menu search recent posts
December 13, 2016 standard

Your editor isn’t exorcised, as some reformers and charter school advocates seem to be, about Friday’s New York Times report that fewer homeless children attend the Big Apple’s public charter schools than traditional districts. Nor do I think that Kate Taylor’s report is some sort of “hit piece” on the charter operators such as the deservedly-controversial Success Academy, as those reformers, as well as editorialists at the New York Post, think it is.

Save for a brief mention of one of Success’ charter schools, as well as a quote from the operator’s public relations staff noting its outreach to 30 homeless shelters throughout the city, Taylor didn’t give the outfit much consideration at all. What she did do was honestly note that there was some pretty legitimate reasons why only homeless children made up seven percent of enrollment versus 10 percent for the Big Apple’s traditional district. One reason: The lottery system of charter admissions which often disadvantages homeless children and their families. Based on that reason alone, reformers can actually make a strong case for expanding the number of charters serving children in the Big Apple; more charters equal greater opportunities for all families, especially those who are homeless, to choose high-quality schools fit for their kids.

But that point, of course, got lost amid the rancor that once again, Taylor, who broke news over the last two years about Success Academy’s woeful overuse of harsh school discipline, once again mentioned the outfit in her reporting. The chain’s public relations chief, Ann Powell, unsuccessfully tried to argue that homeless children make up nine percent of overall enrollment, a point shot down by Taylor (who came bearing receipts). As you would expect, traditionalists also tried to weigh, including American Federation of Teachers President Rhonda (Randi) Weingarten, who discreetly tweeted out the Times piece to her rabid band of followers.

Yet the much more-interesting story, one that both traditionalists and reformers have danced around, isn’t about whether or not charter schools are serving fewer children. It’s about whether homeless children are being served properly at all by traditional and other public schools within American public education. The sobering answers should force all of us who care about the futures of children to help more of our most-vulnerable gain the high-quality education they need and deserve.

Two-point-five million children, or 3.4 percent of all children 17 and younger were homeless in 2013, according to an analysis of U.S. Census data conducted by the American Institutes for Research. Of them, 1.2 million of them (or 49 percent of all homeless children) attending America’s traditional district and charter schools, making up 2.4 percent of all children attending public schools that year.

More often than not, the parents of these children themselves are poorly-educated. As Angela R. Fertig of the University of Georgia and David Reingold of Indiana University noted in a 2006 national study of homelessness in 21 cities based on data from the federal Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, one out of every two homeless mothers surveyed a year after entering the survey were high school dropouts (as were 40 percent of mothers who were “doubled-up” or sharing residences with other households). Four out of every ten homeless men and women in Los Angeles were high school dropouts, according to a 2004 study by the Weingart Center.

Seven percent of homeless children are considered “unaccompanied” or without a parent or guardian. As with children in foster care, this group of kids especially struggle in American public education because there is no caring adult who can advocate for them, much less care for them outside of schoolhouse doors. Another 15 percent are English Language Learners; these children end up being especially vulnerable because of their struggles with English fluency and literacy.

What happens to these children once they get into American public education? They often end up on the path to academic and social failure.

Just 77 percent of homeless children were regularly enrolled in school. Even when they can register for school, showing up can be an arduous task. Thirty-six percent of homeless children attending New York City’s public schools were chronically absent (or missing more than 18 days of the school year) in 2013-2014, according to a study by the Institute for Children, Poverty & Homelessness.

The result for homeless children is condemnation to the worst public education offers. As Amy Dworsky, a researcher at the University of Chicago’s Chapin Hall, pointed out in a 2008 study, 22 percent of homeless children in Chicago were labeled as special ed cases, often at twice the rate of students from more-stable homes depending on grade level. Nationally, 20 percent of homeless children are labeled special ed cases, seven percentage points lower than the national average, according to the National Center for Homeless Education. The condescension experienced by families with greater levels of affluence is magnified for mothers and fathers struggling to find housing and with getting better education for their kids.

For homeless children, American public education can often exacerbate their instability.

In turn, these children are less-likely to get the high-quality education they need for lifelong success. Seventy five-point-three percent of all homeless children in grades three-through-high school read below proficient (or grade level) as measured on state tests, according to NCHE. Given that proficiency cut scores on state tests are usually far lower than the standards set by the National Assessment of Educational Progress, it means that even more homeless children are struggling with literacy.

Even worse, the likelihood of these children graduating from high school (or even being ready for success in the traditional colleges, technical schools and apprenticeships that make up American higher education) is slim to none. In the Big Apple, just 52 percent of homeless high schoolers in the Class of 2015 graduated on time, 18.5 percentage points lower than the city’s overall graduation rate.

As with other aspects of poverty, homelessness doesn’t have to be academic or social destiny. As ICPH points out, 89 percent of homeless high school students in New York City who are put into stable housing and school conditions graduate on time. This is 37 percentage points higher than the average. So why do so many homeless children struggle?

One reason why: Zip Code Education policies that require families to prove residency in a traditional district, something that homeless families cannot possibly provide. The rules violate the federal McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act (part of what is now the Every Student Succeeds Act), which requires schools to allow children to attend school in their “school of origin” so long as they remain homeless (and allows for the child to remain in school, whether or not he lives with their parents or “has been temporarily placed elsewhere”).

But districts such as that of Hawaii (the only one that serves an entire state) and Steelton-Highspire in Pennsylvania often violate the law with impunity — and few families have the resources to file suit to hold them accountable. [That the federal government spends just $49.35 for every homeless child through McKinney-Vento, versus $1,743 for each kid condemned to special ed, ensures that districts will focus their time on where the money’s at.]

As mentioned earlier, the lack of high-quality charter schools and caps on the expansion of them essentially mean that homeless children end up being bereft of options. But it isn’t just about expanding choice. McKinney-Vento requires all public schools to provide transportation so that homeless children can attend school. Yet just 15 of the 42 states in which charter schools are allowed to operate require either the operators (or the district that authorizes it) to provide transportation. For homeless children in New Orleans (in which charters serve 92 percent of all students) and Detroit (where 53 percent of students attend them), this means choice is illusory.

Another problem lies with the failure mills that often serve homeless children (and in many cases, served their parents long ago). In New York, just 26 percent of third-graders in districts with high levels of homeless children read at proficient levels on the Empire State’s battery of standardized tests in 2013-2104, worse than the already-abysmal 34 percent level for districts with low levels of homeless children, according to ICPH. The lack of high-quality teaching and curricula combine with the instability at home to foster academic disengagement.

Meanwhile the very lack of nurturing school cultures for children in the nation’s foster care ghettos — a subject of a Dropout Nation commentary five years ago — is also a problem for homeless youth. The lack of teachers with both empathy for all children as well as strong subject-matter competency that damages all poor and minority children is especially tough on those without homes. That districts, including New York City, as well as charter schools, struggle mightily with addressing the particular needs of these children means that homeless children find themselves isolated from peers who don’t have to worry about sleeping in shelters or “double-up” in temporary housing.

Certainly, as your editor noted four years ago, systemic reform can’t address all of the issues that feed into homelessness. The issues of mental illness, housing policy, and even welfare play prominent roles in making the lives of homeless children even less secure than they should be. As with so much about poverty, homelessness is explained by neither the Poverty or Personal Responsibility myths perpetuated by so many hardcore progressive traditionalists and conservative reformers.

At the same time, there are concrete things school reformers, both in New York and in the rest of the nation, can do to help our most-vulnerable.

One critical step starts with districts and charters working together (as well as on their own) to meet their obligations under McKinney-Vento. The common school applications now being used in Newark and other cities can be used to get much-needed information on the needs of homeless children. Another step lies with transportation. Last year, Center for Reinventing Public Education highlighted the need for charters to address transportation; the obligations under McKinney-Vento make it paramount that charter operators to team up with districts or with each other to improve the ability of homeless families and others to exercise choice for their children.

As your editor mentioned, expanding charters and other forms of choice is critical to providing homeless children with high-quality and caring school cultures. At the same time, they should team up with organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union to ensure that all public schools serve homeless children. As you can expect, such suits won’t be welcomed by conservative and centrist Democrat reformers within the movement for various reasons. But reformers can’t claim to work zealously for all children if they won’t use all the tools available to help them get justice in and out of classrooms.

Reformers can also team up with the grassroots organizations, churches  and even courts who deal with homeless children on improving the quality of instruction, leadership, curricula, reading remediation, and school cultures in schools. Working with advocates for homeless children to ensure that unaccompanied children are given support is also important. These steps would also further the other reforms that the movement has been advancing for so long. Especially at a time in which federal action will be limited at best (and, given the incoming Trump Administration, corrosive at worst), such activities build alliances for transforming the futures of all children.

Homeless children, both in New York City, and the rest of the nation, deserve better. The bickering over news reports would be better-utilized toward actually helping our most-vulnerable at all times.

Featured photo courtesy of the New York Times.

December 9, 2016 standard

One of the bigger stories with the National Education Association is the loss of rank-and-file. Thanks to efforts by governors and state legislatures in Wisconsin, Tennessee, Michigan, Indiana, and Alabama to end collective bargaining and compulsory dues payments, the nation’s largest teachers’ union and its affiliates has seen declines in rank-and-file, putting strain on its finances in the process. As a result, NEA’s rank-and-file declined by 6.3 percent between 2010-2011 and 2014-2015 (from 3.3 million to three million), resulting in a 2.2 percent decline in dues collection within that same period.

But as the union reported in its 2015-2016 financial disclosure to the U.S. Department of Labor, the declines have stopped, at least for the time-being. The bad news? The finances of its affiliates, along with the long-term loss of rank-and-filers to come, continue to weigh heavily on the union’s future prospects.

NEA sustained no declines in rank-and-file this past fiscal year. That’s the good news. But it didn’t significantly increase them, either. NEA added just 8,804 rank-and-filers and agency fee-payers to the rolls in 2015-2016, which led to a mere two-tenths of a one percent increase over the past year.

As a result of stemming those losses, as well as a $1 average increase in annual dues (from an average of $119.05 per member in 2014-2015 to $120.05 in 2015-2016), NEA collected $367 million in dues last fiscal year, a 1.1 percent increase over the previous period.

NEA’s overall revenue of $388 million was a slight decline from levels in 2014-2015. This included $8.4 million in revenue from NEA Member Benefits Corp. the financial scheme the union runs to peddle annuities to its rank-and-file (which also gets kickbacks from the Wall Street firms that sell through it); that is 13.6 percent more than revenues generated from the outfit last year.

Meanwhile the union generated a surplus of $1.4 million for 2015-2016. That’s a 95 percent decline from the $27 million in surplus generated in the previous period. Why? A 30 percent increase in general overhead costs (from $51 million to $66 million), and a 65 percent increase in asset and investment purchases (from $8.3 million to $13.7 million) offset declines in benefit expenditures. A five percent increase in payments to its pension (from $19.7 million to $20.7 million) also led to the lower surplus. At least none of the lowered surplus can be blamed on poor internal controls or embezzlement.

But the good news on rank-and-file numbers, such as it is, doesn’t hide the reality that NEA’s future, financial as well as political, is quite bleak.

The union’s affiliates affected the most by the abolition of compulsory dues are still taking hits. The union’s virtually-insolvent Michigan Education Association, for example, had just 127,785 rank-and-file in 2015-2016, according to its filing with the Department of Labor, a 2.5 percent decrease over the previous fiscal year; its rank-and-file declined by 16 percent over the past five years. Meanwhile a 59 percent decline in rank-and-file has forced the Wisconsin Education Association Council into a merger with the American Federation of Teachers’ hard-hit affiliate as well as pushed it to sell its sweet headquarters in Madison.

But the problems lie not only with NEA’s state affiliates in right-to-work states. The end of class size reduction regimes in many states, the lingering effects of the last decade’s economic meltdown, the virtual  insolvencies of defined-benefit teachers’ pensions, and the retiring of Baby Boomers from classrooms, has resulted in growth being slim to none for many affiliates.

Rank-and-file numbers for NEA’s still-influential units in Illinois, and Ohio barely budged between 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 — and almost no growth at all for either within the past five years. Rank-and-file numbers for union’s Florida affiliate (which is also affiliated with AFT) barely budged; in fact, membership declined by 5.6 percent between 2011-2012 and 2015-2016.

One of the few bright spots for NEA is its Education Minnesota unit, whose rank-and-file numbers increased by 2.7 percent between 2011-2012 and 2015-2016. But it barely added members during this past fiscal year. If Republicans who just took control of the Land of Nice’s legislature have their way, the union’s ability to forcibly collect dues will eventually go into history’s ashbin. But thanks to the presence of Democrat Mark Dayton in the governor’s office, that’s not likely for now.

The lack of rank-and-file growth is troubling for NEA because the long-term financial woes of many of its affiliates are worsening.

Unfunded defined-benefit pensions and retiree health liabilities have long-damaged the balance sheets of some key affiliates. The union’s Michigan affiliate, for example, reported $296 million in unfunded pension and retiree healthcare liabilities in 2015-2016, a 3.1 percent increase over the previous year. If the affiliate was forced into bankruptcy, its $67 million in assets (a 9.8 percent decline over 2014-2015) couldn’t cover these and other liabilities.

The NEA’s Illinois unit reported $46 million in unfunded pension and other retiree liabilities in 2015-2016, a whopping 44 percent increase over levels in the previous fiscal year. [Its $63 million in overall liabilities is a 25 percent increase over 2014-2015.] If it ever landed in bankruptcy court, the Illinois unit’s $53 million in assets couldn’t cover any of what it owes to retired employees and other creditors. The union’s Pennsylvania State Education Association reported $75 million in pension and retiree health liabilities in 2015-2016, a staggering 37 percent increase over the previous year; the only good news is that the unit’s $102 million in assets can cover those and other liabilities.

Even NEA’s most-influential and wealthiest affiliate, the California Teachers Association, is struggling with pension and healthcare liabilities. In a memo to its staff union CTA revealed that its Retirement Trust has unfunded liabilities to the tune of $105 million. While CTA can cover those shortfalls with $183 million in assets (as of 2013-2014, according to its filing with the Internal Revenue Service), the growth in those liabilities (along with reasonable long-term fears that it will no longer be able to forcibly collect dues from classroom teachers) has forced the affiliate to play hardball with its staff union during its most-recent contract negotiations.

[As Dropout Nation reported last month, the virtually-busted New York State United Teachers (which is an NEA affiliate despite being controlled by AFT) has $503 million in unfunded pension and other retiree healthcare liabilities, a 31 percent increase over 2014-2015.]

For these affiliates, along with three under NEA receivership — Indiana State Teachers Association, Alabama Education, and South Carolina Education Association — the subsidies from NEA are more-welcome than ever.

NEA subsidized WEAC to the tune of $2.1 million in 2015-2016, an 11 percent increase over the previous year; based on the affiliate’s reported revenue of $13.2 million in 2013-2014 (the latest year available), NEA subsidies likely account for 16 percent of its money stream, and given the unit’s flailing finances, likely more than that. NEA also poured $5.5 million in subsidies into its Michigan affiliate, a 15 percent decline over 2014-2015; even with those declines, NEA dollars accounted for 4.9 percent of the unit’s revenue of $111.8 million.

The union subsidized its Illinois affiliate to the tune of $4.5 million in 2015-2016, an 8.2 percent drop from the previous year; the subsidies accounted for six percent of the unit’s revenue of $75.5 million. As for Pennsylvania? NEA provided $5.3 million in subsidies to the unit, barely budging from levels in 2014-2015; those dollars account for 5.2 percent of PSEA’s revenue stream.

What about ISTA? NEA provided $1.3 million in subsidies to the busted Indiana affiliate in 2015-2016, a 24 percent decline from the previous year. ISTA also managed to whittle down its debt to national by another $1 million in the last year, leaving it with $11.5 million in arrears. The national union has subsidized ISTA to the tune of $6.9 million in the last five years alone, not including the millions it has had to pour into the Hoosier State unit since 2009, when its VEBA went insolvent amid a $67 million deficit and spectacular financial mismanagement.

As for NEA national? The union’s defined-benefit pension plan reduced its insolvency by 18 percent to $91 million (as of 2014, the most-recent year reported), according to its annual notice to retirees. The good news is that NEA could liquidate some of its $377 million in assets to address that insolvency if needed. On the other hand, the union’s retiree healthcare trust remains well-funded, with just $55,480 in liabilities compared to $117.6 million in assets (as of 2015, the latest year available, according to its filing with the IRS).

Meanwhile the long-term threats to NEA’s clout and finances loom larger and more-immediate than ever. The union’s big bet on Hillary Clinton to win the presidency blew up badly, while its support for Senate and Congressional Democratic candidates also went pear-shaped. With the incoming administration of Donald Trump being hostile to public-sector unions and an even less-sympathetic Republican-controlled Congress, NEA has even less influence on Capitol Hill than it did two years ago. The institutional Blanche DuBois will have to depend on the kindness of outfits such as National School Boards Association (whose ties to Republicans are cozier thanks to suburban districts in its membership) and that’s not a great place to be.

Trump still has to fill the Supreme Court spot vacated earlier this year through the death of the legendary Antonin Scalia. This likely means that the next justice will finally overturn Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, the five decade-old ruling that allows NEA and AFT affiliates to force teachers to pay into its coffers regardless of their desire for membership. The union likely already expects a version of Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association (which the court shot down in a 4-4 ruling after Scalia’s demise) to work its way through the courts.

Based on the struggles of NEA’s state affiliates in Wisconsin and Michigan, it is clear that neither national nor its other affiliates are ready to adapt to the end of compulsory dues laws and workplace monopolies. The union hasn’t even followed AFT’s steps and hired staffers from the Service Employees International Union, which has long been the nation’s most-successful labor organizer, in order to prepare for the future.

In short, long days ahead for NEA’s guitar-slinging president, Lily Eskelsen Garcia, and the rest of the union’s leadership.

Dropout Nation will provide additional analysis of the NEA’s finances down the road. You can check out the data yourself by checking out the HTML and PDF versions of the NEA’s latest financial report, or by visiting the Department of Labor’s Web site. Also check out Dropout Nation‘s Teachers Union Money Report, for previous reports on NEA and AFT finances.

December 8, 2016 standard

On the debut edition of The Moment, Editor RiShawn Biddle discusses the Thomas B. Fordham Institute’s new report on teacher dismissals and explains the underlying reasons why it is so hard for districts to get rid of laggard and criminally abusive teachers.

Watch The Moment here 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.

December 6, 2016 standard

Yesterday’s mistrial in the proceedings against former North Charleston Police Officer Michael Slager for murdering Walter Scott wasn’t shocking. After all, the jury had announced the Friday before that one juror declined to find Slager guilty. Just as importantly, even in cases such as that of Scott in which there is irrefutable videotaped evidence of rogue policing, jurors rarely find cops guilty for misconduct and wrongfully using deadly force. Considering that cases such as that of Scott and Eric Garner (whose murderer, New York City Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo, was allowed to go free by a grand jury) are rarely adjudicated, it is amazing that Slager was indicted at all. The good news, if that can be claimed, is that at least six people thought Slager should be convicted — and that the district attorney in the case will retry him again.

All that said, it is impossible to understate the pain Scott’s family is going through. They lost their loved one in what should be the enjoyable years of middle age all because Slager, who had already been cited in two complaints for abusive behavior with tasers, decided to stop him for a broken brake light, then murder him in broad daylight. Slager brutally slain a man for no reason other than for his own ego — and for that, he deserves nothing less than God’s judgement and prison time. And Scott’s family continues to need our prayers for them to find justice and peace beyond understanding.

For communities black and brown, the mistrial was just another reminder that their chances of gaining any measure of human justice, especially when they are victimized by rogue police officers, is slim to none. It is also a reminder that black men often take the brunt of harm in their interactions with law enforcement; numerous studies, including the controversial analysis from Harvard’s Roland Fryer, have shown consistently that cops are more-likely to be stop and subject black men to harsh force regardless of incident than they are against white peers. Which puts black men at higher risk of ending up in body bags.

What does the Slager mistrial have to do with school reformers? Plenty. As I wrote two years ago, you can’t proclaim to be a champion for all children if you are not championing them at all times. After all, you can only reach people when your care and consideration for the matters of their greatest concern. Just as importantly, the school reform movement cannot sustain its efforts without support from communities who are also dealing with the other issues that result from (and contribute to) low-quality education.

As you already know, there are many in the school reform movement who disagree with this assessment. Within this year alone, folks such as Robert Pondiscio of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute have complained that efforts by peers to support criminal justice reform — especially the Black Lives Matter movement that emerged in 2014 after the murder of Michael Brown — is essentially an effort to push conservative reformers out of school reform altogether. For folks like him, the emergence of civil rights-oriented reformers into the vanguard essentially crowds out the more-conservative thinking that has long-dominated the movement.

Other conservative reformers such as Jay P. Greene argue that even discussing Black Lives Matter and social justice issues causes division when the focus should only be on transforming education. As far as Greene and his colleagues are concerned, the last thing reformers need to do is engage in discussing matters on which there is no consensus and therefore, becomes harder to rally support for solutions to the nation’s education crisis.

As far as Pondiscio’s argument is concerned, there isn’t really more to say other than you can’t call for ideological diversity (as he has) and then complain when you get it. As Pondiscio’s former colleague at Fordham, Kathleen Porter-Magee, rightfully argues, embracing new voices and new ideas is critical to systemic reform. More importantly, we should be as morally concerned about stopping state-sanctioned racism civil rights against black and brown children and their families as we are about failure mills that also damage their lives and futures.

As for Greene’s point: It is pure nonsense. One of the most-interesting aspects of the criminal justice reform movement is that it has been as championed by many conservatives and libertarians (including Radley Balko of the Washington Post, Jonathan Blanks of the Cato Institute, Congressman Justin Amash, and Atlantic Monthly‘s Conor Friedensdorf) as it has been by progressives and Black Lives Matter activists. Cato, in particular, is holding a conference this week tackling such issues as mass incarceration and militarization of police departments (including those harming children in our schools).

If conservatives and libertarians who spend little time on education can find common cause with Black Lives Matter activists, why can’t those who are primarily concerned with building brighter futures for children?

Meanwhile there is another reason why reformers should work together with criminal justice reform advocates that has become more-important than ever: The threat to the movement’s very aims posed by the incoming administration of Donald Trump.

As Dropout Nation has argued repeatedly last month, the President-Elect’s appointment of longtime reformer Betsy DeVos as U.S. Secretary of Education (as well as the association of some conservative reformers with the transition) threatens to associate 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. This isn’t just a threat to choice. The success of the movement itself continues to depend on a bipartisan and socioeconomically diverse coalition that includes progressives, Centrist Democrats, and black civil rights activists for whom bigotry against children black and brown is a major concern.

Tackling criminal justice reform — which will be opposed at every turn by the incoming Trump Administration — is an important way to signal bipartisanship as well as show poor and minority communities that we will stand up for them.

This isn’t to say that reformers shouldn’t focus most of their time on transforming American public education. That is paramount. But there are plenty of ways reformers can partner with criminal justice reform advocates on addressing the rogue policing and criminalization of lives black and brown that affect the lives of our children as much as laggard and criminally abusive teachers.

As your editor noted yesterday in the analysis of National Education Association’s political spending, the union has figured out that putting a little money toward something as simple as a ballot initiative can win allies among progressives for their cause of defending their influence over education policymaking. Reformers can do similar things. Write letters in support of legislation calling for abolishing the use of grand juries in use of deadly force cases. Back ballot measures on such criminal justice reform matters as the use of traffic tickets (which necessitate traffic stops) to generate revenue for municipal coffers. Even endorse criminal reform-minded candidates running for district attorney posts and state legislative seats.

Reformers can also work together with criminal justice reform advocates on addressing the prominent role American public education plays in putting kids on the path to prison.

Remember this: Schools account for three out of every 10 status cases referred to juvenile courts in 2011, the second-highest source of referrals after law enforcement, according to data from the U.S. Department of Justice. This is particularly problematic because juvenile court judges are ill-equipped to deal with matters that should be handled by schools, and juvenile jails are often beset by incidents of sexual assault and other abuse. Reformers can easily work with Black Lives Matter activists and others to reduce (if not end altogether) the number of children put on the path to courtrooms and jails.

One way to do this: End the overuse of harsh traditional school discipline. Decades of studies from researchers such as Russell Skiba of Indiana University have determined that overuse of suspensions are harmful to student achievement, especially for children from poor and minority households (including black students) who disproportionately suspended at higher rates (and often for minor offenses) than white peers. When districts over-suspend poor and minority children, they perpetuate perceptions among law enforcement and the wider community that black and Latino children are only criminals. Just as importantly, as Dropout Nation has noted time and time and time again, the overuse of harsh school discipline allows lets teachers and school leaders off the hook for their failures to address underlying issues such as illiteracy that lead to children acting out.

Supporting solutions on this front — from new concepts such as restorative justice, to existing efforts such as overhauling how we recruit, train, and evaluate teachers, even to recruiting and supporting talented collegians and mid-career professionals of minority backgrounds to work with kids who look like them — help children both in and out of school.

Reformers can even help criminal justice reform advocates by sharing the lessons they have learned about tackling teacher quality and contract issues. This is already happening. The police union contract database developed by Campaign Zero, the outfit formed by the cadre of Black Lives Matter activists that include Deray McKesson and Brittany Packnett, is modeled in part off National Council on Teacher Quality’s famed TR3 database. Reformers can use their experiences in developing alternative teacher training regimes to help their counterparts address how cops are recruited and trained — a key culprit behind the murders of Scott, Tamir Rice, and other black lives.

Now, more than ever, reformers have opportunities to work hand-in-hand with other advocates in building brighter futures for all of our children. It is our moral duty to ensure that our children grow up with the knowledge they need for success in adulthood — and can live safely in their communities without threat by police officers consumed by dark desires to engage in thuggery, bigotry, and venality.

December 5, 2016 standard

Last week, Dropout Nation detailed how National Education Association spent big to score a major victory over reformers in the battle over the charter school expansion plan contained in Massachusetts’ Question 2. But further analysis of the Big Two teachers’ union’s 2015-2016 disclosure to the U.S. Department of Labor shows, the Bay State wasn’t the only place where NEA spent big — and scored success.

In Maine, for example, NEA poured $1 million into Citizens Who Support Maine’s Public Schools, a coalition including the union’s state affiliate. The group would go on to successfully push for the passage of Question 2, a ballot measure to levy a three percent tax on incomes of greater than $200,000 ostensibly to finance the state’s traditional public schools. [Opponents of the measure are pushing for a recount.] Thanks to NEA, Citizens and its allies outspent opponents of the measure (including Gov. Paul LePage) by $3.6 million ($3.9 million to 286,717.95, according to Ballotpedia), effectively winning the spending — and ultimately, the electoral — battle.

Another big score was in Georgia, where NEA’s state affiliate and traditional districts successfully beat back Amendment 1, Gov. Nathan Deal’s plan have allowed the Peach State to take over 127 failure mills and put them into a statewide district similar to Louisiana’s now-defunct Recovery School District. To help beat back that effort, NEA reported at the end of its fiscal year that it poured $500,000 into Committee to Keep Georgia Schools Local, a coalition featuring NEA’s Georgia Association of Educators and the state branch of AFL-CIO. [NEA also gave $100,000 to GAE in support of opposing the ballot measure.] These dollars, along with another $3.4 million NEA tossed into Keep Georgia’s coffers during the first months of its current fiscal year, and another $200,000 from American Federation of Teachers, helped opponents of Amendment 1 outspend supporters by a 2-to-1 margin ($5.1 million versus $2.6 million).

But not every measure NEA backed was passed at the ballot box. In Oregon, the union poured $350,000 into Yes on 97, which fought to pass a measure levying a 2.5 percent gross receipts tax on businesses generating more than $25 million in annual revenue; NEA gave another $2 million in cash and in-kind donations between September and November, months after the end of its 2015-2016 fiscal year, according to Oregon’s Secretary of State. [AFT, whose nursing and teaching affiliates are big political players in the state, gave $1 million to Yes on 97.] The union also gave $150,000 to one of its longtime vassals in the state, Defend Oregon, which worked with Yes on 97 to push the measure. But on Election Day, voters rejected the proposed tax by 59 percent to 41 percent.

But NEA ballot battles weren’t just about opposing school choice and raising tax revenues that would ultimately contribute to its bottom line. It also worked to support its allies, especially progressive groups and labor unions, in their efforts to increase minimum wages and defend gay rights. Certainly, neither NEA nor its rank-and-file directly benefit one bit from minimum wage increases and the union’s affiliates have proven willing to back anti-gay rights candidates when it suited their purposes. But by supporting those efforts, NEA bolsters its image as a champion for progressives, gay households, and low-income households, even as it fights for policies and practices that ultimately harm the latter two groups by denying their children high-quality education.

While reformers have been successful in building similar alliances with businesses, the movement has recently struggled to extend beyond those relationships to social justice activists and even organizations in rural communities such as Future Farmers of America. In fact, reformers remain split over the simple matter of working with Black Lives Matter and criminal justice reform advocates, whose work on issues affecting the families of poor and minority children should be a natural fit. This struggle is essentially helping NEA and AFT gain allies who should be supporting systemic reform.

Back in Maine, NEA  gave $231,000 to Mainers for Fair Wages, a group that successfully fought to pass a minimum wage increase contained in Question 4. Thanks to NEA’s help, minimum wage advocates can now take credit for increasing hourly wages for low-skilled workers from $7.50 to $12 by 2020.

Another successful effort came in Colorado, where NEA gave $430,000 to Colorado Families for a Fair Wage, a group that successfully pushed for the minimum wage hike contained in Amendment 70. Thanks to the union’s backing, that group successfully convinced voters to support an increase from $8.31 an hour to $12 an hour within the next four years.

Meanwhile in Houston, NEA gave $50,000 to Houston United, which unsuccessfully fought last year for passage of the Texas metropolis’ anti-gay discrimination ordinance. The measure, which was voted down by 61 percent to 39 percent, according to Ballotpedia, generated national controversy after city officials filed subpoenas demanding copies of five sermons given against the ordinance by local clergy, raising fears of religious discrimination that ultimately led to the measure’s defeat.

None of NEA’s big ballot spends are surprising. As Dropout Nation has reported in the past, the union is a big player in supporting state and local ballot initiatives it favors. This includes donations to the progressive Ballot Initiative Strategy Center, to which NEA gave $380,000 in 2015-2016, and has financed to the tune of $1.1 million between 2010-2011 and 2015-2016. NEA also got help from consultancy TrueBallot, to which it paid $21,887 last fiscal year.

NEA took an even bolder step earlier this year when it voted to devote even more money from its Ballot Measure/Emergency Crisis Fund to fight off reform measures on the ballot in Massachusetts and Georgia, as well as support more-favorable initiatives elsewhere. This meant even more spending on political consultants at the state level. This included dropping $254,663 with Blue State Digital, $356,000 with AL Media (the former Adelstein Liston) on various media messaging, and $58,000 on Big Bowl of Ideas (which is known for its work with minimum wage advocates).

As for NEA’s other political spending? The union spent $60,122 with Mack Sumner Communications for political messaging services, $48,750 with Revolution Messaging for digital ads, $502,503 with Angle Mastagni Matthews for a variety of robocalls, $477,088 with Mission Control Inc., on direct mail, and $70,915 with political consultancy 50+1.

NEA’s biggest single spend was on public relations, dropping $6.8 million with ad giant Interpublic Group’s Weber Shandwick. On public relations, the union spent $585,887 with broadcast publicity outfit Lyons Public Relations, bought $245,450 in services from Dewey Square Group, spent $104,994 with Acadia Consulting, and handed over $24,163 to Camino Public Relations for its services. It also spent $11,351 with Agile Education Marketing, spent $127,013 with Elope on promotional gear, and bought $28,500 worth of media training services from Oratorio. For advertising, it spent $407,602 with Hedrush Agency, a firm ran by “cultural curator” Munch Joseph.

As part of its public relations costs, NEA also spent $25,000 with the National Education Writers Association, the group providing training and other services to journalists covering districts and education agencies. A very helpful way to get before reporters and pundits without having to craft a pitch — and another example of how NEA is truly a corporate entity.

Dropout Nation will provide additional analysis of the NEA’s financial filing later this week. You can check out the data yourself by checking out the HTML and PDF versions of the NEA’s latest financial report, or by visiting the Department of Labor’s Web site. Also check out Dropout Nation‘s Teachers Union Money Report, for this and other reports on AFT and NEA spending.

December 2, 2016 standard

The National Center for Education Statistics has now released graduation rates for US school districts, disaggregated for the usual racial and ethnic groups, but not by gender. For the purposes of this analysis, those rates will be used as given.

Much progress has been made in standardizing calculations for high school graduation rates and although there remain local oddities, such as a proliferation of types of high school diplomas, particularly in the South, the overall situation is such as to allow a sharper focus on individual districts. We can, then, look at three typical large urban districts—Chicago, New York and Philadelphia—with at least a first order degree of confidence that we are looking at similar data among them. (Chicago’s graduation rate calculations have been questioned—certain groups are said to be excluded—but that discussion can be put aside for another occasion.)

Asian students are reported to graduate at a rate of 91 percent in Chicago, 83 percent in New York City and 80 percent in Philadelphia.  Black student graduation rates are reported as 71 percent in Chicago, 64 percent in New York City and 65 percent in Philadelphia.  Latino students are reported as graduating at a rate of 80 percent in Chicago, 61 percent in New York and 53 percent in Philadelphia, while White students are reported as graduating at a rate of 87 percent in Chicago, 81 percent in New York City and 71 percent in Philadelphia.

The difference between Asian and White graduation rates, on the one hand, and Black and Latino rates, on the other, varies from 15 to 20 percentage points, with Chicago showing the least difference and New York City the greatest difference.  The greatest differences between districts are those in nearly every case between the relatively better rates for Chicago and relatively worse rates for Philadelphia (but see proviso above).

Those graduation rates are indications of the success, or lack of it, for each of these districts in providing their students with diplomas.  How, then, can we assess the degree to which those districts are successful in educating those students, providing them with the skills and knowledge necessary for college and career preparation?

The National Assessment of Educational Progress is of some help in this. The cliché description of NAEP’s data is that it is “the gold standard,” and there is little doubt that its assessments are accurate. Unfortunately, NAEP does not provide district data for its 12th grade assessments.  Therefore, Dropout Nation uses the assessment at eighth grade, selecting among the many subject-area assessments that which is most fundamental, reading.  At grade eight, 63 percent of Chicago’s White students read at or above grade level (“Proficient”), as compared to 24 percent of the district’s Latino students and just 13 percent of the district’s Black students. (There are too few Asian students in the Chicago schools for NAEP to assess.) 46 percent of New York City’s White students and 26 percent of Philadelphia’s White students test at or above grade level in grade eight, as do 15 percent of New York City’s and 9 percent of Philadelphia’s Black students.  Twenty-two percent of New York’s Latino students and 11 percent of Philadelphia’s Latino students test at grade level, as do 41 percent of New York’s and 44 percent of Philadelphia’s Asian students.

Philadelphia is clearly failing to teach reading to most of its students — a remarkable three-quarters of its White students and over 90 percent of its Black students are below grade level in reading on NAEP’s grade 8 evaluation. And although Chicago’s success with White Students is impressive, it fails to teach over 85 percent of its Black students this fundamental skill.

We can, with this information, throw some light on the question of how well-educated are those students receiving diplomas from these three cities.

Comparing NAEP Grade 8 Reading Proficiency for the New York City groups, we found the following for the four largest racial/ethnic groups: NAEP eighth-grade reading percent at or above grade level:  Forty-one percent of Asians, 15 percent of Black students; 22 percent of Latino students; and 46 percent of White students. By the way: the graduation rates are t83 percent for Asian students, 64 percent for Black students, 61 percent for Latino students, and 81 percent for White students.  Dividing the high school graduation rates by the NAEP reading percentages, we find these ratios: Two-point-zero for Asian students; 4.3 for Black students; 2.8 percent for Latino students, and 1.8 percent for White students.

Twice the percentage of Asian and White students, three times the percentage of Latino students and more than four times the percentage of Black students graduate from the New York City schools as are reading at grade level in eighth grade.

For Philadelphia, we found the following for NAEP Grade 8 Reading percentages at or above grade level: Forty-four percent for Asians; nine percent for Black students; 11 percent for Latino students; and 26 percent for Whites. And this for high school graduation rates:  Eighty percent for Asians; 65 percent for Black students; 53 percent for Latinos students; and 71 percent for Whites. Dividing these high school graduation rates by the NAEP reading percentages, we find these ratios: Two-point-eight for Asians; 6.9 for Black students; 4.6 for Latinos; and 2.8 for whites.

Nearly three times the percentage of Asian and White students, almost five times the percentage of Latino students and nearly seven times the percentage of Black students graduate from the Philadelphia schools as are reading at grade level in eighth grade.

For Chicago, we found the following for the three racial/ethnic groups for which we have NAEP Grade 8 Reading percentages at or above grade level:  Thirteen percent for Black students; 24 percent for Latino students; and 62 percent for White students. And these for high school graduation rates:  Seventy-one percent for Black students; 80 percent for Latino students; and 87 percent for White students. Dividing the high school graduation rates by the NAEP reading percentages, we get these ratios: Five-point-three for Black students; 3.3 for Latino students; and 1.4 for White students.

Nearly half again the percentage of White students, more than three times the percentage of Latino students and more than five times the percentage of Black students graduate from the Chicago schools as are reading at grade level in grade 8.

On average, then, these three districts graduate about twice the percentage of Asian and White students than are reading at grade level in middle school, while they graduate three-and-a-half times that of Latino students and five and-a-half that of Black students.

What happens to these recipients of high school diplomas from the Chicago, New York and Philadelphia schools?  Do those diplomas mean that they were educated by their schools so as to be career and college-ready?

Nationally, according to the most recent data from the National Center for Education Statistics, 83 percent of recent Asian high school completers enrolled in a two or four year post-secondary institution, as did 71 percent of White, 69 percent of Latino and 56 percent of Black recent high school graduates. Given the NAEP data on reading proficiency, there is a reasonable assumption that most graduates from the Chicago, New York and Philadelphia systems, and, in particular, their Black and Latino students, initially enroll in community colleges. Again, according to the most recent NCES report, 34 percent of Asian, 29 percent of White, 30 percent of Latino and 20 percent of Black students graduated within 150 percent of normal time in two-year postsecondary institutions.

Or, in other words, 80 percent of Black, 70 percent of Latino and White and 66 percent of Asian students who attempted an Associates degree were not prepared to succeed.  This accords with reports that in New York City, 80 percent of community college students require reading and math remediation.

There is another way of putting this.  In Chicago, New York and Philadelphia—and likely in other large cities—the vast majority of Black and Latino are either not graduating or are being handed diplomas that mean little.  Those that receive diplomas graduate without necessary basic skills.  Of the half to two-thirds who receive diplomas, another half or two-thirds—a quarter or a third of those who began high school—enroll in college.  Of those, one-fifth to one-third graduate in the time expected, that is, 5 percent to 11 percent of the entering high school classes.

These college numbers are from national statistics.  It is probably worse than that for Black and Latino students in Chicago, New York and Philadelphia, as well as for peers in Cleveland, Detroit and Memphis.

The first step toward improving this situation is for districts to be honest about their data, in this case, honest when giving out diplomas. The following steps are well-known: providing resources for lower income and especially Black and Latino students at least as generously as they are provided by their schools and families for students from higher income families.  If these things are not done, one can only conclude that those who could do them do not wish to do so.

Down that path is a society divided between a steadily shrinking, and aging, wealthy America and an increasing, and increasingly impoverished, other America: Black, Brown and, yes, White as well.