Making sense of Brown v. Board in light of today’s struggles over school reform

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In education there is no bigger legal challenge in history more famous than the Brown v. Board of Education case of 1954.

That suit, brought by the NAACP, was a largely successful strike against state sanctioned discrimination against black and brown students.

Dr. Cheryl Brown Henderson, daughter of Rev. Oliver Brown – whose name has become synonymous with the landmark legal case, joined the Rock The Schools podcast to talk about Brown v. Board, education, and school choice. You can listen to the discussion below, but here are some of her comments edited to make them easier to read:

Dr. Cheryl Brown Henderson

Dr. Cheryl Brown Henderson

 

On her first recognition that her family had been involved in a groundbreaking legal case:

Coming home from school as an 8th grader and seeing a white man I did not recognize standing on the porch. We lived in an integrated neighborhood so seeing people of other races was not unusual but I didn’t know this man. I got closer and he noticed my reluctance to approach him, he stuck out his hand and said “Hi, I’m Charles Kuralt with CBS news and I’m doing an on the road show for the 10th anniversary of Brown vs. Board of Education.”

On how the case came about:

In our city it began appropriately so with the NAACP and it’s leader at the time, a man by the name of McKinley Burnett. He decided that he was going to organize a challenge that would include Federal intervention in segregated schools. There were 11 school segregation cases in the state of Kansas before Brown vs. The Board of Education. Three of those early cases were also in Topeka so he was following a very long standing tradition when he set out in 1948 to convince the school board that it was time to really make a policy shift and desegregate the elementary schools.

On how the Brown family became involved:

The NAACP decided to recruit parents that had elementary aged children, which is how my father ended up getting our family involved. His participation was almost coincidental.A knock at the door. A friend of his who was one of the attorneys in the NAACP, part of the team recruiting asked my father if he would be willing to join their campaign as one of the Plaintiffs because it was a class action lawsuit they were putting together.

Meet the Brown parents:

My mom was 29 years old at the time. Dad was 32. They were young people. They were not activists. They didn’t belong to the NAACP. My dad ended up being the central figure because the final roster included 12 moms, homemakers, married women, so gender we believe is why he became the central figure in the Topeka case.

On the role and power of parents:

Parents really understand what’s going on because they have so little choice. Much like Brown parents, parents today need to align themselves with like-minded advocates, policymakers, and civil rights organizations so they can speak truth to power. We need to recognize, respect and honor the role of parenting. Parents know that education can help break the cycle of poverty but sadly what I observed as a teacher back in the 70’s, – and it’s also true today – the social economic status of the parents impacts how the system views them. There is a lack of willingness to fully engage parents as partners in their child’s education.

On the low expectations of teachers for black children:

The classroom teachers, some of my fellow educators who were white, were not as willing to engage with parents of color. And they certainly were not as willing to set the high standards that we all grew up with when it came to expectations for students of color. I watched that decline up close and personal. Our country had a major opportunity that we missed after Brown, after the civil rights movement. We missed that opportunity by not having the cultural competency training that could’ve helped a lot of teachers. Their biases came into the classroom with them and those biases often impacted the educational options that set outcomes for their children.
You know children have to believe you care about them. They have to believe they’re important. They have to believe that education is important. They must have high expectations and standards. It requires an awful lot of initiative.

On what really drove Brown v. Board’s push for integration:

Brown was about having access to the resources and equal educational opportunity. The money follows white children, let’s be honest. So it was about following the money, following the opportunity, following the resources, following the access to excellence moreso than the complexion of the person sitting in the seat next to you.

On her father’s concerns about the impact of integration on black educators:

His concern immediately after Brown was announced was what would happen to the teachers in the black schools? In 1953 the superintendent of Topeka Public Schools right before the court was to hear Brown sent out a letter to the African American teachers who had been teaching for 3 years or less, I guess what they considered non-tenure, told them in that letter that if the Plaintiffs succeed you will not have a job. In his way of thinking there would not be enough white parents willing to have African American teachers for their children for them to be retained. So before school started in the fall of 1954, he made good on that promise and released a lot of those black educators. When schools were integrated in Topeka the educators were integrated as well. And for one year he issued a policy that if I’m a fourth grade teacher in your school now, now you have a black teacher in your school for the first time, you have to call every white parent of fourth graders in your school to get their approval.


“Our children are just as smart, just as capable, just as accomplished, or can be, as any other child.”


 On the opportunity charter schools offer:

First of all, we’ve lost so many generations fighting over how we do education. Magnet schools…is it neighborhood schools? Is it this? Is it that? Is it charter schools? Is it vouchers? Is it school choice? We have been fighting since 1954. If charter schools have the opportunity for flexibility, innovation, to be able to show a difference in improving math scores and reading scores; I don’t want to see more children languishing in traditional public schools while policymakers fight. I’m of the opinion that educational options have to be on the table. Our children are just as smart, just as capable, just as accomplished, or can be, as any other child.

On the push of today’s NAACP to halt the growth of charter schools:

Before you take such a public stance on something you point out that you worked on yourself, historically to give African Americans options to school improvement, better options, better access for their children, let’s have a sit down. Let’s examine the Stanford University studies on charter schools. Let’s talk to the people that are charter school administrators. Let’s talk to the parents who have children that are succeeding in those schools. Let’s talk to the parents who are on the waiting lists. Let’s have a sit down before you do that. We were not afforded that opportunity to sit down with the leadership with the NAACP before that vote was put before the membership. I’m kind of heartbroken about that.

Listen to the podcast with Dr. Brown Henderson…

Takeaways From the NAACP Task Force’s ‘Quality Education’ Hearing in Orlando.

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On Friday, January 27th, the NAACP continued their series of education hearings, held by a special task force to “to gain further knowledge, engage in debate, and take action” as a response to the backlash to their ‘moratorium’ on charter schools. After hearings in New Haven, Connecticut and Memphis, Tennessee, the third of seven hearings took place last weekend in Orlando, during the Florida NAACP state conference.

Held at the Rosen Centre Hotel, the event was lightly attended (<100 in attendance) and saw a format of rotating presentations and testimony to the task force, who would follow up with a few questions. After the greetings, opening remarks and presentations, the panel took a (very) short series of questions and answers from those in attendance.

Here are a few notes from the event:

The most important voices – stakeholders – were largely absent. 

While the NAACP claimed the purpose of the task force was to have a national “stakeholder convening”, those voices were nearly completely absent at this hearing. The event began at 2:00 pm in the afternoon on a weekday, leading one to question how said stakeholders would able to attend in the first place.

The most relevant voices of parents, students, and educators who see the inside of these schools daily, were mostly missing. Late into the proceedings, one of the few youth voices to be heard, Brendien Mitchell, a member of the Youth and College Division of the Florida NAACP, noted it was worth discussion that the younger voices were not heard until the end of the hearing.

If the NAACP is genuine in their desire to convene stakeholders and engage in productive conversation, they ought to reconsider their methods. Unfortunately, the format at this hearing was not conducive to that goal. Perhaps they should consider making the next gathering more accessible and open to parents, students and educators.

The lack of youth in the audience was reflected by the actual task force. At one point, the head of the panel noted “you should know that we do have a young person on this task force.. but he could not be here today”.

The NAACP showed a disturbing deference to AFT president Randi Weingarten and felt the need for a police presence. 

For some reason, American Federation of Teachers President, Randi Weingarten was treated as some kind of rock star or guest of honor at the hearing. Prior to her presentation, the head of the task force told the audience to stand, and give Ms. Weingarten a rousing ovation. This moment was odd to say the least, and suffice it to say, calling for a standing ovation for the teachers’ union head did not reflect well on the supposed unbiased nature of the hearing.

Midway through her presentation, educational advocate and former head of Black Lives Matter – St. Paul, Rashad Turner spoke out. He interrupted Weingarten in an attempt to counter her misinformation around charters. He also questioned the unique level of admiration that was reserved for Weingarten, after other presenters like the state’s recent Superintendent of the Year, Robert Runcie of Broward County, didn’t receive the same.

Turner was quickly shouted down, with the task force shutting off the lights and having him removed from the hearing by police. This isn’t the first controversy around the NAACP being called out for their moratorium. As they were ratifying the resolution in Cincinatti, families rallying outside had the police called on them.

Misinformation and Confusion abound. 

The task force sent to Orlando and tasked with the duty of weighing presentations and testimony seemed woefully confused and misinformed on many points around how charter schools operate. Specifically, the false dichotomy of “private charters” vs “public schools” persisted throughout the majority of the hearing which did lead to at least a few of the presenters feeling the need to point out to the panel that charter schools are in fact public.

Beyond that, there seemed to be confusion around what lotteries for enrollment are and how they work, as well as misinformation around accountability standards for schools, specifically in Florida. In relation to the state of charters in Florida, the task force heard in plain terms that they are in fact held to high accountability standards and are performing at high levels.

It is cause for concern that this long after the moratorium was passed, NAACP representatives are still so ignorant about what charter schools are and how they work. And it has to be frustrating for school and district leaders to continually have to explain the same basic truths over and over to a bunch of folks who quite simply, refuse to do their homework.

For more information and several videos from the NAACP education hearing, check the #WakeUpNAACP hashtag on twitter, and follow us @CitizenEd.

 

Hey NAACP, Black Parents Want Quality Education Schools for Their Kids By Any Means Necessary

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By Khulia Pringle

With the recent moratorium on Charter schools by the NAACP coupled with my trip to Memphis, Tennessee  for a public hearing held by the NAACP about their moratorium, I am forced to reflect on how in the world we got here. How did I become a voice in opposition to one of the oldest and most black institutions in America?

I remember when I first made the commitment to go back to school to become an educator. One of the reasons I thought it would be cool to teach was that I’d get to teach all the stuff I never learned about in school, things that would have made a difference in how I felt about my own cultural identity. Ironically, the history of the NAACP was on my list of topics to teach. I wanted my students to learn about W.E.B. Dubois’ involvement in founding an organization dedicated to the advancement of people who look like my students. I wanted them to understand the monumental and historic Brown vs. Board of Education case led by the nation’s first black Supreme Court Justice, Thurgood Marshall. I knew in my head and my heart that these pieces of history had to be taught and I was going to be proud to make sure my students learned that the NAACP played a critical role in the struggle for civil rights in America.

As I embarked on my journey to become a teacher, I had the opportunity to work at a charter school in Minneapolis as a Promise Fellow. I was very impressed with what I saw happening in classrooms. I later did my student teaching at a charter school in Saint Paul and I came away impressed by their model too.

I saw schools that were doing things I hadn’t seen before — later I learned there was a word for what I was witnessing: innovation. Whatever it was, I liked it. The very first thing that jumped out at me was that both schools were run and founded by African Americans. I don’t think most people realize what a huge deal that is. How many schools do you know that are founded and lead by people of color? I live in Minnesota, and there aren’t many.

The second thing that I noticed were demographics of the student bodies. Both schools were more than 90 percent African American students. But what I found most significant was that these kids had come from all over the twin cities and the surrounding suburbs, when they could have attended school much closer to home. Parents were choosing to bring their kids to these two schools for a variety of reasons. I noticed in both schools that there was a focus on community partnership and parent engagement. Instruction and learning was student centered, equity was a daily conversation, and teachers were encouraged to try new things. And relationships were strong, providing the strong foundation of trust needed to make great things happen in schools.

The NAACP moratorium has put me in a hard and frustrating position. I am forced to say, NO, NAACP, these schools work for our kids and deserve a chance. Perhaps you should set your sights on the century old system that is letting far too many of us down. Parents are smart enough to make our own decisions if given the real deal on ALL their options. Don’t underestimate our ability, as parents, to determine which school provides the environment in which our children have the best chance to thrive.

The NAACP needs to show more respect to parents. Black parents overwhelmingly support charter schools and school choice in general as a way to advance our black children.

They need to do a better job of listening to and representing the people of color at the center of their mission.

Khulia Pringle is a mother, teacher, and parent organizer in St. Paul, Minnesota

This Memphis pastor says “let’s get real about charters”

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Charter schools and public education have been the focus of increased national attention lately and I’m proud that Tennessee is often held up as a model of how charter public schools can work for families.
Our charter schools provide high quality public school options to Tennessee families while operating with strict accountability and transparency standards. I’m proud of the work that our state has done to become a model for how public education can serve students, and in particular, students of color.

As a longtime Memphian, pastor and resident in the Whitehaven community, I was taken back by the NAACP’s national board as they adopted a moratorium on new charter public schools last October. To the NAACP’s credit, they are now embarking on a series of town halls to talk about education and charter schools, and they will be in Memphis this week.

I’m hoping this opportunity will be the start of a real dialogue with the NAACP to find common ground and discover ways we can work together to make sure that all public schools are working for our students.

Read more at Memphis K12

If only every young person could have a moment like this

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It’s the moment that Harlem high school senior Winston Perez-Ventura learned of his early acceptance into Cornell.

It’s also the moment that staff at Democracy Prep realize a dream come true, that their students have been accepted to every Ivy League University. That’s particularly impressive when you consider the large overall uptick in black college enrollment, but top-tiered public and private universities have seen a drop.

For example, according to a piece in the The Atlantic last year, the percentage of black undergraduates at Harvard was 7.4 percent in 1994 . In 2013 it was down to 6.5 percent. Not a huge difference, but noticeable when considering the upward trend of college enrollment for black students.

Consider this (from the article)…

Since 1994, black enrollment has doubled at institutions that primarily grant associate degrees, including community colleges. In 2013, black students accounted for 16 percent of the student body there, versus 11 percent in 1994.

Universities focusing on bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees also broadly saw gains, with blacks making up 14 percent of the population, compared to 11 percent in 1994.

But at top-tier universities, black undergraduate populations average 6 percent, a statistic that has remained largely flat for 20 years. (It’s less than half of what their share of the population might suggest; the Census reports that 15 percent of Americans between the ages of 20 and 24 are black.) While some schools have had success—the University of Missouri’s main campus has actually increased its black share by 3 percentage points since 1994—the median school barely budged.

This graph makes the problem easier to see:

bcivy

Knowing that college completion has an enormous impact on lifetime earnings, and income has a huge impact on the quality of life we live, the moment above should be seen are more than a student receiving an acceptance letter.

It should be seen as a world of opportunity opening up, barriers broken, and a hopeful future emerging.

There will be some critics who will miss that point because Democracy Prep is in a network of  independent public schools. You know them as “charter schools,” and it’s very possible you exist on one “side” or another of the supposedly two-sided battle about these schools.

If any school creates moments like the one in the video above, we should shut down our differences about the kind of school it is, and applaud their success.

And, we should do everything possible to get more students into Winston Perez-Ventura’s seat.