Ed Reform and Its “Polite” Segregationist Agenda Take the Stage at NAACP Convention

It’s Saturday, July 22, 2017 and the 108th Convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is in session. At the drop of the opening gavel members of the NAACP will begin the business of deliberating and voting on the issues meant to further the progress of Black people in America.

Screenshot 2017-07-22 at 7.40.32 AMThroughout the next five days nearly 80 celebrities, members of Congress, and more political, religious and community leaders will take the convention stage and speak on any number of issues that disproportionately affect the Black community. The membership will hear from the likes of Sen. Bernie Sanders, Congresswoman Maxine Waters, and Black Lives Matter activist DeRay McKesson — just to name a few.

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Even more interesting than the star-studded plenary is the days leading up to the convention. The interwebs have seen a series of shots fired on the education battlefield. You already know the century-old organization dedicated to advancing “colored people” will – once again – take a stand in opposition to charter schools. I’ve written extensively on the moratorium to halt the proliferation of charters around the country and it never not shocks my system when I think about how anti-advancement of Black people this resolution is!

In preparation of the defense of the moratorium (because they already know it will be affirmed), the NAACP landed some surprise punches through its powerful partners. Known NAACP partner Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, called charter schools and vouchers “slightly more polite cousins to segregation.” But before the ed reform community was called semi-segregationists, they were called outright racists by Black America’s best friend.

I understand the teacher’s union relentless pursuit to protect its bottom line and, quite frankly, I’m sure the loss of union dues will make you say things like that, but the R-E-V-E-R-E-N-D?

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There are a number of blogs, commentary, and news stories devoted to the NAACP’s stance on charters and I’ve certainly not been shy about my thoughts on the subject. I have no expectation that the NAACP will turnaround their stance on charter schools. That they will actually look at the data that represents millions of families that CHOOSE to be in these schools. The data that shows Black and Brown children knocking it out of the park. The data that shows these schools are providing a high quality choice in neighborhoods where there are none. How can anyone equipped with a heart and brain believe a moratorium on these schools is advancing a people? Unless…

The only thing can be is an inherent determination that the people who were formerly in slavery, regardless of anything else, shall be kept as near that stage as is possible…  – Thurgood Marshall

Check out these other voices:

Parents, Educators and Community Members Speak Out Against the NAACP’s Charter Moratorium by Michael Vaughn

A History Lesson For Randi on Black Education in America by Dirk Tillotson

BY ANY MEANS NECESSARY: WHAT IF THE PRIVILEGED ACTUALLY LIVED BY MALCOLM’S WORDS? by Sharif El-Mekki

NAACP’s Misguided Moratorium on Charter Schools Puts Children Dead Last

Since 1909, the NAACP has been at the forefront of civil rights struggles in the United States, from ending lynchings to securing Black voting rights and ending school segregation.  But its rigid stance on charters flies in the face of reality.

Take the ACT college exam for example. On what planet does it make sense for the NAACP to tell a black charter school leader like Christopher Goins, whose black students average 19.5 on the ACT, to stop serving students when the national average for ACT scores among Black students is 17? A 17 and a 19.5 are only two and a half points apart, but that’s the difference between going to a community college or 4-year university.

Goins isn’t alone. He is in good company with charter school leaders like Lagra Newman, of Nashville’s Purpose Preparatory Academy, a school of mostly black, brown and poor students where nearly every student is reading at or above grade level. Then there’s the award-winning Soulsville Charter School in Memphis led by NeShante Brown.

All over the country, dedicated educators of color are leading charter schools that cultivate the minds of children too-often locked out of success in traditional public schools. In Philadelphia, Mastery Charter Schools’ Sharif El-Mekki not only treats his students like his own children, he is teaching his own “grand-students” (students whose parents were his students, too). Plus, he’s working to bring more Black men into the teaching profession.

img_0867Let’s be clear, the inequities of public schooling persist everywhere, both in the charter sector and in traditional public schools and parents know this better than anyone. Last October, I traveled to the NAACP’s annual meeting in Cincinnati with 150 parents, mostly from The Memphis Lift parent group, to stand for children and families in opposition to the moratorium on charter schools. That event produced the NAACP’s commitment to conduct “hearings” across the United States, including a stop in Memphis, to consider the merits of the debate.  Less than a year later, emboldened by their “listening tour,” the NAACP is likely to double down on its moratorium in even bolder terms.

But the NAACP must not have listened carefully to all the testimony it collected during hearings on its charter moratorium proposal. It feels like they still don’t have a good sense of the bigger picture.

Back in April, charter supporters and opponents at the New York City hearing found surprising common ground. Basically, they concluded, when parents are looking for options, that tells us the public school system isn’t working. And we can’t pit schools against one another when all of them are striving toward the same goal: educating our next generation to help them reach their highest potential.

It’s sad that the NAACP is focusing so much energy on road-blocking the only path many black and brown students have toward a brighter future. Perhaps the most painful thing about all this is to watch the NAACP join forces with the teachers’ unions, a powerful union that puts adults before children.  Now is not the time to form unholy alliances in a desperate attempt to restore relevance.

The NAACP is famous for its role in challenging the U.S. Constitution and winning. Heck, they’re still riding on those laurels. But we’re at another critical time in the American education system where severe inequities threaten our most vulnerable communities. If education is the civil rights issue of the day and the NAACP is clearly on the side of adults, then we must ask who stands for the children?  If not the NAACP, then who?

 

Longtime Educator Offers Last Rites, Lays to Rest Tired Debate on Public School Choice

Guest Blogger Dia L. Jones joins Volume and Light to lay to rest the charter school vs. traditional public school argument – once and for all. Ashes to ashes.

Dearly Beloved,

We are all gathered here today to celebrate the life and death of a perennial verbal battle. An argument where the 1% continues to pull the strings of the 99%. Where the 1% narrate the perpetual oratorical debate that poor folks should not…will not decide whether their children deserve a first-class education. This argument is now dead and we come to pay our last respects to the old banana-in-the-tailpipe BS. 

I would like to begin by reading from the gospel according to Howard Fuller “How can it be that in a country as great as ours that we can understand that 17-year-old Black and Latino young people are doing math and reading at the same level as 13-year-old white children in this country? How can this be?” 

No More

You see, my friends, this can’t be…anymore. We won’t let this be…anymore. My brothers and sisters, we all want the same things. All parents want…the same things. We want our children to earn a great education via great schools with great teachers, teaching rigorously engaging and relevant lessons in a safe, respectful, warm environment.

We want our children to gain knowledge of themselves and the world around them. We want our children to leave learning institutions with 21st-century marketable skills to take with them to and through college and into the workforce. We all ultimately want our children to have the life that only they can dream of.

Can I get an Amen?

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So, why are we even arguing about public charter schools vs. traditional public schools, aren’t we all speaking the same language? Whether the school is traditional, charter, magnet, parochial, online, project-based, Montessori, application, neighborhood, or suburban. If a parent says, “I want my child to learn from here because I want my child to have this type of education,” then why are we fighting about it?

And this is why the Charter vs. Traditional School Argument is Dead. 

Parent choice is a choice for educational freedom. Freedom, my brothers and sisters! Freedom for parents to enroll their children into the school of their choice despite location, race, ethnicity, gender, religious affiliation, income, sexual orientation, sexual choice, nationality or disability. 

So, everyone… Everyone who wants to remove the shackles of academic oppression of all children – gather ’round. Pick up a rose, a lily, because, yes, He’s the Lily of the Valley…Amen? 

Or grab a handful of dirt and throw it on this pine box where this argument now resides. May it rest in pieces. Now and forever more…Amen and 1 Love


Dia L. Jones has worked to build culture rich schools and organizations for the past 20 plus years. For the past 13 years, she has been a teacher, Dean of Students and an Assistant Principal in traditional and charter schools in Philadelphia. In 2016, she was chosen by Educators Rising to help create a national curriculum to cultivate high school students from around the country to become highly qualified teachers. She was a 2017 Ryan Fellowship Finalist. She’s an avid reader, traveler, a photographer, news hound, sports watcher, foodie specialist and awesome auntie extraordinaire—ask her multitude of nieces and nephews.

Later this year, she is launching a blog where she will shed light on school culture and climate in hopes to push educators into 21st-century discipline practices, ultimately destroying the school-to- prison pipeline. STAY TUNED!

165 Years Later, Frederick Douglass’ Speech Sets America On Fire

The Fourth of July has come and gone but the sting of what it means lingers as I continue to read blog (great one from a Black man’s perspective) after blog (another great perspective from a “conscious American”) validating – even exacerbating – the pain. Our collective awareness of the fragility of Black people in today’s society has never been so heightened, so up close, so real.

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For me, this journey began on the morning of America’s 241st birthday as I spent four hours reading a 165-year-old speech given by self-educated former slave Frederick Douglass. As a Black History minor, I’m sure it had crossed my path before now, but middle-aged me absorbed Douglass’ words like a caged bird inhaling its first unfettered air during its inaugural flight. Indeed, it was liberating, frightening, and overwhelming.

”The fact is, ladies and gentlemen, the distance between this platform and the slave plantation, from which I escaped, is considerable—and the difficulties to be overcome in getting from the latter to the former, are by no means slight. That I am here to-day is, to me, a matter of astonishment as well as of gratitude.”

While reading his words I imagine Douglass making an appeal to me to join the fight to abolish the enslavement of men (I know by men he means human beings). I’m blown away by the 165-year-old charge that fits snugly into today’s narrative of mass incarceration, a dysfunctional education system, and generational poverty—the vicious trifecta born of the vestiges of slavery and repackaged into a type of modern-day enslavement.

Same Oppression, Different Century

We live in a place founded on the principles of freedom and patriotism and Douglass was calling out the hypocrisy during America’s infancy, as a spry 76-year-old nation. But as a more mature country, the dissonance between the bedrock from which this country sprang and how it treats its Black citizens has not grown up, it just looks different.

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I visualize Douglass standing before hundreds of white men, direct beneficiaries of the Declaration of Independence, captivating them with his expansive vocabulary while taking them on a wild journey from the speech’s mild start to its harsh finish.

Douglass fattens up the audience with celebratory high-caloric affirmations only to set them up for a constitutional slaughter. He lures them, earns their trust with high praise for their forefathers’ vision and then he lowers the hook using against them the very declaration designed to foster freedom all the while promoting the most peculiar of institutions. Douglass relentlessly scolds the framers and their benefactors– letting no one off the hook.

Raw Courage

I’m convinced this is the most brilliant and courageous act against domestic tyranny in the face of domestic tyrants in the history of America.

Picture Douglass—a former slave breaking the law by teaching himself to read and write and escape slavery—speaking his truth and that of his sisters and brothers in bondage to the very group responsible for the injustices. Wild, isn’t it? Incidentally, this visual reminds me of parents who take time from their families—the daily grind of dinner and homework—to appeal to dispassionate, politically motivated elected officials. But I digress.

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In the following excerpt, Douglass blasts the institution of slavery and, I suspect, extinguishing any remaining celebration left in the Patriots on that day. Though he speaks of slavery, the unspoken root of the issue is the wicked inspiration behind America’s enslavement of Blacks — racism.

”It destroys your moral power abroad; it corrupts your politicians at home. It saps the foundation of religion; it makes your name a hissing, and a by word to a mocking earth. It is the antagonistic force in your government, the only thing that seriously disturbs and endangers your Union. It fetters your progress; it is the enemy of improvement, the deadly foe of education; it fosters pride; it breeds insolence; it promotes vice; it shelters crime; it is a curse to the earth that supports it; and yet, you cling to it, as if it were the sheet anchor of all your hopes.”

We are all operating within, around, and in opposition, to institutions that have hate baked into their foundations. So, it is not surprising to me that Frederick Douglass, a man deceased for 122 years was trending on Twitter on July 4, 2017. Douglass’ 1852 speech, “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July,” resonates with millions of Americans who find themselves in opposition to the nation’s current political leadership.

The potential loss of healthcare, infringements of rights of those who just want to love and live freely, and the attack on the very institution that informs the American public of these issues, has introduced to some and validated for others the house that hate built. Today’s Americans resonate with the plight of a former slave fighting for others’ freedom at the risk of sacrificing his own. Crazy, right? Not really. The current political reality heightens our awareness of the vulnerabilities of millions of Americans and forces community across lines of race, sexual preference, income, religion, and education. 

“What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade, and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy—a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices, more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these United States, at this very hour.”

 
Check out these what these bloggers have to say about what July 4th means to them:

What to a Slave Descendant is Your 4th of July?

What to the Black Man is 4th of July in 2017?

What to the Chicago Principal is Fourth of July?

What to the Conscious American is the 4th of July?

If You Are Silent About My Oppression, You Are My Oppressor! The Hypocrisy of the Status Quo!

Independence Day: More than a Barbeque

10,000+ Nashville Charter School Families Get Official Eviction Notice

This is what happens when politics outranks people.

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A resolution introduced by board member Mary Pierce enforcing the board’s role in advocating for every student (and family) failed in dramatic form this week. The breakdown of the vote on the measure to support ALL families was, unfortunately, not surprising — 4 voting yes, 3 abstaining, 1 refused to vote and 1 absent. But what shocks the system is the message it sends to the families on the other end of the failed motion. A message best explained in a Cee-Lo Green song “although there’s a pain in my chest, I still wish you the best with a F— you.”

There’s not much to add to this story besides petty commentary and that, quite frankly, does nothing for the parents now officially alienated from the school district. However, I do feel the need to amplify one tiny part of the school board’s own policy mandating the elected body to “advocate for the organization and all of the students it serves.” The failed motion means only one thing for these families, the school board has abdicated its responsibility to serve charter school children and families. Holla!

So, I urge parents to reach out to board members. Express appreciation to the members voting on your behalf and to those who didn’t vote for you respectfully remind them that you’re still part of the family. Like it or not.

“The resolution is not about whether or not our board philosophically supports charter schools — individual members have made positions clear on the board floor and on social media,” Pierce said. “Rather, this is about our service as board members as advocates for the entire district and all the students it serves.”

Please read every word of this resolution.

A resolution declaring the Board of Education’s intent to reaffirm our commitment to our Governing Policy Three: Board Job Description with a specific focus on number Eight: Advocate for the organization and all of the students it serves.

WHEREAS, Metro Nashville Public Schools currently serve students in all of the following: traditional zoned district schools for students in grades K-12, open enrollment district schools, pre-kindergarten programs, magnet schools, non-traditional academies, alternative schools, homeschool programs and public charter schools; and

WHEREAS, MNPS educates nearly 88,000 students who come from diverse cultural and socio-economic backgrounds, many with diverse learning styles*; and

WHEREAS, MNPS public charter schools, authorized by the MNPS Board of Education, serve almost 10,000 students; and

WHEREAS, the cultural and socio-economic diversity within MNPS public charter schools closely reflects that of the entire district**; and

WHEREAS, the Metropolitan Nashville Davidson County Board of Public Education is committed to providing every student a high-quality education that promotes social and emotional learning and strives for increasing academic achievement; and

WHEREAS these core beliefs are reiterated in the commitment in Governing Policy Three that this Board will “advocate for the organization and all of the students it serves;” and

WHEREAS, the Board of Education has been addressed on numerous occasions by parents and others with children enrolled in one of our 28 MNPS Board approved charter schools by way of letters and public comments that they do not feel supported by the totality of the board; and

WHEREAS, these same parents have asked that the Board of Education treat them and their schools with the same courtesy and respect extended to parents and educators in zoned schools, magnet schools, and all other types of schools authorized by the Board of Education; and

WHEREAS, this board has consistently adopted standards that promote collaboration, including the first Annenberg Standard, which states that “Traditional district and charter schools should work together to ensure a coordinated approach that serves all children”; and

WHEREAS, we recognize that in every type of school our organization offers or authorizes, there will be concerns that should be addressed by the Director of Schools and district staff, and RS-2017-3

WHEREAS, at times, advocacy for students and families with concerns might appear to conflict with advocacy for MNPS, it is possible to do so without disparaging the schools, the employees or MNPS, and

WHEREAS, all of our students, and their families, regardless of the schools they attend, deserve to be treated in a respectful, inclusive manner;

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, the Metro Nashville Board of Public Education:

  1. Recognizes that our MNPS public charter schools are part of the organization of MNPS and serve the same diverse populations as our other MNPS schools; and
  2. Commits to ensuring its schools remain safe and welcoming places for all students and their families regardless of the type of school they attend; and
  3. Commits to treating students, parents, staff and leaders of MNPS public charter schools with the same respect and civility extended to those in district run schools; and
  4. Commits to handling concerns, issues and sensitive information reported by families or staff from a district charter school in the same discreet, consistent and professional manner as those brought by families or staff from a district-run school; and
  5. Commits to high standards of personal accountability when giving public statements (social media posts, opinion editorials, statements on the board floor, etc.) to ensure the accuracy of information to the best of one’s ability; and
  6. Commits to leading as a productive, student-centered board focused on making every MNPS school excellent.

Adopted this 13th day of June 2017.

(NOT ADOPTED)

“We Believe Black People Must Seek That Education By Any Means Necessary.”

During the most recent Tennessee legislative session, the subject of vouchers was indeed the star of the show. While the existence and proliferation of charter schools is a hot topic around here, the discourse on using public dollars for private schools (vouchers) is transitioning from slow burn to a full-blown fire. Even though several bills were introduced during the 2017 session, only one passed, but there’s more to come in 2018. Here’s my take on the 2017 session.

What’s Up With Vouchers?

The argument for and against vouchers is very similar to that of charters. Supporters believe vouchers provide additional choices to families, particularly to the traditionally underserved. Meanwhile, the opposition believes the motivation behind vouchers is an agent of privatization and, therefore, will administer the final blow to public education. Sound familiar?

In this The 74 article, three great minds leading the national education debate joined forces to state the case for vouchers for Black children. Whether you love ’em or loathe ’em, this case for vouchers cannot be easily dismissed. You be the judge.

Check out Howard Fuller, Marquette University professor, Derrell Bradford of EVP of 50CAN, and Chris Stewart, CEO of Wayfinder Foundation:

Critics of school choice programs find the politics of empowering Black families with the wider range of options available to wealthier families difficult, but we don’t. Some may find it radical to believe that we should use every school available to ensure our children are educated. We don’t. Some may believe that the quest for “choice” and the historic role of private schools in education is a moral and historical inconvenience. Indeed, the opposite is true: It’s a necessity. Some believe vouchers and other forms of parent choice are a threat to democracy. The real threat to democracy is an uneducated populace. We believe Black people must seek that education by any means necessary.

Six Reasons You Might Be a Public Education Hater (Rant Alert)

There is a clear line of demarcation between traditional public education supporters and ed reformers. You might not be able to identify either group just by looking at them, but listen closely, the language gives it away. After working for the school district for more than a decade and now networking with parents who have made non-traditional choices and school leaders of non-traditional schools, the difference in the conversation is palpable.

I understand both sides of the issue, always have, but I’m a believer in choice. My husband and I exercised choice for our children, so I support anyone doing the same for their own kids. But what I’m hearing repeatedly is anti-public education rhetoric as a response to anyone showing a drop of interest in non-traditional options. This is a pretty harsh accusation and one that deserves to be called out.

You might hate traditional public education if you:

…believe your zoned school cannot meet your child’s needs

…are a supporter, teacher, leader, funder, or parent of charter schools

…use words like “choice”, “urgency”, “status quo”

…believe choice is a viable immediate response to a complicated long-term problem

…publicly acknowledge deficiencies in teaching and leadership in neighborhood schools

…support vouchers

I guess I could be petty by responding to that mess with my own irrational rhetoric, but I find no value in playing the dozens with grown folk. However, I’m happy to offer up a reality check for choice-naysayers and those who make it their mission to dismantle nontraditional choices.  

If you made a choice to live in your present situation (let’s not even talk location, property values, etc.)…

If you have the means to provide little things like vacations, summer camp, and tutors…

If you made a choice to send your own child to a non-neighborhood school…

If you have the education and social/political capital to advocate for your child…

Stop stepping on families who have not and cannot!

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When fighting against school choice, you’re not in the ring with the adults that represent the ideology you so detest. You’re sparring with our children’s future. 

(End of rant)