CHICAGO, IL - AUGUST 28:  Chicago Police Sgt. Alan Lasch watches as students arrive at Laura Ward Elementary School on the Westside on August 28, 2013 in Chicago, Illinois. Lasch was posted at the school along with other police officers and city workers to provide "safe passage" to students walking to the school. The Safe Passage program was started because parents were worried about their children’s safety while they walked to school across gang boundaries after the city closed 49 elementary schools and moved the students to nearby schools.  (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Whatever title they hold – school resource officers, school safety agents or school police – the presence of law enforcement officers in K-12 public schools is a growing and, for some, disconcerting trend. In writing about school discipline this issue quickly began to assume outsize importance. With thousands of sworn law-enforcement officers now posted at U.S. public schools, social-justice activists, community leaders and parents are questioning the effect on campus culture.

Excerpt:

“The original point of SROs was to give young people the opportunity to interact with [police] officers in a positive way, and there is some reason to think this can be accomplished in some places,” said Emily Owens, a criminology professor at the University of Pennsylvania. “But of course, having an officer means that there will be an increased likelihood that law enforcement is involved in what would otherwise be a disciplinary event.”

While law enforcement’s presence at schools is hardly a new phenomenon, its value and purpose has lately grown especially contentious. As police officers, those engaged in school-based law-enforcement are, in a way, “beat cops” who are often called on to serve as school disciplinarian. And some experts and juvenile-justice advocates cite systemic educational risks when police patrol school hallways. A report published by the Justice Policy Institute in 2011, “Education Under Arrest: The Case Against Police in Schools,” concludes that placing SROs and other police in educational institutions exaggerates how school misbehavior, much of it involving minor infractions, is interpreted—to the extent that such activities can be treated as criminal offenses.

Read more.

(Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Produced by YWCA Madison

School discipline reform is gaining traction in cities – Los Angeles, New York, Miami, to name a few – and states like California and Maryland. Suspended students lose millions of days of instruction and exclusionary discipline has other negative consequences. Urged on by activists and civil rights groups, a growing number of school districts and states are moving from zero tolerance to restorative justice. This week at The Atlantic I look at the status of some new policies and legislation on school discipline and how things are shaking out in the effort to close the discipline gap.

Excerpt:

“We go to schools where there are more SSAs than guidance counselors. For us, it makes us feel that they expect us to end up in jail rather than in college,” said Rodriguez, 17. “I’ve been to public school my whole life. I’ve experienced the school-to-prison pipeline”—a term commonly used to describe the trend in which largely disadvantaged students are funneled into the criminal-justice system—“and criminalization (of students). And I’ve questioned why all of these things happen to our communities.”

Policymakers and educators, among others, are beginning to question the harsh discipline policies and practices that have in recent decades became popular in certain districts, too. Research shows that the reliance on punitive school discipline like suspensions, expulsions, and school arrests—“school pushout”—deprives students of learning time and takes the greatest toll on nonwhite students, students with disabilities, LGBT youth and other vulnerable student groups. Suspensions can even harm the education of non-misbehaving students, according to some research.

Read more.

(Photo: YWCA Madison)

 

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Continuing my strong interest in how race and education intersect, my latest at The Atlantic explores a heretofore overlooked viewpoint on why we need more teachers of color, specifically considering the perspective of white students. We live in a diverse country – a country that is rapidly becoming majority people of color. We need to disrupt this pernicious cycle and improve the ability of white students to form diverse relationships and connections.

Excerpt:

The societal advantages of more teachers of color become clearer when considering the racial socialization—or the processes by which people develop their ethnic identities—of white adults, including the parents who may stumble in communicating racial understanding to their children. A Public Religion Research Institute study on “American Values” circulated last summer, following the shooting in Ferguson, showed that 75 percent of white Americans have all-white social networks. This self-segregation could help explain the racial divide over Michael Brown’s death and why it was seemingly so hard for many whites to understand what transpired in Ferguson: Their worldview was restricted to mostly white friends and family. And in a 2014 study researchers found that “the messages that white teens received [from parents regarding race] were contradictory and incomplete,” concluding that schools are a crucial link in building “productive and genuine relationships” between whites and people of color.

Read more on how nonwhite educators can offer new and valuable perspectives for children of all backgrounds.

(Photo by Eastern Michigan University)

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In my school district we’re less than a month away from the first day of school. As I oversee the annual ritual known as “Finish your summer packet or else” I’m also beginning to see the annual resurgence of back-to-school articles. Which sparked this quick post, because what’s the use of having a blog if not to serve as a vehicle for my musings and such.

Back-to-school stories abound. New laptops, Common Core, cost of back-to-school school supplies, and teachers’ tales of heading back to the classroom are typical favorites when other education stories rarely see the light. Here are two that easily come to mind:

School segregation: Nikole Hannah-Jones has returned to the topic she expertly covered on the anniversary of Brown v Board of Education, exploring in The New York Times Magazine how segregation is the continuing tragedy in Michael Brown’s school district one year after his death. This issue is one that adversely impacts school districts across the country. There is little political will to address this situation, and education reporters can bring attention to this through more consistent coverage like Jones exhibits. To paraphrase an Economic Policy Institute report, commentators (and reporters!) can’t continue to write ad nauseum about the “achievement gap” and quote education policymakers citing education as “civil rights issue of our time” and not spotlight the racial isolation of Black students (and other students of color) in public schools.

Homeless students: Like a recent NPR story out of Florida, periodically stories appear on local school districts working to identify and help homeless students. These are feel-good and pleasant. What doesn’t get enough ink is that federal law requires specific services be provided to students without a stable home. The McKinney-Vento Act, which oversees such regulations, mandates that states and school districts register homeless students for school without delay, provide transportation, and deliver other services that are routinely ignored. Education policymakers can’t eradicate homelessness, but education reporters can ensure they are held responsible for providing homeless children with the support they need.

As an education writer I choose to focus on how education intersects with issues of race, culture, gender, and class because this is an area that is undercovered and often misunderstood. I’m not seeking clones, but it would be nice to see more conscientious and painstaking education reporting that carves a new path rather than follows the same, well-worn template.

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Today a new website launched, with the mission “to lead an honest, fact-based conversation about how to give America’s 74 million children…the education they deserve.”

So please allow me to offer an “honest, fact-based” look at this new education endeavor. And why it’s decidedly wack. [Look it up if you don’t know the term. Consider it an invitation to grow your vocabulary.]

The majority of students now in public schools aren’t white. Based on demographic trends, the fastest-growing groups in U.S. public schools for many years to come will not be white. The racial and ethnic gap – more like a crater – between students of color and their teachers is a well-worn topic. Many including myself have noted the disparity, and the necessity for more teachers of color is apparent.

Now comes The Seventy Four to remind us that it’s not just the teachers in public education that are blindingly white – so are the voices trying “to lead…conversation” in education. These are the so-called experts who will hold two forums with presidential candidates for both major political parties, taking their temperature on what education in America should look like and how it should perform.

Of the staff at The Seventy Four with “Director”, “Editor” or some indication of management in their title, none are perceptible people of color. Of the Board of Directors, the same percentage applies. For those who might ask “Why does this matter?” you’re the reason why this erasure of voices of color, with a handful of notable exceptions, has been the way of education leadership for so many years. Ideology aside – be it reformers, traditionalists or the newest label du jour – it’s white people doing white things and having white brainstorms about nonwhite children and schools.

Who among us thinks Campbell Brown and her cohort are looking to “overhaul” schools in wealthy white suburbs. Or will The Seventy Four stake their claim speaking for students of color, parents of color, communities of color … racial and ethnic groups they wish to lavish with benevolence, but who are not sufficiently capable of serving on The Seventy Four’s Board or serving in high-ranking positions on its staff.

The Seventy Four is just the latest example of whitewashing in education newsgathering. Coming on the heels of The Grade, offering “praise and criticism” on education journalism through the categorically white lens of five white education journalists who serve as the blog’s advisors. Colorblindness is racism. And colorblind education leadership is an insult and a disgrace. Racial and ethnic representation matters.

As a parent of color, spare me your imperialistic colonialism. People of color in this country have a long, sordid history of white people speaking for us and acting on our behalf. We’re not three-fifths of a human being any longer. We can speak, think and act for ourselves.

Here’s my “honest, fact-based” conclusion: Rather than the new kid on the block, The Seventy Four is looking more like the same old, tired retread.

 

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The concepts contained in words like ‘freedom,’, ‘justice,’ ‘democracy’ are not common concepts; on the contrary, they are rare. People are not born knowing what these are. It takes enormous and, above all, individual effort to arrive at the respect for other people that these words imply.
–James Baldwin, “The Crusade of Indignation

Thomas Jefferson’s first draft of the Declaration of Independence denounced slavery as a “cruel war against human nature.” Mind you this rousing language was written by a man who owned slaves. Anyway, Jefferson’s paragraph on slavery never made it into the final Declaration of Independence because slave-owning delegates from the South and delegates with business ties to the slave trade from the North debated Jefferson’s passage and stripped this language.

Let’s just stipulate for the record that America’s Independence Day – celebrating “freedom” and “democracy” – is rife with hypocrisy and cowardly logic. Frederick Douglass peeped it and called it out in 1852. All of this history is an interesting sidebar to fully grasping what occurred last weekend as a room of about 7,000 educators in Florida tried to reconcile their principles with their practices.

The nation’s largest teachers union on July 3 unanimously approved a measure to combat institutional racism, “taking a historically bold stand against racism and hate.” Channeling the country’s Founding Father, Thomas Jefferson, it was a powerful moment of righteousness and justice. But like Baldwin noted, true justice requires “enormous…individual effort” and like the delegates to the Constitutional Convention, the NEA delegates on July 4, 2015 came up short.

First up was an item calling on NEA to “support…efforts to remove the Confederate flag and other symbols of the Confederacy from public schools and public spaces.” The ensuing debate reminded me of a game of Twister. Clutching and grabbing at any excuse not to ban the Confederate flag and racist symbols that glorify slavery and oppression – while looking desperately for a comfortable and steady position to land.

Some of those in attendance, and some watching online, had profound observations. Like Baldwin’s essay, so clear and uncomplicated.

After about a two hour debate “and other symbols of the Confederacy” was stricken from the item. A great public school for every student is the Association’s vision – though if you’re one of the thousands of Black students forced to attend a school honoring racist leaders, it might not be so great. Oh well.

Over the next couple days the assembled educators flirted between flashes of consciousness and backpedaling from / equivocating on actions that would show their institutional racism vote signaled a new way of thinking and doing. Based on the NEA’s elected representatives who gathered in Orlando, the jury is out on whether the union can “move to confront racism” and “demand changes to policies, programs, and practices that condone or ignore unequal treatment,” as cited on NEAToday.org.

What appears obvious is that NEA members have an opportunity to put some teeth to anti-racism work or leave it untouched on the plate. Over a year ago I challenged educators to step up and address racial injustice. It’s still your move.

During a January panel discussion at EduCon on “Connections in Education” I cited three books that are mandatory reading for every teacher and school administrator. I offered these book recommendations for educators to grow in their understanding of race, culture and ethnicity, and in the process strengthen their connections with nonwhite students and parents.

That appearance led to an invitation this spring from MindShift KQED to write on a book that had a profound impact on my life today – a book that I was eager to share with others because of the lessons I learned. I chose “Faces At The Bottom Of The Well: The Permanence Of Racism” by Derrick Bell.

Excerpt:

The conversation sparked by Bell’s Faces at the Bottom of the Well among four Black women sitting in a Northeast D.C. living room is as indelible as the book’s content. In education, one of the foundational principles is that understanding and learning is enriched when students learn with and from each other. But not all learning happens in a classroom, and peer to peer education can take many forms. This book club rebuffed light reading fare. Its members – a PhD in social psychology, an English professor at the University of the District of Columbia, and a graduate student – saw the monthly book club as a seminar in raising racial consciousness and saw themselves as social justice teachers.

Faces at the Bottom of the Well pierced my perception and views about race and racism in America.

Read more on how “Faces at the Bottom of the Well” affected me and continues to influence me as a writer, parent and lifelong learner.

Racism Is In The Air, Our Schools, Our Classrooms

Written on 23 June 2015, 09:15pm under Homegrown

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Who or what is to blame for Dylann Roof? This is a question people have been debating since the 21-year-old massacred nine faithful men and women gathered for Bible study in Charleston’s Emanuel A.M.E. Church, a Black house of worship with a rich history going back nearly 200 years.

A white man walks into a Black church and brutally slays nine Black people. It shouldn’t require a doctorate in critical race studies to suspect that this was a racist act committed by an anti-Black terrorist. Yet when violence is perpetrated against Black people in this country, the social commentary always resembles Gumby, bending and twisting logic to turn the calculated wickedness of a white supremacist into a neat and orderly explanation.

Grasping at any justification other than unapologetic and unflinching racism, politicians denounce the deadly attack, faulting lax gun laws, and the media probes Roof’s history of drug abuse to rationalize his “cold stare.” Because it’s easier to point to gun control and prescription medication abuse than to admit that American institutions allow racism to flourish.

We don’t have to struggle to explain what created Dylann Roof. Racism is in the air.

Of human ignorance I am almost in despair
For racism is around me everywhere
But like they say sheer ignorance is bliss

–Francis Duggan

The Confederate flag has long been a symbol of racial division and simmering source of controversy. In South Carolina and seven other Southern states a sign of racist hatred flies over taxpayer-funded state capitol grounds.

But state governments aren’t the only institution with dirty hands here. The largest institution in the country with the collective responsibility for educating the vast majority of our nation’s children also had a role in the formation of Dylann Roof. On Saturday, a racist screed penned by Roof – with a searing indictment of the high school dropout’s public school education – surfaced on social media.

From The Daily Beast:

He wrote that America’s history of slavery was based on myths and lies, using the fact that not all Southern whites owned slaves to downplay the malevolence of the institution. He also claims to have read slave narratives that were overwhelmingly positive towards the slaveowners, without naming the texts or pausing to consider whether they had been coerced.

Roof’s manifesto claims segregation “existed to protect us from them”—both in terms of violence and supposed cultural purity. “Integration has done nothing but bring Whites down to level of brute animals,” he wrote. “The best example of this is obviously our school system.”

It would be easy to brush off Roof’s manifesto as the rantings and ravings of a sinister killer. But how many people in this country were shocked that such violence could strike a Black church, blissfully ignorant of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing and a long, painful history of attacks?

The Black American experience is mistaught and misinterpreted in schools, leaving students deceived and prejudiced. Roof would have no doubt about slaveholders and the system of slavery if the brutal physical, psychological and sexual exploitation that encompassed the transatlantic slave trade was taught honestly and truthfully.

The civil rights movement is taught as a string of heroes, martyrs and glorious events where America triumphed over racism. Except segregation in housing and schools and pools and restricted access continues. Racist injustices are taught as a historic footnote – not a contemporary evil – allowing delusions to fester and grow in youth like Dylann Roof.

In the emotional aftermath of the Charleston murders, a backlash against Confederate symbols is spreading nationwide and galvanizing the public into action. “Take Down The Flag!” has become a rallying cry. We need the same degree of unyielding force directed at our schools. Demand anti-racist curriculum in all classrooms. Call for anti-racist professional development for teachers and administrators. Make ethnic studies a graduation requirement.

To quote Teaching Tolerance, “Institutional racism exists throughout society and our schools—public, private, small, large, mono- or multicultural. None is immune to it.”

The Emancipation of MDA

Written on 19 June 2015, 08:00am under Homegrown

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I don’t garden. I don’t hike. I don’t crochet. Writing is my hobby and my job and my happiness. Writing is a forceful tool for activism and social change, and indispensable to inviting reflection and fresh discoveries. At a very early age, as I learned to navigate unchartered waters on race and racism, writing down my thoughts and observations became a mainstay. Intellectual powerhouse James Baldwin said, “To be black and conscious in America is to be in a constant state of rage.” As a child, I was never in a rage, but over time I developed my own anger translator in my head.

“You’re so articulate.” – Smile.
Why the #*!# does speaking exactly the way you speak require commentary?

“You dress nicely for a Black girl.” – Grin.
I dress nicely for any girl – any race – and if you like what I’m wearing, just say that!

“Your parents must be so proud of you.” – Nod.
My parents are extremely proud of me. Even more so because I didn’t curse you out for throwing shade my way. I spared them a call from the principal. That’s true pride!

“When we speak we are afraid our words will not be heard or welcomed. But when we are silent, we are still afraid. So it is better to speak.”
—Audre Lorde

From elementary school through my teens, I was the brown cocoa puff in a bowl of white milk, more commonly known as the Philadelphia Main Line. To most onlookers I was a triathlon swimmer in an ocean of whiteness. Except I refused to get in the water, because every time I got my hair wet I had to hold a symposium on why my hair looked “like that.”

It was through writing – feverish scribble for my eyes only! – that I was able to begin to process and make sense for myself of what it meant to be a Black girl … tween … young woman and why those witty responses could never pass my lips. Eventually I retired the anger translator. I became a professional writer. And now I write specifically on issues of race and equity in education. I poke. I prod. I push. I challenge. I question. I ruffle. I reveal.

I found my voice. I’ve been making up for lost time ever since.

“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”
—Maya Angelou

I am a product of public schools. Culturally and racially responsive teaching. Racially and ethnically diverse educators. Ethnic studies. This was not my experience. My education suffered for it. I have a child in public schools. The school-to-prison pipeline. Black and Latino students isolated by segregation. Racially-biased teachers. Limited access to AP and advanced classes. This is his realized and potential educational experience.

I follow one creed when it comes to my writing and activism and that is in the fight for educational equity and justice there are no good-hearted bystanders. To paraphrase a sentiment posted on social media, I am not comforted or appeased by well-meaning allies. This space is for conspirators and accomplices only. Freedom is never free.

On June 19, 1865, two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect, slaves in Texas learned they were free. Today is Juneteenth. Black Independence Day. But with an asterisk. Historical accounts relate that slaveholders forced slaves to remain in bondage until after the next cotton harvest and that many slaves were killed seeking “absolute equality.”

On June 19, 2015, channeling the spirit of Shirley Chisholm – “unbossed and unbought” – I have learned many things about who I am and what I aspire to be. The emancipation of Melinda D. Anderson is complete.

On so many measures Black girls are overlooked and undervalued. This includes the gauntlet they must run to make it into college. In my latest at The Hechinger Report I assert that a range of obstacles make it harder for Black girls to make it out of high school and into the ivy halls of higher education – including, but not limited to, access to experienced teachers and rigorous high school courses, disproportionately harsh discipline and the availability of school counselors.

Excerpt:

This is the season of new beginnings. High school graduations, filled with proud parents clutching balloons and cell-phone cameras, mark the end of 12 years of education as young adults embark on an exciting new phase of life. Yet as we celebrate the completion of the race, we often give scant attention to the endurance and perseverance required to finish. This is particularly acute for black girls. When the emphasis is on crossing the finish line, we can overlook the unique struggle of black girls – how race, gender, and class combined create hurdles that can make their path to college a steeplechase.

…researchers found an overwhelming majority of black students aspired to college – 87 percent – while only 65 percent had enrolled in a two- or four-year postsecondary program that fall. That’s an unconscionable number of unrealized dreams and aspirations.

Read more on Black girls’ unique struggle to get to college.