Right Schooling?

Justin Amash came to town this week, and boldly asserted “something isn’t a right if someone else has to pay for it.” Well, that didn’t sit too well with those in the audience, not least, fellow debate coach, Pam Conley. She pointedly asks
If that is the case how is voting a right?… or the right to a redress of grievances in a court of law, …or trial by jury of your peers, or the right to legal representation if you can’t afford representation? … I have more but EVERY right that requires implementation and/or enforcement comes with price tag. Elections, courts, police, trials, lawyers… none of these are free, all are paid for by taxes, and are by deceleration of the US Constitution or the SCOTUS’s ruling (ie..Miranda rights) rights we as American citizens are insured are “inalienable”.
And since this is the Policy question….  
The question may be put: does education belong to the individual, is it essentially personal in nature? Or is it something of social or communal function, a piece of social infrastructure?
If it is personal, and so a “right” this oddly leads you to Betsy DeVos. If a right, then the mode of delivery is secondary. Indeed, as a right could education be subject to 1A requirements? Does right entail vouchers?
As infrastructure — this seems to be the way the Northwest Ordinance treats, viz. as part of development. Horace Mann (Letter No. 5, if I recall) sees education as building the community and its economic life. Infrastructure does not necessarily mean that funding can vary (ok, Pothole Michigan   ) but it does express a commitment and moreover, it shifts the argument from the moral (Right) to that of justice, of a common good for all.
What complicates the matter is the question of special education. A rights model does seem to be the easier model for this funding. The infrastructure argument falters somewhat (although Mann did promote education for those with these needs — education is something a community does for the community was the reasoning). My own thought is that a 14A approach to the infrastructure framing gives us the better outcome, since it would necessarily involve metrics (Rights as moral considerations often falter on the metric side).

How to build better schools

Randal Jelks pointed to an interesting article from the New York Times on New York’s elite schools, highlighting the terribly small admission of African Americans. 14. The number is shocking. As he notes, the problem is not simply there on Manhattan, but also here on the banks of the Grand. Do our magnet schools, specifically City, suffer from the same disease? Or more accurately, do they function as a distraction from the point. As he notes:

(The magnet schools have) never been about the intellectual development of Black and Brown children who now make over 69% of the school district. Now mind you need middle class parents of all stripes in the GRPS, but not at the expense of majority the population. Too much excuse making in my opinion and reinforcement of race and class segregation with white folk being the power brokers

Perhaps. This does seem to  to pit the middle class against the needs by race. This may miss the issues of class. As Jelks alludes to, numerous studies not that it is poverty, not race which correlates with achievement. Moreover, achievement for low income students rises when they have the chance to be economically integrated; middle class engagement by parents and stakeholders is critical for the overall health of the schools.

Add to these observations the conditions at hand in our city. Of the total school age population in the city, Grand Rapids Public Schools gets slightly more than half. The rest are found in charters, schools of choice transfers, and to a limited extent the parochial. Of the share of the students 72% qualify for student lunch. Note GRPS is ~ 31% white, the census school age population is roughly 35% white. So the question of uplift is less racial than economic in nature; a broader economic base gives more possibility for lifting up more students. Again, integration

And finally, there are graduation statistics released yesterday. GRPS has made decided gains in the past five years, particularly among its black and latino populations, and especially with the men. Further, the graduation rates for  Innovation Central High School and Grand Rapids University Prep are both in the 90+% range, and both have more than 80% minority enrollment. These schools succeed because of stakeholder engagement, and there is simply no question that we need more of that. In short, this is not the district of 10 years ago, or even five.

Walking Away (but keeping the memory)

 

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Matthew Loftus links to Peter Beinart’s article, “Breaking Faith” and asks

What if being secular makes you more tolerant towards things like gay marriage or pot legalization, but makes you more intolerant towards other groups? If you thought the Religious Right was bad, wait ’til you see the Post-Religious Right:

For decades, liberals have called the Christian right intolerant. When conservatives disengage from organized religion, however, they don’t become more tolerant. They become intolerant in different ways. Research shows that evangelicals who don’t regularly attend church are less hostile to gay people than those who do. But they’re more hostile to African Americans, Latinos, and Muslims. In 2008, the University of Iowa’s Benjamin Knoll noted that among Catholics, mainline Protestants, and born-again Protestants, the less you attended church, the more anti-immigration you were.”

One is tempted to reference those who “have the form of religion…” This cultural faith, of course, is always there. And when it’s connected with one party, then the other side is likely to reject the entire apparatus — good riddance! 

On both sides, the secularists think that religious faith is primarily a matter of culture, and so a matter of politics. Yet the practice of the religious community points in another direction (as does its own moderation). Faith always lies askew of the culture, and so the church provides an alternate affirmative good of community. the shape of this community is not built on the internal values of that community (what it does in gathering), but on its appeal to the transcendent. This “otherness”, this faith gives us permission to walk away from ourselves, our natural “tribe.” Otherness gives a breadth, a counter-cultural narrative, that is not only theological, but experiential. This aching need for connectives is all around us. Old guys long for it and often die for lack of it. Likewise there was a terrific article a couple weeks ago on the Epidemic of Gay Loneliness on the Huffington Post — read subtly, there was still this longing to connect (the folks at Spiritual Friendship have it right). We thirst.

Partisanship, this divide, feeds off of a lack of inner life. When all we are left with is our externals, than it is easy to appeal to the stuff of the tribe.

Evolution?

Rep. Justin Amash held a town hall meeting at City HS auditorium and the place was packed. What was striking to many was the engagement.The big lesson (always!) is that you don’t have to agree, but you do have to listen. And you don’t have to agree with him to admire him.

There is, I think, a growth from the brash 20-something bomb thrower a decade ago. At the time of his election I wondered how the office, how time would change him. Would he end up as a sort of ideological purist, on the fringe? Would he migrate to an official (and powerful) libertarian platform? Who would he become? For him, Trump is a gift, pushing back, standing for the Constitution, Amash builds a broader base than he did in the last years of Obama. At last the  stance begins to get traction, and his skills of communication finally show up. Justin Swan sees as much in a Facebook post,

My response to the noise against him, beginning back in 2010 has been “have you heard him speak? Because if you hear him speak, you wouldn’t say what you just said about him.”… finally, people from both sides of the isle are hearing him speak, and for the most part, they like what they hear OR they respect where he’s coming from.

More on this from Rachel Bade at Politico:

How one GOP congressman tamed pro-Obamacare protesters

More (Charter) School Politics

Justin Swan calls out the Wall Street Journal’s editorial about the feckless Democrats and their lockstep opposition and hysterical hollering to Betsy DeVos. Is it a case of biting the hand that feeds you? Perhaps. But turn to Dan Henninger to get the better  sense of the politics of the DeVos nomination. This is about the nature of the urban (and largely minority) school districts, where the teachers play such an important role. In Michigan, it’s more than that, too.

Ever since the days of John Engler there’s been this blood feud between the MEA and the GOP — if anything it’s been a liability to our state, promoting overreaction on both sides. BDV has been part of that in many ways, particularly in her role as an activist, a very active activist. There are other dimensions, too. Her engagement with GRPS is not something to pass by, and that accounts for much of the relative silence of leadership. It’s less bought silence than known collaboration.

 The DeVos Apocalypse

Books even adults should read

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Barnes and Noble has a list.

8 Empowering Middle Grade Novels for Kids Interested in Social Justice

Stella By Starlight is a real gem, and of course. One Crazy Summer. the latter is a great way to introduce kids to the black struggle in the 60s. Sharon Draper (Stella…) first novel, Out of My Mind, is another to read — this about disability and triumph. For sheer fun, Carl Hiaasen’s Flush takes on the ecology in the Florida Keys. His first big hit, Hoot, addressed development. The other in the series, Chomp — well that’s just good ol’ Hiaasen fun.

Half a loaf

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 There’s no question that GRPS Superintendent Teresa Wetherall Neal has earned the respect of parents and teachers. So the news from WOOD-TV that DeVos money would fund an all expense-paid trip to support Betsy DeVos came as a shock. Perhaps even asa betrayal. But really, it was no surprise.
The involvement of DeVos money and GRPS is rather well established, including providing a management coach to help her master the first days of her job. If anything, the very personal, connectional qualities that we like in Superintendent Neal are the same that allow her to consider supporting some one who has supported her schools. This same personal connection is also what drives so much pain among teachers and parents — it seems to be something of a betrayal, the personal transfigured to the political. As a practical matter, the success of GRPS depends on its ability to negotiate with the various Republican power brokers, elected or not. And of these, none come bigger than DeVos herself.
All this put Neal in a no-win situation. The cancelled trip gives a gracious way out while maintaining the personal connections of loyalty. And oddly, that half loaf approach is the one that keeps the district growing. I’ll settle for that.