Archives for category: Equity

The Commack Public School District is located on Long Island in New York. The district has about 79% white students, 9% Asian, 9% Hispanic, 1% African American, and a small number of multiracial students. The Commack public schools have strong academic outcomes. 95% of their graduates go to college.

Recently the district and its school board have been under attack by parents who insist that their children are subjected to Critical Race Theory and The 1619 Project. At a recent public hearing, parents listened to administrators and school board members, who assured them that the Commack schools did not teach CRT or The 1619 Project. Angry parents were not mollified, as you will see if you watch the video posted below.

Jake Jacobs, a NYC art teacher and co-administrator of the New York BATS, watched the video and wrote the following commentary.

CRT DEBATE BLOWS UP: In Commack, NY this school board forum shows how insane things have gotten. The audience comments are unhinged and mostly ignore everything the board and superintendent say. The first part of the video is just the staff going over the curriculum, explaining how they do not support CRT, but the parents already start interrupting and shouting.

The Commack board and superintendent said over and over they reject CRT and created a policy where no child feels “less than”.
Yet parents came up to the mic and accused them of lying, said CRT was “seeping in” and were convinced the state is going to impose CRT, that teachers were politically biased and only teach their side.
They pointed to board members and said they are all going to get voted out, just like they had in the neighboring district. Some parents came up gripped with anger, convinced that everything they didn’t like was indeed CRT, and that it has to be nipped in the bud before this can go any further.

Some spoke about their kids being bullied because they were conservative, or cops being negatively portrayed, they quoted MLK as not seeing skin color and they spoke about inappropriate images and themes in the book Persepolis, none of which were CRT.
Some speakers got on the mic screaming at the top of their lungs, accusing the schools of indoctrinating kids to hate, or threatened to put their kids in private school and sue for damages. One woman pointed repeatedly to the only Black trustee and said she “had something on him.”

Meanwhile, some brave Asian students got up and said they loved Persepolis, an award winning graphic novel taught in the district for 13 years. They noted it was the first time they saw themselves reflected in class readings and that the district has a severe lack of representation of diverse characters and authors. The students were constantly interrupted and badgered. One girl pointed that there were also graphic themes in Romeo and Juliet, Tale of Two Cities and To Kill a Mockingbird. A teacher who spoke in support of the students was also interrupted constantly and heckled.

One outraged NYPD officer got up and read a bullet point from the NY State Education Dept web page on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion which suggests schools cover “the senseless, brutal killing of Black and Brown men and women at the hands of law enforcement.” The Commack superintendent immediately took his side and disavowed the passage as inappropriate, promising cops would not be disparaged in the district, but the folks in the crowd wanted more.
They asked for apologies to police families, they asked for something in writing that CRT would not be taught even if the state mandates it, they wanted to know if teachers would be fired for political statements, they wanted to be notified when BLM will be mentioned in school so they can opt out. Some said schools should only be teaching math, reading, science and social studies and leave all the social-emotional and diversity stuff for parents to teach.

I don’t know if this was just a very loud minority or this is the prevailing view in this part of Long Island but these folks are 100% convinced that everything they don’t like is “CRT” and they are extremely animated, just like Christopher Rufo said. They said it is Socialism and Marxism and some got extremely emotional saying they need to hear the district will fight for their kids.

This is light years from what’s going on in NYC schools and the new Culturally Responsive framework approved by the Chancellor which centers racial, cultural and gender identity in the classroom, so this is a major clash of opposing ideas (fueled by wholesale misinformation) and it’s working really well in suburban areas to put school officials on the defensive and kids in the middle of electoral politics.

One day after he stood against removing Persepolis, the Commack English Dept Chair was removed from his position and stripped of tenure. The district also now has removed Diary of Anne Frank as well.

Click on this link to see the video:


Full video: https://boxcast.tv/view/community-forum-6-8-21-multiracial-curriculum-review-dyj9wrxcc8oqby2xtsbo?fbclid=IwAR1Tcal2N9B0V4_sFyxgkDrLbINNXyvh9u4ONssLly97-acBjNLyDgfv6DI

This one works too:

https://boxcast.tv/view/community-forum-6-8-21-multiracial-curriculum-review-dyj9wrxcc8oqby2xtsbo

James Grossman, executive director of the American Historical Association, tweeted that today is the anniversary of the certification of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution.

https://twitter.com/JimGrossmanAHA/status/1420396715723603972

On this date in 1868 Secretary if State William Seward officially certified the ratification of the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution. Every American should read this text today. #EverythinghasaHistory constitutioncenter.org/interactive-co…

He suggests that today would be a good day to read the 14th Amendment, which guarantees full citizenship to all citizens born or naturalized in the United States.

In particular, read Section 2:

Section 2

Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed. But when the right to vote at any election for the choice of electors for President and Vice-President of the United States, Representatives in Congress, the Executive and Judicial officers of a State, or the members of the Legislature thereof, is denied to any of the male inhabitants of such State, being twenty-one years of age, and citizens of the United States, or in any way abridged, except for participation in rebellion, or other crime, the basis of representation therein shall be reduced in the proportion which the number of such male citizens shall bear to the whole number of male citizens twenty-one years of age in such State.

If the Supreme Court rereads Section 2, it will strike down any state laws that abridge the right to vote, especially when those laws were designed to suppress the Black vote.

Much has changed since the 14th Amendment was written. Women and Indians have the right to vote, and the voting age has been lowered to 18.

But what has not changed is that it is unconstitutional to abridge the right to vote.

I previously posted the decision by the Boston School Committee to change the requirements for admission to its elite examination schools. What I didn’t know was that there was a minority report from the school committee’s Task Force that was voted down.

Since then, I learned that there was a minority report by two Task Force members who offered a different approach (actually there were two minority reports). Rosann Tung and Simon Chernow wrote a dissent, printed here in part:

…By dissenting, Simon and I urge Boston Public Schools to go further and faster. BPS will not achieve justice until we eliminate the structures that uphold White supremacy and capitalism — structures like the tracking that is the accelerated grades 4–6 Advanced Work program in some schools and like the three tiers that our high schools still represent (exam, application, and open enrollment). Permanent ranking and sorting are a major root cause of the fact that 40 percent of our schools require assistance or intervention for poor outcomes. Many scholars have shown that children who attend truly diverse schools benefit both academically and socio-emotionally. The segregation of students by race, socioeconomic status, learning style, language, and special needs leads to our most vulnerable students receiving inadequate resources and support.

Another structure that upholds power and privilege is standardized testing. Every standardized test ever created shows group mean differences, because standardized tests measure more than just academic content; in fact, they cement unequal opportunities.

An oft-leveled critique has been that the human, financial, and political capital poured into this admissions process is misguided and should be put into improving the other 120-plus BPS schools. Actually, we believe that when the admissions of the three schools become test-blind and lottery-based, and when all of the students who test well attend more than just three schools, system-wide improvement will accelerate…

Jeremy Mohler of the nonpartisan “In the Public Interest,” the leading voice against privatization of the public sector, notes that billionaire Jeff Bezos made into space sixty years after the public-funded NASA.

He writes:

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos said the quiet part loud on Tuesday after flying to space in his own rocket:

“I want to thank every Amazon employee and every Amazon customer because you guys paid for all of this.”

He was right. Subjecting warehouse workers and delivery drivers to grueling conditions—even all but forcing them to pee in bottles instead of take bathroom breaks—has made Bezos the world’s richest person

This is why we need a much, much fairer tax system.

One that doesn’t allow corporations like Amazon to get away with paying less in taxes than teachers, nurses, and even Amazon workers themselves. Bezos himself paid no income tax in 2007 and 2011

One that doesn’t shell out massive subsidies to corporations like Amazon, while our communities get little in return. Bezos’s rocket company, Blue Origin, has received more than $72 million in state and local subsidies.

If it was fairer, our government could afford to make people’s lives better here, you know, on Earth. By doing things like Raleigh, North Carolina, just did when it extended free public bus fares through the rest of the year. And like Washington, D.C., just did when it raised taxes on the rich to fund housing vouchers, subsidies for day-care workers’ wages, and monthly tax credits for low-income families.

Peter Greene is well-known as a blogger, a teacher, a columnist for Forbes, and a humorist. He taught in the public schools of Pennsylvania for nearly 40 years. He wrote this article at my request.

He wrote:

I believe in public education.

I believe in the promise that every child should have a free quality education. And not by going out to shop for it, to hunt it down like looking for deals on a toaster or a used car, nor to travel far from home to find it, nor to have to beg and apply and hope that the school will accept them, but to have it delivered to them in their own community without exception.

Not that we’ve always hit the bullseye in this country. Our system of tying school financing to housing leaves much to be desired. The same forces of racism and economic inequity that twist and turn our society as a whole also leave their mark on our education system. Those forces include the rise of “I’ve got mine, Jack” culture in which folks don’t want to have to worry about what anyone else needs.

We’re living through a time of unprecedented assault on public education. Members of the data cult, free market advocates, social engineers, profiteers and privatizers (some sincere in their concern, and some motivated by base opportunism) are looking for ways to dismantle the system, disenfranchise parents and taxpayers, and to “liberate” billions and billions of taxpayer dollars. Their ranks are filled with education amateurs who don’t really know what the heck they’re talking about. 

What none of these disruptors promise is an education system that delivers a quality education to every single child in the country. Nor do they promise accountability to the taxpayers who fund the system, nor a system that is owned and operated by the citizens of the community. 

Only public education has those goals as its North Star.

I devoted my professional life to public education because I believe in it. I believe in the goals and promise of public education. I believe that every child in this country deserves a chance to learn, to grow, to discover and become their best selves, to learn what it means to be more fully human in the world (a whole host of things beyond the measure of a bad standardized test). I believe in a system that brings trained, qualified professionals into every community, for every child. 

We will always struggle with challenges. What is required for a quality education? How can each child’s individual needs best be mt? What makes a good teacher? But as long as our North Star is the promise of public education, and not a higher test score or a better ROI, we can navigate those difficult discussions. And we can navigate them in a thousand different ways, as individual communities work out the local education system that best suits them.

That’s the other beautiful part of our public education system—it’s not actually one education system, but thousands and thousands of local individual systems set in every kind of community imaginable. All the variety present in America is there in our schools as well. It is a big, beautiful, sprawling, messy monument to our highest aspiration, our dream that every child can grow and rise because we all, together, work to lift every child up. 

So I believe in the promise of public education. May we continue to sail toward that North Star.

Valerie Jablow is a parent advocate in the District of Columbia. Here she remembers Elizabeth Davis, the president of the Washington Teachers Union, who died tragically in an automobile accident on Easter evening. She was part of the new wave of teacher unionism, which is social justice unionism, a commitment not just to the benefits of teachers but to the well-being of students and to their opportunity to have a well-resourced and equitable education.

Teaching for Change posted this beautiful tribute to Liz Davis and her amazing life in DC. It is both a very welcome personal history–and the story of our DC schools.

Indeed, Liz Davis’s work as the head of the Washington Teachers’ Union has lived larger in my life as a DCPS parent than that of all other DC education leaders I have known put together—and touched the lives of hundreds of thousands of other DC residents. Just since the start of 2021, my email inbox has broadly distributed messages from Liz about needed action on nearly every current pressing matter in DC education, including the research practice partnership, DCPS re-opening, PARCC testing, a survey about teacher computers, re-examining school governance, and school librarians being excessed.

Our mayor may be in control of our schools—but no mayor, and no other elected or appointed leader in DC, has ever been in command of DC education advocacy and justice like Liz Davis. Her tenacity in the face of injustice has been both balm and shield for everyone who has battled for better schools in DC.

Yet always, always, behind everything I ever knew she did or said was that quiet, unflagging belief in a better, more equitable future, which seems to be the legacy of every great teacher. When I chose to sue DC over the chancellor selection panel excluding teachers, parents, and students and had only a few plaintiffs, Liz Davis simply put me in touch with a teacher who agreed to be a plaintiff. Then, without a word otherwise, Liz had the WTU submit an amicus brief. That document was indeed a friend (per the Latin word amicus) in what was for me, a DCPS parent, a notably unfriendly proceeding.

It is hard for me to believe that someone who was so alive is gone–and so suddenly. 

The last email I got from Liz was a letter to the chancellor about IMPACT, DCPS’s teacher review process. Fittingly, it came on April Fool’s Day.

Her last phone call to me was Easter morning, when she left a voicemail about a special education committee meeting this week she thought I might want to know about–and then noted what she thought were two important posts from this blog regarding IMPACT (here and here).

How lucky have we been to have known Liz Davis–and what a great teacher we have lost.

Privatization of important parts of the public sector is a great scourge of our times. No institution is more fundamental to the American Dream than public education, and it is under assault by powerful and well funded forces. By billionaires who have dreams of lower taxes and libertarians who want to destroy whatever government provides. We must fight privatization of the goods and services that belong to us.

Frankly we should join together to fight for a society where there are no billionaires and no poverty. Let us agree to take care of one another and have a fairer society, where everyone has a decent standard of living, where there is no hunger or homelessness. I recommend a book called The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger, in which two British sociologists-Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett-demonstrate that societies with more equality are happier than those where great inequality persists. By contrast, scan Bloomberg Billionaires Index. I am not a socialist, but I don’t believe we should have either billionaires or poverty.

The pandemic impoverished millions of people. But the billionaire class got richer, much much richer. Senator Bernie Sanders said recently that the fifty richest people in this country have wealth equal to the bottom 50 percent of the population. That is gross, disgusting, obscene inequality.

Our nation and its democratic ideals are being undermined by extremes of wealth and income. The middle class is struggling not to slip into poverty.

From Forbes in 2018:

In the 1950s, a typical CEO made 20 times the salary of his or her average worker. Last year, CEO pay at an S&P 500 Index firm soared to an average of 361 times more than the average rank-and-file worker, or pay of $13,940,000 a year, according to an AFL-CIO’s Executive Paywatch news release today.

This is not the America I grew up in, and it’s not what America should be.

I have found these old English rhymes to be inspiring.

The law locks up the man or woman
Who steals the goose off the common
But leaves the greater villain loose
Who steals the common from the goose.

The law demands that we atone
When we take things we do not own
But leaves the lords and ladies fine
Who takes things that are yours and mine.

In this post, Pasi Sahlberg and William Doyle respond to a recent article that pitted civil rights groups against advocates for the Finnish model of education. They found the dichotomy puzzling. They wrote this article for this blog.

They write:

Two decades ago, Finland made big news in international education circles. Against all odds it became a top-performer in OECD’s first PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) study that compared 15-year-olds’ knowledge and skills in reading, mathematical and scientific literacies. Since about 2010 education experts and pundits in the United States have debated whether there is anything at all that American school systems could learn from that small Nordic nation’s school system. Ten years on and these debates still go on.


In their March 15, 2021 essay “Finland Meets Civil Rights”, Professor Jal Mehta and co-author Krista Galleberg make good points, including “we can draw on Finnish lessons while making them more relevant to our complex, multi-racial, and systemically inequitable context”, and “build shared responsibility instead of finger pointing, policies based in trust instead of distrust, and schools where Black and Brown students thrive instead of merely survive.”


But in framing their argument, Mehta and Gallebergmake the curious claim that “Since the beginning of the No Child Left Behind era, there has been a schism between what you might think of as the ‘Finland folks’ and much of the civil rights community, particularly its policy and legal advocates.”


We are aware of no such schism. We are curious to know which civil rights advocates would oppose the key foundations of the Finnish education system that are adaptable to the American context – such as comprehensive healthservices for every child and mother from birth, teachers trained and respected as professionals, free healthy school lunches for all, regular play and physical activity as part of every schools’ workplan, smaller class sizes, early indidualized special education support throughout schooling, equitable funding of schools, universal early childhood education and care as a basic right of every child, and highly collaborative schools that strive to integrate students of different capabilities and backgrounds.


According to Mehta and Galleberg, “accountability in the U.S. has historically been promoted by civil rights advocates and bemoaned by the Finland folks.” In fact, the opposite is true in Finland, which places the highest national emphasis on accountability– based on trust and constant productive dialogue between highly professional teachers, children, parents and policymakers. Moreover, Mehta and Galleberg also fail to explain to their readers that in Finland all schools and teachers operate under professional responsibility that expands far beyond the typical punitive,vertical accountability mechanisms that are typical in U.S. education administration.


What Finland does not is waste time or money on so-called “test-based accountability,” or basing its school system on the low-quality, expensive and ineffective governing metric of the universal standardized testing of children, as the United States has done under Presidents Bush, Obama and Trump, and seems to be continuing under President Biden, despite his clear campaign promise to stop it. Instead, the performance of Finland’s education system is monitored by multiple measures that include state-led sample-based standardized student assessments and locally managed school self-evaluations and peer reviews.


 The verdict is in on test-based accountability – it doesn’t work. Twenty years of it has achieved little to no sustained improvement in reading and math outcomes or in reducing achievement gaps in the United States, which were its main objectives. Today, the main driving forces behind “doubling down” on this failure are not civil rights organizations but under-informed philanthropists, politicians and business leaders.

We also find claims by Mehta and Galleberg that “Even today, educational reforms in Finland are framed as part of the country’s national defense plan” and “Excellent education for all is part of the nation’s response to Russian aggression” strange and without factual basis. It is a mistake to believe that Finland’s education policies are designed primarily to serve economic or national security interests. Furthermore, arguing that “Educational equity is therefore not treated as a national security imperative in the United States as it is in Finland” is simply not true. Promoting equity and social justice through education in all Nordic countries is based on human rights imperatives before anything else, certainly something that any civil rights advocate in the United States would wholeheartedly support.


The main lesson of Finland for any nation is that it is possible – and indeed necessary – to strive for both excellence and equity for all students. According to recent data from the OECD, Finland achieves both the highest efficiency of all the developed world’s education systems as measured by hours of study and learning outcomes, and the least performance variation between schools. “The neighborhood school is the best school” is a mantra often heard in Finland, and it is a reality that is widely achieved.


 Finland has deliberately designed its education system, from primary school to higher education, on the values and principles of equal rights to education. Finland upgraded the teaching profession in the 1980s to serve that purpose, so that each and every child would have a great public school in their neighborhood.

In the context of civil rights, Finland is the ultimate American school system.

The landmark Brown v. Board of Education U.S. Supreme Court case of 1954 declared racial segregation in public schools to be unconstitutional, but it also stipulated in its order that public education “is a right which must be made available to all on equal terms.” That simple, beautiful phrase is settled national policy in the United States, but it has never been fully honored.
 

Those words should be symbolically carved onto the entranceways of every school, legislature and education ministry on Earth.

In Finland, they already are.

Pasi Sahlberg is a Finnish educator who has researched and examined education policies in Finland and the United States. His book “Finnish Lessons: What can the world learn from Educational change in Finland”published by Teachers College Press won the 2013 Grawemeyer Award issued by the University of Louisville for an idea that has potential to change the world. He is currently Professor of Education Policy at the UNSWSydney.


William Doyle has served as a Fulbright Scholar in Finland, as a lecturer at Finland’s largest teacher training university, and as an advisor to the Ministry of Education and Culture of Finland. In the last three years he has been a public school father in New York City and Tokyo, and currently in Helsinki, where he lives with his family.


Sahlberg and Doyle are co-authors of “Let the Children Play: For the learning, well-being, and life success of every child” (2019), published by Oxford University Press.

Teacher Nora De La Cour writes on her blog that it is time to restore the joy of teaching and learning by abolishing high-stakes testing. She writes that candidate Joe Biden forcefully promised to get rid of standardized testing and restore teacher autonomy, but Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona seems unwilling to commit to granting states a waiver from the mandated federal testing. He did not seek a waiver for Connecticut when he was state commissioner there, and he was noncommittal at his Senate hearings.

She writes:

While NCLB and RTT were marketed as efforts to strengthen public education for disadvantaged students, the overwhelming action of these reforms has been to redirect funding away from normal school operations in under-resourced districts, impose state takeovers and other dehumanizing restructuring plans, and replace community schools with privately run charters. The rampant school closures precipitated by NCLB and RTT have mainly impacted schools attended by the poor black and brown students who are used as mascots by those pushing these neoliberal “equity and accountability” measures. Researchers have documented links between high-stakes testing and high incarceration rates. Test scores have been used to limit opportunitiesfor students with disabilities, another group hailed as primary beneficiaries of test-based reforms.  


The obsession with standardized testing has drained K-12 public education of the vibrant, joyful things that make kids want to be in school. Districts have been forced to cut art, music, extracurriculars, and recess in order to save time and money for tests and test prep. 

The Bill Gates-funded Common Core Standards that drive the current tests have undermined teachers’ creative autonomy, stripping us of our ability to shape instruction around what motivates our students. Instead of teaching whole novels and plays, language arts teachers are pushed into teaching mainly “informational texts” (as though fiction doesn’t contain information) and decontextualized literary excerpts. My students experienced Frankenstein, for example, not as a gripping monster story that prompts questions about what it means to be human, but as a lifeless fragment on a practice test, from which they were required to extract and regurgitate specific information that corporate test-makers deem important. 

She adds, quite accurately:

Standardized tests do not measure teaching. Indeed, the premise that poor children struggle because their teachers are lazy is both racist (teachers of color are more likely to have low-income students) and illogical (why on earth would lazy people pursue positions in underfunded schools?). Contrary to claims, standardized tests don’t measure the skills needed for fulfilling jobs requiring complex problem-solving (although the curiosity- and criticality-punishing accountability system unquestionably prepares kids for drudgery under capitalism). Standardized tests cannot account for the myriad forms meaningful learning can take. The only thing these assessments reliably measure is poverty.

Despite Biden’s promise to get rid of the test-driven policies of the past 20 years, the jury is out on whether he will follow through and he is being pressured by Gates-funded groups to hold fast to the testing regime.

It’s true that some high-profile civil rights groups continue to push for standardized testing–a fact that is reported everywhere privatizers have clout. These civil rights organizations use the same “guideposts for equity” logic Cardona invoked in his statement on 2021 testing for Connecticut students. Unfortunately, many of these groups rely on funding from Gates and other pro-privatization philanthropists and corporations. This funding can mean a variety of things, but it’s reasonable to surmise that some degree of political alignment occurs. 

If standardized tests were actually about ensuring equity, they would not have triggered the closure of schools attended by low-income students of color. If the reforms that spawned these tests were actually about increasing accountability, they would not have occasioned the transfer of power over classroom learning from teachers and publicly accountable officials to hedge fund-backed charter-boosters and profit-hungry edu-businesses

Nora De La Cour has some smart observations about testing and equity, as well as the political forces compelling teachers to do what they know is not in the best interests of their students. This post is well worth a read!

Civil rights groups, led by the Southern Education Foundation, are opposing the voucher legislation proposed by Republicans in Georgia.

SEF leads opposition to education savings account bill introduced in Georgia legislature

One of the first pieces of legislation introduced in the Georgia legislature in 2021 was the Georgia Educational Scholarship Act (HB60), a bill that would divert taxpayer dollars to private schools. In February, SEF and nine other education and equity-focused organizations sent a letter to the Georgia House Committee on Education expressing concerns that HB60 would divert funds from public education at a time when schools can least afford to lose it, and further perpetuate inequities.

SEF prepared analysis of the bill and a backgrounder on academic outcomes and participation requirements for similar tax credit scholarship programs across the country.

SEF’s Legislative and Research Analyst also provided testimony to the Senate Education and Youth Committee on SB47, a proposed expansion of the state’s existing special needs voucher program.