Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Busy Season's not Over and We Need Partners

I really like summer, but I LOVE autumn. The weather (in north Texas, at least), football, nature's fantastic colors. What's not to love?!

Usually in the fall I think the rest we take during the summer with vacations and all, is over and it's time to 'get back to work'. This year is different!

In an earlier post I told you what a busy summer its been.

Job training, permanent supportive housing, summer programs for youth, planning our public policy work (which is almost constant throughout the month of October). Two book clubs a month, in two different locations. Plans for the Opportunity Center in South Dallas. Getting used to CityWalk. Growth of our work in San Antonio and in Austin.


And some of the most worthwhile work I've ever been a part of! The needs continue to grow and growing deeper, not just wider is an expensive proposition.

For instance, take look at how we're trying to leverage the work we've done through our "Food on the Move" program.

I hope you consider partnering with us to transform Dallas!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

CDM's Screening of 'Waiting for Superman' Next Week...

Tod Robberson, editorial writer for the Dallas Morning News, will moderate the panel discussion for Central Dallas Ministries' public policy department's free screening of 'Waiting for Superman'. The screening will take place at the Magnolia Theater, October 7 at 7:00. You can RSVP here.

Tod's fine op-ed piece about Davis Guggeheim's documentary and our country's education crisis is well worth reading...

"Lots of really promising innovations are being tried here and elsewhere, but they're not catching on as quickly as they should. In the new documentary Waiting for "Superman," director Davis Guggenheim takes a look at the murky world of educational innovation and zeroes in on why these good ideas can't gain traction."

"A big reason, he says, is that so many of us are focused on our own children's success, we have stopped caring about what happens to other parents' kids. As long as my little Suzie or Jimmy is all right, I don't care how bad other kids' teachers are, or whether their schools are underfunded or academically unacceptable."

"This unhealthy atmosphere prevails across America, which helps explain why people with financial means are running for the suburbs or escaping to private schools, while the rest of us without the financial means have to pin our hopes on public schools mired in outdated methods, tight budgetary constraints and innovation-averse bureaucracies. Instead of inspiring kids to succeed, our schools only inspire them to drop out. And when they do, they're significantly more likely to go to prison or wind up in poverty."

You can read the rest of Tod's column here.

We're looking forward to the screening and the conversation to follow. We hope you're able to join us!

In the meantime, here's the theme song from the documentary by John Legend. It's a wonderful song by a great performer, hope it inspires you to come and spend October 7 with us...

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Prospects for An Attractive Piety

It's no secret that I'm a great admirer of George Mason, pastor of the Wilshire Baptist Church here in Dallas. Mason's scholarly, reasoned, theologically sound approach in the application of scripture to the issues we face are challenging and courageous. It's not the type of flame throwing, provocative pronouncements declarations we've heard in the news lately. They actually call on Christians to look at what Scripture really says...

This message, entitled 'The Grace of Godliness' is definately worth hearing and heeding.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

For Those Who Would Change the Wind

Eddie Robinson

Head Coach, Grambling University


"The will to win, the desire to succeed, the urge to reach your full potential... these are the keys that will unlock the door to personal excellence."

Friday, September 24, 2010

2010 Clinton Global Initiative

I'm such a huge fan of the Clinton Global Initiative. I believe that it is a marvelous work that engages NGO's (non-governmental organizations), business, government, as well as creative minds and determined hearts, to tackle some of the world's greatest problems.

During it's annual event, held in New York City this past week, people from all over the world come to celebrate the work of, learn about and and make commitments to tackle issues of disease, infrastructure, the environment and poverty all over the globe. Former President Bill Clinton, leverages his status through his foundation to bring together institutions, educators, politicians and activists across a breathtakingly broad cultural and ideological spectrum to commit to work that matters.

This video segment announces a commitment of a group from Los Angeles to tackle homelessness through Permanent Supportive Housing, with a 'green twist' if you will.

From time to time over the next few weeks, I'll be returning to the CGI to be sharing some of the results. It's still my hope to get something like this started in Dallas. I'm a firm belief that public policy, philanthropy, business and the determined work of non-profits, religious leaders and imaginative individuals can be coordinated in ways which transform all of our lives - affluent and poor alike. The Clinton Global Initiative continues to feed that hope!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Waiting for Adults to Put Children First

I had no intention of mentioning Central Dallas Ministries' public policy department's screening of 'Waiting for Superman' so soon. However, I didn't know that the documentary about the state of public education, charter schools and the desperation of parents to provide their children the best education possible would be so controversial. Honestly.

But as we found out that some would view the movie as 'taking aim' at failing schools and making teachers scapegoats, we began to understand that 'Waiting for Superman' would create tension. However, we finally decided that if that were the case, it should be a healthy tension around a critical issue.

Then again, we didn't foresee the 'Oprah affect'. That's right, in Oprah Winfrey.

Television's talk show maven had David Guggenheim, the Oscar winning director of the documentary as a guest on her show, as well as Washington D.C. school chancellor Michelle Rhee, as she spotlighted the movie. The reactions are kind of stunning.

From Dr. Gene Carter, president of ASCD (formerly the Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development) says, "...As a career educator and the executive director of ASCD, an education association of 160,000 educators worldwide, I was dismayed that your show on education reform excluded a key demographic from the dialogue: teachers. Yet the research—and your high-profile guests—say a child's teacher is the most important factor to determining his or her success."

"Moreover, simplistically dividing a profession of 5 million people into "good teachers" and "bad teachers" misses an important opportunity to show how all educators must continue to learn, develop, and grow throughout their careers. Would we ask a proficient doctor to stop learning new technologies or strategies that may help save a life? No. Our most effective teachers are the ones who pursue professional development not only to sustain student achievement, but also to help teach other educators."

Still another reaction to the film (not Oprah's promotion), is from a group challenging the premise of the movie. The group is called "Not Waiting for Superman".

"The message of the film is that public schools are failing because of bad teachers and their unions. The film's "solution," to the minimal extent it suggests one, is to replace them with "great" charter schools and teachers who have less power over their schools and classrooms."

"This message is not just wrong. In the current political climate, it's toxic."

"The film was made by the Academy-Award winning director of "An Inconvenient Truth," a documentary that helped awaken millions to the dangers of global warming. But this film misses the mark by light years. Instead of helping people understand the many problems schools face and what it will take to address them, it presents misleading information and simplistic "solutions" that will make it harder for those of us working to improve public education to succeed. We know first hand how urgently change is needed. But by siding with a corporate reform agenda of teacher bashing, union busting, test-based "accountability" and highly selective, privatized charters, the film pours gasoline on the public education bonfire started by No Child Left Behind and Race To the Top."

And finally, this review on the AFT (American Federation of Teachers) Union.

"It's hard not to be moved by "Waiting for 'Superman.'" It's an emotional film about families seeking good schools for their children. But good storytelling is no substitute for an honest and accurate look at how we can really improve our public schools so they offer all children access to a great education."

"The film's central themes—that all public school teachers are bad, that all charter schools are good and that teachers' unions are to blame for failing schools—are incomplete and inaccurate, and they do a disservice to the millions of good teachers in our schools who work their hearts out every day. The film relies on a few highly sensational and isolated examples in an attempt to paint all public school teachers as bad. Had the filmmaker visited some good public schools, he would have found that no good teacher supports tolerating bad teachers who are failing in the classroom."

"But "Waiting for 'Superman'" doesn't show many of the great public schools..."

Ok! So let's just say that praise for the documentary is not unanimous from all quarters.

I'm anxious to see the movie and I'll see it before our screening. But here's the thing: I know many teachers. Many. I've had the chance to work with some of the finest in across the state on campus based school reform. I've have known and have had those teachers I know, tell me about those who consider it just a job. Until a few years ago, I lived in a neighborhood where the entire school district failed, due to incompetent teachers and corrupt administrators. And whether you accept the premise of "Waiting for Superman" or not (which I don't believe is 'all charter schools are good; all public schools are bad'), the one thing on which I think we all can agree is that we can't count the number of lives ruined by poor education, while adults have defended themselves and blamed one another.

It's about time we figured out how to do what works.

None of us want to be blamed for the mess we've created. Not parents. Not teachers. Not politicians. But we are all to blame and we all suffer because of it. 'Bad' teachers may be great at something else. Good to great teacher will always be able to find a job in their chosen profession. The people who will ultimately pay for the failure to fix education in this country and keep on paying are the children who are victimized by a system designed to perpetuate and protect itself.

Whether we're "Waiting for Superman" or not, we ought to be have conversations that are tense and uncomfortable. What I don't want is for the children who want a great education today, to become so frustrated that they stop caring tomorrow.This is one issue that matters too much for us to have feeling good as an objective.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A Great Evening and a Surprise!

For those who may still be unfamiliar with Kirk Franklin's music, I thought I'd provide another sampling.

Don't forget, Central Dallas Ministries' "A Night to Remember", October 25, at the Meyerson Symphony Center. And don't forget: we'll have a very, very, special announcement about CDM at the concert.

You want to be there for both! See you there!

Monday, September 20, 2010

What ARE We Waiting For?

Trying to figure out how to improve public education is challenging - no, let's get it right - frustrating exercise. And if we are to get it right, then we have to be honest, there are points at which it has become more about the adults involved than the children. But I have never totally given up on the idea that reform of the public education system was possible. I opposed vouchers and I was lukewarm to the concept of charter schools. After all, these are two models which a) suggest we've given up on the conventional public school system and/or b) confirm our surrender by syphoning off resources from public schools leaving the worst in poor neighborhoods with even less money, fewer good teachers and less chance for real reform.

The question is, how many more children must have their futures short-circuited before we get it right?

Don't get me wrong, I'm still against vouchers. But I have to admit, I'm being forced to take a new look at charter schools. Not because I believe they offer the answer, but because real reform in public schools calls for changes of elements embedded so deeply in politics and process that need to find a way to truly educate children has reached a crisis stage.

There's an interesting series of articles on the charter school movement in the Dallas Morning News. On October 7, at the Magnolia Theater, the public policy department of Central Dallas Ministries will be co-sponsoring a free screening of 'Waiting for Superman', a documentary on the charter school movement. After the screening there will be a panel discussion with educators, non-profit leaders in education and parents regarding the state of public education.

I'll provide more information as the date approaches.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Dr. Howard Thurman (1899-1981)

When I was a student at Bishop College, he was sometimes referred to with the type of reverence reserved for legendary figures. He was cited in the sermons of highly respected and widely renown preachers as authoritatively as were Paul Tillich or Reinhold Niebuhr. His books were hard to come by at that time. Howard Thurman (1899-1981), didn't preach at the college during my time there. My only recourse, and that of my ministerial classmates, was to be regaled by stories of him by his contemporaries, by those, like my father, who had heard him when he had preached at Bishop during their time there and by occasional citations of him in sermons.

Today, Thurman is being rediscovered, read again and his contributions to leaders of the modern day Civil Rights era re-examined.

"Thurman's impact was quite impressive. He conversed with great minds such as Rufus Jones, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, Jr. Marcus Boulware, in his survey of African American orators in the twentieth century (1900-1968), names Thurman the African American theologian of his era and marvels at the depth of his sermons."

"Both Ralph Turnbull and Joseph Washington feel that Thurman makes a unique contribution to the canon of African American preachers, particularly in the areas of theology and spirituality. They also marvel at how Thurman‟s apparent inactivity in the Civil Rights Movement did not diminish his ministerial proficiency. Thurman's historic ministerial and homiletical career – with many more highlights and impressions than are named here – broke down many racial (as well as class, cultural, denominational, and religious) barriers before the formal Civil Rights Movement reached widespread prominence and is worthy of more than a mere mention in the field of homiletical history."

By any measure, his legacy is significant...

From 1932-1944, Howard Thurman was Dean of Rankin Chapel at Howard University in Washington, D.C., he was Dean of Marsh Chapel at Boston University (1953-1965). In 1944 he founded The Church for the Fellowship of All People, in San Francisco. It is credited as being the first interdenominational, multicultural church in the country. He authored 21 books and hundreds of essays and articles.

Thurman's prodigious intellect and generous spirituality, have led those who knew him and those who have discovered and studied him to think of him as more than a theologian. Dr. Manuel Scott, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Los Angeles and St. John Baptist Church in Dallas, a contemporary and colleague of Thurman, once said to me, 'Howard Thurman was no theologian; he was a mystic'. That's an evaluation is echoed by Martin E. Marty, "At the time Howard Thurman began writing and stressing the mystical side it was very rare to even use the language of it in our culture. He was able to go deep inside himself and reach out and teach other people how to transcend the limits of their own, I'll call it, practical existence."

So far, I've found only one sermon of Thurman's online. You can hear it here and here.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

For Those Who Would Change the Win

Knute Rockne

Head Football Coach, University of Notre Dame
1918 - 1930

"There is no need for me continuing unless I'm able to improve."

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Inspirational Turn-Around

I was an invitee to a very interesting breakfast meeting yesterday.

A large church in north Dallas was hosting a breakfast/information session with Mary Russ, CEO of Dallas Housing Authority; Mike Faenza, Executive Director of Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance, Dallas' homeless assistance center and John Castle, Dallas' new homeless 'czar' (John is also a Central Dallas Ministries board member and a very good friend) and Randy Skinner, leader of Dallas' Justice Revival.

The church, area residents, representatives from area service providers such as the 'Y', were learning about permanent supportive housing and learning what they could do to partner with the project as it moved forward. In this setting, Ms. Russ, Mike, John and Randy did a superb job of explaining the goals and objectives of PSH and answering questions which would allay the fears of those present and those to whom they would be interacting. It was inspirational to see the church positioning itself to both educate it's members and community, advocate on behalf of those who would soon be classified as 'the formerly homeless' and learn what they could do to serve this population.

Refreshing. Inspirational.

The controversy earlier this year, so disappointing and so troubling, surrounding the Cliff Manor apartments, where 50 residents are moving in, involved miseducation, prejudice and close mindedness that took most of us who work with low-income and the homeless aback. Yet, again, what has turned that situation around is the engagement of the church community.

I attended a meeting in an Oak Cliff church several weeks ago, a few weeks after the initial town hall meeting that went awry. In this meeting faith based organizations, area churches, service providers and other non profits, made a commitment to learn more about PSH and identify ways to serve the Cliff Manor new comers. On yesterday, I heard stories of these churches providing 'welcome baskets' of pots and pans, sheets, blankets - move in items to help new neighbors get started in their new homes. Not incidentally (I believe, so at any rate), this jibed with another report I read in the paper just a few days ago.

"Members of the Cliff Manor Task Force hope to help residents of the north Oak Cliff complex and meld the high-rise with its neighborhood by opening a coffee shop and bookstore at the site."

"Details and any necessary approvals need to be worked out. But Randall White, a task force member, said the idea is to establish a nonprofit to operate what would be called Home – a place that would employ and train Cliff Manor tenants and ideally attract neighborhood residents."

"In an e-mail, White said, "Home will ... provide the community something it does not have, a place it can walk to to get a good cup of coffee and something to read.""

"He later elaborated in an interview: "The community needed to feel like there was something in this to make the neighborhood a better place." And with the jobs, "folks will have an opportunity to get up and out.""

The substantive engagement of the faith community, determined to treat poor people as people and the transformation of a toxic atmosphere cannot be two unrelated significant changes. From what I understand, the Oak Cliff Task Force includes some of the very people who initially stood in opposition to the project. Everyone who transforms places of exclusion and isolation into places of community are not members of the Christian church, but the church can certainly be a force for such a change, not just by what it preaches, but what it does!

So Kudos to those congregations in Dallas, south and north, who recognize the tremendous role they can play in ending division and changing the conversation and public discourse to what's 'good for business', to the transformation of human life and investment in human capital. It is at the heart of the Gospel to remember that Jesus said that what is done to end the isolation and desperation of those whose lives are characterized by poverty, hopelessness and despair is also done to Him.

For those who may not be a member of any faith community, thanks for recognizing, for whatever reason, that the notion of brotherhood and concern for others, is necessary for human survival and progress. Your neighborhood will be better, because you decided to be a neighbor. That's something beautiful no matter where you spend your Sundays

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Unify South Dallas: One Year Modeling Advanced Citizenship

One of the most satisfying areas of our Public Policy work has been to the opportunity to organize and work with the young leaders of Unify South Dallas. Watching this group of youthful community leaders, entreprenuers and non-profit leaders work with many older longtime leaders as they come up with fresh ideas and synthesize plans for the area that have long since gathered dust has been inspirational for me.

USD's work has helped develop and promote what is called 'The South Dallas Action Plan', a plan for the comprehensive redevelopment of the predominately African-American neighborhood just south of downtown Dallas. You can see it below.

Leaders of USD are now in the process of engaging elected leaders and leaders across the city, as well as state agencies, to build a broad consituency for this plan and its components. It's a coalition that is just a little over one year old and shows increasing promise as they model advanced citizenship.

Check out more on the Unify South Dallas website.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Got Your Tickets Yet?

At Central Dallas Ministries' annual concert 'A Night to Remember', we're looking forward to having a wonderful time as we welcome Grammy Winning contemporary gospel artist Kirk Franklin.

Tickets and sponsorships are still available. We look forward to seeing you there, not only for the concert, but for a very special announcement about CDM that we want to share with you! Come be a part of a truly memorable evening.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Who Am I?

I am currently reading a biography of one of my heroes in ministry, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The German Lutheran theologian whose classic 'Cost of Discipleship' has challenged believers for decades to live authentically transformed by a grace which transcends formalism and legalism, comes alive in this recent work, 'Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy'.

It was Bonhoeffer's commitment to faith which caused him to stand against the capitulation of the church to Hitler's Third Reich and ultimately against the Nazis themselves. It was a commitment that led him to participate in a failed plot to assassinate Hitler, and which led to his martyrdom in a concentration camp in April, 1945 about a month before the surrender of the German army.

Included in this well written biography by Eric Metaxas, is a poem by Bonhoeffer that I think offers a window into a conflicted but impassioned soul - a soul of one fully seeking to reconcile himself to the ultimate concern to which he is devoted and the internal trembling of the consequences of action.

Who am I? They often tell me

I stepped from my cell’s confinement

Calmly, cheerfully, firmly,

Like a squire from his country-house.

Who am I? They often tell me

I used to speak to my warders

Freely and friendly and clearly,

As though it were mine to command.

Who am I? They also tell me

I bore the days of misfortune

Equally, smilingly, proudly,

Like one accustomed to win.

Am I then really all that which other men tell of?

Or am I only what I myself know of myself?

Restless and longing and sick, like a bird in a cage,

Struggling for breath, as though hands were

compressing my throat,

Yearning for colors, for flowers, for the voices of birds,

Thirsting for words of kindness, for neighborliness,

Tossing in expectation of great events,

Powerlessly trembling for friends at an infinite distance,

Weary and empty at praying, at thinking, at making,

Faint, and ready to say farewell to it all?

Who am I? This or the other?

Am I one person today and tomorrow another?

Am I both at once? A hypocrite before others,

And before myself a contemptibly woebegone weakling?

Or is something within me still like a beaten army,

Fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved?

Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine.

Whoever I am, Thou knowest, 0 God, I am Thine!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Timeless Words

I admitted to a friend on yesterday, that it was difficult to find words appropriate to address the observation of the tragic events of September 11, 2001.

How can one appropriately speak to some of the equally tragic responses that have eminated from the trauma visited on this country? Trauma which has unearthed and which unleash so much hatefulness and mean spiritedness.

There are times, however, that rather than try and 'find' words, its better that we all remember words that have already been spoken - timeless words which speak to the highest and best in all of us.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Friday, September 10, 2010

What a Day!

"So, what's a day like for you?"

It's a fairly common question I get asked and its really hard to answer because one of the best things about my work is also one of the most challenging: every day is different!

Take yesterday, for instance...

It actually began at 10:00 am. Before that its checking email, checking the blog and making phone calls. At 10:00, I was at the Bill J. Priest Institute for the graduation of our third cohort of trainees from our Paths2Success class. P2S is a technology based 'soft-skills' job training program. It lasts 10 weeks and we graduated our largest class to date with 17 people. In the class participants learn Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, Excel as well as skills that help them all get and keep jobs. Trainees are adults who are unemployed, underemployed, who need to upgrade skills or who need to learn the things that most of us have learned by long years of work experience or with the network of relationships with people concerned with our well being and success. They also learn financial management.

It's always gratifying to see these people and the excitement at their accomplishment. For some its the first time in a long time that they've actually finished anything. And the fact that they have learned and become fairly proficient with a computer gives them a real sense of achievement. Although P2S is not 'jobs driven' (not a program designed for job placement at the end of training), there are many who find jobs before training is complete. In the previous graduating class earlier this summer, more than half of the 16 graduates found employment before graduation. The class is taught in collaboration with the Dallas County Community College District and graduates receive certificates at graduation to mark their success. It's always exciting to see their friends and family come and join them in their celebration and our WorkPaths staff is always excited as well. Every class represents an accomplishment for them as well. Our program director, Andrea Bills and her staff are doing a remarkable job!

After the graduation, I headed to our permanent supportive housing location to check on the progress we are making there. We currently have 105 formerly homeless men and women who, thanks to a grant from HUD, we are able to house in their own apartments. Participants pay 30% of their rent and are provided case management to help them stabilize their lives and achieve levels of self sufficiency. For some that means employment. For others it means going back to school. And for some others, it also means being able to manage health issues that range from mental health conditions to physical health challenges to addiction issues. There are the usual issues to address with apartment life, maintenance and repair issues and our case managers are at times advocates for some of the participants in those issues. Our new program director, Gaylord Thomas is doing a wonderful job at making connections with community and service organizations, churches and law enforcement in an effort to improve the quality of life for our program participants as well as the entire complex.

After that meeting it's nearly 1:00 and I'm headed back to a meeting at our downtown office. A couple who read my recent column on for-profit colleges and universities, want to talk about how to work with us on improving public education. They have wonderful ideas and energy and were excited to hear about doors of opportunity that column and our public awareness efforts are opening up, both within the organization and the community. The couple are going to work with us to help promote one of two screenings our public policy department will co-sponsor in October. The first one, dealing with education, 'Waiting for Superman', will be shown on October 5, at the Magnolia, to be followed by a panel discussion (the second will be on October 22. We'll be screening '9500 Liberty', a documentary about immigration reform). We're excited to have all the help we can and we hope to leverage that into long term support for our other initiatives. Volunteering like this is a great way to get familiar with the breadth of CDM's work.

After that, more email, more phone calls, conversation with staff and then its time for my weekly meeting with my intern from Southern Methodist University's Perkin's School of Theology. For the past three years I've served as Mentor Pastor for Perkin's interns and its always been interesting. I'm hoping they learn something, but I know I learn a lot from the entire process. My goal is to give them a rich experience of service out of which they are able to exposit practical theological implications. Normally I assign them work for their nine months in a variety of our programs. This year I'm doing the same, but I'm limiting the number of programs I'm assigning our intern. She's working with me in public policy, initially and with our activities coordinator for residents at CityWalk@Akard. Our weekly meeting is to get her verbatim observations of any experience she's had during her time with us. This time the subject is about her observations of one of the planning meetings we have had as our public policy department is working with the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Dallas and the United Way, as we organize what we're calling the Anti-Poverty Coalition, the goal of which is to get 250,000 people out of poverty by 2020. The effort will involve business leaders, other non-profit organizations, service organizations and the religious leadership throughout the city. An exciting proposition that kicks off next week.

My interns from Perkins have indeed challenged my own religious and cultural perspectives - in a good way. They have all been women (one, the wife of an adjudicatory head whom I know well), one African-American, two white, one Christian Methodist Episcopal, another United Methodist, and the current intern is Episcopalian. I told you: I'm learning a great deal!

Just as I finish this meeting (you guessed it, I'm running behind!). It's time for a 4:00 meeting with a city leader and the head of Unify South Dallas the coalition of south Dallas organizations to educate, organize and engage south Dallas residents in economic and neighborhood development initiatives that impact their communities. This meeting is in preparation for the community meeting on Saturday and the leader is meeting with us to give us guidance and advice on next steps in our efforts to get Texas Department of Transportation to change its plans for the redesign of the S.M. Wright Freeway, from a six lane highway to a four lane boulevard allowing for greater redevelopment opportunities in the area. It's a meeting that showed us that we're on the right track and we've got a better understanding of the further due diligence necessary to continue promoting the plan that some of us have been working on for more than two years.

When I finished this meeting, after a break, there's a few more emails to respond to, chats with staff, our Human Resources Director and CFO, stop by to congratulate me on an award that Larry and I will receive in November from the Dallas Historical Society.

Soon after that I leave to go to Roseland Homes public housing development to meet with the SMU intern, our Vista worker and my public policy coordinator, Jessica to begin recruiting volunteers to work on our Voter Registration, Voter Education, Get Out the Vote effort. While I'm there, I excuse myself to have a quick conversation with our Education Director, Janet Morrison, to discuss some staffing programming issues (we've been playing phone tag all day) and then back to meet with the recruits to talk with them about our effort. They are all eager to get started (about six of them, not including staff) and are committed to get deputized to register their neighbors to vote and recruiting more volunteers to help. I think we were all a little surprised at their enthusiasm and their willingness to commit. But then, I think its still true that even we tend to stereotype the people we work with.

By then, its almost 7:00 pm. In case you're wondering, you didn't miss it. No lunch (I'm starving!). And, only a few spot breaks throughout the day, as I get away from the computer and people as much as possible, but at best they amount to 10 minutes at a time.

Yesterday wasn't as long as others (Tuesday was longer!). Wasn't as busy as some (that's today - busier and longer). And there are days that don't feel as productive. But the days are hardly ever dull.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Action Being Taken on For-Profit Colleges & Universities

Thanks to my friend and our leader here at Central Dallas Ministries, Larry James, for posting my Dallas Morning News column on for-profit colleges on his blog yesterday.

As I've mentioned, we are seeing a number of people we work with whose efforts to provide a better life for themselves and their families, frustrated by debt, non-transferable credit hours and certifications and licenses not recognized by employers. One CDM employee who was looking into attending one such career college to obtain a nursing degree found out that the courses for which she would have enrolled at said college would have cost her $62,000. The same course at community college would have cost less than $7,000. Fortunately, she understood she had options. What about those who don't?
The federal government appears to be closely monitoring these operations. It's important to note that there are some good things about some of these schools and that some students have been successful, getting a real degree and receiving a real education. It's the 'bad actors' that need watching.

Senator Tom Harkin (D, IA), chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, recently wrote an op-ed about proprietary schools that appeared in the Washington Post. In it he outlines the concerns and the actions being taken on the federal level to ensure that these schools operate responsibly.

"One of the more dramatic developments in higher education in recent years is the explosive growth of for-profit colleges. The largest for-profit institution, the University of Phoenix, has a student body of more than 440,000, far larger than all the universities in the Big Ten combined. Some for-profit colleges are living up to their promise, pioneering innovative approaches to enrolling students and helping nontraditional students earn college degrees and postsecondary certificates."

"But there is evidence that too many of these institutions are driven more by the profit motive than their commitment to educating students. We must guard against for-profit schools that load up students with tens of thousands of dollars of debt in exchange for largely worthless degrees."

"There is a strong federal interest in these institutions because they are funded primarily by taxpayer dollars. Federal student aid accounts for nearly 90 percent of revenue at some for-profit colleges, and in some cases, close to 30 percent of that federal investment is being spent on marketing and advertising to persuade students to enroll."

"In an investigation detailed in an Aug. 4 Senate committee hearing, the Government Accountability Office found that 14 of 15 for-profit colleges required higher tuition than nearby public schools did. For example, the program to earn an associate degree in business administration from Kaplan University Online costs $33,390; a program leading to the same degree at Northern Virginia Community College costs $8,500."

"Higher tuition bills not only raise federal costs but also put students at increased financial risk. Most community college students can pursue their degrees without taking on federal loans. By comparison, nearly all students at for-profit colleges take out loans to earn similar degrees. According to statistics for the 2008-2009 school year, for-profit colleges account for almost 10 percent of students enrolled in higher education nationwide, but those students receive 23 percent of federal student loans and grants, yet accounted for a staggering 44 percent of defaults in recent years."

"For many students, defaulting on student loans is not the end of their struggles. Student loan debts are not dischargeable in bankruptcy, and defaults disqualify them from further aid. Instead of a degree, then, many students end up with debt burdens that may preclude a real chance at earning a college degree or certificate."

"I believe reforms are urgently needed to take advantage of the strengths of for-profit institutions while avoiding their pitfalls. The taxpayer investment in for-profit schools requires careful oversight to ensure that taxpayers and students are getting good value for the $26 billion in federal funding that flows to for-profit colleges each year."

"Public hearings conducted as part of an investigation by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee have raised questions about whether the industry is doing enough to meet its students’ educational needs. In its investigation of for-profit colleges, the GAO documented a culture of high pressure and often deceptive sales tactics designed to push people into enrolling and signing up for loans. Acts of outright fraud by recruiters were not unusual."

"The Education Department has proposed rules to reduce abuses in career and for-profit programs. The rules could eliminate student aid eligibility for programs whose students have a dangerous combination of high debt levels, low incomes after graduation and low rates of student loan repayment. The proposed rules would also strengthen protections against school officials who are paid based on the number of bodies they recruit or who make deceptive statements to prospective students."

"All students deserve a quality education for their investment. No one has more at stake than the students enrolling at career colleges, many of whom are low-income and of color. New steps can ensure that these students get accurate information about the costs and likely outcomes of educational programs, while weeding out the programs that would leave them with debts they are unlikely to be able to repay."

"The federal government should and will continue to support for-profit colleges that prepare students for the 21st-century workplace and strengthen our economy. But the government should not be in the business of subsidizing for-profit institutions that leave students saddled with onerous debts they cannot repay and degrees or credentials that are of little value."

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Will Dallas' Library System Become a Casualty of Political Ideology?

Dallas' city council will vote on the 2010-2011 budget this month. The city manager's budget proposal closes a $131 million shortfall with a number of lay-offs, furlough's and budget cuts deep enough to concern some city council members and citizens. Dallas' mayor, Tom Leppert, is determine to hold the line on his commitment to no tax increase. He recently sent out a message to citizens reaffirming that commitment. It says, in part...

"Yes, we have a significant gap. But you will be glad to know that, like you, we've been closely examining our budget and looking for ways to better make ends meet."

"Cities across the nation are making tough choices. But we have developed a budget for next year that:

•increases the number of police officers on our streets
•invests in our fire and rescue operations
•maintains hours and access to our branch libraries, parks and rec centers
•substantially increases the total dollars to repair and rebuild our streets"

It is, in some measure, a call to realize the need to sacrifice in tough economic times. But there sacrifices and then there are sacrifices. Take cuts in library services. Hours of service may be maintained, what are the other impacts on services?

At a time when library usage has increased 20%, the proposed budget calls for a 29% reduction from current funding levels, which are a 67% reduction from 2008-2009.
The budget for materials is decreased $700,000 more from last year, for a decrease of $1 million, $2.6 million from 2008-2009. Is a library a library with inadequate and outdated materials?

What if the libraries maintain their hours with less staff? The people who catalogue and shelve the books, who answer the phones and assist the patrons? Staff is projected to be cut by 121 people. It translates into whole floors of the downtown library being closed for nearly half the year.

Budget cuts impact technology, children's programming, customer service and reading programs.

For those of us who still think how Dallas compares to other cities - at least in Texas, what Dallas spends on libraries should give us some pause:

The proposed budget calls for less than $17 million (1.75% of the budget) to be spent on our library system. In Houston the proposed budget calls for $37 million (2%); $31 million in San Antonio (3.4%); $25 million (4% ) in Austin.

Much is being made of how detrimental it will be to Dallas' ability to attract businesses if property taxes are raised. Will those businesses be more attracted to Dallas if it is seen as a city with a fungible commitment to literacy?

Dallas' library system is only one reason why the council needs to consider a tax increase. It is a metaphor to how a significant societal commitment is now vulnerable to the priority of political ideology - not just economics. In an age in which we are paradoxically calling for greater quality in education, while referring to the educated as 'elitist', we are sending a signal to citizens and the rest of the country as well: we remain committed to culture, our workforce and our commitment to the intellectual life of our society, we just choose not to pay for it...

You can find more information here...

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Intersect Between Professional Sports, Politics, Labor and Economics

For those of you who love politics and sports, there is a not-so-often publicly discussed intersect between the two which is the subject of Dave Zirin, sports columnist for The Nation and Slam magazine. Zirin is the author of a new book, 'Bad Sports: How Owners are Ruining the Games We Love'.

Here's an interview with Zirin. Gives interesting insight on 'off the field incidents' that have nothing to do with the character of professional athletes. Especially those of us who remember the days when owning a sports franchise was known to be a financially losing proposition...

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Dwelling on Lessons Learned from the Little Rock 9

In a correspondence in an earlier post, a respondent intimates the importance of not dwelling on those things that happened 40 or 50 years ago. While this individual expresses this in a way, which, at the least, can be accepted as positive, I'd like to suggest that nothing good can happen in this country by 'not dwelling' on this part of our country's history.

In a day in which there is considerable and, in varying quarters, serious, talk of the denial of citizenship to people born in this country; in the face of Islamaphobia, hate speech, rude and malevolent treatment of people who differ a contrived 'norm' of American culture, we need very much to remember, revisit and dwell on this period. Faces contorted with anger and fear and eerily familiar mean spirited language call for us to 'dwell' on it.

The story of 'The Little Rock 9', the nine children who integrated Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, is something to dwell on. Not just because of the extremism of the segregation. This is a story of the struggle of this country to achieve its highest and best ideals. It is a picture of what happens when people are 'angry' and 'afraid' and are trying to 'protect their way of life'. It is a story of courage and hope and family. It is also a story of how some people, white people, suffered, and in more cases than are usually told, transcended their upbringing in order to embody the humanity, compassion and civility that it takes to create a fair and just society.

There is also an interview with one of the Little Rock 9, nearly 45 years later. Melba Pattillo Beals, promoting her book, 'Warriors Don't Cry', gives insight into her own struggles at Central High. We learn the impact of that episode in her life and that era in our history on her, her friends and her community. And through her amazing lack of bitterness we find a superiority of spirit that most of us can only pray to receive.

The interview is about an hour, and you can see it here. But its worth taking the time to watch - and to dwell on its lessons...

Saturday, September 4, 2010

For Those Who Would Change the Wind

Paul 'Bear' Bryant

Head Coach, Alabama Crimson Tide

"Never quit. It is the easiest cop-out in the world. Set a goal and don't quit until you attain it. When you do attain it, set another goal, and don't quit until you reach it. Never quit."

Friday, September 3, 2010

So Where CAN'T This Happen?!

I have new reasons to be a fan of Brad Pitt (as if 'Meet Joe Black', 'Legends of the Fall' and 'Benjamin Button', to name a few weren't enough!). The work of his 'Make it Right NOLA' foundation in rebuilding the Lower 9th Ward in New Orleans is incredible.

Homes that are affordable for low income individuals and families, safe and tremendously energy efficient are not only possible, but they have lifted the spirits of people who have survived one of the greatest catastrophes in our country's history.

I find it hard to believe that there is no market based complement to such an effort. Although its not shown in this clip, it is heartwarming, to see Pitt interacting with Lower 9th Ward residents - not just writing a check. He's building more than houses. He's doing more than showing commitment. And it's going beyond compassion. He's showing that people who truly care about other people can do remarkable things when the recognize our common destiny.

Brad Pitt is not the only one giving me a new reason to admire them. Wendell Pierce (HBO's 'The Wire' and 'Treme'), is a New Orleans native who is helping to rebuild Ponchartrain Park, an historic African-American neighborhood in the Crescent City. It's an impressive effort of community organizing, self determination and sense of home and place which is admirable on fronts too numerous to list.

These are two men using celebrity and wealth to turn devastation and despair into hope for a people who need to know their connection to the larger world. If it can happen in New Orleans, where can't it happen?!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Dallas' City Council: Coming Around on the Idea of a Tax Increase?

In an earlier Dallas Morning News column, I called for the our city council to consider some type of moderate tax increase to address the large deficits the we face. This, I stated and still believe, is the responsible path to proposed severe cuts in library, parks and recreation services as well as public safety.

It appears that I'm not the only one who thinks this way. Apparently there are those in more affluent sections of the city who understand the devastating nature of continuing to hack away at the our social and cultural infrastructure.

"The Dallas City Council opened the floor Wednesday to residents who wanted to sound off on the city's budget woes."

"More than 30 of them did, and, with just one exception, they called for an increase in the city's property tax rate."

"The residents appeared to come from many areas of Dallas, including Preston Hollow, Lake Highlands and Oak Cliff."

"Their message was simple: Dallas has cut too deeply into services like libraries, parks, recreation centers and streets."

"Jeanne Miller, a longtime volunteer at the Skillman Southwestern branch library, called out council members who are trying to hold the line on the city's tax rate."

""For political reasons, some of you do not want to raise taxes," she said. "You say businesses and people will not want to move to Dallas if you do. That is not why they wouldn't come here. It is because our libraries would be substandard, as would our parks and streets.""

"Solomon Espie, a veteran teacher in Dallas, recalled how city tax dollars have helped boost arts programs, including dance instruction for children who cannot afford private lessons."

"And former Mayor Adelene Harrison joined a number of speakers who asked for higher taxes to restore funding for senior services and, particularly, a dental care program that has been cut."

"Similar calls to raise taxes have been sounded at a number of town hall meetings hosted by council members. And the message appears to be getting through."

Another article on the council's consideration of a tax increase can be read here.

Nearly everyone prefaces the argument for a tax increase by saying "No one likes taxes" and they're right. But everyone likes the services they provide, and the loss of jobs that accompany the loss of those services and the long term, uncalculated cost to social and civic infrastructure beg us to consider distinctions between cost and value.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Avoiding the Trap of For-Profit Colleges and Universities

I mentioned in an earlier post that at Central Dallas Ministries, we are formalizing our work in public policy and advocacy. One of our initial efforts in this area is a rather significant issue that had escaped my notice and that of many people: this issue of for-profit, or proprietary colleges and universities. It's the subject of my monthly column in the Dallas Morning News and the focus of a public awareness initiative that we have already started with our neighbors, will continue with our staff and about which we will continue to educate others.

We've discovered the problem that for-profit schools pose in conversations with adults who want to escape poverty by continuing education, by enrolling in these schools, but who end up with credits that don't transfer, credentials that aren't recognized, incredible debt and no at the end of their training.

Aggressive tactics on the part of recruiters either pressuring, low income wage earners or the unemployed to enhance their skills and increase their marketability, make this a problem. A researcher contacted us earlier this summer told us that the new fertile ground for some recruiters are the homeless.

It's important that regulations that protect those who are vulnerable and sometimes desperate, to get an education that will improve their life prospects be enacted. But its also important that those who want to continue their education, whether new high school graduates or adults wishing to return to school, do their homework and investigate the schools in which they wish to enroll. Some may arrive at the decision that one of these schools is the best choice, but its important to make an informed decision.

Aside from the column, here is some other information about for-profit colleges...

Proprietary schools-received over $16 billion in federal loans, grants, and campus-based aid under Title IV of the Higher Education Act in 2007/08. The Department of Education makes loans available to students to help them pay for higher education at public, private non-profit and proprietary schools, and the students who attend proprietary schools are most likely to default on these loans, according to analysis of recent student loan data. Students from proprietary schools have higher default rates than students from other schools at 2, 3, and 4 years into repayment. Academic researchers have found that higher default rates at proprietary schools are linked to the characteristics of the students who attend these schools. Specifically, students who come from low income backgrounds and from families who lack higher education are more likely to default on their loans, and data show that students from proprietary schools are more likely to come from low income families and have parents who do not hold a college degree. Borrowers who are not successful in school and drop out also have high default rates. Ultimately, when student loan defaults occur, both taxpayers and the government, which guarantees the loans, are left with the costs. Although students must meet certain eligibility requirements to demonstrate that they have the ability to succeed in school before they receive federal loans, weaknesses in Education's oversight of these requirements place students and federal funds at risk of potential fraud and abuse at proprietary schools.

Federal – The federal government should strengthen its monitoring and oversight of federal aid eligibility and accreditation requirements. Revising regulations to strengthen controls on graduation requirements and could help address the problem of low-income individuals falling prey to diploma mills, large student debt, and a perpetual cycle of unemployment.

Local – DFW
Public and political pressure should be placed on local community colleges to address the needs of the demographic population they serve. An increasing number of non-traditional students are choosing to go back to school and need to take night classes to maintain a day job and meet their family or financial obligations. There are more than 44 proprietary schools in the DFW area alone and only 8 Dallas community colleges. Creating a forum and sending petition letters regarding the public needs could be the first step to creating an effective change.

Proprietary schools have tripled enrollment to 1.4 million students and revenue to $26 billion in the past decade mainly by targeting:
 Low-income students
 Active-duty military
 Non-traditional students

Quality of Education & Graduation Rates
• The median graduation rate for proprietary schools is only 38%—by far the lowest rate in the higher education sector.

• Some proprietary schools offer a good education, but many more are subpar at best
 Accreditations or licenses are not widely accepted
 Difficult to find job
 Trouble transferring credits to other institutions

Debt & Financial Consequences
• 60 % of bachelor’s degree recipients at for-profit colleges graduate with $30,000 or more in student loans
 One and a half times the percentage of those at traditional private colleges
 Three times more than those at four-year public colleges and universities

• Students at for-profit schools have higher than average loan default rates
 Proprietary schools: 11%
 Across higher education: 6%
 Nonprofit private colleges: Under 4%

• Financial consequences for defaulting on loans:
 Ineligible for assistance for other federal loan programs
 Ineligible for Title IV federal student aid
 Negative credit score
 Harm ability to obtain job
 Rent an apartment
 Social Security benefits and tax returns can be intercepted
 Debt cannot be erased in bankruptcy

• The federal government and taxpayers pick up 97-100% of the cost on defaulted loans