of the University of Munich noted earlier this year in an analysis of data from the PISA tests of international student success, achievement gaps between married households and single-parent homes declined by 60 percent (from 27 points to 10 points) when adjusted for educational attainment and number of books in a home.
Black children live in poverty because their families are poor. Their families are poor because their parents have lower educational attainment than the adults in White families, are more likely to be unemployed, and if employed are paid less than White workers of equal educational attainment. Some factors in the relatively higher unemployment rate of Black workers include segregated housing remote from workplaces in areas, such as Milwaukee, with limited public transportation, and the tendency of employers to hire White applicants over equally qualified Black applicants on the basis of race alone.
Then there are those absent fathers. More than one-third of those absent fathers are easy to find. President Obama pointed out the other day in a speech to the NAACP that one in nine Black children now have a parent in prison. The incarceration rate for Black men is six times that of White men (and more than twice that of Hispanic men). This is vastly out of proportion to crime rates and is largely attributable, as the President has said, to the inequities of the criminal justice system: Police are more likely to stop Black men than White men in similar circumstances and more likely to ticket or arrest them.
Prosecutors (overwhelmingly White men) are more likely to prosecute Black Americans than White Americans for similar crimes and judges give Black men more severe sentences than they give White men for similar crimes. These inequities in the criminal justice system directly affect child poverty rates. When in prison Black men cannot contribute to family budgets and it is unlikely that ex-prisoners can earn enough to lift their children out of poverty with child support payments or other contributions to their household.
To complete this cycle, Black children living in poverty often live in highly segregated neighborhoods with poorly resourced schools. In many cities half or more male Black students do not receive a high school diploma and those that do are relatively unlikely to be well-prepared for college or careers. They are, however, highly qualified to be targeted by police for standing, walking or driving while Black. As a result, their children, as well, will be quite likely to live in poverty.
The situation has not changed over the past 30 years. So how could it change in the next 30? The answer starts with reforming education in order to achieve economic and social justice.
Schools with a predominately Black enrollment should be fully resourced, beginning with universal pre-kindergarten at age 3, with extended k-12 school days, weeks and years, high effective teachers and challenging curricula. College tuition should be free for all Black children whose family income is below the national median. Hiring and pay practices should be monitored for racial (and gender) inequities and where those are found remedial actions should be enforced. Black home ownership in non-segregated communities should be facilitated with federally guaranteed, low-interest mortgages. The criminal justice system should be radically reformed, perhaps in many places brought under federal supervision. School reformers should work together with criminal justice reform advocates and others to undertake these much-needed measures.
These initiatives could be supported by humane, rational legislation at all levels of government, or, if such a thing is impossible, by reparations for slavery and Jim Crow, calculated on the basis of the current disparities in income and wealth between the families of Black and White children, paid by those currently existing corporations and other entities that profited by slavery, Jim Crow and today’s disparities. We won’t count on the last solution. But the rest can be easily done if we have to political will to make them reality.
There are numerous problems with the traditional approach school discipline meted out by America’s traditional districts and many charter schools. One of the biggest lies with the longstanding trend by districts to launch police departments as well as bring in law enforcement agencies in the form of so-called school resource officers to police the corridors of school buildings. As the U.S. Department of Justice highlighted earlier this year in its investigation into the Ferguson Police Department, police officers who should only be handling incidents of violence end up using force to address student misbehavior, leading to kids being arrested or detained for minor incidents such as disruptive behavior that should be addressed by teachers and school leaders through better means.
Now as an analysis by Mother Jones reveals this week, the consequences of using police officers to handle school discipline can even lead to children being injured, maimed, and killed inside school buildings. This report, along with the three decades of data on how traditional harsh school discipline damages children educationally, should lead school reformers to join cause with criminal justice reform advocates to end practices that are inhumane as well as ineffective in improving student achievement.
Over the past five years, 28 children have been choked, punched, beaten, tasered, left brain damaged, and even shot to death by rogue cops and school resource officers, according to Mother Jones‘ research. Among the victims: Noe Nino de Rivera, a 17-year-old junior Cedar Creek High School in Bastrop County, Texas, who ended up in a coma for a full year after one officer, Randy McMillan, tasered Rivera after he tried to break up a fight between fellow students. While de Rivera still suffers from the trauma, McMillan avoided criminal indictment and even got a promotion.
Another victim, an unnamed 13-year-old who attended Olmsted Academy North in Louisville, Ky., suffered a brain injury after a police officer, Jonathan Hardin, choked him into unconsciousness; the incident was caught on video. The good news is that Hardin did get fired for this as well as for another injuring of a child at the same school; Hardin also ended up being indicted for his alleged crimes.
Because federal and state governments doesn’t collect much in the way of data on police conduct in traditional districts and other school operations, it is quite likely that far more than 28 children are injured by cops in schools over the past five years.
Huffington Post Editor Rebecca Klein reported this past April that 25 incidents of injuries to children by cops occurred within the past year alone. In the traditional district serving Birmingham, Ala., 110 incidents of pepper-spraying of children by cops have happened since 2006, according to Southern Poverty Law Center attorney Ebony Howard, who is representing eight children injured during one such incident in lawsuit against the district and city’s police department.
Meanwhile the bad behavior of rogue cops in schools extends beyond injury and death. As Philip Matthew Stimson and Adam M. Watkins of Bowling Green State University determined in a study released last year, 61.5 percent of school cops arrested were charged sexual abuse. Seventy-five percent of those cases involved abuse of children in secondary schools. Given that school cops are the primary handlers of school discipline within many districts, the risks of rogue school cops harming children are even higher than ever officially reported (when it is reported at all).
Certainly these and other incidents are stark reminders of the need to overhaul the nation’s criminal justice and law enforcement systems. So does the fact that so many officers who injure children never face criminal charges for their misbehavior. As Dropout Nation reported back in December, rogue cops are as insulated from suffering the consequences of rogue behavior as laggard and criminally-incompetent teachers. Considering that only one-in-three police officers charged with crimes ever serve prison time — and that cops such as Daniel Pantaleo (who murdered Eric Garner last year) are almost never indicted for their misbehavior — it is no surprise that school resource officers and other cops can get away with harming the lives of children under their watch.
But the problem doesn’t lie with police departments alone. The excessive force used by cops and school resource officers in schools results also from districts leveraging criminal and juvenile justice systems to address student behavioral issues instead of addressing the low-quality teaching and curricula from which those issues arise. Districts accounted for three out of every 10 status cases referred to juvenile courts in 2011, according to the U.S. Department of Justice, the second-highest source of referrals after law enforcement agencies. As I reported nine years ago in an editorial series for the Indianapolis Star, districts end up using the courts to address nonviolent (and normal) misbehavior by children that can should be addressed by teachers and school leaders through other means. This includes the case of Donna, a 13-year-old who was sentenced to probation for the schoolkid prank of tossing snow into a teacher’s car.
Exacerbating the problem is the fact that over the past three decades districts, with subsidies from the federal government, have launched their own police departments even though youth crime declined substantially.
Between 1996 and 2008, the number of districts operating police departments more than doubled (from 117 to 250), according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics. Thanks largely to the U.S. Department of Defense’s 1033 Program, school district police departments have also become willing participants in the militarization of law enforcement that was on full display in Ferguson and Baltimore after the murders of Michael Brown and Freddie Gray at the hands of rogue cops. While the Obama Administration has stopped providing military weapons to school cops, districts such as Compton Unified in California still arm police with AR-15 rifles and grenades.
Meanwhile the federal Community Oriented Police program, along with fears over the Columbine Massacre and other rare incidents of mass shootings, have increased the presence of police in schools. The number of cops patrolling schoolhouses increased by 38 percent between 1997 and 2007, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Forty percent of districts in America have some form of police officer patrolling schoolhouse grounds, 40 times the levels 40 years ago.
The presence of cops haven’t improved school cultures one bit. As University of Maryland researchers Chongmin Na and Denise Gottfredson determined in a 2011 study, there is little evidence that the presence of school cops lead to decreases in violent incidents or other forms of misbehavior; evidence does show that the presence of school cops did increase the percentage of kids referrals to law enforcement, which, as Na and Gottfredson “suggests that there is indeed a shift toward more formal processing of youthful offending in these schools.” Matthew Theriot of the University of Tennessee determined in a 2009 study that over a three-year period, schools patrolled by cops had five times the level of arrests for disorderly conduct — the legal equivalent of the rather-subjective and arbitrary discipline category of disruptive behavior — than schools without them; the levels remained constant even after adjusting for socioeconomic background.
Regardless of what schools they patrol, school cops do little to improve school cultures. None of this should be shocking. The presence of police transforms school discipline from a matter of addressing underlying causes of child misbehavior to a criminal justice concern. This is because police officers become the primary handlers of school discipline; as Na and Gottsfredson notes, school cops spend 25 percent of their time “counseling students” — even though few receive the kind of training needed to handle child behavioral issues without resorting to arrest and injury. Children, especially those in communities in which police brutality has become all too common, don’t view cops as Officer Friendlys there to help. If anything, because of the nature of law enforcement, the presence of school cops makes already harsh and ineffective school discipline even more damaging and unproductive.
The presence of cops in schools is also ineffective because it allows teachers and school leaders to further abdicate their responsibility to help all children succeed. As it is, out-of-school suspensions and expulsions excuse them from addressing the underlying learning issues — especially struggles with literacy and lack of intense reading remediation — that lead to kids behaving poorly. Thanks to school cops, teachers and school leaders can simply refer children to cops for arrest instead of addressing issues on their own. Especially in schools and districts serving poor and minority children, school cop patrols allow for laggard instructors and principals to believe that the kids in their classrooms are merely the potential lawless, not young people whose potential can and should be nurtured. The teachers and school leaders end up working with police officers to transform schools into virtual jails where childhood is criminalized.
Certainly there are rare situations in which police presence is necessary. But there are almost no reasons why school cops are a constant presence in so many schools. Police officers who are charged with serving schools and districts should be provided high-quality training, especially in child psychology, to ensure that they use force as the last means of resort. Federal and state governments should collect more-comprehensive data on the role of cops in schools; this includes detailed reports on incidents in which cops use force on children.
But the best solution is to shut down school police departments and reduce the number of cops patrolling school grounds so that police only show up for actual incidents of violence endangering children and adults. This should start with Congress and the Obama Administration cutting off funding for the federal COPS program and its school resource officer initiative, an underlying culprit in the growing presence of cops in schools. On this front, school reformers and criminal justice reform advocates (especially those in the Black Lives Matter movement) can come together to help our children.
But reducing the footprint of law enforcement in schools isn’t enough. Three decades of data have long ago shown this: That traditional school discipline used by America’s traditional districts and many charter schools is ineffective in improving student achievement and school cultures. That out-of-school suspensions and expulsions are almost always used to address behavioral issues that have nothing to do with violence or drug use. That traditional discipline practices almost always targets children from poor and minority households. That the use of such practices never address the literacy issues that lead to child misbehavior. That suspensions and expulsions teach law enforcement to regard poor and minority kids as felons and worse. And that traditional school discipline almost always leads to kids dropping out of school into poverty and prison. As hard as folks like Mike Petrilli of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and Eva Moskowitz of Success Academies may try, no school reformer can morally or intellectually defend these failed and barbaric practices.
On this front, the Obama Administration deserves credit for holding districts accountable for how they mete out such punishment. But it isn’t enough. Embracing alternatives to traditional discipline such as restorative justice is key. Overhauling how districts provide reading instruction and curricula would help more kids struggling with literacy avoid behavioral issues. Both are matters on which reformers and criminal justice reform advocates should work together closely and often.
We can no longer ignore the damaging and unchecked presence of law enforcement in the schools charged with helping all children succeed in school and life. A child should not be choked, brain-damaged, or murdered by a police officer mishandling situations that call for tender loving discipline.
Featured Photo: Noe Nino de Rivera, a high school junior in Texas, is one of many children injured and damaged by school police officers.
In 1956 the House Un-American Activities Committee held hearings in Los Angeles to publicize efforts by “subversives” to repeal laws mandating imprisonment and deportation of people who disagreed with those laws. On December 6, 1956, HUAC attempted to interrogate Frank J. Whitley, a Black real estate broker.
Mr. Whitley. “Both of my parents were slaves here in America, and I have been persecuted ever since the day of my birth. And this committee or no other committee has taken up my cause . . . They are killing me and my people all over this country, and you know it. And you know it . . . What about Emmett Till? What about Mr. Moore in Florida a few years ago? And I don’t have to go that far. I can start right in Los Angeles. The same thing is happening.”
Mr. [Congressman] Doyle. “You don’t charge the United States Government with killing?”
Mr. Whitley. “For doing nothing about it. That is why I charge them . . . It’s been 90 years since Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. They are begging to go to school in Texas even, right here by us. What are you doing? You are searching for some subversion you talk about.”
The committee could not get Mr. Whitley off the witness stand fast enough.
This story brings together three basic ways in which harm is inflicted on the Black community: governmental action (or inaction), education, and housing. Mr. Whitley knew that his clients had great difficulty finding housing or obtaining mortgages to purchase homes outside of Watts or other traditionally Black areas of Los Angeles. He knew that although their children could go to school (unlike their cousins in Texas), those schools were inferior to the schools attended by White children. And, as he told the committee, he knew that the police and courts were not to be relied on by the Black community.
Much has changed in the nearly 60 years since Mr. Whitley’s testimony. At the same time, evidence shows that much when it comes to the mistreatment of Black people (especially children) remains the same. And again, the country does nothing.
The Guardian, a newspaper that is based far outside this country in Great Britain, is tracking the numbers of people here killed by police, records that are not kept by neither federal agency nor newspapers based on these shores. Nearing the mid-point of the year, they have identified 490 in 2015 alone, 28 percent of whom were Black. This is twice the share of the descendants of enslaved Africans in the total population.
For doing nothing… I charge them.
A new study funded by the Women Donors Network has revealed that the racial and gender disparities among elected prosecutors, such as district attorneys, are on a scale similar to that in apartheid South Africa. In the state of Ohio, for example, there is only one prosecuting attorney identified as non-White: the Hispanic prosecuting attorney of Stark County. All prosecuting attorneys in the state are male. All but one of the district attorneys in Wisconsin are White. All the district attorneys in Tennessee are White. Of the fifty district attorneys in New York State, just three are Black and two are Hispanic. Just two of the prosecutors in Illinois are Hispanic, none are Black. And so it goes.
For doing nothing… I charge them.
In Cleveland the Black community has so little confidence in the police and district attorney that they decided to bypass local prosecutors and take the case of the shooting of 12 year-old Tamir Rice directly to a judge. But if African Americans cannot trust the police or district attorneys, can they really trust the courts? Based on data showing the low likelihood of police officers being indicted for use of excessive force in killing unarmed Black men such as Eric Garner, the answer is already apparent.
For doing nothing… I charge them.
This brings us to Atlanta, where Black teachers are now going to prison as a consequence of an unprecedented application of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. Now former Atlanta Supt. Beverly Hall, who led steady improvements of the district, and teachers who worked there, were charged with a conspiracy to improve test scores by cheating.
Cheating is clearly unacceptable and absolutely wrong – a point Dropout Nation Editor RiShawn Biddle has made several times in discussing what happened in Atlanta. But it is hard to believe that the district attorney there really thought that Hall’s efforts to improve achievement (as measured by test score growth) amounted to a conspiracy like fixing a horse race or issuing sub-prime loans to unqualified home buyers.
While Hall retired and shortly died, a highly emotional White judge handed out sentences of astonishing severity to the teachers and educators who were still alive. Actions that in other districts have been punished with reprimands or, at most, termination of employment, were criminalized in Atlanta.
For doing nothing… I charge them.
This sort of thing is not unusual or new in Georgia. Many African Americans were held in debt peonage there, and in neighboring states, well into the twentieth century. Compulsory schooling for Black children came late to the state and voting by the descendants of enslaved Africans even later.
But if the police anywhere in the country cannot be trusted not to kill unarmed Black children, prosecutors cannot be trusted to bring those police to trial, and judges cannot be trusted to be reasonable in their sentencing, what is to be done?
It is possible that the failure of the public schools to educate most Black children can be remedied by using charter school legislation to create a well-funded national system of schools for Black children who are unlikely to be well-served by their local schools. It is possible that the segregated, inferior housing of all too many Black families can be replaced with wide-spread home ownership by means of a targeted mortgage guarantee program for the descendants of enslaved Africans.
But what is to be done about the police, the prosecutors and the courts? The U.S. Department of Justice is overseeing some police departments. This could be done more widely, more intensely. Similar actions could be taken in regard to district attorney offices and local courts. There is a precedent for this. It was called Reconstruction. It was effective in the South until destroyed by those who regretted the Emancipation Proclamation. Perhaps it should be given another try, this time on a nation-wide basis.
Because when it comes to our criminal justice and education systems, America can’t continue to do nothing.
The old adage of a “picture is worth a thousand words” is oft utilized precisely because it is so often true – especially when it comes to complex data sets. This becomes especially clear when discussing the need to overhaul traditional school funding throughout the nation.
Today, school reform organization EdBuild released an interactive mapping tool that shows some pretty stark examples of some of the patently crazy ways that school districts across the United States have drawn their borders. Surfacing some excellent examples, the EdBuild team clearly delineates the differences between the “haves” and the “have nots”, as measured by the poverty levels of more than 13,000 school districts.
As EdBuild points out, school districts across the United States get a significant portion of their funding from local property taxes. This creates scenarios wherein neighbors send their kids to schools with vastly different financial resources. The result: “these invisible walls often concentrate education dollars within affluent school districts, and ensure that low-income students are kept on the outside.”
As EdBuild points out, Camden, New Jersey has the highest poverty rate of any city in the United States (42.6 percent in 2013). Ninety percent of the kids in the Camden City School District are on free or reduced lunch, while it is almost surrounded by school districts with lower poverty rates. As EdBuild points out, traditional district school boundaries, zoned schooling and other Zip Code Education policies result in keeping poor kids in Camden from being able to access better educational opportunities more easily available (at least in theory) to wealthier peers.
Another example shown by EdBuild is that of the Spencer-Sharples School District in northern Ohio. Considering the racial overtones, it is one that is particularly unsettling.
The Spencer and Harding Townships wanted to split their school system and respectively merge with the Springfield Local School District and the Swanton Local School District. Everything worked out fine with Harding Township’s kids attending school in Swanton. Unfortunately for the kids in Spencer, Springfield rejected the “much larger proportion of low-income, African-American” families from Spencer.
Spencer schools were under-funded and losing enrollment. None of the surrounding school districts would take them. At the request of the state, Toledo Public Schools eventually annexed the Spencer schools, but eventually closed them. To this day, the Spencer kids are bused across two district boundary lines to get to their nearest school.
As one utilizes EdBuild’s mapping tool, it quickly becomes apparent that the disparity in funding creates rather dramatic divides between neighbors. Areas of concentrated poverty, coupled with reduced funding resources, makes it much more difficult for some school districts to provide kids with the high quality education that they have been promised.
I shall not presume to give the solution to these funding inequities, but it is plainly apparent that an over-reliance on property taxes makes it decidedly more difficult to provide an equitable quality of education across all populations. This issue must be addressed. Across the country, lawmakers from both parties need to work together to find creative and fair ways to fund our education system. In states like Pennsylvania, bipartisan efforts to install a student-focused funding formula are well underway. Efforts like this, along with the expansion of school choice and Parent Power (both of which will be helped with the school funding reform), must continue.
It may have been more than 60 years since the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Brown v. Board of Education. But today, it sometimes appears that “separate, but equal” may still be the de facto standard – as long as one ignores the fact that there is little equality.
The editors and contributors of Dropout Nation offer our condolences and prayers to the families of Rev. Clementa Pinckney and the other eight victims of last night’s senseless shooting at Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, S.C. We also offer our prayers and sympathies to the parishioners and their families. Let us all pray for God to give them and the people of Charleston peace beyond understanding.
Plenty enough has been said about Michelle Malkin’s op-ed this week calling for Congress to cut federal funding to Teach for America because it is supporting the criminal justice reform activism of alumni and staffers such as Deray McKesson and Brittany Packnett. Yet let’s keep in mind two matters that few have mentioned — and that Malkin has conveniently ignored for her own ideological purposes.
The first? That the nation’s university schools of education, which train the majority of instructors going into classrooms, have done an absolutely shoddy job of recruiting and training aspiring teachers.
As the National Council on Teacher Quality determined last year in its second annual review of ed schools and other teacher training programs, just 107 out of the 1,612 ed school programs it vetted provided the instruction aspiring teachers needed to be successful in teaching children. This data isn’t surprising. As NCTQ determined in 2006, just 11 out of 71 ed schools surveyed at the time taught teachers all that they needed to provide adequate reading instruction; these results have changed very little within the last nine years.
Even worse, as NCTQ revealed in a study released last November, half of the 6,000 assignments given in 862 courses at 33 ed school programs surveyed by NCTQ were criterion-deficient, or lacked the clear scope of knowledge and feedback aspiring teachers need to achieve mastery in their work. Two hundred ninety-five of the 509 ed schools surveyed had grading standards for students that were far lower than those for other majors on campus. Because these courses were so lacking in quality, students ended up getting plenty of easy As, giving them a false sense of accomplishment and preparation.
The results of this low-quality training can be seen in the fact that three out of every 10 fourth-graders in the nation read Below Basic in 2013, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the nation’s test of student achievement. Especially for poor and minority children, the shoddy training provided by ed schools almost all but ensures that those taught by their graduates will learn little and suffer educationally as well as economically down the road.
This low-quality teacher training comes at a high price to taxpayers. States, along with the federal government and aspiring teachers, spend $7 billion annually on sustaining ed school operations. When you consider that teacher salaries are based on attaining additional degrees (which is often funded by districts and states) and not on performance, the costs of laggard ed schools borne by taxpayers are even greater.
The second: That no organization has done a better job of setting a higher standard for recruiting and training teachers as well as showing how much better teacher training can be than Teach For America.
A decade of data has pretty much shown that Teach For America does a better job than ed schools in recruiting and training aspiring teachers. A 2013 study on Teach For America conducted by research outfit Mathematica determined that its recruits outperformed ed school peers; in fact, the average student taught by a Teach for America recruit gained an additional 2.6 months of learning over a peer taught by a traditionally-trained teacher. Particularly for poor and minority kids, with which Teach For America works with the most (and whose needs the outfit is geared toward serving), the outfit’s recruits are helping them gain the high-quality teaching they deserve (and taxpayers of all ideological stripes should expect).
At the same time, Teach For America has shown new and better ways for recruiting and training aspiring teachers. Over the past three decades, the outfit has shown that teacher training programs should deliberately recruit entrepreneurial self-starters with strong leadership ability (alongside subject-matter competency in the subjects they teach and empathy for children of all backgrounds) needed to lead classrooms. At the same time, Teach For America’s focus on quickly and comprehensively training aspiring teachers in how to actually teach in classrooms exposes the damage wrought by ed schools and their emphasis on unproven instructional theories. Meanwhile Teach For America’s success in recruiting high-quality black and Latino collegians into teaching (with one out of every two recruits in 2014 coming from minority backgrounds) has proven lie to the arguments of ed schools that they just can’t provide children with teachers who look like them.
With two out of every three of its recruits remaining in education — and becoming school leaders, policy players, activists, and social entrepreneurs — the benefits of Teach For America’s efforts aren’t just seen in classrooms. From the work of Michelle Rhee in forming TNTP and launching the so far successful reform of D.C.’s traditional district, to Kaya Henderson’s continuation of those efforts in the nation’s capital, to the work of the likes of KIPP founders Michael Feinberg and Dave Levin in launching charter schools, Teach For America has helped advance the very efforts in advancing systemic reform that are helping more kids succeed in school and in life.
All of this comes at little comparable cost to taxpayers. Federal funding and contracts with districts account for just 20 percent of Teach For America’s revenue of $211 million in 2013-2014. The rest of its support comes from reform-minded philanthropies who understand the critical need for overhauling how we recruit, train, and compensate teachers.
Given the low quality of teaching in the nation’s schools and the success of Teach For America in providing high-quality teachers, you would think that Malkin would call for states and the federal government to stop funding the former and praise the quantifiable and qualitative successes of the latter. But given her fact-free jeremiads against implementing Common Core reading and math standards, neither her claptrap against Teach For America nor silence about the failure of ed schools is shocking. Malkin has proven in the past that she doesn’t do her homework — and her ideological blinders (including a thoughtless and overly-sentimental allegiance to institutions of law and order regardless of misbehavior) assure that she wouldn’t put the work in this time around.
By focusing solely on the fact that Teach For America alumni are playing their proper (and laudable) roles as participants in civil society on behalf of children and communities, Malkin fails to pay any mind to the great work that the organization and its recruits do on a daily basis in providing kids with high-quality teaching. At the same time, she ignores the much-bigger problem of low-quality teacher training that goes on in ed schools and the consequences on America’s public school systems. If anything, Malkin seems to be more in common cause with traditionalists and teachers’ unions opposed to Teach For America’s very existence than with the taxpayers (including families and their children) for whom she expresses so much concern.
Meanwhile Malkin seems to ignore the reality that the nation’s criminal justice systems are in as sore a need of reform as public education — and that as school reformers, Teach For America alumni and staffers can no more ignore the consequences of those woes on children outside of schools than the crises within them.
The high-profile slayings of black men such as Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and Freddie Gray just exemplify the problems of overmilitarized police departments, overcriminalization of youth, perpetuation of state-sanctioned racial bigotry, drug war overkill, and violations of civil liberties by law enforcement that have been detailed at length by progressives, conservatives, and libertarians alike.
If anything, the deaths of these young men have galvanized bipartisan support for criminal justice reform. So arguments by Malkin (as well as those by conservatives within the school reform movement such as Frederick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute) that McKesson and Packnett (along with Teach For America) are “agitating” for a “leftist agenda” ignores reality.
As with school reform, there are plenty of good reasons for such bipartisanship. As Dropout Nation has detailed over the last year, the enabling of incompetent and criminally-venal cops by state laws and criminal justice bureaucracies parallels the protection of laggard and criminally-abusive teachers by state education agencies and traditional districts. The use of excessive force laws that allow rogue officers to murder young black men with impunity are little different from the tenure and teacher dismissal laws that keep even child abusers in classrooms. The only difference between the actions of police unions such as New York City’s Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association and those of NEA and AFT affiliates is that the former carry guns.
As with the consequences of failing and mediocre traditional districts, the consequences of abusive criminal justice systems are borne hardest by the communities in which poor and minority children live. As Balko and others reported within the last year, the use of courts and cops by municipalities as revenue generators (in the form of arbitrarily handed out traffic ticket and rulings that often double those initial penalties) essentially impoverish already poor families. The U.S. Department of Justice’s probes of police practices in Ferguson, Mo., and Cleveland have also revealed how racial bigotry and faulty policing bears out in use of excessive force (including murders in all but name) of young black men and women.
But the consequences for kids aren’t just outside schoolhouse doors. Traditional districts (along with some charter school operators) have long played a pernicious role in fostering a school-to-prison pipeline that condemns far too many kids to despair. School districts accounted for three out of every 10 status cases referred to juvenile courts in 2011, according to the U.S. Department of Justice, the second-highest source of referrals after law enforcement agencies.
Now, thanks to the law enforcement agencies districts have formed on their own (as well as bringing in cops from the outside to serve as school resource officers to handle student misbehavior better managed by teachers and school leaders), American public education has also become key players in the police militarization plaguing our communities. With help from the federal government, districts such as Compton Unified in California are arming their cops with AR-15 rifles and grenades that should never be anywhere near classrooms.
The results can be seen in districts in cities such as Birmingham, Ala., where police officers in Birmingham, Ala., using Freeze +P pepper spray against eight children attending the traditional district there (the subject of a lawsuit filed on their behalf by the Southern Poverty Law Center); some 110 incidents of pepper-spraying occurred in the district since 2006. Because half of school resource officer programs (and other law enforcement) are patrolling elementary school hallways, it means that even kids in kindergarten and first grade are being criminalized at early ages.
There’s no way that any school reformer, much less those black and brown such as McKesson and Packnett, can avoid standing in common cause with criminal justice reformers of all stripes to advocate against these abuses of state power. Considering that Teach For America is has been dedicated from day one to providing poor and minority children with high-quality education, it also cannot ignore the injustices happening outside schools to the students their recruits serve. And as Atlantic Monthly‘s Conor Friedersdorf declared last month in a piece on police brutality, no conservative or liberal, much less a moral human being, can ignore the pressing need to seriously address the reality that there are police officers acting as thugs against people of all backgrounds — especially young black men and women — under the guise of enforcing the law.
Seems like the problem lies not with Teach For America or its alumni, but with Malkin’s immorality and that of her amen corner.