NAACP’s Charter School Task Force Meets Resistance in Los Angeles

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Hands off our charter schools!

That was the message delivered to the NAACP by charter parents, students and educators in an outdoor press conference ahead of the civil rights organization’s education hearing held at the Los Angeles Police Department Headquarters. The NAACP is currently engaged in a series of hearings around the country to hear from a variety of experts and community members about the organization’s call for a moratorium on charter schools.

That moratorium, passed by the historic civil rights group in October of 2016, has received heavy push-back from the African-American community as well as charter advocates who argue that it doesn’t align with the well-documented attitudes of parents who want more educational choices for their children.

The news conference, organized by the California Charter School Association, featured signs, t-shirts and pointed speeches condemning the NAACP policy. Students shared success stories of overcoming adversity at home and in their communities which they attributed to their charter schools. Educators spoke of the flexibility they have to customize their programs to the needs of their students.

“Black children have found solace in attending charter programs and many are finding greater acceptance and achieving greater victories” – Carmen Taylor Jones, National Council of Negro Women.

Educators and administrators from local charter schools also gave impassioned pleas to the NAACP to reconsider their call for a halt on expansion of the sector, noting charters are a viable option having positive results for many marginalized communities in California.

Following the press conference outside, the community members filled in the L.A. Police Department Auditorium, to take part in the hearing on charter schools and educational quality.

Margaret Fortune, CEO of Fortune School of Education, a network of K-12 public charter schools focused on closing the African American achievement gap, gave perhaps the most passionate testimony to the task force. In a reoccurring theme for the charter advocates that spoke, she noted that she is a card-holding member of the organization, but could not wrap her head around the idea that they would call for a halt to a system that is showing results with so many Black children.

“The charters and public schools today have to work together. Charter schools exist because of dissatisfaction with public schools” – George McKenna, LAUSD District 1 Board Member. 

Fortune and several others who gave testimony lamented the division caused by the moratorium, noting that it was a “distraction” that was dividing, rather than empowering the community to work together to fight for quality education regardless of school type.

Similar to the most recent hearing in Orlando, Florida, the task force listened to testimony from a variety of speakers advocating both for and against the moratorium. Speakers at this event included charter school founders and advocates, teachers union representatives, school board members and unlike the previous hearing, a relatively large group of parents, teachers, and students.

The final segment of the hearing, a time designated for comments and questions from these stakeholders, showed more of the division between those in attendance, with speakers alternating between supporting and condemning the charter moratorium.

One thing was clear from the outset: these California charter families and advocates have and will continue to organize to stop the NAACP and any other body from limiting their educational options.

Even when we have video showing brutalization of black students, it isn’t enough

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You remember the video from 2015. A black student ripped from her chair by a Richland County Sheriff’s Deputy – Ben Fields – and flung across the floor like a bag of beans.

The incident caused outrage and a national discussion about the existence of police officers in public schools, which led to a federal investigation. Now that investigation is done and it concluded “the evidence was insufficient to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Fields willfully deprived the Spring Valley High School student of a constitutional right”

The video, graphic and horrendous, wasn’t enough.

Fields is suing the Sheriff department that fired him after the incident. He claims there is an internal affairs memo explaining his actions were within the bounds of department policy.

Let that sink in as you watch this again:

If that is acceptable within the guidelines of police department policy, reasonable people should admit that department policy is jacked and must be changed.

Here’s a kicker to it all: Fields claim his former employer took action on him after the incident because he is white.

“The unlawful conduct particularly implicated herein includes, but is not limited to: intentionally disadvantaging white employees in matters involving black individuals and disparate treatment to white employees with regard to the terms and conditions of their employment, and unequal treatment with regards to decisions to hire and fire,” his suit says.

These dramas, played out in the news and social media, do so little to examine the violation of the black students. In this case it was a student brutalized before her classmates (and then the world through a viral video), and another student, Niya Kenny, who documented the incident with her cellphone and was arrested by Fields for doing so. She never returned to Spring Valley, opting to finish her high school career by getting and GED instead.

Listen to Kenny’s account given to Ed Week:

This is a problem for us

An analysis done by Ed Week found a strong presence of school resource officers accompanied by disproportionate arrests of students.

They say 46% of high schools, 42% of elementary schools, and 18% of elementary schools have an onsite school resource officer. Those officers are sometimes trained for their unique role in public schools, but often they lack special training.

While black students make up 16% of public school students overall, the represent 33% of those arrested at school.

A 2013 Congressional report found schools with SRO’s can “deter students from committing assaults on campus,” but students “might be more likely to be arrested for low level offenses.”

On that problem criminal justice journalist Gary Fields  says “A generation ago, schoolchildren caught fighting in the corridors, sassing a teacher or skipping class might have ended up in detention. Today, there’s a good chance they will end up in police custody.”

Examples? Gary Fields has them:

“In Texas, a student got a misdemeanor ticket for wearing too much perfume. In Wisconsin, a teen was charged with theft after sharing the chicken nuggets from a classmate’s meal—the classmate was on lunch assistance and sharing it meant the teen had violated the law, authorities said. In Florida, a student conducted a science experiment before the authorization of her teacher; when it went awry she received a felony weapons charge.”

While most parents, educators, and community members agree students need to be safe in school, and making that so may be more difficult as schools educate students increasingly coming from under-resourced communities, there is concern schools are using police officers to take action in routine school discipline matters.

The consequence: more students with criminal records.

An ACLU report called “arrested futures” says schools “have every right to hold disruptive students accountable,” but “criminalizing” through arrests makes students three times more likely to drop out. Students who drop out are eight times more likely to end up in the criminal justice system.

That amounts to taking the “to” out of “school-to-prison pipeline.”

“While some school districts use on-site officers to apprehend students who pose a real and immediate threat to the physical safety of those around them, others predominantly use these officers to enforce their code of student conduct. In such districts, officers are encouraged to arrest, in many cases using public order offenses as a justification, students who are unruly, disrespectful, use profanity, or show attitude,” the report says.

In the end this isn’t about Niya Kenny’s viral video of an out-of-control Ben Fields, or even the presence of officers in schools. It’s about the widespread failure to see black students as fully human, as typical youth, and as individuals with unsurpassable worth rather than threatening walking stereotypes that must be punished and made to conform.

That may not be a problem specific just to public education, but public schools, given the charge of nurturing the nation’s children, certainly have a higher calling to do better than this.

For a look at the case against using school resource officers, read “Education Under Arrest,’ a report by the Justice Policy Institute.

Education Under Arrest by Citizen Stewart on Scribd

Stop Suspending Our Black and Brown Babies

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Blacks, American Indians, male students and those with disabilities were far more likely to be suspended, continuing longstanding disparities. – Pioneer Press, 11/25

Suspensions in Saint Paul Public Schools remain a huge concern.  The Saint Paul Pioneer Press recently reported on the suspension rates for the district from last year to now. The article points out, among many things, that suspension rates for white students have gone down while suspension rates for African American and Native American students is on the rise.

After reading the article, I began to wonder if these numbers could be related to the recent firing of Superintendent Valeria Silva. I prefer to call it a staged coup actually.  So what does the firing of Valeria Silva have to do with rising suspension rates for Black and Native students? Well, last year, I kept hearing rumblings from the Saint Paul Federation of Teachers that her policies (mainstreaming special education students, Talking Beyond Diversity Training, and the end of suspensions for “willful defiance”) were causing “chaos in schools.” At the same time, there were some fights that broke out across SPPS. Teachers quickly jumped on the highly publicized fights as a way to attack Valeria’s policies.

So what did the teachers do when they had to stop suspending  little Black and Brown bodies? They took over the schools with 4 new board members, bought and paid for by the union. These new members were sworn in and before we knew it, Valeria Silva was gone.

This school year students at the High School For Recording Arts (HSRA) joined the national week of action against school push-out (Solutions Not Suspensions Coalition in MN & Dignity in Schools). Students educated their peers, collected stories, did live performances, and held a candidate forum. The candidate forum hosted Senator Pappas and Rep Rena Moran as well as a Republican candidate seeking to unseat Moran. A parent asked the panel about their plans to address the school to prison pipeline.

Senator Pappas responded that a school to prison pipeline does not exists and claimed that there is no data –other than anecdotes–to support the claim.

So let’s take a look at some of these anecdotes by which she is so unmoved:

One student is suspended more than 100 times in one school year at Humboldt High school for one of the following:

  • Event:  Disorderly Conduct -Details: Student was play-fighting in the hallway. Resolution 1: Dismissal, more than one half day
  • Event: Absence, Chronic Truancy- Participant Details: Tyrese is on the no pass list and I saw him wandering the 2nd floor hallway with one of the McCune twins.
  • Event: Absence, Tardiness Role: Participant Details: Student is 5+ minutes late for 2nd period class. Has 7 tardies this period, 23 total. Resolution 1: Dismissal, more than one half day
  • Event: Absence, Chronic Truancy-Participant Details: Student did not attend his geometry class. This is his second time being truant today. Resolution 1: Dismissal, less than one half day
  • Event: Disorderly Conduct- Participant Details: Student was play fighting in the hallway. Resolution 1: Dismissal, more than one half day

Quite remarkably, one student explains that it is the policy of his school, Humboldt High School, to automatically dismiss students for the rest of the day if they are caught in the hallway without a pass. If the the student gets mad about the dismissal and vents that anger (slams door, curses), upon their return the following day they are informed that they are now being suspended for ‘anger’ and must return with a parent if they are to be allowed to resume classes. According to the same student, since so many parents are at work during the school day, the re-suspended students just don’t come back.

A different student from Humboldt High School says:

I was always getting kicked out of class and suspended for no reason. I was watched by teachers, administrators and School Resource Officers because I was labeled “a behavior problem.” I had to work in the office with the behavior teacher…I got suspended for arguing with a teacher about work I turned, but he said I didn’t…

Another student talks about suspensions in general:

I feel that kids are judged by stereotypes. Because people think we are aggressive and short tempered, they want to kick us out and send us home….White kids don’t get suspended for doing the same things we do..schools are not meant for Black kids…they don’t teach us about ourselves..teachers show attention to White, and the Black kids are more likely to get assigned to seats in the back.

And a fourth student talks about their experience:

When I was at Humboldt my counselor asked me why was “wasting my time at school — school wasn’t for me.

And lastly, another student shared:

I just left. My mom got frustrated because this one teacher kept calling me boy, and I told him I am not his boy.

The experiences shared by these students are just the tip of the iceberg. More scary is that it seems that the excessive suspensions of black and brown kids is happening by design.  No blacks. No muslims. No bangers. No pregnant girls. No Burmese. No “juveniles delinquents.” These are the stereotypes that not only students but I myself  have to confront each day. It feels like certain kids are disposable, like yesterday’s trash; this is heartbreaking for me because almost all of them look like me.  Am I to believe that as a group we are so traumatized that our kids are damaged goods from the time they enter kindergarten? Because that’s when it starts. That’s when little black kids begin to hear that they are not good enough. Black students are disproportionately suspended from class, starting as early as preschool, according to new data from the U.S. Department of Education collected from all public school districts during the 2013–2014 school year. Outgoing Secretary of Education John King has said publicly that the data shows that students of color, English language learners and students with disabilities are facing serious educational inequities, including when it comes to school discipline and suspensions.

At the most recent school board meeting in Saint Paul, board members pointed to Restorative Justice as a reason to be hopeful that suspensions will decrease. But it’s hard to be confident when only six schools district wide have implemented a restorative model. How can the school board let business as usual continue after seeing the disparity in the suspension numbers?

Education cannot be the great equalizer if students are pushed out, sent home, and told there is something wrong with them because the system is working just fine. I cannot and will not sit idly by while I see children who look just like me losing out on their chance to learn. I cannot and will not sit idly by while black and brown students are kicked out of school and sent home for minor infractions.  I cannot and will not sit idly by when the Pioneer Press is reporting an increase in suspensions for Black and Native American students.

Students and parents need our voices. And they need them now.

This piece was written by Khulia Pringle. She is a parent, educator, education activist, and community organizer working in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Are schools further traumatizing students who already have enough challenges?

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“I have experienced a lot, but that doesn’t define all that I am.” -High School Student

Many students across our city and country experience trauma that is pervasive and unrelenting. Often these experiences go unspoken and untreated.

With social services constricted and schools feeling like they are forced to cut counselors, our students are consistently told that they are not cared about. Even before the most recent slashing of school budgets that we experienced in PA, many Philly schools were far below the ratio recommended by experts-which is a paltry 250:1. I have yet to work in a school where that ratio serves students well.

Previously, in my brief stint as a social worker, I saw the impact of trauma in children. As a social worker, I made dozens of home visits and parents would describe conditions that would make grown folks wilt under the pressure. Later, I would learn that researchers called this Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and conducted studies.

Researchers determined that “ACEs are adverse childhood experiences that harm children’s developing brains so profoundly that the effects show up decades later; they cause much of chronic disease, most mental illness, and are at the root of most violence.”

Per researchers, 13% of adults in PA have an ACES score of 4 or higher. In the community we serve, 30-45% of adults reported an ACES score of 4 or higher.

Read all of this blog post by Sharif El-Mekki at Philly’s 7th Ward.

What it means to be black in the American educational system

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Many people still think that racism is no longer a problem in America. After the election of President Obama, academic John McWhorter argued that racism in America is, for all intents and purposes, dead. The prominent conservative scholar and African-American economist Thomas Sowell has argued that “racism isn’t dead, but it is on life support.” Harvard professors William Julius Wilson and Roland Fryer too have argued about the declining significance of race and discrimination.

However, as we wind down the final months of Obama’s presidency, the declining significance of race and discrimination narratives seem to be at odds with the lived realities for African-Americans. President Obama himself has faced racist treatment, such as the birther controversy and a member of Congress saying “you lie.” And then, one incident after another has highlighted the painful reality that black men are disproportionately likely to die at the hands of the police in comparison to any other demographic group.

Sadly, racism and discrimination are facts of life for many black Americans. As an African-American scholar who studies the experiences of black college students, I am especially interested in this issue. My research has found that black college students report higher levels of stress related to racial discrimination than other racial or ethnic groups. The unfortunate reality is that black Americans experience subtle and overt discrimination from preschool all the way to college.

Here’s what studies show

The results of a recent survey by the Pew Research Center underscore this point. The survey found that black Americans with some college experience are more likely to say that they have experienced discrimination compared to blacks who did not report having any college experience.

Additional survey results revealed several differences between blacks with college experience versus blacks without college experience. For example, in the past 12 months, 55 percent of people with some college experience reported people had acted suspicious of them, compared to 38 percent of those with no college experience.

Similarly, 52 percent of people with some college experience reported people had acted as if they thought the individual wasn’t smart, compared to 37 percent of people with no college experience.

So, what are the race-related struggles experienced by African-American students throughout their schooling?

Story of Tyrone

Let’s consider the case of Tyrone. Tyrone is a four-year-old black male raised in a two-parent household. Like most four-year-olds, Tyrone is intellectually curious, and has a vivid imagination. He loves books, loves to color and paint, and also loves physical activities such as running, jumping and playing games with his friends.

Behaviorally, Tyrone is also similar to many four-year-olds in that he often likes to talk more than listen, and he can be temperamental. He can engage in hitting, kicking and spitting behaviors when he is angry.

One day Tyrone was playing a game with a friend and he lost. Tyrone got angry and threw the ball at his friend. A teacher witnessed that and immediately confronted Tyrone about his behavior.

Angry about being confronted, Tyrone started to walk away. The teacher grabbed his arm. Tyrone reacted by pushing the teacher away. The teacher sent Tyrone to the principal’s office. After consultation with the principal, Tyrone was deemed to be a danger to students and staff.

He was consequently suspended.

Early years of schooling

On the surface this looks like a simple case of meting out the appropriate punishment for perceived serious student misbehavior. There does not appear to be anything explicitly racial about the interaction.

However, consider the fact that there have been many instances of white students engaging in the same behavior, none of which ever result in suspension. This is the racialized reality black students experience every day in American schools.

Black boys are almost three times as likely to be suspended than white boys, and black girls are four times as likely to be suspended than white girls. Black students’ (mis)behavior is more often criminalized compared to other students.

While black kids make up 18 percent of preschool enrollment, they represent 48 percent of students receiving one or more suspensions. Getting suspended matters because it is correlated with being referred to law enforcement and arrested. Black students account for27 percent of students who are referred to law enforcement and 31 percent of students who are arrested, while they only make up 18 percent of enrolled students. As a general rule, black students do not often receive the benefit of the doubt when they engage in bad or questionable behavior.

School experience

When Tyrone entered fourth grade, teachers noticed a change in his demeanor. His enthusiasm for school and learning had diminished considerably. He no longer eagerly raised his hand to answer questions. He no longer appeared to love books and listening to stories. He appeared to have little joy participating in class activities. His teachers characterized Tyrone as “unmotivated,” “apathetic,” having “learning difficulties” and “a bad attitude.”

Educators and researchers have referred to this phenomenon as “the fourth grade failure syndrome” for black boys. Early childhood educator Harry Morgan suggested that this phenomenon occurred during this time because the classroom environment changes between the third and fourth grade from a socially interactive style to a more individualistic, competitive style.

This change in style is counter to the more communal and cooperative cultural learning environment which, according to research, black students tend to prefer. The fourth grade failure syndrome refers to a bias in schools (e.g., cultural insensitivity, disproportionately harsh discipline, lowered teacher expectations, tracking black students into special education or remedial classes) that has the cumulative effect of diminishing black students’ (especially boys’) enthusiasm and motivation for school.

By high school Tyrone no longer identified with school. His sense of pride and self-esteem increasingly came from his popularity and his athletic abilities rather than his intelligence. Psychologist Claude Steele has referred to this as “academic disidentification,” a phenomenon where a student’s self-esteem is disconnected from how they perform in school.

Tyrone is not alone. According to one study based on national data from almost 25,000 students black males were the only students that showed significant disidentificationthroughout the 12th grade. My research too has confirmed this, although I did not find evidence among black females, white males or white females.

What’s the college experience?

While the narrative of more black men being in prison than in college has been thoroughly debunked by psychologist Ivory Toldson, it is still the case that black men are underrepresented in college. According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, there were 887,000 black women enrolled in college compared to 618,000 black men.

Owing in large part to the emphasis of education by his family, Tyrone is fortunate enough to be accepted to college. Excited and nervous about being away from home, Tyrone looks forward to starting his college experience.

Like many college students, Tyrone likes to go to parties thrown by Greek organizations, and he frequently attends parties thrown by black fraternities. While attending one party, Tyrone and his friends became upset when campus police broke up the party because of complaints of loud music and threaten to arrest the attendees.

Tyrone has partied with white friends and knows firsthand that their parties often involve drugs and reckless behavior, yet, as my students tell me, police almost never break up their parties. As it turns out, white fraternities are frequently the perpetrators of racist incidents, which cause Tyrone and other black students to engage in campus protests.

For example, in 2014, Tau Kappa Epsilon, a fraternity at Arizona State University, was suspended for having a racist Martin Luther King Jr. party at which they drank from watermelon cups, held their crotches, wore bandannas and formed gang signs with their hands.

Resilience

To add insult to injury, Tyrone and other black students read opinion pieces in the student paper complaining how affirmative action discriminates against white students and allows less qualified “minority” students on campus.

Tyrone finds refuge in black studies classes, where he learns about theories such as “critical race theory” and terms such as “institutional racism,” “white privilege” and “hegemony.” Exposure to these classes provides Tyrone with the vocabulary and critical analytical tools to better understand the challenges facing black people.

So it is not surprising that college-educated blacks like Tyrone are more likely to report experiencing discrimination in college than blacks with no college experience in college environments where racist incidents and racial microagressions are frequently reported. In spite of the desire among many for America to be colorblind, at every level of education black students experience disproportionate amounts of discrimination.

In many ways my research on African-American students reflects my own experiences as a black male negotiating the challenges of being in predominantly white academic environments. The silver lining to this story is that black students are incredibly resilient and there are positive things to report.

In 2016, for example, enrollment at historically black colleges and universities has increased. It is difficult to know if this increase is related to the negative experiences of discrimination black students often experience on predominantly white campuses, but it does suggest that interest among black students in obtaining a college education remains high. According to 2016 data reported in the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, black women now have the highest graduation rate of any demographic group at the University of Georgia.

For every positive outcome for students like Tyrone, there are unfortunately also too many negative outcomes for other similar students. The educational experiences of Tyrone and all black students matters should be of concern to everyone.

While education is not a cure all for experiences with racism and discrimination, education can equip us with the tools to better understand, analyze and ultimately find solutions to the tragic incidents we are seeing too frequently involving police killings of black people.


Kevin Cokley, Ph.D. is Director at The Institute for Urban Policy Research & Analysis [IUPRA], the University of Texas at Austin. This article was republished with permission.