You can drag HBCU presidents for meeting with Donald Trump, but don’t ignore their struggles for our people

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If you were dying of thirst and some stranger rolled up to give you a tall glass of water, how would you feel about it?

What if the person giving you the water hated Mexicans, Muslims, lesbians, gays, transgendered or gender nonconforming children, black protesters, black people who vote, women, married women who resist genital grabbing men, white women who think for themselves, people who read, the media, and Rosie O’Donnell?

Such is the life of presidents leading America’s historically black colleges and universities recently invited to the White House. They are fighting for the survival of their institutions, often alone, and now they are suffering indignant Twitter challenges to their integrity because they met with Donald Trump.

“You’ve been used for a photo opp” many of the Twitter millennials – and some older people who act like Twitter millennials – are saying.

If you aren’t clear, Twitter millennials are always intellectually on point, morally pure, and insufferably “woke.” Especially the lucky few that make it through college (often through HBCUs) only to travel the country Snapchatting their picture-perfect meals while ignoring email soliciting contributions to the colleges they rep on t-shirts.

If only their activism was focused, practical, and aligned with the fight HBCU presidents are having to keep the lights on for a 150 year tradition of black self-determination in education.

University of Pennsylvania’s Marybeth Gassman, quoted in the Business Insider, says “HBCUs often struggle because they have fewer resources than other colleges — typically due to lower endowments and less money coming in from alumni giving.”

The same article points to inequitable funding from government, citing a piece by Donald Mitchell, Jr comparing ”the University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill’s $15,700 in state funding per student” versus “North Carolina A&T University’s $7,800 in state funding per student.

It’s doubtful that Trump found Jesus on this issue for himself. Realty television celebrity (and ordained pastor) Omarosa Manigault, herself an alum of Howard University, is suspected to be the point of origin for his calculating interest in throwing a bone to black education.

According to HBCU Digest the result will be an executive order promising increased support for HBSCUs, one that bills itself as “among the most progressive partnerships between the White House and HBCUs in decades.”

It’s going to be huuuuge.

I’m not so sure, but I’m happy to see “White House Initiative on HBCUs” might move from out of the Department of Education’s basement and into the actual White House.
Ironically, and painfully, this showy display of Trump’s love for black colleges is in bizarre contrast to eight years of President Obama’s record.

HBCU presidents have complained for almost a decade that the needs of their institutions, and their students, were not only neglected by the White House, but in some cases they were harmed.

Black college students and HBCUs were disproportionately impacted by the Obama administration’s changes to the time span students could use Pell Grants, and his stricter guidelines for government-backed student loans to low-income families.

Those defending Obama’s record will point out he increased funds for HBCU students by $1 billion. That’s true and you should be thankful for it.

Critics, though, will remind you that it wasn’t all perfect. During the same time, our Ivy League educated “first black president” often slid into discomforting paternalism and reminded his incredibly loyal black voters that he was the president of America, not black America. He scolded us about being better parents; told us to stop complaining, pull up our pants, take off our slippers, and get to work – for him.

We obliged like good soldiers even if it felt like a slap to our esteem. It’s what we do.

Nobody felt the agglomeration of that relationship more than HBCU leaders who never received the support you might expect from a president that enjoyed nearly universal black support.

Now HBCU leaders must pivot and make the best of yet another intricate relationship, this time with an incomparably problematic president who offers thirsty people water for political reasons (see Nixon’s overture to black capitalism for a parallel).

If I were leading a historically black college and I was asked to attend a meeting with the highest elected official on planet Earth, I would go and be there early. I would resist lazy activism or childish displays of oppositional defiance that promise no gains for my constituents. I would stubbornly keep the main thing (producing more black college graduates), the main thing (producing more black college graduates!!!).

Regardless of who occupies the Oval Office, we must stay focused on our permanent interests, and the survival of black schools is definitely one of those interests.

If you want a detailed list of tangible policy aims to bolster HBCUs and their students, the UNCF (as always) has you covered. Their memo to President-elect Donald Trump from December 2016 details 10 actionable goals we all should support.

If all you want to do is be Twitter-famous for talking nonsense about people who are doing more than you increase the number of educated black people, no one can help you.

All I can tell you is that if Twitter had been active when Booker T. Washington was building black educational institutions more than a century ago – the institutions that created successive waves of middle class black intellectuals, professionals, and yes, Twitter activists – we might not have HBCUs today.

Luckily we have always had leaders that knew how to keep their eyes on the prize. Sometimes you just have to drink the unholy water and pray your people will have some grace about your sacrifices.

The NAACP’s demands of charter schools aren’t about educational quality

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If you want to kill a good idea just set impossible conditions for its success and it will die trying to meet them. That’s the apparent strategy behind the resolution adopted by the National Association of Colored People this fall calling for a moratorium on public charter schools until the following four conditions are met:

(1) Charter schools are subject to the same transparency and accountability standards as public schools

(2) Public funds are not diverted to charter schools at the expense of the public school system

(3) Charter schools cease expelling students that public schools have a duty to educate and

(4) Charter schools cease to perpetuate de facto segregation of the highest performing children from those whose aspirations may be high but whose talents are not yet as obvious.

These conditions are either unprovable, subjective or baseless so the call for a moratorium is essentially a call for no new charter schools until the NAACP changes its mind. It’s like some accountability opponents who insist they are not against testing but simply want “valid, reliable” tests, and then go on to argue that every existing test falls short of this “reasonable” standard.

Consider the conditions one at a time.

Are transparency and accountability standards different for charters than for traditional public schools? Charters and traditional public schools are both subject to the same open meetings laws and financial and academic reporting requirements.

Both public charter schools and traditional public schools are required to administer the same standardized tests and meet the same performance goals. And charter schools are closed down more frequently than traditional public schools.

When families are provided quality, accessible, and easily-digestible information about charter schools, charters also face organic accountability from parents seeking the best options for their children. They just leave.

In practice, many charter schools may face less scrutiny than traditional public school systems because the public and the media don’t regularly attend their board meetings, but the laws apply equally. Charter schools are also held accountable by their authorizers who, in a quality environment, are similarly watched and held accountable by an oversight body.

The second requirement is silly on the face of it. Charter schools are public schools and in our system of public education, most of the money follows the child. If a child switches from a neighborhood school to a magnet school, to another traditional public school, or if the child’s family moves to another school district, the school loses some funding tied to that child.

It’s no different for charters. Traditional public schools are not entitled to keep money dedicated to a child’s education simply by virtue of the the child’s address. Parents vote with their feet and the money follows the child. When school enrollment declines, for whatever reason, the system must adjust.

It’s important to note that, despite the fact that money should follow the child, charters get approximately one third less funding than traditional public schools. They’re typically provided only a portion of the per-pupil expenditure and have less access to facilities funding.

Regarding, the third issue, there is some data showing higher suspension and expulsion rates among some charter schools, but there are also places like D.C. and New Orleans offering positive alternatives to suspension and expulsion. Traditional public schools invented zero discipline policies and are plenty guilty of suspending and expelling students. Blanket condemnation of the entire charter sector is both unfair and false.

And let’s also remember that some charters, like some traditional schools, may not be right for some kids, but that’s a decision for the parent and the school to make together. If charter schools are systematically pushing kids out, authorizers should hold them accountable.

The fourth issue is especially hard to pin down. The NAACP implies that charters are “creaming” — screening out low-performing students in order to boost their overall test scores. Here again there may be anecdotes, but there is no data supporting this claim, and therefore no ability for the charter sector to “meet” this expectation.

What are the facts about creaming and what would satisfy the NAACP? Nobody knows. What we do know is that when applicants exceed the number of seats, charters hold a lottery and accept all kids who are selected. Magnet schools and gifted programs, which are in many traditional school systems, openly screen for higher-performing students. Is the NAACP okay with that?

In the end, quality must count most

None of the NAACP’s four conditions have anything to do with educational quality, which is, after all, the core reason we have charters. Parents want better educational options for their kids. Studies show that many charters, especially in urban areas, are doing very well and the best of them are closing achievement gaps.

Parents have a right to choose the school that best meets their child’s educational needs. People with money choose private schools or move to expensive communities with better schools.  Charters empower low-income parents to make the same choice.

Public charter schools aren’t perfect and they need some oversight. But the NAACP’s four conditions fail the “reasonable” test and their moratorium will effectively take away a parent’s right to choice from the very people the organization exists to serve.A

School districts haunted by a ‘creepy clown’ fear campaign

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Every generation produces an aging bunch that proclaims “the world is going to hell in a hand basket.” Now that group has proof.

Public schools in multiple states are reporting a rash of “creepy clown” incidents that involve death threats, crimes, and the menacing of school staff. The New Times says 12 people are facing various charges. At least one “clown hoax” that has been linked to a death.

Were this happening in one place there might be less concern, but district from east to west are experiencing attacks.

A teen in Kansas has been arrested for making “creepy clown” threats on social media against two schools in Wichita.

A high school student was arrested in Prince George’s County, Maryland for making threats against Parkdale High School, and another student faces disciplining for bomb threats against Blandensburgh High School.

Parents in Seattle were alerted by school staff that several local schools were named as clown targets in Instagram and Facebook posts.

School officials in New Haven have called for a ban on clown costumes until more information is available about the threat clown threat.

While none of these stories give clues about the origin of the creepy clown faux-crime wave against public schools, Thomas Erik Bascome’s article in locates State Island, New York as the launching point.

He says:

In March 2014, there were several reports of a mysterious clown wandering Staten Island that caused quite the uproar online.The “Staten Island Clown” became a social media sensation when pictures came forth of him dressed in what appeared to be a replica costume of Pennywise from Stephen King’s “It” — consisting of a yellow jumpsuit, face paint, and a classic red nose.

The story drew massive interest and was shared by many major news outlets.

The clown was spotted at the Grasmere and Richmond Valley train stations but reportedly did not bother anyone, simply standing and waving at onlookers. However, this was enough to scare several Staten Islanders to the point of Tweeting that they were afraid to even leave their house.

Less than a week after the first reports came out, it was discovered that the “Staten Island Clown” was really just a promotional stunt for Fuzz on the Lens Productions, a low budget film company with roots on Staten Island. 

In past years the public might had viewed these incidents as youthful horseplay. But in an era of school shootings and declining school budgets schools districts must take precautions that divert staff attention and resources to a needless problem that puts everyone on edge.

Kids today.

How can a school district be ‘politically neutral’ about black lives?

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Wearing a Black Lives Matter t-shirt got a Senior at Buckeye Union High School called into her principals office. She says her principal asked her to remove the shirt after receiving a complaint from a student who was offended by it.

It all started when Mariah Harvard encountered a student who told her “black lives don’t matter” and “that shirt is meaningless.” Harvard attempted to explain what the shirt meant to her, but the other student complained and school leaders responded by banning the shirt.

Last Friday her vice principal ordered her to remove her sweatshirt to see if she was wearing the BLM shirt again, something local BLM activists call a “quasi-strip search.”

The incident prompted 10 students to stage a walk out where they were supported by their parents, community members, and local civil rights groups.

According to Great Schools, Buckeye Union High School has only 7% black students enrolled (53% Hispanic, 38% white). The school has graduation rates for all groups well above the state average, but low test scores.

School officials issued a statement that said the district “strives to remain politically neutral while still allowing for student expression.”

It should be surprising to all that in 2016 three obvious words, Black Lives Matter, are more than a “public” school can handle.

Even if teachers aren’t in it for the pay, they should still be paid well

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A good family friend recently told me about a $175 steak offered at a high-end restaurant in Las Vegas. I wondered what kind of magic cow could produce such a piece of meat, and who are the people willing to fork over that kind of cash to devour one?

This is America. We pay 4000% mark up for a good cup of coffee. We add several hundreds of dollars to the cost of a two-hour flight for the pleasure of sitting in first class which includes a couple of drinks, and a few extra service touches that make flying civilized. We pay extra for lounging chairs in movie theaters. We believe in the power of money and the promise of premium, meaning, we pay more for things we assume are of better quality.

Except for teachers. They’re screwed.

We expect high quality, but we aren’t willing to pay the cost of being the boss.

John Fensterwald from EdSource has a Huffington Post piece about the problem, based on a new report from the Economic Policy Institute:

Pay for teachers has stagnated nationally over the past two decades, and fallen behind earnings of other workers with college degrees, the Economic Policy Institute, a Washington-based nonpartisan think tank, concluded in a report released Tuesday.

In 1994, teachers earned on average 1.8 percent less than other comparable workers; by 2015, they earned 17 percent less, adjusted for inflation. Factoring in total compensation, including health benefits and pensions, teachers earned the same as other workers with college degrees in 1994 but 11 percent less by 2015, the report found.

There is never a good time to under-pay teachers, but this time might be the worst. According to the report mentioned from the EPI, “At the same time [that teacher wages are depreciating], many factors are increasing the demand for teachers, including shrinking class sizes, the desire to improve diversity, and the need to meet high standards…In short, the demand for teachers is escalating, while simultaneously the supply of teachers is faltering.”

We want high-quality teachers capable of teaching students of color, the new majority in public schools. We want these teachers to be talented and connected to the communities in which they teach. But we’re making them a lousy job offer: work hard, eat little.

We want smaller classes and outsized gains in student achievement, but the pipeline of new teachers is too weak to meet the need.

All put together, shouldn’t that spur premium pricing for teacher salaries?

Nobody gives teachers and their unions a harder time about quality and results than I do. It’s to the point that people believe it’s personal with me (it’s not). I just can’t see how the question of quality teaching is disconnected from the issue of pay.

Yet, when we discuss connecting teacher pay to quality and expectation for results we enter a peanut gallery of conflicting interests. We fall down a dark and cold mine shaft of arguments about the definitions of those ends, the ways we are to measure them, and, in some cases, whether pay and performance should be connected at all.

No blog post will solve that one. Still, wherever you sit in the education wars you have to admit that great teaching is probably harder than what you do. You can’t be serious as a citizen about investing in subsequent generations if you aren’t willing to reward the people tasked with facilitating the intellectual development of children.

Teachers often say they don’t enter the profession for the money. It’s a rejoinder meant to express they have noble intentions for pursuing teaching. I appreciate the thought, but I think they should stop saying it. Whether you like it or not money matters to Americans and it will always be difficult to entice new entrants into the field if it is widely known that doing so means vowing to poverty and being viewed as the one profession least valued in terms of compensation.

If we’re willing to splurge on premium costs for things that aren’t essential, like steaks and chairs on planes or in movie theaters, it’s inconceivable that we would continue to depreciate the people we expect to be caring, competent, and committed when they stand before our children in classrooms.