The Network for Public Education’s racially clueless Tweet highlights the struggle to get black men into public schools

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Being a black leader in public education has it’s challenges.  For those leading or teaching in charter schools, it’s doubled. They are constantly reminded that they have a target on their backs drawn by a dedicated mix of ideological citizens, school district leaders, unionists, and union sympathizers who pray daily for the failure and demise of charter schools and those who run them.

You’ll know these antagonists when you see “save,” “reclaim,” “defend,” or “protect” before “our public schools” in their mission statement. These are the nastiest people in education.  Their singular focus in life is to amplify any study, report, or article that proves charter schools are worst than measles.

Frankly, there are cults I trust more.

The Network for Public Education (NPE) recently reminded me of this when they leveled up their cultural insulation and tweeted this:

The story that NPE is calling a scandal isn’t one. Someone dug for and found this man’s 12-year-old criminal offense and leaked it to the media.

The media, as they always do, ran with it.

And thus, you have the picture of another black man attached to something criminal. In this case it’s a real person with a real story that makes NPE’s tweet baffling.

His name is Koai Matthews and he is an interim principal at a Memphis area charter school called Lester Prep.

When hired by Lester Prep’s charter management organization Matthews went through a thorough process that revealed a felony criminal conviction. He never hid it. He was straight up about it. Took responsibility. He had to produce character witnesses and a written personal statement explaining his journey after the conviction.

Since his 2005 conviction Matthews earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Urban Education and Leadership, a Master’s Degree in Elementary Education and Teaching, and a Master’s Degree in Educational Leadership and Administration.

By most standards that’s considered a successful story.

The charter school’s management company determined his offense did not involve violence, drugs, or sexual misconduct. He was hired legally with full due diligence.

So why is this important? Because we are having two conversations nationally that provide useful context. This context should have prevented NPE from tweeting something so clueless, so insulated, so full of privilege.

In the first conversation we debate strategies for getting more black men like Matthews into public education.

Studies show black male teachers can “can improve Black boys’ schooling outcomes,” but, unfortunately, fewer than 2% of pubic school teachers are black men. We are not doing  a good job of attracting black men to the field, or retaining the ones who are there already.

In research conducted by Travis Bristol from Boston University black male educators reported being “loners,” the only ones in their buildings, and cast as behavioral managers instead of educators. Schools hire them to manage Black children, not transform the system so Black children don’t need managing.

The second, a different conversation finds many of us promoting “fair-chance” policies meant to stop criminal records from being a barrier to employment for people who want to turn their life around – especially black and brown men.

The National Employment Law Project estimates there are 70 million Americans with some sort of criminal record.

Matthews could be a role model for both of those goals, so why is he the subject of a NPE tweet calling his hiring as a fully credentialed black educator a “scandal”?

It’s not because of him. He’s done his fix-your-life work. It’s the NPE and others like them that are out-of-pocket here.

Spend any time in the education wars and you’ll realize that once you associate with a charter school all rules of human decency evaporate. All progressive boundaries of race, class, and diversity fade. Scandalizing black charter school leaders, especially men, is a sport for teachers, their unions, and their middle-class sisters in the public. They see Matthews as a charter school person, which by itself is an”attack” on all their cherished political virtues.

Not to be rude, but these people lack the social awareness and racial sophistication that God gave to gnats, bats, and infants.

Matthews’ story isn’t uncommon. We’ll see it again. But, as a community, we shouldn’t allow this type of shaming to go unchecked.

It’s hard enough to be a school leader working every day to help kids beat the odds against them, and to model a path toward success in places where there is too little of it. We should build these leaders up and not allow a swarm of internet busybodies to take them down by digging through their trash looking for information to smear them.

I spoke with Matthews yesterday and found him to be an inspiration. He takes the highroad, makes no excuses, and works hard to deserve his place in education. Happily, after the story broke about him there was an immediate outpouring of support from friends, family and community members.

He wrote this on Facebook: “My past is my past, however, it does not define me. I use my past as fuel for the work I do. I walk in the shoes of students who make mistakes and desperately need to know the value that an education can have in helping them navigate those mistakes.”

NPE doesn’t the value in that for our community and that’s the real scandal here. Matthews shouldn’t be shamed, but the NPE should.

You can drag HBCU presidents for meeting with Donald Trump, but don’t ignore their struggles for our people

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If you were dying of thirst and some stranger rolled up to give you a tall glass of water, how would you feel about it?

What if the person giving you the water hated Mexicans, Muslims, lesbians, gays, transgendered or gender nonconforming children, black protesters, black people who vote, women, married women who resist genital grabbing men, white women who think for themselves, people who read, the media, and Rosie O’Donnell?

Such is the life of presidents leading America’s historically black colleges and universities recently invited to the White House. They are fighting for the survival of their institutions, often alone, and now they are suffering indignant Twitter challenges to their integrity because they met with Donald Trump.

“You’ve been used for a photo opp” many of the Twitter millennials – and some older people who act like Twitter millennials – are saying.

If you aren’t clear, Twitter millennials are always intellectually on point, morally pure, and insufferably “woke.” Especially the lucky few that make it through college (often through HBCUs) only to travel the country Snapchatting their picture-perfect meals while ignoring email soliciting contributions to the colleges they rep on t-shirts.

If only their activism was focused, practical, and aligned with the fight HBCU presidents are having to keep the lights on for a 150 year tradition of black self-determination in education.

University of Pennsylvania’s Marybeth Gassman, quoted in the Business Insider, says “HBCUs often struggle because they have fewer resources than other colleges — typically due to lower endowments and less money coming in from alumni giving.”

The same article points to inequitable funding from government, citing a piece by Donald Mitchell, Jr comparing ”the University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill’s $15,700 in state funding per student” versus “North Carolina A&T University’s $7,800 in state funding per student.

It’s doubtful that Trump found Jesus on this issue for himself. Realty television celebrity (and ordained pastor) Omarosa Manigault, herself an alum of Howard University, is suspected to be the point of origin for his calculating interest in throwing a bone to black education.

According to HBCU Digest the result will be an executive order promising increased support for HBSCUs, one that bills itself as “among the most progressive partnerships between the White House and HBCUs in decades.”

It’s going to be huuuuge.

I’m not so sure, but I’m happy to see “White House Initiative on HBCUs” might move from out of the Department of Education’s basement and into the actual White House.
Ironically, and painfully, this showy display of Trump’s love for black colleges is in bizarre contrast to eight years of President Obama’s record.

HBCU presidents have complained for almost a decade that the needs of their institutions, and their students, were not only neglected by the White House, but in some cases they were harmed.

Black college students and HBCUs were disproportionately impacted by the Obama administration’s changes to the time span students could use Pell Grants, and his stricter guidelines for government-backed student loans to low-income families.

Those defending Obama’s record will point out he increased funds for HBCU students by $1 billion. That’s true and you should be thankful for it.

Critics, though, will remind you that it wasn’t all perfect. During the same time, our Ivy League educated “first black president” often slid into discomforting paternalism and reminded his incredibly loyal black voters that he was the president of America, not black America. He scolded us about being better parents; told us to stop complaining, pull up our pants, take off our slippers, and get to work – for him.

We obliged like good soldiers even if it felt like a slap to our esteem. It’s what we do.

Nobody felt the agglomeration of that relationship more than HBCU leaders who never received the support you might expect from a president that enjoyed nearly universal black support.

Now HBCU leaders must pivot and make the best of yet another intricate relationship, this time with an incomparably problematic president who offers thirsty people water for political reasons (see Nixon’s overture to black capitalism for a parallel).

If I were leading a historically black college and I was asked to attend a meeting with the highest elected official on planet Earth, I would go and be there early. I would resist lazy activism or childish displays of oppositional defiance that promise no gains for my constituents. I would stubbornly keep the main thing (producing more black college graduates), the main thing (producing more black college graduates!!!).

Regardless of who occupies the Oval Office, we must stay focused on our permanent interests, and the survival of black schools is definitely one of those interests.

If you want a detailed list of tangible policy aims to bolster HBCUs and their students, the UNCF (as always) has you covered. Their memo to President-elect Donald Trump from December 2016 details 10 actionable goals we all should support.

If all you want to do is be Twitter-famous for talking nonsense about people who are doing more than you increase the number of educated black people, no one can help you.

All I can tell you is that if Twitter had been active when Booker T. Washington was building black educational institutions more than a century ago – the institutions that created successive waves of middle class black intellectuals, professionals, and yes, Twitter activists – we might not have HBCUs today.

Luckily we have always had leaders that knew how to keep their eyes on the prize. Sometimes you just have to drink the unholy water and pray your people will have some grace about your sacrifices.

Tenicka Boyd: I can’t imagine a world where the NAACP would say ‘let’s pause’ on schools succeeding with black children

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Tenicka Boyd, a New York based education activist and long-standing member of the NAACP, testifies on behalf of families who are well-served by charter schools. This was the first of seven public hearings held by the NAACP to hear from stakeholders about charter schools and “privatization” in public education. This hearing was done in Connecticut on December 3, 2016.