Tag: teacher quality

A Holy Call for School Reform

Truly He taught us to love one another, His law is love and His gospel is peace. Chains he shall break, for the slave is our brother. And in his…

Truly He taught us to love one another,
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains he shall break, for the slave is our brother.
And in his name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
With all our hearts we praise His holy name.
Christ is the Lord! Then ever, ever praise we,
His power and glory ever more proclaim!
His power and glory ever more proclaim!

John Sullivan Dwight’s translation of the third verse of Placide Cappeau’s and Adolphe Adam’s O Holy Night. As reformers, we must embrace these words by helping children and their families break the chains of illiteracy and innumeracy, as well as end the oppression of educational failure.

On this Christmas Eve, let’s commit ourselves once again to building brighter futures for all our children.

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The Integration Mirage

If the Century Foundation and other advocates for socioeconomic integration are believed, Cambridge Public School in Massachusetts is supposedly the model for harmonious, high-quality educating of all children regardless of…

If the Century Foundation and other advocates for socioeconomic integration are believed, Cambridge Public School in Massachusetts is supposedly the model for harmonious, high-quality educating of all children regardless of background. This is because “73 percent of schools were balanced by race in the 2011–2012 school year” and 64 percent of them were “balanced” by socioeconomic status (including percentage of kids on free- and reduced-priced lunch plans). Declares Century in its lullaby to the school: “Cambridge remains a leader in school integration”.

Yet a Dropout Nation analysis of data from the U.S. Department of Education offers a much different story than what Century and others want to promote. If anything, the rationing of opportunity for high-quality education is as much a problem in Cambridge and other districts considered successes of integration as they are in the nation’s most-highly segregated traditional districts.

Just 8.5 percent of Cambridge’s 577 Black high school students — 49 of them, to be exact — took Advanced Placement courses in 2013-2014. This is four times lower than the 34. 5 percent of White peers (226) taking the college preparatory coursework. [Sixteen-point-four percent of Latino high schoolers took AP that year.]

It gets only slightly better when it comes to access to calculus, trigonometry and other forms of advanced mathematics. Twenty eight-point-four percent of Black high schoolers took college-preparatory math in 2013-2014. But that still trailed the 48.4 percent of White peers who took those course. [Some 35.2 percent of Latino high school students took calculus and advanced math.]

The numbers got slightly better when it came to physics, a critical gateway course for science, technology, engineering and math careers. Thirty three-point-four percent of Black high schoolers took the course compared to 35.9 percent of White peers. But only 28.7 percent of Latino high schoolers took the course.

Meanwhile there is another form of denying opportunity that is pernicious within Cambridge — in the form of who gets put into its special ed ghettos. One out of every four Black children in Cambridge’s district — 25.9 percent of Black children in its care — are labeled special ed cases, as are 25.4 percent of Latino peers. This is almost double the (also far too high) 14.2 percent of White children placed into special ed. Based on those numbers, a Black or Latino child in Cambridge has a one-in-four chance of being denied the high-quality teaching and curricula they need for lifelong success.

Districts such as Stamford Public Schools are touted as examples of success in integration. But the data proves that illusory.

Even worse, the Black kids condemned to special ed are more-likely to be subjected to out-of-school suspensions and other forms of harsh traditional school discipline that ensure that they have a one-in-six chance of graduating from high school. Cambridge meted one or more out-of-school suspensions to 9.7 percent of Black children and 8.9 percent of Latino peers in Cambridge’s special ed ghettos; this is three times higher than the 3.5 percent out-of-school suspension rate for White peers.

For all of Century’s talk about Cambridge representing the success of socioeconomic integration, the data on equality of opportunity doesn’t support it. But this should be no surprise — especially to otherwise-sensible outfits such as the Center for American Progress (which released its own call for integration this week). Because integration has never proven to be the solution for the nation’s education crisis and its damage to the futures of poor and minority children that its proponents claim it to be.

Take the Jefferson County district in Louisville, Ky., another district that has been touted by Century and others for efforts on integration. Back in October, the foundation bemoaned an effort by the state legislature to end its “controlled choice” effort and allow families to send their kids to neighborhood schools. Just 11 percent of the district’s Black high schoolers and 18 percent of Latino peers accessed AP courses in 2013-2104, versus 28.5 percent of White high school students. Only 12 percent of Black high school students and 14.2 percent of Latino peers took calculus and advanced mathematics; this is lower than the 21.5 percent of White peers who accessed those courses.

Meanwhile the denial of high-quality education in the form of sending kids to special ed ghettos remains a problem. Fourteen-point. six percent of Black children are put into special ed, slightly higher than the 12.3 percent of White peers. [Only 6.4 percent of Latino children are condemned to special ed.] Yet Black children in special ed will suffer even worse than White peers when it comes to out-of-school suspensions and other forms of harsh school discipline. Jefferson County meted one or more out-of-school suspensions to 17.7 of Black children, compared to just 7.1 percent of White peers (and 10.2 percent of Latino students). Even when Black and White children are equally condemned to educational failure, they are not harmed in equal ways.

Another ‘model’ for integration is the Stamford district in Connecticut, which has been credited by Century for “remarkable success maintaining racially and socioeconomically desegregated schools”. Yet only 14 percent of Black high school students and 17 percent of their Latino peers took AP courses in 2013-2014, compared to 40.5 percent of White peers. Just 15.1 percent of Black high schoolers and 14.3 percent of Latino counterparts took calculus and other advanced math, two times lower than the 32.2 percent participation rate for White peers.

Meanwhile 19.1 percent of Black children and 12.6 percent of Latino peers were condemned to Stamford’s special ed ghettos. Only 9.2 percent of White children were denied high-quality education. Within those ghettos, Stamford meted one or more out-of-school suspensions to 13.3 percent of Black students and 6.6 percent of Latino peers. Just 3.3 percent of White students — 16 in all — were suspended one or more times that year.

Your editor can go on and on with each of the nine examples Century touts as models of success in socioeconomic integration — as well as point out other examples such as Clinton Separate School District in Mississippi. But that would be piling on. What the data points out is that for all the claims advocates make, socioeconomic integration doesn’t address the underlying issues that keep poor and minority children from receiving the high-quality teaching, curricula, and cultures they need for lifelong success.

Socioeconomic integration doesn’t deal with the reality that mixing Black and Latino faces into White spaces doesn’t address the myriad ways traditional districts deny opportunities to them. This includes the gatekeeping by school leaders, teachers and guidance counselors of gifted-and-talented programs that are the first steps towards kids attending AP and other college-preparatory courses, the low-quality instruction and curricula in regular classrooms that keep Black and Brown kids off the paths to success, and even selective high schools such as those of New York City, which Contributing Editor Michael Holzman has shown to be forms of “segregation by another name”.

Oddly enough, the magnet schools and other “controlled choice” models integration-as-school reform advocates often tout are among the worst offenders. One reason? Because they are as much used by districts as tools for luring and keeping White families at the expense of poor and minority children as they are mandated by courts for integration. [By the way: The power to use choice and high-quality education as a political tool is one reason why traditional districts oppose the expansion of charter schools in the first place.] Basically, magnets and controlled choice deny our most-vulnerable children access to high-quality education in the name of socioeconomic balance. Even worse, the approaches are no different in practice than the kinds of “curated segregation” that take place in many cities today.

There is a reason why charters have become the choice of so many Black families: Because of the opportunities for children to have their cultures and lives affirmed.

Integration also doesn’t address the failure to provide poor and minority children with teachers who are subject-matter competent and also care for them regardless of their background. As Dropout Nation noted last month, far too many Black and Brown children are taught by teachers who subject them to the not-so-soft-bigotry of low expectations, harming their chances for high school graduation and college completion. Nor does integration address the need to overhaul how we recruit, train, and compensate teachers, deal with the need to bring more talented Black people (including midcareer professionals ready to work with kids) into classrooms, or even the near-lifetime employment rules (in the form of tenure) and teacher dismissal policies that keep so many low-quality teachers in classrooms often filled with the descendants of enslaved Africans.

Addressing those underlying issues requires undertaking the kinds of teacher quality overhauls reformers have been pushing for the past two decades, ones that integration-as-school reform advocates often oppose. Put bluntly, it is difficult for your editor to take integration advocates seriously when they refuse to deal honestly with the consequences of policies and practices that allow educationally-abusive teaching to fester.

Meanwhile integration fails to address the restrictions on opportunity for poor and minority children that result from the traditional district model as well as the zoning policies and property tax-based finance systems on which it is sustained. Integration does absolutely nothing to address how districts use their dependence on property tax dollars to oppose the ability of poor and minority families in other communities (who finance those schools through state and federal dollars). Nor does it stop districts from using school zones and magnet schools as tools for denying opportunity to the Black and Brown families who live within them. And it definitely doesn’t stop White communities seeking to secede from integrated districts from doing so.

It’s long past time to break the ties between educational opportunity, property taxes and housing policy. This means moving away from a model of public education built upon districts and school boundaries (which integration merely overlays) to one in which states finance high-quality opportunities from which all children and families of all backgrounds can choose.

Finally, what integration advocates fail to admit is that their approach is patronizing to the very Black and Brown families for which they proclaim concern. This is because throughout American history, integration (along with its kissing cousin, assimilation, about which American Indians know all too well) has always been based on the racialist idea that Whiteness is superior, that White people are better, and that if it isn’t close to White or attended by White, then it is inferior, and by implication, should be destroyed.

Anyone who has gone to a Historically Black College and University, or been to a rural White school knows this isn’t true. Even worse, it is unconscionable and immoral for anyone to believe it or embrace it or perpetuate it. But the fiction remains as pernicious and destructive now as it was during the heyday of integration in the 1960s and 1970s when schools in Black communities were shut down instead of being provided with the resources they needed to serve children properly. If allowed to re-emerge, that thinking will damage the new efforts Black and Latino people are doing now to help their children succeed on their own terms.

For Black and Latino families who just want and deserve high-quality schools in the communities in which they live that also affirm their cultures, where their kids also go to schools with kids who look like them, where they know that they can succeed (even when they are told otherwise), integration remains what Charles Ogletree once called a false promise. Based on the data, their feelings are justified. They are also tired of having their children being forced to teach White people’s children how to treat them with respect, and exhausted with negotiating with White people for the resources their children are supposed to get by law. Those feelings are also well-deserved. Integration does nothing to affirm the people it is supposed to help.

If we want to build brighter futures for all children, especially those Black, Brown, and poor, we have to get to continue to overhaul the policies and practices that keep them from getting the knowledge they deserve. Focusing on integration as the solution merely papers over the hard work that must be done.

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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 iTunesBlubrry, Google Play, Stitcher, and PodBean.

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AFT’s and NEA’s Soft Bigotry Against Minority Children

America’s public school teaching workforce is mostly-White and nearly all female. Many of them live in suburbia — even when they teach in urban districts. Even when they do live…

America’s public school teaching workforce is mostly-White and nearly all female. Many of them live in suburbia — even when they teach in urban districts. Even when they do live in urban districts, many of them either use school choice clauses in collective bargaining agreements to get first dibs on schools that don’t have Black or Latino children in them, or just send their kids to private schools to avoid the failure mills they themselves work in.

While many teachers are progressive politically, this is not true of everyone in the profession. As seen three years ago in New York City, when teachers angry at the American Federation of Teachers’ Big Apple unit for supporting efforts against police brutality wore t-shirts in support of police, not all are all that concerned with criminal justice reforms that would help improve the lives of the poor and minority children they teach. And unlike the two unions that represent them (often not of their own choosing), those teachers aren’t necessarily loyal to the Democratic National Committee. Even American Federation of Teachers President Rhonda (Randi) Weingarten conceded last year that one in five of its rank-and-file voted for Donald Trump.

Considering these realities, it is little wonder why Steve Bannon, the White Supremacist who helped Trump win the presidency last year and served as his aide before flaming out this past August, wanted (and managed to score) a meeting with Weingarten last March. Nor is it shocking that Weingarten came away rather impressed by  his political acumen. Because she, along with Lily Eskelsen Garcia of the National Education Association, knows all too well that far too many teachers in American public education are racially myopic. And that her union protects them.

Certainly reformers can point to the instances of outright bigotry by teachers and school leaders within the past year. This includes Cammie Rone, who was suspended in September by the Panola district in Mississippi after writing a Facebook rant that demanded that Black people should “move back to Africa” if they are dissatisfied with the legacies of bigotry that still perplex America today. It also includes an as-yet identified teacher at Cliffside Park High School in New Jersey who was caught on Snapchat last month berating her (English-speaking) Latino students, proclaiming that soldiers “are not fighting for your right to speak Spanish.” The incident led to students at the school, which is in a district in which one-third of students are Latino, walking out in protest.

Certainly most teachers aren’t outright bigots. There are myriad teachers who do well by all children every day and deserve our praise as well as respect. But far too many poor and minority children are subjected by far too many instructional professionals to educational abuse and neglect. And it extends beyond those few public instances.

Over the past few months, a litany of studies have once again proven that White teachers are less likely to have high expectations for Black children (and therefore, less likely to provide them high-quality instruction) than their White peers. Just 24 percent of White teachers expected their Black students to finish high school and higher education, according to a 2017 study led by Seth Gershenson of American University and Nicholas Papageorge of Johns Hopkins University. Those low expectations contribute to low educational attainment by poor and minority children.

This racial myopia (and outright bigotry) toward poor and minority children also manifests in the overuse of out-of-school suspensions and other forms of harsh traditional school discipline. As Adam Wright of University of California, Santa Barbara determined in a 2015 study, beliefs among White teachers that Black children are unruly and poorly-behaved explain why they are more-likely to be referred for discipline and suspended than their White peers. Black children taught by Black teachers were 28 percent-to-38 percent less-likely to be suspended than if taught by White teachers.

Not only does Wright’s study bear out three decades of research on overuse of discipline (including those than control for socioeconomic status), it even proves Vanderbilt Professor Daniel J. Reschly’s assertion about the role of teacher beliefs (and misinterpretation of data) in the overidentification of Black and other minority children as special ed cases. Which is why your editor isn’t surprised by today’s news out of California that even with aggressive reforms on the school discipline front there, out-of-school suspensions were meted out to 9.8 percent of Black children, a rate three times higher than that for their White schoolmates.

Certainly the educational abuse of Black children are reflective of failures in school leadership within states and traditional districts. This is a point Dropout Nation continues to make in its Rationing Opportunity and Beyond Ferguson collections. But teachers do the work in classrooms, and as data continues to show, have the greatest impacts on student achievement, especially in areas such as math. More-importantly, because the quality of teaching varies more within schools (from classroom to classroom) than among them, the racial myopia of teachers (and their low expectations for the poor and minority children in their care) are matters that have to be addressed in order to help all children succeed.

This includes overhauling how we recruit teachers, ensuring that they care for every child regardless of background as well as have the subjective-matter competency needed to educate them properly. It also includes giving districts and other school operators the ability to remove those in the classroom who don’t belong there.

Those transformations, however, are opposed by AFT and NEA. For all their talk about opposing the bigotry of the likes of Bannon and Trump — as well as their participation efforts such as the new Education Civil Rights Alliance funded in part by the Ford Foundation — the Big Two unions end up aiding and abetting the kinds of soft and hard bigotries associated with the likes of them.

The Big Two continue to support the nation’s university schools of education, which have demonstrably proven ineffective in recruiting teachers both empathetic to all children and competent in their instruction. AFT, in particular, gave $71,410 to Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation, the organization that defends the poor practices of ed schools, during its 2017 fiscal year.

The Big Two defend near-lifetime employment in the form of tenure and shoddy teacher dismissal policies that make it difficult for districts to root out laggards (as well as those engaged in criminal and sexual abuse). Their opposition to the efforts of Teach For America (which is now the training center of choice for high-quality Black, Latino, and Native teachers) to diversify teaching, as well as their fights against efforts of charters to develop alternative routes for bringing in teachers (which would be a boon to mid-career professional of African-American descent) also exemplifies their lack of concern for the futures of poor and minority children.

Meanwhile AFT and NEA have been unwilling to ride herd on locals and state affiliates who oppose school discipline reforms that can help poor and minority children. AFT’s failure three years ago to force its Minneapolis local to support an effort by the district to reduce overuse of suspensions is merely one of many instances when the national union’s proclamations for social justice are proven empty in practice.

This soft bigotry perpetuated by AFT and NEA extends beyond teachers. From opposing the expansion of high-quality charter schools and other school choice options, to its opposition to Parent Trigger laws and efforts of Parent Power activists in places such as Connecticut and California, to efforts to eviscerate accountability measures that hold districts and school operators to heel for serving Black and Brown children well, even to their historic disdain for Black families and condoning of Jim Crow discrimination against Black teachers, both unions have proven no better than outright White Supremacists when it comes to addressing the legacies of bigotry in which American public education is the nexus.

By refusing to embrace systemic reforms, AFT and NEA help perpetuate damage to the futures of Black and Brown children, often behaving no differently in consequence than the regime that occupies the executive branch of the federal government. Even worse, by refusing to help root out those teachers harming children, the two unions actually damage the teaching profession itself as well as do disservice to those good and great teachers who care for every child in their classrooms.

Certainly Weingarten is no bigot. This is crystal clear. But given these realities, one has to wonder how different is she in reality from Steve Bannon? Because she and her allies are doing no better than him when it comes to building brighter futures for Black and Brown children.

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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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Beyond Charlottesville

In the wake of yesterday’s Dropout Nation commentary, there has been plenty of reformers stepping up to call out President Donald Trump’s defense of White Supremacists committing terrorism last weekend…

In the wake of yesterday’s Dropout Nation commentary, there has been plenty of reformers stepping up to call out President Donald Trump’s defense of White Supremacists committing terrorism last weekend in Charlottesville. Even better, they have stepped up and called on those who have aided and abetted the administration to resign or disassociate themselves from the regime.

This includes former Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman, who took to Twitter today to call on U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to step down from the administration. Marc Porter Magee and the leadership of 50CAN also stepped up with an open letter disavowing the president’s demagoguery.

Meanwhile Eva Moskowitz, the founder of Success Academy, finally and belatedly announced in a letter to supporters and others that she was distancing herself from the administration. As typical for Moskowitz, she decided to cast blame on critics of her courting of the administration, complaining that political polarization has somehow led folks to think of “my silence as tacit support of President Trump’s policies”. But at least Moskowitz finally took the time to do the right thing.

Of course, there are still reformers who refuse to say anything. American Enterprise Institute education czar Frederick (Rick) Hess has remained silent so far, while Jeanne Allen of the Center for Education Reform is too busy touting her latest Wall Street Journal op-ed castigating American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten’s race-baiting to address the Demagogue in Chief’s even more-rancid and bigoted remarks. DeVos just broke radio silence this afternoon with a memo to her staff that condemns bigotry, but doesn’t call out her boss for his sophistry. The good news is that more reformers are recognizing that they cannot remain silent in the face of an ever-present danger to the futures of our children.

But as your editor noted yesterday, school reformers (especially those who have aided and abetted the Trump Administration) have to do more than just condemn the president’s latest demagoguery and end any meaningful association with his regime. This is because the racialism that the current occupant of the White House has stirred up has existed long before he ran for office — and is embedded in many ways in American public education itself.

The legacies of the nation’s Original Sin can be seen today in data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress. There’s the fact that a mere 16 percent of Black eighth-graders in 2014-2015 read at Proficient and Advanced levels (or at grade level) — and that the remaining 84 percent are either functionally illiterate or barely able to read. As Contributing Editor Michael Holzman has detailed in his latest series of analyses, American public education perpetuates a caste system in which poor and minority children are condemned to poverty and prison. [Holzman’s piece on Virginia itself will debut on these pages tomorrow morning.]

The outcomes are in many ways a deliberate result of how our public education systems are designed and operated.

This includes the rationing of high-quality education, often done by districts and their school leaders in order to win political support from White middle class families at the expense of poor and minority households. This has often been the case with magnet schools and is now happening with language immersion programs originally geared toward helping Latino and other children from immigrant households improve their English fluency. The fact that just 23 percent of Black seventh- and eighth-graders in seven states took Algebra 1 (as of 2011-2012) is one example of how poor and minority kids lose out on college-preparatory education they deserve.

[The politics of rationing education is a reason why districts and other traditionalists also oppose the expansion of public charter schools and other forms of school choice that are helping Black and Latino children attain high quality education; charters fall outside of the control of districts and therefore, open the doors of opportunity for those historically denied great teachers and college-preparatory curricula.]

But as Dropout Nation readers also know, Black and Latino children are also denied high-quality education because there are many within American public education who think lowly of them. Reformers and others have documented this problem for some time. As Seth Gershenson, Stephen B. Holt and Nicholas Papageorge detailed last year in a study of teacher expectations, 40 percent of White teachers don’t expect Black children in their classrooms to graduate from high school. This is a problem given that White women and men account for 82 percent of teachers in the nation’s classrooms.

Another problem lies with how public education mismanages the recruitment, training, management, and compensation of the nation’s teachers. Not only do the nation’s university schools of education fail miserably to recruit teachers who care about kids regardless of background, they also fail to train them properly for success in teaching children, a fact the National Council on Teacher Quality demonstrates in its reviews of teacher training programs. Add in certification rules that keep mid-career professionals with strong math and science skills out of teaching, near-lifetime employment policies and discipline processes that keep laggard and criminally-abusive teachers in the profession, and practices that all but ensure that low-quality teachers are teaching the poorest children, and shoddy teacher training perpetuates the nation’s educational caste system.

Meanwhile American public education fuels the nation’s school-to-prison pipeline that traps Black, as well as other minority and immigrant children, onto paths of despair. This includes overusing out-of-school suspensions and other forms of harsh school discipline. Three decades of evidence has long ago proven that Black and other minority children are more-likely to be harshly disciplined for behaviors that would otherwise be dealt with differently if they were White. Black children, in particular, are less likely to be viewed as children as their White peers. Penn State University professor, David Ramey, detailed in a study two years ago that black children are more-likely than white peers to be suspended, expelled, and even sent to jail for the same acts of misbehavior; white children, on the other hand, are more-likely to be referred to psychologists and other medical professionals.

When you consider all the ways in which American public education harms the lives of children black and brown as well as denies them brighter futures, it is critical that reformers put as much energy into transforming the systems as some are doing in taking down Confederate statues in public parks. This is because those systems, resulting from the same racialism that led to the construction of those odes to bigotry, do even more damage across generations.

Expanding school choice and high-quality options within districts is part of the solution. Teacher quality and school discipline reforms are part of the solution. Bringing back strong accountability that was once ensconced in federal law is part of the solution. Continuing to implement high-quality standards and curricula — as well as making sure that includes honest history on how the nation has dealt with Black people as well as those from American Indian communities — is part of the solution. Finally, making sure that every child has high quality teachers who care for them is part of the solution.

The good news is that the school reform movement has worked avidly to end the bad practices, and move away from a traditional district model that prevents minority children from accessing high-quality schools. This work will get harder thanks in part to a Trump administration that means harm to those who aren’t White, as well as the efforts of traditionalists to oppose systemic reform. But it must be done and it means working harder as well as more-closely with activists outside of education policy whose efforts also touch the lives of our children.

Charlottesville is another wake-up call to reformers to bend the arc of history away from bigotry and towards progress for all of our youth. We must recommit today to that most-important goal.

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