Kids in Richmond need great schools, so why is the teachers’ union blocking them?

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The fight over Adams Middle School in East Richmond Heights, California, is a microcosm of everything that is wrong with the politics of public education.

I attended Adams over three decades ago. My family had just moved nearby so as to allow me to attend the school, rather than the violent schools available in Richmond’s “Iron Triangle” neighborhood where I had grown up. Adams was not a great school, but it was good. The school was tucked into a mixed-income suburb that attracted students of diverse backgrounds and ethnicities.  We had some terrible teachers, but also some great ones.  We had some racial violence, but also some cross-race camaraderie.  As time passed, however, school attendance declined. Finally, in 2009, the school was closed after 50 years in existence.

The old building was scheduled for demolition, but demolitions are expensive, and the local bureaucracy let time pass. Five years later, in 2014, the school building was still empty and unused, with teaching supplies piled up in rooms and vegetation growing up around the building.  On the evening of July 15 of that year, a Tuesday, arsonists thought it would be fun to scale the piping, break into the building, and start some fires.  The fire was stopped before it spread to local houses, but not before tens of thousands of dollars of damage was done.  The building, which needs both a seismic upgrade and substantial repair, is now a practice site for the local fire department.

What comes next should be a celebration of American can-do and ingenuity, but is turning into a depressing exercise in political selfishness and cowardice.

The issue involves “charter schools.”  Started 25 years ago this month, these schools use public funds, subject to public regulations, to educate public school students. To be sure, not all charter schools are great, just as not all traditional public schools are great. On average, however, charter schools deliver better results for students. Today, roughly 6% of public school students attend schools run by charter.

In the case of Adams Middle School, a nonprofit charter named Caliber Schools may restore the building to its original purpose of educating children. Currently, Caliber runs a nearby school in Richmond. The Caliber school, however, has no permanent home. Last year, 585 students and their teachers studied in temporary rooms located on asphalt at the edge of the Richmond-Kennedy High School campus on Cutting Boulevard. (Richmond-Kennedy was one of the high schools for which Adams Middle School was a feeder school.) Caliber is in the process of purchasing the Adams facility to continue expanding their school.

Home run, right?  Home run for hundreds of students, as well as for the neighborhood around Adams?

Not so fast.  The United Teachers of Richmond, the local teachers’ union for which my mom used to serve as a union rep when she was a teacher, has declared war on Caliber. They hate Caliber and have launched a campaign, in coordination with other local labor unions, to prevent the charter from acquiring the Adams Middle School space (which, not incidentally, is the ideal local space for the burgeoning student population).

As is typical for this type of attack, the teachers’ union leaders have used Orwellian political doublespeak to pretend that Caliber is a bad actor, and the unions are interested in justice.  As is also typical, the claims are based on smears and lies.

The unions, for instance, claim that Adams is being “given away” to Caliber because the formal cost of the school will be only $60,000.  Conveniently, this ignores the fact that Caliber plans to spend $15-20 million to restore the Adams Middle School building.

The unions also claim that Caliber is draining money from other public schools.  At the 25:12 mark of this 30-minute video, for instance, a speaker for the United Teachers of Richmond claims that “an independent auditor did a fiscal impact report” saying that charters entailed “hidden costs” that put the Los Angeles Unified School District at risk of insolvency.  Oh, really?  That’s interesting.  I looked up the “independent auditor” using my own personal Google machine, and learned the teachers’ unions had commissioned the report.  Independent experts, such as professor Patrick Wolf from the University of Arkansas, have demonstrated that charters generally improve public finances because they encourage innovation and also take several thousand dollars less per pupil than traditional schools.

The unions also suggest that Caliber is “skimming” the best students from public schools on a selective basis.  That is another lie. Caliber is free and non-selective. More parents want to send their children to Caliber than spaces are available, so admission is selected by lottery. Currently, 77% of Caliber’s students receive free or reduced-price lunches, meaning that their families live in or near poverty levels of income.  Additionally, 93% of Caliber’s students are from Hispanic, African American, or mixed-race ethnic backgrounds. Forty percent of Caliber’s students do not speak English as their native language. Twelve percent have disabilities that qualify them for Special Education.

More importantly, Caliber brings innovation to their students. As I have written previously, public schools of the future will leverage team teaching, technology, and adaptive learning to bring great education to all children.  Caliber is one of the schools trying to reach that vision.  Caliber students learn math and English in blended learning projects of the type that might give them a shot at great careers in a rapidly changing world.

This gets to the real reason for the attacks on Caliber.  Caliber is working. Charter schools such as Caliber hire teachers without the onerous union contracts that hamper student achievement and diminish the profession throughout California.  The more successful charter schools become over time, the greater the pressure will be on teachers’ union officials who claim that their answers are good for schools.

In a desperate ploy to distract from this central truth, the unions have gone all-out to vilify the founder of Caliber, Ron Beller, as a “vulture capitalist” seeking to make money on the backs of vulnerable children.  Even a cursory review, however, finds that these attacks are just smears. Yes, Beller ran a hedge fund, but he invested **against** subprime mortgages.  In other words, if you watched “The Big Short,” he was on the correct side of history. Yes, his fund later failed, but that is always the risk of running your own fund, and his fund’s failure cost him an enormous amount of money personally.  Yes, he was “involved” in scandals at large banks – because an employee **stole money from him.**  As for his role in public education, there is zero evidence that he will ever make any money from his work in charter schools.  The claims otherwise are tin-foil-hat conspiracies that reveal vast ignorance about how investing works.  Yes, Beller appears to invest in education technology companies, and yes his nonprofit charter may eventually receive favorable tax treatment, but those are highly speculative, long-term financial matters that will almost certainly make zero difference in Beller’s long-term personal finances.  On the contrary, Beller and his fellow philanthropists are **giving money** to Caliber to help it succeed.  Remember how Caliber plans to invest $15-20 million to restore Adams?  That $15-20 million is coming from private philanthropic donors such as Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook.

The vilification of charter schools is also a sharp contrast to the ideals of the Democratic Party and progressives generally, who should be celebrating government innovation on behalf of poor children.  Recall that charters became prominent due to the leadership of figures such as the late teachers’ union leader Al Shanker and the former Democratic President Bill Clinton. Many up-and-coming Democratic politicians, such as New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, and Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo, have celebrated the potential of charter schools to bring innovation to a crucial public service.

It is time for the leaders—and teachers—of West Contra Costa to stand up to this insanity.  While parents and students are on the Caliber wait list, and while current Caliber students study in temp rooms on asphalt, the Adams Middle School lies dilapidated and unused.  My Alma Mater Adams deserves better, and so to the students of Richmond.

All Parents Should Know These Public Schools

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Your son will have to repeat this grade”

For my mom, as for any parent, those words were scary. My kindergarten teacher explained further that I needed to repeat the grade because I had failed the subject of “chair sitting.”

Trouble with sitting: me in the mid-1970s

Although my mom was a public school teacher herself, she decided I needed something different than the neighborhood elementary school. My parents scraped together the money for three years of tuition at a private Montessori school. Montessori was better suited to my needs at the time: upon my return to public schools, I was a full grade ahead of my chronological peers rather than a full grade behind. In other words, the three years I spent at Montessori made a difference of two full grade levels upon my return to public school.

My school days were not so unusual

My experience would not surprise education scholars. Sir Ken Robinson has shown how bad traditional K-12 schools are for many students, especially young boys. Even within traditional schools, Stanford University’s Eric Hanushek has explained that the difference between top and bottom teachers can be as much as a full year of learning per year of school (because, compared with an average teacher, a top teacher provides 150% of the learning per year, while a bottom teacher provides only 50% of the learning per year).

This scholarship helps explain parental behavior. Parents want children to have amazing opportunities, which is why taxpayers spend roughly $600 billion per year on K-12 public schools. Those who can afford to, however, also spend billions out of their own pockets for tutors, afterschool activities, summer camps, and sometimes even private schools. For parents, sending their child to private school can mean walking away from tens of thousands of dollars they have already paid in taxes — yet it happens frequently. Even in prosperous suburbs with high-performing traditional public schools, parents worry about rote learning, inapt content, unhealthy food, and uneven teacher quality. In less prosperous areas, for families with fewer financial resources, or for parents whose children have special needs, the system can feel like a brutal and hostile bureaucracy.

The new public schools: tailored to the needs of all children

That is why all parents should know about a new kind of public school. At these public schools, the technology, curriculum, and pedagogy differ from what we saw when we were students. Even the cafeteria is different: students eat whole foods instead of mass-produced tater tots stuffed with sugars and trans fats. Tablet computers deliver customized content, such as books and multi-player games, automatically adapted to each child’s level and style of learning. These tablets replace chalkboards and readers, and automatically measure student progress so kids never have to stop to take standardized tests. These regular measurements serve as mere inputs to sophisticated assessment systems that adapt to each classroom and provide actionable feedback for students, parents, and teachers. Computers also handle paperwork for the class, freeing teachers to focus on synthesis, mentoring, and individual engagement. Kids of vastly different backgrounds and abilities work together developing their full potential. The most effective teachers engage across many classrooms, communicating via technology to thousands of children.

Just as fascinating as the classroom innovations are the economics. The school costs the same as any other public school (nationally, the average cost per pupil was $12,401 for the 2011–2012 school year). Their purchasing agents resist the lobbying of textbook, computer, and agribusiness companies. They obtain nearly free content from the public domain. They use bulk purchasing and their public mission to obtain steep discounts for hardware and supplies. The find that they can purchase healthy food, often locally grown, within existing budgets. Additionally, mobile computing allows students to go outside more often. Students spend so much time outdoors that they use real estate only occasionally, for certain kinds of performances and hands-on learning. Overhead costs have plummeted, much as middle management costs were cut in the private sector decades ago. All of these cost savings are re-invested in recruiting, training, and compensating teachers, helping attract and retain amazing talent.

Where you can find these new public schools

The biggest reason parents should know about these new public schools is that they don’t exist yet. In a chapter of the book Educational Entrepreneurship Today, released this month by Harvard Education Press, several other authors and I describe how venture capitalists, venture philanthropists, teacher leaders, and public officials are working toward public schools of the type I just described.

We are already seeing the early stages. My Progressive Policy Institute colleague David Osborne recently described how teacher-led schools have innovated to better meet student needs. In San Jose, California, the teachers’ union worked with the local district leadership to combine rigorous standards with student-specific safety nets; the result raised college attendance rates despite demographic challenges. This is but one example of how the teachers’ unions have started to invest in seed ideas that might lead to big changes. These efforts are not limited to cities and suburbs; for instance, a rural high school in Indiana has started to embrace “blended learning” that combines great teaching and digital empowerment.

The private sector is also playing a key role. Businesses are sprouting up to empower teachers: a former New York City public school teacher built a marketplace for lesson plans called TeachersPayTeachers, which has paid millions of dollars to teachers who have come up with outstanding ideas. More broadly, “teacherpreneurs” are finding ways to lead changes in the profession without leaving the classroom.

As with all public sector services, however, change requires public demand. Parents who want these innovative new schools must be full partners in supporting teachers and political leaders in innovation. They can do this by accepting risks, embracing the nonprofit sector and private sector as well as paying taxes to the public sector, engaging thoughtfully, and setting high expectations. More and more, Americans are realizing that we have the tools, the resources, and the teachers to give our children the best school system in the world.


Dmitri Mehlhorn is a Senior Fellow at the Johns Hopkins University Institute for Education Policy. This was republished from Medium.

I just realized that Richard Kahlenberg Supports Rebecca Friedrichs

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In What Must Be “Opposite Day” Satire, the Century Foundation Senior Fellow Weighs In on Friedrichs v. CTA

Although Richard Kahlenberg is an acclaimed progressive scholar, I had no idea of his wicked brilliance until I read his recent 5000-word opinion piece on the Supreme Court case Friedrichs v. CTA. At first, I thought he was defending the respondents, the California Teachers Association. But as I read his column, I realized that every single point he made was the opposite of reality — often in ways that would be obvious to a well-read high-school student, let alone a Century Foundation Senior Fellow.

Suddenly, it dawned on me that Kahlenberg was engaging in devilishly clever satire.

By setting forth the criteria by which the Friedrichs case should be judged, and then using “opposite day” logic, he was subversively making the strongest possible case for Rebecca Friedrichs. Since his prose is so sincere and subtle, I almost missed it. This column is a public service for those of us who are literal-minded enough to want the actual facts associated with each element of Kahlenberg’s framework.

“A Check On Government Power”

In his best laugh-out-loud moment, Kahlenberg writes that public sector unions serve as “a check on government power.” Unfortunately, it’s gallows humor, as (1) public unions depend upon government expansion for members, money, and power, and (2) they often prolong the careers of abusive employees. The straight, unfunny truth:

  • Public sector unions have put hundreds of thousands behind bars. The books The First Civil Right: How Liberals Built Prison America (2014) and The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (2010) explained how America’s uniquely aggressive prison-building binge since the 1980s had nothing to do with crime rates, and was devastating for individual rights and African American communities. In the book The Toughest Beat (2011), the University of Minnesota’s Joshua Page shows how public sector prison guard unions such as the California Correctional Peace Officers Association played a leading role in prison-building trends such as the “Three Strikes” movement.
  • Public sector unions have promoted police brutality. The Atlantic has explained how police unions have kept abusive cops on the streets. Quoting that magazine:

There are, of course, police officers who are fired for egregious misbehavior. Yet all over the U.S., police unions help many of those cops to get their jobs back, often via secretive appeals geared to protect labor rights rather than public safety. Cops deemed unqualified by their own bosses are put back on the streets. Their colleagues get the message that police all but impervious to termination.

“Schools for Democracy”

Another Kahlenberg headline, that public unions are “Schools for Democracy,” is doubly satirical. The teachers unions are well-known to be antidemocratic as both models and actors.

  • Only a small percentage of teachers, roughly 20% and often less, actually vote in internal union elections;
  • Teachers use their political power to push for school board elections to be off-cycle from high-turnout elections, depressing voter engagement so as to ensure their members’ influence over school boards;
  • The unions promulgate codes of conduct, pushing their members not to criticize union stances and often bullying pro-reform teachers;
  • The California Teachers Association, in particular, is known as the 800-pound gorilla of Sacramento, bullying legislators and other interest groups.

See what Kahlenberg did there, by calling them “Schools for Democracy,” when the unions produce terrible results for democracy? They are bad schools! Get it? This guy is a genius.

“A Strong Middle Class”

Kahlenberg writes a section claiming that public sector unions promote economic equality. In this section, his trick is to ignore the difference between public and private sector unions. To be sure, private sector unions are important for wages and general economic equality, but the growth of public sector unions has demonstrably harmed both private sector labor and the working poor that make up the lower-middle class.

It is true that members of the teachers unions do comparatively well, but Kahlenberg’s satire on this point derives from the reason they do so. As Kahlenberg knows, the teachers unions represent professionals who are over 80% white, 100% employed, and whose median income is roughly double that of the median worker in the United States. By draining labor organizing resources from more genuinely blue-collar professions, they’ve damaged the cause of labor.

“Well-Educated Citizens”

Kahlenberg makes a straight “opposite day” jape by claiming that unions create well-educated citizens. For this claim, Kalhenberg cites University of Louisville sociologist Bob Carini, who mostly studies topics such as aging and leisure, but who once (in 2002) did a survey of 17 studies of unions and school performance. Carini’s paper has strengths and weaknesses, as do the underlying papers he surveys, but three facts stand out. First, none of Carini’s underlying 17 studies robustly consider the long-term, time-lagged influence of unions on schools. Leading union criticisms, such as the 2011 book Special Interest by Stanford University’s Terry Moe, argue that unions damage student performance over time (not immediately) through anti-student contracts and politics. Second, Carini’s underlying studies also fail to consider the counter-claim that unions are a dependent rather than an independent variable. This counter-claim, as I’ve discussed elsewhere, is that household wealth generates better student results, but ALSO leads to higher public spending, which then attracts union organizers. Thus, unions show up as results improve, but do not cause it. Third, even Carini’s pro-union review acknowledges that unions damage the prospects of the lowest-achieving students.

Kahlenberg’s satirical humor on this point may seem wonky, but it’s black comedy when you consider the context. Substantial and enduring majorities of non white parents want more school choice, such as charter schools and vouchers. These non white parents provide most students who attend public schools: unlike the teachers unions members, the average public school family is non white. This is especially true in urban areas, where public school parents also tend to have below-average incomes. The teachers unions use their political muscle to block choices by such families, even as many public school teachers use their white-collar income to send their own children to private schools.

To make these points concrete, many jurisdictions with low-achieving students have resisted teachers union lobbying. These jurisdictions, such as Washington DC, New York City, New Orleans, Florida, and Tennessee, have seen rapid gains in student performance. Many more jurisdictions with similar demographics would be able to enact such pro-student policies if Rebecca Friedrichs prevails. Thus, the union position directly threatens the prospects for our least-advantaged children to become “well-educated citizens.”

The Unions After Friedrichs

Kahlenberg’s final piece of comedy reviews the various amicus briefs regarding the future of unions if Rebecca Friedrichs prevails. Kahlenberg notes that about 34 percent of teachers would not choose to pay fees.

Of course, this is actually an argument in favor of the petitioners in the Friedrichs v. CTA case. Today, the public sector demands compulsory dues from a third of teachers who would not choose to pay it. Given how much Kahlenberg and the unions value democracy, in truth they must really want the unions to have to adapt their views and services to better appeal to those disaffected teachers. In such a future, the pro-student and pro-reform teachers who currently feel bullied and boxed out of the unions, and who don’t vote in union elections, would have much greater voice. That is the kind of professional association, like the American Medical Association and the American Bar Association, which will truly raise the status of its members.

Please stop calling Diane Ravitch a ‘scholar’

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When Diane Ravitch talks about the D.C. public schools, you can predict she will discount the years of reform that made progress possible. If you’ve been watching, she has signaled for years that she tired of actual academic scholarship long ago. The identification of facts, consideration of logical reasoning, and the expectation of professional integrity were getting in the way of her profitable career as a Pearson-published author of polemic attacks on education reformers.

This month, however, Ravitch formalized her break from all known norms of scholarship. In a scathing and unhinged attack, she described the results in Washington, D.C. as proof that education reform since 2007 has delivered no results for students.

Her evidence?

Mostly, she points to the recent results of Washington D.C. students on the PARCC tests (tests you may know as “Common Core”). She accurately notes that the results demonstrate students in D.C. schools have a lot of work to do to meet the rigorous new definitions of success embodied in these tests. If she were a scholar she would take the next step and compare D.C. results today vs. D.C. results before the wave of reforms that began in the middle of Mayor Anthony Williams’ term, accelerated under Mayor Adrian Fenty, and have continued under Mayors Vince Gray and Muriel Bowser.

Mayor Williams, who served from 1999 through 2007, does precisely that in a recent Washington Post column. Mayor Williams wrote that, using the gold-standard National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), “As recently as 2003 … our results were the worst in the country, and they were a considerable distance behind the second-worst.” He noted that by contrast, Washington D.C. was the fastest-improving jurisdiction in the country for the second time in a row, and that Washington D.C.’s test scores have improved for 10 straight years. Reading scores for fourth graders improved by more than any jurisdiction in the history of the test. As Mayor Williams wrote, “Such sustained advances are very rare.”

So how does Ravitch respond to Mayor Williams’ comments and evidence, which appeared a month before her anti-D.C. jeremiad?  She ignores them.  Ravitch does not utter one word about NAEP.  She focuses only on PARCC, which is a brand new test. You heard that right: there are no “before” and “after” analyses of PARCC results in D.C., because PARCC is radically different and (as Mayor Williams noted) much more difficult than the prior D.C. tests.

Using PARCC as a benchmark when there is no history with PARCC, and ignoring the NAEP scores that show enormous D.C. improvement, would be scholarly malpractice if Ravitch had any claims to continue to be a scholar.  Using that evidence base to conclude that D.C.’s reforms failed, when the overwhelming evidence shows the opposite, is flat-out mendacity.  If Ravitch had any shame left, she would feel it after writing that misleading column.

Elsewhere in her column, however, Ravitch reveals her real intention, by citing an obscure blogger named G.F. Brandenburg who concludes that D.C.’s reforms did not work. A review of Brandenburg’s blog shows that he has been obsessed with Michelle Rhee for many years. Mr. Brandenburg argues that because the pass rates on PARCC are poor, the test should be discarded in favor of a test that is easier for the schoolchildren to pass. This is not a fact-based critique, but at least it reveals Ravitch’s true goal: dumb down the test to artificially inflate pass rates.  This goal is consistent with Ravitch’s paymasters, the teachers’  union sympathizers who spend massively to buy her books and pay her speaker fees.

Ravitch has been signaling her break from scholarship for a long time.  More than anyone else, she has used her celebrity to create false narratives based on selective citations.  She bears the lion’s share of the responsibility for national misperceptions about charter school effectiveness, and the campaign of malice against education reformers.

Finally, by literally ignoring the wealth of evidence about Washington DC public school successes, she seems to be relinquishing her claim that she’s doing any of this under the banner of scholarship.

Progressives shouldn’t talk so lovingly about the history of public education

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As discussed in a recent Citizen Ed column, American public schools were built from the late 1800s through early 1900s on a foundation of racism. During this period, white Anglo-Saxon Protestants used political muscle to create segregated, compulsory local schools. In these factory-style schools, kids were processed according to race, class, and intended societal role. Although the system was built during Jim Crow, it appeared first in the North, championed by Progressives who believed in racial eugenics. Two white Protestant lobbies, the Ku Klux Klan and the National Education Association, backed the system’s national expansion. This period of time was the first and largest part of what commentator Diane Ravitch has called “the geographically based system of public education as we have known it for the past 150 years.”   

Sixty years ago, we could have shed this racist legacy. In 1954, the Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court decision launched the civil rights movement by declaring that “segregation with the sanction of law” was impermissibly “denoting the inferiority” of black students.

Briefly, our nation seemed to be on the brink of empowering black families to attend any schools they wished. On September 24, 1957, President Eisenhower deployed federal troops to protect the ability of the Little Rock Nine to attend classes in a previously all-white public school.  The logical extension of this approach would have been to require all education dollars to pass through the oversight of black families as vouchers to attend schools of their choice. Additionally, our nation could have prohibited “zip code laws” that blocked students from attending schools in different neighborhoods. If backed by prohibitions on race-based admissions criteria, black parents would have had economic power vis-à-vis local schools, and legal power vis-à-vis private schools and wealthy public schools.  

Sadly, this liberty-enhancing choice was never taken.  Instead, as has been well documented in housing markets of the same period, power brokers adopted progressive rhetoric to undercut actual choice by black families. As described by Brooklyn-based black activist Viola Plummer at a Black History Month event last year, “Somehow, Brown’s very fundamental and basic demand for equality was calculatedly translated in a U.S. Supreme Court hoodwink as ‘integration,’ after which we witnessed our children … bused to white neighborhoods, isolated and alone in hostile and dangerous territories.” The idea of integration and busing created the notion that all blacks needed to succeed was physical proximity to white students.  Even that was short-lived: a mere 20 years after Brown, the Supreme Court clarified that even segregation was permissible so long as there was no proof it had been “deliberate.”   

In addition to shutting down individual black choices, political leaders even went so far as to prevent black communities from exerting group control in districts where they held a local majority. This struggle took place decisively in Brooklyn from 1965 through 1968, involving a set of facts that resonate today, almost 50 years later.  In that case, the African-American Teachers Association (“ATA”, originally founded as the Negro Teachers Association) worked with black parents to seek changes in how local schools educated black students. The ATA had support from many black and Puerto Rican teachers, as well as many white teachers of black children, within the larger citywide United Federation of Teachers (or “UFT,” which then as now was the mostly-white teachers’ union of New York City.) The ATA sought to eliminate a “disruptive child clause” in the union contract, which the ATA claimed was used by white teachers to disproportionately punish and segregate black students. The ATA also sought to incentivize or compel experienced teachers to work in low-income schools. Eventually, the local school board with ATA support dismissed a number of white teachers and administrators.  In response, the UFT used its massive political muscle, including citywide strikes that disrupted classes for roughly two months. During the strikes, pro-ATA protesters were charged with “harassing” the UFT strikers; several of the protesters later counter-sued claiming that law enforcement had been discriminatory and excessive. In November 1968, the strikes ended with a state takeover of the local school district; the state Education Commissioner reinstated all of the dismissed teachers and transferred the locally appointed principals.  The force of the strikes, and the reaction, intentionally set a national precedent against local black control.

Reviewing these events from the perspective of America’s long-term racial history, it’s hard to miss the disturbing parallels. The specifics changed, from “slavery is good for blacks” prior to the Civil War, to “white owners are merely holding black sharecroppers’ income” during the Jim Crow era, to “blacks cannot be trusted with either vouchers or with control of local schools.” The parallels, however, included white control of financial resources that should have been controlled by black families; freedom of choice for black families subjugated to the economic interests of whites; and a rationale that invoked vague notions of the dangerous consequences of black agency.

Roughly thirty years after Brown, and fifteen years after the Brooklyn strike, the state of American education was reviewed in a 1983 report from the United States Department of Education.  This report, called A Nation at Risk, concluded: “functional illiteracy among minority youth may run as high as 40 percent.” Numerous contemporary reports from the time showed that black, Hispanic, and Native American students continued to fail in traditional public schools.  The only surprise was that white liberals expressed surprise. As a left-of-center author recently noted, this “classic white liberal” approach of allowed whites “to feel compassionate and superior at the same time,” without having to actual give quality choices to black families.