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Progressive Politics in Minnesota, the Nation, and the World

Law Enforcement And The Black Community - Who Will Lead?

Posted: 12/27/14 09:18

by Dave Mindeman

Being a police officer has always been a tough job. But in today's climate, it has become combat duty hazardous. The vast majority of officers try to do their jobs in a professional manner, quietly getting things done.

But let's face it, there are some bad actors within every department that make the job difficult for everybody else.

But it's not just the police force, it's the police administration and the municipal political establishment. Over the years the relationship of police and the African-American urban communities has deteriorated to such a level that each considers the other, the enemy.

The Michael Brown and Eric Garner investigations did not instill any confidence in an ability to improve those relations. The damage done is extensive. The facts in each case warranted some kind of indictment - even a minor charge that would have led to more public facts and examination that might have been sufficient to avoid the hopeless feelings of a lack of justice.

And it isn't about these cases in isolation. Police have become accustomed to racial profiling, black suspect suspicion, razor edge shoot first mentality in black neighborhoods, and a basic "us vs them" drawing of lines.

Part of this is a ridiculous drug war that has less and less reason to exist. Part of this is racial poverty lines which lead to desperate measures and need to be addressed. And part of this is a lack of community dialogue made difficult by mutual mistrust --exacerbated by a lack of minority representation in police personnel.

Dragging police activity into a political divide is another big mistake. This isn't about conservative support for police or liberal support for the African-American community.

The reality is that it is all about right and wrong. And until we deal with facts rather than stereotypes, we will always be lost in the emotions of past mistrust.

On the one hand we need to stop "protecting" police officers from their own behavior. There is no excuse for a Cleveland police officer to kill a 12 year old boy for holding a toy gun. I understand the need to protect oneself, but with no warning and a shoot to kill confrontation?... there was no just cause involved. On the other hand, the black community needs to evaluate what they can do within their own "family" to build a bridge to the local police departments and work to find ways to pull their young people out of that violent spiral fueled by hopelessness and frustration.

All of it just feels bad. There are few hopeful signs. The political dynamic worsens it. The lines are stark and drawn with rigidity.

The killing of two police officers in New York was tragic. It feeds the division. It adds to the hopelessness. But the first thing to do is to not turn a tragedy into politics. This was the lone act of a deranged individual - not some response to legitimate protest. Anyone who would suggest such a thing is part of the problem, not part of any solution. And anyone who would remotely suggest that the killing of these two officers was justified revenge has no business partaking in civilized society.

It is NOT the police vs the black community. Unfortunately, it almost seems that way in how we react to these tragic situations. We have to find better methods of training, better avenues of dialogue, and better leadership on both sides.

This is a cancer in our society and we need to fight it. Fight it hard. And we need transparency from all aspects of law enforcement.

Someone needs to step up and lead.
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Posted: 07/13/13 11:57

by Dave Mindeman

On the Rachel Maddow show, a couple of nights ago, Steve Schmidt, the chief adviser to the McCain/Palin campaign, said that the Republican Party needs to "dekookify" itself.


Good word. I like it.

The context of the term comes in relation to immigration reform, but Schmidt also talked about the Republican losses in 2012 regarding Senate seats they should have won. Schmidt should be aware, and probably is, that a dekookification process would be long, arduous and painful.

The immigration debate has brought out a lot of the kookified rhetoric in the GOP Party. They seem unconcerned that the Latino vote is so heavily weighted against them. They have extraordinary difficulty coming up with rational arguments.

John Kline and Erik Paulsen hide behind "border security". They ignore the fact that illegal immigration is virtually zero at the present time....and that even so, the Senate immigration bill that passed puts up billions of dollars for additional patrol agents, technology, and even drones.

How is that not addressing security concerns?

But in a broader context, the "dekookify" comment goes to characters like Rep. Louis Gohmert, our own Michele Bachmann, Alan West, Sarah Palin, the Texas legislature, a lot of talk radio, and many other players too numerous to mention.

It is obvious that these "kooks" wouldn't get so much attention if they did not have a following. If they did not have a significant number of Republican rank and file members who agree with them.

How does a "dekookify" process ever have success when the problem is so deeply engrained into the Party structure?

Schmidt made another very significant point. Our democracy needs two competing and viable viewpoints to make governing work. But those viewpoints have to have intellectual viability. Schmidt made a point that if William Buckley were alive, this nonsense would get squashed before it got to the mainstream.

Rep. Pat Garofalo likes to use this phrase regarding Democrats - "the inmates are running the asylum."

Well, I think that is a good description of the current GOP.

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Teach For America: Let's Practice Good Journalism

Posted: 06/29/13 12:56

by Alan Anderson

Recent op-eds from both the Star Tribune and the Pioneer Press criticized the lack of support for the Teach for America (TFA) program. They suggested that policy makers were siding with the teachers' union, primarily to protect jobs from being taken by young innovative teachers. Teach for America is a program that recruits bright students from elite colleges and places them in inner city classrooms. These individuals have no prior teaching experience and receive five (5) weeks of intensive training before they enter a classroom. The editorials characterized TFA as a creative alternative for teacher preparation and a program that had support from administrators and many public officials. They presented positions as though there was no opposition to TFA.

What the editorials failed to mention is that many people and groups have some deep concerns about the quality of TFA programs. After all, they contend, five weeks is clearly inadequate for teacher preparation. Not only do teachers' unions oppose TFA, but many schools of education reject them....or simply fail to work with them. There are no such similar efforts in medicine, architecture, social work, or any other major profession to place people with only five weeks of training in the front lines of the most challenging work settings.

The research on TFA is mixed. While some suggest these novice teachers help improve math scores, the bulk of studies raise serious concerns about the effectiveness of long-term solutions promised by the TFA organization. Recent reports indicate that most of TFA candidates have left the classroom by the third year (up to 80%). It creates problems for students in urban schools who are looking for some stability rather than a revolving door of teachers. Developing relationships is an important part of teaching. Creating a teacher program that can't retain most of its trainees is not helpful. This also creates huge costs for districts in terms of retraining and replacement.

Add to this the mixed results of TFA teachers on academic achievement. In one major study by Mathematica (2004), a respected independent research firm, TFA teachers did OK compared to other teachers in the schools. They did better in math scores and the same in reading. Unfortunately, the majority of the comparison teachers were similarly poorly prepared, most having not done student teaching nor had a formal preparation program. And the data are clear as far as concern for classroom practice: TFA teachers had twice as many problems with physical abuse between students, three times as many problems with verbal abuse of teachers, and more problems than comparison teachers with students following directions or general misbehavior. So, in some respects it doesn't matter if some test scores improved a bit....the nature of the classroom was clearly less problematic in the hands of more experienced teachers.

When compared to experienced, regularly prepared teachers, they don't do as well. According to the National Education Policy Center, "the students of novice TFA teachers perform significantly less well in reading and mathematics than those of credentialed beginning teachers." And in a large-scale Houston study, in which the researchers controlled for experience and teachers' certification status, standard certified teachers consistently outperformed uncertified TFA teachers of comparable experience levels in similar settings. To be fair, TFA teachers do as well as conventionally prepared teachers if they actually stay and get a full credential. However, this may be because the strongest people stay and the rest move on to other fields. This is hardly a solid endorsement for a program that was supposed to address the achievement gap by placing bright, energetic students in the hard to staff inner city schools. And keep them there!

Add to this mix research from Stanford University (Reardon, 2011) that suggests the achievement gap is actually getting larger for economic groups. The author says "the achievement gap between children from high- and low-income families is roughly 30 to 40 percent larger among children born in 2001 than among those born twenty-five years earlier.
In fact, it appears that the income achievement gap has been growing for at least fifty years." So, it is fair to assume that when it comes to school achievement, poverty matters. Many other authors have reached this same conclusion (for example, Diane Ravitch in The Death and Life of the Great American School System, 2010). It's not reasonable to think that a teacher education system alone can alter the performance of urban youth.

Let's do our homework, Star Tribune and Pioneer Press editorial writers. Your position on TFA was not a good example of well researched opinion. At the very least, present the existing countervailing information and research. We should have had enough information to suggest the governor and policy makers didn't act just to protect the teachers' union. They acted on a body of research that raises serious questions about the effectiveness and efficiency of TFA. We await the next debate/discussion, but let's make it an honest debate.

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