According to an April 28 Washington Post article, DC Public Schools (DCPS) has implemented a shameful new policy that will deny access to summer school to students it deems “too far behind.” In the past, summer school was open to any student who wanted to attend, but DCPS is now moving to an invitation only model. While I have always had concerns about the over-reliance of standardized testing, this latest decision further illustrates the damage that can occur when raising test scores are on the forefront of school leaders’ minds. It is clear that this policy of admitting students to summer school by invitation only is being implemented to raise test scores, not to help children succeed.
“Invitation-only admission helps concentrate those scarce resources on students who truly need extra help, [Dan] Gordon, [the school system’s deputy chief for academic programming] said. Officials selected students who scored within a certain range on reading assessments, a tactic meant to identify those most likely to benefit from summer programs. [emphasis added]
Some struggling readers, particularly in middle school, were not invited because they scored too high. But many students were excluded because they scored too low. Those students are so far behind that they need more intensive help — such as one-on-one instruction — than the summer program is designed to provide, Gordon said.” – Washington Post
The aforementioned section of the article, especially the italicized part, highlights their true motivations. If DCPS wants to reach out to those “most likely to benefit,” they would have invited all children who are behind in reading. By only inviting those who are “within a certain range on reading assessments,” they’re not helping the children who are most likely to benefit, they’re helping the school system look better by focusing on the students whose test scores are most likely to move into the proficient or advanced range after summer school.
Children who are further behind can also increase their reading ability and skills by attending summer school, but they most likely will not improve enough to move their test scores into the proficient range on the DC CAS standardized test, so these children are not prioritized. This is shameful and it is bad policy. Children who fall far behind in reading are more likely to become disengaged with school, which can lead to other problems, such as dropping out of school, juvenile delinquency, and ultimately, adult incarceration. How will these children feel when DCPS is basically sending them a message that it has given up on them? Will it cause these children to give up on themselves? DCPS should do the right thing and rescind this policy immediately!
Statehood is arguably the most important political issue facing residents of the District of Columbia. DC’s lack of recognition in Congress and its inability to handle its own fiscal matters impacts every square inch of the eight wards that comprise the District. A broad based coalition of progressive organizations have long advocated for the right for DC residents to gain representation in Congress. Finally, partially thanks to the hard work of our Congresswoman and Shadow Delegation to Congress, the day that DC becomes a state may not be not far away.
Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton has always been an outspoken advocate for her own right to vote in Congress and the District’s innate birthright to a democratic process. Fortunately, her efforts have been aided by our Shadow Delegation. These elected officials have been spending long days on the Hill engaging in meetings with members of Congress to educate them about the importance of cosponsoring HR 292, and its Senate companion, S 132 — the bills that would make DC the 51st state if enacted.
Impressively, the House version has gained an additional 10 cosponsors since its introduction on January 15, 2013. Newly elected U.S. Shadow Representative Nate Bennett-Fleming has been spending long days on the Hill engaging in meetings with members of Congress to educate them about the importance of cosponsoring HR 292. Now the bill boasts a whopping 25 cosponsors in the House, all Democrats, from all over the country. Rep. Bennett-Fleming recognizes the historic significance of this moment. “For the first time since 1992, DC statehood bills have been introduced in both chambers of congress,” said the Shadow Representative.
Rep. Bennett-Fleming’s strategy has been to focus his outreach on four Congressional caucuses; the Black Caucus, the Hispanic Caucus, the Progressive Caucus and the Asian-Pacific Islander Caucus. This maneuver is very calculated and the outstanding results it has yielded are a result of the common value of justice among members of those four caucuses. Members from those caucuses disproportionately represent communities around the United States that have historically been disenfranchised, although not as severely as the District of Columbia. This history of oppression is what will ultimately drive the passage of HR 292/S 132 and the establishment of the District of Columbia as a state with full representation in Congress.
Shadow Senator Michael Brown has also made tremendous inroads towards the passage of the bill on the Senate side. S 132 was introduced by Senator Tom Carper from Delaware and its cosponsors now include Senator Barbara Boxer from California, Senator Richard Durbin from Illinois and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand from New York. On the subject of picking up the momentum, Shadow Senator Michael Brown said, “There will be a big push on Emancipation Day, April 16th, where DC statehood advocates will rally and visit Capitol Hill.” He also added that his optimism is informed by a poll that revealed that 80% of Americans are simply unaware of DC’s disenfranchisement, which implies that support of DC statehood is more of a matter of education than controversy.
No Republicans have agreed to support this legislation, despite the fact that it doesn’t conflict with their party’s platform or ideology. The GOP’s interest in making sure DC has no power is rooted in their collective desire to withhold resources and rights from the most marginalized members of society. If Congress granted our Congresswoman a vote, she would undoubtedly support legislation intended to help the poor, the LGBTQ community, HIV/AIDS victims and communities of color. Republicans have made clear in the past and continue to tout their unwillingness to provide assistance to the undeserved, even in the case of matters like marriage equality that cost no taxpayer funds.
Considering that the number of House cosponsors to the DC statehood bill has almost doubled in just a few months, DC residents can have faith that democracy is only a heartbeat away. Soon we will not be subjected to taxation without representation. With one Congresswoman and two Senators, the District of Columbia will soon have the rights guaranteed to Americans in our Constitution. Let us rally now around our Congresswoman and the Shadow team so that they maintain the momentum that has marked the first few months of 2013.
Random violence impacts us all and random violence against youth, in particular, tends to shatter our sense of security. A society that cannot protect its most precious resource, its children, is one that is not poised to thrive. Unfortunately, many people are only concerned when violence impacts their community or one similar to theirs. Thus, while many publicly mourn and express outrage, as they should, over mass shootings in suburban communities, many of those same people have turned a blind eye to violence in inner city, low-income communities for decades.
Unfortunately, the LGBT community is also guilty of this denial. This has served no one well, particularly since there is not always a fine line separating various communities. The tragic murder of Deoni Jones, a 23-year-old transgender woman, illustrates this point. Thankfully there has been an arrest in that case, but the community is still advocating to get the murder classified as a hate crime, as it seems the initial urge was to classify the murder as a “typical street crime” in a struggling community. Viewing inner city violence as something that does not impact us all is shortsighted and the negative impact of such thinking is often not apparent until it’s too late.
This sentiment of not caring about violence that does not impact one directly has allowed the violence to continue unchecked. This should bother LGBT individuals in particular because our community has been the target of violent hate crimes. When a member of the LGBT community is attacked, we rightfully want others to join in to condemn the attack, find the perpetrator and speak out against hate based on sexual orientation. Some of us identify as LGBT, as well as part of other communities that find themselves the target of senseless violence, such as low-income communities. Others of us may not necessarily reside in those neighborhoods, but other commonalities, such as a shared racial background and previous residence in these areas, make it impossible for us not to share the pain when violence scars the sense of security for these neighborhoods.
Since the beginning of this school year, six innocent students have been killed in Prince George’s County, a place where I am proud to have been raised and where my parents and hosts of other close relatives and friends still reside. We all have a moral responsibility to voice our concern and express support for efforts to stem the tide of violence.
The only way to eradicate violence in our society is for us all to unite in this common goal. The DC Alliance of Youth Advocates is a coalition of member organizations that collectively advocate for the various diverse youth populations throughout the city. Coalitions like this are a great resource for those who are working in the LGBT community, but who also want to be involved and active in the broader youth advocacy community in the District. I implore LGBT individuals to actively condemn all violence. Expressing sincere outrage about violence in every community is the only way to get those communities to be similarly outraged about violence in the LGBT community.
Note: This article is published as an op-ed in this week’s Washington Blade. To view the article, click here.
African Americans played a key role in ensuring the passage of marriage equality in Maryland. On Nov. 6, Maryland, Maine and Washington became the first states to confirm marriage equality at the ballot box. On the surface, you might suspect that if voters are going to vote in support of marriage equality, then it would obviously be in states that supported President Obama in national elections. When you dig deeper, however, there is a much different story that defies what has been passing as conventional wisdom.
In previous elections, the theory has been that marriage equality couldn’t pass at the ballot box in elections with heavy turnout among African Americans and other communities of color. This theory was particularly pronounced in California, a progressive state that voted against marriage equality in 2008.
Thus, in Maryland, a state in which the percentage of African Americans is the fourth largest in the nation, passing marriage equality is particularly notable. In Maryland, nearly one in three voters is African American. As in 2008, African-American turnout was high in this election because President Obama, who is very popular with African Americans, was on the ballot. Thus, it was not possible to win marriage equality in Maryland without significant African-American support. The campaign did a great job of getting high-profile African Americans to publicly speak in support of marriage equality. President Obama, Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker, civil rights leader Julian Bond, actress Mo’Nique, Baltimore Raven Brendan Ayanbadejo and the NAACP are just a sampling of some of the high-profile support. Equally as important, Rev. Delman Coates of Prince George’s County and Rev. Donte Hickman of Baltimore, who both lead large, influential congregations in their respective districts, provided high-profile religious support, which was particularly important because many African Americans who oppose marriage equality base their opposition on religious beliefs.
Out of Maryland’s 24 counties, predominantly African-American Baltimore City had the third highest percentage of those in favor of marriage equality with 57.5 percent. Predominately African-American Prince George’s County had the 8th highest percentage in favor of marriage equality with 48.9 percent. Contrast that with majority white Caroline County, where only 37 percent voted in favor, Dorchester County, where only 36.9 percent voted in favor, and Somerset County, where 34.1 percent voted in favor.
African Americans have a long history of being discriminated against and, as a result, most of us usually go out of our way to ensure that we are not discriminating against others. Messaging that took this into account is the main reason the measure passed. In past campaigns, there was not as much of a concerted effort to directly target messages toward African Americans or, if there was, the messages were not as effective because there were not as many African Americans playing lead roles in the campaign as there were in Maryland.
While marriage equality has an enormous impact on all gays and lesbians who hope to marry, in some ways, its impact can be even larger on many LGBT African Americans who desire to do so. While many LGBT African Americans have a myriad of issues to be concerned about, such as economic issues and youth homelessness, for those who desire to get married, having that right available in one’s home state can make a difference in having access to marriage.
Several states have performed same-sex marriages for years. Until Washington, D.C. started issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in March 2010, the closest state that would perform same-sex marriages was Connecticut. Thus, the ability to access the institution of marriage became one of finances. Lower income couples in Maryland simply could not afford to travel to Connecticut or one of the other equal-marriage states prior to 2010 to get married. Since there is still a large economic gap in this country that corresponds with race, this lack of access adversely impacted LGBT African Americans and other people of color.
Although I now live in D.C., I was raised in Prince George’s County, and the electoral results in Maryland are particularly promising to those of us who are both African American and LGBT. Often fighting for visibility in both the mainstream African-American community and within the larger LGBT community, those of us with dual identities find the support of high-profile African Americans personally affirming. Thus, these election results, which would not have happened without a strong coalition of people of all races and sexual orientations, are just another example that we are moving in the right direction.
Note: I originally posted this article as an op-ed in the Washington Blade on November 14, 2012, shortly after the election upholding marriage equality in Maryland. To view that article, click here.
On the surface, the Presidential election and the wince-inducing show, Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, have nothing in common—except when talk show host Jimmy Kimmel recently goaded Honey Boo Boo into “endorsing” President Obama. Once you dig deeper, however, it becomes evident that both the presidential campaign and the show Here Comes Honey Boo Boo both reflect America’s obsession with ridiculing low-income Americans. We, as Americans, tend to pride ourselves for both our strength and our compassion. We profess to admire qualities such as perseverance. That’s why it has been incredibly disheartening to watch this current war on low-income Americans play out on my television set this fall.
During this election season, both major presidential candidates have gone out of their way to pander to the middle class. That’s normal and to be expected, as it happens every four years. Numbers wise, it makes sense, since the majority of Americans, including me, consider themselves to be middle class. In fact, many people who are low-income, based on salary, also consider themselves to be middle class.
During this year’s pandering, Republican Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney’s campaign released a disgusting ad which vilified low-income Americans with offensive assertions and characterizations of those on public assistance. Facts were distorted in the name of gaining a few political points. It was clearly designed to say to middle class Americans, “look at how these lazy, poor folks are gaming the system.” What is more disgusting is that prior to the release of the “welfare ad,” poverty had not been mentioned much during this election season.
President Obama, of course, has done a much better job than Romney at addressing poverty issues, but that’s an incredibly low bar. While it’s understandable that candidates want to target the voter-rich middle class, the lack of concern about addressing the needs of our most vulnerable citizens has been striking and doesn’t reflect the best American ideals. It is even more disturbing that after not mentioning or addressing the needs of low-income Americans during the early part of the election season, when Romney finally decided to mention low-income Americans, it was not about finding solutions to move people out of poverty, but was about stereotyping and vilifying people. He later attacked 47% percent of the population by saying they were victims who all wanted handouts. The 47% comments attacked so many people, however, that those comments were targeted at far more people than low-income Americans.
Poverty issues finally emerged slightly more during the conventions. Many speakers at the Democratic National Convention, including President Obama and former President Clinton, were inclusive of both middle and lower-income Americans. At the Republican National Convention, Gov. Romney finally made statements about poverty in his convention speech by saying “more Americans wake up in poverty than ever before,” but this was clearly said more as a swipe at President Obama then as concern for the poor and it definitely wasn’t targeted to the chronically poor, as he only referenced people who were newly impoverished over the last four years. Romney’s statement also distorts the truth because there are clearly years in the past when the percentage of those in poverty was higher than now. By focusing on the aggregate number and not the percentage of people in poverty, Romney gives the false impression that a higher percentage of Americans are living in poverty today than ever before. That is simply not true.
How does this relate to Honey Boo Boo, you may ask? Well, I was current about the current obsession with Honey Boo Boo, so I decided to investigate. I must admit, I have never seen a full episode and I was wondering what all of the fuss was about. The clips I saw, however, give me the nagging suspicion that this “phenomenon” is more about America laughing at a chubby, low-income, rural kid, than about people laughing with her and applauding her confidence. Many people seem to feel better about themselves by laughing at people who they deem to be of a lower class. It’s hard not to at least wonder if Here Comes Honey Boo Boo is child exploitation. The only thing that remotely makes me reconsider this perspective is that I hear Honey Boo Boo and her family are getting paid quite well to do the show.
Similarly, Romney’s initial focus on low-income Americans came when discussing welfare in attack ads that give the impression that low-income people should be treated as an annoyance hindering American progress and should be cast aside, demonized, and relegated to second class status. His 47% percent comments furthered this same narrative. Sound familiar? The legions of Honey Boo Boo “fans” who laugh at her antics don’t really desire to see her family, and other similar families, rise in economic circumstances. The “entertainment” behind watching the show is to laugh at a low-income family who do not have the “class and culture” that those of us in the middle class have. Just like with the Romney comments, the objective is to demonize and regulate Honey Boo Boo and her family to second class status.
Classism is probably the most acceptable “ism” to the mainstream public. Due to the perception that all people can pull themselves up by their bootstraps if they work hard enough, there is a sentiment that low-income people are the cause of their own predicament. As a result, mainstream America feels justified in casting a judgmental eye towards low-income Americans. All I ask is that when we make our television selections this fall, whether we choose to watch a presidential debate, Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, or both, that we try to watch through a less judgmental (with the exception of judging candidates proposed policies) and more compassionate lens. If you feel you can watch and remain true to these American ideals fine, but, if not, it may be time to turn the channel.
Hello! Welcome to my new blog! DC Progressive Potpourri is a new blog designed to discuss various progressive issues of interest to those who reside in the District of Columbia. One definition of potpourri is “any mixture.” This blog will discuss a variety or mixture of progressive issues.
My goal is to expand the word progressive beyond the normal connotation in this region. My goal is to show that it takes more than progressive beliefs on one or two issues to be truly progressive and that it is possible to embrace the term while being inclusive to all groups and individuals. Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoy the journey!