Month: May 2014

60 Years Later, Education Inequities Remain

When Thurgood Marshall walked through the doors of the U.S. Supreme Court in 1952 to challenge the doctrine of “separate but equal,” he knew that he was only focusing on one half of the problem. Marshall had spent his early years at the NAACP fighting for equal access to high-quality education in all-black and all-white schools alike. By the 1950’s the political winds had shifted enough to challenge legalized segregation, but there was a catch: equal education had to take a back seat.

On Saturday, the 60th anniversary of Marshall’s masterful victory in Brown v. Board of Education, we need to focus on the NAACP’s original, broader vision for schools that are both integrated and equal. I believe the new and much-discussed Common Core standards will move us toward that goal.

The educational landscape today is defined by its harsh inequities. Students of color lag behind their white peers in test scores and graduation rates on nearly every indicator. This is not an indication of these students’ ability or desire; rather, African-American and Latino students tend to live in poor neighborhoods with underfunded schools, and these schools lack the experienced teachers, extracurricular activities, and access to college courses that help students thrive.

The new Common Core standards are an essential tool for bridging the education divide. Simply put, Common Core is a set of benchmarks that define what students should be learning at each grade level in math and English. The standards were developed by two nonpartisan state organizations — the National Governor’s Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers — and they have been adopted by 44 states and the District of Columbia. Yet they have come under increased scrutiny as they begin to take effect.

Critics on the right claim the standards represent a federal takeover of the public education system. Critics on the left argue the new, harder tests will be used to unfairly assess teachers. To be sure, the perspectives of parents and teachers are critical as we think about how to reform classroom teaching. Yet one constituency matters most: our students. Common Core standards will help us achieve Marshall’s original vision of equal access to high-quality education.

The first step to solving a problem is identifying it correctly. The Common Core standards offer clear, consistent and high expectations for what children should be learning at each grade level. Although the new tests are often more difficult, they also offer a more accurate portrait of student achievement. Parents and policymakers can use the new data to find out which districts, schools, and teachers are struggling to meet expectations — helping parents make a stronger case for investment in the schools that need it most.

Second, the Common Core standards will help students master critical thinking and problem-solving skills that will help them succeed in life. The standards set clear expectations for students to digest multifaceted text, gain the ability to understand the why — and not just the how — of math, and use evidence and data to make arguments. These abstract skills are more effective than rote memorization, and they will help students prepare for real-world challenges. In short, Common Core helps teach children how to think.

To be sure, Common Core is not a silver bullet. Closing gaps in education will also require that we increase access to high-quality pre-school, expand learning opportunities for struggling students and schools, and make much-needed structural changes to public education in disadvantaged communities. Also, if schools lack the resources to implement new standards and retrain teachers, then no program will have the desired effect.

Still, the Common Core remains a significant step forward. As we celebrate Brown v. Board of Education, we must recommit Marshall’s broader vision of an integrated and equitable public education system. Common Core will help us with that challenge.

The Black Power Mixtape – The New School For Public Engagement

The New School and Haymarket Books present: Danny Glover, Kathleen Cleaver, and Brian Jones discussing the new book: The Black Power Mixtape: 1967-1975. Moderated by School of Media Studies Assistant Professor, Michelle Materre.

The Black Power Mixtape: 1967-1975 is an extraordinary window into the black freedom struggle in the United States, offering a treasure trove of fresh archival information about the Black Power movement from 1967 to 1975 and vivid portraits of some of its most dynamic participants, including Angela Davis and Stokely Carmichael. The book — like the documentary film that inspired it — includes historical speeches and interviews by: Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture), Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Eldridge Cleaver, Bobby Seale, Huey P. Newton, Emile de Antonio, and Angela Davis. And it also features new commentary voiced by: Erykah Badu, Talib Kweli, Harry Belafonte, Kathleen Cleaver, Angela Davis, Robin Kelley, Abiodun Oyewole, Sonia Sanchez, Bobby Seale, John Forte, and Questlove.


It’s Time To End Profiling Of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual And Transgender People Of Color

A few years ago in New York City, a 17-year-old black transgender girl named Trina was walking down the street when she was stopped by police officers and frisked. When a warrant check came up clean, the officer looked in her purse, found condoms and then arrested her for loitering with the purposes of prostitution—the type of arrest that would be unthinkable had she been a cisgender, heterosexual boy.

Yet it’s the type of arrest that happens to gay men and women of color—as well as transgender women of color and homeless LGBT youths of color—on an all-too-frequent basis during encounters with police, and it represents a hidden but devastating form of profiling.

The fight against profiling by law enforcement is at a critical moment. Last week U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced plans to collect hard data on stops, searches and arrests by federal law-enforcement officials, just weeks after proposing a new ban on profiling—one that includes profiling based on sexual orientation and gender identity. These are important steps toward a fairer criminal-justice system. Still, there is more to be done to make sure that the national conversation around profiling deals with the crisis of profiling against LGBT people and LGBT people of color, specifically.

Last week a diverse group led by the Columbia Law School’s Center for Gender and Sexuality Law, the Center for American Progress, the Center for HIV Law and Policy and Streetwise and Safe released a federal-policy road map to address the continuing and pervasive profiling, policing and punishment of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans—many of whom are young men and women of color and young transgender people of color. This road map offers critical guidance to the federal government in its efforts to stamp out injustice in the legal system.

Members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community are significantly overrepresented in all aspects of the penal system. In one national survey, 73 percent of LGBT individuals reported an encounter with a law-enforcement officer over the preceding year. According to data collected by anti-violence programs, 48 percent of LGBT people seeking protection from police reported instances of police misconduct. Researchers have also documented higher levels of verbal, physical and sexual abuse from law enforcement against LGBT youths.

The problems are compounded for LGBT people of color, who deal with discrimination on multiple fronts, including homophobia and transphobia, in addition to racial bias. More than a third of LGBT people of color reported experiencing verbal or physical abuse in encounters with law enforcement.

Combating this pattern are a number of grassroots organizations working in their communities at the intersections of racial justice, criminal justice and LGBT rights. In New Orleans, BreakOUT! played a pivotal role in securing comprehensive protections for LGBT people after the New Orleans Police Department came under fire. In New York City, Streetwise and Safe helped pass the stop-and-frisk bill that outlawed profiling against LGBT people as well as people of color. The crisis, however, demands a response from the highest levels of government.

Here are some next steps to take:

  1. Ensure that protections against all forms of profiling—including profiling based on sexual orientation and gender identity—extend across the country by making federal funding to local law-enforcement agencies conditional on their adoption of strong and enforceable bans on profiling.
  2. Encourage prosecutors and police to stop confiscating and citing possession of condoms as evidence.
  3. End immigration-enforcement programs that encourage and drastically expand the consequences of discriminatory profiling by local law-enforcement agencies.
Justice continues to be elusive and conditional for LGBT people, particularly LGBT people of color, homeless and low-income LGBT people, and LGBT youths of color. But just as the principles that define our nation’s character leave no room for racial bias, they also leave no room for bias against members of any community.

We need to end institutionalized homophobia and transphobia, just as we need to end institutionalized racism. Let us be sure to leave no one behind.