July 16, 2021

Ian V. Rowe – Is It Time to Replace Race with Class in Affirmative Action?

Ian V. Rowe
Founder & CEO, Vertex Partnership Academies
Senior Visiting Fellow, The Woodson Center
Senior Fellow, The American Enterprise Institute

As our country is engaged in a national reckoning that has increased focus on the role that race plays in public education, it is ironic that there is a real possibility that race may soon be eliminated as a factor in school admissions, at least in higher education.

The following chart has been making its way across the Internet, highlighting differences in admissions rates at Harvard University:

This data was compiled by Students for Fair Admissions, a nonprofit membership group of more than 20,000 students, parents, and others who believe that racial classifications and preferences in college admissions are unfair, unnecessary, and unconstitutional. Their mission is to “support and participate in litigation that will restore the original principles of our nation’s civil rights movement.” According to SFFA, “a student’s race and ethnicity should not be factors that either harm or help that student to gain admission to a competitive university.”

Based on the racial disparities in admissions rates by race, Students for Fair Admissions is pursuing a case against Harvard University alleging racial discrimination against Asian applicants in undergraduate admissions.

It is important to note that race-based affirmative action in higher education was first affirmed in 1978 with the Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, 438 U.S. 265 decision. That decision upheld a university’s right to allow race to be one of several factors in university admissions, but found the use of specific racial quotas unconstitutional.

Twenty-five years later, in 2003, the Supreme Court upheld the University of Michigan’s law school decision to deny admission to Barbara Grutter, a white Michigan student, who had applied with academic credentials sufficiently worthy to earn her admission. However, Ms. Grutter was denied entry, partially due to the Law School’s open practice to provide admissions preference to certain minority groups to ensure a certain racial makeup of students could be achieved.

In a 5-4 opinion, the Court held that the Equal Protection Clause in the Constitution did “not prohibit the law school’s narrowly tailored use of race in admissions decisions to further a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body.” Even though she had ruled in the affirmative, Justice Sandra O’Connor noted that it had been 25 years since the precedent-setting Bakke case, and that 25 years hence, race-based affirmative action should no longer be needed.

In her majority opinion, O’Connor wrote that “race-conscious admissions policies must be limited in time,” adding that the “Court expects that 25 years from now, the use of racial preferences will no longer be necessary to further the interest approved today.”

It is noteworthy that O’Connor’s prediction would set 2028 as the year in which race-based affirmative action would come to an end. But that timeline might be accelerated. Students for Fair Admissions has filed a petition for certiorari to the U.S. Supreme Court to end race-based admissions at Harvard and all colleges and universities. Students for Fair Admissions has a very strong case that Harvard is violating Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color or national origin by any program or activity receiving federal funds. Fundamentally, the charge is that Harvard is preferring African-American and Hispanic students and in effect penalizing Asian-American and white student applicants through its weighting of race in its selection process.

Moreover, according to SFFA, Harvard admits more than twice as many non-economically disadvantaged African-American applicants than economically disadvantaged African-American applicants.

In his book The Remedy: Class, Race and Affirmative Action, Richard Kahlenberg argues that it is time to replace race with class preferences and highlights that “while it is true that a disproportionate number of ethnic and racial minorities are also members of the lowest socioeconomic class, the main barriers they face are due to poverty rather than race.” In his analysis, Kahlenberg “examines how the rationale for affirmative action has moved inexorably away from its original commitment to remedy past discrimination and instead has become a means to achieve racial diversity, even if that means giving preference to upper-middle-class blacks over poor whites.”

According to the Northwestern Law Review, the SFFA case “is one of the most notable recent equal protection challenges to be advanced almost exclusively on the basis of statistical evidence…and could well end [race-based] affirmative action in higher education and beyond if it winds up at the Supreme Court.”

So while we are all temporarily mesmerized by whether critical race theory exists in K-12 education, the US Supreme Court may soon make it so racial preferences in college admissions – pitting one race against another – no longer exists. And if all of this is replaced by class-based preferences, then that would mean greater opportunities for low-income kids of all races to have more access to higher education, and thus greater access to the American Dream.


Sharif El Mekki – How Can Schools Retain Black and Brown Teachers?

Sharif El-Mekki
CEO & Founder, The Center for Black Educator Development

In the past year, we’ve seen a rush by everyone from corporate America to community non-profits to demonstrate a visible commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion.  This national reckoning with systemic racism has occurred at a moment when many schools, educators and parts of the broader education establishment are also aspiring to  be more just, equitable and anti-racist.  The recruitment of more Black and Brown teachers has become a central plank of many Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) plans. There’s no shortage of work to do on that front.

Nationally, more than 50% of our public school children are students of color, but less than 20% of their teachers are. In my home state of Pennsylvania, just 6% of teachers are people of color. In 2019, 50% of public schools and 37% of all school districts in the Keystone state employed only white teachers. For the last seven years, more than 1,000 public schools and 138 districts have employed only white teachers. In a dozen of these schools, 80% or more are students of color.  That’s as galling as it is glaring.

To address this unacceptable and harmful deficit of Black and Brown educators, many leaders are making plans to ratchet up recruitment. An oft overlooked prerequisite to recruiting Black and Brown teachers is a strong retention plan.  That is because of both the obvious value of keeping those Black and Brown teachers already in the building and because the cultural shifts required for an effective retention plan for those teachers create a more attractive work environment for new Black and Brown teachers.

But what does a school with that kind of culture look like?

A school that successfully retains Black and Brown teachers first and foremost is no longer hostile towards and toxic for educators of color. Black and Brown teachers stay in allegiance and solidarity not only with their students and parents, but also with the administration who is likewise committed to achieving an anti-racist school culture.  That requires leaders who excavate their own biases frequently (it is NOT a one time reflection point) and push to mold the school culture to one based on genuine respect, where authentic identities are expressed and valued.

That’s difficult in most school contexts because the dominant, white paradigm of teacher retention is one that seeks to create a culture of “belongingness”.  Such a school ethos can actually be even more exclusionary of Black and Brown teachers as it is, in practical application, a conformist culture rather than one that holds space for, values and raises up diverse and divergent perspectives.  A leader, working to make their culture feel supportive and collegial, can actually do the exact opposite for existing and prospective Black and Brown teachers.

The benefits of retaining and recruiting more Black and Brown teachers are clear for teachers and students, but the work also makes financial sense.  Estimates of the cost of teacher attrition put the price as high as $20,000 per teacher. In Pennsylvania schools, teachers of color left a school or the profession altogether at higher rates than did white teachers, between school years 2017-18 and 2018-19. The cost of losing a quality educator of color for students, especially students of color, is immeasurably high with possible lifelong impacts. That means that the dominant paradigm of teacher retention is actually coming directly at the expense of all of the work leaders are now rushing to fund to recruit more teachers of color.

Building an anti-racist school culture is a major challenge, but one that can be met. My organization is working closely with a number of schools and districts on this issue.  We’ve worked with our colleagues and partners in the Pennsylvania Educator Diversity Consortium (PEDC) to develop four toolkits focused on Culturally Relevant-Sustaining Education (CRSE), Mentoring, Recruitment, and Retention.

The Retention toolkit, is, so far as we can tell, one of the first of its kind.   We reviewed teacher retention resources, only to find most were focused on retaining white teachers in white school cultures, or materials assumed a misleading race-neutral approach. We did not find widely shared materials that were anti-racist, intentionally designed to eradicate educational inequities and social oppression.  So we relied and built on what educators of color, education-activists, thought leaders and researchers from our community have shared about teacher retention in creating easy-to-pilot ideas and initiatives.

In the end, leaders committed to creating a culture that attracts and retains Black and Brown teachers will need to do more than simply build a plan and execute.  They’ll need to consistently gauge the anti-racist climate and culture of their schools and constantly assess, evaluate and adjust course in an iterative and ongoing process.  It’s work that is as worth it as it is urgently needed.


July 15, 2021

Ian V. Rowe – Distance to 100 for Everyone vs. Closing Racial or Achievement Gaps

Ian V. Rowe
Founder & CEO, Vertex Partnership Academies
Senior Visiting Fellow, The Woodson Center
Senior Fellow, The American Enterprise Institute

For the last half-century, if you read the mission statement of virtually any education reform organization, you will find earnest language around closing either the racial or class achievement gap (or both). Unfortunately, the multi-decade obsession with closing achievement gaps has failed to not only close achievement gaps, but also has not substantively increased overall achievement levels. Four researchers recently took on this question: Eric A. Hanushek is the Paul and Jean Hanna Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University. Paul E. Peterson is senior editor of Education Next; professor of government and director of Harvard’s Program on Education Policy and Governance; and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. Laura M. Talpey is a research associate at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research. Ludger Woessmann is professor of economics at the University of Munich.

In a widely read 2019 study published in Education Next magazine – The Achievement Gap Fails to Close – the researchers found that “the opportunity gap—that is, the relationship between socioeconomic status and achievement—has not grown over the past 50 years. But neither has it closed. Instead, the gap between the haves and have-nots has persisted.”

These macro-results are not surprising. In May 2021, I was invited to provide testimony for the Rhode Island State Board of Education regarding how to improve educational outcomes. In preparation for the testimony, I pulled 8th grade NAEP reading proficiency scores for Rhode Island students since 1998. As is the case with most other states, in each year since the Nation’s Report Card was administered in Rhode Island in 1998, less than half of Rhode Island’s white students in the 8th grades scored NAEP proficient in reading. As the chart below indicates, the racial achievement gap has essentially remained the same for two decades. The sad irony is that closing the black or hispanic to white achievement gap, without improving outcomes for all students, would mean black and hispanic student outcomes would grow from sub-mediocrity to full-mediocrity in terms of reading.

Also, in raw numbers, far more white students are failing. In 2019, nearly 3,500 white 8th grade students, 2,200 hispanic students, and 784 black students, did not read at proficiency, based on the 2019 NAEP exam. Obviously white students make up a much larger segment of the overall population, and thus explain their larger representation in these categories, but still it is important to look at both proportional rates of success and actual student counts.

These numbers of failed reading proficiency – both in raw numbers and proportional rates by group – underscore our nation’s massive collective failure to effectively teach literacy and build verbal proficiency across all races and classes. It also shatters the accepted truth that there is any sole or even primary cause of low proficiency rates among black and Hispanic Americans. For example, systemic racism is unlikely the cause of such poor performance among white students. In my view, the multi-decade obsession with closing achievement gaps by certain categories has done something even worse: ushered in a mono-causal type of thinking that crowds out the ability to identify solutions across categories. If one believes systemic racism is the sole or primary cause of racial disparities, then a tendency of that conclusion is to identify a narrow universe of solutions focused on race as well. But that incomplete set of solutions has clearly not worked.

There is an alternative approach. Instead of a race or class-based gap approach, imagine if the strategy was what some call Distance to 100. Distance to 100 would emphasize that the gap between 100% proficiency for all students and current performance levels is the gap that should be our dominant focus. Indeed, this approach would start with the question of why it is that only a little more than a third of all American students are reading at proficiency. That Distance to 100 – nearly 70% – is more than double the class and race-based achievement gaps.

If we adopted this approach, we would soon quickly discover that the reason that a majority of white students have consistently not been reading at grade level has significant overlap with the reason that a majority of black and other students have not been reading at grade level. For decades, education researchers from E.D. Hirsch to Dan Willingham to Natalie Wexler have made the case that a lack of a focus on building knowledge in early reading instruction has had a devastating impact on all of America’s children. Natalie Wexler[1] outlines the dilemma well in her book The Knowledge Gap: The Hidden Cause of America’s Broken Education System—And How to Fix It:

American elementary education has been shaped by a theory that goes like this: Reading—a term used to mean not just matching letters to sounds but also comprehension—can be taught in a manner completely disconnected from content. Use simple texts to teach children how to find the main idea, make inferences, draw conclusions, and so on, and eventually they’ll be able to apply those skills to grasp the meaning of anything put in front of them.

In the meantime, what children are reading doesn’t really matter—it’s better for them to acquire skills that will enable them to discover knowledge for themselves later on than for them to be given information directly, or so the thinking goes. That is, they need to spend their time “learning to read” before “reading to learn.” Science can wait; history, which is considered too abstract for young minds to grasp, must wait. Reading time is filled, instead, with a variety of short books and passages unconnected to one another except by the “comprehension skills” they’re meant to teach.

As far back as 1977, early-elementary teachers spent more than twice as much time on reading as on science and social studies combined. But since 2001, when the federal No Child Left Behind legislation made standardized reading and math scores the yardstick for measuring progress, the time devoted to both subjects has only grown. In turn, the amount of time spent on social studies and science has plummeted—especially in schools where test scores are low.

And yet, despite the enormous expenditure of time and resources on reading, American children haven’t become better readers. For the past 20 years, only about a third of students have scored at or above the “proficient” level on national tests. For low-income and minority kids, the picture is especially bleak: Their average test scores are far below those of their more affluent, largely white peers—a phenomenon usually referred to as the achievement gap. As this gap has grown wider, America’s standing in international literacy rankings, already mediocre, has fallen.

All of which raises a disturbing question: What if the medicine we have been prescribing is only making matters worse, particularly for poor children? What if the best way to boost reading comprehension is not to drill kids on discrete skills but to teach them, as early as possible, the very things we’ve marginalized—including history, science, and other content that could build the knowledge and vocabulary they need to understand both written texts and the world around them?

If we had a frame around “Distance to 100” then we would focus on what’s required to improve everyone’s achievement and those transcendent factors that truly are holding all kids back – lack of access to content-rich curriculum, unstable family structures, lack of school choice and ineffective strategies to teach reading – all of which have a far greater cumulative impact than the sole factor of race or class.

As Hanushek et al state, “The stubborn endurance of achievement inequalities suggests the need to reconsider policies and practices aimed at shrinking the gap. Although policymakers have repeatedly tried to break the link between students’ learning and their socioeconomic background, these interventions thus far have been unable to dent the relationship between socioeconomic status and achievement. Perhaps it is time to consider alternatives.”

Distance to 100 for Everyone may be that empowering alternative.

[1] https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2019/08/the-radical-case-for-teaching-kids-stuff/592765/


July 14, 2021

Sharif El-Mekki – The Value of Teacher Diversity

Sharif El-Mekki
CEO & Founder, The Center for Black Educator Development

My first blog on Eduwonk’s page this week was about the concocted controversy around Critical Race Theory (CRT) and how it has infiltrated the national schools narrative. But this isn’t the only CRT that has been foisted by the far-right as a multicultural bogeyman to at once inflame White anxiety and erode progress toward a more equitable and just society.

Culturally responsive teaching (crt) has also faced the harsh, reality-warped klege lights of conservative media this year – and in the past. And as blinding as that super trouper can be, we cannot confuse the issue: to effectively teach all students we need all teachers to be prepared with the understanding and adaptability to meet those children where they are at this moment in time, in the wake of the history that they and their communities have survived.

That’s also why teacher diversity is so important. There is a mountain of evidence of the positive impacts of having more Black and Brown teachers in the classroom.  Research shows higher graduation rates, reduced dropout rates, fewer disciplinary issues, more positive views of schooling and better test scores when students have a Black or Brown teacher during their schooling.   A growing number of schools, districts and teacher prep programs are working  to increase teacher diversity as a result. Our organization is proud to work with many of them and I hope to see the trend continue. And there’s an awful lot of work to be done.Currently, Black teachers make up just 7 percent of the profession and about 2 percent identify as Black men.  Add to this the fact that a large majority–more than 6 in 10–of teacher prep grads say they feel unprepared to teach in classrooms where Black and Brown students are the majority and we cannot just write off the mounting attacks on Critical Race Theory and/or culturally relevant teaching and by extension, our efforts to diversify the teaching force. 

Curiously, or, perhaps, tellingly, those who are most vocal against the two CRTs and getting more diversity in the teaching force argue that the focus on race is the thing that is driving division.  They want a “colorblind” approach, they say, to match how they purport to see the world.

Well, color me confused!

How is it that these virtuous acolytes of colorblindness are always so on the mark in attacking efforts to liberate Black and Brown people specifically?  Their quivers remain full of deadly arrows that target and undermine initiatives involving housing, economics, the (in)justice system, the (mis)education system, etc.

The reality is that these people can’t help but tell on themselves–and we should listen to what they’re telling us.  The louder they criticize our efforts the more they prove the need for our work. They also prove what our students have to lose if we are unsuccessful.

The scale and stakes of our challenge is simply too great to not confront.  Our students need teachers that look more like them and better understand to create a world where understanding and equity are the norm rather than a lofty aspiration.  We are literally undoing centuries of history that produced these imbalances and their attendant cultural misunderstandings.  So we also must interrogate the efforts to undermine our work and at the same time double down on it.

We can do the work, but we all need to get to it.


July 12, 2021

Sharif El-Mekki – Fake Outrage and What’s at Stake for Black and Brown Children

Sharif El-Mekki
CEO & Founder, The Center for Black Educator Development

“History will be kind to me for I intend to write it.” -Sometimes attributed to Winston Churchill

“History is temporarily twisted by people who’re going to profit from it in the short term.” -Shubham Jaim

At this point, the contrived panic about Critical Race Theory by the conservative political-media complex has been shown for what it is: a naked attempt to gin up White anxiety for political gain, no matter how divorced from reality and slanderous to the actual substance of CRT it may be. 

CRT is simply a lens–a sophisticated, to wit graduate-level lens–to understand systemic racism in our legal system. Such analysis and understanding is, to be clear, fundamentally American, in fact.

Kimberlé Crenshaw, Columbia Law School professor and leading CRT scholar, put it best. “Critical race theory is not anti-patriotic,” she recently told CNN. “In fact, it is more patriotic than those who are opposed to it — because we believe in the 13th and the 14th and the 15th Amendments. We believe in the promises of equality. And we know we can’t get there if we can’t confront and talk honestly about inequality.”

Unsurprisingly, the “controversy” about CRT has now fully entered the K-12 space. Putting aside, for a moment, the fake pearl clutching and feigned exasperation by those who know better, we can use this architected anxiety as a starting point for our own discussion of what Black and Brown children need in order to be successful in a country where a minority of deplorables can still stir a moral panic sufficient to disenfranchise whole communities.

A competent teacher for starters. That means that they need to be able to connect with Black and Brown children–either based on their experience as Black or Brown people or through effective, culturally responsive teacher preparation.

At the Center for Black Educator Development, our goal is to get more Black teachers into classrooms with the tools they need to support the Black child successfully – a far cry from what today’s outcomes across America’s schools show. But we also train veteran teachers and leaders to have the intellectual dexterity, the cultural competency and the commitment to equity sufficient to teach a child who does not share their same skin tone, lived experience, and cultural background.

Teachers need to be able to connect with a child outside of their own framework–that demands humility, curiosity, and an accurate handle on historical, and contemporary, context and content. Which, to return to our discussion of CRT above, requires an honest and clear-eyed understanding of the origins of the challenges and changes that our society is currently experiencing.  Such skills and competencies enable teachers and school/district leaders to more effectively and authentically build relationships with their students, families at their schools, and the broader communities.

These webs of trusting relationships can mean a world of a difference in the life trajectory of a student and effectiveness of the educator.  Such social scaffolding can lift up children furthest from opportunity and build stronger, more resilient communities.  That demands, again, a grounding in the reality of the historical weight that diverse communities continue to experience in this country today. A educator, well prepared and cognizant of this history, can be an essential lever in lifting some of that weight off the shoulders of our Black and Brown children. But those who prepare and develop our teachers cannot flinch in the face of false, racist outrage designed to undermine and undo precisely that work.

Posted on Jul 12, 2021 @ 3:04pm

Ian V. Rowe – Aim High: How Can We Prepare Students of All Races to Achieve Greatness?

Ian V. Rowe
Founder & CEO, Vertex Partnership Academies
Senior Visiting Fellow, The Woodson Center
Senior Fellow, The American Enterprise Institute

When looking for models of ambitious inspiration, Americans often hearken back to President John F. Kennedy’s “moonshot” address at Rice University on September 12, 1962:

“We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win…

At this time of pessimism and deep division in our country, it often feels like we have no choice but to look back sixty years to resurrect the sense of optimism and unity that was generated when Kennedy catapulted our collective imagination by setting the goal for America to be the first nation to send a man to the moon and return him safely to earth.

Yet in just the last six months, two equally, if not more, inspiring “moonshots” have been achieved, one in space and the other here on earth. On July 11, 2021, Virgin Galactic launched fifty miles into space a small rocket plane, named V.S.S. Unity, that carried six people — two pilots David Mackay and Michael Masucci, and four passengers including the CEO of Virgin Richard Branson. For nearly two decades, Branson has worked towards the dream to make safe, commercial air travel to and from space a routine and affordable adventure for private citizens. This inaugural trip makes Branson’s dream achievable within our own lifetimes.

Here on earth, our planet has been gripped by a COVID-19 pandemic that has killed more than four million people worldwide during the last eighteen months. In a college commencement speech, Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla explained how he had to mobilize his team of scientists, engineers, researchers and distributors to “think far out of the box and design completely new ways of working” to craft an effective vaccine:

If we had asked our scientists to find ways to develop the vaccine in eight years instead of the 10 that it usually takes, they would have found it very difficult and likely would have tried to achieve it by improving the existing process…But we asked them to do it in eight months, not eight years.

And if we had asked our engineers to manufacture 250 million doses within a year, they would try to do it by improving the way we already work. But we asked them to make two and a half billion doses. Both groups recognized immediately that simply making improvements wouldn’t bring them even close to achieving these goals.”

Much of the reason all of us are now able to walk mask-free, see and hug our families, and even contemplate fully reopening schools is because of the utter audacity of the goals set by Bourla and the relentless pursuit of his team to achieve them.

The innovation doesn’t end there. We are on the verge of all-electric air mobility that makes possible a “service that will combine the ease of conventional ridesharing with the power of flight.” Breakthroughs in the battle against climate change, strengthening the global food supply chain, and continued discoveries in artificial intelligence all hold within them the promise to make the lives of millions of Americans safer, healthier and more upwardly mobile.

With these prospects, it should be a phenomenal time to be an educator because we have the solemn and exciting responsibility to ensure the rising generation of PreK-12 students are prepared to be leaders and active participants in this world of innovation. Yet more often than not, educators are mired in one or another academic brouhaha, with the latest hullabaloo dominated by critical race theory. The intense focus on critical race theory has become the latest and massive distraction to the decades-long literacy crisis that is truly subverting the life prospects of children of all races, as I argued here in a C-SPAN discussion with a Bryn Mawr professor who is a CRT advocate.

Yet the only way to make progress on the issue is to have constructive dialogue on how best to move forward. Sharif El-Mekki and I had the opportunity to speak about the topic at the National Charter School Conference, and we appreciate Andy Rotherham’s offer to provide an opportunity to share our thoughts via Eduwonk.

Since it seems that most discussions regarding critical race theory are hampered because there isn’t even a common definition, I ground my thoughts in the meaning provided by two of CRT’s intellectual architects Richard Delgado and Jeanne Stefancic. In the Foreword of their co-authored book Critical Race Theory – An Introduction, Delgado and Stefancic write: “Unlike traditional civil rights, which embraces incrementalism and step-by-step progress, critical race theory questions the very foundations of the liberal order, including equality theory, legal reasoning, Enlightenment rationalism, and neutral principles of constitutional law.”

I, for one, am opposed to an ideology that, by definition, questions equality theory that encompasses equal rights, equal protection under the law, and equality of opportunity. I choose to work every day and run schools to make those ideals true for every American, especially given the country’s scarred history when “equality theory” was not true in practice for people of all races. But the answer, as some state laws are sometimes falsely accused of doing, is not to ban critical race theory (as you wouldn’t ban the teaching of communism). Rather, expose it as one of several frameworks through which to evaluate laws and history. Those who want to “question the very foundations of the liberal order,” should be given the floor to make that argument. Simultaneously they must be enjoined by those like me who want to protect the principles that critical race theory, by definition, repudiates – such as equality theory and neutral principles of constitutional law.

Given the sophisticated nature of these concepts, I think this type of CRT debate happens best in higher education, and not as indoctrination nor inaccessible content in K-12 classrooms. Within K-12 however, disturbing practices associated with critical race theory should be addressed. For example, Randi Weingarten, head of the American Federation of Teachers, has created a fund for her union to “defend any member who gets in trouble for teaching honest history.” If a teacher were somehow barred from teaching about racism, slavery and Jim Crow, and the incredible American story of emancipation and progress in their aftermath, then obviously the school leadership should be penalized. Though it has to be said, if Ms. Weingarten genuinely wants to improve the outcomes of kids, she should reverse her organization’s fierce and longstanding opposition to school choice and public charter schools, and instead empower low-income families with the power to select the best education for their child.

Where I get concerned is if in the real world, practices related to critical race theory, or anti-racism, result in actions that violate the equal protection clause of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that already prohibit discrimination on the basis of race. For example, a teacher in Evanston, Illinois is suing her district on the basis that “its race-conscious training, policies and curriculum violate federal law through ‘conditioning individuals to see each other’s skin color first and foremost, then pitting different racial groups against each other.’” Among the discriminatory actions the Evanston district is accused of using are privilege walks in which kids are lined up horizontally. White kids are told to take three steps forward because they are white and black kids are told to take five steps backward because they are black.

Equally noxious is either coerced speech or suppressed speech associated with CRT that would violate the First Amendment. In a federal lawsuit, a Nevada charter school is being sued for violating a “high school senior’s First Amendment rights by ‘repeatedly compelling his speech involving intimate matters of race, gender, sexuality and religion’ during a required civics class.

We should all stay abreast of these legal challenges and their ultimate judgments. Yet while all of this legal maneuvering is happening, America’s literacy crisis rages on, now even further worsened by eighteen months of inadequate schooling. This is especially true in low-income communities in which remote learning was far from sufficient. It is still the raw truth that only just over a third of all American kids are reading at NAEP proficiency levels. In my next post, I will focus on how a decades-long obsession with closing the racial achievement gap, and more recently the fight to achieve “racial equity” has not only not closed the racial achievement gap, it has also not materially improved reading outcomes for kids of all races.

However, there is one area in which the need to teach broader history can align with the effort to address the nation’s literacy crisis. I think most people can agree that all kids should learn a more complete history of the United States, through more content-rich curricula. It is unfortunate that recent offerings like the New York Times 1619 Project, before clandestinely scrubbing their content, falsely claimed that America’s true founding was 1619, not 1776, and that the primary reason the American Revolution was fought was to defend slavery. That said, the 1619 Project can be credited with revealing strong interest in materials that offer a more accurate telling of the African-American experience in the United States. There are empowering new alternatives.

Reconstruction, a new offering from former DC Chancellor Kaya Henderson, was “created to show our kids that they are descendants of powerful, creative, and resilient ancestors whose contributions permeate every aspect of life across the globe; and that they too are called to contribute to this rich legacy.” There is also the freely available curriculum from 1776 Unites, an initiative founded by the legendary Bob Woodson that maintains a special focus on voices in the black community who celebrate black excellence, reject victimhood culture, and showcase the millions of black Americans who have prospered by embracing the founding ideals of America. The curriculum, which features lessons on The Rosenwald Schools and other lesser known stories of black resiliency in the face of adversity, has been downloaded more than 15,000 times by teachers in all fifty states, and is now being taught in public, private, and parochial schools, afterschool, prison ministries, home school and anywhere where character formation is happening with children.

I will close by going back to the commencement speech of Albert Bourla who quoted from Aristotle when he said “Our problem is not that we aim too high and miss. Our problem is that we aim too low and hit.” Let’s hope we as education leaders can join together to find productive ways, not only to teach America’s full history, warts and all, but perhaps more importantly, prepare students of all races to aim high and be ready to help achieve the ambitious new goals being set for America’s future.


July 9, 2021


July 8, 2021

What Are We Talking About When We’re Talking About “CRT?”

A few weeks ago the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools hosted a great discussion with Sharif El-Mekki and Ian Rowe about the “CRT” debate. You can read about Ian and Sharif via those links. They range across media with podcasts, articles, and more and I’d encourage you to read (and listen) to them. They’re both current or former school leaders and people with interesting backstories professionally and personally. Spoiler alert – they don’t always agree. I’ve learned from both.

As regular readers here know, I think in large part the debate about “CRT” isn’t really about CRT at all. Not in the definitional sense, that schools aren’t literally teaching CRT, everyone knows that is a dodge. But rather, underneath the theater it’s about some important issues, how to teach about history and also about race and racism. Those are important issues that spark strong reactions and counter reactions and raise legitimate questions about how to teach about those issues in a way that respects pluralism and political boundaries in the public space, and is age appropriate for younger students.

That’s why I asked Sharif and Ian to continue, and expand however they want, their conversation here, all next week, while I’m taking a break from the blog. So they will both be guest posting here Monday to Friday next week in conversation and sharing their individual thoughts. I’m very grateful to both of them for taking time out of busy schedules to do this and so pleased they both said yes to the offer.

Ian and Sharif can take it from here.


Statewide Virtual Options

There are a lot of worthy ways to use ARP dollars – and enough dollars that it’s  possible to achieve more than a single goal. BW will have more work on that soon.

Here’s one obvious idea that doesn’t seem to be getting enough attention – quality statewide virtual options for this fall. Last year the overreaction was the assumption that everyone was in remote school when, actually, a lot of districts opened in August or September. Conversely, this year the assumption seems to be that everyone will be in live school come the fall. This seems off given parents who for whatever reason are not comfortable returning live as well as Delta and other possible variants causing some disruption.

There is general agreement that hybrid (in its current iterations) is suboptimal and concurrent often disastrous. And asking districts to do virtual district by district seems less than ideal, too, for a bunch of reasons. And it doesn’t seem unreasonable to tell parents that yes a virtual option should and will be available but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be at your home school (and there are other virtual options to choose from). During the pandemic some states offered statewide virtual as an option.

That’s why coercing parents back into school by saying no virtual option seems as problematic as trying to provide for choice at every school site. More governors stepping up and saying there will be a virtual option, it will be quality, and universally available seems like a way through (and one with some political upside outside of special interest group pressure). It’s hard to go wrong politically with parents when you say you’ll make sure every kid has a good option for school. Pushing for that seems like a good goal for advocates, too. And right now no one can say they don’t have the money…


July 6, 2021