I was an affirmative action 'imposter'
CNN writer John Blake reveals what he learned when he became an affirmative action imposter.
July 5th, 2013
05:00 AM ET

I was an affirmative action 'imposter'

By John Blake, CNN

(CNN) - I walked into the room hoping no one would discover my secret.

I feared my accent would betray my identity, so I kept silent. I glanced self-consciously at my cheap clothes, wishing I could afford better. I stared at the photogenic, self-assured students around me as if they were from another planet.

For me, they were from another world.

I was a 17-year-old African-American from an impoverished, inner-city community and had no idea what I was getting into. Next to me in a college freshman orientation class were students who came from private schools and grew up in homes with swimming pools and maids.

But here was the catch: I wasn't an affirmative action enrollee at an elite white university. I was a black student thrust onto the campus of a predominantly black university. My hang-up wasn't race; it was class. I was suffering from "class shock." I was on a path to self-destruction because I didn't know how to cross the bridge from poverty into this strange, new world.

I thought about that period in my life after learning last week that the U.S. Supreme Court had upheld the use of race in college admissions but had signaled that it may soon abandon that position. People are already preparing for what may come next: Colleges are going to create diversity by using class instead of race. Some call it economic affirmative action.

It is something liberals and conservatives seem to support. That's part of its appeal. Such an approach would create diversity on college campuses without resurrecting the endless wars over race-based affirmative action.

Richard Kahlenberg, dubbed the "intellectual father" of economic affirmative action, says the current approach to affirmative action in higher education does not help many poor black students.

In his paper, "A Better Affirmative Action," Kahlenberg cited research that found 86% of contemporary black students at selective colleges were either middle or upper class.

Class-based affirmative action is something all kinds of Americans - including conservative justices on the Supreme Court - could support, he says.

"Even the most right-wing justices, like Clarence Thomas, have said that they support the idea of race-neutral affirmative action for economically disadvantaged students," he says.

Maybe so. But my experience suggests that there is a hidden challenge to such an approach. Placing poor students in top-tier colleges is only half of the battle. There's another psychological battle that some of these students will fight within themselves, and, as I found out, there's no college prep course out there to help.

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Filed under: Affirmative action • College • Diversity • Legal issues • Sports • Voices
Indiana school vouchers upheld in ruling that could set precedent
Indiana's controversial school voucher program was upheld by the Indiana Supreme Court.
March 27th, 2013
12:13 PM ET

Indiana school vouchers upheld in ruling that could set precedent

By Chris Boyette, CNN

(CNN) - In a ruling that could reverberate nationwide, the Indiana Supreme Court upheld the state's voucher program, which gives poor and middle class families public funds to help pay for private school tuition, including religious schools.

Indiana has the broadest school voucher program available to a range of incomes, critics say, and could set a precedent as other states seek ways to expand such programs.

Supporters say it gives families without financial means more options on where to educate their children.

However, opponents of the Indiana program had sued to block it, describing it as unconstitutional and saying it takes money from public schools.

Teresa Meredith, the vice president of the Indiana State Teachers Association and one of the plaintiffs, said she was "very disappointed in the ruling."

Unanimous ruling

As many as 9,000 students statewide are part of the voucher program and more than 80% use the funds to go to religious schools, according to Meredith.

But in its unanimous 5-0 ruling, the Supreme Court said that was not an issue.

It said it did not matter that funds had been directed to religious schools as long as the state was not directly funding the education. The tuition, the court said, was being funded by the parents who chose to pay it with their vouchers.

"Whether the Indiana program is wise educational or public policy is not a consideration," Chief Justice Brent Dickson wrote. The public funds "do not directly benefit religious schools but rather directly benefit lower-income families with school children."

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Filed under: Legal issues • Private schools • Religion • vouchers
High court to look at Michigan ban on preferences in university admissions
The Supreme Court justices will decide the constitutionality high-profile challenge to affirmative action.
March 25th, 2013
05:15 PM ET

High court to look at Michigan ban on preferences in university admissions

By Bill Mears, CNN

Washington (CNN) - The Supreme Court agreed Monday to confront another high-profile challenge to affirmative action in college admissions.

The justices will decide the constitutionality of a voter referendum in Michigan banning race- and sex-based discrimination or preferential treatment in public university admission decisions.

The high court is currently deciding a separate challenge to admissions policies at the University of Texas, which did not involve a voter referendum.

A federal appeals court last year concluded the affirmative action ban, which Michigan voters passed in a 2006 referendum, violated the U.S. Constitution's equal protection laws.

It was the latest step in a legal and political battle over whether the state's colleges can use race and gender as a factor in choosing which students to admit. The ban's opponents say classroom diversity remains a necessary government role.

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Filed under: Admissions • College • Diversity • Law school • Legal issues
Supreme Court to hear arguments in case of student who resold books
October 28th, 2012
03:04 PM ET

Supreme Court to hear arguments in case of student who resold books

By Bill Mears, CNN

Washington (CNN) - Supap Kirtsaeng had tuition and living expenses to pay when he arrived in the United States from Thailand to attend college.

So he started a side business, asking family and friends back home to ship him foreign editions of textbooks that often can be bought more cheaply overseas. Kirtsaeng resold them online and made money, but he was sued for copyright infringement and lost.

That decision was appealed and the case is now before the Supreme Court, which will hear arguments on Monday in a dispute that has attracted interest from the Obama administration, media and publishing companies, and a range of consumer and retail groups.

Competing claims of intellectual property and owners rights in the electronic age have made Kirtsaeng's venture one of the most closely watched business cases at the high court this term.

"I have to say the Supreme Court is faced with a really difficult job here because the text of the [copyright] statute really seems to be hard to reconcile - the two provisions at issue seem to say opposite things," said Michael Carroll, a professor at American University's law school and an intellectual property expert.

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Filed under: Legal issues • Policy • Textbooks
September 4th, 2012
01:10 PM ET

From detention cells to the stage

By Jamie Gumbrecht, CNN

(CNN) It starts at the mall, with a girl in a pink dress, browsing alone.

"Why is she at the mall?" a teen behind her sputters. "She ain't got no money."

Mona Lisa hears it. It's not the first time she's been picked on. She argues a little, tries to ignore them, but they bump into her and call her names. She wants to run, wants to be strong, wants all this to just go away.

At home later, the phone rings: "I just wanted to tell you, you should kill yourself," a voice cackles. "You're ugly and nobody will ever love you."

After a day like this, Mona Lisa believes what she's hearing. She grabs a handful of pills and climbs out the window. With voices in her head yelling louder and louder, she jumps.

Actress Alexis Lee crumples to the floor. The jump isn't real, the dress is a costume, the play is fiction, at least at the moment. But Mona Lisa and Alexis aren't so different. At 17, Alexis has been bullied and teased, been made to feel ugly, like she's nothing. She moved to escape terrible situations, only to be delivered into worse circumstances. She's got scars from where she cut herself, memories from when she tried to kill herself.

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Filed under: Issues • Legal issues • Practice • video
August 7th, 2012
02:41 PM ET

N.J. Gov. Christie signs bipartisan reform of nation’s oldest teacher tenure law

by John Martin, CNN

(CNN) - New Jersey updated its teacher tenure law on Monday. New Jersey's law was the nation's oldest statewide tenure law, enacted in 1909.

The new law, signed by Gov. Chris Christie, means that New Jersey will be able to remove ineffective teachers, even ones who have earned tenure. The law still provides for tenure, but after four years of teaching instead of the current three.

Tenure laws generally provide teachers with due process rights before dismissal, but many critics of the practice say that it makes it unnecessarily difficult to fire bad teachers.

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Filed under: Issues • Legal issues • Policy • teacher unions • Teachers
FAMU president resigns amid hazing scandal
James Ammons has resigned as president of Florida A&M University.
July 11th, 2012
02:53 PM ET

FAMU president resigns amid hazing scandal

By Adam Reiss, CNN

(CNN) – The president of Florida A&M University has resigned, more than a month after the school's board of trustees gave him a vote of no confidence in the wake of last year's hazing death of a school band member, his office said Wednesday.

The president, James Ammons, was given the no-confidence vote June 7 after investigations into the university amid concerns over the November death of drum major Robert Champion.

Champion, 26, died after the initiation ritual aboard a bus. The Orange County medical examiner said the cause was "hemorrhagic shock due to soft tissue hemorrhage, due to blunt force trauma."

The medical examiner ruled the death a homicide, prompting a police investigation and renewed public scrutiny of hazing in the university's famed Marching 100 band, which got its name in 1950 and actually has about 400 members.

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Filed under: College • Legal issues
July 3rd, 2012
02:28 PM ET

Video captures teacher pummeling student

by John Martin, CNN

(CNN) - Brooklyn teacher and security dean Stephan Hudson faces possible dismissal after a security tape shows Hudson grabbing and punching a 15-year-old student repeatedly. According to the New York Daily News, the incident occurred on March 6 at Brooklyn's George Westinghouse Technical Education High School.

Principal Janine Kieran issued Hudson a disciplinary letter for his permanent file.

After watching the footage recently, New York City Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott said he was "disturbed" by what he saw. In a statement given to CNN, Walcott says that the New York City Department of Education will begin the process of terminating the accused teacher, Hudson. Principal Kieran's role in the matter will also be investigated, according to the schools spokeswoman.

The boy's mother says that Hudson told her that her son started the scuffle. Three months later, she saw the incident on a tape supplied by the Daily News and is now considering a lawsuit against the school system. The boy's mother told the Daily News, "I’d love to hear [Hudson’s] side of the story for real, and not some bogus lies."

CNN left messages for Hudson, but he has not responded yet. The Daily News says that the principal, Kieran, refused requests for an interview.

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Filed under: Behavior • High school • Legal issues • On air • Policy • video
My View: Kids have free speech right to be racists outside school
Some students sent out racist tweets about Washington Capitals player Joel Ward after he scored a winning goal against the Boston Bruins.
May 25th, 2012
06:15 AM ET

My View: Kids have free speech right to be racists outside school

Courtesy Michelle ReidBy John S. Wilson, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: John S. Wilson is a contributing writer for The Loop 21, Mediaite and Black Enterprise. He frequently writes about health and education policies and politics. You may reach him on Twitter: @johnwilson.

(CNN) - Last month, a few high school students sent out racist tweets about Washington Capitals player Joel Ward after he scored a winning goal against the Boston Bruins in overtime. Responding later in an interview, Ward, who is black, said, “People are going to say what they want to say," and he shrugged off those comments. But the students' high schools sure didn't.

Almost immediately after reports of the tweets, the schools began looking into ways of punishing the students for their actions outside the classroom. The schools absolutely should express their discontent with the offensive tweets. But should they punish the students? Do they even have the ability to do so? Not likely.

One official, Jonathan Pope of the Gloucester School Committee in Massachusetts, admitted as much in an interview with MSBNC.com: "We don't know whether we actually have any legal standing to implement any kinds of penalties for that kind of behavior done outside school on a private communication system."

Pope and other school officials may want to look toward the Supreme Court on this point. The 1969 Tinker v. Des Moines ruling held that students' speech was subject to punishment if it "materially and substantially" affected an institution's educational mission. These few tweets couldn't possibly pass that bar and thus qualify for the schools' disciplinary action.

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Filed under: Behavior • Legal issues • Policy • Voices
Update on the Atlanta cheating scandal
April 5th, 2012
06:55 AM ET

Update on the Atlanta cheating scandal

By John Martin, CNN
(CNN) – Atlanta Public Schools is preparing for annual, state-mandated Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests later this month. This high stakes testing session is the first after an inquiry by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation suggested that at least 178 APS educators had cheated on the CRCT. The inquiry concluded the cheating had possibly gone on for years, up to and including the 2009 exam.

After the report's release, Superintendent Erroll Davis made a promise to Atlanta parents: "None of those implicated will be in the classroom when school starts this fall." Resign or be fired – that was the message coming from Davis' office, in letters and in meetings. About 70 educators named in the report retired or quit.

Of the teachers that remain, educators with three or more years of experience have tenure. The district cannot terminate them without due process. The district might even be forced to offer contracts to accused teachers who haven't been let go by May 15.

Atlanta Public Schools spokesman Keith Bromery recently told CNN that about 100 educators who have been implicated in the investigation remain on the APS payroll, on paid administrative leave. The accused educators are costing the district $600,000 to $1 million a month.

APS is in the process of terminating all of the alleged cheating educators. The district "hopes to do all of these by the middle of May," Bromery told CNN.

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Filed under: Cheating • Legal issues • Policy • Practice • Testing
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