Book Review: “The New Jim Crow,” by Michelle Alexander

The CAPTA Legislation team is in the process of reading and discussing one book a month on the topic of the African American experience in the U.S. We decided to do this to educate ourselves about this pertinent and important issue. Our first two books were How To Be an Antiracist by Ibram Kendi and The Color of Law by Richard Rothstein. Our third book is The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander.

The book asserts that the War on Drugs and resulting mass incarceration of African Americans is The New Jim Crow.

Author Michelle Alexander contends that there is no truth to the notion that the war on drugs was launched in response to the crack cocaine epidemic. The war on drugs was announced in 1982, before cocaine use became an issue. At the time, less than 2% of the public viewed drugs as an important issue. The Reagan administration hired staff to publicize the emergence of crack cocaine in 1985 as a strategy to build public and legislative support for the war on drugs. Eventually there was a surge of public concern, but it did not correspond to a dramatic shift in illegal drug activity but instead was the product of a carefully orchestrated political campaign.

In less than 30 years, the U.S. penal population exploded from around 300,000 to more than 2 million, with drug convictions accounting for the majority of the increase. Our incarceration rate is 6 to 10 times greater than other industrialized nations. There are more people in the U.S. in jail today for drug offenses than were incarcerated for all reasons in 1980. The vast majority of those arrested are African Americans charged with relatively minor crimes. Arrests for marijuana account for 80%. People convicted of drug offenses now constitute the single largest category of people in prison.

Why? What happened?

According to the author, few legal rules constrain police in the war on drugs.

The Supreme Court has eviscerated the 4th Amendment (protection against unreasonable searches and seizures). The Court has upheld the constitutionality of unwarranted search and seizures for suspected drug offenses. In addition, laws were passed that gave law enforcement agencies the ability to keep cash and assets seized during a drug arrest. Huge federal grants were given to law enforcement agencies willing to make drug law enforcement a top priority. Millions of dollars in federal aid was offered to state and local law enforcement  agencies to wage the war.  So long as the number of drug arrests increased, federal dollars continued to flow.

And who was targeted for this profitable war? The Black population.

It is estimated that 3 out of 4 young Black men can expect to serve time in prison for a drug offense. Despite the fact that studies show that people of all colors use and sell illegal drugs at remarkable similar rates, in some states Black men have been admitted to prison on drug charges at rates 20 to 50 times greater than white men.

What has been the actual effect of the war on drugs?

Although it is common to think of poverty and joblessness as leading to a life of crime, the research cited in this book suggests that the war on drugs is a major cause of poverty, chronic unemployment, broken families, and crime in the African American community.

Being in prison is not the only problem. Today a person released from prison has scarcely more rights and arguably less respect than a freed slave. There is no public assistance, the job market is bleak for convicted felons, and they are barred from serving on a jury. They are shunned by all. Shame and stigma follow jail time. Severe isolation, distrust and alienation are created by incarceration.

Prison sentences and the resulting felon label pose a much greater threat to urban families than actual crime itself. As a crime reduction strategy, mass incarceration is an abysmal failure. It is largely ineffective and extraordinarily expensive. Prison creates criminals; it doesn’t help anyone or change them or give them a chance to redeem and recover.

The point of this book is to stimulate a much-needed conversation about the role of the criminal justice system in creating and perpetuating racial hierarchy through mass incarceration.

By reading and discussing the books on our list, the members of our Legislation Team are learning and understanding many of the factors that are impacting families of color and look for ways that we can advocate for change in the best interest of all children and families.

Global Diversity Awareness Month: Parent Stories, Part 2

First, listen…

Unit PTA leader: We decided to move to an area where my Black son would see peers and school adults who looked like him. As a PTA leader, I know the power of advocacy and partnership with school staff. I advocated with his teachers about implicit bias and how harmful it was to send my son to sit at the desk for the same behavior his white friends engaged in but instead received a warning and allowed to sit on the carpet. We advocated with the school to address the bullying and use of unacceptable language around race. We advocated with the PTA and parents that even if we didn’t have a large African American population, an African American Living Museum should be a school event. There was some success but it was exhausting. After a few years, as a family, we decided that living in and being educated in a community that is integrated and more diverse was the right choice for us. We had read about how students of color are disciplined more, tracked for AP classes less, and the list went on. We wanted to minimize the impact of the embedded systemic bias.

Then, learn…

Even though #GlobalDiversityAwareness Month is over, we want diversity, equity and inclusion to be a focus all year round. California State PTA and National PTA have position statements and resolutions that give us authority to act on behalf of all families:

Then, Take Action…

We recognize that each PTA and school community will have different solutions, but these are great places to start: 

  • Look at the demographics of families on your campus– Are they represented on your PTA board?  Are there activities that highlight and celebrate these families and make them feel like they are an integral part of your campus?  Does your library showcase authors and books with characters that represent these families?  Are your assemblies diverse enough that all children see themselves in the presentations?
  • Educate yourself, your board, and your school community about the challenges these families face by holding a book club or hosting listening sessions. 
  • Participate in the upcoming Listening Sessions that California State PTA will hold in January. 

Click here to read part 1 of this series.

Click here to read part 2 of this series.

Click here to read part 3 of this series.

Click here to read part 4 of this series.

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Advice on Maintaining a Healthy Lifestyle – During COVID-19, and Year-Round

Although we’ve all learned a lot over the last eight months about how to stay healthy in the face of the COVID-19 crisis, we wanted to take this opportunity to remind you of the importance of maintaining a healthy and active lifestyle year round.

Exercise Regularly. Keep your families’ bodies moving! Encourage your children to exercise. Staying physically fit can boost endorphins and help you feel more optimistic while sheltering in place. There are plenty of exercises and activities you can all do from the comfort of your own home, or out together as a family, while still maintaining social distancing:

  • Hiking
  • Biking
  • Yoga
  • Pilates
  • Workout videos
  • Dancing
  • Video game workouts

Eat Healthy. Fuel your body with healthy foods. Moving our bodies is only half the battle when it comes to living a healthy lifestyle. Provide your family’s immune systems with food that will fight back, especially since the Coronavirus is still a big risk:

  • Citrus fruits are rich in vitamin C and help increase white blood cells, which are key in fighting infections.
  • Red bell peppers contain almost 3 times the amount of vitamin C of an orange.
  • Garlic adds flavor to your food and has valuable immune-boosting properties thanks to its sulfur-containing compounds, such as allicin.
  • Yogurt has live and active cultures that help stimulate the immune system. Plus it’s also packed with vitamin D which helps fight diseases.

Be Mindful of Mental Health.

  • Find ways to interact with others while complying with social distancing rules. Lack of everyday social interaction can take a toll on our mental health.
  • Check in with your children with regard to their mental health on a daily basis, and be proactive about managing emotions.
  • Schedule online meet-ups with friends and family members on a regular basis.
  • Make sure your family is maintaining hobbies that they enjoy. An idle mind has the potential to wander to a negative space, so have your children fill that time with something they love to do. Then, better yet, have them teach you about it!
  • Staying educated about your family’s health is a lifelong process.

For more information, visit:

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Global Diversity Awareness Month: Teacher Stories, Part 1

First, listen…

Educator: I use the word ‘grownups’, not parents, or mom and dads. I used to use those words but I learned that some of my students are being raised by their grandparents or other family members. Some had one parent because the other was serving in the military or incarcerated. Some were with foster families. All of that is important to me because it is important to my students that I know they have same sex parents, or are adopted and don’t ‘look’ like their other family members. All families are talked about because young children will create their own narrative if you don’t give them one. So I talk about all the wonderful and different ways families are formed. 

Then, learn…

During #GlobalDiversityAwareness Month and all year round, California State PTA and National PTA have position statements and resolutions that give us authority to act on behalf of all families:

Then, Take Action…

We recognize that each PTA and school community will have different solutions, but these are great places to start: 

  • Make sure your PTA publications are inclusive. Remember that not all families look the same, so make certain that your PTA fliers reflect that.

National PTA has a Diversity Toolkit that you can use to help your unit connect with all the families on your campus

Click here to read part 1 of this series.

Click here to read part 2 of this series.

Click here to read part 3 of this series.

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How Next Gen Science Standards Prepare Students for Next Gen Careers

“Mom, what’s the point of taking biology if I’m not going to use anything I learn? I’m not going to be a scientist. I’m going to be a reporter.”

Many of your children may ask similar questions when they come home from school. Unable to make a direct connection between their core subjects (science, math, English, history, etc.) and their future career, they find little value in their classes. Sure, students who study hard may be able to regurgitate scientific facts such as “The three stages of the water cycle are evaporation, condensation, and precipitation,” but teaching methods such as memorization do not prepare them with the skills they’ll need for college and beyond.  More importantly, they often see their schooling as irrelevant to real life.

California schools are taking a new approach to teaching and learning science by implementing Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). These new standards are designed to make science more relevant and engaging to help students develop the critical thinking skills they’ll need for any field – not just science! Cultivating a love for learning and discovery will also enable them to be more active in pursuing their passions and understanding their unique interests.

What is NGSS?

NGSS implements “phenomenon-based” learning techniques for students in grades K-12. Rather than just memorizing facts, this approach encourages students to ask “Why?” questions and explore answers to those questions through cross-cutting concepts such as patterns, cause & effect, structure & function, and systems & system models.

For example, a kindergartener, instead of observing insects on the playground, may identify patterns in the life cycles of beetles, butterflies, and pea plants to discover what all living things have in common. An elementary schooler, instead of learning about the different types of earthquakes, may use a cause and effect process by examining data trends to brainstorm ways to keep buildings from collapsing during an earthquake. A middle schooler, instead of building a model of a cell and labeling its parts, may design a new cell with a structure that functions to optimize energy production. A high schooler, instead of memorizing the periodic table, may use a system model analysis to explain and predict the properties of different elements.

How does NGSS make science more relevant?

These cross-cutting concepts apply across ALL areas of science, including physical, life, earth/space, and engineering (which is often left out of elementary, middle, and high school curriculums). Teaching these standards through inquiry-based lessons, critical thinking activities, and hands-on problem solving allows students to develop skills applicable not only to areas of scientific inquiry, but also to any other field.

For example, an inquiry-based mindset is important for a reporter in deciding which topics and issues should be covered and which angle to take; critical thinking is important for an entrepreneur as they seek ways to improve their marketing strategy; problem-solving skills are important for a graphic designer as they grapple with creative concepts and overlapping deadlines; and a passion for learning and discovery is an essential characteristic for a math teacher or a history professor.

How does NGSS prepare my child for their academic future?

In a PTA-sponsored survey of parents throughout California, 9 out of 10 agreed that learning science is equally important as reading, writing and math. According to a study by the Amgen Foundation, their children share the same sentiment – 81% of students say that science is interesting. However, only 37% of students say they like science class; they wish their science classes were more engaging, preferring hands-on lab experiences to reading textbooks.

If students do not enjoy science classes, they are less motivated to learn and less likely to discover areas they might have aptitude in. Furthermore, many schools do not even offer subjects such as engineering, so students may never get the chance to be inspired by those topics before college. By focusing on phenomenon-based experiments and incorporating more specific areas of science, NGSS enables students to be more engaged in their classrooms and use those experiences to make informed choices when they transition to college.

Without opportunities to get to know and even love science before applying for college, students may be cutting themselves off from dozens of majors that could offer them challenging and satisfying career paths. By aligning teaching styles with how kids learn best, the new science standards will ignite curiosity and interest in science and engineering, especially among students who don’t think of themselves as “science kids.”

How can PTA leaders and parents support NGSS?

PTA Leaders:

  • Use communication channels such as social media and newsletters to introduce the latest science standards and encourage parents to get involved.
  • Find out how schools in your area are implementing NGSS by interviewing teachers and educators. Urge parents in your area to engage with schools about how science is being taught at their school site.
  • Empower parents to support their child’s science learning at home using resources from the PTA Resource Library


  • Ask your child’s principal and teacher(s) about how they are implementing the NGSS science standards at your school site.
  • Ask your child what they are learning about in science class. Invite them to ask “Why?” questions about their observations of the natural world, and explore answers with them.
  • Visit the California State PTA website and browse the Resource Library for ideas on how you can integrate science into the home via exciting science experiments and virtual field trips:

This blog post was written by Rebekah Tom while she was a student intern at California State PTA in early 2020. Although she studies Marketing and English, she enjoyed the science classes she took for General Education and in high school, where she found an appreciation for the phenomena of our world and a drive to seek answers to her questions. She continues to use these critical thinking skills in her academic and occupational pursuits.

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What’s Happening in PTA? November 2020 Edition

We never want you to miss a training opportunity, advocacy call or webinar hosted by California State PTA, so each month we are going to post information right here on our blog about dates, times and ways to join our PTA events.

November 4: Advocacy Call 

Join California State PTA Director of Legislation Shereen Walter and members of the Legislation Team during our monthly webinar, where we discuss all the latest information.

The webinars take place the first Wednesday of the month from 7:00 – 8:00 p.m. Webinar registration link for all dates:

November 5: Social Media Kit Reveal

California State PTA knows that communication is one of the most important tools in a Unit’s, Council’s, or District’s toolbox, and when done well, improves every aspect of the PTA experience. To support our members, the California State PTA Communication Commission is hosting monthly calls with Q&A, mini-trainings, and a walk-through of that month’s Social Media Kit

For November 2020 our focus is Thankful for our Volunteers!  The November Social Media Kit celebrates how much you and other PTA volunteers do for children and families in your community. The kit includes PTA themed customizable images and blurbs for use on your unit/council/district social media accounts. Join us on November 5th as we show you the new kit and our mini-training on the new Facebook Business Suite.

Can’t join us in November? Sign up here: to be notified by email of future Communication Commission calls.

Zoom Meeting information:  

POSTPONED UNTIL JANUARY — November 11: Virtually Connected to your Community Through PTA

Our Membership, Education and Family Engagement Commissions have come together for a night filled with great information for our PTA leaders. This was originally scheduled for Nov. 11, but has been postponed until January 2021. Stay tuned for more details.  

November 15: Tax deadline, if your fiscal year ended on June 30th

All nonprofits have to file state and federal taxes in order to stay in compliance with the law — PTA is no different. If your unit’s fiscal year ended on June 30th you must have your taxes filed or postmarked by November 15th. This year the 15th is on a Sunday, so your final deadline is actually November 16th.  For help filing your taxes, visit our Tax Filing Support Center

November 20: School Smarts Virtual Program Launch

Join us on Zoom from 3-4:00 p.m. to learn more about the award-winning School Smarts Parent Engagement Program’s transformation to a virtual environment. Click here to register

November 24: Leadership Monthly Webinar

The final Tuesday of every month at 7:00 p.m. is our Leadership Team’s monthly webinar. Every month has topics for a mini-training as well as chances to ask your burning PTA questions!  

Please sign up to receive the link for this Zoom call.

November 30: Annual Insurance Webinar

Unit, Council and District leaders – Join California State PTA and our insurance broker, Association Insurance Management (AIM), for an informative webinar regarding insurance policies and services designed to protect your PTA and your members, and support your activities. We’ll review insurance coverage, the renewal process, worker’s compensation, deadlines, and more.

Date: Monday, November 30, from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. Join here:

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Global Diversity Awareness Month: Student Stories, Part 2

First, listen….

Student: It wasn’t until I took an AP class my sophomore year where the books we read were by authors of color. I became really interested in who gets to choose the books that I am taught in school. I found out it’s up to the teacher to find a way to buy these books that are not on the usual approved list. That didn’t make sense to me. I am now involved in a student-led group to have more student voice in deciding things like the books we read. All students should get to read these books, not just the AP class or the new ethnic studies elective. All our classes should have authors of all histories. 

Then, learn…

During #GlobalDiversityAwareness Month and all year round, California State PTA and National PTA have position statements and resolutions that give us authority to act on behalf of our racially diverse students and their families:

Then, Take Action…

We recognize that each PTA and school community will have different solutions, but these are great places to start: 

  • Attend the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee’s Listening Sessions November 16, 17, 18 and 21, 2020
  • When your PTA raises funds for your library request that a certain percentage of the funds be spent on racially diverse authors.  We want all children to see people who look like them on our library shelves. 
  • Include students in your PTA!  We have lots of tips on ways to include student participation in your PTA (  One of the best ways to include students is to invite them to our Legislation Conference which will have a Racial Injustice and Social Advocacy theme this year.  More information about the dates and cost will be released soon, so be sure to visit our webpage from time to time to get updates.

Click here to read part 1 of this series.

Click here to read part 2 of this series.

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Global Diversity Awareness Month: Student Stories, Part 1

First, listen…

Student: Whether I wear pants or a skirt, I sing the same. Does it matter if I wear pants instead of a skirt? Yes it matters to me. I don’t understand why my teacher and principal insist on me wearing a skirt to sing in the choir. It feels as weird as showing up to school in a bathing suit and nothing else. I already feel uncomfortable at school. It would be just one small thing that would make me think, ‘At least this one teacher knows and accepts me.’

Then, learn….

During #GlobalDiversityAwareness Month and all year round, California State PTA and National PTA have position statements and resolutions that give us authority to act on behalf of LGBTQIA+ students and their families:

Then, Take Action…

We recognize that each PTA and school community will have different solutions, but these are great places to start: 

  • Review school policies in regard to bullying and support revisions and amendments to those policies that specifically address the topics of sexual orientation and gender identification/expression as they relate to harassment and bullying.
  • Use the Welcoming Schools Checklist to see how your PTA is doing in welcoming all families into your school.
  • Use the California State PTA Position Statements and Resolutions as you do studies of local legislation that impacts families of LGBTQIA+ students.  If you need support in this process, reach out to your Council or District Board and they can support you.

Click here to read part 1 of this series.

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Global Diversity Awareness Month: Parent Stories, Part 1

First, listen…

Parent: There it was — in print. The new Superintendent wrote in his message to the whole district that special education was taking funds meant for general fund programs. My heart sank. My child and thousands like her were positioned as the ‘taker of funds’ and not a part of the school community. My child is a general education student first, then a student who needs additional services and supports in order to learn. This was just one more example of how my child, and others like her, are segregated socially. The segregation or separateness is social and physical and affects how our children see themselves and how others see them. If our children were taught from preschool that their peers who act, think, learn, move differently belong with them, then our general community, workplaces, housing, city planning, higher education would be full of people who had experience being around individuals with disabilities of all kinds.

Then, learn…

During #GlobalDiversityAwarenessMonth and all year round, California State PTA has position statements and resolutions that give us authority to act on behalf of special education students and families:

Then, Take Action…

We recognize that each PTA and school community will have different solutions, but these are great places to start: 

  • Participate in your school and district Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP) process and actively advocate for special needs programming.
  • Learn about ways to support Special Education Families and why you should consider including a Special Needs Committee as part of your PTA Board
  • Use the California State PTA Position Statements and Resolutions as you do studies of local legislation that impacts special needs families.  If you need support in this process, reach out to your Council or District Board and they can support you. 

During the Back to School Season, help families of special needs students with transition by sharing these tips (available in six different languages)

Tips and Tricks from the Great Membership Idea Exchange

Back in late July and early August we held a few Membership Idea Exchange Zoom calls. We were so excited to be joined by PTA leaders across the state — sharing their ideas and some of their struggles.

We took notes from each of the calls and here are some of our favorite ideas:


  • Building a Better Community
  • Stronger Together
  • I Matter Because (tie in to Reflections)
  • Superhero
  • Set Sail with the PTA- Pirate themed with bandanas or masks as membership incentives

General ideas:

  • Include a PTA membership as part of a spirit pack
  • Have the school mascot or a cool animal (like a llama) attend the Zoom meeting of the class who gets the most memberships.
  • Look at your membership list from last year and make sure you are asking those families to join again this year.
  • Every person who purchases a membership gets a coupon for a discount on spirit wear or other school event. 
  • Share the why– make sure you are letting families know all that your PTA does for the school and community.
  • Ask your principal to include PTA membership on their weekly calls and/or their newsletter.
  • Have a contest to see who can get a member from furthest away– this is much easier if you are using Totem!
  • Remind families that everyone can join– grandparents, siblings, friends, neighbors.  To that end, add lines onto your membership forms with those titles so they don’t forget.
  • Use your social media to advertise your membership drive. 
  • Ask school board members, superintendents, and other school district personnel to join the PTA.
  • Create a “Join PTA” slide that the teachers can use when they are doing parent presentations.
  • Remind families that membership doesn’t necessarily equal volunteering, but it does equal supporting our kids!

Farragut Drive Elementary School created a really fun video to encourage their parents to be in the Zoom Where It Happens. Check it out here: 

Finally we want to leave you with a quote from one of the leaders who was on this call: When you have nothing but uncertainty, you have nothing but possibility!  

We hope you will use these tips to have an amazing membership drive.

As always if you need us, we are an email away–

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