Month: May 2015

Lack of Minority Students in Idaho Charters

Guest Editorial by Levi Cavener

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Levi B Cavener is a special education teacher in Caldwell, Idaho. He also manages the education blog IdahosPromise.Org

Time to Fix Idaho’s Charter Schools

60 years ago this month, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education. On May 17, 1954, the High Court ruled unanimously that U.S. public schools must be desegregated, that separate school systems for blacks and whites are inherently unequal and a violation of the “equal protection clause” of the U.S. Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment.

It’s now more than a half century later. Here, we have Idaho.

On April 29, 2015, the Idaho Public Charter School Commission released their first ever Annual Report. A damning self-indictment, it paints a painfully grim picture for minority student enrollment in Idaho’s public charter schools. The Commission’s comprehensive report was unequivocal in its findings: Idaho charter schools are consistently and disproportionately unreflective of their surrounding communities’ demographics.

A few takeaways from the report: 55% of Idaho charters under enroll Special Education students; 77% of charters under enroll Free and Reduced Lunch students; 87% under enroll Limited English Proficiency students; and 90% under enroll non-white students. What does this mean? It means Idaho has reversed course and is heading back to 1955, back to the Civil Rights era, and back to schools that are both separate and unequal. It means, apparently, “white flight”?

Beyond a moral and legal argument to ensure equity in public charter schools, here’s why every property owner in Idaho should care about the Commission’s recent findings: When public charter schools fail to share an equitable burden for providing expensive minority student services — such as special education and English Language Learner instruction — local public schools end up enrolling a disproportionate number of these students. Local public schools are then forced to levy property owners to pay for expensive minority instruction and support.

While some may point to the current imbalance as merely a byproduct of so called “school choice,” the Commission’s findings should, at minimum, create pause to ensure that charter facilities are actually “a choice” for minority student populations. Remember, Jim Crow laws and segregated schools were also a product of active policy “choices” by lawmakers.

Remember, the bargain that charters made with Idaho is enhanced instructional freedom in order to experiment with new pedagogy and curriculum. However, that bargain also requires charters to provide equitable access and appropriate minority service instruction as required by civil rights law, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

Terry Ryan, President of the Idaho Charter School Network (the lobbying arm of Idaho’s charters), recently wrote an op-ed declaring that the solution to this inequity problem is…wait for it…to build more charters! Said Mr. Ryan, “The best way to help charter schools serve more diverse populations is to help them grow.” Throw more money at the problem. Where have we heard this before?

Idaho Ed News reported that Idaho Charter Commission Chairman Alan Reed said of the report’s findings, “Before approving new charters, we ask petitioners, ‘What are your strategies for reaching special and underserved populations?’”

Chairman Reed’s question should be modified: Before approving any new charters we need to fix the imbalance that exists today. After all, shouldn’t minority students be entitled to the same freedom and legal opportunity “to choose” charters as any other kiddo?

It’s time for a moratorium on any new charters until we address this chronic imbalance. It’s time we fully recognize that regular public schools are shouldering the heavy burden of educating special education, minority and low income student populations. And it’s past time that funding for Idaho charter schools be withheld until they can demonstrate they are following the law.

 

Those Darn Kids!

BrandiCensorship reflects a society’s lack of confidence in itself.
–Supreme Court Justice, Potter Stewart (1915—1985)

Brandy Kissel, a junior at Mountain View High School in Meridian, Idaho managed to demonstrate a maturity and initiative lacking in her “elders”.  Her story started when a minority of parents, fearful of the world and intent on keeping their children “innocent” of the evils of this world, complained to the Meridian School District about a book on the District’s reading list, “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian”, by Sherman Alexie.

Alexie’s book is a masterpiece. Published in 2007, it won the National Book Award and has become very popular with young teens and English teachers for its universal themes of fitting in, making sense of race, and sexual discovery. It was the sex and supposedly anti-Christian content that led a small group of vocal parents to demand the School Board remove it from the supplemental reading list. As so frequently happens in this era of “parental choice”, the School Board meekly gave in to the parents and voted to remove the book.

At that point, it was a story of fear and failure. Adults who feared their own children. Adults with power who lacked the courage to stand up against unwarranted censorship. The National Coalition Against Censorship immediately called on the Meridian School Board to reverse its decision.

The book is widely taught in high schools across the country because of its appeal to reluctant readers. The novel addresses vital issues such as the struggles of young adulthood, the search for personal identity, bullying and poverty. It is ultimately an uplifting story of triumph by a boy with few advantages… [Removing the novel] because some object to, or disapprove of, its content violates basic constitutional principles under the First Amendment… school officials have much wider discretion to include material that has pedagogical value than to exclude it.

This is where Brandy Kissel enters the picture. She and fellow students at the school started a petition to have the book reinstated. They quickly collected 350 signatures, which is an impressive number of young people to rally around a cause like reading.  The story might have ended there, but two women read about the censorship and the response of the students and decided to start a crowdfunding campaign to buy a book for each of the 350 kids who signed the petition. The campaign raised $3,400, enough for a book per kid.  

According to one of the young women, Sara Baker,

Jen & I read about the Meridian School District’s decision to remove True Diary from the supplemental reading list despite 350 students having signed a petition to keep it. We love the book and wanted to share it with the students who were obviously disappointed with the school board’s decision. We started the book drive with the help of a teacher and a librarian in Meridian, and the expectation that we might only get 25-30 books. Needless to say, we got quite a few more than that! We partnered with Rediscovered Bookshop- an indie bookseller in Boise- to purchase the books at a good price through the publisher.

Rediscovered Books worked with Brady and the other students who started the petition to distribute the books on World Book Night, an initiative to provide reluctant young readers with free, engaging, books to read. They distributed all but 20 of the books to kids who came in to claim them, but not before parents called the cops to shut down the operation. Police told local news channel KBOI they had been called by “someone concerned about teenagers picking up a copy of the book without having a parent’s permission.” The police examined the books, found nothing wrong going on, and let the book giveaway proceed as planned. KBOI asked the students for comments about Alexie’s book.

“I didn’t find it offensive at all, in fact there’s a lot more raunchy stuff that kids look up online,” said Mindy Hackler, a junior. “This is really nothing. ”

“There’s a paragraph right here where it has some sexual content,” Kissel said. “But, if you look at it, it’s a paragraph this big in a 230 page book.” That page reads ‘If God hadn’t wanted us to masturbate, then God wouldn’t have given us thumbs.”

Not only did the World Book Night distribution go as planned, but when Alexie’s publisher Hachette got word of the incident, they sent Rediscovered an additional 350 copies on the house. So while the book may still be banned in the school curriculum, it was available free of cost for any kid who wanted to stop into Rediscovered Bookshop and pick one up.

In case you think fearful Idaho school boards might learn something from the Mountain View students, there is this headline from North Idaho-  CdA school committee proposes restricting Steinbeck book.

Mary Jo Finney thinks one of the novellas Coeur d’Alene high school students read is unworthy of its standing as an American classic.

“The story is neither a quality story nor a page turner,” Finney said of John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men.”

Finney and three other members of a district curriculum-review committee have recommended “Of Mice and Men” be pulled from classroom instruction and made available only on a voluntary, small-group basis in ninth grade English classes. The school board will vote on the recommendation next month.

Its use of profanity – “bastard,” for instance, and “God damn” – makes the 1937 book unsuitable for freshmen, said Finney, a parent who has objected to other books from the Coeur d’Alene School District curriculum over the years.

She said she counted 102 profanities in its 110 pages, noting that “the teachers actually had the audacity to have students read these profanities out loud in class.”

In addition to the profanity, the curriculum committee found the story of two migrant ranch hands struggling during the Great Depression too “negative.”

To quote a frequently censored American author, Kurt Vonnegut, “And so it goes…”

 

 

 

  

Dim Bulb Award for 2014

dim-bulbThe Dim Bulb Award is an RNWMV tradition. It is an award that I give to any worthy member of the Idaho Legislature who has, through word or action, reached the acceptable level of abject stupidity. This legislative session has reached new heights of dimness. I could easily award the Dim Chandelier award to the whole Republican caucus, as this was the first legislative session that warranted an editorial from both the New York Times and the Washington Post. The take away comment from the NYT described the Republicans as exhibiting “xenophobic fantasies”. I couldn’t agree more.

Nevertheless, I will remain true to the Dim Bulb award tradition and award it to an individual legislator. But, as I have done in the past, I will fudge a bit by giving more than one award for this session. It was impossible to single out just one Legislator among a group of Republican Legislators who engage in group think.

Today, the award goes to a runner up to the award in 2013, Vito “Cousin Vito” Barbieri. He managed to pull off a couple of bone head idiocies this session including inviting the rabid anti-Islam speaker Shahram Hadian to speak at a luncheon where he convinced the members of the House Judiciary, Rules and Administration to vote against updating Child Support legislation because it would put Idaho under Sharia law. As a result, the Legislature will have to come back in special session to correct the screw up.

Below is Cousin Vito displaying the stupid that led to the first Dim Bulb award of 2014.

Winters of Delay

baltimore-cover-finalAs the Baltimore “riots” were reported on the 24/7 news channels, I immediately thought of the title of Henry Giroux’s latest collection of essays, The Violence of Organized Forgetting.   According to Giroux,  the media suffers from purposeful amnesia. Instead of context and analysis, we see the same looped video and hour after hour of “commentary”.  Print media does a somewhat better job of providing some historical context. For example, Time magazine points out that the same neighborhoods in Baltimore where the riots are taking place today are pockmarked with destroyed or boarded up buildings from the 1968 riot after the assassination of Martin Luther King. Of course, few people today read Time or any other print media.

Rather than asking why black neighborhoods like those in Baltimore have been marginalized and ignored while two generations of young black Americans grow up without equal opportunities and equal justice, pundits on Fox and CNN debate the appropriate punishment for the “thugs” who steal and destroy property. As long as most Americans get their news from television news and social media, the purposeful amnesia and organized forgetting will continue.

As I think about the history of Baltimore and previously forgotten “riots”, including the 1968 riot over Dr. King’s assassination, I recall King’s comments made almost 50 years ago.

I think America must see that riots do not develop out of thin air. Certain conditions continue to exist in our society which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots. But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality, and humanity. And so in a real sense our nation’s summers of riots are caused by our nation’s winters of delay. And as long as America postpones justice, we stand in the position of having these recurrences of violence and riots over and over again. Social justice in progress are the absolute guarantors of riot prevention.

Those words resonate as much today as they did then.  A riot is the language of the unheard. It seems to me, it is the obligation of the media to give voice to the unheard. The media response to Baltimore reminds us once again that injustice is not likely to be reported until somebody riots.

 People who remember court madness through pain,  the pain of the perpetually reoccurring death of their innocence; people who forget court another kind of madness, the madness of the denial of pain and the hatred of innocence- James Baldwin