menu search recent posts
November 13, 2015 standard

There’s plenty of chatter today about the possibility that House and Senate education committee leaders have reached a deal on a reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act. Based on what your editor has learned, the proposal is likely to be a roll-back of the strong accountability measures that have spurred a decade of reforms that have helped more children succeed. But given that passage of the plan is still unlikely, your editor will offer more-comprehensive thoughts once an actual bill comes out.

Yet there is still a lot to discuss when it comes to the federal role in education policymaking, this time, courtesy of results released recently by the Obama Administration on the progress of the School Improvement Grant initiative. As with the results released three years ago, it is once again clear that the school turnaround effort is anything but a success.

The average percentage of students reading at proficient levels (as measured by state tests) in the first round of schools receiving SIG funding increased by just six percentage points between 2009-2010 and 2012-2013. Although this is steady progress, this still means that on average, one out of every two children in the first cohort of SIG-funded schools are either illiterate or barely able to read. That the average percentage of children in Cohort 1 schools performing at proficient levels in math increased by eight percentage points in that same period still doesn’t mean much. This is because three out of every five children in those schools are innumerate or barely able to do basic arithmetic.

The closer you look at the SIG data, the worse things look. Just 33 percent of schools participating in the first round of SIG made double-digit improvements in literacy between 2009-2010 and 2012-2013, while another 36 percent made single-digit gains over that time. Meanwhile 28 percent — that is, more than a quarter of all the Cohort 1 schools — experienced single-to-double digit declines in reading achievement. Essentially, one out of every four schools who have received several years of SIG funding continued to fail children academically. Which, in turn, means that 133,000 of the 475,000 children served by those schools continued to be subjected to low-quality teaching, curricula, and cultures.

This isn’t to say it is all bad news. The 9.2 percentage point increase in average elementary students in Cohort 1 reading at or above grade level between 2009-2010 and 2012-2013 is certainly to be celebrated. This bears out my assertion three years ago that the Obama administration should have geared future rounds of SIG toward overhauling elementary schools and toward providing children in the early grades with the reading and math interventions they need before they head move further along in their academic careers. That there was just a 3.5 percentage point increase in average middle-schoolers in Cohort 1 reading at or above grade level, along with an average 5.6 percentage point increase in reading proficiency for high-schoolers, further proves the point.

Yet the dismal results once raise this question: Should SIG continue to exist? Based on the data, there’s no way it should continue in its existing form. If it should even keep operating at all.

For one, the evidence is clear that only one of the three models chosen by districts as condition of SIG funding offers any demonstrable possibility of success. [There is a fourth model, which involves just shutting down the school altogether. Naturally, almost no district chose it.] That’s the Restart approach, under which a traditional district school is shut down and put under a charter school operator. On average, schools under Restart improved reading proficiency of children in their care by 8.1 percent between 2009-2010 and 2012-2013. The problem: Just 31 of the 635 schools in Cohort 1 of SIG chose that approach. Schools under the Transformation and Turnaround models, under which districts continue to operate them, did poorly in that same period; respectively, they improved achievement, on average, by just five percent and 6.2 percent. All but 49 of the schools in Cohort 1 were Transformation and Turnaround efforts.

None of this should be a surprise. As I noted five years ago in an The American Spectator column, neither the Transformation or Turnaround models would work because the schools would remain under the control of the very districts that ran them into the ground in the first place. Expecting a failure district to somehow revamp a failure mill — especially when it isn’t overhauling its own operations — is simply insane. After all, the same incompetence at the school (including an unwillingness to sophisticatedly use data to shape instruction) is usually mirrored by bureaucrats in the central office. This reality was borne out before SIG was launched; a mere 11 percent of California elementary schools forced by state officials to undergo turnarounds made “exemplary progress” three years later, according to Andy Smarick Bellwether Education Partners in his primer on school turnarounds. And as Caitlin Emma detailed in Politico, SIG hasn’t changed that reality.

Even when reform-minded school leaders are put in place at the school and district levels, the very dysfunction that has been endemic in the bureaucracy is difficult to remove and overcome. This is a culture problem. Toxic culture, be it within the school or across the district, will overcome efforts to put it asunder, especially when teachers and school leaders cannot be easily fired. As past and current reform-minded school leaders have learned the hard way — and current leaders such as Antwan Wilson in Oakland are finding out now — they often lack strong support for their efforts from boards often controlled by affiliates of the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers.

What has become clear is that there are likely three best approaches to school turnarounds. The first, of course, is just to shut down the schools altogether. The second, as seen in New York City, lies in overhauling the district, which will then lead to better-performing schools. The third? As demonstrated by SIG, hand over control of the schools, either to charter school operators or to families of the children who attend them. Essentially this means moving away from the traditional district model to what Dropout Nation calls the Hollywood Model of Education. The Obama Administration could have advanced this approach, by revamping SIG to only allow districts to use the Restart model and hand over control of the schools, as well as requiring them to pass Parent Trigger measures that would allow families to take control of the schools. Narrowing SIG’s focus to elementary schools would have also made sense.

But with the Obama Administration nearing the end of its tenure, with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan joining the exodus of officials heading for less-stressful work outside of federal government, and with the possibility that a reauthorized version of No Child will senselessly shut down competitive grant programs altogether, it may be too late to give SIG one more shot. Not that it ever deserved to exist in the first place.

November 12, 2015 standard

As you very well know, Dropout Nation has had plenty to write about the saga of Success Academy Founder Eva Moskowitz’s battle with John Merrow over his report on the charter school operator’s overuse of harsh traditional school discipline. But as you would expect, more has been happening since. And instead of responding to the questions raised about Success Academy’s approach with critical self-examination, Moskowitz has tried to spin a new narrative that ignores the reality of the damage done through traditional discipline to the futures of children.

Two weeks ago, after Moskowitz went on her crisis management campaign against Merrow’s report — an effort that included violating the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act by releasing the school discipline record of the child of Faida Geidi — the effort fell apart when the New York Times reported that a Success school in the Fort Greene section of New York City’s Brooklyn had kept a list of 16 kids who it deemed had “got to go”. Those students, by the way, were suspended multiple times by the school over the year. Nine of those children ultimately left the school.

Those revelations, along with testimony from former Success Academy staffers that leaders in its other schools engaged in similar push-out efforts, forced Moskowitz into damage control (and stopped her from aggressively warding off reporters and critics, be they traditionalist or reformer). By Halloween Eve, she claimed that the Got to Go list was an “anomaly” and that the school leader who put together the list, Candido Brown, was disciplined for being so indiscreet as to keep the push-out effort on paper. [Brown remains principal of the Fort Greene school, at least for now.] The fact that Success Academy had been previously accused of engaging in push-outs on the pages of the Old Gray Lady didn’t seem to make it into the conversation.

The Times‘ revelation, along with the news earlier that week about the assault of a 16-year-old student at South Carolina’s Spring Valley High School by a school cop, also gave traditionalists, including the American Federation of Teachers, the opportunity to put themselves on the moral high ground and call out overuse of harsh school discipline. AFT President Randi Weingarten took to the pages of the Daily News to issue her own mea culpa for supporting (and being silent about overuse of) such practices. The union then recruited its vassals, including Alliance for Quality Education, the New York State branch of the National Alliance for the Advancement of Colored People, and the Black Institute, to issue a letter demanding that Success Academy’s authorizer, State University of New York, open up an investigation into its activities. Meanwhile once-respectable education historian Diane Ravitch ran several pieces from her cadre of fellow-travelers on her eponymous site taking aim at both Moskowitz and the Spring Valley High incident.

Certainly AFT and other traditionalists have other self-interested reasons beyond children to be concerned about Success Academy’s oversuspensions. All that said, legitimate questions have been raised as a result of the Moskowitz-Merrow fracas about Success Academy’s practices, especially in light of incidents of violence by cops in schools resulting from those very practices (and the goal of pursuing school safety and order at any cost). But instead of considering legitimate criticism, especially from fellow reformers raising the tocsin about these practices, Moskowitz, with help from her allies, are now campaigning to turn attention away from the questions about Success Academy’s discipline practices (as well as from the issues of law raised by the release of Geidi’s son’s school discipline records). The narrative: That critics are working, either explicitly or by implication, to kibosh the expansion of Parent Power and school choice.

The narrative, as advanced by Moskowitz and reformers such as Michael Petrilli of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, is superficially seductive. Criticizing Success Academy’s discipline practices somehow harms poor and minority children because it is essentially advocating for denying “strivers” and their families the choice of safe and orderly schools in which they can learn. Particularly, from where Petrilli sits, Success Academy and other schools that overuse suspensions should be allowed to push out children (or “disrupters”) teachers and school leaders in those institutions deem unworthy of high-quality education. Reformers who critique Moskowitz’s practices (or criticize her for releasing Geidi’s son’s discipline record) are therefore no different and, in some ways, worse, than traditionalists who raise the issues as a way to oppose any expansion of choice.

This spin seems to justify Moskowitz’s practices — until you look at the facts. Decades of evidence shows that the traditional harsh discipline practices Moskowitz’s uses in Success — and that traditional districts and other charters implement throughout the rest of American public education — damage children, especially those from poor and minority backgrounds. And as Sarah Yatsko of the Center for Reinventing Public Education points out today in her piece in RealClearEducation, defending Moskowitz’s practices (along with ignoring the overuse of harsh discipline by traditional districts) is a “disservice” to the very children for which we all proclaim concern.

As Dropout Nation has noted again and again, evidence gathered by researchers such as Russell Skiba of Indiana University, University of South Florida’s Linda Raffaele Mendez, John Wallace of the University of Pittsburgh, and the American Psychological Association consistently demonstrate these realities that overuse of suspensions and other traditional discipline (especially those occurring as a result of zero tolerance policies) doesn’t improve school cultures, make schools safer for children, or improve student achievement. This isn’t shocking. As data from states such as Maryland and Indiana, along with research by Raffaele Mendez and Howard Knoff,  have shown, most suspensions kids are meted out for the arbitrary category of disruptive behavior (which is based on what teachers and school leaders, through disciplinary codes and their own mind, think are bad behavior), along with tardiness to class, and truancy. Suspensions are rarely meted out as a result of addressing academic issues or improving school safety.

Meanwhile there is the fact suspensions are an ineffective way of dealing with the illiteracy and other learning issues that are often at the heart of most student misbehavior. Deborah Stipek and Sarah Miles, along with Chuang Wang and Bob Algozzine of University of North Carolina at Charlotte, demonstrated this in their research on the connections between literacy and behavior. As Johns Hopkins University researcher Robert Balfanz has also demonstrated (including in his 2007 study with colleague Douglas MacIver and Lisa Herzog of the Philadelphia Education Fund) sixth-graders who have been suspended at least once have just a one-in-five chance of graduating six years later. By suspending children multiple times, adults in schools are using a form of easy button, ridding their classrooms of children they deem unworthy of nurturing and education instead of doing the hard work of helping them succeed.

Success’s own discipline practices bear out their failures in improving behavior and school cultures. One Success Academy school (with 203 children enrolled) meted out 44 suspensions to just 11 kindergartners and first-graders; essentially each child was suspended at least four times during the school year. At another Success Academy school, with 132 children enrolled, 101 suspensions were meted out to 32 students; this includes one kid who was suspended 12 times during the school year. On average, that Success Academy school suspended each of those children three times during the school year. That Success Academy had to suspend each child multiple times over a school year evidences that its approach to discipline isn’t changing the behavior of children for the better. But again, this isn’t surprising. As with so many traditional districts and a good number of charters, Success Academy’s school discipline code is so arbitrary that a child could be suspended for any reason.

For all of Moskowitz’s posturing, the reality remains that Success Academy’s overuse of suspensions isn’t effective. By continuing to embrace traditional school discipline, by ignoring evidence about the ineffectiveness of her approaches, and in dismissing approaches such as restorative justice and Behavior Instruction in the Total School developed by Wang and Algozzine, Moskowitz is also failing to take up better approaches that can improve school cultures and address the underlying academic causes of school misbehavior. Other traditional districts and charter operators in cities such as New Orleans are effectively reducing overuse of suspensions and improving student achievement as well as school cultures. There’s no reason why Moskowitz couldn’t do so, either. Put simply, Moskowitz is failing to embrace the mantle of innovation that she proclaims to embrace as a school reformer and education leader. She, along with those school leaders in traditional districts overusing suspensions, is perpetuating educational abuse.

By overusing suspensions, Moskowitz is also giving credence to the racialist beliefs of many that poor and minority children are undeserving of high-quality education. After all, as your editor continually notes (and as Yatsko points out), black children (along with those from American Indian, Alaska Native, and Latino backgrounds) are the ones who are subjected the most to harsh traditional school discipline. Daniel Losen and his team at the Civil Rights Project at UCLA showed earlier this year that the out-of-school suspension rate of 23.2 percent for black middle- and high schoolers in 2013-2014 (based on data released by the U.S. Department of Education) is three times the 6.4 percent out-of-school suspension rate for white peers. Wallace demonstrated in a 2008 study on referrals to dean’s offices that young black men in 10th grade are 30 percent more-likely to be sent to dean’s offices for punishment than their white male peers — and 330 percent more-likely to be suspended afterwards than white counterparts. But again, not shocking. Skiba and the American Psychological Association have demonstrated that young black men are also viewed by teachers and school leaders as being older, less-innocent, and greater troublemakers than white counterparts. Black children are also denigrated by the soft bigotry of low expectations for them. A school leader can’t argue that she wants brighter futures for black children while engaging in practices that run counter to that mission.

In defending Success Academy’s practices under the guise of school choice, Moskowitz essentially perpetuates ends-justify-the means thinking, one in which it is okay to damage the futures of some children (who they deem undeserving) in order to help others. As both the Bible and moral philosophers have pointed out since the beginning of time, you can never use the right results to justify wrongful actions. At the same time, by implicitly embracing this thinking, Moskowitz (along with her allies) are also justifying the racialist thinking of earlier generations that have led to the educational traditionalism (from the comprehensive high school model, to restrictions on school choice, to denying minority children access to college-preparatory classes) that the school reform movement has rightfully opposed. For black parents and others from poor and minority backgrounds, it is hard to view reformers as their allies and defenders of the high ground for their children when they are defending practices that traditionalists are loudly opposing.

Success Academy’s overuse of harsh school discipline deserves to be criticized. Moskowitz should be willing to address legitimate criticism with self-reflection and a commitment to using alternatives that can help children improve behavior without keeping them from receiving the high-quality education they need as well as deserve. Her allies should also do the same.

November 10, 2015 standard

Sunday is usually a day of worship for black people and other communities. We pray for peace, guidance and strength to get through a long work week. We may even watch football and basketball with our family and friends.

But for black parents such as myself, along with New York City Parents Union President Mona Davids and @ThinkingintheGray, this weekend served as another reminder of Martin Luther King Jr.’s aphorism that we must remember the silence of our friends and not the words of our enemies.

For me, it began with a Twitter exchange between @ThinkingintheGray and Dropout Nation Editor RiShawn Biddle about the move by Success Academy founder Eva Moskowitz last month to release the school discipline records of a 10-year-old boy in violation of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. Why did Moskowitz do this? Because she and her charter school operation were engaged in crisis management. As this publication reported, the mother of the child, Faidi Geidi, appeared in journalist John Merrow’s PBS NewsHour report on Success Academy’s high suspension rates.

What Biddle and @ThinkingintheGray were pointing out was the fact that many school reformers stood by uncritically, both as Success released the child’s discipline record in violation of federal law and morality, and as Moskowitz’s schools suspended high levels of its students. Some, in fact, outright defended Success Academy’s practices.

When it comes to black children, many reformers and traditionalists seem to be on the same side. The wrong one.

I couldn’t just sit by and read. I jumped neck deep into Twitter conversations with my so-called school reform “allies”, demanding how they could justify Success Academy’s violation of a child’s privacy and right to not be brutalized in the name of public relations. I found myself reminding fellow reformers that the first duty of the movement is to children, not to adults regardless of their stances on transforming public education. I had to ask one fellow reformer how he could support Success Academy after they released this child’s record to the public. I even found myself defending both the right of families to choose any school they want and the right of advocates for children regardless of partisan lines to criticize the overuse of suspensions by Success and other operators, traditional, charter, or private.

Unlike Dropout Nation‘s editor, I’m not going to embarrass these reformers by naming their names. What I will say is that Mona, @ThinkingintheGray and I have found that we were on our own. What we heard from our fellow “reformers” and “advocates” for equity were justifications for throwing a child under the bus, all because they fear that traditionalists (including the National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers) will succeed in their efforts to halt the expansion of school choice. They were unwilling to think that you can both celebrate the expansion of school choice that benefits all families and also call it out for practices done by charter schools and traditional districts that are harmful to the futures of children. There were others who clearly believe that black children aren’t worthy of nurturing, think they are little more than “disruptive” presences in schools, and deserve to be kept out of them. Despite calling themselves school reformers, they have long ago demonstrated that they will defend practices that harm black children.

We didn’t expect to ever sway them. But certainly other reformers will jump in on our side. Or so we thought. But outside of your esteemed editor and a couple of other folks (including Alex Medler of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers), all we heard was crickets. And that hurt me more than the exchanges themselves.

I’ve always known that traditionalists, especially NEA and AFT leaders, have low regard for parents and children, especially those black and brown. Dropout Nation revealed this to all of us four years ago when it shared a presentation by AFT’s Connecticut local on how it tried to stop the successful effort by a predecessor of the Connecticut Parents Union to pass a Parent Trigger law.

Many reformers chose to side with Success Academy Founder Eva Moskowitz over poor and minority children. To call this unfortunate is being kind.

What I have learned this past weekend is that there are school reformers who have as low a regard for black children and others from poor and minority households as the traditionalists we fight every day. What I also learned is that as a black parent, my voice and thoughts are given less regard than teachers by a good number of those who stand for reform. In some minds, the righteous indignation of a black mother is regarded as irrational anger when what I say is inconvenient for advancing their goals. As Teach For America staffer and Black Lives Matter activist Brittany Packnett once wrote on Twitter, we will always be “the angry black woman” when we “stand up for what’s right”.

What I also realized is that Mona was right when she said that teachers’ unions and reformers are battling over school funding and “the chattel is our black children and poor communities.” This doesn’t mean that every position taken by NEA and AFT affiliates, along with other traditionalists, is wrong. It also doesn’t mean that all reformers are wrong in their positions. What it does mean is that we must always keep in mind that there are many on both sides who have low regard for our poor and minority children. And on that front, they will always eventually show their true colors.

Some of these reformers, both black and white and including those who I call allies, will negotiate a child’s well-being through their silence. They will behave in ways little different than the traditionalists we must also oppose. Such silence is an implicit choice to side with oppression, to support mass incarceration, disproportionate use of harsh traditional school discipline, even to be a champion of the school-to-prison pipeline. No transformer for children can be silent in the face of these injustices and also say that all children matter.

At the end of the weekend, I realized that I must reaffirm my role as a mother, a parent, and a fan of humanity. I must reaffirm my conviction that adults can never negotiate the education, safety and well-being of our children. All children matter. As black mothers and fathers, we must stand between both the traditionalists and the reformers who don’t mean our children well. Because our allies can sometimes be as bad, if not worse, than our opponents.

November 9, 2015 standard

On this week’s Dropout Nation Podcast, RiShawn Biddle considers the latest data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the assault of a 16-year-old at South Carolina’s Spring Valley High by a school cop, and the defense of Success Academy’s overuse of harsh school discipline, and explains why these events show the importance of high expectations for all children.

Listen to the Podcast at RiShawn Biddle Radio or download directly to your mobile or desktop device. Also, subscribe to the podcast series, and embed this podcast on your site. It is also available on iTunesBlubrry, Stitcher, and PodBean.

November 6, 2015 standard

In Hennepin County, Minn., which includes Minneapolis, but not St. Paul, the incarceration rate of the Black population is nearly ten times that of the White adult population. The Minneapolis public schools graduate fewer than half their Black students in four years. Most Black children in Minneapolis grow up in poverty. These matters are not unrelated.

Let us begin with the police.

This past May, the American Civil Liberties Union’s Criminal Law Reform Project and the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota released a devastating report on policing practices in Minneapolis. The ACLU report, Picking Up The Pieces, found that “Black people in the city are 8.7 times more likely than white people to be arrested for low-level offenses, like trespassing, disorderly conduct, consuming in public, and lurking.” This last, lurking, apparently means being seen by a police officer while Black.

The report concentrated on arrests for low-level offenses, because these are actions over which individual police officers have the most range of choices and because they are all too often the trap door through which young Black men fall into a life-cycle of arrests, incarceration and unemployment.

About the police officers’ range of choices: The ACLU found that one police officer made 2,026 low-level arrests between January 1, 2012 and September 30, 2014, seven others made over 1,000 low-level arrests, while the median number of arrests by officers during that period was 51. On the one hand, there is obviously a matter of personal responsibility here. These eight employees of the police department were, in effect, deciding to criminalize Minneapolis’s descendants of enslaved Africans. It would not have been difficult for the department’s administrators to notice this, and stop them, but they did not, therefore, they, too, were individually and day-by-day choosing to assist in the criminalization of young Black men.

But the burden of responsibility of the police department’s administrators is heavier than that. According to the ACLU, “Even . . . without these top eight arresting officers, Black people were 8.5 times more likely to be arrested for a low-level offense than white people.” Some, most, police officers on the street made repeated decisions to arrest Black people at rates nearly 9 times that for White people, which, except for the most egregious instances, gave the appearance of anonymous, institutional racism, while in fact individual police department administrators were personally responsible for the continuation of these activities, by not stopping “Officer 2,026 Arrests,” by not acting on the appalling difference in the rates at which Black men and White men were arrested and incarcerated by other officers on the street.

There is no reason to believe that the attitudes of the police of Minneapolis differ greatly from those of other members of the city’s White community. The actions of those individual officers in the field and of the police administrators at their desks were, frankly, indicators of pervasive racism. The ACLU report quotes Anthony Newby, a local community organizer, as saying that Minneapolis has “become the new premiere example of how to systematically oppress people of color . . .it’s done through our legal system, and so low-level offenses, as an example, are just one of the many, many ways that Minnesota has perfected the art of suppressing and subjugating people of color.”

Jail is the culmination of that art. It begins very early in life.

A reasonable estimate of spending by middle class families on early childhood education would be, say, $2,000 per child per year. In order, then, to give Black children educational opportunities similar to those of White children in Minnesota, supplementary funding becomes the responsibility of the state. But the good burghers of Minnesota invest very little in other people’s children. Just one percent of three- and four-year-olds in Minnesota are enrolled in pre-school, giving the state a rank of 24 for access to preschool for three-year-olds, and 41 for four-year-olds, according to the National Institute for Early Education Research’s 2014 Yearbook.

The National Assessment for Educational Progress does not track achievement levels for Minneapolis, but it does for Minnesota. As most of the Black population of the state lives in Minneapolis, disaggregating the state statistics by race and school location (urban/suburban) gives us a good approximation for Minneapolis educational outcomes.

NAEP assessments begin at grade four. Over half of White city students in the state are proficient in reading in fourth grade, as compared to just 16 percent of Black city students. Or, in other words, at the crucial fourth grade point in their education, 84 percent of Black students in Minnesota’s cities cannot read well.

Furthermore, 58 percent of Black students in Minnesota’s cities score Below Basic at grade four. In effect, they cannot yet read (as compared to just 17 percent of city students in the state who are White).

About half of White students in the state, including urban students, score at or above Proficient, that is grade level, on the reading assessment in eighth grade. That is three times the percentage of Black students who are proficient. The 30 percentage point gap has remained fairly constant this century. For mathematics, the eighth-grade gap in 2015 was 42 percent, a dismal new record for the state.

The percentage of city eighth-grade Black students in Minnesota scoring Below Basic on reading is 42 percent; only 14 percent of White students scored Below Basic. This means that, for all intents and purposes, Black teenagers in the state’s cities still cannot read to any useful extent after nine years of schooling. [This is considerably worse than the situation for Hispanic students, “only” 30 percent of whom score Below Basic, despite language issues.]

With this record, what are the district’s graduation outcomes? More than three-quarters of White non-Hispanic students graduate in four years from Minneapolis Public Schools. Fewer than half of the district’s Black students do so. The graduation rate for the district’s Black students was lower than that for the district’s English language learners, as a group, lower than that for all students eligible for free or reduced price meals, lower than that for Hmong and Somali students.

Minneapolis’ failure to teach its Black children is matched by its willingness to suspend them. As Dropout Nation Editor RiShawn Biddle detailed last year in a series of report, the district metes out one our more out-of-school suspension to 13.1 percent of black students in regular classrooms while only 1.7 percent of white students were suspended one or more times. Based on the discipline numbers submitted by the district to the U.S. Department of Education, a black child in the Minneapolis district has a one in eight chance of being subjected to some form of harsh school discipline, while their white peer face only a two in 100 chance. Minneapolis schools are preparing Black children for life in prison.

Minnesota’s schools fail to teach nearly half of the state’s male Black students to read by the time they are in eighth grade. These students then do not graduate from high school on time. And then, at astonishing rates, they are incarcerated. The comparative lack of educational achievement and the additional handicap of incarceration have a notable impact on the occupations available to the adult Black population and its poverty level.

While more than half of the White population of Hennepin County is employed in management, business, science and arts occupations, only a quarter of the Black population finds employment in those middle class jobs. On the other hand, while just 13 percent of the White population is employed in the service sector, twice that percentage of the Black population is employed in the service sector. And the unemployment rate for the Black population is nearly three times that for the White population.

This is a race-based caste system.

It is not then surprising that most Black Minnesotans live beneath or near the poverty-line. Over half of Black women in the state with children under the age of 18, and no husband present, live in poverty. The median income for all Black households is $27,000, barely above the poverty line for a family of four. In comparison, the median income for White households in the state is over $64,000.

This enormous gap has significant implications for educational opportunity, beginning at birth.

The typical Black family in Minneapolis simply does not have the $2,000 a year or more to spend on the education of each child that is available to White families in the city. They must depend on the school system to provide those education resources needed to level the playing field. But most Black children in fourth grade do not have the crucial reading skills necessary for school and the system barely improves matters by grade 8. Despite generations of reform efforts, it is more reasonable to say that the Minneapolis public schools are an instrument for the maintenance of the area’s race-based caste system than a route out of poverty for the city’s Black population.

How can this cycle be broken? The ACLU report and its recommendations were received positively by one of the individuals responsible for the policing section of the cycle, Minneapolis police chief Janeé Harteau, who has implemented a series of reforms, including anti-bias training for employees of her department. This is a good beginning. But much more is needed, including systems that automatically track police-originated bias incidents and lead to remedial consequences. Perhaps then, the key metric, the racial disparity in arrests and incarceration rates, can be reduced.

It cannot be said that public education in Minneapolis is in a crisis, as it has been inadequate for lower income and Black children for generations. There are some current programs, which, if strengthened, could contribute to improving education opportunities for Black and other lower income children.

The district has a half-day program for four-year-olds, High Five, that is free to lower income families. Best practices indicate this should be extended to two- and three-year-olds, too. Children from lower income families should also have full-day kindergarten. The district’s Minneapolis Kids School Age Care program, which offers before- and after-school and vacation services, should be extended to Saturdays as well. It also should be made available to all lower income children, free, rather than at its current prohibitive cost. It should have a strong academic component. In other words, the out-of-school day experiences of Black and other lower income children in Minneapolis should be more like those of children from White and other middle income families.

Another issue the district must address is its overuse of harsh traditional school discipline. Dropout Nation has offered numerous solutions for this problem and they should be implemented. The most-important of all: Address the reading issues of black students, which is the underlying reason why so many are targeted and disciplined in the first place.

There is a search underway for a new superintendent for the district. That person will have their work cut out for them. But the goals of equal educational opportunities for all children, and closing the gap in outcomes, are achievable. But it requires unwavering commitment to that goal expressed not in slogans but in budgets and personnel actions.

When the Minneapolis police, prosecutors and courts stop “systematically oppressing people of color,” and when the schools offer excellent education for all children, from early childhood through a meaningful diploma, then things might actually be nice in Minnesota.

November 5, 2015 standard

These days haven’t exactly been good for Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis or the American Federation of Teachers local over which she presides. While the fire-band herself is in better health than she was this time last year, the union has dealt with a string of defeats that include an unsuccessful effort to oust Rahm Emanuel as the Second City’s mayor that cost CTU and its national parent $1.4 million (not including dues payments supposedly slated for so-called representational activities). As a result of this failure, along with the likelihood that the mayor will reduce the city’s payroll in order to deal with both a massive teachers’ pension shortfall and the battle between Gov. Bruce Rauner and state legislators over the 2015-2016 budget, CTU is warning its members to save up 25 percent of their paychecks for a teachers’ strike the union is likely timing for early next year.

But as a Dropout Nation analysis of CTU’s filing with the Internal Revenue Service shows, a strike isn’t going to hurt Lewis’ pockets very much at all.

Lewis collected $145,918 from the AFT unit in 2014. This is a 6.6 percent increase over the previous year. But as you already know, this isn’t the only check Lewis collects. She also collected $67,186 from the Illinois Federation of Teachers, the AFT’s Prairie State affiliate, as one of its vice presidents. That’s a 4.2 percent increase over her pay from the unit in 2013. Lewis also collected $207 from AFT national in 2014-2015, more than the big fat zero she got in the previous year. [According to the national union’s 2014-2015 filing, it paid Lewis $7,664.] Lewis didn’t earn any money from Chicago’s district payroll.

Altogether, Lewis made $213,311 last year. Not one thing wrong with it. But given Lewis’ penchant for class warfare rhetoric and accusing reformers of being plutocrats, it is amazing that her income puts her in the top five percent of income earners in the United States (defined as making more than $175,817, according to the Internal Revenue Service), and not exactly the paragon of  progressive virtue she has long made herself out to be. In fact, Lewis’ compensation is five times higher than Chicago’s median family income of $47,270, as well as more than the $216,210 earned by Emanuel last year.

Of course, Lewis’ wealth extends beyond compensation. The Dartmouth grad owns a swank condo in Kenwood, a neighborhood that was also home to Obama before he became president. She also owns vacation homes in Hawaii and Union Peer, Mich., where Emanuel also owns a house. Lewis will also get a nice annuity from the Second City’s teachers’ pension, too. Simply put, Lewis is rolling better than many Americans and likely doing better financially than many school reformers.
Again, none of this is bad. But she should look in the mirror before complaining about school reformers of means attempting to influence the direction of American public education — especially since CTU (along with other AFT and NEA locals) still have strong, though declining, influence over education policy and practice. Given that Lewis, along with union leaders and staff, won’t suffer any reduction in pay as a result of a work stoppage (and can easily save up 25 percent thanks to her nice checks), the union’s call for rank-and-file to save up 25 percent of their income just comes off as very Marie Antoinette. They shall eat brioche, I guess.
Meanwhile her fellow CTU players are also collecting good pay. Jesse Sharkey, who stood in for Lewis last year during her illness, collected $98,717 from the union last year, a 5.5. percent increase over the previous year; he also collected $3,300 from the Illinois affiliate, giving him total compensation of $102,017. Michael Brunson, who is the union’s recording secretary, picked up $128,741 from the union, an 11.8 percent increase over the previous year; he also got $5,543 from IFT, giving him $134,214 for the year. And the union’s financial secretary, Kristine Mayle, was paid $102,036, an 8.1 percent increase over 2013; she also collected $4,075 from IFT last year, giving her $106,112 that year.
The Chicago AFT’s staff was also paid really well. Lynn Cherkasky-Davis, the administrator for the union, was the highest-paid person in the union, collecting $233,071 in 2014 (or 9.5 percent more than in the previous year). Other well-paid staffers include health and benefits czar Annette Rizzo ($205,221), Field Service Director Sara Echevarria (who pulled down $160,272), and Field Service Representative Walter Taylor ($167,823). All in all, it’s good to work for CTU.
The union itself generated $30.1 million in 2014, slightly less than its revenues in the previous year. This includes $205,444 doled out by AFT national into the union in 2014 as well as $2.6 million from IFT’s coffers. [As Dropout Nation reported last month, AFT poured $499,983 into the union and its political action committee in 2014-2015.] Even with all the pay increases being doled around, CTU still managed to generate a surplus (or as companies would call it, a profit) of $2.3 million, double levels in 2013. Unlike many of its fellow AFT locals, CTU managed to reduce its liabilities by 25 percent (from $7.6 million to $5.7 million) within the last year. Of course, you can peruse CTU’s IRS filing for your own purposes.
As always, the issue has less to do with Lewis’ earnings or that of her fellow colleagues, than with the fact that they oppose systemic reform efforts that are helping Second City children while pushing for practices that would harm them. As Lewis made clear three years ago during the Chicago AFT’s month-long strike — and continues to remind all of us with her efforts to stop the expansion of charter schools — Lewis has long ago shown that she is less-interested in improving the futures of Second City children than in perpetuating the failed policies behind the city’s (and the nation’s) education crisis. For all of Lewis’ rhetoric, she and her union is hardly interested in helping poor and minority children — especially those who are black like her — actually gain the knowledge they need to emerge from poverty into the middle class.
Meanwhile CTU’s talk of a strike does little to help rank-and-file members, including younger teachers who must deal with the long-term consequences of the union’s and Chicago city government’s failures to properly address the virtually-insolvent pension. After all, CTU holds eight of the 12 seats on the pension’s board, and could have pushed both Emanuel’s predecessor, Richard M. Daley, and state legislators to make sure that the city contributed regularly into the pension. That Lewis skips past this fact and complains about proposals from Emanuel to reduce salaries by as much as seven percent in order to improve the district’s finances (as well as pay the pension) betrays the union’s concerns when it comes to the retirements and welfare of those forced to pay into it.
The children will lose out if CTU launches another strike, and so will high-quality teachers forced to pay into the union’s coffers. But at least Lewis is rolling in the dough — and will do so until someone ousts her.