Educate All Students, Support Public Education

October 30, 2015

What the national drop in 2015 NAEP test scores really means

Filed under: NAEP — millerlf @ 10:37 am

By Valerie Strauss October 28 Washington Post

See graph at:

The 2015 scores for the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) are out, and the news isn’t good for those who think standardized test scores tell us something significant about student achievement.

NAEP is often called the nation’s report card because it is the only measure of student achievement given periodically to a sampling of students around the nation. It is seen by many as a high-quality test though it has many critics, too, some of whom say that the NAEP definition of “proficiency” is unnaturally high, and that the test cannot measure many of the qualities students must develop to be successful.

My Post colleague Emma Brown reports in this story that math scores for fourth-graders and eighth-graders across the United States dropped this year, the first time since the federal government began administering the exams in 1990. Reading scores weren’t much better; eighth-grade scores dropped while fourth-grade performance was stagnant compared with 2013, the last time the test was administered. Since 1990, scores had generally edged up with each administration, though achievement gaps between white and minority students have remained large.

School reformers who have touted NAEP score increases in the past as evidence of success are now trying to spin the newest results as anything but their the failure of their reforms. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, in 2013 for example, credited Common Core implementation for higher NAEP scores in some states. He said:
“In 2013, reading and math scores edged up nationally to new highs for fourth and eighth graders. It is particularly heartening that reading scores for eighth graders are up, after remaining relatively flat for the last decade. Achievement among the largest minority group in our nation’s public schools—Hispanic students—is also up since 2011. And higher-achieving students as a whole are making more progress in reading and math than in recent years.

“While progress on the NAEP continues to vary among the states, all eight states that had implemented the state-crafted Common Core State Standards at the time of the 2013 NAEP assessment showed improvement in at least one of the Reading and/or Mathematics assessments from 2009 to 2013—and none of the eight states had a decline in scores.

Fast forward to today, and Duncan has a different explanation for the lower scores. Brown reported:
Duncan defended those policies in a call with reporters Tuesday, saying that massive changes in schools often lead to a temporary drop in test scores while teachers and students adjust. But the new standards and other policies, Duncan said, are poised to improve student achievement — and students’ lives — in the long term.

“Big change never happens overnight,” Duncan said. “I’m confident that over the next decade, if we stay committed to this change, we will see historic improvements.”

Here’s a look at what the NAEP scores mean — and don’t mean — as explained by Carol Burris, who retired this year as an award-winning principal at a New York high school. She is the author of numerous articles, books and blog posts (including on The Answer Sheet) about the botched school reform efforts in her state. She is also the head of the nonprofit Network for Public Education, an organization co-founded by Diane Ravitch that works to support the improvement of public education.

Today’s National Assessment of Educational Progress score flop should come as no surprise. You cannot implement terrible education policies and expect that achievement will increase.

NAEP is a truth teller. There is no NAEP test prep industry, or high-stakes consequence that promotes teaching to the test. NAEP is what it was intended to be—a national report card by which we can gauge our national progress in educating our youth.

During the 1970s and ’80s, at the height of school desegregation efforts, the gap in scores between our nation’s white and black students dramatically narrowed. You could see the effects of good, national policy reflected in NAEP gains.

The gaps have remained, however, and this year, the ever so slight narrowing of gaps between white and black students is due to drops in the scores of white students—hardly a civil rights victory.

It is difficult to see any real growth across the board since 2011, with math scores backsliding to 2009 levels, eighth-grade reading flat for four years, and a small uptick in fourth-grade reading that is not a significant increase from 2013, which, in turn, was not significantly different from 2011.

Considering that the rationale for the Common Core State Standards initiative was low NAEP proficiency rates, it would appear that the solution of tough standards and tough tests is not the great path forward after all. For those who say it is too early to use NAEP to judge the Common Core, I would remind them that in 2013, Education Secretary Arne Duncan used NAEP increases to do a victory dance about the states that had already implemented the Core at that time—and I never heard any reformer complain.

Two years ago, Duncan attributed Tennessee’s, Hawaii’s and the District of Columbia’s NAEP score increases to their enthusiastic adoption of Race to the Top. Likewise, he attributed increases in Kentucky, Delaware, Georgia, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi and North Carolina to their early embrace of the Common Core.

This year, the District of Columbia and Mississippi had fourth-grade score gains in mathematics, but the rest of Duncan’s superstars had mathematics scores that dropped or were flat. All of Arne’s superstar states had eighth-grade scores that dropped or did not budge.

The District of Columbia, Mississippi, Kentucky and North Carolina had score gains in fourth-grade reading this year, but so did states like Oklahoma and Vermont that have resisted Race to the Top reforms. And in Grade 8 reading, all of Duncan’s superstars had scores that were flat or took a dive.

Colorado, a state that recently received high praise from Bill and Melinda Gates for its implementation of corporate reforms, had reading scores that were flat and math scores that significantly dropped.

NAEP scores were not the only disappointment this year. A few months ago, we saw a significant drop in SAT scores—7 points in one year alone.

Although NAEP and the SAT were not designed to align to the Common Core, they measure what the Common Core Standards were supposed to improve—the literacy and numeracy of our nation’s students. Considering the billions of dollars spent on these reforms, one would expect at least some payoff by now.

The fans of reforms are already beginning the spin. Some are blaming demographic changes (which conveniently ignores the drop in white student scores on 3 of the 4 tests), while others are attributing the stagnation to the economy (which was far worse in 2011).

The very folks who gleefully hold public schools accountable based on scores, evade using them to evaluate their own pet policies. For those of us who had first row seats to the disruption and chaos they have caused, we have one simple message—no excuses.

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.

October 28, 2015

See Video of Student Brutally Attacked in South Carolina School. Also Read Report on School Cop Use of Force.

Filed under: Racial Justice,School to Prison Pipeline — millerlf @ 8:05 am

View South Carolina student brutally attacked by school-assigned police officer called “Slam”  at:

Following is an article from July of this year that addresses violence against students that has taken place within schools:
Chokeholds, Brain Injuries, Beatings: When School Cops Go Bad

At least 28 students have been seriously injured—and one killed—in the past 5 years.
By Jaeah Lee Tue Jul. 14, 2015 Mother Jones

A Louisville police officer is facing assault and misconduct charges after his alleged use of force at a middle school. Screenshot from school surveillance footage

Over the past year, video footage from around the country of law enforcement officers killing citizens, many of them black, has brought scrutiny on policing in the streets. Yet, another disturbing police problem has drawn far less attention: Use of force by cops in schools. According to news reports and data collected by advocacy groups, over the past five years at least 28 students have been seriously injured, and in one case shot to death, by so-called school resource officers—sworn, uniformed police assigned to provide security on K-12 campuses.

As with the officer-involved killings that have been thrust into the national spotlight, government data on police conduct in schools is lacking. And while serious use of force by officers against school kids appears to be rare, experts also point to a troubling lack of training and oversight, and a disproportionate impact on minority and disabled students.

Here are some of the recent cases, which Mother Jones has looked into further:

• Chokehold and a brain injury: In March, Louisville Metro Police officer Jonathan Hardin was fired after his alleged use of force in two incidents at Olmsted Academy North middle school: He was accused of punching a 13-year-old student in the face for cutting the cafeteria line, and a week later of putting another 13-year-old student in a chokehold, allegedly knocking the student unconscious and causing a brain injury. In April, a grand jury indicted Hardin on assault and misconduct charges for the chokehold incident, and his trial is pending. The Jefferson County Attorney’s Office is also considering charges against Hardin over the punching incident, a spokesperson for the attorney’s office told Mother Jones. Hardin’s attorney declined to comment, citing the ongoing criminal litigation.

• Beating with a baton: In May 2014, Cesar Suquet, then a 16-year-old high school student in Houston, was being escorted by an officer out of the principal’s office after a discussion about Suquet’s confiscated cell phone. Following a verbal exchange, police officer Michael Y’Barbo struck Suquet at least 18 times with a police baton, injuring him on his head, neck and elsewhere, according to the lawsuit Suquet’s family filed against the Pasadena Independent School District. In its response to the incident (which was captured on video according to court documents), the school district admitted that Y’Barbo struck Suquet but denied allegations of wrongdoing. Y’Barbo, in his response, denied striking Suquet on the head, stating that he acted “within his discretionary duties” and that his use of force was “reasonable and necessary.” A spokesperson for the school district told Mother Jones that Y’Barbo remains on regular assignment including patrol.

• Taser-induced brain injury: In November 2013, student Noe Nino de Rivera was trying to break up a fight at Cedar Creek High School in Bastrop County, Texas, when two officers arrived and told Nino de Rivera to step back. Within moments, one of the officers, Randy McMillan, tased the 17-year-old, who fell to the ground and hit his head. Nino de Rivera was taken to a hospital, where he “underwent surgery to repair a severe brain hemorrhage and was placed in a medically induced coma,” according to the family’s lawsuit against McMillan, Bastrop County, and the school district. The teen remained in a coma for 52 days, a family attorney told CNN. Attorneys representing the county said that Nino de Rivera had failed to comply with orders and that McMillan “used the reasonable amount of necessary force to maintain and control discipline at the school.” In May 2014, a grand jury declined to indict McMillan, and that month he received a promotion. Three months later, the county agreed to pay Nino de Rivera’s family $775,000 to settle the lawsuit.

• Shot to death: On November 12, 2010, 14-year-old Derek Lopez stepped off a school bus outside of Northside Alternative High School, near San Antonio, and punched another student, knocking him to the ground. Officer Daniel Alvarado witnessed the altercation and ordered Lopez to freeze, and then chased a fleeing Lopez to a shed behind a house, where he fatally shot him. Alvarado later testified that Lopez had “bull-rushed” him as he opened the shed door. Lopez, who was unarmed, died soon afterward. In August 2012, a grand jury declined to indict Alvarado. The Northside Independent School District school board later agreed to pay a $925,000 settlement to Lopez’s family. Alvarado has since been terminated from Northside for unrelated reasons, an attorney for the school district told Mother Jones.

The US and state governments do not specifically collect data on police conduct in K-12 schools. But some data has been gathered at the county and state level by the ACLU and other advocacy groups, including in Texas and North Carolina. Using news reports, the Huffington Post identified at least 25 students in 13 states recently who sought medical attention after getting tased, peppersprayed, or shot with a stun gun by school resource officers. (For more on these harsh tactics and a lawsuit they led to, read this Mother Jones story.)

The US Justice Department spent $876 million to fund nearly 7,000 school resource officers nationwide after Columbine, and another $67 million following the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary.

From the war on drugs to “zero tolerance policies,” cops have been utilized in K-12 schools for decades. But the mass shooting at Columbine High School in 1999 caused their ranks to swell, with the number of police officers patrolling K-12 campuses approximately doubling to 20,000 by 2006, according to the National Association of School Resource Officers. The US Department of Justice spent an estimated $876 million after Columbine to fund nearly 7,000 school resource officers across the country. Since the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012, the DOJ has spent another $67 million to fund an additional 540 cops in schools. Many school districts and local police departments have funded their own sworn law enforcement personnel for the job.

But much about this field remains unclear: According to a recent report from Philip Stinson, a Bowling Green University criminologist, “The existing research offers few answers to such basic questions as to how SROs are selected, the nature and extent of SRO training, and the strategic uses of SROs.”

Michael Dorn, a former school district police chief in Georgia, says that misconduct cases by school cops are rare and that overall their presence has helped improve campus safety. But the programs need to be better evaluated based on data, he adds. Studies in some school districts have shown that school cops helped reduce crime, truancy, and bullying. But others have found that the presence of cops in schools leads to increased ticketing and arrests for minor infractions. Jason Langberg, an attorney in Virginia who has represented victims of alleged abuse, explains that many officers end up stepping into matters of routine student discipline. They deal with “minor scuffles, a bag of marijuana, or even just talking back,” he says. “The vast majority of incidents don’t involve guns in schools.”

Dewey Cornell, a psychology professor at the University of Virginia who studies school safety, suggests that the rise of school cops has been based on misguided fear. After Sandy Hook, the NRA proposed putting them in every single school in America. But relative to overall gun violence, “schools are one of the least likely places for a shooting to occur, and pulling officers off the street and putting them on guard in a school lobby is short-sighted and dangerous,” Cornell says. “The fear of school shootings has been greatly overestimated because of the attention to a handful of tragic cases.”

Black students are arrested by school cops at a disproportionate rate, according to recent data from the US Department of Education.

Last March, the US Department of Education reported that 92,000 students were subject to school-related arrests in the 2011-2012 academic year, the first time the agency collected and published such data. Black students comprised 16 percent of the total students enrolled but accounted for 31 percent of arrests. And a quarter of the total arrested were students with disabilities, despite that they comprised only 12 percent of the student population. In recommendations to the White House published in May, the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing advised that law enforcement agencies analyze data on all stops, frisks, searches, summons, and arrests—and seperate out the data for school detentions. “Noncriminal offenses can escalate to criminal charges when officers are not trained in child and adolescent development,” the report noted.

Often young police officers are on the job, according to the advocacy group Strategies for Youth, which works with police departments and school districts on training. Yet, a national survey conducted in 2013 by the group found that police academies in only one state, Tennessee, offered training specifically for officers deployed to schools. The majority of academies, the survey noted, “do not teach recruits how to recognize and respond to youth with mental health, trauma-related and special education-related disorders.”

In February, Michael Reynolds, a black high school student in Detroit, testified to the task force about an interaction with a cop at his school. “Before I could explain why I did not have my [student] badge I was escorted to the office and suspended for an entire week,” he said. “Many young people today have fear of the police in their communities and schools.”

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October 26, 2015

State Support for Public Schools in 2014-15: 62.3 Percent

Filed under: Public Education — millerlf @ 2:57 pm

by Dan Rossmiller Wisconsin Association of School Boards

Estimated state support for public K-12 schools totaled just under 62.3 percent last year, according to a new analysis released today by the non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB). That percentage was calculated using the same “partial school revenues” method that was used to determine state support during the period from 1996-97 to 2002-03, when the state had a statutory commitment to fund two-thirds of K-12 partial school revenues statewide. That mandate ended in 2003.

The 62.3 percent figure is the share of state support as calculated on a statewide basis for the 2014-15 school year. The share of state support for each individual school district will vary according to how the district is treated under the state general aid formula, which is based to a large extent on a district’s property wealth per pupil.

The LFB memorandum released today provides information on the estimated level of state support provided for K-12 education statewide and to individual school districts in 2014-15. You can find it here.

Trouble clicking? Copy and paste this URL into your browser:

October 25, 2015

Alan Borsuk Reviews Voucher Expansion

Filed under: Vouchers — millerlf @ 9:28 am

See Borsuk’s commentary at:

Students in 4-year-old kindergarten play a game last year at HOPE Prima school in Milwaukee.
Students in 4-year-old kindergarten play a game last year at HOPE Prima school in Milwaukee.

The above photo accompanies Borsuk’s article. It was taken at one of Hope Christian Schools.

In August of this year I interviewed a member of the staff at one of the Hope schools.
Here is that blog post titled Hope Christian Schools: Another Voucher School Program Built on Half-truths, False Claims and Manipulated Data.
Previously I have addressed the failure of so-called high-performing voucher schools by exposing the facade created by St. Marcus Lutheran School (see: Response to MJS Article on Henry Tyson and St. Marcus Lutheran School ). Recently I was able to interview an educator from Hope Christian Academy describing similar failings to those of St. Marcus.
Hope Christian Schools (HCS) started in 2002 with one school serving 47 students. Today, they have six schools serving nearly 2,000 students.

The narrative presented to me by a teacher at HCS, does not represent transparency and fidelity in educating our kids.

For example:
Hope Christian Schools claims: “(MAP testing) At our K-8 level, our students have grown by 45% more than their peers, nationally, in both math and reading.”
The truth is that students retake the MAP test until they show demanded improvement.

Students have been expelled, not for fighting, but for simply showing aggressive behavior. Students are constantly warned, “Do you want to go back to MPS?” MPS is constantly berated and made fun of.

Special education: There are little accommodations for students with special needs. Students are placed into groups according to reading or math MAP scores but there is no special education. Students who have special needs are most likely categorized as chronically misbehaved and may be subject to being “counseled out” or expelled. There is no special education program and student IEP’s are fulfilled by MPS.

Hope Christian Schools claims: (WKCE testing): “At our K-8 level, students arrive at our schools scoring significantly below the district average. After 2 years at HOPE, our scholars not only met, but exceeded their district peers in both math and reading.”
The truth is that last year’s 8th grade at Fortis (31 students tested) saw only 6% of its students (2 students) test at proficient and zero percent tested as advanced for reading. The 5th grade at Semper had only 4% test proficient with zero percent testing advanced. (See at:

HCS brags about its graduation rates. But this year’s graduation cohort of 34 students had 51 students take the WKCE exam in 2012. What happened to the 17 students (36%) not graduating this year? Were they counted toward graduation rates as they would be with MPS’s graduation calculations?

HCS teaches very little social studies and history while focusing on “no-nonsense” Christian “character building”
. The staff person I interviewed described the culture as torture to watch, a jail.

Most teachers come from Teach For America and very few of the teachers at Semper and Fortis have a teaching license. Between these two schools (the person I interviewed estimated between 40 and 60 teachers) last year there was one African-American teacher.

Hope Christian Schools has many new buildings and is aggressively expanding with public money. But behind its shiny new exteriors, is it doing justice for our children?

October 24, 2015

How MPS Changed School Expulsions

Filed under: Education Policy — millerlf @ 8:09 am

Echoing national trends, school board has moved away from “zero tolerance.” Here’s why.
Terry Falk Oct 23, 2015

Zero-tolerance hasn’t worked. Both liberal and conservatives agree on that. We have filled our prisons with low level offenders through minimum sentences, three-strikes-and-you’re-out legislation. Today, Wisconsin has the highest incarceration rate for black men in the nation, but the streets of Milwaukee and other Wisconsin cities are no safer.
Educators have come to the same conclusion with discipline in our schools. Zero tolerance in schools meant that expulsion had to be considered in every instance where a weapon or drugs were found. School fights, which were once handled by school officials, now meant a call to the police. Just a few years ago, Milwaukee was ranked at the top of school systems that suspended students, but such suspensions added little order to our schools.
Last summer the U.S. Department of Education launched “Rethinking Discipline” to come up with alternatives to the zero-tolerance school practices.

A few years earlier, Milwaukee School Superintendent Gregory Thornton took on the issue of suspensions in an effort to drive down those numbers. Suspending a student might get the student out of the hair of the school staff for a day or two. But often the students just sat at home watching Scooby Doo and eating Froot Loops. When they came back, no behavior had changed.

Recently, as a school board member, I pushed for changes in the MPS expulsion policy. Previously the system would expel a student without any educational services. It is unlikely that a student expelled for selling drugs would sit at home and contemplate the errors of his ways. Most likely the student would just learn to become a better drug dealer. Today MPS still expels students but the system offers alternative educational services while on expulsion.
But a group of “no-nonsense” charter schools have not rethought their discipline policies. Both U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan railed against excessive discipline practices by these schools.
“Too often, so-called zero-tolerance policies, however well intentioned they might be, make students unwelcome in their own schools; they disrupt the learning process,” said Holder in a Washington Post article last year.

The poster child in the Washington Post article was Roxbury Prep in Boston, that had one of the highest suspension rates in Massachusetts. Nearly 60 percent of its students had been suspended at one time or another in the previous year. While Roxbury touted the fact that students exceeded the state in achievement on state academic tests, critics of Roxbury pointed to the school’s high turnover rate. Their high standing was not based upon what they did with the students they had; rather it was a product of sorting through students keeping the most successful students and “counseling out” students who didn’t meet its standards.

Roxbury had an extensive waiting list of students who wanted in, and parents were thrilled when their children were accepted, but often parents changed their mind about the school when their children were ushered out the door.
This is why the Milwaukee school board had so much trouble in approving a new charter school, Milwaukee Excellence. This school followed the no-nonsense concept, directly referring to Roxbury Prep as its model. Ultimately the school board would approve its charter only after the school made changes to it discipline policy and its suspension and student turnover rate were added to its evaluation.

But this is hardly the end of the story.
Recently Secretary Duncan announced that he was leaving the Department of Education and his replacement is undersecretary, John King, none other than the man known as one of Roxbury Prep’s founding members.

Immediately the internet lit up. “The King of Suspensions” was the headline of several blogs. Conservative-turned-liberal education expert, Diane Ravitch, echoed the same concerns. And it doesn’t help that King not only has butted heads with teacher unions, but also had a poor reputation for listening to parent concerns when he was New York state education commissioner as he pushed for more testing along with his support for Common Core.

Ironically, as a youth, John King was kicked out of a private prep school and gives much credit for his success to the teachers who cared for him in traditional public schools. How he came to believe in no-nonsense schools is something of a mystery.

Will Secretary King reverse the “Rethinking Discipline” fostered under Arne Duncan? That is unlikely. And it may be too much ask that he repudiate the no-nonsense discipline policies he once supported for Roxbury Prep.
However he acts, people on both sides of the educational divide will be watching.

Terry Falk has served as a Milwaukee School Board member since 2007.

October 22, 2015

The Nation Magazine: We’ll Need an Economic Program to Make #BlackLivesMatter. Here Are Three Ideas.

Filed under: BlackLivesMatter — millerlf @ 12:12 pm

In a country that has always used race to justify inequality, ending police brutality is just the start.
Jesse A. Myerson andMychal Denzel Smith January 7, 2015

We are in the midst of a movement to upend white supremacy. Thousands of people across the country, acting in response to the unpunished killings of Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, Rekia Boyd, Eric Garner, Renisha McBride, Michael Brown and so many more unarmed black people who have lost their lives to police or vigilante violence, have taken to the streets to proclaim that “black lives matter.” While this is a powerful proclamation all its own, it can now be strengthened by a vision of what it will take to make those lives matter in America.

In 1966, along with A. Philip Randolph, Bayard Rustin, and other organizers and scholars, Martin Luther King Jr. released the now all-but-forgotten Freedom Budget for All Americans, which included full employment, universal healthcare and good housing for all. “The Freedom Budget is essential if the Negro people are to make further progress,” he wrote. “It is essential if we are to maintain social peace. It is a political necessity.” Dr. King came to espouse this view toward the end of his life, acknowledging that civil and voting rights were a critical but merely partial victory in the struggle for complete equality.

King’s vision, needless to say, was never realized. This is why we propose that, in addition to calls for police reform, it is vital for the defeat of the racist system that the #BlackLivesMatter movement advance an economic program. We cannot undo racism in America without confronting our country’s history of economically exploiting black Americans. Demands from Ferguson Action and other groups include full employment, and this foundational item is one that can and should be fleshed out, as we hope to do here.

Before laying out our proposals, we should clarify why, historically, eliminating racism requires an economic program. America’s story is one of economic exploitation driving the creation and maintenance of racism over time. The inception of our country’s economic system condemned black people to an underclass for a practical rather than bigoted reason: the exploitation of African labor. Imported Africans were prevented by customs and language barriers from entering into contracts, and unlike the indigenous population, their lack of familiarity with the terrain prevented them from running away from their slavers. To morally justify an economy dependent on oppression, in a nation newly founded on the rights of men to freedom, it was necessary to socially construct a biological fiction called race, one that deemed some people subhuman, mere property. “During the revolutionary era,” Karen E. and Barbara J. Fields write in their book Racecraft: The Soul of Inequality in American Life, “people who favored slavery and people who opposed it collaborated in identifying the racial incapacity of Afro-Americans as the explanation for enslavement.” White citizens, making their fortunes and proving their social standing through the ownership of African persons, codified the idea of race into law. Those of African origin would come to form the lowest class of American life, while people of Western European origin were free to extract labor and wealth from their bodies. Material inequality, in other words, preceded the racist rationale.


Chicago communities organizing to win an elected school board

Filed under: Chicago — millerlf @ 7:41 am

by Larry Miller

Last night Wendell Harris and I had the honor and privilege to address over 100 activists on Chicago’s South-side. The town hall meeting was called by The Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, Action Now and the Hope Center. The array of speakers was highlighted by community participants in the recent victorious hunger strike demanding that the south side Dyett High School not be closed.

This was a meeting of south-side grassroots organizers with one goal in mind; an elected school board representing the communities of Chicago. They spoke of the failures, the corruption, the elitism and the refusal of Chicago’s leaders to educate the city’s Black children. It was noted by one of the speakers that Chicago’s Mayor Rahm Emmanuel sends his children to the exclusive University of Chicago Lab School, while attempting to close school after school in black and brown communities.

They are fighting for proposed legislation HB-4268. It would create 13 election districts that would vote to constitute a 13 member school board for the City of Chicago. This event was the first of many town hall meetings that will be held to discuss this proposed legislation. The growth of this movement, focusing on the creation of a democratically elected school board, follows two nonbinding Chicago referendums that showed voters overwhelmingly support the replacement of the present mayoral appointed school board with an elected board.

It was reported at the meeting that their efforts have already won 50 supporters in the Illinois State Assembly. They need 71 to secure veto-proof passage.

They had invited Wendell and me to speak about our experience in a city with an elected school board. At the same time it was clear that they are not under any illusion that a victory in this effort will mean the battle is over. They see it as just another step in the fight to educate all of Chicago’s children.

Baltimore Sun: Greg Thornton’s First Year in Baltimore

Filed under: Baltimore — millerlf @ 7:36 am

Gregory Thornton’s first year leading schools brings challenges, critics

Erica L. GreenContact ReporterThe Baltimore Sun- August
Gregory Thornton’s first year leading Baltimore schools has brought challenges, critics.

Reflecting on Gregory Thornton’s first year as Baltimore schools CEO, many agree that he’s an affable administrator who has faced enormous challenges on the job.

Many disagree, however, on whether he’s the right man for the job.

Thornton, who took over the 84,000-student district on July 1, 2014, has confronted a budget gap, school closures and a dispute over arming school police, among other issues. The way he’s tackled those challenges has drawn criticism about a lack of vision, transparency and follow-through.

“Dr. Thornton has lost the momentum of real reform that we built collectively over the past decades,” said Andrew Foster Connors, co-chair of Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development, an advocacy group led by clergy.

The city school board chose Thornton, who was superintendent of Milwaukee’s schools, over a veteran administrator in the Baltimore school system. Board members say he was picked for his experience in working at all levels of a school district and his ability to create an efficient operation and build a strong team. In those areas, he’s on the right track, they and others say.

But even some who subscribe to his philosophy — couched in phrases such as “theory of action” and a “standard of care” — say his plan to move the city forward is not resonating.

“I think that the assumption is, in a town where people don’t know education, you can get away with high-level conversations,” said school board president Shanaysha Sauls, who led the board’s efforts to hire Thornton. “But in a town where people are really sophisticated and committed, and people are really tired and they feel a sense of urgency, you have to give them more. And we need more.”

Thornton, 60, acknowledges the hurdles he has faced. “There are more challenges than I thought, certainly,” he said in a recent interview.

Still, he maintains that he is a “perfect fit” for the school district. He says the vision for city schools is as much the community’s responsibility as his, which his why he spent the past year in meetings and schools. And he suggests it was unrealistic to expect that he would quickly roll out a new vision for the district.

“Some may say, ‘We should have started on Sept. 1. This is the new vision.’ Hell, I couldn’t even find the buildings on Sept. 1,” Thornton said. “I’m going to have a vision for something I haven’t even found yet? That’d be presumptuous of me.”

Thornton’s supporters note that he walked into an unusual convergence of financial, political and social upheaval, inheriting a slate of challenges that required him to calm waters before he could make waves.

He closed a $108 million budget gap that required the first layoffs in more than a decade, faced off with a new Republican governor over $30 million in state aid cuts, and adjusted academic policies and financial practices that many said were a drain on the district’s budget.

Amid budget constraints, he has pushed through long-desired programs such as art and extracurricular activities. And, many note, he’s done it with a smile and a sense of optimism.

City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, chair of the Education and Youth Committee, has concerns about how the new administration has handled layoffs and school closures. She successfully lobbied Thornton to reverse the closing of Abbottston Elementary in her district. But he shows promise for the future, she says.

“In the midst of all of this, there’s been a lot of frustration, but he’s coping with what he’s inherited,” she said. “Going forward, we should see more of Dr. Thornton and less of the legacy.”

Thornton, who has a four-year contract and makes $290,000 a year, has begun to build his own legacy through initiatives such as restoring arts to schools.

“Even as he has shifted his focus to putting out other fires, that has been something he has very much been committed to,” said Julia Di Bussolo, who heads the organization Arts Every Day. “There is some tremendous momentum that has been started when it comes to equity and access to the arts in Baltimore.”

Some say Thornton has been underestimated because he has a gregarious nature and is walking in the shadow of a boisterous reform superintendent, his predecessor Andrés Alonso.

Tom Wilcox, who heads the Baltimore Community Foundation, called Thornton an “effective partner” in key initiatives, including the creation of 11 early childhood education centers. Wilcox said Thornton’s administrative team has reached out to the philanthropic community more than previous administrations did.

“My experience is that he’s a manager,” Wilcox said. “Instead of talking about the big picture, he works slowly toward it. It would be a mistake to mistake Dr. Thornton’s affability for weakness.”

But critics, including parents and politicians, fear that Thornton’s affability masks weakness and will slow major reforms.

Thornton’s handling of an inherited $70 million structural deficit sparked outrage among school and city leaders. The City Council refused to vote on the budget until he explained why school-based staff were included in layoffs after he had said the layoffs would be limited to the central office.

A legislative push to arm school police also had Thornton at odds with officials. State lawmakers kicked the proposal back because his administration failed to vet it with the community. He then unveiled a redeployment strategy in April, promising forums that month; they have not yet been held.

State Sen. Bill Ferguson, a Baltimore Democrat, said the school police bill and budgeting decisions reflect “haphazard policy adjustments” that have come to frustrate many.

“There is room for improvement and growth to bring stakeholders to the table so we can appreciate how these decisions are being made, who they will impact, and ways to better mitigate the consequences,” Ferguson said.

And Thornton’s decision to close Langston Hughes Elementary as part of a plan to shut underused buildings — while keeping Abbottston Elementary open — is fueling criticism that his decisions are political and represent a belief that small schools do not have value. The Langston Hughes Community Association is challenging the district’s decision before an administrative judge.

Will McKenna, executive director of the charter operator Afya Baltimore Inc., said all signs point to one conclusion. “The school board has made a mistake,” said McKenna, who has run both traditional and charter schools and watched superintendents come and go since 1991.

McKenna said Thornton’s team seems overwhelmed by the issues of instruction and curriculum, principal leadership, inspiring families to enroll — doing whatever it takes to pump more money into schools and directly to children.

“There is a complete disconnect between Dr. Thornton and senior leadership and the reality of what’s happening in our schools,” McKenna said. “Dr. Thornton would prefer to cheerlead and tell everyone that things are great, that things are going to get better. The issues are far too complex for platitudes.”

Community leaders fear stagnation at a time when officials need to move important matters forward, including a $1 billion plan to rebuild schools and a new curriculum.

And they don’t want the district’s signs of progress to dissipate. The graduation rate has reached 70 percent, dropout rates are at a near-record low of 11 percent and student achievement has drastically improved.

Foster Connors of BUILD said Thornton has lost ground in critical areas such as community engagement, budget transparency, supporting principals, and fully grasping the impact the $1 billion buildings plan will have in revitalizing the city.

“We think it’s incumbent on the school board to get the Baltimore city school system back on track. Our biggest concern is that Baltimore children can’t afford to lose ground at this point,” he said. “We’re still asking the question if [Thornton’s] the one, or if we should wait for another one.”

Many say Thornton’s decision-making lacks direction; communication from his administration has been described as “deplorable.” In the absence of transparency, many say, decisions seem arbitrary and out of touch.

Melanie Hood-Wilson, parent of a student at the Baltimore School for the Arts, said that while she is happy about Thornton’s new arts program, it has lacked depth. She said she left a town hall meeting where “there was a wonderful feeling in the room but too little substance to feel confidence in his plan.”

Hood-Wilson, who has been a teacher, helped start a charter school and led the system’s parent group in the district, said she has heard a lot of disappointment expressed about Thornton’s tenure.

“Every conversation I have with a stakeholder, internal and external, seems to include disappointment and dissatisfaction,” she said. “If there is not improvement, the question is, will he be shown the door or will he find it on his own?”

The system’s interaction with charter schools and principals offers a closer look at recent tests of Thornton’s leadership.

The citywide coalition of 34 charter schools is battling with the Thornton administration over funding for next year, rejecting an offer of $9,387 per pupil.

Thornton acknowledges the impasse, but says the charter schools expected him to solve a dispute that has been brewing for 10 years. The district cannot afford the legally mandated funding formula, which gives charter schools cash in lieu of services from the central office, he said. Officials have said that doing so would hurt traditional schools.

Charter leaders say the district hasn’t made a good-faith effort to figure out a way to fund all schools at levels where they can thrive.

Jocelyn Kehl, executive director of the Coalition of Baltimore Public Charter Schools, believes the biggest challenge facing the district is “a lack of vision” from Thornton’s administration.

“We need more quality school options for Baltimore, and charter schools are one strategy for getting there,” she said. “The system needs to view charters as partners in the work. For that to happen, funding needs to follow the child. We would like to see that spirit embraced for all schools.”

Meanwhile, an exodus of strong principals signals frustration among school leaders, political and union leaders say.

Among them, to the dismay of many, is Mark Bongiovanni. He was principal at Gilmor Elementary — located in the neighborhood where Freddie Gray was arrested — and led the school community through the unrest that followed.

Bongiovanni resigned his post after saying that he did not receive support from the administration, even though his school opened with several vacancies. The 17-year-veteran of the system, who was named a “transformational principal” — a distinguished group chosen last year — said Thornton’s team identified challenges at his school, including attendance, but never provided support to tackle them.

“I’m a really trusting person. I thought, ‘This is our leadership, they want what’s best for us. … They’re going to help us get on our feet,'” recalled Bongiovanni, who is heading to a principalship in Baltimore County. “And it’s really never happened.”

Thornton agrees that momentum has been lost and that he has not pleased everyone. But he says he has had to pause to overhaul the district’s reforms and see whether they can be sustained.

“The reality is dollars,” he said.

He said he has had to refine policies driven by autonomy and accountability that gave the district fast results but also had serious repercussions.

For instance, he said, the autonomy that principals were given to choose their staff created a surplus pool of displaced educators that cost the district more than $15 million. And the accountability standards that led hundreds of principals to leave the system created instability and inequities in the district.

“There has to be an intersection between urgency and our ability to maintain the change, and we are struggling,” Thornton said. He has attempted to rebound by bringing some decision-making back to the central office.

Helen Atkinson, director of the Teachers’ Democracy Project, said she believes that move is misguided.

“To undermine a leader by making decisions for them, anyone with any possibility to move will leave,” Atkinson said. “And those who will be left are the ones who will just jump when they say jump, and those are not leaders. They don’t fight for teachers. They can’t run a school.”

Thornton said his decisions have been driven by one group above all others: students.

“I’m capturing their goals and not the goals of a community that may not be part of the world they live in,” he said.

Thornton takes pride in data showing that more Baltimore students are college- and career-ready. This year, he said, more city students are going to college and the amount of scholarship money has increased.

Still, publicizing such progress has been a challenge, he acknowledged.

Eddie Hawkins, who served as the student commissioner on the school board this past year, described Thornton’s year as a “work in progress.”

“People are not going to always get their way, but they should remember that Dr. Thornton cares about students the way that he cares about his own children,” said Hawkins, who accompanied Thornton on his listening tour. “I think the things that he heard this year, he will use to get better next year.”

Asked whether the board made a mistake in hiring Thornton, Sauls, who will step down from the school board June 30, said, “The only reason to look back is to figure out how we best move forward.”

She does not think the board is at the point of severing ties with Thornton and believes he will improve.

“Both sides decided to form this [relationship], and both sides will decide to end it,” she said. “We’re not there yet.”

Following is an article run by Baltimore Sun on proposed school closings in Baltimore.

City Council panel blasts Thornton for school layoffs, holds up budget

Councilwoman: “We were told no cuts were coming from the schools.”

A City Council committee declined Tuesday to approve hundreds of millions of dollars for Baltimore’s schools, saying education officials had misled the council to believe layoffs would be limited to central office staff — then sent pink slips to 59 school-based employees.

Members of council’s Budget Committee said they were demanding answers from schools CEO Gregory Thornton on how he’s handling the layoffs that school officials said were needed to close a multimillion-dollar budget hole. They said they would meet again Friday to consider the school system’s budget.

A school system official told the panel that the downsizing was complicated by union contracts that allowed some laid-off workers to “bump” into the jobs of others.

“You’ve traumatized people because there was a lack of communication,” City Councilwoman Sharon Green Middleton told school officials testifying before the committee. “You’re not communicating with people. How dare you blame it on collective bargaining? It’s so disrespectful. It’s disheartening.”

Dawana Sterrette, a lobbyist for the school system, told the committee that school officials eliminated 119 central office positions to close a budget shortfall, but also cut “several hundred surplus individuals” — full-time teachers and staff who are on the system’s books, but have no permanent placements.

When the “surplus” staff learned of the layoffs, some invoked union rights to “bump” school-based employees out of their jobs, Sterrette said.

She said system administrators had no choice but to then lay off employees in the schools.

“We must follow the rules of the collective bargaining agreement,” Sterrette said. “Unfortunately, some people that have been in roles deemed essential have been bumped.”

Council members said Thornton never mentioned that the layoffs would affect school-based staff. The committee chair, Helen Holton, said Thornton and other school officials had not been forthright about the impact of the layoffs.

“We were told the cuts were coming from North Avenue,” Holton said. “We were told no cuts were coming from the schools.”

In a letter to top school officials, Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke said she planned to introduce an amendment to the school system’s budget to take “exception to this unannounced, inequitable, and arbitrary series of 59 specific layoffs from school-based budgets in which the laid-off positions still remain funded.”

Clarke asked the school board to rescind the 59 layoff notices. She said they were doing “great damage” to individual schools.

Clarke cited the layoff of Jerrell Bratcher — the director of admissions for the Monarch School in Northeast Baltimore — as an example of an unwise decision. She called him a “founding, essential and exemplary member” of the school.

Community members have rallied around Bratcher after news spread of his layoff. He wrote in a widely circulated letter that he has “worked tirelessly until midnight or around the clock on many days, nights, weekends, Saturdays, Sundays, and Holidays to support the students and families of Monarch Academy.”

One of the school’s founding staff members, Bratcher was pulled into a meeting last week and informed that his position was being eliminated due to budget constraints.

In an interview with The Baltimore Sun, Bratcher said the district wasn’t forthright in telling him that his position actually might be filled by someone else.

“If it were budgeted for me, it should be for me,” he said.

School district payroll records list him as a secretary making $40,000, but he said he actually filled more than 15 roles that are integral to the school’s operations, including clerical work, recruitment efforts and even serving as its crossing guard and a substitute teacher when there’s a shortage.

“Any position where there’s a gap, I’ve been there to fill that in,” he said. “Before we had a building, I worked for this school. I’ve had other job offers, but I would rather be here to support our students, our staff.”

At Tuesday’s hearing, Holton referred to Bratcher’s situation as evidence that the school system’s handling of the layoffs has been inhumane.

“He was given a slip to say you’re gone,” she told Sterrette. “This speaks to part of what’s wrong with our system. We are more focused on paper and procedure than how we impact the lives of the community. … We have to stop the madness.”

City school officials did not respond to a request for comment on the City Council action nor other criticism Thornton has faced over the layoffs.

Leaders of affected schools have also decried Thornton’s approach to layoffs as infringing on their autonomy and lacking transparency.

Principals slated to lose staff received an email just hours before central office employees were deployed to schools to break the news.

Principals said they were not only told that they were going to lose a staff member they had hired, but that the central office would fill the position with someone of its choosing — a move that reverses a policy of “mutual consent” started under former Baltimore City schools CEO Andrés Alonso that allowed principals and staff to agree on a job placement.

At the city school board meeting Tuesday night, there were more calls for Thornton to reverse the layoffs of the 59 school-based staff.

Marc Martin, principal of Commodore John Rodgers School, told the board the staff member he was forced to cut didn’t fit any of the criteria outlined by Thornton for staff who would be laid off. His staff member was in a permanently funded position, supported by the school’s budget.

Martin said district officials argued that while principals may not have kept the people they wanted, they maintained “positional authority.” But a principal’s ability to decide who joins their team is just as important to a school’s success, he said.

“Everyone in this room knows, it’s about the people, not the position,” Martin said.

Parents cited Martin’s ability to make decisions about his staff for the school’s notable progress in the last five years.

They also called the laid-off Commodore employee, staff associate Krystal Henry, everything from a “mother figure” to a key part of the school’s foundation.

“There are people who say we’re waiting for superman. We feel like we’re losing our superwoman,” said parent Barry Armstrong.

Henry also attended the board meeting and asked to keep her job. Her husband, who worked at district headquarters, was also laid off in Thornton’s reorganization of the central office, details of which have yet to be disclosed to the public.

“I think I spend more time with [children at Commodore] than I do with my own,” Henry told the school board. “I don’t know what I can do, but I am asking for this decision to be reversed.”


October 20, 2015

Voucher costs hit Wisconsin public school districts state-wide

Filed under: Vouchers — millerlf @ 2:32 pm

Jen Zettel, Post-Crescent Media October 17, 2015
MADISON — Public school districts and taxpayers across the state could feel the impact of vouchers this year, as more than $16 million is transferred from public schools to pay for new entrants into the Wisconsin Parental Choice Program.
State law now requires public school districts to pay for vouchers. The money will be deducted from state aid.
A total of 142 public school districts have students who use taxpayer-funded subsidies to attend private schools. The state deducted $16.1 million in aid to cover the cost of new voucher students, according to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.
To cover the loss, the state gives public schools the ability to increase their revenue limits. The revenue limit is made up of two things: state aid and property taxes.
Public schools will have to raise their property tax levies in the first year to make up for the reduction, said Don Hietpas, chief financial officer in the Appleton Area School District. Appleton, the state’s sixth-largest school district, is expected to lose $664,000 in aid this year. The school district could raise the property tax levy by as much as $883,496 to make up for the deduction.
School districts could levy $21.4 million more in property taxes for 2015-16 to fund new students entering the statewide parental choice program, DPI figures show.
Jim Bender, president of School Choice Wisconsin, said the tax impact will vary.
“It’s going to be different for every school district around the state as to their ability to levy, because now they’re counting all these kids in their head counts. If they so choose, they can levy property taxes for them, where in the past they couldn’t do that,” Bender said.
How it works
The baseline year for the funding process is 2015-16. The DPI takes the number of new students using vouchers per district this year and counts them toward the district’s state aid in 2016-17.
That means if the number of students using vouchers doesn’t change from one year to the next, the result is a wash for the school district.
“State aid would kick in for next year,” said John Johnson, a DPI spokesman. “If you have the same number of students next year, then you’d have state aid next year for that amount.”
The first year is what Bender called “a lag year” because there are no students from the previous year for districts to count toward aid — there’s only the reduction.
If the number of students using vouchers increases, aid would be deducted — and those students would count toward aid for the following school year, Johnson said.
The revenue limit exemption is calculated by taking the aid reduction and multiplying it by the total number of students who use vouchers.
Bender said the funding mechanism is similar to open enrollment, but it’s hard to judge the system until the DPI releases more data.
“The districts have been given their general school aid deduction and their new revenue limit authority … I haven’t seen anything with regard to total enrollment in the voucher program and how many students switched from public schools or were entering school or private school,” he said. “That all kind of plays into how the funding mechanism works.”
Enrollment caps
During the first two years of the Wisconsin Parental Choice Program, the number of students who could participate was limited. Those caps no longer exist.
State law now limits voucher participation to 1 percent of a school district’s student membership, or the total number of school-age children who live in the district.
The cap can increase by 1 percent each year, starting in the 2018 fiscal year. If the number of students using vouchers reaches 10 percent of a school district’s membership, the cap would disappear the following school year, Johnson said.
First-year tax impact
The tax impact varies from school district to school district, Johnson said.
Outside of Milwaukee Public Schools, which has its own voucher-funding process, Racine will see the greatest reduction in state aid at nearly $4.2

million, according to the DPI. Racine can add an additional $5.6 million to its property tax levy as a result.
Green Bay Area Public Schools are the next highest with a $1.1 million reduction in aid, followed by Kenosha at $671,000 and Appleton at $664,000.
Appleton held its budget hearing last week. In light of the aid deduction, the tax information officials presented to the public is inaccurate.
The tax rate, which was initially expected to drop by 7 cents, will go up 6 cents per $1,000 of home valuation, Hietpas said.
“It’s a real curve, no doubt about it,” Hietpas said.
Currently, school districts are learning about the process and waiting to see what happens. Bender said he’s interested to see how the conversation evolves, especially considering its similarities to open enrollment.
“The voucher program carries with it different political opposition, so now there’s going to be much more scrutiny on the open enrollment funding model now that vouchers are attached to it,” he said. “It’s going to be different how it plays out in the public realm, how it plays out financially and legislatively.”
Voucher impact on Wisconsin public schools for 2015-16
School district Aid reduction Revenue limit exemption*
Statewide** $16,090,735 $21,374,926
Racine $4,164,500 $5,580,980
Green Bay $1,091,413 $1,406,418
Kenosha $670,794 $933,896
Appleton $664,064 $883,496
Waukesha $511,332 $677,739
Eau Claire $491,090 $657,803
West Allis $410,595 $556,427
Sheboygan $400,915 $568,891
Wausau $344,226 $479,675
Neenah $322,476 $411,652
Fond du Lac $313,862 $379,407
Stevens Point $291,682 $361,721
Oshkosh $288,452 $359,670
La Crosse $230,740 $337,225
Menasha $230,094 $296,499
West Bend $227,025 $271,274
DC Everest $131,144 $183,716
Plymouth $113,378 $137,718
Manitowoc $66,218 $82,786
Wisconsin Rapids $51,144 $71,669
Marshfield $46,891 $59,971
*Maximum amount school districts can add to their property tax levy to make up for the reduction in aid.
**Statewide totals are for the Wisconsin Parental Choice Program, so they do not include Milwaukee.
Source: Department of Public Instruction
Jen Zettel: 920-993-1000, ext. 539, or; on Twitter @jenzettel

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.

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