Your editor had plans to write about something else. But President-Elect Donald Trump’s move today to nominate consumer products heiress Betsy DeVos as U.S. Secretary of Education requires me to comment. Under different circumstances with a different person as incoming president, it is likely I would politely commend her appointment. But in light of who is taking the White House in January, I can do no such thing.
Let’s start with this: At least on the matter of expanding school choice, the incoming Commander-in-Chief could have made a worse choice. DeVos has been one of the foremost philanthropists in advancing the expansion of vouchers, public charters and other opportunities for high-quality education. A longtime chairman of the American Federation for Children, DeVos has a long and admirable record of expanding school choice throughout the country.
Whether or not she would be strong on other aspects of reform, including overhauling school discipline and teacher quality, is an open question. Unfortunately, that she has flip-flopped on supporting Common Core reading and math standards that are helping more children succeed in traditional districts and charter schools. All in all, she is a mixed bag.
Beltway reformers, such as Chris Minnich of the Council of Chief State School Officers, have already issued the typical inside-the-Beltway statements declaring their interest in working with her. Traditionalists such as American Federation of Teachers President Rhonda (Randi) Weingarten decry her appointment, proclaiming that she’s the “most ideological, anti-public ed nominee” ever. Some reformers, most-notably Democrats for Education Reform and Teach For America, have correctly stood fast in not endorsing DeVos’ nomination because of Trump’s bigotry. [American Enterprise Institute education czar Rick Hess, as myopic as ever on issues regarding poor and minority children, is particularly angered by TFA’s move, accusing the teacher quality reform outfit of not “pretending to be nonpartisan”.] And conservative reformers are pleased as punch.
Meanwhile school choice advocates, especially hard-liners who oppose any efforts by states to hold those programs accountable, think that DeVos’ selection could prove to be a boon for supporting the expansion of vouchers and charters at the federal level. They are especially hoping that she will implement the long-discussed plan among such advocates to voucherize Title I funding, allowing those dollars to follow children.
Could we see a stronger federal effort on the expansion of choice? Possibly. Maybe. But as a moral men and women dedicated to building brighter futures for all children no matter their background, you have to wonder at what cost?
After all, DeVos is joining an incoming administration whose chief executive has had a long and ignominious record of race-baiting, rank demagoguery against undocumented and documented immigrants (including accusing Mexican emigres of being “rapists), and has shown little concern for black and other minority communities. Over the past week, Trump has proven even more-pronounced in his bigotry, first by naming white supremacist Steve Bannon as his top White House adviser; and then nominating Alabama U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, an opponent of all immigration with his own long history of bigotry, as U.S. Attorney General. Trump’s dedication to more-restrictive immigration policy — including a declaration to deport three million undocumented immigrants that include children already in public schools — and pronounced opposition to criminal justice reform effectively makes his administration an opponent of the very children DeVos is supposed to serve.
As the likely head of a federal agency that is charged with protecting the civil rights of children black and brown, DeVos will have to work closely with both Bannon and Sessions on enforcing existing policies as well as implementing any proposed effort to expand school choice. How can DeVos effectively expand choice for these children when the men with which she must work have demonstrated records of opposing them and their families? How can DeVos enforce the Department of Education’s civil rights responsibilities as written under the Every Student Succeeds Act when Trump is likely to push for the gutting of the agency’s Office for Civil Rights?
This isn’t just a moral issue. Black, Latino, Muslim, and other socioeconomic minority children make up half of the 50 million school-age children in America. In both the American South and western states such as California, they are the majority of children in public and private schools. The policies the Trump Administration will likely promulgate — especially on education — can damage their futures, put them on the path to poverty and prison, and destroy the communities in which they live.
Certainly DeVos will argue that she can help children while working for this administration. But the long history of American public education has proven over and over again that good intentions are slender reeds against the political machinations of the immoral. More than likely, DeVos will be a figurehead within the administration with little real influence on policy when it matters.
This includes expanding school choice. As mentioned, Trump has declared he supports voucherizing Title I funding, an idea championed by congressional Republicans that didn’t make it into ESSA last year. The challenges of making it reality still remain: That the dollars yielded from such a move would not be enough to help poor and minority families in choosing high-quality schools; that it would require congressional Republicans to write language forcing states to voucherize their own state funding systems (an idea that runs counter to the conservative demands that the federal government retreat from an active role in education policy); and that it would be opposed by suburban districts represented by those very congressional Republicans (as well as by urban districts represented by Democrat counterparts). Given the state of play these days on Capitol Hill, DeVos will likely talk a lot about choice without being able to actually help expand it.
Meanwhile DeVos’ long association with the school choice faction of the school reform movement may actually damage both. This is because DeVos’ presence essentially associates the laudable goal of helping poor and minority families gain access to high-quality educational opportunities with an incoming administration already associated with bigotry, nativism, and anti-Semitism. Certainly some reformers will argue that the laudable ends justify the means. But 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. This will be especially troublesome for choice activists at a time in which it is becoming politically harder to make the case for expanding charters, charters, and other efforts.
Your editor cannot congratulate DeVos on her nomination. What I, along with other reformers such as Democrats for Education Reform, can do is pray that she does the right thing for all of our children, no matter who they are or where they live, in spite of being part of an incoming administration that has not one concern for them. And stand up against any efforts by the Trump Administration to damage their futures.
Read more of Dropout Nation‘s thoughts about DeVos.
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.
Your editor isn’t going to spend a lot of time lamenting Tuesday’s general election results. Not that a lament would matter anyway. Donald Trump will still be the next President of the United States. A significant percentage of the American people, many of whom calling themselves Christians, chose a bigot, a demagogue, and a violator of nearly every one of the Ten Commandments, to lead the nation for the next four years. The initiative in Massachusetts to expand the number of public charter schools operating there will still be defeated, and the effort in Georgia to allow the state to take over the Peach State’s failure mills remains voted down.
More importantly, as seen in the latter two ballot initiative as well as with other elections at the state and local levels, we are still faced with the reality that for many Americans, building brighter futures for our children, especially those black and brown, is not and will never be top priority. Also clear: That those people generally are willing to embrace bigotry and damage to the futures of children and the families that love them because those people, some of whom are their neighbors and colleagues, are of no concern to them. But we knew that already.
There’s also the fact that simply crying about the election results doesn’t address some of the reasons why the results happened as they did.
When looking at the presidential election, supporters of Hillary Clinton must admit that her defeat at the hands of Trump resulted in part from being ineffective campaigner who could not reach either hardcore progressives who had flocked to Bernie Sanders during the Democratic presidential nomination campaign, or inspire the six million Americans who had previously returned incumbent Barack Obama to the White House four years ago. Certainly the real estate developer-turned-reality television host’s long record of bigotry, misogyny and general incivility towards everyone should have caused them to come out and vote. But failing to show up and be counted in key states such as Pennsylvania to get out the vote, along with the fact that she never learned from her failure to beat Obama in his run for the presidency in 2008, doomed her.
Her platform, which included the embrace of education traditionalism (symbolized by her close working relationship with the National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers) as well as the rejection of the systemic reforms embraced and advanced fitfully by Obama, also made her unattractive to wide swaths of those who would have voted for her.
But let’s also be clear: Clinton was also failed by the Democratic National Committee,which spent no time over the past four years rebuilding its weak state and local party machines. This failure also doomed Clinton because the Republican National Committee was able to help Trump win by focusing all of its efforts on successfully keeping its majorities in Congress and getting out just enough voters to win. The weakness of the state- and local-level Democrat organizations, a problem that has been around for
As for both traditionalists and reformers? There were no victories for either. If anything, the fight over transforming American public education remains in stalemate. And for reformers, in particular, it won’t get easier.
Both NEA and AFT spent the past four years working to win Clinton and the Democratic National Committee leadership over to the traditionalist side. This includes the early endorsements of Clinton’s campaign by both unions, as well as $2.2 million in donations made by AFT to the two foundations controlled by Hillary and her husband, the former president, over the past four years. But all of the money, manpower, and machinations both unions expounded on her behalf came to naught. With Trump in control of the White House and Republicans keeping control of both houses, the two unions have lost even more influence on the federal level. The consequences will likely be dire. Trump will likely appoint a justice to the U.S. Supreme Court, reviving the effort to end the ability of NEA and AFT (as well as other public-sector unions) to forcibly collect dues from teachers regardless of desire for membership. More importantly, congressional Republicans could actually make it a reality without even going through the courts just by passing legislation.
None of this will be pleasing to the hardcore progressive traditionalists within NEA and AFT who opposed the decisions to back Clinton instead of Sanders, and hated how the presidents of both unions, Lily Eskelsen Garcia and Rhonda (Randi) Weingarten strong-armed the rank-and-file into approving those endorsements. Weingarten, whose ties to the Clinton campaign have been well-documented by Dropout Nation and in e-mails obtained by the notorious WikiLeaks, will probably face particular scorn, especially given that her previous strategies for maintaining the union’s declining influence have blown up in her face. But NEA will also take some hits from members. After all, its executive director, John Stocks, is a key player in the secretive Democracy Alliance, which has been the key players within Democratic Party politics. The failure of Democracy Alliance’s network and the wider Democratic machine to make any gains at the ballot box will remind those progressive traditionalists that NEA has sustained the party’s established order, which rejected Sanders, their favored candidate.
With the likelihood that the Clinton acolytes currently in control of the Democratic National Committee will lose control in the coming months, and the battle to come between centrists and progressives over the future of the party, NEA and AFT are poorly positioned to gain a stronger role within in.
But reformers are in almost no position to take meaningful advantage. Despite clear evidence that Clinton would not continue the Obama Administration’s systemic reform efforts, centrist Democrat reformers still worked tirelessly on behalf of Clinton’s campaign. Her defeat all but shuts them out of federal policymaking circles for at least the next four years.
That they continuously backed Obama’s reckless, shoddy, bumbling, and counterproductive No Child waiver gambit, which essentially eviscerated the law and paved the way for congressional Republicans and traditionalists to pass the Every Student Succeeds Act, means that the best of the president’s political legacy on education policy (including Race to the Top) will probably end up in history’s ashbin. In the face of Clinton’s defeat, the failure of centrist Democrat reformers to pay attention to both civil rights-oriented reformers (who warned against eviscerating No Child) and conservative reformers (who warned against Obama Administration’s Rube Goldbergian approach to policy) looms larger than ever.
Meanwhile Trump’s ascent into the White House bodes ill for one of the Obama Administration’s most-admirable efforts: Holding districts accountable for overusing out-of-school suspensions and other harsh school discipline that put poor and minority children onto the school-to-prison pipeline, an important issue both on the education and criminal justice reform fronts. Given Trump’s general opposition to criminal justice reform, the antipathy among Republicans and many conservative reformers to the Black Lives Matter movement (which has championed Obama’s efforts), and the skepticism among so-called conservative reformers (most-notably Michael Petrilli of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and his amen corner at Education Next) on school discipline reform, expect nothing more after January.
The best centrist and civil rights-oriented reformers can hope for on the federal front is that current Acting Secretary of Education John King quickly implements the administrative rules developed for implementing ESSA. Once put into place, it will be hard for both Trump and congressional Republicans to get rid of them. Whether King or the Obama Administration will move quickly is another question entirely.
As for conservative reformers? They aren’t better-positioned on the federal policy front, either. Many of them opposed Trump’s campaign and backed other candidates, most-notably former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. Most of them didn’t even have ties to Trump’s campaign. Even before the presidential campaign, they had little real sway over federal education policymaking. This was clear early last year when they were caught off-guard by the successful effort of Common Core opponents and movement conservatives to stop the passage of now-outgoing House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline’s first draft of what became ESSA, and just plain crystal after the passage of the final (and even worse) version.
Certainly the presence of American Enterprise Institute fellow Gerard Robinson, a former education official in Florida and Virginia (and onetime president of Black Alliance for Educational Options), on Trump’s education transition team gives conservative reformers some hope that they can have some sway in the incoming administration. At least that’s what they hope. Others are probably hoping that they can work through Senate education czar Lamar Alexander and his top assistant, David Cleary. Some may even think either Congresswoman Virginia Foxx or Kline’s majordomo, Todd Rokita, will be helpful. But given Trump’s general disdain for tackling education policy, the disagreements between him and congressional Republicans, the divisions on education policy (and other issues) that remain among the varying factions of the Republican Party, the general fiscal realities facing the nation, and the unwillingness of congressional Republicans to tackle education in the coming years, those hopes are vain.
Given the likely lack of positive movement on the federal front, reformers must now focus on the state and local levels. But they still haven’t figured out how to mobilize communities and families to help advance systemic reform. This became clear with both the defeat of Massachusetts’ Question 2, which would have allowed for more charter schools to be opened in the Bay State, and the ballot initiative in Georgia to allow for the creation of a statewide school district that would take over failure mills. Particularly in Massachusetts, reformers were never able to beat back opposition from NEA’s and AFT’s state affiliates, which spent $13.4 million on opposing the initiative as well as financed allies such as Save Our Public Schools (which collected $100,000 from AFT’s Bay State affiliate in 2015-2016). More importantly, they did not offer a platform for backing charters that appealed to suburban families, especially those from black and Latino backgrounds who are as desiring of choice as those in Boston and other urban communities.
The good news is that reform-mind legislators and governors did win office this time around. In Nebraska, Teach For America alum Tony Vargas won a seat in that state’s lower house. In California, charter school advocates successfully backed Tim Grayson in his race for an assembly seat against Mae Torlakson, the wife of the Golden State’s traditionalist-oriented superintendent, and got Scott Weiner elected to a state senate seat. In Oakland, reform-minded superintendent Antwan Brown’s coalition on the school board (including Jumoke Hinton-Hodge) retained their seats, while efforts in New Orleans by AFT to win a school board seat also went down to defeat. There’s also political scion Chris Sununu, who won the New Hampshire’s gubernatorial race.
But reformers can’t count on politicians to keep their words beyond the election cycle. Center for Education Reform boss Jeanne Allen should have learned this the hard way two years ago when Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan backed passage of a charter school law that restricted expansion of that form of choice. Same for reformers in New York, who have been dismayed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s willingness to render stillborn implementation of Common Core reading and math standards as well as weaken the state’s teacher evaluation system.
Beyond those elections, the school reform movement must work on strategies and tactics that will mobilize families at the grassroots as well as politicians and bureaucrats within the corridors of power. More-importantly, the movement must address its own divides, especially between centrist Democrat, civil rights-oriented, and conservative reformers who disagree over such basic fundamentals as whether the achievement gaps that trap half of our children into poverty and prison should be addressed in policy and practice. And reformers must remember why we are doing this work in the first place.
Because our children deserve more than what America gave them this week.
As you already know, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People took another wrongful stand against Black families and Black children this weekend when it approved a call for a moratorium on the expansion of public charter schools. By voting against charters, the once-relevant civil rights group told by more than 3,000 Black parents and school leaders – as well as the 700,000 Black children attending charters today – that their desires for high-quality schools deserve no consideration.
So it wasn’t shocking to me that NAACP announced that it would also launch a “special taskforce” Supposedly, this group, which features longtime advocates within NAACP who have long opposed charters such as national board member Hazel Dukes, will eventually offer recommendations that will require charters to meet “the same transparency and accountability standards” as traditional districts, ensure that districts don’t lose funding to charters, and that charters “cease to perpetuate de facto segregation”.
This is laughable. Because all of the arguments NAACP is making against charters are fundamentally wrong and incredibly inaccurate. By engaging in such fallacious thinking, the national NAACP is reminding every Black family that it is out of touch with their desires to have the best opportunities for their children to achieve success as adults.
The NAACP claims that charters are less-transparent than traditional districts. This is unequivocally untrue. Unlike traditional school districts, whose boards are often unaccountable even to the very citizens who elect them, charters must report to authorizers, who can determine whether the schools should remain open or be shut down if they aren’t improving student achievement or managing their finances properly.
In Connecticut, for example, anyone proposing to open a charter school must go through a process that includes public hearings, and even reviews by state education agencies. Similar processes exist for charters in other states, including those authorized by state education departments. No traditional public school district in America is put through such scrutiny. Not even a district such as Bridgeport, which remains in business despite failing to educate 95 percent of its students to grade level in math.
Charters operate under contracts that must be renewed over time; in Connecticut, the Capital Prep charter school in the city of Bridgeport operates under a five-year contract that can either be renewed if my school achieves results for the children it serves – or be shut down if it doesn’t. This is different from a traditional district, which operates in perpetuity no matter how many children drop out of school or how many futures are damaged by their teaching and curricula.
Charter schools are even under the oversight of their own boards, which usually require parents and community leaders to serve on them. Charters are also required to issue public reports about its operations and finance, as well as even report data on the salaries paid to teachers and school leaders. Once you consider all of the layers of scrutiny under which charters labor, it is clear that they are transparent and accountable to the public despite not having boards elected by them.
The even more-laughable statement by NAACP is that charters somehow divert funding from traditional public school districts. This isn’t true, either (even though if life were fair, it would be). Districts often get to keep school funding – even when children no longer attend their schools. In fact, charters get less money than traditional districts for serving children with the same academic needs.
In Bridgeport, for example, the district keeps all of the $3.75 million it gets for 250 students – even though they are now attending my charter school. The State of Connecticut must then send off $2.5 million to Capital Prep to educate the children in my schools – even though those funds could easily come from the district since it no longer serves them.
Let’s say this again: The Bridgeport district loses no money even though they are providing no educational services to the 250 Black children we teach. In fact, there’s a net gain to Bridgeport because the district gets more money every time a parent pulls their kid out of its classes and enrolls them in a charter school. This is not only true in Bridgeport, it is true in most cities where districts and charters must co-exist.
Even more perverse is that charters serve the same children as districts with fewer dollars. Bridgeport, for example, gets $15,000 per student – including each of the students attending my charter. On the other hand, Capital Prep receives $11,000 per student, or 27 percent less than the per-pupil funding collected by Bridgeport (including for children attending my charter – and no longer attending the district’s schools). Thanks to the decision of Connecticut’s state legislature, charters will receive $11 million less in funding this upcoming school year than they did the last. By the way: Eighty-four percent of charters in Connecticut outperform schools operated by districts in the state.
No matter how you look at it, it is wasteful and absurd to give districts funding for children they no longer serve. Yet NAACP’s leaders believe this should be the case. At the same time, NAACP believes absurdly that NAACP that districts, especially those failing to teach Black children properly, should hold ransom the very property tax dollars Black people and others pay for high-quality education. This is the kind of thinking embraced by the very Jim Crow segregationists that NAACP fought a half-century ago.
Just like Pell Grants used by Black high school graduates to attend any college they want, be it Hampton or Harvard, the public education dollars Black parents and communities pay should follow their children to any school that serves them. In many ways, it already does. Traditional school districts throughout the country, including in Washington, D.C., pay private schools to take kids in special education programs off their hands. Why shouldn’t Black parents be able to take the funding they pay into public education and direct it to the charters and other schools that serve their children? NAACP can’t offer a compelling reason this should not be the case.
Finally, contrary to what NAACP argues, charters don’t perpetuate segregation. If anything, it is clear that NAACP doesn’t understand the difference between Black parents and children choosing schools that may be majority-Black for many reasons (including for the same reasons why Black people still choose HBCUs today), and being forced by law to attend schools based on a zip code or school boundary determined by others. Even worse, it is unwilling to learn from its own history.
Seven decades ago, culminating with the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, NAACP fought against Black kids being forced to attend schools based on race and school boundaries often determined by race and class. The traditional district, borne from slavery and the agrarian past, has always epitomized what the NAACP has fought against. From the 1950s to the present, NAACP fought against such de facto discrimination by supporting magnet schools, which like charters, are a form of school choice, as well as for ending zip code education policies through such means as busing.
Yet now, by calling for a moratorium on the expansion of charter schools, the most-popular form of school choice for Black families and a tool that has allowed for their liberation, NAACP is fighting to ensure the very policies it once fought against. There is something wrong when a Black civil rights group embraces the tools of slave masters and segregationists of the past.
What NAACP wants to do, plain and simple, is further injustice against Black children. By supporting traditional districts that continue to segregate Black children and subject them to educational failure, the NAACP is perpetuating injustice against Black children. By teaming up with the National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers, both of which have supported it financially, NAACP is choosing to help those unions hold the lives of our children at ransom in order for their financial gain. And by opposing charter schools and the Black children who attend them, NAACP is defending educational inequity that keeps Black children and communities from achieving their potential.
There’s no research or practice that suggests that the traditional school district developed for a 1635 slave-based agrarian society has or will ever be good for Black people. Yet the NAACP’s call against charters supports exactly that – and in the process, it is drifting further away from its core mission and our current academic needs.
When the NAACP resets its fundamental understanding of public education, it can engage in a meaningful productive dialogue. As for now, it has no place in the discussion of how to better the education of Black people.