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Between the Covers of The Death and Life of the Great American School System

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By Lance Hill, PhD, Special to the NNPA from the Louisiana Weekly –

New Orleans is the beachhead for a national movement to convert public schools into privately managed "charter" schools-on the argument that competition and the "business" or "market" model will produce better schools for the same taxes. New Orleans has 60 percent of its students in charter schools-publicly funded but privately managed schools-more than any school district in the United States.

But one of the nation's most respected education historians and policy analyst, Diane Ravitch, is raising grave doubts about the wisdom of the model that New Orleans is using. "Our schools will not improve if we expect them to act like private, profit-seeking enterprises," writes Ravitch in her new book The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice are Undermining the Education. Ravitch should know: only a few years ago she was one of the nation's premier advocates of school privatization.

What made Ravitch come full circle on charter schools? More importantly, what does Ravitch's book say about the course that has been imposed on New Orleans schools?

Though Ravitch's focus is on the perils of charters (she refers to as "choice"), school privatization, and the high-stakes testing program that determines if a student will progress in grades (the LEAP test in Louisiana), and her book reads like Edward Gibbons definition of history in general: "little more than the register of the crimes, follies, and misfortunes of mankind."

Ravitch takes the reader through a variety of school reform movements in different cities including New York and San Diego. In virtually every case, school reform sweeps in on a wave of optimism and the promise of change. But once the reform advocates depart and hand over the keys to the school data to new management, suddenly the community discovers that little has changed. Student performance had not increased-instead the tests were made easier. Schools did not improve because of new teaching strategies-instead the schools simply raised average test scores by excluding students with the greatest learning problems and concentrating them in schools where little learning was possible. The lesson learned too late was that good schools were simply made by creating bad schools.

New Orleans appears to be proving Ravitch's theory: While charter schools have increased their test scores, students in the remaining public system - the Recovery School District (RSD) schools - are failing the 8th-grade LEAP test at a startling rate of almost 80 percent a year for the last four years.

Though Ravitch does not address the issue, the problem of getting to the truth about school privatization has much to do with the fact that the people who control the flow of information, the media, think-tanks, foundations, are private sector enterprises owe their existence to the profit system. Many people tend to believe that what brought about their own success will do the same for others. But that may not be the case for education.

Ravitch warns that charter schools driven by competition will result in a two-tiered system of haves and have-nots. Charters will "enroll the motivated children of the poor, while the regular public schools will become schools of last resort" for children with learning disabilities, deficient skills, and encumbered by troubling home circumstances.

Ravitch's book is a window into the future of education in New Orleans and the nation as a whole. We don't have to wait 10 years to find out what mistakes we have made. Ravitch marshals substantial research to prove that the reforms of "market based" school competition, high-stakes testing, and state takeovers have already proved to be failures. The problem is that charter schools, as Ravitch observes, divide a community into competing consumers narrowly concerned with getting the best deal for their child, rather than uniting citizens around solving our common problems by establishing equitable "school systems that foster academic excellence in every school and every neighborhood."

The new school reformers ask us to entrust our children to the "magical powers of the market." But not everyone wins in the business world: competition creates losers as well and we have to ask ourselves if we want one child to succeed at the expense of another? "Deregulation contributed to the near collapse of national economy in 2008," Ravitch reminds us, "and there is no reason to anticipate that it will make education better for most children."

We can now add the BP oil spill as another example of how competition and the lack of direct public oversight can be a recipe for disaster.

School reformers thrive on nightmares and miracles. First they promote the idea that a school system is a nightmare that can only be transformed into a happy dream by handing it over to miracle workers. In the end, the nightmare may be true, but Ravitch makes clear is that there are no miracles. Effective education reform takes time and enormous effort. There are volumes of research that point the right way; we only need to avail ourselves of this knowledge rather than settle for the marketing spiel of educational entrepreneurs. It probably also means that we will have to spend more, the last thing tax payers want to hear. "Children who have grown up in poverty need extra resources," Ravitch warns. They need small classes for extra instructional time and they need preschool, medical care, and social services.

The solution to the education crisis is a good dose of reality-not another spoonful of miracle tonic.

Every person in New Orleans should read Diane Ravitch's book because she is talking about our city's future. She mentions New Orleans only once in her book, but readers will recognize in her case studies of other cities all the familiar ingredients of long-term failure and profound inequality that have been assembled in New Orleans.

Congo Scores First Round Victory Against Canadian Mining Co.

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Special to the NNPA from the Global Information Network –

As the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) recovers from more than 40 years of dictatorship and war, with a budget heavily reliant on mining revenue, there was some good news from the International Court of Arbitration in Paris.

The Court let stand a decision by the DRC to cancel First Quantum of Canada's KMT copper project last September, after a review found contract irregularities and production delays at the mine.

Earlier this year, a top court in the country also annulled the Canadian miner's rights to two other copper mines.

Congo has 4 percent of the world’s copper and nearly a third of its cobalt, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

“We have won,” Martin Kabwelulu, minister of mines, said.

The tribunal also ordered First Quantum to end a media campaign against the DRC. The “smear campaign” against the country nearly foiled the DRC’s efforts to secure a $8 billion debt relief deal from the World Bank.

The Vancouver-based company’s investments in Congo were valued at close to one billion dollars.

Meanwhile, the DRC Minister announced that mining companies will soon be asked to pay into a new fund to buffer the country's lost revenues when the mines are eventually exhausted.

"The non-renewable character of mining resources obliges us to think what comes after mining," he said. "The children to come must find that the government has set aside some funds."

White Vote Rigging Revealed in First Post-Apartheid Vote

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Special to the NNPA from the Global Information Network –

A hacker attempted to reverse the vote totals in South Africa’s first post-apartheid poll in a failed effort to defeat the African National Congress and its candidate Nelson Mandela, an election monitor has now revealed.

In a new book, the head of the official election monitoring division said the hacker broke into what was thought to be an impregnable system. Among the parties who benefited were the White-lead National Party, which had ruled South Africa from 1984, whose vote share increased by approximately three per cent and the right-wing Freedom Front Party, which saw its vote share pushed up by between 2.5 per cent and four per cent.

The manipulation was detected at the time, but the culprit was never discovered.

"There was a right-wing conspiracy to start an armed insurrection with the help of the Defense Force," said Peter Harris, author of “Birth: The Conspiracy to Stop the '94 Election,” which is serialized in South Africa's Sunday Times newspaper. "That resulted in a number of bombs going off to try and stop the election and cause mass panic and despair."

The hacker entered between 05:56 and 06:41 on the morning of May 3 and made changes to the vote count of three parties, a forensic investigator was quoted as saying in the book.

One of those who benefited was the Inkatha Freedom Party, whose mainly Zulu supporters refused to ally themselves with the ANC and were involved in violent clashes with Mandela's ANC party supporters. Their share of the vote increased between four and five per cent. In the end, the tampering was not able to change the overwhelming support for Mr Mandela's ANC.

When the final results were announced on May 6, the ANC had won 62.6 per cent of the vote, the National Party 20.4 per cent and the IFP 10.5 per cent.

Mr Mandela, released in 1990 after 27 years in apartheid jail, was sworn in as president four days later. The book is due to be released next month.

Texas Governor Perry Talks About Appointments, CHIPS, Tuition Costs, and More

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Special to the NNPA from the The Dallas Examiner –

On Oct. 4, at the invitation of The Dallas Examiner, Governor Rick Perry agreed to discuss his position on key issues, such as appointments of African Americans to significant positions in the state, his decision not to close Texas Southern University, CHIPS, Texas textbook issues and tuition costs at state colleges and universities. Due to time restraints, the issues of concern to the African American community that were discussed with the Governor were limited.

The Dallas Examiner (TDE): Governor Perry, you have appointed more African Americans to significant boards and commissions in Texas than probably any other governor. You appointed Wallace Jefferson, chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court, Bill Jones, Board of Regents of Texas A&M System (later elected by the board as Chair), Anthony Sadberry, Commissioner of the Texas Lottery System, and Albert Hawkins, Commissioner of the Texas Health and Human Services Commissions. Additionally, you have appointed an African American to almost every college and university board in Texas.

Gov. Rick Perry: Bill Jones was one of the few African Americans at Texas A&M in the late sixties when I went to school there and we have kept up with each other all these years. He is a very successful lawyer now in Austin; however, the person on this list of appointments that for my perspective is the most powerful story of the early 21st century America, certainly the 21st century in Texas, is Wallace Jefferson. I knew Wallace peripherally was a smart, capable scholar of a lawyer. I think he had taken three separate court cases to the United States Supreme Court and won all of them. That is a tremendous part of one's resume that very few people will ever have - I mean lawyers. And, when we had an opening on the Texas Supreme Court, I didn't think about when was the last time an African American served in this position. I do think it is important to have people with different viewpoints serve on boards and agencies, so that we have a mix - a mosaic that represents the different cultures in our state. There had never been an African American on the Texas Supreme Court. Wallace's story is so powerful because he was the first African American to be on the Texas Supreme Court. His appointment as Chief Justice of the Texas Supreme Court was an easy decision for me, in spite of the fact that there had been others on the court who had served longer. I feel it is important to send messages to kids - who you support, who you surround yourself with, who you help.

Wallace Jefferson became the chief justice, partly because Texans needed to see that no matter where you come from, the color of your skin or the sound of your last name, that if you are willing to work hard and play by the rules you can become anything you want in this state. Wallace Jefferson's great grandfather was sold on the steps of the McClendon County Courthouse in the 1850s; he belonged to somebody; he was sold like a horse. And, today that man's great grandson walks up the steps of the highest courthouse in Texas as the chief justice.

TDE: Several years ago, Texas Southern University was in serious financial trouble. Many thought the solution to the problem was to merge the university with the University of Houston. You decided to save the university. You appointed a new Board of Trustees, who in turn hired a new president. The university is apparently solvent at this time. What were the factors you considered when making the decision to save the university?

Gov. Perry: Texas Southern University is one of the nation's largest Historically Black Colleges and Universities. At the time of the financial troubles you mentioned, I felt strongly that the university was important enough to the state and the Houston community that we needed to do whatever it took to correct the problems that existed. When I was a young legislator, Texas Southern University had financial problems. Under my watch, I couldn't let that happen. I had an open mind - what is best - should the school be closed or merged with another school. Ron Wilson, a former legislator and one of my closest confidants, and Gary Bledsoe, state NAACP president, were two people that I trusted and respected. Gary knew the community, and Ron loves me like a brother and would not let me make a mistake that would hurt me. We had to get rid of some of the administrators and appointed a new board, who selected a new president.

I am encouraged by the progress the university has made and I believe strongly that not only is the community well served by this university, but the state and nation as well. From 2000 to 2009, the number of degrees awarded by Texas Southern University has increased 54 percent. That kind of success is exciting for our state, and it is a testimony to the kind of spirit that exists at Texas Southern. I was the speaker at TSU's commencement last year. I believe it was the first time a governor has been the commencement speaker, and I proudly congratulated and shook the hand of all eight hundred plus graduates.

TDE: In 2009 only families making less than twice the federal poverty level - around $44,100 for a family of four - were eligible for the joint federal and state health care program - CHIP. It is my understanding that you were not in favor of the Senate plan that would allow families making up to 300 percent of the poverty level to get into the program by paying a share of the cost. Some families making more than that would have been able to fully buy into the program.

Why were you not in favor of the CHIP expanded health coverage plan?

Gov. Perry: I think what is most important for Texans right now is to focus on encouraging parents to enroll their children who are currently eligible but not enrolled. Texas has an estimated 177,000 children who are currently eligible but not enrolled. Our state spent more than $5.5 million in 2008, with an additional $5.9 million expected to be spent in 2009 and that same amount in 2010 on various efforts to educate parents about both CHIP and Children's Medicaid program and encourage them to enroll their children.

TDE: The cost for a student to attend Texas A&M is approximately $19,000 per year. The average family is not able to pay this for a student to go to college. Tuition deregulation began September 1, 2003 and schools began increasing designated tuition rates in Spring 2004. Since deregulation began, academic charges for a student taking 15 semester hours at a public university have increased by 72 percent. Texas needs an educated workforce to attract business. If the cost of a college education continues to escalate, then the number of students graduating from college in Texas will degrease, thus negatively impacting business coming to the state.

Do you have plans to assist low- to moderate- income families to educate their children?

Gov. Perry: Yes. As a father who has put two children through college, one at Texas A&M, I understand what families go through to offer their children a promising future. I am a strong advocate for what I call the "four-year tuition freeze." This would mean that when a student registers their freshman year of college - the rates they pay will be locked in for the next four years. This allows students and their families more predictability to plan for the cost of education over four years. Further, I am very proud that under my leadership, financial aid in Texas has increased by 911 percent. The cost of a higher education in Texas is just below the national average and we are doing all we can to continue to make it more accessible. With enrollment rates at an all-time high, we are seeing success in this endeavor.

TDE: Texas House Bill 568, commonly referred to as "Top 10% Rule," is a Texas law passed in 1997. The law guarantees Texas students who graduated in the top ten percent of their high school class automatic admission to all state-funded universities. Texas needs a diverse, highly educated workforce and the African American community believes that the 10 percent rule will ensure that minorities are admitted to not only the flagship universities in Texas, but to all state supported schools.

In the past legislative sessions, there has been a strong effort to eliminate or water down the 10 percent rule. What is your position on the 10 percent rule?

Gov. Perry: The top 10 percent rule was an important piece of legislation for both our minority communities as well as our rural communities. Recently, I signed a piece of legislation that modified the "Top 10 Percent" law by capping the percentage of the entering class of freshmen at the University of Texas to 75 percent in 2011. I believe it is vitally important the universities look at the student as a whole and consider more than just this one single factor in determining enrollment eligibility.

TDE: For much of the past year, the Texas State Board of Education has been considering changes to its social studies curriculum, hearing from community members and debating alterations to the way the state will teach history. Many on the board, which is made up of ten Republicans and five Democrats, seem to have concluded that Texas' classrooms have been infected with a liberal bias. As a result, the board spent numerous hours hearing from members of the community on subjects such as whether labor activist Cesar Chavez and Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall deserve space in history textbooks alongside founding fathers like Benjamin Franklin.

What is your position on the Texas State Board of Education's efforts to remove African American and Hispanic achievements in Texas from textbooks?

Gov. Perry: There are currently requirements in the Texas curriculum that both Cesar Chavez and Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall must be taught, and rightfully so. Texas has a rich and diverse historical heritage and I believe that the individuals who have contributed the greatest efforts and accomplishments to our state's culture be recognized for the legacy they have left our state.

Our State Board of Education members are publicly elected by the people of Texas. These are the people Texans have entrusted to determine our state's curriculum, and I believe in the system our state has in place. I believe these members are doing their part to ensure such individuals are recognized in our public schools' curriculum and their story is accurately taught to our school children.

Who's Killing Black Women? Most Murdered with Gun by Men They Know

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By J. Williams-Gibson, Special to the NNPA from the New Pittsburgh Courier –

Beware of strangers, right? That is a frequent warning given to us all, but particularly women and children. However, the majority of African-American females killed by men die at the hands of guys that they know—not strangers.

Black females murdered by men are most often killed with a gun, and almost always by someone they know, according to a recent report by the Violence Policy Center, a national educational organization that works to reduce violence.

“There was a myth out there saying women need to protect themselves against strangers, but that’s not the reality,” said Kristen Rand, legislative director for the Violence Policy Center (VPC). “It’s much more of a domestic violence risk.”

The details of the VPC report are alarming: Black women were murdered at a rate more than two and a half times higher than White women.

Firearms, especially handguns, were the most common weapon used and the number of Black females shot and killed by their husbands or an intimate acquaintance was more than four times as high as the total number murdered by male strangers using all weapons combined in incidents in 2008.

Most often, Black females were killed by males in the course of an argument and 10 percent of Black female victims were 18 or younger.

“There are identifiable, preventative measures to be taken to prevent these sorts of homicides,” said Rand.

Some domestic violence experts cite jealousy, anger, and rage as reasons behind the numbers. Police and social workers continue to be baffled by how someone can kill a supposed loved one.

The fact that the women were most often killed with a handgun is troubling to Rand. She questions whether or not law enforcement is cracking down on gun ownership by people with histories of domestic abuse, which is prohibited by law. She takes the position that the presence of guns can escalate domestic violence to homicide.

“More resources need to be directed to preventing these sorts of incidences. Local shelters need to be better funded and local authorities need to be better educated about this risk and removing guns from the home,” said Rand.

The VPC study also ranked each state by its rate of total homicides for females of all races. Nevada ranked first followed by Vermont, Alabama, North Carolina, and Tennessee to round out the top five. The majority of the top 10 states were located in the South— states with a strong gun culture. Indiana was tied at 27 with Wyoming.

While the study focuses on Black women, the truth is, domestic abuse knows no race or socioeconomic status—it can happen to anyone.

“People don’t understand. It’s almost like it’s a taboo subject,” said Julie Marsh, CEO of the Domestic Violence Network of Greater Indianapolis.

Marsh is not surprised by the center’s findings and suggests that all people become educated on the signs of domestic abuse. She encourages people, particularly women, to be proactive in protecting their lives. Red flags include hurtful comments, constant calling, and checking on where she is and who she’s with, control over things such as finances or ward robe, punching or slapping, and isolation from family and friends.

No woman deserves to be abused under any circumstances because the abuser always has a choice, Marsh said. Things might be bad, but the domestic abuse educator went on to say that a woman should never tell her abuser she is leaving because breaking away from him is the most dangerous period of the conflict.

“Don’t do that unless you have a full safety plan in place,” said Marsh. “Leave when he’s not there and do not go to a relative’s house, either. Seek out a place like a shelter and get help from a domestic abuse counselor.”

To find safety, she suggests calling 211 from a secure phone. If in immediate danger, just get out of the house and go to a place he would not think you’d go.

If there’s no way to get out of the home, an abused woman should think of safe places to find solace in the home.

To reduce the numbers of abused women and murdered women due to abuse, experts believe people should be more vocal about domestic violence. Rand, the Violence Policy Center administrator, said there should be more focus on gun violence and how it relates to domestic violence, and recommends people share this information with local officials.

“Black women should also make people understand it’s just not acceptable that they’re at such an increased risk,” said Rand. “There should probably be special programs for them and the men in their lives.”

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