Educate All Students: Larry Miller's Blog

October 7, 2015

The Panthers’ Revolutionary Feminism

Filed under: feminism,Racial Justice — millerlf @ 9:57 pm


The Black Panther Party at its peak, circa 1968: young African-American men sporting black berets and leather coats, awe-inspiring Afros, raised fists on campuses, megaphones on street corners and rifles on the steps of the California State Capitol.

By 1970, Tom Wolfe had canonized these images as “radical chic” in his famous cover article for New York magazine when he wrote, “These are no civil-rights Negroes wearing gray suits three sizes too big,” adding, “these are real men!”

From media coverage to popular memory, most representations of the Black Panther Party have largely focused on its male leaders, the founders Huey Newton and Bobby Seale, and the minister of information, Eldridge Cleaver. And yet, the group that began in Oakland in 1964 as the Black Panther Party for Self Defense, with its main organizing efforts targeting disaffected young African-American men in cities, was over two-thirds women by the end of the 1960s.

As Stanley Nelson’s new documentary, “The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution,” now in release, reminds us, the party struggled with these founding gender contradictions. As women increasingly reached all levels of the organization, male leaders had mixed responses to their push for equality.

The party’s media strategy continued to valorize the images of its revolutionary men. By the beginning of the next decade, however, Newton began incorporating demands for gender and sexual equality as part of the party’s platform — even as, Mr. Nelson’s film shows, his personal actions toward women might have violently contradicted his progressive philosophy.

“We knew going into the film that by the early 1970s, women were the majority of the party,” Mr. Nelson said in a phone interview. “But we also knew that’s not how the story is usually told, so telling that became one of the objectives.”

Like their male counterparts, young women joined the Black Panthers because they believed in its platform of armed self-defense to end police brutality and state violence. They also saw themselves as “vanguards,” militant advocates for the economic and political equality of African-Americans here at home and allies of the Communist movements in Cuba, China, Mozambique and Vietnam.

But, like so many others of their generation, black women actively sought organizations that challenged gender stereotypes in the larger society. And because many of these women were committed to eradicating racist as well as sexist attitudes, some found what they were looking for in the Panthers.

“I would say that the women who were drawn to the Black Panther Party were all feminists,” said Ericka Huggins, the widow of the slain Panther leader John Huggins and the first woman to open a Black Panther Party chapter, in New Haven, where she served as deputy chairwoman. She went on to clarify in a phone interview: “Not in the way that feminism is looked at today, in which you have to go step by step in order to claim yourself as a feminist. But we generally believed in the political, social, economic and sexual equality of women and girls.”

In her forthcoming book, “What You’ve Got Is a Revolution,” the historian Ashley Farmer describes how Panther women would go on to shape the internal and sometimes internecine debates about gender equality and racial militancy in their women’s groups, in the Panther newspaper and elsewhere. At the same time, they often led and sustained the organization’s most successful community programs — the Free Breakfast for School Children Program, the Liberation Schools and the People’s Free Medical Centers — long past the Panthers’ prime.

“I think the hidden discussions within the party were about what it meant to be a new black man and new black woman, and that eventually led to new narratives about gender roles,” said Tracye Matthews, the associate director of the Center for the Study of Race, Politics and Culture at the University of Chicago.

What was progressive about the Panthers’ practices of equality — like having men cook in the breakfast programs and arming women to fight — also fostered tension. “They were constantly forced to confront how their theory of equality played out in real life and in the context of real oppression,” Ms. Matthews concluded.

One of the most outspoken critics of sexism within the Black Panther Party (and of Mr. Nelson’s film, for that matter) may be Elaine Brown, who was also the only woman to lead the organization (from 1974 to 1977). She wrote about the gender contradictions extensively in her 1992 memoir, “A Taste of Power,” but, in the film she acknowledges that challenging Panther male chauvinism was not always successful. “Did we overcome it? Of course we didn’t. Or as I like to say, ‘We didn’t get these brothers from revolutionary heaven.’ ”
It might have been state, not divine, intervention that created the political vacuum that allowed women to rise to positions of power in the party. In 1969, when national and local law enforcement officials unleashed their strongest and most violent attacks against the Panther leadership, they primarily targeted men.

“I don’t think that the police in San Francisco and Oakland took women that seriously as leaders because of their own chauvinism,” said Kathleen Cleaver, the Panthers’ first communications secretary and the former wife of Eldridge Cleaver. As a result, “many of the men in the party ended up being arrested, going into exile or underground, or dead.”

In response to this void, the Panthers’ fluctuating gender philosophy became strategic practice as the organization relied on those who remained: the women who continued to steer the party and its community programs.

While many pop-culture depictions of the party, like Mario Van Peebles’s 1995 film “Panther,” have paid “scant attention to the heroic contributions of female Panthers,” as Michael Eric Dyson’s review noted at the time, one other film stands out. In Tanya Hamilton’s 2010 film “Night Catches Us,” the heroine is Patricia Wilson (Kerry Washington), an ex-Panther turned defense lawyer whose husband was brutally murdered in a standoff with the Philadelphia police. Ms. Hamilton said in a phone interview that she made Patricia the heroine because “she had an obligation to the movement, and not just to the exciting or radical parts, but the functioning parts: feeding kids, making sure they stayed in school and protecting the neighborhood.”

She continued: “And for Pat, that protection went far beyond the role of being a Huey Newton standing on the corner to having her house be a central place for people who needed things. I envisioned her as a remnant of the most beautiful part of the Panthers.”

¬Salamishah Tillet is an associate professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania and the author of “Sites of Slavery: Citizenship and Racial Democracy in the Post-Civil Rights Imagination.” She is writing a book about Nina Simone.

Debating President Obama’s Legacy

Filed under: Racial Justice — millerlf @ 9:53 pm

Did Barack Obama do enough for his own community?
By Jennifer Senior October 7, 2015 New York Magazine
see article at:

In the summer, July 2013, the president had a group of civil-rights leaders come visit him in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, and the optics, as they like to say in politics, were similar: An all-star cast of minorities (African-American and Latino this time) gathered in a historic place to which the barriers to entry were once insuperably high.
When Obama opened up the floor, everyone spoke about what they’d witnessed in the 2012 election: how states that limited voter-registration drives and early-voting initiatives had left many African-Americans off the rolls; how strict new laws concerning IDs had prevented many minorities from voting and created hours-long lines at the polls. The answer was clear: legislation to restore the Voting Rights Act. The Supreme Court had just overturned a key provision of the landmark civil-rights legislation the month before.

But Obama’s response was equally clear: Nothing could be done. Not in this political climate, not under these circumstances. Congress would never allow it.

The group was stunned. As they’d stumped for Obama, one of the many talking points they’d used to turn out the black vote was the threat of disenfranchisement, the possibility that the Voting Rights Act was in jeopardy. Yet here was Obama telling them that a bill addressing this vital issue didn’t stand a chance.

These proximal events — the publication of a historic photo in a major news outlet, a demoralizing discussion about the prospects of amending our voting laws — may seem unrelated. But to many who’ve watched this White House for the last six and three-quarter years, particularly with an eye toward race, the two events are finely intertwined. They would more likely say: One cannot have that photo without a massive reaction to that photo. In a country whose basic genetic blueprint includes the same crooked mutations that made slavery and Jim Crow possible, it is not possible to have a black president surrounded by black aides on Marine One without paying a price. And the price that Obama has had to pay — and, more important, that African-Americans have had to pay — is one of caution, moderation, and at times compromised policies: The first black president could do only so much, and say only so much, on behalf of other African-Americans. That is the bittersweet irony of the first black presidency.

“I too would have liked to see the Obama years do more. But Barack Obama never gave us a bill that hurt us.”
Al Sharpton, minister and activist

But now, as Obama’s presidency draws to a close, African-American intellectuals and civil-rights leaders have grown increasingly vocal in their discontents. They frame them, for the most part, with love and respect. But current events have broken their hearts and stretched their patience. A proliferation of videos documenting the murders of unarmed black men and women — by the very people charged with their safety — has given rise to a whole movement defined by three words and a hashtag: #BlackLivesMatter.

“That’s one of the fundamental paradoxes of Obama’s presidency — that we have the Black Lives Matter movement under a black president,” says Fredrick Harris, a political scientist at Columbia University. “Your man is in office, and you have this whole movement around criminal-justice reform asserting black people’s humanity?”

Obama is hardly uncomprehending of these concerns. One can hear it in his rhetoric on race these days, which has become much more lyrical, personal, explicit. “Amazing Grace,” he sang in Charleston. “Racism, we are not cured of,” he told Marc Maron, “and it’s not just a matter of it not being polite to say ‘n—–’ in public,” using the full word. This summer, Obama visited a prison, the first president to do so, and commuted the sentences of 46 nonviolent drug offenders. Last year, he started the My Brother’s Keeper initiative, which zeros in on programs within federal agencies that can help young men of color. He is now trying, with the improbable cooperation of congressional Republicans, to pass a bill on criminal-justice reform.

Still, the question many African-American leaders are now asking is what his efforts will amount to, and whether they’re sufficient. At a panel about African-American millennials in August, the journalist Charlayne Hunter-Gault made note of Obama’s recent emphasis on race matters and asked the group if it was “too little, too late.” Their responses, not surprisingly, were mixed. At the Aspen Ideas Festival this summer, Jarrett fielded a similar question from Walter Isaacson, the writer and head of the Aspen Institute. He noted that some Americans thought Obama publicly engaged with issues of race only “halfway.” Her reply was swift, pointed, and poignant. “I think you have to ask yourself: Why is that all on him?”

Just after November 5, 2008, there was, in this country, a brief spell of racial euphoria. The streets on Election Eve were filled with jubilant strangers hugging and kissing one another. The word postracial got tossed around a lot (by whites, it must be said, far more than blacks). A Gallup poll released two days after Obama’s victory declared that two-thirds of Americans said “a solution to relations between blacks and whites will eventually be worked out,” the highest percentage Gallup has measured on this question.

Going into the Oval Office, Obama had given one of the most extraordinary speeches about race this country had ever heard from a politician. Granted, he’d had no choice: His former pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, had preached a sermon in 2003 that included the words “God damn America,” which were inconveniently caught on videotape. But Obama’s response — a 37-minute speech in Philadelphia that patiently put these words in historical context — was risky, audacious, possibly even contraindicated. “There were many cowardly ways to handle that situation,” says Van Jones, Obama’s former special adviser for green jobs, “but he chose the most courageous one.” The speech got 1.2 million hits within the first 24 hours of being posted on YouTube.

“I understood the tightrope from the beginning. He’s the president of all people. But sometimes it felt like he was president of everyone except black people.”
Van Jones, Obama’s former special adviser on green jobs

What one says as a candidate is one thing; what one says as president is another. Six months into Obama’s tenure, a reporter asked the president what he thought of the arrest of Harvard’s Henry Louis Gates Jr., one of the most famous African-American intellectuals in the United States, who had been taken into custody for trying to unstick the stubborn front door of his own home. Obama replied that although he didn’t have all the facts, he thought the Cambridge police had “acted stupidly.” Within minutes, the world seemed to come off its hinges, with Fox and its cousins — even some of its in-laws in the mainstream press — ¬declaiming that Obama had insufficient respect for law enforcement. Obama dialed back his comments, proposing that Gates and the police officer meet at the White House over beers.

“There was the president of the United States,” says Jones, “escorted by the white vice-president, sitting at a little table with an arguably racist white beat cop from Boston, like some little kid in time-out in a kindergarten class.” The incident would subsequently become known as “the beer summit.” “I don’t think anyone has really tried to think through the harm that that whole incident inflicted on the country,” he continues. “The courageous president we had voted for disappeared.” Jones says that a number of White House staffers, particularly those of color, wished the president hadn’t done it. “I wish he had gone out and said, ‘I want to clarify what I said about the police behaving foolishly. What I meant was: They behaved damn foolishly. I’m going back to work.’ ”

It didn’t help that Obama’s brain trust — at least in the beginning — seemed to be made extremely uncomfortable by race matters. “Sometimes liberals think, Because I’m fair-minded, I know how to handle race relations,” says Marc Morial, the head of the National Urban League. “No. Handling race relations means knowing how to handle alligators and crocodiles. Apart from Valerie Jarrett, there weren’t a lot of African-American advisers in there who were experienced in dealing with race.” He thinks for a moment. “Or white advisers,” he adds. “There are lots of white advisers who have experience in dealing with race relations. But I think the David Axelrod–Rahm Emanuel axis didn’t understand it.” Barbara Arnwine, the recently retired executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, says people would refer to Obama’s advisers as “the Great White Wall.” She adds: “During his first term, I thought Bill Clinton was more directly engaged with the black and civil-rights community on policy matters than Obama was — and a lot less defensive.”

The beer summit was the last the public heard from Obama about race for quite some time. Daniel Q. Gillion, a political scientist at the University of Pennsylvania, later analyzed the record of the president’s public comments and found he’d spoken less about race in his first two years than any Democratic president since JFK. “Whenever I gave an interview, I felt the pressure to say, ‘All Americans, all Americans,’ ” says Jones, who resigned from the White House in September 2009 after revelations about his previous political affiliations and beliefs, which were more radical than the White House would have liked. “There was this anxiety that we shouldn’t look too concerned about blacks. I understood the tightrope from the beginning. He’s the president of all people. But sometimes it felt like he was president of everyone except black people.”

One can argue that Obama’s hands were tied from the very beginning. This country is still a vexed mess when it comes to race. Even during the first campaign, Obama’s advisers were painfully aware of the electorate’s misgivings. They were hard to miss, if you were in the polling business. The Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg tells an illustrative tale: When his firm surveyed hundreds of likely voters in Macomb County, Michigan (fabled for its dense concentration of Reagan Democrats), “they were acutely conscious that Obama was African-American. What they said was, ‘Is he going to govern for everybody? Or is he going to govern for his people?’ That was the critical, pivotal question for them.” These crucial voters wanted to see Obama as a symbol of progress, of how far we’d come. Yes, we can. They didn’t want to see him as a symbol of disaffection, of how far we had to go. “I am sure the campaign was conscious of it,” says Greenberg, “and he had to deal with it if he was going to sustain their support — governing not for a particular group, but for everybody.”

“Too often, he uses these occasions not to push for greater accountability within law enforcement but to push a narrative that black people should behave more responsibly.”
Alicia Garza, co-creator of #BlackLivesMatter

These same reservations were evident — maybe even intensified — in the immediate aftermath of the election. That Gallup survey that trumpeted our optimism? It also found deep streaks of pessimism. Only 32 percent of McCain voters felt proud of Obama. More than half, 56 percent, felt “afraid.” By 2010, the tea party was ascendant, peddling racist imagery. “No one expected the pictures of him eating watermelon, the pictures making him look like a monkey, the Sambos,” says Arnwine. “The racism was so base.”

Obama’s election brought out not just the best of the country, in other words, but its worst. “Portions of white America have literally had a nervous breakdown over a black man being in the White House,” says Anthea Butler, a religious-studies professor at the University of Pennsylvania. “I mean, here people are, acting so surprised about Donald Trump’s popularity. Hello? He’s the one who asked Obama for a birth certificate!”

Writing in The Atlantic in 2012, Ta-Nehisi Coates tried to show, brick by brick, how the Republican rhetoric of the Obama years has been racialized in ways both subtle and explicit. He noted that Obamacare was framed as “reparations.” (Bill Clinton’s stab at universal health care, meanwhile, was generally framed as an excess of “big government.”) In January 2012, Newt Gingrich declared that “more people have been put on food stamps by Barack Obama than any president in history,” when in fact that distinction goes to George W. Bush. When Obama criticized Arizona’s draconian immigration laws, Iowa congressman Steve King said Obama “has a default mechanism in him … that favors the black person.” And in response to the Gates incident, Glenn Beck said that Obama “has a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture.”

This was the media, Congress, and electorate that Obama had to contend with. How much, realistically, could he explicitly say or do for African-Americans under such circumstances? “I’m deeply conflicted over this fact,” Coates told James Bennet, editor of The Atlantic, in a public discussion. “It’s smart politics for him not to talk about race.”

No one contests that Obama is navigating rather treacherous political narrows, but his critics still believe he could have done things differently. “All presidents bear burdens of some sort,” says Fredrick Harris, the political scientist at Columbia. “Race was one with Obama. But from my perspective, why should black constituents bear the burden of his risk aversion when it comes to issues of race?”

Indeed, some civil-rights leaders see the Black Lives Matter movement (and its abiding impact on the 2016 campaign) as a rebuke to Obama, a symptom of his inability thus far to satisfactorily address racial inequality in this country. “By now, it’s safe to say that black people have wanted Obama to do more,” says Alicia Garza, one of the movement’s co-founders. “For the last eight years, everything and nothing has been about race.” She looks at the deaths of young black men and women we’ve recently witnessed — children, some of them, with Skittles in their pockets — and feels deep disappointment in Obama’s reactions to them. “Too often,” she says, “he uses these occasions not to push for greater accountability within law enforcement, but to push a narrative that black people should behave more responsibly.” She understands that law enforcement is a constituency the president cannot afford to alienate. “But that assumption erases the power dynamic in this country,” she says, “and it places the responsibility on black people, who are without economic power, political power, and social power to impact their own conditions.”

These law-enforcement excesses are set against the larger backdrop of an incarceration pandemic: If you are an African-American male, you stand a one in three chance of cycling through prison at some point. But the president’s record on this matter has been mixed. Yes, it was under Obama that Congress passed the Fair Sentencing Act in 2010, which reduced the disparities in punishments for crack- and powder-cocaine possession. But the law did not apply retroactively. After the law passed, thousands still languished in confinement though they no longer met the criteria of such harsh sentences, and Obama, who had the unique power of clemency to set them free, wasn’t doing so. “The administration could have acted much more boldly to commute the sentences of the thousands of people still serving time under the old, unfair crack law,” says Jeremy Haile, federal advocacy counsel for the Sentencing Project.

“Obama has a famous swag. It’s a signal he sends with his walk that says, ‘I got this.’ He had it with trade, immigration, health care. But he doesn’t have it when he talks about race.”
Paul Butler, professor, Georgetown Law School

The other policy disappointment — not unrelated — that inevitably comes up is the issue of African-American unemployment. Talk to black lawmakers, and this is the first thing they mention: How they wish Obama had made extra efforts to strengthen job-creation programs in their struggling districts, where some of those high-profile murders were taking place. The White House would usually respond to this complaint with “a rising tide lifts all boats.” The answer always left Jim Clyburn, a South Carolina Democrat who ranks third in the House, underwhelmed. “If a boat has several holes in the bottom,” he told me, “it ain’t lifting.”

But the most wrenching reactions to Obama centered on how he did or did not respond to the numerous highly visible acts of violence and injustice against African-Americans during his tenure. Charles Coleman Jr., a civil-rights attorney in New York, talked about two critical moments in Obama’s presidency. “So, George Zimmerman is acquitted,” he says about the man who killed Trayvon Martin. “There is a significant faction of the country that’s at a loss: How do we have a dialogue on this? And the president delivers an incredible speech.” Extemporaneously, from the looks of it. He said Trayvon could have been him 35 years ago. “It represented the pinnacle of where he’s been on race. It was an example of the president speaking to black America as a black American, from within our community. He made us feel like he really does get it.”

Then there was Ferguson. Even by Obama standards, the president seemed to react to the shooting of an unarmed black man and the subsequent anger with unusual caution. Obama expressed his distress about the incident, but he also pleaded for calm and chastised those who rioted — a reaction that devastated many African-Americans, who thought he was emphasizing the stereotype of black lawlessness. “It delegitimized the frustrations of black people and the reasons for their frustration,” says Coleman. “It fed into the narrative of, ‘These are angry black people in the streets.’ ”

Jon Favreau, the president’s former head speechwriter, understands this point of view but believes the president had little choice. “An American city was on fire,” he says. “He’s the president. He doesn’t want to further incite violence or instability.” He says people often fail to grasp this: how a few words from the president can crater the stock market or exacerbate a conflict.

As for the overall arc of Obama’s rhetoric on race, Favreau rejects the conventional wisdom: “There’s this view that he was courageous to speak out about race before he got to the White House, then he was quiet, and then, after the 2014 midterms, he was free to speak again,” he says. “I never bought into that theory. He had to take on events as they came. There was a financial crisis. An oil spill. Afghanistan. Bin Laden. Health care.” Then came a visible succession of killings of young, unarmed African-Americans. And Obama addressed those too. “I find it frustrating when people say he’s finding his voice and that he’s finally comfortable” discussing race, agrees Jarrett. “He has always felt perfectly comfortable speaking out when he thought it could make a difference.”
Paul Butler, who worked at the Department of Justice under both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, says much of the frustration African-Americans were expressing post-Ferguson was the culmination of many years’ worth of irritation, not over Obama’s caution, necessarily, but his penchant for “respectability politics.” (“Brothers should pull up their pants” was one of his more memorable lines during the campaign.) That a man with the power to address structural inequality would instead talk about behavior really rankled, Butler says, echoing Garza. He cites Obama’s commencement speech at Morehouse College in 2013, in which the president said, “Nobody cares if you suffered some discrimination.”

“Every black person has this job whether they want it or not — and he’s the president. History is going to think it’s his job.”
Anthea Butler, professor of religious studies, University of Pennsylvania

“It’s impossible imagining Hillary going to Wellesley or Smith and saying, ‘Stop whining about the patriarchy and the glass ceiling. Nobody cares,’ ” says Butler, who now teaches at Georgetown University Law Center. “She would not say it.”
“Yes, she would!” protests Jarrett. “She’d talk about resilience! If you read the whole speech, it was to strengthen them, to make them feel resilient.”
Butler disagrees. “Obama has a famous swag,” he says. “It’s a signal he sends to us with his walk that says, ‘I got this.’ He had it with trade, with immigration, with health care. But he doesn’t have it when he talks about race.”
How does he look then? I ask.”He looks tired,” says Butler. “He looks weary. It’s almost like he suffers from the racial fatigue whites say they suffer from.”

“During that first election season,” says Nicole Austin-Hillery, the director of the Brennan Center for Justice’s Washington, D.C., office, “my husband and I would go to dinner parties in lovely homes with all these super-well-educated African-Americans, and so many of them talked about how, ‘Oh, Obama’s going to do this on race, he’s going to do this for black America.’ And my husband and I were the only two who said he has to govern the way he ran — and he didn’t run on racial-justice issues or reform issues.”

It’s possible — reasonable to assume, even — that Obama never wanted to initiate a huge national conversation about race. Maybe he simply wanted to be a great president, defining “great” however he wished. In The Price of the Ticket: Barack Obama and the Rise and Decline of Black Politics, Fredrick Harris notes that Obama didn’t really speak about racial inequality during his first presidential campaign unless he had to. His most impassioned speech on the subject, back in June 2007, came after he’d spent a quarter of the year trailing Hillary Clinton among black supporters. “It grew stronger when he needed black support to shore up his viability as a candidate,” writes Harris. “It grew dimmer after black supporters got behind his candidacy en masse.”

Even in his speeches about race, Obama often pushes a more universalist message. In his commemorative remarks in Selma this spring, for instance, he turned the marchers’ struggle into a metaphor for all struggles of the disempowered in the United States: “The American instinct that led these young men and women to pick up the torch and cross this bridge, that’s the same instinct that moved patriots to choose revolution over tyranny. It’s the same instinct that drew immigrants from across oceans and the Rio Grande; the same instinct that led women to reach for the ballot, workers to organize against an unjust status quo; the same instinct that led us to plant a flag at Iwo Jima and on the surface of the moon.”

“He’s kind of a black Reagan,” says Anthea Butler. “He likes to believe in big, lofty things.”
In his work, Gates has examined “the burden of representation,” which he once defined as “the homely notion that you represent your race, thus that your actions can betray your race or honor it.” It is why Obama is being asked repeatedly whether he’s done enough for black America. It is why Jarrett answers repeatedly that she is not sure why it’s his job. And it is why Anthea Butler ruefully responds, in turn: “Every black person has this job whether they want it or not — and he’s the president. History is going to think it’s his job. We’re going to talk about him for the next 500 years.”

But as Coleman points out, there is no consensus on how to do this job. “The enigma of President Obama on race,” he explains, “may be reflective of a larger question of how black Americans engage the conversation of race themselves. We are not a monolithic group, as anyone with a brain can figure out.” To take some crude examples from public life: Jesse Jackson is not Colin Powell is not Ben Carson. “There are those of us who feel like we don’t have to make it always about race,” he says, “and then there are those for whom it’s the opposite: Race accounts for everything and anything.” Coleman then turns to the question of Obama. “The difficulty with the president is that I’m not sure I know where he stands.”

“Why should black constituents bear the burden of his risk aversion when it comes to issues of race?”
Fredrick Harris, director of the Center on African American Politics and Society, Columbia University

But this, of course, is what being human is: reconciling contradictions in our muddled identities, containing multitudes. This, in fact, is what Obama is known for — he sees things on one hand and then on the other, he empathizes with all points of view. At its heart, Obama’s autobiography, Dreams From My Father, was about reckoning with the basic question of who he was. This summer, he revisited his adolescent confusion when speaking to Marc Maron. Noting that Maron’s studio wasn’t far from his old stomping grounds at Occidental College, the president mentioned that those years raised a lot of questions for him, like: “Who am I really? A lot of that revolved around issues of race.” He then elaborated on those issues, channeling the inner dialogue of his younger self: “I am an African-American, but not grounded in a place with a lot of African-American culture” — Hawaii, he meant. “So I’m trying to figure out: All right, I’m seen and viewed and understood as a black man in America. What does that mean?”
Back in 2006, I interviewed Obama for this magazine. I asked him if he’d ever read Gates’s essay in The New Yorker about Colin Powell. He hadn’t, though he loved Gates’s work. I mentioned a critical distinction that Gates made: Jackson wanted to be the first black president. Powell, if he were to run, wanted to be the first president who happened to be black.

“I don’t think that those two are necessarily opposing,” Obama told me. “I don’t want people to pretend I’m not black or that it’s somehow not relevant. But ultimately, I’d want to be a really great president, you know? And then I’d worry about all the other stuff. Because there are a lot of mediocre or poor presidents.”
To borrow a favorite phrase of the president’s, let me be clear: Obama is tremendously popular with African-Americans. Right now, his approval rate is 91 percent among them, and he’s rarely fallen below 80 percent. Even his critics in this story are still his supporters. Van Jones is his dogged defender on television. Jim Clyburn notes repeatedly that Obama rescued us during a recession, pulled us out of Iraq. Paul Butler, from Georgetown University Law Center, has an Obama action figure sitting on his kitchen table. Whenever he discovers it’s been knocked over, he makes a point of standing it back on its feet.

Anthea Butler notes that there’s a generation of black Americans who don’t just love the president but wish badly to protect him — not just psychologically but physically. “If you talk to an older black person,” she tells me, “somebody who’s 70 or older, they’re gonna be like, ‘Honestly, we just want him to get out alive.’ ”
Al Sharpton, one of Obama’s staunchest defenders and a sometime adviser, argues that there is much to be grateful for in this presidency. “You know how many black people tell me, ‘I didn’t have health insurance until now’?” The Affordable Care Act is projected to give an estimated 2.9 million more African-Americans coverage by 2016, significantly narrowing the coverage gap between blacks and whites. “It’s extremely strange to hear people question President Obama who never questioned Bill Clinton,” he continues. “Under Bill Clinton, we got the crime bill that gave us three strikes and you’re out, and the welfare-reform bill. I too would have liked to see the Obama years do more. I agree with that. But Barack Obama never gave us a bill that hurt us.”

Sharpton has gotten a lot of grief for his support of Obama. Cornel West, whose manifold political objections to the president are at this point hard to separate from his personal ones, went so far as to call the reverend “the bona fide house Negro of the Barack Obama plantation.” But Sharpton says he’s come by his support for the president through some hard-won local lessons. “When I sat in New York with the first and only black mayor,” he tells me, referring to David Dinkins, “we tried to push him on various issues.” Dinkins kept trying to push back, saying he had to govern for all New Yorkers. It was the same defense as Obama’s. “So we started calling him names,” says Sharpton, “and we started saying, ‘You shoulda done this that and the other.’ ” He pauses. “And we ended up with 20 years of Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg.”

“I think you have to ask yourself: Why is that all on him?”
Valerie Jarrett, senior adviser to the president

Obama’s supporters can point to a number of his accomplishments with regard to race. His attorney general Eric Holder rebuilt the civil-rights division within the DOJ; in 2013, Holder also announced the Smart on Crime initiative, which instructs federal prosecutors to avoid bringing charges that would trigger mandatory minimum penalties in the case of certain low-level crimes. Then there is the possibility of the criminal-justice-reform bill. “If he can sign a bipartisan bill by Christmas,” says Jones, “it’ll make up for the frustrations of the middle years.”

In February 2014, the White House started the My Brother’s Keeper initiative, a public-private effort that both partners with communities and helps nourish existing federal programs that boost the prospects of young men of color. (This summer, for instance, the new attorney general, Loretta Lynch, announced a pilot program that would give Pell grants to prisoners.) It won’t end when Obama leaves the White House. This May, Obama announced the formation of the My Brother’s Keeper Alliance, a nonprofit powered by an all-star advisory board (John Legend, Colin Powell, Shaq) and millions of corporate dollars that will attempt to close the opportunity gap for young men of color.

“This will remain a mission for me and Michelle not just for the rest of my presidency,” he said when announcing the program, “but for the rest of my life.” How large a role it will play in Obama’s post¬presidential life has yet to be determined. But its conception is entirely consistent with the president’s ideals and modus operandi. It turns him into a community organizer again — but, this time, with millions of dollars and the Rolodex of a former president of the United States.

These accomplishments may not be as epic as some have wished. But even the presidency has its limitations. When Jarrett told the audience in Aspen that it isn’t Obama’s responsibility to change race relations in the United States, it may have seemed like a punt. He is, after all, the man with the electoral mandate, the bully pulpit, the veto pen, the executive order, and, for his first two years, the Democratic majority in both chambers of Congress. But her response also had the effect of lobbing the question right back to her mostly white audience. Because here’s how she followed up: “The question is: What are we gonna do? It’s a collective responsibility. This is not something where suddenly, because the country elected him president, our history just evaporates. It has to happen family by family.”
The hardest part, for those who root for Obama, is that before long, these issues will no longer be his responsibility at all, at least as commander-in-chief. Sharpton believes African-Americans will sorely miss the simple image of a black family going in and out of the White House each day. Obama’s triumph, as far as he’s concerned, was a mute, daily reminder of the possibility of black ascendancy, an invisible psychological superstructure onto which a whole generation of black children could unconsciously graft their aspirations. “When all the smoke clears and Barack Obama’s gone,” says Sharpton, “a white president will succeed a black president. We’ve never been here before. And what will that do emotionally and otherwise in the black community that is already up in arms? When we don’t even have the symbolic charge of seeing a black man and woman, two girls, on the news every night?”

In the meantime, there is, to borrow another Obama trope, still possibility for change. “I think you’re going to see a lot of things happen in this last 15 months, and he’s going to go all out to address the problems he’s been reluctant to give extensive statements about,” says Elijah Cummings, who represents Baltimore and was head of the Congressional Black Caucus when Obama first ran for Senate. “I just do.”

He tells a story about the night of Obama’s first inauguration. “I’ll never forget: My wife and I were at the White House with him, after he finished all the parties. And he said, ‘Elijah, I don’t know how much I’m going to be able to do. But I’m going to do everything in my power to make the world a better place for the community you’re in.’ ” Whatever disappointments there have been in the years since, he believes that is still Obama’s goal. “Sometimes,” says Cummings, “he’s just doing things quietly.”
*This article appears in the October 5, 2015 issue of New York Magazine.

September 20, 2015

11 Major Misconceptions About the Black Lives Matter Movement

Filed under: BlackLivesMatter — millerlf @ 11:41 am

You might associate it with the fight against police brutality, but it’s simply not true that it’s a one-issue movement.

By Brittney Cooper Cosmopolitan Magazine (When did Cosmopolitan become a political magazine?)
Since the acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s killer in 2013 and the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014, the phrase “black lives matter” has become a rallying cry for a new chapter in the long black freedom struggle. But this new movement’s penchant for disruptive protest and impassioned public speeches about persistent racial inequality have been disconcerting to many Americans who wonder what the end-game is for this new generation of protesters. Do black lives matter more than white lives? bystanders ask. Why can’t black people simply address the crime problem in their own communities? others want to know. And if the problems are really this bad, can’t voting for new political leaders solve them? sympathizers wonder. These are just some of the many questions surrounding this new movement. But the young people taking to the streets in protest have a righteous cause. They deserve a fair hearing. And we can begin by debunking a few myths about what the Black Lives Matter movement is and what it isn’t.

1. The movement doesn’t care about black-on-black crime. The idea that black-on-black crime is not a significant political conversation among black people is patently false. In Chicago, long maligned for its high rates of intraracial murder, members of the community created the Violence Interrupters to disrupt violent altercations before they escalate. However, those who insist on talking about black-on-black crime frequently fail to acknowledge that most crime is intraracial. Ninety-three percent of black murder victims are killed by other black people. Eighty-four percent of white murder victims are killed by other white people. The continued focus on black-on-black crime is a diversionary tactic, whose goal is to suggest that black people don’t have the right to be outraged about police violence in vulnerable black communities, because those communities have a crime problem. The Black Lives Matter movement acknowledges the crime problem, but it refuses to locate that crime problem as a problem of black pathology. Black people are not inherently more violent or more prone to crime than other groups. But black people are disproportionately poorer, more likely to be targeted by police and arrested, and more likely to attend poor or failing schools. All of these social indicators place one at greater risk for being either a victim or a perpetrator of violent crime. To reduce violent crime, we must fight to change systems, rather than demonizing people.

2. It’s a leaderless movement. The Black Lives Matter movement is a leaderfull movement. Many Americans of all races are enamored with Martin Luther King as a symbol of leadership and what real movements look like. But the Movement for Black Lives, another name for the BLM movement, recognizes many flaws with this model. First, focusing on heterosexual, cisgender black men frequently causes us not to see the significant amount of labor and thought leadership that black women provide to movements, not only in caretaking and auxiliary roles, but on the front lines of protests and in the strategy sessions that happen behind closed doors. Moreover, those old models leadership favored the old over the young, attempted to silence gay and lesbian leadership, and did not recognize the leadership possibilities of transgender people at all. Finally, a movement with a singular leader or a few visible leaders is vulnerable, because those leaders can be easily identified, harassed, and killed, as was the case with Dr. King. By having a leaderfull movement, BLM addresses many of these concerns. BLM is composed of many local leaders and many local organizations including Black Youth Project 100, the Dream Defenders, the Organization for Black Struggle, Hands Up United, Millennial Activists United, and the Black Lives Matter national network. We demonstrate through this model that the movement is bigger than any one person. And there is room for the talents, expertise, and work ethic of anyone who is committed to freedom.

3. The movement has no agenda. Many believe the Black Lives Matter movement has no agenda — other than yelling and protesting and disrupting the lives of white people. This is also false. Since the earliest days of the movement in Ferguson, groups like the Organization for Black Struggle, the Black Lives Matter network, and others have made both clear and public a list of demands. Those demands include swift and transparent legal investigation of all police shootings of black people; official governmental tracking of the number of citizens killed by police, disaggregated by race; the demilitarization of local police forces; and community accountability mechanisms for rogue police officers. Some proposals like the recently launched Campaign Zero by a group of Ferguson activists call for body cameras on every police officer. But other groups are more reticent about this solution, since it would lead to increased surveillance and possible invasions of privacy, not to mention a massive governmental database of information about communities of color that are already heavily under surveillance by government forces.

4. It’s a one-issue movement. Although it is true that much of the protesting to date has been centered on the issue of police brutality, there is a range of issues that movement work will likely push in years to come. One is the issue of our failing system of public education, which is a virtual school-to-prison pipeline for many black youth. Another is the complete dismantling of the prison industrial complex. Many of the movement’s organizers identify as abolitionists, which in the 21st-century context refers to people who want to abolish prisons and end the problem of mass incarceration of black and Latino people. Three other significant issues are problems with safe and affordable housing, issues with food security, and reproductive justice challenges affecting poor women of color and all people needing access to reproductive care. As I frequently like to tell people, this movement in its current iteration is just over a year old. Give it some time to find its footing and its take on all the aforementioned issues. But the conversations are on the table, largely because many of the folks doing on-the-ground organizing came to this work through their organizing work around other issues.

5. The movement has no respect for elders. The BLM movement is an intergenerational movement. Certainly there have been schisms and battles between younger and older movers about tactics and strategies. There has also been criticism from prior civil rights participants. There is a clear rejection of the respectability politics ethos of the civil rights era, namely a belief in the idea that proper dress and speech will guard against harassment by the police. This is a significant point of tension within black communities, because in a system that makes one feel powerless to change it, belief in the idea that a good job, being well-behaved, and having proper dress and comportment will protect you from the evils of racism feels like there’s something you can do to protect yourself, that there’s something you can do to have a bit of control over your destiny. This movement patently rejects such thinking in the face of massive evidence of police mistreatment of black people of all classes and backgrounds. All people should be treated with dignity and respect, regardless of how one looks or speaks. If you ever have occasion to attend a protest action, you will see black people of all ages, from the very young to the very old, standing in solidarity with the work being done.

6. The black church has no role to play. Many know that the black church was central to the civil rights movement, as many black male preachers became prominent civil rights leaders. This current movement has a very different relationship to the church than movements past. Black churches and black preachers in Ferguson have been on the ground helping since the early days after Michael Brown’s death. But protesters patently reject any conservative theology about keeping the peace, praying copiously, or turning the other cheek. Such calls are viewed as a return to passive respectability politics. But local preachers and pastors like Rev. Traci Blackmon, Rev. Starsky Wilson, and Rev. Osagyefo Sekou have emerged as what I call “Movement Pastors.” With their radical theologies of inclusion and investment in preaching a revolutionary Jesus (a focus on the parts of scripture where Jesus challenges the Roman power structure rather than the parts about loving one’s enemies) and their willingness to think of church beyond the bounds of a physical structure or traditional worship, they are reimagining what notions of faith and church look like, and radically transforming the idea of what the 21st-century black church should be.

7. The movement does not care about queer or trans lives. The opening presenter at the first national convening of the Movement for Black Lives in Cleveland this summer was Elle Hearns, a trans black woman organizer from Ohio. That she was collectively chosen to open the proceedings was a deliberate choice to center both women and queer and trans people as movement leaders. This is a clear break from prior racial justice movement politics. Not only does the Movement for Black Lives embrace queer and trans black people, but it has been at the forefront of efforts to highlight our national epidemic of murders of trans women of color. This year alone, we have had nearly 20 murders. Moreover, the movement does not merely give token representation to queer and trans people. Two of the founders of the Black Lives Matter network, Patrisse Cullors and Alicia Garza, are queer black women. And queer and trans black people are not called in merely to discuss queer and trans issues. They are at the table, on the stage, in the protests. These moves have not been without their challenges, and the movement has had to deal with queer and trans antagonism both from the broader public and within movement spaces. But there is a fundamental belief that when we say Black Lives Matter, we mean all black lives matter.

8. The movement hates white people. The statement “black lives matter” is not an anti-white proposition. Contained within the statement is an unspoken but implied “too,” as in “black lives matter, too,” which suggests that the statement is one of inclusion rather than exclusion. However, those white people who continue to mischaracterize the affirmation of the value of black life as being anti-white are suggesting that in order for white lives to matter, black lives cannot. That is a foundational premise of white supremacy. It is antithetical to what the Black Lives Matter movement stands for, which is the simple proposition that “black lives also matter.” The Black Lives Matter movement demands that the country affirm the value of black life in practical and pragmatic ways, including addressing an increasing racial wealth gap, fixing public schools that are failing, combating issues of housing inequality and gentrification that continue to push people of color out of communities they have lived in for generations, and dismantling the prison industrial complex. None of this is about hatred for white life. It is about acknowledging that the system already treats white lives as if they have more value, as if they are more worthy of protection, safety, education, and a good quality of life than black lives are. This must change.

9. The movement hates police officers. Police officers are people. Their lives have inherent value. This movement is not an anti-people movement; therefore it is not an anti-police-officer movement. Most police officers are just everyday people who want to do their jobs, make a living for their families, and come home safely at the end of their shift. This does not mean, however, that police are not implicated in a system that criminalizes black people, that demands that they view black people as unsafe and dangerous, that trains them to be more aggressive and less accommodating with black citizens, and that does not stress that we are taxpayers who deserve to be protected and served just like everyone else. Thus the Black Lives Matter movement is not trying to make the world more unsafe for police officers; it hopes to make police officers less of a threat to communities of color. Thus, we reject the idea that asking officers questions about why one is being stopped or arrested, about what one is being charged with, constitutes either disrespect or resistance. We reject the use of military-grade weapons as appropriate policing mechanisms for any American community. We reject the faulty idea that disrespect is a crime, that black people should be nice or civil when they are being hassled or arrested on trumped-up charges. And we question the idea that police officers should be given the benefit of the doubt when it comes to policing black communities. Increasingly, the presence of police makes black people feel less rather than more safe. And that has everything to do with the antagonistic and power-laden ways in which police interact with citizens more generally and black citizens in particular. Therefore, police officers must rebuild trust with the communities they police. Not the other way around.

10. The movement’s primary goal should be the vote. Recently the Democratic National Committee endorsed the Black Lives Matter movement. The BLM network swiftly rejected that endorsement. While voting certainly matters, particularly in local municipalities like Ferguson, movement members are clear that voting for policies and politicians whose ultimate goal is to maintain a rotten and unjust system is counterproductive. Thus the movement cares about national politics, and many participants have sought to make presidential candidates responsive to their political concerns. However, there is deep skepticism about whether the American system is salvageable, because it is so deeply rooted in ideas of racial caste. In this regard, the BLM movement, together with the Occupy movement of years past, is causing a resurgence of a viable, visible, and vocal (black) left in national politics. Moving some issues of import onto the 2016 election agenda should therefore be viewed as a tactic, not a goal. The goal is freedom and safety for all black lives. And that goal is much bigger than one election.

11. There’s not actually a movement at all.
Until Bernie Sanders sought the attention of Black Lives Matter participants, many were wont to acknowledge that a new racial justice movement even existed. For the record, since August 2014, more than 1,030 protest actions have been held in the name of Black Lives Matter. A new generation of protest music has come forth with songs from Janelle Monae, Prince, J. Cole, Lauryn Hill, and Rick Ross. The first national convening in July drew over 1,000 participants. There is a new consciousness and a new spirit seeking justice, and the participants carrying the torch show no signs of slowing down.

Some thoughts on Wisconsin’s fight against the right wing: My conversation with Chicago education activist Fred Klonsky

Filed under: Scott Walker — millerlf @ 11:33 am

Fred Klonsky September 17, 2015 (Fred Klonsky Daily posts from a retired public school teacher who is just looking at the data.)

Recently I had the chance to sit down with Milwaukee school board member, Larry Miller, to talk about the lessons he has drawn from the fight against Wisconsin governor Scott Walker.

Tell my readers about yourself.
I taught for 15 years in Milwaukee Public Schools and for 2 years was a principal at a small high school. I ran for the school board of Milwaukee Public Schools and I am now midway in my second 4-year term and serve as vice-president of the board. I am also an editor of Rethinking Schools.

We know about Gov. Walker’s attack on workers, unions and bargaining rights. What are some of the ways it has impacted students in classrooms in Milwaukee?
Walker and the Republican legislature have driven thousands of qualified and dedicated teachers from the profession in Wisconsin. The cuts in funding for public education have been disastrous. Walker cut nearly $1 billion statewide from public education when he first took office. Milwaukee Public Schools lost $80 million with those cuts. Over the past five years, the legislature followed with more cuts to public schools and increased funding to vouchers and private charters. There are presently over 26,000 students receiving private school vouchers in the city of Milwaukee – many of them students at parochial schools who were already enrolled when they began using vouchers.
All of this has meant increased class sizes, reduced resources and expanding stress to the one school system that has the capacity and will to teach all students. For many schools the funding for the arts, physical education, school nurses and librarians is reduced. Our children are suffering.

I was in Madison during the early protest of Walker policies. Some protests had over 150,000 people. What happened to that movement?
The Madison marches in 2011 were in response to Act 10, Walker’s proposed legislation to destroy public sector unions and particularly Wisconsin’s teacher unions, and to demean the teaching profession. He hid his intention to do this when he ran for governor a few months earlier. But the background to that election shows the advantage he’d been given. It was clear in 2009 that the Democratic mayor of Milwaukee, Tom Barrett, was going to run against Walker for governor. So what did Tom Barrett, in alliance with Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle propose?
They attempted to take over Milwaukee Public Schools and replace the elected school board with an appointed superintendent. The Wisconsin legislature at the time was controlled by the Democratic Party.
A grassroots movement in Milwaukee split the Democratic Party and prevented any changes to the governance of Milwaukee Public Schools. So the Democrats entered the first election against Walker divided. The critical Milwaukee electorate had no enthusiasm for the Democratic nominee who had just attempted to take away their right to elect a school board, and who earlier had opposed a highly popular paid sick days initiative.
After Walker won, he introduced Act 10 and the Democratic senators left the state to prevent a quorum in the legislature, the uprising grew, with tens of thousands marching in Madison.
Once the Democratic senators returned, Act 10 was enacted and the movement switched from the streets of Madison to a recall election. Walker was very savvy in focusing on the idea that he was democratically elected and the recall was undemocratic. He ran ads with white workers saying, “I didn’t vote for Gov. Walker but I do not support a recall.” Many voters who opposed his policies bought into this view.
More damaging, the Democrats in the recall ran the same neoliberal, tepid candidate who had divided the electorate going into the first election, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. Also he had no standing to challenge Walker on failure to create jobs.
Throughout the state, opponents of Walker gathered nearly one million signatures. People signed at doorsteps, at shopping centers, at deer hunting stations, at workplaces; it was truly a mass movement. But once the election happened, the movement did not have a cohesive focus.
Many grassroots organizations used the opportunity to expand their work and strengthen their membership. This included groups like Voces de la Frontera, a Latino workers organization, Wisconsin Jobs Now, pro-public education networks, the Milwaukee Teachers Education Association, and many others throughout the state. They grew their base from the recall activities. But there was no statewide apparatus to follow up for the many others who had spoken out.

Larry, from your point of view, what are some of the things that were done right and what things were done wrong in fighting Walker’s agenda?
It became very clear once Walker was re-elected, with full control of the legislature, that organizing was needed both to elect strong candidates in the future and to carry out day-to-day grassroots resistance. This work is continuing throughout the state.
For example, in Milwaukee a coalition has formed called Schools and Community United, made up of 19 organizations, to fight moves against public education and other forms of privatization. They have played a role in resisting the attempt by the Republican legislature to create a New Orleans style recovery school District in Milwaukee. A grassroots coalition stopped an attempt to prohibit a living wage for contract workers in Milwaukee County.
Last year Walker ran for reelection and won by 138,000 votes. Once again the Democrats put forward a moderate and uninspiring candidate. The Democratic candidate for governor did not inspire the base and was unable to make inroads with new voters, even with Walker’s failings exposed.
An important lesson shown throughout the Wisconsin experience is that the Republicans and the status quo they represent are in no way willing to compromise. All they want is everything.
A fight during the legislative session this year was around a “right to work” bill. We needed a new uprising comparable to the one in 2011. Instead some within the construction trades believed that a compromise could be worked out. Their influence held back the labor movement from going all out to oppose this right-wing anti-labor bill. It passed in full.
Compromise with the tea-party Republicans is not an option.

Walker’s poll numbers are way down and his reelection seems improbable. What would it take to undo the damage he has brought to Wisconsin?
Since the 2014 Walker victory, many previous supporters in Wisconsin have turned against the governor. More people have seen the harm from his attacks on public education and his tax cuts for the wealthy. Damage to the environment and the rights of women, refusal to take funds to boost transportation and expand Medicaid, attempts to undermine government transparency, and failure to deliver job creation have helped undermine support for Walker. So has his bumbling performance on the presidential campaign trail.
But defeating Walker as governor and replacing him with a progressive governor won’t be enough to undo the damage. Gerrymandering by the Republican legislature following the 2010 census will make it very difficult to retake the Assembly and the Senate. That can be done only with strong candidates and real organization. It cannot be accomplished by running to the center or to the right to try and appease conservative voters. A movement that calls for real change that serves the needs of the poor and working class in the tradition of Wisconsin progressivism is the only way to reverse this travesty. This means work on the ground, grassroots organizing, must be the backbone of moving forward.
Wisconsin is overwhelmingly white. It voted strongly for Barack Obama both times he ran. If you add up the number of votes for Democrats and Republicans statewide, there are more citizens voting for Democratic candidates than Republicans. But gerrymandering and the tea-party anti-democratic power grabbing policies keep the right-wing in power.
Future organizing has to be able to win over the majority white counties throughout the state to secure a better future. Groups like Working America that know how to go into these communities and move them in a progressive direction must be invited to return to Wisconsin. We also need to energize voters of color, low-wage workers, women, young people – and that requires candidates who stand for a genuinely progressive agenda.
The alliance of labor, communities and social movements must be the backbone for future success.

September 1, 2015

Report: Wisconsin to spend $258M on school vouchers next school year

Filed under: Vouchers — millerlf @ 5:05 pm

The state will spend $258 million the 2016-17 school year on private school vouchers, a new estimate shows.
At the same time, the amount of state aid sent to public schools will be reduced by $83 million to offset the voucher spending, for a net cost to the state of $175 million, according to an analysis drafted by the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau in response to a request from Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse, who opposes school vouchers.

9/1/15 Molly Beck Wisconsin State Journal
The state will spend $258 million in the 2016-17 school year on private school vouchers, a new estimate shows.
At the same time, the amount of state aid sent to public schools will be reduced by $83 million to offset the voucher spending, for a net cost to the state of $175 million, according to an analysis drafted by the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau in response to a request from Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse, who opposes vouchers.

The amount spent each year on vouchers will have increased by 77 percent next school year over 2011 levels, according to the estimate, as lawmakers have expanded the number of vouchers available to students and where they can be used.

The amount of money spent has risen from $146 million in the 2011-12 school year to $236 million this school year.
The state spent $5.2 billion on public schools in 424 school districts last school year, according to the LFB, when it spent $213 million on vouchers used in 159 private schools.

Over the six school years, $1.2 billion will be spent on school vouchers and about $30.6 billion will be sent to public schools during the same time, according to LFB and Department of Public Instruction data.
The number of students using school vouchers to attend private schools grew from 22,439 during the 2011-12 school year to 29,609 last school year, according to the DPI. At the same time, 870,650 students attended public schools last year — which is about the same number that did in the 2011-12 school year. Enrollment grew to 873,531 in the 2013-14 school year before decreasing last school year.

Gov. Scott Walker and Republican lawmakers have created new voucher programs in Racine and statewide to join the program in Milwaukee, created in 1990 as the country’s first.

Milwaukee and Racine school districts have been allowed to raise property taxes to offset their reductions in state aid.

Starting this school year, each voucher used outside of Milwaukee will be paid for using aid set aside for school districts. The districts won’t be able to raise taxes to make up the money, but will be able to start counting students using vouchers in their enrollment to determine state aid levels and revenue limits.

Voucher payments are $7,210 for K-8 students $7,856 for high school students.

Earlier this year, the LFB estimated between $600 and $800 million could be diverted from public schools over the next 10 years.

Scott Walker blames Milwaukee Public Schools for Wisconsin’s incarceration rate of African American men

Filed under: Scott Walker — millerlf @ 4:58 pm

Sunday August 30: Chuck Todd, the host of Meet the Press, questioned Walker about Wisconsin having a higher incarceration rate of African-American men than anywhere in the country and ranking last in the country in the overall well-being of black children. Walker then blamed Milwaukee Public schools. See Milwaukee Journal report at:

Milwaukee is the 2nd poorest city in America and the most segregated. For the last 13 years Scott Walker has been directly in a position to reverse poverty and segregation in Milwaukee. Instead both have gotten worse.

As Milwaukee County Executive, starting in 2002, Scott Walker cut jobs, health care, recreation and transportation serving Milwaukee’s African American community. As Governor one of his first acts was to refuse Federal high speed rail funding that would have given Milwaukee’s Black community significant access to suburban and rural jobs. His economic development policies have served Milwaukee’s downtown while leaving poor communities with flat growth.

Scott Walker’s approach of economic deprivation has been accompanied with devastating cuts to public education. In his 1st budget, Walker cut $80 million directly from the MPS budget. This included a $10 million cut from the Math Project, a highly successful program in MPS. These cuts do not include the over $50 million lost by MPS annually to the failed voucher program.

Poverty and racism are the source of Wisconsin’s incarceration rates and the disgraceful well-being of African American children. It is time for Scott Walker to show some fortitude and take responsibility for his role.

August 26, 2015

Black Lives Matter Press Conference Friday August 28, Red Arrow Park at 1PM

Filed under: BlackLivesMatter — millerlf @ 2:21 pm


August 26, 2015

Contact: Nate Hamilton 414-839-7204


The Coalition for Justice and Organizations Respond to Governor Scott Walker’s Response to the Black Lives Matter Questions 


Milwaukee, WI– The Coalition for Justice stands in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and responds to Governor Scott Walker’s recent responses to questions about the movement.


On Friday, August 28, 2015 at Red Arrow Park The Coalition for Justice along with other organizations, community leaders and concerned citizens will host a press conference calling Governor Scott Walker out on disregarding and disrespecting African Americans.

“The Governor’s remarks don’t come as a surprise to us not that he almost refused to answer the questions surrounding the Black Lives Matter Movement, but in the end he completely disregarded us and the work that we’re doing,” says Nate Hamilton, Co-Founder of the Coalition for Justice.” “With the comments he made we want to know where the Governor thinks that leaves African Americans.  Are we not American or are we not voters?” Hamilton adds.


It’s time to call Governor Walker out on these comments and more.

WHEN: Friday, August 28, 2015

WHERE: Red Arrow Park, 920 N. Water Street, Milwaukee,WI

TIME: 1:00 p.m. 

Data Comparison: New Orleans Recovery School District and Traditional Schools

Filed under: New Orleans,Recovery District — millerlf @ 1:03 pm

New Orleans RSD Compared to Traditional Schools
Thursday, May 21, 2015 by Mike Deshotels (Mike is a retired chemistry and physics teacher and writes a bi-weekly blog for The Louisiana Educator.)

The national news media has been reporting for several years now that the “portfolio” of charter schools created to run the state takeover schools in New Orleans have produced an amazing turnaround of those schools in the ten years since hurricane Katrina demolished the public schools in New Orleans. We see claims that most of the takeover schools are no longer failing and that the graduation rate has improved dramatically, and that the improved performance of the RSD students has greatly exceeded that of more traditional schools across Louisiana and across the nation. The charter school proponents believe, or would have us believe, that the New Orleans RSD has found the secret to closing the achievement gap between impoverished, at-risk minority students and more advantaged middle class students.

This report is an attempt to simply examine the relevant data that can be used to measure academic success of the New Orleans Recovery District. It will attempt to measure how the RSD compares to traditional public schools. What does the data tell us? Is it Reform Success or Reform Hype?

Is the Comparison Really Complicated?
Some education researchers on this topic have agonized over the fact that the Louisiana school rating system has changed so much in recent years that it is difficult to compare apples to apples. Also, the RSD has closed and renamed so many schools in New Orleans that it is almost impossible to trace the progress of any particular school. The test scores of RSD students on the Louisiana LEAP and iLEAP tests seem to have significantly improved, but so have the scores for the students in traditional schools throughout Louisiana. So, is there a still a method that will really compare the RSD schools to the traditional schools in Louisiana and possibly to other schools across the nation?

Unfortunately for comparison of student performance, the state test results in Louisiana have been manipulated so that they no longer measure the same level of proficiency as they did ten years ago. There appears to have been significant grade inflation of test results over the past ten years that have nothing to do with improvement in student achievement. Some of the grade inflation has come from familiarity of educators and students with the state test, so that students can score higher without significantly improving their math and reading skills. The rest of the grade inflation comes from a general lowering of the raw cut scores documented in this blog for the rating of “Basic” which in Louisiana is considered to be grade level performance. Not only have the state test results been manipulated by lowering many of the raw cut scores, the ratio of difficult to easy questions on the test can be changed from year to year also changing apparent performance.

So how much inflation has occurred in the state testing? The testing inflation can be estimated by comparing the average test results of Louisiana students as measured by the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) with the results of the state designed LEAP and iLEAP tests. In the last ten years, analysis shows that according to state tests, approximately 11 percent more students statewide were deemed to be on grade level (scored basic or above) than ten years ago. But at the same time, the NAEP test shows that only 3 percent more students advanced to basic. That difference and the simultaneous softening in the Louisiana formula for assigning grades to schools (bonus points for subgroups) have resulted in more and more schools appearing to have made dramatic progress in the last ten years. That dramatic “faux progress” includes the New Orleans RSD charter schools.

Graduation rates have improved statewide, and ACT scores are up slightly across the state. So how can we use these statistics to compare the RSD to the rest of the state and to schools nationwide?

There are three simple criteria that may be used to compare student performance between the RSD, state traditional schools, and schools in other states.
The answer to comparison of student performance in Louisiana is really quite simple and does not require complex calculations. First a little history:

The narrative by the charter school proponents is that prior to Hurricane Katrina, the school system in New Orleans was failing miserably. There was graft and corruption by school managers, and most students were getting such a substandard education that the schools deserved to be taken over and drastically overhauled. Some of that narrative is correct, but in the few years leading up to Katrina, the school system in New Orleans, just like all other systems in the state, was in the process of improving its student test scores. Even so, the destruction of Katrina was used as an opportunity for the State to take over schools and put them under new management. Independent charter management organizations were invited to come in and set up new schools chartered by the RSD and operated independently of the Orleans Parish School Board.

As some schools were taken over and some were closed, it became more difficult to trace the progress of individual schools. There is however, one very important statistic on student performance that we will use as a basis for our most critical comparison: Just prior to 2005, there was a special law (Act 35) passed by the Louisiana Legislature that allowed all public schools in New Orleans that had received a state calculated school performance score below the state average to be taken over by the state. This means that every school in Orleans rated below the 50th percentile in the ranking of schools across the state was taken over. So that’s the starting point for our comparison with student performance today.

It would require complex formulas and analysis to trace and compare individual school performance scores of the schools in New Orleans with the rest of the state because the formula for rating schools has changed and the tests and the grading system have changed. Also, the Orleans Parish school board has retained the management of a significant number of schools, which are operated as a separate school system from the RSD. But there is one simple statistic that can compare the takeover schools to the original schools that were taken over in 2005. That is the percentile ranking of the composite RSD student performance on the state tests compared to all the other students in the state. With the reopening of schools in New Orleans following Katrina, the special law applying only to New Orleans required that all schools ranked below the 50th percentile in New Orleans compared to all schools in the state, would be taken over by the RSD. Therefore it can be roughly concluded that the new district started with school performance on average ranking near the 25th percentile. Since school performance scores are based primarily on student test performance, the schools taken over and managed by the New Orleans Recovery District were producing student-testing results in the bottom quartile of all school systems in Louisiana at the time of takeover.

The Latest Academic Ranking Based on State Testing Places the New Orleans RSD at the 17th percentile

The fairest and most accurate academic comparison of the New Orleans Recovery District with all other districts in the state is the percentile ranking of student performance. The Louisiana Department of Education calculated this ranking at the end of the 2013-14 school year and listed all school system rankings in a table on the LDOE website. The latest calculated percentile ranking of the New Orleans RSD district is at the 17th percentile (see item #3 under State + District reports) compared to all other districts in the state based upon the percentage of students in the district achieving the rating of “Basic” on state testing. This means that at the present time, 83 percent of the school districts in the state outperform the New Orleans RSD in educating students to the level of “Basic”.

Therefore if schools in the RSD are compared using student test performance, there is no indication of improvement compared to all the public schools in the state. The ranking of takeover schools started in the bottom quartile compared to all schools in the state, and remains in the bottom quartile.

So if at the time of takeover, the New Orleans RSD ranked near the 25th percentile in student performance, then the present ranking of 17th percentile shows no improvement in relation to other school systems.

Also based on the NAEP tests, the Louisiana ranking compared to the 50 states and the District of Columbia stands at approximately 48th. That’s approximately the same ranking Louisiana had right before Katrina. So the New Orleans RSD ranks near the bottom of a state that still ranks near the bottom nationwide in student performance. Since schools in Louisiana today are rated primarily on their student performance on state tests, the RSD is far from achieving parity with the more traditionally operated school systems. The new all charter school system is unique both in its structure and also in its extremely low performance.

What About the Graduation Rate?
Another way to measure school success is the use the high school graduation rate. The latest official graduation rate for the New Orleans RSD now stands at 61.1%, which is dead last compared to all other Louisiana school districts. In addition, enrollment figures indicate that there are a huge number of students in the RSD that drop out before they ever get to high school. Students who drop out before they reach 9th grade are never figured into the graduation rate. There is a huge difference in 6th grade student enrollment (2495) compared to 9th grade (1685) in the New Orleans RSD. If we were to calculate the RSD graduation rate starting with 7th grade, it would be significantly less than 50%. That’s an awful lot of students walking the streets in New Orleans without a diploma. This early loss of students does not exist in two other school systems (St Bernard and Plaquemines) that were also similarly affected by hurricane Katrina.

What About Preparing Students for College?
Most of the schools in the New Orleans RSD are designed and advertised as college prep schools. There is a major emphasis on preparing and motivating students to enroll in four-year universities. Again there is one simple extremely relevant statistic that can be used to measure potential success in this area. All students in Louisiana are now required by the state to take the ACT test. The average ACT scores for RSD New Orleans students is now at 16.6 which is at the 6th percentile ranking in comparison to all other school districts in the state. Most graduates from the RSD score too low on the ACT to be accepted to most state colleges without remediation. The average ACT score would be even lower if all students in the RSD were taking the ACT as is mandated by the State Department of education. The enrollment of students in the 12th grade for the RSD in the 2013-2014 school year was 1380, according to the February student count. But the number of students with an ACT score for that year was only 1178. That’s only 85% of the 12th grade students enrolled. The two other school systems closest to the New Orleans RSD are the Orleans Parish School Board and the Jefferson Parish systems. They had a testing rate of 98% and 99% respectively. Removing 15% of the seniors from the testing can significantly raise the average score. But even with that advantage, the RSD still scores near the bottom compared to all other public school systems.

Expansion of the RSD System
Since the formation of the New Orleans RSD, there has been an attempt to extend the takeover concept to low performing schools in other parts of the state also using the charter “portfolio” method. There is now an RSD Baton Rouge and an RSD Louisiana. These schools have been in operation for 8 years. Using the same method of ranking based on percentage of students achieving “Basic” on state tests, these districts are now at the 2nd and 0 percentiles respectively. That is third to last and dead last. The graduation rates and the ACT scores for these takeover schools are also at the bottom of the state rankings. These simple statistics demonstrate that there has been absolutely no progress in Louisiana in improving student performance by taking over and converting schools to charters.

As several other independent investigators (Mercedes Schneider and Research on Reforms) have demonstrated, the so-called New Orleans Miracle is simply a hoax perpetrated upon a gullible and trusting public and news media by the charter promoters. Just like the rainmakers and con men of long ago, charter promoters have preyed upon a new group of willing rubes.

And now unfortunately, the false propaganda of the faux success of the Louisiana Recovery District is being used to justify the creation of similar takeover districts in many other states. All the data available so far for those new recovery districts shows a similarly disastrous result.
Posted by Michael Deshotels

August 24, 2015

African American teachers in New Orleans demand a Congressional Hearing

Filed under: New Orleans,Recovery District — millerlf @ 3:37 pm

What is the true story behind the mass firing of 7500 state-certified and tenured public school employees following Katrina? Those fired were overwhelmingly African American. This was a strategic and intentional blow to the Black middle class of New Orleans.

Following is a letter requesting a Congressional hearing on this issue:

New Orleans Public School Employees Will Request a Congressional Hearing on the $750
Million Federal Fund to Restart Schools after Hurricane Katrina

We suggest that an oversight or investigative Congressional hearing is warranted to review the use of $750 million in federal funds to “Restart School Operations” after Hurricane Katrina. Obtaining information from witnesses will be beneficial to various Congressional committees regarding the intended and actual use of federal funds after a natural disaster.

We propose that the initial review focus on the State of Louisiana, which was awarded $445.6 million in Restart funds, and the State of Mississippi, which was awarded $222.5 million. In New Orleans, Louisiana (only) 7500 state-certified public school employees were terminated based on a claim of “no jobs and no money.” However, “the Bay St. Louis-Waveland school district in southwest Mississippi, some of the $13 million it has received in restart money [paid] for the salaries of school psychologists, behavior specialists, and social workers to counsel staff members and students” here.

The fair and equal opportunity for citizens to receive authorized federal assistance after a natural disaster is clearly a non-partisan objective.

The following preliminary information is offered in support of a formal request for a Congressional Hearing to be made on the occasion of the 10th Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.

Louisiana’s urgent request for federal funds
The damaged school systems not only have damaged physical property, but loss of students, staff, local revenue and basic state aid. The damaged districts are very concerned, not only with securing educational services for the students while the districts are closed, but in providing some type of compensation for their staffs during the period the districts are closed, but in providing some type of compensation for their staffs during the period the districts are closed. In talking with Florida Department of Education about last year’s hurricane issues, we learned that they continued to pay their staffs and requested that the staff either help rebuild the schools, work in a shelter or perform other community work, or deal with their emergency family situations while their home schools were closed. This was done for several reasons, but mainly to assist in retaining staff for when the schools reopened. Of course, they still lost a large percentage of staff members who found other jobs and/or moved away.

In Louisiana, our situation is much more drastic. Several school systems are only able to make one more payroll. After that, their employees will be on unemployment or will need to find other work. These employees are very concerned with their livelihood, health insurance coverage, and just being able to cover basic needs. The districts are very concerned not only for their employees, but with other fiscal obligations that may force the districts into financial default, which they will not be able to overcome for many, many years.

On December 30, 2005, U.S, Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings informed Louisiana and other states affected by Hurricane Katrina that Congress had appropriated $650 million for Displaced Students and $750 million for “Immediate Aid to Restart School Operations. See the letter here.

Millions spent on out-of-state consultants
However, Members of Congress should know that Louisiana did not use the emergency federal funds to help “employees who were concerned about their livelihood.” In April 2006 a financial consulting firm from New York was given a 3-year $29.1 million contract to “…develop and implement a comprehensive and coordinated disaster recovery plan in the wake of Hurricane Katrina (See page 20 of Board Minutes here). A Texas company was paid $20 million for “school security” (see the news story here). Louisiana’s State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education approved a “Recruitment Incentive Package” for out-of-state teacher and other personnel “moving to New Orleans to work at any school in the Recovery School District” using federal “Restart” money as follows: $2500 relocation allowance, $400/month housing allowance (one year only), $5,000/year signing bonus (for two years). Total Package-$17,300. Seethe Official Board Minutes—April 19, 2007 (See page 11 of the Board Minutes here).

A Trial Court noted the intended use of the federal funds:
Notwithstanding the State Defendants’ representation to the U.S. Department of Education that it needed over “$700 million to pay salaries and benefits of out-of-work school employees, and the State Defendants’ receipt of over $500 million dollars in post-Katrina federal “Restart Funds” based upon this representation, the State Defendants did not ensure that any of this money was used to pay the salaries or benefits of the Plaintiff Class. Rather, the State Defendants diverted these funds to the RSD [Recovery School District—emphasis added].

Politics and the firing of’7500 school employees
What is the true story behind the mass firing of 7500 state-certified and tenured public school employees—including thousands of tenured and non-tenured, union and non-union employees?
At the end of the 2004-2005 school year, eighty-eight (88) of the more than 120 public schools in Orleans Parish had met or exceeded the state’s requirement for adequate yearly progress. These schools were not failing. Ninety-three (93) of the schools showed academic growth. The Orleans Parish School Board was making documented progress in raising failing school scores in accordance with the federal No Child Left Behind legislation prior to Hurricane Katrina. Thus, as of the 2005-06 school year, the OPSB was working towards meeting the State’s growth target.

Prayers and politics were at the top of the agenda for the first Orleans Parish School Board meeting held September 15, 2005 at the State Department of Education in Baton Rouge. Members prayed for those who suffered loss of life and property. However, immediately after the public comment period, Louisiana’s Superintendent of Education tried unsuccessfully to have a New York financial

Even after the meeting was over, Mr. Picard persisted with the issue telling me yesterday that he
has already spoken with the Governor about an Executive Order, presumably to initiate a takeover of
the schools should we not agree to giving Mr. Roberti the position of Superintendent.”

It must also be noted that public schools in St. Tammany Parish, which borders New Orleans, also
sustained substantial damage, but state education officials were “very supportive” in reopening
schools there—working with FEMA to obtain trailers and some schools operated out of portable
classrooms” In stark contrast, the state controlled financial consultants from New York ignored a
similar plan suggested by the New Orleans Superintendent of Schools (he wanted to replace).

Feds demand Nebraska repay $22 million for botched child welfare reform; Maryland misspent $28M
of ObamaCare grants; and Baltimore set to repay $4 million in misspent homeless funds. In a
December 23, 2014 announcement about the Eastern District of Pennsylvania collecting $2.3 billion
in civil and criminal actions in FY 2014, U.S. Attorney Zane David Memeger stated, “Our nation’s
taxpayers deserve our most aggressive efforts to recover their hard-earned tax dollars that have
been misappropriated.”

The tenth anniversary of Katrina would be an ideal time for Members of Congress to reassure American citizens, especially New Orleans public school employees, that the misspending taxpayers’ hard-earned tax dollars will not be tolerated. These employees were the intended beneficiaries of federal “restart” funds and legislation can ensure that they become beneficiaries of misspent funds repaid by the state of Louisiana. After a 10-year fight for due process and property rights, we continue this struggle because justice has no deadline.

Willie M. Zanders, Jr.
Lead counsel

From New Orleans: Washing Machine-Style Education Reform

Filed under: New Orleans,Recovery District — millerlf @ 2:51 pm

From New Orleans: Washing Machine-Style Education Reform
Ashana Bigard The Progressive August

As a New Orleans parent and an active member of my community, I think of myself as an expert on the experiment in education reform that tranformed my city into the nation’s first all-charter school district. So when I attended a recent community-centered conference on “The New Orleans Model of Urban School Reform: A Guide or a Warning for Cities Across the Nation?” I wasn’t sure there’d be much for me to learn.

In fact, given the focus on academic urban education research, I feared the event would speak only to people who have Ph.D.s or are working on getting one, neither of which describes me.

But the research on what has happened to New Orleans over the last ten years shocked me. The story of what happened here is important not just to those of us who live here, but to people who live in any of the cities where New Orleans-style education reform is headed next, possibly including yours.

Parent activist Anthony Parker described what he called “washing machine” approach to education reform: “Wash, rinse, repeat. Wash, rinse, repeat.” He was talking about what happens to children. Children wait at bus stops as early as 4:30 in the morning and don’t get home until 7:30 or 8:00 at night. Then it’s time to do homework, go to sleep, get back up and repeat the cycle all over again. Children are badly sleep deprived. Despite the long school days, children often get no time for social development because of the strict and rigorous atmosphere of the charter schools here. Nor are they learning from a curriculum that feels relevant, respectful, and accessible to a child of color growing up in this community. This is a painful and unnecessary waste of most of these children’s time.

Parker, whose grandparents taught in the New Orleans Public Schools for a combined sixty years, described how hard it was to explain to his son why he can’t attend their neighborhood school after his charter school was closed. For Parker’s own son, who is just seven years old, “washing machine” reform means he’ll be attending his fourth school this fall. “Wash, rinse, repeat.”

The lives of adults have been disrupted, too. Charmaine Neville talked about her relationship to the schools in the New Orleans neighborhood of Bywater. Before the storm, she was deeply involved in schools across the city, volunteering, tutoring, and giving lessons of all kinds. She described her heartbreak when she tried to help children with special needs who attend the school across the street from her house. Administrators at the charter school asked her what she wanted. “To help with my children,” Neville answered. She was told that her help wasn’t needed.

The word trauma was invoked by many speakers. Children are particularly vulnerable, and in New Orleans, children who were already traumatized by high levels of poverty and violence experienced one of the worst traumas in the nation’s history. The response was to re-traumatize them by creating instability—the very opposite of what the children needed. Our children were in desperate need of counselors, social workers and therapists. Instead, they got the National Guard functioning as private security. Parent advocate and poet Nikkisha Napoleon describes what happened in the wake of Katrina as educational and economic “terrorism.” She says that when she uses this term, people tell her she’s being too harsh. If you agree with her critics, I encourage you to look up the definition of terrorism: the use of violence and intimidation in pursuit of political aims.

Parent advocate Cristi Fajardo talked about a different kind of trauma. Many of the city’s charter schools pat children down at the start of the day. Fajardo explained that for children who’ve been traumatized by unwanted touch, these pat downs—and the requirement by charter school operators that children begin each day shaking the hands of adults—can be re-traumatizing. Children who refuse risk suspension or expulsion. Charter operators in this new New Orleans district don’t take children’s trauma into consideration when making rules.

Fajardo and Napoleon spoke as part of a panel on “Parental Choice and the Struggle of Navigating Education Markets.” Their nuanced stories of the parents and students they advocate for in the city’s new school system were more powerful than any of the official PR you’ve heard.

I wish every education reformer could have attended the session, “Does the New Orleans Recovery School District Measure Up? Making Sense of the Data on Charter School Performance.” Data experts Jason France, Mike Deshotels, Barbara Ferguson, and Howard Nelson used a super-sized PowerPoint presentation. The data was fascinating, horrifying, and clarifying all at the same time. In case you were wondering about the answer to the question posed by the session, it is a big fat no. As the presenters explained, if the Recovery School District was held to the same standard that allowed for the takeover of the schools after the storm, the RSD would only be allowed to keep four schools. Four.
So next time you read about the stunning success of New Orleans-style education reform, keep that number in mind. And try to talk to someone who is living through the experiment. I bet you’ll learn a lot.

Ashana Bigard is a parent advocate in New Orleans.
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