Tag: Bill Perkins


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Two Thoughts on Education This Week: Elections Department


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What this week’s primary elections actually tell us about the battle over reforming American public education: Voters Are Concerned About More Than Education: The problem for single-issue activists, no matter…

Photo courtesy of the New York Times.

What this week’s primary elections actually tell us about the battle over reforming American public education:

Voters Are Concerned About More Than Education: The problem for single-issue activists, no matter who they are, is tunnel vision. They are so focused on one particular issue that they think it should be the paramount factor in supporting or opposing a candidate. What is forgotten is that for the average voter — neither monomaniacal nor able to spend one’s time focusing on a particular issue (or on any issue, given the scarcity of time and the needs to keep kids clothed and roofs over heads) — no one particular issue alone, no matter how important it may be, is the one on which they will make decisions.

More often than not, they are judging candidates based on several factors largely based on their personal experiences: Is the candidate likable; can he get the job done; is he connected to the community in which the voters live; and is he part of the networks (from churches to bars) with which they spend time. Essentially, the voter may agree with a candidate on several issues, but find that person generally distasteful. Or, if they are in middle age or senior citizens, take the view that a younger candidate doesn’t have enough gray hairs on the head and needs to wait his turn (a particular problem in the black community). Or they may know the incumbent or challenger is corrupt and a machine politician, but remember what that person did for them on a personal level. Or they are more concerned about the economic problems of the present and see no connections between those matters and the future that they think only their grandchildren will see. Or they just don’t agree that education is all that important an issue, period. The candidate’s position on one issue alone ultimately matters little.

This is something school reformers must keep in mind as they moan over Washington, D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty’s loss in yesterday’s primaries and the victories of school reform opponents such as New York State Senator Bill Perkins (whose senseless opposition to charter schools should be an outrage to Harlem residents and Black America in general). In the case of Fenty, it is clear that his reform of D.C. Public Schools wasn’t the only factor in his defeat; if anything, Michelle Rhee was the single-biggest reason why most Fenty voters sided with him (and why even some Fenty foes are having second thoughts about supporting the winner, Vincent Gray, who will oust Rhee in  order to keep peace with the city’s Ancien Regime). Once you take school reform out of the equation, Fenty’s other problems — a demeanor at which even Churchill would look askance, mediocre management of city government, and the inability to manage the particularly virulent race issues that color D.C. politics — almost guaranteed him defeat. He was a one-term mayor before he even ran for re-election.

As for Perkins? He is a longstanding incumbent with deep roots in Harlem. He is also an old-school black politician — and there are plenty of voters his age who will have to be forced to the sidelines before the New Jacks take charge. His opponent, Basil Smikle, doesn’t have that deep network, lacks such privileges and didn’t have enough young voters he could on for victory. Another reformer, Michael Castle (who lost Delaware’s Republican senatorial primary) didn’t mention those credentials very much — and given the recriminations among conservative activists over the excesses of the George W. Bush era (including the No Child Left Behind Act), couldn’t use that background for any positive or negative effect.

Meanwhile the school reform politicians who won — including Perkins’ fellow state legislator, Sam Hoyt — have also connected to their voters on other important issues; in the case of Hoyt, the very privileges of incumbency that favored Perkins also favored him. School reform may have been the high-profile talking point, but for the voters, not the only one. Neither school reformers nor defenders of the status quo in public education may have captured anyone’s imagination.

Certainly, school reformers are right in arguing that overhauling American public education is critical. But they must remember that school reform isn’t the only issue on the minds of voters. If reformers are to win over the rest of the electorate, they must present clear connections between the need to improve education and the concerns voters find to be more-pressing.

The Importance of Building Community Ties: Green Dot Public Schools founder Steve Barr notes that he always spent time in a community — from churches to social groups — listening, talking and reaching out, before starting a new school there. Why? Because black and Latino communities — like all minority communities — are suspicious of outsiders bearing promises (and have the memories of past promises unkept deeply ingrained in their thoughts). Essentially, you can’t convince people to ally with you until you build connections with them.

This week’s primaries are stark reminders of this reality. In Harlem, Basil Smikle offered compelling reasons for voters to oust Bill Perkins from his New York State Senate seat — and he had backing from school reform activists, both in Harlem and outside of it. But the reformers only had connections to new Harlem residents, who don’t have deep community ties. The reformers also didn’t have enough strong ties to longtime residents, who think that their supposed  Chocolate City is getting a tad too pale and middle class (despite the fact that Harlem has always been a diverse community with strong middle class base —  and given the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s and the presence of such institutions as the Schonburg Center, upscale even). And while some charter school operators have made strong ties to their communities, others still have a superficial relationship with community players that won’t help in beating back someone as influential as Perkins.

The lack of strong ties communities shouldn’t surprise school reformers, especially among the Beltway crowd. The lack of strong support in communities has been the single-biggest obstacle to sustaining reform. And if school reformers don’t start getting into the game by building ties with churches and grassroots activists — and rallying the millions of single parents, grandparents and immigrant families ready to play their part in reforming public education — they will not be able to keep their hard-won gains.

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Read: Failing to Lead Department


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What’s happening today in the dropout nation: The Dallas Morning News takes a look at the school district’s dropout factories — many of which are home to largely black and…

Helpling with homework and attending the PTA is no longer the only part parents must play in their children's academic lives. They must also help in shaping their curricula -- and must have the tools and support to do so. (Photo courtesy of needsfoundation.org)

What’s happening today in the dropout nation:

  1. The Dallas Morning News takes a look at the school district’s dropout factories — many of which are home to largely black and Latino students — and dissects why turning around their performance is so difficult. One reason that can easily be mentioned: The lack of community leadership, especially from black and Latino leaders. EducationNews’ Jimmy Kilpatrick (hat tip to him) rightly asks this question of the city’s (and the nation’s) black political leaders (and it goes for Latino and white leaders as well): “Where is the… outrage?
  2. Speaking of the lack of leadership on school reform among the nation’s black politicians, Jennifer Medina profiles New York State Sen.  Bill Perkins, who has proven to be the biggest foe against the expansion (and existence) of charter schools in Empire Land. Sadly, he ignores the benefits charters are bringing to students who live in his Harlem-centered district. Lovely. As Harlem Children’s Zone boss Geoffrey Canada points out, Perkins’ problem seems to be that most of the operators of charters are from outside the community. Well, Mr. Perkins, how about demanding more from the black leaders and middle class residents in your own community instead of piling on people who are willing to help children who aren’t their own by birth. Really. When you ask that question and demand more, then come back with your criticisms. Or as Twitter participant Clifton Whitley writes: “why doesn’t he protest failing public schools?”
  3. Another area in which “leaders” are failing to take the lead: Saving the urban private and parochial schools — including Catholic schools — that have served many a poor urban child well over the past few decades. I look further at the need for school reformers — especially centrist Democrats — to embrace vouchers alongside charter schools in order to expand choice and high quality instruction for the poorest children in my latest report for The American Spectator. Also, check out my report from December about the efforts by the Archdiocese of Washington to maintain its mission of educating poor and middle class families, Catholic and (more often) non-Catholic alike.
  4. Michael Shaughnessy interviews Rick Hess about the fostering “greenfield” approaches to education reform that move away from traditional school district systems and the underlying infrastructure (teachers unions, best practices) that come with it. Interesting read.
  5. The Journal: Technological Horizons in Education reviews the Obama administration’s plans for the use of technology in education.We know what Tom Vander Ark thinks. I’m still thinking this through: The report is correct in arguing that American public education is in need of an overhaul to fit the needs of the 21st century. I’m all for expanded use of technology in schools in innovative ways, but I also think that technology is no more a lone silver bullet that charters, vouchers or shutting down poor performing schools. Ultimately, it comes down to great teaching and active engagement of children in learning. What are your thoughts?
  6. In Kentucky, the state lower house passed a bill that would require students to stay in school until age 18. This is all well and good. Perhaps the legislature will also get around to passing a law allowing for the authorization of charter schools, which could help improve the quality of education for students.
  7. Off the beaten track: Math can be found in interesting places. Even in one of my five all-time favorite books (along with Anne of Windy Poplars, Parliament of Whores, A Tale of a Tub, and Homicide: Life in the Killing Streets), Alice in Wonderland, according to the New York Times.

Check out the Dropout Nation Podcast this evening; it will be on the next steps President Obama and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan should take with Race to the Top and school reform. Also, read the report this week on the alarming dropout and lack of on-track graduation among male students in Chicago’s public schools (and elsewhere).

And now, for your Sunday pleasure, one of my favorite songs, Come Fly With Me in live form by Sinatra himself:


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