Alabama’s race to the top… In cutting per-pupil educational funding.

The “new normal” in state public education funding is becoming deplorably abnormal!

According to a recent report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities ( Alabama is # 2 at -14.2% on the list of 15 of the worse (And for my “equality of evil” friends: Republican controlled and led) sates, that have consistently reduced state support for public education. Talk about strategically investing in a future crop of truckloads of deplorable voters!

Alabama it seems, has other priorities, like a (recently removed, but widely popular) chief judge who thought he was running for the Old Testament position of chief priest of marriage inequality. A voter I.D. law designed to suppress the participation of the state’s Black voters. And to ensure its success, the governor and his legislative Republican allies, played the ugly game of hide-close-and seek with DMV offices in those parts of the state with high concentrations of Black voters. And speaking of the governor. who has recently taken to denouncing Donald Trump’s disgracious language and behavior toward women; while he is cynically using the citizenry’s singular focus on more important matters– like football, to run out the public attention span game clock on his own sex scandal. And then there is the state’s prison system which models itself after the architecture of pre-civil war southern slave quarters.

If there was any state that needed to be #1 in investing in its children, then it should be Alabama. If you are in a deep “underdevelopment” hole; then it helps to start digging. And the best shovel for that job is a strong K-12 school system. I get it, it’s hard to even get states that have accepted that the civil war is over to make the education of its young citizens a major governmental priority. And the authors of Alabama’s “highly uneducated” production-movement, can rightfully point an accusing finger at: Democratically (including Black mayor-council) controlled cities, or those places with some of the nation’s highest per pupil expenditures, and those places with phenotypically black people who are in charge of the school systems; and public education in those places is a disaster, particularly, and specifically for students of color.

Investing in public education requires a type of strategic vision that unfortunately citizens don’t insist be a part of an elected officials qualifying job description. And this low-standard for political leadership exist even as just about everyone you talk to in Alabama, or any other place I have lived, believes that education is one of the most important things in the world; although (and sometimes because of) they themselves underachieved in their own educational hopes and dreams.

But beyond the important role public education plays in a state’s pace and direction for economic development, raising the quality of civil and social engagements between people, reducing the cost of incarceration, and the social-psychological-counseling “repairing” work that is needed when people are not successfully educated. There is the individual human cost of not fulfilling one’s gifted and talented “calling” in life. And for a place that so diligently wraps itself in the words and phraseology of Christianity; I find it hard to understand it not wanting to honor and properly nurture God’s gift and promise to humanity’s future… a society’s children.

The: “Remove Algebra from the H.S. required curriculum” movement: Trick or Treat?

I am going to be kind here and not go with my initial dismissive assessment that this idea, is one of many recurring ideas in public education, that seeks to bring “negative tracking” through the back door, since the front door is being watched, somewhat. I will treat this as a serious proposal. After spending most of my adult life in public education, I am instinctively inclined to ask a lot of questions whenever “help”, is being proposed, and specifically being proposed to help poor students, “struggling students”, and students of color. Any goal of expanding the graduation capacity of high schools is great; but it seems that too often the public education traditional response for adding more students to the graduation rolls, is to subtract courses, “soften” requirements and, lower the level of rigor; not improve the learning capabilities of students.

First, no one, (including I hope the proposers) is in disagreement about the role of algebra as a major “gatekeeper” for pursuing a future STEM career. Who then will serve in our schools as gatekeepers of the “gatekeeper” when advising students to pursue, or not pursue an “algebra track” math program? If history is a guide, I would be very wary as a parent of color to assume that all students will be advised properly and fairly.

And we know in high school when it comes to “college major readiness” that we are juggling the two variables of: courses successfully taken, as well as time. As a Dean of a School of Engineering once told me: “Our first math course is “calculus for engineers”; this course assumes that calculus was taken in high school.” And so if a student does not decide to take algebra in the 9th grade how is it that they are going to be able to realistically get to calculus by the 12th grade? Too many students by virtue of living in the wrong “zip code”, are already at a STEM disadvantage when competing with those students who were able to take algebra in the 8th grade. Besides, I have met many 10th or 11th graders, who after visiting a science research lab, going on a college tour, participating with a Robotics team, decided that the STEM path was what they seriously wanted to pursue.

Now, I have often seen and cringed when I read some of those widely trending social media posts that proclaim: “I never had to use the Pythagorean Theorem in my everyday life!” But these understandably (not written by professional educators) misguided affirmations missed the entire point of all education, and specifically education relating to science and mathematics. What a student should take away from a high school science and mathematics course is not just the theorems, or “laws and principles”. But rather an approach, process, a method of thinking, a systemic problem posing-solving view of the world; learning to be inquisitive, and to be able to make sense of the STEM events in the world that directly impact everyday citizens. Every student is not going to pursue a professional STEM career; but every person in society must be able to function with some degree of STEM literacy, or they will become victims and/or subject to the misinformation and exploitation of those who purport to speak as STEM experts. If this 2016 presidential election has taught us anything, it is that the lack of literacy and awareness in any subject area will lead to the most simplistic, racist, bigoted, and uninformed solutions to very complex problems. The study of mathematics suggests that problem-solving is connected to the creative and thoughtful development of appropriate algorithms; not prejudicial/subjective emotions. There is no accident that one candidate’s core constituency are in his braggadocio’s words: “The highly uneducated!”

I would ask the “remove algebra” folks to return to the drawing board and address my concerns before continuing their campaign. Especially the question of which students get selected to take algebra; what is the criteria, and who is in charge of the selection process? I would further say, that if they truly want to increase the graduation rate, and algebra is a hurdle in achieving that goal (I personally think it is a little more complex than that, however); then why not increase the mathematical learning capabilities of students in the K-8 world. After all, we already know how to accomplish that based on the large number of students who are presently able to successfully complete algebra in the eighth grade. And so algebra is a stretch for high school students? There is no unknown (X) in this “remove H.S. algebra requirement movement” equation; the solution will result in the least politically protected children of our society being zeroed out of a future STEM career.

Georgia governor Nathan Deal, a super-superintendent of failing schools?

My Atlanta surgeon-friend called me the other day and he “cut straight to the chase”:
“And so, what is your take on the Georgia governor’s referendum for taking over failing schools?”

This is me getting back to him…

The wisdom of referendums…

But before I could honestly respond, I first needed to confront my current lost love affair with the wisdom of the electorate to make intelligent and enlightened decisions through referendums. The recent Brexit vote in England that fundamentally was a response to the UN estimated 1.5 million (another estimated 4,000 dying in the process), refugees seeking shelter and safety in Europe. These desperate people are risking their lives to escape lawless nations engulfed in brutal wars. These refugees by the way, were actually never going to get to Great Britain. Further, most economists agree that the action will seriously hurt the British economy; but anti-immigrant passion, not facts won the day.

And recently there was the rejection of a very good and sensible “peace plan” referendum to end a 50 year old devastating civil war between the Colombian government and leftists insurgents; this war often left those same “reject” voters to bear the violence and displacement brunt of the war. It seemed that the opposition’s campaign theme song was “All we are saying, let’s give war a chance!”

Finally, in our own country we see the terrible legitimization and the ascendancy of a proto-fascist movement led by Donald Trump. This racist-sexist-bigoted campaign is being cheered on by those former high school students, who clearly cut class when the world history teacher explained how a 1930s “Make Germany Great Again” Nazi movement was actually voted into power. Yes, it seems that of late there is a binge on the part of the world community, in seeking to vote for communal suicide.

And so despite my crisis of faith in the wisdom of the masses when it comes to referendums; I went online to objectively review the details of this proposed “executive takeover” November 2016 referendum. It said:

“A “yes” vote supports authorizing the state to form an Opportunity School District that would govern certain elementary and secondary schools determined to be “chronically failing.”
“Approval of the amendment by voters was designed to trigger the implementation of Senate Bill 133. SB 133 provides for three governance models of schools under an “Opportunity School District” (OSD) agency:
1) Direct management by the OSD,
2) Shared governance between the OSD and local board of education and
3) Transformation of the school into a charter school.”

“Direct management by the OSD”

Now I believe that just about every state education department in the nation is already empowered through state legislation to “intervene” to some or total degree in the management and operation of a local school district (LSD). This intervention could be as simple as appointing a financial manager when a school district fails to maintain the legally required Fund Balance (emergency cash in reserve); or the district fails to submit the also legally required balanced school district budget. Other factors like major violations of criminal, ethical or conflict of interest laws, on the part of the majority, or all of the members of a school board could lead to a state (superintendent’s) takeover of a school district. Further, state education departments already have the legislative authority to insist on the major restructuring of “chronically failing schools”; that would include school redesign, leadership and staffing changes. And so in many cases the “technical” authority to “take over” a school, or a school district already exist in most state superintendent’s offices.

But where Senate Bill 133 differs from the authority already existing in a state superintendent’s office, is that the actions of state superintendents are designed as temporary, and not permanent “control”. The long-term objective of the state education department is to always return the school, or the school district to local control. In other words, the state education department and its state superintendent don’t see themselves in the permanent business of “directly” managing schools and school districts. Part of the reason for their reluctance, is part of the problem with this bill.

State education departments can’t serve in both the role of public education monitoring and educational law enforcement agencies; and also directly run the school’s for which they are charged with overseeing. Direct state control of local schools essentially leaves those schools answerable to no state evaluative, monitoring, and if necessary corrective enforcement agency. The analogy would be a baseball player of one team serving as both a player and umpire during the course of a game. A tragic example of this “conflict of interest” problem, is New Orleans, where “state takeover” of a city’s schools system left parents and students (particularly special education, English language learners and underperforming students, who could be denied admission to a charter school), without any entity to protect their educational interests. In such a system the state has the power to declare “improvement” of the schools they run, even when there is no improvement. Black folks know the drill in this country: “no oversight = no justice”!

The governor of any state is the most powerful elected official in that state, and he or she either directly, or indirectly has great influence as to the appointment of that state’s superintendent (or in some states commissioner) of education. Further the governor has a great deal of authority over the budget of the state education department. And so politics being what it is, the question emerges: “Who would have the legal authority, or perhaps even the political authority to monitor and evaluate the governor’s schools?” What if there is financial malfeasance, the violation of ethics and conflict of interest laws in one of these governor-controlled schools? What about matters of racial or sexual discrimination? School admissions or zoning violations? What happens if they fail to implement special education, state or federal educational rules and regulations, who is going to sanction them? And most important; what happens if the “governors OSD schools” themselves become “chronically failing” schools? Who is authorize to take them over? The law would suggest that the governor himself would be forced to take over his own failed (by his own actions) OSD schools! Does that then place these schools in a hopeless failing and “take over” loop? There are a host of other legally and operationally questionable problems, but I’ll stop here.

Putting aside the many legal and other regulatory problems that would be caused by the implementation of Senate Bill 133(it will be Christmas time for some education lawyers in Georgia!). Let us look at the role of the mayors and governor as educational problem solvers!

Unfortunately, I have studied; and had firsthand experience, of the many horrible and deleterious outcomes associated with the “governor-mayoral control” of public school systems. These “reform” efforts promise to remove the “political problems” associated with elected school boards and the oversized influence and power of teacher unions. However the truth is that little has changed. Political influence, corruption, nepotism, the lack of racial diversity and sensitivity in the hiring of “amateur” district and school leaders, the devastating national loss of large numbers of Black teachers, the continued and in some cases expanded use of non-minority consultants and vendors continues. The awarding of lucrative contracts to friends, political allies, and in some cases to each other, has left many communities of color still waiting for the promised academic achievement change. It seems that the only consistent factor present in all of these “executive governance reform” efforts is that Black and Latino students are consistently left academically behind!

Hyper-politicization in public education is the problem, not the solution!

Further, my experience as a school district superintendent has taught me one important lesson: if the schools that serve students of color have any hope of succeeding, then those struggling schools need to be affirmatively depoliticize, rather than hyper-politicize! For it is “political shenanigans” that is the primary cause of Black school districts that chronically fail to adequately serve the educational needs, aspirations and dreams of their children. The switching of multiple elected politicians for one “big” elected politician, is not the answer. What these schools need most is a professional pedagogical leadership team; led by a certified and experienced superintendent who can without restrictions, hire first-rate principals. These professional educational teams could then focus the schools and district in a laser-like way on teaching and learning.

“Shared governance between the OSD and local board of education”

I won’t spend too much time on this one. The quick and easy answer is this: a school that is required to respond to two sources of governance, succeeds in not responding to any; or ends up responding poorly to both. If the local educational agency is incapable of managing a school then sharing in and working with their incapability and lack of competence, will only confuse and frustrate the principal and the staff. This is also unworkable because the governor’s advisers have not properly informed him as to how schools actually work (I know, everyone knows how schools work because they attended them!) There are a lot of required administrative actions that go back and forth between the school and the LSD; a dual governance system will only make the school-LSD relationship toxic, chaotic, confusing and unproductive.

“Transformation of the school into a charter school.”

The business of public schooling is education, and our profit motivation is the production of a learned citizen. And so, I am not convinced as to the governor’s plan to rely on the “commercialization” (charter schools) of public schools as the solution. First, because public schooling, is not designed to serve as a profit-making exercise; societies invest in public education as a way to produce the next generation of planetary caretakers; schools are an investment in the future. Further, it is not like the business community has had a stellar record. (See the recent financial meltdown for which the taxpayers had to “bail businesses out”; their profits are now back up, the taxpayers not doing so good!) And so there is no evidence that the business community’s core operational philosophy to place profits before people, is the kind of environment we want to place the most politically vulnerable members of our society. Finally, like the apartheid (non-Black owned and operated) other parts of the school reform movement; the charter school entrepreneurial ownership community also seems to lack color (i.e. diversity i.e. Black people) at the top. And who gave them permission to speak for Black communities and Black children anyway? Finally, like any business the charter school entrepreneurial community employs lobbyists and campaign contributors. And so the question is: which charter companies will be able to position themselves to get to the front of the line of this financially lucrative school reform trough? I do know that the poor, Black parents-children and communities of Georgia don’t have lobbyists and campaign funds to dole out so that elected officials can act on their behalf.

Now I understand that this charter movement is fueled by a legitimate desire on the part of Black parents to escape from the low expectations and labor-management agreements that has literally placed adults high above students on the hierarchy of service and concern in our public schools. As a lifelong educator I have learned that parents (rightfully so) are committed to their child’s education, not to the continuation and survivability of a public school system. Those of us who have dedicated most of our lives to public schools must come to understand that the sound of “marching student feet” from our schools into charter schools (and in many cases private and homeschooling situations) are the legitimate sounds of parental frustration. And if you want to end that sound, then there must be a serious self-reflective and serious radical self-transformation of the present state of public education. And to be honest I am not fully convinced because of systemic racism in our nation, that the will exists to make such a profound change possible. But it does not matter, even if we don’t change, the reality around us will change. And so I make no criticism of these charter school parents who are desperately seeking a place that will at the very least express an interest in high standards and expectations for their children.

Anti-referendum folks don’t thank me yet…

I also researched the opponents of the referendum. Ok, so the usual “players” line up predictably on the “Anti” side of the referendum question. However, what is missing, and is always missing in these discussions of how to fix “failing schools”, are the voices of professional educators who look like the children in those schools in need of “fixing”.

But as problematic, probably ineffective, and probably illegal, the governor’s plan may be for the task of helping struggling schools. I would advise caution on the part of the opponents of this referendum. They should first take note of my opening comments concerning the results of recent referendums. I would also advise them to design the appropriate oppositional tone for their campaign; because the truth is that the academic underperforming numbers are what they are (Yes, I also looked up the horrible performance data for these “chronically failing” schools). There is a reasonable and undeniable public frustration with public education; particularly for communities for which public education has dramatically and continually failed their children. And just saying that we can’t teach these children because they are poor, they don’t live in wealthy neighborhoods, their parents don’t have college degrees, and don’t teach them to read before they enter kindergarten, etc., won’t cut it. And then there is that long list of betrayals (including those committed by Black educators!) There is no wonder that Black parents have lost faith in the ability of public schools to be able to, or even have the desire to, educate their children.
And so, it would be a serious mistake for the referendum opposition forces to lead with slogans like:

“Things are going well educationally for children in Georgia, and we just need to market our success better!”

“We have some problems, but we can solve them, with more money, and a “tweaking” of the present system.”

“Our effective public schools, specialized opportunity elementary-middle-high schools, certified teachers, access to financial, material and equipment resources, gifted and talented programs, advance and AP courses; are racially integrated and equally distributed throughout the Georgia school and district populations.”

“We got this governor!” (No, apparently you don’t, and the public and parents know it!)

The first question (assuming that they would even ask me) I would ask the opening meeting of the “oppositional coalition” is: “How did we get here?” Because that critical question is in actuality their real and most effective path to defeating this referendum, and future similar initiatives. They could think of that question as the first step of a seven step recovery program to cure our chronic problem in public education of accepting unacceptable learning experiences for too many children of color in our nation. I have worked with a great number of politicians over the years; and there is one thing that I have learned, no matter how poorly a politician performs on any part of the mathematics curriculum, the one thing they could do well is the operation of addition. The governor would never push such a referendum if the “people”, including the Black citizens of Georgia, felt that the present public education structure was really doing a great job with their children; and in particular those children trapped in chronically underperforming schools.

And so if the “opposers” only strategy is to oppose; and not propose a radical change in the way Georgia public school districts are organized, structured, and go about their business; then it may be a very difficult and long election night, as the “yes votes” come cascading in. Win or lose, those opposed to the referendum must interpret the proposed referendum itself as actually a referendum on their poor performance to date. If not the governor’s plan, then somebody must come up with a plan! The present state of affairs, given the demographic projections of our nation don’t bode well for our future economy (or civil society); if the plan is to continue to create a soon to be majority segment of our youth population that is grossly uneducated and unprepared to function as productive citizens.

My advice to the governor…

As to the governor of Georgia: If he is sincerely interested in the plight of Georgia’s struggling public schools (and I am in no position to doubt his sincerity, even as I have doubts about his proposed solutions). If I were him, I would propose a few “modest” proposals that would, I believe really have a profound and positive impact on the quality of education in that state (while avoiding an ugly and divisive legal battle, I think):

1) I would start by introducing legislation that would dramatically strengthen the state ethics and conflict of interest laws when it comes to school boards. I would make these rules and regulations so stringent and strict that the only people who would want to seek a school board position would be those people who are genuinely interested in “Trusteeship”. Board membership should also be expanded to include college presidents-provosts, a representative of the Chamber of Commerce of that community, retired superintendents, and corporate executives. I would add “sharp teeth” to this legislation along with greater oversight and enforcement authority to an independent state commission. The school district’s attorneys should only represent the school district, not the board. Completely remove the board from any decision-making that involves personnel; as well as imposing severe sanctions for involving themselves in any of the day-to-day operations of the school district. Part of the inability to help schools to become academically successful, is the problem of large numbers of both urban and rural majority Black student school districts that suffer from: distractive and destructive operational interference from board members, and chronic superintendent turnover. This places the school district and its students at a disadvantage with many of the majority White and more stable school districts (the “school district stability gap”). Those Black children attending underperforming schools are in the greatest need of having superintendents who have the ability and authority to initiate and manage long-term sustained and measurable school improvement plans, projects and programs.

It is easier, and less expensive to “fix” high school student’s academic problems long before they reach High School. And so why don’t we do it?

2) The state should invest heavily in a comprehensive statewide early childhood education program. This program would begin with nutrition and parent education programs for pregnant mothers. I would conduct this “pre-pre-school intervention program” in cooperation with state’s obstetricians and pediatricians; every mother and father that leaves the hospital after the birth of their child should receive an educational package including books to read to their child, and a booklet on: “how to be an effective education parent”. I would turn the state’s pediatricians and pediatric dentist offices into book giveaway centers. In those districts that are academically underperforming, I would place full day pre-kindergarten in all of the elementary schools, thus providing them with certified teachers, and certified principal oversight.

Recruit, Enroll, Engage and Focus the private giving/philanthropic organizations and individuals in the state!

3) The governor could set up a fund-allocation (partially funded by private donors) for the poorest school districts in Georgia that will enable all of the schools in those districts to create comprehensive afterschool and weekend educational “themed” programs such as: STEM, art, instrumental music, dance, drama, chess, law and debate, coding and computer science, and “non-stereotypical” athletic programs (fencing, gymnastics, tennis, etc.) These programs are important for several reasons: first because they supplement the educational programs in schools where in many cases, they have abandoned these educational initiatives in order to devote a great deal of their budget and time to “test preparation”. Ironically, it is these curriculum areas that have been systematically removed from poor schools that actually inspire and expand a child’s intellectual capability, and allows them to perform better on standardized exams. These “extra curricula” activities will also serve to grow the “smartness” and cultural literacy of these children. Third, these activities will provide a safe and productive learning environment for what is too often an unproductive and unsafe time period for children at the end of the school day. Finally, these activities will offer the school with an additional opportunity (beyond the school lunch periods) to provide students with healthy and nutritious meals. I would compel districts to design a plan of action, including the appointment of a certified pedagogue to serve as district director of this program; and require the superintendents to evaluate, measure, report on, and hold these “out of school programs” educationally accountable. These programs should be staffed by certified teachers. This should not become a “jobs program” at the expense of the children. (Now I know Republicans are allergic to any type of revenue raising activity, no matter how practical or sensible. But I wonder if a referendum that asked for 1 or 2 dollars from the average Georgia taxpayer would work if the citizens fully understood the many more dollars they are presently paying as a result of academic failure!)

The governor should fully engage his “power to influence”, and his access to a “bully pulpit”!

4) The governor could take a page from a former Republican governor of New York State. When I served as superintendent of the Albany City School District (ACSD), I initiated a district wide literacy program titled: “Readers to Leaders”. This program was actually started when I served as superintendent of CSD 29 in Queens NY. I remembered as a high school principal how hard it was to educate young people who were smart, but could not read a high school textbook. It became clear to me that reading ability was the great “gate-keeper” that was preventing students from succeeding in all subject areas, not just English. Even today when I meet and talk with middle school and high school teachers and administrators “reading skills” is always at the top of the list of their concerns. But back in 2004 the then governor of New York George Pataki agreed and supported “Readers to Leaders”. One part of this project was the establishment of “home libraries” for our title I students in the district. We thought (and it turned out to be right) that if we established these learning “beachheads” in the homes of poor families, we could in effect change the entire education conversation in the city. Governor Pataki issued a statewide directive to all state agencies and departments in the state to volunteer and donate books for this project. Not only were we able to collect over 10,000 brand-new children’s books (for a 10,000 student school district), we were also able to collect along with help from the private sector, an equivalent amount in cash donations. Through the governor’s “power of influence”, we were able to make this program a tremendous success and provided boxes of books and book cases for hundreds of students (and their families) most of whom had a home collection of books for the first time in their lives.

5) The governor can push for legislation to enact a: (kind of “Kill two birds with one stone”)”Tuition-Tutorial plan! College students are presently struggling with the fear and reality of impending tuition debt. The governor can help those schools in desperate need of tutors and classroom teacher assistants, by allowing State University’s: Education-Foreign language-STEM-Art-Music, etc. majors to “work off part of their tuition” (while not penalizing the colleges by holding them budgetarily safe-harmless) by serving as tutors and teacher assistants in struggling schools. The governor, again utilizing his “power of influence” could ask that the non-state private universities also voluntarily participate in this program. I can’t imagine that this program would be unpopular with the electorate! An additional benefit is that you may be able to convince some of those students to consider teaching as a profession, particularly in those chronic staffing shortage areas for most school districts.

6) I think the governor should also ask the state board of education to initiate a major program that would make all students “algebra ready” by the eighth grade. This was another initiative from my CSD 29Q days. The educational “gatekeeping” partner to reading is mathematics; and poor mathematics skills will absolutely negatively affect the student’s ability to learn science. Further we essentially rule out a tremendous list of employment opportunities for students if they are unable to master the conceptual and procedural objectives of the mathematics curriculum. Further, employment forecasts is pointing to a greater need for students regardless of their career choice to be STEM literate. One of the ways we were able to dramatically raise math scores in CSD 29Q was to have elementary teachers “specialize” and focus on teaching either math and science, or English and history (“social studies”) this meant that 2 fourth grade teachers would divide their time teaching those two subject areas to both classes. This “flipping and concentration” of teaching duties, combined with targeted professional development allowed students to be taught mathematics by that teacher who was strongest (and more interested) in that content area. We also (including an early childhood center), assigned a dedicated STEM teachers in all middle schools and elementary schools in need of greater mathematics experiences for the students. These STEM teachers worked out of a state-of-the-art STEM Labs that utilize hands on projects and experiments to teach mathematics concepts. Finally, we had elementary schools organize a daily “mathematics teaching and learning block” for all elementary school students.

Adopting a statewide reading campaign…

7) I know that the concept of a “common core of standards” has fallen on hard times. But the governor should push the state education department to establish a common standard that students exiting middle school should at the very least be able to read a high school textbook. Which means the work must be done before high school. Much of the reason for the “chronically failing” high school label is due to the simple fact that the students simply cannot read, and specifically, cannot read and understand fictional (middle school) literature, mathematical word problems and the questions on standardized exams (i.e. ACT or SAT) a component of “Readers to Leaders” was helpful here. For those struggling middle school readers, (high school principals know so well!) who arrive to high school unable to read or decipher the textbooks are doomed without some kind of intervention. Our Readers to Leaders strategy was to place elementary reading teachers in middle schools who would start working with students in the 6th-8th grades, students who were in reality middle school “pre or beginning-readers”. Sending these “poor-reading” students to high schools “untreated” only leads to the continuation and creation of more consistently failing high schools.

Expand “informal education” opportunities for poor students…

8) A true, real but little-known educational “gap” that exists in our society, is the ability of some children in our nation to gain an advantage by way of parental knowledge and engagement in the parallel (to the formal school education system), informal education system. Meaning the ability to visit museums, cultural institutions, to be involved and have access to: music, art, chess, dance, photography, creative writing, STEM, scouting, non-stereotypical sports; instruction and classes. If the governor wishes to reduce the number of persistently failing schools, then he must expand and support the ability of faith based institutions, cultural institutions, museums, CBO’s and libraries to provide enriching afterschool-weekend learning experiences for young people starting in elementary school. There is a great deal of evidence to suggest that involving a child with a creative learning experience, under the guidance of a teacher/mentor increases the possibility that the child will carry over the discipline and information internalized while pursuing that activity, into the regular school classroom. (Although as a principal I had my stereotypical doubts in the beginning, I came to appreciate and respect, the discipline, focus and academic success, created in part by one of my students dedicated involvement with a formal boxing program at a local athletic youth center!)

Not all Black students are the same… (Not common knowledge in public education!)

9) The governor should encourage the establishment of a statewide strategy to: identify, “rescue”, and programmatically respond to those students of color who attend: “chronically, or occasionally underperforming (or average) performing schools”, but who themselves are “on or above” grade level academic achievement. The danger that is common in most state educational systems is to see all students of color in the context of “deficit”, “gaps” or “underachievement”. The students lose their individual profiles and personalities inside of a school-wide negative achievement designation. Unfortunately for these students, who are often trapped by way of their zip code; this systemic perception predictably creates its own perceived nightmarish academic outcome. The students will over time, be forced to perform far below their true intellectual talent and ability.

If you are going to change a high school, then really change it!

10) I would ask that the governor turn those “chronically failing” high schools into full education/service: “Beacons of Educational Excellence” learning centers! First, give each school a focus, a mission and a theme like: STEM, career technical education (CTE), creative/performing arts, medical science, etc. only really mean it! Which means that all of the schools would need some physical construction intervention, and have access to the necessary resources and equipment to fulfill their mission. All of the schools should be linked to a university and private industry partners. These schools would at the very least need to be “charter like” in hiring, assignments and work schedule. If you don’t match the most effective, skilled and efficacious teachers, with students who are grossly underprepared, struggling academically, badly underperforming, or horribly (in high school) “under-credited”; then any initiative no matter how grand is in danger of failing. I would essentially run the schools from 7 AM to 7 PM six days a week (with breakfast lunch and dinner included). The CTE high school should include a practical on-the-job experience component; including paid summer internships. I would load these schools up with: attendance counselors, clinical-counseling social service support personnel. I would put a full time medical clinic and dental center inside of each of these schools. Make the schools year-round and allow students to earn summer youth employment income as they engage in study-work-study projects for community development in the summer. Allow the students to spend some of their course taking time at one of the nearby HBCUs in places like Atlanta, or 2 and 4 year colleges and universities around the state.

Finally, and I know I am biased here, but these schools need really creative, dynamic, knowledgeable, and thoughtful instructional leaders to serve in the principal’s position. If as the saying goes: “A fish rots from the head down!” An effective school can only be effective if the head of that school is an effective leader. As a superintendent I have come to accept that a school can survive just about anything, except a bad principal. For such a principal, can undermine even the best efforts, of the best teaching staff. And so an important part of the governor’s (or anybody else’s) plan should be the recruitment and training of a really good cadre of principals for these terribly persistent underperforming schools; and then continue to invest in their professional development.

The high human-societal cost of systemic and organized educational neglect…

Since it is clear that over the last few days, the number of “deplorable” (does that also include the “vile” and “despicable”?) people you can fit into a basket, seems to be the primary story in the 2016 presidential contest. I personally believe that the 50% number was extremely generous on the part of Hillary Clinton, and she should be commended for that! Meanwhile, real discussions about real Americans who are suffering, are “off-topic”. And so I am very happy that Mr. Ferner returns our focus to the issues and people who need the attention of our government leaders. The amazing thing about this study is that it harms all Americans, but then it delivers its most severe and devastating “punches” disproportionately on those communities that are forced to serve up their children as the raw material for this criminal-justice system (which perhaps is one explanation as to why so many Americans don’t mind having their tax money wasted in this way.) One can only imagine, what this nation would look like (and could accomplish!), if we invested the time and energy, and one quarter of that trillion dollars in diverting young people of color into positive, productive and quality of life producing professional careers; instead of a community poisoning and destructive prison system?

“The Full Cost Of Incarceration In The U.S. Is Over $1 Trillion, Study Finds
And about half of that falls upon the families, children and communities of the incarcerated.”

Matt Ferner/Huffington Post

A new study examining the economic toll of mass incarceration in the United States concludes that the full cost exceeds $1 trillion ― with about half of that burden falling on the families, children and communities of people who have been locked up.
The United States is the biggest jailer on the planet, with less than 5 percent of the world’s population but nearly 25 percent of its prisoners. Another 7 million Americans are either on probation or on parole. Operating all those federal and state prisons, plus running local jails, is generally said to cost the U.S. government about $80 billion a year.
But in a first-of-its-kind study, researchers at Washington University in St. Louis found that the $80 billion price tag is likely a gross underestimation, because it does not factor in the social costs of incarceration.
“We find that for every dollar in corrections costs, incarceration generates an additional $10 in social costs,” Carrie Pettus-Davis, director of the university’s Concordance Institute for Advancing Social Justice and a co-author of the study, said last week.
At $1 trillion, the broader costs of incarceration dwarf the operational costs of the U.S. government. And disturbingly, more than half of that cost, researchers say, is borne by the families, children and communities of incarcerated people.
A growing body of research has established that formerly incarcerated people who get jobs tend to have significantly diminished incomes, even long after they leave prison. Researchers at Washington University found that incarcerated people lose about $70 billion in wages they would have otherwise earned as part of the workforce. And people who do find employment after incarceration miss out on an estimated $230 billion in reduced earnings over the course of their lifetime.
“Formerly incarcerated persons earn lower wages because they face occupational restrictions, encounter discrimination in the hiring process, and have weaker social networks and less human capital due to their incarceration,” the researchers note.
The formerly incarcerated also have a mortality rate 3.5 times higher than that of people who have never been incarcerated. Their shortened life spans collectively add a cost of almost $63 billion.
But the single greatest cost the researchers found has to do with the fact that high levels of incarceration may actually increase crime, not deter it, by “reinforcing behavior and survival strategies that are maladaptive outside the prison environment.”
The researchers note that there may be an additional destabilizing effect on communities where many people have been jailed, imprisoned or otherwise detained, thereby “weakening the social controls that bind neighborhoods together.”
Altogether, researchers put those costs of the criminogenic nature of prison at a whopping $285 billion.
The children of incarcerated people pay enormous costs. They are five times more likely to go to prison than their peers. They’re likely to be stigmatized and suffer long-term emotional and behavioral challenges. They also have a greater chance of living in poverty or general instability at home or becoming homeless themselves.
Ten percent of children of incarcerated parents are unable to finish high school or attend college. Many teenage children of incarcerated parents forego their education and enter the labor force early in order to make up for lost family income. And incarcerated people have triple the divorce rate of people who are convicted of a crime but not placed behind bars. Altogether, costs involving the children of the incarcerated reach over $185 billion.
In the researchers’ estimation, the full economic burden of mass incarceration in the U.S. comes to about 6 percent of the country’s gross domestic product. It’s also over 11 times larger than the operational costs of correctional facilities.
“Recent reports highlighting the costs to incarcerated persons, families, and communities have made it possible to estimate the true cost of incarceration,” Pettus-Davis said. “This is important because it suggests that the true cost has been grossly underestimated, perhaps resulting in a level of incarceration beyond that which is socially optimal.”

In Performing Arts High Schools; more or less concentration on “Academics” is the wrong question, and the wrong answer.

“…More than 7,000 people signed an online petition this week about the fabled Manhattan performing arts school featured in the movie and TV series “Fame.” Critics charge Principal Lisa Mars has pushed test scores and academics at the expense of the school’s core mission of encouraging young artists…”-NY Times/8/192016

“…A parental faction at Professional Performing Arts School in Hell’s Kitchen claim basic learning has been left behind in favor of splashy stage productions…”- NY Post/9/1/2016

Putting aside for the moment, for reasons of communication clarity, the fact that “the arts” are part of the required and necessary core curriculum, and are therefore very much “Academic”. But I understand how laypersons (non-professional educators) are speaking about this topic, and so I will temporarily adopt the public’s definition of “academics”. The problem in public education, is that we too often ask the wrong questions, and wonder why we always arrive in a non-productive place.

First of all, high schools generally have the unique challenge, responsibility and mission of preparing young people for the end of their public school experience, and for the beginning of an adult (career and/or college path), where the rules and expectations are very different from our K-12 world. High school educators must be in the center of the knowledge of that “adult world”; but at the same time not be philosophically, of that world. Our role is to facilitate a smooth, as possible, transition into the requirements of adult life.

We also want to balance several, sometimes competing objectives. (1) Making sure that the student graduates, with the most advantageous (for them) diploma possible. (2) Help the young person to fully realize their personal gifts and talents. (3) Help students to fulfill their hopes, dreams and professional aspirations. (4) create a situation whereas the young person will be able to sustain a financially independent and comfortable style of life as an adult. (5) Last, but in no way least, help young people to discover their “calling” in life; the reason and purpose for their presence on earth. I have always given students the advice I followed myself: “Find something you are passionate about, that you are good at, and love to do more than anything else; and then get paid to do it!”

A truly successful graduation is when you are able to accomplish all of the above 5 objectives. But this is where I get into trouble, particularly when it comes to Black males, and the unfair and dangerous life-lottery game they enter as it pertains to professional sports careers. We know, based on solid irrefutable data, that dealing with the present reality, many of the professions that students wish to enter, voiced at any K-12 grade level won’t be realized. And for many students in this nation the reasons have nothing to do with brains and talent. But even for those students who have access to great informal (out of school) educational experiences; those who do receive a rich, rigorous and high expectations formal educational school experience; this still may not result in their realizing a particular professional goal. It is often a “numbers”, connections, “opportunity” (that place where talent, timing and readiness meet), and talent game. For there are only so many: dramatic plays, Olympic team slots, films, professional sports teams open positions, principalships, judgeships, medical school slots, etc., available; and a large number of very talented people all be vying for the same positions and appointments. We could successfully argue that the present system is warped, but it is what it is. And high school educators (as powerful as we think we are) don’t get a chance to change the society that is external to our schools; only a chance to encourage students to change that society for the better when they take their places as citizen-caretakers of the nation.

Like most things in public education, an “either-or” solution, is almost always an oversimplification. The problem is compounded by the fact that we try to fit every high school into the same general high school mode of: labor agreements-laws, contracts, regulations, budget, and staffing, scheduling and organizational format. This “standard” format hurts all schools; but it creates even greater problems for CTE, STEM, performing arts, or any type of theme specialized high school. These schools are often placed in the position of trying to satisfy two conflicting missions (internal-external); with the clear political power differential favoring the external (State-Local oversight) mission.

How about thinking and doing these schools in a radically different way? A different staffing model and scheduling of that staff; a different day, week, semester and year. Why not design these school from “inside-out”; with structures and organizations that responded to the school’s mission? A way that would allow them to achieve the 5 principles with all students! Don’t make these schools look like other schools, make them look completely like different schools! Start with the type of student we want at graduation, and then work backwards to design a school to produce that student.

Every school regardless of theme should seek to accomplish the five principles I outlined earlier. That means engage and empower the gifts and talents of students; and at the same time provide them with the credentials, tools and skills to have a multiple path of future options. We know that many students “discover” a career they love after leaving high school; and so why not give them “flexible life-negotiation skills and credentials”, that would allow them to make the necessary adjustments they may need to make in a future career choice?

Besides, based on many of the Incoherent interviews, and bad decisions often made by a lot of performing arts and sports “stars”; I think that having a strong knowledge base of: foreign language & cultural literacy, history, Black-Latino-Women’s studies, literature, economics, mathematics, philosophy, sociology, psychology and science, would actually be helpful, and a career enhancer.

The new “no homework” movement is the same old dangerous trap.

“Change the joke and slip the yoke”—Ralph Ellison

“If you start off with the wrong premise; you are going to end up with the wrong solution to the problem, every time!”— Mr. Weingartner; (my high school geometry teacher)

It seems that the community and church elders from my Brooklyn childhood all studied from the same playbook. And that game-plan was summarized in my mother’s warning as I was about to embark on my personal contribution to the nation’s school busing for integration program: “Don’t get confused”; she said. “You can’t do, or not do, what those ‘other folks’ are doing or not doing; you will not be treated the same; follow yourself, and use the brains God gave you!” To be honest, I did not like that warning, or similar ones like: “You must be twice as good, just to get a fair chance to compete!” For they challenged my instinctual sense of basic human, ill-informed and idyllic sense of American fairness. But in those 1950-60’s days you had to listen quietly and respectfully; and debated and protested the issue (out of earshot) in your room. And now in my 60’s I have come to realize that the elders of my youth were correct and wise beyond all of the “book-learning” that gave me a false sense of superiority over their knowledgeable advice. Their education was not gained in the halls of a university; but rather, their understanding of race in America, evolved from their lived experience of a brutal system of social, political, economic and violence of pre-civil rights American apartheid.

And so it is this early warning system of my youth that has served to frame my ideas for our national fascination with public educational “faddism”. Social media has made things worse. The fact that all of these ideas either fail miserably, or “succeed” with an isolated and small cohort of very selected students, is perhaps lost on parents who are desperately grasping for any suggestion, regardless of the source, or the sense it makes for their particular child. We are definitely in permanent “band-wagon” mode. We jump on the wagon when a group of entitled and enfranchised parents want to put an end to “standardized testing” (except for: Gifted and talented programs, the specialized high schools admission exams, ACT, SAT, AP, Praxis, MCAT, GRE, LSAT, etc.!) Or, they push back against the “Common Core Curriculum”. But their opposition makes sense; if your child’s school’s strong instructional program is rich with thoughtful and ongoing assessments of an ongoing high quality of instruction; and it is a place where high expectations is the standard; or the standardized exams that identify the need for additional funding for struggling or poor students is not a factor. And of course, if your child’s school is already following a rigorous core curriculum, why would you need anything else?

As these “refound” & “(deformed)reformed” ideas and initiatives are rolled out every year, I wonder do parents of color, or poor parents of any color ever ask one of the most important question I think a parent should ask: “What does this policy, initiative, fad, trend, internet sensation, etc. mean for my child’s academic success?”

(And, how in the world did so many very successful people (past and present) in the world, possibly survive doing homework?)

The issue, a child’s academic success, is not primarily about the homework, rather it is about the quality of the daily class work!

For sure, if as a parent you have a sound “informal educational” (out of school time) evening-weekend plan for your child; meaning: independent fun reading time*, news watching, family current events discussions, educational toys, puzzles and games, art and science kits; your child has access to magazines at home: Popular Science, Smithsonian, National Geographic, Discover, Time for Kids, Science Spin, Super Science, Science World, etc.; STEM, art, or computer summer camps, after-school creativity-intellectual enrichment programs, hobbies (i.e. stamp collecting, baking, photography, etc.); music, art, dance, acting, martial arts lessons; non-stereotypical sports programs: i.e. fencing, gymnastics, archery
or swimming; study (as opposed to homework) resources i.e. online tutorial programs; a year-round-long plan of visits to: museums, plays, cultural institutions and events, library visits, trips to historical sites, national parks, just to name a few… then I could see where “bad homework assignments” would actually do your particular child more harm than good.

*Possible (depending on the child’s interest and reading ability) independent daily minimum reading schedule:
• Grades 2-3: 20 minutes a day.
• Grades 4-5: 30-40 minutes a day.
• Grades 6-8: 45-60 minutes a day.
• Grades 9-12: 50-60 minutes a day.

And to be honest, just like there is a great deal of bad instructional practices; there is also a great deal of bad homework assigned (After observing more lessons than I can remember, I have found that the two usually go together!) The “bad” problem is made worse in the pre-high school grades where the homework is often, and wrongly “corrected” by the parent; which renders it useless as a way for the teacher to properly assess and address a student’s conceptual “misunderstands”. There is also the problem of these parent-child homework sessions creating unnecessary tension and stress for both parent and child; and could actually do great harm to the parent as informal-education teacher-student relationship.

Much of the criticism of (bad) homework is accurate; but like standardized testing, we should not just get rid of something because uninformed educational policy makers (or in this case school administrators and teachers) don’t understand it, and therefore misuse it. The key is to place the home work activity into its proper pedagogical and most effective role. The ineffective, and in fact harmful “more homework the better” philosophy should end. A school is failing its students if it is seeking to prove its “rigorous profile” to parents through an overbearing quantity of homework; and not through the quality of work that takes place in the classrooms. Fooling parents is never a sound or useful learning objective.

The homework activity should be structured to close the parent “access to resources, knowledge of the English language, parent education, and awareness of the informal education school system– gap”. The homework assignment (HWA) must be a well thought out part of the lesson plan (at least that’s the way it was taught years ago in my curriculum and instruction courses; oh I forgot, teachers no longer need those courses!); it can explain, extend and “seal” the day’s lesson; or it can be a “set-up” for the next day’s lesson.

The HWA (like tutoring) should not look or feel like the school day’s classroom instruction. It should be different and creative in a way that it allows for students to display their creativity; it can be individualized, allowing the child to display some individual interest, talent or gift; the assignment could pull from: home, community and national/current events; it can be a service or “thought” project. What it should not be is an exercise in frustration producing monotonous drudgery; where the child is asked to do 20 of something that they did not fully learn in school.

And particularly in high schools; it should be substituted for study exercises; after of course we teach students how to study; and how it is qualitatively different from “homework”. I personally would like to see the model of deconstructing 3 problems (give the students the right answers, explain why the right answer is right; and why some wrong answers are wrong); rather than give students 20 problems, that take a lot of time, but yield very little conceptual knowledge, only a lot of frustration.

As a profession we absolutely need to clean-up our “homework”! But let us also be careful to not mislead the majority of public school parents into believing that: Learning = School. Learning does not end at the end of the school day, week or year. Many parents, including (to be honest) professional educators have a comprehensive out of school plan for their own children, that will effectively increase the child’s vocabulary capacity each year, empower their linguistic-speaking skills (that thinking-speaking link that Vygotsky speaks of); continually expanding their knowledge of “the world”, making sure that they are strong readers, working to make sure that their intellectual and creative talents are fully stimulated and developed; in other words giving them all of the attributes of what unconsciously, not on purpose, or on purpose, what the educational world has come to associate with “smartness”; which when formally assessed is most often parental influenced. And, make no mistake about it, “smartness” can be grown through parental awareness of informal educational activities.

A professional ethical code we should practice: Do unto other people’s children as we do unto ours…

And so let us design out of school assignments based on what our particular students need. HWA’s that can open students to those important, and usually parent driven, informal learning activities. I have seen too many “prominent” people who advocate for: “child free time” for other people’s children; but then make sure that their children are fully involved in all types of “structured-informal” inspiring, exciting educational activities for their child’s out of formal school time. The elders of my youth did not go for that “okey-doke” advice, or the joke that was designed to be on them, and their children. They were sensibly suspicious of any advice: “To help their children.” And because of that, they were inclined to ask the question, no matter what “new” idea was trending: “What does this mean for my child?” And, “Which children does this idea, help or hurt?”

Michael A. Johnson has served as a public school teacher, principal and superintendent.

Grading the NAACP an “Incomplete” on their critique of Charter Schools.

First, I am not a fan of the philosophy that schools should be turned into centers of private enterprise and profit; there are very sensible, moral and rational reasons for schools to not follow the “profit over people” business model; mainly because our “end product” is not “widgets”, cars or chairs; but rather the creation of reflective human beings; who through our efforts can act ethically, skillfully and thoughtfully in a world full of other human beings. As public educators we seek to enhance the possibilities for every child to have a positive future; we work for the establishment of spiritual and intellectual wealth building, over the principle of material accumulation (for the obscene sake of accumulation); our work seeks to make real the fulfillment of a personal (and the American) dream; and to give every child, regardless of their status, a chance to become a creative, productive and positive participants in what is the most wealthy of nations. That is, the (so far unfulfilled) promise of public education.

If we have learned anything from the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics, it is that given the encouragement, education, and a collection of adults who are thoroughly committed to the well-being and success of a child; amazing and wonderful things can happen. Simone Biles early “family struggles” didn’t keep people from seeing her personal potential; family historical status is not a permanent state, or a future predictor of talent and giftedness. I think Ms. Biles is one of many high archivers, in diverse areas of endeavors that we overlook, and deny a chance to succeed in our nation. And if public educators “coached” like: We can’t do anything about society, economics, housing, employment, or the “quality” of parents; but we can do something powerfully wonderful for this child in front of us; then our outcomes would be vastly different.

The absence of a: “do no harm to children”, “children’s right to learn, over an adult’s right to have a job” position. The presence of: “zip code, race and ethnicity as destiny” approach to public schooling, means that we will always invite “other than professional educators” to claim that they can “save education”. And unless we adopt an uncompromising code of professional ethics; and until we stop making excuses (money, parents education and the neighborhood the child is from) as to why our educational outcomes are so dismal and disappointing; there will always be the next “superman/women” (more than likely not a person of color) waiting to swoop in, even if they don’t possess any super powers or super knowledge as to how to educate children of color.

Charter school parents are voting with their feet, for the same practical and sensible reasons that my mother and a lot of other 1960’s parents, prayerfully put their children on scary school integration buses. Those parents were not knowing political allies of the Brown v. Board of Education attorney Thurgood Marshall (as worthy as his work was); and they had no illusion that having their child sit next to a White child would mean an osmotic expansion of their child’s brain cells; rather they were thinking along the lines of my mother: “When the school system teaches the white children (who they care about), they will also be forced to teach you sitting in the same classroom; (who they could care less about!) These brave and wise Black parents were simply trying to save their children. And that is what charter school parents are trying to do today; desperately trying to rescue and save their children from a public school system that is clearly disinterested in, and hostile to, the hopes and aspirations they have for those children. I would, given my own personal history, be hypocritical in criticizing charter school parents who are simply trying to save disenfranchised children that America might overlook, like I once was.

And to the extent that public education has failed to fulfill the sacred and most fundamental objectives of simply preparing children to be actors and active, and not just acted on in the future, is the extent to which we have open, and will continue to open the door to grossly unprepared, theoretically deficient, “seasonal and drive by educators”; as well as profit-making projects that have turned children of color into commodities. And in the racially discriminatory business environment of America, it is no accident that the overwhelming number of these educational entrepreneurs, don’t look like the children and families they serve.

If organizations like the NAACP want to credibly take on charter schools; then they need to also declare intense oversight over any and all organizations, politicians, groups, institutions (public and privately held) that work to delay or deny Black children the right to an enriched and empowering educational experience. Black parents are too busy trying to save and serve their child’s future; and therefore can’t hear the insincere verbiage of those seeking to serve their own self-interest.

Michael A. Johnson has served as a public school teacher, principal and superintendent.

Sitting out a presidential election; I guess it’s good to have options…


What if compassion is measured not by how much we felt our own personal pain and suffering; but by the extent that we felt, or at least understood, the pain and suffering of others? My greatest hope is that I am greatly mistaken concerning how a Trump win could end. That in fact the folks who have it right: The Intellectually lazy equivalence of evil ‘sit this one out’ theorist; The religiously inclined who say that a Trump presidency will usher in an apocalyptic end of times era; or the more politically inclined who say that a Trump presidency will usher in an era of severe fascist repression, that will then lead to a violent revolution, ending with the poor and working class overthrowing and achieving victory over the capitalist ruling class. Maybe they are the people who enjoy swimming with sharks or playing with rattle snakes. Or perhaps just ordinary cowardly folks who are psychologically attracted to bullies, misogynist blowhards, and the excitement of lynch mobs; and who are ultimately waiting for the magic sheriff to arrive so that the bully can be put out of his misery.

I really hope that the “Bernie or Bust”, and the “Hate Hillary at all cost” folks are right. For sure it’s a callous and dangerous gamble (It has always been too easy to gamble with other people’s children!) And this form of ill-informed benign neglect masquerading as political hipness is a much easier decision to make by people like me; people who have homes, health care insurance, and a decent & secure incomes. Those who will essentially be unaffected in their daily lives by who sits on the SCOTUS.

The truth is that for many of us, our standard of living is not really affected by who sits in the White House. And further, to keep it all the way real; if by some chance a Trump presidency does not lead to Armageddon; there are a lot of Americans (including Black, Latino and other people of color) whose material quality of life will be unaffected by a Trump presidency, as long as he specifically targets the: unemployed, the working poor, the undocumented, the disabled, the marginalized, Muslims, the LGBT and the disenfranchised members of our nation for his evil ambitions. Those in our society who have neither the financial resources nor the political strength to defend themselves. But what if none of the above catastrophic ending events take place? What if a Trump presidency does not end with either Revelations or a Revolution; just mass large-scale serious suffering; well some folks will have some explaining to do!

Let’s face it if we are selfish and self-serving in our thinking; the effects of elections can matter more to some in our nation than others (just ask the men and women in Virginia for whom Democrat Gov. McAuliffe is desperately trying to restore their voting rights; or the thousand, Black and White in Alabama, who are without any health care insurance because of the callous nullifying actions of a Republican governor; who by the way made sure his side activity had her health insurance!)

So far Mr. Trump has given me no indication that his presidency would bode well for many of the Americans I have cared dearly, and worked for my entire life. These people aren’t abstractions for me; in fact every time Mr. Trump makes a dismissive and disparaging remark about Latinos I see the faces of my wonderful former Latino students; when he advocates the banning of Muslims, I hear the voices of my many great Muslim students; when he mocks the disabled I think of all of the talented students with disabilities I have been honored to work with over the years; and when he disrespects women I can visualize all of the wonderful young lady students I have been fortunate to see grow into dynamic women; and when he denigrates Black people; I think of all of the outstanding Black students, now powerful productive adults, I have encountered in my professional career. The success of all of these people are the Americans for which Trumpism designates as standing in the way of a return to “greatness”; a time when these people were either property, things, closeted, “knew their place”, or relegated to the back of a bus or a separate water fountain.

The great myth of this world is that the unjust pain visited on another does not affect us. But a careful study of history reveals that paranoid narcissistic leaders who gain power are never satisfied just hurting one group; their ultimate goal is to inflict their personal pain onto the entire society.

Many Americans don’t have access to the many resources for which I have been blessed; and it is these Americans who will serve as Mr. Trump’s primary targets of repression, removal, suffering and death. But I have no doubt that I am next in line. Gambling on the survival of others; or self-destruction, is an option. And so I guess in that twisted sort of way, it’s good to have options.

Black and Latino youth, America’s unopened gift

Thanks Ayodele Harrison, for this video. I think Mr. Whitlock has essentially captured the problem. And I understand that the venue perhaps tamed his comments somewhat. And so let me go there. For me (and I know you have heard this from me a thousand times), this is a lot like the exclusion of huge numbers of our population from: STEM, economics, the creative arts, etc. I even believe that we would be better at Homeland security if the FBI was a more diverse organization. America is not fielding its best athletes, not only in soccer, but in many other sports (i.e. Swimming, Gymnastics, Chess, Archery, Fencing, Baseball, Gulf, etc.) Further, there are “internal” obstacles; I and many others have found ourselves in deep trouble (with Black folks) for trying to push “non-stereotypical” athletic programs; or even trying to make those stereotypical sports programs follow a scholar-athletic model.

But just look what happens when a child of color, who by “chance”, or who is blessed with very aware and supportive parents gets through (Ibtihaj Muhammad, Simone Biles, or the Williams sisters)! This nation has made a Faustian bargain, to purposely suppress and destroy a large percentage of winning members of our national team, in every category of life. And say whatever you want about the: “Make America Great Again Folks”, or the liberal: “Keep America how it is folks”; they are willing to take any national hit necessary, in science innovation, sports or the creative arts; as they see the necessity of empowering and preparing the talents and gifts of their own children.

My life-long struggle has been to convince the disenfranchised and disregarded members of our society that nothing else really matters if your children (your future) are not engaged in the development of their inherent creativity and intelligence. And so to return to a sports analogy, our children lose early and often in the game of life, because they are missing adults who will champion their cause. My “take-away” from the Alexander Hamilton Broadway phenomena is this: How many “Alexander Hamilton” like plays are locked and hidden away in the hearts and minds of America’s children of color? How many Williams sisters are out there who will never pick up a tennis racket?

Part 2: Teen Summer Break: Turning a Vacation into an Advocation.

Part 2 On Summer Learning Loss: Teen Summer Break: Turning a Vacation into an Advocation.

Successful high school students all have something in common: They turn time into an ally. And the smartest of those successful students (and their parents), plan how to take advantage of the long summer break from school; they know that an end to school does not mean an end of learning. Several important goals should be accomplished in the summers of the high school experience:

1) Starting in your freshman year of high school you should be building a personal essay, biography, a resume and portfolio that will strengthen your profile, preparation and presentation for your post high school college, college scholarships, and/or career choice plans. Even if you are working, you must turn the summer into a learning experience. If you have a summer position funded by the government, try to get assigned to a meaningful and responsible position, where you can learn. Many young folks who work for Summer Youth type programs are content to clean up parks or sweep streets; now there is nothing wrong with that type of work; but you should try to get into a position that you can actually place on a resume i.e. an aide in a senior citizen center, parks department, summer feeding program, day camp, an office aide, etc. Next be a model employee, no matter what you’re assigned to do (you never know who is watching you); be professional and polite; offer to do extra, go above and beyond the job description; stand out from other folks, come to work on time and every day, dress appropriately, finish a task, take pride in your work; the impression you make could be critical. You will need letters of recommendation for future employment, and a good referral could turn your next summer job into a summer/after school “staff” position. But most important do something where you are being forced to learn a skill or practice a talent you possess. Having worked many years with summer youth students; it was clear to me that in many cases young folks were having their first ‘formal” work experience; it was also clear that some were “briefed” by some adult prior to arriving to the job site. A good manager recognizes those “stand-out” individuals right away! Ask yourself: “How can I stand out, how can I distinguish myself in a positive way?” Let people remember your name for the best of reasons!

2) Summer jobs are great but paid or unpaid internships are better. An internship is a statement about you, it says that some (very busy) organization or institution; thinks you have so much talent, ability and promise, that they are willing to invest the people they actually pay to do things other than internships, to mentor you. A STEM internship is very highly sought and respected, as many of the people and places where they exist; are extremely busy and not particularly focused on mentoring folks who are not well versed in the theory of the work; but many STEM internships are out there for the asking! To be successful at acquiring a STEM internship I would suggest juniors and rising seniors, those who are very strong and interested in the STEM subject-topic area. It is also important to have a serious attitude as safety is a critical factor.

3) Sign up (contact the admissions office) for a scheduled college tour. Try to at least visit one local college a week, the catalogue and other published information is very important. I have even known colleges to give individual tours to a high school student and parent who took the time to contact the admissions office.

4) Start the college going (paying for) process in the 9th grade. Develop your college scholarship resource electronic file a good place to start is: … Stay away from commercial scholarship finding sites (.com’s) a waste of money and time; you can do everything they can do for free by doing the search yourself. Stick to college based, private foundations and governmental scholarship sites. This may not sound important now to a teenager, but huge financial tuition debt can seriously harm and/or delay your future professional plans. If you are either working or have access to a place, that has a license to access the Foundation Center’s website: Use it to research foundation grants, scholarships, internships, and study in the US, and abroad programs.

5) Come up with a summer reading plan (so much time or pages a day); this plan should have many of the books you read for enjoyment; but this list should also include some personal development and study guides/practices titles, a few such books are:

• The 6 Most Important Decisions You’ll Ever Make: A Guide for Teens: Sean Covey
• The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens: Sean Covey
• The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens Personal Workbook: Sean Covey
• How to solve math word problems on standardized test : David S. Wayne
• SAT and ACT Grammar Workbook : George Ehrenhaft
• Invisible Man: Ralph Ellison
• Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry : Mildred Taylor
• The Autobiography of Malcolm X : Malcolm X
• A Choice of Weapons : Gordon Parks
• The Bluest Eye :Toni Morrison
• Dark Child : Camara Laye
• Jesse : Gary Soto
• Narrative of the life of Frederick Douglass: Frederick Douglass

6) Start studying for the SAT/ACT early: Build and practice your vocabulary skills (mastering so many words a day); make and use index “flash” cards to master the most used (those that show up most frequently) on the ACT or SAT. Helpful source of words: Sesquipedalian SAT Edition: An Interactive Story to Learn Hundreds of SAT and ACT Vocabulary Words in Context: Joshua Gordon.

7) Strengthened your math skills: If you did not receive an A or 100 in your last math class use sites like Khan Academy ( to “restudy” those areas of weakness. Math concepts have a “nasty” way of reappearing (including showing up in other courses like physics or chemistry); also the concepts you don’t nail in a previous math class can come back to haunt you in a higher math class.

8) (I guess the statute of limitations have run out) But as a principal I have accommodated students who wanted to review the textbook for a class they were taking in the fall (they engaged in a sort of pro-active studying-tutoring!) I let them borrow the textbooks for the summer; you can also read text books at a local public library.

9) Come up with a cultural institution (I.e. museums, botanical gardens, etc.) visiting plan for your city. If a parent can go great, if not still go. Check to see if any free passes are being offered to visit cultural institutions in your area. Now many of these institutions will have a “suggested admission fee”; if you have it and want to give fine, if not, don’t worry about the possible side-eye look you will receive if you can’t pay, the fee is “suggested” or “recommended”, not required. Also many of these institutions that do charge, will have a “free day”; and most likely a lower student admission fee. Teenagers arriving alone could for some institutions be a cause for concern (except for the Public Library); fair or not, that is what it is. Always be respectful, don’t ‘horse play’, use low “inside voices”, don’t break any institution rules, have your student I.D., and only take one other teenager (who you know to have good sense) with you; and stay together at all times, including (if appropriate) the bathrooms! Don’t give an institution a reason to ask you to leave!

10) Try to develop at least one good hobby every summer; some will probably stick for a lifetime (for me it is stamp collecting). Find a way to explore and express a talent and creative desire you have (It was in my SYEP Pratt University experience where I developed a love for my photography hobby!)

11) If you are not working, or can afford not to work, or plan to work part-time; seek a volunteer position in a local government agency, hospital, lab, library, museum, art or cultural center, community based organization, an elected official (including working in the campaign of one running for office). If you can volunteer in an area of future career aspirations, all the better. Develop a 1 page letter expressing your desire to volunteer and learn this summer so as to enhance your college and scholarship applications profile (let someone review and edit the letter, like a teacher on vacation, sorry folks!:-) Don’t assume that “powerful” and “influential” people will automatically say no; in fact I know from working with many students on these letters; most people in positions of power admire this type of drive and attitude (if you don’t believe in you, then…), and even if they can’t specifically help you, they could make a referral, the worse that can happen is that they can say “no”…. And, young person, you will need to learn to deal with some “no’s” in your life.

12) Make this a safe, and not sorry summer! Anybody can follow the crowd; be and do something different each summer. Be a good different, and make a good difference (help a senior citizen in your neighborhood). Be and stay positive. Learn some new things. Learn somethings about yourself. But learn! Learn something that will make you a better person and a better student in the next school year. Go back to school better prepared and organized to do well. Use and control time, don’t let it use and control you. Create good and positive habits. Decide to return to school in the fall better organized, focused, disciplined and more determined. Steer clear of unsafe situations, and people who will bring trouble and problems into your life. True friends would never put you in a position to be mentally or physically harmed; or to distract you from your promised greatness. People who do that are not friends, they are obstacles and pitfalls (ACT/SAT words!) avoid them. You only have one life, and you are the #1 person responsible for how that life turns out. “Momma may have, Poppa may have”; but God bless the child that has the sense to live a life, in summer, and all seasons, that will allow them to fulfill their hopes, promise and dreams to the fullest.