NAACP’s Charter School Task Force Meets Resistance in Los Angeles

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Hands off our charter schools!

That was the message delivered to the NAACP by charter parents, students and educators in an outdoor press conference ahead of the civil rights organization’s education hearing held at the Los Angeles Police Department Headquarters. The NAACP is currently engaged in a series of hearings around the country to hear from a variety of experts and community members about the organization’s call for a moratorium on charter schools.

That moratorium, passed by the historic civil rights group in October of 2016, has received heavy push-back from the African-American community as well as charter advocates who argue that it doesn’t align with the well-documented attitudes of parents who want more educational choices for their children.

The news conference, organized by the California Charter School Association, featured signs, t-shirts and pointed speeches condemning the NAACP policy. Students shared success stories of overcoming adversity at home and in their communities which they attributed to their charter schools. Educators spoke of the flexibility they have to customize their programs to the needs of their students.

“Black children have found solace in attending charter programs and many are finding greater acceptance and achieving greater victories” – Carmen Taylor Jones, National Council of Negro Women.

Educators and administrators from local charter schools also gave impassioned pleas to the NAACP to reconsider their call for a halt on expansion of the sector, noting charters are a viable option having positive results for many marginalized communities in California.

Following the press conference outside, the community members filled in the L.A. Police Department Auditorium, to take part in the hearing on charter schools and educational quality.

Margaret Fortune, CEO of Fortune School of Education, a network of K-12 public charter schools focused on closing the African American achievement gap, gave perhaps the most passionate testimony to the task force. In a reoccurring theme for the charter advocates that spoke, she noted that she is a card-holding member of the organization, but could not wrap her head around the idea that they would call for a halt to a system that is showing results with so many Black children.

“The charters and public schools today have to work together. Charter schools exist because of dissatisfaction with public schools” – George McKenna, LAUSD District 1 Board Member. 

Fortune and several others who gave testimony lamented the division caused by the moratorium, noting that it was a “distraction” that was dividing, rather than empowering the community to work together to fight for quality education regardless of school type.

Similar to the most recent hearing in Orlando, Florida, the task force listened to testimony from a variety of speakers advocating both for and against the moratorium. Speakers at this event included charter school founders and advocates, teachers union representatives, school board members and unlike the previous hearing, a relatively large group of parents, teachers, and students.

The final segment of the hearing, a time designated for comments and questions from these stakeholders, showed more of the division between those in attendance, with speakers alternating between supporting and condemning the charter moratorium.

One thing was clear from the outset: these California charter families and advocates have and will continue to organize to stop the NAACP and any other body from limiting their educational options.

NAACP: Who Exactly Are You Working to Advance When You Ignore Black Parents?

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By Khulia Pringle

It is my prayer that the NAACP hearing on their charter school moratorium happening today in Los Angeles goes far better than the ones I recently attended in Orlando, Florida and Memphis Tennessee.  It would be an understatement to say that both were appalling experiences for me as a black woman and an educator.

NAACP members revealed themselves in both cities to be woefully uninformed, consistently asking questions about charter schools that they should have known the answers to long before their organization voted to put a moratorium in place. It’s as if they decided to put the brakes on something without knowing a damn thing about what it is and how it works.

That takes some nerve when you think of how many parents and children are impacted by their ignorance.

My disappointments and frustrations are many when it comes to these hearings. In Memphis, the most appalling thing I saw was that parents were almost completely shut out of the discussion. The hearing lasted four hours and yet, somehow, they only allowed for twelve minutes of public comment.

Twelve minutes for the people most impacted by their decision. Twelve minutes for people who sat and listened to their uninformed questions and comments for four hours.

The first thing I noticed in Orlando was that the agenda was almost identical to the one I’d seen in Memphis. Some pro-charter people and some anti-charter people. But something really disturbing jumped from the page in Orlando: Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers, was on the agenda.

Do Your Homework

One thing was crystal clear very quickly. NAACP members had not done their research, their homework, before voting on the charter moratorium resolution. Most of them didn’t know anything.

Here’s a taste of what they asked:

Do Charter Schools accept students with IEPs?

Do Charters schools cherry pick kids?

Do Charter Schools kick kids out leading to a school to prison pipeline?

Do Charter schools keep the money if a child leaves the school?

Do Charter school teachers have to be trained?

Not only did this line of questioning, directed exclusively to those seen as “pro-charter,” expose a remarkable level of ignorance but it also revealed to me that not enough folks were asking the right questions.  

I would have liked to have heard some questions like this:

Are traditional public schools held accountable for failing poor students and students of color?

What are  the suspension rates for traditional public schools?

When kids are kicked or pushed out of the traditional system, where do they go?

If charters are not accepting students with IEP’s, then why?

What is the level of racial diversity  of teachers in traditional public schools? Are kids currently seeing themselves in their teachers and school administrators?

Are teachers required to take cultural competency and implicit bias training? What are the repercussions for a teacher being blatantly racist and/or a bullying children?

What does  the curriculum like in a  traditional public schools? Are all kids learning about themselves in history class?

What are traditional public schools doing to retain families and encourage parents to choose them instead of a  charter school?

But the worst part of the whole thing, for me, was the arrival of Randi Weingarten who was quite literally treated like some rock star by the NAACP panel.

“We have a very special guest, that has just arrived, Can we all stand up give Randi Weingarten, a standing ovation.”

Are you kidding me? I am now being told to stand for someone who is singlehandedly trying to prevent black and brown kids from having better and more quality school options?  I looked around and everyone, except for me and education advocate Rashad Turner, did as they were told and stood up. I literally said out loud, why are y’all standing?

Randi started out talking about all of her concerns about charter schools and all the reasons why they aren’t the solution. And then she mentions that she owns a charter school in Brooklyn. Say What? Well ain’t that the pot calling the kettle black.

I couldn’t stomach any more, so I left.

It is my hope, my prayer, that the Los Angeles hearing is different today.  But I ain’t gonna lie; the fact that it’s being held at the Los Angeles Police Department headquarters is not a very good start.

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

 

In Los Angeles, a plan to address childhood trauma in district schools

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Trauma. It’s not a new word. But perhaps what is new to many is the link that has been discovered between trauma and brain development, including how a child processes information. And not surprisingly, our most marginalized students are most likely to witness and experience violence. And trauma.

According to the Los Angeles Times,

Scientists have studied the effects of trauma and chronic stress on children’s behavior and health since the 1980s. But in the last two decades, said Marleen Wong, a professor in the the USC School of Social Work, researchers have shown how trauma affects children’s brain development and can change the way they are able to process information.

Mental health of America’s students is on the minds of many, including President Obama himself. There is mounting evidence that beyond the common sense challenges that traumatized children bring to the classroom, there are physiological changes to the brain brought on by chronic stress that make learning, problem solving, and managing emotions harder for them. Trauma changes the brain.

It’s fight, flight or freeze, and we get stuck,” he said. “We can’t think in that moment. If a teacher asked a student a question, ‘What’s five times nine?’ and the student starts feeling stressed, in their mind, in that part of their brain, it’s thinking, ‘Oh, I’ve experienced this stress before. That happened when I saw this car accident. That happened when somebody was killed.

The Share and Care Program in Los Angeles Unified School District is designed precisely to serve students who have been and continue to be victims of trauma. It is a twelve week program aimed at identifying children early to help them block out the noise and work through their pain, learning to talk about their feelings instead of holding them in.

And the need is great. In a district of 640,000 students, 80 percent of whom are considered poor, the trauma numbers are staggering, especially when we remind ourselves that we are talking about children.

The good news is that educators are increasingly becoming aware of the impacts of trauma and how to support students who are dealing with it. The 2015 Massachusetts Teacher of the Year, Audrey Jackson, even took time off from teaching to spend a year at the Harvard Graduate School of Education with a specific goal: to study the effects of trauma on students and how to build a “trauma informed community.”

Despite my school’s efforts, we are a still a work-in-progress, as best practices for trauma-informed schools are still developing. My goal during my time at HGSE was to better understand the physiological effects of trauma and to share that information with my colleagues so they will have more information on practical things they can to do make a difference.

The bad news is that supports for students, especially high quality ones that are actually effective, cost money and are often on the chopping block when it’s time to cut school budgets. But if anything should be seen as a worthwhile investment, it is getting our students to a place where, despite the trauma and violence that has surrounded them, they are able to concentrate, learn, and succeed in school.


This post originally appeared in the One Public Education blog.

Poll: L.A. Wants Charter Schools

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Backers of a plan to vastly expand the number of charter schools in Los Angeles released poll results today that they claim show overwhelming public support for such an expansion.

The poll of 1,150 Los Angeles voters — commissioned by The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation and California Charter School Association — found that 74 percent of voters within the Los Angeles Unified School District support the expansion of charter schools in neighborhoods where existing schools are struggling.

It also found that 69 percent of pool respondents want more charter schools in their own neighborhoods, while 88 percent support giving students in an area with an under-performing school the choice of attending a “higher- performing” school.

“These results make it clear that residents throughout Los Angeles are eager to expand opportunity for students, regardless of whether it comes from charter, magnet or traditional public schools,” said Gregory McGinty, co- executive director of The Broad Foundation. “The Broad Foundation is committed to working with Los Angeles families to improve public educational opportunities for all students.”

Read the full story here.