Monday Reading List: #DeborahDanner, Tragedy in New York City, and Racial Bias in the Public Sector

The editorial board of The New York Times wants to call attention to the tragic killing, by police, of Deborah Danner:

She was killed by a New York police sergeant on Tuesday in her Bronx apartment. Neighbors had called 911, saying she was acting erratically. A team of officers arrived and, according to the police account, found an agitated Ms. Danner brandishing first a pair of scissors, and then a baseball bat. She took a swing at the sergeant, who shot her twice. The investigation has just begun, but the case looks bad for the department ... Ms. Danner, 66, now joins a tragic group of people whose mental illness leads them into a dangerous, often fatal, collision with the police.

You can read more about the disturbing details around this incident here, here, and here, including the fact that the head of the city's police union is trying to justify her death:

On Thursday, the head of a police union suggested that the sergeant who shot Deborah Danner did so because he was trained to. “We train this way. This is what we shoot at,” Ed Mullins, head of the Sergeants Benevolent Association explained. “We’re taught a baseball bat is a deadly weapon.”

Fortunately, the mayor and police commissioner of New York City are responding with more urgency. The deadly use of force by law enforcement is not an appropriate response to mental illness. Somewhere, as a culture, we lost track of that idea, as union leader Mullins and his asinine justifications illustrate. It's important to note that Mullins is defending his officers on the basis that they did the right thing, not that they acted out of fear in the moment. Danner's killing is a devastating loss, and Mullins's suggestion that she deserved to die is almost as tragic as her death itself.

I won't speculate that racial bias played a role in Danner's death, but evidence suggests that public officials begin to profile children based on their race in grade school, as Alex Zimmerman points out in Chalkbeat:

Racial bias among educators may play a larger role than previously understood in deciding whether students are referred for special education or gifted programs, according to new research from NYU. The study, the first of its kind to show a direct link between teacher bias and referrals for special services, found stark differences in how teachers classify students of different racial and ethnic backgrounds showing identical signs of disability or giftedness ... The teachers who participated were more likely to see academic deficits in white students as “medicalized problems to fix,” while black and Latino students with the same deficits were seen as ordinary. The implication, according to the study, is that “low academic performance is normal for [students of color], and not a problem to remediate.” And in terms of behavioral challenges, black and Latino students’ actions were “seen as more aggressive and problematic than misbehavior by white boys.”

This research generates empirical proof of something that I've heard leaders of color in education say for many years: when the system fails a child of color, it's the child's fault; when the system fails a white kid, it's the system's fault. It is disturbing, yet illuminating, to know that this observation plays out in actual practice, at scale, in schools.

LeeAndra Khan, a school principal in Illinois, thinks we can do better:

Those who believe they are here to change the lives know that education is about freedom, power, and self-actualization. They operate with the goal of inspiring our young people to do and be more than what is expected of them. Unfortunately, schooling has been a process of dehumanization. This is particularly true for children of color. School has marginalized their appearance, language, way of life, traditions and culture–attempting to make them better by assimilation to Whiteness. This kind of schooling is a form of oppression.

Khan contrasts "status quo schooling" with "social justice schooling," and it's worth digesting her whole argument.

Finally, Gretchen Morgenson at The New York Times looks at the collapse of ITT:

Now that ITT is in bankruptcy, [Dan] Graves’s whistle-blower experience is instructive. It spotlights a costly regulatory failure that allowed ITT to stay in business far longer than it otherwise might have, Mr. Graves said. And that meant taxpayers were liable for billions of dollars in defaulted loans made over the period while thousands of students were left with a mountain of undischargeable debt and few job prospects. “It was an institutional failure by the government and a complete abdication of responsibility to enforce the Higher Education Act,” said Scott D. Levy, the Houston-based lawyer who represented Mr. Graves in his suit. Not everybody was a loser in this tale, of course. Going through ITT’s financial filings from 2000 to 2016, I found that the company generated over $12 billion in revenue, roughly 70 percent of it in government-backed student aid.

There's a risk of spending too much energy on the flagellation of the for-profit higher education industry, as there are equivalent bad practices proliferating in the non-profit sector. Still, the behavior of ITT was egregious, and it's important to understand the confluence of policy and ideology that stifles accountability. Have a great week!