A Missed Presidential Moment on the “Trump Effect”

It doesn’t matter who you voted for, if you are listening to the stories from schools, you can’t feel good.  The so called “Trump Effect” the empowering of bigoted and hateful bullying in schools has radically increased since the election.  The Southern Poverty Law Center highlighted this in a recent report, The Trump Effect: The Impact of The 2016 Presidential Election on Our Nation’s Schools.

The results are disturbing, and present for Trump a golden opportunity to be presidential, forcefully rebuking the rhetoric and actions, but so far, uncharacteristically from this candidate, we have heard very little.

The cost paid by children

Many of us personally have heard stories about anxious children, fretting about the effects of a Trump presidency, the breadth of this was verified by the SPLC survey.  The findings are painful,

Over 10,000 teachers, counselors, administrators and others who work in schools have responded. The survey data indicate that the results of the election are having a profoundly negative impact on schools and students. Ninety percent of educators report that school climate has been negatively affected, and most of them believe it will have a long-lasting impact. A full 80 percent describe heightened anxiety and concern on the part of students worried about the impact of the election on themselves and their families.

Also on the upswing: verbal harassment, the use of slurs and derogatory language, and disturbing incidents involving swastikas, Nazi salutes and Confederate flags…

Over 2,500 educators described specific incidents of bigotry and harassment that can be directly traced to election rhetoric. These incidents include graffiti (including swastikas), assaults on students and teachers, property damage, fights and threats of violence.

You can look online and see hundreds if not thousands of these stories.

A Tepid Response and a Missed Opportunity

Trump’s response has been tepid at best.  The guy who held the stadium rallies, led the chants and bombasted on everything from beauty queens to trade deals, can hardly raise his voice against real crimes against America.

He could show leadership and at least allay some of his opponents worst fears.But when asked to stand as man or mouse, we got barely a squeak.

Here was the response when he was informed about these rises in hate crimes on 60 minutes

The President-elect said he was “so saddened” to hear about vitriol hurled by some of his supporters against minorities.

“If it helps, I will say this, and I will say right to the cameras: Stop it,” Trump told CBS’ “60 Minutes.”

That’s all you got?  No “lock them up”?

The new Nimrod

Beyond the pure moral argument of protecting the physical and emotional safety of children, you would think that just as a marketing issue, nobody would want their name associated with bigotry.  If only to protect his “brand” you would think he would not want a “Trump Effect.”

Do you want your name to go down with Nimrod (you know the great grandson of Noah) now defined in the urban dictionary as “Originally … a mighty hunter, it has come to mean socially inadequate.”

Being linguistically enshrined in the insult log and joke bin of history, but in a darker way tied to bigotry.

For a candidate that came in like a lion in bluster and brashness, it’s a missed opportunity to meekly play the lamb on an issue of such importance.

It increasingly looks like Trump will be the president, it’s time for him to start acting like it.

A Simple Solution to School Segregation

The basics of desegregation are simple.  It just takes will.  NYC’s gifted and talented programs and the specialized high schools are some the most segregated classrooms in the City.  And despite a plethora of studies and plans, little has changed in recent years.

The most exclusive public schools, the gateways to real mobility, have largely excluded low income students of color.  One simple change in admission could change this.

What if we reserved 40% of spots in our best schools for low income or historically underserved “minority” students?  That’s what the Brooklyn School of Inquiry is doing as described in an Atlantic article, and I think that’s a more hopeful approach than anything else NYC has tried.

And why not something like that in Oakland- saving 40% or 50% of seats at high performing schools or in high performing programs for low income students, historically disadvantaged minorities, and maybe other disadvantaged groups, like foster kids or newcomers?

And as I have written before, and more amazingly, district staff have floated the idea of capping segregation at individual sites as a matter of enrollment.  We could change the game by changing the rules of student assignment.

Really, why not?

Oakland can become a leader in integration, but this won’t happen by itself.  It’s up to us.  The current rules, differential access based on family resources, and patterns of individual choice are contributing to a toxic segregated stew in our schools.

Time to throw out the old recipes and write some new ones.

Giving Thanks for Thanksgiving at Home

Holidays on the inside are just like those on the outside, but they aren’t.  The feelings are the same but the sterile setting, armed guards and air of control are stifling.  And for these thanksgivings, there is a time clock ticking, with shifts of visitors coming in in and out.

But part of it feels the same,

Families crowd together in their best clothes, hugs sometimes (depending on the rules) are exchanged.  And those dinner table conversations are held across institutional seatings, with food coming out of vending machines and microwaves replacing ovens.    There are a lot of kids.

How is this person, how is that, how is the job, the family?  From him

Are you Ok?  From me.  I know better than to ask whether he is good.

I am so glad I didn’t have to go visit this year.

The painful ritual of visitation

For Santa Rita, you had to get up at the break of dawn, a line forms before the doors open, and folks bring folding chairs which form a gauntlet from the parking lot to the entrance.  Sometimes you could wait all day and the vising hours would just run out—so nothing.

I looked at visiting in Beaumont Texas, but they made that about as hard as possible, and nobody ever visited him there in the couple of years there.  Then it was Terminal Island.

Interesting name.

You drive out past shipping berths in Long Beach and there it is.  But nothing is promised.  Your shirt has “colors” on it.  You can’t come in.

Your pants are khaki, can’t come in.  You drive back to town and buy a new shirt—it’s a corner store and they just have UCLA USC stuff, you drive back.  No sports teams the guard says.

There are no written rules, they just tell you when you have violated the dress code—that’s it.   Time is ticking, you are trying to make dinner at your place, have another couple hours drive back, and have spent an hour or so trying to dress right to get in.

This is the bullshit I am going through and I am a civilian.  Can only imagine what these guys go through.

Getting frustrated can get you booted out too, and I am getting frustrated.  A guard pulls me aside and says to turn the shirt inside out and it will be OK.

Why couldn’t they have just said that?  Why do they make this so hard?

But I can’t complain, both because it may get me kicked out, and also because this is nothing compared to what he goes through.

Where your good time, can be yanked from you for looking at someone wrong.  Where grudges are deep, and correctional officers sometimes facilitate them.

Almost everyone on the inside is getting out, sometime.  Most of them went in young and dumb, making bad or desperate choices, or a combination.  Who they are when they come out depends on their experiences and what they have waiting for them.  And that’s what I worry about.

Holidays on the inside are a lot like holidays on the outside, but they aren’t.

Superintendent Wilson’s Legacy in Oakland

News broke today that Oakland Unified’s superintendent, Antwan Wilson was moving on to become the new school chief in DC.  This has been a tumultuous couple of years in Oakland, marked at times by divisive rhetoric and deadlocks, but also some real progress that will last beyond this superintendent.

While the media and advocates have tended to focus on the charter school question in Oakland, and the bloody battle over a single application for all public schools, charter and district.  That missed the most important legacies and the real progress.

Real Progress and a different approach

Improving services and results for African American students– the superintendent didn’t start the African American Male Achievement Initiative (AAMAI) or the corresponding program for Young Black Women (AAFAI), but he did keep them moving and highlight them.  And it was his administration, building on the work of Sultanah Corbett and colleagues at MLK, that supported the development of a dedicated office for young Black women.

Different children often experience the schools differently, facing a range of explicit and implicit biases.  Creating dedicated offices, and funding them, is a huge step towards equity and its paying off in rapidly advancing graduation rates.  This is working.

Significantly improved programs for English learners– OUSD has historically provided very substandard services to ELLs.  This is a predictably large segment of students, roughly 1 in 3, who received predictably substandard services.   When the Superintendent came in, Stanford was conducting a review of services—the results were disturbing, with widespread bullying, very weak supports, and little academic content for ELLs — and changes were made.  And again we can see real significant changes in reclassification of students to English proficient.

Financial stability– Boring but important, the district solidified its financial status and improved its bond rating, which will save millions of dollars.  Money that can be spent on students.  For those who were here in the District’s bankruptcy, you get how important it is to have our bank statement straight.  We lost control of the district when we couldn’t manage the finances—and I don’t think anyone can argue that that was good for kids, or that the state administrator was better than any elected superintendent.

A better vision– We are slowly moving from the “one size fits all” model of schooling, and starting to understand and address the fact that different groups of students tend to be affected differently in the system, intentionally designing sustainable programs to understand and support vulnerable populations.  The AAMAI and AAFAI, are great examples of this, but also the programs for newcomers, and other offices are under study.

I also appreciated the district taking some calculated risks in supporting new schools and programs like Thrival Academies, which will take Oakland students to study abroad in Thailand.  This surely would have died somewhere in the district bureaucracy without leadership.  He showed an understanding of how important it is for our students to have these experiences and to be supported in who they are and growing into that person they can be.

I always felt the Superintendent, saw himself in our kids in Oakland.  He saw the promise that we have and also the challenges that many children face, and understood the role that schools can play in changing trajectories.  At times, maybe his eyes were bigger than his stomach, trying to do too much too soon, without really knowing the capacity to successfully implement change.

His move towards more inclusionary setting in special education was met with substantial resistance.  Some of the school turnaround work seemed too hasty and unsupported.  And the aborted move to do common enrollment with district and charter schools, which over 70% of parents supported, but met with predictable interest group resistance and ambivalence from many of the schools themselves, and ultimately failed.

Obviously others in Oakland have different opinions, and strong ones, though public support for the District and its leadership are at historic highs.  But when the smoke has cleared, and the rhetoric has died down, I do think we are better off in Oakland, and particularly for some of our most vulnerable populations we are seeing real, demonstrable, progress.

This never comes down to one leader who makes this happen. It’s the hard daily work in schools, communities, and homes, which will continue.  But empathy and vision matter, and can set a context for improvement.

As the superintendent leaves, I hope we don’t stall or stray.  That we build off this work and continue the progress in communities. We are moving in basically the right direction.  But the progress will, as it always has, depend on us.

 

Vote for Justice with Your Feet- Take the “Two Tours Pledge”

Change starts with us, it always has, and always will. No place is this more real than in school segregation, where thousands of individual choices tend to reinforce racial and class separation and continue the cleavages emanating from America’s original sin of slavery.

And for too long, the hard work of racial progress has fallen on Black and Brown folks, and those lower on the economic ladder.  Now it’s time for allies to take action.  And all that is being asked is that you visit and with an open mind seriously consider some diverse schools.

The schools are getting better in Oakland, there are a diverse range of choices, and for those families practically able to make choices, please take some time to really see what is happening with the public schools.  Please take the “Two Tours Pledge”, don’t just look up the schools with 10s on GreatSchools.net, but take some time to get to know your choices and hopefully some folks will start to vote for justice with their feet.

Particularly in areas like Northwest Oakland, where less than half of eligible children attend a public middle school (district or charter), and less than a third attend a public high school (district or charter).  These are parents with choices that are opting out, and they could really help by opting in.

I am borrowing an idea from the Integrated schools blog here. But it’s a good one I hope folks will follow.  Please take the pledge.

The Two Tours Pledge

As a Parent-with-Choice in support of the fundamental premise that all children have the right to a quality education, and with the belief that in choosing a school for my child I am also building the world they will live in as an adult,

  • I pledge to tour 2 schools that serve a majority of students from different racial/socioeconomic backgrounds than my family. I will tour these two schools regardless of their test scores, reputation or any “bad/scary” stories I have heard about them.  I will tour these two schools with an open mind and heart.
  • I will find at least 2 positive things to say about each.
  • I will tell 2 parent-friends about those tours & the nice things I found.
  • I will encourage 2 parent-friends to also take this pledge.
  • Furthermore, I pledge to ask 2 questions (or more!) about socioeconomic, racial/ethnic and linguistic diversity at all the schools I tour/consider for my child.

 

That’s it. The pledge isn’t asking you to enroll your children at either of these schools, or recruit your friends to enroll their kids there. It’s simply inviting you to check out two schools that you weren’t considering – that might have a reputation that caused you to dismiss them as not right for your family – and ask yourself if you could envision your child there. Ask yourself if maybe this school could be good.

As for that last item… when you are touring the schools that were already on the top of your list, the schools with the robotics labs and the PTA sponsored Musical Theatre club, and all the fancy programs that affluent-segregated schools provide… ask them two questions about the socio-economic AND racial-ethnic diversity at that school. (Here is a sample of some questions to ask)

How does this help build a more unified future for our country?

Our public schools are more segregated than ever before and unless we make conscious and deliberate decisions, our children will most likely attend school with kids just like them. While that might feel “safe” and comfortable now, the world that prepares them for is a continuation of the polarization that our country is currently experiencing.

There are piles of research showing that middle class kids are not academically harmed by attending a high-free/reduced-lunch school, and the benefits for kids of all backgrounds being educated together are transformational for kid and country, now and in the future. All children win when all children are together.

Read the research, hear the stories (we have compiled some resources here).  Integration doesn’t have to be sacrifice.

Because YOU – not any school – are the most influential thing in your child’s life, because you are not only choosing the school that will help your kid become a successful, empathetic and well-adjusted adult, you are building the world they will live in.

What do you want that world to look like?

Take the pledge.