Tag: Trump Administration

America’s Genocide Against Black People: Pandemic Edition

The coronavirus pandemic is a worldwide catastrophe that, as of this writing, is still developing in ways most of which are impossible to predict.  However, we can begin to anticipate…

The coronavirus pandemic is a worldwide catastrophe that, as of this writing, is still developing in ways most of which are impossible to predict.  However, we can begin to anticipate some its effects on one particularly vulnerable population: the descendants of enslaved Africans in the United States.

Myths, especially when ideologically useful, are tenacious.  The myth of universal American prosperity is one of those. But in truth, American prosperity, even in normal times, is made inaccessible for a large part of the population by the nation’s White Supremacist framework. As a consequence it is conventional in international comparative socio-economic studies to treat the United States as two countries, one highly developed, to be compared with OECD states such as those in the European Union, the other ranking with less developed countries.  No prizes for realizing that the latter is inhabited by African-Americans, who, by every relevant measure, live in another country, as it were, from their more prosperous White fellow citizens.

The U.S. Census numbers tell the story: in 2018 13 percent of all people (and the same percentage of White people), lived at or below the poverty line of $26,200 for a family of four, while nearly twice that percentage, 23 percent of African-Americans lived in poverty. If we count households, rather than individuals, 17 percent of White households have incomes below the poverty line, compared, again, to nearly twice that percentage, in this case 32 percent of Black households. 

Life below the poverty level, and life for those with incomes approaching it, is in normal times differentiated from the life of the American Dream by the all too concrete reality of little food, inadequate access to good quality education, bad health and shorter lives.  For many Black Americans those are the factors of day to day reality. But these are not normal times. 

In these plague days, many Black Americans will be even less likely to have adequate access to food, their children will be less likely to have access to adequate educational resources, and will therefore as adults lack the necessary qualifications for middle class employment.  In the long run this will result in even lower near-term and life-time incomes with all that implies in poor health and  shorter lives, for individuals, for their children, and for Black America. A crucial matter here is potential pandemic learning loss and its implications for Black school children, especially those living in high poverty or near poverty households.

As the conclusion reached by this blog will be disturbing and probably controversial, it would be best to work toward it carefully, step by step, at each step comparing the situation of Black Americans, children and adults, to that of White Americans, as it is the inequities that journey will reveal that are, in a sense, both resultant and causal.

James Thomas helps his son Jamal Lee Jr., 10, re-create a lung with a balloon and plastic bottle during an online science class at their San Leandro home as his other son, Javaughn Thomas, 7, watches.
For Black families such as that of James Thomas, the pandemic is now forcing them to come up with ways to augment what is being lost because school buildings are closed. [Photo courtesy of Gabrielle Lurie, San Francisco Chronicle.]

As we have just seen, Black families are more likely to be poor than White families. There are poor White families, of course, but the percentage of poor Black families is routinely much higher than the percentage of poor White families. Median incomes in 2018 were $65,900 for White households, $41,500 for Black households—Black families on average live on less than two-thirds of the incomes of White families and two-thirds of Black households have incomes below the median for White households. Even in good times, before the financial crisis and then again just before the pandemic, twice the percentage of Black households as the general population lived in poverty. This extends to their children in an even more severe fashion. Before the pandemic, approximately 15 percent of White children under age 18 lived in households with incomes below the poverty line. That percentage for Black children was 35 percent, or more than one in three.

Black families are likely to be poor; Black children are very likely to live in poor households; schools attended predominantly by Black children are likely to be poorly resourced.  Racial inequities in education—that pre-existing condition—are apparent in the acquisition of basic skills.  In 2019, before the pandemic, at the crucial middle school grade eight, 81 percent of White, non-Hispanic, students scored at or above the Basic level on the National Assessment of Educational Progress’ reading test; however, only 54 percent of Black students did so.  Or, to put it another way, just 19 percent of White students, but 46 percent – nearly half – of Black students read below the Basic level in eighth grade. They could not easily read. That is the racial divide—not the cause, but the result of inequality of resources and opportunities.

Household income not only affects educational achievement; it is affected by constraints of educational attainment and those inflicted because of race. For example, in 2016, median annual earnings of full-time, year-round, workers 25 to 34 years old who had not completed high school were $29,100 for White workers and $21,400 for Black workers.  For those who had completed high school, incomes were nearly $6,000 per year higher: $35,000, for White workers and $27,500 for Black workers.  For those with a Bachelor’s degree or higher, median incomes were $54,700 for White workers and $49,400 for Black workers. Increasing educational attainment narrowed the income gap, but did not close it.  And a smaller percentage of Black Americans attained a college degree than did White Americans: 15 percent compared to 24 percent.

Now for the probable effects of the pandemic on education, especially as it may affect African-Americans, and a look at the likely consequences of those effects.

The National Center for Education Statistics reports that in the school year 2017-2018 the graduation rate for White high school students was 89 percent.  That for Black students was 79 percent, or ten percentage points lower. The 21 percent of Black students who did not graduate from high school may well have had to anticipate spending  their lives in poverty, given that the poverty line is $26,200 and the average income of Black workers without a high school diploma is just $21,400. That, we may have to say, is normal.

Of course, these are not normal times. Most public schools have been closed for the entire second quarter of 2020. What are the implications of that for student learning? Studies of attendance absenteeism show that missing three or more weeks of school diminishes chances for high school graduation and that this begins as early as first grade. Most students in every grade have now missed three months of school, whether or not we call it “absenteeism.”  Those with limited or no access to supplementary (remote) education will have “diminished chances for high school graduation”. We mean youth in grade twelve, youth in grade eight, even children in kindergarten.

Most public school students have not been to their schools for at least twelve weeks and have been dependent on the Internet for education. Students who normally attend well-resourced schools, whose parents are college-educated and whose homes have access to broadband may have been spending  their days in what might be called enhanced home schooling.  Their schools may have delivered lessons in a variety of ways, including Zoom and the like, and their parents may have served as supplementary educators. Those students may have experienced little or no learning loss.

As might be expected, Internet access varies with household income as well as parental educational attainment.  And by race, of course.  A recent Pew Research Center study found that 79 percent of White homes had broadband access, compared to 66 percent of Black homes. 

Further, more than 90 percent of students in households with incomes over $75,000 and those whose parents were college graduates had broadband access in their homes. [Just a quarter of Black households have incomes over $75,000.] On the other hand, just 46% of homes in which the adults are without a high school diploma have broadband. We can conclude from this that nearly all White students living in middle class or more prosperous households potentially have benefited from schooling available from Internet-based lessons supported by home tutoring, while perhaps half of Black students have not had those advantages. Without broadband access to the Internet and without highly educated parents, students are likely to have simply missed out on schooling. The New York Times reported in April that in some cities between a third and a half of high school students were not logging on for classes.

Thanks to the Trump regime, along with Republican governors as well as well-to-do families clamoring for schools to reopen – even if it endangers low income, Black and Latino families who prefer to stay home- many districts and school systems are even further behind on providing virtual instruction that may be somewhat better than what happened last year.

Black students are the most likely to live in households in or near poverty, least likely to have college educated parents, least likely to have broadband access and most likely to have attended poorly resourced schools. They are particularly likely to incur complete or nearly complete interruptions in their schooling during the pandemic. 

Those families with the means to afford whiteboards and tutor – most of whom aren’t Black or Brown – will manage to escape another education crisis. Many Black and Latino families won’t be able to do that without additional federal and state resources. [Photo by RiShawn Biddle]

The data presented to this point allows for some approximations of the near-term and long-term implications of the pandemic for Black students and their communities. 

We can begin with the 21 percent of Black students who even in the recent rather good year did not graduate from high school.  We might add to those a portion of the 46 percent of Black students who read below the Basic level in grade 8.  Making the generous assumption that the 21 percent who did not graduate from high school are already accounted for among those who had not been taught to read with any facility by middle school gives us an additional 25 percent who under normal circumstances would be at risk of not graduating from high school.  It is not unreasonable to assume that given the pandemic, limited broadband access and the like, these are now as a matter of fact unlikely to graduate from high school. We therefore can work with a rough estimate that half of Black students who were in grade 12 in 2019-20 will not graduate from high school this year.  And the educational attainment of their siblings and other Black students at every grade also will be significantly delayed.

Many schools will, no doubt, make increasingly effective provisions for reaching their students in the 2020-2021 school year.  Educators, like office workers, will become accustomed to performing their tasks remotely, or through a combination of in-person and remote activities.  Student learning loss will gradually return to traditional—unsatisfactory—levels.  But this will not happen all at once and in the meantime large numbers of the most vulnerable students will not receive the level of instruction symbolized by a high school diploma. At best, they will have to repeat a year of school, whether or not that is officially admitted. 

If this is done in parallel with the usual school year, as it probably will if it is done at all, it will require districts to massively increase educational resources, including the number of teachers.  This does not only apply to the k-12 system.  It also applies in the post-secondary world, especially to community colleges, which will find themselves compelled to provide the instruction for their incoming freshman that those students missed due to the pandemic. They may, in effect, become three-year rather than two-year institutions.

We can now put some numbers to this.  If half of the 2020 cohort of Black twelfth graders do not receive meaningful high school diplomas, rather than the fifth that is to be expected in a normal year, then the potential income of each will decline from $27,500 to $21,400. Over a working life of 45 years, this would amount to a lifetime earning loss of $275,000. Given a 2019-20 grade 12 class of approximately 531,000 Black students, this would result in a loss of $73 billion for the Black American community if half do not receive high school diplomas. We can add to this the lost wages of those Black Americans who, for the same reasons, would not have attended and graduated from college.  Call it $80 billion lost to Black America just from the lost wages of what would have been the 2020 graduating class and their peers.

But that is only the beginning.  Learning loss from the pandemic will extend to every school grade: each child in the affected households will lose up to a year of learning opportunities.  Large numbers of those who normally would have achieved at least a high school degree will not complete their educations. And for all of these, the effects will continue within their families as their children grow up in households with parents who are less well-educated than they might have been and their educational attainment, in turn, will be compromised by lower household incomes and a less educationally resourced family.

We know from Raj Chetty’s Opportunity Atlas that the likelihood of Black children in low income households becoming adults with middle or high incomes is minimal.  For those born into low income households in New York City, for example, the Opportunity Atlas projects adult household income at $28,000.  For high income Black households, the corresponding figure is $38,000.  It is much higher for low income White households: $48,000. As a matter of fact, nationally, incomes are higher for White residents born into low income families than those for Black residents born into high income households. That is normal in a racially structured society.

Given pandemic learning loss the number of Black children who will be born into low income families will rise, probably considerably, a condition that that the Opportunity Atlas tells us will in many cases be handed down to their children.  While White children born into low income families, even under these dire conditions, have a good chance of climbing the proverbial ladder out of poverty, Black children have the heavy anchor of racism tied to their legs.  Those begin life in poverty are likely to live their lives in poverty and their children to do so as well.

Given this country’s history and its present situation, one hardly dares recommend what might be done to avoid this dismal future for Black children, for all children in this country whose homes do not have the educational resources to replace those lost to the pandemic.  However, this is America, we can hope, hope that government, at all levels, will act to avoid this catastrophe by both traditional and innovative resourcing of the education system. 

In the short term, universal broadband access for all households with school age children, providing challenging and engaging lessons, utilizing  the possibilities of the Internet for customizing learning. In the longer term, improving pay for teachers and providing career ladders that do not require that they leave the classroom. Rebuilding America’s schools and the buildings they reside in.  Abandoning the model of institutions of higher education as profit-making enterprises. Adapting an attitude for which investments in education at all levels are seen as a public good. Ending racial and gender disparities in the economy.  And so forth. And so forth.

As with Pandora’s box, we are left, at least, with hope.

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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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Max Eden’s Shoddy Anti-School Discipline Reform Punditry

Your editor usually doesn’t write immediate follow-ups on commentaries. But yesterday’s Dropout Nation takedown of use of faulty data by Manhattan Institute pundit Max Eden and other opponents of reforming school…

Your editor usually doesn’t write immediate follow-ups on commentaries. But yesterday’s Dropout Nation takedown of use of faulty data by Manhattan Institute pundit Max Eden and other opponents of reforming school discipline generated plenty of discussion both in social media and in e-mails. Thanks to those discussions, the flaws in the studies used by Eden and his counterparts, most-notably Michael Petrilli of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and Jason Riley of the Wall Street Journal, have been exposed.

As you would expect — and has become his wont — Eden dodged the report and questions raised by other reformers and education policy scholars. Save for arguing that Oakland Unified School District, whose ban on suspensions for disruptive behavior and other minor infractions was mentioned in his piece, supposedly fell behind academically because of that effort, Eden offered little defense of either his US News & World Report op-ed or his overall arguments.

But while Eden said little, what he did say revealed even more sloppiness in his arguments and thinking. Which given that he and other foes of school discipline reform are helping the Trump Administration and U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos justify their plans to ditch the federal government’s obligation to protect the civil rights of poor and minority children, is worrisome.

In the case of Oakland, Eden declared that research from Stanford University’s Sean Reardon showing that the district’s improvement in student achievement of 4.3 years over a five-year period trailed behind the overall state average made his “case” for his conclusion. The problem? For one, Reardon’s research, which focused solely on how districts improve academic progress for children from third grade to the end of middle school (as well as how poverty affects achievement), never looked at the impact of school discipline policy (or even overuse of suspensions) on achievement. Put simply, there’s no way that Eden can use Reardon’s data to reach or support his conclusions.

It gets worse. As it turns out, Eden probably didn’t mean to mention Reardon’s study, but Boston University grad student Dominic Zarecki’s study of Los Angeles Unified School District’s implementation of a ban on suspensions for minor infractions, the white paper at the heart of Eden’s US News op-ed. The study does mention that it did an analysis of Oakland Unified academic achievement after implementation of its school discipline reform effort to compare results with that of L.A. Unified. Zarecki does note that it found that Oakland Unified trailed the rest of the state in improving student achievement by the 2015-2016 school year, arguing that it proves his study’s declaration that suspension bans damage achievement.

But Zarecki also admits that “we cannot conduct a full difference-in-difference analysis for Oakland because we lack data to measure the change in academic growth”. Zarecki also concedes that Oakland would likely have “had a relatively low growth rate even without the suspension ban”, which, given its decades-long struggles on the education front, goes without saying. As Brian Stanley, executive director of the Oakland Education Fund, noted yesterday, the district “has had fairly low academic growth for a long time.” [Stanley, by the way, offers a rather insightful and data-driven account of Oakland’s school discipline reform efforts that opponents and supporters of school discipline reform should check out.]

This oversight could be considered if Zarecki provided his analysis of Oakland Unified (which is likely based on two years of school-level data instead of at least four years student-level data) in an appendix to the main study. He did not, which means there is no real way for to understand how Zarecki reached this particular conclusion.

It isn’t shocking that Dominic Zarecki’s shoddy research is being championed by Max Eden and other foes of school discipline reform. That’s just what they do.

Of course, this is one of the many flaws Dropout Nation and others have identified. Another is that Zarecki’s study focuses not on increases and decreases in actual achievement and out-of-school suspensions for minor infractions, but on differences in differences, essentially looking at growth over the short time frames being measured. The problem with so-called difference-to-difference research design is that it can inflate what would otherwise be minor increases and decreases in standard deviations during the time periods measured. Especially when measuring two-year periods instead of four years and beyond (which would tell more about the success or failure of any implementation or program).

Put simply, Zarecki’s study, already flawed because of its focus on school level data, lack of granularity and other issues, likely yielded inflated results. Zarecki himself admits this when he notes that the two additional analyses he used to check his work didn’t yield similar conclusions.

Given that Zarecki’s study is really more of a class paper that hasn’t been peer reviewed and probably hasn’t been looked over by his doctoral advisor, you can somewhat excuse those flaws. [The fact that his career has been in education research, including time as research director for the California Charter Schools Association, makes this excuse rather weak.] But Eden, a longtime education policy wonk who spent time working for Rick Hess at the American Enterprise Institute before landing at Manhattan Institute (and who still co-writes pieces with Hess on occasion), can’t justify why he ran with this shoddy work. If your editor can sniff out the weaknesses in Zarecki’s study, then Eden can do so, too.

The fact that Eden ran with Zarecki’s study and conclusions despite all of its flaws isn’t shocking. As mentioned earlier in his wrong citation of Reardon’s study, Eden is sloppy, both in his research and his thinking. This becomes even more clear when you look at his claim to fame, a report released last yeara by Manhattan Institute on school climate throughout the city and the school discipline reform efforts undertaken by the New York City Department of Education under Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his successor, Bill de Blasio.

In that report, Eden concludes that the school discipline reform efforts by Bloomberg, de Blasio and their respective chancellors have led to traditional district schools in the Big Apple becoming less safe for teachers and children. How? By comparing responses of teachers and children in the traditional district to peers in charters on the city’s annual school climate survey. As any researcher can immediately note, such surveys have little usefulness as objective evidence, because they are based on subjective opinions that can change based on who is working in classrooms, because survey designs can be flawed with leading questions yielding results favorable to the pollster, and because survey designs can change drastically from year to year. Eden himself admits this in the study when he notes that he could only measure results on five questions from the city’s school climate survey because the wording had been consistent over time.

What makes Eden’s results even less-reliable is the fact that he didn’t just simply measure the raw results from the surveys over the five-year period (2011-2012 to 2015-2016) being measured, which is the most-reliable way of analyzing what is already unreliable data. Instead, Eden cobbled together a “distribution-of-differences” analysis in which any change of 15 percentage points on each of the questions represented “a substantial shift” in attitudes on school safety, especially for each school in the district. How did he arrive at 15 percentage points instead of, say, 20 or 10 or even five? Eden doesn’t explain. This gamesmanship, along with the lack of explanation, makes Eden’s analysis even less reliable than it already is.

If Eden was being intellectually honest and simply compared the raw numbers themselves, he would have reached different conclusions. Between 2011-2012 and 2015-2016, the percentage of teachers citywide (including charter schools) agreeing or strongly agreeing that “my school maintains order and discipline” remained unchanged at 80 percent. Exclude charters results from the survey, and the percentage of teachers just within the New York City district agreeing or strongly agreeing that “my school maintains order and disciplined” increased from 77 percent to 78 percent over that period, according to a Dropout Nation analysis of the city’s survey data from that period. This happened even as the number of out-of-school suspensions meted out by principals  in district schools declined.

Even when using subjective data, Eden’s arguments don’t stand up to scrutiny, a point made by Daniel Losen of the Civil Rights Project at UCLA during testimony at a December hearing held by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights at which Eden also testified. It doesn’t even stand up to the brief on overuse of suspensions in Big Apple schools released today by Center for American Progress, which uses objective data to look at the number of days children lose when they are kept out of school

Again, this isn’t a surprise. In a report on school safety released last October, Eden reached the conclusion that New York City’s charter schools were “safer” than traditional district counterparts not by comparing raw data from the Big Apple’s school climate survey or even using more-objective data such as incident reports over a period of several years. Instead, he cobbled together an index that gave scores to each of the questions on the survey, then crafted a secondary index in which charters that scored five or more percentage points higher on that first index over a traditional district school, would be rated higher. This approach to analysis is amateur hour at its worst.

The thing is that Eden’s shoddy work product could easily be ignored if not for the fact that he, along with Fordham’s Petrilli, is a leader in the effort to convince the Trump Administration and DeVos to reverse the Obama Administration-era Dear Colleague guidance pushing districts to end overuse of suspensions and other forms of harsh school discipline against poor and minority children. The four-year-old guidance, a keystone of federal efforts to spur school discipline reform, has long been the bete noir of so-called conservative reformers everywhere.

Because Eden, along with Petrilli and even Riley’s Wall Street Journal, likely has the ear of DeVos’ appointees (including Kenneth Marcus, the former George W. Bush appointee who will likely end up overseeing the agency’s Office for Civil Rights), the shoddiness of his data and that of his allies matters even more now than ever. Bad policy backed by slipshod data equals damage to children, especially those from Black, Latino, and American Indian and Alaska Native households most-likely to be suspended, expelled and sent to juvenile justice systems (the school-to-prison pipeline) as a result of districts and other school operators overusing the most-punitive of school discipline.

Which is why shoddy polemicism by the likes of Eden and other opponents of school discipline reform deserve to be exposed and denigrated. School reformers know better than to use bad studies to champion worse policies.

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The Integration Question

On this edition of On the Road broadcast from Live Together, Learn Together’s conference in Washington, D.C., RiShawn Biddle joins with Bowie State University education scholar Treopia Green Washington, the…

On this edition of On the Road broadcast from Live Together, Learn Together’s conference in Washington, D.C., RiShawn Biddle joins with Bowie State University education scholar Treopia Green Washington, the Century Foundation’s Richard Kahlenberg and Laura Wilson Phelan of Kindred to discuss where do we go on integration seven decades after Brown v. Board of Education and the Little Rock Nine.

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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