Monday Reading List: Making Specious Claims About Child Safety is a Dangerous Game

Robert Pondiscio and Max Eden wrote an opinion piece in the New York Daily News last weekblaming a school discipline policy for the death of a student in New York City:

Before Mayor de Blasio’s citywide push to reduce suspensions began in 2015, it was a safe school. In 2013-14, according to the city’s official school survey, 86% of teachers said order was maintained, and 80% of students felt safe in the hallways. Last year, a mere 19% of teachers thought the school was in order, and only 55% of kids felt safe. How did that happen — and so suddenly? There may have been multiple causes, but one factor seems clear. Under policy orders to limit disciplinary interventions and implement a “restorative” approach, the school got so bad that some parents reportedly began patrolling the hallways themselves.

In an article filled with suspect reasoning and racialized political dog-whistling, this is perhaps the most important passage to understand.

But before I get back to the project of dismantling their arguments, I want to concede one point: there's no magical school discipline policy. As much as I loathe zero-tolerance approaches to punishing students, most educators struggle to implement "restorative justice," the most popular alternative. The failure to implement "restorative justice" comes from issues of both training and background. Moreover, there is no consistent definition of restorative justice, so the term can be used to signify flagrantly different approaches from one classroom to the next.

Due in part to the looseness of said definitions, it is impossible to draw a causal link between the tragic events in this particular school and one specific approach to school discipline. At best, Pondiscio and Eden are making an argument about correlation with absolutely no evidence of causation. To confuse causation and correlation is a logical error in policymaking, and one that can lead to overwrought conclusions with devastating consequences for children.

Beyond the conflation of causation and correlation, even their correlative argument is flimsy. The stabbing was tragic, yes. And anecdotal. The only other data points they share are in the paragraph above, which describe perceptions, not actual statistics about school safety.

Perhaps I'm being too glib about perceptions, though. Erika Sanzi ponders how parents might react to this article over at Good School Hunting:

... no matter how much certain parts of the piece may get under the collective skin of the reform community, I sincerely hope we find it in ourselves to slow down and ask ourselves: what if my child attended the school where this happened? What if that had been my student? ... I am a supporter of restorative justice but, as with any practice whose goal is to change behavior, it only works when done well. It takes a highly skilled team and an all-in approach. Far too often, restorative justice is an edict from the top and those being tasked with implementation haven’t even bought in yet let alone received comprehensive training.

Sanzi is right to point out that parents whose children attend this school deserve to be heard, and that no amount of rationalizing about policy will change their sense that the school has become unsafe.

That said, Sanzi concedes the fundamental and tendentious point that Pondiscio and Eden make, which is to suggest that we can attribute this tragic incidence to the school's disciplinary policy, which we cannot do with the evidence provided. Absent additional evidence and research, Pondiscio and Eden are engaging in fear-mongering.

Why is this so important? Here's Beth Hawkins, a reporter in Minnesota, with some critical backstory to why Pondiscio and Eden are making this argument public:

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is considering rolling back a sweeping, landmark set of civil rights rules laid down by the Obama administration that pushed for an end to disparities in school discipline and the school-to-prison pipeline ... on Friday her staff took a meeting brokered in part by Mike Petrilli, the conservative president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute ... According to Petrilli’s description to a number of reporters, the meeting was mostly a “listening session,” with teachers and parents telling tales about how heavy-handed discipline edicts had forced two teachers to endure student brutality. [NOTE: this language reflects an updated version of Hawkins's article.]

First of all, for folks who don't spend everyday enmeshed within the education policy beltway, Pondiscio, the co-author of the Daily News piece, is the vice-president of Petrilli's Institute.

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Back to Hawkins. In her article, Hawkins examines these claims about student brutality against administrators. These claims were exaggerated, in an effort to prevent changes to, you guessed it, school discipline policies.

There are some other juicy bits in Hawkins's piece, including details of a union-backed campaign to oust a superintendent who wanted to suspend fewer non-White children ...


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No, wait!


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The over-suspension of Black and Brown children is ALL of our business.


Which brings me back to the original Pondiscio & Eden piece in the Daily News. While confusing causation and correlation is a critical offense in the wide world of wonkery, that conflation is far from a great sin among civilians.

In the case of this particular argument, however, something more dangerous is at play. By speciously using a single act of violence to advocate for greater policing of adolescents' bodies, Pondiscio and Eden are vivifying the exact sort of scare tactics that cause the over-punishment of both children and adults of color, by our public systems.

Actual academic studies illustrate no connections between "zero-tolerance" school discipline policies and classroom safety. Similarly, researchers have not been able to identify linkages between "broken windows" policing and public safety. In both the schools and the policing contexts, however, the zero-tolerance approach has led to the racialized over-suspension, or over-incarceration, of Black and Brown people. The only time Pondiscio and Eden deign to acknowledge this problem, they recast the blame on poor families, saying, "Activists are alarmed about the racial disparity in suspensions and refuse to admit the possibility that differences in poverty and family structure play a role."

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Blaming "family structure" for disparities in educational attainment, and other social outcomes, is an old trope in conservative thinking. In the meantime, actual racist policies continue to exist, which are a far more compelling - and empirically sound - explanations for said disparities. Pondiscio and Eden must be aware that their thinking and conclusions are reified only by suspect thinking about race, but they continue to trot out these tired ideas, while stirring up fear among parents who are justifiably concerned about their children's safety in schools.

While Pondiscio and Eden use the terms "social justice" and "school-to-prison-pipeline" as punchlines, those ideas are very real for families whose children are punished by racist systems. There is nothing perfect about "restorative justice" in practice, but the zero-tolerance policies of the last generation led to the over-suspension of Black children, and the over-incarceration of Black adults.

The implementation of those policies relied on a culture of fear, fomented by articles like the one Pondiscio and Eden wrote in the Daily News. We shouldn't take the bait.

Friday Reading List: Segregation is Policy, Hov in the NYTimes, and A Specific Word

Patrick Wall of Chalkbeat looks at a federal rule that makes school integration strategies hard to execute:

... each of these fledgling integration efforts — and similar ones across the country — could be imperiled by obscure budget provisions written during the anti-busing backlash of the 1970s, which prohibit using federal funding for student transportation aimed at racial desegregation. The rules have been embedded in every education spending bill since at least 1974, as Rep. Bobby Scott of Virginia pointed out in September when he tried unsuccessfully to remove the provisions from the latest appropriations bill.

The next time you're tempted to say "That's just the way it is" about housing and school segregation, this is a great example of how deeply embedded racial discrimination is in our public policy. This policy explicitly PREVENTS towns and cities from pursuing desegregation strategies. Busing is nowhere near a perfect policy solution, and the vast majority of busing schemes asked non-White families to make significant sacrifices in order to attend stronger schools. That said, defeating segregation in this country will require a multiplicity of approaches, and the fact that federal law officially forecloses some of those solutions is a good indication of the road ahead.

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In other news, Jay-Z has an op-ed in The New York Times about what the sentencing of Meek Mill says about our criminal  justice system*:

What’s happening to Meek Mill is just one example of how our criminal justice system entraps and harasses hundreds of thousands of black people every day. I saw this up close when I was growing up in Brooklyn during the 1970s and 1980s. Instead of a second chance, probation ends up being a land mine, with a random misstep bringing consequences greater than the crime. A person on probation can end up in jail over a technical violation like missing a curfew. Taxpayers in Philadelphia, Meek Mill’s hometown, will have to spend tens of thousands of dollars each year to keep him locked up, and I bet none of them would tell you his imprisonment is helping to keep them safer.

It's important to remember that we are paying attention to this particular instance of injustice because of the high profiles of the individuals involved. Tens of thousands of Black men experience similarly unfair treatment in obscurity. Their plight isn't just a drag on their lives, families, communities, and economic opportunities ... mass incarceration also exerts a significant drag on the productivity and fairness of our culture more broadly.

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Finally this week, Marcus Donaldson has a long, thought-provoking exploration of how White people are infatuated with a very specific word:

I have heard numerous White people over the years use the N-word around me. In their words, it was a casual “slip of the tongue” or they “forgot I was sitting there” or “I’m just quoting 2pac” or “it’s from Training Day!” To which I don’t even acknowledge. The simple fact that the word “slipped out” means they are comfortable enough and say it frequently enough to not even recognize I (a Black man) am sitting right next to them. Either way, this Freudian slip would always be followed by them profusely apologizing, which would indicate they knew not to be saying it. Why else would they apologize?

Donaldson goes on to share a range of thinking on both why it's inappropriate for White people to use the word, and the various social undercurrents that make this discussion so critical. Take the time to read the whole thing.

Have a great weekend!

*I never thought I would have the opportunity to write this sentence.

Wednesday Reading List: Integration is Hard (Part 1,624,314) and What the Heck is Happening to Testing?

Kate Taylor of The New York Times revisited the few Manhattan schools that tried to integrate last year:

The mayor has held it up as an example of what the city needs to do to desegregate its public schools: A year ago, a local education council redrew the boundaries of 11 elementary school zones on Manhattan’s Upper West Side in an effort to reduce overcrowding and, it hoped, chip away at the stark racial and economic disparities that separated several neighboring schools. A year later, with data available on the first class of kindergartners enrolled, the results of the rezoning are mixed ... In a complex dance, the catchment areas of all three schools were redrawn and two of the schools moved ... Of the three schools, P.S. 199 appears to have seen the least amount of change. The rezoning shrank P.S. 199’s zone, and this year’s kindergarten class, at 110 students, is smaller than last year’s, at 135. But this year’s class is also whiter than last year’s group: 67 percent white compared to 61 percent.

I wrote about these schools last year, when white parents were organizing to prevent the integration plans from moving forward. The results of these actions are sobering. The city endured significant political upheaval to get this done in a relatively small corner of the district, and even so, it is unclear whether the schools will sustain a permanent demographic shift in favor of more integration.

This story reinforces an important, if uncomfortable, fact about school integration: there is no magic policy wand for desegregating schools.  I am eager for schools, housing, and the other aspects of public life to become more integrated. Because I know the history of negotiating integration through public policy, I'm realistic about the difficulties involved in that process. 

There are many things that we should have learned from the last era of school integration that I'm not sure enough people are talking about. The first, and perhaps the most important, is that you need a groundswell of public support to counteract the inevitable backlash from privileged families that want to maintain their privilege. Creating that public support requires grassroots organizing. There are some examples of that work nationally, but the constituency for integration is not yet strong enough to counteract the forces that will push back.

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In other news, Matt Barnum of Chalkbeat wonders whether we'll ever be able to compare educational results across states:

In 2010, then-Secretary of Education Arne Duncan made the case for common state tests that would allow parents and educators to find out — and predicted that the comparisons would lead to dramatic policy changes ... It was a heady moment: Most states had signed on to at least one of the two cross-state testing groups, PARCC and Smarter Balanced. Though their numbers have since dwindled substantially, the two groups still count over 20 members between them. But seven years later, it remains difficult to make detailed comparisons across states, as a potent mix of technical challenges, privacy concerns, and political calculations have kept the data relatively siloed. And there’s little evidence that the common tests have pushed states to compare notes or change course.

The issues that prevent states from comparing their data are real, and this is a great example of the point I made above vis-a-vis integration. The only real constituency for state-by-state accountability comparability are the policy wonks themselves (Hi!). The average parent wants usable data about her own children's schools and is ambivalent - at best - about testing consortia. The failure to cultivate a real constituency for the Common Core State Standards and its attendant assessments remains one of the greatest failures of the last era of school reform.

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Finally today, Tara García Mathewson of The Hechinger Report looks at whether states are going to use their greater flexibility on assessment to do anything meaningful:

The reason some schools today are developing performance-based assessments, where students are graded on their ability to apply things they learn in class in scenarios that reflect the real world, is because advocates argue they uniquely evaluate skills students need to succeed in their future careers. But multiple choice-based standardized tests are cheaper to administer, and with strict annual testing requirements enshrined in federal law since No Child Left Behind, they have become the easier path to compliance.

García Mathewson examines the states that are moving beyond multiple choice and finds both bright spots and caveats. If you're interested in more discussion of accountability, The 74 is hosting a series of essays from experts about the future of measuring progress in schools called "The 'A' Word."

Have a great day!

Monday Reading List: Fewer Foreign Students at US Colleges, Behavioral Economics, and Buying Black

Stephanie Saul of The New York Times reports that fewer foreign students are attending US colleges:

The number of newly arriving international students declined an average 7 percent in fall 2017, with 45 percent of campuses reporting drops in new international enrollment, according to a survey of nearly 500 campuses across the country by the Institute of International Education ... “It’s a mix of factors,” said Rajika Bhandari, head of research for the institute, which collects data on international students in cooperation with the State Department. “Concerns around the travel ban had a lot to do with concerns around personal safety based on a few incidents involving international students, and a generalized concern about whether they’re safe.” Another reason for the decline is increasing competition from countries like Canada, Britain and Australia, said Allan E. Goodman, president of the institute.

The daily instances of ignorance and prejudice from the Trump administration boil my blood, but this data should scare anyone who cares about long-term American competitiveness. That American universities consistently attract some of the best prepared foreign students is a dramatic advantage for our economy. The nativism and xenophobia of this administration are compromising that economic competitiveness.

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Moving to the K-12 sector, Isabel Fattal of The Atlantic looks at using behavioral economics to drive earlier school start times:

Research has shown that early school start times (7:30 a.m., for example) don’t square with adolescents’ sleep needs, and that later ones have positive effects on mental and physical health, as well as academic performance. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have even urged policymakers to move toward later start times—scientists tend to recommend pushing the bell to 8:30 a.m.—for middle and high-school students. Still, many school districts have been mired in years-long debates over the issue.

Fattal examines the factors that led to the current start times, while unpacking the political and technical reasons that schools have been so reluctant to change their practices. The use of behavioral economics to drive changes is a promising idea, although I'm not sure there's a "killer app" idea in the research cited here. It's more likely that a bunch of school districts will try a handful of different things. Someone should keep track of whether anything sticks.

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Finally today, the Blavity team looks at a new app that makes "Buying Black" easier:

Official Black Wall Street has launched its highly-anticipated app which combines social impact and tech by alerting users when they're near a black-owned business. The app will allow for people to easily buy black and circulate the black dollar. With the new app, [Mandy] Bowman said she hopes to give quality black businesses more exposure and encourage black consumers to spend their money within the black community.

As a White dude who lives in a community where gentrification is a serious concern, I try to be mindful about where I spend my money. This app will be helpful as I make financial decisions.

Have a great week!

Friday Reading List: Teachers & Tax Reform, Elite Public Schools, and Reclaiming Identity Politics

Andrew Ujifusa of Education Week looks at how average teachers might experience the tax bill that's meandering through Congress right now:

We reported in August that the average public school teacher makes a base salary of $55,100 annually, and that this average teacher works 53 hours a week and has 14 years of teaching experience, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s School and Staffing Survey. The Joint Committee on Taxation in Congress reported last week that under the GOP legislation, the average tax rate for individuals—not specifically teachers—making between $50,000 and $75,000 annually would on average fall from 14.8 percent to 13.6 percent in 2019. That means a $660 tax cut on average for that teacher, from $8,154 to $7,494. However, by 2027, the average tax rate would rise under the tax proposal to 14 percent for individuals in that income bracket. That would leave the average teacher with a $275 tax cut in 2027, compared to 2017.

Ujifusa adds that the bill would remove some deductions that might affect individual teachers, and that these calculations do not account for joint filing with a spouse or partner.

Ben Casselman and Tara Siegel Bernard of The New York Times included a teacher's perspective in their news analysis of the bill:

For many, the offsetting provisions in the bill are difficult to figure out. Amy and Ben Powell, who live in Louisville, Ky., with their toddler son, collectively earn roughly $80,000. Mr. Powell is a choir teacher at a local middle school, while Ms. Powell works part time at a local coffee shop. They both work on the weekend, in their church, for extra cash: He is the music director and she leads the choir’s altos to make sure they are on key. The couple generally prepare their tax return together through TurboTax, which she said makes it pretty clear which tax breaks help them the most: the child tax credit, their mortgage deduction, student loan interest, the credit for teachers who buy supplies for their classroom, and charitable giving.

I am not a tax expert and cannot opine on the broader economics of this tax bill. That said, whenever Congress changes the nature of rates and credits, some families and corporations will end up paying more in taxes, and others will pay less. Until the bill is completed, it's hard to tell exactly who the relative winners and losers will be.

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Mike Elsen-Rooney is in The Hechinger Report looking at the way selective public schools are funded:

When New York City officials revamped the way public schools were funded more than a decade ago, they emphasized one goal above the others: Making school spending more equitable in the nation’s largest system. They also included a provision that critics say is doing just the opposite: an annual bonus of almost $1,000 per student at 13 of the city’s elite high schools, where students are wealthier than the city average and alumni foundations can raise millions of dollars for extras. That means that students at these schools — where only 15 percent of students are black or Hispanic, compared to almost 70 percent citywide — are getting almost $18 million more this year than they would have without the bonus, according to Department of Education data.

I encountered a similar phenomenon when I was an official at the DC Public Schools, where selective high schools received inequitable bonuses all the time. There are a bunch of interesting takeaways here, so you should read the whole article. One critical piece, though, is the notion that inequity can exist within school district boundaries, because of this sort of revenue distribution. When policymakers pitch redistricting and integration as a panacea for inequity, keep this fact in mind.

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Finally today, Anne Branigin is in The Root with an important take on the debate over identity politics:

What defines identity politics now is its focus on intersectionality, on multiple identities and how they inform the way Americans experience things like debt, employment, housing and policing. Advocates of identity politics would point out that intersectionality informs a class discussion, rather than detracts from it. Nonetheless, it’s this specific iteration of identity politics that has drawn criticism not just from the right but from self-described liberals and progressives like Mark Lilla, whose book The Once and Future Liberal: After Identity Politics argues that identity politics will break the Democratic Party.

What I like about Branigin's piece is that she is explicit about the fact that identity politics are not about articulating grievances, but rather about describing the way that various political identities lead to inequitable economic and social outcomes. Take some time to read the article over the weekend, particularly if you're inclined to disagree with her perspective.

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday Reading List: Election Results, What's in a Name, and Regulatory Arbitrage

Matt Barnum of Chalkbeat looked at the education implication of yesterday's elections:

Education is on the ballot on Tuesday. It’s an off-year election, but that means school board and mayoral contests are especially likely to be on the ballot — in other words, in many places voters are electing the politicians who most directly control schools. There are also two big governors’ seats up for grabs ... In Denver, four seats on the board are up for grabs — just enough for critics of the current direction to grab control and reverse course if they sweep the available seats.

As of this morning, the Denver race looks like a split decision. Here's Melanie Asmar from the Denver Post:

Two school board candidates who agree with the direction of Denver Public Schools and two who want the district to change its trajectory were leading Tuesday in a hard-fought election for control of the state’s largest school district. Four seats on the seven-member Denver school board were up for grabs. As of late Tuesday, only one of the races remained close: a two-person contest in central-east Denver’s District 3.

In recent years, reform-oriented groups and teachers' unions have spent millions of dollars on school board races, not just in Denver, but also in places like nearby Douglas County and Los Angeles. While the acrimony in these races has been higher than people are accustomed to seeing, the vast majority of decisions about education are made at the local level, so perhaps the heightened competitiveness of these races is a necessary antecedent to actual educational progress.

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In other news, Melinda D. Anderson is in The Atlantic, examining what it's like to attend a school named for a Confederate general:

In the aftermath of the 2015 massacre of nine black churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina, and the convicted shooter’s celebration of Confederate imagery, public attention turned to monuments of Confederate generals in public spaces. The debate was reignited this past August when white supremacists descended on Charlottesville, Virginia, to protest the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee in a city park, resulting in violent clashes and a young woman’s death. With these tragedies, public schools across the country named after Confederate leaders came under increased scrutiny. Yet the implications—socially, emotionally, and academically—for black students who attend public schools emblazoned with the names of Confederate leaders have gone largely unexamined.

Anderson examines the shame, confusion, and self-esteem issues that can emerge in students who attend schools that embrace Confederate iconography. No student should have to attend schools named after the leaders of a treasonous rebellion who fought to preserve the right to permanently enslave Black people. Would you want to attend Joseph Goebbels Middle School?

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Finally today, Beth Hawkins of The 74 looks at recent attempts to curb the expansion of a questionable network of schools in South Carolina:

South Carolina has been fertile ground for for-profit charter school companies and their trade associations. In particular, online-only virtual schools, like those K12 runs, have taken off in the state, enrolling some 10,000 of South Carolina’s 26,000 charter school students. The largest are publicly traded. The corporations that run the schools have spent lavishly to ensure the state remains a friendly place to do business. According to South Carolina campaign finance records examined by The 74, seven for-profit school operators and the association that represents them spent nearly $1 million on lobbying and donations to candidates between 2010 and June 2017, the most recent deadline for filing disclosures ... Almost all of the research on virtual schools document dismal results. In the most definitive examination, in 2015 the Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford University, better known as CREDO, found the schools have an “overwhelming negative impact” on student growth.

Hawkins does a nice job unpacking a range of issues, including one of my pet favorites, the idea of "authorizer shopping."  "Authorizers" are the state sanctioned entities that can issue charters. In places like South Carolina, where laws and regulations are lax, there are many authorizers, and groups that want to start schools can pick among the authorizers to find the ones who will provide the least rigorous oversight. While school choice zealots argue that this shopping is part of a functioning market, they are wrong on both the ideology and the facts.

In other fields this practice is called "regulatory arbitrage." If the term sounds familiar, it's because that's what many mortgage lenders, banks, and hedge funds did in the early 2000s to avoid having their fraudulent financial instruments scrutinized. Banks at the time argued that old school regulators - like the Federal Reserve - were incapable of understanding the complexity of their new financial products. This practice, wherein banks shopped for the regulators who offered the least scrutiny, was one of the factors that led to the collapse of the United States economy in 2008.

Not all regulations are good, and there are many education practices and policies that hamper innovation and student achievement. But not all deregulation is good either, and the educational practices in South Carolina are causing the same race to the bottom that led to Michigan, Ohio, and Arizona having hundreds of dreadful, unaccountable charter schools. It should stop.

Have a great day!

Monday Reading List: Gun Violence, Chicago Schools, and Special Education

A man with a gun killed dozens of people in Texas yesterday:

A gunman clad in all black, with a ballistic vest strapped to his chest and a military-style rifle in his hands, opened fire on parishioners at a Sunday service at a small Baptist church in rural Texas, killing at least 26 people and turning this tiny town east of San Antonio into the scene of the country’s newest mass horror. The gunman was identified as Devin Patrick Kelley .. He had served in the Air Force at a base in New Mexico but was court-martialed in 2012 on charges of assaulting his wife and child. He was sentenced to 12 months’ confinement and received a “bad conduct” discharge in 2014, according to Ann Stefanek, the chief of Air Force media operations.

Wow. That sounds like the exact kind of person who should NEVER have access to a gun. Ever.

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America has grown weak on the project of curtailing gun violence. The spineless leaders in Congress - like Paul Ryan - will never do anything. The people must take some power back. A small group of us launched a campaign recently - #PoliticizeMyDeath - with the aim of shifting the terms of the debate. Here's some language from our pledge:

The people who have signed this pledge agree that their deaths should be politicized, in the event that they become victims of gun violence. Each person on this list realizes that easy access to guns is a fatal flaw in American culture, which causes us to have more mass casualty events than any other country in the world.  We're sick of dancing around the issue, and should any of us unintentionally make the ultimate sacrifice, we hope that those who survive us leverage our tragic ends to advance a political agenda that stops the violence.

Visit the site, sign the pledge, and engage your families in a conversation about how gun violence is making America weaker.

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In happier news, Lauren FitzPatrick of the Chicago Sun Times writes that the much beleaguered Chicago Public Schools are the most improved in the country:

Chicago Public Schools students have made the fastest academic progress of the 100 largest school districts in the country, with all racial groups making similar improvements. That’s according to a new analysis by Stanford University researcher Sean F. Reardon, who told a gathering of Chicago’s educational brain trust Thursday that test scores for the average Chicago student went up by about six grades in the five years between third and eighth grade. At each grade level, CPS students’ scores also rose faster from 2009 to 2014 than the rest of the nation’s on average, about two-thirds of a grade level locally versus about one-sixth. And the results generally held across racial and ethnic groups, with Hispanic students making even faster progress, said Reardon, using the Center for Education Policy’s database of hundreds of millions of standardized test scores for every third- through eighth-grader in the country.

If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times: measurable improvement is critical in schools. Test scores are not the only thing that matters, certainly, but we must have ways of knowing whether or not educational institutions are educating children at the level that our communities so desperately need.

Finally today, Sarah Butrymowicz and Jackie Mader of The Hechinger Report examine graduation statistics for students with disabilities:

There are 6.6 million public school children enrolled in special education in the United States, 13 percent of all public school students. Kids like Michael [McLaughlin] make up the vast majority of them. Their disabilities shouldn’t keep them from achieving the same standards as their peers — and experts estimate that up to 90 percent of students with disabilities are capable of graduating high school fully prepared to tackle college or a career if they receive proper support along the way. Yet, just 65 percent of special education students graduate on time, well below the 83 percent four-year rate for American students overall. Many of those that do earn their diplomas find themselves unprepared for the real world. After high school, students with disabilities have lower college graduation rates than their peers and earn less once they join the workforce.
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Special education is complicated, and you should read the whole piece gain a deeper understanding of the factors at play. That said, most schools aim to teach the "average" child, while making modest adjustments for students whose needs, abilities, and/or academic pace fall outside of that average. Special education, more than anything, provides a framework under which students whose educational needs fell outside of that average could get the services necessary to thrive. Often, those students do not get what they need, leading to these abysmal graduation rates. It's worth saying, however, that no student is perfectly "average," and that the instruction and services necessary to reach students with special needs are bound to be a net positive experience for all children.

Have a thoughtful week ...

Friday Reading List: Educators Don't Have Magic 8-Balls & the Racism of Gentrification

Sarah Gonser of The Hechinger Report looks at the mismatch between current education priorities and the future of the jobs market:

How to best prepare students for workplace changes brought on by automation and other technologies, however, is not yet clear among educators and labor experts. “Everywhere I look, the message is all about the impact of artificial intelligence and drones on the future of work,” said Nancy Hoffman, senior advisor and co-founder of the Pathways to Prosperity Network, which seeks to help prepare young people for the workforce. “School systems need to change, but they needed to change fifty years ago, too. Our schools are way behind in terms of technology and helping our young people understand the labor market and plan a career.” She and other workforce experts stressed that as educators try to equip young people for future jobs, they will have to move more quickly to connect the dots between high schools and the labor market, especially for disadvantaged students.

I have an unpopular opinion on this topic: we will be chasing the cat's tail if we ask schools to prepare students for the specific jobs of the next generation. Job training is critical, but the K-12 system does not have a Magic 8-Ball for predicting the future of regional economies. There are some trends we can predict with a degree of reliability, but on the other hand, consider the fact that one of the world's most influential industries - social media - didn't even exist until the early 2000s. The K-12 system should not preoccupy itself with economic forecasting; it should prepare students to read, write, code, analyze, and calculate at the highest possible levels, while teaching foundational content that prepares students for a whole range of post-secondary and career opportunities.


Cory Turner and Kavitha Cardoza from NPR's Code Switch turned in the third part of their series on the Ron Brown College Prep school in Washington, D.C.:

This radical new high school in Washington, D.C., is really two schools — two approaches — in one. It strives to teach students traditional subjects, including algebra and English, while also helping them grow socially and emotionally. But both efforts require valuable class time, and the school struggles to find a balance. In the second half of the school year, that struggle for balance reaches a crisis: Roughly 40 percent of the students are at risk of failing ninth grade. In response, Principal Ben Williams makes several big changes. He gives students more time in their core classes, including math. He creates a special, seven-week session of optional Saturday classes.

Read - or listen to - the whole piece, because it contains a rigorous, real debate about the complexity of setting high academic standards. Spoiler alert: there are no clear cut answers.

In other news, New York City's Kings County Politics reports on a cafe in the Bed-Stuy neighborhood in Brooklyn that was running a racist trick-or-treating operation on Halloween:

According to Oma Holloway, the much respected co-chair of Community Board 3, and the chair of the CB3 Education and Youth Committee, she was in the cafe with fellow CB 3 board member Michael Catlyn in the late afternoon awaiting their orders when two young African-American kids came in trick or treating. The merchant behind the counter told the two middle-schoolers that the store didn’t have any trick or treat candy so the kids politely left. A few minutes later, a young African-American mom came in with her two kids trick or treating and the barista again informed them they didn’t have any candy. Then two younger African-American girls came in trick or treating and they were also told the store did not participate in the holiday. Holloway said that finally a white mother came in with her two kids trick or treating and this time the barista took out a jar of candy from behind the counter and started doling out sweets to the kids.
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This cafe is about a mile from where I live, and it's on the same street as the restaurant that got caught using racist tropes as a marketing scheme earlier this year. The Bed-Stuy and Crown Heights neighborhoods have undergone rapid gentrification in the last ten years. Almost every resident has a story like this one, in which newer, wealthier, and usually Whiter residents do things that run the gamut from the culturally insensitive, to the outright racist. I don't doubt for a second that this story is true, because I've seen and heard far worse.


Gentrification is one of the issues that I expect will come up during a community meeting in Bed-Stuy on Sunday evening. The event is being hosted by Racial Justice BK, in partnership with the Movement for Black Lives and Children of Promise. (Full Disclosure: I'm personally involved in organizing with Racial Justice BK.) If you're in the neighborhood and want to hear the perspectives and concerns of your neighbors, you should come.

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday Reading List: Education Horror Stories, Parent Perception is a Terrible Way to Assess School Quality, and Correcting Bad Readings of History

Shaina Cavazos of Chalkbeat looks at shady practices in in the business of virtual schooling:

One of Indiana’s largest high schools ended this past school year with almost 5,000 students, but no desks and no classrooms. The school also had very few graduates — 61 out of more than 900 seniors graduated last year. What Indiana Virtual School did have: Tens of millions in state dollars due to come its way over the next two years, and a founder whose for-profit company charged millions of dollars in management fees and rent to the school. Thomas Stoughton founded the school in 2011, taking advantage of a new law allowing Indiana charter schools to serve students exclusively over the internet, rather than in brick-and-mortar buildings.

This is one of those stories where the details get worse and worse the deeper one digs: overspending on "administrative overheard," wild underspending on teaching, self-dealing, obfuscating the use of funds, and more. Kudos to both Cavazos and Chalkbeat for engaging in the kind of long-form investigative journalism necessary to unearth educational horror stories.

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Elsewhere, Christina Veiga is in The Atlantic, examining how parent ethnicity affects perception of gifted education:

Allison Roda, an assistant professor of education at Molloy College in Long Island, interviewed more than 50 white, black, and Hispanic parents at an unidentified New York City school to learn about their attitudes towards gifted programs. (Her sample did not include any Asian parents.) She found that the white parents view applying for gifted programs and preparing their children to score well on the admissions test as hallmarks of good parenting. For the black and Hispanic families, being a good parent had more to do with choosing a diverse classroom for their child and not “gaming” the system by practicing for the gifted test, according to the report, which appeared recently in the peer-reviewed journal Teachers College Record.

I've mentioned this before, but parent perception is a woefully insufficient way to judge the quality of school programming. I aim for consistency around that perspective, whether we are dealing with school choice, accountability systems, or gifted programming. As such, while these results resonate as correct, they reinforce my position vis-a-vis perception. Parents harbor prejudiced attitudes about both the nature of their own children's talents, and the value of diversity in schooling. Those prejudices shape not their perception of gifted programming, but also their views on school quality more generally. These prejudices render untenable the idea that parent attitudes ought to be a primary way through which we assess school quality.

Speaking of fucked up perceptions, Adam Serwer is in The Atlantic, tackling White House Chief of Staff John Kelly's asinine take on the Civil War:

When White House Chief of Staff John Kelly told the Fox News host Laura Ingraham that the Civil War was caused by the “lack of an ability to compromise,” that the war was fought by “men and women of good faith on both sides,” and that Confederate General Robert E. Lee “was an honorable man,” he was invoking a rosy view of the Confederacy echoing that of his boss. Kelly was also reflecting a popular perception of the war that has persisted for decades, largely on the strength and influence of an organized pro-Confederate propaganda campaign conducted for a century. While the scholarly consensus is that the Civil War was about slavery, popular perception has not entirely caught up.

A handful of "educated people" in my life continue to argue with a straight face that the Civil War was not primarily about slavery. Serwer's piece unwinds that myth, while sharing additional resources that support an accurate reading of history. For my money, the easiest way to assess the cause of the Civil War is to review both the founding documents of the Confederacy, and the southern states' articles of secession; all of those documents say that slavery was the primary driver of secession, and thus, war.

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Finally today, Allison Keyes of The Root looks at The Smithsonian's new effort to build a hip-hop anthology:

The global appeal of that music, and its permeation into the culture of every country, is one of the reasons that the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture is partnering with Smithsonian Folkways Recordings and the hip-hop community to produce the Smithsonian Anthology of Hip-Hop and Rap. There’s a Kickstarter campaign underway to raise $250,000 for a box-set compilation, including nine CDs with more than 120 tracks, and a 300-page book with extensive liner notes. There will also be essays by artists and scholars, and never-before-published photos from the museum’s hip-hop collection.

If you're as moved by this idea as I was, check out the Kickstarter.

Have a great day!

Monday Reading List: Occupational Licensing Might Be A Scam, Segregation, and Picking the Right Battles

Jon Marcus of The Hechinger Report examines the value of certain educational credentials:

Policymakers have been pushing certificates as a way of getting closer to a long-sought goal of boosting the proportion of the population that has earned some kind of educational credential after high school. Colleges see them as an increasingly important source of income. Those two factors helped boost the number of certificates awarded annually by 56 percent from 1995 to 2014, the last period for which the figure is available, according to the U.S. Department of Education. That makes certificates the fastest-growing kind of postsecondary credential. Nearly a million a year are now being conferred. But the new analysis, from the Boston-based research firm Burning Glass Technologies, found that, out of 16 million job openings it reviewed over one year that did not require professional licenses, only eight-tenths of 1 percent, or about 130,000, asked for a certificate.

That final statistic is sort of mind-blowing, in that the ostensible point of professional licensing is to prepare people for good jobs. Given the mismatch, it's hard to avoid the conclusion that a non-trivial amount of occupational licensing is a scam. That's how we end up with things like "Trump University."

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Sean Illing of Vox interviewed Nikole Hannah-Jones about segregation, and how housing is at the center of the problem:

Segregation in housing is the way you can accomplish segregation in every aspect of life. Housing segregation means that certain jobs are located in certain communities, that certain grocery stores are located in certain communities; it determines where parks are located, if streets are repaired, if toxic dump sites are built nearby. Segregation accomplishes so many other inequalities because you effectively contain a population to a geographic area and suddenly all the other civil rights law don't matter. We don't have to discriminate if we're living in totally segregated neighborhoods; all the work is already done ... Education and housing are the two most intimate areas of American life, and they're the areas where we've made the least progress. And we believe that schools are the primary driver of opportunity, and white children have benefited from an unequal system. And why is this so? Why have white people allowed this? Because it benefited them to have it that way.

This is an accurate assessment of the linkages between housing wealth and schooling opportunity. Folks can quibble about the available remedies for both housing and schooling segregation, but it's hard to see an immediate future wherein the privileges inherent to both systems can be untangled from one another. Hannah-Jones thinks that legislators should pursue integration as policy. There are plenty of other people who are jaded about the notion of policy solutions for integration, and just want strong schools and economic opportunities in communities as they exist now.

Much of the tired debate about charter schooling hinges on disagreements vis-a-vis the potential for legitimate remedies for segregation. Sharif El-Mekki, writing in Philly's 7th Ward, wants to limit the battling:

Human nature often finds us pointing the finger at others, while absolving ourselves of blame ... Nowhere is this more evident than in the incessant battling between public charters and traditional school districts. While middle-class White people often lament the loss of students in traditional schools, these are the same hypocrites who fled during the White flight or participated in oppressive gentrification and left traditional neighborhood public schools long ago. In Philly, when you want to see a sizable number of White students, you often have to go to the Northeast (a section of the city that once actually tried to secede from Philadelphia) or you have to go to a magnet school (or a gentrified one) that is inaccessible to most Black children.
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Pursuing integration policy and cultivating innovative new charter schools are compatible policy strategies, if both are orchestrated with care. There are plenty of people willing to have that discussion right now, and I wish the sworn enemies of charters would chill the eff out sometimes so we could get some real stuff done.

Have a great day!