Tag: Black Lives Matter

The Conversation: Teach For America’s Elisa Villanueva Beard

On this edition of The Conversation, RiShawn Biddle chats with Teach For America CEO Elisa Villanueva Beard about the teacher quality reform outfit’s more-pronounced efforts on addressing equity, criticism from…

On this edition of The Conversation, RiShawn Biddle chats with Teach For America CEO Elisa Villanueva Beard about the teacher quality reform outfit’s more-pronounced efforts on addressing equity, criticism from reformers who prefer it to focus solely on teacher quality, and the organization’s moves to bolster and diversify recruiting.

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, Google Play, Stitcher, and PodBean.

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Teach For America Shows Reformers the Way

Should Teach For America stop being more-explicit in its efforts to build brighter futures for poor and minority children inside and outside of schoolhouse doors? This is a question that…

Should Teach For America stop being more-explicit in its efforts to build brighter futures for poor and minority children inside and outside of schoolhouse doors? This is a question that shouldn’t even be asked in the first place. But it is one that conservative and centrist Democrat reformers are wrongly asking, especially as the nation’s largest (and most-successful) teacher training outfit challenges their perspectives on how to transform American public education.

The first challenge came courtesy of a TFA alum, Sohrab Ahmari of Commentary, who complained that the outfit has “lost its way” because it supposedly spends more time on “immigration, policing, “queer” and transgender-identity issues and other left-wing causes” than on “education-reform essentials” that he prefers. Not surprisingly, Ahmari has found an amen corner from conservative reformers such as Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute, long a skeptic of Teach For America’s focus on improving teaching for poor and minority children, who has been increasingly opposed to its stances on issues outside of education.

Another complaint came from the vanguard of centrist Democrat reformers in a brief from Andrew Rotherham of Bellwether Education Partners on the pages of Eduwonk. From where he sits, Teach For America has a “complicated audience problem at a difficult political moment” because he thinks the outfit’s efforts on issues that touch children outside of schools is somehow an effort to “placate the institutional left ” (namely the National Education Association, American Federation of Teachers, and hardcore progressives) that won’t work. As far as Rotherham is concerned, “the political price [for TFA] could be high.”

Certainly Dropout Nation readers aren’t surprised by the criticism. After all, Teach For America has been getting the business from conservative reformers since it began supporting the work of Black Lives Matter activists (and Teach For America alum) Brittany Packnett and Deray McKesson three years ago after the murder of Michael Brown by now-former Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson sparked protests and renewed focus on criminal justice reforms that conservatives and centrists generally disdain. This, in turn, has fueled a wider feud within the movement over its future direction. Which is not shocking. After all, the school reform movement has long been a bipartisan movement that has conveniently ignored some of the social issues that end up touching (and are touched by) American public education.

Since then, Teach For America, along with TNTP and other equity- and civil rights-oriented reform outfits, have annoyed the conservative and Centrist Democrat reform players who once were in the vanguard of the movement. This has especially become clear in the last year, as Teach For America has taken the lead in criticizing the Trump Administration. It was among the first to oppose Betsy DeVos’ nomination as U.S. Secretary of Education, and, along with the Education Trust, has been among the foremost opponents of the administration’s move last month to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the Obama Administration initiative that kept 800,000 undocumented children, teens and young adults brought to the nation from deportation.

Teach For America’s support for Black Lives Matter activists such as Brittany Packnett, along with its efforts on immigration reform, have angered conservative reformers and annoyed centrist Democrat reform counterparts.

Yet the criticism from both conservative and centrist reformers lack validity.

For one thing, contrary to what Ahmari and other conservative reformers will admit, Teach For America is still focused on its primary goal of recruiting and training high-quality teachers. Some 3,500 new recruits went to work in traditional districts and charter schools in 2017, still within the range of recruits it has sent to classrooms within the last decade. More importantly, the organization remains the foremost pathway for Black, Latino, and Native collegians to get into teaching and, ultimately, helping children who look like them gain the knowledge (and even the role models) they need and deserve.

The other thing to keep in mind is that nothing that Teach For America is doing that is different than what it has ever done. As Ahmari concedes, the outfit’s goal has always been to help poor and minority children gain brighter futures. That is an ideological goal, as ideological as arguing that children should be able to choose high-quality educational opportunities. There are as many conservatives who disagree with this view as left-leaning traditionalists.

While teacher training is its primary goal, it has never stuck to overhauling classroom instruction. After all, within the past 26 years, Teach For America’s network of alumni have formed many of the institutions at the heart of the school reform movement itself, most-notably TNTP (a spinoff of TFA) and the Knowledge Is Power Program chain of charter schools. Meanwhile its alumni, including former Colorado State Sen. Michael Johnston (now running for governor of that state), as well as McKesson (a former candidate for Baltimore mayor) have moved far beyond education to politics and other aspects of society.

If anything, what Teach For America is doing is being more-explicit in its efforts. For many good reasons. One reason, contrary to Rotherham’s assertions (as well as that of other centrist Democrat and conservative reformers) lies with its own alum, who have long argued that it is was far too reticent in tackling both traditionalists and the ills outside of education that harm the very children for which it is concerned. From where they sit, especially after spending time in communities in which they served, Teach For America should be more forthright in tackling issues affecting the most-vulnerable. That most of those 50,000 alumni and current recruits will rally on its behalf means that it also has a level of political protection available to few players in the movement.

Another reason lies with something that Steve Barr, the founder of Green Dot Public Schools, learned long ago: That systemic reforms cannot be sustained without addressing the not-so-educational concerns of the very communities the movement is serving. In the case of DACA, the Trump Administration’s move to end it (as well as its overall effort to deport undocumented immigrants who have contributed to the nation’s economy and society) affects undocumented children and Native-born children of undocumented emigres in traditional districts and charters served by Teach For America recruits. The fact that the move also threatens to deport 2,000 of the outfit’s recruits and alumni (as well as 18,000 other teachers) means that its efforts on this issue is not “out of all proportion”, as Ahmari contends.

By advancing its mission more-explicitly (and politically), Teach For America is conceding a reality that many conservative and centrist Democrat reformers fail to admit: That American public education — especially traditional districts in big cities and increasingly-urbanized suburbs — is at the nexus of the issues facing the nation today.

Teach For America is forcing the rest of the school reform movement to live up to its mission for immigrant children and other vulnerable youth.

Reformers can’t help children succeed in life without addressing the direct ways it fuels the nation’s social ills (including the failures to provide children with high quality education they need to sustain families and be knowledgeable leaders in society), its role funneling children into juvenile and criminal justice systems, and its keystone position in perpetuating the legacies of state-sanctioned bigotry against Black, Latino, Native, and immigrant children. This need to tackle all the ills that harm our children has become especially critical because the Trump Administration has proven to be a regime that intends no good for the minority children that now make up a majority of children throughout public education.

Even beyond Trump and immigration, there are plenty of ways reformers can contribute to addressing issues beyond classrooms. One clear example lies within criminal justice reform itself: The protection of corrupt cops by state laws governing use of force and cultism among their colleagues is similar to how teachers accused and convicted of child abuse (along with the merely incompetent) are enabled by tenure and teacher dismissal laws as well as by the thin chalk line of support from fellow instructors. Two of TFA’s most-prominent alumni, McKesson and Packnett, have focused on that issue through Campaign Zero, which borrows from the National Council on Teacher Quality’s database on collective bargaining agreements to provide transparency on how contracts between unions and police departments protect rogue cops.

Put simply, Teach For America, along with other civil rights-oriented and progressive reformers, is doing the right thing.

Certainly this is discomforting for conservative reformers not named Rick Hess who have found themselves between a rock and a hard place. It is increasingly difficult for them to both be champions for all children and ally themselves with an ideological conservatism that now embraces the kind of rank bigotry from which the legendary William F. Buckley Jr. and other founding fathers of the movement distanced themselves (even as they embraced their own pernicious form of racial myopia).

As for centrist Democrats? We’ll exclude Rotherham from this discussion because he has generally been on the right side of these issues. All that said, the problem for many of them is that they prize bipartisanship and “the politics” over doing good, often at the cost of the vulnerable. [There’s also the reality that many of the policy initiatives they implicitly supported, including the Clinton Administration’s Community-Oriented Policing program, are culprits in fueling the school-to-prison pipeline.]

But in pursuing its path, Teach For America (along with civil rights-oriented reformers) is challenging conservative and centrist Democrat reformers to take a different course on systemic reform that admits the issues that face all of our children. This means crafting a new bipartisanship based on the moral and just agreement that all children, no matter who they are or where they live, deserve institutions that do better by their lives. Which, in turn, will help this nation in its goal of forming a more-perfect union.

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Organizing to Do Better for Children

In this edition of On the Road from 2016, Editor RiShawn Biddle joins with Deray McKesson, Parent Power activist Milagros Barsallo, now-Baltimore City Councilman Zeke Berzoff-Cohen, and Jonathan Mansoori of…

In this edition of On the Road from 2016, Editor RiShawn Biddle joins with Deray McKesson, Parent Power activist Milagros Barsallo, now-Baltimore City Councilman Zeke Berzoff-Cohen, and Jonathan Mansoori of Leadership for Educational Equity in a Teach For America discussion on how reformers can use movement organizing to transform the schools and communities in which our children live.

Watch here or download for your own viewing. 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.

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Rep. John Lewis and Rev. James Lawson on Organizing Change

Now, more than ever, school reformers and other champions for children must organize and plan successfully to help build brighter futures for children and their communities. One way is to…

Now, more than ever, school reformers and other champions for children must organize and plan successfully to help build brighter futures for children and their communities. One way is to learn from the past champions of transforming America. This includes Rep. John Lewis and Rev. James Lawson, whose work with the Freedom Rides and the Nashville Student movement helped push forward the civil rights movement of the last century.

Learn more from Lewis and Lawson in this clip from yesterday’s Congressional Black Caucus Foundation panel on organizing — and apply it to helping our children now.

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School Reform’s Time for Choosing

When will Eva Moskowitz disavow her association with the Trump Administration? That is a question. When will Betsy DeVos resign as Secretary of Education? That is also a question. Will…

When will Eva Moskowitz disavow her association with the Trump Administration? That is a question. When will Betsy DeVos resign as Secretary of Education? That is also a question. Will other reformers join Teach For America’s Elisa Villanueva Beard, former Secretaries of Education John King and Arne Duncan, and Democrats for Education Reform President Shavar Jeffries and call out the President of the United States for his bigotry? That question also lurks at the surface.

But the biggest question of all for school reformers who have defended working with this regime in any way is this: What will they do now after the current occupant of the White House made clear yesterday that he is an ally of bigot who want to harm the futures of poor and minority children? After Donald Trump’s defense of Neo-Nazis and White Supremacists, now is what Ronald Reagan would call a time for choosing. All reformers must choose morally and wisely if they want to truly be champions for all children.

As you already know, the demagogue who occupies 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue doubled down on a false contention he made three days earlier that White Supremacists participating in last week’s terrorism in Charlottesville, Va. were only partly responsible for the violence that resulted.

The president ignored the facts: Unite the Right participant James Alex Fields’ hit-and-run murder of 32-year-old Heather Heyer and injuring of other protesters. The assaults and other thuggery by other Neo-Nazis during the mayhem, including the beatdown of Deandre Harris in a parking garage. The evidence that the White Supremacists came to town with arsenals of guns and other weapons. The presence of White Supremacists and militiamen menacingly walking around with semi-automatic weapons in full view. Gun-toting bigots threatening a local synagogue. Instead, Trump went on a tirade that included comparing peaceful civil rights and Black Lives Matter activists to the violent bigots, as well as proclaiming that some of the United the Right protesters were “very fine people”.

The “very nice” bigots Trump talked about beat Deandre Harris during their protests — and murdered a woman as well.

Trump also claimed that the nighttime tiki torch-lit march held by the Unite the Right protesters the night before the rampage — a spectacle reminiscent of Klu Klux Klan rallies and Nazi Party rallies on the Nuremberg parade grounds — as “quiet” and peaceful. As his want, he failed to mention the overwhelming videotaped evidence that the bigots chanted “Death to Jews”, shouted homophobic slurs, loudly declared that White people wouldn’t be “left behind”, and surrounded a Black church where Black Lives Matter activists and others were preparing their counter-protests.

He went even further by expressing his opposition to efforts by civil rights activists and others to remove statues of Confederate leaders such as Robert E. Lee (whose statue in Charlottesville has been targeted for removal by city officials). Why? Because he believes that removing the statues of men who committed treason against this country in order to preserve slavery and oppression was akin to erasing the memory of Founding Fathers such as George Washington, who promoted the ideals of liberty and freedom despite their own moral failings in regards to Black people.

There has been plenty of outrage and condemnations of Trump’s latest statements. But let’s be clear: Nothing is shocking about Trump’s defense of bigotry. This is because he is a bigot himself.

Ever since he began his eventually successful campaign for president, Donald Trump has racked up a long and ignominious record of race-baiting, rank demagoguery and blunt anti-Semitism. This includes accusing Mexican immigrants, undocumented and legal, of being “rapists”; embracing conspiratorial rhetoric from the notorious Protocols of the Elders of Zion in a speech given a month before his victory; denigrating the family of a dead soldier who was also a Muslim; and accusing Gonzalo Curiel, a federal judge presiding over a case involving one of his business of being biased against him because of his Mexican heritage.

Success Academy’s Eva Moskowitz is among the reformers who must answer for their association with (or silence about) the Trump regime.

Since taking office, Trump has indulged his bigotry, often with the help of his appointees. This includes the executive orders banning Muslims from several countries from entering the country; to the repeal of the Obama Administration’s executive order requiring traditional districts and other public school operators to allow transgendered children to use bathrooms of the sex with which they identify; to the round-ups and deportations of undocumented immigrants who contribute greatly to the nation’s economy.

The president has also refused to back down from his nativist rhetoric. Last month, at a speech in Youngstown, Ohio, Trump took a page out of the bigoted white slavery rhetoric of a century ago by claiming that Mexican emigres were animals who wanted to take young women and “slice them and dice them with a knife because they want them to go through excruciating pain before they die.”

Given his political record, his proud association with bigots — including Breitbart publisher and campaign manager-turned chief adviser Steve Bannon — and the laundry list of alleged racism that dates back to his days running his father’s real estate empire, there is nothing new about Trump’s defense of bigotry. No one should be shocked at this point. Because he has never been dishonest about his immorality.

The nice people Trump aided and comforted yesterday.

The real question lies with how all of us, especially for those in the school reform movement, will deal with Trump now. This matters because everything we do will be viewed now and in the future through how we confront him.

Certainly there have been plenty of reformers who have called out Trump’s bigotry and rank immorality. Jeffries, King, Duncan, along with Teach For America’s Elisa Villanueva Beard, Jonas Chartock of Leading Educators and charter school leaders such as Richard Barth of KIPP have admirably and consistently opposed the Trump Administration’s agenda. Michael Petrilli of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute also wrote a rather touching piece on Monday that excoriated the bigotry, and announced today that he would no longer be a registered Republican.

But far too often, conservative reformers, school choice advocates and others within the movement have been silent in the face of the administration’s bigotry. The usually-voluble American Enterprise Institute education policy boss Frederick (Rick) Hess, who took time out of his day last month to rip apart a rather demagogic screed about school choice and racism from the usually-sensible (and pro-reform) Center for American Progress, has remained quiet about Trump’s rhetoric. So has Jeanne Allen of Center for Education Reform, who called out American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten’s equally rank demagoguery about choice.

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos (on right) is one of the reformers who have betrayed their commitment to children by joining common cause with Trump.

Others have been active collaborators with the regime itself. This includes DeVos, who continues to sully her once-stellar reputation as an advocate for expanding school choice for poor and minority children by serving as the president’s education czar, and former 50CAN executive Jason Botel, who serves directly under her. [DeVos further debased herself by refusing to specifically call out Neo-Nazis and White Supremacists in her statement on the events in Charlottesville.]

Then there is Success Academy’s Moskowitz, whose schools serve mostly Black and Latino children. Early on after Trump’s victory, she volunteered early on to work with his administration. Her refusal to distance herself from the regime (along with troubling penchant of Success Academy’s schools to overuse harsh traditional school discipline) is a likely reason why Jeffries resigned from the charter school operator’s board last month.

Before yesterday, those folks could offer up excuses for why they collaborate with the Trump Administration or remain silent about its bigotry. Among them: Because working with the administration can help poor and minority children access high-quality education; and because it is an opportunity to serve their country and not actively support the intent of the administration to do harm to communities black and brown; that Trump’s bigotry has nothing to do with their work on education policy and practice.

This Guardian cartoon has it right.

The excuses were specious — and after the past seven months — incredible even before Trump opened his mouth about Charlottesville for a third time. But now, after he defended bigotry in such a way that brought cheers from demagogues such as former Klu Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke, there are no more excuses for silence or collaboration.

As champions for brighter futures for all children, reformers can never tolerate or accept bigotry, state-sanctioned or otherwise. As defenders of the most-vulnerable, reformers cannot stay silent in the face of credible threats to their well-being. As Children of God and members of the Family of Man, reformers cannot sit idly by as an elected official, especially the Leader of the Free World, bloviates, obfuscates, and gives comfort to bigots at expense of our fellow human beings. As Elie Weisel would say, silence is complicity with immorality — and active support of bigoted regimes is immorality itself.

Certainly Archbishop Charles Caput of Philadelphia is right to say that racism (along with other form of bigotry) is “a poison of the soul” that cannot simply be overcome with condemnations alone. Transforming American public education, whose failures, deliberate and otherwise, have condemned the lives of Black and Brown children, is part of draining that pernicious tribalism. But condemnation and active disassociation with those who want to harm our children are two important steps towards that goal.

If reformers can take time out to castigate traditionalists like Weingarten for their sophistry, they can surely muster a few words to call out President Trump for being a White Supremacist and rank demagogue. More importantly, for those working for and with the administration, it is time to walk away from the regime and end all meaningful association with it. Repentance is good for their souls — and for the futures of all children.

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