As Democrats prepare for their 2012 convention in North Carolina, public schools in the state are turning back the clock on desegregation.
First Lady Michelle Obama announced Tuesday that the 2012 Democratic National Convention will be held in Charlotte, North Carolina.
“Charlotte is a city marked by its southern charm, warm hospitality, and an ‘up by the bootstraps’ mentality that has propelled the city forward as one of the fastest-growing in the South,” Mrs. Obama wrote in an email to Democratic supporters explaining the decision.
There’s also the fact that in 2008 her husband narrowly defeated Senator John McCain in North Carolina, winning by 12,000 votes. The choice of Charlotte signals President Obama's intention to compete for the state again, and the South in general.
One can only hope that the Dems' focus on North Carolina will also draw attention to a disturbing trend in some of the state’s public schools. In 2002, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school district responded to budget cuts by eliminating a longstanding busing program designed to ensure diversity. The move effectively re-segregated schools by race and income – and now another district is following suit.
In Wake County, which includes the city of Raleigh, the school board recently struck down its program of integrating schools based on socioeconomic status. By avoiding concentrations of poverty, Wake County schools have drawn high-quality teachers throughout the entire region. Supporters of the program note that its students, of all races, outperform state and national averages.
Backed by national Tea Party conservatives, the Wake County school board voted in January to eliminate the plan in favor of creating neighborhood schools. Portraying the program as unwanted "social engineering" that causes frequent school reassignments, board members argue that re-segregating schools will actually benefit poor students by making their problems easier to see.
“If we had a school that was, like, 80 percent high-poverty, the public would see the challenges, the need to make it successful,” board member John Tedesco told the Washington Post. “Right now we have diluted the problem, so we can ignore it.”
So, you see, concentrating poor kids in separate schools is for their own good!
Not so convinced is U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan who, in a letter to the Washington Post, called the backslide to segregated schools troubling. The Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights has also started an investigation of the Wake County school board action.
“In an increasingly diverse society like ours, racial isolation is not a positive outcome for children of any color or background,” wrote Duncan. “School is where children learn to appreciate, respect and collaborate with people different from themselves. I respectfully urge school boards across America to fully consider the consequences before taking such action. This is no time to go backward.”
With a federal judge's strikedown of health care reform, does that mean it's a wrap for the law?
So ... is health care reform over now?
Going by some reactions to a Florida federal judge’s recent decision, you might think something like that. On Monday, U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson declared the entire Affordable Care Act unconstitutional based on the individual mandate requiring most Americans to buy insurance starting in 2014. But hours after the news broke, White House officials swooped in to say, Nothing to see here, folks.
In a conference call, senior administration officials pointed out that the Florida ruling stemmed from one of many state lawsuits filed immediately after the bill was signed. Fourteen of those were dismissed. Of the three other decisions that have been handed down, two judges ruled in favor of the law. A Virginia judge found the mandate to be unconstitutional, but also said that implementation of the rest of the law could proceed.
Furthermore, officials claimed, the legal arguments against the law presented in the Florida case – relying on rhetoric about the Founding Fathers and the Boston Tea Party, as well as slippery slope scenarios about the government mandating people to eat broccoli – are flippin’ strange.
"History and the facts are on our side," wrote Stephanie Cutter, assistant to the president and deputy senior advisor, on the White House blog. "Similar legal challenges to major new laws -- including the Social Security Act, the Civil Rights Act, and the Voting Rights Act -- were all filed and all failed."
Although the Obama administration, which is appealing the decision, is holding fast to their view that Judge Vinson doesn’t have a leg to stand on, the case is expected to next go to the U.S. Supreme Court. And Vinson believes his decision is sound enough to stop the health care overhaul in the 26 states named in the lawsuit.
Should the Supreme Court agree with the decision, it wouldn't stop just the individual mandate coming in 2014, but also the provisions that have already gone into effect. At risk are tax breaks to help small businesses buy health insurance for employees, young adults being allowed to stay on their parents’ policies until age 26, and a new rule barring providers from dropping people who get sick.
So, no, the Florida decision doesn’t exactly cue the death knell for health care reform. But if Justice Anthony Kennedy – whose vote often serves as a tie-breaker in the split Supreme Court – agrees with Vinson, then that will definitely sound the alarm.
President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan want more African Americans to become teachers. Will you answer the call?
In a blinked-and-you-missed-it moment of President Obama’s State of the Union speech last week, while discussing the dismal education system, he encouraged young people to choose teaching careers.
“To every young person listening tonight who’s contemplating their career choice,” he said fervently, “If you want to make a difference in the life of our nation, if you want to make a difference in the life of a child -- become a teacher. Your country needs you.”
On Monday Education Secretary Arne Duncan took this appeal on the road, along with filmmaker Spike Lee, to a town hall meeting at Atlanta’s Morehouse College. Specifically, they called for black men, who make up less than two percent of all teachers, to enter our nation’s classrooms. The event was part of the Education Department’s broader TEACH campaign to recruit dedicated minority college students. Duncan held a similar town hall last November at Howard University, where he was joined by singer John Legend.
“With more than one million teachers expected to retire in the coming years, we have a historic opportunity to transform public education in America by calling on a new generation to join those already in the classroom,” said Secretary Duncan.
A big piece of the TEACH campaign pitch is that, for talented, dedicated black college students, teaching is a moral imperative. With nearly 50 percent of African-Americans dropping out of high school, Duncan contends, teaching is a way to be part of the solution. It’s an opportunity to give back to your community. It’s a way to make a difference for young boys who desperately need positive role models in their lives.
Inspiring as this all may be…and as much as everybody loves the scrappy underdog story of Mr. Clark in Lean on Me… it’s a tough sell. With teachers earning notoriously low wages, having abysmally slow salary growth, and doing tremendously hard, draining work, joining the teaching field can be an unappealing prospect for even the most idealistic of young folks.
To sweeten the pot, Secretary Duncan is touting a few incentives. Student loan debts will be erased after a graduate serves as a teacher for ten years, for example, and the Education Department offers teaching grants of $4,000 a year for education majors.
We’ll see whether this is enough to draw the enlistment numbers Duncan seeks, but MSNBC contributor Jeff Johnson wants to help him get there. After the Morehouse College town hall today, he announced that he’s leading the “5 by 2015” task force -- a five-year initiative to recruit, train and place 80,000 African-American male teachers by 2015. (No word yet on whether Johnson plans to become a teacher himself.)
So, what do you think? Would you consider becoming a teacher?
Cynthia Gordy is the Washington reporter for The Root.
In a carefully worded statment, Obama pledged to work with both the Egyptian people and the Egyptian government.
Amid protests in Egypt demanding the ouster of the country’s longtime authoritarian president Hosni Mubarak, and violent clashes between demonstrators and police, on Friday night President Obama delivered a statement on the situation. Although Mubarak ordered his Cabinet ministers to resign, he has vowed to remain in power.
In carefully chosen words Obama said that he will stand by the human rights of the protestors. He also said he will work with the government of Egypt, one of the United States’ closest allies in the Middle East, and guide them toward meeting the aspirations of the Egyptian people.
First expressing concern for bloodshed in the region, Obama called on Egyptian authorities to refrain from violence against peaceful protestors, and demanded that the government reverse its action on Thursday of cutting off Internet and cell phone service in the country. He also directed a message to demonstrators, saying that they have a responsibility to protest peacefully.
The president acknowledged the close partnership that the United States shares with Egypt, insisting that he’s also made it clear that the country must usher in political, social and economic reforms. Mubarak gave a speech tonight promising a future of democracy and equal opportunity, but protestors show no signs of stopping until he steps down.
Obama relayed a phone conversation he had with the Egyptian leader after his speech, in which he told him that he must follow through on his promise with tangible action. He continued:
What’s needed right now are concrete steps that advance the rights of the Egyptian people; a meaningful dialogue between the government and citizens; and a path of political change that leads to a future of greater freedom and greater opportunity and justice for the Egyptian people. Ultimately the future of Egypt will be determined by the Egyptian people. And I believe that the Egyptian people want what we all want – a better life for ourselves and our children, and a government that is fair, just and responsive. Put simply, they want a future that befits the heirs to a great and ancient civilization.
The United States always will be a partner in pursuit of that future. We are committed to working with the Egyptian government and the Egyptian people -- all quarters -- to achieve it. Around the world, government has an obligation to respond to their citizens. That’s true here in the United States, that’s true in Asia, that is true in Europe, that is true in Africa, and it is certainly true in the Arab world where a new generation of citizens has the right to be heard.
When I was in Cairo shortly after I was elected president, I said that all government must maintain power through consent, not coercion. That is the single standard by which the people of Egypt will achieve the future they deserve. Surely there will be difficult days to come, but the United States will continue to stand up for the rights of the people of Egypt, and work with the government in pursuit of a future that is more just, more free and more hopeful.
The White House announced more than a dozen staffing changes, including a new press secretary. Can the new team solve the messaging problem?
The times are a’changing at the White House, with more than a dozen new staffing changes announced on Thursday.
Jay Carney, communications director for Vice President Biden and a former Time magazine reporter, will replace Robert Gibbs as White House press secretary. Carney was one of several names swirling around the Beltway for the past few weeks, along with African-American contenders including 33-year-old deputy press secretary Bill Burton and Democratic consultant Karen Finney.
I’ll admit – I was hopeful about the prospect of seeing the nation’s first black press secretary, but Carney is a solid choice. With his media background, the interplay in the White House briefing room should at least be interesting. Gibbs, meanwhile, will step down next month to work on the Obama reelection campaign.
Two new deputy chiefs of staff, both women, were also appointed: current head of the White House Office of Health Reform Nancy-Ann DeParle and director of Scheduling and Advance Alyssa Mastromonaco.
This latest staffing shakeup comes right on the heels of other high-profile additions to the Obama team, such as chief of staff Bill Daley and senior advisor David Plouffe.
President Obama, no doubt, expects that the newly assembled group will do a better job at messaging – something that he admitted, after the midterm elections, has been a problem. Slow-footed responses, losing control of the health care debate, and feebly getting out the word on bona fide accomplishments, to name a few.
With Congressional Democrats voted out at historic proportions back in November, it’ll be on the new lineup to carry out a new-and-improved strategy.
Cynthia Gordy is the Washington reporter for The Root.