Friday, August 20, 2010

New Schott Foundation study reveals national failure to educate black males

"The 2010 Schott 50 State Report on Black Males in Public Education indicates that the overall 2007-2008 graduation rate for black males in the U.S. was 47 percent, with half of states having rates below this. The report highlights New Jersey's Abbott plan, whose targeted resources yielded significant results: New Jersey is now the only state with a high black population and a greater-than-65-percent graduation rate for black males. Currently, the five worst-performing districts with large black male student enrollment are New York City (28 percent); Philadelphia (28 percent); Broward County, Fla. (39 percent); Chicago (44 percent); and Nashville, Tenn. (47 percent)."

Monday, August 16, 2010

Stop SB1317: Proposed truancy law fines, jails California parents

Malaika Parker, Director of Community Action, uses her experience organizing parents through the R.E.A.L. Schools Now! Campaign in Richmond, CA to offer an analysis of the California Senate's chronic truancy legislation, SB1317:

Eighteen days and your parent can land in jail – what a message to send to the students in California elementary and middle schools. First we blamed students for the failings of public education and now, instead of California doing everything possible to make responsive, inclusive schools, SB1317 threatens to blame parents. Under this proposed legislation parents with children labeled chronically truant (18 or more unexcused days per school year) would either receive a fine, be remanded to jail or parenting classes for which the state has no money.

Consistently the response to the failures the public school system has been rooted in a desire to find the quick fix, instead of taking a deep look at what is happening in our schools. Our children are being warehoused, underserved, and over-tested. Children of color are being denied education that prepares them for their futures.

Families are told over and over again that they are not welcome as engaged, critical members of the school community. Instead of looking at the root of why our communities, families, and young people feel disengaged by schools SB1317 and much of the school reform discussion is focused on what parents need to do differently. This bill is a slippery slope toward teaching children that their parents are the barrier to success, education, and prosperity.

SB1317 is the personification of what many parents fear; that schools and the prison industrial complex are one in the same. Districts such as San Francisco boast that this method is the path toward improved student attendance, but at what cost? The price for these strategies is creating an environment of intimidation and disconnection.

Families have fought, demanded, and pleaded with California to do a better job at supporting students. They have been encouraged to wait, to be patient, and to allow their children’s education to be put at the bottom of the totem pole. I wonder what would happen if we moved towards engaging schools where parents are considered leaders, where students – all students – are considered scholars, and our communities are treated as assets to the learning process. 

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Privatization leads to money-chase, hurts students of color

In response to Sam Dillon's article published yesterday in the New York Times, Amina writes:

In spite of all stimulus money and all new policy plans, here we are, right back where we started; with the most underserved children receiving the very least. These children receive the least experienced teachers and administrators, now lets add the least experienced school turnaround advisors and managers to the mix. 

Yet, we shouldn’t be so surprised by this outcome. Given the overly simplistic turnaround policies and strategies being employed by this administration for bettering our most underserved schools, its no wonder every Tom, Dick and Harry organization has stepped up to give it the ole college try.

The idea is to learn the right lessons from the information we have at hand. The shortsighted response is to call for greater oversight in the selection and vetting of these turnaround advisor companies. That addresses the symptom. There arguably aren’t enough successful turnaround strategists to go around. The underlying problem is the less than thoughtful and holistic policy strategy for a series of deeply complex problems with poor students of color at the center. 

Communities for Excellent Public Schools reports that students of color represent from low-income communities represent 81% of these turnaround school students. Yet, the strategies we’ve devised to “help” them devalues that cultural and historical experience. In fact, quickie policies approaches may leave them prey to individuals and organizations seeking profit more than education transformation. We can do better. 

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Washington DC: Response to President Obama’s Address to the National Urban League

Reflecting on the Obama Administration's track record on race, Amina writes from Washington:

As President Obama addressed the National Urban League there was a feeling of disconnect on both sides. On one side a president who circumvents the importance of race. On the other side an audience whose organization is dedicated to “enabling African Americans to secure economic self-reliance, parity, power and civil rights.” You could almost feel the audience’s dilemma.

Torn. Feeling proud of the first Black president, yet skeptical at what that will mean for improving the lives of people of color; for our children in schools in particular.

Success in times of failure
“In a single generation America went from #1 to #12 in college completion rates,” said President Obama. Secretary Duncan also reflects with nostalgia on this time of American supremacy. 

During that ‘good’ time, students of color were floundering in college entrance and graduation rates. In 1990 black men and black women had graduation rates of 28% and 34% respectively.  For those of us seeking to improve the lives of students of color, the administration’s goal to return America to its #1 position sounds hollow.

Over and over we’ve declared national success while students of color continue in utter distress.  As the numbers of students of color grow you can see why we’d be skeptical about policies that promise ‘success’ without lending a critical eye to the needs and experiences of these students.

Civil what?
“This is the civil right issue of our time,” President Obama and Secretary Duncan are quick to declare, yet equally quick to dismiss in crafting public policy. Civil rights issues warrant civil right responses.

A competitive process for education funding through Race to the Top is hardly appropriate. If, in fact, the civil rights of some students are being persistently and systematically infringed upon, then we can’t craft policy proposals that designate certain ‘winning’ students as deserving and others as not.

As it stands at least 17 states (and the children they serve) will not win funding for their grant submissions proposals. Not to mention the states that didn’t bother applying. Ironically, President Obama may have said it best, “Words are easy, deeds are hard.”

To declare public education a civil rights issue is the right thing to do. Kudos to you, Mr. President. However, it’s much easier to say it, than to accept the full responsibility for what it means. It means that there are students in the system for whom vast systemic remedies are required, not won.

Is this public policy or public counseling?
Finally, the President’s speech included his usual refrain about parental responsibility. It’s the turn off the television, read to your kids, value teachers over sports stars refrain. All good points. But the persistent emphasis and spotlight on these points by President Obama lead me to question if the message matches the messenger.

What does it mean to have the President, the nation’s chief public policy officer over emphasize the private actions of parents in solving public policy problems? Sure, parents can and should do right by their children. But this personal responsibility refrain must follow a clear responsibility for what hasn’t, yet should, be done through public policy. Mr. Obama should be equally consistent in forcing the issues of zero tolerance policies, inequitable education funding structures, lacking services for English Language Learners. The list goes on and on.