Tuesday Reading List: Civil Rights are Central to the Federal Role in Education

Hayley Glatter and Alia Wong of The Atlantic sifted through the education buzzwords of the Obama era to figure out which of them might persist in the Trump presidency. The first term they tackle is "Achievement Gap":

Definition: When there is a statistically significant difference in two groups of students’ test scores, that difference is known as the achievement gap. Simply put, there is hard evidence of disparities in performance based on factors like race, gender, and socioeconomic status ... This term has been around for a while, but it gained extra prominence under the Obama administration. The National Center for Education Statistics has studied the achievement gaps between white and Hispanic students as well as white and black students, and one goal of President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative was to help close these disparities. Some research shows charter schools—for which DeVos has strongly advocated—are effective in shrinking the achievement gap, though other research asserts the opposite. Ultimately, it would seem difficult for the new administration to shy away from referencing the phenomenon completely. The civil-rights issues exemplified by the achievement gap are, to a large extent, at the heart of the Department of Education’s existential purpose.

That final point is critical. The purpose of public education writ large is multifaceted, but the federal department of education was created for narrower purposes. In particular, the enforcement of civil rights laws and anti-poverty measures. The role of the department has shifted and expanded since its formal establishment during the administration of President Jimmy Carter, but its core functions have remained the same.

Safeguarding equity is a massive challenge in a country where every individual school district has extraordinary autonomy over how to run schools. In the best cases, that spurs innovation. More often than not, though, hyperlocal control exacerbates inequality, as Kyle Spencer finds, writing for The Hechinger Report:

In wealthy school districts around the country, parents and teachers talk often about keeping computer use to a minimum. The students live in homes with multiple laptops, iPads, tablets, iPhones – iEverything. Their worry is about excessive time spent online, about the distractions of the virtual world replacing interaction with the real world. But for hundreds of poor districts across the United States, especially in modernizing agricultural communities like Greeley, the struggle is entirely different. It’s about helping students with limited tech skills be prepared for a global economy that is becoming increasingly digitized. Yet these are often the districts with the fewest resources, the districts flailing to move somehow beyond the era of the floppy disk.

Spencer focuses on a Colorado district which, due to its limited tax base, has few public resources. I cannot say this enough: the linkage of property taxes and school funding in this country is tantamount to public policy sin. It should be abolished.

Sarah Darville at Chalkbeat found a lot of angst towards #BetsyWithTheGrizzBear at the Women's Marches this past weekend:

Signs referencing President Trump’s nominee for education secretary were scattered throughout the protests — and grizzly bear puns abounded, in reference to remarks DeVos made during her confirmation hearing about the need to protect students from bears. DeVos, a philanthropist and school-choice champion, also appeared confused about the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, inspiring another round of signs.

For those of you born after the 1980s, that "Church Lady" reference is a deep cut.

Speaking of the march, Brooke Obie from The Root talked to Angela Peoples, whose sign critiquing the electoral behavior of White women went viral. She talked about the reactions of White women to the sentiment:

Most were saying, “Not this white woman,” or “No one I know!” I’d say, “[Fifty-three percent] of white women voted for Trump. That means someone you know, someone who is in close community with you, voted for Trump. You need to organize your people.” And some people said, “Oh, I’m so ashamed.” Don’t be ashamed; organize your people ... You’re here protesting, but don’t forget: The folks that you live with every single day—and probably some of the women that decided to come to the march—voted for Trump, made the decision to vote against self-interests to maintain their white supremacist way of life.

Johnetta Elzie shared a similar sentiment, through a poem published in Teen Vogue:

Where were you when the Little Rock Nine were threatened for attending a “White school”?
When, years later, white men berated affirmative action programs, while you silently benefited from them?
When people said “segregation is over,” yet the government didn’t provide the tools for all to succeed?
Where were you?

That's just a single stanza, but you should read the whole thing, because it's powerful. Political movements require a baseline level of trust. While it's appealing to say, "We don't have time to build trust, we need to move on," the point that Obie and Elzie are making, which I have heard from many women, particularly Black women, must be heard, processed, and understood. Have a great day.