Monday, April 3, 2017

Podcast: Racial Disproportionality in Disciplinary Practices

A big topic in educational policy and practice right now is disparate disciplinary practices. Essentially, black students, especially males, and students with disabilities are subject to disproportionally high rates of exclusionary discipline practices (suspensions and expulsions) and what they are being disciplined for is often subjective behaviors, such as disrespect, versus objective behaviors, such as smoking cigarettes on school grounds. This is an especially big topic in the state of Virginia and in the region of Virginia--central Virginia--where I live and study. See this recent article about it in the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
A congressman has called for a federal investigation of disparities in student treatment within the Richmond region’s schools.

U.S. Rep. A. Donald McEachin, D-4th, requested an investigation by the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights on Monday, the same day that a Richmond Times-Dispatch article detailed higher suspension rates and over-identification of African-American students with disabilities.

The Virginia Department of Education cited Henrico and Chesterfield counties for suspending black students with disabilities at a disproportionately high rate over several years. The department cited Richmond because the city’s African-American students with disabilities have been more likely to be identified as having an “other health impairment” than other students with disabilities.

Chesterfield, Henrico and Richmond are among seven Virginia school districts mandated to set aside federal money received under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act this year to combat the pattern.
This problem is not new at all, for example, see this article from 2012. And, there's lots more where that came from.

How do I know so much about this? How is it that I have read almost every single report, news and journal article about this? Well, I am part of a MERC research team studying the issue in the Richmond, Virginia, area. The Metropolitan Educational Research Consortium (MERC) comprises "a partnership between seven Richmond-area school divisions and the VCU School of Education" that "plans, conducts, and disseminates community-engaged action and applied research."

A few months ago, I took part with other team members in a MERC podcast about the study. If you want to learn more, I encourage you to take a listen.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Why DeVos Might Lose

So far, Betsy DeVos, Donald Trump's nominee for U.S. Secretary of Education, seems to be one of the most, if not the most, unpopular of all of the cabinet nominees. That's not to say that she won't be confirmed. But as of my writing this, she has not been confirmed and only one more vote from the Republicans is needed to deny her the appointment.

Why is this? Well, just as there was bi-partisan unpopularity (aside from GOP establishment types) of Eric Cantor in Virginia's 7th district (my old district) during the 2014 elections, there is bi-partisan unpopularity of Betsy DeVos.

1. She is a blatant pay-to-play actor. She bought the Michigan legislature. She has given tens of thousands of dollars to several Senate Education Committee members. The way Cantor thought he was above members of the public, she operates in a way that shows she believes she is above members of public. On this point, this ad by End Citizens United is particularly devastating:

2. Besides purchasing pet education policies, Betsy Devos has no experience in education at all. Proposing someone to be U.S. Secretary of Education who has no experience in education at all is a slap in the face to all educators. Public school teachers and educators are tiring of getting crapped on and they are tired of people with little to no experience in education telling them what to do. Teachers got crapped on by the Bush administration and then the Obama administration and they are tired of it. Kind of like no one outside of the GOP establishment liked Cantor, hardly anyone who actually worked in public schools or had children in them liked Obama's education policies. Mostly insulated centrist Democratic and moderate Republican DC wonks and education reform-types liked Obama's education policies. Many of the policies that DeVos advocates for, including the Common Core, are part of the bi-partisan education reform regime that we have all been suffering through.

3. I live in a very conservative area of Virginia where public schools are very popular. In fact, public schools are very popular in many conservative areas in Virginia. 53% of white women voted for Trump. Public school teachers are 82% white and 76% female. Of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) members who voted, roughly one in five of them voted for Trump.  Among National Education Association (NEA) member voters, more than one in three likely voted for Trump.

Basically, there is bi-partisan support of public schools. A small majority of white women voted for Trump. A large majority of teachers are white women.  They might have voted for Trump (and I don't have time right now to get into how messed up that is) but that doesn't mean they take kindly to being insulted by the nomination of someone who has no experience in education and who doesn't support the work they do anyway.

4.  Parents of students with disabilities are Republicans and they are Democrats and they are Independents. Disabilities do not manifest themselves in children according to the political party of their parents. These parents are very organized and they are very big advocates for their children and their groups are very powerful. I see this where I live, too. I also have a child with a (medical) disability. Except in extreme cases, because of IDEA, a child with disabilities has a better chance of being accommodated, served, and better educated in public schools than in private schools, let alone religious schools. The idea that a child with disabilities is to be protected and equitably educated is largely a mainstream, assumed one that is part of the fabric of public schooling. I have rights as a parent of a student with a disability, my child has rights as a student with a disability, it's on paper, and everybody knows it. Everybody, that is, except for Betsy DeVos. She has shown an ignorance of IDEA and a callousness towards students with disabilities. That is a big bi-partisan, political no-no.

5. In her confirmation hearing, Betsy DeVos came across as robotic, fumbling, clueless, lacking in leadership skills, and bland. I have yet to meet a bland educational leader who serves in a public position. Her answer to every question was a smile and  "choice." She knew nothing beyond her own ideology.

Q: What would you do to serve students with disabilities?
A: Choice.

Q: What is your plan to stem bullying?
A: Choice.

Q: How are you going to enforce civil rights laws in our public schools?
A: Choice.

Q: What are you going to do about sexual assault on college campuses?
A: Choice.

Q: What are going to do when we give you follow-up questions to answer?
A: Plagiarize.

Plagiarizing may be part of the Trump administration modus operandi and education reform ideologues might be able to overlook it, but it does not go over well with parents and educators.

6. Betsy DeVos is a woman. She is completely unqualified but she is a woman. I don't doubt that Democrats (except for Eva Moskowitz) would oppose her nomination even if she were a man. But I wonder if a completely unqualified man would get put through the same thing.

Monday, January 23, 2017

#WomensMarch 2017

I was fortunate enough to be able to participate in the Women's March on Washington this past weekend. I went with my husband, parents, and my three children. My mom's sister was also there and so were my husband's parents. And countless friends and family friends were there. It was incredible. Like nothing I have ever seen or been a part of. Amazing. I have participated in many marches and demonstrations over the years, but it's not my favorite thing; I am more comfortable with writing and making phone calls and public meetings and with direct advocacy and activism, but I know showing up for marches and protests important, too.

Here are some things that I have been puzzling over regarding the march and that various friends and folks I follow on social media have brought up (thanks if you were one of them):

1. The march was not about any one thing or one issue. It did not mean the same thing to each participant. We should not try to dictate to people how they were supposed to experience it or what they were marching for. You can't give people prerequisites for marching. You can't screen them for participation according to life story, history of activism, or issues of importance (if any). A march is public event, this one with millions of people. And anyway, that's what diversity and pluralism and democracy looks like. Really, really messy. 

In addition, feminism is not one thing and no one person gets to define it or decide who does and doesn't practice it. In that vein, this commentary was illuminating and illogical:  The author makes some good points--about the Women's March not advocating enough for policies, though I think that's what's supposed to happen when you go home. Otherwise, she talks talks a big game about unity and big tent feminism but then says, for example, that a Muslim woman wearing a veil can't be feminist and implies that religious faith is disqualifying. Huh? Maybe her "inclusive liberal feminism" isn't so inclusive after all. And maybe she is exemplifying the problem. Keep in mind that inclusive means to include and respect, not necessarily to accept as your own beliefs.

2. That being said, although the Womens March (not just in DC) was intended to be intersectional, it may not have been for all participants. We should not deny people accounts of their own experiences even if they make us uncomfortable. Collectively, women have a lot of work to do internally, as a group.

For example, I thought the DC Metropolitan Police did a great job and I personally thanked several officers along the route. That was very encouraging and a good sign. However, the DC police are well-trained in handling protests (though so far I am hearing the police in other cities were also supportive and professional). And, while the March had a diverse set of participants, it also had a lot of white people. It might be uncomfortable, but we must ask ourselves if that might have been different, according to history, if there weren't so many white people in the march. Black Lives Matter and NoDPL protesters have been peaceful, too.

3. Do not confuse critique (yes, even of the march) with lack of support. Critique is usually a sign of engagement and care. You can go to the march and be critical at the same time. We can have a big, inclusive Women's March and still talk about the role, for example, of white supremacy within women's movements. The two aren't mutually exclusive. Talking about racism and other biases and differing views among groups of women does not cause division. It helps to heal them, in my opinion. And anyway . . . The divisions. Were. Already. There.  The airing of those divisions is healthy and what the march was partly about.

On the flip side, however, I don't have a lot of tolerance for people who get hung up on the critiques only, without learning the story and without doing anything to change them. I like to earn my right to complain first. I find that when I contribute to an effort, many of my criticisms are cured because I gain insights and empathies  I didn't have before. If you are criticizing, ask yourself: Did you, in two months time, help to organize the biggest march in U.S. History? Did you contribute in even a small way? No? Then your criticisms should include what you're going to do to fix them and how you are planning to contribute.

4. If you didn't go to the march because, for example, you're offended that a black woman pointed out that racism exists among womens rights activists and even among progressives, then you probably weren't that committed to going in the first place. 54% of white women voted for Trump. It's a fact. Look, I don't feel like those women are my people, either, and there are a lot of white people in the country. Given what we know now, I'm actually surprised the numbers weren't more of an overwhelming majority. But it's there, it's real, and get used to hearing about it.

If you didn't go because privileged white women were excited about going, then you are not being very savvy about growing your movement and gaining their support. If you didn't go because one or a few other people going or talking about going said something that made you uncomfortable or said something that exhibited racism or bias, well, there were around 4,000,000 people marching in this country and you let a handful keep you away. 

Of course, there have been accounts of white women objectifying women of color at the marches or becoming defensive upon seeing their signs. Not okay.

That all being said, it's important listen to why people didn't go or if they did why they didn't have a good experience. We will learn something.

5. There are a lot of parallels to the world of education (my world) here, especially since the K-12 teaching force is dominated by white women. We can all show up to a pro-public education march and still have critiques and work to do. 

There are also implications for our two-party system. The Republicans get everyone to show up and then they sort it out later. That's why they win. (Okay, they also actively work to suppress votes of people in the other party.) As the head of my local Democratic Committee told me the other day when I asked how the conservatives in our state senate district could justify voting for some inexperienced libertarian whom they knew nothing about instead of the highly experienced and broadly respected state legislator running for the Democrats in a recent special election. "Well," she said, "they just vote for the option they have with the plan to work on them once they're in office."

At this point, that sounds like a plan.