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.
Plenty enough has been said about Michelle Malkin’s op-ed this week calling for Congress to cut federal funding to Teach for America because it is supporting the criminal justice reform activism of alumni and staffers such as Deray McKesson and Brittany Packnett. Yet let’s keep in mind two matters that few have mentioned — and that Malkin has conveniently ignored for her own ideological purposes.
The first? That the nation’s university schools of education, which train the majority of instructors going into classrooms, have done an absolutely shoddy job of recruiting and training aspiring teachers.
As the National Council on Teacher Quality determined last year in its second annual review of ed schools and other teacher training programs, just 107 out of the 1,612 ed school programs it vetted provided the instruction aspiring teachers needed to be successful in teaching children. This data isn’t surprising. As NCTQ determined in 2006, just 11 out of 71 ed schools surveyed at the time taught teachers all that they needed to provide adequate reading instruction; these results have changed very little within the last nine years.
Even worse, as NCTQ revealed in a study released last November, half of the 6,000 assignments given in 862 courses at 33 ed school programs surveyed by NCTQ were criterion-deficient, or lacked the clear scope of knowledge and feedback aspiring teachers need to achieve mastery in their work. Two hundred ninety-five of the 509 ed schools surveyed had grading standards for students that were far lower than those for other majors on campus. Because these courses were so lacking in quality, students ended up getting plenty of easy As, giving them a false sense of accomplishment and preparation.
The results of this low-quality training can be seen in the fact that three out of every 10 fourth-graders in the nation read Below Basic in 2013, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the nation’s test of student achievement. Especially for poor and minority children, the shoddy training provided by ed schools almost all but ensures that those taught by their graduates will learn little and suffer educationally as well as economically down the road.
This low-quality teacher training comes at a high price to taxpayers. States, along with the federal government and aspiring teachers, spend $7 billion annually on sustaining ed school operations. When you consider that teacher salaries are based on attaining additional degrees (which is often funded by districts and states) and not on performance, the costs of laggard ed schools borne by taxpayers are even greater.
The second: That no organization has done a better job of setting a higher standard for recruiting and training teachers as well as showing how much better teacher training can be than Teach For America.
A decade of data has pretty much shown that Teach For America does a better job than ed schools in recruiting and training aspiring teachers. A 2013 study on Teach For America conducted by research outfit Mathematica determined that its recruits outperformed ed school peers; in fact, the average student taught by a Teach for America recruit gained an additional 2.6 months of learning over a peer taught by a traditionally-trained teacher. Particularly for poor and minority kids, with which Teach For America works with the most (and whose needs the outfit is geared toward serving), the outfit’s recruits are helping them gain the high-quality teaching they deserve (and taxpayers of all ideological stripes should expect).
At the same time, Teach For America has shown new and better ways for recruiting and training aspiring teachers. Over the past three decades, the outfit has shown that teacher training programs should deliberately recruit entrepreneurial self-starters with strong leadership ability (alongside subject-matter competency in the subjects they teach and empathy for children of all backgrounds) needed to lead classrooms. At the same time, Teach For America’s focus on quickly and comprehensively training aspiring teachers in how to actually teach in classrooms exposes the damage wrought by ed schools and their emphasis on unproven instructional theories. Meanwhile Teach For America’s success in recruiting high-quality black and Latino collegians into teaching (with one out of every two recruits in 2014 coming from minority backgrounds) has proven lie to the arguments of ed schools that they just can’t provide children with teachers who look like them.
With two out of every three of its recruits remaining in education — and becoming school leaders, policy players, activists, and social entrepreneurs — the benefits of Teach For America’s efforts aren’t just seen in classrooms. From the work of Michelle Rhee in forming TNTP and launching the so far successful reform of D.C.’s traditional district, to Kaya Henderson’s continuation of those efforts in the nation’s capital, to the work of the likes of KIPP founders Michael Feinberg and Dave Levin in launching charter schools, Teach For America has helped advance the very efforts in advancing systemic reform that are helping more kids succeed in school and in life.
All of this comes at little comparable cost to taxpayers. Federal funding and contracts with districts account for just 20 percent of Teach For America’s revenue of $211 million in 2013-2014. The rest of its support comes from reform-minded philanthropies who understand the critical need for overhauling how we recruit, train, and compensate teachers.
Given the low quality of teaching in the nation’s schools and the success of Teach For America in providing high-quality teachers, you would think that Malkin would call for states and the federal government to stop funding the former and praise the quantifiable and qualitative successes of the latter. But given her fact-free jeremiads against implementing Common Core reading and math standards, neither her claptrap against Teach For America nor silence about the failure of ed schools is shocking. Malkin has proven in the past that she doesn’t do her homework — and her ideological blinders (including a thoughtless and overly-sentimental allegiance to institutions of law and order regardless of misbehavior) assure that she wouldn’t put the work in this time around.
By focusing solely on the fact that Teach For America alumni are playing their proper (and laudable) roles as participants in civil society on behalf of children and communities, Malkin fails to pay any mind to the great work that the organization and its recruits do on a daily basis in providing kids with high-quality teaching. At the same time, she ignores the much-bigger problem of low-quality teacher training that goes on in ed schools and the consequences on America’s public school systems. If anything, Malkin seems to be more in common cause with traditionalists and teachers’ unions opposed to Teach For America’s very existence than with the taxpayers (including families and their children) for whom she expresses so much concern.
Meanwhile Malkin seems to ignore the reality that the nation’s criminal justice systems are in as sore a need of reform as public education — and that as school reformers, Teach For America alumni and staffers can no more ignore the consequences of those woes on children outside of schools than the crises within them.
The high-profile slayings of black men such as Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and Freddie Gray just exemplify the problems of overmilitarized police departments, overcriminalization of youth, perpetuation of state-sanctioned racial bigotry, drug war overkill, and violations of civil liberties by law enforcement that have been detailed at length by progressives, conservatives, and libertarians alike.
If anything, the deaths of these young men have galvanized bipartisan support for criminal justice reform. So arguments by Malkin (as well as those by conservatives within the school reform movement such as Frederick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute) that McKesson and Packnett (along with Teach For America) are “agitating” for a “leftist agenda” ignores reality.
As with school reform, there are plenty of good reasons for such bipartisanship. As Dropout Nation has detailed over the last year, the enabling of incompetent and criminally-venal cops by state laws and criminal justice bureaucracies parallels the protection of laggard and criminally-abusive teachers by state education agencies and traditional districts. The use of excessive force laws that allow rogue officers to murder young black men with impunity are little different from the tenure and teacher dismissal laws that keep even child abusers in classrooms. The only difference between the actions of police unions such as New York City’s Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association and those of NEA and AFT affiliates is that the former carry guns.
As with the consequences of failing and mediocre traditional districts, the consequences of abusive criminal justice systems are borne hardest by the communities in which poor and minority children live. As Balko and others reported within the last year, the use of courts and cops by municipalities as revenue generators (in the form of arbitrarily handed out traffic ticket and rulings that often double those initial penalties) essentially impoverish already poor families. The U.S. Department of Justice’s probes of police practices in Ferguson, Mo., and Cleveland have also revealed how racial bigotry and faulty policing bears out in use of excessive force (including murders in all but name) of young black men and women.
But the consequences for kids aren’t just outside schoolhouse doors. Traditional districts (along with some charter school operators) have long played a pernicious role in fostering a school-to-prison pipeline that condemns far too many kids to despair. School districts accounted for three out of every 10 status cases referred to juvenile courts in 2011, according to the U.S. Department of Justice, the second-highest source of referrals after law enforcement agencies.
Now, thanks to the law enforcement agencies districts have formed on their own (as well as bringing in cops from the outside to serve as school resource officers to handle student misbehavior better managed by teachers and school leaders), American public education has also become key players in the police militarization plaguing our communities. With help from the federal government, districts such as Compton Unified in California are arming their cops with AR-15 rifles and grenades that should never be anywhere near classrooms.
The results can be seen in districts in cities such as Birmingham, Ala., where police officers in Birmingham, Ala., using Freeze +P pepper spray against eight children attending the traditional district there (the subject of a lawsuit filed on their behalf by the Southern Poverty Law Center); some 110 incidents of pepper-spraying occurred in the district since 2006. Because half of school resource officer programs (and other law enforcement) are patrolling elementary school hallways, it means that even kids in kindergarten and first grade are being criminalized at early ages.
There’s no way that any school reformer, much less those black and brown such as McKesson and Packnett, can avoid standing in common cause with criminal justice reformers of all stripes to advocate against these abuses of state power. Considering that Teach For America is has been dedicated from day one to providing poor and minority children with high-quality education, it also cannot ignore the injustices happening outside schools to the students their recruits serve. And as Atlantic Monthly‘s Conor Friedersdorf declared last month in a piece on police brutality, no conservative or liberal, much less a moral human being, can ignore the pressing need to seriously address the reality that there are police officers acting as thugs against people of all backgrounds — especially young black men and women — under the guise of enforcing the law.
Seems like the problem lies not with Teach For America or its alumni, but with Malkin’s immorality and that of her amen corner.
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.
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.
These days, Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis doesn’t have much to be optimistic about. Certainly her arch-nemesis, Rahm Emanuel, is dealing with the fallout from allegations of corruption against now-sidelined Chicago Public Schools Chief Executive Officer Barbara Byrd-Bennett as well as having to address the Second City’s virtually-insolvent pensions. But scandals and financial problems are the costs politicians pay for winning re-election. The fact that Emanuel still oversees the nation’s third-largest city and its traditional district means that Lewis and the American Federation of Teachers local have failed in its four-year-long goal of ending systemic reform.
So how big was the loss suffered by Lewis, CTU, and AFT? Thanks to a final tally of campaign dollars spent against Emanuel’s re-election by the ailing local boss, the local itself, and AFT, it can be quantified in financial terms.
Illinois campaign finance document shows that CTU’s political action committee spent $158,967.14 on behalf of Emanuel challenger Jesus (Chuy) Garcia during the week of Election Day. This includes $126,709.00 for one collection of phone banks used to get the word out to likely voters, as well as another $7,773.34 for field canvassing and poll watching activities. This spend is on top of the $110,299.79 CTU spent on Garcia’s behalf the week running up to the recall election, and the $152,293 poured into Garcia’s campaign since the union backed his run for the top office late last year.
Altogether, the Chicago AFT local poured $421,559.93 into opposing Emanuel’s re-election. This, by the way, doesn’t include the money spent directly by the union on Garcia’s campaign (including expenditures for so-called representational activities that are almost always political in nature). It also doesn’t include the $16,000 Lewis’ mayoral exploratory committee tossed into Garcia’s campaign early on.
The good news for Lewis, such as it can be, is that CTU wasn’t the only branch of AFT that embarrassed itself spending plenty against Emanuel’s successful re-election. The AFT’s Big Apple local, United Federation of Teachers, dumped $20,000 into Garcia’s campaign right on Election Day. The donation came a couple of weeks after a $10,000 donation by New York State United Teachers, AFT’s virtually-busted state affiliate, and a $50,000 donation by the union’s Illinois Federation of Teachers.
Then there’s the national AFT’s own spend. By the time the union cut its losses and all but conceded that Emanuel would win re-election, AFT’s political action committee had poured $902,103.20 into Garcia’s campaign. This included $649,503.20 on behalf of Garcia during the month of March before the runoff. [This doesn’t include any spending out of the union’s main coffers or outside spending by its Solidarity Fund 527 operation.]
How big was AFT’s spend against Emanuel? To put this in context, AFT spent $169,703.20 more on Garcia’s losing campaign than it did on helping Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf oust predecessor Tom Corbett last November, and $33,253.20 more than it did on every campaign it subsidized in California (including Supt. Tom Torlakson’s victory over reformer Marshall Tuck). Unlike in Chicago, AFT’s victories in the Keystone and Golden states ensure the union’s efforts to preserve the array of policies and practices that are at the heart of its influence within those locales as well as the nation as a whole. And for less money and public effort to boot.
When all the spending is put together, CTU, AFT, and the national union’s other affiliates spent a massive $1.4 million to back Garcia’s challenge against Emanuel. For all that money, they collectively garnered support from a mere two out of every five voters for their agenda. Because Emanuel no longer needs to fear threats by CTU and AFT, he can now pursue a more-aggressive reform agenda, likely for as long as he chooses to be Chicago mayor. Given the presence of reform-oriented Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner as well as a legislature that will usually do what Chicago’s mayor demands, and CTU (along with AFT and its Illini affiliate) have lost even more clout than necessary.
In the process, Lewis is now on the defensive. As Dropout Nation noted earlier this month, she now has to choose between continuing the union’s hardcore traditionalist stance that merely empowers Emanuel or take a more accomodationist that will alienate her and CTU from its base of supporters. Landing between rocks and hard places is what happens when a teachers’ union boss stokes the ire of its most-hardcore activists without achieving any tangible results. One can expect Lewis to eventually get the business end of this wrath among CTU activists against systemic reform.
As for AFT? Given the high cost of defeat, you can expect the union’s crafty president, Randi Weingarten, to turn back to the only-slightly-more-successful triangulation strategy she pushed until Lewis’ emergence as the darling of hardcore traditionalists. After all, Lewis’ hardcore traditionalist strategy has largely proven to be a failure everywhere it has been applied; it wasn’t even much of a factor in AFT’s success in Pennsylvania, where Wolf took advantage of predecessor Corbett’s widespread unpopularity and lackluster tenure as the Keystone State’s top executive. While Weingarten will continue to play a little bit to the passions of hardcore traditionalists, she will quietly go back to embracing watered-down versions of systemic reform efforts because it is the only approach that will likely keep the union from losing more influence.
More money alone doesn’t equal better results. This is true in American public education as a whole. And as seen this month in Chicago, it is even more so when it comes to efforts by AFT and NEA to oppose systemic reform.