Rachel M. Cohen

Rachel M. Cohen is a journalist based in Washington, D.C., and a former American Prospect writing fellow.

Recent Articles

Why Don't Settlements Over Brutality Come Out of Police Budgets?

New York City's recent $5.9 million settlement with the family of Eric Garner leaves the NYPD's budget unscathed. 

(Photo: AP/Craig Ruttle)
(Photo: AP/Craig Ruttle) NYPD Staten Island Borough Commander Edward Delatorre stands with Gwen Carr and Esaw Snipes, the mother and wife of Eric Garner, during a memorial service for Eric Garner on July 14. A $5.9 million settlement was reached with the city this week. O n July 17, 2014, New York City police officers choked Eric Garner, a black man in Staten Island, to death. This week, nearly one year later, the city announced that it would pay the Garner family $5.9 million to settle their wrongful-death claim . “Financial compensation is certainly not everything, and it can’t bring Mr. Garner back. But it is our way of creating balance and giving a family a certain closure,” said the comptroller, Scott M. Stringer to The New York Times. Families of police brutality victims deserve to be compensated, no doubt. A different question, however, is should police departments be required to pay for their misconduct too? As I’ve written previously , these steep police brutality payments...

How Will Campbell Brown's '74' Cover Education?

Today marked the launch of The 74, an education-focused news organization created by former CNN host Campbell Brown. (The title refers to the 74 million school-age children in the U.S.)

The education community is cautiously waiting to determine how the site’s content should be judged. Funded solely by philanthropies—Bloomberg and the Walton Family Foundation among others—many are ambivalent about the site’s stated mission to produce independent, judicious journalism; The 74 has many close connections with education reform organizations, and Campbell Brown, a major proponent of charter schools, said in her opening letter that she plans to put forth advocacy, too.

It’s too soon to say what the coverage and content will be like, but I think they’ve published some pretty encouraging material on their first day. I especially like how they’re monitoring the 2016 presidential candidates on education issues. As Alexander Russo pointed out at his blog, The Grade, not many education-focused sites have used videos very effectively, and The 74 plans to create some video-based coverage. This is welcome, especially since it can be hard for readers to get a sense of what things actually look like in the classroom.

However, one area I know that I will be paying close attention to here on Tapped is The 74’s seemingly innocuous agenda of putting “children first.” (You’ll recognize this as similar to title of the ed-reform organization, StudentsFirst, founded by former D.C. Chancellor Michelle Rhee.)

This popular mantra of putting kids first sounds perfectly harmless on its face. No one would disagree that kids should have high-quality opportunities so they can grow and learn and thrive. However, what does this mean for everyone else who works in a school? Teachers come second? School nurses third? By painting this false picture where the needs of kids can so simply be extricated from the needs of adults—we’re setting our conversations and policy prescriptions up for failure. Education advocates on all sides of the spectrum understand that there’s a strong need to attract a more diverse teaching workforce, to provide greater professional supports for teachers and to keep high-quality educators in the classroom. We’re not going to help build up the prestige and professionalization of teachers by proclaiming their needs and working conditions are less important.

Moreover, what may be good for one student in one classroom might in fact hurt other students in other classrooms. This is certainly the case in cash-strapped districts where spending money to open new schools often has the adverse effect of hurting existing institutions. In New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, a decision to fire thousands of teachers was justified in part by doing what was best for children—but now New Orleans has lost significant numbers of black educators and 5 percent of its middle class. Whether or not this was worth it is a matter of debate, and one that hasn’t really occurred to the degree that it should. These policy decisions are interconnected and have reinforcing consequences; they deserve thoughtful consideration, and reconsideration, every time.

Anyway, I’m looking forward to seeing what else the journalists at The 74 are working on. These are greatly important issues and too many areas of education lack sufficient oversight, resources, and attention. I hope, though, that the writers will interrogate the idea of “kids first” and welcome a more holistic view of what a school can be for all members of its community.

When Families Face Housing Discrimination, Too

This week HUD unveiled new rules for the Fair Housing Act—a law passed in 1968 that was meant to both protect selected groups from discrimination and also “affirmatively further” fair housing. The new resources and regulations, HUD officials hope, will enable more Americans to access affordable housing in high-opportunity areas.

The new HUD rules come on the heels of a major Supreme Court decision affirming that unintentional housing discrimination still amounts to housing discrimination. (For more on this case read Richard Rothstein’s comprehensive Prospect report.)

While most media outlets have rightly focused on how these new developments can impact racially segregated communities, the SCOTUS ruling will also help another protected class under the Fair Housing Act—families.

Though it’s not very well known, it’s illegal under the law to discriminate against someone for his or her familial status. This means that if you’re living in an apartment building, or a condominium, or a house—there generally cannot be specific rules that apply to families with children, children, or even single individuals.

Unsurprisingly, many landlords and homeowner groups still do discriminate regularly based on familial status, and many residents are unaware that this is against the law.

But some residents, like John Jordan, who lives in a D.C. co-op with his wife and nine-year-old daughter, do know their rights and are fed up with being subjected to rules that violate Fair Housing Act protections. Their daughter was riding a scooter around their co-op’s plaza recently when a security guard told her she had to stop because of rules that govern what children can and can’t do there. After several unsuccessful attempts to raise their concerns with the co-op board, John and his wife filed a formal complaint with HUD.

“I don’t appreciate that my daughter can’t do something that other people can do, and frankly the enforcement of this co-op rule is against the law,” he told me.

John Jordan

Tiber Island Co-op Plaza, where John Jordan’s daughter was told she couldn’t scooter.
 

HUD spokesman Brian Sullivan said he couldn’t comment on John Jordan’s complaint because the investigation is currently ongoing, but that family discrimination more broadly is certainly a real issue.

Historically, families have had a harder time finding housing due to exclusionary zoning policies, discriminatory rental agents, and seemingly neutral regulations like limits on the number of occupants per room.

Rules, statutes, and regulations created by homeowner associations, condo boards, and landlord groups also often create discriminatory outcomes for families. As more and more apartments and condominiums crop up in cities, attention to these forms of discrimination will become even more important. 

Ultimately this is one more reason we should be grateful that the Supreme Court upheld the “disparate impact” theory last month because proving that minorities, disabled individuals, and families face housing discrimination isn’t always so easy to do.  

 

NEA Members Announce They Will Fight Institutional Racism. Do They Mean It?

At the National Education Association’s recently concluded annual meeting—a gathering where the country’s largest labor union sets its policy priorities for the coming year—delegates passed several historic measures that committed the union to fighting institutional racism.

Perhaps the most notable measure was New Business Item B, which passed unanimously. It opened with language stating that the NEA “acknowledge[s] the existence in our country of institutional racism—the societal patterns and practices that have the net effect of imposing oppressive conditions and denying rights, opportunity and equality based on race.” Allocating $277,000 to the effort, the union pledged to, among other things, focus on providing support for programs that can “end the school to prison pipeline” and expand professional development opportunities that emphasize “cultural competence, diversity, and social justice.” While this funding will last for one year, the measure includes a clause that says some money should go toward “researching implications for NEA’s Strategic Plan and Budget for 2016-2018,” which suggests that the union would consider devoting more resources to anti-racist efforts in the future.

EduColor—a relatively new movement to elevate public school advocates of color on issues of equity and justice—released a statement following the NEA’s conference. While EduColor’s members applauded the steps taken by the union to confront institutional racism, they pointed out that “it should humble all of us to some degree that it took such a long time to do what seemed so obvious to NEA members of color.” With school segregation, inequitable school funding, and shortages of black and brown teachers, EduColor said, “Now, we must go beyond statements and into the substance of our actions.” Making anti-racist work compulsory for their union, they argue, must “sit side-by-side with collective bargaining rights.”

Jose Vilson, the founder of EduColor, writing on his blog, said he hopes the NEA is committed to fighting racism because its members truly believe in social justice, and not because its members are afraid of being labeled as racists if they don’t. Vilson noted that the NEA introduced and passed bills that he “wouldn’t have thought possible even a few months ago”—a testament to the hard and difficult conversations taking place in their union and across the country—but that still, “we have to recognize that many of our colleagues aren’t ready to hear that they may be part of the problem, too.”

The questions that have come to the forefront of education policy debates over the past year are not about to disappear, or be resolved, anytime soon. The NEA joins the American Federation of Teachers, a union with a much longer history of tackling racial justice issues, in reckoning with how to fight politically for greater equity and opportunity both within and outside of the school building. While the two unions seem to recognize that education is greatly impacted by economic inequality, incarceration, and racism, it will no doubt take activist educators to keep their organizations’ priorities focused on results. 

Are Uber and Lyft Driving Recalled Cars?

While aggressively marketing their services as safe, the ride-sharing giants do not require drivers to repair recalled cars. 

Imaginechina via AP Images
Imaginechina via AP Images U ber and Lyft—two popular ride-sharing companies sweeping cities worldwide—work hard to market their transportation services as safe and secure. On Lyft’s website, the company boasts , “As pioneers in transportation, we’re changing the industry with safety front of mind.” Touting their mandatory inspection requirements, like driver criminal background checks, the company declares: “We designed safety into every part of Lyft.” Uber’s rhetoric is quite similar. “From the moment you request a ride to the moment you arrive, the Uber experience has been designed from the ground up with your safety in mind,” their website states . Phillip Cardenas, the Head of Global Safety at Uber says that while his company is committed to continually improving its policies, he believes Uber has “built the safest transportation option in 260 cities around the world.” Over the past year I’ve spent a lot of time looking into the growing number of recalled but unrepaired vehicles...

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