Archives for category: Race

The NYCLU just won a civil rights case in East Ramapo, New York, where all school board elections were at-large, guaranteeing that every member of the school board was elected by the tightly organized Orthodox Jewish community, whose children do not attend the public schools.

EAST RAMAPO – A federal court today ruled that the East Ramapo Central School District’s at-large method for school board elections denies Black and Latinx residents an equal opportunity to elect their preferred candidates under the federal Voting Rights Act. Judge Cathy Seibel of the Southern District of New York ordered the implementation of a ward system and enjoined the district from holding further elections until this system is in place.

The New York Civil Liberties Union and Latham & Watkins LLP brought the lawsuit against the district in November 2017 on behalf of the Spring Valley NAACP and seven Black and Latinx voters. At-large voting in East Ramapo, in which the entire district votes for all nine seats on the board, has enabled the district’s white majority to control the outcome of elections for every seat on the board for well over a decade. The white majority in East Ramapo lives in highly segregated neighborhoods and votes as a political bloc favoring the interests of private schools, which are almost exclusively white. Communities of color, on the other hand, tend to vote cohesively for candidates advocating for the interests of children attending East Ramapo’s public schools, whose student bodies are predominantly black and Latinx. East Ramapo’s minority voters, however, have not seen their candidates of choice win a contested seat since 2007. Plaintiffs have asked the court to institute a ward system for elections, in which voters will choose their representatives based on geographical districts at least some of which will contain a majority of black and Latinx residents.

“Today’s ruling at long last offers Black and Latinx residents of East Ramapo a fair shot at electing school board members who truly represent their interests,” said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman. “As this case showed, and the school board leadership was forced to admit at trial, the white private school community has hijacked the board and rigged its elections for years, while East Ramapo’s students of color have paid the price. Judge Seibel’s decision offers the district a path to represent the interests of the entire community fairly.”

“Our goal in this case was first and foremost to ensure the entire community of East Ramapo, not just a small group, received the full protection provided by Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act,” added Claudia Salomon, partner with Latham & Watkins LLP. “The ruling opens the door towards the establishment of a voting system that reflects the voices of all citizens of East Ramapo.”

More than 99 percent of East Ramapo Central School District’s 27,000 private school students are white, while 96 percent of the nearly 8,500 public school students are children of color. During the last decade, the East Ramapo Central School Board has cut more than 500 positions from the public schools, including 200 teachers, as well as all social workers, deans, and elementary school assistant principals. According to a December 2018 State Education Department Report, most of those positions have not been restored.

The Board’s cuts have led to a precipitous decline in school quality. In 2019, only 28 percent of students in grades 3-8 were proficient in English and only 24 percent are proficient in math, compared to 45 percent and 47 percent respectively of students statewide. Once regarded as a great school district, East Ramapo has consistently showed the lowest graduation rates and highest dropout rates in Rockland County in recent years, and underperformed against statewide schools. East Ramapo’s reputation is so damaged that in 2017, the adjacent Ramapo Central School District changed its name to the Suffern Central School District, distancing itself from its troubled neighbor.

“Judge Seibel’s decision represents a significant improvement for East Ramapo’s students and their families,” said Willie Trotman, President of the Spring Valley NAACP. “Although a majority of board members will still be elected by the district’s white voters, there will finally be an opportunity for people of color to elect candidates who will represent the needs of our communities of color for the first time in over a decade.”

Judge Seibel closed her opinion with a powerful statement that reflected the NAACP’s case: “This ruling may or may not change the way the schools in the District are run. But the purpose of Section 2 is not to produce any particular policy outcome. Rather, it is to ensure that every voter has equal access to the electoral process. For too long, black and Latino voters in the District have been frustrated in that most fundamental and precious endeavor. They, like their white neighbors, are entitled to have their voices heard.”

Attorneys on the case included Perry Grossman and Arthur Eisenberg of the New York Civil Liberties Union, and Claudia Salomon, Andrew Clubok, Corey Calabrese and Russell Mangas of Latham & Watkins LLPP.

Paul Tough has written several books, including most recently, “The Years That Matter Most: How College Makes or Breaks Us.” He also wrote a book about Geoffrey Canada and the Harlem Children’s Zone, and the best-selling “How Children Succeed.”

In this article in the New York Times, Tough explains that the decision by the University of California to drop the SAT may be the beginning of the end for that test. And it’s a good thing.

He writes:

If you’re a college student (or an aspiring one) from a financially struggling family, the coronavirus pandemic has brought with it a steady downpour of bad news: closed campuses, slashed financial-aid budgets and, coming soon, big cuts in state funding for public colleges and universities. But through these dark clouds one ray of more hopeful news has shone. Standardized admissions tests, which many aspiring low-income students see as the greatest barrier to their college goals, are being eliminated this spring as entrance requirements by one institution after another.

At first, the list of colleges deciding during the pandemic to go “test-optional” (meaning that applicants can choose whether or not to submit test scores) included mostly small private institutions — Williams, Amherst, Tufts, Vassar — and the decisions were often presented merely as temporary changes or pilot projects.

But last week brought much bigger news: Janet Napolitano, the president of the University of California, recommended to the system’s Board of Regents that the entire U.C. system go test-optional for the next two years, followed by two years during which the university would become not just test-optional but “test-blind.” In 2023 and 2024, Ms. Napolitano proposed, Berkeley and U.C.L.A. and every other U.C. school wouldn’t consider SAT or ACT scores at all in their admissions decisions.

The university administration, Ms. Napolitano explained, would spend these years trying to come up with its own better and fairer standardized admission test. If it failed, U.C. wouldn’t go back to accepting the SAT and ACT; instead, it would eliminate the consideration of standardized tests in admissions for California students once and for all.

This was a sweeping proposal, especially for such an influential institution as the University of California. And what was so surprising about Ms. Napolitano’s recommendations — which will be put to a vote by the Board of Regents on Thursday — was that they came less than a month after the university’s faculty senate had unanimously accepted the report of a task force supporting the continued use of the tests and proposing to keep them in place for at least the next nine years.

If the Regents concur with Ms. Napolitano this week, it will be a crucial turning point in a national debate about standardized testing that has been going on for decades. Do standardized tests help smart, underprivileged college applicants? Or do they hurt them?

Proponents of standardized tests often make the case that the tests are the least unfair measure in a deeply unfair system. It’s certainly true that the system is unfair from start to finish. Rich kids enjoy advantages over poor kids that begin in prenatal yoga sessions and continue through summer tennis camps, after-school robotics classes and high-priced college-essay coaching sessions. But the data show that standardized tests don’t level that playing field; they skew it even further.

The best predictor of college success overall is a simple one: high school grades. This makes a certain sense. An impressive high school G.P.A. reflects a combination of innate talent and dedicated hard work, and that’s exactly what you need to excel in college. And while standardized test scores have long been found to be highly correlated with students’ financial status, that’s much less true with high school G.P.A. In a recent study, Saul Geiser, a researcher at Berkeley, found that the correlation between family income and SAT scores among University of California applicants is three times as strong as the correlation between their family income and their high school G.P.A.

You can see the same pattern when you look at applicants by race. When Mr. Geiser used high school G.P.A. to identify the top 10 percent of Californians applying for admission to the U.C. system, 23 percent of the pool was black or Latino. When he used SAT scores to identify the top 10 percent, 5 percent was black or Latino.

Here’s another way to look at the numbers: The students who are most likely to benefit from any university’s decision to eliminate the use of standardized tests are those who have high G.P.A.s in high school but comparatively low standardized test scores. These are, by definition, hard-working and diligent students, but they don’t perform as well on standardized tests. Let’s call them the strivers.

A few years ago, researchers with the College Board, the organization that administers the SAT, analyzed students in that cohort and compared them with their mirror opposites: those with relatively high test scores and relatively low high school G.P.A.s. Let’s call them the slackers: self-assured test takers who for one reason or another didn’t put as much effort into high school.

The College Board’s researchers made two important discoveries about these groups. First, there were big demographic differences between them. The slackers with the elevated SAT scores were much more likely to be white, male and well-off. And the strivers with the elevated high school G.P.A.s were much more likely to be female, black or Latina, and working-class or poor.

The researchers’ second discovery was that students in the striver cohort, despite their significant financial disadvantages, actually did a bit better in college. They had slightly higher freshman grades and slightly better retention rates than the more affluent, higher-scoring slackers.

Despite the persistent and compelling evidence that standardized tests penalize low-income students, a lot of us want to believe the opposite: that standardized tests are the tool that can help selective colleges pluck brilliant low-income students out of low-performing high schools. These Cinderella stories do sometimes happen, and when they do, they’re inspiring. But these anecdotal exceptions are overwhelmed by the experience of a large majority of ambitious low-income students, for whom standardized tests have the opposite effect: They construct a wall that separates them from prestigious universities, a wall with a narrow doorway that only well-off kids seem to know how to squeeze through.

If the Board of Regents approves Ms. Napolitano’s recommendations, it won’t get rid of all the structural barriers standing in the way of California’s striving low-income students. Not by a long shot. But it will have taken an important step toward making that wall a little lower and that doorway a little wider.

This is a tragic story. A 30-year-old woman, the first in her family to go to college, felt sick and sought testing in Brooklyn. Both times she was rejected. The hospital gave her Tylenol and sent her home. She died of COVID-19.

Rana Zoe Mungin was a black woman. Was she brushed off because of her race?

She must have been a remarkable young woman. She was a graduate of Wellesley College, where admission is highly selective, and UMass at Amherst.

The president of Wellesley, who is also black and is a physician, said that the death of Ms. Mungin highlights racial disparities in access to care.

Rana Zoe Mungin, a graduate of both Wellesley College and UMass Amherst, died Monday from complications associated with COVID-19. On two occasions prior to her death, her family said, Mungin went to a hospital seeking a coronavirus test but was unable to get one.

As the first member of her family to attend college, Rana Zoe Mungin quickly stood out for her work on race and class.

At Wellesley College, where she majored in psychology, she wrote about her family, and her upbringing in Brooklyn. At UMass Amherst, where she later studied creative writing, those at the school said her work added to the national discourse about institutional racism within MFA programs.

And so when Mungin, 30, died Monday from COVID-19 complications — after, her family said, she was twice denied coronavirus tests during trips to a Brooklyn hospital — some who knew her saw a tragic irony: The very biases that Mungin, who was Black, sought to bring attention to in her work ultimately played a role in her death, they say.

The circumstances surrounding her death have left those who knew her reeling. Though her sister believes the doctors and nurses who eventually treated Mungin did the best they could with the resources they had, she is also left to wonder whether earlier testing would’ve resulted in earlier treatment — and a different outcome.

“I felt like she had no fighting chance,” said Mia Mungin, who works as a registered nurse in Brooklyn, in an interview Thursday.

“Rana Zoe’s battle with coronavirus unfortunately sheds light on the systems of racial, gendered, and class bias — entrenched power dynamics — that she sought to expose and change in her work,” read a statement this week released by the English department at UMass Amherst, where Mungin earned her master of fine arts in creative writing in 2015.

“The dismissal of her symptoms is a register of the long history of economic and racial barriers to healthcare faced by Black women in this country.”

Dr. Paula Johnson, president of Wellesley College and a former chief of the division of women’s health at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, said that Mungin’s experience highlights the longstanding disparities that exist when it comes to minorities’ ability to access health care — and the manner in which they’re treated once they’re there.

“This is historic — we have data points overall for many years, and I think this pandemic has really brought to light these disparities in the most profound way,” said Johnson, who also is Black. “Here’s a young woman, a teacher, and she can not get the care she needs.”

COVID-19 death rates in communities of color have been vastly higher than overall mortality rates in many cities. Black people in New York have been twice as likely to die as white people; and at one point earlier this month, Black people in Chicago reportedly made up nearly 70 percent of the city’s coronavirus-related deaths, despite making up just 30 percent of the population.

Mungin, who worked as a social studies teacher in Brooklyn, was hospitalized in New York. But in Massachusetts, where data on the race and ethnicity of those who’ve died has been spotty — the ethnicity of half of the state’s 3,562 deaths is unknown — Black and Hispanic people have made up about 22 percent of the deaths for which race and ethnicity is known. That’s about the same percentage the groups represent in the population of Massachusetts.

But Black and Hispanic people also make up a disproportionate share of the confirmed COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in the state — roughly 40 percent of cases and 33 percent of hospitalizations for which race and ethnicity data is available…

According to her sister, Mungin visited Brookdale Hospital in Brooklyn on two separate occasions between March 15 and March 19 with fever, chills, and shortness of breath. On both occasions, Mia Mungin said, her sister was told that the hospital wasn’t conducting COVID-19 testing.

Prior to one visit, her sister said, an EMT suggested Mungin was simply suffering from a panic attack.

“What they did was give her some Tylenol and sent her home,” said Mia Mungin.

On March 20, after her symptoms worsened, Mungin returned to the hospital for a third time, this time by ambulance. The following day, according to her sister, she finally received a test for the virus — which came back positive.

Brookdale Hospital did not immediately return an email seeking comment.

Andre Perry led a charter chain in New Orleans. He became disillusioned. As a black scholar, he questions the Walton-funded effort to portray black support for charters as monolithic, which it is not. 

Perry wrote in response to the controversy that occurred when pro-charter demonstrators disrupted a speech by Elizabeth Warren in Atlanta. He is aware of the white Republican money behind the demand for more charters.

He wrote:

Warren needs to learn from black voices — but the charter school movement is not ours to defend.

Organizations such as the charter school advocacy group Families for Excellent Schools have orchestrated statewide campaigns using dark money to influence state ballots to increase the number of charter schools, hiding who’s actually behind the movement. The Associated Press reported in December 2018 that an advocacy group that received $1.5 million from the Walton Family Foundation, one of the biggest funders of education reform, paid for 150, mostly black parents from Memphis to travel to Cincinnati two years prior to protest at a meeting of the NAACP. The parents sought to lobby against an NAACP proposal — which the organization passed despite the protests — to call for a moratorium on charter schools. They denied that the Walton Family Foundation asked them to carry out the protest.

This political season, black people cannot afford to be human shields for white leaders who don’t have the legitimacy to enter black communities on their own.

Perry notes that most Democratic candidates, notably Sanders and Warren, have abandoned charters.

He writes:

This reversal of position by Democrats is a sign that members of the party are listening to black communities….

Over the course of more than two decades, charter school expansion resulted in a significant loss in black-held jobs and a reduction in black political power in several black-majority cities. Black teachers were fired en masse in New Orleans, Washington D.C., and Newark, N.J., decimating the black middle class there.

Hundreds of millions of dollars directed towards electing pro-charter candidates ultimately empowered Republicans in many states. The pro-charter group Students First realized that its funding of Republican candidates had backfired. The association of the charter cause with the Republic party lead to the defeat of pro-charter proposals. Democratic voters showed they will not support movements that bolster the Republican Party — the same party that refuses to check Trump’s blatant racism. Democrats who support the idea of charter schools should make it clear to Republicansthat they will not tolerate a charter system that offers improved academic performance for some black students only by harming the communities in which those students live.

However, Democrat reformers developed a bad habit of accepting this Faustian bargain, and staying silent in red states on issues like jail expansion, cuts to higher education and attacks on organized labor because dissent ran the risk of slowing the proliferation of charters. Yes, black families want and need choice, but the current charter school movement is too tightly braided with Republican causes; a defense of one is a defense of the other.

To embrace charter schools in 2020 is to embrace Betsy DeVos, Donald Trump and other Republicans who stand to gain more politically from charter support than black communities have gained in jobs and educational benefits. Black kids lose when Democratic educational reformers act like Republicans.

Perry quotes the EdNext poll, noting that the publication is “pro-reform.” It is more accurate to acknowledge that EdNext (on whose board I once served) is a very conservative, pro-charter, pro-voucher publication funded by rightwing foundations. Frankly, polls about charters are worthless because most people admit when asked that they aren’t sure what a “charter school” is. If they don’t know what a charter school is, how can their view—positive or negative—signify anything?

Perry is right to point out that the Dark Money behind charters has a different agenda than most black parents. The Waltons and DeVos and their allies in ALEC want to bust teachers’ unions and privatize public schools. Perry is right to peer behind the curtain and see whose interest is served by the well-funded attacks on public schools.

He writes:

The funders of charter schools continuously put black parents and teachers in the position of fighting against their own interests. White-led philanthropy and education groups will eventually abandon public policy experiments when it is no longer popular, politically expedient or, in some cases, lucrative. For-profit charters are in education ostensibly for the money.

Some black charter leaders feel they must defend the schools because black children attend them. But we don’t need to fall into that trap. We can defend black children and workers without defending charter schools. Black people need systemic change. We can’t allow the cry for charters to drown out the demands for school financing reform, better work conditions, higher teacher pay, universal pre-K, free college, teachers’ training and recruitment programs, stronger labor protections and workforce housing initiatives.


A friend share this link about a program in which the United Negro College Fund is funded by the far-right Walton Family Foundation to give summer internships to young African Americans to work in organizations that undermine public education, unions, and the teaching profession. The purpose of the program is to build a “robust pipeline of African Americans engaged in education reform in America.”

All of the summer interns will serve with trusted arms of the ultra-conservative movement.

Summer Internship – One of the principal elements of the paid summer internship program that exposes fellows to professional careers at leading K-12 education organizations and schools focused on education reform. Specifically, fellows are deployed as interns to organizations and schools located in such cities as Boston, New York, Washington, DC, Atlanta, New Orleans, Chicago, Indianapolis, Memphis and Nashville. Examples of internship host organizations include Teach for America, New Schools Venture Fund, Paul Public Charter School, BUILD, Black Alliance for Educational Options, Thomas B. Fordham Research Institute and Stand for Children. During their internships, fellows apply what they have learned, acquire new skills, gain an understanding of the professional needs of education reform organizations and make meaningful contributions.

You can be certain that none of these bright young people will be assigned as interns at the NAACP, which called for a moratorium on charter schools in 2016.

Nor will any be detailed to work for Journey for Justice, a grassroots civil rights group that fights for democratically controlled community public schools.

Nor do I expect that any will have a chance to learn about the Walton assault on public education by spending a summer as an intern for the Network for Public Education.

They are not likely to have the chance to offer their services at any of the scores of local and state organizations that are fighting the power of billionaires like the Waltons and could really use their help.

Instead they will be trained up by the faithful servants of the privatizers and the oligarchy.


I just finished reading Noliwe Rooks’ superb book, Cutting School: Privatization, Segregation, and the End of Public Education (The New Press). Please buy a copy and read it. It is a powerful analysis of racism, segregation, poverty, the history of Black education (and miseducation), and their relationship to the current movement to privatize public education. She dissects the profitable business of segregation.

You will learn how cleverly the captains of finance and industry have managed to ignore the root causes of inequality of educational opportunity while profiting from the dire straits of poor children of color. In fact, as she shows, financiers and philanthropists have used and misused Black children throughout our history, for their own benefit and glory, not the children’s.

The book is both highly contemporary and at the same time, probably the best history of Black education that I have read. Rooks understands that the fight for equality runs through the schoolhouse door, and she documents how white elites have managed to block access, narrow access, or literally steal from Black families trying to gain access to high-quality education. She knows that charter schools and vouchers are a sorry substitute for real solutions. She understands that the rise of the profit-driven education industry has benefited the profiteers far more than the Black children they claim to be “saving.” “Saving poor kids from failing schools” turns out to be a lucrative business, though not for the kids.

Rooks invents a new term to describe the current “reform” movement: Segrenomics. In her telling, a sizable number of entrepreneurs and foundations, and organizations like Teach for America, have enriched themselves while advertising their passion for equity. Segregation and poverty have given them a purpose, multiple enterprises, career paths, and profit.

My copy of the book is covered with underlinings, stars, asterisks, and other notations, as is my way when I become enthusiastic while reading.

She bluntly states, “The road necessarily traveled to achieve freedom and equality in the United States leads directly through public education…Schools that educate the wealthy have generally had decent buildings, money for materials, a coherent curriculum, and well-trained teachers. Schools that educate poorer students and those of color too often have decrepit buildings, no funds for quality instructional materials, and little input in structure or purpose of the curriculum, and they make do with the best teachers they can find.” Differences based on class and color have been a constant in American history, and they remain so today.

She notes the rise of the for-profit industry in education, now associated with charter schools, cybercharters, and other forms of school choice. The new for-profit arrangement, which she calls “segrenomics, is “the business of profiting specifically from high levels of racial and economic segregation…The desire that some have to profit from racial and economic segregation in education, coupled with the active desire members of segregated communities of color have for quality education, has led to our current moment where quality education is for some a distant mirage, and the promise to provide it is profitable for others.”

Rooks was director of the African American studies program at Princeton University for a decade and is now director of graduate Africana studies at Cornell University. She interacted frequently with idealistic elite white college students who could not understand her skepticism about the “reform movement.”

Rooks describes the past thirty years as an era when “government, philanthropy, business, and financial sectors have heavily invested in efforts to privatize certain segments of public education; stock schools with inexperienced, less highly paid teachers whose hiring often provides companies with a ‘finders’ fee’; outsource the running of schools to management organizations; and propose virtual schools as a literal replacement for—not just a supplement to-the brick and mortar education experience. The attraction, of course, is the large pot of education dollars that’s been increasingly available to private corporate financial interests…Charter schools, charter management organizations, vouchers, virtual schools, and an alternatively certified, non-unionized teaching force represent the bulk of the contemporary solutions offered as cures for what ails communities that are upward of 80 percent Black or Latino.” Such policies are never prescribed for affluent white communities, she notes.

She suggests that those who seek to profit from racial and economic segregation should be penalized. Without a real and meaningful penalty, the profit-seekers will continue business as usual.

The fundamental argument of her book is that public education for Native American, Black, Latino, and poor youth is being purposefully unraveled, while wealthy elites are plundering the money that should have been spent on their education.

Rooks recounts the history of Teach for America, which had its beginnings at Princeton University. Wendy Kopp had an idea, visited corporate chieftains, raised money, created a powerful board of directors, and started an enterprise that became fabulously wealthy. Rooks observes that she didn’t spend time talking to the students or parents or the communities that she planned to save. TFA created a career path for idealistic and ambitious elite college graduates, who wanted to try their hand at teaching without committing to it as a professional obligation. TFA offered more benefits to those who joined it, she writes, than to those it claimed it wanted to “save.” It provided a resume builder and an entrée into powerful financial and political networks.

She analyzes a number of well-known “reform” organizations, not only TFA, but Democrats for Educational Reform and Students for Educational Reform. The latter was also founded at Princeton, by students who realized that their venture was so lucrative, so swaddled in grants from foundations, that they dropped out of college to tend to the millions heaped upon them. Helping poor children, it turned out, was indeed a rewarding business. She sees TFA, DFER, and SFER through the lens of segrenomics, business ventures that depended on “saving” poor children without disrupting the institutional and systemic roots of poverty and racism that engulf the world in which they live. She calls out “reformers” for their insistence that they could safely ignore segregation or poverty, because their aspirations alone would be enough to “fix” the lives of poor children.

Her richly documented history of Black education in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries is fascinating. In the nineteenth century, most Blacks lived in the South, and the whites who controlled the segregated South did as little as they could get away with to educate Black children. Some opposed doing so, while others thought that Blacks should be equipped with no more than basic literacy and vocational training so that they could contribute to the economy, albeit as manual workers. In the main, the Northern philanthropists adjusted their ideals to the white Southerners’ low esteem for people of color. The philanthropists contributed money to build schools for Black children, but required impoverished Black communities to raise matching funds if they wanted a school. Given the desperate poverty of those communities, raising the matching funds required enormous sacrifice. In one of the most moving passages in the book, she describes a 1925 meeting in a small rural town in Alabama, where a Black representative of the Rockefellers’ General Education Board met with the sharecroppers to discuss raising money to build a school. The representative wrote to his supervisors that “’one old man, who had seen slavery days, with all of his life’s earnings in an old greasy sack, slowly drew it from his pocket, and emptied it on the table.’ He then turned to address the crowd and said, ‘I want to see the children of my grandchildren have a chance, and so I am giving my all.’ What he had to offer was $10. The sum total he had been able to save throughout the totality of his life.’” The assembled crowd raised $1,300 that night and eventually contributed $6,500 to match the gift of the Rockefellers.

As I read this, I felt a mix of emotions. Tremendous sadness but also rage at the Rockefellers, who could have just opened their wallets and given the community the school they so desperately wanted and needed without demanding such sacrifice. The foundation officer who read this account from Alabama must have had a heart of stone. The same stories about penurious philanthropists were repeated across the South, where local white officials typically diverted (stole) money meant for Black education and reapportioned it to white schools.

I have read other histories of Black education, but none that so deftly tied together the past and the present. The term “segrenomics” aptly captures the financiers’ fascination with “helping” black children but avoiding any change in the social policies that might lift their families out of poverty and promote genuine integration. The fact that philanthropists today eagerly underwrite segregated charter schools and insist that TFA  or merit pay or standardized tests can cure poverty represents continuity with their nineteenth century counterparts.

Rooks brings valuable historical, sociological, and philosophical insight into contemporary debates. Her analysis echoes the argument made by Anand Giriharadas in his bookWinners Take All: when the wealthiest elites claim that they are “saving” the world, beware. They are actually protecting the status quo and their own dominant position in society.

You will enjoy watching this YouTube video in which Professor Rooks explains her views about education reform, elite white students, and the lingo of reform. 


Wendy Lecker is a civil rights lawyer who writes frequently for the Stamford Advocate in Connecticut.

In this article, she reviews Eve L. Ewing’s marvelous book Ghosts in the Schoolyard.

I finished it a few days ago and can testify that it is a very important book. It is a powerful account of the 2013 mass school closings in Chicago.

Lecker writes:

The increase in racist attacks and voter suppression across the country prompts many whites to claim that this ugliness is “not who we are” as Americans. Sadly, these events merely reinforce how pervasive racism is in American society and policy.

A new book, “Ghosts in the Schoolyard: Racism and School Closings on Chicago’s South Side,” describes how African-American communities experience education reform policies, particularly school closures, in the context of the history of racial segregation and discrimination in Chicago. The author, Eve Ewing, is a professor at the University of Chicago, and a graduate of and former teacher in the Chicago public schools.

In 2013, Mayor Rahm Emmanuel’s administration closed 49 schools, on the pretext that the schools had low test scores and were “under-utilized.” The closures disproportionately affected African-American students in the intensely segregated district.

The questionable standard used to determine “under-utilization” was large class size — 30 children per class. When predominately white Chicago neighborhoods suffered large population declines, CPS never considered school closures there. CPS claimed it would send students to “better” schools, but the receiving schools had test scores just a few points above those slated for closure. From 2000 to 2015, CPS closed 125 neighborhood schools in communities of color, while opening 149 charter schools and selective admission public schools.

“I feel like I’m at a slave auction … Because I’m like, begging you to keep my family together. Don’t take them and separate them.”

This plea was uttered by a Chicago public school principal at one of the public hearings in 2013. Professor Ewing reviewed the testimony of the throngs of community members who came out to oppose gutting their schools. The schools, which had educated generations of the same families, were community institutions. Parents, teachers and students described them as families that provided continuity and stability for the entire neighborhood.

The analogy to a slave auction was not far-fetched. As Ewing notes, “the intentional disruption of the African-American family has been a primary tool of white supremacy.” In Chicago, this is not the first time African-American communities were torn apart by government policy. Wooed to the north by labor recruiters during the great migration, African-Americans were confined to one neighborhood, eventually dubbed Bronzeville, by violence, restrictive covenants and, later, housing policy. The community turned this forcibly segregated neighborhood into a vibrant place — a hub for music and the arts. Public housing policies favored families. Consequently, Bronzeville had a dense concentration of children. Local officials refused to integrate schools, so these children attended predominately African-American neighborhood public schools. Moreover, CPS consistently failed to invest in these segregated schools. Despite local activism and federal intervention over the years, Chicago has done little to address school or residential segregation.

In the late 1990s, Chicago demolished much of Bronzeville’s public housing, ousting many of its residents. Parents who were able sent children to live with relatives who remained in Bronzeville in order to preserve vital school relationships. As Ewing observes, the loss of student population in Bronzeville was the result of overt government policy.

To Bronzeville residents, the 2013 round of school closures was the continuation of a pattern of segregation, displacement and underfunding by Chicago officials. One resident described CPS’s attitude as “I poured gasoline on your house and then it’s your fault it’s on fire.”

There is extensive evidence showing that the 2013 Chicago school closings diminished educational opportunities for the children whose schools closed. Ewing demonstrates that the accompanying loss of relationships, identity and sense of history was just as devastating. The community mourned lost connections with teachers, staff, students, and something larger. Ewing details some of the personalities behind the names of the closed schools — notable African-American professionals from the same community. As one student noted, “That’s how you get black history to go away. Closing schools (especially those named for prominent African-Americans).” In the rare instance where a school slated for closure, Dyett High School, was saved after a community-wide hunger strike, a student declared that “(w)e value our education more because of what people sacrificed.”

“Ghosts in the Schoolyard” illustrates how supposedly objective metrics officials use to judge a school’s quality and fate are far from neutral and fail to account for a host of considerations critical to the community affected. As Ewing concludes, if we fail to consider history, community, race, power and identity when framing and investigating the problems facing our public schools, we will fail to find solutions that serve the best interests of children and communities.

Wendy Lecker is a columnist for the Hearst Connecticut Media Group and is senior attorney at the Education Law Center.

This is a useful summary by the National Education Policy Center that demonstrates the connections among poverty, race, and college preparatory courses.

It shows the proportion of students from different racial and ethnic groups enrolled in high-poverty and low-poverty schools, and how the poverty of the students is related to college-prep course offerings.

Pete Tucker, a writer in Washington, D.C., writes about a peculiar phenomenon: Opinion polls consistently underrate candidates who are progressive and who are black or Hispanic.

Predicting the winner (falsely) and underreporting the support for a candidate is a form of voter suppression, he writes.

Ayanna Pressley, a progressive African American congressional candidate from Boston, was predicted to lose by 13 points in the Democratic primary, but she won by 18 points. In the primary for a New York congressional seat, the final poll showed Latina socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez trailing the Democratic incumbent by 36 points; she won by 15 points. In Georgia, polls showed gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, the African American former minority leader of the State House of Representatives, well ahead in the Democratic primary, but nowhere near the 53 points she won by.

In Florida, the nation’s third largest state, polls for the Democratic gubernatorial primary showed Andrew Gillum, the progressive African American mayor of Tallahassee, finishing fourth, with around 12 percent of the vote. But Gillum won 34 percent of the vote, nearly three times what most polls had him at, and captured the nomination.

Then there’s Maryland, where the Democratic gubernatorial primary was supposed to be neck-and-neck, but the more progressive candidate, Ben Jealous, walked away with it, beating his chief challenger by over 10 points and taking all but two counties.

While primaries are difficult to predict, today’s polls are not just failing, they seem to be doing so in a way that makes progressive candidates of color appear to have less support than they do.

These polling errors are far from harmless. Faulty polls can turn into real losses by suppressing both votes and funding. It’s not hard to see why: Who is excited to back a sure-loser? This applies to potential voters, who are more likely to stay home on election day if their preferred candidate has no shot, as well as to potential donors, who would rather support a winner.

A reader, Joel Schwartz, sent this article as a comment.

It is based on Karen Ferguson’s book Top Down: The Ford Foundation, Black Power, and the Reinvention of Racial Liberalism.

Ferguson tells the remarkable story of the Ford Foundation’s decision to become a funder of the community control movement in the battle over the future of the New York City public schools in 1967-1969. As she explains, Ford was The Establishment; it was the Gates Foundation of its time. Yet it decided to align with the Black Power movement and to cast itself as anti-establishment and anti-professional.

The events she describes were the start of my professional life.

I was an unofficial advisor to Preston Wilcox, a black social worker who was one of the leaders of the community control movement in Harlem (his organization was called Afram). Tagging along with him, I attended many of the meetings with community activists concerned about the new I.S. 201 in Harlem. I later worked for the Carnegie Corporation as an hourly employee, writing about the three demonstration districts at the heart of the teachers’ strike, which lasted for two full months in 1968.

It was during these tumultuous events that I began to write about the New York City schools. One of my first articles was about the role of the elitist Ford Foundation; the article was titled “Playing God in the Ghetto.”

I won’t go into all the details here, but the teachers’ strikes of 1967-68 inspired me to write my first book, which was published in 1974, called The Great School Wars: New York City, 1805-1973. Many others have been written since then about those crisis-ridden years. They left a deep imprint on me.

Those events continue to resonate today for many people, for different reasons.

Ferguson’s focus on the Ford Foundation’s role is refreshing. I haven’t read the book yet, but intend to do so.