California: Clarity on school funding, Are English learners getting their due?

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Four years ago, Gov. Jerry Brown held the signing ceremony for a law making dramatic changes in public education funding at a school with a 99 percent minority student body in an impoverished Los Angeles neighborhood. The choice of Cahuenga Elementary School was meant to underline the noble intent of the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), which Brown and legislative leaders said would address one of California’s biggest needs by directing additional resources specifically to help the 1.3 million-plus students who struggled with learning English, foster children and children in poor communities. That week saw Brown, Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez and Senate leader Darrell Steinberg lavish praise on each other for their devotion to educational equity and to social justice.

But ever since then, the idealism that appeared to drive this legislation to passage has come to look more like artifice to cover up a power play — one that funneled billions of dollars to favored school districts, starting with giant Los Angeles Unified. In January 2015, the Legislative Analyst’s Office released a survey of 50 school districts, including the state’s 11 largest, and found not one was properly tracking LCFF funds to ensure they would be used as Brown promised. In June of that year, when state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson said (with the governor’s support) that LCFF dollars could be used for teachers’ raises, the bait-and-switch was complete.

Read the article at The San Diego Union Tribune.

Wanted: Many more teachers of color

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As a black man teaching in a public charter school in Brooklyn, I have seen first-hand how beneficial it is for students of color to have someone who looks like them in the front of the classroom.

Now, new research is backing what so many of us know from personal experience. According to a study of 100,000 black students by the Institute of Labor Economics released this month, having at least one black teacher in third through fifth grades reduced a black student’s probability of dropping out of school by 29% and significantly increased their chance of aspiring to attend a four-year college. For very low-income black boys, the results were even greater — their chance of dropping out of school fell 39%.

Read article  at NY Daily News

Protesters force Minneapolis School Board to rehire people of color

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A recent school board meeting in Minneapolis was the scene of a large protest against a series of firings that affected people of color disproportionately. The Superintendent, Ed Graff, says the firings are the result of a $28 million hole in the district’s budget – the result of overspending for five years straight. Protesters rejected that explanation. Their direct action forced board members to make an on-the-spot decision, over-ruling their superintendent, about rehiring fired staff. Below is a post about the issues driving the public outcry, written by Iris Altamirano, a community organizer and former candidate for Minneapolis School Board.

Firings Ring out at Minneapolis School District

by Iris Altamirano

In a family outing recently, I had to explain the sound of gunshots to my son. He is 5. We were about 100 miles north of our home in Northeast Minneapolis and we heard many shots fired. Not one, or two, but a lot. Enough that we retreated into the camper to muffle out the sound. The shots did not last long, but long enough to make an impact. I want to put out another talk that needs to be had. This talk is in regards to the Minneapolis Public School’s latest firings.

Two Fridays before spring break, shots were fired into the Office of Student, Family and Community Engagement (OSFE), Global Education, and Educational Support Professionals (ESPs), or paraprofessionals. The vast majority of personnel in these departments are a reflection of the people of color and indigenous (poci) communities they serve. In Minneapolis, 66 percent of students are of color. The same cannot be said of the city’s teacher workforce. Only 16 percent of the district’s teacher workforce are teachers of color. By contrast, the district’s paraprofessionals are a comparatively diverse group: 48 percent are people of color and 11 percent are bilingual. In many, many schools these are the ONLY staff of color. In many, many schools these are the ONLY staff that speak Spanish, or Somali, or Hmong, that are communicating with families.

Taking aim at those departments and their personnel was Superintendent Ed Graff, in what can be considered his biggest decision since being hired by the Minneapolis Board of Education last July. The same Ed Graff that was widely praised for his positions or racial equity when he was hired. Communications Director Tanya Tennessen said during a budget discussion that cuts were made “to get ahead” of Minneapolis Public Schools’ 5 year streak of operating $28-30 Million over budget. The “getting ahead” resolution is to cut 25% of the district budget and 10% of each school sites budget. At a recent District Parent Advisory Committee, I asked Superintendent Ed Graff how race is playing out in recent cuts, regardless of talent, qualifications, or effectiveness? Graff’s answer was disappointing: “Institutional racism has been around long before [him],” he stated.

Today, this is how institutional racism is playing out in Minneapolis Public Schools.

Shots Fired at the District level

– All women of color in Director or Executive Director positions have been cut, including the highest-ranking Latina & Deputy Education Officer, Elia Bruggeman, Director of Family & Partnerships, Lynnea Altas-Ingebreston, and Director of Teaching & Learning, Macarre Taynham.

-The Title I department has been dismantled, which included many people of color.

– The Integration Director, Dr. Lanise Block has been dismissed.

– Many of the teachers of color that were just hired by Macarre Traynham, Director of Teaching & Learning (who was also cut), have been let go.

– All Cultural Liaisons in the Office of Student, Family and Community Engagement (OSFE) and the only known survivor of the OSFE is a white male.

– Seven candidates from the Aspiring Principals pool were invited to interview for three positions as Principal or Assistant Principal. The four candidates who were put back into the pool were all people of color, and the three who received positions were all white.

Shots Fired at the School Site Level

– Schools cannot cut the math teacher, so across the board the vast majority of schools have cut their ESPs (Educational Support Professionals). In many, many schools these are the ONLY staff of color. In many, many schools these are the ONLY staff that speak Spanish, or Somali, or Hmong, that are communicating with families.

– Parents have been reporting that in at least one school, Pillsbury, the Spanish language programing is being greatly reduced.

-Educators like Eduardo Salgado Diaz, an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher at Andersen United Community School, and Lor Vang, a Social Worker at Hmong International Academy, and countless others, who will no longer be serving Minneapolis kids.

The many, many shots fired not only have several local Latinx leaders very concerned, but they ring out in familiar ways for those of us who come from humble backgrounds, and are echoes of the societal inequalities that affect us every day. These are echoes of the forms of overt, subtle, and implicit bias that plague our society and our school district.

There are so many different things that can be done. It is hard to pick one thing. There is no magic bullet solution, but these are systemic problems that have to be addressed on so many levels because there will be negative impacts.

To begin the generations-long conversation, we want an explanation as to why such a disproportionate number of staff of color are being fired, “forced to resign,” or “not being recommended for rehire,” even when the total number of jobs in public education are growing?

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.

Pain, Anger, and Confusion at the NAACP Hearing on Quality Education in New Orleans

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The NAACP’s nation-touring ‘education task force‘ recently held their penultimate (6th of 7) hearing on quality education in New Orleans. The hearing, which took place on April 6th in the City Council Chambers, ended up serving as a venting session for a community that is clearly hurting and seemed ready to pounce on the historic civil rights organization’s education panel.

Alice Huffman on the Education Task Force

Following the NAACP’s highly divisive call for a moratorium on charter schools, the education task force was assembled to tour the country and “take a deep look at the issues facing public schools, as well as the pros and cons of charter schools”. Alice Huffman, chair of the task force, noted that following the final stop in New York, the national body would be reviewing all the information gathered and putting forth a document they hope will guide policy around charter schools.

Like previous stops in New Haven, Memphis, Orlando, Los Angeles, and Detroit, the city of New Orleans would provide a unique landscape for the education panel to survey, provided they were willing to analyze the history, data and facts objectively. No doubt NOLA was picked because of its one-of-a-kind system in which the entire district is nearly all charter.

The Crescent City hearing followed a similar arc as the others, with a majority of the time spent alternating between testimony of “experts” making their case for and against the NAACP’s moratorium. The “for” speakers (meaning anti-charter) included state rep Joseph Bouie, Loyola University law professor Bill Quigly, Attorney Willie Zanders, Walter Umrani of the ‘New Orleans Peacekeepers, and Adrienne Dixon who was listed as speaking for the American Federation of Teachers, but clarified that was a mistake, as she was speaking on her own behalf (oops!).

Those against the motion included charter schools leaders Niloy Gangopadhyay of Success Preparatory Academy, Jamar McKneely of Inspire Schools, and Kate Mehok of Crescent City Schools. Orleans Parish School Board member John Brown was listed as a speaker, but didn’t end up giving testimony.

The presentation portion of the hearing would go more or less the same as at all the other stops, with the “for” speakers warning of the dangers of privatization, decrying what they see as the nefarious practices of charters, and answering the same questions about “creaming”, discipline, and segregation that the task members have asked at each stop.

Like in the other cities, local charter school leaders highlighted their track records of success, and asked the board to not throw the baby out with the bath water, seeing the moratorium as generalizing, reactionary and unnecessary when some charters are finding such a high level of success with marginalized students.

But, the most important and emotional point of the forum would come when a group of students took over the floor, and in turn the meeting. The young speakers spoke passionately about the lack of resources, support, and in some cases, teachers at their school. They highlighted shoddy school conditions and the self-doubt they feel from their educators’ lack of belief in their abilities. They spoke out against arbitrary cutoffs for measuring their success and decried counselors and leaders who aren’t putting them in situations to succeed.

This stakeholder takeover of the forum, something that has been missing from some of the other stops, showcased the pain and frustration of the community. It also caused confusion, as it seemed many community members had come to air grievances with the local chapter of the NAACP, rather than the national body the task force represented.

Things got testy when parents and students called out their local chapter for not responding to calls for help and not being in their schools to see what’s really going on. The task force, seemingly unhappy to be called out, wanted the audience to know that most of the organization is made up of volunteers and that they couldn’t possibly get back to everyone.

Questioned on how she could support charter schools, by the students and heavily anti-charter audience, task force head Alice Huffman was irate. “I wrote the resolution calling for this moratorium”. Lost in the justifiable anger of the students and parents, were a few things. The taskforce was in fact calling out charter schools, and has lost most of its pretense of holding unbiased, objective hearings (“I would close them all if I could” -Alice Huffman) and the horror story shared by the students was that of a TRADITIONAL district school, one of the only five remaining in NOLA. Unfortunately, it’s not clear if the task force left understanding the distinction.

Watch a portion of the public comment period at the hearing below, or follow us @EdCitizen (and the hashtag #NAACPHearing) on Twitter for more coverage of the quality education hearing.