How hard is the New York City government trying to increase inequality and inter-generational poverty? Very hard indeed and quite successfully, thank you.
They are doing this by means of the schools. They,” rather than “it,” because this situation is the result of decisions by individuals, decisions made everyday in dozens if not hundreds of meetings, expressed in hundreds, if not thousands, of documents. It is the responsibility of those individuals (you know who you are), not of abstractions like “institutional racism,” “budgetary constraints,” “and bureaucracy”. They may say they are not intentionally increasing inequality, but if, over time, their actions do so that effect is best understood as identical with the objective intention.
As you might recall, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the case of Brown v. Board of Education that “Segregation . . . deprive[s] [Black children] of some of the benefits they would receive in a racially integrated school system.” The benefits in question, not to put too fine a point on it, are those of a good education: higher incomes, longer lives, a better start in life for themselves and their children.
There is a difference between families choosing schools that aren’t integrated of their own accord – charter schools, for instance – and being forced by traditional districts to attend schools that are deliberately segregated. But as we already know, most children and families do not choose the schools they attend, and have little political power within school districts to even have choice. Especially in New York City. Just 7.9 percent of children in New York attend charter schools; the rest are in the district. So when we talk about segregation in New York City, we are talking about what people who run the New York City Department of Education are doing to restrict opportunities for high-quality education to Black and Latino children.
In its new report, Brown at 62: School Segregation by Race, Poverty and State, the Civil Rights Project at UCLA finds that New York is the most segregated state for Black students, much more segregated than, for example, Mississippi. Two-thirds of the state’s Black students are in schools that are 90 percent of more non-White and non-Latino. This is astounding because black children account for just 18 percent of students in the Empire State, compared to 50 percent of students in Mississippi, where fewer than half of Black students are in those extremely segregated schools. Latino students in New York State are nearly as isolated from their White, non-Hispanic, peers, with 57 percent in extremely segregated schools. The Civil Rights Project report also points to the increasing economic segregation of Black and Latino students, nationally; today the average Black and Latino student attends a school where two-thirds of the students are from low-income families.
The Social Science Research Council’s Measure of America project has also recently released a report, this bringing the issues for New York City into sharper focus. According to High School Graduation in New York City: Is Neighborhood Still Destiny?, there is a 34 percent disparity in high school graduation rates between the best- and worst-performing of the city’s 59 community districts. Or, to be specific: Ninety-five percent of the high school students graduate on time in the wealthy Manhattan Community Districts 1 and 2, where virtually no Black or Latino families live. In the nearly all-black and Latino neighborhoods of Brownsville and Ocean Hill in Brooklyn, and Morris Heights, Fordham South, and the ironically named Mount Hope in the Bronx, only 61 percent of high school students graduate on time.
Using hundreds of statistical indicators, the authors of this report find that there is a direct relationship between on-time high school graduation in New York City and family income and education levels. Rich kids with highly educated parents graduate on time; poor kids with poorly educated parents don’t. Children from economically impoverished families are doubly disadvantaged: poverty at home and inferior, less well-funded, schools down the street. “In Queens, for example, a poor school gets 29 percent less money than a wealthy school nearby,” according to U.S. Secretary of Education John King.
Admittedly, in some ways, New York City’s traditional public schools are better than they were two decades ago. But that’s not saying much. For black and Latino children, who went to schools that were worse than those in the rest of the city, that’s saying nothing at all.
This situation is aggravated, not alleviated, by the city’s secondary school choice program. Faced with a scarcity situation—not enough good schools—“the city,” that is, those people who make decisions for others, put in place a system that in the final analysis distributes those scarce good schools by parental income and education. Families, the SSRC report finds, choose high schools on the basis of discussions with their friends and neighbors. Because of the city’s segregation and the lack of high-quality data on school performance, poor families tend to get their information from other poor families, and miss out on getting into the best-performing schools that wealthier families learn about through their well-heeled social networks.
There is also the crucial matter is the “tax” on families required by the city’s secondary high school “choice” system. [It hardly deserves the name, actually.] It requires as much as a working week or two of family time to struggle through the required paperwork and other hoops. This is not anything like something an average family in the Bronx or central Brooklyn can afford. And as we know, access to good schools in New York City is grotesquely even more inequitable in regard to the city’s few “selective” high schools.
There are solutions to this problem. Here is one proposed by those who don’t want to anything: If “those children” simply had better educated, wealthier, parents and lived in neighborhoods with very good preschools, elementary and middle schools, they wouldn’t have a problem, would they?
Another solution would be to eliminate education scarcity. This includes making all New York City traditional public schools equally good, and making those in neighborhoods characterized by concentrated poverty more than equally good. How could that be done and who could do it? It has been done in some places, for example, in the United Kingdom and much of Europe through various national government policies. Canada has done this through its decentralized systems of traditional public schools and school choice. Montgomery County, Md., had some success doing this some years ago by more-effectively allocating resources – especially high-quality teachers. In some cases budget categories were reallocated: landscaping funding was reduced; early childhood education funding was increased. Outcomes were then closely examined and the resource mix adjusted.
Good schools for all children may be costly, but not nearly as costly, in a wider sense, than the present situation in New York City, with good schools only for those who can afford them.
The question mark is important. Genocide is a loaded term and the act of genocide can take many forms: the slow genocide of American Indians accomplished by thousands of local actions as well as by state power and disease; the comparatively recent genocide in Rwanda inflicted by neighbors with machetes; the classic genocide of the Shoah or Holocaust. The mass killings of young Black men in Chicago, largely accomplished by gunfire from other young Black men, would at first appear to be simply a matter for the criminal justice system of the state. On closer examination it can be seen as a matter of criminal activity by the state.
There were 480 homicides out of 2,986 recorded shooting victims in Chicago in 2015, as counted by the Chicago Tribune. Nearly all these victims were young men; the overwhelming majority were between the ages of 18 and 30. They shoot one another in the streets of the city, usually in the afternoon. Very few shooting victims are females, relatively few are men over 50. Fewer still are White.
The neighborhood ranking first among Chicago’s 77 community areas for violent crimes in 2015 was West Garfield Park. West Garfield Park has a per capita income of $10,951, much less than half of the city average of $27,148. Forty percent of the neighborhood’s households have incomes below the poverty level, more than double the city average. The rate of arrests for prostitution, another poverty indicator, is among the highest in the city. A quarter of the working age population is unemployed, 26 percent have no high school diploma. West Garfield Park is 96 percent Black.
If, for the sake of argument, we attribute each recorded violent crime in West Garfield Park to a different male between the ages of 18 and 64, we can estimate that about 14 percent of that group committed a violent crime in 2015. Of course, some of them committed more than one violent crime, and, on the other hand, few over the age of 45 did so. Fourteen percent will do as an indicator of the prevalence of young men committing violent crimes in West Garfield Park.
North Lawndale, the runner up in the rate of violent crime in Chicago, has similar socio-economic statistics. On the other hand, the neighborhoods with the lowest rates of violent crime have the opposite socio-economic data: per capita incomes many times the city average, poverty levels far below the city average, virtually no unemployment, no arrests for prostitution, few adults lacking high school diplomas and, generally, majority White, non-Hispanic, populations. (Just four percent of Lincoln Park adults, for example, lack a high school diploma, hardly any live in crowded housing, per capita income is between two and three times the city average and more than six times the average of West Garfield Park.)
Why do young Black men in West Garfield Park and similar Chicago neighborhoods shoot one another?
A recent Centers for Disease Control study found that two-thirds of those committing a firearm crime had themselves been victims of violence requiring an emergency room visit. For such young men, who were also unemployed and who, when in school, had qualified for the National Lunch Program, had a record of school discipline actions and had failed to graduate from high school, the percentage committing a firearm crime rose to 90 percent. Those study results, although useful, are merely descriptive. They do not tell us why young Black men are becoming the instruments of their own genocide. For this we can turn, for example, to the classic study, The Cost of Inequality by Judith and Peter Blau, who found that inequalities promote criminal violence.
Chicago has among the highest rates of income and wealth inequality in America. White median household income is twice that of Black median household income. Nearly half, 45 percent, of Black residents of the city have incomes below the poverty level; just 13 percent of the White residents live in poverty. Two-thirds of Black families in Chicago have incomes so low that their children qualify for the National Lunch Program. There is little economic mobility in Chicago neighborhoods like West Garfield Park. Few Black children in Chicago, among those who live to adulthood, grow up to have incomes equal to that of their parents and most will have lower incomes than those of their parents. In addition, 93 percent of Chicago’s Black households have no net wealth, apart from equity in their own homes: they could not pay an unexpected medical bill—or bail—of a few hundred dollars without borrowing.
This leads to the question: Why are race-based inequalities so stark in Chicago and similar American cities? What are the causes of the vast racial inequities in the city? One is easily identified: The operations of the schools.
The National Assessment of Educational Progress reports concerning the crucial eighth grade level of basic skills achievement show that while the district’s schools have brought half (52 percent) of its male White, non-Hispanic, students to grade-level Proficiency in reading, they have only done so with eight percent of their male Black students. Nearly half of Chicago’s male Black students (3,700) do not graduate from high school. As in many other districts, the reforms of the last decade that improved literacy in the early grades haven’t been helpful in making kids college- and career-ready by high school.
A recent U.S. Department of Education study has found that even if they are given a high school diploma by their school, students who could not read at grade level in eighth grade cannot expect to succeed in college. Of the approximately 3,900 male Black high school graduates, therefore, only three or four hundred can be expected to go on to middle class careers. In other words, from the point of view of the male descendants of enslaved Africans, the Chicago school district fails in a key part of its mission 90 percent of the time.
If an institution fails more often than not to achieve its professed mission, it is reasonable to conclude that its actual mission is to achieve that result.
Compounding this failure, the Chicago school district added another risk factor by suspending or expelling approximately 13,000 male Black students in 2011-2012, the most recent date for which nationally certified statistics are available.
There were 2,986 recorded shooting victims in Chicago in 2015, nearly all of whom were Black males. 3,700 male Black students did not graduate from high school. 13,000 male Black students were suspended or expelled. These are the groups who, according to the CDC, are most likely to become themselves perpetrators of fire-arm crimes. And the shooters, themselves, are of course also victims.
The Chicago public schools do not educate male Black students for success in life. They prepare them for lives of violence. Generally, those lives are short.
What can be done to improve those Chicago schools “serving” Black children so that they learn to read and do math, graduate on-time and college and career ready?
The reform package is well-known: It starts with high quality early childhood education from age two and includes overhauling how we recruit and train teachers along with providing high-quality educational opportunities. Just within the district itself, this could mean a doubling of the instructional budget for schools in neighborhoods like West Garfield Park. Given that nearly half the funding available to the district presently might be said to have been wasted in the process of not educating Black children, a targeted doubling of support for the education of Chicago’s most vulnerable children might even be considered cost effective.
Beyond that, as more male Black students learn to read, are not chronically truant, are not suspended and expelled, do graduate from high school prepared for college and careers, fewer will go out into the streets in the late afternoon and shoot other young Black men. And how much would that be worth?
High school graduation rates have reached record levels, according to the U.S. Department of Education, and gaps between graduation rates for White, non-Hispanic, and other students have narrowed. Although the gap between Black and White graduation rates, nationally, is now said to be “only” 15 percentage points, and that between Hispanic and non-Hispanic White students less than 11, there are six states and the District of Columbia where the Black-White gap is 20 points or more. The states are: Wisconsin, Minnesota, Ohio, New York, Nevada and California. Black graduation rates in these states are below national averages, while White, non-Hispanic, students graduate at higher rates than the national average (except in Nevada). States with very narrow gaps, less than five percentage points, are Alabama, Hawaii, Idaho and Montana, the last three of these with very few Black students.
Let’s now look at two of the states with the widest gaps. Wisconsin is able to graduate 93 percent of its White, non-Hispanic, students, but only 66 percent of its Black students. By comparison, New Jersey, which graduates a similar 94 percent of its White students, does much better than Wisconsin by its Black students, graduating 79 percent of its Black students, as do Connecticut, Iowa, Tennessee and Virginia. Minnesota, which graduates 86 percent of its White students only graduates 60 percent of its Black students (and just half of its American Indian students—next to last in the nation).
Wisconsin and Minnesota have high schools that can give diplomas to nearly all of their White, non-Hispanic, students, yet choose—and I use the word advisedly—choose to leave one-third of their Black students without diplomas. The consequences of this are dire for those students, their families and their communities.
For example, a recent Centers for Disease Control pilot study indicates that young people with such “school system events” as dropping out of high school and suspensions, and who are unemployed, have a 43 percent chance of committing a firearm crime. Earlier studies indicate that failure of schools to graduate students leads to a 60 percent chance of incarceration and nearly 100 percent chance of life at or below the poverty line for themselves and their families.
Graduation rates are fairly crude indicators, easily manipulated. Just how good are those diplomas? The U.S. Department of Education has been doing some research on that topic and estimates that to be prepared for college a student, in effect, has to score at the “Proficient” or “Advanced” level on the National Assessment of Educational Progress’ 12th grade reading test. There are some questions about the 12th grade NAEP tests (including rather thin coverage), however, they are roughly aligned with the generally accepted eighth-grade tests, which we can then use as our indicator of educational good practice.
The U.S. Department of Defense Educational Activity operates a large pre-k to 12th grade school system, serving 74,000 children of active duty military and Department of Defense civilian families at locations around the world. Like the military itself, these schools are well-integrated. The schools of the Department of Defense teach 33 percent of the male Black students to read at the Proficient and above levels in eighth grade, implying that one-third of their male Black students will be prepared for college on graduation. This compares with 44 percent of White, non-Hispanic, males in those schools. There is a gap there, but not a scandal. The DoDEA schools can serve as a benchmark for the provision of education by public schools.
The highest scoring states for White males in eighth grade reading are Connecticut and Massachusetts, at 47 percent and 48 percent respectively. However, while these results for the Department of Defense schools and those of Connecticut and Massachusetts are similar, their results for male Black students are vastly different. Connecticut can manage to prepare only 10 percent for college level work, Massachusetts just 14 percent. The best results for male Black students are those of Indiana, at 15 percent, but even these are less than half the benchmark DoDEA score.
Minnesota prepares 37 percent of its male White, non-Hispanic, students for successful lives and Wisconsin does so for 38 percent. These states can educate students if they choose to do so. But Minnesota prepares just 11 percent of its male Black students for college; Wisconsin just 7 percent. Only Mississippi and Arkansas do worse by their male Black students than Wisconsin and then only by a single percentage point. Mississippi, it seems, is Wisconsin’s benchmark for educational quality in regard to its male Black students.
Such outcomes are sometimes referred to as evidence of institutional racism. This is true, in its way, but it may be more useful to fix individual responsibility.
The Governor of Minnesota is Mark Dayton. The Commissioner of Education of Minnesota is Dr. Brenda Cassellius. The Board of Education of Minneapolis Public Schools has recently selected Serio Paez as the new Superintendent there. Those individuals and the members of the boards of education of Minnesota and Minneapolis are responsible for the failure of the Minneapolis schools to educate Black students.
The Governor of Wisconsin is Scott Walker. Dr. Tony Evers is Wisconsin’s Superintendent of Public Instruction. Darienne Driver is Superintendent of the Milwaukee Public Schools. Those individuals and the members of the boards of education of Wisconsin and Milwaukee are responsible for the failure of the Milwaukee schools to educate Black students.
Thomas Brady, incidentally, is Director of the U.S. Department of Defense Education Activity. His telephone number is (571)372-0590, for those interested in how high quality education can be equitably provided.
This morning’s passage by the U.S. Senate of the Every Student Succeeds Act puts an unfortunate nail in the coffin of the No Child Left Behind Act and the strong accountability provisions that helped spur reforms that have helped more children attain high-quality education than at any other time in the history of American public education.
But the death of No Child came long before the passage and President Barack Obama’s seemingly inevitable signing of this legislation. In particular, today’s passage is just one of two dates that correspond to major mistakes in national education policy that should be remembered by people who care about building brighter futures for children.
The earliest date was in September of 2011. That is the time when now-former U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced his grand waiver scheme to deal with problems arising from implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act. The law was then four years overdue in being reauthorized. More schools were at risk of being identified as in need of improvement than the authors had intended in 2001, when the Act was passed. Instead of addressing this problem through legislation or administrative action, Duncan used the problem as leverage to force states to accept input policies he, along with the Obama Administration and centrist Democrat reformers, favored.
The administration had a choice about how to resolve the problem. It could have gone one of two directions. Unfortunately, the manner in which it implemented its decision represented a huge mistake that has had and will continue to have serious negative consequences for our nation’s schools and its students.
The Obama Administration could have, absent legislation, chosen to give states flexibility specifically to avoid over-identification in return for improvements and strengthening of their accountability systems. This would have been a superb occasion to advance and further refine the accountability provisions already in federal law.
Had this been the basis of administrative action, several good results would have likely occurred. First, accountability would have been improved. Second, relief would have been appropriate to deal with problems that were then arising from NCLB. Third, the Congress would likely have accepted the action because it fit within the legislative intent behind No Child. And finally, making accountability work smarter and better would have likely lessened the public opposition to accountability that has developed in the wake of a system that has not been updated and improved.
Instead the Obama Administration chose a different, fateful path. It weakened accountability. It did so by reducing the scope of accountability to a very few schools, permitting super-subgroups to be used to mask subgroup problems, and arbitrarily voiding certain consequences permitted under No Child. Further, the Administration decided without any Congressional authority whatsoever to create its own quid pro quo requirements for granting the waivers. Among other things, it demanded that states adopt certain content standards, which were generally deemed to be the Common Core standards. And it required that states develop certain kinds of teacher evaluation systems. None of this was authorized by the Congress, and all of this was highly controversial.
Even worse, the administration’s process for vetting proposals from states under the waiver process has been a demonstrative failure. As Dropout Nation has documented throughout the past four years, Obama and Duncan granted waivers to states that didn’t have reforms in place to make their plans successful, often over the objections of its own peer review panels. Anyone who has spent time working on issues at the state level knows how difficult it is to implement anything amid opposition from teachers’ unions and school districts who rarely want to do the right things for children.
The point here is not to debate whether these were good or bad policies. The point here is simply to say that the Obama Administration weakened accountability in return for demanding state action to adopt policies based on its favored input strategies, using un-repaired features of No Child as the basis for the deals.
This strategy has failed. Not only has state performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress been stagnant in the four years this waiver scheme was put in place. As a result, the improvements in student achievement in the last decade (as measured through NAEP) have stalled.
Now, we have this date in this ending year, when both houses of Congress, with the Obama Administration’s blessing, gutted accountability with the so-called Every Student Succeeds Act. While annual testing and the provision for states to put together accountability plans with certain features continues to be required, this legislation fundamentally finishes off the evisceration of accountability begun by Obama and Duncan four years ago.
The federal government will have virtually no authority to enforce the meager “requirements” that remain. It will also have no power whatsoever to require any consequences for schools that fail to lift student achievement or close achievement gaps. The law has substantially weakened the rightful civil rights role played by the federal government in ensuring that children from poor and minority households, young men and women from black and Latino households long served poorly by public education, are provided high-quality education.
There are those reformers now cheering the passage of the bill who hope that states and districts will become accountable on their own. But this isn’t happening. As seen in Texas, California, and even in strong reform-oriented states such as Indiana and New York, traditionalists have been successful in weakening standards for high school graduation, getting rid of accountability measures, and ditching tests that are key in observing how well schools are serving our children. Opponents of reform have been successful in getting more money for doing less for our students — and that is all that has happened. And that can be credited to the Obama Administration’s decision four years ago to abandon strong accountability.
The celebration that those reformers who wanted an end to No Child, especially those in the Beltway, are doing right now will eventually turn to jeers and tears as they recognize what has been lost. The tools needed to provide high-quality education to children in our schools and beat back traditionalists who want anything but are now gone. What has replaced them will serve neither them nor our children any good.
Let’s hope for the best, and let’s work toward a far better end than I am predicting. But, from this month on, we must be exceedingly vigilant about the policies and practices that are adopted across the nation in the absence of federal pressure to improve and reform. We must watch all measures of student achievement, and if this month indeed proves to be the second red letter date marking the continuation of a long period of stagnation in student achievement, we must vow to bring news of such stagnation to the awareness of our fellow countrymen and women. And we must then press with all our strength for a return of the accountability we must bear if our young people are to be educated effectively to the high standards that are required for their success.
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 Dyke, 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 Dyke 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 Dyke’s victims in order to address his misdeeds. With such a lengthy record on his personnel file, Van Dyke should have lost his badge and gun. Yet Van Dyke 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 Dyke 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.
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 Dyke’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 Dyke 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.