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.

 

Open letter to school reformers

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Dear Education Reformers (Ed Reformers),

First and foremost, I would like to commend you for all of the work that you do. Many of you do this work because you believe that all children, regardless of zip code, should have access to a quality education. For your efforts to ensure that the underserved get a “fair shake.” I commend you. Thank you a million times over. I know students and families are thankful to have you on their side.

The best leaders are able to be led. Are you willing to do whatever it takes for the poor and disenfranchised to have a fair opportunity to live their dreams through a quality education?

Moreover, the purpose of my letter to you is to share the “glows as well as the grows”. Grows in this case is any attempts that you can make to galvanize your efforts to make the movement more powerful. “More powerful” in the sense of speaking with one voice, and acting as a collective whole. “More powerful” in the sense that you aren’t afraid to be lions, because right now its seems as if there are a lot of lambs on the Ed Reform side, at least from the outside looking in.

I’ve witnessed many debates with Education Reformers wasting time trying to convince folks that don’t want to be convinced about the power of school choice. We all know school choice and healthy competition work to better systems. Those efforts would be better served with you teaching parents how to self-advocate, as the families of the movement add much more power than any Twitter/Facebook/Media debate.

This past week, a strong message was sent to you by (Anti-Reformers) those who oppose school choice. They were able to muscle the NAACP into passing a resolution placing a moratorium on charter schools. While I am extremely disappointed by the NAACP and their actions, as well as their treatment of the parents that traveled from Memphis to Cincinnati to have their voices heard, sadly I am not surprised.

If you noticed, shortly after the resolution was voted on and passed, the AFTRavitch, (tenured Nobodies) who I refuse to make famous and others against school choice were quick to release statements in support of the resolution. These statements highlight the fact that this was carefully thought out, and in this rare instance, you got “out organized.”

While we can all agree, the NAACP and their resolution bears no fruit, it sends a powerful message in that you need to “step your game up,” in order to strengthen your movement.

There can’t be anymore “turn the other cheek,” or “kill them with kindness.” Those against school choice aren’t playing fair, and they certainly aren’t kind to those that think the poor should have school choice. Anytime they (Anti-reform) can get one of the nation’s oldest civil rights groups to turn a blind-eye to the poor and disenfranchised, you know there’s a ton of work to be done. These families need you, and you can’t let them down.

That said, the vote to lift the cap on charter schools in Massachusetts charter schools became that much more important for the Ed reform movement. You need to be beating the streets, having town halls at Charter Schools in Massachusetts, speaking with Alumni groups of graduates of Massachusetts’s colleges and universities, meeting with fraternities and sororities.

Every vote counts, and you’ll need to ensure that Massachusetts sends a message loud and clear, and that message is school choice is here to stay! Think about the thousands of Black and Latino students that are on waiting lists for charter schools across this great nation. Parents have a right to choose schools for their children. No one should be standing in the way of school choice.

Currently as Ed Reformers, you operate in buckets. You must find a way to come together to share ideas and best practices to “reform your Ed reform movement”. This movement is powerful, but it has so much more potential if you organize and become more strategic, with a centralized message.

My suggestion is that you have at least one to two major conferences a year. You can have sessions focused on the needs of the people, and the needs of the movement. This way, you come out speaking in one voice, ready to oppose the opposition the same way they do you.

If you agree with the message, please share it. If you disagree, tell me why, and what we can all do to come up with something better.


Raymond Ankrum is a charter school principal in Long Island, New York. This post was republished from Huffington Post.

 

This is how union-backed school board candidates pretend to be David while working for Goliath

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This is a David vs. Goliath issue.”

That was the defense that Colorado educator and activist Angela Engel used in this Chalkbeat Colorado story to defend the plagiarism of Denver school board candidate Kristi Butkovich, who used the thoughts of Engel, Diane Ravitch, and fellow Denver union-backed candidate Mike Kiley, almost verbatim, in answering a Chalkbeat candidate questionnaire.

“Kristi is a mom running for a volunteer school board position,” Engel continued. “Her campaign doesn’t have the resources to hire a PR firm or a communications director.”

Poor “David.”

Or maybe not so much.

While it’s true that Butkovich’s candidacy hasn’t attracted a lot of donors, she does have one BIG one: the Denver teachers union, as Chalkbeat reported in a separate story. The union has given Butkovich $21,000, more than 90 percent of her campaign cash.

I’m sure they’re all kicking themselves now that they got caught for not using a few hundred dollars of the union haul on a PR writer for the questionnaire.

So, they’ve fallen back and huddled around the tired PR ploy that the unions and their mouthpieces, like Ravitch, so often cleave to.

Not that it isn’t somewhat clever PR cleaving. After all, everybody loves the underdog. And because many of the policies that unions don’t like (charter schools, tenure reform, and stronger accountability) are supported by the big education philanthropies (including the funders of my employer—Education Post), the unions like to try and spin themselves into the beloved “little guy” persona, usually using money as “Goliath”’s most despised character flaw.

And there’s no denying the fact that these philanthropies certainly do spend a lot of money on education. But the reality is that the unions are threatened by the infringement on territory that has historically been theirs, not that they are being massively outspent or outmuscled.

Last year, the American Federation of Teachers—the smaller of the two national teachers’ unions—spent more than $40 million on political contributions. Teachers’ unions—using dues taken from teachers’ paychecks—are a political behemoth, on stages big and small.

And they specialize in controlling local education politics. This research out of Michigan State University on the teachers’ union influence on education policy includes this statistic: “Importantly, union activity in board elections seems to matter for election outcomes: Moe (2005b, 2006b, 2006c) finds that union-endorsed candidates won board seats over three-quarters of the time, and union support is more important than incumbency advantage.”

When it comes to school board elections, teachers’ unions are Goliath’s big, bad-ass brother.

But he’s not faring too well in Denver…and getting desperate.

Ravitch wrote a post that lamely tries to exonerate Butkovich. “I condemn this attempt to smear Kristi Butkovich with flimsy accusations,” she wrote. “She is not writing a book or a doctoral dissertation.”

That’s right, Diane; she’s not. She’s doing something that I’d argue should have an even higher standard of integrity. She’s running for public office. She needs to be honest about who wrote the words she put her name on.

Or as University of Colorado associate professor of communications Elizabeth Skewes put it in the Chalkbeat story: “If you’re going to be taking somebody else’s words — and more importantly, their ideas — you have to tell people it is not your original thought… If I am a voter, I want to know what she thinks — not what a good friend thinks or what Diane Ravitch thinks.”

The unions, with Ravitch cheering from the sidelines, have been trying to regain control of Denver’s school board for several elections now. They continue to spend big on the elections, while crying “David.” And they continue to lose.

Ravitch and the union thought they had a winner in 2011, when Emily Sirota, the wife of progressive media personality David Sirota, ran for a seat on the school board. But Sirota, even with all of her husband’s media muscle and Ravitch behind her, was trounced by Anne Rowe, Butkovich’s current opponent. And, by the way, the Sirota camp didn’t take that loss very gracefully.

No wonder Butkovich didn’t want Ravitch’s name attached to “her” words. The Ravitch slate has lots of marks on the losing side of the ledger here.

The real Goliath is shrinking. And no amount of PR spin can change his true identity.


Michael Vaughn is the Director of Communications for Education Post. He blogs at The Great Equalizer.

 

Believe it or not, education reform is blacker than you think

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Anti-education reformers are some of the most interesting people I know. They often reminisce about and allude to a time when schools and systems worked for our communities. I try to follow them, but their recollections seem to escape me.

Quite often, amongst the usually entitled (and overwhelmingly white) anti-charter, anti-high standards, and anti-progress groups, education reform is assailed as one of the problems with the American education system.

According to these folks, many of whom I count as friends, everything was fine in our school system for Black, Latino, and poor kids before higher standards were common, data was disaggregated, school choice was provided, and the number of dropout factories decreased. This line of thought represents a disillusioned nostalgia for yesteryear’s “educational heyday” –one that largely ignores our youth’s actual experiences in schools. Their misguided and amnestic arguments about what American schools were is akin to Trump’s lemmings being seduced by the call for making America great again. It begs the question,

“Great again for whom?”

GREAT AGAIN FOR WHOM?

  • When a Black grandparent can point to a school and system that failed them, their children, and, now, their grandkids, yet middle class (mostly white) folks tell them not to opt out of that school/system, something sinister is askew.
  • When in far too many places, only half of Black boys graduate high school in four years (that represents progress in a lot of cities), we are lying to ourselves. Some would say that we are lying to our youth, but they actually know better.
  • When in far too many neighborhoods school choice options are failing, crumbling, almost impossible to staff buildings, it is oppressive.
  • When Pennsylvania has the most inequitable school funding in the country, and knowingly violates the Constitution, we know that things are not just. When a suit is filed to address the massive underfunding of our educational system and the state Supreme Court dismisses it, we know that help (at least from that corner) is not on the way.
  • When systems, politicians, and sadly, some educators, put the wishes of the adults, who volunteered to serve, over those supposedly being served, it is oppressive and champions the inequitable components of the status quo – the very status quo that helped usher in the massive inequities present today.

Great again for whom?

INEQUITIES WERE BAKED INTO SCHOOLS SERVING BLACK STUDENTS FROM THE START

Malcolm X encouraged us to study history. We know that in southern states, it was a crime to teach over 4 million enslaved Africans. In The Teacher Wars, Dana Goldstein, provides detailed accounts of inequities that were introduced to the very foundation of schools for Black children. You should be able to easily recognize that those foundations remain prevalent in most systems that educate Black children.

Great again for whom?

During Reconstruction, teachers were sought (and largely underfunded) to teach recently emancipated youth. Teachers like Philadelphia’s Charlotte Forten, granddaughter of the famous James Forten, signed up to do their “duty” as teachers. They persevered through constant threats, actualities of violence, and almost no funding streams. Frederick Douglass described the white supremacist violence that attempted to suppress Black liberation and educational justice. “Schoolhouses are burnt, teachers mobbed and murdered, schools broken up.”  Today, in Pennsylvania, the supposed keystone state, schools are systemically underfunded and the PA system undergirds massive inequity, mainly in schools attended by the descendants of enslaved Africans.

Great again for whom?

The issue with Reconstruction, including schooling for Black children, was not that it failed. It was engineered to go off track. The progress was dismantled. It was jettisoned. It was undermined by those who benefited from the status quo. And, it was largely ignored by those who claimed to have been invested in ensuring equity for Black communities. Today, one can’t help but to wonder why it isn’t apparent that our schools are again being undermined by those who want to return to a time when the educational system “worked for Black families.”

Fast forward to the 1960s-70s.

BLACK FAMILIES WERE OPTING OUT OF TRADITIONAL PUBLIC SCHOOLS LONG AGO

In 1967, outspoken and courageous leaders, who stayed woke, like Cecil B. Moore, engaged the community and supported students to ensure that “schooling was not interfering with their education.” Students criticized Philly schools because they consistently deprived our community of quality education. High school student leaders from throughout Philadelphia decided to rally together to denounce what they deemed the “white policy of the Board of Education.” When these student activists demanded higher standards and an expansive curriculum (particularly a Black studies course), the police chief brought his henchmen and commanded them to “get their Black asses.”

In the 1970s, nation building groups like the Black Panther Party for Self Defense were calling for educational reform, much to the chagrin of the defenders of the status quo. “The Intercommunal Youth Institute was established in January 1971 by the Black Panther Party. In 1974, the name was changed to Oakland Community School. The Black Panther Party’s goal was to get children to learn to their highest potential and to strengthen their minds so that one day they would be successful. The school graduated its first class in June 1974. In September 1977, California Gov. Edmund “Jerry” Brown Jr. and the California Legislature gave Oakland Community School a special award for “having set the standard for the highest level of elementary education in the state.”

Great again for whom?

MALCOLM X WOULD HAVE BEEN A STRONG CHARTER SCHOOL ADVOCATE

While there is much angst amongst the “traditionalists” about progressive things like charter schools and school choice for poor families, we know that Malcolm X  called for school systems to significantly shake things up. He demanded that there be a significant number of turnaround schools-calling for 10% of their persistently failing schools to be turned over to the community.

Today, Malcolm X would strongly advocate for charter schools.

“…this city has said that even with its plan there are 10 percent of the schools …that they cannot improve. So what are we to do?…A first step in the program to end the existing system of racist education is to demand that the 10 percent of the schools …be turned over to and run by the Afro-American community itself. Since they say that they can’t improve these schools, why should you and I who live in the community, let these fools continue to run and produce this low standard of education? No, let them turn those schools over to us. Since they say they can’t handle them, nor can they correct them, let us take a whack at it.” Malcolm, as often is the case, knew the blueprint for our liberation. He knew that limiting school choice options was not in the best interest of the Black community. Still isn’t.

It is still escaping me. Please remind me again. When exactly were these schools and systems great for Black and Brown students?


Sharif El-Mekki wrote this post for the blog Philly’s 7th Ward

An All-New Low For The Louisiana Federation of Teachers

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It has long been clear that the Louisiana Federation of Teachers (LFT) does not work in the best interests of students. After all, LFT has been on the wrong (and losing) side of several debates over past several years. They joined with Tea Party-aligned lawmakers in attempt to repeal Common Core. They have supported nearly every anti-charter school bill proposed in the legislature. And, LFT has repeatedly tried to weaken the state’s accountability system for schools and teachers.

But LFT’s current effort to scuttle funding for a charter school serving at-risk students represents an all-time low for the union.

Last week, LFT launched an online petition calling on Governor John Bel Edwards to veto House Bill 887, a proposal from Rep. Steve Carter (R-Baton Rouge), that would allow a Baton Rouge charter school, THRIVE Academy, to become an independent public school under the jurisdiction of the state legislature.

East Baton Rouge teacher Sarah Broome launched THRIVE Academy in 2011 after one of her young students was killed in a violent street fight. Broome recognized that the student’s chaotic home life put her on a path that ended in that unfortunate tragedy and wanted to create a school that could meet the needs of at-risk students both in and out of the classroom.

Therefore, Broome established THRIVE as a charter boarding school – the first of its kind in the state – where students live together during the week and are expected to participate in activities such as cooking, cleaning, laundry and budgeting. THRIVE also provides the 110 students it currently serves with individualized attention in small classes led by high-performing teachers.

By almost every measure, the school has been a success. Not only is THRIVE one of the highest-performing middle schools in East Baton Rouge, it’s the highest-performing charter school in the entire district.

Nevertheless, THRIVE has had to depend on the generosity of funders to cover the added costs that come with boarding students – an approach that has worked thus far, but leaves the school vulnerable to the whims of donors. To ensure the long-term financial stability of the school, Broome worked with Rep. Carter to craft House Bill 887 to make THRIVE a legislatively-authorized independent public school, much like the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts (NOCCA).

As a legislatively-authorized school, THRIVE would be able to enroll students who live outside East Baton Rouge Parish. It would also allow the Legislature to allocate additional funding to THRIVE – approximately $23,714 per child – to fully cover the costs of the program.

6th and 7th grade students at THRIVE enjoy a recent camping trip.

6th and 7th grade students at THRIVE enjoy a recent camping trip.

House Bill 887 received overwhelming support in both the House and Senate – in fact, Senators passed the bill unanimously – and is now awaiting the Governor’s signature. But the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, an organization which always claims it works in the best interests of kids, wants the Governor to veto the bill, which would deprive hundreds of our state’s most vulnerable children with a safe, nurturing environment to learn and grow.

That’s not only wrong, that’s despicable.

This post originally appeared at peterccook.com