Archives for category: Poverty

Arnold and Carol Hillman were educators in Pennsylvania. They retired to South Carolina and, instead of golfing and relaxing, they became involved with rural public schools. They created clubs for high school boys and girls and helped steer their kids towards college. I wrote about their work with students in rural schools several times. See here. Arnold wrote me recently to tell me about the devastating impact of the pandemic on rural students, and I asked him to write it up for the blog. He wrote the section about Rasheem, and Carol wrote about LaRonda.

They wrote:

Rasheem and LaRonda are two students in a rural South Carolina county. A review of county statistics will show that the county is 700 square miles. It is one of the poorest counties in the state. Over the past five years, the education system has declined in quality. The ACT scores have descended 15.8%. Even the state’s average ACT scores have gone down from 18.6 to 18.1. 

When you travel around the county, you are struck by the endless roads that seem to include only a forested area on both sides and a town or two with some stores and maybe a gas station. You must travel to the county seat to go shopping at a supermarket or travel to the other urban center at the bottom of the county.

Choices in any aspect of normal life are limited. There is one dentist in the area. He is a homer, comes from one of the towns. Other medical facilities such as a hospital are close to Route 95 near the bottom of the county. The rural districts that occupy both sides of Route 95 have been dubbed, “The Corridor of Shame.” That was also a documentary film done in 2007 to describe the area and the public schools.

We have visited 21 of the 41 (will be 37 districts when certain consolidations take place) rural school districts in the state. There are many Rasheem’s and Laronda’s in those areas. Having traveled to see away basketball games, we can also point out that there are many similarities up and down these counties.

The school district personnel are well aware of the problems of both of these students. Rasheem lives with his grandmother. His parents have had other children and could not handle Rasheem too. So, when he turned seven, they transferred responsibility for raising Rasheem to his maternal grandmother. Zelda provides all of the necessities of life, as much as she can, to Rasheem. She lives on a pension and social security.

Rasheem’s parents were divorced sometime after Rasheem went to live with his grandmother. They both have new families with new spouses or live-ins. Rasheem is a senior in high school and like many kids his age, has dreams of getting away from home and making a better life for himself. He wants to go to college or join the air force or maybe become a racecar driver. He works part-time at a local Piggy Wiggly and has a used car he bought from an uncle. His earnings cover his car insurance, gas, and the $200 he must pay in South Carolina annual car tax. Anything left over covers his school clothes, which he keeps outgrowing. He plays basketball and hopes to win a scholarship. The coach thinks he’s good enough for a Division I1 school. 

However, his dreams may not come true. This Covid-19 year, a number of schools have cancelled football and other fall sports, as well as the winter sports seasons Therefore, as hard as it was for scouts to come down to see him and others playing, it is now just a dream.

Rasheem has a 3.4 GPA (Grade Point Average) and he works hard to keep his grades up, so he has become pretty good at time management. The one subject he struggles with is math. It’s not really the math that is so hard, it’s that he can’t always understand his math teacher. Rasheem’s school, like many South Carolina rural schools, is very isolated and very poor. They can’t afford to pay teachers well and there are no places for teachers from outside of the county to live. So, when the high school principal tries to fill vacancies with certified teachers, she often needs to recruit teachers from India or South America, people looking for any job they can find in America. These teachers may know their subject matter, but their grasp of American English and even their understanding of American students is often lacking. 

When Covid-19 appeared last March, schools in South Carolina closed. Everything went virtual. This fall there has been a back and forth between virtual and in-person education. Because of senior students wanting to play some kind of ball, both girls and boys, some of them have transferred to private schools. 

Rasheem’s guidance counselor has been trying to talk to him about his future plans since he was a junior, but it wasn’t until he hit his senior year that he paid much attention. The guidance counselor has a big case load. She has students with many different and sometimes pressing problems.  She tries to remind her seniors about college applications and financial aid forms. The burden of staying on top of all this is up to the students. Rasheem does not have anyone in his family who has been to college, in fact, his grandma did not graduate from high school.

Neither Rasheem nor his grandma are familiar with anything to do with college, but among the good choices he has made are his decisions to join the basketball team and ROTC. Colonel Manning and Coach Phillips are both very caring, capable individuals who have Rasheem’s best interest in mind. They have been trying to talk to him about what he needs to do to realize his dreams. 

Working with the group that I have been mentoring for 5 years has become almost impossible. Many of the students have gotten jobs and are really not calling or Zooming with me. When I do hear from them, it is a short call with me asking them if they have filled out their FAFSA forms, if they have any intent of going to college. 

Rasheem is planning to take the ASVAB. The Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery is a test you must take to get into the armed services. You need a score of 31 out of 99 to get into the Army and a 36 for the Air Force. He took the ACTs (American College Testing) last year and scored a 16 out of 36 on the test. He will need to bring that score up to somewhere in the mid 20’s, which is not a score that many students get in rural South Carolina. While students from some of the advantaged districts come from families that prepare them for college, most rural parents are not aware of steps to take to help their children. Many of the parents have not gone to college and are not familiar with FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) forms. 

Students from families with college experience have been preparing for the transition from high school to college from the time their children were born. Their children have visited colleges and taken practice tests of both the ACTs and the SATs. Rasheem has done none of that because he didn’t have a family helping him. This is only one challenge Rasheem is facing.

Other challenges are the fact that his high school does not have a high rating on the South Carolina state tests. They do not have a high graduation rate. Many of Rasheem’s classmates do not see education as a priority and so he competes for his teachers’ attention with disruptive students. Some of his teachers are burnt out from dealing with the Covid -19 problems and don’t provide the best possible instruction. 

On days when school is in session, Rasheem eats a free breakfast and lunch at school. When he gets home, after school and before work, his grandma gives him supper. On weekends and over vacation breaks Rasheem doesn’t always get three meals a day. Even working in a grocery store does not entitle him to free food.

His family has been generous enough to help him pay for senior pictures and the prom (if they have one), but he will not be attending the senior class trip (if there is one) because he can’t afford it.

LaRonda is a junior at the same high school.  She is smart, quick with a quip and talented in art and writing. Last year, LaRonda played on the basketball team. She is skilled, agile and has a burning competitive spirit. She has a 4.0 Grade Point Average and has taken all the AP (Advanced Placement) Courses the school offers.

Her family situation is not the same as Rasheem’s. LaRonda has a mom and dad. She has two brothers and a new baby sister. She is responsible for taking care of her younger brothers, as well as helping with the baby. This restricts her from getting a job or having any social life.

Transportation is a real problem. LaRonda’s family has one car and it serves Mom, Dad, Grandma and LaRonda.. She has started a small business of her own “doing hair.” Because of COVID and the baby sister, she cannot do hair at home. She needs to travel to clients. Again, the problem of sharing the car.

LaRonda is angry. She resents her mother for having more children whom LaRonda needs to care for. Her friends advise her to “have it out” with her mother and say she is going to get an after-school job so she can have her own money. LaRonda really wants to do that, but then she thinks, “what will happen to my baby sister”?

LaRonda is in the gifted program She has taken Algebra I three times. The first time was when she was in 7th grade. She was in the gifted program so she, along with other gifted 7th graders, was put in Algebra 1 (usually given in 9th grade). You only get credit for a course if you pass the final exam. She and her friends got all “A’s” in the class but were told that because they were only in 7th grade, they could not take the test. In 8th grade they took Algebra I, again getting “A’s”, but were not allowed to take the final exam because, “since you took Algebra 1 before it’s not fair to the other students who were taking Algebra 1 for the first time.” In 9th grade, when the non-gifted students had gone on to Geometry, LaRonda and her cohorts were taking Algebra 1 for the third and final time. They all passed the final exam with flying colors! 

Before COVID-19 made meeting in-person impossible, Carol and Lynn met with the 10 girls they mentored weekly. They shared lunch, laughter, sometimes tears and always hello and goodbye hugs. Together the group has mentored younger students and run fundraisers that have enabled them to go on trips and exciting overnight adventures. All that is missing now. 

Carol and Lynn try to stay in touch with the girls they have been mentoring, but, like Rasheem and his friends, COVID is making that difficult. Carol and Lynn call the girls individually. That works sometimes. When LaRonda desperately needed a computer, Lynn found a computer and printer for her that had been refurbished by a friend. 

LaRonda has always said she wants to go to college to become a pediatrician, but her older friends who were in college are now dropping out. They loved college in person – spending time with friends on campus, but they are so turned off by the virtual learning and so unsure of their futures that they are no longer willing to scrimp and save to pay for college. That makes LaRonda think maybe she should go into the military.

She told Carol, “I wanted to be the first to tell you I might not go to college, because I thought you’d be disappointed in me. I took the ASVAB test and got a 56. Is that good? My friends are going into the Army so I might do that too.” Carol reminded LaRonda that she would never be disappointed in her, that it was her life and she needs to make her own decisions, but that she should keep up her schoolwork and take the ACTs so she has options. She asked LaRonda, “What does your mom say?” LaRonda, “She says, ‘Whatever you think, is fine with me.’ “

When they talk about the future, LaRonda is not the only one who says, “I pray every day that I can get out of here and not end up like my mom, but I love my mom. It’s in God’s hands and whatever happens will be for the best.

Through no fault of their own, Rasheem and LaRonda have very uncertain futures.

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The Boston Globe reports that Chelsea, Mass., is about to launch a bold experiment in addressing the persistent problem of poverty.

Chelsea, one of the poorest cities in the state, is about to host a bold experiment in reimagining capitalism, one that may answer an age-old question: Can giving away money with no strings attached help people out of poverty?

Beginning in November, about 2,000 low-income families will be given $200 to $400 a month, money that can be used for anything from food to paying bills. The trial, with $3 million in seed money and set to run for four months at first, is a version of the universal basic income concept that has long been debated, tested in small measures, but not implemented by any country. Tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang made it a plank of his brief presidential campaign.

The Chelsea pilot may seem like a simple way to support families living on the brink during the pandemic, but the social experiment could have broader implications — perhaps shedding light on the argument over whether giving money away without conditions encourages poor people to quit their jobs or spend it unwisely, or empowers them to make decisions to break the cycle of poverty…

To United Way chief executive Bob Giannino, the real value of the Chelsea pilot is removing the indignities of receiving public assistance — whether it’s standing in line for food or battling a bureaucracy for benefits. Giannino knows the feeling too well, having grown up in a family that relied on government handouts.

“The tactic is putting money on a card so people can buy their own food,” Giannino said of the Chelsea program. “The strategy is independence. The strategy is dignity.”

Dana Milbank is a regular writer for the Washington Post. He writes in this column about Mitch McConnell’s hypocrisy.

The Trump administration and House Democratic leaders are in striking range of a deal to send $1,200 stimulus checks to American families and to pump $2 trillion into the flagging economy.

But Rich Mitch is having none of it.

As The Post reported, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) — anti-Trump Republicans have taken to calling him “Rich Mitch” because of his $34 million net worth — told Republican colleagues Tuesday that he had warned the White House not to strike an agreement with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on a coronavirus relief package before the Nov. 3 election.

Who cares if tens of millions of Americans are in increasingly desperate straits? Even if negotiators reach agreement despite McConnell’s sabotage, he refused to commit to voting on it before the election.

Then, on Wednesday, McConnell had the chutzpah to stand on the Senate floor and claim he was looking out for the little guy. “Maybe coastal elites who can practically find a million dollars in their couch cushions are indifferent about whether we get an outcome here,” he said, alleging that “blue-state billionaires” are Democrats’ top priority — not “working families like the Kentuckians I represent.

Yet McConnell claims he’s fighting elites to “get an outcome” for working families. What outcome? Bankruptcy?

It’s a timely reminder, a dozen days before Election Day, that removing President Trump won’t repair dysfunction in Washington as long as McConnell remains in charge of the Senate.

John Thompson, historian and retired teacher in Oklahoma, read the New York Times Magazine’s report on the possibility of a “Lost Year” and wrote these reflections:

Three times, I had to take a break from reading the New York Times Magazine’s special education issue, “The Lost Year.” The Magazine’s powerful reporting delivered gut punch after gut punch, forcing me to put the magazine down, calm myself, and contemplate the suffering our children are enduring.

Three times, as these compelling and emotionally overwhelming student stories hit home, I would get sick at my stomach. I’d sense anxiety growing to the point where it hit as hard as when ideology-driven, Trumpian policies are announced. As these tragedies unfolded over recent months, I got into the habit of taking a break, breathing heavily, and relaxing, resulting in naps to calm my nerves.

The anecdotes in “The Lost Year” illustrating the damage being done to our most vulnerable children hit me especially hard because of decades working in the inner city and our most disadvantaged schools. But I must warn readers who may not have been covered by so many students’ blood or worried over as many traumatized kids that The Lost Year will not be an easy read for them either.

Samantha Shapiro’s “The Children in the Shadows” describes the “nomadism” perpetuated by the New York City homeless shelter system 3-1/2 decades after the Reagan Administration sparked the housing crisis by decimating social services (as his Supply Side Economics destroyed blue collar jobs.) The cruelty was continued in the 1990s as neoliberals tried to show that they could be just as tough as the rightwingers.

Shapiro starts with the obstacles faced by the parents of several elementary students with histories of rising to excellence but who are suffering through The Lost Year. A 2nd grade child of an immigrant, Prince, has been homeless for years (prompted by his mother enduring severe domestic abuse) but who seemed to be headed for magnet or gifted programs before the pandemic. After wasting hours after hours, days after days, accompanying his mother through the bureaucracy, he gets an 84 on a test, and tells her, “I’m sorry, Mama. I’ll do better next time.”

The father of another outstanding 2nd grader worries that her ability to read is being lost, “I’ve seen her watch YouTube 24 hours a day.” Shapiro then describes another second grader, who was very competitive and earned good grades but, before the shutdown, she had a disagreement with a classmate. After being asked to come into the hall to discuss it, the girl screamed piercingly, ripped down bulletin boards, threw things. As she deescalated, the girl asked her social worker to hold her, saying “Are you still proud of me? Do you still love me?

Shapiro also describes J, her son’s best friend, and his wonderful people skills. Despite having dyslexia, J had been doing well in school. His mother, Mae, repeatedly cried through entire nights during an intense effort to avoid eviction. J cried at the loss of his dog due to their eviction. Mae kept him away from her encounter with the marshals, but his sister was too anxious to be separated from her. So, her daughter whistled at birds, and zipped her favorite stuffed animal into her hoodie, as they were evicted.

Nicole Chung’s “A Broken Link” explores the new challenges facing special education students. Chung draws upon her experience as the mother of a 9-year old child with autism to illustrate the obstacles facing kids in good schools, even when they have the advantages of families who can go the extra mile in helping to implement Individual Education Plans. During last spring’s school closures, a “multitude” of children, “many of them disabled,” “‘just fell off the grid.’” This year, with so many schools starting the year online, meaning that they likely begin without personal connections between students and educators, the challenges are likely to be much worse.

By sharing her family’s frustrations, Chung helps make the case presented by Julia Bascom, executive director of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, that “The pandemic has magnified these huge structural issues. Ultimately, it’s going to be disabled and marginalized students bearing the burden, being delayed, losing time and progress.”

Then, Paul Tough addresses the costs to upwardly striving, low-income students from a high school that had been making progress helping its students succeed in higher education. Disadvantaged students tend to be hurt by the “summer slide,” or the loss of learning gains over summer vacation. Tough focuses on Richmond Hill H.S.’s efforts to prevent “summer melt,” or the loss of students who had intended to go straight to college but don’t enroll in the fall.

Richmond Hill uses “bridge coaches,” who are “near peers” or recent graduates that serve as mentors, and other personalized efforts to help students transition to higher education. This requires “a lot of hand-holding,” and other guidance, and not enough of those personalized contacts are possible during the pandemic. Richmond Hill’s students lost more than 30 parents to the coronavirus, as hundreds of their providers lost their jobs. This means the losses of The Lost Year will be reverberating for years to come.

And that leads to the ways that each story in The Lost Year returns to social and emotional connections, as well as the need to tackle structural issues outside the four walls of classrooms. And that is why the failure of urban schools to reopen has been so tragic.

At times, a discussion moderated by Emily Bazelon, featuring Denver Superintendent Susana Cordova, the Times’ Nikole Hannah-Jones, former Education Secretary John King, the University of Southern California Dean Pedro Noguera, and middle school teacher Shana White, seemed likely to veer off into the blame game. My sense, however, was that they intentionally avoided opportunities to refight the battles of the last two decades. They wisely limited most criticism for the inability of schools to serve at-risk kids to the malpractice of the Trump administration and a lack of resources and time.

For instance, Hannah-Jones pushed the question of why Denver’s low-wage childcare workers were back in class, but not the higher-paid teachers. But Bazelon shifted gears and asked her about other inequities she had seen. This brought the discussion back to big-picture inequities. Hannah-Jones then focused on affluent families who can afford private schools, adding, “I have this deep pit in my stomach about the disparities and really the devastating impact that this period is going to have.”

This also foreshadowed Bazelon’s worries that an increase in private schools and vouchers will worsen segregation.

Hannah-Jones rightly warned that last spring her daughter’s online class of 33 only had about 10 students logged in. Since the discussants also had justifiable complaints about the flawed preparations for this fall’s virtual learning, it could have led to another round of attacking the education “status quo.” But Hannah-Jones explained how she mistakenly believed her daughter had turned in all of her assignments. This candor also encouraged a discussion of the structural problems that make the transition to online learning so daunting.

When asked about the big picture issues and solutions, the discussion remained constructive. Hannah-Jones brought up the opportunity for rejecting high-stakes testing. Bazelon asked if the crisis could promote outdoors learning and flipped classrooms (for older students) where tapes of “star lecturers” free teachers for the people-side of classroom learning. She also asked whether schools should be focusing on emotional health, hoping students will catch up on academic content over time. Noguera largely agreed, and replied with a call for “a national push to get kids reading. Low-tech. Actual books. And writing.”

John King then praised online curriculum provided by organizations like Edutopia. More importantly, he then declined that opportunity to repeat the corporate reform attacks on teachers, who supposedly could have singlehandedly overcome the legacies of segregation, poverty, and trauma if they had “High Expectations!” Contradicting the company line he had long espoused, King called for more counselors, mental health professionals, “high-dosage” tutoring, the expansion of AmeriCorp programs, and full-year instruction.

Superintendent Cordova then called for a new type of summer program where kids “engaged in learning for learning’s sake – not ‘third grade is about multiplication tables…” Instead of mere remediation, she would motivate kids by exposing them to the larger world. This is consistent with Corova’s hope that schools will be able to “try to go deeper as opposed to broader” in teaching and learning.

Shana White, the Georgia teacher, wished that districts had planned for “worst-case scenarios.” That should seem obvious given the state “leadership” coming from Trump loyalists. It sounds like White teaches in a worst possible scenario where teachers must do both – conduct in-person and virtual instruction using Zoom at the same time.

I’m an optimist who believed that data-driven, competition-driven reformers would have recognized what our poorest students would lose if their test-driven reforms were mandated. I wrongly believed that if accountability-driven reformers had known more about real-world schools, and shared experiences with flesh-and-blood students, that they would seek better levers for changing schools. But, it is possible that the pandemic has revealed both the complexity of our intertwined problems, and how there are no shortcuts for bringing true equity to high-poverty schools. It’s a shame that students had to lose so much this year in order to bring an opportunity for adults to come together for real, structural solutions.

It’s also a shame that Trumpian campaigns to deny the reality of “community-spread” of viruses and ideology-driven mandates to hurriedly reopen schools have guaranteed The Lost Year for our most vulnerable children. But maybe we can all unite in a fact-based campaign against Trump and then learn the lessons of The Lost Year, and engage in holistic, meaningful education reforms.

Sarah Jones is an amazingly perceptive writer who has trained her sights in the real crisis in American education: not low test scores, but underfunding and stark disparities of funding.

Her latest article is brilliant. It begins:

Andrew Worthington’s public school was in trouble even before the coronavirus struck. “We have lead in the pipes,” the Manhattan-based English teacher said. “We have all sorts of rodents. There’s soot in the ventilation system. The bathrooms are constantly out of service.” When school is in session, Worthington said, most classes have over 30 students. About 80 percent of the student body qualifies for free and reduced lunch, and many lack the tech they now need to keep up with classes.

After the pandemic turned classrooms dangerous, Worthington’s students faced widening gaps. The iPads the school handed out could only do so much. “It’s hard for them to write essays on a tablet,” Worthington observed.

Like any natural disaster, the pandemic is a stress test for our systems and institutions. It locates their weak spots, and presses until something snaps. Public education could be its next casualty, advocates and experts told Intelligencer; a victim not just of the virus, but of something older and more deliberate, too. America’s public schools haven’t been properly funded for years. Twenty-nine states spent less on public education in 2015 than they did in 2009, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has reported. Local governments in 19 states cut per-pupil spending over the same time period; elsewhere, small increases couldn’t make up for drastic, state-level reductions. If schools buckle now under the weight of the pandemic, lawmakers bear much of the blame.

With school back in session, administrators and teachers alike must stretch already scarce resources to meet new demands. If school buildings reopen at all, social-distancing demands smaller class sizes and more teachers. If schools keep classes virtual, poor students need tools that their districts might not be able to afford. Because the pandemic helped spawn a recession, schools also face crippling cuts as state and local tax revenue contracts. A new report from the American Federation of Teachers projects a funding gap of $93.5 billion for pre-K–12 education, and an additional $45 billion gap for higher education. Unless Congress and Donald Trump can agree on a rescue package, the union estimates that around one million jobs for pre-K–12 educators will disappear.

Maybe no one could have prevented coronavirus, or something equally drastic, from transforming public life and public schools. But the situation didn’t have to be quite so dire, said Diane Ravitch, an education historian and the founder of the Network for Public Education. “We have been through a long period of devaluing public education, especially the education of children who are poor,” she told Intelligencer by email. “High-wealth communities invest in their schools. In poor neighborhoods, where children have low test scores, politicians have opened charter schools and offered vouchers, which saps funding from schools that need it most.”

Lily Eskelsen Garcia, the president of the National Education Association, put matters in even blunter terms. “I hear the word ‘chronic,’ and that’s a good word,” she said. “But there’s another word that has to be put with it, and that’s ‘intentional.’” Lawmakers, she added, “are intentionally, chronically underfunding our schools.”

In recent days, the public learned that Jeff Bezos’ net worth has soared to more than $170 billion. Bill Gates trails Bezos at “only” $114 billion. The Walton family is in the same range ($150 billion among three of them). This vast accumulation of wealth by a very tiny number of people distorts the entire economy, especially since it contrasts with millions of people who are unemployed, homeless, and living in deep poverty. Is this the America we love? Is this the America that we want?

G.F. Brandenburg has reposted an essay here about the “looting of America” by the super-rich.

To change this imbalance which eats away at the soul of our society, we need the courage to write a new tax code. I don’t know how to write a tax code but I know what inequity looks like. It looks like what we have today.

Time to recommend an important book: The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger.

Victor Ray and Alan Aja argue in this article that appeared in the Washington Post that racism can’t be “fixed” by more education. Plenty of highly educated people are racist.
The root of racism, they argue, is systematic inequality of resources and access to power.

Prescribing education as the cure for racism often confuses individual bigotry with a system of domination. As a system of domination, racism can be manipulated, because it is bigger than any individual. Highly educated people, who sometimes know better, contribute to systems of racial harm on a regular basis.

The architecture of American racism is not an unfortunate accident: It was created intentionally to acquire and keep power. The highly educated designed America’s system of segregation and America’s prison system. Highly educated lawyers devise arguments to protect police who kill black and brown folks, highly educated prosecutors decline to bring charges, and highly educated judges assign light sentences. There is no good evidence that educating police about implicit bias works to lessen harm. And whites with high cognitive ability are no more likely to support practical policies that lessen racial inequality. But their education does allow them to offer more sophisticated justifications for privilege…

The problem of racial inequality is not just a lack of knowledge; it is the lack of a willingness among many white people to commit to an equitable distribution of resources.
What movements like those currently in the streets recognize is that systemic problems are not solved by education in the absence of collective action. Solutions to racial inequality require a reorganization of what creates inequality in the first place: unequal access to social and material resources. Seeing education as a necessary but insufficient condition for challenging racial inequality is not pessimistic. It recognizes that knowledge used to confront, rather than accommodate or legitimate authority, can lead to a more equitable distribution of power.

My opinion: When billionaires intervene to disrupt and privatize education, they are diverting our attention. When Trump and DeVos bray that “school choice is the civil rights issue of our time and of all time,” they are changing the subject so as to protect their privilege. The root problem of our divided society is inequality. The billionaires should be lobbying to raise their taxes and to redistribute resources to society’s have-nots, so that we are a nation of haves.

Please read the book The Spirit Level. Its basic argument is that societies with high levels of inequality are unhappy societies. The more equality, the greater the level of social happiness.

I have known Jamaal Bowman as an enlightened educator and a fighter for social justice. Right now, he is running for Congress against a senior Democrat, Elliot Engel. Engel is a 16-term member of Congress and chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee. Most people think of Jamaal as a long shot.

But the times are changing. Jamaal has raised nearly $1 million. He was endorsed by AOC. He is young and energetic and passionate.

Michelle Goldberg, a regular columnist for the New York Times, wrote an extraordinary column about Jamaal.

Goldberg wrote:

On March 1, which feels about 20 years ago, NBC News published an essay by a congressional candidate, Jamaal Bowman, about the scars he bore from life in New York under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who was then still running for president.

“As a working-class black male educator during the entirety of Bloomberg’s tenure, I got to experience the horrors and the trauma of how his police department treated people like me,” wrote Bowman. He described an inexplicable arrest following a routine traffic stop, and another after he was accused of stealing his own car. He wrote about Eric Garner and Sean Bell, two black men killed by N.Y.P.D. cops, and about the growing police presence in the city schools where Bowman had made his career.

Last March, when the NBC article appeared, Goldberg wrote him off. But the world has changed since the killing of George Floyd.

Now Jamaal Bowman has a shot at winning. He would be a great addition to Congress.

I endorsed Jamaal months ago. He has all the right ingredients to be a strong voice on behalf of his district, on behalf of education, on behalf of the black and brown students he worked so hard to educate as principal of the Cornerstone Academy of Social Action, and on behalf of their families. He would fight for those who have been left behind by poverty, institutional neglect, and racism.

If you live in the Sixteenth Congressional District in the Bronx, please vote for Jamaal Bowman for Congress.

Jeff Bryant writes here about promising developments in New Mexico. where educators are reimagine the future of schools.

Not many people would think of New Mexico as an educational paradigm. Its test scores and very low, and it’s child poverty rate is very high. It endured eight years of a Republican Governor who believed in Je Bush’s ideology of high-stakes testing, test-based evaluation of teachers, and choice. That model produced no improvement, but quite a lot of teacher alienation.

Bryant interviewed the state president of the NEA,who filled him in on the union’s dreams for the future.


“I think we’re all going to be different after this,” Mary Parr-Sanchez told me in a phone call, “but I don’t know how.” Parr-Sanchez is the current president of NEA-New Mexico, the National Education Association’s affiliate in the Land of Enchantment, and “this” of course is the profound trauma of schooling amidst COVID-19…

Our current governor [Michelle Lujan Grisham] is showing impressive leadership, but our previous governor of eight years drove education into the ground,” she said, referring to former Governor Susana Martinez, whose administration’s response to the economic downturn during the Great Recession was to slash education spending, expand privately operated charter schools to compete for funding, and impose a punitive regime of evaluating teachers and schools based on high-stakes standardized testing.

Some of the heavy-handed evaluation systems Martinez championed have been repealed by Governor Lujan Grisham, but New Mexico still funds its schools less than it did in 2008.

Much of what Martinez imposed on New Mexico were pillars of education policy that started with No Child Left Behind legislation passed during the George W. Bush presidential administration and extended under the Barack Obama presidency.

“I loved being a teacher in the 1990s,” Parr-Sanchez recalled, “but since No Child Left Behind [which became law in 2002], all the joy was taken out of teaching. The test-and-punish program got us nowhere, and for the past 10 years, teachers have felt like they’ve been under assault.”

Despite these onerous policies, Parr-Sanchez saw the emergence of a different, more promising school model in her state.

“When I first learned of the community schools model, it hit me like a lightning bolt,” she told me. “I loved it because it focused on [the academic and non-academic needs of children], and the focus was on learning and a culturally relevant curriculum, not just test scores. The movement for community schools brought the joy of teaching back for me.”

Now, she is convinced the community schools model is the most promising way forward for schools as they reopen to the new realities of recovering from the fallout of COVID-19.

“In our state’s response to the pandemic, we’ve had to be very sensitive to issues of poverty, and the state has challenged districts to reach all children, including special education students and homeless students,” she explained. In this kind of emergency situation, she believes community schools have an advantage because “the model enables you to look at the whole child.” (A whole child approach considers more than just students’ academic outcomes to include attention to students’ health, mental, socioeconomic, and cultural conditions that often have more impact on students’ abilities to learn.)

“What happens during the school day is not enough to improve the trajectory of children until you deal with what is really going on in children’s lives. Are they hungry? Are they homeless? The testing agenda took us away from addressing this. Community schools can bring us back.”

For those of us old enough to remember the protests against racism and police brutality in the late 1960s, the outrage of African Americans has a sad and sickening familiarity. It’s sad because yet another black man was killed by police officers although he was not resisting arrest (and even had he been resisting arrest, the officers were wrong to apply lethal force to an unarmed person). It is sickening because so little has changed in 50+ years.

We don’t have to think back to the 1960s for examples of racism and racial profiling. We see it now, with disgusting, appalling frequency.

Some important things have changed: our nation twice elected a black man as president. Yet so much remains unchanged: segregated neighborhoods, segregated schools, persistent inequality and disparate treatment.

And now a federal administration that exploits and encourages racism, as it did in Charlottesville when neo-Nazis marched and brazenly displayed their bigotry and hatred. And a president who appoints federal judges who can’t say whether the Brown decision was correctly decided in 1954.

Black Lives Matter. Colin Kaepernick was right. Symbolic statements and gestures matter but they don’t change injustice. We need change in enforcement.

We need a Justice Department committed to protecting the rights of all Americans and to defending the most vulnerable and to enforcing civil rights laws. We need a president who sets a moral example and stands forcefully against racism in word and deed.

Whoever is president creates a tone and climate that others take as a signal of what is appropriate.

Vote. Vote. Vote as if your life depends on it. It does. Vote for justice. Vote for decency. Vote to defend civil rights.