The Historical Importance of HBCU’s – A Discussion with Van Jones and Dr. Michael Lomax

Share on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter

Historically Black Colleges and Universities have received increased attention this week, after a majority of the 104 HBCU presidents accepted an invitation to the oval office to meet with President Trump.

A lot of people weren’t happy with that meeting and a statement from John Silvanus Wilson Jr., president of Morehouse, seems to indicate that the meeting and Trump’s executive order on HBCU’s won’t signal much of a change in funding, or address issues like boosting pell grants or setting up an HBCU innovation fund as the presidents had hoped.

Rather than highlighting the important work that HBCU’s do and have done throughout their existence, the meeting mostly led to social media outrage.

Back in October of 2016, we had political commentator and activist Van Jones as a guest host on the ‘Rock the Schools’ podcast to lead a discussion with Dr. Michael Lomax of the UNCF about the historical and current importance of HCBU’s and a report they released titled “Building Better Narratives in Black Education”.

Instead of getting caught up in social media driven controversy such as the feet-on-couch-scandal, take a listen to the full conversation:

Two of America’s largest black organizations seek to build “a better narrative” for black education

Share on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter

While much of education world is locked in circular discussions (mostly centered on charter schools) that is bitterly dividing advocates and opponents into warring camps, two titans of black education and civil rights have quietly started a more productive conversation.

Last month the UNCF, the National Urban League, and Education Post* released “Building Better Narratives in Black Education,” a joint report that considered the views of black parents and leaders about education reform, and proposed “a new path in educational reform.”

The group is hosting small events in select cities to share their findings and generate feedback on how to create a uniquely black movement to improve outcomes for black students.

This is important because too many of the debates about education are frozen by narrow political agendas and meaningless infighting, even among black groups who often speak for black people without taking the additional step of speaking with black people.

The UNCF is America’s largest minority education organization, and the National Urban League is the largest civil rights organization. Both groups support education reform as a strategy for getting black students through college and into high-wage, high-growth careers, but they also believe the national education discourse is “fractured” and to often counter-productive.

“The current narrative in education reform has failed in a few significant ways…it has failed to include the voices of communities of color in a sincere and meaningful way…[it has] overwhelmingly centered on a deficit lens…[and it] has at times been problem-oriented instead of concentrating on initiatives that truly have African American students’ interest at the core,” the report says.

Drawing from a broad set of research studies the report captures themes that are common heard in black communties.

Black parents are tired of the incessant awfulizing of their children, teachers, and schools. For them the deficit-basis by which we seek to improve education rings less true than a solutions-focused agenda highlighting successes with a “what works” orientation.

They also believe language matters. They don’t want to “reform” schools, instead, they want to transform, improve, and strengthen them without a lot of “government bureaucracy.”

For education reform to be effective it must balance honest admissions that most schools are not helping students reach their full potential with lifting up the cases where schools are changing the game for young black lives.

After years of arguing about whether or not black parents care about education (they do), and whether or not schools can make a difference (they can), the Better Narratives research answers both claims.

96% of parents and grandparents agree that education remains the civil rights issue of our time, and it is key for black social mobility.

At the same time, the majority of black people believe public education is off track and that the quality of education our community receives isn’t equal to what other communities get.

To address those issues the report offers four key reforms that research finds black families at all levels support: high standards across states, high-quality assessments, better educational options, and improved teacher quality and accountability.

At its end the report concludes: “The narrative on Black education must be grounded in continuous improvement and focused on tangible solutions. It is time to build this narrative and to deviate, in part, from conversation that are centered only on failure. We cannot wait; the stakes are too dire. Forging the difficult terrain in the education reform movement can be an arduous task, yet it is important to move swiftly in this endeavor.”

It might be time for education world to take a breath and follow the lead of the UNCF and the Urban League.

*Disclaimer: Education Post is my employer

Watch the video of Dr. Michael Lomax from the UNCF and Marc Morial from the National Urban League discussing the issues that provided context for the Better Narratives report.

Also, read the report:

Building A Better Narrative by Citizen Stewart on Scribd

There is nothing good about blackwashing the opt-out agenda

Share on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter

Kids in public schools are taking tests this week. Don’t worry, don’t panic, they’ll be fine. Once they’re done taking these tests the states they live in will have information about how well schools are doing to make progress toward educational goals. We can probably predict what the results will look like. Richer kids will do better. So will white kids. The picture won’t be so great for others. But, there will likely be something you won’t predict, too. There will be some schools with poorer kids, or mostly black and brown populations, that will exceed expectations (not all our schools, kids, or teachers are failing) .

The point is, those are good things to know year over year, and the way we know them – through annual assessments – is constantly under fire from two groups: white parents who are ideologically opposed to testing, and teachers’ unions that have recently learned the utility of such parents.

I know. I’ve written about this before. It’s like an obsession.

By now you know I’m concerned about the opt-out “movement,” even though I understand it’s motivations and even sympathize with some of them. As a black man, a parent, an education activist, and someone singularly focused on the question of how do we change the game for our community, I can’t say enough about how damaging it would be to lose the information we get from testing.

And, of course, I can’t get past the opt-out campaign’s indelible whiteness and reckless self-interest.

You must have a pretty charmed life if the thing most pressing in your portfolio of injustices and outrages is the fact that little Ashley and Dylan are being asked to take a test at school, and it cuts into their time on violin and in ballet. Considering Jerome can’t read and Kenya can’t count, and prison fill with people who are illiterate and innumerate, I think we need to get our priorities straight.

The fact is urban communities of color are knee-deep in illiteracy. The social and economic consequences are staggering. According to the America’s Promise Alliance seventy-four percent of children who aren’t proficient in reading by third grade “falter in the later grades and often drop out before earning a high school diploma, leaving them poorly prepared to obtain higher education, succeed in the economy, or enter military and civilian service.”

How do you think that story ends?

In my state of Minnesota 16% of black fourth graders are proficient in reading. You should look up your own state and find out how well you all are doing with black fourth graders. Then ask yourself if it makes sense to let the $600 billion educational establishment, and all of its middle class college educated “workers,” off the hook for effective teaching, learning, and better outcomes? I think not.

The only good news I see is that our traditional black leadership hasn’t taken the opt-out bait. No one has convinced them that black communities will actually do better with less information about how our kids are doing academically.

We still have brave leaders like the National Urban League, the NAACP, and a diverse group of civil rights groups who have kept their eyes on the prize. We have leaders as diverse as Dr. Michael Lomax from the UNCF, Kaya Henderson of the D.C. Public Schools, and Rev. Al Sharpton who have just said no to the opt-out campaign.

We are better for it, but don’t think that’s the end of the story.

In an attempt to bypass our seemingly wayward leadership the opt-out camp has turned to a new group of lab-created black voices mostly drawn from the self-preserving ranks of state monopolized education. I only know their names because my white ideological opponents direct me to them as if to vanquish my lived experience and strongest arguments. It’s like Negro Pokemon, where one card beats another. We are to be Mandingo fighters. Of course, white folks draw the cards and we’re supposed to entertain.

I’m not interested in all that. I want literate children and a better black nation. Still, to say what I say causes white folks to draw their black cards, and suddenly I’m tussling with their new blacks.

They send me links to things written by Jamal Bowman. He seems like a good man, but I point out to them that he is a principal of a school in the Bronx where the majority of kids aren’t proficient in reading. He has likened standardized testing to slavery, which concerns me because it indicates he too has trouble reading.

They point me to Troy LaRaviere, another celebrated principal. I respond by telling them LaRaviere has less than 5% black students in his low-poverty fine arts magnet. I found his personal story as told in a viral commercial for Bernie Sanders very touching, but I also note that the school he leads has a program for assisting lagging students that includes three annual reading and math “screenings,” a schedule of “progress monitoring assessments,” and a regular review of interventions. Yet, amazingly, his school’s website discourages parents from taking state accountability tests.

Of course there are the semi-black teachers who have written babbling books against testing. I dare you to look up the schools in which they “teach.” Black children are not learning in their classroom, which explains their push to kill testing.

Finally, people are really fond of linking me to their favorite black peer-reviewed professors like Yohuru Williams and Julian Helig Vasquez. These well-educated doctors specialize in erecting bewildering, reaching, and wanting arguments that lead to one bogus conclusion: testing kids to identify racial gaps is itself racist.

Don’t ask me to make sense of it. I don’t speak Ph.d.

All I can tell you is that dog don’t hunt. Our kids can learn. Our schools can do better. Testing is not the problem, broken systems and unaccountable adults are our problems.

Let’s agree to this: none of these professional black people who are gaining popularity with the white educational Left as an antidote to our traditional black leadership have succeeded in life without taking a test or two? They have beat the odds and now they rest on college degrees as the basis for earning a living?

So why do all of their arguments exist as explicit defenses for the current system of public education and the employees of that system, but not the 85% of black fourth graders who are not reading on grade level in my state (or theirs)?

We are in crisis. Our kids are drowning in a caustic cocktail of low expectations, gross ineffectiveness, and disregard for black potential that is killing us softly. We need two things to solve that problem: information and action. We can’t let the system, or its new blacks, destroy the former as a way to prevent the latter.

Opt-out is not for us, no matter how many new blacks they send to blackwash it.