"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Monday, May 31, 2021

A New Study Shows Us the Single Biggest Motivation for the Jan. 6 Rioters


If you have not seen this yet, please take a few minutes to have a view. This research hammers the final nail into the coffin of the theory that white supremacists are motivated by economic anxiety.  

It has never been the case that democracy in this country has been wide open. There [has] always been some kind of presumption that certain people are fit for self-government and certain people aren't. And that's a phrase that we don't use anymore. In fact, from the beginning, democracy and racism have been [inextricably linked, and] the notion of democracy was based on racial presumptions, about fitness for self-government for that very narrow circle in the late eighteenth century of "We the People," and that circle has been expanding over two centuries and more now. But I don't think that the presumption [is] that democracy is just something you can throw the doors open to and allow anyone to participate. And I think that's something that a lot of Americans misunderstand about their political culture.  --Mathew Jacobsen

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Tennessee Outlaws Critical Race Theory in Schools on Anniversary of George Floyd's Murder

 A central tenet of critical race theory (CRT) acknowledges

. . . that racism is a normal feature of society and is embedded within systems and institutions, like the legal system, that replicate racial inequality. This dismisses the idea that racist incidents are aberrations but instead are manifestations of structural and systemic racism.

Today Tennessee's GQP governor, Bill Lee, signed into law a bill that offers empirical evidence that CRT is not a theory at all but, rather, an incisive description of the factual state of affairs at the Tennessee Capitol.  

The law, which goes into effect July 1, prohibits even the mention of white privilege, male privilege, or white, male oppressors:

Among other things, Tennessee's teachers can't instruct that “an individual, by virtue of the individual’s race or sex, is inherently privileged, racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or subconsciously.”

 If teachers dare bring up the subject of racism, it is only allowed as “[i]mpartial discussion of controversial aspects of history.” No editorializing here, teachers.  After all, we know there are plenty of "very fine people on both sides." 

Penalties for breaking the new law include loss of state funding for schools or school systems.

Sunday, May 16, 2021

Vouchers in FL Create Black Christian Madrassahs in Strip Malls

(AP photo: Alfredo Lee)

Although this commentary by Billy Townsend describes a seed of hope in Florida's education desert, the bigger message points to what you get with laws that allow unregulated and unaccredited private "schools" to replace public schools that have been malignantly-neglected by segregationists who want to close them.

Orlando Sentinel, May 16 
Jones High success story illustrates inadequacy of voucher schools

Six years ago, essentially zero Jones High School students took physics. Today, more than 250 do. That means 250 Orlando-area young people per year now have a better chance of becoming engineers or scientists or doctors. We should celebrate that. Physics is crucial to many educational and professional journeys. 

Unfortunately, as a recent former Polk County school board member, I know all too well the rarity of serious growth in Florida’s education capacity. Our state is steadily dismantling education capacity everywhere through its contempt for public schools and indifference to voucher-school performance. Capacity destruction drives Florida’s chronic educator shortages. 

It’s one reason Florida has among America’s worst state test score “learning rates,” according to The Educational Opportunity Project at Stanford University. Capacity destruction particularly harms children and communities that lack capital. Quite often, these low-capital communities are also historically black communities. A thriving physics program — one that exceeds enrollment for most other wealthier schools in Florida — demonstrates real capital investment in community capacity. 

That makes the Jones physics story all the more important — and a powerful counterpoint to Florida’s failed state voucher programs, particularly the Florida Tax Credit (FTC) voucher. Like many voucher schools, the Jones enrollment of nearly 1,600 is almost entirely Black. A casual observer may see it as “segregated,” in the sense we’ve come to popularly understand segregation. 

But there is a massive difference between the Jones community-support “segregation” and the “segregation” of schools in Florida’s low-capital voucher-school marketplace. The Sentinel’s invaluable “Schools without Rules” series in 2017 documented the failures of many voucher schools and how little Florida leaders care about it. 

It also illustrated how Florida’s testing system and barbaric mass third-grade retention policies drive children into voucher schools in a disfigured conception of “choice.” But the Sentinel did not delve deeply into the extreme racial segregation of Florida’s voucher-school marketplace, as I did in Polk County. 

As of last month, the Step Up for Students voucher marketplace shows 16 Polk County voucher schools have enrollments of at least 76 percent Black children. Twelve of the 16 schools are at least 95 percent Black. Six are 100 percent Black. Not one of those schools has any accreditation. None of them have any state or local oversight. 

There is no elected board member or unelected bureaucrat to call when these schools defraud you. More than 800 Black children in Polk County attend these segregated, low-capital so-called schools at any given time. Moreover, the Urban Institute’s 2017 study of Florida’s voucher marketplace, the only recent study of its kind, found that 61 percent of voucher recipients abandon their FTC voucher within two years. 75 percent abandon the voucher within three years. That’s an extraordinary record of failure and churn. 

Voucher advocates twist themselves into knots insisting this is not a 75-percent 3-year program dropout rate. But it is. Many voucher schools resemble the worst of pre-Brown vs. Board of Education American schools — operating in strip mall storefronts with names like “Endtime Christian School of Excellence.” That is the name and description of a very real and very typical voucher school in Lake Wales. 

Yet, Florida is expanding the roughly $1 billion a year in direct tax money and corporate tax-shelter cash it spends each year to defraud black children and parents – and everyone else. Runaway voucher spending with no oversight has built zero capacity to actually provide education. That’s because money alone cannot buy education capacity; only consistent, focused effort. 

There are very few decent voucher products to buy. And decent private schools, almost without exception, do not rely on vouchers for survival or take many voucher kids. Vouchers do not cover the tuition of serious private schools, which have full-tuition paying customers and endowments and capital and accreditation. Such private schools are also very, very white. School segregation, integration and equity pose some of society’s hardest, most complex challenges. 

In my experience as a school-board member and advocate, human beings want to attend schools that reflect their communities; they want to avoid busing; they want equality — or advantage — in resources; they (often) want diversity in faculty and fellow students; and they want to be in the majority of a school population. 

People want all of this at the same time in the same school. Jones provides a far better model for addressing that challenge than vouchers. Indeed, I would not call the Jones model of schooling “segregation.” I would call it “community ownership” and Jones is literally a “Community Partnership School.” 

That means it works rigorously with the Children’s Home Society of Florida, Orange Blossom Health, and the University of Central Florida to provide “wraparound” social services and slowly, painstakingly build capacity for the Parramore/Lorna Doone community and its high school. 

Today, the Jones community school model is building capacity in physics while most of the rest of Florida is destroying it. That is a public-school accomplishment to celebrate from a model far superior to the failed voucher model state power prefers. 

Billy Townsend served on the Polk County School Board from 2016 to 2020.