Just when you thought that the latest controversy involving Success Academy was about to die down, it fans even more flames with its latest effort to blame the media. But in the process of arguing the New York Times fails to cover incidents of teachers engaging in educational and physical abuse of children in their care, the charter school operator (along with today’s report in the Times on how Success addressed the incident) once again reminds us of how it has failed to adequately address the abuses of Charlotte Dial, the teacher whose actions were revealed by the paper two weeks ago.
Since the revelation by the Times of Dial snatching and ripping the class work of the then-six year old daughter of Nadya Miranda for not answering a question to her satisfaction, then ranting that “there’s nothing that infuriates me more than when you don’t do what’s on your paper”, Success and its founder, Eva Moskowitz, have worked overtime with its allies among school reformers to argue that the newspaper has some kind of vendetta against it. On Tuesday, Success upped the ante by issuing an 11-page letter to the paper’s editor in charge of Big Apple education news coverage, Amy Virshup, complaining that the Times has focused undue attention on the operator while ignoring criminal and educational abuse of children by teachers working within New York City’s traditional district.
In the letter, Moskowitz argues that the Timeshas done little more than provide “feel-good” stories on district schools while ignoring incidents such as the arrest of Mark Valentinetti, a teacher who worked at P.S. 83 in the Bronx, for slapping of his students, as well as the return of teacher Richard Parlini to the classrooms of another district school in spite of being previously removed for spanking his students. Declares Moskowitz: “the so-called “paper of record” has to date devoted none of its considerable resources to cover these stories, let alone investigate this systemic pattern of abuses.”
Let’s give Moskowitz and her public relations staff some credit: It didn’t violate the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, as her previous effort last year against PBS NewsHour. Just as importantly, the letter is another reminder of the need to overhaul teacher dismissal rules and end near-lifetime employment laws that protect laggard and criminally-abusive teachers. Oddly enough, this is an issue on which the Times, along with the Daily News and the New York Post, has covered for the past few years. There are far too many criminally-abusive teachers like those cited in the letter working in classrooms and they shouldn’t be there. [If Success Academy was setting a good example on its own, its commentary on educational malpractice would come off as anything but hypocritical.]
Yet Moskowitz hasn’t proven her argument that the Times is somehow biased against the schools Success operates. For one, the paper has shed plenty of light on educational abuses throughout the district. One simple search on the paper’s own Web site reveals stories on the city’s test-cheating scandal, which has led to the firing of now-former John Dewey High School Principal Kathleen Elvin as well as the suicide of another principal, Jeanene Worrell-Breeden, who ran Teachers College Community School. The Times also covered the arrest of a school leader, John DiFiore, on charges of criminally-abusing a 14-year-old student in his care. The Times also took aim at the district’s continuing failure to do well by children trapped in its special education ghettos, as well as its failure to disclose a third of violent incidents that happened in its school buildings.
Then there’s the Times‘s two year-long coverage of the crimes of Sean Shaynak, a former teacher at the prestigious Brooklyn Tech, who pled guilty in December to abducting and showing nude photos of himself to one of the students in his care. In 2014 alone, the Old Gray Lady wrote two extensive profiles on how Shaynak managed to get hired by the district spite of a record that included having been charged (though not convicted) of beating up the son of one of his neighbors. [Both profiles, by the way, were cowritten by Kate Taylor, the reporter who is the source of Moskowitz’s ire.]
Moskowitz cites none of these stories in her letter decrying the Times‘ coverage. In fact, she seems to go out of her way not to do so. Apparently the school operator complaining about fairness doesn’t believe in extending such courtesy itself. Lucky for Success that it is a school operator, not a media outlet that subjects itself to the traditional rules of objective journalism.
One can argue that the Times could spend more time covering every incident of abuse by teachers. I wouldn’t disagree one bit. But media outlets, as entities that have deal with limited space (and even smaller budgets), have to make choices on coverage. Let’s also keep in mind that the Times is also covering other issues that also affect children beyond classroom walls. This includes reports on abuse and killing of inmates at Riker’s Island and Clinton Correctional, two major prisons that house many parents of children who attend traditional district and public charter schools. Again, Moskowitz’s argument about the Times‘ coverage has no merit.
But while Moskowitz cites examples of educational and criminal abuse of children by teachers in traditional districts, she downplays Dial’s own abuse as well as the school operator’s refusal to deal with it properly by kicking her out of its classrooms. As far as Moskowitz is concerned, firing Dial would have been nothing more than the pursuit of “better PR” at the expense of what Success considers to be a model teacher “dedicated to teaching and improving”.
But in simply suspending Dial and returning her to the classroom, Moskowitz has done little more than tolerate the kind of educational malpractice that happens far too often in traditional districts. In fact, one can argue it is even worse because Success isn’t governed by collective bargaining agreements or by state laws governing tenure and dismissal, and therefore, can more-easily rid its schools of laggard and abusive teachers. Moskowitz has actually behaved worse in this situation than your average district superintendent.
What Success has done instead is engage in a crisis management strategy geared toward protecting Dial and its own practices from scrutiny. This becomes clear from the Times‘ latest story on the teacher’s malpractice, which features an interview with Nadya Miranda, the mother of the harmed girl. As the Times reports, after Success finally showed the video to Miranda, she was asked by Success staffers to sign on to an e-mail it drafted telling the paper that she didn’t want the video released to the public. When Miranda confronted Moskowitz during a meeting about the video a week later, Miranda said the school leader told her curtly that “you had enough to say”. Miranda, along with several other parents, walked out of the meeting, then pulled her daughter from the school. The fact that Miranda and her children are homeless, and thus, struggling with other issues, makes Dial’s malpractice even more unacceptable.
Anyone who has paid attention to Success’ crisis management tactics over the past few months shouldn’t be surprised — nor should anyone else. Through actions such as Moskowitz’s unauthorized release of school discipline data on the son of Faida Geidi, Success has proven more interested in defending the outfit than in doing right by the children and families it serves. That its board members, including CNN anchor-turned-reform advocate Campbell Brown have used their own media outlets to defend Success from criticism makes clear that the organization will not address its issues even when a media outlet shines light on them.
These issues are deeply-ingrained. As former Success teachers and school leaders such as Jessica Reid Sliwerski have noted in the Times first story on Dial’s misdeed, the practice of ripping papers and embarrassing children for their learning struggles has been common practice within the operator for some time, and has been taught in professional development courses it has held. Moskowitz, in particular, is unwilling to consider that Dial’s “model” is damaging children in the operator’s care, an issue pointed out by Miranda in her interview. Add in Success’ long-documented overuse of out-of-school suspensions and other forms of harsh school discipline, and it becomes clear that the operator approaches teaching poor and minority children from a Poverty Myth thinking similar to that of far too many traditionalists.
Firing Dial would have been a tacit admission by Success that all isn’t well within it. Such humility isn’t possible, either for the institution, its founder, and its allies. For traditionalists looking to halt the expansion of school choice in both New York City and the rest of the nation, Success’ unwillingness to address the damage its educational malpractice does to futures of children gives them the ammunition they need to continue their own.
As you would expect, Tuesday’s commentary on Success Academy’s pattern of educational abuse garnered plenty of reaction from reformers and traditionalists alike. Even more discussion continued about the New York Times‘ revelation that the charter school operator’s “model teacher”, Charlotte Dial, berated and embarrassed a first-grader for failing to answer a math question to her liking, an approach that the outfit encourages through its professional development and daily practices.
But Success and its founder, Eva Moskowitz, can always count on more than a few allies within the school reform movement to defend it. Over the past couple of days, some reformers have offered up more excuses than any sensible person would want to hear. And in the process, Success Academy’s defenders have done a disservice, both to the school reform movement’s mission of building brighter futures for children and to the communities we are supposed to serve.
You already know one of the lines of defense that defenders of Success Academy usually trot out: That any critique of its practices by reformers concerned about them is de facto opposition to school choice. Michael Petrilli of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, in his attempt to be clever, tried this line of argument early on. Your editor has already detailed why this argument is pure hogwash; this includes the reality that families may be choosing Success not because it wants its model of educational practice, but because New York City has restricted the expansion of high-quality alternatives from which they can choose.
There’s also the fact that Success supporters are conflating criticism of charter school operators and other institutions with support or opposition to advancing the power of families to choose high-quality education. This is just as intellectually dishonest as traditionalists conflating criticism of the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers with esteem for teachers. Just as importantly, while there are traditionalists taking aim at Success’ practices are aiming to oppose expansion of choice, taking aims at motivations of critics doesn’t address the lengthy evidence of Success’ failures in educational practice.
But never think that those willing to defend the indefensible will settle on one line of argument. The latest attempt to defend Success’ practices seems ripped from the words of your average 10-year-old after being caught misbehaving in class: Traditional districts engage in educational abuse, too. According to this line of argument, traditionalists (and by association, reformers) calling out Success for overusing suspensions, allegedly engaging in pushing children out of its schools, or keeping educationally-abusive teachers on payrolls are engaging in utter hypocrisy if they also don’t call out traditional districts for the long and sorry record of similar misbehavior. Otherwise Success should be left alone and the video of Dial’s misdeed ignored (or else someone conclude that it may be more-representative of what happens in its schools that photos of smiling faces for public relations purposes).
Certainly those who offer this excuse have a point: Many traditionalists have long-failed to acknowledge the academic and even physical abuse that has gone on within more than a few traditional districts. In fact, many of these folks, including those running the National Educational Association and the American Federation of Teachers, have done all they can to oppose reforms of teacher dismissal policies that keep academically- and criminally-abusive teachers in classrooms.
But there are many problems with this argument. For one, it ignores the fact that there have been more than a few traditionalists who have stood against such abuses. Particularly on the school discipline front, traditionalists such as the AFT’s Chicago Teachers Union have been more-active in pushing against the overuse of suspensions and expulsions than many within the school reform movement itself. This is a point made by former Newark Supt. Cami Anderson earlier this month at Teach For America’s annual summit. All in all, Success Academy defenders pushing this argument come off as being selective in their outrage.
If anything, by implicitly comparing their own failure to argue strongly against both Success’ school discipline practices and its failure to fire Dial, reformers defending Moskowitz are essentially admitting that they are no better than traditionalists who conveniently ignore these acts of educational abuse. Which is true. As Dropout Nation has documented ad nauseam, many in the movement either seem comfortable with overuse of harsh school discipline so long as it is done by the operators they favor, or are cowardly silent in the face of the facts.
Meanwhile reformers defending Success are taking another tact: Blame the media. From where they sit, the New York Times‘ coverage of the operator’s spate of problems –including its revelation of the Dial video — is biased because the newspaper supposedly doesn’t cover the educational and even criminal abuse that happens within the Big Apple’s traditional district and other school operators.
One problem with this argument: A simple Google search proves it to be untrue. This includes a story three years ago detailing how 16 teachers in New York City kept their jobs despite evidence of engaging in sexual misconduct against children in their care; allegations of sexual misconduct by Nicole DuFault, who worked in the Maplewood district in nearby New Jersey; and the crimes of now-convicted former Brooklyn Tech instructor Sean Shaynak. As with any newspaper, the Times is going to dig deep into a hot story featuring an institution or leader of significant presence, influence, and controversy. For the Times to ignore Success Academy, one of the foremost and most-controversial players in American public education, would be tantamount to journalistic malpractice.
At the same time, in complaining about the Times‘ coverage, Success defenders have failed to appreciate that the newspaper isn’t in the business of providing coverage they find favorable. After all, the Times is supposed to be both a news outlet that practices traditional objective journalism and an institution charged by the First Amendment and journalistic tradition to shed light and aid the afflicted. This includes families of children who have not been well-served by Success Academy’s schools and its staffers. If anything, as evidenced by how Moskowitz and her team handled the revelation of Dial’s malpractice, the Times proved to be as necessary as ever. The teacher’s aide who provided the video likely did so because she knew all too well that Success would do nothing right by the child in Dial’s care.
Instead of criticizing the Times for doing its job, reformers defending Moskowitz and Success should engage in some self-examination. Why do they defend overuse of harsh school discipline that has been overwhelmingly proven by data and evidence to do little to improve (and actually damages) student achievement and school cultures? Why are they defending a school operator against whom there has been a lengthy record of documented educational malpractice — including former teachers and school leaders pointing to teaching approaches that damage the self-worth of children in its care? Why are they so insistent on being unwilling to strongly criticize the actions of an institution even as they advance the much-needed expansion of high-quality school choice? Why do they seem willing to forget the goal of nurturing the genius and potential of our children, especially those black and brown who are harmed the most by these practices, that is at the heart of the movement’s mission? And how can the movement sustain systemic reform when it alienates the very families from which they need vital political support?
By continuing to defend Success Academy’s practices, these reformers are demonstrating to families black and brown that they cannot be trusted with building brighter futures for children. Even worse, their concerns for defending an institution over the life of the child at the heart of Success’ latest controversy serves as propaganda material for the very traditionalists they rightfully call out for their justifications of the indefensible. No matter how you look at it, this is not a good moment for reformers defending Success Academy’s practices. Not at all.
There is a difference between an anomaly — or a rare event or incident within a system or institution that will almost never happen again — and what is normal or tends to be the established practice within that very organization. Based on the responses to the latest revelation about the practices of Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy chain of charter schools, this is something that the school reform movement must learn, especially if it is to remain a moral movement that builds brighter futures for all children.
As some of you already know, the charter school operator once again went on the defensive last week after the New York Times released a video showing Charlotte Dial berating one of her first-grade students for failing to properly show how she answered a math problem. After the six-year-old, confused by the question, began to count, Dial snatched a paper the young girl had did the work on, ripped in half, then screamed at the girl and told her to go to a chair and sit. Dial then ranted that “there’s nothing that infuriates me more than when you don’t do what’s on your paper.”
Was there anything that the young girl did that merited Dial’s response? Not according to the video. She didn’t misbehave. In fact, she said nothing. As Dial screamed at her and engaged in her own tolerated brand of misbehavior, the child meekly walked over to the chair and sat. Put simply, Dial’s behavior was educational malpractice, abusive, intolerable, and just plain unacceptable.
But as bad as Dial’s behavior was, Success’ response was even worse. After New York Times reporter Kate Taylor, who obtained the video from a former teacher’s aide, brought it to the attention of the operator, it didn’t dismiss her or even put her on a long-term suspension. Instead, Success Academy took her off the job for a week, then put her back into the classroom. After the Times ran the story this past Thursday, Moskowitz and her crisis management flunkies hastily put together a press conference in which they accused Taylor and the newspaper of teacher-bashing. [Success also put together a hashtag on Twitter, #StopBashingTeachers, that was quickly hijacked by traditionalists who have long considered Success a bete noire.]
As far as Moskowitz was concerned, Dial’s misbehavior was just another “anomaly” that didn’t represent how Success conducts its business. If anything, as far as Moskowitz was concerned, Dial was still a “model teacher” deserving of being considered an example of high-quality instruction for her colleagues. Save for a few reformers, most-notably Valentina Korkes of the otherwise reliably pro-Moskowitz Education Post, most reformers lined up behind Moskowitz’ party line. This included former CNN anchor-turned-reform advocate Campbell Brown, who sits on Success Academy’s board and runs reform-oriented media outlet 74. Despite the piece quoting one parent supportive of Dial and Success Academy, Brown accused Taylor and the Times of failing to balance the piece with even more quotes from supporters. [The Times editor overseeing Taylor’s coverage, Amy Virshup, took apart Brown’s logic.]
One would believe that Dial’s misbehavior was an anomaly — until you review the long and well-reported record of Success Academy’s bad practices.
As Jessica Reid Sliwerski, a former teacher and school leader-turned-education technologist, confirmed to the Times, ripping up student papers and embarrassing them has always been a common practice within the operator’s schools. Sliwerski should know. After all, she was one of Success’ golden children. Her work as a teacher and school leader at one of Success’ Harlem schools was profiled four years ago by Steve Brill in Class Struggle, his considerable tome on the battles over transforming American public education, as well as a companion piece in the Wall Street Journal. Sliwerski notes that ripping student papers was taught to teachers by the professional development Success runs with Touro College, while making children cry was considered within a key to having them learn. [Your editor moderated a panel featuring Sliwerski last year at SXSWEdu.]
Another sign that Dial’s action was no anomaly lies in the Times revelation last November that Success’ school in the Fort Greene section of New York City’s Brooklyn had kept a list of 16 kids who it deemed had “got to go”. Those students, by the way, were suspended multiple times by the school over the year. Nine of those children ultimately left the school. [Since the Times revelations, several families have filed suit against Success over the effort to push their children.] As she did last week amid the revelation of Dial’s misdeed, Moskowitz claimed that the “got to go” list was just an “anomaly”, even as the chain kept the principal who oversaw the effort, Candido Brown, on the job, albeit in a teaching role.
But as the families of 13 children who attended Success’ schools have detailed in a complaint filed last month with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, efforts to push out children weren’t limited to the operator’s Fort Greene locale. The parent of A, for example, noted that the principal of Success’ Harlem 4 “urged her” to pull her now-12-year-old son out of the school. Another parent, whose six-year-old attended the Harlem 3 school, was asked numerous times to withdraw the kid from the school (and wasn’t even given a re-enrollment notice). And as documented four years ago by now-former New York Times columnist Michael Winerip, Success seems to thrive on pushing out struggling and supposedly troublesome children.
Then there is Success Academy’s long-documented overuse of out-of-school suspensions and other forms of harsh school discipline. A year ago, the New York City branch of education news chain Chalkbeat reported that Moskowitz’s charters suspended 17 percent of its students in 2011-2012, the sixth-highest among the 12 charter operators surveyed in the outlet’s analysis of data supplied to the Big Apple’s traditional district; the 27 percent suspension rate for the outfit’s Harlem 1 school is higher than all but 13 charters surveyed. As former PBS NewsHour correspondent John Merrow noted in his controversial report on the operator last October, one Success Academy school (with 203 children enrolled) meted out 44 suspensions to just 11 kindergartners and first-graders; essentially each child was suspended at least four times during the school year.
Particularly damning is the case of a kindergartner at Success’ Crown Heights school who had issues using the bathroom. Her family is among the 13 who filed last month’s civil rights complaint against the operator. Because of her issues and Success’ unwillingness to provide the child with an aide as required under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the young girls was often marked as being a discipline case for not following school rules. That it would be hard to follow school rules when you have a disability didn’t seem to occur to Success’ teachers and school leaders.
As saddening as these incidents are, they aren’t shocking. Why? Because Success has long-embraced overusing harsh discipline as a component of instruction and building its school culture. The operator’s own school discipline code gives teachers and school leaders wide leeway to suspend and expel children. Even worse, it is so arbitrary that a child can be suspended for any reason. This includes failing to sit in the “Ready to Succeed” position, “Being off-task”, or forgetting to bring a pencil to school. Despite the overwhelming evidence that overuse of harsh school discipline does little to improve student achievement, Moskowitz, with help of allies within the school reform movement such as Michael Petrilli and Robert Pondiscio of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, has strongly defended these practices and implicitly argue that Success cannot improve student achievement without them.
The most-damning evidence that Dial’s misbehavior is no anomaly became clear last October when Moskowitz released the school discipline record of one of the operators former students, the son of Fatima Geidi, a parent interviewed by Merrow for his report on Success, as part of the operator’s crisis management campaign against the piece. By doing this, Moskowitz likely violate the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, the federal law that governs the privacy of student records, which bars Success from releasing discipline records without the permission of families. Even worse, by citing the discipline record of Geidi’s son, Moskowitz betrayed the school reform movement’s mission of nurturing and protecting the lives and futures of children. She used the life of a child who may be in need of real help as ammunition against a negative media report.
But again, this is nothing new. Over the past five months, Moskowitz has shown that she will always choose to preserve the institution she founded over being a champion for children and their families. In that time, she has shown that she is more-willing to protect the teachers and school leaders that work for Success than be defenders of the young lives who sit in its classrooms. And over and over again, like a traditionalist superintendent in a failing district, Moskowitz has demonstrated that she will explain away any incident as an “anomaly” instead of acknowledging that there may be some deep-seated issues within the institution and its model of educational practice.
At a certain point, either Moskowitz or Success Academy’s star-studded board, must acknowledge that when the institution has several incidents of educational malpractice, they are no longer anomalies. They represent the norm for the institution itself. Success Academy no longer merits a defense, especially from school reformers who, like Born-Again Christians, know better and should no longer tolerate its malpractice.
Featured photo courtesy of Chalkbeat New York.
On this episode of On the Road, RiShawn Biddle joins Black Lives Matter activist DeRay McKesson, Parent Power activist Milagros Barsallo of RISE Colorado, Zeke Berzoff-Cohen of Baltimore student activist group Intersection, and Jonathan Mansoori of Leadership for Educational Equity in a discussion at Teach for America’s 25th annual summit on how reformers can use movement organizing to transform the schools and communities in which our children live.
Listen to the Podcast at RiShawn Biddle Radio or download directly to your mobile or desktop device. Also, subscribe to the On the Road podcast series and the overall Dropout Nation Podcast series. You can also embed this podcast on your site. It is also available on iTunes, Blubrry, Stitcher, and PodBean.
The question mark is important. Genocide is a loaded term and the act of genocide can take many forms: the slow genocide of American Indians accomplished by thousands of local actions as well as by state power and disease; the comparatively recent genocide in Rwanda inflicted by neighbors with machetes; the classic genocide of the Shoah or Holocaust. The mass killings of young Black men in Chicago, largely accomplished by gunfire from other young Black men, would at first appear to be simply a matter for the criminal justice system of the state. On closer examination it can be seen as a matter of criminal activity by the state.
There were 480 homicides out of 2,986 recorded shooting victims in Chicago in 2015, as counted by the Chicago Tribune. Nearly all these victims were young men; the overwhelming majority were between the ages of 18 and 30. They shoot one another in the streets of the city, usually in the afternoon. Very few shooting victims are females, relatively few are men over 50. Fewer still are White.
The neighborhood ranking first among Chicago’s 77 community areas for violent crimes in 2015 was West Garfield Park. West Garfield Park has a per capita income of $10,951, much less than half of the city average of $27,148. Forty percent of the neighborhood’s households have incomes below the poverty level, more than double the city average. The rate of arrests for prostitution, another poverty indicator, is among the highest in the city. A quarter of the working age population is unemployed, 26 percent have no high school diploma. West Garfield Park is 96 percent Black.
If, for the sake of argument, we attribute each recorded violent crime in West Garfield Park to a different male between the ages of 18 and 64, we can estimate that about 14 percent of that group committed a violent crime in 2015. Of course, some of them committed more than one violent crime, and, on the other hand, few over the age of 45 did so. Fourteen percent will do as an indicator of the prevalence of young men committing violent crimes in West Garfield Park.
North Lawndale, the runner up in the rate of violent crime in Chicago, has similar socio-economic statistics. On the other hand, the neighborhoods with the lowest rates of violent crime have the opposite socio-economic data: per capita incomes many times the city average, poverty levels far below the city average, virtually no unemployment, no arrests for prostitution, few adults lacking high school diplomas and, generally, majority White, non-Hispanic, populations. (Just four percent of Lincoln Park adults, for example, lack a high school diploma, hardly any live in crowded housing, per capita income is between two and three times the city average and more than six times the average of West Garfield Park.)
Why do young Black men in West Garfield Park and similar Chicago neighborhoods shoot one another?
A recent Centers for Disease Control study found that two-thirds of those committing a firearm crime had themselves been victims of violence requiring an emergency room visit. For such young men, who were also unemployed and who, when in school, had qualified for the National Lunch Program, had a record of school discipline actions and had failed to graduate from high school, the percentage committing a firearm crime rose to 90 percent. Those study results, although useful, are merely descriptive. They do not tell us why young Black men are becoming the instruments of their own genocide. For this we can turn, for example, to the classic study, The Cost of Inequality by Judith and Peter Blau, who found that inequalities promote criminal violence.
Chicago has among the highest rates of income and wealth inequality in America. White median household income is twice that of Black median household income. Nearly half, 45 percent, of Black residents of the city have incomes below the poverty level; just 13 percent of the White residents live in poverty. Two-thirds of Black families in Chicago have incomes so low that their children qualify for the National Lunch Program. There is little economic mobility in Chicago neighborhoods like West Garfield Park. Few Black children in Chicago, among those who live to adulthood, grow up to have incomes equal to that of their parents and most will have lower incomes than those of their parents. In addition, 93 percent of Chicago’s Black households have no net wealth, apart from equity in their own homes: they could not pay an unexpected medical bill—or bail—of a few hundred dollars without borrowing.
This leads to the question: Why are race-based inequalities so stark in Chicago and similar American cities? What are the causes of the vast racial inequities in the city? One is easily identified: The operations of the schools.
The National Assessment of Educational Progress reports concerning the crucial eighth grade level of basic skills achievement show that while the district’s schools have brought half (52 percent) of its male White, non-Hispanic, students to grade-level Proficiency in reading, they have only done so with eight percent of their male Black students. Nearly half of Chicago’s male Black students (3,700) do not graduate from high school. As in many other districts, the reforms of the last decade that improved literacy in the early grades haven’t been helpful in making kids college- and career-ready by high school.
A recent U.S. Department of Education study has found that even if they are given a high school diploma by their school, students who could not read at grade level in eighth grade cannot expect to succeed in college. Of the approximately 3,900 male Black high school graduates, therefore, only three or four hundred can be expected to go on to middle class careers. In other words, from the point of view of the male descendants of enslaved Africans, the Chicago school district fails in a key part of its mission 90 percent of the time.
If an institution fails more often than not to achieve its professed mission, it is reasonable to conclude that its actual mission is to achieve that result.
Compounding this failure, the Chicago school district added another risk factor by suspending or expelling approximately 13,000 male Black students in 2011-2012, the most recent date for which nationally certified statistics are available.
There were 2,986 recorded shooting victims in Chicago in 2015, nearly all of whom were Black males. 3,700 male Black students did not graduate from high school. 13,000 male Black students were suspended or expelled. These are the groups who, according to the CDC, are most likely to become themselves perpetrators of fire-arm crimes. And the shooters, themselves, are of course also victims.
The Chicago public schools do not educate male Black students for success in life. They prepare them for lives of violence. Generally, those lives are short.
What can be done to improve those Chicago schools “serving” Black children so that they learn to read and do math, graduate on-time and college and career ready?
The reform package is well-known: It starts with high quality early childhood education from age two and includes overhauling how we recruit and train teachers along with providing high-quality educational opportunities. Just within the district itself, this could mean a doubling of the instructional budget for schools in neighborhoods like West Garfield Park. Given that nearly half the funding available to the district presently might be said to have been wasted in the process of not educating Black children, a targeted doubling of support for the education of Chicago’s most vulnerable children might even be considered cost effective.
Beyond that, as more male Black students learn to read, are not chronically truant, are not suspended and expelled, do graduate from high school prepared for college and careers, fewer will go out into the streets in the late afternoon and shoot other young Black men. And how much would that be worth?
It goes without saying that education and economics go hand in hand. For most parents, regardless of race or class, part of the American Dream is for our children to attend safe, family friendly, high-quality schools with great principals, teachers and support staff. As parents, we imagine that special day when our children graduate high school, attend a traditional college or trade school, and then obtain livable wage employment, hopefully with family friendly benefits.
The harsh reality, however, is that many parents, especially from Black and poor communities, must send their children to public schools that do not meet their academic and life needs. In addition, parents are learning that the many teachers who work tirelessly to put the needs of children first, don’t have much power within their own unions to effectively support students. Why? Because I learned, through the suit of Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, that many teachers are beholden to a narrow electorate of union politicians that shape education policy to favor the political agendas of union leadership, rather than the students in greatest need. All of this, at the expense of the taxpayer, regardless of results.
So, what do parents need to know about Friedrichs Plenty. This morning, the U.S. Supreme Court heard a case brought by Mrs. Rebecca Friedrichs and nine other California teachers who are not members of the teacher’s union, but are required to pay agency fees to the union, say that they do not benefit from the collective bargaining agreement and that collective bargaining is political because it includes workplace rules and requirements that prevent laws from being passed that would improve under-performing and under-served schools.
Friedrichs and many of her fellow teachers share the dreams we parents have for our children. This includes safe, high-quality schools that equitably educate all children, regardless of their zip-code and they encourage their colleagues to deliver the best possible teaching to all children, regardless of their family backgrounds. The reality is that families of color like mine are not alone in our fight for fair and just education.
For me, the suit brought by Friedrichs and her nine other colleagues brings awareness of the consequences of forced compulsory dues laws. While compulsory laws may have had good intentions decades ago, laws that force parents and teachers to do what is against their interests and those of children are wrong. It is unconstitutional, unethical, and wrong to force parents to send their kids to unsafe and low performing schools. It is unconstitutional, unethical, and wrong to force teachers to pay for other people’s political campaigns and agendas. Neither parents nor teachers should be forced to do what is morally wrong.
How can it be legal to force someone, in this case a teacher, to pay for an organization’s political agenda? How can forced compulsory dues laws be consistent with the First Amendment guarantees of free speech? Do the Constitutional rights of the individual matter? For both teachers and families, our ability to choose, either to support or not support political action, or to choose schools for our kids, is a Constitutional matter upon which no one should encroach.
But Friedrichs isn’t just about choice. It is also about justice, especially for our children. As parents, we are tirelessly fighting for equitable changes that would improve schools in disenfranchised and marginalized communities are prevented by union collective bargaining agreements. Each day, National Education Association, American Federation of Teachers, and their affiliates use dollars forced out of the pockets of teachers to advance policies, laws, and collective bargaining agreements that stand against justice for our children and even against the interests of teachers they proclaim to represent.
If NEA and AFT were no longer able to force every teacher—even teachers who disagree with those policies—to fund their advocacy, we would have a better chance at adopting reforms that are fair to effective teachers and meet the needs of students. We could get rid of the policies and practices advanced by National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers affiliates that prevent justice for students most in need of meaningful review of teacher performance, demand assignment and retention of teachers based on seniority rather than effectiveness and need, and insist that teachers be compensated without regard to what, where, or how well they teach. We could instead fight for policies that bring justice to our children.
As a Black parent, living in the age of Sandra Bland, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray and the many unarmed Black people that needlessly lost their lives in 2015, what I want and need more than anything is for the Constitution to matter for all citizens. Children and families need our government to enforce the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which guarantees the equal protection of the laws and due process for all.
So you can imagine that I empathize with Friedrichs and her colleagues. She is compelled to send her dues to an education bureaucracy with which she did not agree, the same way parents like me are compelled by law to send our own children to schools that we do not trust. Her compulsory dues, like my children’s compulsory attendance, are part of a system designed to protect the economic interests of a white professional class at the expense of the freedom and equality for black, Hispanic, and Native American students.
Parents want the freedom to demand high quality educational opportunities for our children, and teachers like Friedrichs agree with us. But she is forced by these laws to fund anti-parent choice, anti-accountability lobbying that is fundamentally unjust. And this is wrong.
The research is clear: a quality education is the foundation needed to help ensure families and communities obtain careers that will lead to fulfilling, equitable lives. Parents like me are grateful for teachers like Friedrichs. Their fight is not only constitutionally just, it is also necessary for our public education bureaucracy to work the way it should, on behalf of children.