Rachel M. Cohen

If We Want Kids to Grow Up and Earn a Decent Living, Schools Should Teach Them to Organize Unions

How are millennials stereotyped as lazy, despite being a highly efficient and productive generation? Why are millennials characterized as spoiled and entitled, yet just 6 percent of them expect to one day receive Social Security benefits like those enjoyed by current retirees? In Kids These Days: Human Capital and the Making of Millennialswriter Malcolm Harris explores these and other questions—unpacking the precarity, the economic pressures, and the contradictions surrounding those born between 1980 and 2000.

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Making the Case that Drug Addiction Is a Learning Disorder

For the past 30 years, Maia Szalavitz has researched and reported on science, drug policy, and health. Before that, in her early twenties, she herself became addicted to cocaine and heroin, sometimes injecting the drugs several times a day. Even after overdosing, after being suspended from Columbia University, and after getting arrested for dealing—facing a 15-years-to-life sentence under New York’s now-repealed Rockefeller drug laws—Szalavitz struggled to quit. In her latest book, Unbroken Brain: A Revolutionary New Way of Understanding AddictionSzalavitz explores why getting off drugs is so difficult. She challenges the public to see addiction as a neurological learning disorder—much more like autism and ADHD than a moral failing, or a chronic illness.

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Lead Poisoning, a Persistent Sign of Poverty, Is Linked to School Suspensions and Lower Student Test Scores

Over the past several years, education advocates and civil rights groups have been sounding the alarm on the harms of exclusionary school discipline policies. Critics say these punishments—suspensions, expulsions, and school-based arrests—are increasingly doled out for minor infractions, and disproportionately given to students of color.

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Massachusetts Charter School Backs off Exclusionary Hair Policies - for Now

The Mystic Valley Regional Charter School, a suburban Boston charter in Malden, Massachusetts, is under fire for its dress-code policy prohibiting hair extensions and afros, rules that critics say are racially discriminatory.

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The Pro-Charter Billionaires Vs. Bernie and the Progressives in the Priciest School Board Race in U.S. History

Just 20 percent of eligible Los Angeles voters turned out to the polls on March 7 to vote for their city’s next mayor and school board officials, and turnout is likely to be even lower for Tuesday’s school board runoffs. And yet, this race that barely anyone will vote in has turned into a high-stakes battleground, complete with record-setting amounts of political spending and bitter negative campaigning. It has pitted some of the richest men in American against none other than Bernie Sanders, in a brawl over the future of public education in the nation’s largest state.

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The American Parent Trap

Sarah LeVine and her husband Robert LeVine have spent decades traveling the world studying global parenting styles and surveying mothers and fathers. The Harvard anthropologists published their conclusions in Do Parents Matter? Why Japanese Babies Sleep Soundly, Mexican Siblings Don’t Fight, and American Families Should Just Relax. The LeVines found that despite significant advancements in public health and Western medicine, American parents remain the most anxious moms and dads in the world, in part, because they tend to muddy the traditional family hierarchy. In a political climate where policymakers worry about the so-called “decline of the American family”—a deeper understanding of family relationships in other cultures can contribute valuable insights to this national conversation. Rachel Cohen spoke with Sarah LeVine about their research. This conversation has been edited and condensed.

Rachel Cohen: Let’s start with the title of your bookDo Parents Matter?

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Will Maryland See a Big Victory for Those Fighting School Privatization and Over-Testing?

Politicians and policy experts have long debated how and whether to hold schools accountable for what students learn. For 13 years under the controversial Bush-era No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), the federal government required states to identify schools that were failing by the metric of standardized test scores, and dictated how schools should intervene. Critics said the law amounted to untenable and unacceptable levels of federal overreach, and ultimately did little to close academic achievement gaps. Defenders say the law, while imperfect, led to small yet significant gains in student achievement, particularly for black, Hispanic, and low-income children.

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The Hour of the Attorneys General

In a Tuesday night in early February, not three weeks after Donald Trump’s inauguration, three federal judges in San Francisco heard arguments about whether to halt his first major policy undertaking. Trump had issued an executive order banning hundreds of thousands of travelers from entering the country, including citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries, and all refugees. As many as 60,000 individuals had their visas revoked. Almost immediately, a pair of Democratic attorneys general, Washington state’s Bob Ferguson and Minnesota’s Lori Swanson, brought suit against Trump’s executive order, arguing it violated the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection under the law as well as the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause, harmed all Washington and Minnesota businesses and communities, and was “undermining [their] sovereign interest” as welcoming destinations for immigrants and refugees.

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The War on Public Schools

On November 8, 2016, the man who vowed to be “the nation’s biggest cheerleader for school choice” won the presidential contest. About two weeks later he announced that Betsy DeVos, a billionaire Republican donor who has aggressively lobbied for private-school vouchers, online education, and for-profit charter schools, would serve as his education secretary. In early December, Jeb Bush told an audience of more than 1,000 education reformers in Washington, D.C., that he hoped “there’s an earthquake” in the next few years with respect to education funding and policy. “Be big, be bold, or go home,” he urged the crowd.

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Black Organizations Cast a Cold Eye on Privately Run Charter Schools

At its national convention in July, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, one of the nation’s premier civil-rights organizations, passed a resolution calling for a moratorium on charter schools.

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Q&A: The Education Stakes in Election 2016

Last October, the National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers union, gave Hillary Clinton one of her earliest organized labor endorsements. Since then, the powerful group has been one of Clinton’s most vocal supporters. Neither Hillary Clinton nor Donald Trump have spent much time discussing public K-12 education issues during the primary season. But recently, elementary and secondary education topics have attracted more attention. Clinton began articulating her education policy ideas at union conventions this month and Republican leaders championed school choice at their national convention last week.

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The Conviction of Purvi Patel and the Criminalization of Abortion

Last March, Purvi Patel, a 33-year-old Indiana woman, was sentenced to 20 years in prison for fetal homicide. Patel is the first woman in the country to be convicted under a feticide law for having an abortion. Reproductive rights advocates believe that her conviction signals a new trend of criminalizing the procedure.

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Battles in St. Louis Over School Privatization and Segregation

The St. Louis Public Schools and the St. Louis NAACP recently filed litigation in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri against the Missouri Board of Education, claiming that state officials have diverted millions of dollars to charter schools over the past decade, in violation of a court-ordered desegregation settlement.

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Teachers Look to Unionize at Another New Orleans Charter School

Earlier this month, teachers at Lusher Charter School, an arts-based K-12 school in New Orleans, went public with their intent to unionize. Sixty percent of teachers, teacher assistants, and other Lusher staff signed a petition in support, but over the weekend the Lusher board voted 6–5 against recognizing their union. Now the teachers will ask the National Labor Relations Board to hold an election.

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The Devastating Impact of School Closures on Students and Communities

In 2013, citing a $1.4 billion deficit, Philadelphia’s state-run school commission voted to close 23 schools—nearly 10 percent of the city’s stock. The decision came after a three-hour meeting at district headquarters, where 500 community members protested outside and 19 were arrested for trying to block district officials from casting their votes. Amid the fiscal pressure from state budget cuts, declining student enrollment, charter-school growth, and federal incentives to shut down low-performing schools, the district assured the public that closures would help put the city back on track toward financial stability.

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Judge Issues Restraining Order After an L.A. Charter Network Interfered with Teachers Union Drive

Drama has escalated for teachers organizing at the Alliance College-Ready Public Schools, the largest charter network in Los Angeles. Since the teachers, organizing with United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA), first went public with their union drive in March, they allege the administration has erected illegal barriers to organizing, including intimidating their employees. (Alliance denies these accusations, though some of their leaked internal communications certainly suggest they are opposed to the effort. For example, one memo instructed management to keep their statements focused on “the potentially negative effects of UTLA and any union on fulfilling the school’s mission.”)

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Billionaire Education Reform: L.A. Style

The Los Angeles Times published a confidential document, which seems to confirm earlier reports that the Broad Foundation wants at least 50 percent of L.A. public school students educated in charter schools over the next eight years. Currently, 16 percent of students in L.A. Unified attend charters, and according to the report, getting to 50 percent would require creating 260 new schools, for 130,000 students, at a cost of $490 million.

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Teach for America Members Now Have the Right to Unionize

In another interesting development for the movement to unionize charter schools, the National Labor Relations Board ruled last week that Teach for America corps members should have been allowed to vote in a Detroit charter union election earlier this year.

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Why the Dichotomy Between Racial and Economic Justice is a False One

Yesterday, Vox’s Dara Lind published a post analyzing what this past weekend’s protests at Netroots Nation tell us about splits within the progressive movement. I personally don’t think Bernie Sanders handled the Black Lives Matter demonstrators very well, and I imagine his advisers had several serious conversations with him following the conference about how to better approach these voters going forward. He’s a politician—I’m pretty confident he’ll figure out how to campaign more effectively.

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Teaching Character: Grit, Privilege, and American Education's Obsession With Novelty

Twice a week for 30 minutes, fifth graders at KIPP Washington Heights, a charter school in New York City, attend “character class.” Each lesson is divided into three parts, according to Ian Willey, the assistant principal who teaches it. First, students find out what specific skill they’ll be focusing on that day. “This morning we’re going to learn how to set a long-term goal,” Willey might tell them. Next, students are asked to practice the skill. In this case, students may imagine they have a long-term project to complete, and then work to construct a timeline with incremental deadlines. In the final part of the lesson, students would take time to collectively reflect. “What was hard about this exercise?” Willey might ask. “What went well? Did anyone feel nervous? What did you do when you felt nervous?” And because part of KIPP’s mission is to help build character, the students would then classify their new skill as one or more of KIPP’s seven targeted character goals. In this example, the students were learning “grit.”

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Is Marriage Really an Economic Cure for Inequality and Social Problems?

Several authors long associated with the idea that marriage is a prime cure for inequality have published a manifesto, condensed in The Washington Monthly. The new wrinkle is an alliance between marriage traditionalists and gay-rights activists. The Marriage Opportunity Council, a spin-off of the Institute for American Values, hopes that by adding same-sex unions to the definition of marriage, they can unite progressives and conservatives in a cause to promote marriage generally. The basic premise of the essay and the broader campaign is that marriage provides economic as well as emotional security; that it’s good for children to grow up in two-parent families; and that a class gap has opened up in the incidence of marriage, which widens inequality and harms the poor, especially the children of the poor. A “growing class-based marriage divide threatens all of us,” the several authors, led by longtime marriage advocate David Blankenhorn, write. “It endangers the very foundations of a broadly middle-class society.”

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Inside the Growing Movement to Unionize Charter Schools

The April sun had not yet risen in Los Angeles when teachers from the city’s largest charter network—the Alliance College-Ready Public Schools—gathered outside for a press conference to discuss their new union drive. Joined by local labor leaders, politicians, student alumni, and parents, the importance of the educators’ effort was not lost on the crowd. If teachers were to prevail in winning collective bargaining rights at Alliance’s 26 schools, the audience recognized, then L.A.’s education reform landscape would fundamentally change. For years, after all, many of the most powerful charter backers had proclaimed that the key to helping students succeed was union-free schools. 

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The Battle to Unionize a Charter School

On April 30th, faculty at North Philadelphia’s Olney Charter High School voted 104-38 in favor of forming a union, an NLRB election that Olney’s charter operator, ASPIRA, has since announced they’re challenging. Olney’s union campaign is only the latest in a small but rapidly growing wave of charter union drives nationwide. But few efforts have been as contentious, or as revealing, as this one. Ever since the campaign began three years ago, ASPIRA has pumped tens of thousands of dollars into an elaborate union-busting effort, even as the beleaguered district it’s funded by struggles with massive debt. Unionizing Olney also threatens to shine light on ASPIRA’s questionable finances, at a time when authorities at the state and district level have failed to act. More broadly, the union drive in Philadelphia reveals how charter management organizations can use lax regulation to dodge financial accountability.

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The Real Cost of Teach For America's Impact on Our Public Schools

In debates over education policy in urban school districts, few topics are more contentious than the role played by Teach For America, the national organization that recruits elite college graduates to teach in low-income urban and rural schools for two years.  It is not uncommon to hear veteran teachers, who majored in education and often have advanced degrees, complain that their profession is diminished by what they see as a preference for TFA recruits who did not study education. Parents are heard to question the qualifications and commitment of TFA’s novice educators, given the assumption that their sign-up for a two-year stint suggests only a fleeting interest in teaching. And both veteran teachers and parents sometimes bemoan the fact that the racial and ethnic make-up of the TFA corps rarely matches that of the students they are assigned to teach.

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To Stop Police Brutality, Take the Millions in Settlement Money Out Of Cop Budgets

As the national conversation around racism and police brutality quickly fades—ramped up briefly in the wake of Michael Brown’s death—U.S. taxpayers remain stuck footing the bills for their local law enforcement’s aggressive behavior. This week alone, Baltimore agreed to pay $49,000 to man who sued over a violent arrest in 2010, Philadelphia agreed to pay $490,000 to a man who was abused and broke his neck while riding in a police van in 2011, andSt. Paul agreed to pay $95,000 to a man who suffered a skull injury, a fractured eye socket, and a broken nose in 2012.

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