Category Archives: Teaching and Scholarship

Free Minds, Free People

IMG_0916   Free Minds Free People, or FMFP, is a space where youth and adults can converge to discuss social justice and education for liberation. This year it was in Baltimore at Loyola University. FMFP is a space like no other, where folks come together to discuss praxis, the blending of theory and practice. Folks discussed the decolonization of schools and universities, ethnic studies, youth-led movements, and emancipatory teaching.

I was proud to be a member of the planning team and a presenter. But it was the youth of the Baltimore Algebra Project, who led the charge. Without them, the conference would not have come together. It was an impressive effort that should be a model for any conference on social justice. There were vegan meals, childcare, and safe spaces for members of the LGBTQ community.  There was art, music, and poetry.  And there was a march in solidarity with immigrant communities facing raids and deportation by ICE.

IMG_0918   My presentation was about how teachers are working in a classroom in the time of the Trump administration. It was a great collaboration between faculty and teachers. The well-attended workshop was an example of how folks can come together to reimagine educational spaces as well as form networks of support in a climate in which people committed to social justice are being targeted.

Kudos to the Algebra Project, and look out for Free Minds Free People 2019!


Reflections on race, school reform, and working in urban education

I will have an article coming out this year in the Urban Review that examines the impact of closing schools in Baltimore. School closings disproportionately impact low income Black communities. The piece was not just another research report on the damaging impact that school reform has on communities of color, however. It uses the frameworks of Critical Race Theory and Decolonizing methodologies to think about not only how this policy plays out to reify racism, but it is also a reflection on my own role as a white researcher. I worked with a community organization to do research on school closings, which was a great experience, but still fraught with the problems of race and power inequity. There is no escaping these issues. I continue to reflect, but also acknowledge that there is no end to racism, just continual recognition, reflection, and attempt to shift power from universities and white faculty to Black organizations and communities.

Reflections from an urban education course

Charlotte and Gabriel video

My students once again impressed me with this video, which they created at the end of the urban education course that I teach. This time, they did an artistic interpretation of the themes from the course. While there is much more work to do, this video marks progress on two main fronts: (1) Knowledge of historic and continued persistent school segregation and (2) An understanding of the opportunity gap that results from unequal opportunity.

Where does this work need to go? My students need to develop a deeper understanding of the education debt. Gloria Ladson-Billings explains that the education debt is different than a simple deficit, which refers to difference measured annually in things like test scores. Debt is over the long haul. It is long term inequality, transferred from previous generations and onto future generations. That debt translates quite  literally into lost wages and lost accumulation of wealth. Students who do not get quality educational opportunity lose out financially.

Debt also implies that there is something owed. Although low income students and students of color are the ones that carry the debt, they are not the ones who owe. It is those of us who are privileged who owe, who need to lift the debt burden and provide educational opportunity to all. I want my students to understand that their success is due, in part, to the loss and limited opportunity that low income students and students of color have suffered. We need to go beyond recognition of the debt, to alleviating the debt.

Divided Baltimore: How Did We Get Here, Where Do We Go?

The University of Baltimore is doing a course that is open to students, faculty, and the entire community to understand the issues that Baltimore faces. Called Divided Baltimore, the course addresses issues of race, housing, healthcare, education, and criminal justice. Each week a panel speaks to the class and they engage in an open dialogue about the problems that the city faces. You can read and hear more about it here. I spoke in this class on October 5th, 2015 on desegregation in schools.

Where do the children go after schools close?

School closings.jpgJust returning from a conference in Boston, URBAN (Urban Research-Based Action Network). There, we talked as scholars and activists from all over the country about schools closing. They close under plans that are supposed to make the closings sound benign like Renaissance, 21st century, or Millennial. However, this is anything but benign. Closing schools hurts communities and shifts students and families to new schools. We know that they do not fare well. A Chicago study showed that the students do not attend better schools and fall behind academically. A second study that looked across six cities showed that closing schools does not end up saving much money and does not produce better outcomes for kids. Coming soon will be a research project that follows the students in Baltimore into their new schools to find out not only what the academic outcomes are but what the social implications are as well.

The new reality: My new book

My new book is out The new reality for suburban schools: How suburban schools are struggling with low income students and students of color (Peter Lang, 2015).  It showcases three case studies of suburban middle schools whose demographics have changed over the last 15 years. These are schools that have largely white staffs that are unfamiliar with and have negative views of students of color, especially poor students. Given the larger context, of racism that built these suburban communities (i.e. The GI Bill, segregated housing policies, and white flight), there are larger challenges to improving this situation. However, I suggest ways that the schools can do better if they examine their own biases and start to listen to their students.


Book photo


A student asks: Is funding schools through property taxes the best way to do things?

After reading about the problems that the Chester-Upland school district, which just outside of Philadelphia, is facing, one of my urban education students said, “It is pretty obvious that the property tax-based formula is not working, so a new plan needs to be set up with the state’s aid.” How did she come to that conclusion? In my course, one thing that the students learn in how schools are funded. All school districts are funded by a combination of property taxes as well as state and federal funds. The balance of that depends on the district. In a place like Chester-Upland, an old industrial city, the schools have reflected a larger demographic change resulting from loss of jobs as well as white flight. Now, Chester-Upland is 90% black, poor, and segregated.


In 2015, the district is not only in the red, but has not been able to make payroll or pay its vendors this year because it does not have the tax revenue to do so.  It is no accident. The state has shrunk its contributions to the district’s budget while the tax base has also declined. With the median household income at below $30,000, half of the state average household income. How could a school system survive like that?

My student was right to inquire about the funding system premised on the notion that income will remain steady or increasing. In reality, income streams do not work that way, especially in many urban and inner ring suburban areas where a history of segregated housing policies, white flight, and disinvestment has drained the local coffers. They had learned about the impact those forces have had on Baltimore, so I urged her to dig a little deeper to ask why Pennsylvania has kept antiquated funding systems in place. She needed to ask who benefits from such systems to find the answer.

Recently, the state decided to help cover expenses in Chester-Upland so that they can make it through the beginning of the school year, and charter schools have decided to not charge the district its full fees, but this is not a permanent solution. The state and the district have thought of this, and have looked to privatization as a solution. Outsourcing the schools, they believe, will relieve the financial burden of the schools, while providing a better quality education.


Looking at nearby Philadelphia and other cities shows that this may not work. Philadelphia has turned to privatization and still has the financial troubles that it had before, meanwhile not all charters are performing well. The alternative would be to think about solutions that reinvent the district itself including redrawing district lines so that the tax base is broadened or to stop funding the schools through property taxes and divide finding more evenly among districts through the state. In both scenarios, the public still holds responsibility for all schools, which is what public education is about, right?

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