Friday Reading List: We All Have Work To Do

Becca Andrews of Mother Jones talks to people of color living in rural America:

KKK chapters across the Southeast have struggled in recent decades to do much more than merely survive, but their numbers have grown over the past several years, and KKK leaders credit their resurgence to Trump and his white nationalist supporters. In Tennessee, my home state, a Memphis corrections officer resigned in November after expressing support for the KKK on his Facebook page and posting that he hoped the Obama family was hanged. A white supremacist conference has been held annually near Nashville for the past six years. And according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Tennessee is home to 38 active hate groups—more than almost any other state in the Southeast. (Florida has 63, and Virginia has 39). Since Trump’s election, there has been ample coverage of white people—the rise of white nationalism, the white working class that makes up Trump’s core constituency, the 53 percent of white women who voted him into office. Much less has been written about the people of color who live and work amid the rising tide of white nationalism in rural red states.

Andrews subsequently shares profiles of a handful of individuals living under these conditions. What's so striking is the contrast between the national spectacle of what happened in Charlottesville, and the quiet, local fear under which these folks live every day. I had similar conversations with folks in Pelham, North Carolina, when the KKK threatened to march last December.

Elsewhere, Chris Stewart, writing at Citizen Stewart, wants to remind you that there is no room anymore for quasi-innocent, tacit disagreement with the White House:

Certainly there are faithful Republicans who aren't racist, who don't support racism, and who are offended when anyone suggests otherwise. Many voted against Hillary Clinton, not for Donald Trump. They believe in small government, low taxes, and some approximation of "liberty."  They believe conservatism preserves the best of American values and produces that prosperity we enjoy. You are not innocent. You are not blind. You are not acting in accord with any reasonable definition of virtue. To you I say, even if you're that rational republican voter you'll have to step over a lot of dead bodies to pull that lever and stubbornly pursue your political theories.
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I don't have much to add there, so we'll just move on ...

Matt Barnum of Chalkbeat looks at some confusing results from a school integration project in California:

New research on schools in the heart of Silicon Valley comes to a familiar conclusion: Poor black and Hispanic students get a leg up academically by attending a less segregated school. But the results come with a significant downside. Those students who left their hometowns to attend wealthier schools in places like Palo Alto were also more likely to be arrested. The study, which was conducted by Columbia professor Peter Bergman and has not been formally peer-reviewed, speaks to both the promise of integration and the complicating factors — including discrimination — that can dampen its effectiveness.

This result should serve as a lesson to folks who want to pursue racial integration through public policy. Most integration plans ask children of color to leave their own neighborhoods, which inevitably puts them in touch with families who explicitly chose to live in whiter, less diverse communities. While that alone is not a reason to oppose integration, these results should inform the ways in which policymakers implement integration.

Finally today, Jon Marcus of The Hechinger Report looks at grade inflation across socioeconomic status:

Here’s the latest, more profound way in which wealthier students have an advantage over lower-income ones: Those enrolled in private and suburban public high schools are being awarded higher grades — critical in the competition for college admission — than their urban public school counterparts with no less talent or potential, new research shows. It’s not that those students have been getting smarter. Even as their grades were rising, their scores on the SAT college-entrance exam went down, not up. Nor are those in some schools more intelligent than those in others. It’s that grade inflation is accelerating in the schools attended by higher-income Americans, who are also much more likely to be white, the research, by the College Board, found. This widens their lead in life over students in urban public schools, who are generally racial and ethnic minorities and from families that are far less well-off.
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I usually prefer to end the week with some good news, but there you have it. I encourage you to spend at least part of the weekend in serious contemplation of how you are going to be a part of eradicating the persistent racial disparities in our country.

Have a thoughtful weekend ...

You Must Choose a Side

While occupying a cell in a Birmingham jail in 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote one of his most pointed critiques of American culture. Addressing his “Christian and Jewish brothers,” he excoriated the lack of urgency among his fellow clergy:

I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action” … Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will.

This insight into the psyche of white America remains prescient. When hundreds of torch-bearing white supremacists can march proudly in a significant American city, it is clear that we are at a point of moral crisis. Despite the obvious stakes involved, there remain prominent individuals who equivocate and blame “both sides” for the events in Charlottesville. The American president, regrettably, is one of them.

I’m here to tell you that you must choose a side.

This should not be a hard decision. On one side you have torch-wielding, Nazi-slogan-chanting, out-of-the-closet, white supremacists. They chanted "Jews Will Not Replace Us" as they terrorized local activists seeking refuge in a church. Their avowed strategy is the maintenance of a racial hierarchy that places people of European descent in a position of permanent superiority over people of other races. They sometimes do business under the euphemistic name “the alt-right.” They have pseudo-scientists who buttress their claims, and they rely upon tacit support from mainstream members of the political right for sustenance.

On the other side you have ... people who are NOT Nazis.



That’s literally the end of my argument.



I’m not sure why we’re still talking.

I’m already on the couch, watching Netflix.

Yet, somehow, some of you are still saying, “Yeah, but ….” What follows the, “Yeah, but … “ can vary:

1)    “ … it’s more complicated than that!”

2)    “… her emails!”

3)    “ … antifa has baseball bats!”

4)    “ … not all white people are Nazis!”

5)    “ … maybe we need to listen to what they’re saying!”

To each of those things, my response is the same: “Are you seriously confused over whether to side with literal Nazis?”

Those who equivocate over siding with Nazis can be seen taking firm positions on a whole variety of non-Nazi-related issues. They have strong opinions about the Common Core State Standards, the role of the federal government in healthcare, and a host of other domains occupying grayer moral area than Nazi fighting. Their hemming and hawing forces us to consider that they might not actually view Nazism as a bad thing.

To be more charitable, perhaps the equivocators have become desensitized. For decades our political culture has played fast and loose with the idea of Nazism. Have a political opponent? He’s a Nazi! Disagree with a policy idea? That’s the sort of thing they would do in Nazi Germany! In the meantime, it's possible that the equivocators are confused about what to do when actual Nazis show up ... which is now, and should always be, to take the other side reflexively.

Maybe the problem for the fence-sitters is that they’re concerned about tactical imperfections among the Nazi fighters. This is a favorite bête noir among very serious conservatives. The problem with that argument is that we shouldn’t anticipate tactical perfection among the opposition, because they’re literally fighting fucking Nazis. We should provide significant room for suboptimal decision-making, because Nazi-fighting presents an existential crisis for the American public. A moral crisis of this magnitude requires hard decisions, firm leadership, strategic flexibility, and many other intangible things. Tactical perfection is very low on that list.

My real suspicion is that the middle-grounders are wary of what the Nazi-fighters want: racial equity, religious tolerance, equal rights for women, an inclusive approach to understanding sexual identity and orientation, and basic human rights. The Movement for Black Lives, in particular, wants the state to kill fewer innocent African-Americans and reform the racial inequities in the criminal justice system. The moral vacuity necessary to equate these ideas with white supremacy is stunning. The cowardice required to side with Nazis in order to oppose them is wicked.

At the end of the day, the fence-sitters should consider the trajectory of American history. In the first half of the 19th century, some people were abolitionists. They recognized the moral imperative of ending slavery, despite the myriad political complexities posed by abolition. We celebrate their foresight. In the middle of the 20th century, some people were Civil Rights activists. They stood shoulder to shoulder with leaders who we now valorize, because they put their lives on the line to fight back against a racist policy regime. We revere their courage.

Nowhere in the history books, however, can we find praise for the valor of the people who, in the midst of a moral crisis, cried “well, actually.”

At the dawn of the 21st century, we remain an unequal society, riven through with bulging veins of racism and white supremacy. While there have been incremental improvements in the conditions of nonwhite America, the events of the last several years should leave no doubt that a vocal plurality of the American public – with explicit backing from a bigoted American president – wants to reverse that progress.

In a fight like this, there is room for thoughtful critique. There is room for debate, nuance, the free sharing of ideas, and vigorous disagreement.

But there are no sidelines. There are only sides. And you must pick one.

Tuesday Reading List: Being Honest About White Supremacy, Rejecting False Equivalence, and Mastery-Based Learning

Christopher Petrella is in The Washington Post, reminding us that racism exists in elite circles:

... it should come as no surprise that the lead architects of the Charlottesville demonstration — Jason Kessler, Richard Spencer, Tim Gionet and Matthew Heimbach — are middle- to upper-middle-class, college-educated white men in their mid-20s to mid-30s. Spencer, in fact, is a former doctoral student in modern European intellectual history at Duke University. He has been described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as “a suit-and-tie version of the white supremacists of old, a kind of professional racist in khakis.” But white supremacists of old were, in fact, the very same “suit-and-tie version.” In her 2015 book, “Ku-Klux: The Birth of the Klan During Reconstruction,” Elaine Frantz Parsons argues that “the men who first became Ku-Klux — Frank O. McCord, Richard Reed, John C. Lester, Calvin Jones, John Booker Kennedy, and James Crowe — presented themselves as elites and intellectuals, above and opposed to the violence of rough men.”

Petrella goes on to explain that white supremacy relies on the stature of its elite white adherents for propagation. Sometimes personal hatred is at the root of such activities, but the ideology is far more insidious than dramatic episodes of street violence. On most days, white supremacy involves white people looking for personal and systemic ways to maintain a caste system of racial advantage.

For example, as Daniel Lathrop and Anna Flagg write in The New York Times, the criminal justice system treats white people and black people differently in every conceivable way:

When a white person kills a black man in America, the killer often faces no legal consequences. In one in six of these killings, there is no criminal sanction, according to a new Marshall Project examination of 400,000 homicides committed by civilians between 1980 and 2014. That rate is far higher than ones for homicides involving other combinations of races.  In almost 17 percent of cases when a black man was killed by a non-Hispanic white civilian over the last three decades, the killing was categorized as justifiable, which is the term used when a police officer or a civilian kills someone committing a crime or in self-defense. Over all, the police classify fewer than 2 percent of homicides committed by civilians as justifiable. The disparity persists across different cities, ages, weapons and relationships between killer and victim.

The rest of the article has extensive data, which illustrate the various situations in which violent murders result in significant criminal responsibility for the murderer. The racial disparities here are STUNNING. Not only does the criminal justice system prosecute and incarcerate a disproportionate number of black Americans, but that system also fails to protect black Americans when violent crimes are committed against them.

The confluence of these personal and systemic factors creates an untenable maelstrom. Isaac Chotiner of Slate interviewed Jelani Cobb about how history teaches us to respond to white supremacist violence:

I think that at one point it was prudent to ignore those movements, because they were looking for counterprotests for attention. We are past that point now. What we saw this weekend was a debut. If you saw all these people marching together, and we know about the esprit de corps that comes with people marching together in a regimented fashion. They get high off that. They have drawn first blood and taken the life of one of their opponents. What would a movement like that do except look for something bigger now? From what we know of history ... I think this would prompt them to do something bigger and maybe cause more casualties. We are at a much more dangerous point than we were 72 hours ago.

I wish I disagreed with Cobb, but I don't. Appeasement is not an adequate response to a violent, domestic, white nationalist, terrorist movement. Here's what the middle ground sounds like to me and a lot of other people:

Art by Kasia Babis (

Art by Kasia Babis (

When commentators draw a false equivalence between the non-violent Movement for Black Lives and racist white supremacist terror, those of us who stand for justice see capitulation, appeasement, and betrayal.

Finally today, on a different topic, Kyle Spencer is in The Hechinger Report examining a new approach to measuring progress in schools:

Moheeb is part of a new program that is challenging the way teachers and students think about academics, and his school is one of hundreds that have done away with traditional letter grades inside their classrooms. At M.S. 442, students are encouraged to focus instead on mastering a set of grade-level skills, like writing a scientific hypothesis or identifying themes in a story, moving to the next set of skills when they have demonstrated that they are ready. In these schools, there is no such thing as a C or a D for a lazily written term paper. There is no failing. The only goal is to learn the material, sooner or later.

The idea of "mastery-based" learning has been gaining traction in education circles for the last decade or so, with a few pioneer districts leading the charge. Spencer dives deep to determine how this kind of system works in practice. Unlike other fads in education reform, this concept plays not with the idea of who or what is taught by whom, but with how much time it takes for children to master content.

Have a great day ...

Monday Reading List: Unpacking Charlottesville as an Educator

After this weekend's tragic events in Charlottesville, it is important for educators and professionals to understand the downstream effects of White supremacy and racism, in both their classrooms and in our public institutions writ large.

Erika Sanzi of Good School Hunting addresses the elephant in the room for White educators:

I can’t think of a more quintessential example of privilege than being able to take a vacation from the hate that is on on the march in Charlottesville this weekend. And the truth is, I don’t want to stop thinking about it. In fact, I want to make more people think about it. The images coming out of Virginia are a huge wake up call to all of us who haven’t raised our voices enough, as white Americans, to condemn and fight against the hate that others who look like us feel emboldened to spew in the public square and on television in 2017. The hatred that would drive someone to drive a car, full speed, into a crowd of people (photo below). We are so quick to rail against ISIS without a second thought so how is this any different? ISIS plows vehicles into crowds of people too. ISIS hates Christians and these white supremacists in Virginia hate Jews. And Blacks.

As Philissa Cramer at Chalkbeat points out, other prominent educators joined Sanzi's chorus:

Many decried the white supremacists who convened in the college town and clashed with protesters who had come to oppose their message. Some used social media to outline ideas about how to turn the distressing news into a teaching moment. And others took issue with President Donald Trump’s statement criticizing violence “on both sides,” largely interpreted as an unwillingness to condemn white supremacists.

While former United States Education Secretaries Arne Duncan and John King both condemned the Nazism and White Supremacy on display, the current president and his administration continue to blame the violence "on many sides."

Alicia Robinson warns America not to let its darkest days obscure the fact that most of our days are "Grey Days":

The grey days are the days when people upholding white supremacy don’t tell us where to meet them but show up in a million subtle and covert ways ... It’s not everyday that white supremacists come after you with tiki torches or drive through a rally opposing injustice. But it is everyday that white people can do more to stop supporting white supremacy and the white patriarchy. I sometimes wish some of my white progressive, liberal colleagues would stop trying to organize and march and just adjust the little things they perpetuate in everyday life that collectively make it okay for people who call themselves white supremacists to commit the acts they did in Charlottesville yesterday.

In that spirit, I tweeted a series of suggestions for White professionals who are returning to work today. Larry Ferlazzo was kind enough to "Storify" that tweet thread on his blog.

In addition, there are many resources on the web, which are aimed at helping educators to discuss racism, American history, privilege, and discrimination. Here are a few:



Perhaps more than anything, strive to be a compassionate human today ...

Friday Reading List: Debt Without Degrees, Discrimination, and Chance the Rapper(!)

Meredith Kolodner and Sarah Butrymowicz of The Hechinger Report examine a growing phenomenon in higher education:

The numbers of students with school debt but no degree are large enough that the financial impact goes beyond individual struggles and weighs on the state’s economy. By 2025, more than 60 percent of Georgia jobs will require some kind of post-secondary education, and now only 45 percent of the state’s young adults meet that criterion ... In Georgia, the problem is particularly acute at the public research and regional universities, where students often sign on for higher levels of debt in the hopes that a bachelor’s degree will lead to a higher paying job. The number of dropouts with federal loans at these institutions has grown from 35,443 in 2007-09 to more than 56,600 in 2013-15. In that time the median student debt at most schools more than doubled. Most economists agree that too few residents with college degrees will slow Georgia’s economic growth, which could affect all residents. It’s a problem occurring in other states as well.

This is a "double whammy" problem, because we're dampening the economy in two interrelated ways: creating more debt for vulnerable borrowers, while lowering broader economic output through losing those individuals' potential contributions to the labor market.

In other news, Julia Donheiser of Chalkbeat looked at Indiana's school voucher program and found some truly disturbing trends:

In Indiana, over 34,299 students used vouchers to attend a private school last fall, making it the largest such program in the country. It’s also a program that U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has applauded — which means Indiana offers a helpful glimpse at how a DeVos-led national expansion of vouchers might shape up. Our investigation found that roughly one in 10 of Indiana’s voucher schools publicly shares a policy suggesting or declaring that LGBT students are not welcome. Together, the 27 schools received over $16 million in public funds for participating last year. Many private, religious schools are also accredited by a group that provides advice about how to turn away LGBT students. Given that nearly 20 percent of schools do not publicize their admissions policies, the true number of schools with anti-LGBT policies is unclear.
Same, Dave Grohl ... same.

Same, Dave Grohl ... same.

I know what plenty of folks are going to say: "But public schools do terrible things, too."

Trust me, I know. In this case, however, the public sector has much greater legal standing to protect the rights of LGBT children. Religious institutions have consistently tested the boundaries of state and federal non-discrimination laws through "religious exemptions." The law is unsettled on this issue, and if you think this current administration and Supreme Court are going to be MORE likely to uphold the rights of vulnerable kids, I have a bridge I'd like to sell to you ...

On a personal level, I will ALWAYS stand with the LGBT community when their rights are being infringed upon. Moreover, I hope that folks in other communities realize that efforts at discrimination rarely stop at a single group of people. There are many reasons to oppose voucher programs, including their relatively dismal results. The ability for private religious institutions to discriminate, however, should be at the top of everyone's list of reasons to say, "Nope."

Elsewhere, Derrell Bradford is in The 74 with a compelling read about the real estate market:

... education, which ostensibly was not meant to be a market, has turned into one. More pointedly, it’s turned into two: The first one is the housing market, which is now in every way the proxy for the buying and selling of school that is supposed to be free but which is really priced into your mortgage. And if markets can be unfair to people, there are some people they are more unfair to than others: young families who have to buy into overheated housing markets, and those who still suffer the long-term effects of redlining, chief among them. The other is the black market that arises when people lie about their addresses to gain entrance into better-performing schools in towns where they may not live.

As regular readers know, I am partial to this line of thinking. Bradford introduces some compelling facts to the argument, so you should read the whole piece.

Finally, some uplifting news before the weekend. Tamara Young of Blavity reports that Chance the Rapper will be livening-up "back to school" ritual in Chicago this year:

Chance the Rapper is giving away 30,000 free backpacks to Bud Billiken parade goers on Saturday, Aug 12th. In a March post on Instagram, Chance said he was also "coordinating" the parade as its grand marshal ... The Bud Biliken Parade is the oldest and largest African American parade in the United States and is held to kick off the school year. The parade starts at Martin Luther King Drive and Oakwood Boulevard in the city's Bronzeville neighborhood and runs south on MLK Drive from about 39th Street to 55th Street.   Chance doesn't seem to be giving too many details of his plans, but he is encouraging everyone to come and is hinting to having a few big surprises!


Chance has been consistent in his support of educational opportunities and equity for children in Chicago. His connection to the issues in the city is real, and it's humbling to see someone of his stature remaining so connected to the children of his city. Have a great weekend!


Thursday Reading List: Writing, The New Gender Gap in College, and Union Money

Dana Goldstein is in The New York Times, exploring why children (and adults) struggle to write:

Three-quarters of both 12th and 8th graders lack proficiency in writing, according to the most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress. And 40 percent of those who took the ACT writing exam in the high school class of 2016 lacked the reading and writing skills necessary to complete successfully a college-level English composition class, according to the company’s data Poor writing is nothing new, nor is concern about it. More than half of first-year students at Harvard failed an entrance exam in writing — in 1874. But the Common Core State Standards, now in use in more than two-thirds of the states, were supposed to change all this ... So far, however, six years after its rollout, the Core hasn’t led to much measurable improvement on the page.

In all seriousness, I'm not sure there ever existed a reasonable expectation that the Common Core would cure America's writing woes in under a decade. Goldstein dives into the disparate approaches to teaching writing, but no matter where you live on that philosophical continuum, the basic challenge seems consistent: most teachers are not prepared to teach writing.

In other news, Jon Marcus is in The Atlantic examining the widening gender gap in college attendance:

Where men once went to college in proportions far higher than women—58 percent to 42 percent as recently as the 1970s—the ratio has now almost exactly reversed. This fall, women will comprise more than 56 percent of students on campuses nationwide, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Some 2.2 million fewer men than women will be enrolled in college this year. And the trend shows no sign of abating. By 2026, the department estimates, 57 percent of college students will be women. The new minority on campus? Men.

The rest of the article looks at efforts to attract more young men to college. Because men are not historically underrepresented in America's corridors of power, I'm not sure what can or should be done about this new disparity. When you couple that story with the news that Harvard's incoming class this year is majority nonwhite, it's obvious that America continues to become a more diverse place, despite the primal screaming of the folks who want to preserve the current power arrangements.

Elsewhere, Pete Cook did extensive research to determine where and how teachers' unions spend money on political elections. The numbers are sort of stunning, and he created a mapping tool to accompany the data:

According to campaign finance data from the National Institute on Money in State Politics, AFT and NEA spent a combined total of $72,661,520 during the 2016 election cycle. Nearly three-quarters of that amount – $53,534,015 – came from NEA, while the balance ($19,127,505) was spent by AFT. Below, I’ve broken down that campaign finance data into four broad categories – contributions to candidates, ballot committees, party committees, and independent expenditure groups – and highlight some interesting facts along the way. You can also search through the data yourself using the search and sorting functions in the tables under each category. 

The major teachers' unions are membership organizations that represent the interests of their members in collective bargaining; they also play a significant role in politics. Folks can argue about whether or not that role is appropriate, but that's just reality right now, and we should understand how they leverage their resources and power, just as we do with other major political players.

Have a great day!

Wednesday Reading List: Let's Talk About Segregation

The Blavity team is following the story of a predominantly-white Alabama community that wants to secede from its school district:

According to the Washington Post, a federal judge ruled that the white city could do so; however, NAACP Legal Defense Fund lawyers are appealing this decision. While Gardendale officials believe that their students would benefit from a smaller school system, the black lawyers argue — on behalf of Alabama's black schoolchildren — that this decision would undermine their students’ civil rights. The Gardendale seccession will leave the district with a much smaller and much poorer tax base, meaning less money for the remaining public schools.

I have been following this story for a year, and the historical context is important. Here's Emma Brown of The Washington Post, describing the county in which Gardendale is located:

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1972 that school districts should not be allowed to splinter away from larger districts when such a move would get in the way of court-ordered desegregation efforts. And yet federal courts have continued to allow such splintering. Jefferson County has struggled to desegregate its schools for more than half a century, in part because one after another predominantly white cities have formed their own independent districts, leaving the county with a growing proportion of black and low-income students — and a smaller tax base to draw on.

If you're tempted to turn up your nose at this particular community, please save your judgment, lest you want to invite said judgment upon your own community. For example,hHere's Christina Veiga of Chalkbeat today, discussing segregation in New York City, which I also have documented:

New York City schools are among the most segregated in the country, a fact that was thrust into national headlines by a 2014 report by The Civil Rights Project at UCLA. About half of all city schools are “intensely segregated,” with at least 90 percent of students belonging to a minority group, according to the report ... Some integrated neighborhoods offer opportunities to break that pattern. But when the city has proposed changes that would decrease segregation (as a byproduct of tackling overcrowding), resistance has been fierce ... Backlash was swift, well-organized, and persistent. Parents opposed to the plans for P.S. 199 and P.S. 452 packed public hearings. They sent letters from lawyers, calling the process “contrary to law.” Many affluent parents said they’d move, rather than send their children to a lower-performing school. “There’s a serious problem in white liberalism in New York City,” said Emmaia Gelman, a white parent in District 3 who has advocated for integration policies. “Put to the test, it doesn’t hold up. People don’t want to give stuff up.”

Let's be 100% clear about something: threatening to move rather than send your children to schools with non-white children is NOT THAT DIFFERENT from trying to secede from a school district. Both the Alabama and NYC campaigns constitute collective political action among a group of privileged white people to preserve relative racial homogeneity in their schools. 

If you remember your American legal history, segregation in this country relies on two separate, interrelated phenomena: de facto segregation and de jure segregation. Richard Rothstein has written extensively on the topic, in both historical and contemporary terms.

The distinction matters not just because the legal standards for how to remedy the disparate types of segregation are different, but also because the contextual factors leading to the two types of segregation differ as well. Depending on how segregation manifests in different communities, in pursuit of "desegregation" after the Brown v. Board decision, some school systems changed boundaries to achieve greater racial balance, while others engaged in intra- and inter-district busing programs.

Integration is a goal, while desegregation is a process, and there is no magic wand for either. While "desegregation" efforts temporarily improved the racial balance in American schools until the late 1980s, those policies did not achieve permanent racial integration. As we can see in the articles above, even in ostensibly liberal New York City, parents resist modest integration efforts. (See also: Boston in the 1970s.)

People are doing a LOT of talking about this issue right now. But I don't see many (any?) politicians or leaders with the courage or inclination to so something about it.

I'm BEGGING to be proven wrong.

Have a great day ...

Tuesday Reading List: Affirmative Action, Saving School Lunches, and Tax Loopholes That Screw Schools

Vivian Yee of The New York Times looks at the justice department's investigations into affirmative action programs:

Besieged in court, routed in eight states, accused of favoring blacks and Latinos at the expense of Asians and whites, affirmative action — a major legacy of the civil rights era — is once again the subject of uncomfortable scrutiny. But even without federal intervention, a look at affirmative action policies in 2017 shows that they have achieved their own kind of diversity, evolving from the explicitly race-based quotas of decades ago into a range of approaches that occasionally, not always, near the melting-pot ideal, often by giving preference to low-income students instead of minorities. "The reason a liberal like me is intrigued by Trump’s actions on affirmative action is that I think it could have the effect of driving universities to really pursuing socioeconomic diversity as a way of indirectly creating racial diversity,” said Richard D. Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation who has pushed for class-based admissions to replace race-based admissions.

I'm not so sure about that. Here's Vann R. Newkirk II in The Atlantic with a different take:

... existing data suggest that race-conscious admissions policies are the main factors keeping overall enrollment roughly representative of America’s racial demographics. A FiveThirtyEight analysis from 2015 found that colleges in states with affirmative-action bans are less representative of the state’s demographics than colleges that are still allowed to consider race. Other simulations suggest that replacing race-conscious policies with colorblind policies that take into account applicants’ socioeconomic status yields less racial diversity on college campuses. Still, in today’s political climate, sentiment is probably more important than reality. And that’s why the move by the DOJ matters, even though it’s limited to an investigation on behalf of Asian-American plaintiffs ... achievement by Asian Americans is used by people decrying reverse racism as the grounding logic to assail race-based programs.

It's convenient to think that pursuing socioeconomic diversity will be a social-engineering-catchall that hastens racial equity. However, as Newkirk points out, there simply doesn't exist any evidence that this is possible. Just as importantly, Kahlenberg's race-neutral perspective requires us to forget history. While the United States never codified "class" into its founding documents - as the framers' European forbears had done in their home countries - they did codify race. Explicitly. Until recently! In doing so, they purposefully made race the most powerful determinant of social class status in this country. By all evidence and anecdotal accounts, race continues to function that way. You can't undo the creation of a racist caste system by ignoring it ... and that's what "colorblind policy" proposes.

In other news, Tovin Lapan of The Hechinger Report looks at the potential effects of the Trump administration's education budget on school lunch programs, zooming-in on Greenville, Mississippi:

The Trump administration’s proposed budget would nix the Greenville afterschool program and impose deep cuts in other areas that impact school meals and nutrition. The USDA, which administers numerous grants and programs that help feed needy children, is facing a budget cut of $4.7 billion, or 21 percent of its discretionary spending, while the Department of Education’s budget could fall by more than $9 billion. Even if Trump’s budget never passes, the administration has already put its stamp on school meals ... The moves befuddle researchers, who cite a growing body of evidence demonstrating that more meals for school children, and specifically more nutritious meals, benefit kids in a myriad of ways, not only in the short term, but throughout their lives. Recent studies indicate the impact of healthier meals is even greater on low-income children.

This policy is consistent with the rest of the administration's budget, which takes just about every opportunity to be cruel to poor people. Beyond the morality of taking food out of the mouths of vulnerable children, research shows that students perform better in school when they eat nutritious meals.

Finally today, Francisco Vara-Orta of Education Week reports a sleeper story that deserves more attention:

Across the country, retailers—in particular big-box stores—are pushing back on how local governments assess the value of their properties with the goal of lowering their tax bills. Using a tactic known as “dark store theory,” retailers and their legal teams are increasingly arguing that the massive stores they operate ought to be appraised as if they were vacant or “dark.” When they succeed, the annual property taxes that retailers pay—which help fund public schools in most local communities—can drop precipitously. The retailers, most of them corporate giants such as Target, Lowe’s, and Home Depot, contend the large buildings their stores occupy—typically more than 100,000 square feet—are difficult to sell because they are customized to a particular retailer ... So far, the strategy has worked, particularly in the courts, and has led to lowering the taxes of big-box companies by hundreds of millions of dollars, according to interviews with assessors and lawmakers in several states who have analyzed the effects.

The article contains some infographics, which capture the magnitude of the problem. The issue seems to be most pronounced in the post-industrial Midwest. In Michigan, for example, at least two-thirds of the state's counties lost $75 million in revenues through this loophole.

This sort of tax avoidance strategy seems consistent with the dearth of civic responsibility among corporate taxpayers in this country. We cannot have a functional society unless the wealth generators feel sufficiently responsible for the greater wellbeing of the country, instead of seeking out every tiny advantage in our byzantine tax codes. In addition, this story illustrates the absolute absurdity of basing school finance on property tax revenues. This is a dumb arrangement! It only sort of made sense in the 18th century, and it makes NO sense anymore. The real-estate-tax-avoidance strategy of the local Best Buy should never be allowed to affect the educational opportunities of small children ... but here we are.

Have a great day!

Friday Reading List: Schools, the American Dream, and Privilege Hoarders

Former United States Secretary of Education John King and recording artist Jidenna have a new op-ed at CNN:

We write this piece to call for action on behalf of our children, so they can build a better future for themselves and future generations. It is simply not enough to shout about the problem. To be true advocates, yes, we have to show up on the streets of Chicago, Los Angeles, Boston, New York or Washington, D.C. We also have to sit down at community meetings in rural New Mexico or Alabama. We have to run for that open school board seat in our town. And we have to realize how important it is to vote -- not just every four years in a presidential election, but in contests that decide who represents us in city hall, the state house, and Congress ... Consider becoming a teacher --especially for people of color, who represent just 18% of the teaching force when the majority of students in our nation's public schools are students of color.

King and Jidenna make important points about both reducing suspensions for children of color and supporting immigrant students. Perhaps the most poignant thing about this piece, though, is that the authors position these issues as critical to delivering on the "American dream." I expect that, if King continues to be a public leader on these issues, he'll find many followers behind him.

If the prior article serves as an exemplar of inspiring rhetoric, Erika Sanzi of Good School Hunting found and critiques a piece that might qualify as the polar opposite:

Steven Singer has actually penned a piece in which he makes the claim that Common Core has led to a spike in middle school suicides. Though he does admit that there are a variety of reasons for the increase, he stands firm in his claim that the Common Core State Standards are one of them ... The mixed messages that bombard kids in the media keep me up at night. The over-sexualization of young girls and the confusion it causes in their young minds keeps me up at night. The epidemic of sexual abuse—including in our nation’s classrooms—keeps me up at night. The 24 hour cycle of cruelty and bullying that torments some children (made possible by social media) keeps me up at night. The naïveté of our children around the consequences and the permanence of their online behavior keeps me up at night ... Did Singer include any of that in his piece?  Nope.

Singer's original piece is a good example of how far the education policy debate has strayed from the standards of reasonable discourse. Singer is a part of a small - yet loud and committed - group of individuals who seem eager to shoot down any meaningful reforms by any means necessary. Crap like this reveals his true colors.

Edwin Rios at Mother Jones uses data from EdBuild to look at the new ways in white white families reinforce school segregation:

Gardendale [Alabama] is just one of many communities—often small, wealthier enclaves—which have attempted to secede from larger school districts across the country over the past 15 years, sparking a nationwide debate about modern segregation. A report released this week by the education nonprofit EdBuild documents the reach of the movement. Since 2000, researchers find, there have been 71 attempts by communities to secede from larger school districts, and, so far, 47 communities have been successful. Another nine, from Malibu, California, to Daphne, Alabama, are currently considering breaking away. Yet another nine community’s plans have been defeated since 2000. 

Two things to consider here. First, it's important to remember that racism and institutional discrimination depend on both systemic measures and personal actions. In the case described above, you see both. Individuals - acting on their racialized self-interests - are pursuing policy measures to reinforce racial divisions. In almost every case of residential segregation, people will deny that such actions have ANYTHING AT ALL to do with race ...

But if you willfully participate in a community that hoards wealth and privilege, whether you acknowledge it or not, you are reinforcing systemic racism.

The second thing to remember is that this is not a new phenomenon. When the Supreme Court decided on Brown v. Board of Education in the mid 1950s, schools had been either factually or statutorily segregated for hundreds of years. Integration efforts reached their peak in 1988 and have been in decline ever since. In other words, during a 400 year history of systemic racism in America, we spent about 30 years giving desegregation "the old college try." We should not pretend that those efforts were sufficient, but we also shouldn't be willfully ignorant in our definition of the problem. School choice and charter schools did not cause schools segregation, just like Common Core isn't responsible for increasing suicide rates among teens.

Finally, I leave you for the weekend with an uplifting read! Lizette Alvarez is in The New York Times with a profile of a performing arts school:

Performing and visual arts high schools like New World inspire a fierce devotion among students and graduates. It is no wonder. Many serve as springboards to the professional world. Just as important, graduation and college attendance rates are typically high (100 and 96 percent for New World), particularly impressive considering the schools’ urban setting. The best of these schools offer a conservatory-style training ground that helps budding artists win admission to an undergraduate arts program — training that is expensive, requiring a cadre of specialized teachers and money for student performances.

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday Reading List: Misunderstanding Civil Rights and the Value of Liberal Arts

Charlie Savage reports in The New York Times that the United Stated Department of Justice is going to investigate whether colleges are discriminating ... against white people:

The Trump administration is preparing to redirect resources of the Justice Department’s civil rights division toward investigating and suing universities over affirmative action admissions policies deemed to discriminate against white applicants, according to a document obtained by The New York Times. The document, an internal announcement to the civil rights division, seeks current lawyers interested in working for a new project on “investigations and possible litigation related to intentional race-based discrimination in college and university admissions.” The announcement suggests that the project will be run out of the division’s front office, where the Trump administration’s political appointees work, rather than its Educational Opportunities Section, which is run by career civil servants and normally handles work involving schools and universities.

Let's be clear about one thing: white people are overrepresented in the power structure of just about every institution in American life. White people constitute a bit more than 60% of the population at large, but hold 80% of Congressional seats and a similar percentage of corporate board seats in private industry. The idea that white people are being discriminated against is completely illogical, unless you're seeking to preserve this wildly unjust balance of racial power.

Meanwhile, George Anders of The Atlantic looks at shifting attitudes towards the value of a liberal arts education:

By its very name, the liberal-arts pathway is tinged with privilege ... Look more closely, though, and this old stereotype is starting to crumble. In 2016, the National Association of Colleges and Employers surveyed 5,013 graduating seniors about their family backgrounds and academic paths. The students most likely to major in the humanities or social sciences—33.8 percent of them—were those who were the first generation in their family ever to have earned college degrees. By contrast, students whose parents or other forbears had completed college chose the humanities or social sciences 30.4 percent of the time ... Yet over time, liberal-arts graduates’ earnings often surge, especially for students pursuing advanced degrees.

The article goes on to share some critical factors that support financial success for liberal arts majors after college. Time seems to be a critical component. While vocational education programs might prepare students for a particular job "right now," what happens when that job disappears or changes, as millions of jobs tend to do within a person's lifetime? The erosion of low- to mid-skill jobs due to outsourcing and automation, while problematic, is not going to reverse as technological change accelerates. Students with liberal arts backgrounds are going to be much more insulated from the downside impact of those changes.

On the other hand, Angela Helm of The Root looks at a program aimed at driving more students into technological careers:

This week, tech behemoth Intel announced its HBCU Grant Program, a $4.5 million investment that encourages students to remain in STEM pathways at six historically black colleges and universities ... Black students, who get only 11 percent of all STEM undergraduate degrees, are woefully underrepresented in these fields. Further, African-American students are more likely to switch out of STEM majors within their first year of college. Intel is trying to change that by investing heavily in the three-year program. According to a company press release, $3.9 million will be awarded directly to the schools for scholarships and lab experiences ...

The challenge with defining a "STEM" career is that the range is so significant. The designer of a medical device is a STEM professional, as is someone who writes code to search databases, as is an automobile engineer. I hope that colleges and universities are providing students with a sufficiently broad education, such that they can have meaningful, long-term careers.

Finally today, Matt Barnum is in Chalkbeat with previously unreported news about discussions among "left-of-center" education leaders, during which former secretary of education Arne Duncan made a bold statement:

For left-of-center education reformers, the proposed Trump budget amounted to a devil’s bargain. They could support the budget plan, which would give hundreds of millions of dollars to charter schools. But they would have to do so knowing it slashed education spending across the board, including money meant for poor students. Around 25 leaders talked over the dilemma at a previously unreported meeting ... There, former U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan made a provocative suggestion: charter leaders should refuse to accept federal money designated for charter schools if Trump’s cuts to education went through. Duncan called those funds “blood money,” according to two attendees ...

This seems like the latest chapter in the ongoing saga among education policy makers with a reform bent. As I've said a dozen times before, though, the Trump administration is too busy fighting scandals and losing policy fights on other terrain to do much on K-12 education. The general consensus is that this federal budget is "dead on arrival," so while the rhetoric here is pointed, I'm not sure whether there's a practical implication.

Have a great day!