menu search recent posts
September 22, 2016 standard

Today at school, our staff decided we needed to press pause and create a space for kids to share their thoughts and feelings in response to the killing of Mr. Crutcher. I was part of facilitating three small group discussions throughout the day: a fifth grade group, a sixth grade group, and a seventh/eighth grade group. I want to share what I experienced with the kids today, because I am convinced that if you can put yourself in the shoes of a child of color in Tulsa right now, you will have a clearer understanding of the crisis we’re facing and why we say black lives matter.

I tell [the fifth-graders] we will read a news article about the shooting together so we can all be informed. As I read, the students busily highlight and underline parts that stand out to them: Fatally shot. Hands raised. “Bad dude.” Motionless. Affected forever. I finish and I ask them, “What are your thoughts?”

They answer with questions. Why did they have to kill him? Why were they afraid of him? Why does [student] have to live life without a father? What will she do at father daughter dances? Who will walk her down the aisle? Why did no one help him after he was shot? Hasn’t this happened before? Can we write her cards? Can we protest?

As the questions roll, so do the tears. Students cry softly as they speak. Others weep openly. I watch 10 year olds pass tissues to each other, to me, to our principal as he joins our circle. One girl closes our group by sharing: “I wish white people could give us a chance. We can all come together and get along. We can all be united.” Let me tell you, these 10 year olds are more articulate about this than I am…

The sixth graders are quiet. The tragedy lives and breathes among them. It could have been their father. Boys are scattered across the cafeteria with their heads buried in their shirts. A girl who just moved to Tulsa from New Orleans because her father wanted to “escape the violence” is choked up as she speaks in the group next to mine. When we come back together whole group, one boy is still crying as another rubs his hand on his back soothingly…

[The seventh- and eighth-graders] are hardened. They are angry. Some students refuse to hold or look at the article. The speak matter-of-factly. One says she feels like punching someone in the nose. Another student says, “I used to read about this happening and think, oh that’s sad, and then kind of forget about it. But this happened so close to home. It feels real now. I take 36th St N to and from school everyday. It happened right by my house.”

“What made him ‘a big bad dude?'” a boy asks. “Was it his height? His size–” I look at the boys in my circle, all former students of mine. They have grown inches since their first day in my class. Their voices have deepened. Their shoulders broadened. They all nod their heads in agreement at the student’s last guess– “The color of his skin?”

I share this story, because Mr. Crutcher’s death does not just affect the students at my school. I share this story, because we are creating an identity crisis in all of our black and brown students. (Do I matter? Am I to be feared? Should I live in fear? Am I human?) We are shaping their world view with blood and bullets, hashtags and viral videos. Is this how we want them to feel? Is this how we want them to think?

Rebecca Lee, a teacher at KIPP Tulsa College Prep, the charter school attended by the daughter of Terence Crutcher, on the reactions of the children to the news of the father’s murder at the hand of a Tulsa police officer. Another sad reminder of the reality that what happens to the children on our streets also affects them in schools.

September 24, 2015 standard

It is my wish that throughout my visit the family should be a recurrent theme. How essential the family has been to the building of this country! And how worthy it remains of our support and encouragement! Yet I cannot hide my concern for the family, which is threatened, perhaps as never before, from within and without. Fundamental relationships are being called into question, as is the very basis of marriage and the family. I can only reiterate the importance and, above all, the richness and the beauty of family life.

In particular, I would like to call attention to those family members who are the most vulnerable, the young. For many of them, a future filled with countless possibilities beckons, yet so many others seem disoriented and aimless, trapped in a hopeless maze of violence, abuse and despair. Their problems are our problems. We cannot avoid them. We need to face them together, to talk about them and to seek effective solutions rather than getting bogged down in discussions. At the risk of oversimplifying, we might say that we live in a culture which pressures young people not to start a family, because they lack possibilities for the future. Yet this same culture presents others with so many options that they too are dissuaded from starting a family.

A nation can be considered great when it defends liberty as Lincoln did, when it fosters a culture which enables people to “dream” of full rights for all their brothers and sisters, as Martin Luther King sought to do; when it strives for justice and the cause of the oppressed, as Dorothy Day did by her tireless work, the fruit of a faith which becomes dialogue and sows peace in the contemplative style of Thomas Merton.

In these remarks I have sought to present some of the richness of your cultural heritage, of the spirit of the American people. It is my desire that this spirit continue to develop and grow, so that as many young people as possible can inherit and dwell in a land which has inspired so many people to dream.

Pope Francis, in his speech today before the United States Congress, reminding all of us of our obligation as Children of God and members of Family of Man to build brighter futures for all children. This includes transforming American public education in order to help every child gain the knowledge they need to bring home their own “daily bread” in adulthood.

MLK on Why We Can’t Wait

I want to talk with you mainly about our struggle in the United States and, before taking my seat, talk about some of the larger struggles in the whole world and some of the more difficult struggles in places like South Africa. But there is a desperate, poignant question on the lips of people all over our country and all over the world. I get it almost everywhere I go and almost every press conference. It is a question of whether we are making any real progress in the struggle to make racial justice a reality in the United States of America. And whenever I seek to answer that question, on the one hand, I seek to avoid an undue pessimism; on the other hand, I seek to avoid a superficial optimism. And I try to incorporate or develop what I consider a realistic position, by admitting on the one hand that we have made many significant strides over the last few years in the struggle for racial justice, but by admitting that before the problem is solved we still have numerous things to do and many challenges to meet…

…when we look at the question of economic justice, there’s much to do, but we can at least say that some strides have been made. The average Negro wage earner who is employed today in the United States earns 10 times more than the average Negro wage earner of 12 years ago. And the national income of the Negro is now at a little better than $28 billion a year, which is all—more than all of the exports of the United States and more than the national budget of Canada. This reveals that we have made some strides in this area…

But then I must go on and give you the other side, if I am to be honest about the picture. That is a fact that 42 percent of the Negro families of the United States still earn less than $2,000 a year, while just 16 percent of the white families earn less than $2,000 a year; 21 percent of the Negro families of America earn less than $1,000 a year, while just 5 percent of the white families earn less than $1,000 a year. And then we face the fact that 88 percent of the Negro families of America earn less than $5,000 a year, while just 58 percent of the white families earn less than $5,000 a year. So we can see that there is still a great gulf between the haves, so to speak, and the have-nots. And if America is to continue to grow and progress and develop and move on toward its greatness, this problem must be solved.

Now, this economic problem is getting more serious because of many forces alive in our world and in our nation. For many years, Negroes were denied adequate educational opportunities. For many years, Negroes were even denied apprenticeship training. And so, the forces of labor and industry so often discriminated against Negroes. And this meant that the Negro ended up being limited, by and large, to unskilled and semi-skilled labor. Now, because of the forces of automation and cybernation, these are the jobs that are now passing away. And so, the Negro wakes up in a city like Detroit, Michigan, and discovers that he is 28 percent of the population and about 72 percent of the unemployed…

Then the other thing when we think of this economic problem, we must think of the fact that there is nothing more dangerous than to build a society with a segment in that society which feels that it has no stake in the society, and nothing more dangerous than to build a society with a number of people who see life as little more than a long and desolate corridor with no exit sign. They end up with despair because they have no jobs, because they can’t educate their children, because they can’t live in a nice home, because they can’t have adequate health facilities…

I mentioned that racial segregation is about dead in the United States, but it’s still with us. We are about past the day of legal segregation. We have about ended de jure segregation, where the laws of the nation or of a particular state can uphold it, because of the civil rights bill and the Supreme Court’s decision and other things. We have passed the day when the Negro can’t eat at a lunch counter, with the exception of a few isolated situations, or where the Negro can’t check in a motel or hotel. We are fastly passing that day. But there is another form of segregation coming up. It is coming up through housing discrimination, joblessness and the de facto segregation in the public schools. And so the ghettoized conditions that exist make for many problems, and it makes for a hardcore, de facto segregation that we must grapple with on a day-to-day basis…

But certainly, we all know that if democracy is to live in any nation, segregation must die. And as I’ve tried to say all over America, we’ve got to get rid of segregation not merely because it will help our image—it certainly will help our image in the world… racial discrimination must be uprooted from American society and from every society, because it is morally wrong…

Now I would like to mention one or two ideas that circulate in our society—and they probably circulate in your society and all over the world—that keep us from developing the kind of action programs necessary to get rid of discrimination and segregation. One is what I refer to as the myth of time. There are those individuals who argue that only time can solve the problem of racial injustice… The only answer that I can give to that myth is that time is neutral. It can be used either constructively or destructively. And I must honestly say to you that I’m convinced that the forces of ill will have often used time much more effectively than the forces of goodwill. And we may have to repent in this generation, not merely for the vitriolic words and the violent actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence and indifference of the good people who sit around saying, “Wait on time.”

And somewhere along the way it is necessary to see that human progress never rolls in on the wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless efforts and the persistent work of dedicated individuals who are willing to be co-workers with God. And without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the primitive forces of social stagnation. And so we must help time, and we must realize that the time is always ripe to do right. This is so vital, and this is so necessary.

Now, the other myth that gets around a great deal in our nation and, I’m sure, in other nations of the world is the idea that you can’t solve the problems in the realm of human relations through legislation; you can’t solve the housing problem and the job problem and all of these other problems through legislation; you’ve got to change the heart… It may be true that you can’t legislate integration, but you can legislate desegregation. It may be true that morality cannot be legislated, but behavior can be regulated. It may be true that the law can’t change the heart, but it can restrain the heartless. It may be true that the law can’t make a man love me, but it can restrain him from lynching me. And I think that’s pretty important also.

– Martin Luther King, explaining to an audience in London in 1964 what it will take to address the legacies of racialism — including the condemnation of black children to low-quality education — that result from America’s Original Sin. Fifty years later, on the commemoration of his birthday, the issues he points out remain as troublesome as ever — and so do the need for strident activism for advancing the systemic reform of American public education and criminal justice systems that are key to addressing them. Which is why we must fight back against all efforts, even among our supposed allies, to roll back the reforms that are key to helping all of our children.

December 3, 2014 standard

Southern trees bear strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.

Pastoral scene of the gallant south,
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth,
Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh,
en the sudden smell of burning flesh.

Here is the fruit for the crows to pluck,
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop,
Here is a strange and bier crop.

– Abraham Meeropol’s Strange Fruit, a poem-turned-song inspired by a lynching in Marion, Indiana, whose lyrics of state-sanctioned murder of black men resonate as much now as it did when it was written nine decades ago. Dropout Nation prays for — and stands in sympathy with — the family of Eric Garner, whose murder at the hands of a New York City police officer was not given justice by a grand jury today. And reminds all reformers that they have no right to be silent about either the crises of injustice that affect the communities of the children we serve — or how American public education helps perpetuate them through practices such as the restraint of children condemned to special ed ghettos.

May 23, 2014 standard

There is no denying the extraordinary rise in the incomes of the top one percent of American households over the past three decades. Between 1979 and 2012, the share of all household income accruing to the top percentile of U.S. households rose from 10 percent to 22.5 percent. To get a sense of how much money that is, consider the conceptual experiment of redistributing the gains of the top one percent between 1979 and 2012 to the bottom 99 percent of households. How much would this redistribution raise household incomes of the bottom 99 percent? The answer is $7107 per household…

Now consider a different dimension of inequality: the earnings gap between U.S. workers with a 4-year college degree and those with only a high school diploma… the earnings gap between the median college-educated and median high school–educated among U.S. males working full-time in year-round jobs was $17,411 in 1979, measured in constant 2012 dollars. Thirty-three years later, in 2012, this gap had risen to $34,969, almost exactly double its 1979 level. Also seen is a comparable trend among U.S. female workers, with the full-time, full-year college/high school median earnings gap nearly doubling from $12,887 to $23,280 between 1979 and 2012…

To put the numbers on the same footing, consider the earnings gap between a college-educated two-earner husband-wife family and a high school–educated two-earner husband-wife family, which rose by $27,951 between 1979 and 2012 (from $30,298 to $58,249). This increase in the earnings gap between the typical college-educated and high school–educated household earnings levels is four times as large as the redistribution that has notionally occurred from the bottom 99 percent to the top one perrcent of households. What this simple calculation suggests is that the growth of skill differentials among the “other 99 percent” is arguably even more consequential than the rise of the one percent for the welfare of most citizens… Wage inequality has risen throughout the earnings distribution, not merely at the top percentiles…

How much does the rising education premium contribute to the increase of earnings inequality?… Goldin and Katz found that the increase in the education wage premium explains about 60 to 70% of the rise in the dispersion of U.S. wages between 1980 and 2005 and, similarly, Lemieux calculated that higher returns to postsecondary education can account for 55% of the rise in male hourly wage variance from 1973–1975 to 2003–2005. Firpo et al. found that rising returns to education can explain just over 95% of the rise of the U.S. male 90/10 earnings ratio between 1984 and 2004. That is, holding the expanding education premium constant over this period, there would have been essentially no increase in the relative wages of the 90th-percentile worker versus the 10th-percentile worker…

Let us assume for the sake of argument that the rise of income inequality is entirely a market phenomenon. Would this imply that there is no role for public policy? A moment’s reflection suggests otherwise. As the economist Arthur Goldberger once famously observed, the fact that nearsightedness is substantially a genetic disorder has no bearing on whether doctors should prescribe eyeglasses. What is relevant is whether the benefits of addressing myopia exceed the costs. In the case of myopia, the availability of eyeglasses make this an easy call.

Although there is no “remedy” for inequality that is as swift or cheap as eyeglasses, prosperous democratic countries have numerous effective policy levers for shaping inequality’s trajectory and socioeconomic consequences. Policies that appear most effective over the long haul in raising prosperity and reducing inequality are those that cultivate the skills of successive generations: excellent preschool through high school education; broad access to postsecondary education; and good nutrition, good public health… Such policies address inequality from two directions: (i) enabling a larger fraction of adults to attain high productivity, rewarding jobs, and a reasonable standard of living; and (ii) raising the total supply of skills available to the economy, which in turn moderates the skill premium and reduces inequality.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor David H. Autor, in Science, explaining why providing all children with high-quality education is critical to stemming income inequality.

I get asked a lot about how I got involved in this, in education, and advocating for school choice. And the answer for me is pretty much the same as Lisa (Leslie, the former WNBA star who spoke earlier) and Faith (Manuel, the mother of a tax credit scholarship student, who also spoke earlier): I became a mother… And that’s probably the same answer a lot of other people in this room would have. Like every mother, like every other parent, I remember holding my son Eli in my arms for the very first time and looking at him and realizing that the life I knew was over. (laughter) And going forward, my life would be dedicated to caring for this child, and protecting this child, and trying to ensure that he had every opportunity possible to be all that he could be. And Number one on my list, in thinking about this, and thinking about both my kids now, I have two boys, is and was their education.

And I was thinking how fortunate I had been in my life. I had this career in television. And I lived in New York City. And my kids were going to have so many options available to them. I had so many choices and they would throughout their lives have so many opportunities because of this. And I think with that comes the recognition that that’s not the case for most people. And those choices and those options are not available to mothers who care about their kids just as much as I do, and have the same hopes and dreams for their children that I have for mine. And who want their child to have every opportunity in life just like I did. If we believe that education is a fundamental right, then everyone should have that choice.

It never ceases to amaze me that this very simple idea, that a parent who wants to try to find a school, a better school to try to give their child a better life, should have that choice. The idea that this is somehow controversial is amazing to me.

Campbell Brown, at the American Federation for Children’s annual conference, discussing why expanding school choice and Parent Power for all families should be the norm, not the exception, in American public education.

In the end, while [Andy] Smarick and [Juliet] Squire identify a serious roadblock to education reform, they may not have been completely transparent about what is at stake here – exactly the shift away from direct public control that has the critics of the “education reformers” so excised. SEA’s may not be the most efficient, nimble agents of change in education policy – but perhaps that’s the point: they are not supposed to be… This fact constantly frustrates critics of our school system, of course: they want more change, more quickly – and that is really at the heart of this report’s recommendations.

Given this frustration, the major flaw in Smarick and Squire’s proposal is not identifying the agent of change for their recommendations or the constituency that will lobby for a still-powerful but stripped down SEA. But this flaw in turn is connected to another:  what Smarick and Squire propose is a curious hybrid that has neither diminished powers nor fewer responsibilities for the SEAs. The risk of implementing the reforms the authors call for is that the result would be a still more complex structure of management and implementation that far from promoting efficiency, would result in endless friction between public and private organizations.

Peter Meyer of City University of New York’s Institute for Education Policy on why a Thomas B. Fordham Institute proposal for revamping state education governance isn’t exactly as sensible as it should be.

April 5, 2014 standard

A study published in the April issue of the American Educational Research Journal, for example, finds that kindergarten students learn more when they are exposed to challenging content such as advanced number concepts and even addition and subtraction. In turn, elementary school students who were taught more sophisticated math as kindergarteners made bigger gains in mathematics, reported the study’s lead author, Amy Claessens of the University of Chicago.

Another study, published last year by Dr. Claessens with co-authors Mimi Engel and Maida Finch, concluded that as things stand, many children in kindergarten are being taught information they already know. The “vast majority” of kindergarteners have already mastered counting numbers and recognizing shapes before they set foot in the classroom, Dr. Claessens and her co-authors noted, yet kindergarten teachers report spending much of their math teaching time on these skills.

The students don’t gain anything from going over familiar ground: In the article published this month, Dr. Claessens and her colleagues report that pupils do not benefit from basic content coverage, but that all the kindergarteners in the study, regardless of economic background or initial skill level, did benefit from exposure to more advanced content.

Discussions about how to improve learning for young children usually focus on the length of the whole school day or the number of students in classes, but rarely on what is taught during the hours school is in session. Increasing the time kindergarten teachers spend on more advanced math concepts may be a simpler and more cost-effective way to boost learning.

Annie Murphy Paul, in the New York Times, pointing out another reason why arguments against providing all children with comprehensive college-preparatory learning just don’t wash. Every child thrives when given challenging curricula.

The young mother’s voice shook with anxiety. She had just gotten her son’s third-grade test results from his school, and he had scored at the absolute bottom level in reading, and only a little bit higher in math.

“All year,” she said, “my son got mostly B’s on his homework and report cards. I monitored every one. And now I learn that all of that was a lie.”

Like many other low-income mothers of color in America’s urban centers, this Portland mother knew what low performance, especially in reading, meant for her son’s future. She’d even heard that Oregon’s prison planners used third-grade reading test data to determine how many new cells to add.

If she and her son’s school couldn’t find a way to turn those results around — and soon — she feared they amounted to a virtual death sentence.

I hear her words — and remember the fear in her eyes — every time I hear about yet another effort to eliminate the longstanding federal requirement that children in American public schools be tested once per year in grades three-eight and at least once in high school. Proponents of this change argue that students should be tested only once, each during elementary, middle, and high school, if that often.

I can only imagine how frightened that Portland mother would be if she didn’t have an objective check on what her son’s school told her at least by the following year — but, instead, had to wait all the way until he hit eighth grade. In the meantime, all she would have are the grades that research and experience tell us too often paint a too rosy picture of student performance.

Yes, I get that a lot of the anti-testing voices are from affluent parents. Certainly, when the results of state tests just reinforce the message (one they so often get) that their children are sailing along just fine, getting that reaffirmed next year doesn’t seem so important… But that so many policymakers don’t see through all this — and can’t imagine the anxiety of that mother and millions like her who can’t afford to wait five years for an honest evaluation of their children’s preparation for the future — is worrisome.

Education Trust President Kati Haycock, in the Huffington Post, offering a reminder of why testing is so important in helping all children get the high-quality education they deserve.