Tag Archives: National Reform Model

U.S. Department of Education Pulls the Race Card on Itself

by Christopher Paslay

For Arne Duncan and the U.S. Department of Education, using racism as a tool to forward agendas proves to be a double-edged sword. 

Early in 2009, Arne Duncan and the U.S. Department of Education, under the direction of President Obama, enacted a reform plan for America’s public schools nicknamed the “National Reform Model.”  The model, which in large part called for failing schools to be shut down and overhauled with new teachers and principals or reconstituted as charters, was the catalyst for the recent reform of public schools within Philadelphia.

Four years later, the School Reform Commission has decided to close 37 schools in the city, many of which are in disrepair and running at less than half capacity.  Ironically, now that the school closures have been set in motion, it’s the U.S. Department of Education that is crying foul.   

According to a January 29th Inquirer article headlined “Activists gear up against planned Philadelphia school closing”:

[Activists] will announce that the district is now the subject of a federal civil rights investigation into the racial patterns of its 2012 closings.  In a recent letter The Inquirer obtained, the U.S. Department of Education confirmed to the activist group Action United it would investigate its claim that the “district adopted a school closing and consolidation plan . . . that has a disparate, adverse impact on African American and Hispanic students, and on students with disabilities.”

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is fond of saying that “education is the civil rights issue of our time,” and that we must act now to reform our failing public schools—many of which serve African American and Hispanic students.  Interestingly, when school districts such as Philadelphia go ahead with the reform model Duncan has been pushing for the last four years—moving to close or overhaul those failing schools that happen to service mostly African American and Hispanic students—the U.S. Department of Education conducts an investigation over a possible civil rights violation because the closures disproportionally affect minorities.

It’s racial discrimination if you do, and it’s racial discrimination if you don’t. 

Such behavior reminds me of the 1977 Dr. Pepper commercial “I’m a Pepper,” except in this case it would be called “I’m a Racist”:        

I pull the race card and I’m proud

I use to feel alone in the crowd

But now you look around these days

And it seems there’s a race card craze

I’m a racist he’s a racist she’s a racist we’re a racist

Wouldn’t you like to be a racist too? 

Even the Philadelphia left-leaning media agrees that this race card pulling has spun out of control.  In an editorial headlined “By the Numbers: Closing schools is painful, but it’s not discrimination,” the Philadelphia Daily News argues that blaming the city’s public school closings on discrimination is absurd:

It’s hard to wrap our mind around the concept of a black mayor, a black superintendent and a School Reform Commission headed by a Latino public-school graduate conspiring to commit acts of racial discrimination. It’s harder still for opponents to face the reality of the closings.  It’s not discrimination, but powerful demographic forces that are at work.

Powerful forces such as the violent culture of certain neighborhoods, the breakdown of community and family, and the lack of parental involvement, perhaps? 

Tragically, race and racism are too often exploited and used as a tool for advancing agendas.  Beth Pulcinella, a teaching artist and activist working at the Attic Youth Center, wrote a commentary last fall for the Philadelphia Public School Notebook called “What I learned about successful organizing from Chicago teachers’ strike leaders”:     

I have been following the situation in Chicago with keen interest for a couple of years now, since members of the Caucus of Rank and File Educators (CORE) won enough union elections to gain control of the Chicago Teachers’ Union. But how was the union able to organize such a massive and publicly supported strike?

Pulcinella named several reasons CORE was successful, one of them being:

Members of CORE have not been afraid to discuss the ways that race and racism have created an educational apartheid in this country, a place where the term achievement gap is code for the gap between white students and students of color.

In other words, CORE wasn’t afraid to pull the race card to forward their agenda. 

Education activists and civil rights groups seem to be taking a page out of CORE’s playbook.  Some have gone as far as to call Obama’s education agenda, which has been blamed for school closings in major cities all across the country, racist.  The Huffington Post writes in an article headlined “School Closures Violate Civil Rights, Protestors Tell Arne Duncan”:

The standards-based education reform movement calls school change “the civil rights issue of our time.” But about 220 mostly African American community organizers, parents and students from 21 cities from New York to Oakland, Calif., converged on Washington Tuesday to tell U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan he’s getting it backwards on school closures.

Members of the group, a patchwork of community organizations called the Journey for Justice Movement, have filed several Title VI civil rights complaints with the Education Department Office of Civil Rights, claiming that school districts that shut schools are hurting minority students. While most school closures are decided locally, the Education Department’s School Improvement Grant gives underperforming school districts money for shakeups or turnarounds, including closures.

Now, the U.S. Department of Education, which wanted to end “discrimination” in public schools in part by pulling the race card, is forced to investigate itself because someone on the outside has pulled the race card on them.  

Us race card pullers are an interesting breed

To control the resources is what we need

Ask any race hustler and they’ll say

We’re the true racists for acting this way

I’m a racist he’s a racist she’s a racist we’re a racist

Wouldn’t you like to be a racist too?

The 37 school closings recommended by the Philadelphia School Reform Commission may or may not be justified; this is still a matter of public debate.  As Timothy Boyle rightly talks about in his recent commentary in the Notebook, the public still doesn’t have enough information to okay the SRC’s decision to shut down three dozen public schools; more detailed explanations are necessary. 

This, however, doesn’t justify pulling the race card, which cheapens true complaints about legitimate discrimination, and makes us all look like we’re simply crying wolf.

6 Comments

Filed under Arne Duncan, Multiculturalism