It’s ok if you hate charter schools, just don’t block other families from finding them

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I live in Oakland and there’s a lot of talk about charter schools and consequentially, those talks have splintered off into other related topics. One of those topics is Common Enrollment.

Common Enrollment, which has other names such as Unified Enrollment or One App, has been the new apple in the eye of both reformers and anti-reformers. I’ve written about this before but the general idea is that families would have only one application to fill out for both traditional public schools and charter schools. In addition, general information on all schools would live in one place and students will no longer hold multiple spots in various schools during enrollment allowing for more students to get into their first and second-choice schools.

I’ve been in spaces where folks are loudly opposed and other spaces where folks are loudly for. Here are MY thoughts on the situation. And just to be clear, I’m a free Black man out here in these streets, I speak for me and only me.

1. Education systems have historically underserved black folks. For all my people who don’t like school choice please take me to a time in history when we were doing an amazing job of educating Black folks living in poverty. I want our public school system to grow and become the formidable option that parents deserve. I live to make that happen. I sacrifice to make that happen and I know a bunch of other folks that are doing that as well all over this country. However, it’s pretty well documented that we haven’t always done too well for Black and Brown poor folks since, well…

2. Yo, if you hate charters, you can still hate them. Common Enrollment won’t change that. Yo, I’m personally agnostic. I know how important education is when you’re poor and Black. I was both and I know what the ability to go to college has meant for my life. I am more than okay with a parent having options and choosing what is best for their child and family whether it be a traditional school across the street or on the other side of the city. I don’t care if they choose a charter school or scrape up the money to send their child to a private school. That’s a deeply personal decision.

3. So if you just hate charters then continue your campaign against charters. I don’t think you’ll stop anyway so keep preaching your gospel on how charters are the devil if you like. Your campaign may help persuade a family to make a favorable choice in your eyes. That’s your right. Just don’t take the option away from parents to exercise their right to choose on an easier platform.

4. Everybody, please get over yourselves. Anti-reformers don’t like the idea because they think charters will take over while some charters hate it because it forces them to relinquish control. I say that respectfully, of course.

Denying families easier access when it’s possible is incredibly whack and tells me folks don’t trust parents the way they say they do. There’s a great episode of South Park where the kids are working hard to get their friends to vote – that is, until they find out their friends want to vote for the OTHER candidate. That’s how this feels to me at times. I hear EVERYONE say parents need more information and more access but the main reason most folks want to prevent Common Enrollment is because they are fearful that all of the poorer, underserved parents will choose charters. What?!? You get the gas face, homie. Also, if that is the real issue, shouldn’t we all have an honest conversation as to why that might be? Real question here, how amazing could we be if we all genuinely worked together to improve things for kids?

5. We can learn from successes and failures of common enrollment. So let’s improve it and give people the equity they want. I’ve read arguments both for and against the idea of Common Enrollment. I’ve read about how it helped bring more students back into Denver Public Schools in both charters and traditional schools. I’ve read how in some places, it’s pulled kids from traditional schools over to charter schools. I want to give us all the benefit of the doubt, that we can work together and allow ourselves to be smarter today than we were yesterday. I believe that we can all put politics aside to create a system that educates our kids where opposing dogmatic ideologies can work together and take the best from each other. Our babies need it.


This post was republished from One Oakland United.

 

What questions should black parents ask of their kid’s teacher and school?

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I spent nearly five years at a nonprofit focused on getting students in and through college. Many of the students we got were not on track to graduate high school when we got them, yet we did a great job of getting students caught up and on the right track. I spent much of my time working closely with counselors, parents, and principals to make that happen.

What we wanted to accomplish was passing on a skill set to parents so they could continue the work without us or with their other children that were not in our program. Many of the children I’ve worked with over the years have been like me, meaning they’re parents weren’t college graduates. Advocating for your student can be tough when you have your insecurities regarding education. It can be especially tough when you have a valid level of distrust in any education system based on the education or lack thereof a parent may have experienced. I found that it was also difficult for parents with degrees to sometimes navigate education on behalf of their children. So here are some questions we used to ask to get what we needed for our students.

Keep in mind this article is a general set of questions that work regardless of the age and grade. It is also for any governance model of school, meaning it works across traditional public schools, charters schools, and private schools. This article doesn’t ignore that education systems need to improve. I just personally believe parents should have a full toolkit. Add this to it.

What’s my child’s reading level? This is a critical question because many parents think that school grades correspond with reading levels. They oftentimes do not. Personally, I go a bit harder on reading because so many of our kids can’t read. Many are multiple years behind reading level yet are getting As and Bs in the subject. So asking the question is important. Apply this question to math as well. Know your child’s status, go beyond the letter grade.

Can we set up a regular time to check-in? This question does something special to everyone involved. For the parent, it empowers you and sets implicit deadlines around student performance. For the teacher, it signifies to them they have an active partner in working with your child. For the child, he or she may act a bit differently when knowing your pops will be having a conversation with Ms. Johnson on Friday. I would suggest pushing to meet with counselors/principals as well at about a 1:3 ratio (i.e. if you meet with a teacher monthly, try to meet with the principal quarterly). If the teacher refuses to meet with you, then I’d strongly suggest a conversation with the principal asap.

What do you see in my child? First off, your kid is a human deserving of love and respect. How can someone truly love and respect my child if you know nothing about my baby? How can someone truly serve my child from a place of love if he or she doesn’t see his or her potential? This question opens up a conversation about your child’s humanity. It ensures we start from a place of picturing the best for our children that are often seen as much older and dangerous in the eyes of the world — boys AND our girls.

What’s the goal for this month (or section, quarter, market period, etc.)? This question was critical when I was advocating for students on behalf of their parents. One, for many teachers I teamed up with, they were juiced that someone saw and respected the complexity of their work enough to attempt to speak the language. Two, it allowed them to expound on the hopes and goals they have for their students. What it does for you as a parent is allow you to internalize the goals and discuss them at home.

What is your discipline policy? The numbers are clear that Black boys and girls get suspended at crazy rates. It’s! Crazy! Son! However, broaching the conversation early and often is important so kids acting like kids doesn’t become a liability to your child due to unintentional racism and sends your baby down a tough road that many of our babies don’t recover from. So listen to the policy. Ask questions about the policy. Make yourself available to the teacher and ask the teacher to be available to you because here’s the deal, sometimes, teachers are quick on the draw as they are trying to hold a space not just for your child but for every child in the class. Sometimes your child gets targeted unfairly for a variety of reasons. Sometimes your child may just be off the hook in the moment. All of these things may be true, I don’t know and am not claiming to know. However, what I do know is that when a parent and a teacher are working as a team, things can be mitigated much better. There are conversations about what is happening and why.

When there is a relationship, you’re shooting the teacher a text when your son had a rough weekend for reason X. When there is a relationship, the teacher is letting you know when your child has been acting out of character. It’s a way to create harmony when things are rocky and for most people, there will be rocky times.

When I was working with my students, I got a host of text messages and emails from teachers and parents about these things, and we were able to work with them at a level 2 rather than a level 10. Relationships matter.

Again, this article is pretty general to reach a large audience. This isn’t a political piece. What I’m not here for is to discuss charter vs. traditional public. I’m not here to discuss testing. I’m here as an advocate that rolled up those sleeves and helped teachers, kids, and their families get the education and support they needed.

If you need more specific help, comment and I can write a set of suggestions that are more targeted depending on the situation. I’m here to see Black Excellence. Whatever that takes. Feel free to ask more questions charles@energyconvertors.org or tweet me @ccoleiii.


This was originally published in the blog One Oakland United.

 

What’s at Stake When We Fight for Crumbs

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I recently read a report titled, “Out of Pocket: The High Cost of Inadequate High Schools and High School Student Achievement on College Affordability. The article had some eye-opening stats. Here’s a few:

  • 1:4 students entering college had to enroll in remedial coursework
  • This costs students and families $1.5 Billion!
  • 45% of these students came from middle to upper class families while 55% came from poor families
  • 74% more likely to drop out of college
  • Those that do graduate take 11 more months to graduate on average

I felt my muscles tensing up as I read this. I remember graduating being in the top 10 percentile throughout high school. I remember having As and Bs, thinking I knew what I was doing. Then I had to take a full year of remedial Language Arts and Math. I remember the counselor telling me that these 6 classes — yes, dammit 6 classes in a quarter system — wouldn’t count towards my college graduation. More than 10 years after college and still owing Sallie Mae more than $75K, I’m still paying for those courses.

I was discouraged. I was embarrassed and it reiterated the belief I had when I entered college – the notion that I didn’t belong here. The counselors are straight up with you too. They were clear that you got a few shots at passing these classes before they made you leave the university and get caught up at a JuCo. I knew if I left and went to a Junior College I wasn’t coming back. I know folks that did this successfully but if I left, I wasn’t coming back.

I was able to do it by taking 20 units most quarters and taking full loads during the summer but I was determined to finish in 4 years. That means no summer vacations. No internships. I did that while doing work study as an assistant in the library and working a full load at the shoe store in Bayfair Mall in the next city.

So when I see folks talking about “Opt-Out”, I’m confused. Then when I look deeper and I see folks like Diane Ravitch saying it I get angry. Here’s why. Diane’s kids didn’t grow up where I grew up. For me, the lack of quality education puts me on a path to crime, violence and homelessness. I know this because I was raised by parents with no education and that was my experience growing up. It’s all I knew.

I got those empty grades that lied to me and told me I was prepared to do college level math and I wasn’t. I’ll keep it all the way real with you, I hated taking tests. Absolutely hated it. So if you told me as a child that I could opt out, then you could’ve used me in any way you wanted, straight up! I would’ve made videos for you. I would’ve appeared in commercials, all of it. But as an adult that’s now traveled the country and seen quality education for Black folks, I’m even more offended because I feel like people that will never have OUR experience are using OUR babies to make their point.

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The tests aren’t what’s hurting our self-esteem, it’s the not knowing what the hell I was supposed to learn when you made me come to your school everyday that has us feeling some type of way. Take the results of the test, analyze it and improve how you educate us. Make adjustments. Also, I’m all for improving the tests. Do what you need to do. Make it more culturally relevant. Find a way to better integrate it so it isn’t as disruptive but don’t take away the ability to assess on a large scale. I do want to know how well I am doing compared to the suburbs. I do want to know where I rank amongst different groups.

So no, the test isn’t giving Black kids low self-esteem, it’s when we think we’re prepared to do something and fall flat on our faces because we got empty grades. It’s watching all of your friends around you that you started college with drop out one by one. It’s feeling like we’re set up to fail every step of the way. The answer isn’t to dumb it down.  Let’s smarten it up. The days of my people fighting for crumbs has to go, son! We’re worth more than that. I don’t care where you live, I don’t care what you look like, I don’t care if your parents never showed up to one PTA, I don’t care if your momma was a crackhead or your daddy was a dope boy, you deserve quality. Those things were true for me and if you try to tell me I didn’t deserve better then we may have a problem. Sometimes it takes one of us to say that to the rest of us. You are worth it and you are not getting what you deserve. God Bless.

-Cole Out

BeAnEnergyConvertor #DoWork

I’ll just be a cocky young negro

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Cocky. Arrogant. Self-centered.

I may be all of these things or none of these things – I don’t know. I do know that I carry myself a certain way and have since high school. Allow me to explain. See, there are some benefits to moving as much as I did as a child. You learn how to adapt. In the summer leading to my senior year of high school, my parents did what many Black families did in the early 2000s, we made the “Great Negro Migration” from Oakland out to the outer realm of the Bay Area on the way to Sacramento. A bunch of folks moved to the Antiochs, Pittsburgh, and Modestos. We ended up in Stockton.

In my senior year, I went to Bear Creek High School. I went from a mostly-Black Emery High School, which had less than 300 students to a school with 2300 people, and Black folks were the minority. There, I learned of a beautiful yet mystical thing called ‘privilege’. The kids at this school were different. Whereas only a handful of students even had a driver’s license at Emery, I went to a school with a student parking lot where I saw Range Rovers and Mustangs. One of my close friends had a BMW M3 (he was 17), and one of my other friends drove his father’s Corvette. Needless to say, I was in a much different place.

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The students at this school just moved differently. They knew they were going to college. At Bear Creek, I was in AP English for about two weeks. The students in this class set high standards and negotiated assignments with the teachers. In my old school, there was a strict no food or drink policy in our classes, whereas in my first-period Spanish class at Bear Creek, I watched a third of the class enjoy lattes and it was never an issue. In my AP English class at Emery, the most rigor I experienced there was a packet on Romeo & Juliet. No, these Bear Creek students were different. They felt like adults. It was a culture shock. So I watched. I watched the athlete with the bleached-blonde hair and his letterman jacket. I watched the way he interacted with the world and how the world interacted back with him. I watched as he experienced multiple internships in different fields. It wasn’t just white folks either. I watched the Black boy whose parents were both highly educated, and he would get frustrated between making a decision between his dad’s alma mater, Stanford or his longing to study in New York at NYU.

I didn’t quite know what I was witnessing at the time. I didn’t have the language for it. What I was witnessing was confidence. It was self-actualization in the teenage form. I was learning a different type of confidence. They didn’t feel like they were lucky because good things were happening; they expected it. They expected to be treated a certain way. Their parents expected things from the school with allowed those parents to place high expectations on their children. I wanted that type of respect. I learned early on that you command respect. Yeah, sure you give it, — we always give it! But I never felt like my people were demanding it. I learned how to exude expectations from my environment in the way I arrived.

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There’s only one problem; my poor Black ass was from Oakland by way of Chicago. There’s an expectation that goes along with that. Striking that balance has been a task that I am constantly learning even today. Here’s what I experience when I display that confidence. There’s a trigger in our heads that go off when the young Black dude has expectations for how the world should interact with him. The trigger says, “Nah, get back in your place, Nigger!” I saw it in college; I saw it in grad school, and I have seen it on every job I’ve had since college.

To the young Black folks that read my words, take heed. Smart people learn from their experience while wise people learn from the experience of others.

I am a person that understands that he doesn’t know a lot and the fastest way to get that knowledge is to find someone that does and commandeer them as a mentor. You can ask some of the biggest leaders working in Oakland today; there aren’t many that I haven’t had lunch with or volunteered to help with something so I could absorb what made them successful. Elihu Harris, former mayor of Oakland, mentored me for a spell when I was an undergrad. He told me something I would never forget. In fact, I found myself quoting it the other day. He said,

“Leaders love to leave a legacy. Every good leader wants a younger, better version of themselves to live through when they leave the work. So ALWAYS pick the brain of the leaders you come in contact with. If their office door is open, it’s your job walk through. If they didn’t want people walking in, they’d close it. Put yourself on their calendar. Make people tell you no.”

I don’t know what Mr. Harris is doing these days or if he would even remember that conversation, but it changed my life. It changed my approach. He told me that people were going to react to me differently because I was a Black kid that came from the slums. He also said that the folks that would have the most trouble dealing with how I moved would be other people of color. It’s stepping out of place in some of those folks’ eyes.

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So I’ve done that. I value my time, and I don’t waste people’s time, and I don’t allow them to waste mine. I don’t think I am better than anyone but I know I am valuable, and it shows. That thinking made me one of the youngest social workers in my company’s history at the time. In my job after that, it would push me from line staff to directing two sites across the Bay Area. That confidence helped me lead a walk out with a small group of others that altered how California State University, East Bay (then it was Hayward) engaged with students around budgetary changes. It helped lead to my Senate seat nomination at that institution. I know my worth. I’ve seen how privilege moves. I’ve seen how it talks. I’ve studied how it walks and it ain’t only for the white folks, homie.

For any young person of color reading this, you’ve got to know your worth. You have to know your value, and that is what allows you to walk into that president’s doors and still be able to kick it with the janitor. You have to be able to do both seamlessly. The world is your’s; it’s just waiting for you to take it. Take your mentors! Take your shots! Fail! Then fail again. It’s one of the best methods to learning. Trust me, I fail at what I do ALL THE TIME. Folks will call you cocky. Folks will call you self-centered. If that’s what it takes for us to have agency and ownership over our path in life then so be it. I’ve seen the alternative. Listen, if you work with kids in any capacity and they don’t leave your presence believing in themselves more than when they met you, you failed. I don’t care if you teach math or Sunday school.

I’ll just be a cocky young negro. If you decide to be one then you’ll be in good company. Malcolm X was called arrogant. Oprah was called arrogant. Denzel Washington got called cocky. As I write this, there’s a full segment on television on just how arrogant Cam Newton is. I want all of our kids to be confident and demand greatness from themselves and respect from the world. Call us cocky all you want, but you’ll be doing it as move out the way of our success.

– Cole Out

Stop looking for an education Jesus, nobody is coming to save us

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Dear poor Black folks born into poverty. No one is coming to our rescue, B! No one is coming to ensure that our living conditions are right. No one is coming to make sure that we are fed and clothed. No one is coming to make sure your babies are respecting old folks in the streets. No one is coming to make sure cops stop killing our people. No one is coming to make sure we stop killing ourselves. No is one coming to make sure your kid catches up in school. No is one coming to make sure your kids have salvation. The only time they’re coming is when we are doing the entertaining and even then we won’t get the recognition or the credit we deserve.

Everyone loves black folks but don’t no one wanna be blackThey love what we produce. They what how we dress. They love how we walk but we gotta save ourselves because when it hits the fan we are subhuman and the world will tell you it’s ok to kill us. 

We gotta save ourselves. We can all play a role. In this article, I’ll focus solely on education. Consider this the first of a series.


If you hate how Blacks are educated, then get involved.

You don’t have to be a teacher, even though we need more of them. However, you can be a force by showing up and advocating. That means demanding quality for your babies. In order to do that, it means learning what quality actually is. It doesn’t matter if you have a Master’s degree or dropped out of the 8th grade, your presence makes a difference. When you take your pain and passion and learn the language of change, you can move mountains.

There have been massive movements in schools and districts that have been led by concerned parents. These parents took their disdain for how their children were being (mis)educated, learned the language that administrators communicated in, and built movements. It happens more often than folks may think.

Listen, Brown v. Board was and is seen as a huge legal win for civil rights. We were finally going to get to share schools with white folks. The thought of integration, at the time, is exactly where a humane and sane society should be. However, one must remember, there are always unintended consequences and Brown v. Board would spell the death of the Black educator. You see, when all of the country began pushing into integration, that was meant for students, not the Black educators that taught those students. As a result, we saw a full sect of the teaching profession phase out to the point where only 2% of all teachers are Black men.

It’s rough out there. I won’t focus this article on the need for Black teachers. There are a ton of articles out there on the subject, I know this because I’ve written about it several times in the past myself. I think we are at a point where it is safe to say that we need more Black teachers in America. I will focus on simple ways we can all add to the solution.

 

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Parent power is truly impactful.

When parents organize and have a strategy, they oftentimes get what they want. It doesn’t take hundreds either. A group of 5 or so well-organized parents that understand the language administrators speak can move mountains. When parents get fed up with certain things and begin making demands in unison, things shift.

Volunteering in the classroom can have a lasting impression on everyone involved.

You can volunteer as a parent or community member. Most teachers won’t turn down free support. Whether you are reading in the corner to a bunch of first graders or you are leading high schoolers on a local college tour, the impact can be mighty. It sends a message to the students, faculty and community that we value our kids. I am a strong believer that when people feel valued, they perform better. I believe that’s true whether it’s a student, a teacher or a janitor.

Mentorship is a direct means to taking back education for Black folks.

Much of life is experience. I remember going to college and thinking I’d leave ready for a career and some amazing company would be sitting there ready to make me an amazing offer. NOPE! Not the way it works. It’s the connections we make that tend to help successful people navigate their way to success. It happens a lot. Mentors can open a gateway to child’s mind by exposing him/her to new things. You have no idea the type of impact it can have on a child just by seeing a new career option can have. When I learned that there were people that got to get on planes and write about what they saw and make enough money to own a home and raise a family I was blown away.

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Be an encouraging presence.

In school, I didn’t always really care how well I did. I’m just being honest. As long as I got to play basketball, I was good. So I did enough to make that happen. However, when I knew I had to answer to someone that knew I had potential and explain to them why I wasn’t doing that well, it changed me. I hated having to explain my failures or lack of trying to other people. Think about it, go into a classroom and build a relationship with a struggling student. It’s crazy how hard that student will work to impress you.

If you live in Oakland and you want to get involved, I got hundreds of kids that could use you, right now. Again, no one’s coming to save us. Yelling at the television or the blogs won’t change anything. Talking about what needs to happen with your friends over coffee won’t change anything. Tweeting what should happen with the hashtag of the day won’t do it either. Come rock with us. Email me [ccoleiii@gmail.com] or tweet me [@ccoleiii] and we can get you started. Come change some lives. Peace.

-Cole Out