African-American Opt-Out In Delaware, Part 1: The Lomax Factor

The next time you see a civil rights organization or leader trotting out the “Testing Is A Civil Right” rhetoric, check them out at the Gates Foundation website and see just how much payola they’re taking.

Over the past year, the question of opting your child out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment has been one of the biggest issues in Delaware.  Many parents have made the choice, despite the Governor, the Delaware Department of Education, and certain school districts and charters resisting the movement.  One group in Delaware has not made a lot of noise about opt-out though.  The African-American community.  I have often wondered why this is.  After all, history has shown a clear pattern on standardized assessments of African-Americans not performing as well as their peers.

For many, this is the heart of the problem.  Some, such as Governor Markell, feel that all children can perform well on these tests if given the right amount of rigor, instruction, and leadership in our schools.  Others feel as though the issues facing many of the children in the African-American community in our cities like Wilmington and Dover, such as crime and poverty, are harmful and transparent factors in preventing a student’s educational success.  The Governor will not accept the “status quo” but really doesn’t do much to change the environment many of these students live in.  I believe the Governor thinks education can overcome the obstacles these children face at home, but when you talk to the teachers in many of these schools they don’t see it.

When opt-out was reaching its height in the 2014-2015 school year, civil rights groups voiced strong objection to the opt-out movement.  They felt it would cause African-American students to become further behind.  Despite laws preventing schools and teachers from opting kids out, these groups were very public about their point of view.  Leading these voices was Michael Lomax, the President of the United Negro College Fund.  As opt-out becomes a major issue again with the potential override of Governor Markell’s veto of House Bill 50, the Rodel Foundation and civil rights groups in Wilmington are bringing Lomax to town to speak about education for African-Americans.

Lomax

On January 14th, from 6pm-8pm, Lomax will speak to citizens of Delaware at the Christina Cultural Arts Center (CCAC) in Wilmington.  The event is sponsored by the Parents Advocacy Council for Education, a program from the CCAC, The Metropolitan Wilmington Urban League (MWUL), and the Wilmington Education Strategies Think Tank (WESTT).  But the real kicker is the next entity behind this event, which comes directly from the flyer for it: “Made possible in part by the Rodel Foundation of Delaware”.  All of these groups were very vocal with their opposition to the opt-out movement last spring, and some even took out an ad in the News Journal right before critical Senate votes on House Bill 50.

How does Michael Lomax, the President of the United Negro Fund, feel about opt-out?  He is dead set in his beliefs this is not the right path for African-American students.  Even though several civil rights groups joined in unison last year in support of the movement, others are sticking with their guns and fighting the movement.  What is causing this radical shift in thought among different groups?

Some, such as the popular blog called Perido Street School, believe there is a direct correlation between civil rights groups fighting opt-out and how much money they receive from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.  The Gates Foundation has long been a proponent for the Common Core, standardized testing, teacher reform, and charter schools.  In fact, Lomax has written about how his grandchildren attend a charter school in Louisiana.  Last April, Lomax wrote an editorial in the New York Daily News about opt-out.

By opting out, parents do a disservice to all children, not just their own. Without an ample number of test takers, we will lose perspective on how our children are truly doing against the higher bar. This is especially important for students who need a better education the most: children of color, children from low-income families and those who require special education services or are learning English.

On its face, Lomax is absolutely right on several of his points in the article.  African-American students do have a history of not receiving equitable services compared to their Caucasian peers.  But the problem becomes what happens when those very same issues are continually brought up again and again so education consultants and vendors can profit off of the need to fix these problems.  Setting a higher bar all but ensures that there will always be proficiency gaps and attempts needed to get children to the point where they can reach this mythical end point.  The bar will always change to allow for more Wall Street intervention in our schools.

At the forefront of the civil rights groups is Michael Lomax.  He has spouted the same rhetoric about African-American students ever since he became the President of the United Negro College Fund in 2004.  In 2009, Lomax took part in a large education debate sponsored by the Philanthropy Roundtable in New York City.  Lomax made his feelings about teachers and unions very clear during his part in the debate:

The unions, superintendents, and school boards make up hundreds of hunkered-down intransigent, vigilant, resistant, inert status quo guardians guarding these gates.

He refuses to accept the possibility that the problems facing so many African-American students come from outside of the school.  He actually thinks education will bring African-American students out of poverty, as he wrote in a joint letter to the editor in the Washington Post:

Apologists for our educational failure say that we will never fix education in America until we eradicate poverty.  They have it exactly backward: We will never eradicate poverty until we fix education.  The question is whether we have the political courage to take on those who defend a status quo that serves many adults but fails many children.

For Lomax, the status quo has served him very well.  In Delaware, the figure for low-income status varies, but depending on family size, the average could be anywhere between $20-$25,000.00.  If you added the figures for 22 families at $25,000 for their annual income, Lomax would still make more.  According to that link, Lomax made $458,000 in 2014.  In 2013, with bonuses, he made $700,000.  The event in Wilmington, made possible in part by the Rodel Foundation, has their CEO making $343,000 a year.  It is very easy for these groups and “education leaders” to tell people how bad education is because it is obvious they get paid handsomely for doing so.

The United Negro College Fund received many donations from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation over the past seven years.  Over $1.5 billion dollars in donations.  As Perido Street School wrote in the top quote in this article, it would not be good for folks like Lomax to support opt-out at the risk of losing such generous sums of money.

Now it’s possible that Michael Lomax, CEO of the United Negro College Fund, would love testing and Common Core without the billion and a half+ in cash his organization has received from the Gates Foundation to fund scholarships.  But getting that kind of help from Gates sure does cut down on the time the organization has to spend fundraising and you can bet neither Lomax nor the United Negro College Fund want to lose that source of funding.  Now I dunno if somebody at the Gates Foundation called in a chit and “suggested” Lomax write his pro-testing screed or if Lomax just decided to be pro-active on his own and do it himself.  But you can bet it’s not an accident that a national civil rights organization that is receiving over a billion and a half dollars in cash from the Gates Foundation is pushing an education reform agenda that makes the Gates Foundation happy.

I have no doubt it is integral to Lomax’ financial wealth to continue to perpetuate the beliefs of the corporate education reformers.  He hangs out with some of the most vocal proponents of those who profit off the backs of students, teachers, and schools.  They are given the ability to raid state and local funding for their agendas and are given full support and approval by the United States Department of Education.  Folks like Joel Klein from Amplify, who was also brought in by Rodel to speak about education at $100 a seat last September.  The two of them helped to write the Washington Post editorial linked above.  In February, Lomax wrote an editorial for a website called Real Clear Education about the upcoming ESEA reauthorization.  This letter was written with Rahm Emanuel, the former Chief of Staff for President Obama and the current Mayor of Chicago, who is also a lightning rod for controversy these days.  In fact, Lomax is cited as one of the key people involved in the creation of state longitudinal data systems (SLDS) which are collecting a massive amount of data and personal information on students according to this article in the  Huffington Post.  These SLDS initiatives, with federal funding and massive amounts of money from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation circumvent around appropriate laws to protect student data by allowing education vendors and outside companies to see much of this data.

Does Wilmington really need another supposed trumpeter of civil rights coming to town to tell us how bad African-American students are doing in our schools and how much our teachers need to change?  If you are the Rodel Foundation and Governor Markell, the timing could not be more advantageous.  Rodel and Markell are fierce opponents of parental rights when it comes to the opt-out movement.  They do not believe parents have any rights when it comes to testing.  They would rather see parents lose sleep over making the opt-out choice and have them fight with difficult charter schools and districts than allow a law to pass that would give them protection when making a fundamental and Constitutional supported decision.  When the arguments heat up over opt-out, Rodel decides to bring a very big weapon to town.  I do not believe it is mere coincidence Lomax will be speaking on the very same day the Delaware PTA is having an opt-out rally outside Legislative Hall and State Rep. John Kowalko may bring up the override question to the Delaware House of Representatives.  This is how Rodel operates, in my opinion.  This event was just announced yesterday, the day after a very controversial article about opt-out in the News Journal.

I will be exploring the issue of opt-out, especially for African-American students in Delaware, at greater length.  But for the people going to see Mr. Lomax speak next week, I would urge all to question a few things: “Why now?”, “How much is he getting paid to speak”, “Would he feel the same way if he was making the same amount of money as the students’ families he claims to want to lift up out of poverty?”, and “Would he be willing to go to the roughest neighborhoods in Wilmington after his speech tonight and hang out with the folks on the street for a few hours?”