“You can’t allow 15,000 school boards to home bake their own little standards subject to their own political pressures and think we are going to have international competitiveness. We have to at least have some bare minimum core standards if our young people are going to compete.”
— Congressional Black Caucus member,
Rep. Bobby Scott
There is a quiet — yet increasingly disruptive — revolution underway in American education. Since 2010, 45 states, the District of Columbia, and the Department of Defense have adopted Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in their schools. This represents an historic opportunity to raise academic standards and better prepare students for college and good jobs.
If implemented effectively, CCSS will help bridge the achievement gap by leveling the playing field so that all students, regardless of race, geography or income, have an equal shot at gaining the knowledge and skills necessary to succeed in the 21st century global economy. The National Urban League and a broad cross-section of civil rights, public policy, business and education leaders are in full support. But while a majority of states are implementing these new and more rigorous standards in English Language Arts and Math, CCSS remains a mystery to many parents and students, giving its critics an open lane to spread misinformation and undermine progress. Today’s column represents the first of three — and possibly more — that I am writing to help clear up the confusion and set the record straight.
First, let’s clarify exactly what CCSS is and what it is not. The Common Core Standards were developed by governors and chief state school officers from both sides of the aisle who brought together teachers, parents, school administrators and education experts to write them. Despite what some of its critics claim, CCSS is not a top-down, “Big Brother” federal program. The states determined that these standards were necessary to improve outcomes for students, and 90 percent of the states within our union have decided that they are critical to better prepare our country’s students for the challenges and opportunities of today and tomorrow.
Second, we are talking about academic standards, not a standardized curriculum. Common Core standards establish what students need to learn at each grade level, but they do not dictate how teachers should teach. Teachers will continue to devise lesson plans and tailor instruction to the individual needs of the students in their classrooms, ideally utilizing the state standards to create even more engaging and educational approaches and content.
In order to move us forward, it was determined that the Common Core State Standards must be:
• Aligned with expectations for college and career success
• Clear and consistent across all states
• Inclusive of content-based knowledge and high-order reasoning skills
• An improvement upon current state standards and standards of top-performing nations
• Reality-based for effective use in the classroom and
• Evidence- and research-based
Finally, it must be said that CCSS can only be successful if it is equitably and similarly implemented in a high-quality manner. Given that excellence and equity are inseparable, states, districts, teachers and principals must have the resources and supports necessary to fully realize the promise of Common Core State Standards.
The National Urban League will continue to join parents, educators, as well as civic and business leaders in insisting that implementation is resourced equitably and responsibly. However, it is neither fair nor accurate to assert that the Common Core State Standards are a failure because of recent implementation challenges — for any innovation requires adjustments on its path to success. We do not need to figure out new standards; we need to figure out how to implement these effectively and equitably. Our children are counting on us, and we must get this right — for them, their future and our nation.
We have long advocated a leveling of the playing field in education and the injection of additional quality as we do so. It does not serve our nation or our future when some children are systemically less prepared than others, nor does it serve our nation to have this issue tossed onto a political battlefield where it becomes a casualty of partisanship and deliberate misinformation. Instead this moment should be an opportunity for education stakeholders — parents, students, teachers, policymakers and reformers alike — to build a common agenda towards our shared goal of better educating the nation’s children and youth. It is our belief that by raising and developing better standards for everyone, CCSS can pave the way to a 21st century American-educated citizenry and workforce that is second to none.
(In an upcoming column, we will talk more about CCSS — dispelling more of the myths and misinformation about the standards and focusing on the equity in education that we can build through a system of higher standards and stronger schools for all of our children).
Marc H. Morial, former mayor of New Orleans, is president and CEO of the National Urban League and an NNPA columnist.
“Jordan had no guns. He had no drugs. There was no alcohol. They were coming from the mall. They were being kids.”
— Lucia McBath,
mother of Jordan Davis
Another mother’s anguish. Another unarmed Black teenager in Florida shot dead for no good reason. Another indefensible instance of Stand Your Ground rearing its ugly head. Eight months after the stunning acquittal of George Zimmerman for the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, justice again has been compromised in the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Jordan Davis.
On Nov. 23, 2012, Michael Dunn, a 47-year-old white man, fired 10 rounds into a SUV after arguing over loud rap music coming from the vehicle with Jordan and three other unarmed African-American teenagers.
Three of the bullets struck and killed Jordan Davis. Like George Zimmerman, Michael Dunn claimed self-defense and used Florida’s Stand Your Ground law to bolster his justification of the killing, as his lawyer stated in his closing argument, “His honor will further tell you that if Michael Dunn was in a public place where he had a legal right to be, he had no duty to retreat and had the right to stand his ground and meet force with force, including deadly force.”
Dunn claims Jordan Davis brandished a gun so Dunn shot first. But there is one big problem with his story. Jordan Davis had no gun, and neither did anyone else in the SUV.
Two weeks ago, a jury found Dunn guilty of three counts of attempted murder, one for each of Jordan’s three friends, and shooting into a vehicle. But they deadlocked on the fifth count — first-degree murder in the killing of Jordan. Dunn could get at least 60 years and may spend the rest of his life in prison for the four lesser counts.
But the failure to convict him of murdering Jordan Davis raises critical questions about the devaluing of the lives of young Black males in America and confirms the need for a repeal of Florida’s repugnant Stand Your Ground law that sanctions the use of deadly force by anyone who merely thinks — or claims — they are in danger from a perceived assailant.
Regardless of whether Dunn or Zimmerman chose to fully exercise Stand Your Ground provisions in their defense, this law was very clearly at the center of both cases. It is even clearer that the “shoot first” laws across the country are contributing to needless bloodshed and are ripe for unequal application based on race.
A recent Urban Institute analysis found that in Stand Your Ground states, “When the shooter is white and the victim is Black, the justifiable homicide rate is 34 percent. When the situation is reversed and the shooter is Black and the victim is white, shootings are ruled to be justifiable in only slightly more than 3 percent of cases.”
Last September, the National Urban League, in collaboration with the bipartisan Mayors Against Illegal Guns coalition and VoteVets, issued a report showing that in the 22 states with Stand Your Ground laws, the justifiable homicide rate has risen by an average of 53 percent in the five years following their passage. In Florida, justifiable homicides have increased by 200 percent since the law took effect in 2005.
These statistics and their underlying racial disparities, tell us that expansive self-defense laws such as Stand Your Ground are doing more harm than good, and when coupled with implicit racial bias and unfounded preconceptions, young Black males are especially at risk. Dunn’s own bigoted words in letters from jail clearly show his disregard for their lives, as he wrote: “The jail is full of blacks and they all act like thugs. This may sound a bit radical but if more people would arm themselves and kill these [expletive] idiots when they’re threatening you, eventually they may take the hint and change their behavior.” and “The fear is that we may get a predominantly Black jury and therefore, unlikely to get a favorable verdict. Sad, but that’s where this country is still at. The good news is that the surrounding counties are predominantly white and republican and supporters of gun rights!” This view and those like it are why we must commit today to action against the devaluing of our young Black lives.
Even as the Michael Dunn trial was getting underway, we learned that Trayvon Martin’s killer, George Zimmerman, had planned to capitalize on the death of a young Black male by participating in a “celebrity” boxing match — when his only claim to fame is killing an unarmed Black teenager — and getting off (The bout was later cancelled). Such a blatant disregard for the value of a Black male’s life should be a wake-up call to all Americans. We must intensify our fight against Stand Your Ground laws — and the underlying mentality — that justify the killing of young Black men whose only “offense” is being Black.
Marc H. Morial, former mayor of New Orleans, is president and CEO of the National Urban League and an NNPA columnist.
“There is no more powerful force than a people steeped in their history. And there is no higher cause than honoring our struggle and ancestors by remembering.” — Lonnie Bunch, founding director, National Museum of African American History and Culture.
Ever since the 2008 election of Barack Obama as America’s first Black president and the 100th anniversary of the National Urban League in 2010, the perennial debate about the need for Black History Month has intensified.
Some have questioned the need for a special month to recognize the many unknown and unsung achievements of African Americans.
With Obama as president, the logic goes, we have now achieved Dr. King’s dream of a non-racial America where everyone is judged by the content of their character, not the color of their skin. I wish it were so.
Last year, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and the passage of the Voting Rights Act.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the repeal of the poll tax. But unfortunately, the suppression of voting rights and other instances of racial discrimination remain. All one needs to do is look at the glaring disparities between Blacks and whites in income, employment, incarceration rates, educational achievement and health status to see that race still matters in America. Income inequality and equal opportunity are still part of the unfinished business of American democracy.
In 1926, after centuries of Blacks being excluded, not only from the mainstream of American life, but also from the textbooks in our schools, African-American historian Carter G. Woodson did a service to all Americans when he created Negro History Week, which was expanded to Black History Month in 1976.
Woodson’s vision was one of unity and inclusion. He said, “What we need is not a history of selected races or nations, but the history of the world void of national bias, race, hate and religious prejudice.” That is a goal that America is still struggling to achieve.
In fact, legislatures in a number of states, including New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania and New Jersey, have passed laws mandating or encouraging teachers to broaden their history courses to include more ethnic, racial and gender diversity. That is why we still recognize March as Women’s History Month, May as Jewish American History Month, Sept. 15 to Oct. 15 as Hispanic Heritage Month and February as Black History Month. These celebrations serve a dual purpose: first to build self-esteem among historically oppressed people, and second to remind all Americans that in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, our diversity is our greatest strength.
Black history is American history. While the story and achievements of African Americans are especially celebrated this month, the contributions we have made and the struggles we still face deserve recognition every day of the year.
Next year, for the first time, Black History will enter the mainstream when the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture opens on the National Mall in Washington. The Museum describes itself as “a place of meaning, of memory, of reflection, of laughter, and of hope. It should be a beacon that reminds us of what we were; what challenges we still face; and point us towards what we can become.”
As we honor those who have made history, we must also recognize that we are history in the making. Through our work, commitment to equality and civic engagement, we can and we must, in the words of President Obama, continue to “right the wrongs of history and make our world anew.”
Marc H. Morial, former mayor of New Orleans, is president and CEO of the National Urban League.
“We believe in respecting every New Yorker’s rights, regardless of what neighborhood they live in or the color of their skin. And we believe in ending the overuse of stop-and-frisk that has unfairly targeted young African-American and Latino men.” — New York Mayor Bill de Blasio
Elections have consequences. Never has that been more clearly demonstrated than last week when New York’s new mayor, Bill de Blasio, announced an agreement to reform the stop-and-frisk practice of the city’s police department, tactics, which have disproportionately targeted African-American and Latino young men for years.
Last Thursday, at the Brownsville Recreation Center in Brooklyn, a community burdened with more police stops than any other in the city, the mayor fulfilled a campaign promise and announced that his administration would drop an appeal of the August 2013 ruling by Judge Shira Scheindlin, who found the policy unconstitutional and an example of “indirect racial profiling.”
Mayor de Blasio made stop-and-frisk reform a major issue in his 2013 campaign, and the agreement he announced last week represents a dramatic reversal of the previous administration’s staunch defense of the policy. The agreement calls for the commencement of a dialogue between police and community leaders to ensure that policies driving the police and community apart are cooperatively addressed.
Furthermore, for the next three years, a court-appointed monitor will oversee the NYPD’s compliance with constitutional law. The mayor explained that once the resolution is confirmed by the Federal District Court, New York City will officially drop the appeal that was put in motion by the Bloomberg administration.
Let me be clear. As the former mayor of New Orleans, I fully understand that the first obligation of government is to protect its citizens, and I believe in community policing — done intelligently. But New York’s stop-and-frisk policy was counterproductive and violated basic constitutional principles.
According to statistics compiled by the New York Civil Liberties Union, “From 2002 to 2011, Black and Latino residents made up close to 90 percent of people stopped, and about 88 percent of stops — more than 3.8 million — were of innocent New Yorkers. Even in neighborhoods that are predominantly white, Black and Latino New Yorkers face the disproportionate brunt … this, on its face, is discriminatory.”
The city’s new police commissioner, Bill Bratton, underscored the mayor’s commitment to reform, noting that instead of securing confidence, legitimacy and justice, in recent years the city’s stop-and-frisk practices have “raised doubts and concerns about the police force in this city.” He added, “We will not break the law to enforce the law.”
The National Urban League has been among those calling for stop-and-frisk reform in New York City. This new agreement essentially marks the beginning of the end of this discriminatory practice as we know it. We applaud Mayor de Blasio, Commissioner Bratton and especially the people of New York who voted for change and got it. By paving the way to a reduction in racial profiling, a greater guarantee of equal treatment under the law, and better relations between police and the community, this move offers a guide to other cities across the nation committed to ensuring safety, justice and fairness for all citizens.
Marc H. Morial is the President and CEO of the National Urban League.
“Income inequality” has become the political buzzword of 2014. President Obama, most recently in this week’s State of the Union Address, has made it a central theme of his second term. Both progressive Democrats and conservative Republicans in Congress are making it a focus of this year’s mid-term elections, and leading voices for human rights have called on government and business leaders to take immediate action to close the income gap for the sake of long-term economic and social stability.
Even last week, as the world’s elite – leaders from government, business and NGO sectors – gathered in Davos for the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) annual meeting, the issue of inequality was atop the agenda. WEF’s Global Risks 2014 report recently revealed that the “chronic gap between the incomes of the richest and poorest citizens is seen as the risk that is most likely to cause serious damage globally in the coming decade.”
Another voice was added to the chorus last week when the British-based anti-poverty organization, Oxfam International, released a report in advance of the Davos gathering, revealing that the richest 85 people in the world control as much wealth as the bottom half of the global population – about 3.5 billion people. Commenting on the report, Oxfam’s Executive Director Winnie Byanyima said, “It is staggering that in the 21st century, half of the world’s population own no more than a tiny elite whose numbers could all sit comfortably in a single train carriage. Widening inequality is creating a vicious circle where wealth and power are increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few, leaving the rest of us to fight over crumbs from the top table.”
According to the same report, in the U.S., where the gap between rich and poor has grown at a faster rate than any other developed country, the richest one percent of Americans have received 95 percent of the wealth created since 2009 – after the economic crisis – while the bottom 90 percent of Americans have become poorer.
While we are pleased that both sides of the political ping-pong table in the United States are now focusing on the domestic crisis and implications of this global problem, there are disturbing signs that the issue may fall prey to the same kind of ideological posturing that has stymied recent efforts to create jobs, reduce unemployment, raise the minimum wage and help the long-term unemployed. In fact, as reported by CNNMoney, almost two-thirds of the delegates surveyed during a debate in Davos on Friday said that the widening gap, or what I call The Great Divide, “between rich and poor is having a corrosive effect on U.S. politics.”
For example, Senator Marco Rubio sees the problem not as one of income inequality but of “opportunity inequality” and continues to resist efforts to raise the minimum wage. To be clear, opportunity inequality is alive and thriving in America; but any attempts to separate it from income inequality are divertive and lacking recognition of the correlation between the two. Senator Rand Paul during a recent visit to Detroit, where unemployment has been above 15 percent for more than a year, said that it would be a “disservice” to the jobless to extend their unemployment benefits beyond the current limit. Further, Senator Paul Ryan, another potential presidential candidate, has been traveling the country declaring how the government safety net – programs like Social Security, Medicare and Head Start – has “failed miserably.”
In contrast, President Obama has warned that “The combined trends of increased inequality and decreasing mobility pose a fundamental threat to the American dream, our way of life and what we stand for around the globe.” He has called for an increase in the minimum wage – a move the National Urban League has been pushing since 2006 – and an extension of unemployment benefits as first steps in addressing the problem. On Jan. 9, he announced the creation of five “Promise Zones,” in San Antonio, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Southeastern Kentucky and the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma that will receive targeted government tax incentives to create jobs and reduce unemployment.
In a message to the Davos attendees, Pope Francis said that “the growth of equality demands something more than economic growth, even though it presupposes it … It also calls for decisions, mechanisms and processes directed to a better distribution of wealth, the creation of sources of employment and an integral promotion of the poor which goes beyond a simple welfare mentality.”
The need is clear. The Urban League has raised this issue constantly over the last several years – and people are finally listening. We must not let the seriousness and urgency of this problem get caught in the crossfire of ideological warfare. Americans need policy solutions developed in partnership with corporate, government and non-profit leaders now. Awareness is good, action is better.
Marc H. Morial is the president and CEO of the National Urban League.