Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Notorious Phd’s “Achievement Rap” A Tribute to Those Who Invented the Achievement Gap

Notorious Phd’s “Achievement Rap”
A Tribute to Those Who Invented the Achievement Gap
While some people call “the achievement gap”
Inspired me to write an achievement rap
Exposing the hustlers who rule our nation
Who’ve hijacked the train and left us at the station
They’ve exported our jobs, treated us like fools
Now they are poised to take over our schools
And run them for profit, like they do our jails
So they make up some lies to say that we’ve failed
When the failure is theirs, cause they’ve stolen our wealth
Whatever is good, they’ve reserved for themselves
Now they’re saying that we hold the whole nation back
If we don’t pass the tests their companies fast track
When reality is they’re the ones who need testing
To see in whose pockets school profits are resting
From Murdoch to Klein, from Gates to Rhee
The achievement gap hustle is one big crime spree.

Friday, July 22, 2011

My Problem With Charter Schools-Too Many Are"Bad Neighborhood Citizens"

My Problem with Charter Schools- Too Many Are "Bad Neighborhood Citizens"

I am not in principle against charter schools. Experimenting with new models of school organization can be a good thing, and giving parents more options within the public school system can promote an atmosphere conducive to better teaching and learning

But in a society dominated by trickle down economics,where there is little commitment to improve public education as a whole, charter schools have not fulfilled their original promise. With rare exceptions, they have functioned as though their success requires the failure of neighboring institutions, refusing to work cooperatively with traditional public schools when they share a building, pushing out or excluding special needs, elll children, and those marked as "behavior problems" and embracing what amounts to a two tier styemm in inner city schools- one favored and amply funded- the other looked on with suspcion and contempt

Charter schools can lead to improvements in the quality of education, but only if they embrae all children and try to work with and support public schools they share space and neighborhoods with,not quarantine them as if they were carriers of a contagious disease

Right now, based on what I have seen in the Bronx, and other parts of New YorkCity, charter schools have not improved the quality of education in inner city neighorhoods. The best have supplied a small number of families with better educational options. But on the whole, charter schools have been "bad neighborhood citizens," viewing everyone outside their ranks as a threat to their educational mission,and doing everything possible to "stack the deck" against traditional public schools by indirectly or overtly excluding students who might not test well or be compliant learners

This "us againnst the neighborhood" is the last thing New York, and the nation's immigrant and working class communities need asthey find themselves starved of resources by budget cuts at the city, state and federal level

Until charter schools start fighting for ALL the children and families in the neighborhoods they are located in, rather than the 10 percent enrolled in their institutions, they will be unable to make a positive contribution to the struggle for racial and economic equality in the United States

Mark Naison
July 22,2011

Monday, July 18, 2011

Time to Create A Progessive Caucus in Teach for America?

Although the leadership of TFA is closely allied with forces seeking to privatize public education, and use high stakes testing as a vehicle to rate teachers and administrators, there are many TFA Corps members, past and present, who believe that racism, poverty and regressive taxation, not failing schools, are the primary causes of neighborhood distress and economic
stagnation in the United States.

Perhaps it is time that these people, who now number in the thousands, organize a progressive caucus in TFA to fight within the organizaiton to reduce its emphasis on high stakes testing, encourage TFA corps members to make teaching their lifetime career, and to have TFA
openly repudiate "trickle down economics" and support the redistribution of wealth through progressive taxation..

I for one would be willing to use all resources at my disposal to help such a caucus get started, and I know of many other progressive academics
around the country who would do the same,

TFA Corps members and alumni who think such a caucus is worth discussing should feel free to contact me via my Fordham ( or personal ( email


Mark D Naison
Professor of African American Studies and History
Forham University
Principal Investigator, Bronx African American History Proect

Monday, July 11, 2011

A Bronx Tale: Questions for Those Who Argue That Failing Schools Cause Urban Decay

A Bronx Tale: Questions for Those Who Argue Failing Schools Cause Urban Decay

Mark Naison

Fordham University

It has become fashionable for the Right Wing of the School Reform Movement, along with some progressives, to argue that failing schools are a major cause of the decay and stagnation in inner city neighborhoods.

As a historian of the Bronx, who has traced the borough’s development from the 1930’s through the present, I would like to raise a few questions about this formulation, based on important episodes in the Bronx history.

First, when factory owners in the Bronx began closing their operations in 1950’s and 1960’s, or moving them to other states or other countries, did they do so because the schools of the Bronx were failing and the places they were moving their operations to ( e.g. South Carolina, Alabama, Haiti, the Dominican Republic) had better schools and a better educated labor force? The resulting job losses devastated the Bronx’s economy, but they were the result of factory owners quest for cheaper labor, not for a better educated labor force.

Second, when banks and insurance companies began redlining the Bronx, and landlords in the borough started burning their buildings to collect insurance money ( a phenomenon which reached epidemic proportions from the late 60’s through the late 70’s) did they do so because the Bronx public schools were performing poorly or did they do so because the job losses referred to in Question 1 made it difficult for South Bronx tenants to pay their rent?

Third, when the city of New York during the 1975 fiscal crisis, decided to eliminate music programs in the public schools, and shut down the after school centers and night centers which had been fixtures in every public school in the city since the early 1950’s, did they do so to punish the public schools for failing to educate their students properly, or because banks refused to lend money to keep the city government afloat unless they made drastic reductions in youth services no longer deemed “essential?”

Fourth, when a crack epidemic swept through the Bronx from the mid 1980’s through the mid

1990’s, did it do so because the schools were failing to do their job, or because young people in the Bronx gravitated to the underground economy because there were no legal job opportunities available and because youth recreation programs had been devastated by budget cuts?

Presented in chronological order, these were the four great tragedies that led the Bronx, once a place where upwardly mobile Black and Latino families moved to in search of better housing, better schools and safer communities ( from the 1930’s through the 1950’s) become a international symbol of urban decay and urban violence.

Can anyone seriously argue that” failing schools” were the major cause for this chain of disasters, or were the causes to be found in global movements of capital, investment decisions by banks, landlords and local businesses, and government policies that took resources and services out of Bronx neighborhoods and Bronx institutions, including public schools

Mark Naison

July 11, 2011

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Why I Am Wary of Geoffrey Canada as a Social Commentator

Why I am Wary of Geoffrey Canada As a Social Commentator
Dr Mark Naison
Fordham University

I have been wary of Geoffrey Canada as a social commentator ever since he published a book called "Fist,Knife, Stick Gun" whose first section describes the Morrisania section of the South Bronx in the 1950's and 1960's as a hell hole, a place plagued with violence and negativity. Violence and negativity there certainly was, but there were also great neighborhood sports programs, vibrant churches, great music and arts programs in the public schools, and many mentors and "old heads" who helped guide young people away from trouble. Canada's grim vision of this predominantly Black section of the Bronx, contradicted by liiterally scores of interviews I did with people who lived in the same community, was a disturbing example of literary "tunnel vision"- an author's propensity to make his personal experience universal. By contrast, read Allen Jones "The Rat That Got Away: a Bronx Memoir", set South Bronx housing projects and neighborhoods in the same time period, whch recognizes that the same community could contain hustlers, political activists, striving students, gang leaders, protective parents, drug dealers and inspired teachers and mentors.

Today, Canada's seems to apply the same tunnel vision to education when he views failing schools as the bane of struggling neighborhoods and says that private business would never tolerate such failures. But such a comment could only be made by someone who doesn't examine the role of the private sector in America's inner city neighborhoods,, which was to shut down operations, and move out when neighborhood conditions and global economic trends made them unprofitable. While public schools in these communities remained open,, factories shut own, banks closed their doors,,insurance companies and banks redlined the areas, landlords abandoned and burned properties, and whole business districts disappeared.. In many cases, it was neighorhood public schools, hardpressed and occasionally disorderly as they were ( read Janet Mayer's wonderful book "As Bad As They Say: Three Decades of Teaching in the Bronx") were the one place where young people could find support and inspiration when they were abanoned by private capital, and savage by government cutbacks.

To now hold them up to scrutiny as failures in an otherwise successful society can only be done by erasing what has happened in inner city America in the last 40 years. Global economic trends and private investment decisions, coupled with government policies which siphoned wealth upward, were the major factors which destabilized inner city neighborhoods, not teachers unions and poorly run public schools

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Exposing Education Reform's Big Lie: It Is Jobs and Political Mobilization, Not Schools, Which Lift People Out of Poverty

Exposing Education Reform’s Big Lie: It is Jobs and Political Mobilization, Not Schools Which Lift People Out of Poverty

Dr Mark Naison

Fordham University

Once again, a major cheating scandal has been uncovered in an urban school district. What happened in Houston ten years ago ( but not before it’s allegedly miraculous test score gains helped spawn No Child Left Behind) has happened in Atlanta. A state investigation has uncovered systematic falsification of test scores by teachers, principals, and district administrators in a district where careers could be made or broken by those results, leading to the resignation of the district superintendant and potential suspensions, and possibly criminal indictments, or scores of teachers and principals

To regard what took place in Atlanta as an exception to an otherwise unblemished record of probity in administering standardized tests would be like regarding Bernie Madoff’s ponzi scheme as an aberration in an otherwise healthy financial system. In each instance, unscrupulous individuals took the basic tenets of a flawed system to an extreme. In the case of Madoff, he provided clients with high returns based on non-existent investments, rather than flawed ones ( subprime mortgages packed into Triple A bonds); in the case of Atlanta, officials decided to invent impossible results rather than browbeat and terminate teachers and principals when they didn’t achieve them.

Let us be clear- the Atlanta scandal is the logical outcome of a national movement, supported by government and private capital, to radically improve school performance and hopefully lift people out of poverty, through a centrally imposed and rigidly administered combination of privatization, competition, material incentives and high stakes testing. You would think that a movement which commands such widespread support, and extraordinary resources, has a history of proven examples, either in the US, or other nations, to guide its implementation.

But the truth is that there is not a single time in American history- with the exception of the ten years following the end of slavery- where you can point to educational reform as a factor which lifted a group out of poverty, or allowed an important minority group to improve its status relative to the majority population. The kind of “heavy” lifting required to do that, with that one exception of the Reconstruction Era during which activists founded schools for a people once denied literacy, has come, not from top down educational reform, but from bottom up political mobilization, coupled with changes in labor markets which radically improve earning opportunities for the group in question.

Let us look at the one moment in the 20th Century where the African American population not only experienced a rapid improvement in its economic status, but improved its status relative to whites, the time between 1940 and 1950. During those ten years, black per capital income rose from 44% of the white total to 57%. This income growth was not only a result of wartime prosperity, and Black migration from the rural to urban areas, but a result of the protest movement launched by A Phillip Randolph in 1941 to demand equal treatment for Blacks in the emerging war economy, as well as the enrollment of Black workers in industrial unions. Randolph’s march on Washington Movement didn’t lead to the desegregation of the armed forces, but it did lead President Roosevelt to issue a proclamation requiring non-discriminatory employment in defense industries and to create a Commission to enforce this decree. While huge pockets of discrimination remained, African Americans, women as well as men, found work in factories throughout the nation producing ships, aircraft, and motorized vehicles and were enrolled in the unions that represented the bulk of workers involved in war production.

In Detroit, in Los Angeles, in Youngstown, in Pittsburgh, in Richmond California, Black workers, many of them newly arrived in the South were earning incomes four to five times what they would have made as sharecroppers or tenant farmers and had union protection in their places of employment. This economic revolution spawned a political revolution, with nearly 500,000 African Americans joining the NAACP, and a cultural one as well, with rhythm and blues becoming the music of choice for the emerging black working class, inspiring clubs and radio stations and small record labels to cater to this rapidly growing black consumer market.

Though educational opportunities for blacks did improve in this period, it was changes in the job market, fought for, and consolidated by grass roots political movements, reinforced by strong labor unions, that were the primary engine of change.

There is a lesson here that activists and educators should consider. If you want to improve economic conditions in Black and working class neighborhoods, than it would make more sense to raise incomes, either by unionizing low wage industries, or demanding that tax revenues be directed into job creation, rather than trying to legislate magical improvements in schools based on results on standardized tests.

Children living in impoverished communities cannot be magically vaulted into the middle class by pounding information into their heads and testing them on it relentlessly . However, their parents, and older brothers and sisters, can be lifted into the middle class through jobs that offer decent incomes and security coupled with opportunity for personal advancement through education.

School Reform is the American Elite’s preferred response to poverty and inequality, a strategy that requires no sacrifice, no redistribution nor any self-organization by America’s disfranchised groups. Every day, it is proving itself a dismal failure

It’s time that a new strategy be launched that focuses on jobs, economic opportunity and the redistribution of wealth, one linking civil rights groups, unions, and people living in working class and poor communities who have watched wealth and opportunity be siphoned out of their communities by the very wealthy- the same people, ironically, who are the biggest supporters of School Reform!

Mark Naison