Thursday Reading List: Secretaries of Education, Ignoring Facts, and Education for the Incarcerated

Melissa Harris-Perry is in Elle, interviewing outgoing Secretary of Education John King. He has some advice for the incoming administration:

Secretary King then mapped out an agenda for educational accountability for the next administration. He encouraged Americans to remain vigilant on issues of racial and economic diversity in K-12 classrooms, pointing to research evidencing the ways that all students benefit from diverse learning environments. He restated the Department of Education's unambiguous legal position that Title IX protects against sexual violence. He spoke at length about access and affordability in higher education and became visibly heated when discussing the need for accountability mechanisms for profit-seeking colleges that rip off students. He urged the expansion of the pilot Second Chance Pell Grant Program, which allows incarcerated individuals to receive Pell Grants and pursue higher education.

It's hard to find an education policy analyst that isn't concerned about an accountability rollback, and the fact that it's at the top of King's list is telling. The contrast between his background, and that of the president-elect's nominee, is striking as well. New Jersey Senator Cory Booker talked to Naomi Nix at The 74 and reinforced the idea that Betsy DeVos's confirmation might be difficult. Nix digs into the broader implications of the Senator's statement:

That a prominent Democratic school-reform advocate — who sat on the board of the Alliance for School Choice while DeVos was chairwoman — was slow to comment on a nominee he knows personally is symptomatic of the dicey political predicament facing progressive reformers. The politics of education have never been easy for reform-minded Democrats — a point driven home by Education Secretary John King in a speech delivered Wednesday at the Center for American Progress. They have often been caught between families and some civil rights groups hungry for more school options and test-based accountability, and the powerful progressive wing of the party that agrees with teachers unions that those policies hurt the public schools. But at least, for the past eight years, they could hang their hat on President Obama, who supported charter schools and accountability.

If Democrats who support reform want to survive the Trump era, they're going to have to develop their own ideas, strategy, and messaging around the particular reforms they favor. They also will have to draw clear lines around their values, so that they don't get caught supporting regressive ideas during horse trades.

Robin Lake at CRPE has ideas for which education policy ideas might survive the current shakeup; one idea is the empowerment of parents:

Conservatives are spending a lot of time fighting against the idea that school choice needs more regulation. Liberals are fearful that the feds will give up on enforcement of civil rights and ignore discrimination in enrollment, course access, expulsion, etc. We can all agree, however, that students, markets, and regulators benefit from better-informed parents. ESSA presents a crucial opportunity to help parents navigate their choices and advocate for better schools. The feds could do more. This is important, low-hanging fruit.

More, and clearer, information for parents is a good idea. That information, though, must come with access to great options, otherwise it's a recipe for further alienating vulnerable communities. Lake also has good ideas about access to rigorous coursework and supports for children with special needs.

Emanuel Felton of Education Week covers some interesting reactions to restorative justice policies. A lot of local teachers' unions are trying to block their implementation:

Teachers in Fresno, California, and Des Moines, Iowa, have come out against their districts' efforts to reform how students are disciplined. As we've reported, teachers in Indianapolis and New York City registered similar complaints earlier this year. Teachers are arguing that efforts to change student-disciplinary practices—largely in an attempt to address big racial disparities in who gets suspended and expelled—are making their classrooms harder to manage. The Fresno Bee reports that at the same time district leaders were touting the results from a restorative justice program at one of their high schools, teachers at that high school were circulating a petition demanding a policy reversal ... District administrators point to drastically lower suspension and expulsion rates and higher graduation rates as proof that the program is in fact working. But earlier this year, Tish Rice, the president of the Fresno Teachers Association, called it all a numbers game.

That last sentence pisses me off. Whether or not kids graduate from high school, and whether or not they are expelled, is not a "numbers game." You can argue about the relative quality of particular assessments, but denying the value of high school graduation - not to mention the horrible toll of expulsions - is a hideous distortion of reality. There are legitimate reasons to be critical of restorative justice policies, but the denial of basic facts to support an ideological position is horrifying, whoever is doing it.

Finally, Vivett Dukes at New York School Talk looks at education from the perspective of a prison inmate:

Prison vocational programs yield certificates that are meaningless when seeking jobs on the outside. There are no legitimate apprenticeships or certificates offered. Inmates don’t even have a choice in the trade in which they get trained. Some of the offerings include small engines (repairing lawn mowers, etc), carpentry, and custodial maintenance. Most inmates are “conveniently” assigned to custodial maintenance which equates to modern-day slave labor or share-cropping. Inmates clean the entire prison from sunup to sundown for $.24 per hour. That equates to $10-$15 earned every two weeks ... We  need to look at what happens when we either don’t educate or under-educate entire segments of our society, what happens when literally millions of adults are functional illiterates who lack the basic skills needed to perform jobs, and what happens when a huge cross-section of our society, even with skills and education, are ostracized from the work force because of their past criminal activity.

Dukes highlights an important subtext of the debate about over-incarceration, namely that our prison system is not acting as a rehabilitation system, but more like a caste system. People who become incarcerated get permanently alienated from most segments of the workforce, inflicting downstream effects on their families for generations. This system has become so embedded in our way of doing things that it's almost impossible to imagine a different approach. It's important to keep in mind, though, that the United States has the largest prison population in the world. In. The. World.

Have a good day!