By Ron Rice, Senior Director, Government Relations at the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools
I have been a Black student, education policymaker, and now an advocate for providing the best educational opportunities for all our children. One reality that I’ve had to face and embrace through each of these stages in my life and career is that the prevalence of leaders of color like me is a major contributor to educational success and whose lack thereof stifles that potential. As a student of color, those examples helped me thrive; and today they inform my advocacy.
This month, my organization, the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools released its highly-anticipated report, “Identity and Charter School Leadership: Profiles of Leaders of Color Building an Effective Staff” which examined the ways that school leaders of color’s experiences and perspectives influence how they build school culture, parent and community relationships, and effective staff. This needed report affirmed what I and many fellow school leaders of color have witnessed first-hand in schools from New Jersey (where I advised the state Department of Education) to Massachusetts, California, Louisiana, Missouri, Wisconsin, and North Carolina, where school leaders of color were studied. The report’s finding is clear: our children of color thrive with diverse and experienced teachers who understand their challenges and have a personal, unwavering dedication to their success.
Most importantly, our report is instructive as well because it sheds light — through the profiles of three public charter school leaders of color from Louisiana, North Carolina, and California — on the principles that can help match our best current and future teachers with our nation’s students. Three of those principles that resonated with my two decades in education policy are:
First, fill our school leadership pipeline with talented educators of color who come from nontraditional backgrounds and fields of study. But how do we dispel the myth that there are not enough qualified and passionate people of color who can and want to fill this educational pipeline? One way to do this comes from Eric Sanchez, co-founder of Henderson Collegiate — a network of three schools serving elementary, middle and high school in Henderson, North Carolina. Instead of only recruiting future educators from traditional education programs, Eric also recruits graduates from university programs focusing on social justice and ethnic studies. And this encouragement doesn’t end once the teachers reach the classroom — we must provide clear pathways for these teachers to pursue school leadership.
Second, school leaders and education policymakers of all colors must be committed to seeing and promoting diversity as an asset, not a deficit; an opportunity, not an obstacle. Imagine how better prepared our children will be for the world of tomorrow if they have been taught the history behind their identity, the language behind their culture, and the geography behind their journey. While nearly all schools struggle with activating this principle for the benefit of our students, our report demonstrates that public charter schools are making substantial progress where traditional public schools haven’t.
Third, achievement and demonstrated success — not myths, preconceptions, and inherited political biases — must be the basis upon which we support the best educational opportunities for all our children. For example, by their design, public charter schools have the flexibility to create and finetune curricula, teaching methods, and optimal outcomes that traditional public schools do not. So, why would we ever consider putting obstacles in any educational paths that are showing real achievement?
Race and identity of both our educators and students is only one factor in the holistic successes we are all working towards. However, it’s also true that all schools across our country in every community have historically not valued students’ diversity and identity as assets to enrich the education they receive. Public charter schools are making real progress to expose this blind spot and make the needed course corrections to ensure the success we’ve seen for some students are the norm for all.
Ron Rice Jr. is a former two term Newark, NJ city councilman, chief advisor to the New Jersey Department of Education, and is currently Senior Director, Government Relations at the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools.
Allendale County’s school district sits in South Carolina’s Lowcountry, in an impoverished, rural region near the coast known as the “corridor of shame” for the chronic poor quality of its education system. Until recently, three of the district’s four schools were considered among the lowest performing in the state.
But after an assist beginning more than a year ago from the state—which is working to rebrand the area as the “corridor of opportunity”—two of those schools made it off the state’s list of the lowest performers….
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Hampton school officials have rejected a local family’s request for tuition reimbursement after allegations of racist bullying.
The family says their daughter, who is black, was bullied for her race by other students in her third-grade class.
The parents say the school district didn’t do enough to respond. They transferred their daughter to a private school in Massachusetts last month.
They asked the Hampton school board to help cover their new tuition with a reimbursement of the district’s per-pupil cost, under what’s called a manifest hardship designation.
The school board this week rejected that request, according to the family and district, who each declined to provide a copy of the decision.
The district’s lawyer, at a March hearing on the family’s request, had claimed the former student’s rights weren’t violated and argued the hardship designation is meant to cover transfers to another public school.
The family has 30 days to appeal the case to the state board of education and says they’re evaluating their options.
Audrey Murph Brown (Murph), a school social worker of 26 years and a member of the Springfield Education Association (SEA) in Massachusetts, describes the events that occurred in the 2017 – 2018 school year as “a perfect storm at the perfect time.”
This storm was heavy with institutional biases, nepotism, and favoritism. Institutional biases kept many highly qualified educators of color from becoming lead teachers or being offered lateral promotions. “Rarely were those opportunities given to educators of color,” says Murph, “but what they would get was the unspoken bias that only educators of color can deal with difficult children, and as a result don’t get to show their academic skillset and abilities in classrooms.”
And when there were opportunities for advancement, explains Murph, administrators would often bypass the hiring process by burying job postings, not interviewing qualified candidates of color, and handpicking their friends. “This was nothing new,” she says. “It’s always happened, but it’s never been addressed.”
The Teacher-Student Racial Gap
In Springfield, 80 percent of public school students are of color while educators of color make up only 15 percent. The gap between the percentage of students of color and the percentage of teachers of color nationwide is large. Approximately 42 percent of PK-12 public school students today are students of color, and this number is expected to rise through 2024. Yet, about 80 percent of public school teachers are white, 9 percent are Hispanic, 7 percent are black, and 2 percent are Asian, according to the National Center on Education Statistics.
The Initiative was an outgrowth of the Next Generation Leadership Program, which ALANA leaders and allies had previously attended. Next Generation was designed to create a safe space to talk about the issues educators face and it helps to identify, recruit, and train members to be active at the work site level, resulting in local affiliates becoming powerful and effective organizations. The program is unique in that it works with educators with three years or less of leadership experience, and that it’s mostly conversation. There’s no agenda other than the topics participants bring up. There’s no PowerPoint. No flipcharts.
“It’s all based on the lived experiences of educators, which helps to create the kind of space where people can build confidence in that change can happen through collective action, and learn the skills to bring people together and overcome their fears of taking action,” says George Luse, who, at the time, was an MTA organizer before his retirement.
He explains that the blueprint of the training does what it’s supposed to do: give people skills, encourage them to act, and build collective member power. “Nothing works without members who are excited about the union and understand the union as a tool to improve their working conditions and the environment around them,” says Luse, who has 30 years of organizing experience…
When Harvard University students arrive for classes Aug. 15, they will return to history in the making: for the first time in the Ivy League school’s history, four of its colleges will be headed simultaneously by African-American women.
Dr. Claudine Gay’s appointment in July as the first African-American and the first woman dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences followed Dr. Bridget Terry-Long’s appointment in May as the first Black woman dean of the Graduate School of Education. They join Dr. Tomiko Brown-Nagin, the first Black woman dean of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, and Dr. Michelle A. Williams, an epidemiologist and professor at the School of Public Health, who became the first Black person to head a faculty at Harvard and the first female dean of that school, according to a story in The Harvard Crimson.
Less than three years ago, not one of Harvard’s 14 schools was headed by a Black woman, according to the Crimson.
In an interview with the college newspaper, Gay said: “If my presence in this role affirms someone’s sense of belonging and ownership, the same way [former president Dr. Drew G. Faust’s] appointment affirmed my own sense of belonging, then I think that’s great. And for people who are sort of beyond our gates, if this prompts them to look again and look anew at Harvard and imagine new possibilities for themselves, I think that’s great, as well.”
The advances in diversifying the ranks of administrators have elicited praise on campus. They signal “that Harvard is getting ready for a new future for itself and for the country and for the world,” said John S. Wilson, a key leader in the university’s diversity and inclusion initiatives.
Dr. Danielle S. Allen – a government professor who spearheaded a Task Force on Inclusion and Belonging that issued a final report in March calling for more faculty diversity – said it’s “great to see such wonderful, talented individuals in leadership posts and to see the university diversifying its leadership ranks.”
Researchers and advocates who support school integration had a message on Capitol Hill Thursday: There are several setbacks to creating integrated schools, but new opportunities as well.
In a panel discussion on integration here hosted by the National Coalition for School Diversity, they highlighted the downside of what they characterized as the Trump administration’s recent U-turn on diversity efforts, court rulings that have undermined local desegregation efforts, as well as what they said was the resegregation of America’s schools.
But they also highlighted additional funding for the office for civil rights at the U.S. Department of Education, as well as efforts in Congress to remove barriers to integration efforts.
Action on Capitol Hill to promote integration includes House and Senate education appropriations bills for fiscal 2019 that for the first time since the 1970s removes language barring federal funding from being used for transportation to create more integrated schools.
“The threats that we’re facing right now … are not the same threats as the massive resistance of the 1960s. They are shape-shifting,” said Damon Hewitt, the executive director of the Executives’ Alliance for Boys and Men of Color, who moderated the panel. “They threaten to erase the dream of [Brown v. Board of Education].”
However, the Trump administration has a very different approach to these issues. It scrapped that $12 million grant program, for example. And more recently, the Trump Education and Justice Departments withdrew Obama-era guidance on racial diversity in education because they said it went beyond what the Constitution requires—advocates at the panel singled out that move in particular for criticism.
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The Every Student Succeeds Act is supposed to bring about a big change in school improvement. The law says states and districts can use any kind of interventions they want in low-performing schools, as long as they have evidence to back them up.
But the provision has some experts worried. They’re concerned that there just aren’t enough strategies with a big research base behind them for schools to choose from. These experts also worried that district officials may not have the capacity or expertise to figure out which interventions will actually work.
Districts, they’ve said, may end up doing the same things they have before, and may end up getting the same results.
“My guess is, you’ll see a lot of people doing the things they were already doing,” said Terra Wallin, who worked as a career staffer at the federal Education Department on school turnaround issues and is now a consultant with Education First, a policy organization that is working with states on ESSA implementation. “You’ll see a lot of providers approaching schools or districts to say, ‘Look, we meet the evidence standard,'” Wallin said…
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Beginning with a controversial nomination that ended in a tie-breaking Senate confirmation vote and continuing throughout her tenure as Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos has faced unceasing criticism. While Administration officials would be inclined to give her the benefit of the doubt, many across the country would argue that she is not serving the public’s interests.
A recent interview on CBS’ 60 Minutes provided an opportunity to address the nonstop criticism before a national audience. Instead, it prompted a new wave of critiques from viewers and news outlets alike.
More important than these recent headlines, however, is the Department’s attempt to stop states from holding student loan servicers and collectors accountable. Claiming that state consumer protection laws “undermine” federal regulator requirements, a non-binding memo is yet another assault on the 44 million Americans who together struggle with a still-growing $1.5 trillion in student debt.
It was about this time last year that Secretary DeVos withdrew three memos that would have required loan servicers, in their renegotiated contracts, to provide more intensive “high touch” servicing for borrowers threatened with default. Then late in the summer of 2017, she withdrew inter-agency working agreements between the Department and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) commonly known as Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs). Prior to her joining the Education Department, these same MOUs led to a series of major enforcement actions against for-profit colleges like Corinthian and ITT Tech, as well as the nation’s largest student loan servicer, Navient.
With rollbacks in oversight and enforcement, the Education Secretary must think the department is doing a great job serving student loan borrowers that states should just butt out. A new departmental memo claims as much.
In response, Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Healey, who filed a lawsuit earlier this month that alleged overcharges to students by the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency was just as direct as she was quick to speak up.
“Secretary DeVos can write as many love letters to the loan servicing industry as she wants, I won’t be shutting down my investigations or stand by while these companies rip off students and families,” Healey said in a statement to The Intercept. “The last thing we need is to give this industry a free pass while a million students a year are defaulting on federal loans.”
Thank goodness for state AGs like Healey. Federal enforcement of consumer protection is currently at a real low.
When Mick Mulvaney was named Acting CFPB Director, a change of direction from consumer enforcement to education and information was promptly announced with a series of more changes. In Mulvaney’s view, CFPB would no longer use aggressive enforcement to hold financial service providers accountable. On his watch, consumers have basically been told not to expect much from CFPB, while businesses have been catered to and even asked to advise Mulvaney and company of what appropriate regulation looks like.
So, if the Department of Education is not going to work with CFPB to resolve complaints and CFPB is not interested in consumer enforcement, why try to tie the hands of states who only seek to protect their own residents?
Whitney Barkley-Denney, a policy counsel with the Center for Responsible Lending, addressed the impacts to consumers of color. “Due to racial disparities in income and wealth, the consumers hardest hit by these debts are consumers of color. While the federal government continues to find ways to placate these companies, states are ready and willing to serve the best interests of borrowers and taxpayers.”
The National Governors Association (NGA) agrees with Barkley-Denney.
In a related statement, the NGA said, “Last week’s declaration on student loan servicing from the U.S. Department of Education seeks to preempt bipartisan state laws, regulations and ‘borrower bills of rights’ currently in place and under consideration in more than 15 states…. States have stepped up to fill the void left, we believe, by the absence of federal protections for student loan borrowers, from potential abusive practices by companies servicing student loans.”
Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers was even more candid.
“With this move, she [Secretary DeVos] has castrated any state legislators and attorneys general from providing meaningful oversight of student loan services, yet she continues to fail to do so herself,” said Weingarten.
In 2017, a CFPB report showed that during the past five years, more than 50,000 student loan complaints were filed. Additionally, more than 10,000 other related debt collection complaints were filed on both private and federal student loans.
Where these complaints originate is equally eye-opening. In just one year, from 2016 to 2017, the growth in the number of student loan complaints exceeded 100 percent in 11 states: Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, North Carolina, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Texas, Washington State and West Virginia.
It’s enough to make one wonder, ‘Who is our federal government actually serving?’
From Maine to Hawaii, thousands of students planned to stage walkouts Wednesday to protest gun violence, one month after the deadly shooting inside a high school in Parkland, Florida.
Organizers say nearly 3,000 walkouts are set in the biggest demonstration yet of the student activism that has emerged following the massacre of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
Students from the elementary to college level are taking up the call in a variety of ways. Some planned roadside rallies to honor shooting victims and protest violence. Others were to hold demonstrations in school gyms or on football fields. In Massachusetts and Ohio, students said they’ll head to the statehouse to lobby for new gun regulations.
The coordinated walkout was organized by Empower, the youth wing of the Women’s March, which brought thousands to Washington, D.C., last year. The group urged students to leave class at 10 a.m. local time for 17 minutes — one minute for each victim in the Florida shooting.
Although the group wanted students to shape protests on their own, it also offered them a list of demands for lawmakers, including a ban on assault weapons and mandatory background checks for all gun sales.
“Our elected officials must do more than tweet thoughts and prayers in response to this violence,” the group said on its website.
It’s one of several protests planned for coming weeks. The March for Our Lives rally for school safety is expected to draw hundreds of thousands to the nation’s capital on March 24, its organizers said. And another round of school walkouts is planned for April 20, the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting in Colorado.
After the walkout Wednesday, some students in Massachusetts say they plan to rally outside the Springfield headquarters of the gun maker Smith & Wesson. Students and religious leaders are expected to speak at the rally and call on the gun maker to help curb gun violence.
At Case Elementary School in Akron, Ohio, a group of fifth-graders have organized a walkout with the help of teachers after seeing parallels in a video they watched about youth marches for civil rights in 1963. Case instructors said 150 or more students will line a sidewalk along a nearby road, carrying posters with the names of Parkland victims.
The walkouts have drawn support from companies including media conglomerate Viacom, which said it will pause programming on MTV, BET and all its other networks for 17 minutes during the walkouts, and students will temporarily take over MTV’s social media accounts.
The planned protests have drawn mixed reactions from school administrators. While some applaud students for taking a stand, others threatened discipline. Districts in Sayreville, New Jersey, and Maryland’s Harford County drew criticism this week when they said students could face punishment for leaving class.
In suburban Atlanta, one of Georgia’s largest school systems announced that students who participate might face unspecified consequences.
But some vowed to walk out anyway.
“Change never happens without backlash,” said Kara Litwin, a senior at Pope High School in the Cobb County School District.
The possibility of being suspended “is overwhelming, and I understand that it’s scary for a lot of students,” said Lian Kleinman, a junior at Pope High.
“For me personally this is something I believe in, this is something I will go to the ends of the Earth for,” Kleinman said.
Other schools sought a middle ground, offering “teach-ins” or group discussions on gun violence. Some worked with students to arrange protests in safe locations on campus. Officials at Boston Public Schools said they arranged a day of observance Wednesday with a variety of activities “to provide healthy and safe opportunities for students to express their views, feelings and concerns.” Students who don’t want to participate could bring a note from a parent to opt out.
Meanwhile, free speech advocates geared up for a battle. The American Civil Liberties Union issued advice for students who walk out, saying schools can’t legally punish them more harshly because of the political nature of their message. In Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Texas, some lawyers said they will provide free legal help to students who are punished.
At a certain moment last year, an uncomfortable silence took hold in my classroom. Lauren had volunteered to read the part of Mama during a reading of Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun. Lauren was an excellent student: She was kind, insightful, a frequent participant in class discussions, and a remarkably hard worker. That day though, her mind was elsewhere.
In perfect silence, her classmates stared at me with faces that anticipated how I would respond to Lauren’s missed cue. I looked in her direction, waiting for some acknowledgement on her part before breaking the silence. Eventually, she caught on. “Oh, God,” she said, re-orienting herself. “I’m so sorry.” Her classmates giggled and sighed, as she put aside her iPhone and struggled for some time to find her place in the paperback. We weren’t able to finish the scene before the bell rang.
Of all the individual struggles I had with students and their smartphones over the past few years, this one got to me most. This wasn’t a case of a student being disengaged or bored—she had volunteered to read, after all—yet, Lauren’s impulse to check her Twitter account was strong enough that she was willing to risk stalling the entire class’ progress to satisfy it. Surely, I told myself, the smartphone issue was more complex than I wanted to believe.
Indeed, the numbers are staggering: According to Common Sense Media’s 2015 Census, on any given day the average American teenager consumes just under nine hours of entertainment media, excluding time spent in school or for homework. This raises the question: Where can learning fit in?
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