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.

BREAKING: President Trump signs executive order repealing Common Core state standards

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During last year’s presidential campaign then-candidate Donald Trump said “Common Core is a total disaster. We can’t let it continue.”

Today he made good on his campaign promise to end those controversial standards.

Advocates for the standards were dismayed, but not shocked by the move. Earlier today Trump’s “Counselor,” Kellyanne Conway, signaled the repeal was coming, telling CNN the president would soon take action.

“He wants to repeal common core. He doesn’t think that federal standards are better than local and parental control,” she said.

By moving to curtail Common Core standards, Trump ends months of speculation by experts on whether or not the president has the power to halt federally mandated curriculum and education standards by the stroke of a pen.

Last year, on the heels of Trump’s election victory, the Fordham Institute’s Michael Petrilli doubted it could be done.

“[Common Core is] not an issue any president has much say over — academic standards are under the firm control of the state,” he wrote.

For background, the Common Core standards were authored in 2009 at a private meeting hosted by Bill Gates, in conjunction with Barack Obama, representatives from Pearson, and several back up dancers for Lady Gaga.

Critics say the intent was to confuse parents with complicated homework assignments that would leave them defenseless to help their children. That and to turn schools into “government indoctrination camps.”

A report by the Southern Poverty Law Center gives voice to many anti-common core activists who fear the standards will turn children into ” homosexual slaves of a future totalitarian global government.”

For now, the White House says America’s children are safe from that threat.

Citizen Malarkey is the newest contributor to Citizen Ed. He is a suburban entrepreneur and freelance writer of news that doesn’t exist for people who don’t know better. He writes completely plausible commentary for several legitimate-looking news sites.

Trump must offer more than crowd-pleasing one-liners to improve public education

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As readers know well, I have been critical of the Obama Administration on many of its major education decisions.

It was especially troubling, after failing to secure a timely reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, that the Administration exercised executive power in a very harmful manner, supposedly to “fix” the law. In effect, essential accountability under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) was badly weakened in return for states promising to adopt “reforms” that ultimately materialized on paper but seldom on the ground. Now, with no student achievement gains to show for it, and in the wake of a change of Presidents, the “reforms” will gradually but substantially vanish.

The recent election, of course, didn’t turn out well for the Democrats. Now we ponder where education policy is headed under President-elect Trump and his Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos.

Let me begin with some nice words.

For some reason, I like Donald Trump, certainly far more than do most of my peers. (Lord only knows, and I hope I’m right. But that’s all for another discussion.) In addition, I must say I am increasingly pro-choice in education, so I am impressed with the focus the new Administration is placing on choice.

With that, though, the nice words come to an end.

Let me state it simply. If Donald Trump were running education policy like he ran his successful businesses, he would never take the approach he is currently taking.

First, this talk of Common Core is utter nonsense. The feds haven’t promoted Common Core since the early Obama days, and now, they can’t, by law. However one feels about Common Core, what exactly is this “back to the locals” President saying he will do? Is he saying he’s going to demand that states and districts that choose to use the standards on their own should be prohibited from doing so? Somehow, I don’t think so.

Can you imagine the quite successful businessman, Donald Trump, acting in such a fashion in the management of his real estate entities?

Yet, the one area in which he and fellow Republicans have clearly eschewed a federal role is in demanding accountability for results from those who have been bestowed the largesse of federal borrowing, taxing, and spending.

Education policy now is little more than “we stopped doing this, and we will stop doing that” (which mostly means we’ll no longer hold local politicians and educrats accountable for their use of the billions of dollars the feds send their way).

I fail to see anything conservative or intelligent in the resulting policy. Now the feds are basically spending billions, leaving all the decisions to state and local bureaucrats, and no longer demanding student progress as the quid for the quo of the spending. And this will be the approach whether there are gains or not.

Would businessman Donald Trump act this way? Would he send tons of money to partner businesses with total control of how the dollars are spent and without any accountability for success? NO WAY.

Sadly, I’ve come to the conclusion that he’s simply throwing out crowd-pleasing lines in education talk. They get applause. But, a a smart guy, Trump would never go this way, if he truly cared about the enterprise. And, as a person who seems to care a lot about economic growth, opportunity, and jobs, he should care about the details of education policy and insist upon, not merely wish for, its success.

This brings me back to the issue of parental choice. I’m for choice, and I’m glad he and his Secretary-to-be are, too. But is there to be any accountability to parents and taxpayers in the choice? And what happens in the policy if all or even most of the students and parents don’t get choice because choice opponents stall or minimize the degree to which choice occurs?

In other words, choice must be done right, and choice does not an entire policy make.

The real overall issue for Trump is whether he’s satisfied to relegate education policy to the typical sphere of ideology and political tummy tickling and back scratching. It would be more difficult to do the hard work to assure success. But, hard, smart work is the only true way to effect improvement for students. And it’s the only true way to effect improvement for the economy through a better-educated workforce.

The President-elect faced similar choices when he built his businesses. And, he knows: the easy, sloppy path didn’t work then, and it won’t work now. If he thinks through it deeply, he will understand. I hope he does. America will not be great under his watch if he doesn’t.


Sandy Kress is a former senior education adviser to President George W. Bush with respect to developing and passing the landmark No Child Left Behind legislation. This post was republished from his blog with his permission.

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.

 

Clowns to the left of us, jokers to the right: social justice in education reform

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The social justice wing of education reform had better stiffen its back and prepare for the fight of its life. Donald Trump’s election and his subsequent selection of Republican school choice champion Betsy DeVos as America’s top education chief sends signals we would be foolish to ignore.

To be clear, this isn’t about DeVos. If you’re looking for a validation of DeVos’ education record, or a condemnation of her personal motives, my apologies, but you’ll find neither here. Smart people tell me she will have marginal power and she will be hamstrung – ironically – by Republican-led efforts to weaken the Department of Education.

So what’s the real problem?

Well, it’s not looking good for the issues social justice reformers care most about: school quality, state accountability, achievement outcomes, systemic equity, and civil rights. Those parts of the reform agenda face stiff winds because of a bizarre confluence of actors that includes states’ rights Republicans, anti-testing and anti-accountability unionists, and ineffective or misguided civil rights organizations.

In the years since No Child Left Behind was established reform bipartisanship has been a marriage of complimenting virtues: a release of schools from centralized bureaucracy, but coupled with high expectation for results; it’s the autonomy schools need to do better, coupled with accountability for outcomes.

Those virtues have been weathered, mostly because right-wing education reformers became increasingly animated by – and intolerant of – social justice activism within the education reform ranks. They volleyed with other reformers over the threat they say “social justice warriors” pose to the collegiality and bipartisanship of school reform. They’ve bristled at the race-conscious work done by Teach For America, Students For Education Reform, and Educators 4 Excellence, groups that have increasingly focused attention on human rights, culturally relevant pedagogy, and community organizing.

More than anything this rift has exposed the difference in motives of people seeking reform.

Social justice reformers speak of education as the great equalizer, and they see ensuring a great education for the millions of poor students and children of color in public schools as primary strategy for reversing centuries of racial discrimination and destabilizing systemic white supremacy.

Right-wing reformers are more likely to see education reform as a way to improve government, to validate Adam Smith, and to prove things work best when markets are free as possible and positive self-interest is unbridled.

Until recently those two world views have coexisted. It’s been an uneasy partnership at times, based mostly on interest convergence, but it was manageable.

That was before there was a critical mass of social justice reformers disturbed the peace. Right-wingers started exhibiting signs of alienation about their place in reform and worried out loud about how the inclusion of new voices would displace their own.

Michael Petrilli from the Fordham Institute put it best, saying “…it feels to me as if many of reformers on the left have spent the last year…pushing the reform movement to embrace what they call “social justice” and what I would view as hard-left positions on race, criminal justice, and more…you cannot continue to antagonize mainstream Republicans (by, for example, constantly calling them racists just because they don’t agree with you on issues of race) and expect them to continue to champion our cause.

Shut up about race and human rights. Or else.

Rick Hess from the American Enterprise Institute builds on that premise by laying blame at President Obama’s feet, saying the Obama administration  “did their best to shove the Common Core down the nation’s throat, told schools that they could no longer allow students to use locker rooms based on biology, pressed colleges to adopt lawless kangaroo courts in response to a nonexistent campus “rape epidemic,” fought to let federal bureaucrats dictate local school spending policies, and championed race-based quotas for school discipline.”

A look at Hess’ lists of perceived victims reveals why a right-wing education agenda can’t be the primary one.

His perceived victims aren’t parents who fear their children will be scooped up from their school bus stops by ICE raids, or Muslims witnessing the precursors to internment, or LGBTQ students fearing a vice president accused of believing electricity can cure gayness, or black students who are systematically marginalized by disproportionate rates of school discipline.

The victims he sees as worth defending are the state governors who want federal education funding with no strings attached; states that want to define educational standards in ways that allow them to game the system (and hide poor outcomes); restroom homophobes, college rapists, and school districts that want to continue spending money and disciplining students inequitably.

A month ago we could  have argued about those things from a position of semi-equal power.

Today we have to admit there is no better way to win an argument and say I told you so than to win a presidency, a Congress, (perhaps) a Supreme Court, and an education secretary.

They showed us.

We can’t become paralyzed or disillusioned. We can’t live in our feelings forever. We can’t forget that lives and minds are at risk, and we can’t live the values we profess if we wilt in the face of setbacks.

No, we can’t join the right-wingers as they attempt to nationalize Michigan’s charter school sewer and make all of America an education casino. But, we can’t join the unionists either as they attempt to remove all accountability from public education as a way to hide unacceptable levels of failure.

And we can’t sit on the sidelines as passive bystanders feeling jilted as forces from the left and right threaten to unwind most of the educational progress we’ve made over decades.

All we can do is stay clear and focused on our permanent interests: accountable systems, high standards that are transparent, better options for kids trapped in poorly performing schools, and a focus on human rights for people who have suffered historic discrimination.

The social justice we seek, and the best answer to the white nationalist takeover of government, is achieved at least in part by producing more literate, numerate, thinking people from marginalized communities.