In the wake of yesterday’s Dropout Nation commentary, there has been plenty of reformers stepping up to call out President Donald Trump’s defense of White Supremacists committing terrorism last weekend in Charlottesville. Even better, they have stepped up and called on those who have aided and abetted the administration to resign or disassociate themselves from the regime.
This includes former Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman, who took to Twitter today to call on U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to step down from the administration. Marc Porter Magee and the leadership of 50CAN also stepped up with an open letter disavowing the president’s demagoguery.
Meanwhile Eva Moskowitz, the founder of Success Academy, finally and belatedly announced in a letter to supporters and others that she was distancing herself from the administration. As typical for Moskowitz, she decided to cast blame on critics of her courting of the administration, complaining that political polarization has somehow led folks to think of “my silence as tacit support of President Trump’s policies”. But at least Moskowitz finally took the time to do the right thing.
Of course, there are still reformers who refuse to say anything. American Enterprise Institute education czar Frederick (Rick) Hess has remained silent so far, while Jeanne Allen of the Center for Education Reform is too busy touting her latest Wall Street Journal op-ed castigating American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten’s race-baiting to address the Demagogue in Chief’s even more-rancid and bigoted remarks. DeVos just broke radio silence this afternoon with a memo to her staff that condemns bigotry, but doesn’t call out her boss for his sophistry. The good news is that more reformers are recognizing that they cannot remain silent in the face of an ever-present danger to the futures of our children.
But as your editor noted yesterday, school reformers (especially those who have aided and abetted the Trump Administration) have to do more than just condemn the president’s latest demagoguery and end any meaningful association with his regime. This is because the racialism that the current occupant of the White House has stirred up has existed long before he ran for office — and is embedded in many ways in American public education itself.
The legacies of the nation’s Original Sin can be seen today in data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress. There’s the fact that a mere 16 percent of Black eighth-graders in 2014-2015 read at Proficient and Advanced levels (or at grade level) — and that the remaining 84 percent are either functionally illiterate or barely able to read. As Contributing Editor Michael Holzman has detailed in his latest series of analyses, American public education perpetuates a caste system in which poor and minority children are condemned to poverty and prison. [Holzman’s piece on Virginia itself will debut on these pages tomorrow morning.]
The outcomes are in many ways a deliberate result of how our public education systems are designed and operated.
This includes the rationing of high-quality education, often done by districts and their school leaders in order to win political support from White middle class families at the expense of poor and minority households. This has often been the case with magnet schools and is now happening with language immersion programs originally geared toward helping Latino and other children from immigrant households improve their English fluency. The fact that just 23 percent of Black seventh- and eighth-graders in seven states took Algebra 1 (as of 2011-2012) is one example of how poor and minority kids lose out on college-preparatory education they deserve.
[The politics of rationing education is a reason why districts and other traditionalists also oppose the expansion of public charter schools and other forms of school choice that are helping Black and Latino children attain high quality education; charters fall outside of the control of districts and therefore, open the doors of opportunity for those historically denied great teachers and college-preparatory curricula.]
But as Dropout Nation readers also know, Black and Latino children are also denied high-quality education because there are many within American public education who think lowly of them. Reformers and others have documented this problem for some time. As Seth Gershenson, Stephen B. Holt and Nicholas Papageorge detailed last year in a study of teacher expectations, 40 percent of White teachers don’t expect Black children in their classrooms to graduate from high school. This is a problem given that White women and men account for 82 percent of teachers in the nation’s classrooms.
Another problem lies with how public education mismanages the recruitment, training, management, and compensation of the nation’s teachers. Not only do the nation’s university schools of education fail miserably to recruit teachers who care about kids regardless of background, they also fail to train them properly for success in teaching children, a fact the National Council on Teacher Quality demonstrates in its reviews of teacher training programs. Add in certification rules that keep mid-career professionals with strong math and science skills out of teaching, near-lifetime employment policies and discipline processes that keep laggard and criminally-abusive teachers in the profession, and practices that all but ensure that low-quality teachers are teaching the poorest children, and shoddy teacher training perpetuates the nation’s educational caste system.
Meanwhile American public education fuels the nation’s school-to-prison pipeline that traps Black, as well as other minority and immigrant children, onto paths of despair. This includes overusing out-of-school suspensions and other forms of harsh school discipline. Three decades of evidence has long ago proven that Black and other minority children are more-likely to be harshly disciplined for behaviors that would otherwise be dealt with differently if they were White. Black children, in particular, are less likely to be viewed as children as their White peers. Penn State University professor, David Ramey, detailed in a study two years ago that black children are more-likely than white peers to be suspended, expelled, and even sent to jail for the same acts of misbehavior; white children, on the other hand, are more-likely to be referred to psychologists and other medical professionals.
When you consider all the ways in which American public education harms the lives of children black and brown as well as denies them brighter futures, it is critical that reformers put as much energy into transforming the systems as some are doing in taking down Confederate statues in public parks. This is because those systems, resulting from the same racialism that led to the construction of those odes to bigotry, do even more damage across generations.
Expanding school choice and high-quality options within districts is part of the solution. Teacher quality and school discipline reforms are part of the solution. Bringing back strong accountability that was once ensconced in federal law is part of the solution. Continuing to implement high-quality standards and curricula — as well as making sure that includes honest history on how the nation has dealt with Black people as well as those from American Indian communities — is part of the solution. Finally, making sure that every child has high quality teachers who care for them is part of the solution.
The good news is that the school reform movement has worked avidly to end the bad practices, and move away from a traditional district model that prevents minority children from accessing high-quality schools. This work will get harder thanks in part to a Trump administration that means harm to those who aren’t White, as well as the efforts of traditionalists to oppose systemic reform. But it must be done and it means working harder as well as more-closely with activists outside of education policy whose efforts also touch the lives of our children.
Charlottesville is another wake-up call to reformers to bend the arc of history away from bigotry and towards progress for all of our youth. We must recommit today to that most-important goal.