The Network for Public Education’s racially clueless Tweet highlights the struggle to get black men into public schools

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Being a black leader in public education has it’s challenges.  For those leading or teaching in charter schools, it’s doubled. They are constantly reminded that they have a target on their backs drawn by a dedicated mix of ideological citizens, school district leaders, unionists, and union sympathizers who pray daily for the failure and demise of charter schools and those who run them.

You’ll know these antagonists when you see “save,” “reclaim,” “defend,” or “protect” before “our public schools” in their mission statement. These are the nastiest people in education.  Their singular focus in life is to amplify any study, report, or article that proves charter schools are worst than measles.

Frankly, there are cults I trust more.

The Network for Public Education (NPE) recently reminded me of this when they leveled up their cultural insulation and tweeted this:

The story that NPE is calling a scandal isn’t one. Someone dug for and found this man’s 12-year-old criminal offense and leaked it to the media.

The media, as they always do, ran with it.

And thus, you have the picture of another black man attached to something criminal. In this case it’s a real person with a real story that makes NPE’s tweet baffling.

His name is Koai Matthews and he is an interim principal at a Memphis area charter school called Lester Prep.

When hired by Lester Prep’s charter management organization Matthews went through a thorough process that revealed a felony criminal conviction. He never hid it. He was straight up about it. Took responsibility. He had to produce character witnesses and a written personal statement explaining his journey after the conviction.

Since his 2005 conviction Matthews earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Urban Education and Leadership, a Master’s Degree in Elementary Education and Teaching, and a Master’s Degree in Educational Leadership and Administration.

By most standards that’s considered a successful story.

The charter school’s management company determined his offense did not involve violence, drugs, or sexual misconduct. He was hired legally with full due diligence.

So why is this important? Because we are having two conversations nationally that provide useful context. This context should have prevented NPE from tweeting something so clueless, so insulated, so full of privilege.

In the first conversation we debate strategies for getting more black men like Matthews into public education.

Studies show black male teachers can “can improve Black boys’ schooling outcomes,” but, unfortunately, fewer than 2% of pubic school teachers are black men. We are not doing  a good job of attracting black men to the field, or retaining the ones who are there already.

In research conducted by Travis Bristol from Boston University black male educators reported being “loners,” the only ones in their buildings, and cast as behavioral managers instead of educators. Schools hire them to manage Black children, not transform the system so Black children don’t need managing.

The second, a different conversation finds many of us promoting “fair-chance” policies meant to stop criminal records from being a barrier to employment for people who want to turn their life around – especially black and brown men.

The National Employment Law Project estimates there are 70 million Americans with some sort of criminal record.

Matthews could be a role model for both of those goals, so why is he the subject of a NPE tweet calling his hiring as a fully credentialed black educator a “scandal”?

It’s not because of him. He’s done his fix-your-life work. It’s the NPE and others like them that are out-of-pocket here.

Spend any time in the education wars and you’ll realize that once you associate with a charter school all rules of human decency evaporate. All progressive boundaries of race, class, and diversity fade. Scandalizing black charter school leaders, especially men, is a sport for teachers, their unions, and their middle-class sisters in the public. They see Matthews as a charter school person, which by itself is an”attack” on all their cherished political virtues.

Not to be rude, but these people lack the social awareness and racial sophistication that God gave to gnats, bats, and infants.

Matthews’ story isn’t uncommon. We’ll see it again. But, as a community, we shouldn’t allow this type of shaming to go unchecked.

It’s hard enough to be a school leader working every day to help kids beat the odds against them, and to model a path toward success in places where there is too little of it. We should build these leaders up and not allow a swarm of internet busybodies to take them down by digging through their trash looking for information to smear them.

I spoke with Matthews yesterday and found him to be an inspiration. He takes the highroad, makes no excuses, and works hard to deserve his place in education. Happily, after the story broke about him there was an immediate outpouring of support from friends, family and community members.

He wrote this on Facebook: “My past is my past, however, it does not define me. I use my past as fuel for the work I do. I walk in the shoes of students who make mistakes and desperately need to know the value that an education can have in helping them navigate those mistakes.”

NPE doesn’t the value in that for our community and that’s the real scandal here. Matthews shouldn’t be shamed, but the NPE should.

Local property tax policies affect education funding and equity in a major way

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A new report from EdBuild titled “Building Equity: Fairness in Property Tax Effort for Education” analyzes the way public schools are funded via property taxes and how this affects school funding equity.

“Close to half of public school dollars in the United States are raised locally, mostly from local property taxes. But not all property tax bills are created equal. In some states, tax rates are fairly similar across districts, while in other states, property owners in one district may be putting in twice the tax effort as those in another.”

Those disparities in “tax effort” for education funding are a key emphasis for the report, which aims to determine whether the burden put on poorer districts is more than their wealthier counterparts. The findings do show a “regressive” tax rate overall in education funding from property taxes, meaning a majority of the states studied had lower tax rates in wealthier neighborhoods, but that’s not the main takeaway.

The key problem highlighted in the report is the taxation of non-residential property, like businesses, factories, and farms. The state-by-state analysis shows that districts “often fail to effectively leverage the non-residential property tax base for school funding.”

Simplified, it often occurs that districts fail to have progressive tax rates on high value properties, meaning they need to make up the difference in education funding with higher taxes on areas that already have smaller tax bases.

So, while equitable education funding should look like this:

Instead, it ends up looking like this:

When this happens, the state’s education funding is inherently unfair. Higher value properties and parts of town aren’t contributing their fair share of school funding, either limiting overall funding or increasing the burden on needier areas.

This report shows that states have a real capability to increase equity in education funding (or do the opposite) based on a few key policies:

  1. Including non-residential property taxes in the conversation around funding.
  2. Guiding and limiting districts’ local tax rates to promote fairness in tax effort.
  3. Taking into consideration the income levels of local taxpayers and setting relative, progressive tax rates for education funds.
  4. The final point of policy revolves around how the state determines each district’s needed budget, and how much they pay toward that total. Essentially, this will determine the tax burden that is put on the local taxpayers.

The general concept of property tax driven education funding seems to be intrinsically inequitable. But, if it is to continue to serve as the model, states must take steps to craft policy that balance the dollars going to districts and the tax burden placed on all citizens.

“If public education is meant to provide every child, no matter his or her background, with the opportunity to learn, grow, and thrive, then funding for public schools must be raised in a way that is aligned with this mission: fairly and equitably, in a manner that supports rather than harms needy communities.” – Building Equity: Fairness in Property Tax Effort for Education

How is it fair that poorer communities shoulder a greater tax burden than wealthier ones, while often still having their students receive fewer resources?

To see the full report and how states vary on their levels of fairness in educational funding: read more.

 

PODCAST: The sexual assault case that spurred the Civil Rights movement

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On September 3, 1944 a car full of white boys pulled up and demanded that Recy Taylor come with them. She was involved in some crime and they intended to straighten it out, they told her. She was a 24 years old, a mother, and a wife, walking home from church with a friend.

Recy Taylor case gets recognizedThey took her to a secluded place, raped her, then threatened to kill her if she told anyone.

When the case became widely known in Alabama, Marvin White approached the Taylors with an offer: A $100 settlement for each of the white men who raped Recy. White was the attorney representing the rapists, and he was insulted when the Taylors turned down his offer.

“Nigger — ain’t $600 enough for your wife,” he asked Willie Taylor, Recy’s husband.

Ms. Taylor’s case was not rare, in fact, there were similar sexual assaults occurring across the South. But this case reached one very special NAACP staffer, Rosa Parks, and she was dispatched to investigate the case.

In 2011, Ms. Taylor told NPR how her ordeal began:

I was – went to my friends house. Then she decided she wanted to go to church that night. I told her, yes, I would go. We went on to church and came back. A car running around outside of us, six young men jumped out with a gun and said that – you’re the one that cut a white boy in Clarkton. And the police got us out looking for you. You get in the car and we will take you uptown to the police station.

And they got me in the car and carried me straight through the woods, but before they go where they was going, they blindfolded me. After they messed over and did what they were going to do me, say, we’re going to take you back. We’re going to put you out. But if you tell it, we’re going to kill you.

So, first person I met was my daddy. And he said, where in the world you been? And I said, some white boys took me out and messed with me. And then the next person I met was Mr. Louis(ph), was the high sheriff. And he asked me, he said, well, Recy, what in the world happened to you tonight? And I told him. So Mr. Louis said, let’s just go back to the store and said, when we get down to the store, I’m going to go and see if I can find them.

On a recent Rock The Schools podcast with Citizen Stewart, Danielle McGuire (author of “At The Dark End Of The Street”) and Beth Hubbard (producer of “The Rape of Recy Taylor”) provide a powerful history lesson on how Ms. Taylor’s case became a critical piece of Black history, and contributed to the Montgomery bus boycott.

You can hear this podcast below:

Trump’s new education secretary will inherit a growing number of civil rights complaints

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The US Department of Education’s overburdened Office of Civil Rights must be sweating as they face leadership changes in both their department and in the White House.

Especially when that new leadership will come from Donald Trump’s pool of people not terribly concerned with civil rights.

To be fair, we don’t know what Trump or Betsy DeVos (his education secretary) will do. He said so little about education on the campaign trail besides “common core is a disaster,” we need school choice, and appeals to local control.

He also returned to an old Republican canard: getting rid of the Dept. of Education.

“A lot of people believe the Department of Education should just be eliminated. Get rid of it. If we don’t eliminate it completely, we certainly need to cut its power and reach.”

As a practical matter expect that to amounts to nothing. But, the department’s OCR could be in real trouble under Trump’s new regime.

Under President Obama that office gave continuous guidance to states and education officials encouraging them to stay in compliance with civil rights laws. It wasn’t always well received.

Republicans argued that the guidance letters overstepped the authority granted to the Department of Education (which isn’t much) and attempted to regulate how schools approach discipline, gendered restrooms, and teacher salaries – all things they say should be determined locally.

The “local control” argument in education is an American standard. So is federal intervention when people’s civil rights are violated. In the past few years civil rights claims in public schools have grown explosively, and it’s uncertain how those claims will be handled if OCR is substantially weakened.

Consider this from a recent Ed Week article: “The number of annual complaints to the U.S. Department of Education’s office for civil rights more than doubled since the start of President Barack Obama’s administration, increasing from 6,364 in fiscal 2009 to 16,720 in fiscal 2016.”

The article cites a government report detailing “ongoing civil rights issues the department [of education] sees…ranging from teacher and staffing inequities in schools, to chronic absenteeism and racial disparities in school discipline policies.”

In just one state, California, the feds settled nearly 100 cases of discrimination. According to a story in EdSource “in fiscal year 2016, the office reached 99 resolution agreements with school districts across the state.”

The claims resolved in settlements like these aren’t trivial. EdSource says investigators “found that African-American and Latino students in the Lodi Unified School District were disciplined more severely than white students for similar offenses, a special-needs student from Oakland Unified School District was denied his education because of harassment and excessive punishment, and female and male athletes in the Los Angeles Unified School District must have access to comparable facilities.”

Similar cases can be found across the country.

In East Hartford, Connecticut the OCR found district leaders “failed to ensure that LEP parents/guardians had comparable access to information that was provided to non-LEP parents/guardians in English during the enrollment and registration process.”

Minneapolis Public Schools were found to discriminate against black students by maintaining a two-tiered system of disciplinary consequences based on race. The resolution letter from the OCR offers multiple examples through the district.

Here’s one, “At Sheridan, a white kindergarten student was assigned to an alternate instruction room for repeatedly wandering around the classroom and leaving the class, while a black kindergarten student received a half-day out-of-school suspension for leaving the classroom and running through the school.”

While these cases aren’t new (as mentioned above, they have grown during Obama’s presidency), there is fear that Trump’s campaign rhetoric, heavy on racialized sentiments against Mexicans, immigrants, and Muslims, let a new genie out of the bottle. Schools are starting to encounter that genie and expressing fear.

We will have to wait and see how Trump and DeVos approach civil rights abuses in education, but if past is prologue, it isn’t looking good.

In the video below students and educators from one of the most diverse school districts in the country discuss how racial attitudes have changed in the past year.

 

After Trump’s election, mother says “I was scared as hell”

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I was scared as hell…

I’m kind of pissed that I feel like I was placed in this constant state of fear due to something that I tried to help control. I voted for Hillary. I wanted the democratic party to win. I needed her to deliver that victory. She didn’t. He won. And there I sat, frozen in fear.

Now let me be clear – I wasn’t fearful of Donald Trump. He’s just one man for goodness sake. However, he’s one man whose tentacles reach those who think it’s okay to be even more openly racist than before. I’m Black. I’ve been called nigger and jiggaboo, and yes, it’s been irritating, but I’ve handled it. I learned how to talk back and take up for myself, and ensure that whoever the person was who issued the racist negativity towards me would think twice before they did it to anyone else. Yeah, I was that type of person. A woman turned renegade because of life experiences.

I was recently asked to fly to the south for a meeting. Now I’m not going to say the city or state because I don’t want folks coming after me because I mentioned where they live. I don’t know if they would, but Donald Trump is going to be president so hell, anything can happen.

I didn’t want to go to said city because frankly I was scared as hell. I wasn’t sure if it was safe to travel to a place that historically has been unkind to Black folks. They didn’t like us before and quite frankly I’m not convinced they like us now.

But I went anyway. And while I was there something interesting happened. I was all of a sudden very “present”. More than I’ve ever been before. I felt myself on high alert “just in case.” I didn’t want to be caught off-guard in case some racist person decided they wanted to taunt me and tell me they were sending me back to Africa. (Actually the joke would be on them because I’m a descendant of whites and Native Americans. So theoretically, I’m more American than they are!)

But I digress.

So being present meant I was more aware of my surroundings and the people who filled the space around me. I was more inclined to make eye contact and say a cheerful hello. I held the door a little longer than I normally would for the person behind me. I created a safe space for myself by being consciously aware of the people who were there with me. It was earth shattering for me.

I wasn’t scared. I was intrigued. I wanted to know about everyone and hear their stories and understand, well, them. I wanted to listen and learn and offer and project and laugh and smile and feel safe for myself and for them. I found myself being able to do that during one of our conference sessions when we shared how we were feeling one week after the election. At one time we all shared our concerns and hopes. We all became vulnerable, together. The people of color in the room shared how they’ve been accosted and called names and approached by Trump supporters who did threaten to send them back to Africa (it’s funny how they just assume we know someone there. I personally don’t know one person in Africa. That might be a problem if we do have to go back!) Again, I digress.

I saw the fear in their eyes as they told their stories. I also saw the empathy and sadness in the eyes of all the others in the room. I watched them as they wept and became emotional because hate had been shown and what could be the future was very real. It was in that room. I heard heartfelt apologies from people who, I believe, felt that was all they could do at that time. And I felt myself open a bit more and receive what was being shared in that room.

As with most meetings or conferences, they feed you like you haven’t eaten in months. And so there we were on our fourth meal of the meeting and I saw the same woman who had been waiting on our group the entire time we were there. She always smiled and attended to our needs. I was drawn to her for some reason. She made me feel welcomed.

On the last day at the conference I came downstairs to check out and there she was. Ready to greet me with her smile and sunny personality. She asked me where I was from and I told her Washington, DC. I asked her and she told me Egypt. She has a husband and three children here – two are a set of twins. She told me how she enjoyed her job and she’d been in the US for six years. Her parents and siblings are still in Egypt and she wished they could come to the states and be with her, but it wasn’t possible. She told me about how hard she and her husband worked to provide for their family and how she was pleased that I was pleased with her service to us. I thanked her profusely for working with us and told her what an outstanding job she did and what a wonderful person she was, mainly because I wanted her to know that she mattered and her story mattered.

I left the hotel feeling enlightened. As I sat in our last meeting of the conference where I looked around at the people that I was spending time with and said to myself, “I am not alone. They may not feel what I feel as a Black woman, but I am not alone.”

Now I know my experiences won’t be the same as their experiences and my children’s lives won’t be the same as their children’s, but that’s okay. My children will have great lives regardless of who lives at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue simply because they can. I tell my sons all the time “a bird doesn’t ask for permission to fly. It just flies.” I say that to prove to them that they don’t need to ask permission to be great or smart or talented. They can just be. They don’t need anyone’s approval.

That’s how I feel now. I can still feel safe in this country. I don’t have to ask anyone’s permission for that to happen. I can go and come as I please without fear. And you know what? THAT Is what makes America great. Having an appreciation for the different types of people and ideals that make up this country. Understanding that while none of us may have all of the answers, we are all in this, together.


Naa Borle Sackeyfio is a Human Development graduate of the University of the District of Columbia. She wrote this post for the D.C. K-12 blog.