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Civil Rights

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No privatization reform was left behind as prominent education activist Diane Ravitch went on the attack.

“You have a civic obligation to serve the schools. It’s part of the commons. Even if you don’t need it, these are civic responsibilities—not consumer goods.”

So said prominent progressive education reform activist Diane Ravitch at a recent guest lecture at Stanford University, where she also denounced private schools and charter schools as unethical and ineffective. She also called for free preschool and healthcare for all mothers and children, claiming women who don’t have good prenatal care tend to have special-needs children.

Ravitch’s talk Sept. 30, a stop on the tour for her new book, Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to Public Schools, underscored that “society has the obligation to level the playing field” through free public education and any other services necessary to maintain that.

She called for free pre-kindergarten education, free health care for all kids and pregnant mothers, reduced-class sizes, summer programs, a full year of professional education for all teachers, and a richer curriculum (including PE, art, sciences, and music) “not just for advantaged suburban schools.”

“This is the civil rights issue of our time,” she said. “All children have the right to equal education opportunity.”

She suggested that a series of hoaxes maintained by private, profit-driven interests has convinced innocent citizens of a reform system “built on a mountain of error.” She described some of the results of the privatization/voucher movement with visible disgust: closing public schools, laying off librarians and teachers, and turning dollars over to entrepreneurs.

“Schools belong to the community,” Ravitch said. “You can’t just decide to privatize public goods, because they don’t just belong to you; they belong to the whole community. To the future.”

The majority of the talk was driven by what Ravitch considers to be those hoaxes that greedy entrepreneurs have fed to the public about education. The points were highly aggressive and often simplified, straw-man arguments. She went so far as to imply that virtual charter schools steal homeschoolers’ money by tricking them into purchasing their educational products.

“The biggest hoax is the online charter schools,” Ravitch said. “They have really bad test scores, and nearly 50 percent drop out. But the ‘schools’ don’t care, so long as they can recruit more, because enrollment equals profits.”

Ravitch was adamant that education not be privatized.

“Schools are not stocks,” she said. “They’re institutions embedded in the community, sometimes for generations.”

She continued, arguing that merit pay always fails because teachers are already doing the best they know how.

“They aren’t hiding their best lessons,” she joked, suggesting that all public school teachers love their jobs and join the profession for fulfillment while teachers motivated by pay would make no added effort.

Ravitch rigorously defended teachers throughout her lecture. She proffered that teachers are not doing so poorly as their evaluations would suggest, but rather that the evaluation system, which is based on students’ test scores, is broken. Here at least she cited research by the Gates Foundation by which the current system “has been disproven again and again.”

She also argued that the highest performing states—based off of the very metrics she had just bad-mouthed—are the most highly unionized and that this is not a coincidence. Rather, she argued that unions’ protection to teachers from unjust firing creates an atmosphere where educators can experiment and gain longterm experience.

Fix contributor Devon Zuegel is a student at Stanford University.

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Universities around the U.S. held commemorative events on Wednesday, in honor of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and Martin Luther King’s historic “I Have a Dream” speech.

In addition, numerous students participated in commemorative events in our nation’s capital. Some even camped out overnight on the National Mall, in order to secure a place during the events, according to The Washington Post.

Students at Howard University, a historically-black institution, participated in a march from their campus to the Lincoln Memorial, where King gave his famous speech.

To see images from the day’s events, check out the slideshow at The Washington Post.

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(Image: Library of Congress)

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“Trayvon Martin dialogues” are slated to launch at middle and high schools across San Diego, with elected officials of the 132,000-student public school district saying they hope the talks give students a chance to vent their frustrations into something positive.

School board members of the second largest district in California made the decision at their recent meeting, directing the superintendent to develop how, when and where the discussions will take place.

The resolution approved by a 4-0 vote July 30 calls for the dialogues to “allow students to speak honestly about their identification with Trayvon Martin’s story, including feelings of fear, anger and skepticism that they will live in a just society as they prepare for their future.”

The resolution also states the talks will “allow students to speak honestly about the world view that prompted George Zimmerman to confront Trayvon Martin, and help students develop perspectives and strategies to channel their feelings about Trayvon Martin into positive work for themselves and the larger community.”

San Diego Unified School District board member Marne Foster said before the vote that “Trayvon Martin could have been any one of my three sons as an unarmed, young African American male traveling home.”

She said she hopes the dialogues offer venues for “candid, honest conversations about the state of America.”

“This … gives them a voice and the tools to constructively and safely engage the world around them, and more importantly to become that change agent that we so desperately need them to be,” Foster said, adding “especially given in 2013, they are still living in a time reminiscent of Emmitt Till.”

Till was a young black teen who, in 1955, was beaten to death for flirting with a white girl. His murder was a tragedy that helped spawn the Civil Rights movement.

“The feelings of young people I have spoken to who have made their voice heard throughout our community are feelings of anger, frustration, a sense that, ‘Is the society that young people grow up in and enter into -  is it going to be fair?’ ” said school board member Richard Barrera prior to the vote. “Those are legitimate feelings young people are having. We have a responsibility to allow young people to come together and have dialogue with each other and express these feelings openly and honestly with the support of professional educators.”

The dialogues are also expected to delve into the “stand your ground laws (and) how to deal with being confronted by others in an authoritative manner,” the resolution states.

“(We’ll) carefully and methodically look at what happened and analyzed this,” said school board member John Lee Evans. “This is an important teachable moment.”

A video of the school board meeting at which this discussion and vote took place is available online: click here. The discussion starts at 2:11:30.

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The Supreme Court agreed this week to hear an important case that could help bring an end to racial preferences in college admissions at state universities.

Last November the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative, which had outlawed preferential treatment on the basis of race. It was a ban that applied to all public institutions in the state.

By overturning the initiative, the court overturned a direct, democratic expression of the will of the people of Michigan. It was a striking assertion of judicial power.

Now the Supreme court will decide once and for all whether Michigan citizens’ choice to enforce equal treatment in the state and end racial discrimination among public institutions will be ultimately upheld.

The XIV Foundation, a civil rights group founded by anti-racial discrimination activist Jennifer Gratz, published a press release praising the high court’s decision to hear the case.

“The Michigan Civil Rights Initiative was backed by 58% of the Michigan electorate and simply states that public institutions cannot grant preferential treatment to any group or individual on the basis of race,” Gratz said. “The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the will of the people last November.”

Gratz expressed confidence in the Supreme Court’s eventual ruling. “The Court erred when it declared equality unconstitutional.  We believe the US Supreme Court is poised to overturn the Sixth Circuit’s decision.”

For the sake of what is just and good, let’s hope she’s right.

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IMAGE: Envios/Flickr

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If a college or university is reluctant to discuss something, there is certainly a reason.

Last fall, Claremont McKenna College (CMC) in Southern California introduced its new guide to “Civil Rights Policies and Civil Rights Grievance Procedures.” Like many U.S. colleges, CMC recently revised its disciplinary procedures in cases of sexual harassment and assault, in response to an ultimatum from the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights–the “Dear Colleague” letter, sent to all educational institutions within the United States that receive any form of federal funding.

To learn more about the college’s revised policies, I sent a few emails to individuals within CMC’s staff, and was referred to the Dean of Students’ office. The Dean, Mary Spellman, informed me that if I wanted to interview her about the policy, my request would have to be cleared by the Office of Public Affairs. She informed me that all media requests must be referred to that office for approval. I have previously interviewed members of the Claremont McKenna staff, and was never informed of such a policy.

Why is the college being so guarded about its new sexual grievance policies? I wondered.

Next, I sent an email to the Office of Public Affairs requesting an interview with Dean Spellman about the new policy. I received a response that requested that I send a list of the questions I wanted to ask. I obliged, and they told me they would get back to me. A couple days later, I asked to view a copy of the Dear Colleague Letter, and was again told that I would hear back.

After ten days without notice from the Office of Public Affairs, I sent a follow-up email to inquire about the status of my request. I received a statement entitled “Regarding Title IX,” dated November 14, 2012. I was invited to keep checking in on the status of my interview request. I received no response regarding my request to view the Dear Colleague letter, which I later accessed from a professor. (The letter is also available on the Department of Education website.)

Dated April 4, 2011, the Dear Colleague letter specifically addresses Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which “prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in educational programs or activities operated by recipients of Federal financial assistance.” The letter states that sexual harassment of students, including sexual violence, is a form of sex discrimination prohibited by Title IX.

The letter, which is now the law of the land, stipulates numerous Title IX requirements to which educational institutions must adhere in regards to sexual harassment and violence. It requires that recipients adopt and publish grievance procedures providing “prompt and equitable” resolution of sex discrimination complaints.

Title IX requires that recipients perform individual investigations of sexual harassment and sexual violence complaints. The Title IX investigation is distinct from that of law enforcement, and must be performed even if a law enforcement investigation occurs as well.

The Dear Colleague letter requires that recipients adopt a “preponderance of the evidence” standard to evaluate complaints in Title IX sexual violence investigations. The preponderance standard is met if, evidence considered, it appears more likely than not (a greater than 50% probability) that the sexual violence occurred. The letter explicitly rejects the “clear and convincing” standard, a higher burden of proof previously used by CMC and many other post-secondary institutions. The Dear Colleague letter rejects the clear and convincing standard on the grounds that it is “inconsistent with the standard of proof established for violations of the civil rights laws, and are thus not equitable under Title IX.”

The Office of Civil Rights threatens to withdraw federal funding, including federal student aid, from recipients who do not comply with the grievance procedures detailed in the Dear Colleague letter.

Thus, CMC’s new Civil Rights Policies and Civil Rights Grievance Procedures state, “Upon completion of the [sexual violence] hearing, the Board will meet… to determine an appropriate finding based on a preponderance of the evidence, either: 1. It is more likely than not that the alleged conduct did not occur and the Respondent is not responsible for violating College policy; or 2. It is more likely than not that the alleged conduct did occur and the Respondent is responsible for violating College policy.”

The policy applies to all students, but not yet to faculty.

The American justice system is rooted in the presumption of innocence and the common law premise that a wrongful conviction is a more repugnant than a wrongful acquittal. The new Title IX grievance procedures are inconsistent with this premise. With a preponderance of the evidence standard, the potential for a false accusation to result in a false conviction of sexual violence is exponentially greater.

The college did not publicly announce the new Title IX policies to the student body until December 10 in an email sent by college president Pamela Gann. Notably, the message included no mention of the preponderance of the evidence standard.

It is shameful that Claremont McKenna has not made students immediately and explicitly aware of the preponderance standard. CMC students deserve immediate notification of this policy and an explanation of its implications. They deserve warning that a fraudulent accusation has greater potential to result in conviction, smearing their reputations and destroying their careers.

The college defends the new rules in the statement entitled “Regarding Title IX.” Claremont McKenna writes, “The policies and procedures regarding Title IX are civil and administrative in nature and based an approach that offers a fair process to all parties.”

However, the college’s reluctance to discuss the topic with the media suggests that it is not proud of this new policy.

Fix contributor Amelia Evrigenis is a sophomore at Claremont McKenna College. This article is the first in a forthcoming series on this subject.

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Image Source: Onondaga County Public Library Collection / Wikimedia Commons

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One might assume that Barack Obama’s election represented a meaningful advance in the Civil Rights movement, but at least one Black professor at Columbia university has called Obama’s election “a hollow prize.”

In his book, The Price of the Ticket,  Prof. Frederick Harris writes that Obama’s election came with “an implicit agreement that the forces that keep racial inequality intact will not be directly challenged.”

Read more at Fox Nation.

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