Civil Rights

Update on this story from two weeks ago: The Arizona State University professor whose videotaped arrest drew national attention and claims of racial profiling has pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor violation of resisting arrest.

Reuters reports that English professor Ersula Ore accepted a plea deal in Maricopa County Superior Court in which her aggravated-assault charge was dropped. The county attorney’s spokesman said she’ll probably get probation when she’s sentenced Aug. 1.

Some Ore supporters claimed she was targeted for jaywalking on a street where everyone had to cross to avoid construction, and that she defended herself from the arresting officer’s “grabbing” while her dress was up.

The FBI will continue its civil-rights investigation into the incident, requested by the school, despite Ore’s plea deal, Reuters said.

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Campus Reform reports on former Vice President Al Gore’s controversial remarks at Princeton University:

Former Vice President Al Gore compared the fight against climate change to the civil rights movement, and called on Princeton graduates to help to do their part at the university’s annual Class Day.

Gore said that American society must agree that there is a problem before it can move to make a change. He recalled a childhood memory in the South about a friend who made a racist remark; his other friends were quick to tell the student to “shut up,” and informed him that such thinking was no longer acceptable.

In the same way, Gore suggested progress can be made for climate change through changing the discussion…

Full story here.

(Image: JDLasica.Flickr)

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A Los Angeles Superior Court judge ruled yesterday that teacher tenure laws “deprived students of their right to an education under the State Constitution and violated their civil rights.” The New York Times reports:

“Substantial evidence presented makes it clear to this court that the challenged statutes disproportionately affect poor and/or minority students,” Judge Rolf M. Treu of Los Angeles Superior Court wrote in the ruling. “The evidence is compelling. Indeed, it shocks the conscience.”

The decision, which was enthusiastically endorsed by Education Secretary Arne Duncan, brings a close to the first chapter of the case, Vergara v. California, in which a group of student plaintiffs backed by a Silicon Valley millionaire argued that state tenure laws had deprived them of a decent education by leaving bad teachers in place.

Joshua Pechthalt, president of the California Federation of Teachers, said Treu “fell victim to the anti-union, anti-teacher rhetoric and one of America’s finest corporate law firms that set out to scapegoat teachers for the real problems that exist in public education.”

The state’s teachers’ unions plan an appeal.

Read the full story here.

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OPINION

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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