Archives for category: Accountability

Recently there have been public debates about which statues should be removed, if any, and which should remain. The question naturally arises: where to draw the line? Eugene Robinson, columnist for the Washington Post, addresses that question here.

He writes:

The solution to the problem of Confederate memorials is simple: Tear them down, all of them. If a few must be left standing for practical reasons — the gigantic carvings on Stone Mountain outside Atlanta come to mind — authorities should allow them to be appropriately defaced, like the graffiti-scrawled remnants of the Berlin Wall.

The question of monuments to other white supremacists is more complicated, but it’s still not rocket science. As a society, we’re perfectly capable of deciding together which must go and which can stay. This supposed “slippery slope” isn’t really slippery at all.

There is no earthly reason any of this nation’s public spaces should be defiled by statuary honoring generals, soldiers and politicians who were traitors, who took up arms against their country, who did so to perpetuate slavery, and who — this is an important point — were losers.

This was clear even to Robert E. Lee, who opposed such monuments. “I think it wiser,” he wrote in 1869, declining an invitation to help decide where to erect memorials at Gettysburg, “not to keep open the sores of war but to follow the examples of those nations who endeavored to obliterate the marks of civil strife, to commit to oblivion the feelings engendered.”

Lee understood that the South had lost and slavery was gone. Most Confederate memorials were erected decades later, when white Southerners were reestablishing their repressive dominion over African Americans through the imposition of Jim Crow laws and a state-sponsored campaign of terrorism led by the Ku Klux Klan.

The Confederate monument in my hometown, Orangeburg, S.C., was dedicated in 1893. It is a statue of a rebel soldier atop a tall column, and the inscription, attributed to “the women of Orangeburg County” — though presumably only the white ones — calls it “a grateful tribute to the brave defenders of our rights, our honor and our homes.” The “rights” in question were to own human beings, including my ancestors, and compel their uncompensated labor. The point of erecting the monument was to reassert those “rights.” If the statue is a homage to anything, it’s hate. Take it down.

“Oh, but you’re erasing history,” defenders of such memorials always say. Nonsense. The monuments themselves are an attempt to rewrite history and assert white supremacy. Put them in some sort of Museum of Shame, if you must, but get them out of the public square.

“Oh, but if you start toppling statues, where does it all end?” defenders wail, rending their garments. This is not a hard problem to solve: It ends where we, as a nation, decide to draw the line between those historical figures who deserve to be so honored and those who do not.

There is an obvious difference between George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, who founded our union, and, say, Jefferson Davis and Stonewall Jackson, who tried to destroy it. The fact that Washington, Jefferson and other early presidents owned slaves should temper our admiration for them but not erase it entirely. They gave us a nation grotesquely disfigured by slavery, but they also gave us the constitutional tools, and the high-minded ideals, with which to heal that original, near-fatal flaw.

Davis, Jackson and the rest of the Confederates gave us war, destruction and suffering, all in the service of white supremacy and African American subjugation. They deserve nothing but our eternal scorn.

White Southerners who consider the memorials a matter of “heritage” should realize that many Americans have ancestors who made poor choices. Like the Germans of the Third Reich, they merit familial respect but not public honor.

What about non-Confederate historical figures who were white supremacists? If every statue of a racist were taken down, we’d mostly have empty pediments and plinths. It should depend on the person, the context and the memorial itself.

A good example is the statue of Theodore Roosevelt outside the American Museum of Natural History in New York, which Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) announced will soon be taken down. The problem is not Roosevelt himself. He was relatively enlightened for his times: He invited civil rights leader Booker T. Washington to dine at the White House, for which he was pilloried. And he did much to preserve wildlife (when he wasn’t shooting it) and our natural wonders.

The problem is the statuary itself. Roosevelt is astride a horse, and flanking him — on foot, thus beneath the great man — are a Native American man on one side and an African man on the other. The tableau amounts to a visual parable of white supremacy.

We put statues in places of honor to depict our heroes and our values. Overt racism is not an idea we honor — not in relationships and not in bronze and marble. Not anymore.

Peter Greene explains here how Trump came to Betsy DeVos’ rescue when Congress tried to stop her from punishing students who had been scammed by predatory colleges.

DeVos wanted to withdraw an Obama-era program that helped students who incurred debts to fraudulent colleges. A court intervened to stop her. DeVos considers the students buried by debt to be free-loaders. Congress rebuked DeVos in a rare bipartisan vote. Trump issued his very first veto, simultaneously supporting DeVos and rejecting the thousands of students who had been defrauded.

This is outrageous.

Back to court.

David Pettiette is a CPA who volunteered at a KIPP elementary school in Memphis. He was shocked when two KIPP schools suddenly closed their doors and left their families scrambling for a new school.

He wrote:

In April, it was announced that KIPP Memphis Preparatory Elementary and KIPP Memphis Preparatory Middle on Corry Road would be permanently closing without notice. Between the two schools, over 650 students have been displaced without so much as a plan or opportunity to rebut the decision.

The decision to close a school in an underserved community is not uncommon. It is however a decision that is typically given six months to a year’s notice, not April of the current school year. The Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) is the largest network of public charter schools in the nation, with several schools in Memphis. With that size apparently comes unprecedented autonomy considering the schools’ primary funding is local and state money.

In an effort to limit bad press, KIPP offered a Q&A conference call to address the school closures so that the community’s voices could be heard. However, this session, which did not provide any A’s or responses from KIPP, was yet another unthoughtful decision made by the organization and proved to be an unsuitable forum.

Many families had trouble accessing the call due to technical difficulties generated from the third-party conferencing system used. The call itself went just about as you’d expect. It opened with two pre-recorded statements from KIPP’s board of directors and regional team, which were both vague and painfully insincere.

The comments from parents and staff were anxious, frustrated and morose –a wide variety of emotions. While listening to the call, I couldn’t help but think that the occasion warranted a more personal approach.

In reality, KIPP gave up. They gave up on their students, families, faculty and staff after only a few years of operation. Make no mistake, this was a financial decision that is inequitable to the historic Alcy Ball community in South Memphis.

KIPP cited a “failure to fulfill academic promise” which resulted in the closures, and the only excuse provided for the late notice was that they did not want to mislead the schools’ key stakeholders regarding their future.

This was a cheap and inaccurate shot at the integrity of the teachers and faculty, who spent money out of their own pockets to make sure that their students were adequately clothed, fed and supplied.

At the end of the day this decision is not what is best for the kids, who should have been KIPP’s only focus throughout this whole process. The situation is awful, but the approach was worse. If there is anyone looking for a textbook example of institutional racism, look no further.

After Johns Hopkins University wrote a scathing critique of the Providence public schools, Governor Gina Raimondo and her new Commissioner of Education took control of the city’s schools. They just announced their turnaround plan and predicted that the low-performing schools of Providence would be on par with the top 25% of schools in the state in five years.

Among the major points of the plan:

It places enhanced focus on the performance of multilingual learners, who represent 34% of Providence students but have been shown to be missing out on an adequate education. Going forward, the district will place more attention on the recruitment of qualified English-as-a-second-language teachers, prioritize meeting the expectations laid out in a Department of Justice settlement over the district’s handling of multilingual learners and double the number of students served by bilingual programs over five years.

The district will renegotiate the collective bargaining agreement with the Providence Teachers Union to make it easier to fire low-performing teachers, hire the best candidates and require additional professional development days, according to the plan.

In order to better engage families, the district will implement a central phone number or text-messaging system for information-sharing that will be accessible 24/7, create a parent and students bill of rights and start a “parent academy” that will train families in how to best advocate for their children. Peters already announced this spring that he plans to completely restructure central office.

The plan also prioritizes hiring more teachers of color, who are underrepresented in Providence schools compared with the student population, in part by partnering with local colleges and universities to attract more diverse candidates to the profession.

The turnaround plan includes an extensive series of metrics that the district aims to hit within five years of implementation, such as increasing the percentage of students who are present for nearly the entire school year to 90% from its current baseline of 62.7%.

To ensure accountability, the district will post updates on the plan’s implementation on 4PVDKids.com and publish a yearly report on its progress.

Nothing was said about additional funding.

Mayor De Blasio—or someone in his Department of Education—invited the foul-mouthed, misogynistic rapper Pitbull to join luminaries who will speak to the graduating class of 2020.

Here is the city’s announcement:

Dear Students and Families,

To celebrate the end of a school year like none before, please join us for a graduation celebration like none before the evening of Tuesday, June 30! We will be honoring the resilient, inspiring Class of 2020 with festivities that will be livestreamed across social media and broadcast on PIX 11 beginning at 7:00 p.m.

The event will feature the accomplishments of our graduating seniors, family messages, and congratulations from celebrities like Lin-Manuel Miranda, Kenan Thompson, Nick Kroll, Nia Long, Pitbull, Angela Yee, and more. Mayor de Blasio and the First Lady, Chancellor Carranza, and other public officials and educators will also convey their words of appreciation to the largest graduating class in the nation who will be the changemakers in our nation’s future.

We hope you all will join us for a joyful occasion to conclude a difficult year on June 30. Please save the date and learn more at https://www.nycclassof2020.com.

Pitbull founded a mediocre charter school in Miami called Slam Academy. It operates as part of a for-profit chain. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos joined him there to show her delight that the rapper joined her crusade for school choice.

Jersey Jazzman wrote about the origins of Pitbull’s charter school in 2013.

Darcie Cimarusti wrote about a signal event when Pitbull was honored by the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools in 2013, which was thrilled to have a celebrity on its dais.

Della Hasselle of the New Orleans Times-Picayune describes how charter schools in New Orleans have collected coronavirus relief funds from money meant for public schools as well as federal funds meant for small private businesses. Most received money from the Payroll Protection Program, up to $5.1 million for a single school, even though they have suffered no loss of revenues.


More than two-thirds of New Orleans’ charter school organizations have applied for federal loans through the congressional act to help keep businesses afloat during the coronavirus pandemic, garnering criticism from some groups for tapping into a program that hasn’t been available to traditional public schools.

Dozens of New Orleans schools have applied for Payroll Protection Program loans, aimed at shielding small businesses from closure due to COVID-19, according to interviews and a review of documents from over 40 boards operating schools in New Orleans.

At least a third of the charters had received loans, with officials from those organizations saying they got anywhere from about $97,000 to more than $5.1 million in funds, based on their payroll.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has severely impacted the city of New Orleans and created great economic uncertainty for our schools about how we can continue to operate, employ all of our employees, and not dramatically cut services for students, many of whom will return to school with learning gaps and needing additional social and emotional supports,” said Kate Mehok, CEO of Crescent City Schools, which received $3 million.

The money, which comes from a $349 billion stimulus established by the $2 trillion federal CARES Act, can be forgiven if all employees are kept on the payroll for eight weeks and if the money is used for salary, rent, mortgage interest, or utilities, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration, which along with the Treasury Department is implementing the program.

Critics had already lambasted charter schools around the country for the applications, accusing the non-profits of abusing their status and double-dipping, and were miffed to learn about the dozens of applications to come out of New Orleans, which this year became the first major American city to have no traditional schools.

Like traditional schools, local charters have already received some CARES Act funding through the Louisiana Department of Education. But unlike the charters, district-run schools weren’t eligible for the extra payroll loans.

The charter organizations each got hundreds of thousands of dollars from the $260 million doled out to districts and charters in late April as part of the Elementary and Secondary School Relief Fund, another part of the CARES Act, mostly for technology and distance learning.

Trump spoke in Phoenix yesterday to some 3,000 Students for Trump in a megachurch. Most of the students, packed in close quarters, were maskless, like Trump.

The Arizona Republic noted that most recent polls have shown Biden leading Trump.

Trump arrived as hospitalizations and deaths from the coronavirus were spiking.

Some local physicians were unhappy about the rally:

Two Arizona doctors told The Republic they were concerned about the large, indoor event and what it could mean for the disease here.

“We’re already seeing a tremendous surge in infections here in Arizona. This is not the time to be taking chances on spreading the disease further,” Dr. Christine Severance, a family physician in Phoenix, said.

Dr. Sheetal Chhaya, a rheumatologist in Phoenix, said she appreciates rallies as part of the democratic process, but said an event at this time in Phoenix is not the most “socially responsible.”

“We are, with one event, virtually knocking out, almost nullifying, some of the efforts that we’ve made as a group of physicians, but also as a community, to be able to help mitigate this virus,” Chhaya said.

Anyone expecting Trump to express sadness about the 120,000 Americans who have died of the virus were disappointed. Trump is not one to express regret or empathy, nor did he refer to the CDC guidelines.

This is what he said about the pandemic:

The president didn’t dwell on the coronavirus or offer condolences or messages about precautionary steps the public can take. Instead, he often referred to it as the “plague” and insisted it would be gone soon.

Trump took shots at the media for what he views as overblowing the pandemic and detailed how he believed his administration had taken all the right steps to mitigate the spread of the disease, test people at high numbers and make sure equipment like ventilators were available.

Trump blamed the increase in cases on more testing, though health officials in Arizona have said the growing number of hospitalizations and cases are due to more than just an increase in testing.

“When you have all those tests, you have more cases,” the president said.

He added: “Then they’ll say, ‘We have more cases.’ We want to do testing. We want to do everything. But they use it to make us look bad.”

Trump also called the coronavirus the “Kung Flu,” embracing for at least a second time a racist phrase that has proven an applause line at his speeches, but which has prompted condemnation from Asian American members of Congress.

Trump continues to spread the dangerous message that wearing a mask is a culture war issue. Real men and strong women don’t wear masks, he suggests by his own reckless behavior. No wonder that the EU is considering banning travelers from the U.S.

Alex Zimmerman of Chalkbeat wrote today that a spokesperson for Success Academy, New Tork City’s largest charter chain, resigned to protest “abusive” practices at the schools.

A spokesperson for New York City’s largest charter network resigned in protest, stating she can no longer defend Success Academy’s “racist and abusive practices” that are “detrimental to the emotional well being” of its students.

“I am resigning because I can no longer continue working for an organization that allows and rewards the systemic abuse of students, parents, and employees,” wrote Liz Baker, a Success spokesperson, in a resignation letter Tuesday.

“As the organization’s press associate, I no longer wish to defend Success Academy in response to any media inquiries,” she continued in the letter, which was obtained by Chalkbeat. “I do not believe that Success Academy has scholars’ best interests at heart, and I strongly believe that attending any Success Academy school is detrimental to the emotional wellbeing of children.”

The stunning resignation letter comes as the network has been besieged by complaints from employees, parents, and students about a culture that some argue is racist. Baker, who has worked at Success for about a year and four months, is one of the network’s most visible employees and was responsible for responding to reporters’ questions about the network.

Jesse Hagopian is a high school teacher and social justice activist in Seattle. He has been a leading force on behalf of Black Lives Matter Movement.

He wrote this opinion article for the Seattle Times to explain why Seattle educators want money redirected from policing to social services.

He writes:

Seattle’s Education Association representative assembly — the union body that represents Seattle’s teachers, nurses, librarians, instructional assistants, office professionals and educational support staff — has overwhelmingly passed seven resolutions in solidarity with the movement for Black lives. These included removing police from schools and the King County Labor Council, (which was achieved by a recent vote of the council), educating SEA members on alternatives to calling 911 on students, and my own resolution to defund the Seattle Police Department and reinvest the money in education, health care and programs to support families.

These bold resolutions, adopted June 8, were surely spurred by the police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, and the ensuing uprising that’s swept the nation. But this vote wasn’t only about injustices elsewhere. Seattle’s educators have been fighting institutional racism and the school-to-prison-pipeline here for some time.

In Seattle, our “Black Lives Matter at School” movement erupted September 2016. A white supremacist threatened to bomb John Muir Elementary School when the educators there — in conjunction with parents, community and the group “Black Men United to Change the Narrative” — declared they would celebrate Black students with an assembly, and by wearing “Black Lives Matter” shirts to school.

Black Lives Matter at School then went national, thanks to educators in Philadelphia who organized a full week of action and broke down the 13 principles of the Black Lives Matter Global Network into teaching points for each day of the week. Last year, educators in more than 40 cities participated in BLM at School, reaching many thousands of students.

Each year, Seattle’s educators have voted to support the demands of the national Black Lives Matter at School week of action during the first week in February, including the fourth SEA demand, “Fund Counselors, Not Cops.” And when Seattle Public Schools parent Charleena Lyles was killed in her own home in front of her children by Seattle police department officers on June 18, 2017, the Seattle Education Association urged our members to wear their Black Lives Matter shirts to school and join a rally to stand with her family.

Building on that legacy, educators took a bold new step to call for a 50% cut from the $409 million already budgeted for the Seattle Police Department this year. Seattle educators now understand the words of Michelle Alexander, leading human-rights advocate and author of “The New Jim Crow,” who recently wrote:

After decades of reform, countless commissions and task forces, and millions of dollars poured into ‘smart on crime’ approaches, the police behave with about as much brutality today as they did in 1966 … More than 95% of arrests every year are for nonviolent offenses like loitering, fare evasion and theft.”

Yet the resolution passed by Seattle’s educators wasn’t simply about shrinking the size and malignancy of the police but about re-imagining justice, education, public safety and our society. The resolution also demands that,
“Seattle’s Mayor and City Council must protect and expand investments to make our communities safe, prioritizing community-led health and safety strategies. Full access to affordable housing, community-based anti-violence programs, trauma services and treatment, universal child care and free public transit are just a few of the non-police solutions to social problems.”

As the saying goes, “Hurt people hurt people. Whole people heal people.” Massive wealth inequality and structural racism are hurting people in our city and constitute the biggest threat to public safety. We now have an opportunity to make the kind of social investments in housing, education and health care to create whole and healthy communities and create new paradigms for addressing the root causes of violence.

Several Seattle-based organizations are already providing a restorative justice and community building approach to public safety, including Community Passageways, Safe Passage and Creative Justice. These programs provide such services as alternatives to youth incarceration, mentorship to youth who are involved with the legal system and staff trained in de-escalation techniques to help mediate conflicts, providing an alternative model for public safety. These and other programs are limited by their budgets, however, which pale in comparison to the funding lavished on the punitive system of policing.

Minneapolis has already vowed to dismantle its police force and start over with a new vision for investing in social workers, public-health workers and conflict mediators who are trained to care for people’s well-being.

Seattle’s educators have a lesson for city officials. We hope they are sitting up straight and taking notes: We can create safe and thriving communities by joining the growing number of cities who are re-appropriating funds from a punishment-based system and re-aiming them toward a new system that builds thriving communities.

Jesse Hagopian teaches Ethnic Studies and English Language Arts at Garfield High School, is an editor for Rethinking Schools, serves as the director for Black Education Matters and is the co-editor of the book “Teaching for Black Lives.” He is the recipient of the NAACP Youth Council’s 2019 Racial Justice Teacher of the Year award.

Jan Resseger read Valerie Strauss’s hopeful column about a possible end to America’s obsession with standardized testing, and wrote about how this testing has warped American education into a punishing regime, rather than an environment of nurturing , growth, caring, compassion, and human development.

Jan reviews some of the most important ways in which test scores have been used to punish students, teachers, principals, and schools, even school districts.

Enough is enough.