in brief [3-17-22]
the weekly review of education advocacy, news, and progress
in brief is A Free Mind’s weekly news review with light commentary.
I’ve moved this newsletter to Friday so that it can better recap the news and views of the week. Stick with me as I get in the rhythm of our weekly exchange, and, please, share this with any friends that you think would enjoy it.
An update: my organization, brightbeam, is still on a hiatus of sorts. We shut down operations for three weeks so we could rethink everything we do, how we do it, who we do it for, and what expectations we can commit to for being excellent every day. It was the right thing to do. My team brought their best talents and ideas to the cause and we are now reconstructing our Ed Post website and other platforms to focus our work in a new direction.
I’ll keep you posted. Expect to see something different from us on April 2nd.
I haven’t written as much lately, but this week I wrote about how the “Finnish equity mirage mirrors our own.” That was prompted by a thread I saw on Twitter about racism in Finland’s education system, posted by Finnish-Senegalese journalist Ndéla Faye. It made me think about the progressive blindspot to racial inequity in their own camp, a point that is driven home for me by the current teachers’ strike in Minneapolis.
My state, Minnesota, is demographically close to being an American version of Finland. We have a strong social support system. A communal view of how “we all do better when we all do better.”
While mostly white, female, college-educated, middle-class, suburban teachers strike for a 20% pay raise that allows them to take more money to their home communities where their children's education is not being interrupted (because their neighbors wouldn’t stand for it), a mostly of color, mostly poor student body in Minneapolis loses more learning time that puts them even further behind in academics.
And, the residents surrounding Minneapolis’ lakes who resemble the teachers far more than the students predictably ask no questions about the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers’ agenda, assuming it to be fair against all evidence to the contrary. They just consume the feel-good woke sloganeering and uncritically declare on Facebook “I Stand With Teachers” like the perfect political patsies they’ve always been.
One clear example of the double-talk is the union’s public histrionics about saving teachers of color. In private they’ve quietly backed away from proposals to spare black educators from layoffs (which will certainly come once the district has to close schools to pay for the union’s pay demands). Their reasoning? They don’t want to upset seniority systems for their highest-paid teachers in the whitest, most affluent schools.
That story repeats itself every few years, and like good Jedi communicators, they only have to tell their supporters they’re doing it for equity and the point is dead.
I’ve been talking to Minneapolis district watchers on all sides, and the big takeaway is that the super simple teachers = good, district = bad narrative is not just factually wrong, it also threatens conditions for students and communities. Look out for more information about that next week.
Now, let’s chase that with a story that shows what is possible for our students.
BELIEVE IT: Elijah Precciely is a 14-year-old junior double majoring in physics and chemical engineering. Three years ago, at age 11, he set a record for being the youngest person to earn a full-ride scholarship to Southern University, but he says setting records isn’t his goal. He told Afrotech “My first priority is to be a shining light to help others, and the second priority is to make sure that I help people like me and people who want to connect with me.” (SEE: HERE)
Elijah is a prodigy, and as such he isn’t the example of what every child will achieve, but we should wonder how many brilliant children we are losing because of public education’s belief gap?
ACHIEVE IT: Speaking of places where we lose too many talented students of color to schools with low expectations, Democrats in the people’s republic of California have taken an affirmative step toward focusing on black student achievement and ensuring black Californians have a variety of public school options.
In an official statement to party delegates, the caucus wrote “[w]e are very concerned, as all Democrats who care about Black children should be, that our schools leave over two-thirds of Black children unable to read or write at grade level. Nearly 80% are below grade level in math, and 86% are falling below science standards.”
To address the issues that weaken black student proficiency, the caucus demands action on maternal care for black mothers, community-based oversight accountability for school spending, and support for culturally affirming charter schools.
Wait, what? Charters? Well, shiver me timbers.
Yes, here are two bullets from the party planks:
Support public charter schools that are authorized and monitored by public and elected boards, not-for-profit, and transparent in governance; have equitable admissions; adopt fair labor practices and respect labor neutrality; and supplement public education programs, particularly for students in historically low performing subgroups such as low income, English learners, Black or African American, American Indian, and Alaskan Native students, foster children and students with disabilities.
Support all public school options that provide parents and guardians of Black or African American, American Indian, and Alaskan Native students access to high quality educational alternatives to close achievement gaps.
Now, I’m not saying the Dems shift on charters is a game-changer. California already has charters, and those schools' mere presence doesn’t equate with improved black achievement. Some of those schools are as bad as the worst district schools. But, some of California’s best schools for black achievement are culturally-affirming charter schools that too often have been under attack by California Democrats (and their labor-funded nonprofit orgs). We all should applaud a change to that problem. (SEE: HERE)
Do you need an example of how absurd the consequences of state laws that seek white revisionism of history can be for classrooms?
Consider the situation in Iowa where teachers who show the film “Selma” now have timestamps to prompt educators to mute or skip parts where white people use racial slurs against black people.
And, the chill on educators is not just about racial revisionism.
The “concerned parents” movement is also putting a priggish lens on other materials deemed too naughty.
For an example of that, I submit this story about Toby Price.
“When a guest who was scheduled to read to second-graders over Zoom this month didn’t show up, Toby Price, the assistant principal at a Mississippi elementary school, improvised. Price’s boss at Gary Road Elementary School suggested Price read to the students, so he reached for one of his favorite children’s books: “I Need a New Butt!” written by Dawn McMillan and illustrated by Ross Kinnaird.” The children thought the book was hilarious, but “the superintendent for the Hinds County School District near Jackson, Miss., did not, and about an hour after the event, Price was placed on administrative leave. Two days later, on March 4, he was fired.” (see: here)
JAILED: And, if firing isn’t enough, how about jail time for educators and information guardians who dare corrupt the public with free thought?
Look to Tennessee for that one. In that state school libraries will be required under the proposed legislation to publish lists of all their books and materials so they can be reviewed for “age-appropriateness”. In a particularly draconian twist, librarians could be “charged with a criminal offense if “obscene” material is found in a school’s collection.” (see: here)
RESIST: It’s fortunate for all of us that not everyone is going limp in response to the national right-wing thought policing campaign. According to the National Catholic Reporter “sixty-four faculty members at St. Louis University, a Jesuit school in Missouri, signed a letter to the state House of Representatives opposing legislation attempting to ban teachings about race, gender, class and sexuality in public schools.”
Also, the Virginia Association of School Superintendents sent a letter clapping back on a report issued by Gov. Glenn Youngkin in February addressing “divisive concepts” being taught in public schools. The superintendents disagreed with the claim that there was a widespread problem, and they said ending equity programs aimed at helping students of color and other special populations was the wrong thing to do.
I hope to see more stories of resistance to educational authoritarianism and white nationalism by educators, nonprofit organizations, and citizens of goodwill. I have no doubt that a multiracial, transpartisan, and values-based coalition can win the battle for public education systems that work equally well for all.
Let’s make it so.