good housekeeping

Civility First: A quest to keep our comments section kind

Our comments section is about to get a little bit nicer.

Our comments section has its moments of glory, instances of brave citizens discoursing civilly despite a national education debate dominated by divisive misconceptions.

But too often, it’s ugly down there. Too often, comments include personal attacks and deliberate deceptions.

And so we embark on a niceness campaign. Down the road, we are open to making more major changes, such as asking commenters to log in with a registered verified identity or creating a community policing system where other commenters can vote comments up or down a la Gawker.

Another idea is to change the structure so you can respond right underneath other readers’ postings and flag comments you find inappropriate. We hope you will share more ideas.

For now, we have drafted a recommended list of principles to govern our most basic (and, at present, only) moderation decision: Do we allow a comment to be published, or do we delete it? (Right now, given our editorial capacity, every comment that the WordPress computers don’t flag as possible spam is published immediately by default. For more on the spam catchers, see #4 below.)

Most of these principles we already follow in an ad hoc way, but we want to codify them. The list is below. Please share your feedback. Once we’ve got something we all like — or at least, most of us like — we’ll publish it permanently on the site.

Draft GothamSchools Community Policy

We encourage vigorous debate and welcome constructive criticism of our coverage. However, we do reserve the right to moderate these discussions and occasionally will delete comments that violate our community policy.

1. No obscenity, vulgarity, profanity, racism or sexism. If you think something might cross the line, it probably does. Disagreement with people’s arguments is fine, but personal attacks — including on other commenters and GothamSchools writers and editors — will not be tolerated. We tend to agree with Jon Stewart that Nazi analogies are rarely appropriate. We reserve the right to judge what crosses the line.

2. Do not impersonate a person you’re not and do not “sock-puppet.” This should not come as a surprise, but we can see your IP addresses and e-mails, so we know if you’re doing this. If you post as Cathie Black or Joel Klein, we will delete your comment unless we can verify that you are actually Cathie Black or Joel Klein. We follow this definition of “sock-puppeting” as the New York Times defined it: “the act of creating a fake online identity to praise, defend or create the illusion of support for one’s self, allies or company.”

3. You’re welcome to post under a username that allows you to retain anonymity, but we encourage everyone to use their real names and e-mail addresses (which are not shared publicly). We feel the same way about this matter as does the New York Times, which writes in its comment policy: “We have found that people who use their names carry on more engaging, respectful conversations.”

4. To prevent the comment threads from filling up with spam, our site automatically places certain types of comments in moderation. If your comment includes more than two links or is over 300 words, chances are that our site will think it’s spam and one of us will have to approve it manually. If you post a comment like this in the middle of the night or on a weekend, please don’t fret if it’s not approved right away. We are probably asleep or otherwise engaged in our off-line lives.

5. If you have a correction or a criticism of our coverage, the fastest way to reach us is by email. We do read the comment threads (though often not immediately) and will occasionally respond, but commenting isn’t the most efficient way to get our attention.

6. Help us flag violations! If you believe that another commenter has violated our policy, the best way to let us know is — again — to send us an e-mail.

7. We very rarely block a reader from ever commenting, but sometimes we have no other means of maintaining civility. Should you take it upon yourself to violate the comment policy multiple times, we will contact you and ask you to stop. If you continue, we will block you.

8. Please DON’T POST IN ALL CAPS. Some sites will delete your comments if you do this and, while that seems a bit extreme to us, using all-caps does make you sound like a crazy person. Good spelling and grammar are also appreciated.

after douglas

Betsy DeVos avoids questions on discrimination as school safety debates reach Congress

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos prepares to testify at a House Appropriations Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies Subcommittee hearing in Rayburn Building on the department's FY2019 budget on March 20, 2018. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos fielded some hostile questions on school safety and racial discrimination as she defended the Trump administration’s budget proposal in a House committee hearing on Tuesday.

The tone for the hearing was set early by ranking Democrat Rep. Rosa DeLauro, who called aspects DeVos’s prepared remarks “misleading and cynical” before the secretary had spoken. Even the Republican subcommittee chair, Rep. Tom Cole, expressed some skepticism, saying he was “concerned about the administration continuing to request cuts that Congress has rejected.”

During nearly two hours of questioning, DeVos stuck to familiar talking points and largely side-stepped the tougher queries from Democrats, even as many interrupted her.

For instance, when Rep. Barbara Lee, a Democrat from Texas, complained about proposed spending cuts and asked, “Isn’t it your job to ensure that schools aren’t executing harsher punishments for the same behavior because [students] are black or brown?” DeVos responded by saying that students of color would benefit from expanded school choice programs.

Lee responded: “You still haven’t talked about the issue in public schools as it relates to black and brown students and the high disparity rates as it relates to suspensions and expulsions. Is race a factor? Do you believe that or not?” (Recent research in Louisiana found that black students receive longer suspensions than white students involved in the same fights, though the difference was very small.)

Again, DeVos did not reply directly.

“There is no place for discrimination and there is no tolerance for discrimination, and we will continue to uphold that,” she said. “I’m very proud of the record of the Office of Civil Rights in continuing to address issues that arise to that level.”

Lee responded that the administration has proposed cuts to that office; DeVos said the reduction was modest — less than 1 percent — and that “they are able to do more with less.”

The specific policy decision that DeVos faces is the future of a directive issued in 2014 by the Obama administration designed to push school districts to reduce racial disparities in suspensions and expulsions. Conservatives and some teachers have pushed DeVos to rescind this guidance, while civil rights groups have said it is crucial for ensuring black and Hispanic students are not discriminated against.

That was a focus of another hearing in the House on Tuesday precipitated by the shooting last month at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, a Wisconsin Republican, falsely claimed in his opening statement that Broward County Public Schools rewrote its discipline policy based on the federal guidance — an idea that has percolated through conservative media for weeks and been promoted by other lawmakers, including Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Utah Sen. Mike Lee. In fact, the Broward County rules were put into place in 2013, before the Obama administration guidance was issued.

The Manhattan Institute’s Max Eden, a leading critic of Obama administration’s guidance, acknowledged in his own testimony that the Broward policy predated these rules. But he suggested that policies like Broward’s and the Obama administration’s guidance have made schools less safe.

“Faced with pressure to get the numbers down, the easiest path is to simply not address, or to not record, troubling, even violent, behavior,” he said.

Kristen Harper, a director with research group Child Trends and a former Obama administration official, disagreed. “To put it simply, neither the purpose nor the letter of the federal school discipline guidance restrict the authority of school personnel to remove a child who is threatening student safety,” she said.

There is little, if any, specific evidence linking Broward County’s policies to how Stoneman Douglas shooter Nicholas Cruz was dealt with. There’s also limited evidence about whether reducing suspensions makes schools less safe.

Eden pointed to a study in Philadelphia showing that the city’s ban on suspensions coincided with a drop in test scores and attendance in some schools. But those results are difficult to interpret because the prohibition was not fully implemented in many schools. He also cited surveys of teachers expressing concerns about safety in the classroom including in Oklahoma CityFresno, California; and Buffalo, New York.

On the other hand, a recent study found that after Chicago modestly reduced suspensions for the most severe behaviors, student test scores and attendance jumped without any decline in how safe students felt.

DeVos is now set to consider the repeal of those policies on the Trump administration’s school safety committee, which she will chair.

On Tuesday, DeVos said the committee’s first meeting would take place “within the next few weeks.” Its members will be four Cabinet secretaries: DeVos herself, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar, and Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen.

on the run

‘Sex and the City’ star and public schools advocate Cynthia Nixon launches bid for N.Y. governor

Cynthia Nixon on Monday announced her long-anticipated run for New York governor.

Actress and public schools advocate Cynthia Nixon announced Monday that she’s running for governor of New York, ending months of speculation and launching a campaign that will likely spotlight education.

Nixon, who starred as Miranda in the TV series “Sex and the City,” will face New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo in September’s Democratic primary.

Nixon has been active in New York education circles for more than a decade. She served as a  longtime spokeswoman for the Alliance for Quality Education, a union-backed advocacy organization. Though Nixon will step down from that role, according to a campaign spokeswoman, education promises to be a centerpiece of her campaign.

In a campaign kickoff video posted to Twitter, Nixon calls herself “a proud public school graduate, and a prouder public school parent.” Nixon has three children.

“I was given chances I just don’t see for most of New York’s kids today,” she says.

Nixon’s advocacy began when her oldest child started school, which was around the same time the recession wreaked havoc on education budgets. She has slammed Gov. Cuomo for his spending on education during his two terms in office, and she has campaigned for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

In 2008, she stepped into an emotional fight on the Upper West Side over a plan to deal with overcrowding and segregation that would have impacted her daughter’s school. In a video of brief remarks during a public meeting where the plan was discussed, Nixon is shouted down as she claims the proposal would lead to a “de facto segregated” school building.

Nixon faces steep competition in her first run for office. She is up against an incumbent governor who has amassed a $30 million war chest, according to the New York Times. If elected, she would be the first woman and the first openly gay governor in the state.