Thursday Reading List: MUST READ in the Ongoing Diversity-in-Education Saga

Marilyn Rhames has a must read piece in Real Clear Education this morning, which I am going to excerpt at more length than usual. Please read the whole thing, and the series of other articles she references, which constitute an ongoing conversation about the role of race and diversity in education. She continues that discussion in the form of a response to Robert Pondiscio, wherein she interrogates his sincerity:

I wanted very much to believe that you had moved closer to acknowledging the racist paternalism that exists in reform circles after you lauded my “stellar” resume. But in highlighting my genius, you subtly sounded the alarm: Marilyn Anderson Rhames is a major black talent who could very well take your job, Peter Cunningham (and other white ed leaders who signed the diversity pledge). What a way to endorse multiculturalism!  My Ivy League educated, teacher-journalist-mother African American self has the potential to make a seismic shift in the systemic injustice that blocks black and brown children from a quality education, so why didn’t your piece frame me in that light? Instead, you positioned me as a threat. In your piece, I was the “other” in an us-versus-them fight for limited, high-paying ed reform jobs. Your title says it all: “Reform Leaders: You’re Fired.”

She also urges the people who signed an open letter this summer - which was hosted on this blog - to make sure their actions match their words:

At first glance your piece appeared to be a rallying cry for more diversity within education reform leadership. But a closer read showed signs to the contrary. It began to feel like a cloaked warning to all the white liberal ed reformers who had signed Justin Cohen’s open letter, telling them to have buyer’s remorse because the personal stakes are too high ... those liberal white reformers who signed Cohen’s pledge to groom and elevate Black and Brown leaders of color should not just talk about it, but be about it.

That last sentence is everything. The folks who signed that open letters should be accountable for making actual changes, which result in measurable improvements in diversity, equity, and inclusion in the field. They shouldn't do that because Rhames told them to - nor because of Pondiscio's cynical carpet calling - but rather because they believe that improving schools for children requires the leadership, expertise, and talent of many more individuals of color.

Rhames doesn't stop there, and we should grapple with what she says when addressing Pondiscio's rhetoric:

But it’s important that you understand that wars and holocausts have resulted from the logic you presented in your piece. It’s not okay to incite white people to fear that the “others” (in this case, smart black reformers like me) will usurp their jobs and power if they support diversity. There are more than enough poor, under-resourced black and brown children out here to keep education reformers of all races gainfully employed ... I would hope that white ed reformers (conservative or liberal) would support black leadership without fear of it “destroying” their careers or committing economic “suicide.” They should not be intimidated by my excellence and strength. I am not Nat Turner, conspiring with other insubordinate blacks to overthrow the plantation and slay all the masters.

T.D. Williams, writing in The Root this morning, makes a similar point about the attitudes unleashed when nationalism, demographic changes, and economic opportunity collide:

History has proved the scapegoating of blacks to be as effective a political strategy as any; history is also littered with the bodies of blacks who fell as a sacrifice to the irrational hatred and mob violence of white nationalists ... Barack Obama’s two terms as president brought latent racism in America to the surface and made open racism something so potent, it defies description. The optimistic view is that this is the last howl of white male supremacy before it is squelched underfoot by a shift in demographics that will make America a majority-nonwhite nation in the next two to three decades.

Williams is on to something, and I wrote about this phenomena - which I called "The Unwhitening" - earlier this year. I'm an optimistic guy, so I'm going to reserve the hope that Americans - educators included - can learn to share power, while resisting the urge to construe diversification as a massive, ugly zero-sum game where white people have to lose. That said, the fabric of American culture is woven with the unearned racial advantage of white people, so we're going to have to give some things up.

If I haven't lost you yet, Alex Zimmerman at Chalkbeat looks at a Bronx school whose future is caught in the crosshairs of a political battle between the city and state over accountability:

On paper, at least, it isn’t surprising that the school was initially identified for the receivership program. J.H.S. 162, also known as Lola Rodriguez De Tio, has been among the lowest achieving in the state since 2006, and is part of the city’s Renewal program. It has posted single-digit reading and math proficiency rates, and was only recently taken off the state’s list of “persistently dangerous” schools. Nearly 47 percent of the school’s teachers have left over the past three years, according to data provided by union officials. But critics say the fact that only one school was ultimately singled out for takeover shows that the program is hardly the sweeping accountability tool Cuomo originally envisioned. “To single out one school and say it’s the worst school in the state is misleading on so many levels,” said Eric Nadelstern, a former New York City deputy schools chancellor who is now a professor at Teachers College and visited J.H.S. 162 several years ago. “It’s easy for the school to say there are many other schools in the city and state that match the same criteria.”

Nadelstern makes a good point, as state intervention is not an effective way to improve schools at scale. That said, state pressure can be a useful political signaling mechanism to force change in tough situations, especially when local leaders are either resistant to act or lacking urgency. I know it's cynical to discuss politics and schools in the same breath, but we're all big kids.

Andrew Ujifusa at Education Week looks at recent increases in overall education spending in America. And finally, Jon Marcus at The Hechinger Report wonders whether Germany's college tuition scheme has any lessons for the United States:

Like other universities in Germany, Freie Universität was also free of charge in 1963. In 2006, German universities were allowed to begin imposing tuition. Student protests and a political backlash followed, however, and by 2014 tuition was being gradually eliminated at the public universities that educate the vast majority of German students. Except for small administrative fees ... This makes Germany an ideal test case for the proposal first raised by Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders — who named it as a model — and that is now a centerpiece of Clinton’s presidential bid ... The verdict? German university enrollment rose by 22 percent as tuition disappeared ... while the number of Germans who opt instead for vocational education has declined. The cost to taxpayers of subsidizing higher education went up 37 percent.

That's a big subsidy, and I'm not sure how any president could muster the congressional willpower to do something even close to this level of increase. Have a great day!