Your editor could spend the day tearing apart the latest claptrap about the apparent “failure” of D.C. Public Schools from Manhattan Institute’s Max Eden and Lindsey Burke of the Heritage Foundation. As you would expect, it is a shoddy piece co-written by a ‘wonk‘ whose ‘research‘ on so many issues is slipshod at best. But there are far greater concerns that must be addressed this week — and school reformers must do more than be studiously silent about them.
There’s the upcoming debate happening on the floor of the U.S. Senate over whether the undocumented immigrant youth who are under the threat of deportation thanks to the Trump Administration’s decision last September to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (as well as its low-grade ethnic cleansing effort against Black and Brown communities). Not only are those children’s lives are stake, so are the futures of native-born children of undocumented emigres being deported by the Trump regime.
With 100 or so Dreamers losing their DACA status each day, and more than 780,000 children and adults (including 9,000 teachers in classrooms) under the threat of being thrown out of the communities they have called home nearly all of their lives, ensuring that Congressional leaders do the right thing by them is as important to ensuring brighter futures for them as addressing the quality of teaching and curricula.
But keeping the Dreamers in schools is also important on educational grounds. As a team led by Kevin Shih of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute determined in a study released today, DACA’s protections contributed to an 11 percentage point increase in graduation rates among undocumented Latino emigres, leading to 49,000 more high school graduates. These benefits, along with increases in college attendance, accrue to the youth as well as their communities, and ultimately, to the nation itself.
There’s also the continuing evidence that Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos will do nothing to protect the civil rights of our most-vulnerable children. The latest example came today when the U.S. Department of Education announced that it would no longer accept complaints filed by transgender children over policies that ban them from using restrooms fitting with their gender preferences.
Given that the Trump Administration has already repealed an executive order requiring such accommodations as recognized under Title IX of the Civil Rights Act, the move was not a surprise. But it is still an outrage. Not only is DeVos supporting active discrimination against vulnerable youth, she is abdicating the federal government’s obligation to protect them from harm. Which is as damaging to these children — if not more so because of their increased risk of physical harm — as forcing them to attend failure mills.
As with protecting Dreamers, helping transgender youth is also an educational concern in extraordinarily concrete ways. Some 41.8 percent of transgender high schoolers reported being subjected to out-of-school suspensions and other forms of harsh traditional school discipline, according to a 2016 survey by GLSEN. When the Department of Education holds school operators to account for overusing harsh discipline against all children, they are helping our youth gain the school cultures they need to thrive beyond classrooms.
These are two of the most-immediate issues outside of the usual education policy and practice matters that should concern reformers as well as all champions for children. But they aren’t the only ones.
Supporting the efforts of criminal justice reformers and Black Lives Matter activists in addressing police brutality and corruption that touches the lives of our children remains important. Especially given the outsized role American public education plays in perpetuating the school-to-prison pipeline (especially as the second-highest source of referrals to juvenile justice systems).
The disenfranchisement of Black and Latino voters (as well as other communities) through gerrymandering and vote suppression tactics are also important matters on which the movement should weigh. Why? Because most of the nation’s 14,000 or so traditional districts are still run by elected boards who should be accountable to the families they serve, while chief state school officers are elected in 13 states. This, by the way, is an election year.
Certainly school reformers have to devote much of their time to addressing policy and practice. But there is no reason why reform outfits aren’t signing on to letters from immigration rights activists in support of DACA youth, or issuing statements calling out DeVos for refusing to meet the federal government’s civil rights obligations to children, or working with voting rights activists on registration drives.
These moves are the right things to do on behalf of our children. They are also politically sensible. As your editor has stated over and over again, and it has been proven by both reformers such as Green Dot founder Steve Barr, sustaining systemic reform means gaining support from poor, minority and immigrant communities. Reformers can’t win support for their long-term agenda from those men and women if they aren’t willing to stand alongside them on the immediate concerns facing their neighborhoods. You can’t gain allies if you’re not willing to be one — and no one cares about your ideas until you show that you care about them.
Yet while some in the movement (especially civil rights-oriented reformers, as well as Teach For America and the Education Trust) have stepped up, many others have exhibited almost no concern.
Charter school lobbyists are fretting about whether the Trump Administration will provide help to charter school operators in its possible $1 trillion infrastructure plan — even though most expect that the regime’s plan will mostly be funded by states and local governments from which charters can already lobby for more money.
Conservative reformers are more-interested in arguing that the graduation scandal at D.C. Public Schools proves that overhauling traditional districts is not worth doing — despite the fact that a close look at the objective evidence proves such arguments to be ill-considered, lacking in nuance, and have no regard for actual facts.
Hardcore school choice advocates are complaining (as they always do this time of year) about the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools’ latest ranking of charter school authorizing laws. They have some legitimate concerns. But they won’t matter if children are being deported and cannot attend schools in the first place.
Other reformers will wag their tongues about the Trump Administration’s all-but-dead-on-arrival budget for the 2018-2019 fiscal year. As with last year’s proposal, it will push for a pilot program to voucherize $500 million in Title 1 dollars (will never happen) and increase federal charter school funding by 47 percent (also unlikely), while proposing the elimination of other programs such as TRIO, which has helped generations of poor and minority children attend and complete higher education.
Not one of these things have to do with the immediate pressing need to protect all children, especially those Black and Brown as well as immigrant and transgender, from the Trump Administration’s predations against them. Not at all. Even worse, in their failure to speak out constantly and zealously against the damage this administration does against our children and their families, reformers become the kind of “friends” that Martin Luther King warned against six decades ago. The silence of the movement will rightfully be remembered without kindness or charity — and, as seen in the past couple of years, will be repaid at a high cost, both to the movement, and ultimately, to the children for which reformers proclaim so much concern.
The time for silence has long passed. It is time to stand up and be counted.
Photo courtesy of Pax Ahimsa Gethen.