There is little good news these days for the New York State United Teachers, the financially-strapped state affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers and National Education Association.
Last week, the Empire State’s education department announced that it wouldn’t bow to the union’s demands to reduce time for the battery of reading and math exams from three to two days, defeating its long-term goal of getting rid of the objective data that can be used to measure school (and eventually, teacher) performance. Earlier this month, a judge in Erie County ordered NYSUT to explain why it was violating state campaign finance laws when it gave $700,000 to New Yorkers for a Brighter Future, a political action committee whose treasurer is longtime union top executive Andrew Pallotta, to help Democrats in their unsuccessful effort to capture a state senate seat — and end Republican control of the legislative body.
Meanwhile the union’s effort to bolster its influence over education policy in the Empire State — one that has succeeded in the past couple of years — was blunted as other candidates it backed for the state senate such as Adam Haber, a school board member running for an open seat, lost big time. With Republicans retaining control of the upper house, NYSUT will have to hope that Gov. Andrew Cuomo — whose desire and willingness to advance systemic reform has waned significantly since embarking on his second term — can continue to do its bidding.
But NYSUT has bigger problems on its balance sheet — and, as it reported yesterday in its annual filing with the U.S. Department of Labor, it starts with its ever-growing pension and retirement liabilities.
The union reported that it accrued $503 million in retirement liabilities in 2015-2016, a 31 percent increase from the $383 million it reported in the previous fiscal year. This includes $288 million in pension liabilities (a 23.6 percent increase over 2014-2015), and $215 million in retiree health obligations (an increase of 43 percent over the previous fiscal year).
If NYSUT were to land in bankruptcy, the union would have just $125 million in assets to cover $415 million in liabilities. Essentially, it would owe $290 million more to its retirees and other creditors than it could ever pay back. Put bluntly, the union is virtually insolvent.
Certainly NYSUT’s retiree obligations are covered by some $24.5 million in investments and U.S. Treasury securities. But that doesn’t even cover a tenth of its insolvency. More importantly, like state and district-run defined-benefit pensions that NYSUT, along with other AFT and NEA affiliates, defend, the capital markets have been in the doldrums; the value of the investments barely budged from levels in 2014-2015. So there’s no way that NYSUT can grow its way out of bust.
The good news for NYSUT is that it added 11,176 rank-in-file in 2015-2016 (to 651,594), a 1.7 percent increase over the previous year. But as with last year, the good news comes with some dark clouds. Most of the growth came in the form of retirees who no longer work in classrooms; the number of retirees paying into the union increased by 2.9 percent in 2015-2016 versus a two percent increase in so-called in-service (or working) rank-in-file. Since retirees pay less into NYSUT coffers than classroom teachers, this means the union is garnering less money. Meanwhile the growth in those categories was offset by a 15 percent decline in rank-in-file from “special constituency groups” and an 8.2 percent decline in agency fee payers, whose dollars are used by the AFT affiliate for its political activities even though they are technically not supposed to be.
Partly as a result of the growth, stilted as is was, NYSUT’s dues collections increased by 5.6 percent over 2014-2015 to $133 million. Overall revenue for 2015-2016 was $258 million, a 4.9 percent increase. The national AFT provided $11.8 million in subsidies to the affiliate, a 15 percent increase over 2014-2015, while NEA subsidized the union to the tune of $2.2 million, a 10 percent increase over the previous year. NYSUT also generated $1.7 million from its Teaching & Learning Trust, a 19 percent decline over 2014-2015; while its Member Benefits affiliate, which like the one operated by AFT, peddles annuities and insurance plans to its members, generated $7 million in revenue, a nine percent decline over the previous fiscal year.
As for the bottom line? NYSUT generated $14.2 million in surplus in 2015-2016, a nearly four-fold increase over the $3.8 million in surplus generated in the previous year. This is the fourth straight year NYSUT has been in the black despite spending slightly more in 2015-2016 than it did last year. Those subsidies from AFT and NEA, along with a 2.8 percent increase in dues paid by classroom teachers to the state affiliate, definitely helped the bottom line.
Since NYSUT isn’t putting much of its money toward paying down its pension liabilities, it is spending it on influence-buying. The union spent $99.6 million in 2015-2016 on lobbying, contributions to like-minded groups and spending on almost-always political “representational activities”. This is a 1.8 percent decrease over the previous fiscal year.
Among the beneficiaries of NYSUT’s largesse: Alliance for Quality Education, which has long been a reliable vassal of the affiliate and the parent national union. It collected $67,500 from the union last fiscal year, little more than half of what it received in 2014-2015. Citizen Action of New York, another key vassal, received even less from NYSUT; the $60,720 it received in 2015-2016 is 78 percent less than what it received in the previous year. Strong Economy for All Coalition, which counts Citizen Action and AQE as key players, garnered $250,000 from the union (or half of the money it got in 2014-2015), while Education Law Center picked up $50,000 (or 50 percent less than its subsidy from the union in the previous fiscal year).
As for the Working Families Party, the progressive political outfit whose standardbearer, Zephyr Teachout, strongly challenged Cuomo during his re-election bid two years ago? It collected $50,000 from the union, a 20 percent increase over the previous year. The Fiscal Policy Institute, another NYSUT vassal, collected $146,000 from the union in 2015-2016, a 14-fold increase over the previous year.
As in 2014-2015, most of NYSUT’s political spending went to advertising and messaging. It spent $232,500 with Visuality on ads and social media activity, spent another $1.5 million with Shorr Johnson Magnus, and dropped $124,733 with Lamar Companies on billboards. Working the national AFT’s ties with both the Democratic Party and the ever-secretive Democracy Alliance, the union also spent $33,150 with the coalition’s data outfit, Catalist LLC.
On the public relations front, NYSUT spent $16,350 with flack outfit City& State, and $14,000 with Campbell & Associates. Both spends are considerably less than in 2014-2015. NYSUT’s biggest public relations spend was on the United Federation of Teachers’ Teacher Union Day reputation-repair effort; the union gave $1.4 million to the campaign.
The Teacher Union Day effort was part of NYSUT’s $15.5 million in subsidies to the Big Apple local; this is a 13 percent increase over 2014-2015. The increase proves that UFT’s effective takeover of the affiliate last year, in which it ousted longtime president Richard Iannuzzi and replacing him with the more-agreeable Karen Magee, is working well for the nation’s largest local and its ambitious president, Michael Mulgrew. NYSUT also helped AFT national meet its goals by pouring $436,429 into its Northeast Region Organizing Project.
Oddly enough, as part of its political activities, NYSUT also spent $137,543 with temporary staffing outfit TrueCorps, which works with progressive outfits to provide campaign workers without putting those people onto payroll (and thus, avoiding full-time hires and their healthcare costs). This should go down really well with other unions and activists who have pushed against the use of temp staffing by private-sector firms looking to avoid full labor costs.
As for the honchos: NYSUT President Karen Magee collected $294,729 in 2015-2016, a 2.4 percent increase over the previous year, while Pallotta, who essentially controls the union on behalf of UFT, collected $259,351, a 1.4 percent increase. Executive Director Thomas Anapolis was paid $245,548, a 3.6 percent increase over his compensation in 2014-2015.
NYSUT’s political fortunes are okay for now even as it remains virtually insolvent. But that may not last for long. Donald Trump’s successful campaign for the American Presidency portends the likelihood of a U.S. Supreme Court appointee who will likely rule in favor of ending the ability of the affiliate and its parent unions to forcibly collect dues from teachers regardless of their desire for membership. There is already talk of a revival of a tort similar to the Friedrichs vs. California Teachers Association, which became moribund earlier this year after the death of Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia led to a split-decision by the panel. If this happens, NYSUT will have to actually convince teachers to finance its operations. And that will bring its pension woes even more to the forefront.
Featured photo: NYSUT President Karen Magee (at July’s Democratic National Convention) presides over an AFT and NEA affiliate facing financial and political uncertainty.
Wednesday’s commentary on Donald Trump’s appointment of Betsy DeVos as U.S. Secretary of Education certainly garnered both praise and scorn from those in the reform movement. Today, however, I’ll address two criticisms lodged against myself and other reformers who have also expressed concern about the Amway heiress and school reform philanthropist’s place in the incoming administration.
One criticism? That your editor is being unreasonable in my critique that DeVos is unlikely to be able to strongly defend the futures of children black and brown because the President-Elect, along with incoming senior adviser Steve Bannon and Attorney General appointee Jeff Sessions have long, documented records of racism, anti-Semitism, and nativist sentiment. From where they sit, DeVos’ advocacy for advancing school choice, both as Chairman of American Federation for Children as well as in her philanthropy, should more than make up for such concerns. Besides, as they are concerned, someone has to oversee federal education policymaking, and it may as well be her.
This is all well and good in theory. But as I noted on Wednesday, good intentions and even past service are slender reeds against the machinations of immoral and evil people. This has proven true, not only in the history of American public education, but in the history of the 20th century in general.
Beyond that, a key problem with DeVos is that she hasn’t been willing at all to stand up for black and brown children in the days since Trump won the presidency. When she had an opportunity to immediately demand Trump to apologize for his rank demagoguery against immigrant and minority children during his campaign, DeVos didn’t take it. In fact, she immediately declared that AFC would work with Trump’s administration to advance choice.
While other reformers, including Democrats for Education Reform, condemned Trump’s bigotry (as well as his appointments of Bannon and Sessions) to the administration, DeVos remained silent. Even when she accepted Trump’s nomination, DeVos didn’t take a stand and declare a willingness to oppose any effort by the administration to scale back the federal government’s constitutional role in protecting the civil rights of its most-vulnerable children.
To say that DeVos’ silence is a problem is to be kind. Here’s the thing: If DeVos cannot condemn bigotry before she takes an office, can she be expected to do so afterward? Especially given concerns among the families of gay and lesbian children about the longstanding efforts of DeVos and her family against the recognition of their right to civil marriage, people are rightfully concerned that she will not be a stalwart champion for all of our children.
Another criticism is that your editor and others are essentially fighting against expanding school choice because we believe that working with the future Trump Administration means compromising our promise to defend all children. From where they sit, if the new regime is willing to advance vouchers, charters, and other forms of choice, why shouldn’t we assist it?
Your editor has already argued that this kind of ends-justify-the-means logic will damage the effort to expand choice, especially with the very minority communities for which we are championing. As Greg Forster of the Milton & Rose D. Friedman Foundation notes in a piece on DeVos’ nomination (as well as an earlier commentary), the failure to openly, honestly, and consistently call out Trump’s bigotry (as well as that of Bannon and Sessions) will also damage support for choice within the overall school reform movement itself.
Why? This is because the success of the movement itself — especially the expansion of choice — has (and continues to) depend on a bipartisan and socioeconomically diverse coalition that includes progressives, Centrist Democrats, and black civil rights activists for whom bigotry against children black and brown is a major concern. School choice activists (along with conservative reformers) cannot “turn a blind eye to racism” or ignore Trump’s long record of bigotry without risking loss of support for their efforts. Declares Forster: “My biggest fear is that the school choice issue will become tied to Trump... a notorious racist who discriminates against blacks in his businesses, said a judge of Mexican ancestry couldn’t judge him impartially… and refused, three times, to repudidate the KKK when first asked to do so.
This is what makes the presence of DeVos in the Trump Administration so troubling. Because of her advocacy for school choice, her presence alongside Trump (as well as Bannon and Sessions) makes it even harder for Black, Latino, and Asian reformers who champion choice to continue doing so without risk of damaging their work with the men, women, and children who look like them. Which means choice advocates will struggle even more mightily against traditionalists who will cleverly use such associations to tarnish charters and vouchers. As I have noted in the past, bad news (including bad studies and associations with evil people) cast longer shadows than evidence of the good.
The good news, as Forster notes, is that there are ways to avoid associating choice with Trump’s bigotry. One way is to focus solely on expanding choice at the state levels, essentially abandoning federal policy until Trump and DeVos leave office. Certainly this means losing key tools in expanding choice, especially against traditional districts and others opposed to allowing poor and minority children to attain high-quality options. Such a move, however, is far better for efforts to expand choice than to associate the movement with a regime that has no interest in helping black and brown children anyway.
As I wrote yesterday, I pray that DeVos will be a strong champion for all of our children, and will challenge the bigotry that will come from Trump’s administration. I know others critical of her associating with the regime will do the same. But the concerns remain outstanding and, given the record, legitimate. So reformers can’t either ignore them. Or remain silent.
Originally published on Thanksgiving Day 2014.
On this day, Heavenly Father, we thank You for Your Blessings upon our lives.
More importantly, we thank You for the mighty men and women who work for brighter futures for all of our children.
We are thankful for how You sustain the good and great teachers who work in our classrooms, to the talented school leaders who help them do powerful work in our classrooms.
We are grateful for how You support the Parent Power activists, the policy thinkers, and the builders of cultures of genius that nurture the futures of our kids.
We appreciate how You protect the activists who fight each day so that every child, no matter who they are or where they live, have opportunities for better lives.
We are filled with gratitude over how You give all of us the strength and bounty each day to stand for the children and communities who need our support the most.
As we thank You on this day, we also come to you with the burdens of our hearts, and to aid us on behalf of every boy and girl.
We petition You, Lord, to protect every child who goes without, to provide to every parent struggling to give their kin all they need, to bring transformers for children to every neighborhood.
We ask You, Creator, to give peace beyond understanding to every mother and father who is grieving, to bring hope and light to every place beset by the tears and sorrow brought by evil.
We request from You, Father, the wisdom and energy to continue bending the arc of history toward progress, to help America live up to its place as the City Upon a Hill, to honestly address the ills of the past so everyone can move forward.
We beseech You, God, to help us be the shepherds to our youth that You are to us, to be more like Your Son in every word and deed, to sacrifice as You and Christ did so long ago to grant us salvation from our sins.
And each day, we remember the prayer that Your Son taught us long ago…
Our Father, thou art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation. But deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory.
For ever and ever.
Shavar Jeffries and Democrats for Education Reform deserve praise. So do reformers such as Jonas Chartock of Leading Educators, Andrew Rotherham of Bellwether Education Partners, and Charles Sahm of the Manhattan Institute. They are among the sadly small number of school reformers who have come out in the past three days to either condemn President-Elect Donald Trump’s appointment of Steve Bannon as his next Karl Rove, or went further to condemn the incoming administration for its rampant race-baiting, nativism, and rank bigotry.
Rotherham, Chartock, and Sahm have gone on record with their condemnations of Bannon, the former Breitbart Media Network boss whose appointment has caused an uproar because of his long and ignoble record of anti-Semitism and white supremacist thinking. Jeffries and DFER went one step further on Thursday, especially after it was revealed that two Democrats, former D.C. Public Schools boss Michelle Rhee, and Eva Moskowitz, the former New York City Councilmember-turned-Success Academy founder, were being considered to serve as U.S. Secretary of Education. met with Trump this week to discuss the possibility of becoming U.S. Secretary of Education. [Rhee is meeting with Trump today about the job. Moskowitz met with Trump, but said she turned it down; she did say that she would work with the administration on expanding school choice.]
Declaring in a statement that Trump’s policy proposals and rhetoric “run contrary to the most fundamental values of what it means to be… committed to educating our kids”, Jeffries called on Democrats to refuse any offer to serve in the administration. Declared Jeffries: “Trump gives both tacit and express endorsement to a dangerous set of racial, ethnic, religious, and gender stereotypes that assault the basic dignity of our children.”
These reformers, along with others who have publicly condemned Bannon and Trump, deserve praise for doing the right thing. You can’t say your goal is to build brighter futures for all children and remain silent (or worse, work for) those whose bigotry works against making that come to pass for our most-vulnerable. Standing against Trump in general is an especially important move after it was announced this morning that U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, whose long record of racial bigotry and nativism kept him from being appointed to a federal judgeship three decades ago, has been nominated to become U.S. Attorney General. Given the role federal courts have played in advancing systemic reform for poor and minority children, and how the Attorney General is in charge of consent decrees over matters such as desegregating schools and expanding choice, the presence of Sessions as the nation’s chief legal officer is especially troubling.
Sadly, most reformers have remained silent. This is especially true of so-called conservative reformers who should be standing up now. Neither Gerard Robinson, the American Enterprise Institute wonk overseeing Trump’s education transition committee, nor his co-chair, Hoover Institution’s Williamson Evers, have spoken about Bannon’s appointment. Other prominent conservative reformers, including Jeanne Allen of the Center for Education Reform, have either said they would comment later about Bannon or nothing at all. So far, only Michael Petrilli of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute has offered any kind of condemnation.
One conservative reformer in particular, AEI’s Frederick (Rick) Hess, have even gone in the other direction, criticizing fellow reformers for even discussing bigotry. This morning, in a piece in Education Next criticizing the movement for embracing a more social justice orientation, Hess accused centrist Democrat and civil rights-oriented brethren of a “divisive pursuit of grievance-driven politics”. From where he sits, simply mentioning America’s legacy of racial bigotry, the Original Sin of the nation, in discussing education policy issues “tears at the fabric of our republic and sows ill-feeling and tribalism”.
Hess’ latest diatribe comes on the heels of a piece co-written earlier this week with former Thomas B. Fordham Institute President Chester Finn Jr., in which they called on public school teachers to not mention Trump’s bigotry in their lessons. [Kevin Carey of New America Foundation tore apart the argument in his own counter.] One can argue that Hess (along with Finn) have a point about not injecting politics into classrooms. But that argument is countered by the fact that Hess can’t seem to bring himself to publicly condemn Trump’s or Bannon’s bigotry. In fact, not one word in any of Hess’ pieces (or in other op-eds he has written throughout the Election Season) has been dedicated to calling out their racism, anti-Semitism and white nationalism.
Some reformers have already taken aim at Hess’ piece, while others feel that he has jumped the shark rhetorically. Your editor, on the other hand, isn’t shocked at all by Hess’ unwillingness to address bigotry or any other issue involving race. As Dropout Nation has documented since 2011, Hess (along with AEI) has long expressed his opposition to using education policy and practice to stem race– and socioeconomic achievement gaps. Two years ago, Hess took his myopia on race further by arguing that expanding school choice encourages the personal irresponsibility of poor and minority families at the expense of white and other middle-class households. And along with Petrilli, Hess accused other reformers of race-baiting when they opposed passage of what eventually became the Every Student Succeeds Act.
But the myopia on race isn’t just a problem for Hess alone. As Dropout Nation has documented over and over again, conservative reformers seem to think that any discussion about how America’s legacy of racialism is verboten, and that addressing practices that condemn the futures of poor and minority kids is wrong. That the main publication for their side of the movement, Education Next, is notorious for publishing the likes of IQ determinist Jason Richwine (who was ousted from the Heritage Foundation three years ago for arguing that cognitive ability should be used in deciding who can emigrate to the United States) exemplifies the problem many conservative reformers have on this front.
So it isn’t shocking that conservative reformers are staying silent about Trump and Bannon. Their silence, along with those of other reformers, is both unfortunate and morally indefensible.
The Office for Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education has recently released data from the 2013 school year, including reported numbers of discipline of students by disability status, race, ethnicity, and gender for districts and schools. This isn’t information many want to see — and others (including the incoming administration and its allies) would rather not ever be collected. But the information is there for everyone to see — and it isn’t pretty.
Just as crime statistics measure not crime, but police activity, so school discipline statistics measure the actions—and thus the attitudes—of school personnel rather than simply recording the actions of ill-behaved students. School discipline categories are those of the actions of school officials: Corporal punishment, suspension, expulsions, referral to law enforcement and school-related arrests. Corporal punishment is only used in a few isolated places, such as one or two in Louisiana, by White school personnel on Black students, and therefore can be placed in another category, perhaps that of residual Jim Crow.
Suspensions are either in-school or out-of-school and are counted as those inflicted only once during the school year or once or more often. Expulsions can be with or without educational services and those under zero-tolerance policies. There are also school-related arrests and referrals to law enforcement.
We can, then, examine the discipline activities of school personnel in rather fine detail in, for example, three large urban districts: Chicago, New York and Philadelphia.
Chicago’s student enrollment is 46 percent Latino, 40 percent Black, 10 percent White and 4 percent Asian. School personnel rarely inflict school discipline actions on Asian students. Many of Chicago’s discipline categories record no Asian students and in none of the others does the percentage of Asian students punished rise to that of the percentage of Asian students in the district. Only four White students, all male, were expelled—that out of 19,000 male White students. As with the Asian students, the only discipline category in which school personnel saw fit to place White students at a rate equal to their enrollment was that involving a single out-of-school suspension. The number of Hispanic students, also, does not exceed their enrollment representation in any category and in the matter of expulsions varies from 17 percent to 2 percent of those expelled under any heading, as compared to the Latino enrollment of 46 percent.
Chicago’s school personnel, in contrast, are particularly active in inflicting disciplinary measures on Black students. Sixty-five percent of students receiving one or more in-school suspensions are Black, as are 60 percent of those receiving only one out-of-school suspension. Seventy-six percent of those receiving more than one-out of–school suspensions are Black; as are 79 percent of those expelled with and 88 percent of those expelled without educational services. Eighty-three percent of those expelled under zero tolerance policies are Black as are 62 percent of those referred to law enforcement.
A number equal to 44 percent of all male Black students in the Chicago schools was recorded as subjected to one category or another of disciplinary punishment in the 2013 school year. Of course some of those students were double-counted: suspended then expelled and the like. And some would have been disciplined even by the most fair-minded adult. And all are likely to leave school before graduating from high school, likely to be incarcerated, likely to never earn anything above a poverty wage, likely, perhaps, to murder someone or be murdered themselves.
New York’s student enrollment is 41 percent Latino, 26 percent Black, 15 percent White and 16 percent Asian. As in Chicago, school personnel rarely inflict school discipline actions on Asian students. Some of the discipline categories record no Asian students and in none of the others does the percentage of Asian students punished rise to that of the percentage of Asian students in the district. Only six White students, all male, were expelled—that out of 78,000 male White students. There was no discipline category in which school personnel saw fit to place White students at a rate equal to their enrollment. The number of Hispanic students exceeded their enrollment representation in only one sub-category (male students receiving one or more in-school suspensions) and in only 14 male Hispanic students were expelled, out of 206,300.
New York’s school personnel, like those in Chicago, are particularly active in inflicting disciplinary measures on Black students. Forty-nine percent of students receiving one or more in-school suspensions are Black, as are 54 percent of those receiving only one out-of-school suspension. Sixty-three percent of those receiving more than one-out of–school suspensions are Black; as are 66 percent of those expelled with educational services. Forty percent of those expelled under zero tolerance policies are Black as are 53 percent of those referred to law enforcement.
The school discipline activities of New York City’s school personnel are not as frequent as those of their colleagues in Chicago; they are similarly disproportionately inflicted on Black students.
Philadelphia’s student enrollment is 19 percent Latino, 53 percent Black, 15 percent White and 8 percent Asian. As with Chicago and New York, Philadelphia school personnel rarely inflict school discipline actions on Asian students. No Asian students were expelled or referred to law enforcement and in none of the other categories does the percentage of Asian students punished rise to that of the percentage of Asian students in the district. None of the 21,000 White students were expelled. Sixteen percent of students suspended one or more times were White, as compared with the 15 percent share of the district enrollment composed of White students. Hardly any Latino students were recorded in discipline matters—eight in all categories other than school-related arrest, where 15 percent of those in the district were Latino, compared to the 19 percent share of Latino students in the district. It does seem a bit odd that Philadelphia’s school personnel take so few actions regarding discipline matters involving Latino, other than the very serious items requiring police action, but that is what the district reported to the U.S. Department of Education.
Philadelphia’s school personnel, in contrast, decree 71 percent of one or more in-school suspensions to Black students, 84 percent of only one out-of-school suspensions, and 87 percent of more than one out-of-school suspensions. Seventy-three percent of students subjected to school related arrests in Philadelphia are Black.
A number equal to nearly a quarter of all male Black students in the Philadelphia schools were subjected to one category or another of disciplinary punishment in the 2013 school year. The school discipline activities of Philadelphia’s school personnel are more frequent than those in New York, although not as frequent as those of their colleagues in Chicago. However, they are similarly disproportionately inflicted on Black students.
These disproportionalities hold for both male and female students.
Five years ago the Justice Center of the council of State Governments issued a report entitled “Breaking Schools’ Rules: A Statewide Study on How School Discipline Related to Students’ Success and Juvenile Justice Involvement.” The study established that racial and ethnic disproportionality in school discipline is a function of school personnel actions and attitudes, rather than student behavior. It also established that those attitudes, and hence attitudes, can be changed by in-service professional development.
In districts as large as those of Chicago, New York and Philadelphia this might be costly. On the other hand, maintaining the status quo destroys the life-chances, and in many cases the lives, of thousands of Black children.
Featured cartoon courtesy of Rachel Marie-Crane Williams.
Will Gerard Robinson and Williamson Evers call out President-Elect Donald Trump for naming Steve Bannon, a bigot with a demonstrated record of anti-semitism and racism as his top political adviser? More importantly, will these two men, both longtime players in the school reform movement, resign their spots as heads of Trump’s education transition team? And will school reformers, especially conservative reformers and those inside the Beltway, call out this rank promotion of deviant and immoral thinking?
All three questions matter. Because a movement that proclaims to work to build brighter futures for all children cannot tolerate associations with politicians who think lowly of minority children and the families who love them.
As most Dropout Nation readers already know, the President-Elect, who won his office on a campaign of race-baiting as well as rank demagoguery against both documented and undocumented emigres, named Bannon, his former campaign manager and the former boss of media outlet Breitbart News Network, to serve as his senior counselor and top strategic adviser. Even with current Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Preibus being named chief of staff, Bannon, the architect of Trump’s successful campaign for the presidency, will now be the mastermind of the incoming president’s efforts to craft a governing agenda and run the federal bureaucracy. This includes the U.S. Department of Education, the lynchpin of federal education policy.
Anyone who has spent the past year watching Trump’s demagoguery have a pretty good understanding why Bannon’s role is worrisome. What makes Bannon’s presence even more troublesome is that he has a long and demonstrable record of bigotry.
While running Trump’s campaign, Bannon engaged in covert anti-semitism by with an ad that featured financiers of Jewish background (including Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs, and Federal Reserve Board Chairman Janet Yellen), as well as alluded to a “global power structure”. He also helped craft a speech Trump gave last October that seemed to have been cribbed from The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the notoriously anti-Semitic screed that has driven the conspiracy theories (and political actions) of bigots such as Henry Ford and Adolph Hitler for a century.
At Breitbart, Bannon oversaw a news operation that featured stories on “black crime” (essentially arguing that only minorities can engage in criminality), championed states keeping the Stars and Bars as their state flags, and ran anti-Semitic headlines, including one calling Weekly Standard founder Bill Kristol a “Renegade Jew“.
There is no way that Bannon should be anywhere near federal policymaking on any issue, including and especially anything involving American public education. Not only because of his bigotry. As any student of American history knows by now, the federal government has more-often been used as a tool for promoting the racism that is America’s Original Sin (especially in education policy) than for transforming schools and communities for poor and minority children. President Woodrow Wilson demonstrated this during his tenure in the early 20th century, when he worked to remove blacks from important civil service posts in the federal bureaucracy, while Franklin Delano Roosevelt would deny jobs to black workers (at the behest of labor unions) with the passage of the Davis-Bacon Act two decades later.
You can easily imagine Bannon working hand in hand with an incoming Secretary of Education to weaken the civil rights protections that are still left in the weak Every Student Succeeds Act. There is already talk that the Trump Administration will gut the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, which has worked vigilantly under the administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama to address issues such as overuse of harsh traditional school discipline against Black and American Indian children.
[As you know, more than a few conservative reformers, who opposed Obama’s efforts on school discipline, are happy that this could happen. Which, along with willingness of outfits such as Education Next to publish pieces by disgraced IQ determinists such as Jason Richwine, speaks volumes about them.]
The good news is that civil rights groups such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Anti-Defamation League have condemned Bannon’s appointment. So have some some Republicans and conservatives, including John Weaver, a former political strategist for Ohio Gov. John Kasich. Meanwhile reporters and pundits such as Charles Pierce of Esquire have rightfully declared that putting Bannon in the White House is the same as hiring David Duke, the notorious former Klu Klux Klansman who has attempted numerous times to win a Louisiana congressional seat. As Pierce rightly argues, no decent or moral person should associate themselves with the Trump Administration while Bannon is in its employ.
But where are the school reformers? Apparently, they are absent in this discussion. Neither conservative reform outfits nor centrist Democrat reform counterparts who work inside the Beltway have issued a press release denouncing Bannon’s appointment. When confronted by your editor about what he would say, Thomas B. Fordham Foundation President Michael Petrilli responded by writing that though he was outraged by Bannon’s appointment, spending more time on any of Trump’s actions would mean not having “time for anything else.” That he could deploy his public relations staff to simply issue a statement of condemnation apparently didn’t occur to him.
But at least Petrilli gave a response condemning Bannon. So did Jonas Chartock, the head of teacher leadership outfit Leading Educators. Other reformers, most-notably Rick Hess, Robinson’s boss at American Enterprise Institute, have kept their mouths shut about Bannon’s appointment. The silence is especially deafening from Robinson and Evers, both of whom lead Trump’s education policy transition panel and are rumored to be under consideration to take the nation’s top education policy job. For both to say nothing is shameful. Especially for Robinson. After all, the wonk and school reform activist has spent much of his career fighting on behalf of poor and minority children, including as Florida’s former education commissioner and Virginia’s secretary of education.
This silence is shameful. Why? Because you can’t build brighter futures for all kids, and then sit silently as an incoming president appoints bigots who will have quantifiable power over how the federal government treats its children and other citizens. Bannon has clearly articulated that he is an adherent of white supremacy, and thus, will work to harm black and other minority children, as well as their families and communities. There’s no way that any reformer, if they truly are one, can stand for his presence.
Just as importantly, by standing silent about Bannon’s appointment, especially as part of a complicit goal of getting support from the Trump Administration for the solutions we want to advance, we are essentially engaging in ends-justify-the-means kind of thinking and action. This will be damaging to the movement in the long run. This is because the ends are corrupted by the means, especially in the form of negative perception of those solutions by the very children and communities for which you proclaim concern. Especially for school choice activists whose work to expand charter schools and vouchers have been denigrated by traditionalists, association with a Trump Administration with an avowed bigot in leadership will damage their laudable efforts.
Reformers, especially conservative reformers, should raise their voices and loudly call out Trump for appointing Bannon and demand the latter’s removal. Rallying other communities around removing Bannon (including calls to members of Congress demanding action) would be helpful, both to getting rid of the anti-Semite as well as reminding people of that reformers stand for doing what’s right for children. They should also call out other Republicans who are standing by this appointment, too. You can’t serve all people, especially children, when you are willing to stand by as a bigot takes a spot in the West Wing.
But that’s not enough. Robinson, Evers and others on Trump’s education transition team should also condemn Bannon’s appointment, and if it isn’t rescinded, immediately resign. They can’t claim to be champions for all children, especially those black and brown, and still serve an administration with an avowed white supremacist, someone whose ideology stands for harming those very youth, within its leadership.
It will be interesting to see how reformers respond in the coming days. Hopefully they will do better than they did two years ago when Todd Rokita, who chairs a key subcommittee of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, engaged in scaremongering against undocumented immigrant children coming from Central America.