Three icons of their respective industries were honored at the National Newspaper Publishers Association’s annual Torch Awards dinner at The Dupont Circle Hotel in D.C.
Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), James Farmer of General Motors, and Rev. Dr. Amos C. Brown, a student of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and pastor of the Third Baptist Church of San Francisco took home the coveted trophies which are bestowed upon those who demonstrate excellence in their chosen profession or endeavor.
This year’s honorees join a legacy of high-achieving, community-serving African Americans.
“The San Francisco Sun Reporter gave me a voice,” said Lee, as she accepted her award from NNPA National Chair Dorothy Leavell, NNPA President Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr., and NNPA Foundation Chair Amelia Ashley-Ward, the publisher of the Sun Reporter.
Lee called Ashley-Ward, the publisher of the Sun Reporter, “truly a treasure,” before tearing into a recent secret FBI report that identified some activists in the Black community as “Black Identity Extremists.”
Farmer, whom Chavis praised as one of the most active advocates of the Black Press, completed more than 50 years of dedicated service to “not only his profession, but to the many organizations he served,” Chavis said.
A 1967 graduate of Central State University in Ohio, Farmer entered the automotive industry that year at Airtemp Division, Chrysler Corporation, as an advertising clerk, according to his biography.
There, he began a relationship with the only Black newspaper in Dayton, Ohio, the Dayton Black Express newspaper. After 10 years with Chrysler, Farmer took a position at General Motors where he continued to advocate and support the Black Press—a relationship that continues today.
Farmer said he appreciated the honor and will cherish it.
“This is a group that’s really in my heart,” he said of the Black Press. “If I gave up on the NNPA, I know corporate America could too.”
Brown, who also serves as president of the San Francisco branch of the NAACP and was only one of eight students who took the only college class ever taught by King, said the Black Press has and remains vital in America.
“Again, and again, you have heard from this ‘Dream Team’…this five-star [leadership team],” Brown said of Chavis, Leavell, Ashley-Ward and the leadership of the Black Press. “What African American leaders ought to be about in this nation. You have the chemistry to relate to all people around the word with compassion and courage and I hope you will keep this ‘Dream Team’ intact.”
The ceremony included remarks from Houston Forward Times Publisher and NNPA Vice Chair Karen Carter Richards, who said it was important that the Black Press honor its own.
“If we don’t honor our own, who will? Tonight, we are here to honor distinguished individuals in their fields,” Richards said.
Jackson Caesar, the nephew of gospel great Shirley Caesar, performed two solo songs during the awards ceremony while the group, One Vision Band, provided the entertainment.
Dr. Frederick D. Haynes, III, the senior pastor of the Friendship-West Baptist Church in Dallas, served as keynote speaker.
Even during Black History Month, U.S. schools are not adequately teaching the history of American slavery, educators are not sufficiently prepared to teach it, and textbooks do not have enough material about it. As a result, students lack a basic knowledge of the important role that slavery played in shaping the United States and the impact it continues to have on race relations in America, according to a recent study by the SPLC’s Teaching Tolerance project.
The report, Teaching Hard History: American Slavery, traces racial tensions and even debates about what, exactly, racism is in America to the failure of schools to teach the full impact that slavery has had on all Americans. The report examines the lack of coverage that U.S. classrooms provide about American slavery through a survey of high school seniors and U.S. social studies teachers. It also offers an in-depth analysis of 15 state standards and 10 popular U.S. history textbooks, including two that specifically teach Alabama and Texas history.
The investigation – conducted over the course of one year by the Teaching Tolerance project – revealed the need for far better and much more comprehensive classroom instruction across the board.
“If we are to move past our racial differences, schools must do a better job of teaching American slavery and all the ways it continues to impact American society, including poverty rates, mass incarceration and education,” said Maureen Costello, a former history teacher who is now the Teaching Tolerance director at the Southern Poverty Law Center. “This report places an urgent call on educators, curriculum writers and policy makers to confront the harsh realities of slavery and racial injustice. Learning about slavery is essential for us to bridge the racial differences that continue to divide our nation.”
Only 8 percent of high school seniors surveyed could identify slavery as the central cause of the Civil War. Most didn’t know an amendment to the U.S. Constitution formally ended slavery. Fewer than half (44 percent) correctly answered that slavery was legal in all colonies during the American Revolution.
While nearly all teachers (97 percent) surveyed agreed that teaching and learning about slavery are essential to understanding American history, there was a lack of deep coverage of the subject in the classroom, according to the report. More than half (58 percent) reported that they were dissatisfied with their textbooks, and 39 percent reported that their state offered little or no support for teaching about slavery.
Teaching Hard History: American Slavery relies on noted historian Ira Berlin’s 10 essential elements for teaching American slavery, articulated in the foreword to Understanding and Teaching American Slavery, as a framework for analysis.
Teaching Tolerance worked with the book’s editors, Bethany Jay, Ph.D., an associate professor of history at Salem State University; and Cynthia Lynn Lyerly, Ph.D., an associate professor of history at Boston College; to convert these elements into 10 key concepts of what students should know.
Teaching Tolerance also assembled an advisory board of distinguished scholars, and partnered with teachers and institutions of higher education, to develop a framework and offer a set of recommendations for teaching about American slavery.
The recommendations include fully integrating American slavery into lessons about U.S. history, expanding the use of original historical documents, improving textbooks, and strengthening the curriculum on topics involving slavery.
“It is of crucial importance for every American to understand the role that slavery played in the formation of this country,” said Henry Louis Gates Jr., a Harvard University professor and adviser for the report. “And that lesson must begin with the teaching of the history of slavery in our schools. It is impossible to understand the state of race relations in American society today without understanding the roots of racial inequality – and its long-term effects – which trace back to the ‘peculiar institution.’ I hope that publishers, curriculum writers, legislators and our fellow American citizens on school boards who make choices about what kids learn embrace the thoughtful framework developed by the Southern Poverty Law Center.”
The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture (NMAAHC) in Washington, D.C., also praised the report and the resources being made available to teachers through the Teaching Tolerance program.
“As the first national museum dedicated to telling the African-American story, we strongly support and encourage Teaching Tolerance’s efforts to unpack the reality of what our education system teaches about slavery and what students are learning about slavery,” the museum wrote in a statement. “The information and the resources that Teaching Tolerance has developed will have a significant impact on the realm of history education.
“The NMAAHC looks forward to being a collaborator in championing the key components laid out in the Teaching Tolerance report, especially the need for schools, educators, students and families to become more savvy about talking about race and white supremacy as it relates to the founding of the U.S. and the legacy of slavery.”
The study follows Teaching Tolerance’s widely cited Teaching the Movement reports that evaluated state standards for teaching the civil rights movement. At the time, researchers suspected that states did a poor job of teaching the civil rights movement, in part because they failed to adequately teach about its historical roots in slavery.
Donna Edwards already has her sights set on cleaning up the Prince George’s County school board in her bid for county executive.
If elected later this year, the former U.S. congresswoman said she would ban the school system CEO and top-ranking school officials from donating campaign contributions to board members.
“Our education leaders are bold enough to put up political contributions that can influence their hiring and contracting decisions,” Edwards said Thursday at a press conference outside the school administration building in Upper Marlboro. “It may not be illegal, but it is unethical.”
Edwards’ comments were triggered by revelations that two school board members, Carolyn Boston and Sonya Williams, received such donations for their election campaigns.
According to finance reports, schools system CEO Kevin Maxwell donated $500 to Boston, the school board vice president who served on a committee to evaluate Maxwell’s performance.
Boston, who couldn’t be reached for comment, eventually returned the money.
Williams received $3,000 from Delegate Dereck Davis (D-District 25) of Mitchellville, according to campaign documents. The money from Davis, who is married to schools Deputy Superintendent Monique Whittington Davis, came from his terminated campaign from Congress two years ago, campaign records show.
“I’ve known [Davis] forever,” said Williams, a civil engineer who has served on the board since 2014. “It is not unethical or illegal for any politician to support another politician’s campaign. My goal on the school board is for us to be great by choice.”
Although the Maryland Ethics Commission monitors and approves regulations based on the legislature, state law allows school boards to manage its own ethic rules and committees.
Michael Lord, executive director of the state’s Ethics Commission, said Prince George’s received approval for its ethics regulations at least three years ago. He said any school complaints, however, are handled by the county, not the commission.
“It is all done on the local level,” Lord said.
The donations to Boston and Williams surfaced after two parents, Keisha Chase and Yolanda Rogers, wrote a letter last week to alert the state’s ethics commission.
“The culture of pay-to-play, kickbacks, you-scratch-my-back-and-I’ll-scratch-yours must end if we are ever going to provide a quality education for our children,” the letter said.
Chase and Rogers have children who attend DuVal High School in Lanham. Parents received letters from Maxwell last month informing them several staff members had been removed for violation of grading and graduation procedures.
The parents now plan to bring their concerns about the campaign contributions to the state Board of Education and Republican Gov. Larry Hogan.
WASHINGTON INFORMER — D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser promised Thursday to get to the bottom of the graduation-rate scandal engulfing the city’s public schools system, particularly at Ballou Senior High School in Southeast.
In a letter to city residents, Bowser pointed out the schools system’s progress over the past decade, but acknowledged the “devastating news” she had to deliver about the system after reports surfaced late last year of inflated graduation rates at Ballou.
“The OSSE investigation revealed poor student attendance, a culture of graduating students despite poor attendance, training and technology failures within DCPS, and pressure to pass students in order to meet or exceed graduation goals,” Bowser said. “Misapplied policies and a desire to help our most disadvantaged students led to a series of failures we must now overcome.”
She said her plan to combat the issue includes commissioning a third-party investigation by a private firm overseen by the Office of the State Superintendent of Education; publicly presenting facts as they became available; holding those responsible for wrongdoings accountable; and setting a clear and deliberate course to fix what has been broken.
Bowser said the short-term steps to regaining the public’s faith in the schools system include appointing a chief integrity officer at DCPS; holding the system leadership accountable for attendance/grading and school-level failures; and referring the investigative reports to the D.C. inspector general for additional evaluation.
“As we confront our challenges, I want to be very clear that we will not tolerate any forms of cheating in our school system,” the mayor wrote. “When this occurs, it jeopardizes our students, our taxpayers, and our future as a city.”
She said information on other upcoming changes, including updates to the DCPS grading and credit recovery policies and the implementation of end-of-course assessments for core courses by the 2022 school year, can be found at attendance.dc.gov.
“But we won’t stop there,” Bowser said. “Beginning with the Class of 2018, we are working to ensure that every DCPS diploma has the value that our students deserve. DCPS is already in the process of conducting comprehensive reviews of student transcripts and ensuring that schools have support systems and aligned accountability systems to properly follow attendance, grading, and credit recovery policies this semester. This will inevitably lead to some tough conversations with our students and families. Seniors will be informed whether they are on track to graduate, and if not, what options they have. We want every student to succeed, and we will have the appropriate supports in place to help them do so.
“Starting at Ballou, DCPS will host resource fairs to connect more students and families to the supports they need to be successful in school, including on attendance,” she said. “We want to hear directly from students about what obstacles they face so that we can help them overcome those challenges. And, going forward, it is critical that we continually instill in our students that there is nothing more important to me, you, or our city than their individual success.”
Bowser touted DCPS’s achievements over the past decade, including recognition as the fastest-improving urban school district in the country based on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, as well as increasing enrollment numbers following years of decline.
Despite constant gains in technology, infrastructure and industry across the United States, Black and brown children are still hampered by some of the largest educational gaps in the nation.
Of the Black and brown children suffering academically throughout the U.S. school system, boys in particular seem to be affected the most, with extremely high educational literacies disparities found in the nation’s capital and neighboring Baltimore.
With a mission to address and correct these educational imbalances, Shawn Hardnett, founder and CEO of the North Star College Preparatory Academy for Boys, recently collaborated with four other D.C. and Baltimore all-male schools for the inaugural “Black and Brown Hackathon,” in order to better facilitate and support Black and brown boys.
“While being here in D.C., my focus has always been on supporting Black and brown boys using the arts,” Hardnett said. “Through my many volunteer roles in education, I noticed a tremendous lack of adequately trained teachers and a [low] number of Black and brown boys succeeding academically and I really wanted to do something that would allow me to correct that.
“Through the help of some very special educators, community members and parents, my goal … is to give Black and brown boys a platform to share their own experiences in school and what it would take for them to do even better,” he said.
During the Oct. 2 event at the partnering Ron Brown College Preparatory High School, 100 male students and over 150 male and female volunteers participated in critical thinking exercises, friendship building games and leadership training.
Bishop John T. Walker School for Boys, Washington Latin Public Charter School and Baltimore Collegiate School for Boys also took part in the event.
”I’ve been to D.C. plenty of times, but when I learned that there was a leadership program for young Black boys going on, that made me really want to go,” said participant Denzel Mitchell. “Today was fun because we got a chance to talk about all these problems that happen to young Black males so that we can help them and enjoy fun activities.”
Desmond Johnson, an eighth-grade student at the Baltimore Collegiate School for Boys known for collectively organizing and helping other students, said the program had already begun to help him.
“Being here makes me think about how I can do and be something better than what I’m doing and being now, and really makes me want to show and tell younger kids how to improve and hopefully how to accomplish their dreams — and my own, too,” Desmond said.
And while students like Raymond Weeden III, a sixth-grader who attends Washington Latin Public Charter School, are fortunate enough to have a ever-present male role model in their lives, Kerel Thompson, a STEM instructor at North Star, said there is still more work to be done.
“Whenever we talk to Black and brown male students, they always list the same issues, with concentration stemming from home issues, attention from girls and the need and want to be cool,” Thompson said. “Our goal is to provide them with structure, keep them engaged and send them a message that they can be and do whatever they want in life. … We are concerned about boys, because we know they are in trouble and we as a society need to start finding out why.”
Sixty percent of Thurgood Marshall Academy’s Class of 2018 participated in the “Early Action” program, in which they applied to colleges and universities early in their senior year and, in some instances, even before the end of the first semester.
One of the most important factors in college admissions is SAT scores. To that end, the academy further invested resources to offer SAT prep classes to seniors, and as a result, 97 percent of its students scored better than 800. Additionally, 50 percent of the academy’s students earned a “super score” of 1000 or greater.
Board of Education Honorees
The D.C. State Board of Education recently honored Paul Howard as the District’s 2018 Teacher of the Year.
Howard, who has taught social studies at LaSalle-Backus Education campus in Northeast for the past five years, will represent D.C. in the Council of Chief State School Officers’ National Teacher of the Year competition.
The board also honored Banneker High and Horace Mann Elementary schools for being selected as a U.S. Department of Education 2017 National Blue Ribbon School.
The program recognizes public and private elementary, middle and high schools based on their overall academic excellence or their progress in closing achievement gaps among student subgroups.
Task Force Update
At its most recent meeting in November, the D.C. State Board of Education proposed changes to high school graduation requirements designed to ensure the District diploma fulfills its intended purpose.
They also suggested further edits to the requirements, indicating which of their peers’ changes they liked, disagreed with, or wanted more information about.
In the coming weeks, the board will present a new version of the draft to constituent groups and provide feedback from those conversations at their December meeting.
Under supervision of SEED DC Public Charter School teacher Nick Ford, program coordinator Indian Brown, partners at BUILD and six dedicated mentors, 30 ninth-graders spent a year dreaming up business ideas, forming teams and pitching their business plans to peers and local entrepreneurs.
Through a daily class supplemented by weekly evening programming, students built relationships with local mentors who helped them refine their ideas, products, and approach.
BUILD is a real-life testing ground for students to learn skills in critical thinking, collaboration, innovation, and self-management. And it worked: one SEED DC PCS team won BUILD’s year-end citywide competition for their “Chop-a-Cake” cake-cutter business plan and pitch, while another team took home an award for problem-solving.
The public reporting requirements of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) offer greater transparency about school quality, according to experts and education advocates who also predict that the new law will empower parents and make them more informed partners in the education process of their children.
President Barack Obama signed ESSA into law on Dec. 10, 2015.
“Public reporting is going to be very important, because state systems, like what goes into [calculating] letter grades for schools, are incredibly complex,” said Phillip Lovell, the vice president of policy development and government relations for the Alliance for Excellent Education, a Washington, D.C.-based national advocacy organization that’s dedicated to ensuring all students graduate from high school, ready for success in college and in the workplace. “States are aware of and working on how to communicate information on school performance clearly.”
Brenna McMahon Parton, the director of policy and advocacy for Data Quality Campaign, one of the nation’s leading voices on education data policy and use, said that everyone deserves information, which is why ESSA requires that report cards are easy to understand.
“To date, states haven’t focused on parent needs and, as a result, report cards are difficult to find and use,” said Parton. “As states develop new report cards, they should be sure that parents will have a one-stop-shop that provides information they need about how students and schools in their community are performing.”
ESSA reauthorized the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), the historic civil rights law passed in 1965 and effectively replaced the Bush-era No Child Left Behind Act.
Transparency and parental engagement are integral parts of the new law.
Under ESSA, all schools receiving Title I funds must inform parents of their right to request information about the professional qualifications of their children’s teachers; parents are also encouraged to support their children’s educational experiences by communicating regularly with teachers.
In a post on “The 74,” a nonprofit news site dedicated to education, Rashidah Morgan of Education First, said that, “Greater transparency about school quality, will ultimately empower parents to make more knowledgeable choices about schools.”
Also, transparency on spending and academic results help the public understand how schools are performing in their communities, said Chad Aldeman, a principal at Bellwether Education Partners, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit focused on changing the outcomes and education life for the underserved.
“Accountability systems only work, if people understand what they’re being held accountable for and have enough information to know how to respond,” Aldeman said, adding that parents need good information to make informed choices about where to send their children. “To make that a reality, parents need information about both their own child’s performance, as well as how similar students are performing in other schools.”
Finally, clear, transparent school and district report cards help families make critical decisions and equip community members and the public to push for needed improvement in schools, said Dr. Lillian Lowery, the vice president of PreK-12 Policy, Research and Practice at The Education Trust, a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C. that promotes high academic achievement for students at all levels, particularly students of color and those of low-income.
“ESSA requires states to report a lot of important information on how schools are doing at preparing all groups of students, including students from low-income families, students of color, English learners and students with disabilities, for post-high school success,” said Lowery. “To maximize the usefulness of this information, state leaders should work with families and education advocates to ensure that report cards are easy to access and understand.”