If you need a reminder, Nashville has a good one for you. Their superintendent, Shawn Joseph, has been the target in recent days of an attempt by one of his bosses to generate public calls for his firing.
Joseph is Nashville’s first black superintendent and it’s been rough.
Jill Speering, a board member, was outed for sending a private message to supporters asking that they show up to a board meeting and call for Joseph’s ouster.
She’s not alone. Two of her colleagues on the board have been combative with him because they say he hires cronies, failed to adequate address sexual harassment complaints that started before his tenure, and signed contracts they felt were unnecessary.
In truth, locals tell me, they oppose him mostly because he won’t step and fetch their shit.
Here is Speering’s tweet which was leaked and circulated through social media.
By all norms of board behavior it’s inappropriate for a single board member to bypass their colleagues and publicly call for attacks on the board’s one employee, the superintendent. But Speering’s call for teachers to wear masks (which breaks board policy) was next-level and left jaws gaping for its cultural cluelessness.
An editorial from The Tennessean denounced it saying “in the context of living in a flagship Southern city, it evokes an era of hooded white racists menacing black citizens.”
“Even if the intention was not racially motivated, the optics are terrible….it was a bad idea and she needs to be accountable for her irresponsible divisiveness.”
Metro School Board Vice Chair Christiane Buggs concurred: “I’m not sure if Ms. Speering internally made the connection between the masked protest she encouraged today and those of yesteryear’s held by the KKK but I did.”
So, what happened?
People showed up to the board meeting just as Speering asked, but they weren’t all her people. Joseph’s fraternity brothers, the NAACP, and parent activists came to counteract her the attack on the superintendent.
From a distance, I can’t be sure about Joseph’s performance. Maybe criticism on some fronts is warranted, but he’s faced unusual scrutiny from early on, including an investigation by a television reporter who hay with hidden video showing Joseph being driven by district employees in a $55,000 Chevy Tahoe.
Social Mothering and the maintenance of racial structure
There is a name for what white women like Speering and those answering her call to oust Joseph are doing.
Researcher Joseph Jewell at Texas A&M University calls it “social mothering” and defines it as “women’s carework in the public sphere…[that] played an important role in whites’ responses to racial minorities’ claims to middle-class mobility and identity in the late nineteenth century.
Jewell’s focus is on the role 19th century white female principals played in responding to concerns in their communities that upwardly mobile nonwhites were endangering racial hierarchy.
While that’s not the same thing as today’s partnership between white mothers, teachers, their unions, and their favored elected officials, these dynamics playing out could be seen as a evolution of yesterday’s social mothering intended to prevent nonwhites from threatening the absolutism of white whims and desires.
Change a gifted program, defund a popular vanity project, or a reprimand the wrong teacher or principal, and the phone trees go live and black leaders find themselves hanging from one publicly.
Before Christmas, that’s what appears to have happened when a dozen teachers, friends and children came to the board meeting with signs saying “Impeach Joseph.”
“Ho, ho, Joe must go” they chanted.
One parent in the group said “I want him to go back to Maryland, or anywhere else somebody else will hire him, I want him gone.”
I’ll be fair here and say some of this hubbub may be general dysfunction at the board level and not racial at all. One of Joseph’s detractors is a union-supported black school board member who has joined her white colleagues in excoriating him.
There’s also the fact that sabotaging the superintendent as Speering does isn’t race-based, it’s become tradition affecting superintendents black and white alike.
Finally, on a national level, black superintendents or school leaders that are compliant with the hidden rules of the education establishment, the first two being “thou shalt not upset the union” and “thou shalt no land white helicopter parents,” enjoy greater tenure.
That said, race-based or not there’s a problem in Nashville that at least includes racially problematic interactions. I myself had an online exchange with one of Speering’s collegues, Amy Frogge, which resulted in her calling me “paid whore” because I worked for an education nonprofit funded by all the targets Diane Ravitch’s drones love to hate (read: wealthy people).
Imagine an elected black male official calling a private citizen a “paid whore.” It’s been nice knowing you son.
Frogge has since denied it when asked by her supporters, and she deleted her tweet, but here it is.
Finally, realize all of this drama and theater takes place in a city distinct in that it was accused by a 2016 report of having an achievement gap larger than 75% of major cities.
Maybe all of the drama and grandstanding in Nashville is a farce to district attention for the fact that it’s a city either incapable or unwilling to educate children who fail to be white.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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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