Educate All Students, Support Public Education

March 26, 2020

MPS Feeds Thousands Daily

Filed under: MPS — millerlf @ 6:19 pm

Lunches can be picked up at any of the following 20 sites between 11AM and 1PM daily.

ALBA – 1712 S. 32nd St.
Barbee Montessori – 4456 N. Teutonia Ave.
Bay View – 2751 S. Lenox St.
Browning – 5440 N. 64th St.
Douglas – 3620 N. 18th St.
Engleburg – 5100 N. 91st St.
Gaenslen – 1250 E. Burleigh St.
Hamilton – 6215 W. Warnimont Ave.
MacDowell Montessori – 6415 W. Mount Vernon Ave.
Marshall – 4141 N. 64th St.
Morse – 6700 N. 80th St.
North Division – 1011 W. Center St.
Obama SCTE – 5075 N. Sherman Blvd.
Pulaski – 2500 W. Oklahoma Ave.
Reagan – 4965 S. 20th St.
South Division – 1515 W. Lapham Blvd.
Thoreau – 7878 N. 60th St.
Vincent – 7501 N. Granville Rd.
Washington – 2525 N. Sherman Blvd.
Wisconsin Conservatory of Lifelong Learning – 1017 N. 12th St.

March 23, 2020

3 Minute Privatization Video: Must See

Filed under: Privatization,Vouchers — millerlf @ 10:44 am

July 3, 2019

New Orleans Charter Schools Audited Due to Grade-Fixing Scandal

Filed under: Charter Schools,New Orleans — millerlf @ 8:50 am

Parent Sues over New Orleans Charter High School Grade-fixing Fiasco
by deutsch29

A New Orleans charter high school operated by New Beginnings Schools, John F. Kennedy High School at Lake Area, is in the throes of a grade-fixing scandal that has resulted in at least 92 out of 177 (that’s 52 percent) of its Class of 2019 deemed ineligible to graduate after all.
One of the consequences of this colossal display of the ineptitude in overseeing New Orleans charter schools is that the Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB) superintendent Henderson Lewis has made the post-scandal decision to audit the student records of all New Orleans high schools.
Lewis has also asked the Louisiana’s inspector general to conduct a criminal investigation into Kennedy’s grade-fixing mess.
I wondered how long it would take for parents of Kennedy seniors to sue. Well, I need not wonder any more.
According to, on Monday, July 01, 2019, Darnette Daniels, the parent of a Kennedy senior who participated in Kennedy’s graduation ceremony then discovered she was not eligible to graduate, Tayler McClendon, did just that. On behalf of her daughter, Daniels is suing the State of Louisiana, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE), OPSB, New Beginnings Schools Foundation, and TenSquare, LLC, a charter school support organization involved in the management of Kennedy.
One can view the 14-page lawsuit here: Daniels-v-New-Beginnings;
Daniels’ lawsuit details the chaos at Kennedy, including its impact on her daughter. Below, I offer the much of the text of the lawsuit. (Copies of emails referenced in the suit can be seen by accessing the link to the suit.)


March 7, 2019

Disturbing Numbers Presented at MPS Candidate Forum

Filed under: Elections,MPS — millerlf @ 8:30 am

Last night I attended a forum where all school board candidates for the upcoming April 2nd election presented their ideas. It became clear to me that this is a qualified field of candidates and that the new board will be well served.

At the same time, I would be remiss not to raise a major concern I have with one candidate’s narrative concerning MPS’s per student expenditure. These were comments made by Kathryn Gabor, who is running in the eighth district. This is unfortunate because Kathryn is someone I respect and have worked with recently to strengthen our Montessori program.

She stated that MPS receives over $15,000 per student. This is a number that has been used in the past by Republicans, the MMAC and voucher proponents. It has been used to say that MPS has plenty of money, needs no more and is misusing its funds. The MPS board and administration has pushed against this fallacious representation of our budget for years. Except for ongoing attacks by the ultra right-wing MacIver Institute, we have not heard use of these numbers for a long time.

How was the $15,000 per student notion arrived at? If you take last year’s $1.2 billion budget and divide by the number of students in MPS, it comes out to approximately $15,000 per student. There are many problems with this approach. First, MPS is the LEA (Local Education Agency) for Milwaukee. This means that federal and state funding that goes to private schools, most of them being voucher schools, is channeled through us.

Each year millions of dollars designated for private school children, first comes to us. We are then mandated, by law, to disperse these funds to the scores of private schools in Milwaukee. This includes Title 1 dollars, for low income students. It also includes the other Federal “Title” money that is designated for private schools. Money for private school busing, wraparound services, special ed services, food service, and much more first comes to MPS and is then dispersed to the large number of private schools in Milwaukee.

All of these millions of dollars are part of that $1.2 billion figure.

Also, part of that $1.2 billion figure is the MPS “Extension Fund.” These are millions in funding designated for use for all Milwaukee children and families, not just for students attending Milwaukee Public Schools. This is money for playgrounds, recreation programs and utilities, summer activities, wraparound programs, arts and humanities programs and home instruction for parents and preschool children.

Also, each year the MPS board designates money that can only be spent on construction and facilities. This is money gained from bonding and through designated taxing authority. These millions are also part of that $1.2 billion-dollar figure.

Taking these numbers into account leaves the per pupil expenditure for MPS much closer to $10,000.

The careless and irresponsible use of the $15,000 figure by the MacIver Institute is an attempt to resurrect the notion from the past that MPS and public education should be diminished and replaced with the private voucher system. An ultra right-wing group like the MacIver Institute is more than willing to spew lies about MPS and public education. But the Milwaukee voters and Wisconsin taxpayers need to know the truth about this narrative.

December 1, 2018

Wisconsin power grab bills

Filed under: American Injustice — millerlf @ 8:58 am

The Extraordinary session bills are as follows:

·         LRB-6074 Legislative Power and Duties (Vos, Robin) Legislative power and duties, state agency and authority composition and operations, administrative rule-making process, federal government waivers and approvals, unemployment insurance work search and registration requirements, and making an appropriation.

·         LRB-6073 Federal Government Waivers (Vos, Robin) Federal government waivers and other requests for federal approval; public assistance programs; waivers from work search and registration requirements for certain unemployment insurance benefit claimants; granting rule-making authority; and making an appropriation.

·         LRB-6072 Presidential Primary (Vos, Robin) Holding the presidential preference primary on the second Tuesday in March; applying for an absentee ballot in-person; and absentee ballots cast by overseas and military voters.

·         LRB-6071 State Agency Composition (Vos, Robin) Legislative powers and duties, state agency and authority composition and operations, and administrative rule-making process.

·         LRB-6070 Highway Projects (Vos, Robin) State and local highway projects; expenditure of transportation moneys received from the federal government; determining a reduction in individual income tax rates; and election of pass-through entities to be taxed at the entity level.



LRB-0396/P2. Body cameras on law enforcement officers. Approved 9/1.



DWD. Report on non-federal gift and grant expenditures. No action required.

DOA. Temporary reallocation of balances. No action required


To review today’s releases, click here to visit us at


July 24, 2018

New Orleans 2018: A Model for School Reform?

Filed under: Charter Schools,New Orleans — millerlf @ 2:28 pm

On August 29, 2005 Katrina devastated New Orleans. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said soon after, “Hurricane Katrina was the best thing to happen to the education system of New Orleans.” His call for privatization reforms was supported by the Louisiana elite and business interests. Immediately following, national privatization interests became involved promising money if public schooling was dismantled. This included charter authorizers like KIPP, Teach For America (TFA) and voucher and private charter advocates like BAEO (Black Alliance for Education Options).

On September 29, 2005 all 7500 New Orleans Public School employees were fired, including all teachers. 6500 of the employees were African American. Private charters replaced most of the schools, hiring mostly white, recent college graduate TFA members.

Please read the following 2018 report by Dr. Raynard Sanders

A Failure On ALL FRONTS: What We Really Need To Know About SCHOOL UNIFICATION

By July 1, 2018, all schools under the Recovery School District-New Orleans will be under the control of the Orleans Parish School Board. But what does that really mean?

Dr. Raynard Sanders

In the summer of 2016, the mainstream media and others hailed the return of public schools from the state-run Recovery School District to the Orleans Parish School Board. The return was viewed by many as an accomplishment as they boasted that the schools were returning after making dramatic academic performance compared to the poor academic performance public schools in New Orleans pre-Hurricane Katrina. In reality, the unification plan does not mean that schools have improved or that the elected school board will have any real governance power. Consider that in an article in The Advocate in August 2016, Caroline Roemer, executive director of the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools, warned the local Orleans Parish School Board, “As the primary authorizer for public schools in Orleans Parish, OPSB needs to. . . restructure itself accordingly so that it serves as a thought and support partner for its schools”.  To be sure, words like “authorizer” and “support partner” hardly equate to real local governance.

While there were tainted voices from the community and the media declaring that the autonomy of the charter school boards and good leadership were responsible for improved academic performance after Hurricane Katrina, numerous researchers and journalists here in New Orleans and across the country have found that charter schools in New Orleans have consistently scored lower than public schools across the state of Louisiana on mandated state tests and the ACT Test (a national college admission test). The education reform efforts have also been criticized for the less than honest pronouncement of issues around access and equity, serving special needs students and fiscal mismanagement.

Remembering How the reform in New Orleans happened

In the name of school reform, within months after Hurricane Katrina, state officials along with powerful national organizations decided to drastically change the delivery model of public education in New Orleans from a system of public schools governed by an elected school board to a system of charter schools managed by unelected individual charter school boards.  The Louisiana Legislature passed ACT 35 on November 29, 2005, while the city was mostly depopulated after Hurricane Katrina. ACT 35 changed the requirements for state takeover of schools by raising the required minimum School Performance Score (SPS) score and redefining “academically acceptable”  and “academically unacceptable”. A school’s SPS is a composite score based on one of three student performance exams, the school’s dropout rate and its student attendance rate. Before Hurricane Katrina, a SPS score of 60 was the cutoff score for a school to be labeled acceptable. Any school in Louisiana that was designated Academic Unacceptable (AU) for four consecutive years and showed no improvement was eligible for state takeover and placed under the jurisdiction of the Louisiana Department of Education’s Recovery School District (RSD).

Act 35 significantly changed the rules by raising the minimum SPS score to 87.4 even if these schools had not been AU for four straight years. Act 35 also expanded the state’s takeover authority so that it applied to school districts with more than 30 “failing” schools and with at least 50 percent of their student population in academically unacceptable schools. The 30- failing school provision meant that Act 35 had a unique impact on Orleans Parish, the state’s largest school district. Given the fact that 50 of Louisiana’s 64 parish school districts have fewer than 30 schools, the vast majority of parishes will never be affected by the 30-failing school threshold. When Act 35 was written, only, seven parishes had more than 40 schools; and Orleans Parish had far more public schools than any other district—47 more than the next largest district. Overnight, the new lines drawn by Act 35 distorted the appearance of school failure in New Orleans. Public schools in New Orleans that received awards from the Louisiana Department of Education in May of 2005 were suddenly failing. A 2006 report by the United Teachers of New Orleans titled “National Model or Flawed Approach?” noted that if Louisiana officials had applied pre-Act 35 standards to Orleans Parish, the state could have assumed control of only 13 schools in New Orleans. Given the fact that ACT 35 only affected New Orleans, it was discriminatory and illegal as its citizens were suddenly removed from the public education process, while locally elected school boards were still managing every other school district in the state.

What school Reform in New Orleans looks like

The Orleans Parish School Board will exercise little control over charter schools under the unification plan, essentially having veto power only when school management organizations seek to renew their charters.

Despite the well-financed PR campaign by state education officials, school reform in New Orleans using charter schools as the new vehicle, has been a failure both academically and operationally. Charter schools created under the Recovery School District have consistently had the lowest SPS scores in the state of Louisiana. Since 2006, the charter schools in New Orleans have consistently scored poorly on state mandated test. All external analysis of test scores found poor academic performance by the Recovery School District’s charter schools. One of the early signs of trouble came from the Minnesota Law School’s Institute on Race and Poverty in a 2010 report titled “The State of Public Schools in Post-Katrina New Orleans: The Challenge of Creating Equal Opportunity”, which stated:

  • Rebuilding of the public school system in post-Katrina New Orleans has produced a five “tiered” system of public schools in which not every student in the city receives the same quality education.
  • The “tiered” system of public schools in the city of New Orleans sorts White students and a relatively small share of students of color into selective schools in the OPSB and BESE sectors, while steering the majority of low-income students of color to high-poverty schools in the RSD sector.
  • Despite declarations to the contrary, the flawed one-App program actually puts the power of choice in the hands of schools more so than parents or students and only adds to the challenge of ensuring that every child in Orleans Parish has access to a quality education.
  • The “tiered” system of public schools in Orleans Parish creates a tiered performance hierarchy and sorts White students and a few minority of students of color into higher performing schools while restricting the majority of low-income students of color into lower performing schools.

In 2015, some 10 years after the school reforms were implemented, noted researcher Michael Deshotels reported that:

  • 83 percent of the public-school systems in the state of Louisiana produce better test results than the Recovery School District.
  • 94 percent of the other public systems produce better ACT results than the Recovery School District’s high schools. In 2015, the median ACT score for the charter schools in the New Orleans’ Recovery School District would not get its students into any Louisiana college or university.
  • The Recovery School District is very near the bottom among the 70 Louisiana school systems in percentage of students graduating from high school. The RSD graduation rate of 61.1 percent is dead last in the state, not counting the kids who drop out as early as seventh and eighth grades.
  • Even though most Recovery School District’s schools are advertised as college prep, only 5.5 percent of RSD students taking Advanced Placement courses passed the credit exams.

Riddled with mismanagement and corruption

More recently, researcher Dr. Mercedes Schneider stated, “It is even worse press to note that 12 years after that post-Katrina, state-yanking of schools, those schools have returned to OPSB (sort of– all-charter RSD schools are still under charter management organizations), and the entire district has fallen to a D in 2017, a year when most Louisiana districts either retained the letter grade they had in 2016 or even increased the letter grade from 2016 to 2017”.

In addition to the poor academic performance charter schools in New Orleans, the so-call reform effort has been riddled with fiscal mismanagement and corruption. The Recovery School District has been cited in numerous Louisiana Legislative Auditor reports for not following state and federal policy. Additionally, for nine consecutive years, the Recovery School District did not maintain and accurately report equipment as required by state regulations. Most troubling is the lack of fiscal oversight from which charter schools in New Orleans were created and have operated the last 12 years.

In its report, “System Failure: Louisiana’s Broken Charter School Law,” the Center for Popular Democracy described the lack of oversight and noted the corruption at charter schools. The report notes that the rapid growth and massive investment in charter schools have been accompanied by a dramatic underinvestment in oversight, leaving Louisiana’s students, parents, teachers and taxpayers at risk of academic failures and financial fraud. The state’s failure to create an effective financial oversight system is obvious, as Louisiana charter schools have experienced millions of dollars in known losses from fraud and financial mismanagement so far, which is likely just the tip of the iceberg.

This lack of oversight yielded a barrage of unheard of corruption at charter schools in New Orleans. The Center for Popular Democracy cited a few incidents of corruption at charter schools in New Orleans:

  • In February 2010, the former business manager of Langston Hughes Academy plead guilty to stealing over $600,000 from the charter school by making more than 150 cash withdrawals from Hughes’ operating account over 15 months.
  • In 2011, an employee of Lusher Charter School’s accounting department embezzled $25,000 by forging five checks she wrote to herself from the school’s bank account. The school discovered the theft and it was reported in its annual financial audit
  • An employee of KIPP New Orleans Inc., the operator of six charter schools in Orleans Parish, misappropriated two checks totaling almost $70,000.
  • In May 2014, a special investigation by the Louisiana Legislative Auditor found that from January 2012 through September 2013, ReNew Charter Management Organization provided inaccurate information to the Teachers Retirement System of Louisiana (TRSL) to allow 21 ineligible employees at five schools participate in the teachers’ pension fund.
  • The operations manager stole over $9,000 from Arise Schools, a New Orleans-based charter group. The theft was made public in a 2014 audit but was discovered by the school when they noticed money missing from a debit card. The employee twice bought $1,500 in gift cards with the organization’s debit card, in March and June 2014.

Most importantly, the school reform pushed down the throats of the citizens of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina removed democracy from the citizens of New Orleans. Citizens have had no formal participation in the selection process of superintendent for the Recovery School District. The Louisiana Superintendent of Education has chosen all of the Recovery Schools District’s five superintendents since 2005. Taxpayers, citizens and parents have never been given an opportunity for input or comment on the Recovery School District’s budget. Meanwhile, since Hurricane Katrina, the Recovery School District’s budget rehas far exceeded the budgets of other school districts in Louisiana. They also have not had an opportunity to comment on the millions of dollars in contracts awarded at Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) meetings held in Baton Rouge usually on weekdays at 10 a.m. and have had little or no input formally in the $1.8 billion of dollars of FEMA funds awarded to the Orleans Parish and Recovery School District to renovate and build schools damaged by Hurricane Katrina.

Unification of Schools

The fundamental issue with the school unification law or Louisiana Revised Statute (17:10.7.1) is that while schools are returning to the Orleans Parish School Board with tons of problems that need to be immediately addressed, they are also returning with the same unquestionable authority they have operated with for the last 13 years.

The law makes it clear that “unless mutually agreed to by both the charter school’s governing authority and the local school board pursuant to a duly authorized resolution adopted by each governing entity, the local school board shall not impede the operational autonomy of a charter school under its jurisdiction in the areas of school programming, instruction, curriculum, materials and texts, yearly school calendars and daily schedules, hiring and firing of personnel, employee performance management and evaluation, terms and conditions of employment, teacher or administrator certification, salaries and benefits, retirement, collective bargaining, budgeting, purchasing, procurement, and contracting for services other than capital repairs and facilities construction.”

With that, the only authority the elected local Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB) has is when the charter school’s license is up for renewal. While the state of Louisiana has renewed numerous failing charter contracts over the years, the basic problems have been the charter school’s daily policies and practices that have resulted in more than a decade of failure academically and operationally. We can’t expect any improvement in our schools if they continue on the same path of failure they have been on since 2005. We cannot give this kind of unquestionable authority to unelected charter school boards that have a history of failure in addition to violating state and federal law.  Complicating the matter even more so is that despite having their hands tied, the OPSB is technically liable for the charter school’s operations.

The case for revisiting school unification is clear. Presently, Louisiana Revised Statute 17:10.7.1 does not have any accountability standards that guarantee a quality education for all children. In fact, it only benefits the charter operator who can continue its present course of academic and operational failure.

It has been a failure on all fronts and most importantly, it has removed public participation and puts total control of our public schools and tax dollars in the hands of unelected and self-appointed charter school boards.

This revisiting should be led by the locally elected school board, in an open and transparent process with the inclusion of the voices from all citizens, and not just the usual charter proponents/organizations that created this disaster.

Dr. Raynard Sanders is an educational consultant and researcher, former principal and college administrator. He has written numerous articles on education equity and the privatization of public education and recently authored two books The Coup D’état of the New Orleans Public School District: Money, Power and the Illegal Takeover of a Public School System and 21st Century Jim Crow Schools: The Impact of Charter Schools on Public Education. Dr. Sanders also hosts “The New Orleans Imperative,” a weekly radio show that focuses on public education in New Orleans at 1 p.m. (CST) Mondays on WHIV FM (102.3 FM). 



July 15, 2018

MJS’s Alan Borsuk calls for “keep(ing) an eye” on the PAVE/Schools That Can merger as the vehicle for Milwaukee school improvement.

Filed under: Borsuk — millerlf @ 2:41 pm

In Borsuk’s 7/15/18 MJS opinion piece ( he states:

“I referred to Schools That Can Milwaukee in the past tense because it and another long-time Milwaukee education non-profit, known as PAVE, are merging. Plans for the merged organization are expected to be unveiled in coming months. There have been hints that some major players in town want a new approach to encouraging school improvement. Will the new organization be a vehicle for that? Keep an eye on this.”

The historic, and often stated, goal  of PAVE (Partners Advancing Values in Education) is a “voucher in every backpack.”

Questions to Alan Borsuk and Schools That Can:

So we are expected to rely on an organization (PAVE), that wants to destroy public schooling, to lead education improvement in Milwaukee?

Are the referred to “major players in town” including the elected MPS board and Superintendent in discussion of “a new approach”?








January 27, 2018

Exciting New Curriculum from Rethinking Schools

Filed under: BlackLivesMatter,Rethinking Schools — millerlf @ 1:03 pm

New Rethinking Schools book

Milwaukee History Note From 2011

Filed under: Black Brown Unity — millerlf @ 10:05 am

Black & Brown Unity march hits segregation

Published Nov 20, 2011

A youth-led Black & Brown Unity march and rally took to the streets of Milwaukee on Nov. 12. A Latino/a contingent marching north from M&I Bank and an African-American contingent marching south after a protest at U.S. Bank converged on the 27th Street Bridge. They then marched together with allies to Mitchell Park, where they convened for cultural presentations and a powerful speakout of oppressed peoples from throughout Metro Milwaukee and beyond.

According to the 2010 U.S. Census, Milwaukee has become a city with a majority of people of color. Black and Brown people make up more than 60 percent of the population.

The sponsoring groups, Occupy the Hood and Decolonize the Hood, in their call for the action, pointed out that “Milwaukee has some of the highest racial disparities in unemployment, health care, education, prison rates and much more. It is also the number one segregated city in the nation. We believe identifying socioeconomic and social injustices shared by Black and Brown communities helps draw attention to the ills caused by disenfranchisement and exploitation. Therefore, November 12th, a National Day of Action in Milwaukee, will be a collaborative effort by both Black and Brown communities to join forces to fight against these social and institutional forces of oppression.”

A Revisit with Michelle Alexander on Schools: We have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it.

Schools and the New Jim Crow: An Interview With Michelle Alexander

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Interview published in Rethinking Schools

We asked Alexander to share her thoughts about the implications of her work when applied to education and the lives of children and youth.

RS: What is the impact of mass incarceration on African American children and youth?

MA: There is an extraordinary impact. For African American children, in particular, the odds are extremely high that they will have a parent or loved one, a relative, who has either spent time behind bars or who has acquired a criminal record and thus is part of the under-caste—the group of people who can be legally discriminated against for the rest of their lives. For many African American children, their fathers, and increasingly their mothers, are behind bars. It is very difficult for them to visit. Many people are held hundreds or even thousands of miles away from home. There is a tremendous amount of shame with having a parent or other family member incarcerated. There can be fear of having it revealed to others at school.

But also, for these children, their life chances are greatly diminished. They are more likely to be raised in severe poverty; their parents are unlikely to be able to find work or housing and are often ineligible even for food stamps.

For children, the era of mass incarceration has meant a tremendous amount of family separation, broken homes, poverty, and a far, far greater level of hopelessness as they see so many of their loved ones cycling in and out of prison. Children who have incarcerated parents are far more likely themselves to be incarcerated.

When young black men reach a certain age—whether or not there is incarceration in their families—they themselves are the target of police stops, interrogations, frisks, often for no reason other than their race. And, of course, this level of harassment sends a message to them, often at an early age: No matter who you are or what you do, you’re going to find yourself behind bars one way or the other. This reinforces the sense that prison is part of their destiny, rather than a choice one makes.

A Birdcage as a Metaphor

RS: At one point in The New Jim Crow, you refer to the metaphor of a birdcage as a way to describe structural racism and apply that to mass incarceration. How does what is happening to African American youth in our schools fit into that picture?

MA: The idea of the metaphor is there can be many bars, wires that keep a person trapped. All of them don’t have to have been created for the purpose of harming or caging the bird, but they still serve that function. Certainly youth of color, particularly those in ghetto communities, find themselves born into the cage. They are born into a community in which the rules, laws, policies, structures of their lives virtually guarantee that they will remain trapped for life. It begins at a very early age when their parents themselves are either behind bars or locked in a permanent second-class status and cannot afford them the opportunities they otherwise could. For example, those with felony convictions are denied access to public housing, hundreds of professions that require certification, financial support for education, and often the right to vote. Thousands of people are unable even to get food stamps because they were once caught with drugs.

The cage itself is manifested by the ghetto, which is racially segregated, isolated, cut off from social and economic opportunities. The cage is the unequal educational opportunities these children are provided at a very early age coupled with the constant police surveillance they’re likely to encounter, making it very likely that they’re going to serve time and be caught for committing the various types of minor crimes—particularly drug crimes—that occur with roughly equal frequency in middle-class white communities but go largely ignored.

So, for many, whether they go to prison or not is far less about the choices they make and far more about what kind of cage they’re born into. Middle-class white children, children of privilege, are afforded the opportunity to make a lot of mistakes and still go on to college, still dream big dreams. But for kids who are born in the ghetto in the era of mass incarceration, the system is designed in such a way that it traps them, often for life.

RS: How do you define and analyze the school-to-prison pipeline?

MA: It’s really part of the large cage or caste that I was describing earlier. The school-to-prison pipeline is another metaphor—a good one for explaining how children are funneled directly from schools into prison. Instead of schools being a pipeline to opportunity, schools are feeding our prisons.

It’s important for us to understand how school discipline policies have been influenced by the war on drugs and the “get tough” movement. Many people imagine that zero tolerance rhetoric emerged within the school environment, but it’s not true. In fact, the Advancement Project published a report showing that one of the earliest examples of zero tolerance language in school discipline manuals was a cut-and-paste job from a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration manual. The wave of punitiveness that washed over the United States with the rise of the drug war and the get tough movement really flooded our schools. Schools, caught up in this maelstrom, began viewing children as criminals or suspects, rather than as young people with an enormous amount of potential struggling in their own ways and their own difficult context to make it and hopefully thrive. We began viewing the youth in schools as potential violators rather than as children needing our guidance.

The Mythology of Colorblindness

RS: In your book, you explain that the policies of mass incarceration are technically “colorblind” but lead to starkly racialized results. How do you see this specifically affecting children and young people of color?

MA: The mythology around colorblindness leads people to imagine that if poor kids of color are failing or getting locked up in large numbers, it must be something wrong with them. It leads young kids of color to look around and say: “There must be something wrong with me, there must be something wrong with us. Is there something inherent, something different about me, about us as a people, that leads us to fail so often, that leads us to live in these miserable conditions, that leads us to go in and out of prison?”

The mythology of colorblindness takes the race question off the table. It makes it difficult for people to even formulate the question: Could this be about something more than individual choices? Maybe there is something going on that’s linked to the history of race in our country and the way race is reproducing itself in modern times.

I think this mythology—that of course we’re all beyond race, of course our police officers aren’t racist, of course our politicians don’t mean any harm to people of color—this idea that we’re beyond all that (so it must be something else) makes it difficult for young people as well as the grown-ups to be able to see clearly and honestly the truth of what’s going on. It makes it difficult to see that the backlash against the Civil Rights Movement manifested itself in the form of mass incarceration, in the form of defunding and devaluing schools serving kids of color and all the rest. We have avoided in recent years talking openly and honestly about race out of fear that it will alienate and polarize. In my own view, it’s our refusal to deal openly and honestly with race that leads us to keep repeating these cycles of exclusion and division, and rebirthing a caste-like system that we claim we’ve left behind.

RS: We are in the midst of a huge attack on public education—privatization through charters and vouchers; increased standardization, regimentation, and testing; and the destruction of teachers’ unions. Much of it is justified by what appears to be anti-racist rhetoric: Schools aren’t meeting the needs of inner-city children, so their parents need choices. How do you see this?

MA: People who focus solely on what do we do given the current context are avoiding the big why. Why is it that these schools aren’t meeting these kids’ needs? Why is it that such a large percentage of the African American population today is trapped in these ghettos? What is the bigger picture?

The bigger picture is that over the last 30 years, we have spent $1 trillion waging a drug war that has failed in any meaningful way to reduce drug addiction or abuse, and yet has siphoned an enormous amount of resources away from other public services, especially education. We are in a social and political context in which the norm is to punish poor folks of color rather than to educate and empower them with economic opportunity. It is that political context that leads some people to ask: Don’t children need to be able to escape poorly performing schools? Of course, no one should be trapped in bad schools or bad neighborhoods. No one. But I think we need to be asking a larger question: How do we change the norm, the larger context that people seem to accept as a given? Are we so thoroughly resigned to what “is” that we cannot even begin a serious conversation about how to create what ought to be?

The education justice movement and the prison justice movement have been operating separately in many places as though they’re in silos. But the reality is we’re not going to provide meaningful education opportunities to poor kids, kids of color, until and unless we recognize that we’re wasting trillions of dollars on a failed criminal justice system. Kids are growing up in communities in which they see their loved ones cycling in and out of prison and in which they are sent the message in countless ways that they, too, are going to prison one way or another. We cannot build healthy, functioning schools within a context where there is no funding available because it’s going to building prisons and police forces.

RS: And fighting wars?

MA: Yes, and fighting wars. And where there is so much hopelessness because of the prevalence of mass incarceration.

At the same time, we’re foolish if we think we’re going to end mass incarceration unless we are willing to deal with the reality that huge percentages of poor people are going to remain jobless, locked out of the mainstream economy, unless and until they have a quality education that prepares them well for the new economy. There has got to be much more collaboration between the two movements and a greater appreciation for the work of the advocates in each community. It’s got to be a movement that’s about education, not incarceration—about jobs, not jails. A movement that integrates the work in these various camps from, in my view, a human rights perspective.

Fighting Back

RS: What is the role of teachers in responding to this crisis? What should we be doing in our classrooms? What should we be doing as education activists?

MA: That is a wonderful question and one I’m wrestling with myself now. I am in the process of working with others trying to develop curriculum and materials that will make it easier to talk to young people about these issues in ways that won’t lead to paralysis, fear, or resignation, but instead will enlighten and inspire action and critical thinking in the future. It’s very difficult but it must be done.

We have to be willing to take some risks. In my experience, there is a lot of hesitancy to approach these issues in the classroom out of fear that students will become emotional or angry, or that the information will reinforce their sense of futility about their own lives and experience. It’s important to teach them about the reality of the system, that it is in fact the case that they are being targeted unfairly, that the rules have been set up in a way that authorize unfair treatment of them, and how difficult it is to challenge these laws in the courts. We need to teach them how our politics have changed in recent years, how there has been, in fact, a backlash. But we need to couple that information with stories of how people in the past have challenged these kinds of injustices, and the role that youth have played historically in those struggles.

I think it’s important to encourage young people to tell their own stories and to speak openly about their own experiences with the criminal justice system and the experiences of their family. We need to ensure that the classroom environment is a supportive one so that the shame and stigma can be dispelled. Then teachers can use those stories of what students have witnessed and experienced as the opportunity to begin asking questions: How did we get here? Why is this happening? How are things different in other communities? How is this linked to what has gone on in prior periods of our nation’s history? And what, then, can we do about it?

Just providing information about how bad things are, or the statistics and data on incarceration by themselves, does lead to more depression and resignation and is not empowering. The information has to be presented in a way that’s linked to the piece about encouraging students to think critically and creatively about how they might respond to injustice, and how young people have responded to injustice in the past.

RS: What specifically?

MA: There’s a range of possibilities. I was inspired by what students have done in some schools organizing walkouts protesting the lack of funding and that sort of thing. There are opportunities for students to engage in those types of protests—taking to the streets—but there is also writing poetry, writing music, beginning to express themselves, holding forums, educating each other, the whole range. For example, for a period of time the Ella Baker Center in Oakland, Calif., was focused on youth engagement and advocacy to challenge mass incarceration. They launched a number of youth campaigns to close youth incarceration facilities in northern California. They demonstrated that it is really possible to blend hip-hop culture with very creative and specific advocacy and to develop young leaders. Young people today are very creative in using social media and there is a wide range of ways that they can get involved.

The most important thing at this stage is inspiring an awakening. There is a tremendous amount of confusion and denial that exists about mass incarceration today, and that is the biggest barrier to movement building. As long as we remain in denial about this system, movement building will be impossible. Exposing youth in classrooms to the truth about this system and developing their critical capacities will, I believe, open the door to meaningful engagement and collective, inspired action.


Why teach about structural oppression and other systems of control?

Young people are not likely to get this information from any other source. If we are ever going to overcome this, we first have to be able to talk about it, describe it, to know what it is. Unlike the old Jim Crow, there are no signs alerting you today to the existence of racial bias. The “whites only” signs are gone, and it’s easy today to be lulled into this belief that people are at the bottom because they simply don’t work hard or are lazy or prone to violence. If we don’t pull back the curtain for young people and help them to see how unconscious bias operates, how systems of discrimination operate, then they will continue to operate on a false belief that race discrimination is a part of our past and not our present. They will find themselves being part of the problem rather than part of the solution.


What would you want students to understand from reading and studying your book? 

They have the power to change the system. It’s easy to imagine that a system like mass incarceration can’t be dismantled. The same was said about slavery, the same was said about Jim Crow. And yet a powerful movement, led in large part by courageous, young people who were unwilling to accept the status quo, who were bold and brave and who were truth-tellers, helped to bring that Jim Crow system to its knees. I think it’s important that even as we learn about great injustice that we not become paralyzed by it but recognize that we are the change we’ve been waiting for and that young people—perhaps more than any other segment in our society—are the hope upon which future generations can rely.

Interview by Jody Sokolower, Rethinking Schools, published 2013

Who is shackling our children and who is supporting their liberation?


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