Trinity Lutheran decision

This is an addendum to I story I’ve been following. Back in April I wrote The floodgates about a case in the Supreme Court. The case was Trinity Lutheran v. Comer.  Trinity asked for state funding to resurface a preschool playground. The state of Missouri said no because there is a provision in the state constitution prohibiting public money from being given to religious organizations and houses of worship.

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The Supreme Court had to decide whether this conflicts with the First Amendment, “specifically whether Missouri was violating the free-exercise clause by preventing Trinity Lutheran from participating in a secular, neutral aid program” (The Atlantic).

Yesterday, the court voted 7-2 in favor of Trinity Lutheran. In his decision, Justice John Roberts said the state of Missouri “cannot deny public funds to a church simply because it is a religious organization” (The Atlantic). The precedent for the decision falls under the Blaine Amendment (1875)-so named after Representative James Blaine. The Blaine Amendment, which did not pass in the Senate and was so adopted in 38/50 states says, “no money raised by taxation in any State for the support of public schools . . . shall ever be under the control of any religious sect” (Huffington Post).

While the Trinity case may seem mundane enough, it certainly has caught the attention of many people as may set a precedent, and so narrows the separation of church and state. This decision also changes the landscape for vouchers being used public schools – an idea DeVos is already selling.

Meanwhile back at Trinity Lutheran, the state had already reversed its decision and the playground was resurfaced using state funding. So much for that.

These are my reflections for today.

6/27/17

 

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The PBS Controversy

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PBS was in the headlines this week. Some affiliate stations are airing a controversial documentary called, “School Inc.” The film is narrated by Andrew Coulson, former director of the Cato Institute which stands in strong support of privatizing public education. Coulson, who worked hard to get this film out, died suddenly in 2016. He once said public schools were government run, and believed there had been no innovation in public education in 100 years. Coulson often spoke of how competition drives innovation, and how a free market can improve public education in America.

Coulson was a brilliant man who devoted his life to studying and advancing freedom through school choice.
Governor Jeb Bush

In the film, Coulson supports unregulated, for-profit schools, where teachers can sell their lessons to students on the Internet. He portrays miraculous charter schools that show innovation. He uses New Orleans as an example of the success of this approach. New Orleans is far from exemplar on anything related to public education. After Hurricane Katrina, nearly 5,000 teachers were fired, and charters replaced public schools. The results have been mixed-mostly unsuccessful, costly, and discriminatory.

Here’s a synopsis of the film:

This three-part documentary, produced by Free To Choose Media, reveals many unfamiliar and often startling realities: the sad fate of Jaime Escalante after the release of the feature film Stand and Deliver; Korean teachers who earn millions of dollars every year; for-profit schools in India that produce excellent results but charge only $5 a month; current U.S. efforts to provide choices and replicate educational excellence; and schools in Chile and Sweden in which top K-12 teachers and schools are reaching large and ever-growing numbers of students. With its beautiful visuals, surprising twists, and energy, School Inc. takes you on a personal, highly insightful journey.

Looking at who supported funding for this film explains a lot. According to Diane Ravitch, The Anderson Foundation is allied with Donors Trust, where donors can make contributions that can’t be traced to them.  Other contributors to Donors Trust include the Koch brothers’ and the Richard and Helen DeVos foundation (yup). Another sponsor of the film is the Gleason Family Foundation aka Center for Educational Reform which is a 501(c)3 nonprofit and pro-education privatization group.

Is the controversy over this documentary because it is a one-sided film supporting charters and vouchers?  Is it that no evidence was provided to support any of the claims in the movie? Maybe it’s because there was no mention of how public school teachers are bound by high stakes testing and accountability, which limits innovation. Or that charters are selective in their admissions process so much that their classrooms do not mirror their public school counterparts?

Coulson mentions  schools in South Korea as exemplar, though there is a high rate of competition which comes at a cost for students, and high stakes testing is the main focus of their drive to success. There is also mention of merit pay for teachers who raise students’ test scores. Study after study has shown merit pay does not yield higher test scores.

In response to an email query on the airing of the film, PBS said the network tries to, “offer programs that reflect diverse viewpoints and promote civic dialogue” and that School Inc. is “an independent production that reflects the personal viewpoint of series creator Andrew Coulson” (Strauss).

PBS has “high editorial standards that ensure that the creative and editorial processes behind the programs offered on PBS are shielded from political pressure or improper influence from funders or other sources.” Yet, the organization offered no explanation when asked why the major supporters of the film are pro-charter.

The controversy is that PBS prides itself on balanced views to informing the American public, and this is not balanced; it is one-sided. Heavily funded by pro-charter and voucher foundations only gives the public a one-sided view. This is the clear message pro-charter and voucher proponents want to sell. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know where I stand on charter schools. I try to provide evidence to support my claims, as it is about presenting factual information-even if opinion is in there.

When I teach my students to write a good research paper, I tell them to find the counter-point to their paper, and address it. What would critics argue about the points in the paper? I tell them to address them clearly, which eliminates any bias and makes for a stronger paper. Often I have students present both sides to a controversial issue- and to do so in such a way the audience cannot tell which side they favor. This would have been a good idea for this film.

These are my reflections for today.                                                                                            6/24/17

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More Charter News

Here’s a compilation of recent headlines about charter schools across the country. As you read, keep in mind this is the direction the current administration is going with regards to charters and vouchers.

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The Ohio State Auditor reported a charter school that was closed due to mismanagement in 2015 owes the state $340,000. “The shutdown, for mismanagement, came after the school had received its per-pupil aid from the Ohio Department of Education for the 2015-16 school year” (Columbus Dispatch).

Gene V. Glass, one of the nation’s most distinguished education researchers, wrote of parents applying to a charter school in Arizona. Parents who registered their child early for kindergarten received a letter of acceptance but in March were asked to fill out another form where they noted  their daughter required speech therapy, which they did not indicate on the first application. They were then told the child was unaccepted and would need to reapply through an open lottery.

The principal of the Crescent Leadership Academy, a charter school in New Orleans, was fired after he was filmed wearing Nazi rings and participating in a “white genocide” tape. The students in the school are almost all African-American (The Root).

A judge in New Orleans found that Delta Charter violated the terms of the desegregation  plan. The local school board in Concordia is seeking reimbursement of millions of dollars, and wants the judge to require the charter school to cancel its enrollment and create a plan of a more inclusive and diverse student body. The plan would include offering transportation to the school which would make it possible for more black students to attend (NOLA.com).

This story from South Carolina explains how foreign investors are buying green cards by investing in charter school construction, and the middlemen are raking in money at  high interest rates. Specifically, Jared Kushner’s sister secured investments in Kushner real estate deals in Beijing, where she promised green cards to investors of at least $500,000.

Three Detroit-area charter schools are closing in June after years of low test scores. This will leave hundreds of families to find new schools before fall. Many of these families have not yet been notified (chalkbeat.org).

In California, the East Bay Times reports an audit released this week suggests Livermore’s two charter schools misappropriated public funds, including a tax-exempt bond totaling $67 million, and mainly pointed the finger at former CEO Bill Batchelor. According to the Times, the Tri-Valley Learning Corporation, “failed to disclose numerous conflict-of-interest relationships; diverted, commingled and/or misappropriated public funds, including tax-exempt public bonds totaling over $67 million with various private entities; and contributed to an environment of significantly deficient internal controls” (East Bay Times).

In Indiana, four private schools with a consistent record of academic failure were approved by the State Board of Education to begin accepting publicly funded vouchers for incoming students (WFYI). “The schools  had been rated a D or F on the state’s accountability system for at least two consecutive years” (WFYI). Indiana Governor Holcomb recently signed a law allowing private schools to seek a one-year waiver from the requirement of  reporting years of academic improvement to become eligible for the vouchers. The school is being rewarded for failure.

On Thursday, Florida Governor Rick Scott signed a controversial and contested bill awarding $419 million to grow charter schools in the state. According to the Miami Herald, “The bill will make it easier for privately managed charter schools to further expand in Florida and to receive additional taxpayer funding to boost their operations. It also includes a wide range of other provisions including daily school recess for most elementary school students and $30 million in extra funding to expand a voucher program that helps kids with disabilities.”

The Florida bill was in heavy opposition from public school advocates across the state and across the country.  Superintendents, elected school board members, parents, teachers are concerned about provision in the bill forcing districts to share millions of local tax dollars earmarked for school construction. Before signing the bill, Scott said, “When I was growing up, I had access to a good quality education, and every Florida child should have the same opportunity” (Miami Herald). Define ‘good quality education’, Mr. Scott?

Diane Ravitch reported today that the New York State Senate is holding a deal to renew mayoral control unless NYC Mayor De Blasio agrees to allow more charter schools.

The Trump administration is pushing a plan to increase funding, fully support charters and vouchers – expand privatization to include vouchers, virtual schools, homeschooling, and other alternatives to public education all unregulated, and many for profit. All of this with very  little research or evidence to support their success.

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What’s happening in Washington, and across the country is disturbing. Politicians are promoting failed and discriminatory practices, and the implications of these failed practices will be felt far and wide, and for a very long time.  What’s reported in the news consistently is a pattern of fraud, misappropriation of funds, discriminatory acceptance practices, and rewards for failure.

What’s happening in your state? Where do your elected officials stand on these policies? If you don’t know, it’s time to find out.

These are my reflections for today.

6/17/17

 

 

 

What happened to 9,000 low-income students in North Carolina?

Effective teachers know how to challenge students academically, and do so on a regular basis. Students enjoy the academic challenge, and will rise to the level of expectation placed on them by their teachers. The benefits of students placed in academically appropriate classes can be seen later in school as they qualify for Advanced Placement classes. Students on an AP track likely move on to college, for example.

In many districts across the country, qualifying students in public schools are offered academic enrichment or gifted and talented classes. These G/T courses go above and beyond what is taught in the classroom. Students are identified  for G/T courses through a process which may include test scores, grades, and teacher recommendations.  An investigation in North Carolina recently revealed a systemic disparity in the children who were being offered opportunities for academic enrichment.

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Two newspapers in North Carolina, The News & Observer and The Charlotte Observer conducted a six year investigation on which students were qualifying for gifted classes based on end of year test scores. “From school years 2009-10 through 2014-15 across the state, a lower proportion of low-income students with superior scores on end-of-grade tests were placed in math classes for gifted students the following year than their classmates from higher-income families” (The News & Observer and The Charlotte Observer). Specifically, 9,000 low-income students were left out of opportunities for gifted classes even though they qualified for them. Why were so many students in North Carolina being denied these opportunities?

What this investigation revealed is disturbing on so many levels- most importantly the investigation found a consistent pattern over six years (2009-2015). This was noted across rural, urban, and suburban districts across the state.

Analysis of data collected revealed:

  • In 2015, one of every three low-income students with superior math scores was labeled gifted, compared to one out of two high-scoring students whose family income was too high to qualify for federal lunch subsidies.
  • In Wake County, 24 percent of low-income third graders scoring a 5 in 2014 were labeled gifted in math the following school year. The percentage for their higher-income counterparts was more than twice as high: 54 percent.
  • In 2015, Wake County filled 291 gifted slots with higher-income fourth graders who had average end-of-grade math scores. At the same time, 228 low-income children with superior scores were left out. This also occurred in several other large districts, including Durham, Guilford and Forsyth.
  • These high-potential, low-income students are less likely to take high school math in middle school, an important step toward the type of transcript that will open college doors. Only one of every two low-income third graders who scored above grade level in 2010 took high school math in middle school, compared with three of four more affluent students with the same scores.
  • Even those low-income students who start high school math in middle school are far less likely to take Advanced Placement math classes in high school than classmates with similar scores but more family income (The News & Observer and The Charlotte Observer).

What are the ramifications of students not taking AP classes?  Students who only take Math 1 in eighth grade in NC, fall behind their college-prep counterparts, with many teachers believing that once students fall behind, they aren’t able to catch up.  “Among low-income students who test above grade level in sixth grade but don’t take high school math by eighth grade, only one in 14 go on to take four advanced math courses in high school. For those who do start high school math by eighth grade, the numbers are better: two in five.” (The News & Observer and The Charlotte Observer).

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While the investigators made recommendations based on the study results, I present a few of my own:

  1. Criteria for inclusion in G/T courses must be consistent and monitored -from within and outside the program. Administrators and curriculum supervisors may be well-suited for the task. This would ensure ALL qualifying students are given equal opportunities.
  2. Training for teachers who teach honors courses. AP teachers are required to meet certain criteria by the College Board.  Honors teachers may benefit from training to ensure they possess the tools to assist students who want to succeed, and are given every opportunity to succeed.
  3. Professional development for K-12 teachers to better understand how to meet the academic needs of all students in the classroom. Every student should be provided with academic challenges.
  4. Counseling students in and out of higher level courses- providing scaffolding and support for students placed in these courses for the first time. If a student qualifies in 6th grade for a G/T course, or 9th grade for an honors or AP course, this may be quite an academic shock as they have not performed in such a course. Facilitating their growth and success would ensure they are succeeding in these higher-level classes.

There are varying opinions on gifted and talented education. This study is not about the value of gifted and talented classes, rather it is about the equal opportunities afforded to all children.  This investigation revealed a weakness in the system in North Carolina. In response to the study, Cathy Moore, Wake’s deputy superintendent for academic advancement, said what the investigation revealed  was “disturbing.” “I think there is a sobering punch in the gut about what is happening here,” she said (The News & Observer and The Charlotte Observer).

“Students who show promise need to be challenged,” said Keith Poston, executive director of the Public School Forum of North Carolina, a nonpartisan advocate for better schools. “Schools need to see their promise and push them into more rigorous classes early so they aren’t left behind and left out.”

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Superintendent Ann Clark says the key is individual tracking. In high schools, for instance, Charlotte-Mecklenburg now has counselors reviewing each student’s transcript every year to make sure the student is getting appropriate classes to meet his or her goals, whether that’s earning a diploma or building up advanced credits to be competitive for a top university. (The News & Observer and The Charlotte Observer).

It may have been easier to understand one or two districts demonstrating such bias, but a six year study revealing state-wide systemic bias such as this is unacceptable. Regardless of how NC got here, the question is how do they get out? Perhaps a non-partisan study every year similar to the one in this investigation would ensure ALL students who qualify for gifted/talented and AP courses are offered these courses. Accountability would be a good first step.

These are my reflections for today.

6/10/17


Post script:  Since I started Reflections in Education in November, I have had 900 visitors with almost 1,300 views of 43 posts, and my site has been viewed in 10 different countries. That may not seem like a lot to you, but it does to me – I didn’t think anyone would read it.  So, thank you for reading, sharing and re-posting. I hope my blogs have got you thinking, talking, reading more, and reflecting. I will keep writing if you keep reading. I appreciate your support. Thank you.


 

 

Elizabeth Warren on DeVos Watch

For many of us (myself included), student loans were the only way to get through college-along with menial jobs on campus and seasonal summer employment. We borrowed what we could with the promise to pay it back-one payment at a time. Many of us also remember the payment books that arrived in the mail the day after graduation. Every time you made a payment, you ripped out a stub and sent it with the check. Finishing a payment book felt really good – until the next book arrived in the mail.

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The cost of attending a four year college has skyrocketed, while loans available to students are shrinking. The proposed budget from the Department of Education (ED) will cut loan subsidies for low-income students essentially making it more expensive for students borrow money for college.  According to CNN Money, if approved, this budget would also slash the number of Work Study jobs for college students in half. And 2.9 million fewer low-income students would receive subsidized loans. More than 6.9 million borrowers received a subsidized loan this year, for a total of $22.6 billion.

Next year, the Trump budget proposes shifting some money toward unsubsidized loans, which will accrue interest while students are still in school (the one thing we had going for us is the interest didn’t begin to accrue until after graduation). DeVos also reversed a policy preventing student loan debt collectors from charging sky-high fees to students desperately trying to catch up on their student loans” (CNN).

There is some history (and contentiousness) behind federal student loan programs in the department.  During the Obama administration, Congress gave ED control of the federal student loan program, with the intent to remove the middlemen from the program and eliminate profits that private banks skimmed off the system. But now, years after the transition, the department seems to want to ignore the original intent of the change and instead administer a trillion-dollar loan program for the financial benefit of everyone except the students (CNN). “By one estimate, the federal student loan program turned a profit of $1.6 billion in 2016”, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CNN Money).

In April, DeVos rolled back the Obama administration’s attempt to reform how student loan servicers collect debt. Navient is one of the largest corporations that services and collects on student loans. The withdrawal of the Obama administration guidelines could make Navient a likely contender for a government contract, which will renew in 2019. Navient shares moved higher after the government released DeVos’s decision (Bloomberg). This corporation is also not without its own controversy.

Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) recently cited a story of Navient, “When the Department failed to hold giant student loan servicer Navient accountable after the company was fined nearly $100 million by other federal law enforcement agencies for allegedly overcharging thousands of active-duty military personnel, I called them out and helped trigger an independent investigation. Those efforts ultimately helped push the Secretary of Education to begin refunding money to over 80,000 military borrowers and to commit to a complete overhaul of the federal contracts with student loan servicers” (CNN).

Navient is still in the news. According to Bloomberg, “in January, state attorneys general in Illinois and Washington, along with the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, sued Navient over allegations the company abused borrowers by taking shortcuts to boost its own bottom line. Navient has denied the allegations.”

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The level of activism and accountability in government has increased since this administration took office in January. It’s so important to be informed. This week, Elizabeth Warren launched a new website called DeVos Watch. The site includes a video explaining why she launched the site, as well as what she hopes the outcome will be.

That’s why today I am announcing a new project to hold Secretary DeVos’ Department of Education accountable. DeVos Watch will seek information about the Department’s actions and inactions around federal student loans and grants and highlight the findings. People can also participate directly by tracking the Department’s actions, submitting oversight suggestions or filing whistleblower tips.

Accountability is about making government work for everyone. Regardless of political party, I’m hopeful that other policymakers will join me in efforts to hold the Department of Education accountable for serving our students — not the industries that make money off them. We all have an interest in a well-run, fiscally responsible, corruption-free student aid program that puts students first. That is Secretary DeVos’ job — and it is Congress’ job to make sure she does it.

There should be transparency in government, and I applaud Warren’s efforts to hold the ED publicly accountable for their decisions. I applaud her nonpartisan efforts to do what’s right for students seeking financial assistance to attend college. We should encourage a highly educated workforce. That so many bright smart, driven people cannot afford to go to college, and that so many more leave school with a mountain of debt is counterproductive.

HOW MUCH DOES IT COST?

For the 2014–15 academic year, the average annual price for undergraduate tuition, fees, room, and board was $16,188 at public institutions, $41,970 at private nonprofit institutions, and $23,372 at private for-profit institutions (NCES).

What do other countries do? Germany eliminated tuition because they believed that charging students $1,300 per year was discouraging Germans from going to college. Chile is doing the same. Finland, Norway, Sweden and many other countries around the world  offer free college (source). Maybe this isn’t such a radical idea. But for now, we keep an eye on DeVos and the ED.

These are my reflections for today.

6/3/17

Staring in the face of segregation – again

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While there are charter schools which are extraordinary and diverse, most are neither. We are reading more of their failures, and less of their successes. Moreover, what’s being reported is an increasingly high level of corruption and misappropriation of funds nationwide. Additionally, studies are finding an alarming increase in segregation in urban schools resulting from charters. Why? Charters are handing admission tickets to students who fit a profile, and that profile does not include English Language Learners or students with special needs. While public schools must accept and teach all students, charters (because they are unregulated) can pick and choose students. This reminds me of the blueberry story about the teacher who schools the businessman about choice.

School choice. DeVos says it’s what parents really want. What is the real danger in school choice?

In 1954, after the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education decision, parents rallied to create private non-religious schools where their white children could attend without forced desegregation. These so called ‘segregationist academies’ popped up mostly in the south, where desegregation was slow to implementation. Parents could choose to send their students to inexpensive private schools and ignore the law. While many died out in the 1960s and 70s, some still exist. Rather than desegregate, parents and families left and created their own schools. Between this and white flight, public schools were more segregated than before. What is most frightening is – since 1954 not much has changed.

Are charter schools the new public segregationist academies?  The very students charter schools were created to support are getting pushed out. Millhiser (2015) wrote that “American schools are more segregated today than they were in 1968.” Camera (2016) wrote in U.S. News that, “While much has changed in public education in the decades following {this} landmark decision and subsequent legislative action, research has shown that some of the most vexing issues affecting children and their access to educational excellence and opportunity today are inextricably linked to race and poverty.”

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What comes from publicly funded, unregulated charters and vouchers? to In a study conducted at Stanford University, Reardon (2016) found that “racial segregation is inextricably linked to unequal allocation of resources among schools; and  policies that don’t address this will fail to remedy racial inequality. In sum, racial integration remains essential for reducing racial disparities in school poverty rates” (Rabinovitz, 2016). This is the real problem.

In 2014, The General Accounting office was tasked with studying racial and socioeconomic isolation in the US. Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) was part of the committee  requesting the study. After reading the report, Scott said, “The GAO report confirms that our nation’s schools are, in fact, largely segregated by race and class. What’s more troubling, is that segregation in public K-12 schools isn’t getting better; it’s getting worse, and getting worse quickly, with more than 20 million students of color now attending racially and socioeconomically isolated public schools” (Anderson, 2016).

In a study conducted by The Civil Rights Project , the executive summary noted, “Our analysis of the 40 states, the District of Columbia, and several dozen metropolitan areas with large enrollments of charter school students reveals that charter schools are more racially isolated than traditional public schools in virtually every state and large metropolitan area in the nation.”

“School choice is not really about freedom. Freedom, of course, is a bedrock American value. But the kind of “freedom” associated with the flight away from integration and toward racial isolation will never lead to a more truly free United States” (Wong, 2017).

These stories came out just this week:

Diane Ravitch reported this week that the head of a now-closed Los Angeles charter school was charged with embezzlement, misappropriation of public funds, and money laundering.  This charge came the day after the election that handed control of the Los Angeles school board to charter promoters.

The Miami Herald reported this week that the Florida legislature, which has many members with direct connections to charters, passed HB 7069 which is a damaging piece of legislation that will benefit charters and harm public schools. Parents of public school students have been writing Governor Rick Scott and urging him to veto the bill. According to Clark and Gurney, “At least two privately managed charter schools in Hialeah — publicly advertised this week that they would give parents five hours’ credit toward their “encouraged” volunteer hours at the school, so long as they wrote a letter or otherwise urged Gov. Rick Scott to sign HB 7069.

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Corrupt. Misappropriating funds. A mirrored image of the segregation problems of 60 years ago. This is discrimination by race, economics, and in many cases language. This should sound the alarms. We learned from history segregation wasn’t constitutional, or ethical, and didn’t have a place in this country. There was resistance, but there was also persistence. Segregation still has no place in this country.

If we don’t understand the problem we cannot work toward a solution. I often feel as if I’m sitting by the tracks waiting for the train wreck everyone expects. Trump and DeVos are very much a part of the problem, and will never see viable solutions, largely because their solutions do not address the problems – rather they make the problems worse. As a nation of educators, students, graduates, advocates, activists, concerned parents, concerned citizens, and elected officials it is up to us to speak our opposition to the failing practices that are supported in Washington and in most State houses across the country. Someone needs to pull the brake to avoid the collision we all know is coming. Not if. When.

These are my reflections for today.

5/27/17

 

 

DeVos: HBCUs “pioneers of school choice”

Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) were created in response to the Jim Crow laws in the South that mandated enforced segregation. These laws institutionalized educational disadvantages, resulting in shutting out black students from traditionally white schools. They were created in slave states after the Civil War.

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Last week I watched the video of Betsy DeVos giving a commencement speech at Bethune- Cookman University which is an HBCU. In the video, students stand and turn their backs to DeVos in peaceful protest. This controversy arose over statements DeVos made in February to a group of HBCU leaders. According to Douglas-Gabriel and Jan (2017) of the Washington Post, after a meeting with HBCU leaders, DeVos praised their schools for identifying “a system that wasn’t working” and taking it upon themselves to provide the solution.  DeVos said HBCUs “started from the fact that there were too many students in America who did not have equal access to education.”  She said HBCUs are “living proof that when more options are provided to students, they are afforded greater access and greater quality” (Washington Post).

Tweets poked fun of her characterization of HBCUs as about school choice— “as if white/colored water fountains were about beverage options” and comparing the Montgomery bus boycott to “pioneering new scenic walking paths.” (Washington Post).  

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Selena Hill of Huewire said, “This display of public outrage should serve as a wake-up call to DeVos and the Trump administration: It’s going to take a lot more than photo ops and empty speeches to win over black students. Black institutions deserve protection, more federal funding, and better public schools that prepare students of color for college. Anything less is unacceptable” (Huewire).

Some say the protest was appalling, disrespectful-saying students should have their diplomas taken away, and should have used this as an opportunity for engagement and discussion with the Secretary.

I’ll play devil’s advocate. What if what DeVos was saying is that HBCUs were “pioneers of school choice” because black students weren’t afforded an education due to segregation so they found a solution to a problem and created colleges and universities with opportunities for learning. She might think they were pioneers, but at the same time she has  oversimplified racial segregation, the Fourteenth Amendment and discrimination.

Putting the past aside is one thing – understanding the past is another. Equating discrimination and segregation to pioneering choice fails to acknowledge the discrimination in the first place. Blacks were forced to create their own schools because the laws of this country did not protect them- in fact Jim Crow Laws supported discrimination and segregation.

I’m reminded of recent comments by HUD Secretary Ben Carson who said slavery was considered “hope for freedom”,  and slaves were “immigrants coming to a land of dreams and opportunity.” If I remember correctly, slaves were forced into a life of servitude-often abusive, always inhumane. They were not here by choice, nor did they have much opportunity. DeVos’ statement about choice and Carson’s statement about slavery ignore  reality. From their perspective, DeVos and Carson thought they were speaking the truth. It’s hard for me to interpret their words as anything other than ignorance. George Santayana said it best, “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.”

My guess is the Secretary was not randomly selected to give the commencement address at Bethune- Cookman, nor was she shocked by the reaction from the students. I would bet money this was as contrived as Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery. This was a planned visit, a canned speech, and likely nothing more than a publicity stunt. I would also guess that DeVos had no idea what an HBCU was before taking office-but maybe was schooled just after she learned she was giving the address.

The #1 rule of public speaking is to know your audience.

These are my reflections for today.

5/24/17