Thursday Reading List: Cory Booker Plays the Honey Badger and Other News

The saga of the NAACP and charter schools continued this week, as the civil rights organization held one of a handful of planned town hall meetings in Memphis, in order to discuss the topic. Laura Faith Kebede from Chalkbeat was there and saw some signs of softening in the NAACP position:

When the NAACP board passed its resolution resolution calling for a pause in charter growth, many charter leaders feared the civil rights organization would generalize charter schools at the expense of those that are working well. But participants walked away from Tuesday’s hearing saying they felt better as task force members softened their language while learning about the education landscape in Memphis and about Tennessee’s charter law. The state only allows nonprofit operators that are authorized by local school districts or the state. “When I measure what they’ve done in Tennessee and what the legislation has been, what the laws and standards have been in Tennessee, it’s better than a lot of places, but it still needs a lot of work,” said Gloria Sweet-Love, president of the NAACP’s Tennessee State Conference.

The Memphis hearing was just the second of seven that the NAACP plans to hold. Kebede outlines other major areas of discussion from the meeting, notably the issue of traditional public school funding. There's a coalition opportunity there, but only if charter supporters join hands with a new set of allies.

Emily DeRuy of The Atlantic looks at what happens when for-profit colleges close:

In an NBER working paper entitled “Where Do Students Go When For-Profit Colleges Lose Federal Aid?,” the researchers ... looked at students who attended for-profit colleges in the 1990s ...The researchers found that when schools were threatened with the loss of access to federal aid, the percentage of Pell grant recipients (low-income students who depend on federal grants and loans to pay for their higher education) who enrolled declined by about 53 percent in the following five years. Interestingly, enrollment at neighboring for-profit schools also fell, even if they weren’t sanctioned, perhaps because the reputation of the entire sector was damaged by the sanctions. That might sound dire; but it turns out these students weren’t dropping out of college completely. The researchers found that the post-sanction declines in enrollment at for-profit colleges didn’t actually reduce aggregate educational attainment. In other words, the students enrolled in community colleges within the county.

DeRuy goes on to point out that the community college option is almost always cheaper, and usually leads to comparable, often better, post-graduation employment options. This is an interesting contrast with the K-12 environment, wherein school closure usually leads to students attending schools that are either just as low-performing, or weaker. Whether or not you support for-profit schooling in theory, in practice it fails to achieve consistently better results than its government and nonprofit competitors. Remember, free market theory argues that competition is the best way to allocate capital; the theory makes no argument for the quality of services and outcomes.

Speaking of the free market, president-elect Donald Trump's pick for education secretary, Betsy DeVos, seems to be a real enthusiast. Here's Noam Scheiber in The New York Times:

Indeed, the DeVoses’ education activism, which favors alternatives to traditional public schools, appears to derive from the same free-market views that inform their suspicion of government. And perhaps more than other right-wing billionaires, the DeVoses couple their seeding of ideological causes with an aggressive brand of political spending. Half a dozen or more extended family members frequently coordinate contributions to maximize their impact. In the 2016 cycle alone, according to the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, the family spent roughly $14 million on political contributions to state and national candidates, parties, PACs and super PACs.

It's important to contrast DeVos's brand of school reform enthusiasm - which relies on an ideological commitment to inputs, like free market principles and an antipathy towards the political power of organized labor - with the more left leaning technocratic version, which relies on accountability for quality outcomes. The two brands of reform intersect once in a while, but they're based on very different value systems.

In other news, Kevin Rector and Luke Broadwater at The Baltimore Sun cover that city's recent agreement with the federal justice department on policing reforms:

The Baltimore consent decree is expected to mandate changes to a range of policing policies, tactics and operations, including how officers conduct street enforcement, respond to sexual assault complaints, and interact with youths, protesters and those with mental illnesses. It is also expected to require the Police Department to introduce new layers of oversight for officers, new methods of tracking misconduct and other data, new training, and major investments in modern technologies — including mobile computers in patrol vehicles — to streamline operations and enhance data retention and analysis. [Mayor Catherine] Pugh has said the agreement will call for civilians to serve on police trial boards that assess officer wrongdoing, but police union officials say the decree cannot supersede the union's collective bargaining agreement with the city, which bars civilian participation.

These are the sorts of reforms that the justice department negotiated with the city of Ferguson, and while the process of implementation hasn't been perfect, both the city and activists seem to be working in earnest to improve conditions. Cory Booker talked to NPR's Audie Cornish yesterday, explaining that the fragility of this sort of agreement caused him to testify at Jeff Sessions's confirmation hearing:

Jeff has been openly hostile to things that the Justice Department is doing right now. They're making a tremendous difference in our country, in line with the cause of civil rights and voting rights. The Justice Department has been party to - after the Shelby decision - in getting rid of the pre-clearance aspect of the Voting Rights Act. The Justice Department has been very active in trying to find cases like they have found in North Carolina where voting rules were finally crafted to disadvantage African-Americans. The Justice Department was party to that. He criticized that action. The Justice Department, at the time, that there is - literally protests - thousands of people taking to the street about fairness and policing. And times that the head of the FBI is talking about the - existed in controversial - incontrovertible existence of racial bias in policing, Jeff Sessions has taken on the Justice Department - criticized them for finding pattern in practice in places like Ferguson and taking action.

While it's unprecedented for a sitting Senator to testify against one of his colleagues in a confirmation hearing, Cory Booker - like the great honey badger of lore - doesn't give a shit. He put his values ahead of collegiality, which I find to be incredibly impressive. Have a great day!