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.


The “positivity project” spreads the power of appreciation

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There is nothing more powerful in the world than gratitude and positive mental attitude. Students at Oak Park High School in Kansas City recently were targets of the power when their teachers hatched a plan to deepen the teacher-student bond.

They created the “Positivity Project,” a personal challenge to identify individual students who inspires them and makes them want to come to work. Armed with personal statements, these teachers found students in the halls and surprised them with kind words of appreciation.

It will set your heart on fire to see the reactions when teachers told these students why they were important and appreciated.

The things we won’t say hurt the most

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by Tom Rademacher

Once we all get a bit more comfortable we can talk about race, and equity.

You know our focus is technology, is rigor, is test scores, and equity.

And really we talk about race when we talk about equity and what we mean by equity is all students and so really when we talk about anything at all it is about race, and, um, equity.

Another time though, we’ll totally get into it. We’ll talk about colonized classrooms and the kids we kick out and the kids that never come and the kids that sit and silently or loudly feel harm in our classrooms, and once we get through the agenda items about honor roll and parking spots, then we can talk about kids that are dying, and equity.

It’s at the end of the agenda, it has its own spot in the rubric, it’s the umbrella over everything that we always sorta address, I mean if you think about how often we say it, I think you’ll agree. But if you insist on asking and asking, I promise that next time we’ll really talk about how personal and systemic bias is really violence against students, would only be tolerated against kids of color and is failing and imprisoning and limiting them. We’ll really dig in on whiteness in our schools, I mean, first we have the other stuff we have to get to, and then equity.

But really all this other work is equity. So we can talk about funding and standards and tenure and salaries and it’s really all about us but really it’s all about the kids, and equity.

See? We can talk about it and never even have to talk about race, because we all know it’s back there somewhere, so we don’t really need to talk about teachers who are scared of their black boys, especially the really smart ones, who question the effectiveness of our practice, and equity.

And really we need more data, good data, better data, and more studies. The universities are really failing us, you know, just not studying this enough, but when they can tell us exactly how then we can start to think about a system that supports more teachers of color, about identifying what actively anti-racist classes look like and making sure it is unacceptable not to have one, we can know for sure how to make all students welcome and comfortable and supported and challenged, once we have the numbers, you know, about equity.

I mean, you know it gets a little sticky. You know it’s not something you can really look for, and everyone thinks about it in their own way, and we can’t really judge and we need to respect everyone’s journey, we can’t push anyone too far and really, when you think about it, isn’t it just pretty great that there are so many teachers even willing to kinda talk about these hard things, and equity?

We’ll get to it. We’ll get there. This will be a big focus soon, and we’ll have so many conversations. It’s on literally every powerpoint, and so you can tell we’re making it a priority, and sure we have to be pretty delicate, but we’ll keep pushing, we’ll keep digging. None of us, certainly none of us, is afraid of a real conversation about, you know, all that race stuff, and equity.