Wednesday Reading List: Our Culture is Broken

Yesterday, an unarmed man was killed in his own backyard in Sacramento. Here's the New York Daily News:

Sacramento police fatally shot a 22-year-old black man holding a cell phone that was mistaken for a weapon. Stephon Clark was in the backyard of the home he shared with his grandparents and some of his siblings when he was killed, Clark’s brother told the Sacramento Bee. The police department said officers were responding to a report that someone was breaking car windows nearby. The suspect was described as a 6-foot-1 man wearing a black hooded sweatshirt and dark pants hiding in a backyard.

When we talk about gun violence in this country, it tends to come on the heels of a mass shooting. It's important to remember, though, that sometimes gun violence is perpetrated by the state itself. Sadly, the deployment of said violence happens in a structurally racist context, wherein a disproportionate number of the people killed by the state are black men.

That said, there was ALSO a mass shooting at a school yesterday! Here's The Baltimore Sun on the events at Great Mills High School in Southern Maryland:

The suspected gunman, 17-year-old student Austin Wyatt Rollins, was pronounced dead hours later at a local hospital. Two teenage students were being treated for their injuries — one, Jaelynn Willey, was in critical condition — and a school resource officer who fired at the gunman was unharmed ... The entire incident played out in less than a minute at 7:55 a.m. in a hallway at Great Mills, a school 90 miles south of Baltimore that enrolls about 1,600 students.

These events have become so commonplace that we are no longer shocked when a high school student goes on a rampage against his own peers. We are relieved, actually, to learn that only several students were shot.

Our culture is broken.

giphy (2).gif

Shaun King of The Intercept found a bit of silver lining yesterday, though, in his coverage of Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner:

Across the country, talking the talk of criminal justice reform has gotten many people elected as DA. Once in office, their reforms have often been painfully slow and disappointing. Krasner was the first candidate elected who publicly committed not just to intermittent changes, but a radical overhaul ... In his first week on the job, he fired 31 prosecutors from the DA’s office because they weren’t committed to the changes he intended to make ... Next, Krasner obeyed a court order to release a list of 29 officers from the Philadelphia Police Department that were on a “do-not-call list” — meaning that they were so tainted that they would be considered unreliable as witnesses.

That Krasner's actions are so revolutionary is an indication of the health of the criminal justice system, but change has to start somewhere. King goes on to describe Krasner's internal memo, which outlines policy changes in the department:

If you live in the US northeast, you might be trapped inside today, due to the snowstorm. There are worse things to do than read Krasner's memo in its entirety.

Have a safe day ...

Monday Reading List: Racial Wealth Gaps, Gentrification, and School Choice

A whole team of reporters and graphic designers at The New York Times examined racial inequality in wealth, across generations:

Black boys raised in America, even in the wealthiest families and living in some of the most well-to-do neighborhoods, still earn less in adulthood than white boys with similar backgrounds, according to a sweeping new study that traced the lives of millions of children. White boys who grow up rich are likely to remain that way. Black boys raised at the top, however, are more likely to become poor than to stay wealthy in their own adult households ... “One of the most popular liberal post-racial ideas is the idea that the fundamental problem is class and not race, and clearly this study explodes that idea,” said Ibram Kendi, a professor and director of the Antiracist Research and Policy Center at American University. “But for whatever reason, we’re unwilling to stare racism in the face.”

The graphics in the piece are both striking and effective, so be sure to click through and examine all of the charts. Professor Kendi's point above seems critical to me. Because anti-Black racism operates more like a caste system in America, social class plays a less dominant role in inequality than it does in other societies.

Speaking of the interplay of race and class, Matt Barnum of Chalkbeat looked at some new research, which examines said interaction in the context of school choice and housing integration:

When school choice is limited, lower-income communities with fewer people of color are more likely to see an influx of affluent residents. With additional school choice options, that relationship reverses. The effects were substantial: a predominantly non-white neighborhood’s chance of gentrification more than doubles, jumping from 18 percent to 40 percent when magnet and charter schools are available ... The finding that wealthier families are more open to entering racially segregated neighborhoods if they can avoid the local schools isn’t necessarily surprising. Past research has demonstrated both that schools affect housing choices and that race is used by white families as a proxy for school quality. This is among the first studies to directly link school choice to gentrification, though the data can only suggest cause and effect. The researchers note that they didn’t examine gentrifiers’ aversion to neighborhood schools, which could be based on accurate perceptions of school quality or based on racist assumptions. 

Wow, there's a lot going on here.

Assessing the difference between "accurate perceptions of school quality" and "racist assumptions" is a real problem of public policy, and one that is almost impossible to measure. I challenge you to find one family of gentrifiers that is willing to explicitly say that they are avoiding a school due to the racial composition of its student body. Some families will use lots of coded language to avoid saying that one thing, but even so, it's hard to avoid the conclusion that white families consistently use the racial demographics of a school as a proxy for quality. The very existence of the proxy is, in itself, symptomatic of systemic racism, irrespective of the feelings and prejudices of the gentrifiers themselves.


To end on a more positive note, Freeman Hrabowski, president of University of Maryland-Baltimore County, touted his school in The Atlantic, after the UMBC basketball team made history by beating a top seed in the first round of the NCAA tournament:

I’m not embarrassed to say that I know much more about mathematics than basketball ... What makes our story so appealing is that the players not only have a strong sense of self, they have hope. It is not idle hope, and that showed on Friday, too. Even the few people who thought we had a chance to win never thought we would do so by 20 points. Our win wasn’t a fluke. We won convincingly because we had worked hard to be ready. Rigorous preparation can lead people to reach goals they didn’t think were possible. We’ve defied the odds before. Three decades ago, nobody believed you could close the achievement gap between white and underrepresented minority students, who were disproportionately likely to be lower-income and to be less academically prepared, without adjusting academic standards. But UMBC and the philanthropist Robert Meyerhoff didn’t believe it had to be that way. We believed you could set high expectations and, with appropriate support, not only help minority students succeed but also excel in some of the toughest fields.

If you don't know the UMBC academic story, it's a fabulous one, and the basketball victory is just icing on the cake.

Have a great week!

Friday Reading List: Walkouts, Walkouts, Walkouts

Sarah Darville and Matt Barnum of Chalkbeat collected stories and pictures from this week's student walkouts:

Students across America left their classrooms on Wednesday to take part in a national protest pushing for stricter gun laws and memorializing those who died in last month’s school shooting in Florida. The event was rare in its scope, with students from hundreds of schools leaving class for at least 17 minutes in memory of the 14 teens and three teachers killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland one month ago. The event continued throughout the day, with students walking out at 10 a.m. local time across the country.

The most powerful thing about these actions is that they're student led. The wiser adults among us are supporting that energy. Dana DiFilippo of WHYY in Philadelphia talked to Sharif El-Mekki, a local high school principal:

 “Any complex issue requires complex responses.” Gun violence should be investigated as a public health issue, El-Mekki said. And access also deserves scrutiny. “Even as a gun owner, I feel like it’s far too easy for people to obtain guns.” He supports waiting periods and background checks — but definitely not arming teachers. “It’s very interesting that you can go to urban environments and see metal detectors and guards and police, but where these kind of incidents are occurring, people aren’t even proposing that. They say: ‘oh, arm teachers!’ But that’s America’s response to everything: You have a problem with somebody, add more guns. You have a problem with another country, add more guns. America’s response to anything is add guns to the situation, and they don’t care about the proximity of children or the sanctity of a school.”

In the interest of full disclosure, El-Mekki is on the board of directors of the nonprofit foundation where I serve as chief operating officer. I recently sat down with some of the young people in his school, who have been working as activists in their own communities. They were extremely confident in their positions on gun violence, and their grasp of the issue was far more sophisticated than that of most adults I encounter. In addition to their clarity on policy solutions, they were insistent that the movement to prevent gun violence include their stories. While every student I spoke with had a story of how gun violence affected his or her life, none of that violence happened during a mass shooting. 

It is important for advocates, activists, and policymakers alike to remember that the vast majority of gun-related injuries and deaths do not occur during mass shootings, but rather are the result of quotidian handgun encounters, domestic violence, and suicides. It is telling, though, that the media and American public conspire to emphasize those few episodes that involve predominantly privileged communities. As the campaign to end gun violence intensifies, and this generation's young people take their place as leaders of that endeavor, I hope to see many more black and brown young people in leadership positions, because the current infrastructure and leadership of the gun violence prevention world is overwhelmingly white.


For other coverage of the walkouts, check out The New York Times, Citizen Ed, The Root, The Atlantic, and anywhere else that covers actual news.

Finally this week, Chris Stewart in is Citizen Ed with some real talk about real estate and schools:

We can say public education shouldn’t pick winners and losers, and I’ll agree, but that doesn’t change reality. Parents who don’t actively choose schools are vulnerable to irrevocable losses. As the cliche says, childhood has no rewind. For decades black families have faced this quandary as they moved out of urban areas in search of safer communities with better services. I can’t speak for them, but there seems to be a suggestion that we sacrifice our kids for the “greater good”; that we take one for the team and stay put in redlined neighborhoods. If you want me to compromise my kids’ life chances in service of the greater good, my response is, “You go first.”

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday Reading List: Student Walkouts to Fight Gun Violence

Frank Velez, a New Jersey high school student writing at The Hechinger Report, talks about youth leadership on fighting gun violence:

The children of America aren’t going to wait any longer for the country’s adults to lead. That is my conviction and it keeps me going in this fight for a better and safer world, for all students, teachers and administrators. That is why here at Belleville High School, we’re determined to take the lead as students walk out of school March 14 to protest gun violence. I started both a Facebook and an Instagram page for everyone here at my high school and my state, New Jersey, as a whole. I’ve contacted and coordinated with multiple other students across this great state and nation who have put their foot down on mass murder. We want to make it clear that the time for inaction and abdication is no longer.

Students around the country will walk out of their classrooms at 10:00AM today, in solidarity with the young people at Parkland High School, who are memorializing the month that has passed since 17 people were murdered at their school in Florida. Many educators and schools are supporting the walkouts:

US Education Secretary Betsy DeVos visited Parkland last week. Isabel Fattal of The Atlantic explains why that visit didn't go so well:

DeVos’s visit itself didn’t do much to turn things around. According to a Department of Education press release, she “met with students, teachers, and administrators” and designed the trip based on recommendations from the school principal over how to minimize disruption for the students’ first full day back at school. But after the event, both students and teachers criticized the education secretary for not engaging one-on-one with enough of them and for failing to answer all of their questions, particularly about her plans for preventing future school shootings. Journalists also reported that DeVos abruptly ended her press conference following the visit, after answering just a handful of inquiries.

Fattal continues, contrasting the dueling roles that a Secretary of Education must play after a shooting: offering comfort to a grieving community, on the one hand, and representing the gun policy of her administration, on the other hand. While Fattal wonders if the particular antipathy towards this administration is driving the current outrage in Parkland, I suspect that the situation is more generational than partisan. The young people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas were raised on digital organizing and have experienced school shootings of increasing severity throughout their childhoods. That's not a partisan issue, that's about life and death.

 Shameless plug.

Shameless plug.

Mónica Córdova of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy wants to find new ways to support youth activism and leadership:

For generations, youth of color have sparked movements igniting a fight for safe, healthy and just schools and communities. Often they’ve waged long-term campaigns against great odds as they watch their schools become more like prisons than environments that foster growth and learning ... Youth-led organizations across the country are demanding to be heard and student leaders from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are inspired, working toward a platform that is shared across race, class, gender and geography. It is philanthropy’s turn to grab hold of the opportunity before us and advance the movement for a multiracial, cross-class alliance of young people standing up to demand a society free from all forms of violence.
giphy (1).gif

Amen. In particular, it's important to remember that most of the students in the United States that experience gun violence on a day-to-day basis are young people of color. Their experience with daily gun violence does not grab headlines, like the mass shootings that dominate news coverage for days on end. But their stories and experiences are the linchpin of this fight, and we must put their leadership at the center of efforts to curb gun violence.

Finally today, the BBC covered a powerful installation at the US Capitol, which calls attention to how many children are killed with guns every year:

Have a powerful day.


Friday Reading List: Calling BS on School Discipline Junk Science and Student Debt Forgiveness

RiShawn Biddle of Dropout Nation isn't buying political conservatives' red herring about the linkages between school shootings and discipline policies:

As argued by less-reputable outlets and conservative writers such as Breitbart and Ann Coulter as well as supposedly respectable types such as Manhattan Institute’s Max Eden (based mostly off a clip job of a Washington Post article) and (with a little more reason) David French of National Review, if the Broward district, as part of its PROMISE school discipline reform initiative, didn’t team up with the county’s sheriff to reduce the number of students being arrested for minor offenses, Cruz would have been arrested and kept from doing harm to his former schoolmates. Particularly for Eden, the Parkland massacre is another way to oppose school discipline reforms happening throughout the country, as well as overturn the Obama Administration-era guidance advising districts to not overuse suspensions and other discipline, especially against poor and minority children.

Biddle explains the backstory on this, and why the overheated rhetoric on this topic is so dangerous. If you strip away all of the polite policy language, what the conservative reformers are actually saying is, "A bunch of white guys with guns are killing people, so the answer is to suspend and expel more black students."

giphy (8).gif

I'm dead serious. The only thing that seems to happen in schools, when they adopt the discipline policies that commentators like Max Eden favor, is flagrant over-suspension and over-expulsion of non-white students. There is absolutely no evidence that these suspensions and expulsions lead to safer schools, while there is ample evidence that those actions permanently affect the life trajectories of students, particularly black boys.

You know what does prevent gun violence, though? Having fewer guns, making them harder to procure, and banning the kinds of weapons that were used in the Parkland shooting.

giphy (9).gif

Speaking of Parkland, P.R. Lockhart of Vox digs into how the students at that schools are challenging the racial dynamics of gun safety campaigns:

In the weeks since the February 14 shooting, the survivors from the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School have seized national attention with a call for gun control. Their activism has not been without its detractors, but for the most part has drawn considerable support from celebrities and the media. To some observers, the reaction to the Parkland students’ activism appears very different from how the public and politicians usually respond to gun violence in other communities. “Young black people have been fighting to save lives through gun reform laws for years without the support and energy given to the Stoneman Douglas students,” noted Teen Vogue columnist Lincoln Anthony Blades. “In fact, black youth, who’ve been passionately advocating for gun control measures, have been demonized, obfuscated, and overlooked.“

There is a significant racial disparity in shooting deaths in this country, and while mass shootings consume media attention for days on end, the average gun violence victim, demographically, has more in common with a young person in Chicago than one in Parkland.

Those geographic demographic differences are the result of centuries of residential segregation, reinforced by both policies and personal decision-making. As Tom Jacobs of Pacific Standard points out, "white flight" is still very much a thing:

In the journal Social Science Research, [Samuel] Kye used Census Bureau data from 1990 to 2010 to examine white flight in suburban neighborhoods in the country's 150 largest metropolitan areas ... Of the 27,891 Census tracts he looked at, 3,252 experienced "white flight," which he defines as a neighborhood losing at least 25 percent of its white population between 2000 and 2010. These tracts experienced "an average magnitude loss of 40 percent of the original white population" ... "Whites continue to leave neighborhoods with significant levels of non-white residential growth," he reports.

Detractors will argue that those white families are not making a choice about race, per se, but rather are making a "rational decision" about the potential future value of their homes. Those detractors will not realize that this argument relies on racist assumptions, which could be undermined and obviated if those families didn't leave. Property values do not magically decline because those properties are proximate to black families; property values decline because white families make irrational assumptions about race, which drive down prices. The real estate market is neither "moral" nor "neutral."

Finally this week, Eric Levitz of New York Magazine wants to cancel all outstanding student debt:

In America today, 44 million people collectively carry $1.4 trillion in student debt. That giant pile of financial obligations isn’t just a burden on individual borrowers, but on the nation’s entire economy. The astronomical rise in the cost of college tuition — combined with the stagnation of entry-level wages for college graduates — has depressed the purchasing power of a broad, and growing, part of the labor force. Many of these workers are struggling to keep their heads above water; 11 percent of aggregate student loan debt is now more than 90 days past due, or delinquent. Others are unable to invest in a home, vehicle, or start a family (and engage in all the myriad acts of consumption that go with that).

Levitz goes on to make the important point that almost any critique of this idea could be applied similarly to the tax bill that the president just signed into law. The author does not provide a sense of how the country might handle college costs on an ongoing basis, which seems like an important problem to tackle simultaneously. That said, it's clear that student debt is a huge drag on GDP, while the benefits of the debt accrue to a small number of questionable lenders.

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday Reading List: Understanding West Virginia and Taking Down Crappy Research

The West Virginia teachers strike ended yesterday with an unequivocal win for teachers, and for organized labor more broadly. Dana Goldstein of The New York Times looks at the connections to history:

Since the mid-19th century, it has generally been the women who have been expected to do this kind of difficult, nurturing work. That gender divide played a big role in early teacher activism. Today, about 75 percent of teachers in West Virginia and across the United States are female. When teachers first unionized in Chicago at the turn of the 20th century, 97 percent were women, and they were paid little more than maids. Policymakers did not see that as a problem. Instead, they wanted to devote their extra funds to recruiting male teachers, who they thought would be tougher, and thus better able to control those massive, 60-student classes. The women teachers got angry, launched their federation, and within several years had secured a raise.

Goldstein draws linkages between labor movements of past and present, and how those movements have intersected with the broader social currents of their respective times. If you want to read a longer version of that story, Goldstein's 2015 book, The Teacher Wars, is fabulous.

Rachel M. Cohen, writing in The Intercept, wonders if Oklahoma's soil is the next terrain on which teachers will fight for higher wages:

The increasing momentum for a strike in Oklahoma comes as a strike by West Virginia teachers entered its ninth consecutive school day on Tuesday. State lawmakers, hoping to bring the strike to an end, reached a deal on Tuesday morning to raise all state employee salaries by 5 percent. Oklahoma’s 42,000 teachers make even less than their West Virginian counterparts; in 2016, the average Oklahoma teacher earned $45,276, a salary lower than that of teachers in every state except Mississippi. With no pay increases for Sooner State teachers in a decade, educators have been leaving for greener pastures, moving to neighboring states like Arkansas, New Mexico, Kansas, and Texas. Last May, Shawn Sheehan, Oklahoma’s 2016 Teacher of the Year, announced that he would be moving to Texas for more financial stability.

Cohen dives deep into the political machinations in Oklahoma, examining why the relatively popular idea of giving raises to teachers seems to be stymied in the legislature. Her analysis makes plain the various legislative tradeoffs that stanch the educator pay scale. Part of what made the West Virginia strike so successful were the unequivocal optics: low-paid female teachers versus a state government controlled by comically villainous coal billionaires. Based on Cohen's reporting, an Oklahoma strike could hinge on similar dynamics

giphy (5).gif

Staying on the topic of organized labor, Arianna Prothero of Education Week looks at unionization in charter schools:

In 2010, less than 10 percent of unionized charter schools belonged to either a nonprofit charter management organization or a for-profit education management organization. Today, that number is pushing 20 percent. Why the uptick? It likely comes down to strategy. "One reason that it might be that CMOs or EMOs are more likely to be unionized is is that they are easier targets from a unionization perspective," said Katharine Strunk, a professor of education policy at Michigan State University. "It makes more sense for them to spend their energy going to a place where they can get more teachers and more schools. It's actually a lot of work to try to go in and unionize a set of teachers."

The charter schools sector has been on the ropes of late, with high profile political losses and scandals overshadowing academic successes. It will be interesting to watch how the sector deals with a labor movement that seems to be finding its rhythm after years of prioritizing picayune contract negotiations over grassroots organizing.

giphy (6).gif

Finally today, Peter Cunningham is at Education Post with an important takedown of some pernicious obfuscation about school discipline policy:

In 2014, the Obama administration issued guidance to school districts across the country encouraging the use of restorative justice practices over more punitive measures that often lead to arrests—the “school to prison pipeline.” Emboldened by the Trump election, conservatives set their sights on repealing the 2014 guidance, which they see as overreach on the part of the federal government ... Lacking any evidence, the think tanks got to work. Max Eden of the Manhattan Institute analyzed school district surveys in New York City taken during the Bloomberg administration, which embraced tougher discipline policies, to surveys taken during the de Blasio administration, which embraced restorative justice practices ... Note that this data is based on student “perception” surveys rather than reported incidents ... The policy community happily links to this research, without questioning its methodologies.

Read the whole piece, because Cunningham does a nice job of showing how a group of related policy institutions essentially launders crappy research into demonstrably false sound-bytes about school violence. This activity is especially dangerous right now, given that the real focus ought to be on curbing the use of guns in school, not criminalizing more children.

Have a great week!

Monday Reading List: School Safety and Fallout in NYC

Evie Blad of Education Week wants to know how schools are reacting to heightened concerns about security:

While policymakers tend to introduce safety measures in the immediate aftermath of a mass school shooting—responding to fears about a statistically unlikely worst-case scenario—many school leaders say their work to improve safety, and to address a whole range of concerns, never ends. While it can be tempting to focus on costly visible measures, like adding more school police and installing metal detectors, some schools may achieve greater safety benefits in hiring an additional school counselor or launching new programs to support students with behavioral needs, school leaders say. Researchers point to threat-assessment programs—which schools use to evaluate and address student behavioral concerns—and school climate efforts as some of the most important ways to keep students safe.

How schools handle violent episodes is an important topic, and I'm glad we are having a national conversation about the safety of our children. That said, I worry that the debate is playing-out in such a way that a disproportionate share of the burden for gun prevention is being placed on schools.

giphy (2).gif

The most straightforward way to lessen the threat of gun violence in schools is to ban military style weapons for civilian use, and to make it much harder for all people to procure all types of firearms.

But we live in a country that prioritizes the rights of people who own deadly weapons over the lives of children.

giphy (3).gif

In related news, Stephanie Saul, Timothy Williams, and Anemona Hartocollis of The New York Times investigated the role of the euphemistically named "school resource officer":

For millions of students, the first adult they see every day at school is not a teacher, or principal. It is a “school resource officer” ... an often-overlooked role in law enforcement that is under the national glare like never before. Their duties range from perking up sullen students to directing bus traffic to settling disputes to keeping an eye out for threats. It is that responsibility as the first line of defense that is getting the most attention, as questions swirl over whether the school resource officer at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., failed to do his job ... The position, with its genial-sounding name, is an unusual hybrid of counselor, educator and cop, and perhaps no other job better personifies America’s shifting ideas about schools, policing and safety.

The reporters do a nice job of handling a tricky topic, and I want to amplify two important points here. First, in almost every jurisdiction that uses the "school resource officer" model, the officers report to police departments, and are not directly accountable to school personnel. This arrangement has both budgetary and human resource implications, but perhaps most importantly, the culture of policing is vastly different than that of schooling. Second, and related to the first point, is the notion that many of these officers carry a firearm. As the country wrestles with whether or not teachers ought to carry guns - spoiler alert: they shouldn't - it's important to remember that many schools already employ at least one armed guard, and in just about every case of mass violence, that person has failed to save the lives of children.

giphy (4).gif

Finally today, Christina Veiga of Chalkbeat explains why Alberto Carvalho's dramatic reversal last week did not surprise her:

In his almost three decades working in South Florida’s political ecosystem, and the country’s fourth-largest school district, Carvalho has masterfully cultivated political popularity and power. Carvalho reports to Miami’s elected school board, but he has deftly handled his relationship with its members for most of his tenure so that they almost always approve his agenda unanimously. When he was rumored to be a contender to lead Los Angeles schools — the second-largest district in the country — I watched the board prematurely open his contract and give him a raise. That unity has eroded a bit after the last election, which ushered in some more independent members, and perhaps pushed Carvalho to flirt with decamping for New York City. Still, as the theatrics came to a climax on Thursday, his board hastily called for a symbolic vote of confidence in Carvalho. Every official present voted in favor. On television, the vote looked strange. In Miami, it probably seemed normal.

Whether or not Carvalho's flip-flopping was germane to his personality and employment history, it's important to remember that there were problems with the way that NYC was packaging the job as chancellor. The fact that Mayor Bill DeBlasio wants to appoint the chancellor's chief of staff and human resources director is a HUGE red flag for any talented candidate. That's basically like saying, "Please come run the city's school system, but I get to decide who you hire under you, and I want a person loyal to me following you around all day, reporting all of your mundane mistakes back to my office. Have fun!"

DiBlasio's tendency to micromanage limits the effectiveness of all of his agency heads, particularly since the mayor had scant executive experience before becoming mayor. The NYC school system is a multi-billion dollar organizations with tens of thousands of employees. If the mayor wants a talented chancellor who can actually improve the system's performance, he needs to ease up.

Have a great week!

Friday Reading List: WTF NYC and Edu News from Around the World

The team at Chalkbeat has a good "tick tock" of what went down in the NYC schools chancellor saga this week:

After a lengthy search, city officials had identified a top contender in Miami-Dade County Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, a rising star in education circles who would have been a high-profile get for the mayor. Almost two weeks ago, Carvalho was offered the job leading the nation’s largest school district. A week ago, after many conversations and clandestine trips to the city, Carvalho signaled he would take it. Then on Thursday, it all fell apart in dramatic fashion during a four-hour emergency school board meeting in Miami that was carried live on television.
giphy (1).gif

The appropriate response to this story is, "WTF?"

I don't have much to say about this imbroglio. The transparency required of public employment processes brings a lot of benefits, but in some cases - like searches for high profile chief executives - the transparency can be a liability. Humans change their minds, and in this case, that extremely natural tendency embarrassed a whole bunch of people.

Meanwhile, in Canada:

Overall, 30 percent of Canada’s schoolchildren are either immigrants themselves or have at least one parent born abroad. That’s compared with 23 percent of U.S. students who are immigrants or children of immigrants. Yet Canada has one of the highest performing education systems in the world as ranked by the Program for International Assessment, or PISA, test that 15-year-olds from more than 70 countries take. The United States’ rankings, by contrast, are mediocre.

That's Kavitha Cardoza of Education Week. I sometimes hear people making excuses for the performance of American schools on the basis of our diversity and heterogeneity. In the meantime, other countries - like Canada, for example - have comparable challenges and manage to outperform our public education system.

On the other hand, Sarah Butrymowicz of The Hechinger Report examines Sweden's school choice endeavors:

Sweden adopted a nationwide universal voucher program in 1992 as part of a series of reforms designed to give more control over education to towns and schools. Families can choose any school, public or private: Taxpayer money follows the student. This voucher system has led to a burgeoning industry of mostly for-profit, private schools, also called “free schools.” Two of the companies that run schools in Sweden are listed on the country’s stock exchange ... In 2000, Swedish students performed well-above average on an international test called the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA). By 2012, they were below average in math, reading and science. Sweden had the steepest decline of any of any participating country over that time period.

It's hard to attribute the decline to the advent of the voucher program, but the correlation is hard to ignore. Naturally, the author draws comparisons between Sweden's policies and conservative efforts domestically to expand vouchers. The common theme is a lack of oversight. It is utterly predictable that privatizing schools would lead to less accountability, and anyone who argues otherwise is being disingenuous.

To wit, many conservative reformers argue that diminished oversight is a good thing. To be fair, some regulations and policies are useless, forcing educators to spend time on compliance, when they should be teaching. But Civil Rights enforcement requires regulations! Curbing racially biased discipline policies requires oversight. There's nothing inherently good about deregulation, just as there's no guarantee that changing the governance structure alone will improve the quality of public services.

Have a great weekend!

Monday Reading List: Teachers Respond to the Dreadful Idea That They Ought to be Armed

Philissa Cramer of Chalkbeat took stock of the #ArmMeWIth trend on twitter, in which teachers pushed back against the asinine idea that they ought to be armed in the classroom:

Some lawmakers and advocates — including President Donald Trump — have responded to the shooting by arguing that teachers should be armed. That idea has drawn scorn from educators who argue that more guns in schools would make students less safe and do little to address the underlying issues that contribute to violence in schools. Now thousands of those educators are offering an alternative, using a template that two teachers shared on Instagram on Tuesday. Olivia Bertels and Brittany Wheaton already had substantial social media followings when they asked others to join them in starting a movement. “My friend @thesuperheroteacher and I think that we should find more practical solutions than giving teachers guns,” Bertels wrote on her post with the template, where she asked to be armed with school supplies. “I hope you’ll take the same stance.”

The appropriate response to the idea of arming teachers is a healthy blend of scorn and ridicule. I'm glad to see teachers on social media embracing both.

Danielle Slaughter of Mamademics has an even more specific reason to be skeptical of more guns in schools:

My firstborn is now a kindergartner. My husband now teaches at the middle school on the upper campus with an adjoining high school. Two different buildings. Two different places for me to worry about if a shooting takes place. I’ve watched students and parents beg for solutions and gun control. I’ve watched as our lawmakers refuse to take a stand instead saying that we should arm teachers. I want them to be safe but there is absolutely NOTHING safe about giving white teachers of black and brown children guns. We already know that Black and Brown children are disproportionately punished in schools. We know that young white female teachers are often afraid of Black boys as young as eight years old. We know that Black girls are punished more severely than their counterparts.

I was glad to see this article, as it elevates an important point about how Americans react to gun violence. In particular, there are significant racial and socioeconomic factors at play. Alia Wong of The Atlantic explains, using the political organizing of the Parkland, Florida students as a case in point:

Why is there suddenly so much traction? Has the country just finally had enough with these mass shootings? Political scientists and scholars of student activism agree that the affluence of many families in Parkland plays a substantial role. ... Much of the discrepancy in political clout may come down to a bias against poor people, who are more likely to be a racial minority than they are to be white. Black children and teens are, according to a 2013 report, nearly five times as likely as white youth of the same age to die from guns. A 2016 analysis by Everytown for Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense found that 39 percent of the non-shooter victims of gun violence on school campuses since 2013 were black; just 16 percent of public-school students, meanwhile, are African American. Communities affected by this pervasive gun violence—what ProPublica has described as “a relentless drumbeat of deaths of black men”—are acutely aware of the problem.
giphy (97).gif

The fact that gun violence affects Americans across such a broad swath of our demographics should make it easier to organize against. That said, the racial disparities in gun violence, coupled with how the media reacts to those differences, plays a role in keeping the potential coalition divided.

Sarah Ruiz-Grossman of HuffPost expands on that point:

For some black activists who have long been mobilizing around gun violence, the current wave of public attention and outrage over the issue is welcome. But it also invites the question of why there’s been comparatively little attention and outrage focused on the even more common reality of routine gun homicides in the country, which disproportionately affect communities of color, and specifically black Americans.  Prominent black organizers and public figures have also noted the largely positive public response to the student activists from Parkland ― most of whom are not black and who attended school in a largely white, relatively affluent Florida suburb ― compared to the frequent vilification of young black activists protesting gun violence, particularly police shootings.

Having spoken with activists in both the the anti-racism and gun violence prevention worlds, I would say that the current tension needs to be discussed openly and often. The gun violence prevention coalition will not be effective if it does not incorporate the concerns that have been discussed by both the movement for Black lives and other national efforts towards hastening racial justice. Every time a child is shot - whether by an armed peer or a police officer - we should be angry.

Have a thoughtful week ... 

Friday Reading List: Arming Educators is not a Good Idea

Vann Newkirk of The Atlantic explains the absurdity of armed educators:

But the movement for hardening isn’t just impractical or lacking in evidentiary support; it’s also a dystopian stroke of authoritarianism that runs deeply counter to the ideas embodied in the Constitution. Increasingly militarized school resource officers don’t just passively wait for mass shootings; they have daily encounters with students that appear to be increasing in frequency. Brutality is endemic. Mother Jones chronicled 28 serious student injuries and one death from 2010 to 2015 in such encounters. The brunt of those brutal incidents and arrests falls on black students, and high-profile incidents of officers kicking students, choking them, handcuffing third-graders, and slamming students to the ground are all too common.

Research on gun violence is hard to find, in part because the NRA has lobbied extensively to ensure that the federal government cannot collect data on guns. That said, the evidence we have suggests that increasing the number of guns in any context drives up the incidences of violence.

Ashley Nicolas, who has experience in both combat and the classroom, is in The New York Times making an argument similar to Newkirk's:

... our school was built to cultivate learning, not withstand an attack; our teachers were trained to instruct, not shield students from bullets. Fortunately, I never had to confront the horror of a gunman roaming the hallways of my school. Still, Parkland could have been my classroom. Those kids — some of whom had only algebra textbooks as a defense against bullets — could have been my students. I felt more prepared than many of my colleagues because I knew how to stop bleeding, spot vulnerabilities and control a chaotic situation. Yet teachers shouldn’t need to have military or law enforcement experience.

I'll have more to say about the idea of arming teachers, so stay tuned ...

giphy (95).gif

In other news, The Houston Chronicle is reporting that the KIPP network has fired on of its founders:

KIPP leaders said an independent investigation found "credible evidence" that [Mike] Feinberg sexually abused an underage female student in the late 1990s and offered two former employees money in exchange for a sexual relationship. Feinberg denied the allegations, and investigators hired by KIPP couldn't definitively substantiate them. Nevertheless, KIPP's local and national governing boards decided to remove Feinberg, 24 years after the charter network started in Houston. Prior to his firing, Feinberg supported KIPP schools across the country, helped grow the network nationally and maintained a seat on the KIPP Houston governing board.
giphy (96).gif

There aren't many people in the charter school world who are more prominent than Feinberg, so this news will send national reverberations through the education reform community. In particular, there are thousands of students and educators affiliated with KIPP, most of whom have done nothing wrong, who are totally justified in feeling hurt, betrayed, and angry this morning. It's worth reaching out to them to hear their perspectives today.

Have a good weekend ...