Category Archives: Education

What is public service loan forgiveness? And how do I qualify to get it?

Robert Kelchen, Seton Hall University

The first group of borrowers who tried to get Public Service Loan Forgiveness – a George W. Bush-era program meant to provide relief to those who went into socially valuable but poorly paid public service jobs, such as teachers and social workers – mostly ran into a brick wall.

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Public Service Loan Forgiveness can be difficult to get if you don’t know the rules. Rawpixel.com/www.shutterstock.com

Of the 28,000 public servants who applied for Public Service Loan Forgiveness earlier this year, only 96 were approved. Many were denied in large part due to government contractors being less than helpful when it came to telling borrowers about Public Service Loan Forgiveness. Some of these borrowers will end up getting part of their loans forgiven, but will have to make more payments than they expected.

With Democrats having regained control of the U.S. House of Representatives in the November 2018 midterm elections, the Department of Education will likely face greater pressure for providing better information to borrowers, as it was told to do recently by the Government Accountability Office.

The Public Service Loan Forgiveness program forgives loans for students who made 10 years of loan payments while they worked in public service jobs. Without this loan forgiveness plan, many of these borrowers would have been paying off their student loans for 20 to 25 years.

Borrowers must follow a complex set of rules in order to be eligible for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. As a professor who studies federal financial aid policies, I explain these rules below so that up to 1 million borrowers who have expressed interest in the program can have a better shot at receiving forgiveness.

free money for college

What counts as public service?

In general, working for a government agency – such as teaching in a public school or a nonprofit organization that is not partisan in nature – counts as public service for the purposes of the program. For some types of jobs, this means that borrowers need to choose their employers carefully. Teaching at a for-profit school, even if the job is similar to teaching at a public school, would not qualify someone for Public Service Loan Forgiveness. Borrowers must also work at least 30 hours per week in order to qualify.

What types of loans and payment plans qualify?

Only Federal Direct Loans automatically qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness. Borrowers with other types of federal loans must consolidate their loans into a Direct Consolidation Loan before any payments count toward Public Service Loan Forgiveness. The failure to consolidate is perhaps the most common reason why borrowers who applied for forgiveness have been rejected, although Congress did provide US$350 million to help some borrowers who were in an ineligible loan program qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness.

In order to receive Public Service Loan Forgiveness, borrowers must also be enrolled in an income-driven repayment plan, which ties payments to a percentage of a borrower’s income. The default repayment option is not income-driven and consists of 10 years of fixed monthly payments, but these fixed payments are much higher than income-driven payments. The bottom line is it’s not enough to just make 10 years of payments. You have to make those payments through an income-driven repayment plan to get Public Service Loan Forgiveness.

Parent PLUS Loans and Direct Consolidation Loans have fewer repayment plan options than Direct Loans made to students, so borrowers must enroll in an approved income-driven repayment plan for that type of loan. Borrowers must make 120 months of payments, which do not need to be consecutive, while enrolled in the correct payment plan to receive forgiveness.

How can borrowers track their progress?

First of all, keep every piece of information possible regarding your student loan. Pay stubs, correspondence with student loan servicers and contact information for prior employers can all help support a borrower’s case for qualifying for Public Service Loan Forgiveness. Unfortunately, borrowers have had a hard time getting accurate information from loan servicers and the Department of Education about how to qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office told the Department of Education earlier this year to improve its communication with servicers and borrowers, so this process should – at least in theory – get better going forward.

Borrowers should also fill out the Department of Education’s Employment Certification Form each year, as the Department of Education will respond with information on the number of payments made that will qualify toward Public Service Loan Forgiveness. This form should also be filed with the Department of Education each time a borrower starts a new job to make sure that position also qualifies for loan forgiveness.

Can new borrowers still access Public Service Loan Forgiveness?

Yes. Although congressional Republicans proposed eliminating Public Service Loan Forgiveness for new borrowers, the changes have not been approved by Congress. Current borrowers would not be affected under any of the current policy proposals. However, it would be a good idea for borrowers to fill out an Employment Certification Form as soon as possible just in case Congress changes its mind.

Are there other affordable payment options available?

Yes. The federal government offers a number of income-driven repayment options that limit monthly payments to between 10 and 20 percent of “discretionary income.” The federal government determines “discretionary income” as anything you earn that is above 150 percent of the poverty line, which would translate to an annual salary of about $18,000 for a single adult. So if you earn $25,000 a year, your monthly payments would be limited to somewhere between $700 and $1400 per year, or about $58 and $116 per month.

These plans are not as generous as Public Service Loan Forgiveness because payments must be made for between 20 and 25 years – instead of 10 years under Public Service Loan Forgiveness. Also, any forgiven balance under income-driven repayment options is subject to income taxes, whereas balances forgiven through Public Service Loan Forgiveness are not taxed.The Conversation


Republished with permission under license from The Conversation.

African Hair Braiders Win! U.S. Supreme Court voids ruling

The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday vacated an appeals court ruling that supported a lengthy licensing process for hair-braiders in Missouri and ordered a judge in St. Louis to dismiss the case. The Supreme Court voided the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals opinion that upheld the previous cosmetology license requirements, because a new law, which is discussed in the background section, had already addressed it.

The Supreme Court didn't write a separate opinion, it simply reversed the 8th Circuit opinion. Therefore, the question of whether Missouri and other states within the 8th Circuit can require a cosmetology licensing for African hair braiders remains unanswered. However, the lawsuit which called the law into question in the first place is most likely the only reason the law was changed.

This case demonstrates why it is so important to understand and be able to use the law for your benefit. As we have said before, just because a law exists, doesn't mean it legitimate. You have a right and an obligation to question unfair and questionable laws!

Cases such as this is one of the reason Court.rchp.com exist; so people, especially those who have traditionally been oppressed can be empowered. Discover the hidden secrets of our legal and justice system with the information contained within Court.rchp.com.

Case Background

African hair braiders sue over Missouri law

Ndioba Niang and Tameka Stigers are professional African-style hair braiders in Missouri, but are not licensed as cosmetologists or barbers. The Missouri Board of Cosmetology and Barber Examiners required hair braiders to be licensed as cosmetologists or barbers even though African-style hair braiding is not included in the cosmetology or barbering school curriculum, and the licensing tests barely test on subjects related to the practice.

In order to obtain a Missouri cosmetology license, one must pass a background check, undergo substantial training, and pass an exam. Before sitting for the exam, an individual must have: (1) graduated from a licensed cosmetology school with at least 1,500 hours of training; or (2) completed an apprenticeship of at least 3,000 hours; or (3) completed similar training in another state. Alternatively, obtaining a barbering license requires at least 1,000 hours of training at a licensed barber school or completion of an apprenticeship of at least 2,000 hours. Completing the necessary requirements for a license would have forced Ms. Niang and Ms. Stigers to incur significant costs for irrelevant training. 

Four years ago, Ms. Niang and Ms. Stigers filed the federal lawsuit; they sued to vindicate their constitutional right to earn a living free of unreasonable government interference, and after losing in lower courts asked the Supreme Court to take their case. The original lawsuit, filed in 2014, complained that African-style hair-braiders were required to obtain a cosmetology license, which can cost thousands of dollars but doesn’t include any hair-braiding training.

When the lower courts considered the braiders’ challenge, they essentially ignored the evidence provided by the braiders that showed the licensing requirements were overly burdensome and did not sufficiently relate to the government’s asserted interests in public health and safety. In so doing, the lower courts applied a version of the rational basis test that is no more than a rubber-stamp of approval of government regulation. But that is not the proper application of the rational basis test.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Tameka Stigers, of Locs of Glory in St. Louis, and Ndioba “Joba” Niang, who runs Joba Hair Braiding in Florissant. Both have performed the hourslong braiding process for years without licenses and say they fear prosecution. 

one Tameka Stigers

Joba Hair Braiding owner Ndioba Niang, a native of Senegal who later lived in France, said she completed 1,000 of the required 3,000 hours of cosmetology training at a cost of thousands of dollars before dropping out.

Ndioba Niang

In 2016, U.S. Magistrate Judge John Bodenhausen upheld the requirements, and the 8th U.S. Court of Appeals agreed in January. A petition for writ of certiorari was filed on April 11, 2018 with the U.S. Supreme Court. However, the Missouri Legislature passed House Bill 1500 which eased the rules on hair- braiding, although those new rules have yet to take effect.

The Institute for Justice, which has filed suits across the country against regulation of various occupations, said the appeals court decision in the Missouri case was in conflict with other federal courts and the Supreme Court. Both the group and the Missouri attorney general asked the court to dismiss the case because of the change in the law, they said.

In May, the Missouri legislature passed a law easing requirements on hair-braiding that made the four-year lawsuit moot. Braiders are now exempted from the cosmetology license and a new specialty braiding license only requires that braiders pay a fee of $20, watch a four- to six-hour instructional video and submit to board inspections. Attendance at a licensed cosmetology school in Missouri can cost more than $16,000.

The Fourteenth Amendment states that “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” Passed during Reconstruction, these provisions held the promise that freedman would finally be granted the same rights and protections as their white brethren. Yet less than five years after this amendment was enacted, the Supreme Court eviscerated the Privileges or Immunities Clause in what became known as the Slaughter-House Cases (1873).

Slaughter-House eventually led to the development of modern “substantive” due process doctrine as a makeshift bandage over the hole in the Fourteenth Amendment left by the unprotected privileges and immunities. While allowing the Court to protect some rights, the “incorporation” of certain rights through the Due Process Clause relegated other, often “economic” rights to second-class status. Instead of judges’ taking a hard look at the actual reasons a law was passed and asking whether the government has overstepped its constitutional bounds, infringements of the right to earn a living or the freedom of contract barely receive a passing glance. They are upheld unless nobody—not even the judge hearing the case!—could possibly imagine a legitimate rationale for the law. Suffice it to say, hardly any laws are struck down under this so-called rational-basis test.

Enter Ndioba Niang and Tameka Stigers, both of whom are traditional African-style hair braiders attempting to support themselves by offering their services to willing customers. The Missouri Board of Cosmetology and Barber Examiners, however, demands that they first pay thousands of dollars to receive completely irrelevant training that has virtually nothing to do with hair-braiding. Applying the usual government-can-do-whatever-it-wants-regarding-economic-regulations level of judicial scrutiny, both the federal district court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit upheld the licensing scheme.

You Shouldn’t Need a License to Braid Hair

This approach is wrong: ethically, historically, and legally. There is a long and well-documented history recognizing the right to earn an honest living as being at the center of the Anglo-American legal tradition and indispensable to the maintenance of a free and open society. Industry insiders often lobby for licensing laws and regulations—and then populate the boards or agencies tasked with enforcing the new rules as a means of limiting their competition. By contrast, those harmed are often politically powerless groups with limited means to fight back. But as long as the government says the magic words of “safety,” “health,” or “consumer protection” in asserting its restrictions, courts are content to turn a blind eye.

Because the right to earn a living is one of the basic rights that our Constitution was formed to protect, Cato has filed an amicus brief supporting the hair-braiders’ petition to the Supreme Court. We ask that the Court take Niang v. Tomblinson and establish that courts must meaningfully examine government incursions against this essential liberty, regardless where in the Fourteenth Amendment it finds the relevant right.


The background section was reprinted with permission under license from Cato at Liberty, with additional edits from other sources. 

I went from prison to professor – here’s why criminal records should not be used to keep people out of college

By Stanley Andrisse, Howard University

Beginning next year, the Common Application – an online form that enables students to apply to the 800 or so colleges that use it – will no longer ask students about their criminal pasts.

As a formerly incarcerated person who now is now an endocrinologist and professor at two world-renowned medical institutions – Johns Hopkins Medicine and Howard University College of Medicine – I believe this move is a positive one. People’s prior convictions should not be held against them in their pursuit of higher learning.

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The U.S. leads the world in the rate of incarceration. kittirat roekburi/www.shutterstock.com

While I am enthusiastic about the decision to remove the criminal history question from the Common Application, I also believe more must be done to remove the various barriers that exist between formerly incarcerated individuals such as myself and higher education.

I make this argument not only as a formerly incarcerated person who now teaches aspiring medical doctors, but also as an advocate for people with criminal convictions. The organization I lead – From Prison Cells to PhD – helped push for the change on the Common Application.

My own story stands as a testament to the fact that today’s incarcerated person could become tomorrow’s professor. A person who once sold illegal drugs on the street could become tomorrow’s medical doctor. But this can only happen if such a person, and the many others in similar situations, are given the chance.

There was a time not so long ago when some in the legal system believed I did not deserve a chance. With three felony convictions, I was sentenced to 10 years in prison for drug trafficking as a prior and persistent career criminal. My prosecuting attorney once stated that I had no hope for change.

Today, I am Dr. Stanley Andrisse. As a professor at Johns Hopkins and Howard University, I now help train students who want to be doctors. I’d say that I have changed. Education was transformative.

US incarceration rates the highest

The United States needs to have more of this transformative power of education. The country incarcerates more people and at a higher rate than any other nation in the world. The U.S. accounts for less than 5 percent of the world population but nearly 25 percent of the incarcerated population around the globe.

Roughly 2.2 million people in the United States are essentially locked away in cages. About 1 in 5 of those people are locked up for drug offenses.

“‘How I Learned to Read – and Trade Stocks – in Prison,’ by Curtis ‘Wall Street’ Carroll.

I was one of those people in prison not so long ago.

Early life of crime

Growing up in the Ferguson, North St. Louis area, I started selling drugs and getting involved with other crimes at a very young age. I was arrested for the first time at age 14. By age 17, I was moving substantial amounts of drugs across the state of Missouri and the country. By my early 20s, I found myself sitting in front of a judge and facing 20 years to life for drug trafficking charges. The judge sentenced me to 10 years in state prison.

When I stood in front of that judge, school was not really my thing.

Although I was a successful student athlete and received a near full scholarship to play football for Lindenwood University, a Division II college football program, I found it difficult to get out of the drug business. Suffice it to say, there were people in the drug world who wanted me to keep moving drugs. And they made it clear that they would be extremely disappointed if I were to suddenly stop. So I continued. For this reason, I didn’t view my undergraduate college experience the way I view education now.

The transformative power of education

Education provides opportunities for people with criminal records to move beyond their experience with the penal system and reach their full potential. The more education a person has, the higher their income. Similarly, the more education a person has, the less likely they are to return to prison.

A 2013 analysis of several studies found that obtaining higher education reduced recidivism – the rate of returning to prison – by 43 percent and was four to five times less costly than re-incarcerating that person. The bottom line is education increases personal income and reduces crime.

Despite these facts, education is woefully lacking among those being held in America’s jails and prisons. Nearly 30 percent of America’s incarcerated – about 690,000 people – are released each year and only 60 percent of those individuals have a GED or high school diploma, compared to 90 percent of the overall of U.S. population over age 25. And less than 3 percent of the people released from incarceration each year have a college degree, compared to 40 percent of the U.S. population.

Rejected by colleges

I had a bachelor’s degree by the time I went to prison but never got the chance to put it to use. Then something tragic happened while I was serving time that prompted me to see the need to further my education. Due to complications of diabetes, my father had his legs amputated. He fell into a coma and lost his battle with Type 2 diabetes. I was devastated. This experience made me want to learn more about how to fight this disease.

While incarcerated, I applied to six biomedical graduate programs. I was rejected from all but one – Saint Louis University. Notably, I had a mentor from Saint Louis University who served on the admission committee. Without that personal connection, I’m not sure I would have ever gotten a second chance.

I finished near the top of my graduate school class, suggesting that I was likely qualified for the programs that rejected me.

Restore Pell grants to incarcerated people 

Based on the difficulty I experienced in going from prison to becoming a college professor, I believe there are things that should be done to remove barriers for incarcerated or formerly incarcerated people who wish to pursue higher education.

One of those barriers is cost. When the government removed Pell funding from prisons by issuing the "tough on crime” Law Enforcement Act of 1994, the vast majority of colleges offering courses in prison stopped. Due to the federal ban on receiving Pell grants while incarcerated, most of those serving time are not able to afford to take college courses while in prison. The Obama administration took a step toward trying to restore Pell grants for those in prison with the Second Chance Pell pilot. The program has given over 12,000 incarcerated individuals across the nation the chance to use Pell grants toward college courses in prison.

Inmate Terrell Johnson, a participant in the Goucher College Prison Education Partnership at Maryland Correctional Institution-Jessup, speaks with then-Education Secretary Arne Duncan in 2015. Patrick Semansky/AP

Through the program, 67 colleges and universities are working with over 100 prisons to provide college courses to the incarcerated.

Under the Trump administration, this program is at-risk of being discontinued at the end of 2018. Historically, some have argued that allowing Pell dollars to be used by those in prison takes precious Pell dollars from people who did not violate the law. However, the current Second Chance Pell pilot funding being directed to prisons, $30 million, accounts for 0.1 percent of the total $28 billion of Pell funding. Even if the program were expanded, based on historical levels, it would still amount to one-half of 1 percent of all Pell funding. This is justified by the impact that Pell dollars would have in prison in terms of reducing recidivism.

Remove questions about drug crimes from federal aid forms

Federal policymakers could increase opportunities by removing Question 23 on the federal student aid form that asks if applicants have been convicted of drug crimes. A 2015 study found that nearly 66 percent of would-be undergraduates who disclosed a conviction on their college application did not finish their application.

Federal student aid applicants likely feel the same discouragement. I felt discouraged myself when I was applying to graduate programs when I came across the question about whether I had ever been convicted of a crime. It made me feel like I was nothing more than a criminal in the eyes of the college gatekeepers.

This question also disproportionately effects people of color, since people of color are disproportionately impacted by the criminal justice system. Furthermore, the question runs the risk of making formerly incarcerated people feel isolated and less valuable than those who’ve never gotten in trouble with the law.

When people who have been incarcerated begin to feel like they don’t belong and higher education is not for them, our nation will likely not be able to realize their potential and hidden talents.

It will be as if we have locked them up and thrown away the key.


Republished with permission under license from The Conversation

For universities, making the case for diversity is part of making amends for racist past

By Juan Miró, University of Texas at Austin and Edmund T Gordon, University of Texas at Austin

The Trump administration recently announced plans to scrap Obama-era guidelines that encouraged universities to consider race as a factor to promote diversity on campus, claiming the guidelines “advocate policy preferences and positions beyond the requirements of the Constitution.”

Some university leaders immediately went on the defense.

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Historically, many American universities helped lay the foundation for eugenics, a pseudoscience used to justify racism. Helioscribe/www.shutterstock.com

Harvard University stated that it plans to continue to use race as an admission factor to “create a diverse campus community where students from all walks of life have an opportunity to learn from and with each other.”

Similarly, Gregory L. Fenves, president of the University of Texas at Austin, noted how the U.S. Supreme Court in 2016 “affirmed the University of Texas’ efforts to enroll a diverse student body.” He also stated that “diversity is essential” to the university’s efforts to provide the highest quality education.

But, why is diversity essential for the educational mission of U.S. universities?

Advocates for diversity in higher education emphasize a variety of reasons. They range from business oriented considerations, like the need for a diverse and well-educated workforce to meet the needs of an increasingly diverse marketplace or the belief that diversity fosters innovation and creativity. Another reason is based on the idea that diversity enriches the educational experience of all students on campus, not just minorities.

In addition to the reasons above, we believe that diversity is also an ethical obligation of American universities. We write not only as professors but as higher education administrators with a keen interest in diversity on campus. We believe that promoting diversity in our campuses helps fulfill the inclusive vision that gave birth to our nation. This vision became enshrined in the Declaration of Independence when it proclaimed that “all men are created equal.”

Sadly, the “all men are created equal” proclamation was not a guiding principle for our universities not so long ago. Quite the contrary, they fostered ideas that promoted racial disparagement and exclusion, causing great harm to the country in ways that we must still deal with today. For instance, black students were not admitted to the University of Texas and many other universities until the 1950s, and lack of black representation among students and faculty remains an issue. The pursuit of diversity now can help universities make amends for aggressive anti-diversity practices of the recent past.

Universities and eugenics

At the beginning of the 20th century, many administrators, alumni and faculty members from American universities were at the forefront of the eugenics movement, a pseudoscience that sought to improve the genetic qualities of human populations by selective breeding. The movement was led by presidents of elite private institutions like Harvard, Yale and Stanford, and also at public universities like Michigan and Wisconsin.

Eugenicists championed ideas of racial superiority. For them, the Nordic “race” – that is, people from Northern Europe, like Anglo-Americans – was the master race. Accordingly, they regarded Africans, Asians and even Southern and Eastern Europeans as inferior. They believed the immigration of these groups to the U.S. should be curtailed.

“The Nordic race will vanish or lose its dominance,” renowned Yale professor and economist Irving Fisher warned in 1921. Eugenicists were anti-diversity. They considered immigration and racial mixing a threat. They spoke of the “yellow peril,” the “flooding of the nation with foreign scum” and the arrival of “defectives, delinquents and dependents.” These views are not unlike President Trump’s recent complaints about Mexico sending “rapists” and “criminals,” or about admitting people into the U.S. from “shithole countries.”

Beyond teaching eugenics on campus – 376 American colleges were offering courses on the subject by the late 1920s – these academic leaders and their followers worked hard to take eugenics ideas mainstream – and did so “with considerable effect,” according to Harvard Magazine.

The eugenecists’ ideas may not have predated the racial prejudices and segregationist practices that existed in the United States, but they provided academic validity to help sustain those prejudices and practices.

Melville W. Fuller (1833-1910), eighth chief justice of the United States Supreme Court from 1888 through 1910. The court decided in favor of racial segregation in the Plessy v. Ferguson case of 1896. Everett Historical/www.shutterstock.com

In 1896 the U.S. Supreme Court had paved the way for segregation when it ruled in Plessy v. Ferguson that keeping races “separate but equal” was constitutional. Then in the 1920s, at the height of the racial caste system known as “Jim Crow,” the U.S. government embraced new policies promoted by eugenicists.

Those policies included new anti-miscegenation laws that criminalized interracial marriage. They also included forced sterilization programs. These programs affected all racial groups but especially targeted women, minorities and the poor. Eugenicists advocated effectively for forced sterilization in court cases that remained the law of the land for decades.

The eugenics movement also actively advocated in Congress for policies to prevent immigration by “undesirable” racial and ethnic groups. And the movement succeeded. With the Immigration Act of 1924, Congress implemented quotas that favored immigration from Northern Europe and drastically reduced arrivals of Eastern European, Jews, Italians and Africans. It completely stopped immigration from Asia.

These policies were developed to reverse fears of what President Theodore Roosevelt called “race suicide” or the dwindling of the Anglo-American “stock.”

Reversing a racist past

New York lawyer Madison Grant, a graduate of Yale and Columbia, was a prominent eugenicist and friend of President Theodore Roosevelt. In 1916 he published “The Passing of the Great Race,” widely considered the most influential eugenics book. Grant attempts to use science to justify racism. The book was translated to German and after he became Fürher, Adolf Hitler wrote a fan letter to Grant thanking him and praising the book as “his Bible.”

It was only after the Holocaust that the U.S., rather slowly, abandoned its own eugenicist policies. Interracial marriage was still forbidden in 16 states when it was declared unconstitutional in 1967. Coerced or involuntary sterilizations continued to happen into the 1970s.

The fact that thinkers from prestigious American universities provided the intellectual foundations for Hitler’s racial cleansing policies is scarcely mentioned in our country. We believe it is time for universities to undertake a discussion about this disturbing chapter of their history – a time when their own community led the development of white supremacist ideologies.The ConversationIt is also timely to reflect on the extraordinary impact universities can have in our nation and the world. A century after the misguided eugenics movement took a hold of higher education in the U.S., most universities now actively work to be inclusive and diverse. They must embrace their renewed values and help lead our nation toward a more just and equitable future.


Republished with permission under license from The Conversation

DeVos and the limits of the education reform movement

 By Jack Schneider, College of the Holy Cross

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Betsy DeVos, shaking hands at a school choice rally shortly before she became education secretary in 2017. AP Photo/Maria Danilova

Betsy DeVos exposed the education reform movement’s pitfalls in her highest-profile media appearance to date.

President Donald Trump’s education secretary got the job based on her years of advocacy for expanding “school choice,” especially in Michigan, her home state. Yet she stumbled when Lesley Stahl asked her in a widely watched CBS “60 Minutes” interview to assess the track record for those efforts.

“I don’t know. Overall, I – I can’t say overall that they have all gotten better,” DeVos stammered.

It’s not just Michigan or Midwestern conservatives. Policymakers and philanthropists across the ideological spectrum and the nation have teamed up to reform public education for decades, only to find that their bold projects have fallen short. Regardless of the evidence, however, top-down reform remains the standard among politicians and big donors.

As an educational policy scholar, I have identified a few reasons why school reform efforts so persistently get lackluster results, as well as why enthusiasm for reform hasn’t waned. Despite its long-term failure, large-scale education reform maintains consistent bipartisan support and is backed by roughly US$4 billion a year in philanthropic funding derived from some of the nation’s biggest fortunes.

 

 

 

 

 

Shiny objectives

DeVos may be a uniquely polarizing figure, but she is hardly the first federal leader to champion school reform.

Ever since 1983, when the Reagan administration published its “A Nation at Risk” report bemoaning the quality of American public education, politicians have rallied public support for plans to overhaul the nation’s education system. Over the past quarter century, leaders from both parties have backed the creation of curricular standards and high-stakes standardized tests. And they have pushed privately operated charter schools as a replacement for traditional public schools, along with vouchers and other subsidies to defray the cost of private school tuition.

All of these large-scale school reform efforts, whether pushed by the federal government or backed by billionaire philanthropists including the families of Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, homebuilder and insurance mogul Eli Broad, late Walmart founder Sam Walton and DeVos herself have encountered setbacks.

Still, the larger ethos of reform hasn’t changed. And none of the leaders of this effort, including DeVos, appear to be wavering in their efforts, even when challenged with evidence, as happened during her cringe-inducing “60 Minutes” interview.

Former PBS NewsHour education correspondent John Merrow sums up his book ‘Addicted to Reform,’ which describes the pitfalls of the K-12 reform movement.

A cycle of failure

From George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind to Barack Obama’s Race to the Top and the Every Student Succeeds Act that was signed into law in 2015, the federal government has taken a highly interventionist approach to education policy.

But it has routinely failed to produce promised results. Today, educators, scholars and policymakers now almost universally regard No Child Left Behind as a washout. And many critiques of Obama-era reform efforts have been equally blistering.

Nevertheless, the core approach to federal education policy has not markedly changed.

The chief reason that all this activity has produced so little change, in my view, is that the movement’s populist politics encourage reformers to make promises beyond what they can reasonably expect to deliver. The result, then, is a cycle of searing critique, sweeping proposal, disappointment and new proposal. The particulars of each recipe may differ, but the overall approach is always the same.

Cookie cutters

Beyond this dysfunctional cycle, the other big reason the school reform movement has consistently come up short has to do with an approach that is both too narrow and too generic.

Ever since 1966, when Johns Hopkins University sociologist James S. Coleman determined in his government-commissioned report that low-income children of color benefit from learning in integrated settings, most education researchers have agreed that economic inequality and social injustice are among the most powerful drivers of educational achievement gaps. What students achieve in a school, in other words, reflects their living conditions outside its walls.

Yet rather than addressing the daunting issues like persistent poverty that shape children’s lives and interfere with their learning, education reformers have largely embraced a management consultant approach. That is, they seek systems-oriented solutions that can be assessed through bottom-line indicators. This has been particularly true in the case of conservatives like DeVos, who even in her stand against the public education “system,” has proposed a new kind of system – school choice – as a solution.

This approach fails to address the core problems shaping student achievement at a time when researchers like Sean Reardon at Stanford University find that income levels are more correlated with academic achievement than ever and the gap between rich students and less affluent kids is growing.

Sean Reardon, a Stanford University professor, discusses the gap between how low-income and rich students perform academically.

At the same time, reformers of all stripes have tried to enact change at the largest possible scale. To work everywhere, however, education reforms must be suitable for all schools, regardless of their particular circumstances.

This cookie-cutter approach ignores educational research. Scholars consistently find that schools don’t work that way. I believe, as others do, that successful schools are thriving ecosystems adapted to local circumstances. One-size-fits-all reform programs simply can’t have a deep impact in all schools and in every community.

Entrepreneurial outsiders

Perhaps this flawed approach to education reform has survived year after year of disappointing results because policy leaders, donors and politicians tend not to challenge each other on the premise that the ideal of school reform requires a sweeping overhaul – even though they may disagree about the best route. DeVos may be criticized for her dogmatic demeanor, but her approach is fairly mainstream in most regards.

Additionally, many leading reformers generally subscribe to the ethos of educational entrepreneurism. They consider visionary leadership as essential, even when leaders have scant relevant professional experience. That was the case with DeVos before she became education secretary. As outsiders operating within a complex system, however, reformers often fail take the messy real-world experiences of U.S. schools into account.

Finally, the reformers see failure as an acceptable part of the entrepreneurial process. Rather than second-guess their approach when their plans come up short, they may just believe that they placed the wrong bet. As a result, the constant blare of pitches and promises continues. And it’s possible that none of them will ever measure up, no matter the evidence.

The ConversationEditor’s note: This article incorporates elements of a story published on March 8, 2018, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is a strategic partner of The Conversation US and provides funding for The Conversation internationally.


See our related Educational Oppression page.


Re-published with permission under license from The Conversation.

Jack Schneider, Assistant Professor of Education, College of the Holy Cross

What hundreds of American public libraries owe to Carnegie’s disdain for inherited wealth

 “A library outranks any other one thing a community can do to benefit its people. It is a never failing spring in the desert.” – Andrew Carnegie

File 20171006 25775 gt1jmy.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1The Girard, Kansas Carnegie library. National Park Service

By Arlene Weismantel, Michigan State University

The same ethos that turned Andrew Carnegie into one of the biggest philanthropists of all time made him a fervent proponent of taxing big inheritances. As the steel magnate wrote in his seminal 1899 essay, The Gospel of Wealth:

“Of all forms of taxation this seems the wisest. By taxing estates heavily at death the State marks its condemnation of the selfish millionaire’s unworthy life.”

Carnegie argued that handing large fortunes to the next generation wasted money, as it was unlikely that descendants would match the exceptional abilities that had created the wealth into which they were born. He also surmised that dynasties harm heirs by robbing their lives of purpose and meaning.

He practiced what he preached and was still actively giving in 1911 after he had already given away 90 percent of his wealth to causes he cared passionately about, especially libraries. As a pioneer of the kind of large-scale American philanthropy now practiced by the likes of Bill Gates and George Soros, he espoused a philosophy that many of today’s billionaires who want to leave their mark through good works are still following.

 

The Medford, Oregon public library, depicted in this postcard, is a classic example of Carnegie library architecture. Offbeatoregon.com

A modest upbringing

The U.S. government had taxed estates for brief periods ever since the days of the Founders, but the modern estate tax took root only a few years before Carnegie died in 1919.

That was one reason why the great philanthropist counseled his fellow ultra-wealthy Americans to give as much of their money away as they could to good causes – including the one he revolutionized: public libraries. As a librarian who has held many leadership roles in Michigan, where Carnegie funded the construction of 61 libraries, I am always mindful of his legacy.

Carnegie’s modest upbringing helped inspire his philanthropy, which left its mark on America’s cities large and small. After mechanization had put his father out of work, Carnegie’s family immigrated from Dunfermline, Scotland, to the U.S. in 1848, where they settled in Allegheny, Pennsylvania.

The move ended his formal education, which had begun when he was eight years old. Carnegie, then 13, went to work as a bobbin boy in a textile factory to help pay the family’s bills. He couldn’t afford to buy books and he had no way to borrow them in a country that would have 637 public libraries only half a century later.

In 1850, Carnegie, by then working as a messenger, learned that iron manufacturer Colonel James Anderson let working boys visit his 400-volume library on Saturdays. Among those books, “the windows were opened in the walls of my dungeon through which the light of knowledge streamed in,” Carnegie wrote, explaining how the experience both thrilled him and changed his life.

Books kept him and other boys “clear of low fellowship and bad habits,” Carnegie said later. He called that library the source of his largely informal education.

Carnegie eventually built a monument to honor Anderson. The inscription credits Anderson with founding free libraries in western Pennsylvania and opening “the precious treasures of knowledge and imagination through which youth may ascend.”

 

This postage stamp depicted the steelmaker in a library, halfway through a book.

Supporting communities

Carnegie believed in exercising discretion and care with charitable largess. People who became too dependent on handouts were unwilling to improve their lot in life and didn’t deserve them, in his opinion. Instead, he sought to “use wealth so as to be really beneficial to the community.”

For the industrial titan, that meant supporting the institutions that empower people to pull themselves up by their bootstraps like universities, hospitals and, above all, libraries.

In Carnegie’s view, “the main consideration should be to help those who will help themselves.” Free libraries were, in Carnegie’s opinion, among the best ways to lend a hand to anyone who deserved it.

Carnegie built 2,509 libraries in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, 1,679 of them across the U.S. in nearly every state. All told, he spent US$55 million of his wealth on libraries. Adjusted for inflation, that would top $1.3 billion today.

Some were grand but about 70 percent of these libraries served towns of less than 10,000 and cost less than $25,000 (at that time) to build.

A lasting legacy

Through Carnegie’s philanthropy, libraries became pillars of civic life and the nation’s educational system.

More than 770 of the original Carnegie libraries still function as public libraries today and others are landmarks housing museums or serving other public functions. More importantly, the notion that libraries should provide everyone with the opportunity to freely educate and improve themselves is widespread.

I believe that Carnegie would be impressed with how libraries have adapted to carry out his cherished mission of helping people rise by making computers available to those without them, hosting job fairs and offering resume assistance among other services.

Public libraries in Michigan, for example, host small business resource centers, hold seminars and provide resources for anyone interested in starting their own businesses. The statewide Michigan eLibrary reinforces this assistance through its online offerings.

The Michigan eLibrary, however, gets federal funding through the Institute of Museum and Library Services. And the Trump administration has tried to gut this spending on local libraries. Given Carnegie’s passions, he surely would have opposed those cuts, along with the bid by President Donald Trump and Republican lawmakers to get rid of the estate tax.

 

George Soros, right, eyed the busts of Andrew Carnegie on a mantel, as he sat with the late David Rockefeller in 2001 when they were among the first recipients of the Carnegie Medals of Philanthropy. AP Photo/Richard Drew

Outside of government, Carnegie’s ideas about philanthropy are still making a difference. In the Giving Pledge, contemporary billionaires, including Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett, have promised to give away at least half of their wealth during their lifetimes to benefit the greater good instead of leaving it to their heirs.

Following in Carnegie’s footsteps, the Gates family has supported internet access for libraries in low-income communities and libraries located abroad. Several billionaires, including Buffett, have publicly professed their support for the estate tax. A philosophy of giving and public responsibility may be one of Carnegie’s most enduring legacies.

The ConversationEditor’s Note: The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is a strategic partner of The Conversation US and provides funding for The Conversation internationally as does the Carnegie Corporation of New York.


Article republished with permission under license from The Conversation. Read the original article.

Why schools still can’t put segregation behind them

By Derek Black – Professor of Law, University of South Carolina

A federal district court judge has decided that Gardendale – a predominantly white city in the suburbs of Birmingham, Alabama – can move forward in its effort to secede from the school district that serves the larger county. The district Gardendale is leaving is 48 percent black and 44 percent white. The new district would be almost all white.

The idea that a judge could allow this is unfathomable to most, but the case demonstrates in the most stark terms that school segregation is still with us. While racial segregation in U.S. schools plummeted between the late 1960s and 1980, it has steadily increased ever since – to the the point that schools are about as segregated today as they were 50 years ago.

As a former school desegregation lawyer and now a scholar of educational inequality and law, I have both witnessed and researched an odd shift to a new kind of segregation that somehow seems socially acceptable. So long as it operates with some semblance of furthering educational quality or school choice, even a federal district court is willing to sanction it.

While proponents of the secession claim they just want the best education for their children and opponents decry the secession as old-school racism, the truth is more complex: Race, education and school quality are inextricably intertwined.

Rationalizing Gardendale’s segregation

In some respects, Gardendale is no different from many other communities.

Thirty-seven percent of our public schools are basically one-race schools – nearly all white or all minority. In New York, two out of three black students attend a school that is 90 to 100 percent minority.

In June 2017, New York City released a plan to diversify its public schools. The plan includes an advisory group that will evaluate current diversity pushes and recommend additional ones by June 2018. Leonard Zhukovsky/Shutterstock

In many areas, this racial isolation has occurred gradually over time, and is often written off as the result of demographic shifts and private preferences that are beyond a school district’s control.

The Gardendale parents argued their motivations were not about race at all, but just ensuring their kids had access to good schools. The evidence pointed in the other direction: In language rarely offered by modern courts, the judge found, at the heart of the secession, “a desire to control the racial demographics of [its] public schools” by “eliminat[ing]… black students [from] Gardendale schools.”

Still, these findings were not enough to stop the secession. As in many other cases over the past two decades, the judge conceded to resegregation, speculating that if she stopped the move, innocent parties would suffer: Black students who stayed in Gardendale would be made to feel unwelcome and those legitimately seeking educational improvements would be stymied.

Simply put, the judge could not find an upside to blocking secessionists whom she herself characterized as racially motivated.

As such, the court held that Gardendale’s secession could move forward. Two of its elementary schools can secede now, while the remaining elementary and upper-level schools must do so gradually.

The problem with conceding to segregation

Unfortunately, there’s no middle ground in segregation cases. No matter what spin a court puts on it, allowing secessions like Gardendale’s hands racism a win.

While it’s true that stopping the secession may come with a cost to members of that community who have done nothing wrong, our Constitution demands that public institutions comply with the law. That is the price of living in a democracy that prizes principles over outcomes.

From left to right, George E.C. Hayes, Thurgood Marshall and James M. Nabrit stand in front of the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. 1954. The lawyers led the case against the Board of Education of Topeka to end segregation in schools. AP Photo

In this case, the constitutional principles are clear. In Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court held that there is no such thing as separate but equal schools: Segregated schools are “inherently unequal.”

Rather than stick to these principles, the judge in the Gardendale case seemingly tried to strike a bargain with segregation. As long as Gardendale appoints “at least one African-American resident” to its school board and does not do anything overtly racist moving forward, the court will allow the city to pursue its own agenda.

The sordid roots of school quality – and inequality

The ruling in Gardendale is a step toward reinforcing an unfortunate status quo in Alabama.

Alabama is one of a handful of states that amended its state constitution in an attempt to avoid desegregation in the 1950s. The amendment gave parents the right to avoid sending their kids to integrated schools and made clear that the state was no longer obligated to fund public education. Alabama preferred an underfunded and optional educational system to an integrated one. Courts quickly struck down the discriminatory parts of the new constitution, but the poor state education system remained.

Today, student achievement in Alabama ranks dead last – or near it – on every measure. Most communities don’t have the resources to do anything about it. Funding is relatively low – and unequal from district to district. Even after adjusting for variations in regional costs, a recent study shows that the overwhelming majority of schools in Alabama are funded at ten percent or more below the national average and another substantial chunk is thirty-three percent or more below the national average.

Parents trapped in under-resourced schools understandably feel like they need to take action. But rather than demanding an effective and well-supported statewide system of public schools, parents with the means often feel compelled to isolate their children from the larger system that surrounds them.

And while whites and blacks struggle over the future of Gardendale’s schools, the real culprits – the current state legislature and the segregationists who gutted public education in Alabama decades ago – go unchallenged.

In 2006, the Nebraska legislature approved a plan to divide Omaha public schools into three districts: one predominantly white, one black and one Hispanic. Lawmakers argued that resegregation would give black parents more control over their schools. AP Photo/Nati Harnik

The path forward leads through equal public education

The education system in Alabama, like in so many other states, is rigged against a large percentage of families and communities: Those with less money tend to get a worse education. Until these states reform their overall education funding systems, the inequalities and inadequacies that they produce will continue to fuel current racial motivations.

The lawsuit in Gardendale was a poor vehicle for fixing Alabama’s education system: The state’s overall education system was not on trial. The only issue before the court was a racially motivated district line in one small community.

But our small communities are connected to larger education systems.

In my view, we cannot fix those systems by way of more individual choice, charters, vouchers or school district secessions. The fact is, educational funding is down across the board, when compared to a decade ago. If we want all students to have a decent shot at better education, we need to recommit to statewide systems of public education. Only then will our base fears and racial biases begin to fade into the background.


Republished with permission under license from The Conversation.

DeVos Just Put Interests of ‘Predatory Profiteers’ Over Student Loan Borrowers

Memo DeVos sent Tuesday rescinds student loan borrower protections put in place by Obama administration

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Tuesday withdrew student loan borrower protections put in place by the Obama administration, a move that steps away from accountability and opens the door for "rogue" servicers, according to critics.

DeVos outlined the change in a memo (pdf) sent to James Runcie, the chief operating officer of Federal Student Aid (FSA), in which she laments "a lack of consistent objectives" and other "shortcomings" in the current loan processing system, which as one observer sees it, was, in fact clear, and "was built to make repaying loans easier."

The Washington Post explains the education secretary's action:

DeVos has withdrawn three memos issued by former education secretary John King and his under secretary Ted Mitchell. One of the directives, which was later updated with another memo, called on Runcie to hold companies accountable for borrowers receiving accurate, consistent and timely information about their debt. The 56-page memo called for the creation of financial incentives for targeted outreach to people at great risk of defaulting on their loans, a baseline level of service for all borrowers and a contract flexible enough to penalize servicers for poor service, among other things.

The Obama administration requested routine audits of records, systems, complaints and a compliance-review process. It also directed Runcie's team to base compensation on response time to answering calls, completing applications for income-driven repayment plans, errors made during communications, and the amount of time it takes to process payments. Another memo insisted FSA consider a company's past performance in divvying up the student loan portfolio.

"The guidelines," Cory Doctorow wrote at BoingBoing, "were enacted after the Government Accountability Office found that the Department of Education's outsourced debt-collectors were cheating borrowers and engaging in other corrupt, negligent, and criminal practices." That oursourcing refers to the fact that "the federal government pays hundreds of millions of dollars to companies such as Navient, Great Lakes, and American Education Services to manage $1.2 trillion in student loans," the Post writes.

Bloomberg writes: "With her memo, DeVos has taken control of the complex and widely derided system in which the federal government collects monthly payments from tens of millions of Americans with government-owned student loans. The CFPB [Consumer Financial Protection Bureau] said in 2015 that the manner in which student loans are collected has been marred by 'widespread failures.'"

According to MarketWatch, the Education Department "is currently in the midst of awarding a new lucrative servicing contract to a single entity," with Navient being a finalist. The CFPB sued that company in January "for systematically and illegally failing borrowers at every stage of repayment." Yet the change ordered by DeVos "could make Navient a more likely contender for that contract, government officials said," Bloomberg adds.

Student loan borrower advocates decried the changes made by DeVos.

It "will certainly increase the likelihood of default," said David Bergeron, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress who worked over three decades at the Education Department, to Bloomberg.

"Secretary DeVos—with the stroke of a pen—has reinstated the Wild West of student loans where servicers get to play by their own rules, and borrowers get fleeced," said American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten.

"Her decision rescinds the most basic protections student debtors have when dealing with servicers, like expecting their bills to be accurate and their payments to be processed on time. And she's opened the door for rogue operators such as Navient, which overcharged service members and veterans millions of dollars, to win even more lucrative government contracts. If Secretary DeVos were serious about curing America's trillion dollar student loan crisis, she would strengthen, not rescind, these protections," she continued.

The development comes less than two weeks after the Education Department said that over 550,000 borrowers who were led to believe that their loans would be forgiven after ten years of work in the public service, may in fact be on the hook for those payments.

"Instead, she is enabling and empowering bad actors. It's just another clear example of Betsy DeVos and the Trump administration putting the interests of predatory profiteers over the needs of the little guy—in this instance, the millions of people trying to go to college or acquire career skills without being crippled by debt," Weingarten said.

The change also drew condemnation from Americans for Financial Reform, a Wall Street accountability nonprofit coalition, which said it moved "the department toward less accountability and worse service for student loan borrowers."

The group continued: "In order to have accountability, there must be real consequences when servicers violate the law. Secretary DeVos's actions today moves us away from true accountability, and creates dangers for the very student loan borrowers the Department is responsible for protecting."


Free Money for College


Republished with permission under license from CommonDreams.

MARY MCLEOD BETHUNE – College Founder, Activist, Humanitarian

Mary Jane McLeod Bethune (born Mary Jane McLeod; July 10, 1875 – May 18, 1955) was an American educator, stateswoman, philanthropist, humanitarian and civil rights activist best known for starting a private school for African-American students in Daytona Beach, Florida. She attracted donations of time and money, and developed the academic school as a college. It later continued to develop as Bethune-Cookman University. She also was appointed as a national adviser to President Franklin D. Roosevelt as part of what was known as his Black Cabinet. She was known as "The First Lady of The Struggle" because of her commitment to gain better lives for African Americans.

Born in Mayesville, South Carolina, to parents who had been slaves, she started working in fields with her family at age five. She took an early interest in becoming educated; with the help of benefactors, Bethune attended college hoping to become a missionary in Africa. She started a school for African-American girls in Daytona Beach, Florida. It later merged with a private institute for African-American boys, and was known as the Bethune-Cookman School. Bethune maintained high standards and promoted the school with tourists and donors, to demonstrate what educated African Americans could do. She was president of the college from 1923 to 1942, and 1946 to 1947. She was one of the few women in the world to serve as a college president at that time.

Bethune was also active in women's clubs, which were strong civic organizations supporting welfare and other needs, and became a national leader. After working on the presidential campaign for Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932, she was invited as a member of his Black Cabinet. She advised him on concerns of black people and helped share Roosevelt's message and achievements with blacks, who had historically been Republican voters since the Civil War. At the time, blacks had been largely disenfranchised in the South since the turn of the century, so she was speaking to black voters across the North. Upon her death, columnist Louis E. Martin said, "She gave out faith and hope as if they were pills and she some sort of doctor."

Honors include designation of her home in Daytona Beach as a National Historic Landmark, her house in Washington, D.C. as a National Historic Site, and the installation of a memorial sculpture of her in Lincoln Park in Washington, D.C.

The historic Daytona Beach home of Mary McLeod Bethune was built around 1904-05 and was purchased for Mrs. Bethune in 1913. She lived in the home until her passing in 1955.  Mrs. Bethune's home received the designation of National Historic Landmark by the United States Secretary of Interior on December 2, 1974.

The Daytona Beach,Fl home of Mary McLeod Bethune on the campus of Bethune-Cookman University.

The Mary McLeod Bethune Council House National Historic Site preserves the house of Mary McLeod Bethune, located in Northwest Washington, D.C., at 1318 Vermont Avenue NW. National Park Service rangers offer tours of the home, and a video about Bethune's life is shown.

Mary McLeod Bethune Council House

Bethune made her home in the townhouse from 1943 to 1955. She purchased it for $15,500. Bethune lived on the third floor, while the National Council of Negro Women occupied the first and second floors.

The Mary McLeod Bethune Memorial is a bronze statue honoring Mary McLeod Bethune, by Robert Berks. The monument is the first statue erected on public land in Washington, D.C. to honor an African American and a woman. The statue features an elderly Mrs. Bethune handing a copy of her legacy to two young black children. Mrs. Bethune is supporting herself by a cane given to her by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The statue was unveiled on the anniversary of her 99th birthday, July 10, 1974, before a crowd of over 18,000 people. The funds for the monument were raised by the National Council of Negro Women, the organization Mrs. Bethune founded in 1935. It is located in Lincoln Park, at East Capitol Street and 12th Street N.E. Washington, D.C.

Historical Educator, Madelyn M. Sanders, is a member of Women In History; a group that educates through the dramatic representation of notable women in U.S. history. Her characterization of Mary McLeod Bethune is her favorite. Ms. Sanders notes, “What better way to educate children and adults on the accomplishments of our female ancestors, than through first person characterizations?  There is a special pride I feel each time I portray one of these outstanding historical figures.”

Mary McLeod Bethune as Portrayed by Madelyn Sanders

Mary McLeod Bethune Song


Part of the Court.rchp.com 2017 Black History Month Series

Derrick Albert Bell Jr. – First Black Harvard Law Professor

Derrick Albert Bell Jr. (November 6, 1930 – October 5, 2011) was the first tenured African-American professor of law at Harvard Law School and is largely credited as one of the originators of critical race theory. He was a visiting professor at New York University School of Law from 1991 until his death. He was also a dean of the University of Oregon School of Law.

Education and early career

Born in the Hill District of Pittsburgh, Bell received an A.B. from Duquesne University in 1952. He was a member of the Duquesne Reserve Officers' Training Corps and later served as an Air Force officer for two years (stationed in Korea for one of those years). In 1957 he received an LL.B. from the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. After graduation, and after a recommendation from then United States associate attorney general William P. Rogers, Bell took a position with the civil rights division of the U.S. Justice Department.

Bell was one of the few black lawyers working for the Justice Department at the time. In 1959, the government asked him to resign his membership in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) because it was thought that his objectivity, and that of the department, might be compromised or called into question. Bell left the Justice Department rather than giving up his NAACP membership.

Soon afterwards, Bell took a position as an assistant counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF), crafting legal strategies at the forefront of the battle to undo racist laws and segregation in schools. At the LDF, he worked alongside other prominent civil-rights attorneys such as Thurgood Marshall, Robert L. Carter and Constance Baker Motley. Bell was assigned to Mississippi. While working at the LDF, Bell supervised more than 300 school desegregation cases and spearheaded the fight of James Meredith to secure admission to the University of Mississippi, over the protests of governor Ross Barnett.

Bell was quoted as saying in The Boston Globe

"I learned a lot about evasiveness, and how racists could use a system to forestall equality,"  … "I also learned a lot riding those dusty roads and walking into those sullen hostile courts in Jackson, Mississippi. It just seems that unless something's pushed, unless you litigate, nothing happens."

In the mid-1960s Bell was appointed to the law faculty of the University of Southern California as executive director of the Western Center on Law and Poverty.

Harvard Law School

In 1969, with the help of protests from black Harvard Law School students for a minority faculty member, Bell was hired to teach there. At Harvard, Bell established a new course in civil rights law, published a celebrated case book, Race, Racism and American Law, and produced a steady stream of law review articles.

Protests over faculty diversity

In 1980, he started a five-year tenure as dean of the University of Oregon School of Law, interrupted by his resignation after an Asian-American woman he had chosen to join the faculty was refused by the university.

Returning to Harvard in 1986, after a year-long stint at Stanford University, Bell staged a five-day sit-in in his office to protest the school's failure to grant tenure to two professors on staff, both of whose work promoted critical race theory. The sit-in was widely supported by students, but divided the faculty, as Harvard administrators claimed the professors were denied tenure for substandard scholarship and teaching.

In 1990, Harvard Law School had 60 tenured professors. Three of these were black men, and five of them were women, but there were no African-American women among them, a dearth Bell decided to protest with an unpaid leave of absence. Students supported the move which critics found "counterproductive", while Harvard administrators cited a lack of qualified candidates, defending that they had taken great strides in the previous decade to bring women and black people onto the faculty. The story of his protest is detailed in his book Confronting Authority.

Bell's protest at Harvard stirred angry criticism by opposing Harvard Law faculty who called him "a media manipulator who unfairly attacked the school", noting that other people had accused him of "depriv[ing] students of an education while he makes money on the lecture circuit".

Bell took his leave of absence and accepted a visiting professorship at NYU Law, starting in 1991. After two years, Harvard had still not hired any minority women, and Bell requested an extension of his leave, which the school refused, thereby ending his tenure. Later in 1998, Harvard Law hired civil rights attorney and U.S. assistant attorney general nominee Lani Guinier, who became the law school's first black female tenured professor.

In March 2012, five months after his death, Bell became the target of conservative media, including Breitbart.com and Sean Hannity, in an exposé of President Barack Obama.

The controversy focused on a 1990 video of Obama praising Bell at a protest by Harvard Law School students over the perceived lack of diversity in the school's faculty. Bell's widow stated that Bell and Obama had "very little contact" after Obama's law school graduation. She said that as far as she remembers, "He never had contact with the president as president". An examination of Senior Lecturer Obama's syllabus for his course on race and law at the University of Chicago revealed significant differences between Obama's perspective and that of Derrick Bell, even as Obama drew on major writings of critical race theory.

NYU School of Law

Bell's visiting professorship at New York University began in 1991. After his two-year leave of absence, his position at Harvard ended and he remained at NYU where he continued to write and lecture on issues of race and civil rights.

Scholarship

Bell is arguably the most influential source of thought critical of traditional civil rights discourse. Bell’s critique represented a challenge to the dominant liberal and conservative position on civil rights, race and the law. He employed three major arguments in his analyses of racial patterns in American law: constitutional contradiction, the interest convergence principle, and the price of racial remedies. His book Race, Racism and American Law, now in its sixth edition, has been continually in print since 1973 and is considered a classic in the field.

Bell and other legal scholars began using the phrase "critical race theory" (CRT) in the 1970s as a takeoff on "critical legal theory", a branch of legal scholarship that challenges the validity of concepts such as rationality, objective truth, and judicial neutrality. Critical legal theory was itself a takeoff on critical theory, a philosophical framework with roots in Marxist thought.

Bell continued writing about critical race theory after accepting a teaching position at Harvard University. He worked alongside lawyers, activists, and legal scholars across the country. Much of his legal scholarship was influenced by his experience both as a black man and as a civil rights attorney. Writing in a narrative style, Bell contributed to the intellectual discussions on race. According to Bell, his purpose in writing was to examine the racial issues within the context of their economic and social and political dimensions from a legal standpoint. Bell’s critical race theory was eventually branched into more theories describing the hardships of other races as well, such as AsianCrit (Asian), FemCrit (Women), LatCrit (Latino), TribalCrit (American Indian), and WhiteCrit (White). These theories weren’t developed in contention with another; they were developed to study each prudently, separately and analytically. These were developed based off the 6 propositions many race theorists can agree on. The propositions are as follows:

  • First, racism is ordinary, not aberrational.
  • Second, white-over-color ascendancy serves important purposes, both psychic and material, for the dominant group.
  • Third, “social construction” thesis holds that race and races are products of social thought and relations.
  • Fourth, how a dominant society racializes different minority groups at different times, in response to shifting needs such as the labor market.
  • Fifth, intersectionality and anti-essentialism is the idea that each race has its own origins and ever-evolving history.
  • Sixth, voice-of-color thesis holds that because of different histories and experiences to white counterparts', matters that the whites are unlikely to know can be conveyed.

CRT has also led to the study of microaggressions, Paradigmatic kinship, the historical origins and shifting paradigmatic vision of CRT, and how in depth legal studies show law serves the interests of the powerful groups in society. Microaggressions are subtle insults (verbal, nonverbal, and/or visual) directed toward people of color, often automatically or unconsciously.

For instance, in The Constitutional Contradiction, Bell argued that the framers of the Constitution chose the rewards of property over justice. With regard to the interest convergence, he maintains that "whites will promote racial advances for blacks only when they also promote white self-interest." Finally, in The Price of Racial Remedies, Bell argues that whites will not support civil rights policies that may threaten white social status. Similar themes can be found in another well-known piece entitled, "Who's Afraid of Critical Race Theory?" from 1995.

His 2002 book, Ethical Ambition, encourages a life of ethical behavior, including "a good job well done, giving credit to others, standing up for what you believe in, voluntarily returning lost valuables, choosing what feels right over what might feel good right now".

In addition to his writings, Bell was also a revered and accomplished teacher. His constitutional law courses took a critical but comprehensive student-centered approach, and he was well known for his kindness towards students.

Teaching

Less is written about Bell's teaching than his scholarship, but he was also a passionate and creative law teacher. He taught primarily classes in constitutional law at NYU Law. Bell rejected the conventional law school pedagogy of the Socratic method, preferring a more student-centered approach. Student argued hypothetical and real pending cases in his classes in mock appellate argument format, and they also wrote appellate briefs and wrote and discussed short op-ed papers on the cases. They were evaluated based on these writings, rather than on a final exam. Bell implemented this seminar-style format even in a large constitutional law class of 75 or more students. To do so, he hired one recent graduate to serve as the Derrick Bell Fellow and assist him. His courses also employed a number of student TAs who had taken his course previously, to assist current students in preparing for their oral arguments. Additionally, Professor Bell took many other measures to "humanize the law school experience." He would have food and drink for the students during the break in the middle of every class, and he would occasionally have students sing a class song, or have them sing "Happy Birthday" to a fellow student or TA. The final class in constitutional law would be a talent show where students would perform skits, songs, and poetry about various constitutional law topics.

Professor Bell was well known for his kindness to students. One fact often missed by the media is that even conservative White male student liked him personally, because he encouraged and invited him to challenge his views and gave them space to do so in his classes. Some even became his Teaching Assistants. Professor Bell gave his pointed opinions on many issues in class, but he did not expect anyone to accept those views uncritically. This critical engagement, combined with his goal of "humanizing the law school experience" is best characterized as Professor Bell's "radical humanism." 

Science fiction

Bell also wrote science fiction short stories, including "The Space Traders", a story in which white Americans trade black Americans to space aliens in order to pay off the national debt and receive advanced technology. The story was adapted for television in 1994 by director Reginald Hudlin and writer Trey Ellis. It aired on HBO as the leading segment of a three-part anthology entitled Cosmic Slop, which focused on minority-centric science fiction.

Death

On October 5, 2011, Derrick Bell died from carcinoid cancer at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital, at the age of 80.  "At the time, the Associated Press reported: "The dean at NYU, Richard Revesz, said, 'For more than 20 years, the law school community has been profoundly shaped by Derrick's unwavering passion for civil rights and community justice, and his leadership as a scholar, teacher, and activist.'"

Bell has been memorialized at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law with the Derrick A. Bell Constitutional Law Commons which was opened on March 20, 2013 in the school's Barco Law Library. Bell was also honored with the renaming of the school's community law clinic that provides legal assistance to local low-income residents to the Derrick Bell Community Legal Clinic. Two fellowship positions within the school are also named for Bell.


Part of the Court.rchp.com 2017 Black History Month Series


Article text republished under license from Wikipedia.