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November 26, 2015 standard

There’s no good reason why it took 13 months for prosecutors in Chicago to indict police officer Jason Van Dyke for murdering 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. Not at all. There’s also no reason why the Second City’s police department withheld and even deleted video evidence that the 14-year veteran fired 16 bullets within 15 seconds into the body of the unarmed youth as he was walking away. No good reason at all. There’s no justifiable reason why Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel allowed his police bureaucrats to do everything possible to cover-up what Van Slyke did to McDonald — including paying out a $5 million settlement to McDonald’s family in order to keep matters hush hush. None at all. There’s clearly no reason why Van Dyke even pulled out his gun in the first place — especially when his fellow officers didn’t view McDonald as a threat to their own safety. Not one good reason whatsoever.

Calling Van Dyke’s murder of McDonald immoral and indefensible is a grand understatement that fails to fully consider the damage he has done. The officer took the life of a fellow child of God and member of the Family of Man for no good reason. Because of Van Slyke, Laquan now joins Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and other innocent black men and women who have been slain at the hands of venal and morally debased men in uniform. The murder is also another reminder that state-sanctioned murder of black men is at the heart of the racial bigotry that is America’s Original Sin. As demonstrated by the efforts of Jamie Kalvern of the Invisible Institute and University of Chicago Law Professor Craig Futterman to reveal and publicize the existence of the tapes, this case is a lesson on why no government can be trusted to do right by any human being, much less the descendants of enslaved Africans brought to this continent so long ago.

The only good thing that can be said is that with Van Dyke’s indictment, there’s at least a chance of justice being done on behalf of McDonald and his family. This is because few rogue cops are ever indicted, much less convicted, of their criminal misdeeds. Once again, Van Dyke’s indictment is another reminder of how incompetent police bureaucracies, state laws, and the cultism among those wearing the badge often act to protects corrupt and murderous police officers. Particularly for the school reform movement, the problems of removing rogue cops mirror the struggles to rid classrooms and schools of laggard and criminally abusive teachers. Which is why we must join together with criminal justice reformers to keep rogue cops and laggard teachers from damaging our children.

The especially sad thing about McDonald’s murder is that it didn’t have to happen in the first place. Even before he slayed the young man, Van Slyke had a well-deserved reputation as a thug in a uniform. During the course of his career, 18 complaints were filed against him for using excessive force, engaging in illegal searches, and uttering racial slurs during arrests. The Second City had to pay out $500,000 to one of Van Slyke’s victims in order to address his misdeeds. With such a lengthy record on his personnel file, Van Slyke should have lost his badge and gun. Yet Van Slyke was never disciplined.

One likely reason: The Second City’s arduous and cumbersome process for disciplining and firing rogue cops. Because several different units of the police department — including the internal affairs unit, the Independent Police Review Authority, and the Police Board (which decides whether to mete out discipline in the most-serious cases) — are in charge of investigating and addressing misconduct, the misbehavior of rogue cops can fall through the cracks. It can take as long as 328 days to investigate an incident of misconduct, according to a report produced last year for Chicago by a team led by Ron Safer, a partner for law firm Schiff Hardin. In one case, it took the IPRA five years to determine that an officer, Bruce Askew, should be fired and charged with excessive force after he cracked the skull of Greg Larkins during an arrest. [The city’s police board dismissed that complaint because it was filed after the statute of limitations ran out.] Little wonder why IPRA recommended the firing of just two out of 400 officers brought before it in the last eight years.

Adding to the bureaucratic morass: The fact that Chicago’s police superintendent is barred from being the ultimate decisionmaker in the disciplinary process. While the superintendent can recommend a firing after being given the right to do so by the IPRA, it is still up to the Police Board to make the final decision. Because of the labyrinthine process and lack of clear oversight, commanders who directly oversee rogue cops take no responsibility for holding them accountable.

Then there are the state laws and court rulings that allow for police officers to use excessive force with impunity. Beginning in 1985 with the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Garner v. Tennessee, state laws give officers wide leeway in how they use deadly force in stopping criminal activity. Officers can shoot to kill if they “objectively reasonable” probably cause to “believe that the suspect poses a significant threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or others”. The problem is that it is almost impossible to determine what is objective or reasonable, and thus, objective becomes subjective and unreliable. More often than not, if a police officer says he fears for his life, then he is let off the hook. Since state laws rarely require the objective standard to be based on physical evidence, even a videotape isn’t enough to lead to an indictment, much less a conviction.

Illinois took a step in the right direction on this front this past August when state legislators and Gov. Bruce Rauner passed a police reform law that bans officers from using choke holds as well as restricts use of deadly force. But having law in place doesn’t mean that rogue cops will be held accountable for their criminality — especially since prosecutors (who depend on support from cops and police unions) and mayors (who are charged by the public with addressing quality of life issues) have little incentive to root out corruption. This is clear from the fact that Van Slyke is the first Chicago cop to be indicted for murder in 36 years — even as the city has spent millions (including $250 million between 2010 and 2014 alone) settling cases involving officer-involved killings and other forms of police brutality.

Meanwhile there is the reality that police officers often view themselves as bands of brothers who will protect each other even at cost to the integrity of their profession. This was pointed out forcefully by famed police detective Frank Serpico — who carries a bullet in his head as a result of his decision to shed light on the Big Apple’s drug war-driven police corruption in the 1970s — in a piece on Ferguson he wrote last year. Not only will officers do nothing to help weed out the worst (and even merely bad) within their ranks, they will shun (and even endanger) those few brave officers who dare to break the Blue Wall of Silence.

But the culture extends beyond the precinct walls. Police unions such as the Chicago branch of the Fraternal Order of Police as well as affiliates of the International Union of Police Associations work overtime to keep even the worst officers on the job. This includes termination processes that can often last years. In Chicago, for example, rogue officers can lodge several appeals of any finding, challenge the length of a suspension, and even file a grievance against a supervisor for daring to mete out punishment. Before the Second City finally convinced FOP and other police unions to slightly amend the process, it could take at least 1,009 days (or more than three years) for a finding of misconduct to be fully resolved. The pressure police unions also exert on prosecutors dependent on their endorsements all but ensure that few rogue cops will ever face justice. For the police unions, who depend on compulsory dues from cops regardless of their desire for membership, a dollar from a rogue cop is as good as one from a law-abiding one.

School reformers and criminal justice reform advocates must both protest state-sanctioned murders and advance policies that will safeguard the futures of poor and minority children.

For school reformers, all of this sounds all too familiar. It should be. Because the way American criminal justice systems protect and enable rogue cops is similar to how public education keeps laggard and criminally-abusive teachers in classrooms.

Just like police departments, traditional districts do an abysmal job of evaluating and dismissing low-quality and criminally-minded teachers. Los Angeles Unified School District, for example, evaluated just 40 percent of veteran teachers and 70 percent of new hires during the 2009-2010 school year, according to the National Council on Teacher Quality in a report released four years ago. As with laws governing deadly force, state laws granting near-lifetime employment in the form of tenure all but ensure that teachers remain on the job regardless of performance, while teacher dismissal laws work to keep even the most-abusive teachers in schools. The presence of incompetent school leaders, who have little incentive to remove low-quality teachers (and are sometimes engaged in abusive behavior themselves), often means that they help perpetuate cultures of abuse, educational and otherwise.

The cultism that pervades police departments is also a poison in traditional districts. Like the Blue Wall of Silence, the Thin Chalk Line not only keeps good and great teachers from calling out the incompetents in their midst, it (along with near-lifetime employment) also lead otherwise-honorable teachers to protect the criminally-abusive among them. This was clear in Rochester, N.Y., where teachers at School 19 failed to cooperate in the investigation of Matthew LoMaglio for second-degree sexual misconduct against an eight-year-old boy, then wrote letters to a judge pleading for leniency on his behalf. As in the case of police unions, affiliates of the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers extend this cultism, both by making it almost impossible to remove  removing laggard and criminally abusive teachers, as well as through their roles as the biggest players in school board races and state legislative politics. And like police unions, NEA and AFT affiliates benefit from keeping as many bodies, be they high-quality, incompetent, or criminally abusive, on payrolls.

The good news for school reformers is that they have made some headway on addressing teacher quality issues. From successfully implementation of evaluations using objective test score growth data, to efforts such as the lawsuits inspired by the Vergara v. California (in which a state court judge tossed out the Golden State’s tenure and dismissal laws), to efforts by districts to aggressively evaluate newly-hired teachers before they attain tenure, reformers have made small positive steps in providing all children with the high-quality teachers they deserve.

So reformers should team up with criminal justice reform advocates are share lessons on how to address their parallel issues. The most-important reason of all: Because what happens to our outside of schoolhouse doors also affects them within them. As Dropout Nation has documented over the past few years, American public education has been responsible for the criminalization of youth (especially the lives of black children) that have led to incidents such as Van Slyke’s murder of McDonald. That the nation’s education crisis has also fueled the crises that happen daily on our streets makes reforming criminal justice systems an important consideration in our efforts. No reformer can claim that criminal justice reform and the Black Lives Matter movement that has made it a critical public policy issue over the last year isn’t a matter about which we must be concerned.

Jason Van Slyke may still avoid the human justice he deserves. More importantly, we cannot bring Laquan McDonald back to life. But we can save the lives of more young black men and women like him from the villainous and immoral behavior of rogue cops and bad teachers. We must do this now.

November 24, 2015 standard

In no normal enterprise would leadership eviscerate policies, even flawed policies, if the policies effectively promoted the goals of the enterprise. But, of course, American public education is no normal enterprise.

Consequential accountability emerged as a major policy direction in education in the nation in the mid-1990s. Through the force of the No Child Left Behind Act passed in 2001, accountability was extended to all the states in the early 2000s and deepened in its impact. This deepening was achieved principally by measuring student achievement each year (which made determinations of growth possible), insisting upon progress of key subgroups of disadvantaged students, and requiring consequences where adequate progress was not made.

Despite imperfections in the implementation of the policies and increasing resistance by forces of the status quo, some of the greatest gains ever on the National Assessment of Educational Progress were recorded during the peak of the consequential accountability movement. Whether one looks at the Long Term Trend data from 1999 to 2008 or the Main NAEP data from 2000 to 2009, the trajectories are impressively up for all subgroups in all subjects for students whose education was most affected by these policies.

Yet for a variety of mostly political reasons, policymakers began to wander off in unfortunate directions at the beginning of this decade. Declaring that No Child was “broken,” the current Administration made fateful decisions that weakened accountability instead of fixing the law’s problems. Unable to lead the Congress to a reauthorization of federal education law, the Obama Administration chose to waive the provisions of the law that were in need of repair as well as certain provisions it didn’t like.

Now here’s where the fatal move was made. Instead of demanding better, stronger, more effective and workable accountability from the states in return for relief from requirements that needed to be waived, the Obama Administration simply weakened accountability and instead demanded action on favored input factors, especially the adoption of certain content standards and teacher evaluation practices.

This was disastrous in several respects. First, it was disrespectful of Congress. The Congress had legislated on accountability for student results. It had not legislated in favor of one type of content standards versus another; nor had it called for teacher evaluation systems. Second, it further fanned the flames of hostility from various powerful interests who opposed the actions the Administration was taking unilaterally. And most importantly, it weakened accountability by limiting its application in a large number of schools, its coverage of all subgroups, and the range of consequences available.

Thus, instead of repairing and strengthening accountability, those in charge weakened accountability. And, in its place, they pushed favored input policies that have been weakly implemented, while further arousing ire and opposition to reform.

To what effect? NAEP scores have been largely flat on the Main NAEP since 2009. And the states that participated in the much vaunted, expensive Race to the Top program have neither raced to the top or anywhere near; nor have they generally made any progress at all since 2009.

In the midst of a breaking down of the law, an executive “doing its own thing,” and increasing dissatisfaction in the public, one might wonder where the Congress has been all this time. Reauthorization is now eight years overdue. Until very recently, there were occasional moans but no action. Now, suddenly, there appears to be coalescence around new legislation dubbed the Every Student Achieves Act.

What collection of policies merits this name? Essentially, the legislation keeps just a very few features of No Child (annual testing and meager pieces of accountability), purports to consolidate a few programs, adds a few new programs, keeps to current funding, adds no real choice, and reduces federal pressure on accountability, virtually to the very low level of that of the late 1980s.

Are key groups happy with this old approach that masks as a new approach? Certainly, conservatives aren’t. We’ll have the same level of borrowing and spending at the federal level. We’ll have no more parental choice. And yet we will get new programs.

Reformers aren’t happy either. The force that advanced civil rights is being seriously eroded. The law’s accountability features which helped lift student achievement and close achievement gaps are being virtually totally eviscerated.

Well – who then are happy with the legislation? The unions and other traditionalists, who despise the pressure of accountability, like the legislation. The states and local districts that want the money but would prefer to have it free of strings like it. And faux federalists, those who seem okay with borrowing and spending billions of federal dollars and keeping a massive federal machine in place to give states all this money basically free of criteria or requirements to get results for the money, support it.

The question arises: how in the world could anyone think this legislation could lead to every child achieving? At least No Child worked in the direction of its goal, and, while many children are still behind, distinctly fewer are today than when it was passed.

What reasoning could support the notion that what is essentially a return to policies that were in place when the NAEP scores were considerably lower than they are today would drive to every child achieving, even indeed to more children achieving than are today? I trust, as certain state chiefs have pledged, some states will keep up the work of reform. But where’s the evidence now of any abundant commitment to improvement that registers in distinctly better results? Other than in a handful of states and districts, one sees no forward motion on the NAEP anywhere.

While we are considering the matter of deception in words, let’s look at what may very well be the worst single feature of the new legislation.

The accountability that data and research have shown contributes to improved student achievement has been grounded predominantly in the expectation of improved student outcomes. We have had standards of learning, measures of progress in learning, and consequences for success or failure in improving learning outcomes. In virtually all systems of accountability at all levels, during the entire period of the accountability movement, accountability has been measured on the basis entirely, or virtually entirely, of outcomes.

If the measures of outcomes show deficiencies, the theory of action has been that inputs ought to be adjusted to get better results. In response to bad results, decision makers could deploy more effective strategies, better or more personnel, improved climate, better engagement of key players, or other inputs to effect improvement.

So, what does the new legislation permit? Up to 49 percent of the accountability criteria can be based by the states on any one or a combination of input factors, including school climate. This means (somebody’s judgment of) school climate could count more than, say, black students’ progress in math or Hispanic students’ proficiency in reading. Indeed if any input can drive 49 percent of an accountability rating, particularly if it gets an “A”, the input could totally dominate and determine ratings, even if real outputs get low to mixed marks.

This essay is intended to be a serious critique of recent moves to weaken accountability. Yet, as to calling it accountability when “the 49 percent input loophole” is permitted, I can think of no better technical term to use than to say this is disgusting.

Beginning in 2010 and accelerating through this legislation, we are witnessing a terrible retreat in the nation’s accountability for educating all its children, especially its disadvantaged children. We began to see signs of stagnancy in recent years, and we see them vividly today. I foresee continued stagnation well into the future, if not actual declines. This is nothing short of tragic. Our children require, and urgently so, that we continue, indeed speed up, the gains we made in the 2000s. Now, with this action, regardless of the misnomer people give it, we will languish in the years ahead.

The future will judge this turn harshly. But, worse, the children who fail to make needed further gains will be hurt by what’s being done, and the nation, as a whole, will suffer.


Certainly the proposed reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act coming out of a Congressional conference committee this week isn’t a done deal. The divide among Congressional Republicans in control of Congress on nearly every policy front — along with the divide between Republicans and the Obama Administration — still lowers the chances of reauthorization. Hardcore movement conservatives within Congressional Republican ranks are already expressing dismay about how the reauthorized bill increases federal subsidies even though research (including a study released last week by the Brookings Institution) have shown that Title I and other programs have not improved student achievement. The Heritage Foundation and its political action fund, which have already criticized the deal because it “fails to restore federalism in education”, will likely make a push on House Republicans to stymie its passage.

Meanwhile the Obama Administration, whose legacy on education policy would be all but eviscerated under the proposed No Child reauthorization, could still exercise plenty of effort to render its passage null and void. Even with the administration’s partial-reverse last month on support for standardized testing, it still has no interest in any proposal that would limit executive authority (both its own and that of future administrations) on education policymaking. Even with proposed law incorporating certain elements of the Obama Administration’s own effort to eviscerate No Child’s accountability provision through its waiver gambit, the overall bill likely still goes too far for Barack Obama’s own liking.

But there is a chance that this reauthorization will make it out of Congress and become law. Even if it doesn’t, twp things are certainly clear: That the strong federal accountability measures that have helped spur reforms that have helped more children succeed will be tossed into the ash bin. And that children, especially those from poor and minority backgrounds, will be the ones who will lose.

It would be an understatement to call the name of the proposed reauthorization, the Every Student Succeeds Act, a mockery of efforts to help all children succeed. By limiting the use of test data, graduation rates, and other objective measures of student achievement to a mere 51 percent of school and district ratings under statewide accountability systems, the bill essentially declares that improving student achievement, the most-important thing schools must do to help children build brighter futures, doesn’t matter. If the legislation is passed, states, districts, and schools won’t have to focus on providing children with the high-quality teaching and curricula they need to be literate and numerate enough to succeed in higher education and life.

Even worse, the reauthorization allows states to measure districts and schools on such amorphous categories as improving school climate and family engagement (and requiring that those categories account for 49 percent of ratings). This wouldn’t be so bad if states were required under the proposal to use objective measures of school climate such as out-of-school suspension rates (which can provide some insight on how school are serving), and were required to develop uniform chronic truancy rates that fully expose how districts are hiding the numbers of kids poorly-served by teaching, curricula, and cultures. But the legislation doesn’t require such data. So it is likely that states will include subjective surveys of school leaders and teachers. This will result in the proposed reauthorization sending the loud and clear message that learning doesn’t matter.

Meanwhile the proposed reauthorization embraces one of the worst aspects of the Obama Administration’s No Child waiver gambit: Limiting accountability and interventions to just the lowest-performing five percent of schools and those with wide achievement gaps. As Ann Hyslop, now of Bellwether Education Partners, demonstrated two years ago in a study for New America Foundation, that aspect of the waiver gambit allowed for 73 percent of 6,058 failure mills in 16 states identified under No Child in 2011-2012 to escape scrutiny. Altogether, 4,458 schools were allowed to provide shoddy curricula and instruction to 2.4 million children; this included 578 failure mills serving 319,000 children that would have been forced to overhaul their operations after six years of failure. Because the five percent limit would now apply to every state (and not just to those currently under the waiver gambit), the futures of millions more children will be ignored.

Further complicating matters is that the reauthorization would weaken the transparency that is critical to any form of real accountability. By allowing traditional districts (with permission from states) to replace state testing regimes with exams such as the Scholastic Aptitude Test, the legislation will make it even more difficult to determine how well school operators and the adults who work within them are serving all children. This also makes a mockery of implementing Common Core’s reading and math standards, which are geared to ensuring that all children receive comprehensive college-preparatory curricula that they will need for lifelong success.

All in all, the proposed reauthorization is a weakening of the strong accountability has that has helped more children gain brighter futures. As Thomas Ahn of the University of Kentucky and Duke University’s Jacob Vigdor determined in a study of North Carolina schools released last year, No Child’s accountability measures have helped the Tar Heel State improve achievement and even helped families in failing schools move into better-performing ones. On average, a North Carolina school failing AYP for the first time improved its math performance by five percent of a standard deviation. A poor-performing Tar Heel State school under Needs Improvement for a fifth consecutive year (and forced to develop a restructuring plan) improved reading performance by six percent of a standard deviation, while math achievement improved by nearly three percent of a standard deviation.

The improvements seen in North Carolina extend to the rest of the nation. As data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress shows, No Child’s accountability provisions (along with other reforms) have led to declines in illiteracy and innumeracy among poor and minority kids. This includes a 12 percentage point decline in the number of black fourth-graders reading Below Basic between 2002 and 2015, as well as a five percentage point decline in the number of black fourth-graders reading at Proficient and Advanced levels. With a five percentage point increase in the number of all children reading at Proficient and Advanced levels within that period — as well as increases in the percentages of kids from poor and minority backgrounds taking Advanced Placement and other college-preparatory courses — the benefits of No Child’s accountability measures have also helped high-achieving kids and those from minority backgrounds often ignored by traditional districts before the law’s passage.

The benefits of No Child’s particular focus on holding states and school operators accountable for improving achievement for children from poor and minority households can also been seen in the other reforms spurred by the law. This includes the expansion of high-quality public charter schools, which have proven to improve achievement for many kids from poor and minority households. As Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes has shown in its evaluation of schools in 41 urban communities, charters help kids attain 40 more days of math learning over their traditional district peers. The percentage of fourth-grade charter school students reading Below Basic served by public charter schools declined by 10 percentage points (from 44 percent to 34 percent) between 2009 and 2015, as measured on NAEP, versus a mere two percentage point decline (from 33 percent to 31 percent) for peers in traditional districts.

This isn’t to say that No Child is an unquestioned success. Because the law reaffirmed the role of states in setting education policy and gave them flexibility to meet the law’s requirements, many states gamed the law by failing to elevate (and in some cases, deliberately lower) standards and proficiency targets, then moving to ramp them up just a few years in order to make the case for ending accountability. No Child also didn’t address the super-clusters within public education that shape what happens in classrooms; this includes university schools of education, which continue to do a shoddy job of recruiting and training the teachers whose talents are the most-critical factor in improving (or bringing down) student achievement.

Yet for all of its flaws, No Child was the single-biggest advance in education policy, both at the federal level and among states and local governments, since the Defense Education Act of 1958. For the first time in the history of American public education, federal education policy set clear goals for improving student achievement in reading and mathematics, and finally focused attention on using data in measuring teacher quality. It also made it clear to suburban districts that they could no longer continue to commit educational malpractice against poor and minority children, as well as focused American public education on achieving measurable results instead of condemning kids to low expectations.

Thanks to No Child’s focus on graduation rates, researchers, news outlets, and advocates shed light on the nation’s education crisis, and revealed how states shamefully reported inaccurate graduation rate numbers to hide the reality that far too many children were dropping out. The revelations forced education officials to take much-needed steps in reporting accurate (and sobering) numbers. Most importantly, No Child also proved that accountability (and the information on performance that it unleashes) works. For reform-minded governors and school leaders, No Child’s accountability measures gave them the tools they needed to beat back opposition to their efforts from traditionalists in their own states. Without No Child, far more children would be illiterate and innumerate than now.

But if the masterminds behind the misnamed Every Student Succeeds Act have their way, the futures of children, especially those from the poor and minority households long-abused educationally by American public education, will be condemned to poverty and prison. This may be pleasing to them and to traditionalists (along with erstwhile reformers) who support passing it. But it is morally reprehensible, intellectually indefensible, and a violation of both the federal civil rights obligation and basic humanity. Everyone involved in crafting and supporting this shoddy replacement for No Child should be ashamed of themselves.

November 6, 2015 standard

In Hennepin County, Minn., which includes Minneapolis, but not St. Paul, the incarceration rate of the Black population is nearly ten times that of the White adult population. The Minneapolis public schools graduate fewer than half their Black students in four years. Most Black children in Minneapolis grow up in poverty. These matters are not unrelated.

Let us begin with the police.

This past May, the American Civil Liberties Union’s Criminal Law Reform Project and the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota released a devastating report on policing practices in Minneapolis. The ACLU report, Picking Up The Pieces, found that “Black people in the city are 8.7 times more likely than white people to be arrested for low-level offenses, like trespassing, disorderly conduct, consuming in public, and lurking.” This last, lurking, apparently means being seen by a police officer while Black.

The report concentrated on arrests for low-level offenses, because these are actions over which individual police officers have the most range of choices and because they are all too often the trap door through which young Black men fall into a life-cycle of arrests, incarceration and unemployment.

About the police officers’ range of choices: The ACLU found that one police officer made 2,026 low-level arrests between January 1, 2012 and September 30, 2014, seven others made over 1,000 low-level arrests, while the median number of arrests by officers during that period was 51. On the one hand, there is obviously a matter of personal responsibility here. These eight employees of the police department were, in effect, deciding to criminalize Minneapolis’s descendants of enslaved Africans. It would not have been difficult for the department’s administrators to notice this, and stop them, but they did not, therefore, they, too, were individually and day-by-day choosing to assist in the criminalization of young Black men.

But the burden of responsibility of the police department’s administrators is heavier than that. According to the ACLU, “Even . . . without these top eight arresting officers, Black people were 8.5 times more likely to be arrested for a low-level offense than white people.” Some, most, police officers on the street made repeated decisions to arrest Black people at rates nearly 9 times that for White people, which, except for the most egregious instances, gave the appearance of anonymous, institutional racism, while in fact individual police department administrators were personally responsible for the continuation of these activities, by not stopping “Officer 2,026 Arrests,” by not acting on the appalling difference in the rates at which Black men and White men were arrested and incarcerated by other officers on the street.

There is no reason to believe that the attitudes of the police of Minneapolis differ greatly from those of other members of the city’s White community. The actions of those individual officers in the field and of the police administrators at their desks were, frankly, indicators of pervasive racism. The ACLU report quotes Anthony Newby, a local community organizer, as saying that Minneapolis has “become the new premiere example of how to systematically oppress people of color . . .it’s done through our legal system, and so low-level offenses, as an example, are just one of the many, many ways that Minnesota has perfected the art of suppressing and subjugating people of color.”

Jail is the culmination of that art. It begins very early in life.

A reasonable estimate of spending by middle class families on early childhood education would be, say, $2,000 per child per year. In order, then, to give Black children educational opportunities similar to those of White children in Minnesota, supplementary funding becomes the responsibility of the state. But the good burghers of Minnesota invest very little in other people’s children. Just one percent of three- and four-year-olds in Minnesota are enrolled in pre-school, giving the state a rank of 24 for access to preschool for three-year-olds, and 41 for four-year-olds, according to the National Institute for Early Education Research’s 2014 Yearbook.

The National Assessment for Educational Progress does not track achievement levels for Minneapolis, but it does for Minnesota. As most of the Black population of the state lives in Minneapolis, disaggregating the state statistics by race and school location (urban/suburban) gives us a good approximation for Minneapolis educational outcomes.

NAEP assessments begin at grade four. Over half of White city students in the state are proficient in reading in fourth grade, as compared to just 16 percent of Black city students. Or, in other words, at the crucial fourth grade point in their education, 84 percent of Black students in Minnesota’s cities cannot read well.

Furthermore, 58 percent of Black students in Minnesota’s cities score Below Basic at grade four. In effect, they cannot yet read (as compared to just 17 percent of city students in the state who are White).

About half of White students in the state, including urban students, score at or above Proficient, that is grade level, on the reading assessment in eighth grade. That is three times the percentage of Black students who are proficient. The 30 percentage point gap has remained fairly constant this century. For mathematics, the eighth-grade gap in 2015 was 42 percent, a dismal new record for the state.

The percentage of city eighth-grade Black students in Minnesota scoring Below Basic on reading is 42 percent; only 14 percent of White students scored Below Basic. This means that, for all intents and purposes, Black teenagers in the state’s cities still cannot read to any useful extent after nine years of schooling. [This is considerably worse than the situation for Hispanic students, “only” 30 percent of whom score Below Basic, despite language issues.]

With this record, what are the district’s graduation outcomes? More than three-quarters of White non-Hispanic students graduate in four years from Minneapolis Public Schools. Fewer than half of the district’s Black students do so. The graduation rate for the district’s Black students was lower than that for the district’s English language learners, as a group, lower than that for all students eligible for free or reduced price meals, lower than that for Hmong and Somali students.

Minneapolis’ failure to teach its Black children is matched by its willingness to suspend them. As Dropout Nation Editor RiShawn Biddle detailed last year in a series of report, the district metes out one our more out-of-school suspension to 13.1 percent of black students in regular classrooms while only 1.7 percent of white students were suspended one or more times. Based on the discipline numbers submitted by the district to the U.S. Department of Education, a black child in the Minneapolis district has a one in eight chance of being subjected to some form of harsh school discipline, while their white peer face only a two in 100 chance. Minneapolis schools are preparing Black children for life in prison.

Minnesota’s schools fail to teach nearly half of the state’s male Black students to read by the time they are in eighth grade. These students then do not graduate from high school on time. And then, at astonishing rates, they are incarcerated. The comparative lack of educational achievement and the additional handicap of incarceration have a notable impact on the occupations available to the adult Black population and its poverty level.

While more than half of the White population of Hennepin County is employed in management, business, science and arts occupations, only a quarter of the Black population finds employment in those middle class jobs. On the other hand, while just 13 percent of the White population is employed in the service sector, twice that percentage of the Black population is employed in the service sector. And the unemployment rate for the Black population is nearly three times that for the White population.

This is a race-based caste system.

It is not then surprising that most Black Minnesotans live beneath or near the poverty-line. Over half of Black women in the state with children under the age of 18, and no husband present, live in poverty. The median income for all Black households is $27,000, barely above the poverty line for a family of four. In comparison, the median income for White households in the state is over $64,000.

This enormous gap has significant implications for educational opportunity, beginning at birth.

The typical Black family in Minneapolis simply does not have the $2,000 a year or more to spend on the education of each child that is available to White families in the city. They must depend on the school system to provide those education resources needed to level the playing field. But most Black children in fourth grade do not have the crucial reading skills necessary for school and the system barely improves matters by grade 8. Despite generations of reform efforts, it is more reasonable to say that the Minneapolis public schools are an instrument for the maintenance of the area’s race-based caste system than a route out of poverty for the city’s Black population.

How can this cycle be broken? The ACLU report and its recommendations were received positively by one of the individuals responsible for the policing section of the cycle, Minneapolis police chief Janeé Harteau, who has implemented a series of reforms, including anti-bias training for employees of her department. This is a good beginning. But much more is needed, including systems that automatically track police-originated bias incidents and lead to remedial consequences. Perhaps then, the key metric, the racial disparity in arrests and incarceration rates, can be reduced.

It cannot be said that public education in Minneapolis is in a crisis, as it has been inadequate for lower income and Black children for generations. There are some current programs, which, if strengthened, could contribute to improving education opportunities for Black and other lower income children.

The district has a half-day program for four-year-olds, High Five, that is free to lower income families. Best practices indicate this should be extended to two- and three-year-olds, too. Children from lower income families should also have full-day kindergarten. The district’s Minneapolis Kids School Age Care program, which offers before- and after-school and vacation services, should be extended to Saturdays as well. It also should be made available to all lower income children, free, rather than at its current prohibitive cost. It should have a strong academic component. In other words, the out-of-school day experiences of Black and other lower income children in Minneapolis should be more like those of children from White and other middle income families.

Another issue the district must address is its overuse of harsh traditional school discipline. Dropout Nation has offered numerous solutions for this problem and they should be implemented. The most-important of all: Address the reading issues of black students, which is the underlying reason why so many are targeted and disciplined in the first place.

There is a search underway for a new superintendent for the district. That person will have their work cut out for them. But the goals of equal educational opportunities for all children, and closing the gap in outcomes, are achievable. But it requires unwavering commitment to that goal expressed not in slogans but in budgets and personnel actions.

When the Minneapolis police, prosecutors and courts stop “systematically oppressing people of color,” and when the schools offer excellent education for all children, from early childhood through a meaningful diploma, then things might actually be nice in Minnesota.

October 31, 2015 standard

Yesterday’s analysis of exclusion data from the reading portion of this year’s National Assessment of Educational Progress revealed that far too many states were excluding numbers of children in special education ghettos and English Language Learner programs far above what is allowed under federal law. But none of those revelations are a stark as what Dropout Nation learned from analyzing the reading exclusion data from the federal exam’s Trial Urban District Assessment of big-city school systems.

There isn’t much good news to report. Not at all. Fourteen of the 23 districts participating in this year’s edition of NAEP — including Dallas Independent School District, the perpetually-woeful Detroit Public Schools, and even Boston’s reform-minded district — excluded 15 percent or more of fourth-graders condemned to special ed from taking NAEP’s reading test. Eleven of the districts — including Houston Independent School District (a two-time winner of the now-defunct Broad Prize for advancing systemic reform) — excluded more than 15 percent of eighth-graders in special ed.

Meanwhile D.C. Public Schools, which has garnered good press this week from the continuing improvements in achievement on NAEP, excluded as many as 44 percent of ELL fourth- and eighth-graders from the exam. Considering that ELL students accounted for 11 percent of DCPS’ students (as of 2013-2014, the latest year available), the traditional district simply engaged in massive  and unacceptable test-cheating.

As your editor wrote yesterday, this form of academic fraud does little more than perpetuate myths that districts are serving children and taxpayers well. And this data is just another reminder that reformers must be eternally vigilant in holding districts and other school operators to account.

This isn’t to say there aren’t any districts on the list who have admirably followed NAEP’s restrictions on excluding 15 percent or more of ELL students and kids in special ed. New York City, for example, excluded just five percent of fourth-graders in special ed, six percent of eighth-graders in special ed, and 11 percent of ELL fourth-and eighth-grade students. Another model district is Albuquerque, which excluded only as much as nine percent of kids in special ed and ELL students. And Hillsborough County, Florida’s district excluded fewer than 11 percent of students in ELL and kids in special ed.

Milwaukee Public Schools managed to achieve the impossible: It excluded no ELL students or kids in special ed from the test. But this is because Milwaukee bowed out of participating in NAEP’s TUDA assessment this year. Probably because the dismal results would be predictable — or, some would say, why help Detroit avoid the status of being the nation’s worst traditional district.

But for the most part, many districts engaged in some rather shameless test-cheating in order to boost their performance.

Dallas topped the Dishonor Roll when it came to excluding kids in special ed. It excluded 44 percent of fourth-grade kids in special ed, leading in that category, and ranked second behind the notorious Baltimore City school system (36 percent), by excluding 29 percent of eighth-graders who were special ed and had other disabilities. Dallas’ test-cheating, along with that of Houston and Austin, explains why Texas was a leading state in excluding these most-vulnerable children from NAEP this year.

Detroit Public Schools took third place this year in excluding fourth- and eighth-graders in special ed. It kept 35 percent of fourth-graders in special ed from taking NAEP reading, while refusing to let 27 percent of eight-graders take the test. The exclusions didn’t exactly help the perpetually-failing district improve its performance. Seventy-three percent of fourth-graders in Detroit read Below Basic on NAEP 2015, three percentage points worse than two years earlier, while 56 percent of eighth-graders were functionally illiterate, two percentage points worse than in 2013.

When it came to excluding ELL students, no district did so with less shame than D.C. Public Schools, which got plenty of high-fives from reformers this week for improving performance on both NAEP and its Common Core-aligned exams. The district excluded 44 percent of eighth-grade ELL students from the exam, topping that category; this is 19 percentage points higher than its exclusion levels on NAEP reading two years ago. DCPS also came in second behind Jefferson County, Ky. (25 percent) in excluding fourth-graders in ELL, keeping one out of every five such students from taking the test.

Houston Independent School District was particularly shameful on the NAEP exclusion front this year. It excluded 25 percent of eighth-graders in special ed from the reading portion of this year’s NAEP, ranking fourth after Baltimore City, Dallas, and Detroit; it also excluded 20 percent of fourth-grade students condemned to special ed from NAEP this year, ranking fifth after seventh on that particularly lengthy dishonor roll. This isn’t shocking. As with Baltimore City and Jefferson County, Ky., Houston was one of the worst offenders on Dropout Nation‘s list two years ago.

Meanwhile two districts — Miami-Dade, and Philadelphia — managed the dubious honor of being leaders in all four categories of excluding our most-vulnerable children from NAEP this year. Miami-Dade raced to the bottom by being 10th place in excluding fourth-grade kids in special ed, third in excluding ELL fourth-graders, fifth in excluding eighth-graders condemned to special ed, and second place in keeping eighth-graders in ELL from taking the test. For Miami-Dade, excluding ELL students is especially egregious because those students made up 20.3 percent of the district’s enrollment (as of 2013-2014).

The virtually-busted School District of Philadelphia ranked fourth in excluding fourth-graders in special ed, sixth in excluding ELL fourth-graders, sixth in excluding eighth graders condemned to special ed, and third in excluding ELL eighth-grade students. Kids in special ed made up 16.6 of Philly’s student population in 2013-2014, while those in ELL accounted for 8.6 percent of students.

All of this matters because evidence — including research from Edward Haertel of Stanford University — shows that high exclusion rates can make a tremendous difference in performance. The more ELL students and kids in special ed excluded, the better the performance. For example, in an analysis by the U.S. Department of Education of exclusion rates, requiring all ELL students and kids in special ed to take NAEP in 2013 would have resulted in as much as an 8.5 point decline (or a nearly full-grade decrease) in average scales scores on the exam for eight of the participating cities.

In excluding fourth-grade kids in special ed, Dallas, Baltimore City, Detroit, Philadelphia (22 percent), and Jefferson County are joined by Atlanta (22 percent), the aforementioned Houston, Los Angeles Unified (19 percent), San Diego Unified (19 pecent), Boston (18 percent), Cleveland (18 percent), Miami-Dade (17 percent), and Duval County, Florida (15 percent). As mentioned at the top, 14 districts excluded 15 percent or more of fourth-graders in special ed from taking this year’s federal test.

On the fourth-grade ELL exclusion, Jefferson County and D.C. Public Schools were followed by Miami-Dade (20 percent), Cleveland (18 percent), Charlotte-Mecklenberg County (16 percent), and Philadelphia (15 percent). Altogether, six districts excluded 15 percent or more of their ELL students from the exam.

When it comes to eighth-grade special ed exclusion, Baltimore City, Dallas, Detroit, and Houston were followed by Miami-Dade (19 percent), Philadelphia (18 percent), Fresno Unified (18 percent), Jefferson County (17 percent), Boston (16 percent), and Atlanta Public Schools (15 percent). Altogether, 10 districts excluded 15 percent or more of eighth-graders in special ed.

On excluding eighth-grade ELL students, D.C. Public Schools was followed by Miami-Dade (26 percent), Philadelphia (22 percent), Cleveland (22 percent), and Charlotte-Mecklenberg (16 percent). Five districts, altogether, excluded 15 percent or more of ELL eighth-graders from NAEP this year.

All in all, the test-cheating is indefensible. It must stop. Ideally, states would crack down on these exclusions. But given that the states benefit as much from this test-cheating as the districts they oversee, this isn’t possible. So it is up to the federal government, particularly the U.S. Department of Education, to hold the line on these exclusion levels. Highlighting the bad actors in NAEP data would be one key step on that front.

But as it has been stated before, reformers must be vigilant in holding all districts, especially those reform-minded ones favored by the movement, accountable for their exercises in academic fraud.

October 30, 2015 standard

Two years ago, Dropout Nation took aim at its home state of Maryland for excluding as many as 66  percent of children with disabilities — including those condemned to its special education ghettos — from the 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress. Given that, on average, 12 percent of school-aged children are labeled special ed cases — and are likely to suffer from the consequences of shoddy teaching and curricula — the more kids Maryland excluded from NAEP testing, the easier it is for it to essentially make the performance of traditional districts and other school operators appear better than they are. This was particularly true in the case of the Old Line State. Its test-cheating gave the perception that its schools were Lake Woebegones in American public education, essentially allowing politicians and school leaders to avoid all but the most-tepid of systemic reforms.

But as a Dropout Nation analysis of exclusion data from the reading portion of this year’s NAEP shows, Maryland is no longer the worst offender. The bad news, however, is that the Land of Crab Cakes — along with numerous other states — still excludes far higher numbers of kids in special ed and English Language Learners than allowed under federal law. As a result of Maryland’s deceit, it once again lands on this year’s edition of the NAEP Dishonor Roll.

As many of you already know, the federal government has long been cracking down on the penchant of states (and the school operators they oversee) to exclude large numbers of our most-vulnerable children, the ones damaged the most by the failures of American public education, and ultimately, conceal how poorly they are serving children. Under the No Child Left Behind Act, for example, all but five percent of children in schools are tested on state-level tests used for measuring performance. As a result of that policy, the failures of districts to properly serve poor, minority, and immigrant children (who are often the ones most-likely to be condemned to special ed or need help in mastering English) has been revealed in full.

Four years ago, the U.S. Department of Education went further by requiring districts and states to test 95 percent of their entire student populations overall and 85 percent of children in special ed ghettos and those in ELL programs. Many states have behaved admirably, excluding fewer than 15 percent of special ed and ELL students from NAEP testing. This group includes both the most-aggressive reform states (Indiana for example), as well as those who have lagged behind in advancing systemic reform (Virginia). But other states have continued to exclude high levels of its worst-served kids from the exams, and thus, appearing to do better in improving student achievement than they really are.

To help shed light on the worst offenders, Dropout Nation took a look at exclusion rate data from the 2013 NAEP. This time around, the focus is on the states that exclude 15 percent or more of kids stuck in special education and ELL ghettos from NAEP’s reading exam. Focusing on NAEP reading makes sense because literacy is critical to kids mastering math and science, and at the end of the day, understanding the world around them.

The good news is that no state excludes more than 36 percent of fourth- and eighth-graders in special ed and ELL programs from this year’s NAEP. But this isn’t all that heartening. There are still far too many states excluding far too many kids from the exam.

As we mentioned at the beginning, Maryland is no longer the worst offender in most of the categories. But it doesn’t mean it is being honest. The state excluded 36 percent of eighth-grade ELL students from this year’s NAEP. While this is 25 percentage points lower than two years ago, it still led the nation in category of test-cheating. The Old Line State was also tied for second place (with Kentucky) for excluding the highest percentage of eighth-grade kids in special ed; tied with Montana for fourth place for excluding the highest number of fourth-graders condemned to special ed; and tied with Georgia as the third-worst in excluding fourth-grade ELL students.

As a result of reducing its level of dishonesty, Maryland’s public education system can no longer claim to be the nation’s best — or even claim the top ranking on Education Week‘s annual Quality Counts survey. Thirty-two percent of Old Line State fourth-graders read Below Basic on NAEP 2015, versus 23 percent two years ago; 24 percentage of eighth-graders were functionally illiterate in 2015, six points higher than in 2013.

Plenty of Maryland politicians and school leaders want to blame the lower level of exclusions for lowered performance. But what they fail to admit is that the high exclusion levels have been part of a longstanding effort to lie about how well public education has been serving children, especially those worst-served by it. If Maryland’s school operators were doing such a great job for kids, performance wouldn’t have declined. This can be seen in the case of Tennessee. Though the Volunteer State is still on this year’s Dishonor Roll, it has significantly reduced the percentages of kids excluded from NAEP — including a 19 percentage point decline in the number of eighth-graders in special ed kept from the test — with insignificant decline in achievement. This is because Tennessee has, until the last year, been strong in advancing systemic reform.

What has happened is that Maryland is finally telling some of the truth about how poorly its districts and other school operators are serving children. But those steps aren’t enough. The Old Line State must stop its test-cheating, and exclude even fewer ELL students and kids in special ed when the next round of NAEP is taken in 2017.

But as Dropout Nation has noted, Maryland is no longer the worst offender in most categories. Nor is the U.S. Department of Defense Education Activity, which oversees schools serving children of the nation’s military. It now excludes just 11 percent of fourth-graders in its special ed ghettos, 11 percent of fourth-grade ELL students, six percent of eight-graders in special ed, and 10 percent of eighth-grade ELL students. Thanks to its decision to deal honestly in discussing how its schools provide education, Department of Defense is no longer on the Dishonor Roll.

Becoming more-dishonest is Georgia. The Peach State was the worst in the nation in excluding fourth- and eighth-grade kids in special ed, keeping 25 percent of each group of students from taking NAEP this year. Although the levels of exclusion declined by, respectively, six and seven percentage points from levels two years ago, Georgia has done far less than either Maryland or Department of Defense to reduce its test-cheating. It also ranked third in excluding fourth-grade ELL students, keeping 17 percent of them from taking the federal test. The only good news is that it only excluded 11 percent of eighth-grade ELL students from NAEP, not landing on the dishonor roll in this category.

Also becoming more-dishonest is Kentucky. By excluding a whopping 36 percent of eighth-grade ELL students from NAEP, it was the worst in that category; this is 12 percentage points higher than levels two years ago. Kentucky came or tied in second place in excluding fourth- and eighth-grade kids in special ed and tied for fifth in the percentage of eighth-grade ELL students kept from taking the exam.

When it comes to excluding fourth-grade special ed kids, Georgia and Kentucky are followed by Texas (20 percent), the aforementioned Maryland, Montana (18 percent), Michigan (16 percent), Oregon, 16 percent), Louisiana (15 percent), and Tennessee (15 percent). Altogether, nine states excluded 15 percent or more of kids condemned to special ed ghettos (and other kids with disabilities) from NAEP testing, thus artificially bolstering their performance on the reading portion of the exam.

In the category of ELL fourth-graders, Kentucky was followed by New Jersey (21 percent), the aforementioned Georgia and Maryland, Michigan (17 percent), South Dakota (17 percent), District of Columbia (16 percent), Louisiana (15 percent), and Rhode Island (15 percent). Altogether, nine states, along with Department of Defense, excluded 15 percent or more of ELL students from NAEP testing, and in the process, making their systems look better than they likely are.

When it comes to eighth-grade special ed and other students with disabilities, Georgia, Kentucky, and Maryland are followed by Tennessee (19 percent), North Dakota (15 percent), and Texas (15 percent). Six states altogether excluded 15 percent or more of eighth-graders in special ed from the federal test.

As for exclusion rates for eighth-grade ELL kids? Maryland is followed by D.C. (33 percent), Florida (27 percent), Oregon (23 percent), the aforementioned Kentucky, Nebraska (21 percent), Arizona (17 percent), Massachusetts (17 percent), Michigan (16 percent), and North Carolina (15 percent). In total, nine states and the District of Columbia excluded at least 15 percent of eighth-grade ELL students from the reading portion of the exam.

All of these states deserve scorn for engaging in the kind of virtual academic fraud that would not be tolerated from a district if it did this on a statewide standardized test. District of Columbia, Florida, and Tennessee, all of who have been leaders in advancing systemic reform, deserve special criticism for this form of test-cheating. The Obama Administration and its successor must take stronger action to stop such high levels of exclusion from NAEP; this includes adding asterisks to state results just to alert the public about these deceptions.

But once gain, the latest NAEP exclusion numbers once again remind reformers that it will take eternal vigilance to keep states and school operators honest in order to transform American public education.