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Longer School Days Idea Gets Passing Grade

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By Jazelle Hunt
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Six decades after Brown v. Board of Education, an old idea is being resurrected in hopes of narrowing the education gap between Blacks and Whites – expanding the school day.

“By sixth grade, low-income students have a 6,000 hour learning gap over the course of their lifetime, accounting for these field trips, and summer learning opportunities. That’s an incredible deficit that our low-income students are trying to go through school with,” said Christopher Caruso, senior vice president of ExpandED Schools at The After-School Corporation (TASC), a non-profit policy and advocacy organization.

“If your day is limited to St. Nicholas Avenue and Lennox Avenue in Harlem [New York], or a six-block radius for 15 years, you don’t have that experience, that vocabulary. So the amount of work that you have to do to show competency in testing, is tremendous.”

The idea that more time fosters academic achievement has been around almost as long as public education has. Today, ELT is aimed at closing the opportunity gap and saving underperforming schools. The theory is that if there were more time in the school day, under-resourced schools could provide the same rich experiences, in-depth lessons, and extra tutoring that middle- and upper-class students receive. Allowing more time for these perks during school hours ensures that all students receive them.

“It’s not that schools haven’t worked with students in the past to help them catch up, but…usually you would tackle that in an after-school venue,” says Barbara Pulliam Davis, superintendent of the Greene County School District in Greensboro, Ga. “With extended learning time, because it’s part of the school day, every student gets to participate. There’s no ‘I can’t stay late because my mom wants me home.’”

ELT schools and districts devise a daily schedule or calendar year that adds hours or days to the traditional one. School years are usually elongated by shortening summer vacation, or adding Saturday instruction. School days are extended by combining a variety of tactics, such as: beginning the school day earlier; adding extra blocks of time throughout the day for non-traditional learning; minimizing transitions and other non-instructional moments, and more.

Every school custom builds their program, drawing on best practices at other schools and their own school community’s needs.

Schools generally use this additional time in four ways: remediation for students who need it; advanced lessons and projects for above-average students; peer-development and creative lesson-planning time for teachers; and/or enrichment activities for students. Particularly in the case of enrichment activities, schools partner with organizations, businesses, and individuals to offer a range of engaging, fun activities to students.

For example, students at Thurgood Marshall Academy Lower School in New York City create their own public art exhibits and visit cultural gems such as the Museum of Modern Art, thanks to a partnership with arts education organization, Doing Art Together.

“A lot of upper- and middle-income families find ways to put opportunities in front of their children. There’s a whole cottage industry for upper- and middle-income kids that’s driving the opportunity gap, and low-income families don’t have the resources to pay for that,” Caruso explains. “There’s a lot of data that says two-thirds of the achievement gap is a difference of access to those opportunities. But we’re not going to hold back upper- and middle-income families, we have to lift up lower-income families.”

ELT is also used as a “turnaround” method for schools that are doing poorly academically, as measured by state and federal exams. Greene County High School in Georgia, for example, has seen improvement among its students since the district adopted an “increased learning time” schedule.

“It gives us time to time to really focus on the students. So many times we have schools where students are credit-rich but content-poor,” says Ray Hill, Greene County High School principal. As evidence of the program’s success, he cites his students’ performance on the Georgia High School Writing Test, a statewide exam introduced in 2011. After using extended time to prepare for the exam, 94 percent of students met or exceeded expectations on the first try.

He explains, “Once the kids understood it was something that would help them, we got more buy-in from them. It also did improve the self-esteem of certain kids, because they started to realize they could ‘get it’ with a little more help.”

There are more than 1,000 schools across the country that have voluntarily switched to ELT schedules, most of which are public schools. In the case of Greene County (and many others), schools construct an ELT program to comply with Department of Education grants they receive.

Aligning with federal policy in this way mitigates one of the criticisms of extended learning — its high cost.

For starters, extending the school year (as opposed to the length of a school day) means added costs to run the building longer. Enriching activities such as dance and robotics are also costly (without a generous community partner). Then, there is the tricky task of paying teachers for the additional time, while honoring contractual caps on the number of hours worked.

For rural school districts, finding community partners can be difficult. When there aren’t enough partners nearby, or if those partners are less inclined to offer pro bono services over time, schools cannot afford to fill the extra time in a meaningful way. Rural districts also have to convince school bus companies to adopt the same new schedule.

Experts agree that potential ELT success does not lie in the time itself—it’s how the time is used, and whether the program is structured and in line with the school’s particular goals and weaknesses.

“It’s not just packing an extra hour or two in the school day when what you do with the extra time supports the vision of the school overall,” says Jessica Cardichon, director of federal advocacy for the Alliance of Excellent Education, a national policy and advocacy organization for effective high school reform. “It’s not more time to do more of the same things. It’s time to expose students to different experiences and opportunities, and to enhance different skills that they might not have otherwise been exposed to before.”

Working Hurts Finances of Blacks Working Way Through College

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By Freddie Allen
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – More than 60 percent of Black students could receive greater financial aid for college through the Pell grant program, if they were enrolled full-time, according to a new report by the National Urban League.

The report, which focused on the profile of a typical Black student and the uphill battle they fight to get to college and earn a degree, found that 62 percent of Black students receive funding for college through the Pell grant program, but many more would qualify if they didn’t have to work supporting themselves, their families or young children.

Sixty-five percent of Black students are independent, compared to 49 percent of White students.

“While 62 percent of African American students receive some Pell support, only 14 percent of independent African Americans receive the maximum Pell Grant award,” stated the report. During the 2011-2012 school year, maximum Pell grant awards ranged between $4,500-$5,500.

According to the report, Black students are more likely to come from low-income families than their White peers. Black students are less likely to receive family contributions, which increases the likelihood of receiving higher Pell Grant awards.

A 2012 report on Pell grant recipients by the John W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy, said that Blacks account for 12 percent of Pell recipients, while 63 percent of funds allocated to the grant program went to White students.

In fact, the Pope Center report found that the typical Pell recipient was White, female, 25 years-old, works part-time, is financially independent and is going to school full-time.

Yet, the independent status of Black students often leaves them unable to attend college full-time and makes it even harder for them to graduate.

“The biggest distinction that we found is that most African American graduates are independent or non-traditional students compared to other races and ethnicities,” said Susie Saavedra, a senior legislative director at the National Urban League’s Washington Bureau.

Saavedra, who co-authored the report, said that the distinction between independent students and dependent students is significant because there are important differences that affect the way each group matriculates through college.

“Independent African American undergraduates are more likely than others to be single parents, 48 percent, compared to 23 percent of whites, 34 percent of Latinos, 36 percent of Native Americans and 19 percent of Asians,” stated the report.

More than 40 percent of independent Black students attend two-year schools and about 1 in 4 independent Black students are enrolled in bachelor’s degree programs. In contrast, more than half of all dependent Black students are enrolled in bachelor’s degree programs.

Saavedra said that Black students often enter college so academically unprepared that they’re using their valuable Pell grant dollars to pay for remedial courses that don’t count towards a degree, further limiting their financial resources.

Despite their own constrained financial resources, historically Black colleges and universities, often graduate a disproportionate amount of Black students, compared to predominately White institutions.

Although, historically Black colleges and universities, account for less than 3 percent of all post-secondary institutions they graduate almost 18 percent of the Black students that earn bachelor’s degrees.

Marybeth Gasman, a professor of higher education in the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia said that the cooperative-learning environment found at many HBCUs rather than a cutthroat competitive environment and that ends up supporting students.

“If you have students that are mentoring each other instead of constantly trying to one-up each other, it changes the environment and it makes it more academically and socially supportive,” said Gasman.

She said that racial incidents that occur at majority White institutions often chip away at the psyche of Black students.

“Within the HBCU environment there is a belief in the potential and the success of Black students, that right their can make an enormous difference,” Gasman explained.

Saavedra said that even with reforms to the Pell grant program, financial aid alone is not enough to retain and graduate low-income and underserved students.

“Instead, a growing body of research suggests that when financial aid is paired with wrap-around services or personalized approach to higher education we see improved retention among low-income students,” said Saavedra.

Researchers recommended building learning communities to strengthen connections between students, increasing access to social safety net programs to provide students with comprehensive financial support, enhancing career advisement. Students also need greater financial counseling to help them understand the real cost of college and summer bridge programs to prepare them for the coursework.

Saavedra said that policymakers and advocates must find better ways to serve non-traditional students.

“Many of our recommendations offer a proactive approach that move the conversation beyond the goal of college access to providing the necessary support and resources to address the factors highlighted [in the report],” said Saavedra. “We believe these strategies will help us realize the larger goal of college completion, upward mobility, and economic empowerment for all underserved students.”

New NAACP President Says Protest in His DNA

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By George E. Curry
NNPA Editor-in-Chief

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – When Rev. Frederick D. Haynes III of Dallas, Texas learned that the NAACP Board of Directors had chosen Cornell William Brooks over him, Attorney Barbara R. Arnwine and several other better known candidates to succeed outgoing president Benjamin Todd Jealous, his response was “Who?”

And he wasn’t the only one responding that way.

In an interview from Florida, where trustees had just made their selection, a board member who asked not to be identified by name said, “We turned the whole nation into a collection of owls,” he said. “When they learned of our decision, everyone in the country was saying, “Who? Who? Who?”

Though he is not among the Who’s Who of national civil rights advocates, Brooks feels his entire life has prepared him to become president and CEO of the NAACP. He graduated from Jackson State University in Mississippi with honors, earned a Master of Divinity degree with a concentration in systematic theology from Boston University School of Theology– where Dr. Martin Luther King earned his Ph.D. in the same area of study – and graduated from Yale Law School, serving as a senior editor of the Yale Law Journal and a member of the Yale Law and Policy Review.

After serving as a law clerk for Judge Sam J. Irvin III on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, Brooks’ first job was as an attorney at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law headed by Barbara Arnwine. He later worked as an attorney for the Justice Department, a senior attorney for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and was executive director of the Fair Housing Council of Greater Washington, D.C.

His most recent job was as president of the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, a Newark-based organization founded in 1999 by the Alan V. and Amy Lowenstein Foundation. According to its website, the institute seeks to expand economic opportunity for people of color and low-come residents; promotes holding local, state and regional government accountable for fulfilling the needs of urban residents and protects the civil rights of the disadvantaged.

“When you look at the arc of my career, it has not been singular or linear in focus, but really touched on many of the challenges facing the country – whether it be in business, the criminal justice system, the juvenile justice system, the housing market – so I think I bring a multi-dimensional, multi-disciplined, multi-faceted focus on work,” Brooks said. “That does not make me unique, but perhaps distinctive.”

Brooks will need that and more to be successful as the 18th president of the NAACP.

The 5-page job description developed by The Hollins Group, the NAACP-contracted search firm based in Chicago, noted among the specific job responsibilities: “Work closely with the Chairman and the Board and be responsible for developing the organization’s U.S. private sector fundraising plan and growing its annual income and membership by 20%. This also will include expanding both staff and operations with an emphasis on building a larger base of private sector support and establishing an endowment.”

According to the job description marked “confidential,” the Baltimore-based NAACP has a staff of 100 and an annual budget of $42 million. However, the organization is deeply in debt and recently cut its staff by 7 percent.

Brooks has never managed a staff that large. The New Jersey Institute for Social Justice had a total of 19 staff members and a budget of $2.08 million. Its primary income was equally divided between government grants and investments, each bringing in approximately $350,000 annually.

According to its IRS Form 990, it had a loss of $421,939 in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, 2012. Even though it was losing money, Brooks collected base compensation of $227,526, plus $10,437 in retirement and deferred compensation and $3,137 in nontaxable benefits for a total of $241,100, according to the IRS filing.

The previous fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30, 2011, the institute had a loss of $1,039,154. Despite the million-dollar loss, Brooks’ salary was listed $221,203, plus $23,885 in benefits and deferred compensation and $2,400 in other allowances for a total of $247,488. In addition, four other staffers – his senior counsel, chief operating officer, chief of staff/CFO and director of development – each earned more than $100,000.

Beyond the fiscal challenge, the expectation that Brooks can grow membership by 20 percent a year is considered a lofty goal for an organization that has long fudged its membership numbers. Former NAACP executive directors Roy Wilkins and Benjamin L. Hooks routinely claimed a membership of 500,000.

However, the Baltimore Sun did research and found that the NAACP had been claiming a membership of 500,000 since 1946. In 2006, then-president Bruce Gordon finally admitted that the figure was less than 300,000, where it still remains today.

Brooks seemed confident that he can attract young people to the nation’s oldest – in longevity and by average age of members – civil rights organization.

“It’s been my model, if you will, to engage young people, not by deputizing and delegating to them, but charging them with being co-creators of public policy,” he said. “In work I’ve done thus far, we were not engaged in bringing young people to the kiddie table. We bring them to the conference table as co-creators of reform and it works. It’s easy to get people excited about the work when they’re doing the work. They are not, in effect, junior anything in the movement.”

At 53, Brooks, who grew up in Georgetown, S.C., feels he is uniquely positioned to serve as a magnet for young people.

“I represent not just the younger end of the Baby Boomer generation, but the older end of the hip-hop generation,” he explained. “In other words, I came of age musically with R&B yet with hip-hop because it was born when I was in college.”

When pressed to share his vision for the NAACP, Brooks repeatedly declined, saying that’s something he will present when he addresses the NAACP membership at its July convention in Las Vegas. However, he said clues can be found in his past activities.

He has worked on numerous issues including small businesses, civil rights litigation, assisting ex-offenders by getting companies to not ask about past incarceration on employment applications, Black colleges, churches, education, housing, criminal justice issues, training women for nontraditional jobs, and politics.

Brooks, who still maintains a house in Virginia, ran for Congress in 1998 as the Democratic nominee for the 10th District in Virginia, but was soundly defeated in the general election by Republican Frank Wolf. He was a member of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s 2010 transition team, but is quick to add that he was appointed to various local and state posts, including the board of the New Jersey Public Broadcasting Authority, by Democrats as well.

“My grandfather, Rev. James Prioleau, in the 40s ran for Congress in the 6th Congressional District of South Carolina,” said Brooks, a fourth-generation ordained minister and an associate pastor at Turner Memorial AME Church in Hyattsville, Md. “He ran for Congress not because he thought he could win, but rather because he wanted to register African Americans to vote and enlist in and engage in the membership of the NAACP. That legacy is part of my moral DNA.”

With the upcoming mid-term elections and the passing of voting laws that adversely impact Blacks, some critics worry that Brooks will not be able to hit the ground running when he assumes office in July. However, he strongly disagrees.

“I think I am well prepared to do the work,” he said confidently. “I am as confident in my colleagues as I am my own abilities. I don’t think I’ll have any problem hitting the ground running simply because there are a lot of folks running with me.”

Local Activists Call An End to Zimbabwean Sanctions

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Special to the NNPA from the New York Amsterdam News

The continuing fight to emancipate Zimbabwe from European imperialism was the main theme of a recent rally at the Adam Clayton Powell State Office Building in Harlem, sponsored by the December 12th Movement.

“U.S. hands off Zimbabwe!” and “Mugabe is right! Let’s stand and fight!” were just a couple of the chants exclaimed by activists as they paraded in front of the towering building on the corner of 125th Street and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard.

“Zimbabwe has had many difficulties in terms of fighting for their liberation,” explained Omowale Clay, opening the second portion of the event in the building’s sky lobby. Some say that the crippling economic sanctions are being imposed on the African country as punishment for refusing to allow itself to continuously be robbed of its natural resources.

“The campaign against sanctions is actually a campaign for our people, wherever they are, when they are under attack,” Clay added. “They stole all the land in Africa, but the question is who’s going to have farms and natural resources in Zimbabwe?”

Activists contend that Europe has maintained the same parasitic relationship with Africa for the past few centuries and that the exploitive capitalist system that has been crippling Africa and simultaneously sustaining Europe for centuries centuries has only benefitted the exploiter.

“The WADU [World African Diaspora Union] resolution calls for support for the African Union under the leadership of [Zimbabwean President] Robert Mugabe,” said WADU’s Ital Kofi Ital. “We advocate for one African entity, one global African entity, one continental identity to move our people forward that encompasses all Africans, all Black people, globally.”

Clay laid out how European imperialism has separated the continent’s indigenous inhabitants and implored the need for African unity.

“Our campaign is to cover Zimbabwe’s back,” he said. “The struggle in Zimbabwe is tied into the struggle of African people against those who want to recolonize Africa. It’s Zimbabwe today, it’s another place tomorrow.”

Citizens were told to contact their Congress members and set up meetings to discuss the state of Zimbabwe.

Caricom-Canada Talks Stall Again, Near Collapse

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By Bert Wilkinson
Special to the NNPA from the New York Amsterdam News

In the clearest indication yet that Canada and the 15-nation Caribbean trade bloc might not have a free trade agreement anytime soon, if at all, in the past week regional governments have blamed Canada’s inflexibility and inherent arrogance for stalling talks, and expressed anger at Ottawa, Canda, for ignoring requests for a special leaders summit to break the deadlock.

For the past six years, the two sides have been negotiating a deal to replace the decades-old CARIBCAN Agreement that had basically allowed goods from Caricom to enter Canada duty-free, but it has long been deemed to be noncompliant with current world rules governing free trade and tax-free access for a range of items from apparel to rums to vegetables.

In the past week, regional governments have written to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, warning that the talks are on their deathbed largely because “Canada continues to place the onus on the grouping of mostly small island nations to show further flexibility,” and instead calling on Canadian negotiators “to show flexibility in relation to a number of Caricom’s key interests.”

They have even gone so far as to remind Canada that there is a vast difference in geographic size, population and purchasing power when Canada is compared to all of the member states. Only Haiti, with close to 9 million people, and Jamaica, which is headed toward 3 million, have any significant numbers to discuss. Incidentally, Caricom dominates trade with Canada in regard to surpluses, largely thanks to gold and petroleum product exports from Guyana and Suriname and Trinidad, respectively.

In order to meet the June 2014 conclusion date, the ministers called on Canada to show flexibility in relation to a number of Caricom’s key interests, taking into account the need to respect the principle of asymmetry and the differences in the levels of development and size between the two sides.

Underscoring the current state of no “play,” Caricom and Canadian negotiators have not even set an agreed date for the next round of talks since the last meeting, which took place in Jamaica in April. Officials said that there is no indication of when the sides will meet again because governments, as stated in the letter, “are concerned at the lack of response to a request from Caricom Chairman Ralph Gonsalves of St. Vincent for a meeting with the prime minister of Canada.”

Both sides had set a June deadline for completion of the talks, which began back in 2009.

Many of the small eastern Caribbean islands with precious little to export are known to be adamantly opposed to open free trade with Canada, fearing their economies will be swamped by cheaper imported products.

The letter argued that Canada must “take into account the need to respect the principle of asymmetry and the differences in the levels of development and size between the two sides. Many of the states are experiencing severe fiscal imbalances,” the governments said, noting that “Canada has not yet responded to Caricom’s requests for improvements” in reduction of tariff levels for some products.

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