*Available Now* The Color of Education podcast: Academic Segregation: Milwaukee School Vouchers vs. Special Education/Special Needs/Disability Youth

Academic Segregation: Milwaukee School Vouchers vs. Special Education/Special Needs/Disability Youth

LISTEN HERE:

Join host Ernest Saadiq Morris, Esq. of Urban Youth Justice in a conversation with Jeffrey Spitzer-Resnick, managing attorney of Disability Rights Wisconsin, and Courtney Bowie, senior attorney of the ACLU Racial Justice program, regarding their civil rights complaint to the U.S. Justice Department against the Milwaukee school vouchers program–for its exclusion of students with special needs & disabilities from enrollment in private voucher schools.

They examine how all students left behind in Milwaukee’s public schools face the negative effects of a segregated learning environment.

They also discuss how disadvantaged communities of color are publicly funding this educational discrimination that undermines their own struggle for community justice and educational equality.

Advertisements

Special Ed Warehousing: Special Education Means No Education for Many Youth Of Color

Published on Dignity In Schools (http://www.dignityinschools.org)
By Ernest Saadiq Morris, Urban Youth Justice

“We come then to the question presented: Does segregation of children in public schools solely on the basis of race […] deprive the children of the minority group of equal educational opportunities? We believe that it does.” – U.S. Supreme Court, Brown v. Board of Education(1954)

Corporate education reformers have imposed an unrealistic goal of achieving a standardized “lock-step” performance from diverse student populations that many public school districts have adopted and thus cultivated a toxic combination of pressure and bias.

The pressure from high stakes test-based performance assessments leaves no incentive for teachers and administrators to invest general education class time for individualized attention or to implement diverse culturally responsive teaching methods. Therefore, a student that falls behind academically is at high risk of being labeled and stigmatized as a “slow learner” and falsely placed in special education or an inferior academic track.

As a result, the labeling of youth of color as “difficult-to-teach” as the basis for a special education referral is a far too easy pretext for implicit cultural bias or self-serving classroom management. At-risk youth of color demonstrating verbal defiance, physical aggression or inattention can often be corrected through supports within a general education setting, as well as better teacher training in culturally responsive methodology, instead of special education referrals.

Special education warehousing of Black youth and other youth of color is rampant in too many urban school districts. Special education warehousing is the disproportionate removal of youth of color from general education classrooms through referrals to special education classrooms that segregate them from the student population. Disproportionality occurs when the percentage of Black youth in special education —or a similarly situated special education subgroup, such as Latino/Hispanic English Language Learner students— is not proportionate to their percentage in the school or district’s general population.

This practice is similar to the post-Brown v. Board era practice of discriminatory labeling of Black and Latino students as mildly retarded in order to dump them in segregated classrooms — in an attempt to avoid the legally required integration of public schools. This practice was eventually prohibited by multiple lawsuits.

In Houston, Texas, a Fall 2010 audit commissioned by School Superintendent Terry Grier revealed that a majority of the Houston Independent School District(HISD)’s 16,386 special education students are Black youth. Worse, their placement was based on disproportionate labeling of Black students as mentally retarded and emotionally disturbed. Hispanic English Language Learner students were similarly over-identified for special education placement in junior high and high school grades suggesting that they received inadequate language assistance in elementary grades that resulted in false special education labeling in the later grades.

Likewise, Austin ISD Superintendent Meria Carstarphen commissioned a report which found that its African-American students were overrepresented within special education programs. Black youth made up only 12 percent of all enrolled student, yet were identified as 24 percent of students labeled with intellectual disabilities and 33 percent of students labeled as having an emotional/behavioral disability.

In May 2010, the Palo Alto Unified School District was issued a notification letter by the California Department of Education as one of 17 seventeen school districts statewide that had “significant disproportionality” in its special education referrals of Black and Latino youth. For instance, one district middle school placed 55 percent of its Latino students and 33 percent of its Black students in special education in 2009-2010.

Federal law requires that all K-12 students with disabilities receive a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) in the least restrictive environment. Even for falsely labeled special education youth of color, the denial of that labeled student’s FAPE is a serious matter. Furthermore, special education warehousing of urban youth of color often involves an inferior, non-remedial educational curriculum with uncertified or inexperienced teachers within an isolated and/or segregated environment. The Georgia Department of Education’s 2009-2010 special education annual report verified that African-American students are overrepresented statewide in special education classrooms. According to the report, African-American students make up 47% of students labeled with Emotional Behavioral Disorders and 57%of the students with Intellectual Disabilities. The report also noted that Black students are more likely to be isolated in a special education classroom away from their general education peers. Racially disproportionate segregation is evidence of the denial of the FAPE guarantee to Black special education students and a violation of federal law.

Zero tolerance discipline combined with high stakes testing increases the discriminatory impact of the School-to-Prison Pipeline on the educational results and criminal justice consequences for special education students of color. African-American and Latino students, as well as special education students, each separately face disproportionate rates of disciplinary referrals. Accordingly, special education students of color face dual risk of higher rates of disciplinary referrals for suspensions, alternative school assignments, and expulsions, which correlate to lower graduation rates. Thus, the discriminatory impact of disproportionate special education placement of youth of color not only constitutes denial of a quality education but also increases the risk of referrals to the criminal justice system and future incarceration.

Ultimately, special education warehousing, i.e., the disproportionate placement of youth of color in special education, undermines the post-Brown v. Board meaning and purpose of public education. It is the modern manifestation of the Jim Crow origins of separate and unequal education discrimination that perpetuates race-based structural barriers to equal educational opportunity. Education reform should not be a proxy for the continued marginalization and criminalization of Black youth and other youth of color due to the pursuit of a standardized performance that encourages structural inequality and implicit bias in special education referrals and school discipline.

Ernest Saadiq Morris is a youth rights advocate, civil rights and liberties lawyer, and founding director of the public education and advocacy initiative, Urban Youth Justice. You can follow Urban Youth Justice daily on Facebook and Twitter.

The American Pipe Dream: Winning the Future Without Youth of Color

Published on Dignity In Schools (http://www.dignityinschools.org)
By Ernest Saadiq Morris, Urban Youth Justice

“Cutting the deficit by gutting our investments in […] education is like lightening an overloaded airplane by removing its engine. It may make you feel like you’re flying high at first, but it won’t take long before you feel the impact.” – President Obama, State of the Union Address, January 25, 2011

In his January 2011 State of the Union speech, President Obama introduced “Winning the Future” as a slogan to underline the urgency and importance of continued investment in public education to ensure the future of American success and competitiveness domestically and abroad. Nevertheless, the Obama Department of Education’s Race to the Top funding competition champions corporate-driven education reform that rewards standardized testing performance and private charter school expansion, while failing to equally prioritize the guarantee of equal educational opportunity. As schools focus on meeting statistical goals, educational disparities often remain unaddressed or actually worsen due to school practices – such as the disproportionate use of zero tolerance discipline and special education placements, as well as inferior curriculum tracking – that contribute to unequal educational opportunity. These disparities threaten to undermine the future participation of a generation of students of color in the American dream.

Indeed, recent evidence shows that zero tolerance school discipline and criminal justice referrals continue to disproportionately affect Black, Latino and other disadvantaged youth, i.e., students with special needs/disabilities, LGBT and English Language Learner students.

A March 2011 report co-authored by the Florida NAACP, Florida ACLU and the Advancement Project, Still Haven’t Shut Off the School-to-Prison Pipeline, indicated that Florida school districts are referring too many students to the criminal justice system for school misbehavior – even after state law was changed to eliminate zero tolerance and give school officials discretion for handling certain offenses, such as fighting, trespassing, disorderly conduct and theft of less than $300.

The law sought to draw a distinction between petty acts of misconduct and misdemeanors and serious threats to school safety, said Howard Simon, executive director of the Florida ACLU. What we’ve found instead is that some districts are continuing to refer cases to law enforcement that may be better handled at the school level.

Similarly, a January 2011 report exposed a crisis of systematic school pushout of Philadelphia’s Black and Latino students through widespread and discriminatory use of zero tolerance discipline. At the same time, New York City continues to blatantly disenfranchise Black and Latino youth of equal educational opportunity in multiple ways, including: disproportionate denial of admission of Black and Latino youth to elite, specialized public schools based on a single standardized test score, disproportionate closures of public schools that serve the most disadvantaged Black and Latino youth with special needs, and the disproportionate zero tolerance discipline of Black and Latino youth.

Meanwhile, Alabama Republican Party leader Hugh McInnish recently sent a letter defending the disparities in education and discipline between Caucasian and Black students in the Huntsville, Alabama school district, highlighted in recent findings of the U.S. Justice Department, declaring: “If there is unfairness, it is because life itself is unfair. The unfairness is not manmade.”

This stunning attempted justification of unequal educational opportunity shows a callous disregard for the life potential and value of Black youth and other disadvantaged youth that is reflected in education policies nationwide.

Color-blind and disability-free education reform urges the general public’s acceptance of survival of the fittest education policy methods as simply enforcing higher standards of accountability. Even the extended economic recession is exploited as a convenient justification for educational disparities, since the grouping of youth into educational haves and have-nots supposedly assists with the effective investment of limited public education funding. It is no coincidence that the corporate education reform model stigmatizes youth of color from politically and economically disadvantaged communities as it simultaneously disenfranchises them of their right to equal educational opportunity. This perpetuates the school-to-prison pipeline and cycle of exploitation of youth of color that increases their risk of mass incarceration and lifelong economic oppression, including chronic un/underemployment and intergenerational poverty.

Failing to effectively educate youth of color risks a future majority population that is alienated from society. Projected population demographics indicate that, by 2023 youth of color will make up the majority of children under 18, with Latino minors comprising the largest segment of that population. And the overall white population will reach minority status possibly as early as 2039, but no later than 2050 based on the most conservative estimates.

A potential critical mass of economically dispossessed persons with underdeveloped critical thinking and a lack of advanced trade skills will surely throw this nation into crisis. The impending drain on social services budgets alone would significantly burden state and federal governments and it is doubtful that an aging minority white population would be able to sufficiently pick up the economic slack to maintain a robust economy. This is not a winning formula for a brighter future.

Blind support of a business-modeled reform agenda that prioritizes value-added evaluation of standardized testing performance without addressing institutional learning and discipline disparities will only continue the devaluation of students of color and the disenfranchisement of their right to equal educational opportunity. Education reform that emphasizes an individualized learning process that prepares each student with critical thinking, problem solving, and trade skills is the best possible stimulus investment of public dollars. If we are serious about winning the future, then we must ensure that education reform methods are accountable to the right of equal educational opportunity for all. Educating the most vulnerable of our youth is a smart investment in the future majority population and the long-term vitality of our nation.

Ernest Saadiq Morris is a youth rights advocate, civil rights and liberties lawyer, and founding director of the public education and advocacy initiative, Urban Youth Justice. You can follow Urban Youth Justice daily on Facebook and Twitter.

The False Promise of Color-Blind & Disability-Free Education Reform

Published on Dignity In Schools (http://www.dignityinschools.org)

http://www.dignityinschools.org/content/false-promise-color-blind-disability-free-education-reform

The False Promise of Color-Blind & Disability-Free Education Reform
By Ernest Saadiq Morris, Urban Youth Justice Initiative

The public debate over education reform reached a crescendo in 2010. This debate was dominated by a media-celebrated corporate education-reformer class consisting predominately of white male alumni of privileged secondary schools and universities. Their brand of education reform is focused on high stakes, standardized tests and the promotion of private charter schools. After all, their background of cultural and educational experiences is most favored by the standardized tests upon which these same privileged academic institutions placed a high premium. It is what they know, but it is the wrong prescription for those urban youth of color most at risk of harm from failed public education experiments.

It is well-documented that there is an academic achievement gap for Black males (and other youth of color) as evidenced by lower standardized test scores and graduation rates. Factors such as the proliferation of zero tolerance discipline policies, high stakes standardized testing, disproportionate special education placement, and unequal school funding have discriminatory impacts upon urban youth of color and youth with disabilities and perpetuate educational inequities.

Furthermore, in our nation’s largest urban school districts poverty tracks race. Yet in How to Fix our Schools: A Manifesto, the celebrities of urban corporate education reform, including Michelle Rhee(D.C.), Joel Klein(New York City) and Paul Vallas(New Orleans), loftily declared:

the single most important factor determining whether students succeed in school is not the color of their skin or their ZIP code or even their parents’ income — it is the quality of their teacher.

Then they set forth how standardized testing and the proliferation of charters are the magic cure-all to improve student and teacher performance, as well as the education system overall.

The fact that sixteen urban school district chiefs refused to address poverty, race, or disability inequities as integral to their education reform manifesto is a heinous omission.

As a result of this blind-eye approach, many youth of color won’t have access to a reform agenda concentrated in charter schools. Worse, the proliferation of charters undermines their right to equal educational opportunity by taking from limited public funds while serving a smaller, less diverse student population than truly public schools. This issue arose recently when the Los Angeles Unified School District was literally forced to give local charter schools a larger cut of its special education budget because they would lose even more funds if charter schools carried out their threat to contract out special education services for which they currently pay the District. As a result of this compromise deal, the District’s traditional public schools will receive less money while continuing to serve more special education students. Indeed, the Los Angeles Times noted that the Unified District’s numbers show about 12% of students district-wide are classified as special needs, yet charter schools only offer special education services to about 6% of their students.

The chronic underserving, or outright exclusion, of special needs youth by charters claiming they are not equipped to handle their needs is a persistent national problem. In October 2010, the special education inequities were so dire in New Orleans that the Southern Poverty Law Center and other advocacy groups filed a lawsuit contending that due to widespread discrimination students with special needs were denied an appropriate education by the majority-charter school New Orleans Recovery School District either denying their enrollment due to their disability or forcing them to attend schools ill-equipped to accommodate their disabilities.

In an ongoing Philadelphia area lawsuit, Blunt et al v. Lower Merion School District, parents of African-American students say they were systematically denied an education equal of their Caucasian classmates due to disproportionate special education placement and lower level curriculum tracking of Black students.

Likewise, high stakes standardized testing has a disproportionately negative effect on Black and Latino students, as well as special needs youth. In 2010, the Advancement Project’s report Test, Punish, and Push Out: How Zero Tolerance and High-Stakes Testing Funnel Youth into the School to Prison Pipeline examined how high stakes standardized testing works with zero tolerance discipline policies to pushout youth of color, especially those from a low income background:

[T]oo many children continue to be labeled academic failures even though they are making progress. These students are shamed by their peers, their teachers, and their communities because of the impact, their test results can have on school assessment.

Additionally, the results from standardized tests are often used to retain students in grade. Yet grade retention has been shown to be the single largest predictor of student dropout. Unless accompanied by targeted and intensive supports and interventions, student retention fails to produce academic gains for the retained students and makes it more likely that the students will experience future behavioral problems.

High stakes testing does not address or alleviate academic achievement disparity rather it stigmatizes it and eventually leads to high pushout/dropout rates. Thereby high stakes testing perpetuates the achievement gap stigma of youth of color and exacerbates their educational disenfranchisement, instead of alleviating it through academic interventions and supports. Once driven to dropout these youth of color and youth with disabilities officially became part of a growing invisible class.

Color-blind and disability-free public education reform is a dangerously exclusionary vision of public education in the image of the elitist academic and cultural backgrounds of the corporate education-reformer class. Equal educational opportunity is a fundamental right of all youth, and its systematic denial is no less than a crime–especially given the historical educational inequities of youth of color and youth with disabilities. Attrition by pushout or dropout of our most at risk youth is merely continuation of the unacceptable status quo that can not justify the redirecting of limited public funds to private hands nor the undermining of every student’s sacred right to equal educational opportunity. It is an illusion of progress and false promise of real reform. Good intentions are not an excuse.

WA State Gov. conducting survey public on education reform priorities

Washington State Governor Christine Gregoire is asking for community stakeholders to answer an online survey on how to prioritize the state’s Education reform issues. Feedback is accepted until Thanksgiving Thursday, November 25, 2010.

Take the Education Survey: http://ospi.a03ddf506d29.sgizmo.com/s3/.

Raise your voice to advocate for real education improvements, not the corporate takeover of education!

~ESM

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood? – a random encounter with Urban Youth turns personal…

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood? – a random encounter with Urban Youth turns personal…

by Ernest Saadiq Morris

This weekend in Los Angeles, I had an interesting encounter with a Latino youth.  I was dressed in my regular, off-duty “no court no clients” outfit of a hoodie, fitted cap, jeans and sneakers, bumping Hip Hop on my Ipod while waiting to catch a bus. I noticed this young, tall Latino curiously looking me up and down as he walked towards me, so I nodded at him as he passed me. (The L.A. Black-Brown tension is notoriously hyped, but for the most part people get along…still you always have to be ready for anything. Feeling no animosity, I remained neutral and open to the encounter.)

The young man circled back, walked up to me and started by asking me if I had watched the last Monday Night Football game, then asked me if I liked any other sports. He seemed friendly enough but also searching for something, so I humored him and answered his questions– still curious where this was going. The bus arrived and, since we got on at the same time, I decided I needed to get to the bottom of this.

In five minutes, I found out he was only 14 years old and was “done with school” because he had been “kicked out for selling weed” last year, not because he got caught, but because another student “snitched” on him — as a result, he hated police because they acted like what he did was “so wrong.” After he was expelled, his parents had wanted to kick him out of their house but he had quickly told them he would pay rent. So now he’s working (legitimately) and  “doing his own thing” which includes playing basketball and video games every day. He even said with full youthful sincerity that he might go to the University of Kansas to play college basketball someday … and it hurt my heart that he thought that on his current path that was still an option.

Hearing all of this, I figured I had a limited amount of time to drop some well-disguised “jewels” that might help him. First, I told him I respected him for having a job because there are plenty of grown men that don’t work. He tried to disguise it but the pride showed on his face for a few seconds after my compliment. Also, I told him I thought he was smart for deciding to pay rent to his parents and stay at home, because a 14-year-old on the street is only going to last so long before someone tries to f#@k his life up.  Then I suggested that maybe he could try to get his GED in a couple years because most people treat it the same as a high school diploma these days.

That’s all I could tell him in about 5 minutes before he said “See ya around!” and hopped off the bus. He was a well-mannered, clean, intelligent and a very likable young man that could potentially do or be anything that he wanted. Have you seen the AT&T commercial where the Latino guy meets a girl on the train, they eventually marry, and much later, he becomes the first Latino President? Well, if that guy had been kicked out of school as a 14-year-old because of zero tolerance school discipline policies, that fairytale ain’t happening! How many young lives are we wasting and how much does our society- –which latest census figures indicate will be a “majority minority” nation in 2042 –lose by not seeing our Youth, especially Black & Brown youth,  reach their potential?

See ya around? I hope so, young man.