“Artivism” Gets A 21St Century Makeover

poses in the press room at the 67th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards at Microsoft Theater on September 20, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.

 Viola Davis poses in the press room at the 67th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards at Microsoft Theater on September 20, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.

When Viola Davis took the stage earlier this month to accept an historic Emmy Award for Best Leading Actress in a Drama, she declared that “the only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity.” Her poignant words were about racial and gender bias in Hollywood, but also about the larger struggle for equal opportunity in America. Judging from the overwhelming response on Twitter and other social media, her message reached and moved millions of people in the U.S. and around the world.

Arts and culture have long been central to social justice challenges in our country—sometimes hampering change through harmful stereotypes and barriers to diversity, but just as often forging a path for change. Indeed, artistic expression and popular culture have been an integral part of every successful movement for change in our country, and that is especially true of the struggle for racial justice.

Today is no different. In an era of rising art and activism around police bias, criminal justice reform, and equal opportunity, veteran “artivists” are being joined by new voices telling fresh stories and organizing for change.

To strengthen that intergenerational call to action, The Opportunity Agenda and the Open Society Foundations recently co-sponsored a forum of inspiring and creative leaders with a shared social justice agenda. “Changing the Script: Media, Culture, and Black Lives” included veteran actor and activist Danny Glover, entertainment innovator Issa Rae (best known as the creator of The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl), and social justice leader Patrisse Cullors, co-creator of #BlackLivesMatter. I had the privilege of moderating the discussion, which was far-ranging, yet focused on progress.

Issa Rae explained how, frustrated with the Hollywood system, she bypassed it to find her voice and audience on YouTube. There, she had the freedom to tell genuine stories of the black experience that ring true—often hilariously so—but are wholly absent from mainstream media. Having shown that there is a hunger for new narratives, Rae is working to bring her vision to an even broader audience.

Danny Glover has been a distinguished actor and a committed activist for a quarter century. In films like The Exonerated, Buffalo Soldiers, Queen, and Freedom Song, he has given life and passion to social justice struggles past and present. Alongside that powerful body of professional work, his personal activism has ranged from helping to establish one of the nation’s first ethnic studies programs, to disrupting colonialism and apartheid in Africa, to participating in the Occupy movement.

Again and again at the forum, Glover reminded the audience that progress—in both Hollywood and our broader society—occurs only through struggle. To emphasize the point, he described his continuing effort to make a film about Toussaint L’Ouverture, leader of the 18th century slave revolt that led to Haitian independence.

Patrisse Cullors is best known for her brilliant use of social media to co-create the #BlackLivesMatter movement. But she is also an artist, using theater techniques, visuals, audio, and dance to shine a light on state-induced trauma while charting a path towards healing. She spoke eloquently about the challenges and opportunities of the current moment, and how emerging leaders are increasingly linking culture and strategy.

For almost a decade, The Opportunity Agenda, too, has worked at the intersection of culture, communication, and advocacy. We have reframed debates and incubated creative projects that have helped to protect the human rights of immigrants, uphold fair housing and other civil rights, and expand opportunities for people returning to their communities from prison. Today, we are working within the movement that Cullors helped to catalyze to spur transformative, lasting change in our criminal justice system.

Taken together, the forum speakers’ experiences highlighted the difference between 20th and 21st century activism, and its implications for the future. Whereas 20th century movements were typically centralized, with highly visible leaders and formal organizations, today’s movements often feature horizontal networks with shared leadership, and regional hubs rather than national headquarters. And while last century’s movements necessarily aligned themselves with a nightly print and broadcast news cycle, today’s are creating and disseminating their own content in a 24-hour media culture.

News, entertainment, commentary, and organizing are increasingly integrated in a way that was unimaginable in past decades. And the ability to do an end-run around media gatekeepers is being bolstered by an increasingly diverse America in search of new narratives and images.

Today’s creative leaders are combining age-old strategies and long-held community values with new technologies and dynamic storytelling. And they are working together across generations to teach as well as learn. Our dynamic conversation this summer was one more meaningful step in that direction.

This post originally appeared on the Open Society Voices blog.


Pallone Urges Congress to Examine Safety of Turf Fields

Frank-Pallone-cropped“In the Absence of Definitive Information on Crumb Rubber, Our Children Cannot be the Guinea Pigs” Congressman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), wrote.  

WASHINGTON, DCCongressman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), Ranking Member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, issued the following statement urging Committee Republicans to prioritize hearings that examine the safety of turf fields.  Last year, Pallone requested that the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) evaluate the potential health risks that crumb rubber poses to those that come into regular contact with turf fields:

“Crumb rubber is known to contain potentially hazardous chemicals, but there is no clear information about how exposure to this product affects our health.  And yet, we send our young kids off to soccer practice and football practice to play on turf fields lined with this substance.

“The fact that crumb rubber has become so prevalent and that we still know so little about potential health risks it poses is troubling.  In the absence of definitive information on crumb rubber, our children cannot be the guinea pigs.  More research and assessment must be done so that parents and players have the answers they need.

“Last October, I requested a study be done to examine what effects exposure to the chemicals in crumb rubber may have on athletes who play on turf fields and come into contact with crumb rubber on a regular basis.  I also asked that more research be done to determine whether repeated exposure to crumb rubber increases the risk of lymphoma, leukemia and other blood cancers.

“A year later, we still do not have any answers, and that is unacceptable.  In the absence of federal action, states are moving ahead with studies and legislation.  States have been forced to lead the way on so many chemical risks, from microbeads to flame retardants, because our federal chemical regulatory program is not working.  But adoption of different standards in different states will not provide parents and athletes with the peace of mind they deserve.

“It is clear that more data is needed to evaluate the risks that exist from exposure to crumb rubber in athletic turf and its effect on human health.  Congress has a responsibility to do more, and we must.   I urge Committee Republicans to prioritize this and schedule hearings to finally examine the safety of turf fields.”

Via House Government press



Ohio Democrats, including former Gov. Ted Strickland, angry over $71 million charter school grant


Then-Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland participates in a debate in Columbus in September 2010 during his unsuccessful re-election campaign. Strickland, now running for the Democratic nomination for Rob Portman’s U.S. Senate seat, has asked the U.S. Department of Education to reconsider the $71 million grant Ohio just received for charter school expansion. (Chris Russell, Pool/AP Photo, File, 2010)

CLEVELAND, Ohio – Ohio Democrats are lining up to bash the $71 million grant the state just won to expand charter schools in the state, with former governor and Senate candidate Ted Strickland joining the critics today.

Strickland, who is running against Sen. Rob Portman next year, said that Ohio’s charter schools should not be expanded because their performance lags behind traditional public schools. He also said he doesn’t trust Ohio’s grant application or the Ohio Department of Education’s ability to give out grants to schools.

Also joining in: U.S. Rep Tim Ryan, the Democratic caucus of the Ohio Senate, state school board member Mary Rose Oakar and State Rep. Teresa Fedor, the ranking democrat on the House Education Committee.

Strickland pointed to the July resignation of school choice chief David Hansen, following The Plain Dealer’s June report that Hansen and ODE had simply left F grades of online schools out of key charter school evaluations.

Strickland called that exclusion of poorly-graded schools “propping them up.”

He questioned whether the U.S. Department of Education should trust an application prepared by Hansen in the days before resigning.

“In July, Ohio’s chief charter school oversight officer—the very person who filled out Ohio’s application for your grant money—resigned when it was discovered that he deliberately tampered with charter school sponsor evaluations to mask just how horrible charter schools are actually performing,” Strickland said in a letter to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, asking him to reconsider the grant.

Strickland continued: “You just awarded $71 million in taxpayer dollars to a state department of education that has been rigging the books. The Department should go back over Ohio’s grant application and see whether it was rigged as well.”

See his full letter below.

Strickland, in his press release today, said Portman had written a letter to the U.S. Department of Education in support of the grant application. That letter this summer, as Portman’s campaign noted today, did not openly back the application but only asked for it to be given “due consideration.”

Portman representatives did not share Strickland’s concerns about how the money will be used.

“Senator Portman has confidence that Governor (John) Kasich will ensure the resources are spent appropriately,” said Christyn Lansing, Portman’s press secretary.

Oakar said last week that she also questions whether Hansen was truthful in the application.

The Plain Dealer requested the application for the grant from ODE last week, but the department has not provided it yet.

ODE spokesperson Kim Norris has said the department is proud to win the award and noted that it will work with the federal department to develop criteria to award money to schools.

“This grant will be a transparent, highly competitive process by which the schools apply,” Norris said. “We continue to be strong advocates for transparency and accountability in charter schools and sponsors, naming an impartial three-member panel to advise the department as it develops a new system for evaluating community school sponsors.”

ODE has declined to tell The Plain Dealer when that advisory panel meets.

“The panel that is meeting is not a public body that requires a public meeting notice – it is an internal meeting,” Norris told us when we requested a schedule. “Therefore, it does not require a public meeting notice.”

Ryan, who represents the 13th district covering parts of Mahoning, Portage and Summit counties, urged Duncan last week to place “stringent restrictions” on use of that money because he considers Ohio’s charter school oversight system a failure. He also pointed to Hansen’s “mishandling” of the evaluations.

“I call on the U.S. Department of Education to work with the State of Ohio to make sure the proper oversight and transparency are in place to ensure accountability and success before federal taxpayer funds are distributed to an Ohio program that has so far failed in providing effective oversight,” Ryan wrote.

Should Ohio receive this money? Tell us below.

Fedor criticized how ODE has handled charter schools for the last several years, questioning why it should be trusted with money for them.

“Due to the abysmal lack of regulations surrounding charter schools in Ohio as well as the failed, unaccountable leadership of the state superintendent, I do not believe that the Ohio Department of Education should be considered an eligible applicant nor awarded any charter-related funding at this time,” she wrote in a letter to Duncan last week.

Democratic members of the Ohio Senate directed their concerns just to State Superintendent Richard Ross, asking him to withhold the federal grant money from online schools. They called e-schools “deeply marred by poor performance and scandal” and the “most flawed part of our charter system.”

“Our concern about this pattern of failure deepened this week when the Cleveland Plain Dealer revealed how students enrolled in e-schools fall so far behind in their first year that they never catch up,” they wrote. “Additionally, e-schools were at the forefront of the recent events at ODE whereby failing scores of e-schools were unlawfully withheld in calculating charter school sponsor evaluations.”

Here is Strickland’s letter:

The Honorable  Ame Duncan

Secretary, U.S. Department of Education Lyndon Baines Johnson (LBJ)  Department  of Education Building

400 Maryland Ave, SW Washington, DC 20202

October 5, 20 15

Dear Mr. Secretary,

I write to add my name to the growing chorus of disbelief and disappointment with your recent recommended award of $71 million for charter schools in Ohio. As we have discussed many times, I am not against all charter schools and am certainly not opposed to high quality, not-for­ profit school choice. But too many of Ohio’s charter schools are an embarrassment. Those who care about kids are ashamed that these failing schools are being funded by the taxpayers, and that Ohio is still allowing kids to be educated at these clearly ineffective institutions.

And it has only gotten worse. Less than a year ago, the very same organization whose research the Department cites in its press release (Stanford University ‘s Center for Research on Education Outcomes) found that, “On average, students in Ohio ‘s traditional public schools learned significantly more than students in charter schools in both reading and mathematics.” The Center also finds, “The disadvantage for charter students is 14 fewer days of learning in a school year in reading and 43 fewer days of learning in math for the same time period .”

Why  is the Department  rewarding  this unacceptable  behavior? Not only  are these poor performing charter schools undeserving of millions of additional funds, this grant to charters comes at a time when  many  of Ohio’s traditional  public schools are facing significant cuts and are being asked to do more with less. Surely this money could be better  invested  in public  schools that have a proven track record  of better  serving Ohio students.

And if dismal charter school performance isn ‘t enough, we now know that Ohio’s State Department of Education was illegally propping them up. In July, Ohio’s chief charter school oversight officer-the very person who filled out Ohio ‘s application for your grant money-resigned when it was  discovered  that he deliberately  tampered  with  charter  school sponsor evaluations to mask just how horrible charter schools are actually performing. You just awarded $71 million in taxpayer dollars to a state department  of education that has been rigging  the books. The Department should go back over Ohio’s grant application and see whether it was rigged as well.

It ‘s not only me, or the Democrats  in Ohio, or the editorial boards that are concerned about what  is happening with charters. This charter situation in Ohio is so bad that even the Republican  Auditor of State, a supporter of charter schools himself, said he was shocked to learn of your award. This is because in a recent audit he concluded that Ohio has a, “broken” system of charter schools.

Secretary Duncan, you need to be concerned when a state’s auditor and a supporter of charter schools has this type of reaction to your grant announcement.

All of these things have been widely publicized , and I cannot for the life of me understand why the Department awarded a state whose charter school office is riddled in scandal the largest sum  of money of any state.

I fear ideology has clouded good judgement in this decision, and I urge to you go back and look  at the hard data. Ifyou do, I am confident you will reconsider. There is no way this award is justified , and what bothers me the most is that it is Ohio’s children that will   suffer.


Ted Strickland

Former Ohio Governor

Via Cleveland press


Ohio passes major charter school reform bill; pension controversy to have more study

state-sen-tom-sawyerpng-a731d3145f5e3739State Sen. Tom Sawyer praises the new version of charter school reform before a Senate vote to approve it this afternoon. (The Ohio Channel)

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The major charter school reform bill that the state legislature debated all year easily won final approval this afternoon, sending a package of changes to financial, academic performance and governance rules to Gov. John Kasich.

A late controversy over a ban on some charter school employees being able to participate in state pension plans did not derail the bill, after legislative leaders promised to review that portion to make sure it had no “unintended consequences.”

There have been conflicting reports today about how many charter school employees — teachers and other staff — could be blocked from joining the pension plans. State senators said on the floor that it would only apply to a small number of schools, with House Democrats saying it would include all new charter school employees.

The bill, updated with 32 mostly minor changes by a joint legislative committee on Tuesday, passed 91-6 in the House and 32-0 in the Senate.

After the vote, other state officials and education advocates lined up to cheer a bill that ended with the strong support of both parties and from charter school backers and opponents alike.

Jim Lynch, a spokesman for Kasich, said the governor will sign the bill, which includes some changes he proposed.

State Auditor Dave Yost, who pressed for rules requiring charter school operators to share more financial information with the public, also cheered the bill, as did the Ohio Department of Education.

Charter school and school choice advocates, like the Ohio Alliance for Public Charter Schools, the Fordham Institute and StudentsFirst Ohio, offered praise. They were joined by the Ohio Education Association and some advocacy groups normally opposed to charter schools.

Within the legislature, State Rep. Teresa Fedor, a vocal critic of charter schools, called the pension restriction “incredibly unfortunate” and said that change probably prevented the bill from passing unanimously.

But she told the House before the vote that she was satisfied with the promised review of the pension change and that she was “proud to stand totally in support of this bill.”

Fedor said Ohio’s charter schools have been used as a opportunity for “entrepreneurship and profiteering” for several years, but the law adds transparency and accountability that gives students a real chance at receiving a good education at charters now.

State Rep. Kiristina Roegner, a Hudson Republican who co-sponsored the bill in the House, praised the final version proclaiming, “At the end of the day, the winners will be Ohio’s children.”

Do you like this bill? Tell us below.

State Sen. Peggy Lehner, who proposed many of the changes in the bill, called it a “game changer” for charters in Ohio.

“This gives us the opportunity to have charter schools that we can be proud of,” Lehner said.

Yost particularly singled out Lehner for showing “imagination and courage” in championing the bill.

As we reported yesterday, the bill makes several small changes that, as a whole, will tighten operations of the $1 billion charter school industry that lags behind traditional public schools and is the subject of national ridicule, even from charter school advocates.

Among items adjusted or added to the final version on Tuesday are a “White Hat rule” that prevents private charter operators from keeping equipment bought with state tax money; a cautious approach to study, not adopt, a new way of rating schools; and modest adjustments to how ratings of charter school oversight agencies are calculated.

Still intact, with only minor adjustments, are changes designed to distance the often-cozy relationships between for-profit charter school operating companies and the school boards that govern the schools.

It also includes a financial reporting change Yost sought, even after being rebuffed by the House in its version of the bill this spring. Until now, charter school operators have reported how they spent money only by listing it in five or six broad categories.

The new bill requires them to report spending for 20 categories, with each having separate breakdowns of how much was spent on instructional costs vs. administrative costs.

Click here for our longer explanation of the changes.

Lynch said the changes are consistent with “what Kasich sought in the state budget bill this year, before all charter school issues were moved to this bill.

“We applaud the Ohio General Assembly for its work to clamp down on bad charter schools and hold them more accountable with new enforcement tools,” Lynch said. “Strengthening our K-12 education system means putting our children first, and this legislation goes a long way towards ensuring that students in all schools have a chance to achieve their full potential.”

Charter school and school choice advocates backed making changes to strengthen Ohio’s charter school sector, while pushing back at times to limit controls.

Darlene Chambers, CEO of the Ohio Alliance for Public Charter Schools, said the new rules are critical for Ohio to have “sustainable education choice.”

“The passage of this bill represents significant progress in Ohio’s response to replicate already existing best practices of quality community schools,” she said. “Every child in this state deserves equity, access and a safe school environment where they can learn and grow.”

StudentsFirst called the bill “a major step forward in ensuring that Ohio’s charter schools will be held more accountable for educating Ohio school kids.”

The Fordham Institute was a major player in developing the law, partly through its sponsorship of two studies that informed the debate — analysis of the academic performance of Ohio charter schools by Stanford’s Center for Research of Education Outcomes (CREDO) and a separate study by Bellwether Education Partners of what gaps Ohio had in its charter laws and support system.

Click here for more on the CREDO study.

See the full Bellwether report, called “The Road to Redemption”, HERE.

Chad Aldis, Fordham’s vice president for Ohio policy and advocacy, lobbied for changes all year.

“The reforms in House Bill 2 have the potential to give new life to Ohio’s charter school sector,” Aldis said in a written statement. “By holding accountable the entities that regulate, oversee, and manage charter schools, we can create an environment where high performing charter schools grow and prosper and low performers are shuttered.”

Ohio Education Association President Becky Higgins said, “We applaud state lawmakers for taking action at long last to improve the oversight and accountability of Ohio’s charter schools. With the enactment of stronger laws, the burden will now fall on the Ohio Department of Education to make sure sponsors and operators of charter schools fulfill their mission and provide positive educational outcomes for Ohio’s students.”


These states spend more on prisons than colleges

vfltlouunwdmqaka86o2State spending on corrections has outpaced funding for public education over the last three decades, with 11 states pouring more money into their prison systems than into public universities, according to a new report from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Researchers looked at several studies on state spending, including one from the Kaiser Family Foundation that found Michigan, Oregon, Arizona, Vermont, Colorado, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Delaware, Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Connecticut spent more of their general funds on corrections than on higher education in 2013.


Higher education routinely takes a back seat to K-12 education and Medicaid in state general fund budgets, the portion financed primarily by taxes. State legislatures have argued that public colleges have the capacity to absorb funding cuts because they have separate budgets, reserves and revenue streams, the report said.

Public higher education is perceived as a flexible budget item and has suffered relative to other state priorities, including corrections. Funding for prisons has grown 141 percent between 1986 and 2013, but funding has only crept up 5.6 percent for public colleges and universities, according to the report.


There has been a seismic shift in the way public colleges are funded in just the last 26 years. In 1989, tuition made up a quarter of the total education revenue at state universities. By last year, those dollars accounted for 47.1 percent of the money schools need to educate students, according to the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association (SHEEO).

Although states began dialing back their higher education spending a decade ago, the collapse of the financial markets in 2008 led to deeper cuts. State general fund budgets were rocked by the recession, and legislatures responded by slashing higher education funding by 23 percent per student, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a think tank.

At the same time, there was an influx of people enrolling in college, placing added pressure on already stretched school budgets. The number of students enrolled in public colleges rose by 20 percent from the 2002-2003 school year to 2011-2012, according to a recent Government Accountability Office report.


In the face of declining state dollars and soaring enrollment, universities raised tuition to make up for the funding shortfall. The sticker price at public colleges has increased an average 28 percent above the rate of inflation since the 2007-2008 school year, according to the budget think tank. The trouble is that federal grants and other aid have not kept pace with the cost of going to school.

Coming out of the recession, states began slowly spending more money on higher education, though not as much as they did before the financial markets crashed. State and local governments spent an average $6,552 per student in 2014, a 5.4 percent increase from the prior year, but 13 percent less than five years ago, according to SHEEO.

Want to learn more about the cost of college? Check out these stories:

The University of California just jacked up its tuition. Why your state could be next.

Middle-class families are fed up with their financial aid options

Students now pay more of their public university tuition than state governments

Via Danielle Douglas-Gabriel


Happy World Teachers’ Day

happy-teachers-day-2015 (1)

“Empowering teachers, building sustainable societies” is the World Teachers’ Day slogan for 2015.

It is recognized that teachers are not only a means to implementing education goals; they are the key to sustainability and national capacity in achieving learning and creating societies based on knowledge, values and ethics. However, they continue to face challenges brought about by staff shortages, poor training and low status.

>>> Read more 



New Infographic: Welcome to CharterLand!


Many policymakers like to herald charter schools as the cure-all solution to a struggling public education system. But even if you wanted to attend one, a charter might not want you. Based onresearch from Dr. Kevin Welner at the National Education Policy Center, this new infographic from the OTL Campaign illustrates the obstacles and pitfalls some charters set up to weed out or push out struggling students and those who need additional supports. While some charters do well by their students, even in the best possible scenario charter schools aren’t a systemic solution to providing an opportunity to learn for all students.

Ensuring every student has access to a quality education shouldn’t be a game, so is “CharterLand” really the best way forward for America?

[Click image for larger version.]


Bienvenido a CharterLand!
Click here for a version in Spanish / Clic aquí para una versión en español

For greater elaboration on the obstacles presented in CharterLand, along with citations, read “The Dirty Dozen: How Charter Schools Influence Student Enrollment,” and this recent Reuters Special Report: “Class Struggle – How charter schools get students they want.”

And check out NEPC’s new book, Closing the Opportunity Gap: What America Must Do to Give Every Child an Even Chance. Closing the Opportunity Gap brings together top experts who offer evidence-based essays that paint a powerful picture of denied opportunities. They also describe sensible, research-based policy approaches to enhance opportunities.