Thanks Kanika Sloan for your question on the Secretary of Education Hearings…

I watched the entire session; and you are correct that the nominee’s level of “not knowing” about the fundamental current issues in education was frighteningly astounding. And to my great sadness, her even being considered for the position, is a statement about how some people in this nation view the importance of public education. But putting aside the totally useless and cynical “committee hearing” process-format, which sought to obscure rather than enlighten the public; let us put the role of the SOE in its proper perspective. First, I have a more “expanded” definition of professionally qualified to be the SOE, that would probably call into question many of the Secretaries of Education of the recent past, that most people felt no strong objections to their assuming the post; in many cases some former secretaries were only marginally more “prepared” then Ms. DeVos to act in the role. But her total lack of comprehension of the issues and challenges of public education are unprecedented and extreme; and will mean that unlike many of her predecessors she will have less than 0 positive impact on public schools in the US. This means for those children who are on the margins, disenfranchised and disconnected from wealth and political power, a period of injurious, uninformed and ignorant neglect awaits them for the next four years. However, the schools serving the entitled, will go on unchanged in their effectiveness.

Secondly, the strong “localized” structure and format of public education; and the SOE’s limited power that is restricted to “acts” linked to federal funding; severely limits the power of any SOE to make dramatic district/school/classroom changes. The position of the SOE ultimately rest in its power to influence and inspire from a position of knowledge and experience; which is why the “one trick pony” charter school solution was exposed as theoretically deficient last night, for it will fail to solve the multilayered, regional and population specific problems that confront public education.

The vast overwhelming majority of students in America attend traditional public schools; those students will still be attending those same schools after Ms. DeVos tenure ends. And one tragedy of the hearing was that she was never forced to present her plan for making those public schools and students successful; even as she was pressed by a Republican senator who informed her that for most of the nation, charter schools are not an option and/or even wanted! Finally, she (and Mr. Trump), as many of us have learned, that assuming a public position of official responsibility, is very different from talking about that position, and “what you would do” if you had it!

However, there were some critical points that emerged from the hearing:

-Her possible financial conflicts of interest are troubling.

-Her lack of knowledge and solidarity with the goals and objectives of the: Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) must be freighting to adults with disabilities, and to the parents of students with disabilities.

-Her past donations to organizations that sought to discriminate against the LGBT community.

-Her inability to comprehend (admit, acknowledge) the poor performance of Charter Schools she helped to create in Michigan, was revealing and not promising.

-Again her lack of knowledge and support for the principles of Title IX, particularly during her response to a question, those sections that specifically address sexual harassment, sexual violence on college campuses. I could not imagine her comments were reassuring to the millions of parents whose children attend, or plan to attend colleges in the US.

-Her failure to deny Charter and Voucher programs the ability and right to “legally” discriminate either by forcing (they dishonestly say that parents “chose” to forgo their rights) to waive their child’s right to services identified in the child’s IEP. The ability of these charter-voucher schools to simply not choose students who have emotional or academic problems/challenges; or, at the opportune time, without much parent recourse, put them out. To utilize the little understood leverage of “parent push” (parents having the information and capability to seek out a voucher or charter school; will more than likely to be more active than the average parent in their child’s education.) All of these acts allow Charter Schools in some cases, to artificially post “better scores” than public schools. I definitely don’t want to be placed in the position of defending much of what is wrong with traditional public schools; but perhaps the charter schools in Michigan (Albany, DC, etc.) gives us some insight into what happens when charter schools began to take in large numbers of “challenging” students.

-One of the scariest parts of the hearing for me was the question that was not asked: With all of the above advantages (along with labor contracts and regulations relief); why did the Michigan charter schools (her work-product) perform only a few points better than traditional public schools? (For those few percentage points we made people like her rich?) Her total lack of self and programmatic awareness/evaluation does not bode well for US children. That past performance of the nominee in Michigan, should in itself be a disqualifying action.

-The Democrats must understand that the conversation of: The Charter School movement taking money from traditional public schools budgetary algorithm-analysis-argument, is only interesting to people who find it interesting. The Black parents who are choosing to send their children to charter schools, are doing so out of a desire to save their children from institutions they (rightfully) believe practice low expectations, and that champion adult employment over student academic success. These parents based on my many discussions with them are not interested in the charter-traditional public school debate. The Democrats will need, if they want to make a traditional schools argument and case; to work out of a playbook that is parent/student rather than labor organization focused. As both a principal and superintendent I always said that our “best defense” of traditional public schools is to produce the best schools (by getting out of our own way); and the parents will vote with their feet!

-The 800 lb. gorilla in the room was teacher unions/tenure rights and both sides conveniently and dishonestly (for their own different political reasons) avoided this important discussion. The Democrats because they represent an important constituency (more important than Black parents and students); and for Republicans it is the single topic that is used to justify the commercialization of public education.

-The other tragedy of the hearing (and I will stop here); is the destructive discussion, on the part of both Republicans and Democrats of Black students in the context of: “deficiencies”, “lack”, “gaps” and “underachievement”. Poverty, neighborhood, or level of parent education cannot as single or combined factors fully account for the terrible absence of educational opportunities for Black children, who have nothing wrong with their brains. There is just no meaningful local or national conversation about what to do with Black (or Latino) students who are on or above grade level learning standards.(And let us not forget about the lack of access to gifted and talented programs!) The majority of those students unfortunately, because of being ignored, fall into the “at risk” category of underperforming or failing. If as a nation we can’t make the majority of these students academically successful; then what chance do we have with those students who are a little or a lot below the grade level standards?

And so I am still waiting for that question to be addressed by our local and national leaders; my guess is that it won’t be; after all what would happen if a large section of the population is shifted from the criminal justice-social “fixing” industry, to being competitive and productive citizens? Black students must be removed from the role of being “political metaphors” in two equally non-productive and destructive educational conservative-liberal debate. My guess is that the communities that house these students will need to take, through collective-political and individual-independent acts, the educational destinies of their children into their own hands; if there is any hope that these students will be effectively educated.

The History Lesson Lost At Talladega College…

If you choose a leadership/Drum Major position; then lead with integrity. If you want to march, then don’t lead students astray. Don’t march for bigotry, or sell your inherited mission and purpose for a few coins. If one must march, then let it be for a cause that is greater than oneself!

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.:

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“Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter. I won’t have any money to leave behind. I won’t have the fine and luxurious things of life to leave behind. But I just want to leave a committed life behind. And that’s all I want to say…”

Let’s just say it: Talladega College needs a strong Development Office!

First the truth will set things straight. I have been involved in many of these types of events, from hosting State Department sponsored tours for visiting foreign government officials as a principal; to a POTUS visit as a superintendent. I can tell you that there is no such thing as a “surprise invitation”. The public release of the “invitation”; is the culmination of many private “off-the-record” preliminary conversations. Translation: Talladega college officials had a chance to say “no thanks” privately; and it would not have been in the interests of Mr. Trump, or the college to share that “no thanks” information publicly.

Now with that out of the way. There is a standard college/university rule: Do nothing to upset, embarrass, shame, anger, or in any way cause your alumni to not want to support the college by their association with that college, financial giving, or with student recruitment. The present student body is your #1 constituency, faculty #2, and the alumni is #3!

No matter the bold and creative attempts by the national news media to normalize this past election, as well as the person who won the majority of the Electoral College votes; there are large numbers of Americans who have been abnormally insulted, marginalize, dismissed and diminished by both the campaign rhetoric, and by the ongoing behavior of the POTUSELECT. It is safe to say that a large segment of the Talladega college student body, faculty, alumni and supporters, along with many who share a cultural link with those individuals, have clearly been the primary targets of a presidential campaign and transition plan, that seeks to further attack and destroy the progress made by African-Americans in this nation. This would also include a “counter negative narrative”, which stands in opposition to the positive narrative that led to the continued need for the HBCU system.

And after so many years since the publishing of Ralph Ellison’s invisible Man; where he graphically describes the demeaning “groveling approach” to raising funds for Black colleges; we now know that this type of fundraising strategy is no longer needed are even applicable today. And so now it is a shame that in this current era, that Black students attending a HBCU are being asked to “dance” and “play” to honor loud and obnoxious bigotry, masquerading as some kind of traditional pageantry.

College officials may want to pretend that there is no “quid pro quo”; but the truth is, there are always “benefits” in these types of situations; especially in the case when a desperate inauguration planning committee is finding it hard to pull in conscious, sensitive and aware entertainers (or just people who don’t want their name-brand associated with “ugliness”) of any race and nationality.

Which leads me to my main point; clearly Talladega college officials find themselves in this terrible situation because they probably are strapped for cash. The long-term and more effective approach is for the college to do what every college that hopes to be financially viable in the modern era is doing, and that is to create a dynamic Development Office.

The cost of operating a college or university is daunting; and there are limits as to how much they can raise from student tuition. Therefore, no serious college can presently hope to be financially viable, let alone expand and thrive, without a strong Development Office; and the good news is that these efforts essentially pay for themselves. This is the department that could be charged with raising funds by way of college related products, special revenue-generating events, special governmental and non-governmental foundation grants, coordinate specific campaigns (i.e. a new library, robotics lab, etc.), soliciting support from “friends and benefactors of the university”; and last but not least to encourage the alumni to give; for what group has a larger stake in the college’s success! And so one of the major responsibilities of a Development Office is to keep those alumni happy, proud, involved and active donors; “marching for Trump”, does not in this case help in that effort.

But something that is as important as a HBCU should not only rest on the shoulders of the alumni; the truth is that the “overflow” generated from the annual Black American GNP (the economic value of services and products we collectively produce) could easily fund 10 Talladega colleges!

Politics aside, one of the most important assets of a college and university is its good name and good standing. Which is why these institutions invest so much in acquiring and maintaining a good “public look” and positive image (Have you seen those great non-sports University of Alabama commercials focusing on the strength of their academic departments?) I have gone on enough college tours over the years to clearly see the difference in investment levels, attention and professionalism that various institutions put forward in their recruitment presentations to students.

It is essential then that Talladega college officials think hard and long before they make a decision that could seriously compromise, and perhaps damage their public image. They may find in the long-term that the “pocket change” they collected today will be incapable later of covering the cost of restoring and reconstructing the good image they previously held, and then decided to sell so cheaply.

Yes, Talladega College needs a strong Development Office; and yes they also need our support!