Wednesday Reading List: Civic Duty, Superintendent on the Move, and For Profit Higher Education

Panama Jackson at VSB reflects on the trial of Michael Slager and ponders the value of civic participation:

I can’t help but think of the times I didn’t want to serve on a jury and why. I selfishly didn’t want to waste my time on somebody else’s life non-sense. Turns out, it’s not all non-sense. As a matter of fact, sometimes, it’s insanely important. I know that people who look like me, who have lived where I’ve lived face a system and other people who don’t care at all. Sometimes we’re on trial even when we’re not the ones facing the charges. Look, I don’t think that every single person in jail is innocent. I personally know several people who have been in jail who are guilty as sin. But I do know that personal biases and race-based opinions come into play, especially where police are concerned. For many people, what they saw was a video of a white cop, the savior just doing his job, shooting a Black man in the back who MUST have been doing something to warrant it.

I shared my own reflections on this trial earlier this morning, and it's hard to know whether any personnel or policy change would have meant justice for Walter Scott's family. Jackson's final line is critical, as the mindset that perpetuates the lack of police accountability is one of dehumanization.

In other news, Dirk Tillotson reflects on the tenure of Oakland schools superintendent Antwan Wilson, as Wilson moves to become the chancellor of the DC Public Schools:

While the media and advocates have tended to focus on the charter school question in Oakland, and the bloody battle over a single application for all public schools— charter and district—the most important legacies and progress was missed ... The superintendent didn’t start the African American Male Achievement Initiative (AAMAI) or the corresponding program for young Black women (AAFAI), but he did keep them moving and highlight them. Different children often experience school differently, facing a range of explicit and implicit biases. Creating dedicated offices, and funding them, is a huge step towards equity and its paying off in rapidly advancing graduation rates ... Boring but important, the district solidified its financial status and improved its bond rating, which will save millions of dollars—money that can be spent on students. We lost control of the district when we couldn’t manage the finances—and I don’t think anyone can argue that that was good for kids, or that the state administrator was better than any elected superintendent.

I know Wilson personally, as we did a fellowship together; it will be fascinating to see how his work translates from the Oakland to the DC context. Both cities have interesting dynamics playing out between their traditional and charter public schools, but the politics of the two places couldn't be more different. 

Hopefully, Wilson and his peers around the country focus on math in the coming years, because as we learned yesterday, American students suck at math. Amanda Ripley is in The New York Times, trying to sort out what the higher performing countries do better:

Here’s what the models show: Generally speaking, the smartest countries tend to be those that have acted to make teaching more prestigious and selective; directed more resources to their neediest children; enrolled most children in high-quality preschools; helped schools establish cultures of constant improvement; and applied rigorous, consistent standards across all classrooms. Of all those lessons learned, the United States has employed only one at scale: A majority of states recently adopted more consistent and challenging learning goals, known as the Common Core State Standards, for reading and math. These standards were in place for only a year in many states, so Mr. Schleicher did not expect them to boost America’s PISA scores just yet. (In addition, America’s PISA sample included students living in states that have declined to adopt the new standards altogether.)

It's maddening to me that some educators and activists continue to fight against the Common Core, which is one of the only things that US states have done that has a chance of making us more competitive on international education benchmarks. Unfortunately, none of the other common features of international competitiveness appear to be anywhere near the top of the next administration's political agenda.

Rebecca Schuman is in The Atlantic wondering why the for profit education sector isn't more spooked by a Trump presidency:

The other reason the Trump settlement seems to be having little effect on investor confidence in the for-profits accused of wrongdoing has to do with a popular legal tactic that will likely keep many disgruntled for-profit students out of the courtroom to begin with: mandatory arbitration agreements, in which those who sign them effectively sign away their rights to sue ... An extensive April 2016 report by the Century Foundation found that 98 percent of students enrolled at for-profit universities receiving federal aid must sign mandatory-arbitration provisions in their enrollment materials, compared to just 7 percent of students at traditional nonprofit or public colleges. [Commercial litigator Katherine] Chiarello said that for for-profit students who feel they’ve been defrauded and have signed away their ability to go to court, the arbitrator “may be financially inclined to side with the for-profit university” because of the university’s potential as a repeat customer.

There are already so few legal mechanisms for students to hold institutions - public or private - accountable for the quality of the education they receive. This approach to litigation exacerbates the power imbalance between vulnerable students and large institutions. I'd love to see someone try to defend this approach.