menu search recent posts
July 7, 2015 standard

Hope remains eternal — at least among those who want Congress to pass a reauthorized version of the No Child Left Behind Act being considered by the Senate this week. Even as the likelihood of passage remains as unlikely as it was back in March, when House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline’s plan was kiboshed amid opposition from movement conservatives within the Republican majority, there are still some who think that the version under consideration now could pass if Kline’s colleague, Lamar Alexander, can get his plan into conferencing. The fact that conservative Republicans are no more interested in supporting Alexander’s plan than that of Kline (and that there will be pressure on House Speaker John Boehner to reject the entire measure without a single thought) doesn’t seem to factor into their thinking.

But the low likelihood of No Child reauthorization hasn’t exactly stopped Beltway players from the usual gamesmanship that has been a feature of past efforts. This includes the American Federation of Teachers, with the help of another group of so-called social justice players to lobby against the accountability and standardized testing measures that have helped more children gain high-quality education.

Earlier today, a group calling itself Journey for Justice Alliance released a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Democrat leader Harry Reid demanding that they pass a version of No Child that eliminates “regime of oppressive, high stakes, standardized testing”. Echoing arguments made last month in the pages of the Hill by Schott Foundation President John Jackson, Judith Browne Dianis of the Advancement Project and wishy-washy education professor Pedro Noguera, Journey for Justice declares with no evidence that testing and accountability has somehow harmed poor and minority kids as well as supposedly “narrowed curriculum” (an argument that has been proven false by research from the likes of the U.S. Department of Education and Quadrant Arts Education Research’s Robert Morrison). As far as the group is concerned, the Senate should pass a version of No Child that eliminates any kind of accountability and spend even more money on a grab-bag of programs that includes “restorative justice coordinators” to reduce overuse of suspensions and expulsions.

Certainly Journey for Justice hasn’t paid much real attention to the Alexander plan for No Child. If they did, they would know that Alexander’s plan would all but solidify the Obama Administration’s move over the past few years to eviscerate No Child’s Adequate Yearly Progress provisions, which have exposed the failure of traditional districts to provide high-quality teaching, curricula, and school cultures to poor and minority children (as well as those condemned to the nation’s special ed ghettos). One can easily argue that the Alexander plan, like the one offered up by Kline, is a roll-back of strong federal education policy back to the bad old days when states and districts were allowed to educationally abuse children black and brown with impunity. For families, especially from poor and minority households, the Alexander plan’s evisceration of accountability makes it harder for them to gain high-quality data on how schools (and the adults who work in them) are serving the children they love.

But none of these points matter much to Journey for Justice’s signatories. Why? Because they are acting on behalf of AFT. This is because nearly all of them are dependent on the union’s financial largesse. And as you expect, this inconvenient fact goes all but unsaid by Journey for Justice in its letter.

As Dropout Nation noted last month, AFT, along with National Education Association, is struggling to gain support for its efforts against accountability (and, more-importantly, standardized testing) from civil rights groups such as Education Trust and NAACP. In order to buttress support for its goals, the union and other traditionalists have had to cobble together a motley crew of progressive groups and social justice outfits almost-totally dependent on its dollars.

The list of AFT vassals signing onto Journey for Justice’s letter such main members of the group as Alliance for Quality Education, which picked up $200,000 from the union and its New York State affiliate, NYSUT, in 2013-2014 alone. Other members include the Philadelphia Student Union (which collected $20,000 from AFT last fiscal year and whose board includes Anissa Weinraub, a flunky with the union’s City of Brotherly Love local), Youth United for Change (another Philadelphia-based outfit which picked up $60,000 from the union last year), and ACTION United, the beneficiary of $49,120 in AFT largesse for helping the union stall systemic reform of the traditional district there. The Annenberg Institute for School Reform, a recent beneficiary of AFT largesse (in exchange for opposing the expansion of charters) to the tune of $49,963), is one of Journey for Justice’s “allied organizations, as is AFT.

Look further down the list of signatories and you see AFT dependents all over the place. One of them is Center for Popular Democracy, which not only received $60,000 in 2013-2014 from the union, it even has union president Randi Weingarten serving on its board. As Dropout Nation readers already know, Popular Democracy has helped AFT in its effort to weaken efforts to expand public charter schools (as well as conceal the fact that the union’s opposition to them is spurred in part by the failures of its Big Apple affiliate to run one properly). Other AFT dependents include the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (which picked up $5,000 from the teachers’ union last fiscal year), Pride at Work ($5,000 in 2013-2014), New York Communities for Change ($10,000 in AFT funding within the last year alone), and Pride at Work.

Remember: Many of these groups do little when it comes to education policy, advocacy, and institution building — other than feast upon the dues AFT often-forcibly collects from teachers regardless of their desire for membership.

As you would suspect, Schott Foundation, which has become the favored ally of AFT (as well as NEA) in its efforts to condemn poor and minority kids to low expectations, is also a signatory on the letter. Befitting its eagerness to earn every one of the $480,000 it has collected from the Big Two in 2013-2014, Schott’s Opportunity to Learn campaign is also heavily promoting the letter through social media, calling the signatories civil rights groups even though just three such outfits — all affiliates of NAACP (which is supporting accountability and testing) — have signed onto the document. But hey, why let some inconvenient facts get in the way of spin?

Also signing the letter: Ten of AFT’s affiliates and locals — including the United Federation of Teachers and United Teachers Los Angeles. As you probably guessed, they also corralled their vassals to sign onto the claptrap. Chicago Teachers Union, for example, managed to convince its cadre of dependents — including the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization and Pilsen Alliance — to back the anti-accountability letter. UFT brought along the A. Phillip Randolph Institute (to which the union gave $6,550 in 2013-2014), Citizen Action of New York ($5,500), and Make the Road ($5,000 from UFT to the outfit’s political action wing).

The closer you look at the list of signatories, the more you realize that Journey for Justice is just another AFT front group for the union’s other villeins, giving the union (and other traditionalists) cover. All of this for the union on the cheap. Sadly, this isn’t surprising. Given that many of these nonprofits lack the financial wherewithal (even such resources as printers, copying machines, and conference space) to hold meetings and conduct business — and that reformers often fail to extend their considerable resources to help them — it is easy for them to go to AFT and its affiliates for help and even easier to support the union’s agenda in return. That some of these groups are led by middle-class black political and social leaders, who are often more-concerned about defending their pockets and their allies within teachers’ unions (while often refusing to send their kids to the failure mills they are protecting) also factors into their willingness to do work for AFT and other traditionalists.

Yet by supporting AFT’s efforts to eviscerate accountability and standardized testing, these groups are essentially declaring that they care not one bit about the futures of the very black, brown, and poor children for whom they proclaim concern. By siding with AFT, these groups are perpetuating the educational genocide that has wrecked havoc on our children and communities, and have hobbled efforts to end the racialist policies such as overuse of suspensions and expulsions (which many AFT locals, along with those of NEA, vigorously defend).

Your editor would say that Journey for Justice and AFT should be ashamed of themselves. But that would be a waste of breathe. After all, shame requires having a conscience and being willing to turn down money for advocating against poor and minority children.

June 19, 2015 standard

A philosopher once advised that if you want to know the truth about a society, consider the situation of its least privileged. Which brings us to the South Bronx. The situation of the children there speaks volumes about New York society — and none of it is good.

Just over a third of the Hispanic residents of the South Bronx and just under a third of the Black residents of the area have incomes below the poverty level. Median household income is half and the unemployment rate is twice the New York state averages. Twice the national average of residents over 25 years of age report to the U.S. Census Bureau that they have not graduated from high school.

This last is not surprising. According to the New York State Education Department the graduation rate in the South Bronx (New York City’s District 9) is 56 percent and just 12 percent are considered “college and career ready,” which means that three-quarters or more of those students given diplomas won’t be able to do much with them. Fewer than half of the male Black and Hispanic students graduate, which, given the correlation between education and incarceration rates, means that where the road to life-chances divides, these young men are more likely to be propelled along the route that leads through prison rather than that leading through college.

Why is this? Infantile lead poisoning may contribute. There is little a school district can do about that, beyond screening and treatment referrals. Deficiencies in parental education strongly effect student educational outcomes, as does household poverty. But these last two are, as it were, doors not walls: they are entrances to ways in which educational outcomes can be improved.

If a student’s parents are not highly educated and do not have the economic resources necessary to support the efforts of the school, then the school or other institutions must supply what is lacking. This is increasingly recognized and it is highly laudable that New York City is making an immense effort to provide preschool for all four year-olds. But that is not enough.

Children in households in, say, the upper quarter of the income distribution come into a world surrounded by books, a world in which nearly every toy is in some sense educational. They are read to incessantly and by two-and-a-half or three are being schooled in one way or another, in play groups, preschool, kindergarten, library programs. If these resources cannot be supplied by the impoverished adults of communities like the South Bronx, they must be supplied by the city and its schools.

Once in school, preferably through the gateway of all-day, literacy-oriented kindergartens, the children of the South Bronx must continue to be supported by this emulation of middle class education: challenging, high standards, lessons during the school day and late into the afternoon, on weekends, during the summer; well designed, well maintained, well equipped schools; good meals, health care. None of this is brain surgery (although all of it is typically recommended by neuroscientists). In a city like New York, where $20 million apartments are purchased for weekends or as student housing for the children of billionaires, finding the money for this is only a matter of the will to do so.

A particularly important factor in education—we all know this—is the quality of teachers. In many developed countries, such as the UK, it is axiomatic that the most effective teachers are to be found in the schools serving the students who most need them. What is the situation in District 9, where, surely, the students need highly effective teachers?

The New York State Education Department reports that while 83 percent of teachers in the district are “Effective,” just 5 percent are “Highly Effective.” In District 2, in Manhattan, 17 percent of the teachers are rated as highly effective. We need not get into the complicated issues of teacher ratings to notice that a student in District 2 is three times as likely to have a better than average teacher than a student in the South Bronx. What is going on here? Why is it that these students most in need of excellent teachers are least likely to have them? And what does it say about our society?

It has not always been the case in this country that household poverty condemned children to impoverished educations. It was once our pride that the schools were enriching, open doors through which the children of factory workers and peddlers could pass on their way to more satisfying lives. Increasingly they are not doors but barriers: unaffordable colleges, under-resourced schools. This is the road to generations of increasing inequality, a future in which the South Bronx is not unusual but the typical environment for all but the most privileged.

Featured photo courtesy of Brett Carlsen.

June 15, 2015 standard

These days haven’t been all that heady for the Chicago Teachers Union. With the Second City’s cash-strapped traditional district demanding a seven percent pay decrease for teachers as part of a new contract, the AFT affiliate may pay an even higher price for backing the unsuccessful candidacy of Cook County Councilman Jesus (Chuy) Garcia over Mayor Rahm Emanuel (as well as the union boss Karen Lewis’ four-year-long effort to halt systemic reform). With Emanuel essentially guaranteed the top job for as long as he chooses, Lewis must figure out whether to moderate the union’s militancy (at a cost of losing support from the hardcore traditionalists that put her in office) or adopt an even harder edge.

But don’t think CTU has no weapons for a long fight with Emanuel at its disposal. It has plenty. One of the little-noticed of them is its eponymous foundation, which has morphed from a barely-funded affiliate that doled out scholarships to a key backer of the union’s allies.

The Chicago Teachers Union Foundation doled out $1 million in grants in 2013-2014, according to its filing with the Internal Revenue Service. That’s 12,661 times greater than the $80 in grants it handed out in the previous fiscal year. This is thanks to $1.3 million in investment income in 2013-2014, an increase from the zero dollars it had generated a year earlier.

The foundation’s grantees include many of the Chicago AFT local’s key allies in its efforts against the school reform efforts championed by Emanuel and predecessor Richard M. Daley. Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, the progressive outfit which also received $60,000 from the national AFT in 2013-2014, received a $30,000 grant from CTU Foundation last fiscal year. Pilsen Alliance, another group who has been a loud and vocal backer of CTU’s opposition to Emanuel’s regime, also received $30,000 from the union’s foundation. CTU Foundation handed out a $30,000 to Action Now Institute, an education advocacy outfit which has been active in the parent union’s protest marches; last week, Action Now joined together with CTU, Pilsen, Kenwood Oakland, and a branch of the influential Amalgamated Transit Workers Union to protest the district’s proposed contract terms.

Much of the money given out by CTU Foundation is going to the Second City’s neighborhood associations, nearly all of whom are membership-based (and therefore, unlike your typical homeowner’s association, not necessarily representative of everyone in those communities). This includes Brighton Park Neighborhood Association, which participated alongside CTU and its other vassals in last week’s protest; it collected $30,000 from the union’s foundation last fiscal year. Another neighborhood group, Blocks Together Chicago based out of the Humboldt Park neighborhood, received $20,000 last year, as did Enlace Chicago, which is based on the mostly-Latino Little Villages Neighborhood.

A big winner: Southwest Organizing Project, which is based in the Second City’s southwest side communities. CTU Foundation gave it a direct grant of $20,000, while giving $50,000 to its Grow Your Own Teachers initiative. The latter program, part of an effort in Illinois to help communities to help parents and other non-traditional types get into classroom teaching, is certainly admirable. But let’s remember that it can also help CTU gain new activists within its rank-and-file.

But CTU Foundation’s giving extends beyond those small groups. Raise Your Hands for Illinois, which is pushing against the use of standardized testing and student test score growth data used in teacher evaluations the union opposes, picked up $20,000 from the foundation last fiscal year. Illinois Justice Foundation, which funds progressive efforts, also collected $20,000 from the foundation last year. And the Network for Public Education, the outfit headed up by once-respectable education historian (and Lewis pal) Diane Ravitch, picked up a $20,000 grant.

CTU Foundation’s more-activist giving is a 180-degree change from past years. Long-dedicated to handing out scholarships to children of CTU’s rank-and-file — it gave out $13,000 of them last year (or little more than the $12,000 ladled out in 2012-2013) — the foundation became a key arm of the union’s political efforts two years ago. Under Lewis, who presides over its board, the philanthropy sold some of its real estate for $12.7 million, then began redirecting those proceeds toward the union’s favored few.

Considering that many neighborhood associations and small nonprofits lack the financial wherewithal (even such resources as printers, copying machines, and conference space) to hold meetings and conduct business — and that reformers often fail to extend their considerable resources to help them — the grants from CTU Foundation (along with the other help provided by CTU itself) are more than enough to win them over to the union’s cause. Little wonder why CTU has managed to portray itself as some sort of grassroots outfit even when information (including April’s mayoral election runoff results) say otherwise.

CTU Foundation’s political in all but name spending may work in the union’s favor, so long as it doesn’t run afoul of the federal tax man. After all, the Internal Revenue Code (along with private letter rulings and other IRS decisions) prohibit philanthropies affiliated with organizations from funding activities that provide more than an incidental benefit to parent organizations. Given the strong ties between CTU and the outfits funded by the union’s foundation (and the even closer ties between Lewis and Ravitch), you can easily argue that the union is getting more than an incidental benefit from the spending.For reformers in Chicago, as well as compatriots in the rest of the nation, the spending activities of the CTU Foundation show that it makes good sense to take a look at how foundations affiliated with AFT and NEA affiliates (as well as those of the parent unions) are using what are supposed to be public benefit dollars for what could be their own private purposes beyond just a little publicity.

June 13, 2015 standard

Plenty enough has been said about Michelle Malkin’s op-ed this week calling for Congress to cut federal funding to Teach for America because it is supporting the criminal justice reform activism of alumni and staffers such as Deray McKesson and Brittany Packnett. Yet let’s keep in mind two matters that few have mentioned — and that Malkin has conveniently ignored for her own ideological purposes.

The first? That the nation’s university schools of education, which train the majority of instructors going into classrooms, have done an absolutely shoddy job of recruiting and training aspiring teachers.

As the National Council on Teacher Quality determined last year in its second annual review of ed schools and other teacher training programs, just 107 out of the 1,612 ed school programs it vetted provided the instruction aspiring teachers needed to be successful in teaching children. This data isn’t surprising. As NCTQ determined in 2006, just 11 out of 71 ed schools surveyed at the time taught teachers all that they needed to provide adequate reading instruction; these results have changed very little within the last nine years.

Even worse, as NCTQ revealed in a study released last November, half of the 6,000 assignments given in 862 courses at 33 ed school programs surveyed by NCTQ were criterion-deficient, or lacked the clear scope of knowledge and feedback aspiring teachers need to achieve mastery in their work. Two hundred ninety-five of the 509 ed schools surveyed had grading standards for students that were far lower than those for other majors on campus. Because these courses were so lacking in quality, students ended up getting plenty of easy As, giving them a false sense of accomplishment and preparation.

The results of this low-quality training can be seen in the fact that three out of every 10 fourth-graders in the nation read Below Basic in 2013, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the nation’s test of student achievement. Especially for poor and minority children, the shoddy training provided by ed schools almost all but ensures that those taught by their graduates will learn little and suffer educationally as well as economically down the road.

This low-quality teacher training comes at a high price to taxpayers. States, along with the federal government and aspiring teachers, spend $7 billion annually on sustaining ed school operations. When you consider that teacher salaries are based on attaining additional degrees (which is often funded by districts and states) and not on performance, the costs of laggard ed schools borne by taxpayers are even greater.

The second: That no organization has done a better job of setting a higher standard for recruiting and training teachers as well as showing how much better teacher training can be than Teach For America.

A decade of data has pretty much shown that Teach For America does a better job than ed schools in recruiting and training aspiring teachers. A 2013 study on Teach For America conducted by research outfit Mathematica determined that its recruits outperformed ed school peers; in fact, the average student taught by a Teach for America recruit gained an additional 2.6 months of learning over a peer taught by a traditionally-trained teacher. Particularly for poor and minority kids, with which Teach For America works with the most (and whose needs the outfit is geared toward serving), the outfit’s recruits are helping them gain the high-quality teaching they deserve (and taxpayers of all ideological stripes should expect).

Conservative columnist Michelle Malkin has moved on from fact-free opposition to Common Core to a senseless jeremiad against Teach For America.

At the same time, Teach For America has shown new and better ways for recruiting and training aspiring teachers. Over the past three decades, the outfit has shown that teacher training programs should deliberately recruit entrepreneurial self-starters with strong leadership ability (alongside subject-matter competency in the subjects they teach and empathy for children of all backgrounds) needed to lead classrooms. At the same time, Teach For America’s focus on quickly and comprehensively training aspiring teachers in how to actually teach in classrooms exposes the damage wrought by ed schools and their emphasis on unproven instructional theories. Meanwhile Teach For America’s success in recruiting high-quality black and Latino collegians into teaching (with one out of every two recruits in 2014 coming from minority backgrounds) has proven lie to the arguments of ed schools that they just can’t provide children with teachers who look like them.

With two out of every three of its recruits remaining in education — and becoming school leaders, policy players, activists, and social entrepreneurs — the benefits of Teach For America’s efforts aren’t just seen in classrooms. From the work of Michelle Rhee in forming TNTP and launching the so far successful reform of D.C.’s traditional district, to Kaya Henderson’s continuation of those efforts in the nation’s capital, to the work of the likes of KIPP founders Michael Feinberg and Dave Levin in launching charter schools, Teach For America has helped advance the very efforts in advancing systemic reform that are helping more kids succeed in school and in life.

All of this comes at little comparable cost to taxpayers. Federal funding and contracts with districts account for just 20 percent of Teach For America’s revenue of $211 million in 2013-2014. The rest of its support comes from reform-minded philanthropies who understand the critical need for overhauling how we recruit, train, and compensate teachers.

Given the low quality of teaching in the nation’s schools and the success of Teach For America in providing high-quality teachers, you would think that Malkin would call for states and the federal government to stop funding the former and  praise the quantifiable and qualitative successes of the latter. But given her fact-free jeremiads against implementing Common Core reading and math standards, neither her claptrap against Teach For America nor silence about the failure of ed schools is shocking. Malkin has proven in the past that she doesn’t do her homework — and her ideological blinders (including a thoughtless and overly-sentimental allegiance to institutions of law and order regardless of misbehavior) assure that she wouldn’t put the work in this time around.

By focusing solely on the fact that Teach For America alumni are playing their proper (and laudable) roles as participants in civil society on behalf of children and communities, Malkin fails to pay any mind to the great work that the organization and its recruits do on a daily basis in providing kids with high-quality teaching. At the same time, she ignores the much-bigger problem of low-quality teacher training that goes on in ed schools and the consequences on America’s public school systems. If anything, Malkin seems to be more in common cause with traditionalists and teachers’ unions opposed to Teach For America’s very existence than with the taxpayers (including families and their children) for whom she expresses so much concern.

Meanwhile Malkin seems to ignore the reality that the nation’s criminal justice systems are in as sore a need of reform as public education — and that as school reformers, Teach For America alumni and staffers can no more ignore the consequences of those woes on children outside of schools than the crises within them.

The high-profile slayings of black men such as Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and Freddie Gray just exemplify the problems of overmilitarized police departments, overcriminalization of youth, perpetuation of state-sanctioned racial bigotry, drug war overkill, and violations of civil liberties by law enforcement that have been detailed at length by progressives, conservatives, and libertarians alike.

Teach For America alum such as Deray McKesson are rightfully standing with criminal justice reformers on behalf of children who must deal with issues outside as well as inside of schools.

If anything, the deaths of these young men have galvanized bipartisan support for criminal justice reform. So arguments by Malkin (as well as those by conservatives within the school reform movement such as Frederick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute) that McKesson and Packnett (along with Teach For America) are “agitating” for a “leftist agenda” ignores reality.

As with school reform, there are plenty of good reasons for such bipartisanship. As Dropout Nation has detailed over the last year, the enabling of incompetent and criminally-venal cops by state laws and criminal justice bureaucracies parallels the protection of laggard and criminally-abusive teachers by state education agencies and traditional districts. The use of excessive force laws that allow rogue officers to murder young black men with impunity are little different from the tenure and teacher dismissal laws that keep even child abusers in classrooms. The only difference between the actions of police unions such as New York City’s Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association and those of NEA and AFT affiliates is that the former carry guns.

As with the consequences of failing and mediocre traditional districts, the consequences of abusive criminal justice systems are borne hardest by the communities in which poor and minority children live. As Balko and others reported within the last year, the use of courts and cops by municipalities as revenue generators (in the form of arbitrarily handed out traffic ticket and rulings that often double those initial penalties) essentially impoverish already poor families. The U.S. Department of Justice’s probes of police practices in Ferguson, Mo., and Cleveland have also revealed how racial bigotry and faulty policing bears out in use of excessive force (including murders in all but name) of young black men and women.

But the consequences for kids aren’t just outside schoolhouse doors. Traditional districts (along with some charter school operators) have long played a pernicious role in fostering a school-to-prison pipeline that condemns far too many kids to despair. School districts accounted for three out of every 10 status cases referred to juvenile courts in 2011, according to the U.S. Department of Justice, the second-highest source of referrals after law enforcement agencies.

Now, thanks to the law enforcement agencies districts have formed on their own (as well as bringing in cops from the outside to serve as school resource officers to handle student misbehavior better managed by teachers and school leaders), American public education has also become key players in the police militarization plaguing our communities. With help from the federal government, districts such as Compton Unified in California are arming their cops with AR-15 rifles and grenades that should never be anywhere near classrooms.

The results can be seen in districts in cities such as Birmingham, Ala., where police officers in Birmingham, Ala., using Freeze +P pepper spray against eight children attending the traditional district there (the subject of a lawsuit filed on their behalf by the Southern Poverty Law Center); some 110 incidents of pepper-spraying occurred in the district since 2006. Because half of school resource officer programs (and other law enforcement) are patrolling elementary school hallways, it means that even kids in kindergarten and first grade are being criminalized at early ages.

There’s no way that any school reformer, much less those black and brown such as McKesson and Packnett, can avoid standing in common cause with criminal justice reformers of all stripes to advocate against these abuses of state power. Considering that Teach For America is has been dedicated from day one to providing poor and minority children with high-quality education, it also cannot ignore the injustices happening outside schools to the students their recruits serve. And as Atlantic Monthly‘s Conor Friedersdorf declared last month in a piece on police brutality, no conservative or liberal, much less a moral human being, can ignore the pressing need to seriously address the reality that there are police officers acting as thugs against people of all backgrounds — especially young black men and women — under the guise of enforcing the law.

Seems like the problem lies not with Teach For America or its alumni, but with Malkin’s immorality and that of her amen corner.

June 11, 2015 standard

Your editor didn’t give much consideration to last week’s op-ed by Schott Foundation for Public Education President John Jackson, Pedro Noguera of Economic Policy Institute’s Broader Bolder Approach, and Judith Browne Dianis of the Advancement Fund criticizing civil rights groups such as UNCF and NAACP for supporting the focus on strong accountability as exemplified by the No Child Left Behind Act and other systemic reform efforts. Besides the fact that other reformers have already taken aim at the arguments made in the claptrap, your editor took apart similar arguments made last year in a so-called alternative accountability push to which Advancement Fund and Schott are signatories.

But your editor did think it was important to remind you that Schott, Noguera, and Browne Dianis have plenty of reasons for taking aim at civil rights groups and reformers other than any professed concern for the futures of children. Those reasons start with the coffers of the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, who are looking to do anything they can to push a reauthorization of No Child that eviscerates strong accountability as well as the use of standardized test growth data that can be used in hiring and firing of teachers often forced to pay into their respective coffers.

As you already know, the chances of No Child being reauthorized this year are almost slim to none. Sure, Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander is attempting to bring his version of the law up for full consideration by the federal upper house. But opposition from conservative true-believers, who have all but kiboshed a similar measure from Alexander’s House counterpart, John Kline, all but assure that the Tennessee Republican’s plan is effectively dead on arrival.

But as Dropout Nation noted two years ago, there will still be plenty of gamesmanship among both reformers and traditionalists over No Child reauthorization, all driven by the desire to advance their policy and advocacy goals. Particularly for NEA and AFT, which have found themselves beaten back by centrist Democrat reformers who have been the leading players on federal education policy during the Obama Administration’s tenure, lining up support for their efforts beyond their declining memberships and hardcore progressives is critical to any future success in stopping the advance of systemic reform.

This is why AFT is working hard to leverage its ties to advisers of likely Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton while NEA is demanding presidential candidates to essentially declare that they will do the union’s bidding. It is also why NEA, whose political spending (including contributions to nonprofit groups) has garnered few tangible results, is demanding that its vassals do its bidding under the guise of social justice.

So far, the Big Two haven’t succeeded in winning over civil rights groups, many of whom have been among the strongest backers of No Child since its passage 13 years ago. This became clear last month when the NAACP and its legal defense fund came out on the pages of Education Week in favor of the strong accountability measures that No Child represents (even as it considered the law’s sanctions to be “deeply flawed”). Considering that the old-school civil rights group has long been better-known for defending traditionalist thinking — including opposing the expansion of charter schools and other forms of school choice — and that it has been a prime recipient of NEA and AFT largesse, the reversal was definitely not welcomed in traditionalist circles.

But NEA and AFT can still count on a few allies who consider themselves civil rights groups — even as they defend policies and practices backed by the Big Two that harm the futures of children black and brown. One of those outfits is Schott Foundation, which helped advance systemic reform more than a decade ago with its series of reports on low graduation rates for young black men. Certainly the organization’s work on graduation rates and how the nation’s traditional districts fail black and Latino children remain laudable. But since being taken over by Jackson eight years ago, Schott and its Opportunity to Learn initiative has become a key ally of NEA and AFT in their efforts against those very kids.

Last November, Jackson sent shock waves among civil rights-based reformers (already worried about the possibility of a No Child law stripped of any benefit for kids) when he touted the alternative accountability compact sponsored by NEA and AFT; two months later, civil rights groups led by the Education Trust responded strongly with their own call for bolstering No Child accountability measures. Yesterday, Schott reaffirmed its role on behalf of the Big Two by sending out an e-mail touting an event AFT is holding in October in New Orleans. [Advancement Project is one of the organizations prominently cited as a key player at that event.]

Such allegiance to NEA and AFT thinking has paid off well for Schott Foundation. As Dropout Nation has previously reported, the outfit and its Opportunity to Learn Action Fund collected $480,000 from NEA and AFT in 2013-2014. If Schott’s revenue of $2.3 million in 2012-2013 (the latest year available) remained constant, NEA and AFT funding would account for 16.6 percent of the its funding. Given that Schott has ran a deficit of $4.3 million over the previous two fiscal years — and has drawn down its assets by 31 percent over that period (from $11.3 million to $7.8 million) — it is especially dependent on Big Two cash.

In turn, Schott has poured money into the Big Two’s key vassals. In 2012-2013, Schott gave a $35,000 grant to Economic Policy Institute, a longtime NEA and AFT dependent; $115,000 to Institute for America’s Future (whose political action wing is also financed by the two unions); $10,000 to the Progressive States Network (which gets plenty of teachers’ union cash); and a $10,000 grant to NEA beneficiary FairTest, which has long fought against No Child accountability and the standardized tests that are critical to holding states, school operators, teachers, and school leaders to account for improving student achievement of poor and minority children.

But Schott isn’t the only outfit with strong incentive, financial and otherwise, to do NEA’s and AFT’s bidding. There’s Noguera, the New York University professor who waffles between occasionally supporting systemic reform efforts and giving comfort to his traditionalist allies (especially when they call him out for being an apostate to their cause). Very little of his professed concern for building brighter futures for young black men ever shines through in his work. As co-chair of Economic Policy Institute’s Broader Bolder Approach effort, he must also be concerned about keeping NEA and AFT happy.

Economic Policy collected $1.2 million from the two unions between 2011-2012 and 2013-2014 alone, according to a Dropout Nation analysis of union spending. Based on the think tank’s 2012-2013 filing with the Internal Revenue Service, NEA and AFT contributions of $625,000 that year accounted for 11.2 percent of its revenue. Noguera surely must keep EPI’s fiscal concerns (and that of Broader Bolder) in mind whenever he puts pen to paper. After all, EPI’s efforts also bolster his profile in education policy and advocacy.

But what about Advancement Project? Certainly it collected $75,000 from NEA in 2013-2014. But that would be a rounding error in its $11.3 million in revenue (as of 2012-2013, the most-recent year available); there’s also the fact that one of its key players is Molly Munger, the daughter of the Berkshire Hathaway billionaire (and Warren Buffet’s longtime investing partner), so it isn’t exactly dependent on traditionalist largesse. In fact, Munger ran afoul of NEA’s and AFT’s affiliates in California three years ago when she tried to torpedo the eventually-successful tax increase contained in Prop. 30 in order to bolster support for a similar measure she backed.

The tie between Advancement Project and the Big Two lies with Browne Dianis, a former NAACP staffer who is the outfit’s top staffer inside the Beltway. She is vice chairman of FairTest, which is heavily dependent on teachers’ union funding. In 2013-2014, the organization collected $40,000 from NEA; as a result, the union accounted for 26 percent of its revenue of $154,332 (most of which went into the pockets of its executives, Monty Neill and Robert Schaeffer, even though they only work a total of 60 hours a week).

With FairTest having never shown a surplus within the last two years, Browne Dianis must also work with Neill and Schaeffer to keep the outfit afloat. That means NEA and AFT money — along with the strings their cash entail.

Certainly for Jackson, Noguera and Browne Dianis, doing the bidding of the Big Two is yielding significant benefits for their organizations as well as themselves. That it means pushing for a rollback of federal education policy that have helped black and brown children  as well as a return to the bad old days when states and districts were allowed to ignore their obligations to poor and minority children doesn’t factor into any of their thinking. But given that there are black school leaders and politicians who have been willing to oversee educational abuse and neglect of children who share their same skin color, Jackson, Noguera and Browne Dianis are keeping, well, bad company.

Featured photo: Under the leadership of John Jackson, the Schott Foundation has become a key supporter of NEA’s and AFT’s agenda.

May 12, 2015 standard

Last week’s news that Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has asked the U.S. Department of Justice to examine the practices of the city’s police department is certainly an important step. It is also an overdue one. It shouldn’t have taken last month’s murder of Freddie Gray by six police officers during what can best be called a questionable arrest for the longstanding and well-documented brutality of Charm City’s law enforcement agency to be addressed.

Yet the federal government must do more than look at the police department. The school discipline practices of Baltimore’s traditional district also need to be investigated. As a Dropout Nation analysis of data submitted by the district to the U.S. Department of Education demonstrates, what happens in the schoolhouse will eventually manifest out of it.

As readers have learned over the past few months, American public education fuels a school-to-prison pipeline that contributes to the incidents of police brutality, criminalization of youth, and state-sanctioned murder of young black men in places such as Ferguson, New York City, and Cleveland. From failing to provide intensive reading remediation to children struggling with literacy, to the condemnation of children black and brown to special ed ghettos, traditional districts all but ensure that far too many kids are at risk of dropping into prison as well as poverty.

But the most-direct way districts send poor and minority kids onto the path to being known by police can be seen in the overuse of out-of-school suspensions and other forms of harsh school discipline. This is particularly clear in Baltimore, where black children (especially those in special ed ghettos) are subjected to such treatment.

Baltimore meted one or more out-of-school suspensions to 4,761 black children in 2011-2012, according to data the district submitted to the U.S. Department of Education. This means that 6.6 percent of the black kids attending Charm City’s traditional district schools were suspended. This is a rate higher than the two percent out-of-school suspension rate for Asian and Latino children, and the 2.7 percent for white peers.

The district also meted out in-school suspensions to another 746 black children, or one percent of the all the African-American students in its schools. The rate of in-school suspensions for Baltimore’s black children is higher than the three-tenths of one percent suspension rate for Latino and white peers; not one Asian student was given an in-school suspension that year.

Baltimore expelled some 323 black children, or five-tenths of one percent of all black kids served by the district in 2011-2012. This rate of expulsion is four times higher than the one-tenth of one percent rates for Latino and white students. [Not one Asian was expelled from Baltimore’s schools.]

Meanwhile Baltimore arrested or referred to juvenile court 250 young black men and women in 2011-2012. Four-tenths of one percent of black students in district schools were directly funneled into Charm City’s criminal and juvenile justice systems. This was five and six times higher than the five-hundredths and six hundredths of one percent rates for Latino and white kids, and 8o percent higher than the two-tenths of one percent rate for Asian peers.

Put simply, Baltimore’s black children in regular classrooms have a one-in-10 chance of being subjected to the harshest of school discipline. For white children, it is just a chance of four in 100, a three in 100 for Latino classmates, and two in 100 for Asian peers.

As bad as it is for black children in regular classrooms, it is even worse for those black children condemned by Baltimore to its special ed ghettos.

The district meted out-of-school suspensions to 2,082 black kids in special ed — or 16.5 percent of all the black kids condemned to its ghettos in 2011-2012. This is more than double the out-of-school suspension rate for black kids in regular classrooms. Ten-point-four percent of white children, and 11.4 percent of Latino peers were temporarily tossed out of schools during the school year, rates several times higher than the average for regular classroom peers.

Baltimore also meted out in-school suspensions to another 229 black kids in special ed, or 1.8 percent of them. The good news (if it can be called that) is it was lower than the 2.8 percent in-school suspension rate for Latino classmates and slightly higher than the 1.5 percent rate for white peers. [Again, no Asian students were subjected to such suspensions.]

The district expelled 192 black children in its special ed ghettos; that’s another 1.5 percent of the black children stuck there. The rate of expulsions for black children in special ed was five times higher than the 0.33 percent rate for white children. [The district didn’t kick out any Asian or Latino children.]

Meanwhile Baltimore had 127 black children in special ed arrested or referred to the city’s juvenile justice system. That’s one percent of all the black children forced into even more subpar classrooms than those provided to peers in regular classes. This is 33 percent higher than the 0.67 percent rate of arrest and referral for white peers. [Neither Asian nor Latino children were arrested or referred.]

At least Baltimore doesn’t subject special ed kids to restraints or seclusion (the latter of which would be called solitary confinement by those who are guests of the state). But for Charm City kids, the fact remains that being labeled special ed means being subjected to even more educational abuse.

Given that two out of every five Baltimore kids in special ed are labeled as having a specific learning disability, mentally retarded, emotionally disturbed, and developmentally delayed — which are often based on nebulous and arbitrary diagnoses — this means that a significant number of kids who are otherwise capable of learning are being subjected to even greater abuse than they would be in regular classrooms.

As with the police brutality committed by Baltimore’s law enforcement officials, the district’s overuse of harsh school discipline is well-documented. Back in 2004, the Open Society Foundation’s B’more branch determined that the district meted out-of-school suspensions to 29.5 percent of its students. A year later, Advocates for Children and Youth determined that 21 Baltimore elementary schools suspended more than 18 percent of children attending them. Thanks to the philanthropy’s efforts, and that of former district boss Andres Alonso, the district would cut its suspension rate to 8.4 percent by 2009-2010.

Since then, the district has made far less progress on that front. While the district made a commendable decision in April to remove armed school police officers out of buildings and pushing school leaders to handle discipline issues on their own. [Unarmed officers will still work within school buildings.] But advocates question whether the move itself will actually do much to address the district’s overuse of harsh school discipline. Just as importantly, the district’s decision came only after Maryland state legislators halted consideration of House Bill 101, which would have allowed cops to carry weapons inside school buildings (which they were often doing anyway in violation of state law).

It isn’t that black children in Baltimore are more violent than other kids in the district. Four out of every 10 black students in regular and special ed classrooms are suspended either for some form of disruptive behavior or other non-violent reasons, according to data from the Maryland State Department of Education. These levels are the same for the rest of their classmates. While out-of-school suspensions and other discipline may be merited for the remainder of kids, it still means that two out of every five black children (as well as kids from other backgrounds) are being suspended for behavior that teachers and school leaders can address through more-effective means.

If anything, the overuse of suspensions, expulsions, arrests, and referrals to juvenile justice expose Baltimore’s longstanding problem of providing children with high-quality education. As Contributing Editor Michael Holzman detailed last week and as Dropout Nation has documented over the past two years, the district has long failed to address the literacy issues of the children it serves.

While the five percentage point decline in the number of young black men in eighth grade reading Below Basic (as measured on the National Assessment of Educational Progress) between 2009 and 2013 matches that of the nation as a whole, 48 percent of those students are still functionally illiterate, three percentage points greater than the national average. Meanwhile the two percentage point decline in illiteracy among young black men in fourth-grade in that same period trails the three percentage point decline nationwide; 63 percent of those students read Below Basic in 213, eight points greater than the nation as a whole.

With so little progress being made on the literacy front, especially in the early grades, it is no wonder why so many children end up being subjected to harsh school discipline. As Deborah Stipek and Sarah Miles of Stanford University determined in a 2006 study, kids who are functionally illiterate in third grade end up becoming discipline problems by fifth. Put simply, Baltimore overuses harsh school discipline as a cover for its failures in addressing teaching, curricula, and reading remediation.

But the problem extends beyond discipline. As Reid Lyon noted in his 1997 study, illiteracy is the key reason why so many young black men (along with other children) are labeled as special ed cases. Because kids in special ed are more-likely to be subjected to harsh school discipline than peers in regular classrooms, the failures of Baltimore City on the literacy front are even more unconscionable and unacceptable. For the 17 percent of Charm City kids in special ed, they go from educational malpractice to scholastic abuse.

Even the success made by Alonso on the school discipline front was compromised by his inattentiveness to the underlying causes of the problem. His successor, Gregory Thornton, hasn’t made any more progress on this front, either. What has happened in Baltimore is bad black and Latino school leadership, plain and simple. Meanwhile the American Federation of Teachers’ Charm City local and Maryland affiliate have been anything but concerned either about what kids in the care of its members are learning, or about the impact of harsh school discipline and overcriminalization.

But this problem isn’t at the feet of Baltimore’s school leaders and teachers alone. Given that the district has long been under control of Maryland’s state government, Gov. Larry Hogan and immediate predecessor, Martin O’Malley, must also take responsibility for the failure to address both overuse of harsh school discipline as well as the district’s overall failures as an educational going concern.

The good news is that at least the state’s education department has made some important moves over the past few years to force districts such as Baltimore to scale back on suspensions. But given Hogan’s silence on the direction of the district (as well as his overall lack of credibility on the systemic reform front), expecting the governor to push hard on school discipline or any matter without federal intervention is expecting too much.

So it is time for the federal government to step in. The Obama Administration, which has admirably prodded traditional operators such as Minneapolis to ditch its archaic approaches to school discipline, should immediately launch an investigation of the Baltimore City district’s practices. Rawlings-Blake and reformers working in both the city and in Maryland — including Open Society Institute, the Maryland branch of 50CAN, the Center for Education Reform, and NAACP (which is headquartered in Charm City and has no right to be silent on this issue) — should support that move.

By putting pressure on the district to stem these bad practices — as well as overhaul how it provides literacy and other curricula and teaching — more Charm City children can be kept off the path to poverty and prison. Our Freddie Grays deserve better than what Baltimore provides them.