DeVos and the Harm to the Most Vulnerable to Come

Your editor will start with this one reality: That the Trump Administration’s proposed budget for the Department of Education and education programs, along with the rest of the 2018-2019 spending…

Your editor will start with this one reality: That the Trump Administration’s proposed budget for the Department of Education and education programs, along with the rest of the 2018-2019 spending plan,  is dead on arrival. Put simply, its budget is just a waste of good paper.

At the same time, while the Trump Administration’s budget will not gain passage, it deserves some consideration. Why? Because the specific program eliminations proposed exemplify the regime’s lack of concern for the futures of poor and minority children — and how their disdain will be made manifest even without congressional approval. While the programs will likely remain in place, the administration and its education boss, Betsy DeVos, have clearly shown how they will decimate them and ultimately, harm the children for which they are charged with defending.

As I already noted briefly yesterday, none of the proposed reductions and program shutdowns will pass congressional muster. This was demonstrated last year when House and Senate appropriators tossed out the Trump Administration’s 2017-2018 spending plan on which this year’s budget is mostly based. Roy Blunt, the Missouri Republican who chairs the Senate’s appropriations subcommittee on education, has likely killed the regime’s proposal to voucherize $500 million in Title 1 funding before it was printed on the page. Other programs such as Promise Neighborhoods, one of the Obama Administration’s signature initiatives and one based off Geoffrey Canada’s highly successful Harlem Children’s Zone, will likely stay alive.

The proposed elimination of the $65 million-a-year Native Hawaiian and Alaska Native education programs, which supports culturally-based curricula and instruction for two groups of Native children, won’t make it past either Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski or Oklahoma Rep. Tom Cole, both of whom are strong defenders of those programs and are lead congressional appropriators. That a good number of Congressional Republicans need American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian votes to keep their jobs — especially in an midterm election year in which Republicans are likely to lose some of the 31 seats that incumbents are vacating so far and Trump’s unpopularity looms large — means that Native education programs will likely remain.

The administration’s proposal to gut TRIO, the collection of programs geared toward helping Black, Latino and Native children attain higher education as well as enter careers in areas such as science, have strong constituencies that Congressional Republicans are loathe to fight head on. That one of those programs, the Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program, is named after the African-American astronaut who died in NASA’s botched launch of the space shuttle Challenger, makes it even harder for even the most hardcore deficit hawk to cut off. Meanwhile the presence of Teach For America and its alumni, along with Catholic Charities and other groups, will also probably ensure that Trump’s plan to shut down AmeriCorps, the national service program outside of the Department of Education’s purview, never becomes reality.

What makes the Trump plan even less likely to become reality is the inability of Congress itself to pass a full-year budget. Thanks to the one-month spending plan passed last Thursday, the federal government is still spending at levels set for the 2016-2017 fiscal year. The two-year budget outline passed last week by the Senate and House also lays out spending increases for education as well as for other programs that aren’t Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security (and theoretically, protected from reductions in spending increases and actual dollars), thus rendering the administration’s plan moot. Add in the Trump Administration’s overall lack of leverage with Congressional Republicans and it becomes clear that its spending plan is already in the trash.

But as your editor has noted, the budget does deserve some attention, and not because it has a snowball’s chance in Hades of passage. The budget deserves attention because it signals what the Trump Administration will do to the programs — and ultimately to poor and minority children — regardless of congressional action.

After all, while the House and Senate are charged with passing budgets and setting spending priorities for the federal government, the Occupant of the White House and his appointees actually run the day-to-day operations. Thanks to executive orders, administrative rulemaking, interpretation of statutes on the books, and staffing decisions (including the selection of temporary and permanent political appointments as well as civil servants who do the real work on the ground), the administration has plenty of leeway to do what it wants.

Over the past year, the Trump regime has made clear in word and deed that it is engaged in what can best be called low-grade ethnic cleansing. The move last September to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and put 780,000 undocumented immigrant children, young adults and teachers on the path to deportation, along with the various bans against entry of Muslims and others from several nations into this country, a proposed restrictions on legal immigration (which would advance the administration’s goals of a majority-White nation), and a proposal to replace food stamps with boxes of canned goods and less-than-fresh produce are just the most-visible examples of this bigotry-driven policymaking.

Other moves include efforts at the Department of Homeland Security’s ICE to deport even undocumented emigres who most would call good citizens in their communities; Customs and Border Patrol officers kicking water jugs left for migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border (and let them die of thirst); moves by Attorney General Jeff Sessions to not enforce consent decrees against police departments engaging in systematic brutality and corruption against poor and minority communities; and the move last month to allow states to implement work requirements for Medicaid recipients which make it easier to kick off the poorest Americans (including Latino communities as well as rural White people).

Overseeing the administration’s war against Black and Brown children on the education policy front is DeVos and her crew at the Department of Education. They have worked seriously and diligently at fulfilling the regime’s mission against the most-vulnerable.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions isn’t the only collaborator in harming children that reformers and others must fight.

Dropout Nation has already documented how DeVos and her crew have slowly rolled back the Obama Administration’s efforts to stem overuse of out-of-school suspensions and other forms of harsh school discipline. This has included issuing guidance that effectively stops Office for Civil Rights investigators from looking at three years of past complaints to prove that a district or other school operators has engaged in systematic overspending of Black, Latino, and Native children, as well as the hiring of Hans Bader, a vocal opponent of school discipline reform.

But an even bigger play came late last year when the agency gave buyouts to 16 investigators and other staff at OCR. [DeVos proposes to eliminate another 34 positions in 2018-2019.] By reducing staff levels, DeVos and her team are ensuring fewer investigations into civil rights violations of all types. After all, an agency can’t probe into complaints if there isn’t enough staff to do the work. Add in likely plans to toss out existing complaints by restricting the level of investigations that can be done, and suddenly, districts and school operators will know that they can abuse and neglect vulnerable children with impunity.

How this can play out can be seen in the Brentwood district in New York, which is the subject of a lawsuit filed last year by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of three undocumented immigrant youth. In that tort, the civil liberties outfit alleges that the district conspired with Suffolk County’s police department and ICE  in identifying, suspending, detaining and deporting undocumented immigrant students for allegedly being members of MS-13, allegations that immigration cops could not substantiate in court. An attempt to file a civil rights complaint with OCR against Brentwood alleging systematic discrimination would likely be shortcircuited, both because of the lack of bodies to investigate the claims and because investigators can’t look at previous complaints against the district.

What is happening at OCR is a preview of what will happen at other programs run by the agency — and the administration’s proposed budget makes that plain to see. Expect to hear more news about staff cuts and buyouts, especially in the offices that oversee Title I, Native education programs, and even TRIO. With fewer employees on board, especially in strategic positions critical to administrating those efforts, there will be delays in things getting done. Which will, in turn, affect real live children and young adults.

There are other moves DeVos and company can make in sustaining the administration’s war against Black and Brown children. This includes crafting administrative rules that can require districts and other school operators to cooperate with ICE in the latter’s efforts to deport undocumented immigrant children and their parents, as well as withhold funds to districts such as Chicago Public Schools which are refusing to cooperate with deportation attempts. It would not be a shock if folks at 1600 Pennsylvania and the Department of Justice are already pressing for such rulemaking to become reality.

Even those few budget proposals that may make sense in theory cannot be trusted, both because of the administration’s mission against minority communities as well as the incompetence within the regime. The proposed elimination of some 50 appointments (out of 150) can make sense, especially given the 27 “confidential assistants”, “special assistants” and other mandarins that are supposed to work directly for DeVos and her chief of staff, Josh Venable. But given the rather public failure to release on time the results from the latest edition of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, how can anyone trust that DeVos and her team knows which positions should be eliminated?

[Of course, many of those spots targeted, along with others such as the 14 on the Commission on Presidential Scholars (along with its executive director) have gone unfilled for months. Because no decent person wants to be associated with this regime.]

You can only trust that the Trump Administration will do nothing well, do things incompetently, act without integrity and operate with intent to harm the poor and minority communities it is supposed to serve. DeVos and the Department of Education are not exempted from this reality. And reformers need to step up and oppose the administration at every turn on this and other fronts.

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Doing Right for All Children at All Times

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…

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.

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Betsy DeVos’ Silence is Deafening

Last night, during his State of the Union Address, the current Occupant of the White House did what he almost always does when it comes to undocumented immigrant children and…

Last night, during his State of the Union Address, the current Occupant of the White House did what he almost always does when it comes to undocumented immigrant children and the native-born offspring of undocumented (and even documented) immigrant parents: He denigrated them.

The mother of four who serves Trump as U.S. Secretary of Education, an avowed Christian charged with transforming American public education as well as defending the futures and lives of those very children and youth, sat there, tacitly agreeing with every profanity he lodged against them and their communities.

Given her past record, this is certainly not shocking. But it also shouldn’t be this way. This silence in the face of demagoguery, this acquiescence to policies, practices and ideas geared toward harming our most-vulnerable children and the communities who love them, is one more example of how Elizabeth Prince DeVos is unqualified to lead in American public education.

Contrary to the statement of American Enterprise Institute scholar (and Maryland State Board of Education President) Andrew Smarick, there was a lot of awfulness about Trump’s speech, both in its delivery and its rhetoric. Elizabeth Bruenig of the Washington Post astutely noted that his speech was little more than a litany of “ethnically-inflected nationalism”, that consisted of “scapegoating” and appeals to “creating thick borders between us and them so that we will feel more like an us.” As Dropout Nation readers already know, Trump and is ilk think mothers, fathers, and children who aren’t White or of European descent are the ‘them’ that need to be cleansed from American society.

The fact that Trump didn’t offer much in the way of a thought on education — other than touting vocational education programs long used to keep poor and minority children from high-quality college-preparatory education (as well as fail in terms of addressing the reality that the knowledge needed for success in traditional colleges are also needed for success in technical schools and apprenticeships run by community colleges) — was the only comforting thing about it. Because he didn’t tar systemic reform with his endorsement.

But the worst of his vitriol was reserved for immigrants regardless of legal status.

Trump wrongfully argued that America’s immigration laws, a dysfunctional messy legacy of racial, ethnic and religious bigotry, allows too many emigres to sponsor “unlimited numbers of relatives for citizenship when, in fact, they can only spouses, children, parents and siblings (and even for the last group, it can take as long as 20 years to gain legal entry in the first place). He also claimed that the immigration system’s so-called “visa lottery” — which actually involves a background check, an interview and requirements such as having a high school diploma or two years of training in a high-skilled job — doesn’t have any requirements for entry.

Trump also insinuated that undocumented emigres were little more than criminals. This  prominently mentioning MS-13, the gang originally formed in Los Angeles, Calif., that has become a menace to Central American nations since the early 1990s thanks to U.S. foreign and immigration policies (including deporting its members to Central American nations such as Honduras and El Salvador) that have led to more people from those nations (including so-called Border Children that several Congressional Republicans have denigrated) fleeing to our shores. Despite the fact that most MS-13 members are native-born Americans, Trump still claimed that they were an invading horde because of supposedly open borders.

Betsy DeVos has been a silent and willing collaborator in Trump’s bigotry against Black, Brown, and immigrant children as well as their families and communities.

Even worse than that, Trump insinuated throughout his speech that Dreamers, the 780,000 children, youth, and young adults (including 9,000 teachers working in classrooms) who now face deportation thanks to his move last September to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, weren’t worthy of protection or even contributors to American society. This included his declaration that “Americans are dreamers too”, essentially arguing that only native-born Americans are worthy of consideration He also doubled down on the proposal his administration issued last week, which would only allow Dreamers to gain citizenship after a cumbersome 12 year process– even though most of the youths have already been in this country all but a few years of their lives, end up gainfully employed as adults, and been citizens of this country in all but paper.

There was nothing in Trump’s speech that acknowledged how Dreamers working in our traditional public, charter and private schools (including those recruited by Teach For America) are helping native-born and immigrant children gain the knowledge they need for lifelong success. Not one word accepting the reality that America has always been a nation of immigrants, men and women who, despite state-sanctioned bigotry (which always extended to the descendants of enslaved Africans as well as American Indians and Alaska Natives already on this soil), managed to be contributors to the nation’s political, social and economic fabric. What he did instead is engage in even more of his bigoted demagoguery, doubling down on his nasty statements about immigrants made earlier this month during a meeting to work out a deal to help Dreamers gain citizenship.

What did DeVos do while Trump smeared the immigrant children under her watch and the emigres who teach in schools? Nothing. Last night, she issued one statement focused on a meeting she will have with the Occupant today. Then this morning, she issued another, calling on Congress to “to act in the best interest of students and expand access to more education pathways“, a nice way of she wants to keep poor and minority children from accessing traditional higher education and gaining college-preparatory learning.

Sad. Immoral. But not shocking. Because this isn’t the first time Betsy DeVos has had little to say about President Donald Trump’s bigotry.

As chair of the American Federation for Children, she was silent after he won the Presidential election back in November 2016. Instead of demanding that he apologize for his rank demagoguery against immigrant and minority children during his campaign, she declared  that she would work with him.

When Trump nominated her to become Secretary of Education, she neither refused his invitation nor called on him to recant his bigotry nor sought to distance herself from his nastiness. Again, she said nothing at all, and, in fact, appeared at one of his events celebrating his victory.

Months later, when Trump false claimed that White Supremacists participating in the Unite the Right terrorism in Charlottesville, Va. were only partly responsible for the violence that resulted, DeVos, now firmly in her job as Secretary of Education, still said nothing. Save for a memo to her staff that condemns bigotry, she stayed silent.

A month later, when the administration announced that it was ending DACA and putting undocumented immigrant children, youth and adults on the path to deportation, DeVos and her minions at the Department of Education offered nothing in the way of a plan to help them. She kept her silence while proceeding to scale back the agency’s role in protecting the civil rights of poor and minority children.

DeVos only seems willing to speak out when it comes to denigrating systemic reform, especially when it comes to the focus on stemming achievement gaps and protecting the civil rights of children. But when it comes to defending children, especially those targeted by the Trump regime, she utters nothing and proves her complicity in the administration’s efforts at low-grade ethnic cleansing.

Of course, DeVos hasn’t been alone in her silence in the face of Trump’s bigotry. Far too many erstwhile school reformers have been all too willing to say nothing. Rick Hess and his team at the American Enterprise Institute, along with other conservative school reformers, have spent more time being the amen corner for DeVos and the administration than being moral champions for our most-vulnerable children.

Save for civil rights-oriented reformers, a few in the conservative and centrist Democrat camps such as former Thomas B. Fordham Institute President Chester Finn Jr., and, most-notably, Education Trust, Emerson Project, and Teach For America (the latter of which has been criticized for its steadfast support for Dreamers), other camps within the movement have stood idly by or have chosen to focus on other things. This is especially clear from weak and lackluster responses from reformers before and after yesterday’s State of the Union Address.

For a number of reasons, including an unwillingness to work with traditionalists such as the American Federation of Teachers (which has also been steadfast in defending DACA youth), they have offered little support for helping undocumented immigrant children, either on the policy front or on the ground in places such as Philadelphia, where they face the risk of detention and deportation just for trying to gain knowledge they need and deserved.

All of these reformers deserve shame. But DeVos, whose family remains a major player in subsidizing the movement, should be especially ashamed. By being more-concerned about ideology and agenda than about defending every child no matter who they are, she has made mockery of her professed faith, violated God’s Commandments (especially in the Beatitudes), and denigrated what was once a respectable legacy of expanding public charter schools and other forms of school choice. Like any Christian, DeVos is supposed to be a living sanctuary, not the tool of evil men. As Jesus Christ, who commanded all of us to do for the least of us, the Children of God, would not approve.

Each and every day, DeVos continues to prove that she is unfit for her office. Yesterday was just another example. For shame!


Featured photo courtesy of the New Yorker.

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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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Protect Our Immigrant Children

As you already know, the Trump Administration has declared open war on undocumented immigrant children and their families, as well as the 5.9 million native-born children of emigres to this…

As you already know, the Trump Administration has declared open war on undocumented immigrant children and their families, as well as the 5.9 million native-born children of emigres to this country who fled economic despair, political oppression and violent crime. For the school reform movement, it is another reminder of why we must fight harder to oppose what the regime is doing (and plans to do) to our most-vulnerable children and their families.

President Donald Trump made clear his bigotry toward Latino children (as well as his contempt for the rule of law) last Friday night when when he pardoned former Maricopa County (Ariz.) Sheriff Joe Arpaio. The disgraced law enforcement official, whose long list of misdeeds includes failing to investigate alleged sexual assaults of undocumented emigres (including the molestation of 32 children), was convicted this month of contempt of court for violating a federal court order to stop discriminatory profiling of Latinos (including those native-born and undocumented who had no criminal record) to ascertain their citizenship status.

By pardoning Arpaio, Trump gives rogue cops and police departments the carte blanche to engage in criminal abuse of immigrants as well as blessed all kinds of police brutality and other violations of civil liberties of all Americans. Given the wide criticism he received over the last two weeks for failing to condemn White Supremacists who committed murder and mayhem earlier this month in Charlottesville, Va., the pardon is also a clear sign of where his administration stands when it comes to the federal role of protecting the civil rights of poor and minority communities.

Arpaio’s pardon comes on the heels of new reports that the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Custom Enforcement agents are engaging in all kinds of roguery.

Earlier this month, the American Civil Liberties Union revealed in a lawsuit on behalf of three undocumented immigrant youth that the federal agency is teaming up with police departments (including the 250 law enforcement agencies operated by traditional district schools) to pick up, detain, and ultimately, deport unaccompanied refugee children and other undocumented minors. The children, already vetted by other federal agencies, are supposed to be turned over to their parents or to the Department of Health and Human Services. Instead, ICE is violating federal law by placing them in detention centers halfway across the country from where they live, putting them in danger of being molested and assaulted.

In the particular case being represented by the ACLU, ICE teamed up with Suffolk County, N.Y., police officers to pick up three unaccompanied refugees from Honduras and El Salvador attending high school in New York’s Brentwood district for allegedly being members of the MS-13 gang. ICE agents and Suffolk County cops have proclaimed in court that the children admitted gang affiliation even though they have been unable to provide any physical evidence or corroboration.The Brentwood district allegedly conspired with ICE and Suffolk County cops by suspending students who were suspiciously picked up for deportation days later.

Through ICE, the Trump Administration has attempted to pry data from districts in order to conduct their operations as well as standing outside schools so they can pick up kids and parents entering schoolhouse doors. Such data is prohibited from being disclosed to ICE by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, the law governing the release of school data, but district staffers aren’t always aware of this. As a result of the tactics, traditional districts are issuing guidance to school leaders and others to not release any data.

Meanwhile the Trump Administration has taken particular aim at “border children” from Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala who fled to this country to escape violence. Two weeks ago, Homeland Security canceled the Central American Minors Parole, which allowed 3,000 such kids to remain in the country. This will likely lead to those kids, some as young as 11, to be deported, and shortchanging them of schooling they need and deserve. The move by ICE this month to deport Lizandro Claros-Saravia, who was set to attend Louisberg College on a partial athletic scholarship, shows that collegians who are destined to contribute greatly to America’s economy and society, will also be shown the door.

Things will likely get worse for immigrant children will likely in the next few months if the Trump Administration moves to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the initiative started under the Obama Administration to exempt emigres brought to the country as children from deportation. Some 760,000 children and young adults ages nine and older are protected under DACA. This includes 100 Teach for America recruits who are working in the nation’s traditional public and public charter schools.

 If Trump goes ahead and ends DACA, as many expect, children in elementary, secondary, and schools of higher education will be tossed out of the country when they should be learning and ultimately becoming the nation’s future leaders and builders of its economy. It also means that teachers who are improving the quality of education for poor and minority children will also end up being deported, harming the futures of the children they serve.

As it is, the Trump Administration has already begun targeting DACA emigres for deportation. This has resulted in even more allegations of roguery by ICE agents. In the case of Riccy Enriquez Perdom, who was briefly detained last week and then released after public outcry, ICE agents allegedly told her that her DACA status had expired even though it had been renewed seven months ago.

The consequences for children of undocumented emigres and those kids who are undocumented themselves can already be seen in our schools. As the New Yorker detailed back in March, children are skipping school out of fear that their parents and themselves may end up detained and deported, or, in the case of native-born children, end up in the nation’s child welfare systems. Those kids whose parents are rounded for deportation suffer dramatically; on average, the household of those children, whose parents were working, paying taxes, and contributing to communities, declined by 50 percent, according to a 2014 study by Robert Warren and Donald Kerwin of the Center for Migration Studies.

It is almost impossible for children to learn and gain the knowledge they need for brighter futures if they are in conditions of instability and poverty caused by government action.

That many undocumented immigrant children (along with their families) came to this country to find safety, political oppression and economic stability makes the efforts of Trump Administration to get rid of them even crueler than it first appears. Given that they are undocumented because of the nation’s broken immigration system (whose quotas are a legacy of the racial bigotry against earlier generations of Latinos, Jews, Irish and Chinese emigres), and that most have never committed a felony, the administration’s effort is  arbitrary, capricious, and unconscionable.

But the problem for undocumented immigrant youth extends beyond losing out on teaching and learning. Once picked up for deportation, a child is ensnared in an overwhelmed immigration court system that offers them no opportunities for due process.

The end of the day at Albertville Middle School. Statistics say the student body is 30% latino, but teachers think its higher. Many students were taken out of school when Alabama’s immigration laws were passed.

Judges aren’t required to give an undocumented immigrant child a lawyer who help them obtain a fair trial; 34 percent of the 56,663 children in immigration court in the 2013-2014 fiscal year had no lawyer representing them. When kids aren’t represented by lawyers, they are more-likely to be deported or placed in detention than those who aren’t; 68 percent of undocumented immigrant children without lawyers were ordered out of the country in 2013-2014, compared to just 6.1 percent of those with lawyers.

Even worse is what can happen to those children if they detained end up in detention centers (prisons and jails) in which sexual and other forms of criminal abuse is rampant. The likelihood of those abuses being addressed or even being reported is abysmally low. Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General investigated a mere 570 of the 33,126 allegations of abuse lodged by undocumented emigres in detention centers between 2010 and 2016, according to Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement. Given that ICE is now looking to destroy documentation of such complaints, the likelihood of even more abuse is greater than ever.

This discrimination against undocumented immigrant children and native-born progeny of undocumented Americans (as well as against their families) is that it is based on an intellectually indefensible and absolutely immoral premise: That immigrants are a scourge to the nation. This thinking, almost as old as the racialism that is America’s Original Sin (and has often intertwined with racism to detrimental effect on generations of poor and minority children), continues to be embraced by the Trump Administration, many Congressional Republican leaders, and their supporters despite the overwhelming evidence that immigrants contribute greatly to this country’s economy and society. [The fact that Trump, along with nearly all of his staffers, are the descendants of emigres of the last two centuries, makes their nativism hypocritical.]

The good news is that some reformers have already stepped out to demand that the Trump Administration keep DACA in place. This includes Chiefs for Change, which issued a public call today asking for retain protections for undocumented immigrant children, as well as former U.S. Secretary of Education John King (who called out the administration in a speech last week to a group of school leaders. But reformers can do more.

One step lies in working with districts and school operators to help them give sanctuary to the undocumented. Districts such as Chicago have already taken these steps, refusing to cooperate with ICE and other law enforcement agencies in their deportation efforts. But those districts need help. The movement can reach out to immigration reform groups and others to develop ways to help those families evade deportation; this includes running bus services that can transport children from homes to schools without endangering their families, as well as work with community groups such as San Francisco’s Arriba Juntos to provide schooling to those in fear of appearing in schools.

Reformers can also offer their experience on the school data front to help immigration reform activists hold ICE and the federal government responsible. This includes advocating alongside immigration reform activists to oppose destruction of  records and complaints of abuse lodged by undocumented immigrants in detention center.

The longer-term step starts with supporting immigration reform efforts on overhauling the nation’s immigration system. Certainly reformers can’t help in directly crafting policy. But they can help give political support by simply signing on to letters, teaming up on advocacy efforts that advance both immigration and school reform.

Meanwhile school reformers can work on eliminating the presence of police officers in schools. Besides the documented evidence that the presence of law enforces leads to overuse of harsh school discipline and exacerbates the school-to-prison pipeline, they can also end up being used by ICE as tools to identify and deport undocumented immigrant children and their families. As a result, getting cops out of schools helps improve school cultures for all children.

The Trump Administration has once again made clear its policy agenda of harming the futures of poor and minority children. As reformers, we must make sure it fails in its immoral goal.

Featured photo courtesy of Chip Somodevilla.

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