Monthly Archives: July 2012

Commenter Calls ‘Academic Excellence’ Article Racist

by Christopher Paslay

On July 28th I posted an article here on Chalk and Talk titled, “Obsession with Race is Killing Academic Excellence.”  The following day a commenter with the username philaken lambasted me for being a racist.  Here is philaken’s post (errors included):

What a racist article! Mr. Pasley, are you part of the right-wing campaign to institute a New Reconstruction to roll back the gains of the Civil Rights Movement? After the Civil War, Reconstruction instituted Jim Crow segregation which for some African-Americans was as bad as slavery and resulted in a hundred years of misery for several generations of African Americans. At no time in American history has there been social policies to ameliorate the consequences of centuries of slavery, quite the opposite.

I agree with you that the Obama administrations “White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans” is wrong because it is based on identity politics. History shows, such as the current corruption scandals in some ethnically based charter schools, that this is a course fraught with abuse. There should be programs directed at all low income schools (regardless of ethnicity) to overcome the affects of poverty.

However, the conclusions your draw can only be characterized as racist. Do you, Mr. Pasley, believe that people of African descent are intellectually and socially inferior to people of European descent? This is the implication all through your article. If you do not believe this than you must look to the social causes which lead to the deficit in achievement for many African-American students. This is not an excuse for low achievement, it is a diagnosis.

I was taken aback by your article immediately previous to this one. In it you state, “If CNS truly wants to campaign for nonviolent schools, they should start by demanding that all the hooligans, bullies and thugs stop destroying the system, and fight to promote character and traditional core values among their own peers and classmates.” “hooligans, bullies and thugs”? Students are not born with social and emotional problems, they develop under specific social circumstances. This is the language meant to dehumanize and place individuals outside the human family. It is language that always precedes pogroms and genocide. Governor Corbett is onboard with this mentality. In last year’s budget he cut education funding by $1 billion (the largest cuts being made in low income districts), while increasing the prison budget by $700 million (including three new privately owned, for profit prisons).

Everyone must be held accountable for their actions. However, to ignore the social context of actions, and oppose economic policies which address the gross inequality in our society, is to return to a form of barbarism akin to the serfdom of the Middle Ages.

I urge you to view the program “Confronting the Contradictions of America’s Past” on Bill Moyers & Company to consider these issues.

Here is my response to philaken:

First, I’d like to thank you for your lengthy six paragraph response.  It is a classic example of an ad hominem logical fallacy, and I’m planning on using your comments along with my original post in my 11th grade English class this fall when I teach persuasive writing/propaganda techniques (I’ll be sure to give you full credit). 

The dead giveaway that your argument is an example of an ad hominem attack is your name calling in the opening line of your post when you say my article is “racist.”  The first thing I teach my students is that name calling is a sure fire sign of a weak argument, and to stay away from employing such a technique in their writing; those who respect the open discussion of ideas are never reduced to calling people names just because they don’t agree with them. 

According to dictionary.com, ad hominem is “1.—appealing to one’s prejudices, emotions, or special interests rather than to one’s intellect or reason; 2—attacking an opponent’s character rather than answering his argument.” 

I’ll refrain from calling you names and attacking your character as a sign of goodwill between us, and stick to the actual claims made in your argument.  You ask me “are you part of the right-wing campaign to institute a New Reconstruction to roll back the gains of the Civil Rights Movement?”  I’m not sure how calling for freedom and equality for all students, regardless of race or ethnic background, is rolling back the gains of the Civil Rights movement.  I believe deeply in the principles contained in MLK’s “I have a Dream” speech, that people should not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. 

I advocate for colorblindness in our society, and I believe our country (as well as our education system) needs to focus more on the things that make everyone the same and stop dwelling on the differences and playing, as you say, “identity politics.” 

Next, your question: “Do you, Mr. Pasley, believe that people of African descent are intellectually and socially inferior to people of European descent? This is the implication all through your article.”  I have a question for you:  do YOU believe this?  There is something quite telling in your question, and the way you chose to interpret my article.  Where is the evidence that my article implies such a thing?  (Or is this simply an issue you are wrestling with?) 

As for my use of the words “hooligans,” “bullies,” and “thugs”: I’ve been teaching in the Philadelphia School District for 15 years.  I’ve mentored, coached, and tutored thousands of young people from every race and ethnic background under the sun.  I’ve interacted with hundreds of parents.  And when students misbehave and disrespect themselves and their peers, I will call them on it.  When students steal, bully, assault, rape, or otherwise rob their hardworking classmates of their right to learn, I will address this situation head on.  I will call them hooligans, bullies, and thugs, because that is the behavior they are displaying.  You state, “Students are not born with social and emotional problems, they develop under specific social circumstances. This is the language meant to dehumanize and place individuals outside the human family. It is language that always precedes pogroms and genocide.” 

“Pogroms and genocide”?  Spare me the hyperbole and hokey appeals to emotions (propaganda instance #2).  I teach inner-city teenagers for a living, and I will do what I need to do to protect my students’ rights to an education.           

Again, I’m not sure how advocating for equal treatment for all students is Jim Crow.  I’m not sure how suggesting that children in the 21st century should not be held accountable for the sins of their ancestors is “racist.”  I’m not sure how highlighting that there is a difference between equal opportunity and equal achievement is an attack on civil rights. 

I believe that all students should be treated as students—regardless of race—and that they should be rewarded on the basis of individual merit.  You seem to believe that certain children of certain races need special treatment to assure that they can hold their own in society and school.  (Who believes children of African descent are inferior to children of European descent?)  

You state, “to ignore the social context of actions, and oppose economic policies which address the gross inequality in our society, is to return to a form of barbarism akin to the serfdom of the Middle Ages.” 

“Barbarism and serfdom”?  I know, more of your hyperbole and cute appeals to emotion (propaganda instance #3).  Again, I teach real children in a real urban school and am too involved in their lives and educations to manufacture such fantastic analogies. 

No student deserves to be bound by the past, and I will continue to fight for freedom and healthy academic competition.  I urge you to listen to the views of Lieutenant Colonel Allen West, an African American who is now a US Rep. from Florida’s 22nd congressional district.

–Christopher Paslay

 

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Obsession with Race is Killing Academic Excellence

by Christopher Paslay

Policies aimed at making all students the same are crippling achievement. 

The Handicapper General—AKA the current United States White House—has struck again.  President  Barack Obama recently signed an executive order to enact an educational initiative aimed at helping not all American children in public schools succeed but only those of certain races.  Called the “White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans,” the policy will dole out resources to children not based on merit or achievement, but by skin color.    

According to Education Week:

The new education initiative for African Americans joins similar White House efforts aimed at Hispanics, American Indian and Alaska Natives, and Asian-American and Pacific Islanders. President Obama, in 2010, set up a similar effort to bring attention to, and strengthen, the nation’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities, or HBCUs.

(Note: Current White House education policies designed specifically for white students, who are innocent of the crimes of their ancestors, do not exist.)  

The goals of the new White House education initiative are to close the racial achievement gap and give all children an equal opportunity at a quality education.  But it goes further than that.  The initiative also advocates for equal achievement.  Thus, if two groups of students are given the same educational opportunity and one group outperforms the other, such achievement must be equalized to ensure that everyone is the same (that there is no achievement gap).            

While these goals seem admirable on the surface, they are promoting a brand of educational socialism that is having a harmful overall effect on high achievers in American public schools.  Instead of pushing assimilation (encouraging struggling groups to adopt the culture and work habits of their more successful peers), initiatives like those enacted by the White House call for cultural pluralism (forcing the successful groups to compromise their culture and work habits to fit those of the struggling students).       

Take, for example, the White House’s goal of addressing the disproportionate use of suspensions and expulsions of African Americans in schools.  What this goal implies is that somehow black children are being unfairly expelled and suspended from school (civil rights organizations like to attribute this to racism and cultural insensitivity of white teachers), and that more needs to be done to keep such children in classrooms.  In other words, the perspective is that there is nothing inherently wrong with the behavior or actions of these children, but that the system is simply failing to accommodate their needs.  Put still another way, the children with discipline issues don’t need to change their behavior to suit the functionality of the group (assimilation), rather, the group as a whole must be compromised to accommodate the atypical behavior of the child (cultural pluralism).

Interestingly, with all the accusations of racism and discrimination being made by civil rights advocates and folks like Education Secretary Arne Duncan, actual documented cases of teachers discriminating against their students based on race are practically nonexistent.  However, the canard that black students are suspended and expelled at higher rates than their white peers primarily because of the cultural insensitivity of their white teachers (not because of genuine behavior issues that stem from environmental factors such as poverty or a high rate of out-of-wedlock-births) continues to be perpetuated.        

The result of this is that it is harder to suspend and expel violent and unruly students who happen to be African American; these dysfunctional children are forced to coexist with their functional hard working peers, and the integrity and quality of everyone’s education is compromised. 

In this system of cultural pluralism, it’s not that students are late for class, it’s just that being “on-time” is a matter of cultural perspective.  It’s not that students are violent or misbehaving, it’s just that they are frustrated with an oppressive dominant (white) establishment.  It’s not that certain students fail to do their work, it’s just that where these students come from, work ethic has a different definition.  It’s not that students can’t work independently and be responsible for their own grade, it’s just that these particular students come from a collectivist culture and must be allowed to work in a group and share answers. 

In this system of cultural pluralism, students are free to speak a broken, grammatically incorrect form of English known as Ebonics.  In this system, classes are no longer tracked by ability level but are rostered willy-nilly under the guise of having high expectations (but not expectations so high as to believe that these same students could acquire a government ID in order to vote).  In this system, dropouts—who consistently waste everybody’s time including their own—are renamed “pushouts.”  In this system, students are not required to respect the teacher, rather, teachers must respect the students. 

Those who refuse to admit cultural pluralism is harming American education need to understand that our obsession with skin color and closing achievement gaps—our obsession with making everyone the same—is taking a toll on America’s best and brightest. While the average achievement of students hasn’t changed significantly in the past 50 years, “the acquired verbal skills of gifted American students have declined dramatically, as illustrated by the trends in the SAT-Verbal test,” wrote noted education scholar Charles Murray.  “. . . this decline cannot be blamed on changes in the SAT pool.  It’s based on all seventeen-year-olds.  Some sort of failure to educate the gifted is to blame.”   

Scores on Advanced Placement tests have declined as well.  According to a 2010 article in USA Today:

The number of students taking Advanced Placement tests hit a record high last year, but the portion who fail the exams — particularly in the South — is rising as well.

…More than two in five students (41.5%) earned a failing score of 1 or 2, up from 36.5% in 1999. In the South, a Census-defined region that spans from Texas to Delaware, nearly half of all tests — 48.4% — earned a 1 or 2, a failure rate up 7 percentage points from a decade prior and a statistically significant difference from the rest of the country.

While the current White House complains that our education system is no longer producing leading engineers and scientists, this same administration enacts policies that serve to handicap high achievers, thus lowering the bar for all children in an effort to make everyone equal. 

Instead of pushing socialistic policies that prohibit America’s education system from being a genuine world leader, we must fight for freedom and true academic competition—a system based on merit and individual achievement and not on the suffocating basis of race.

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Filed under Achievement Gap, Arne Duncan

Campaign for Nonviolent Schools’ Mission is Admirable but Misguided

by Christopher Paslay

The Campaign for Nonviolent Schools’ primary focus should be on character building and traditional core values. 

The Campaign for Nonviolent Schools (CNS) is a youth-led coalition dedicated to ending school violence and improving school climate.  According to their Facebook page:

The Campaign is building a nonviolent student movement across neighborhoods, schools and organizations, engaging hundreds of youth in exploring the roots of violence in their own lives and developing a personal commitment to nonviolence.

Prison-like school environments, a lack of resources, high staff turn-over rates, and suppression of youth leadership are examples of conditions that enhance feelings of anger, frustration, and helplessness that young people may already be struggling with. These conditions help to create school environments which are a breeding ground for physical and emotional violence directed at other students and staff members.

CNS’s goal of ending violence in schools is admirable and its members should be acknowledged for their involvement.  However, CNS’s mode of operation is predictable and disappointing, and its members still are not thinking outside the box: they, like most progressive grassroots movements, preach that students are victims of a broken system, and that change doesn’t begin with character building or proper conduct, but with the airing of the same tired grievances.           

Comparing schools to prisons is irresponsible, as is the notion that our city’s public education system is a “pipeline to prison.”  This so called “pipeline” exists not in the school where a system of educational and behavioral supports is in place to help children grow and succeed (teachers, therapists, counselors, coaches, nurses, mentors . . . all providing free books, equipment, individualized education plans, food, medical resources, etc.), but rather, in the surrounding neighborhoods feeding into the schools.         

In other words, the schools themselves aren’t violent; the students coming in from broken and dysfunctional homes and communities environments are.            

The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Pulitzer Prize winning series “Assault on Learning” gave us a small glimpse of just how dysfunctional students coming into the system can be:

  • There were over 4,500 violent incidents reported during the 2009-10 school year.  According to the Inquirer investigation, “on an average day 25 students, teachers, or other staff member were beaten, robbed, sexually assaulted, or victims of other violent crimes.
  • In the last five years, there were more than 30,000 violent incidents reported—from assaults to robberies to rapes.
  • In the 2009-10 school year, 690 teachers were assaulted.  In the last five years, 4,000 were. 
  • In the 2007-08 school year, 479 weapons were discovered inside elementary and middle school hallways and classrooms, and 357 weapons were found in high schools.  Tragically, almost half of the most serious cases were not reported to police.  Inquirer reporter Kristen Graham wrote that “the most serious offenders—including those who assaulted teachers—were neither expelled nor transferred to alternative education.”  She also added: “Just 24 percent of the 1,728 students who assaulted teachers were removed from regular education classrooms, and only 30 percent of them were charged by police.”
  • From 2006 to 2008, not a single student was expelled from the Philadelphia School District.

These statistics reveal two things: one—a violent and unruly minority of students are violating the rights of the majority of Philadelphia’s hard working public school children and robbing them of their educations; and two—not enough is being done to protect the rights of these children.   

Instead of CNS siding with the majority of their peers who are tired of being short-changed in school—instead of calling for the violent and unruly minority to shape up or ship out—CNS calls for discipline policies that prevent the proper removal and alternative placement of the incorrigible few. 

In particular, CNS opposes the use of more punitive forms of punishment, like suspensions and expulsions:         

We demand a smart school discipline policy that uses restorative practices and/ or other preventative discipline measures that focus on addressing root causes of issues rather than merely doling out punishment.

Positive behavior supports, restorative practices, and peer mediation are all well and good, but groups like CNS never adequately explain what should be done with the scores of students who are still behavior problems after these interventions are provided (and after they’ve taken valuable resources away from the students who want to learn).  Tragically, these students are too often kept in the classroom where they continue to rob their peers of an education. 

CNS has yet to speak out against this horrible injustice, just as they’ve yet to adequately hold their peers accountable for their own behavior.  If CNS truly wants to campaign for nonviolent schools, they should start by demanding that all the hooligans, bullies and thugs stop destroying the system, and fight to promote character and traditional core values among their own peers and classmates.

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Dr. Hite forgoes $120,000 severance; will show up one month late for work

by Christopher Paslay

Dr. William Hite, Philadelphia’s new superintendent of schools, is reportedly giving up his severance package with Prince George’s County Schools in Maryland to start work in Philadelphia by October 1st, one month after the school year begins.     

It appears that Dr. William Hite will take the high road—unlike his predecessor Dr. Arlene Ackerman.  According to a story in Wednesday’s Inquirer:

His contract with Prince George’s stipulated that to receive severance pay — six months salary, or $125,000 — Hite would have to give 120 days notice, which would have him working into November, Hite explained.

Instead, Hite made a deal to forgo his severance and give 60 days notice, he said.

His official last day with Prince George’s will be Sept. 30, the district announced Monday.

Dr. Hite’s gesture puts him ahead of Dr. Ackerman, the queen of the urban superintendent severance package.  Last year, Ackerman negotiated a $1 million severance package from the SRC, and then filed for unemployment after receiving it.  In 2006, she was awarded $375,000 in severance pay from the San Francisco public schools, then tried to sue the district claiming she was owed an additional $172,000 in unused benefits; amazingly, all this was allowed to take place after Ackerman’s tumultuous stint as Washington D.C.’s schools’ chief.

Kudos to Dr. Hite for being a bit more scrupulous and forgoing his $120,000 severance package from the Prince George County district in Maryland (at this point it is not clear whether he will lose all or some of this money).

This gesture, however, does not excuse the fact that he will be starting as Philadelphia’s schools’ chief one month after the school year begins.  The fact that he was hired by the SRC on June 29th—after a nearly six month long superintendent search process—does raise some questions.  Was his October 1st start date made known during the search process?  If so, why would the SRC agree to this?  Or did the fact that he will be showing up to work one month late come to light after he was hired, forcing the SRC into a corner? 

The math doesn’t seem to add up here, either.  Dr. Hite was hired by the SRC on June 29th.  If he put in his notice to Prince George County on July 1st, wouldn’t 60 days take us to September 1st, the start of the school year?  How does giving 60 days notice bring us to October 1st?  This would be 90 days notice (92 days, actually).   

Either way, the SRC’s planning and scheduling leaves much to be desired.  With all due respect to Dr. Hite, he should have had his previous business in order before applying for the job in Philadelphia. 

One of the reasons large urban schools districts fail—and continue to lag behind the suburbs—is because too many of their working parts (parents, students, central management, etc.) fail to meet deadlines, causing a major ripple effect that negatively impacts everyone.  If the SRC and the superintendent of schools can’t get things rolling on time, what example does this set for our students?  If Dr. Hite can show up late for school, why can’t they? 

As I wrote in my June 27th post, being “on time” is not a matter of perspective.  Unfortunately, this kind of time management and value system appears to have slipped the minds of Philadelphia School District leaders.

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Filed under Dr. William Hite

Which Students Deserve Amnesty? Only Obama Gets to Decide

by Christopher Paslay

Obama himself–not Congress or the people–will decide which students should be held responsible for the crimes of their parents.   

America is the land of the free and the home of the brave.  It has also been home to slave masters, segregationists, and illegal aliens who’ve crossed the border or over-stayed their visas.  These sinners and rule breakers have given birth to children–some in the United States, some on foreign soil.  Many of these children are now students in American schools.  Which should be granted amnesty and which deserve a penalty?

This is a decision best left up to the president–at least in the mind of Barack Obama.

Let’s start with granting amnesty to America’s undocumented residents. President Obama’s recent executive decision to override Congress and implement parts of the DREAM Act–granting immunity to an estimated 800,000 illegal aliens residing in the United States–is a case of the president deciding that certain students should not be held responsible for the crimes of their parents.  In other words, youths brought to America illegally by their parents shouldn’t be forced to leave the country.

President Obama stated this in his June 15th speech on immigration policy:

Put yourself in their shoes. Imagine you’ve done everything right your entire life, studied hard, worked hard, maybe even graduated at the top of your class, only to suddenly face the threat of deportation to a country that you know nothing about, with a language that you may not even speak.

That’s what gave rise to the DREAM Act. It says that if your parents brought you here as a child, you’ve been here for five years and you’re willing to go to college or serve in our military, you can one day earn your citizenship. . . .

(The DREAM Act does make a lot of sense and has received some bipartisan support . . . a version of it was actually introduced by George W. Bush . . . unless of course you are one of the thousands of legal immigrants following the law and patiently waiting your turn to become a citizen.)

On the other hand, President Obama’s support of Affirmative Action–a policy that uses skin color to decide which students get into which schools and receive preferential treatment–is a case of the president deciding that certain students should be held responsible for their ancestors’ past crimes.

Jason Kissner, associate professor of Criminology at California State University, Fresno, said it best:

Why should today’s White youth be held accountable, via affirmative action measures, for Jim Crow laws?  Why should they be accountable, via affirmative action measures, for the enslavement perpetrated not by their parents but by people who acted several generations ago?

How about today’s Asian youth?  Why on God’s green earth are they forced to limp around with the lead ball of affirmative action lashed to their ankles?

And what, exactly, is the justification for extending affirmative action to Hispanics anyway?

Also, has anyone inquired whether the beneficiaries of Mr. Obama’s immigration pronouncement are now lawfully entitled (which, given Mr. Obama’s proclivities, is admittedly not the same as asking whether they will in fact receive) dispensations such as affirmative action small business loans?

Can anyone at all explain how it makes sense to distribute government benefits, on the basis of “innocence,” to those whom all parties admit are unlawfully here and then discriminate–in spite of innocence–against those whom all parties must admit are lawfully here?

The most interesting part of this all is that President Obama himself–not Congress, not the people–gets to decide who gets amnesty and who gets a penalty.  Despite the fact that Congress shot down the DREAM Act, the president recently used an executive order to implement portions of it anyway.  Many Americans believe that this was an overreach of presidential power.  In fact, President Obama thought so himself.

In March of 2011, the president clearly stated that he could not stop deportations of undocumented students through an executive order when he addressed a town hall forum hosted by the spanish speaking network Univision.

With respect to the notion that I could suspend deportations through executive order, that’s just not the case, because there are laws on the books that Congress has passed and I know that everybody here at Bell is studying hard so you know we have three branches of government. Congresses passes the law. The executive branch’s job is to enforce and implement those laws and then the judiciary has to interpret the law. There are enough laws on the books by Congress that are very clear in terms of how we have to enforce our immigration system, that for me through simply an executive order ignore those mandates would not conform with my appropriate role as president.

Last month, the president ignored his own best judgement, overrode Congress and gave amnesty to nearly one million unlawful aliens anyway.

As for the hard working American students being penalized for their ancestor’s sins via affirmative action?  The president has offered no such amnesty to these children.

Apparently, these students and their parents will have to hope that President Obama wakes up on the right side of the bed one day and changes his mind.

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Filed under English Language Learners, Multiculturalism

Was Philadelphia’s Superintendent Search a Dog and Pony Show?

by Lisa Haver

The SRC still lacks transparency, and should be replaced with a locally elected school board.      

When it comes to transparency, the School Reform Commission is still not making the grade.  

Commissioner Wendell Pritchett, in a recent School Reform Commission meeting, declared that principals are “the most important people” in the Philadelphia School District.  PSD administrators have also argued that having a good teacher is the most important factor in a child’s success in school.  Baffling, then, that the SRC commissioners made a deliberate decision to exclude teachers and principals from the Superintendent Selection Committee.

It seems clear now that the nine community meetings held last winter by the SRC were designed to present the illusion that the public actually had anything to say about this important decision. The agenda for these meetings allotted almost 90 minutes for participants to talk to each other in small groups but no time to ask questions of the Selection Committee members present.  At the first meeting, held at Simon Gratz High School, I asked that we have time to question the Selection Committee.  Commissioner Pritchett refused to allow any deviation from the agenda, even after I pointed out that it was a public meeting and that the public should have some say in how the meeting was run.

Reading the recently released Penn Praxis report on these community meetings clearly shows that one qualification was non-negotiable: the new superintendent had to be an educator.  “Schools are not a business” was a common refrain.  If the SRC were truly listening to the community, how could they have possibly justified the nomination of Pedro Martinez?   Mr. Martinez had never taught a day in his life.  His training was in Accounting.  He had no degree in Education and had never been a teacher or a principal.  Why would the SRC have nominated someone who never held what they insisted were the two most important jobs in education? 

William Hite, Jr., the second of only two applicants from a pool of one hundred the public was allowed to meet, was clearly more qualified and ultimately given the position.  His extensive experience in education and his ability to thoughtfully and intelligently answer questions made him the obvious choice.  However, with so little time given to the public to research and assess the nominees, concerns remained about Dr. Hite’s degree from the Broad Superintendents Academy.  Broad graduates, including former Superintendent Arlene Ackerman, are schooled in the virtues of vouchers, privatization, union-busting and corporate control of schools; Pedro Martinez is also a graduate of the Broad Academy. 

The SRC continues its clear pattern of making crucial decisions behind closed doors while simultaneously characterizing itself as “transparent”.  Seven months after voting to obey the mandates of the Gates Compact and promising to have more public dialogue about its ramifications, the SRC has yet to place the issue on its agenda. Five months after promising to place resolutions back on its agenda BEFORE, not AFTER being voted on, the SRC fails to keep that simple promise.  

This is what transparency looks like?  How and why did the SRC choose Martinez and Hite over the other 90 plus applicants?  The SRC’s recent surprise announcement of Martinez and Hite as the two finalists for superintendent—and their quick two day public meet-and-greet—was downright insulting to those who cared enough to come out on those cold nights last winter.   Many of those participants have come to the sad realization that what they had to say ultimately meant very little.

These eleven long and frustrating years since the state took over the Philadelphia School District have taken their toll. 

There are several reasons why a growing number of Philadelphians are calling for the dissolution of the SRC:  its legacy of pandering to business interests while turning its back on students, parents, and teachers; its impotence in dealing with incompetent and ultimately destructive administrators such as Paul Vallas and Arlene Ackerman; its failure to take action as the district’s own mismanagement resulted in a deficit of historic proportions.

The time is long past for us to take back our schools from a state government which is openly hostile to the people of Philadelphia. We must take action before the Governor declares the district insolvent as a rationale for taking complete control and breaking the contracts of workers which were negotiated in good faith. It is time to reinstate the Philadelphia School Board, and to make it an elected body.  We deserve the right, as every other Pennsylvanian does, to choose those who will manage our schools. 

We teach our students that we live in a democracy.  Philadelphia students, parents and teachers can no longer be denied the right to decide what is best for the people of our city.

Lisa Haver is a retired teacher, education activist and writer.  Contact her at lhaver1039@yahoo.com.

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Obama’s Missing Records Make Research Assignments Difficult

by Christopher Paslay

While preparing a research assignment on our country’s first African American president, I was startled to find much of Barack Obama’s records are missing or sealed from the public.

With the Philadelphia School District now officially adopting Pennsylvania’s Common Core Standards, I’ve been spending time this summer developing lessons and assignments for the coming 2012-13 school year.  In particular, I’m in the process of creating a research essay for my 10th graders, one that meets standard CC.1.4.9-10.W—research writing.      

My initial idea was to have my 10th graders write about our first African American president—Barack Hussein Obama.  The reason I chose President Obama is because of the “Obama Effect,” the premise that Barack Obama’s presence in office has provided a psychological boost and helped African American students achieve academically.

Using President Obama as a subject might indeed serve to inspire my students.  He is the ultimate role model, and all the things he’s done my students could strive to do: they could work to succeed in school; win scholarships and get awarded financial aid; excel in the Ivy League and go to law school; write scholarly articles as a law professor; and maybe one day become president.

To make this real, to show my students firsthand what the president has achieved, I wanted them to go to the primary sources of all of Obama’s personal and academic history over the years.

But when I began researching Obama’s background for my assignment, through the Internet, books, newspaper articles and other sources, I was shocked to find that most of the things I looked for were either missing or sealed from the public by Obama’s lawyers.

Here is a list:

Obama’s High School Records and SAT Scores

President Obama attended Punahou School in Honolulu, one of Hawaii’s top private institutions.  However, Obama has refused to release his high school transcripts and SAT scores to the public, despite numerous requests by citizens and journalists.

Financial Aid and Scholarship Money

Obama’s financial records at the Punahou School and Occidental College have not been released.  This is an ongoing controversy, because some have suggested that Obama enrolled in Occidental College as a foreigner (not a U.S. citizen) to receive aid reserved for foreign students.  World Net Daily writes:

In a legal action, handled largely by Gary Kreep of the U.S. Justice Foundation, officials at Occidental College were served with a demand to produce records concerning Barack Obama’s attendance there during the 1980s because they could document whether he was attending as a foreign national.

Kreep petitioned the college with a demand for its records concerning Obama.

Obama’s lawyers had the petition thrown out.  Both Obama’s Occidental College transcripts and financial records remain sealed; the Obama “foreign national” issue popped up again this spring when a 1991 booklet published by Obama’s literary agency surfaced listing him as being “born in Kenya and raised in Indonesia and Hawaii.”

Columbia University Records and Thesis

In 1981, at age 20, Obama transferred from Occidental College to Columbia University.  His transcripts at Columbia also remain sealed.  According to a September 2008 story in the New York Sun:

The Obama campaign has refused to release his college transcript, despite an academic career that led him to Harvard Law School and, later, to a lecturing position at the University of Chicago. The shroud surrounding his experience at Columbia contrasts with that of other major party nominees since 2000, all whom have eventually released information about their college performance or seen it leaked to the public.

His thesis on “Soviet Nuclear Disarmament” also remains unavailable.

Harvard Law School Records

Obama’s Harvard Law School Records are sealed.  So are his LSAT scores.

University of Chicago Scholarly Articles

Obama lectured at the University of Chicago Law School from 1992 until 2004.  Reporters have been unable to find any scholarly articles authored by him.

Medical Records

It is customary for presidents running for office to disclose their medical records.  Obama’s medical records have yet to be released.

Passport       

Obama’s fully visible passport has not been released (in 2010, the White House posted a partially blurred version on their website).

Needless to say, learning that so many of President Obama’s records are sealed or missing was quite startling.  This will clearly change the direction of my research assignment.  Perhaps I will require my students to read one of Obama’s two memoirs—either Dreams From My Father or Audacity of Hope, although Obama himself has admitted that these books are not wholly factual and based on “composites,” shaped and rounded by him and his editors to evoke just the right emotions from readers; some even suggest Obama’s two memoirs were ghost written by a third party.

It would be quite disheartening to learn that the Obama Effect is based on a hoax.  I guess I’ll have to make some adjustments to make my research assignment on Barack Hussein Obama work.

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