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.

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.

 

New Orleans on the vanguard (again) with a HBCU teacher residency program

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The HBCU responsible for producing more black doctors than any other institution in the United States is readying itself to produce homegrown teachers willing to teach in their own backyard.

A new partnership between Xavier University and five charter school management organizations in New Orleans will train teachers through the Dr. Norman C. Francis teacher residency program starting in the Fall of 2017.

An email blast from New Schools for New Orleans says this is “the first teacher residency partnership between an HBCU and charter management organizations in the country.”

The email goes on to explain the reasoning behind the new program:

Residencies have a strong track record of preparing teachers to start and stay in the classroom. Though structure may vary, these programs operate very much like a medical residency. Just as a new doctor prepares, the bulk of a teacher resident’s time is spent learning alongside a master teacher before gradually developing the skills and completing the hours of practice necessary to become the teacher of record. This intense, practiced-based preparation ensures the teacher understands the rigor of the profession and has had intense coaching and feedback before being responsible for a classroom of students.

Xavier University of Louisiana, lauded for preparing more black doctors than any institution in the nation, has also been preparing excellent teachers for our schools since the university was founded in 1925. Xavier has long emphasized deep content knowledge and practice in their teacher preparation programs, requiring extensive field experience and student teaching from their education students. When we talk to school leaders about where their effective teachers come from, Xavier’s programs are always high on the list.

According to the National Council of Teacher Residencies, programs like the one forming at Xavier build on the medial residency model by teaching underlying educational theory and providing real world practice.  Before new teachers are allowed to fly solo with a classroom full of students from under-resourced communities, they complete a “rigorous full-year classroom apprenticeship with masters-level education content.”

All of this is a notable sign of progress for New Orleans. For at least a decade school reform leaders have been dogged by community complaints about large numbers of charter school teachers who are not from New Orleans, who are perceived as being culturally mismatched with their students, and do not reflect the racial make up of the student body.

There is another sore spot that usually accompanies the claim about “outsider” teachers too.

The scab on the wound created when thousands of New Orleans Public Schools teachers were released from employment after Hurricane Katrina never quite heals, even all these years later. People often mentioned the “fired teachers” of New Orleans.

They rarely mention that a good number of teachers were rehired in new schools, but not the ones who couldn’t pass a basic skills test.

The promise of a new way to prepare teachers in New Orleans serves two important goals: producing indigenous teachers who teach where they are from, while also preparing teachers who can be effective in closing the achievement gap.

Achieving that would be real progress for a city that couldn’t be more deserving.

You won’t admit it, but public education is a system of deplorables

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Brace yourself.

A Baltimore teacher grows frustrated with her poorly managed classroom and starts yelling at her students “you’re idiots! You have a chance to get an education. Do you wanna be a broke ass nigger, who’s going to get shot?”

In Minnesota, a math teacher who supports Donald Trump told students he supports “building a wall on the Mexican border” and that blacks should go “back to Africa.”

A parent in Los Angeles, Jennifer Reynaga, became alarmed after finding out a teacher in her child’s school was channeling Donald Trump’s anti-Mexican fear-based language, and scaring kids about how Trump’s presidency will affect them.

Down in Florida, parent Donnie Jones says a teacher walked up to a group of black students in the hall and said “Don’t make me call Donald Trump to get you sent back to Africa.”

In Georgia a teacher’s aide was axed after a racist Facebook post about First Lady Michelle Obama. She said “This poor Gorilla…she needs to focus on getting a total make-over (especially the hair), instead of planning vacations! She is a disgrace to America!”

Now, you’re going to say all of this is the predictable result of electing a white nationalist, Donald Trump, to the American presidency. That’s shortsighted.

Deplorables in education existed long before an election determined Trump could take his Duck Dynasty to the White House. You’ve missed it because, perhaps, many of you have been so busy painting pretty pictures of public education that you’ve glossed over it’s realities.

What part of the Trump victory is responsible for the Head Start scandal in Prince George’s County where a 3-year-old wet his pants and was forced by his teacher to mop it up in front of his peers while she texted his mother the message “LOL…He worked that mop tho!”?

Or the New York teacher who forced a student to lick his desk clean after he was caught doodling on it?

Or the Greenville, Mississippi teacher who drug a special needs students across a gymnasium floor by her hair?

Or when a Milwaukee Public Schools teacher’s aide slammed a student on a table and called the boy a nigger?

The examples are endless, but individual incident reports like these fail to uncover the deplorable reality of public education.

Start with a question so basic for any institution caring for children. Are our kids safe?

I’ll tell you again, as I’ve told you before, that when the Federal government studied the sexual abuse of children in public schools they estimated 1 in 10 students will be the victim of sexual misconduct by school staff. The problem is grosser, and more costly, than anyone admits.

You might also consider that in 22 states it’s still legal for educators to beat children.

The Obama administration recently sent a letter to state education officials saying ” the very acts of corporal punishment that are permissible when applied to children in schools under some state laws would be prohibited as criminal assault or battery when applied to adults in the community in those very same states.”

Guess at who is disproportionately beaten?

The same people who were beaten for learning to read during slavery, for wanting to govern during reconstruction, for wanting to vote during the Civil Rights era, and wanting to protest state sanctioned killings of unarmed citizens today.

In short, the blacks.

Some readers will be unmoved by discipline-related disparities because, after all, “bad” kids deserve punishment. But what about the injustices that no child can conceivably deserve?

Like the fact that Black and Latino students who can’t access high-level math and science courses because their schools don’t offer calculus, physics, chemistry, and Algebra II at rates equal to white schools.

How about the fact that Black and Latino students have less access to effective teachers?

Pouring awesomesauce over the teaching profession won’t hide the fact that public school teachers aren’t all selfless agents of mercy toiling in conditions unworthy of their altruism. Like any human population they vary greatly in their preparation, attitudes, skills, talents, and efficacy.

Many of them are ill-prepared, saddled with the wrong attitudes, and unfit for modern classrooms.

Those teachers don’t arrive before our kids by random assignment that distributes their inefficiency equally among races and classes. It’s by design. The government in all its democratic glory delivers them to us from universities, to the state, to the local school board.

Tell me how our kids deserve our silence about that problem?

The response of the Left to these problems is that our schools and teachers are great, but we need to redouble our funding of them. We are told to prioritize respect for teachers (who are arguably the most self-thanking occupation in America), pay them more, require less of them, lower the bar of their admission to the profession when they can’t pass professional entry tests, reduce their workloads to levels that are financially untenable, give them an even larger voice in education policy-making than their vast network of well-paid state-by-state lobbyists affords them, and dress them in the title of “expert” even as they show little demonstrable expertise in producing results with our kids.

They say we need to reclaim our schools. I wonder who are they including in the “our” part of that prescription? The parents fighting for options other than schools run by the government blob? Those suing for their rights to better teachers? Those fighting for schools that prioritize outcomes for students over benefits for adults?

Nah.

From the Right we’re told we just need make education great again by reasserting the supremacy of dead white sociopaths, rewriting our books to cast enslaved people as well-fed happy dancers, meting out slave-era systems of behavioral punishments, and bring law and order to schools in ways that fast track the school-to-prison superhighway.

If you accept either “side’s” argument you might have been “educated” by the existing system. It’s time to remove the Matrix plug from the back of your head because it has disabled you from thinking critically about your captivity.

Thank God there are people – the reformers – between both broken wings of this aimless educational dodo bird who at very least admit the system needs fundamental reformation.

We’ll never produce a thinking, capable citizenry so long as we fail to acknowledge public education as currently constructed is a system bursting with deplorables.

3 Questions Every Teacher Should Ask Parents About Their Child

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I have spent nearly 5 years in education. Before that I worked for a non-profit working with students encouraging them to pursue a career in the medical field. Since graduating from college, I have been committed to seeing the success of children. I have worked in three different school settings and seen a wide variety of students. As a result, I have also had my encounters with a wide variety of parents.

My goal when I became a teacher was to ensure my students would not only graduate but also to equip parents with the resources they needed to continue the education from school at home. Many of my students had parents who were absent or disengaged by the school or, like me, had active parents that did not know anything about college. Even as a new teacher I was never afraid to ask my students’ parents questions because I know and value the importance of hearing about my students from the people who know them best. Their parents. And my best chance of supporting and helping my students the way they need and deserve depends on me having extra information about each child to guide my decisions.

We as teachers often worry about parents being involved in their child’s education. Sometimes we even bemoan how disengaged they seem. But far too often, we fail to ask them even a single question about their child before we teach them, everyday, for an entire school year.

Here are the 3 questions that every teacher should consider asking parents about the students in their class. These questions are not specific to any particular grade, age, or ethnicity and they are equally effective regardless of school model.

What does your child aspire to be? This was an important question when I wanted to know how to motivate my students. And while it isn’t the most original query, knowing the answer can really make things a lot easier for a teacher. One the first thing that successful teachers do with their students is connect with them. The easiest way to connect with your students is to know what is it that they want to be. You can motivate a student to learn by tying in their interest and passion into what they are learning.

How often are you available to meet about your child? This is the question that affirms to everyone that this child’s education is a team effort. The parents who hear this question know right right out of the gate that I want to support them in making sure their students is successful. This question tells the teacher that I know I can count on the parent to support me in educating the student. And perhaps more importantly, this question gives the student the confidence to be able to say, “my teacher and my parent are on the same page and they both want to see me succeed.”

Does your child like to read? If so what is his/her favorite book? As a teacher I pushed reading for two reasons: one, I was an English teacher and reading was the majority of my classroom instruction. And two,  most students struggle with reading or do not like to read. I have this underlying goal to teach my students the joys of reading and the importance of reading regardless of their reading interest before meeting them. I believe there is a correlation to students that enjoy reading and those that eventually become successful. If the parent answers yes to the question, then I have to continue fostering that love for reading in pushing them to tackle complex reading materials. If the answer is no, then I know I must figure a way to help this student see the joys in reading and overcome their dislike or lack of reading.

I promise that knowing more about your students from the start will make all the difference later, not only in the relationships you are able to build with students, but also in the relationships and trust you are able to establish with parents.

And that trust, along with a love of reading, are total game changers.


David McGuire is an elementary teacher in Indianapolis, IN. He blogs at Indy Ed.