Sunday, December 21, 2014

Anti-intellectualism is taking over the US

Anti-intellectualism is taking over the US

The rise in academic book bannings and firings is compounded by the US's growing disregard for scholarship itself
Isabel Allende
Isabel Allende is among writers whose work has been removed from Arizona schools under an anti-ethnic studies initiative. Photograph: Koen Van Weel/AFP/Getty Images
Recently, I found out that my work is mentioned in a book that has been banned, in effect, from the schools in Tucson, Arizona. The anti-ethnic studies law passed by the state prohibits teachings that "promote the overthrow of the United States government," "promote resentment toward a race or class of people," "are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group," and/or "advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals." I invite you to read the book in question, titled Critical Race Theory: An Introduction, so that you can decide for yourselves whether it qualifies.

In fact, I invite you to take on as your summer reading the astonishingly lengthy list of books that have been removed from the Tucson public school system as part of this wholesale elimination of the Mexican-American studies curriculum. The authors and editors include Isabel Allende, Junot Díaz, Jonathan Kozol, Rudolfo Anaya, bell hooks, Sandra Cisneros, James Baldwin, Howard Zinn, Rodolfo Acuña, Ronald Takaki, Jerome Skolnick and Gloria Anzaldúa. Even Thoreau's Civil Disobedience and Shakespeare's The Tempest received the hatchet.

Trying to explain what was offensive enough to warrant killing the entire curriculum and firing its director, Tucson school board member Michael Hicks stated rather proudly that he was not actually familiar with the curriculum. "I chose not to go to any of their classes," he told Al Madrigal on The Daily Show. "Why even go?" In the same interview, he referred to Rosa Parks as "Rosa Clark."
The situation in Arizona is not an isolated phenomenon. There has been an unfortunate uptick in academic book bannings and firings, made worse by a nationwide disparagement of teachers, teachers' unions and scholarship itself. Brooke Harris, a teacher at Michigan's Pontiac Academy for Excellence, was summarily fired after asking permission to let her students conduct a fundraiser for Trayvon Martin's family. Working at a charter school, Harris was an at-will employee, and so the superintendent needed little justification for sacking her. According to Harris, "I was told… that I'm being paid to teach, not to be an activist." (It is perhaps not accidental that Harris worked in the schools of Pontiac, a city in which nearly every public institution has been taken over by cost-cutting executives working under "emergency manager" contracts. There the value of education is measured in purely econometric terms, reduced to a "product," calculated in "opportunity costs.")

The law has taken some startling turns as well. In 2010 the sixth circuit upheld the firing of high school teacher Shelley Evans-Marshall when parents complained about an assignment in which she had asked her students in an upper-level language arts class to look at the American Library Association's list of "100 most frequently challenged Books" and write an essay about censorship. The complaint against her centered on three specific texts: Hermann Hesse's Siddhartha, Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird and Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451. (She was also alleged, years earlier, to have shown students a PG-13 version of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet.)

The court found that the content of Evans-Marshall's teachings concerned matters "of political, social or other concern to the community" and that her interest in free expression outweighed certain other interests belonging to the school "as an employer." But, fatally, the court concluded that "government employees… are not speaking as citizens for First Amendment purposes." While the sixth circuit allowed that Evans-Marshall may have been treated "shabbily", it still maintained (quoting from another opinion) that "when a teacher teaches, 'the school system does not "regulate" [that] speech as much as it hires that speech. Expression is a teacher's stock in trade, the commodity she sells to her employer in exchange for a salary.'" Thus, the court concluded, it is the "educational institution that has a right to academic freedom, not the individual teacher."

There are a number of factors at play in the current rash of controversies. One is a rather stunning sense of privilege, the confident sense of superiority that allows someone to pass sweeping judgment on a body of work without having done any study at all. After the Chronicle of Higher Education published an item highlighting the dissertations of five young PhD candidates in African-American studies at Northwestern University, Chronicle blogger Naomi Schaefer Riley wrote that the mere titles of the dissertations were sufficient cause to eliminate all black studies classes. Riley hadn't read the dissertations; they're not even published yet. When questioned about this, she argued that as "a journalist… it is not my job to read entire dissertations before I write a 500-word piece about them," adding: "there are not enough hours in the day or money in the world to get me to read a dissertation on historical black midwifery." Riley tried to justify her view with a cliched, culture-wars-style plaint about the humanities and higher education: "Such is the state of academic research these days…. The publication topics become more and more irrelevant and partisan. No one reads them." This is not mere arrogance; it is the same cocooned "white ghetto" narrow-mindedness that allows someone like Michael Hicks to be in charge of a major American school system yet not know "Rosa Clark's" correct name.

Happily, there is pushback occurring against such anti-intellectualism. One of the most vibrant examples is a protest group called Librotraficante, or Book Trafficker. Organised by Tony Diaz, a Houston Community College professor, the group has been caravanning throughout the south-west holding readings, setting up book clubs, establishing "underground libraries," and dispensing donated copies of the books that have been removed from Arizona's public school curriculum. You can donate by visiting librotraficante.com.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Re-Forming AI$D: Austin school board campaigns stage national educational battleground

This is an eye-opening piece of the very shady pro-charter, neoliberal reform movement in and with the Austin Independent School District.  Regarding our most recent school board election and runoff election, learn about the interlocking influences of Austin Kids First (AKF), Leadership for Educational Equity (LEE), Teach for America (TFA), and KIPP that stand to "wrest control" of public schools from the public itself.

Note that while LEE and AKF are seemingly separate entities, TFA provides the connective tissue.   Former Education Austin president, now secretary-treasurer for statewide teachers union Texas AFT, Louis Mal­faro said, "Teach for America is the backbone, the hiring room, think tank, and boiler room for the charter movement."
Then there's Thompson's former employers at KIPP. At its highest level, the charter group and TFA are in bed together – literally. TFA founder and CEO Wendy Kopp is married to Richard Barth, president of KIPP. And that's where the real purpose of TFA and LEE becomes clear. In 2011, Kopp declared that TFA is a "leadership development organization, not a teaching organization." That makes LEE the next step in that leadership trail.
Ending those structures like school boards about which our communities have a vote means creating an educational environment where education reduces to a market exchange that is further circumscribed by legal and binding contracts.  Stated differently, despite the fact that taxpayer dollars fund education—and will continue to do so because we as a public will always pay for education at some level—this agenda spells an end to public governance of public schools while simultaneously gauranteeing a steady stream of public revenue based on taxpayer dollars to the for-profit and non-profit, charter school "reformers" sector.  

Unless your children attend any of our affluent schools, none of this is to say that our public schools are where the public wants them to be.  We obviously need more and equitable funding, certified teachers, and so many other things too numerous to list.  Just like democracy—of which our public educational system has historically been its bedrock—if there are problems with it, the solution is not to end, but rather to extend, it.  

This piece is worth reading in its entirety.  And I am delighted that my friend and colleague, Dr. Ted Gordon, won his race against David "D" Thompson.


The Austin Chronicle

Re-Forming AI$D

Austin school board campaigns stage national educational battleground

By Richard Whittaker, November 28, 2014, News

Something has changed in education politics, and Robert Schneider has seen the shift. Twelve years ago, when he first ran for District 7 in the Austin Independent School District, "It was the PTA folks who ran for the board." That means, a decade ago, a candidate like former Austin Council of PTAs president Monica Sanchez would have romped home in District 6. Instead, this time she was third in a three-horse race, not even making the run-off. In part, Schneider ascribes such upsets to changing demographics in the electorate. He said, "We have more tech folks, we have more younger folks." That change has an unintended consequence. "It's an opportunity for people with very deep pockets to buy seats in the school district."

He should know. Schneider has always faced stiff competition in his southwestern district. But this time around was a little different. Education advocacy group Austin Kids First doubled down on his opponent, Yasmin Wagner, dropping roughly $40,000 in contributions and in-kind expenditures into her challenge. Why target the veteran trustee? Wagner always said on the campaign trail that it was because he was unresponsive to his community. Maybe that was what motivated her, but, Schneider thinks there's another reason why Austin Kids First came after him. "They've got a political agenda, rather than an education agenda," he said. "I'm not a big radical reformer like they are."
Before we proceed, there are three organizations you need to know – starting with Austin Kids First. Founded in 2012, its declared purpose is to get voters engaged in AISD board elections, and encourage high-quality candidates to run. Leadership for Educational Equity does basically the same thing, at the national level. And then there's Teach for America, the national organization that puts recent college grads into struggling schools.

It all seems quite noble. Great teachers. Great schools. Enthusiastic young people, doing a couple of years of energetic teaching, simultaneously becoming more rounded citizens. But, according to Ken Zarifis, president of Education Austin, the school employees' union, there's a big catch. "It's all the same vague comments about 'the best schools' and 'the best teachers' – the broad strokes that everybody wants, but they never define what a good teacher is or a good school or a good trustee."

There's a line in The Usual Suspects: "The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist." In the case of the pro-charter, pro-voucher, anti-union coalition known as the "education reform" movement, the greatest trick was grabbing a suitably nebulous name (or group of names), and promoting their cause through equally nebulous, feel-good terms. Zarifis is far from sanguine about their intentions. "When I hear 'reform,' the first word that comes to mind is destruction," he said. "They want to take public education out of the hands of the public, and control it themselves. It comes from billionaires like Michael Bloomberg, who don't understand what it's like to be in a classroom with 35 kids for 90 minutes, and spending every one of those 90 trying to make sure they learn something."

The suspicion is that there's a game plan, and groups like AKF, TFA, and LEE all play a role.

Reformers push metrics like school "accountability" standards that serve to make perfectly acceptable schools appear to be chronic failures. Groups like TFA air-drop student teachers into the neediest school districts and claim that they're "saving schools" – with the implication that existing teachers, with their contracts and experience and training and union protections – are just serving their self-interests. Then charter groups and voucher advocates gin up talk of "school choice," and cream off the best students, leaving public schools with the most struggling students, diminishing finances, and demoralized teachers.

Invest Nationally ... Vote Locally

How does a candidate get the Austin Kids First endorsement? According to Executive Director Stephen de Man, the process is utterly transparent, "with the purpose of getting trustees who are about putting kids first. Thus the name." Candidates fill out a questionnaire, then meet with board members, and an endorsement – with resulting contributions – is made. "Everything's super-transparent. But we look for certain qualities that go beyond litmus-test issues."

In the At-Large Position 9 race, AKF backed Kendall Pace. She now faces UT program director Hillary Procknow in the run-off, and she has the AKF blessing and cash to help her. Pace said she modeled her campaign on that of Trustee Gina Hinojosa in 2012, even using the same commercial firm for her TV spots. When it came to AKF, she filled out their candidate form, and then met with de Man and John Armbrust, the executive director at charter group Austin Achieve Public Schools, at Cherrywood Coffeehouse. After that, AKF donated $35,000, which she used to pay for her TV time. However, that was not the end of their assistance. "People came up to me afterwards and said, 'Oh my god, I like your flier.' I'm like, 'what flier?'" AKF had actually paid for two different mailers on her behalf and, in keeping with state campaign "non-coordination" laws about such dark money expenditures, they had never informed her that they existed.
Beyond legal restrictions, the group has pretty strict rules about contact with candidates. No donor that contributes more than $500 can take part in the endorsement process, and then the group has no contact, beyond normal board operations and meetings, with trustees outside of the election. That's not their purpose, de Man said. "We're not issue-driven: 'Are you pro-this or anti-this?' Two years ago, it was hard for people to understand. How can a group have this money, spend this money, and not have an agenda?"
Austin Kids First at least appears indigenous. But there's nothing local about Leadership for Educational Equity – the D.C.-based group that spent almost $6,000 on District 1 candidate David "D" Thomp­son, who's in a run-off with UT-Aus­tin department chair Edmund "Ted" Gordon.
Thompson's platform is laudable: "Hav­ing incredible teachers in East Austin, focus on gaps [between] our low-income and high-income students, and between our white students and students of color." But that's the kind of bland rhetoric that drives critics of the reform movement (like Zarifis) crazy. Doesn't everyone want all of that? Moreover, doesn't it imply that the current advocates for schools aren't doing everything they can to reach those goals? During the first round of this election, eyebrows were raised that Thompson – co-founder of the Austin branch of KIPP Charter Schools and a TFA alum – suddenly wanted a spot on the AISD board. Thompson countered that this was less fox guarding the hen house than poacher turning gamekeeper.

And now, the revelation that LEE systematically supported his campaign with about 60 in-kind contributions – from software expenses to email costs to candidate coaching – has become fodder for the run-off.

Why would a D.C.-based 501(c)4 nonprofit get engaged in an Austin school district election? Thompson says it's simple: He's a TFA alum and a LEE member, and they take care of their own. "Leadership for Educational Equity is an organization made up of current and former teachers, educators, and leaders who care about educational equality." The group is not dedicated to any set policies, just to candidates who "are dedicated to putting kids first." There's one addendum: All those teachers, educators, and leaders are TFA alums.

AKF's de Man described LEE's relationship to TFA as like "an alumni society for a university." He should know. Before joining AKF, he was LEE's Texas regional director. Yet while LEE denies any ideological bent, its backers may have other ideas. In the last year, there have been only three donors to its Texas operation: Wal-Mart heir Steuart Walton, tech investor Arthur Rock, and former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg. All three are stalwarts of the "reform" movement, all three major advocates for the charter movement.

It's a similar story over at AKF. For the past two AISD board elections, their major donors have been Professional Janitorial Company owner and Republican donor Rex Gore, Silicon Labs co-founder David Wel­land, and former Dell CTO Eric Harslem (plus John Armbrust who gave $1,000 in the last cycle). That trio alone has infused tens of thousands of dollars into an organization that wants to be a major player.

Backbone and Boiler Room

LEE and AKF: two seemingly separate entities – but the connecting tissue is Teach for America. LEE's stated aim is "empowering Teach for America corps members and alumni to grow as leaders in their communities and help build the movement for educational equity." Meanwhile, AKF was founded by TFA alumni Ben Maddox and Sean Flammer, and its current board is comprised of all TFA alums. Moreover, in 2012, when the group first appeared on the scene, it faced immediate accusations that it was little more than AstroTurf, a local variant of the near-identical Dallas Kids First, for which Maddox was a registered lobbyist (see "We're All About the ... Kids!" Oct. 19, 2012). Its leadership is uniformly TFA alumni, and with charter operators like Armbrust interviewing candidates, there are obvious links between AKF, LEE, charters, and the reform movement, all stretching back to TFA. Former Education Austin president, now secretary-treasurer for statewide teachers union Texas AFT, Louis Mal­faro said, "Teach for America is the backbone, the hiring room, think tank, and boiler room for the charter movement."

The links run deep into the personnel. Prior to replacing Flammer and Maddox as AKF's head, de Man was TFA's recruitment director, its director of Alumni Affairs, and then Texas regional director for LEE. Beki Bahar-Engler, LEE Texas' treasurer and vice president of its D.C. office, was previously TFA's vice president of strategy.

Then there's Thompson's former employers at KIPP. At its highest level, the charter group and TFA are in bed together – literally. TFA founder and CEO Wendy Kopp is married to Richard Barth, president of KIPP. And that's where the real purpose of TFA and LEE becomes clear. In 2011, Kopp declared that TFA is a "leadership development organization, not a teaching organization." That makes LEE the next step in that leadership trail.

Yet there are undeniable differences between LEE and AKF. Moreover, it's hard to paint AKF's endorsed candidate list as strictly pro-charter, pro-reform. In 2012, it was easy, since they primarily backed the candidates that voted to hand Allan Elementary over to IDEA. This time, they're supporting Pace in the At-Large race, who is running on a platform of more aggressively countering charter recruitment of AISD students. They e ven endorsed two of the same candidates as Education Austin: Gordon in District 1 and Julie Cowan in District 4.

Moreover, LEE and AKF found themselves on opposing sides in District 1. AKF formally endorsed Gordon, while LEE effectively ran its Texas office as a second campaign office for Thompson. Since midsummer, LEE hasn't spent a red cent in Texas except on Thompson. And this wasn't a one-off contribution. Instead, it was a series of small expenditures, from candidate training to email expenses and software costs.

But Zarifis wonders how serious AKF was about backing Gordon. All told, the group dropped roughly $40,000 into Wagner vs. Schneider, but only $2,500 into Gordon's campaign. That's the same as they spent on Julie Cowan, although her District 4 win was a foregone conclusion. "Austin Kids First had minimal involvement in the Ted Gordon race, even though they endorsed him," said Zarifis. "While they have a lot of money, they haven't spent much to counter the out-of-state money coming into that race."

Ask de Man, and it's a question of priorities. First off, his group decided to take a knee in District 6. Then, considering that both Gordon and Cowan were sweeping the endorsements, and had the support of both AKF and Ed. Austin, it seemed that they were foregone conclusions – a conclusion that, at least in Gordon's race, he admits was woefully premature. That just left the At-Large Position 9, and District 7. "So that's why Yasmin got so much support."

Revolving Bedfellows

Is this coincidence, or is there really some grand conspiracy? De Man is quick to defend his old bosses at LEE as strictly non-partisan. "Even when I worked there, I could not gauge my support for candidates according to some litmus test. If Hillary Procknow was a TFA alumnus, she'd get just as much support as D." He points to LEE's support for Los Angeles Unified School District board member Steve Zim­mer: a TFA alumnus so opposed to charters and vouchers that Bloomberg et al. threw almost $2 million at his opponent. Zimmer is "probably the most outspoken critic of the reform movement, but he got more support than D."

Political consultant Mark Littlefield met with or worked in an informal capacity with several candidates, including Cowan, Pace, and Paul Saldaña, and is actually a friend of Wagner's since high school. However, he was one of the big recipients of AKF cash, pulling in $15,700 in consultancy fees. He countered any suggestion that the AKF endorsement came with any strings. "Yasmin has no corporate reform agenda. Her agenda was: I'm a parent out here, and I never see Robert." As for LEE's involvement in District 1, he concurred with de Man's analysis, saying, "If any TFA person runs for a school board seat anywhere in America, they're going to back you with everything they've got, and that's their sole criteria. ... They don't have an interest in Austin, and would have backed [Thompson] if he ran in Round Rock or Portland. At least, that's what I'm hoping."

For some, LEE's presence is yet another sign that Austin is no longer a sleepy little college town, but a target of opportunity for reformers. Position 9 candidate Procknow said, "They're setting the stage right now. Austin looks like the kind of city they want to pick. There's a large minority population, it's a charter-friendly state, and there's a lot of money to be made."

Even in pro-reform Texas, vouchers face a powerful coalition of opponents: Demo­crats, who see them as backdoor privatization, and rural Republicans who fear that they would decimate their already struggling ISDs. However, many Democrats have been swayed by charter proponents' claims that they can cure all ills. Malfaro said, "I remember watching Wendy Davis just gush over [KIPP founder] Mike Fein­berg. 'Oh, we know you guys know what you're doing, and you're doing it right.'

But Feinberg more and more is opening up and admitting, 'Look, we don't know how to run a whole school district. We're not good at that. We're not even good at coming into a so-called failing school, a high-poverty school where kids aren't doing well because of the tests, and take the whole school over and turn it around.' " The end result, Zarifis said, is "big money doubling down on strategies that haven't really proven themselves out."

Malfaro is concerned that groups like LEE become political spin machines. For Thompson, being able to say that he's been a K-12 teacher is a powerful plus in this election. But that's a claim any TFA-er can make, and Malfaro is dismissive of their classroom time being anything but résumé-polishing. "It's two years, and off to law school."

The Money Trail

But AISD is pushing back. The first big sign that charters were not welcome was the cancellation of the contract with IDEA Public Schools to take over Allan Ele­men­tary and Eastside Memorial High. That's why these elections are so important. Malfaro described the current trustees as "the most progressive school board I've seen in the 20 years that I've been involved." That makes Austin "a flash point for the privatizers. But Austin is ground zero for the community schools movement." He points to the community-led Travis Heights in-district charter, and advocates like Allan Weeks, who created community coalitions to support, not supplant, public schools. He said, "That doesn't fit with [the reformers'] narrative that teachers are the problem, teachers' unions are the problem, tenure is the problem."

But again, why should LEE care about AISD? According to Zarifis, "Because we've been successful in drawing a line and saying we value public schools, neighborhoods schools. We value the families that go to those schools. We push back at charters coming into those schools. That type of success just riles the reformers up because that's not their vision. They want to sell public education to this charter and that charter, upend neighborhoods, and limit choice for kids."

District 6 run-off candidate Saldaña concurs. "I think part of it may be that they see some potential vulnerabilities in AISD," he said, noting that AISD has already lost over 2,000 families to charters. However, he added, with new trustees and a new superintendent, "We have an opportunity to turn the page, to create a new legacy, and one way we have to do that is create a better working relationship with the community and serving the needs of the neighborhood schools."

Moreover, Austin is ground zero for community resistance to what the charter movement has become. And it's that little twist – what the charter movement has become – that is so important.  Originally, charters were supposed to be community-led engines for innovation. With a few of the bureaucratic leashes and tethers removed, schools could experiment, and then districts could apply what they had learned to all their schools. Instead, Malfaro argues, they've become Plan B for venture capitalists who thought they'd make a fortune off school vouchers. When communities nation­wide turned vouchers into political poison, they changed tack. "Public education is this untapped opportunity for vendors of all kinds," said Malfaro.

All observers expect the battle to continue at the state level. Last session, Senate Education Committee Chair Dan Patrick pushed hard for both vouchers and an end to the cap on the number of charters. It's a foregone conclusion that, as lieutenant governor, he'll push even harder for the same targets. However, he'll face the same opposition he faced last time, both from Republicans and Democrats, as they seek to have charters held to the same accountability standards as public schools. Malfaro said, "If that happens, more charters will close, and it becomes a worse investment. You're going to see these investors pull out of charters. They're not doing this for some altruistic view of education. They're doing this to make money."

AISD Board run-off elections are Dec. 16, with early voting Dec. 1-12. Click here for voting info and Chronicle endorsements.
Copyright © 2014 Austin Chronicle Corporation. All rights reserved.

Barbara's Fire by Tony Cantú

Austin and the world—particularly the immigrant rights community—are so indebted to the work and leadership of Barbara Hines who is now retiring from her position at UT as longtime clinical professor of law. Here is her reflection on the imprisonment of immigrants and children of immigrants, the majority of whom are unaccompanied minors from Central America fleeing drug violence and grinding poverty in Latin America:

The Hutto case for which Hines served as co-counsel was one of her greatest legal victories. But in the years since – just months before her imminent retirement – she's seen history repeat itself, in the Karnes County Residential Center. The facility – this one 100 miles to the south – was established last summer to help contain the exodus of mostly child immigrants, arriving largely from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. "Even though they don't have children in prison uniforms, this is an unlicensed facility just like Hutto. It's run by a private prison corporation just like Hutto. I've been there twice, and saw really stressed-out children and stressed-out mothers – just like Hutto."
 As at Hutto, conditions at the Karnes County facility are hardly welcoming to refugees. In op-eds, Hines has assailed such privately run detention centers established under the auspices of the Department of Homeland Security to deal with the latest influx of immigrant children. She draws parallels to Hutto, and says the new centers are "stepping back in history to the agency's last failed policy of detaining children and their parents."
In short, Hines is a celebrated heroine of local, state, national and international renown.  

I wish you well on your retirement, Barbara.  Thank you for your outstanding leadership and the thousands of lives that you have touched, both directly and indirectly throughout your years of bold and courageous advocacy.


The Austin Chronicle

Barbara's Fire

Attorney, teacher, and veteran fighter for freedom, Barbara Hines retires from a career mentoring students

By Tony Cantú, December 12, 2014, News

Barbara Hines has spent a lifetime fighting the good fight. Longtime clinical professor of law, and currently co-director of the Immigration Clinic at the UT-Austin School of Law, she got her start in the trenches of the abortion rights battles – at a time when the landmark Roe v. Wade U.S. Supreme Court decision became a flashpoint and milestone – before eventually switching her focus to the similarly polarizing issue of immigrants' rights.
Today, as she eases into professional retirement by December's end, she is inevitably reflective. While clearly proud of her body of work, she is nonetheless discouraged by so much political regression about the very issues for which she has fought so long and so hard. "I went to law school to work on women's issues, to fight for access to abortion and birth control before going into the immigration field," she says. "We're going through the rise of the Tea Party, and there's been a pushback on women's rights. Having worked on these issues, we're still fighting those battles."
The Legislature has steadily and severely limited access to women's reproductive health clinics, creating draconian rules that have forced many operators to close their doors. On the immigrant rights front, the battle-hardened attorney expresses disbelief at the pitch of anti-immigrant sentiment that's swept the country over the last few years, a backlash powerfully emblematic in the form of the (now-shuttered) T. Don Hutto Residential Center in rural Texas – actually more prison than refuge, for "teeming masses yearning to be free." Thanks in part to the efforts of Hines and her students, the center was ultimately closed.
"To see children in prison ...," she says – suddenly silent, as her thoughts drift to the scenes she saw in the Hutto center, some 30 miles north of Austin. "I never thought I'd see that. A child should never be in a prison," she says of the facility where roughly half of the detainees were children.
Hines was among the first legal representatives for Hutto detainees, bringing (along with her legal expertise) crayons and markers to entertain the children, as the New Yorker reported in a lengthy March 2008 story in which she figured prominently. (The toys were eventually forbidden when a child's portrayal of the detainees turned up in a Canadian newspaper.) Hines helped bring a lawsuit against the Hutto center that ultimately led to its 2009 closure. "Overall, the Hutto case was a very important one, but took an emotional toll," she recalls. "I spoke out at a press conference and got choked up, which was not very lawyer­ly."

"Just Like Hutto"

The Hutto case for which Hines served as co-counsel was one of her greatest legal victories. But in the years since – just months before her imminent retirement – she's seen history repeat itself, in the Karnes County Residential Center. The facility – this one 100 miles to the south – was established last summer to help contain the exodus of mostly child immigrants, arriving largely from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. "Even though they don't have children in prison uniforms, this is an unlicensed facility just like Hutto. It's run by a private prison corporation just like Hutto. I've been there twice, and saw really stressed-out children and stressed-out mothers – just like Hutto."
As at Hutto, conditions at the Karnes County facility are hardly welcoming to refugees. In op-eds, Hines has assailed such privately run detention centers established under the auspices of the Department of Homeland Security to deal with the latest influx of immigrant children. She draws parallels to Hutto, and says the new centers are "stepping back in history to the agency's last failed policy of detaining children and their parents."
How to consider one's life work at the twilight of a career, as social progress seemingly retreats? Sitting at the Cherrywood Coffeehouse – one of her favorite haunts near her Wilshire Wood neighborhood – Hines was in a reflective mood, wondering about a final professional accounting: Is her cup half empty or is it half full? In Austin legal circles, Hines is something of a living legend (former students call her an "icon"), and her renown extends far beyond Texas. National journalists seek out her insights – most recently for National Public Radio, where she appeared Nov. 24, discussing President Obama's executive order on immigration. She also frequently lectures and publishes on topics related to immigration law and immigrants' rights, a legal field in which she's practiced since 1975.

Out of the Dark Ages

Having left high school early, Hines took a semester in Mexico City and first arrived in Austin in 1965, as a fresh-faced 17-year-old, feeling empowered by the early women's liberation movement (aka the "Second Wave"). In 1969, she earned a B.A. with honors in Latin American studies from UT-Austin. She began law school at UT in 1972, then transferred to Boston's North­east­ern University, where in 1975 she received her J.D. before returning to Texas. "When I started law school in the summer of 1972, there were 10 women and 100 men," she recalls. "When I tell my women students that, they say, 'You're from the Dark Ages.'"
In 1996 and 2004, she was a Fulbright scholar in Argentina – stints during which she developed an affinity to the South American country she now regularly visits, the travels made easier by her Spanish fluency. She focused her research there on Argentine immigration law.
Long before that, she had spent her formative years in Brownsville, Texas, where her parents had eventually settled after escaping the Holocaust. "They fell in love with the Mexico border," she says. Both mom and dad are gone now, her father's death preceding his wife's passing in 2007 by 26 years. Hines was also married for six years – "a long time ago," she says pithily – a brief union that produced son Justin Burchard, 33, now a data manager at D.C.- and Chicago-based Civis Analytics, where he does political campaign analysis.
Hines' other professional accomplishments include having served as the first co-director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law of Texas, the Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project at UT Law, and a current role on the board of directors of the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild. She's been a litigant on many issues related to the constitutional and statutory rights of immigrants in federal and immigration courts, exemplified by her role in the ACLU lawsuit that eventually led to the closure of the Hutto facility. The lawsuit against the federal government that prefaced the facility's closing led first to an agreement mandating sweeping changes at the detention site; Hines found herself in the national spotlight for her work, as reflected in Margaret Talbot's March 3, 2008 New Yorker story, "The Lost Children."
"The agreement entails a number of changes at Hutto," Talbot wrote, "including eliminating the head-count system, providing pajamas for children, letting kids keep a limited number of toys in their room during the day, making a priority of hiring people with experience in child welfare, and installing curtains around toilets. ... Yet it seems unlikely that these changes would have been made without pressure from the A.C.L.U. lawsuit and from advocates like Barbara Hines and her students."
Last month, Hines was awarded the Massey Award for Teaching Excellence, "presented to a faculty member who embodies the school's priority of providing the highest quality of teaching to its students," according to the UT law school's website. The award is added to a crowded mantle of accolades, including: the 1992 Amer­ican Immi­gration Lawyers Association (AILA) Jack Was­ser­man Award for Excellence in Liti­ga­tion; the 1993 AILA Texas Chapter Litiga­tion Award; the 2002 Texas Law Fellow­ships Excellence in Public Interest Award; the 2007 AILA Elmer Fried Excel­lence in Teach­ing Award; the 2009 MALDEF Excellence in Legal Service Award; and the 2010 National Lawyers Guild Carol Weiss King Award. In 2000, she was named one of the 100 best lawyers in the state, by Texas Lawyer magazine.

Changing Lives

It's those students referenced by The New Yorker – hundreds of them, past and present – who are Hines' greatest source of pride. Over coffee, she described with enthusiasm how she's indirectly responsible for immigration attorneys scattered all over the country – more than 400, she reckons – who have passed through her classes or participated in her legal clinics. Some of those students speak with reverence about their former mentor, relating anecdotes of experiences alongside Hines that transcend mere student-teacher interaction – that were, they say, literally "life-changing."
Kate Lincoln-Goldfinch was one of the student attorneys who accompanied Hines to Hutto, tasked with interviewing a family of Iraqi Chaldean Christians who had fled their country after the patriarch had been beaten while being held for ransom. The former student recalled indelible memories of the family, who had first flown to South America before traveling by bus to the San Ysidro border station, where they presented themselves as asylum seekers. "Their months-old baby wore a prison-issued onesie," Lincoln-Goldfinch recalls. "During our interview, the mother asked me if I would hold her baby because she said I smelled like the outside world; at the end of our interview, she asked if I could sneak her baby out with me. I remember crying with some friends that night, just baffled that our government would treat asylum-seekers this way. This is the life-changing moment that Barbara gave me." Lincoln-Goldfinch now works at a private practice, specializing in immigration.
"I knew that I had found my calling, and this was an area of the law that would interest and engage me for the rest of my career," she said. "[Barbara]'s got this inexhaustible well of interest and respect for her students," she added. "She cries with us when we win our cases. She is the perfect teacher."
Erica Schommer met Hines as a second-year law student in the fall 2000 legal clinic. Intent on focusing on international human rights policy work, she ended up completing two more semesters in the clinic, altering her career path. "I was hooked," Schom­mer says. "I have now been practicing immigration law for 11 years, and I can't imagine being in another practice area. She helped me get my first job and has helped countless others. There is nobody in the field I respect more."
Amelia Ruiz Fischer, an attorney for the Texas Civil Rights Project, has worked with Hines on a number of matters, including at Hutto. There is also ongoing work related to the federal Secure Communities program, under which the Travis County Sheriff's Office detains undocumented immigrants at the behest of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, suspending standard due-process safeguards. The practice has led to the deportation of roughly 5,000 county immigrants since its local implementation in 2009 – ironically, the same year as the closure of the Hutto facility. "Barbara has this thing that's undeniable and not something easily explained," Ruiz Fischer says. "It's a fire. It's this fire she has that makes you want to be a part of it. It's contagious and infectious. She touches people's lives."
Ruiz Fischer credits Hines with having introduced her to Jordan Pollock, her immigration clinic partner she now calls her "professional soul mate." Hines was there to witness her students' first legal victory, the granting of asylum for a resident of the northeast African country of Eritrea. "Barbara was sitting nearby," Ruiz Fischer recalled with emotion. "The feeling of hearing the judge say that the application was granted ... Jordan and I started crying, and then I see Barbara and she's so happy, with tears in her eyes. I really can't say enough about the kind of person she is, and what kind of impact she's had on my professional and personal life."

Focusing on Victory

With her retirement imminent, Hines has taken up tango lessons, and amplified her Hatha yoga regimen that she says has long kept her grounded. "My parents practiced Judaism, but I'm agnostic. Yoga is the closest to spiritualism for me." She concedes that the legal profession – in particular a specialty like her own, centered on a vulnerable population – can take an emotional toll. But as she ponders her retirement, she'll adopt the same advice she's always given her students: "You have to focus on the victories."
She mentions how energized she was in watching the June 2013 filibuster of state Sen. Wendy Davis – alongside hundreds of other inspired women – as Davis held sway for 11 hours in her attempt to block Senate Bill 5, the omnibus bill to greatly restrict access to abortion care. "It was very uplifting for me," she says. "Even though we lost the battle, it gives me hope for the next generation of women." (Davis initially blocked the bill, but it was subsequently passed in a special-called session.)
She's also buoyed by the heightened current interest in immigrants' plight, a far cry from when she tried largely in vain to draw media attention to Hutto. "There is now a whole lot of interest in the pro bono community and in the media. I couldn't get anyone interested in what was going on in Hutto, nobody. I was begging people to write about Hutto."
Belying her 67 years, Hines had bounded into the coffee shop with a youthful energy, bedecked in a colorful handmade dress woven with flowers, a gift a friend brought back for her from Pátzcuaro in Michoacán. After a couple of hours of coffee and conversation, a friend arrived to coax her to a larger table across the room, where several other friends had gathered at the end of the workday. "I feel really lucky when I look back at my career," she said before joining her friends. "I accomplished much more than I expected, when I was an insecure lawyer unable to speak in public. I feel really fortunate that I found a career this meaningful."
Watching her settle into the mix – after requisite abrazos from those gathered – it seemed clear that, even in retirement and away from the teaching role that has long enlivened and energized her, Hines is going to do just fine.
Copyright © 2014 Austin Chronicle Corporation. All rights reserved.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

For Public Schools, What to Watch in Next Session

The 84th 2014 Texas Legislative Session begins next month.  A lot of shifts. -Angela

For Public Schools, What to Watch in Next Session

When Texas lawmakers come back to Austin in January, there will be a new governor who touts public schools as a top priority, and plenty of money in the state bank account. But that doesn’t mean everything will go smoothly as the 84th Legislature navigates public education policy.
Here are five things to watch when the legislative session gets underway:
Education Committee Shuffling: Whomever Lt. Gov.-elect Dan Patrick appoints to fill his spot leading the Senate Education Committee — Larry Taylor, Kelly Hancock and Donna Campbell are possible contenders — will wield considerable control over which education bills do and don’t get hearings. Patrick could also opt to combine the chamber’s higher and public education committees, another move that could affect how quickly and easily legislation makes it through the Senate. The House could also take the single education committee approach. With the departure of Higher Education Chairman Dan Branch, R-Dallas, that would leave current Public Education Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, who is expected to continue in that role, to preside over both.
Pre-K Fireworks: There’s widespread and bipartisan energy building behind a push to boost early education in the state. But there's a catch — a divide exists between those who want to expand half-day programs to a full day and make them better, and others who want to first get a better handle on how the existing programs are working. Count education advocacy group Raise Your Hand Texas in the former camp, and Gov.-elect Greg Abbott in the latter. 
The School Choice Battleground: In the 2013 session, despite a loud drumbeat leading up to January from supporters including Patrick and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, legislation that would allow students to receive public money to attend private schools died with barely a whimper. Now, a skirmish over private school vouchers is brewing again, but it’s unclear whether 2015 will see a different outcome. Two areas that may instead become the school choice battleground: a proposal known as an “Achievement School District,” which would create a statewide entity to manage underperforming campuses, and efforts to loosen regulation of virtual education.

How Money Gets Doled Out: With a school finance lawsuit awaiting arguments at the Texas Supreme Court, the Legislature could easily punt on making any changes to the way the state distributes funding to school districts. But that might be too much of a delay for some lawmakers. State Sen. Kirk Watson, an Austin Democrat, has already filed a slate of bills that he told the Houston Chronicle he hoped would get the “conversation started” on school finance. And regardless of how Watson’s bills fare, lawmakers can still tinker around the edges of the school finance system as they make choices in how the budget allocates funding across school districts.
Revisiting the Big Ticket Items of 2013: Last time they were in Austin, lawmakers overhauled high school curriculum and scaled back standardized testing requirements. They also approved the first expansion of charter schools in the state since they were established in 1995. If the interim hearings over the last year on the rollout of those new laws are any indication, expect discussion about improving high school students’ access to guidance counselors, and clarifying the process the state uses to close low-performing charters schools.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Are we on the verge of an end to test-based accountability?

I agree with Dr. Kevin Welner that alternatives need to be presented because even if the system changed legislatively over night (which in my view, is a viable scenario at least here in Texas), this doesn't mean that either the culture of testing or the de facto curriculum that emerges from it would change over night.  This is a significant, multi-level, policy and political project.


There is growing resistance across the country against Common Core-aligned testing, as a growing number of parents are trying to opt their children out of taking these mandated standardized tests and some educators are refusing to administer them. This begs the larger question: Are test-based accountability systems on their way out? To answer that question in this post is  Kevin G. Welner, a professor at the University of Colorado Boulder’s School of Education who specializes in educational policy and law. He is director of the National Education Policy Center and of the NEPC’s Schools of Opportunity project to recognize high schools using research-based practices to close opportunity gaps.

By Kevin Welner

A growing number of parents are opting their children out of state testing. This is in large part a protest against the continued escalation of the standardized testing needed to ground the corresponding escalation of accountability policies. If politicians are to hold teachers and principals accountable for students’ test scores, they must have comprehensive data sets that allow for the possibility of following small differences in those scores over time.

A large and convincing body of authoritative evidence suggests that this is a fool’s errand – that attempts to somehow attribute these small differences to teachers and principals run into insurmountable validity hurdles. This is true even when the test focuses on the teacher’s subject – e.g., scores from reading comprehension tests used to evaluate a language arts teacher. It’s even more true when students’ test scores are attributed to teachers who don’t teach the subject of those tests or to teachers who are measured on students they never taught.

Recent opt-out protests here in Colorado brought to mind a conversation I had with my dean when I first started working at CU-Boulder, about 15 years ago. He asked me about the standards-based testing and accountability system in Colorado, which seemed excessive to him. He wondered whether I thought it was a passing policy fad.

“How long will this last?” he asked me.

I assured him, in my best wet-behind-the-ears-policy-analyst voice, that such reform waves have come and gone throughout the history of American schooling. Less than two decades earlier there had been another testing wave, and it had fizzled. The title of Larry Cuban’s 1990 article – “Reforming Again, Again, and Again” – was ringing in my ears.

This exchange with my dean was before No Child Left Behind and the subsequent dozen years of entrenchment of standards-based testing and accountability throughout the United States. So my prognostication was a bit off. But the wave now seems to be receding – in public sentiment if not yet in major policy shifts. What sort of debris will it leave behind?

With the caveat that my crystal ball hasn’t had a great record in this realm, my guess is that the basic policy structure will remain firmly in place, at least in the near term. To mix metaphors, I think the wave that’s receding is only a façade. The structure of test-based accountability reform is much more substantial than the Common Core State Standards or any particular test.

Massachusetts-based FairTest, the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, has been collecting stories of protests like the ones recently in Boulder and elsewhere on the Front Range. These “Testing Resistance and Reform News” weekly updates seem to get longer with each new edition.
In response to the increased protests, many strong advocates of test-based accountability policies, include Education Secretary Arne Duncan, have made statements to the effect that we need to be wary of excessive testing. Some states have adopted moratoria on some high-stakes consequences of test scores.

In short, we’ve seen dissatisfaction with the status quo of education reform, and we’ve seen acknowledgement of that dissatisfaction. But what we’ve not seen is a widespread, deeper rethinking of school improvement or an embrace of an alternative – and there’s the rub. It’s highly unlikely that the nation will move away from the status quo until it has a different pathway forward.

Accordingly, when we look at our schools two or three years down the line, what we’re likely to see is something a lot like what we have today, albeit with a few rough edges smoothed out. Test-based accountability policies, whether grounded in the Common Core State Standards or some other set of performance standards, will continue to drive curriculum and instruction.

This is not to say that alternative approaches are not available—plenty of research-based best practices could be implemented and could provide a smart way forward. For that to happen, the voices of those now crying out for less testing must also articulate a desire and a concrete agenda for more engaging learning. We must also accept the reality that real reform requires much more than we as a society have been willing to do. It requires demanding more of students and teachers but also of lawmakers and taxpayers. It requires a sustained commitment to ensuring rich opportunities to learn, particularly for students with fewer resources and opportunities outside of the school.

Reforms like test-based accountability give us the feeling of doing something—of demanding excellence—without providing the capacity to achieve our goals. Continuing down that path will continue to leave us disappointed. But, opt-out or no opt-out, that’s where we’re still headed.

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.