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Modernizing arcane teacher tenure laws is not an “attack,” it’s good policy

Can black teachers survive reform of teacher tenure laws?


I’ve recently pointed out we don’t have the teacher workforce need.

To be blunt, over 80% of America’s teachers are white at a time when children of color are emerging as the majority of students. It’s all too possible for black and brown students to end their entire k-12 student career without ever having been taught by a teacher of color.

That’s just wrong for so many reasons.

So any comprehensive school reform effort must be include a focus on indigenous teachers (those who teach where they are from).

Still, even with my full-throated support of preparing, hiring, and retaining black teachers, a recent Washington Post article by Dr. Andre Perry goes too far. His puzzling conclusion that challenging “bad tenure laws” is an “attack” on black teachers and black professionals is bizarre. He seems to see schools more as employers than institutions responsible for the care and development of children.

To support his claims he pulls together several data points about minority participation in unions that show blacks have a stronghold in unions. Then he implies anything that impacts public sector unions is negative for the black working class.

Apparently, the proposal to reform teacher tenure and to connect teacher employment with their ability to achieve results for children is a threat to unionists overall, and therefore, to black people dependent on government jobs.

While I’m sympathetic to the fact we need more black teachers and black schools for black students, I’m appalled by the suggestion that the way to get there is to judge teachers crudely by their date of hire rather than their ability to teach.

That will never make sense if student learning is the one goal of public funding for education.

Yes, jobs are important. And, we’ve seen public sector jobs decline big time. We’ve lost 600,000 of them just since 2008. And, yes, that has impacted black workers more than white.

I expect good liberals to ask how we can reverse that trend.

By contrast, always forward thinking, progressives will ask why black employment is dependent on state employers? Have we missed the fact that white workers have profited greatly by excelling in the private sector while we cling nostalgically to yesteryear?

The impact is clear. The economic separtion of the races took place while white educated household joined the new economy, and we stuck with the state. The chart below from the the Institute on Assets and Social Policy shows the expanding of a wealth gap between white and black households that “ballooned” from about $85,000 in 1984 to $237,000 in 2009.

wealth gap

You might think the black-white wealth gap is driven by many factors. That’s true. But most of us know educational attainment is key to competing in a tough economy.

That is why we must demand an effective system of public education. Realizing the practical, material, social, and political gravity of poorly performing schools, efforts to improve them are life or death. 

While some of our public intellectuals are stuck in the paleoliberal university time-warp where they continue to reheat the vision of unionized government employment as the cornerstone of black economic survival, we need to hear from other voices with better ideas.

John Hope Bryant, author of “How The Poor Can Save Capitalism,” may be such a voice. He articulates a pathway to rebuilding the middle-class more in line with how the world actually works.

He says while “the route to success has changed, for too many in the black and minority community, their game plan has not…”


For much of the past century, African Americans pursued social justice through government intervention, the ballot box, and ultimately elective office. While the number of black mayors and elected officials in this country is impressive, the number of black entrepreneurs is not. As a result, job creation in underserved communities, and among the black middle class, is stagnant.

Public sector unionism was a way to middle-class status (for some). Innovation and intellectual property are the way there now.

But enough about economics, and back to education.

It’s troubling Dr. Perry said so little about the research that came out of California’s celebrated Vergara v. California lawsuit which challenged teacher dismissal, layoff, and tenure statutes.

What about the byzantine teacher dismissal policies proven to keep “grossly ineffective” teachers in classrooms; or how those teachers end up teaching more poor children of color than white students; or how that impacts achievement and harms children for life (e.g. it costs a classroom of 28 students a loss of $1.4 million in lifetime earnings)?

He cares about retaining black teachers. So do I. But tenure, seniority, and “last in, first out” fails to get us there. These policies allow for high-quality teachers of color to lose their jobs even when they are more effective than their colleagues with tenure.


See the chart below. It shows how LIFO played out in Minneapolis Public Schools. The result was that over the last decade the percentage of black teachers was reduced from a high of 8% to a low of 4%. Black teachers were released at a much higher rate than white teachers. It should be of interest to Dr. Perry that one of those black teachers was LeAnn Stephens, Minnesota’s 2006 teacher of the year.


Source: Freedom of Information request from Minneapolis Public Schools

Dr. Perry might serve us better by telling us which school reforms he supports rather than sounding the one-note horn about how the monolithic “reformers” of his imagination are not seeing the one important light he harbors while they tend to the million others pertinent to good schooling that he ignores (e.g. teaching, learning, curriculum, school design, data usage, etc.).

While I believe we should be producing a bumper crop of high quality black teachers to lead in black neighborhoods, I realize that historically that goal has been part of a social commitment to self-determination and justice, not just a job.

Like Dr. Perry, I believe school reform deserves critique. But, because of the importance of its mission it also needs fair critics who are equally willing to address the monumental shortcomings of public schools that draws calls for reform in the first place.

That said, if bad tenure law – those that protect ineffective teachers and harm children – are needed to keep black people in jobs, God help us all.

The battle for a few jobs might be won, but the heritage and future of the black race will be lost.


Pursuing the power of self-sovereignty and personalized learning to create secure citizens and abundant communities. #TheOppositeOfSchool #AllPowerToThePupil


Short note about Network of Public Education’s (NOPE) focus on education fraud

My friends at NOPE need to broaden their scope of fraud reveals.

My friends at the Network of Public Education (NOPE) have an ongoing series under the hashtag #AnotherDayAnotherCharterSchool that aims to keep your eyes trained on the supposed never-ending abuses and fraud case in charter schools.

I applaud their commitment to public integrity and I share their vigilance in rooting out grift in public systems. Yet, their myopic focus on a small subset of public schools, in this case charters, is suspicious.

Why not expose all fraud, especially in the bigger system?

Well, you’ll have to ask them. They’ve mostly blocked me on twitter for asking such questions.

I guess their unionist funders and the privileged parents they cater to in America’s suburban hoarding schools want a clean message. Traditional schools with union teachers that work with privileged parents to rig the system in favor of white, middle-class, pampered children, well, that’s good.

Schools built for, by, or in favor of children so unfortunate as not to have suburban, white, progressive, college-educated families capable of obtaining mortgages for houses near the best hoarding schools, well, you know the drill, they must be stopped.

Thus, the campaign to turn public opinion against the most popular competitor to sputtering state-run schools that employ more people than they educate, and drown in so much pension debt that they can ill-afford parents choosing anything other than district failure farms.

In the interest of truth I should tell you that fraud in public education is indeed every bit the problem that NOPE says it is, but it’s much broader than they admit.

I’ve offered examples before, but here’s another from today’s reading list. In this article on lax oversight of millions of dollars of expenditures in Pittsburgh Public Schools:

a KDKA investigation has found that the Pittsburgh Public Schools have issued no less than 650 of these cards to teachers and staff, who are racking up millions of dollars of purchases every year.

And while the cards are not supposed to be used for personal purchases, Controller Michael Lamb says it’s a system of loose oversight and controls that IS based mainly on trust.

“When you have that many cards, you lose control,” Lamb said. “And when the proper procedures aren’t in place, you create the opportunity for fraud. And that’s what you have in the school district right now.”
KDKA filed a right-to-know request for purchases made over the last three years and the results were eye-popping.

Last year alone, teachers and staff rang up a total of $3,254,000 in p-card purchases, with some putting upwards of $20,000 or $30,000 on their individual cards.

The summaries obtained by KDKA show purchases from Amazon, Sam’s Club, Staples and Giant Eagle.

And while employees are supposed to submit receipts and the stated reason for each purchase, controller office audits have found that it is hard to tell if all or most of those purchases are legitimate.

But at Faison School, for example, the controller’s office found no p-card reports for half of the 12 months audited and missing documentation for dozens of the purchases that were listed.

And KDKA’s review found questionable expenditures, as well.
Records show that teachers and staff at Oliver Academy used cards on a weekly and bi-weekly basis at both Wiseguys Pizza and Kuhn’s supermarket — raising the question of whether they were using the cards for their own lunches and groceries.

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Fuller to charter advocates: You’re in a fight, don’t run home to Mama!

Dr. Howard Fuller has been on the vanguard of the fight for educational options, and today he has a message for education advocates: fight for your lives!

Charter schools came to the education game as a bipartisan plan to force a “bold departure” from the failure trap that caught too many students in traditional public schools.

Creating alternatives to assigned district schools for families that wanted them was picking a fight with the educational establishment that lives or dies on the student headcount that drives per pupil revenue. Now, after years of losing market share, the empire is striking back with organized moves to establish moratoriums on charter growth, forge attacks on the the integrity of charter supporters, and calcifying public narratives about the supposed negative impacts of charters on public education.

So what do reform advocates do when the opponent finally hits back (hard) and our cherished reforms take a public whooping like they stole something?

According to lifelong freedom fighter Dr. Howard Fuller we firm our spines and fight like we mean it. That’s what he told attendees at a recent conference for the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools.

“You can’t go running home to your mama,” he says. “There are people out there who don’t care that you all have created good schools. They don’t care that you are going to teach computer science. They don’t care.”

His message comes at a time when weary charter school supporters are feeling drained from constant attacks, and many are vacillating between wanting to stand their ground and wanting to accommodate anti-charter organizers by finding fleeting common ground.

“They want you to not exist,” Fuller said of the organized opponents of charter schools.

See his powerful speech below.

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It’s time to admit Diane Ravitch’s troubled crusade derails honest debate about public education

The longstanding arguments for charters could still be had in clean exchanges between judicious people – sans Ravitch – if we seek understanding and progress.

I should start adding a qualifier when I say the former scholar and historian Diane Ravitch is the Ann Coulter of education commentary.

In fairness, Coulter has better manners and makes more attempts to employ logic as she “owns” the libs with verbal Jujitsu.

Ravitch, by contrast, has fallen irreparably into polemics so much that her daily blogs put her in league with Alex Jones’ made-for-YouTube Info Wars.

Along those lines, her blog-fart today ties “the charter industry” to the “infamous pedophile and “super-rich” Jeffrey Epstein.

“In 2013, his foundation issued a press release announcing that he looked forward to the dominance of charter schools in Washington, D.C. and predicted that they would succeed because they were unregulated,” she crows.

Then she offers crude analysis of why people like Epstein would want to privatize schools in D.C.:

People often ask me, “Why do the super-rich cluster to the cause of privatization?” The Answer is not simple because many different motives are at work. Some see giving to charters as a charitable endeavor, and their friends assure them that they are “giving back,” helping poor children escape poverty. Others want to impress their friends in their social strata, their colleagues in the world of high finance. Being a supporter of charter schools is like belonging to the right clubs, going to the right parties, sharing a cause with other very rich people.

If you are reading this you probably know that Ravitch was once a charter school supporter, and that makes it fair to ask which camp of nincompoops she fell into?

Did she see charters as a “charitable endeavor,” or was charter support her attempt to “impress [her] friends in [her] social strata, [and her] colleagues in the world of high finance.”

Only she can say, but as an established scholar of education history (and a player in policy) it’s doubtful her support was so in want of a factual basis.

During testimony to Congress conservative William Bennett gave decades ago he invoked Ravitch as a bipartisan voice for school choice.

Regarding the school reforms that were advancing in Chicago under Mayor Daley and Paul Vallas Bennett declared “[t]he empirical evidence, now widely available, is irrefutable: Not only are many of our public-schools not getting better, they are getting worse. American students finish in the bottom half, and often near the bottom, in comparison to students from other industrialized nations.”

Then, after promoting the benefits of charter schools, he asked lawmakers to “follow my friend Diane Ravitch’s prescript” to:

…make Title I into a “portable entitlement” that would aid all poor kids regardless of what school they attend. This is the one way to assure that every single Title I child will receive Title I services at the school they currently attend. This is also the best way to assure accountability. If a parent is not satisfied with the Title I services they are getting, they can take their Title I dollars with them to the school or provider of choice; power to the parents, and not bureaucrats, in other words.

Was Ravitch’s support for school choice back then the result of suspicious philanthropy, or glossy marketing to mindless parents, or, more logically,  the result of her considerable scholarship by that point in her life?

Again, only she can say.

In the spring of 1997 she praised then-New York Pataki’s proposed charter school policies that allowed groups other than local boards to grant charters, allowed for an un-capped number of charters to open, and allowed these schools to hire teachers who weren’t state certified.


In supporting Pataki’s push she said:

It’s impossible to know whether a law permitting charter schools will emerge from this session of the Legislature; the opposition of the teachers’ union, which is the most powerful voice in Albany on education issues, is certainly not encouraging. This is unfortunate, for a large and vital network of charter schools in New York would offer hope to educators, parents, and students in troubled school districts and would promote higher academic standards for all the state’s public schools.

Why would she support such craven policies of such anti-democratic that today she maligns as wealthy pedophiles and privatizers? Projection much?

Forget that teachers’ unions – the ones Ravitch herself once admitted were the “most powerful voices in education” – today block legislation making it a crime for teachers to sexualize students, defeat resolutions that called for them to re-dedicate their profession to student achievement, and pay retail civil rights organizations to defeat the voices of their grassroots members.

Here’s the real kick to the taco, when Lamar Alexander pitched the idea that every D.C. school should be converted to a charter (in 1997, six years before Epstein arrived at the same conclusion) he ascribed this definition of charter schools to his friend Diane Ravitch:

Think of a charter school as a public school district with only one school. It receives public funds, agrees to meet clear academic standards and accepts all students who apply. Unlike existing public schools, it has a contract that can be revoked if the school fails to make good on its commitments.

If she were at all generous she would at very least admit the decency of long-term charter backers who hold valid theories for why charters improve the educational landscape. The longstanding arguments for charters could still be had in clean exchanges between judicious people – sans Ravitch – if we seek understanding and progress. The tensions between autonomy and regulation, local control and federal oversight, and public education as an institution or as a service to American learners could still be exercised by smart people truly seeking solutions to the inarguable problems of public schooling.

But not if we follow the zero-sum and divisive lead of Ravitch whose enemy-imaging toward those who differ on policy has escalated so far she no longer sees them as human. We’ll predictably end up in her abyss of false binaries, intellectual excursions, and forlorn paralysis.

Given Ms. Ravitch’s clever wits and stockpile of information I can’t imagine she leads us to that confused, somber place by accident. There is no better way to ensure the education establishment’s special interests – those who are among Ravitch’s most ardent disciples – are never brought to account than to ignore the brisk but level Ravitch of yesteryear and listen to the caustic and battled one before us now.


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