No one should stand between parents, students, and great schools

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Former U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has heard it all before: charter schools are not truly “public” and their very existence is a threat to traditional schools run by districts. Even now, after being out of America’s top education job, he is still hearing that message.

His recent stop at Smith College in Massachusetts became another protest opportunity for union-backed activists fighting a minor holy war against a ballot question that would allow the state to approve up to 12 more charter schools. Those schools would open in Massachusetts’ lowest performing school districts, but resistance is coming from suburban areas that would remain untouched if the ballot measure succeeds.

Outside Duncan’s event, Barbara Madeloni, president of the Massachusetts Teachers’ Association, raised questions about charter schools. “[p]ublic funds going into private hands does not make (charter schools) public…There’s no democratic oversight — local school committees (and) town councils… have no say on whether a charter school can open in their community, and there’s no local accountability for what happens in the school.”

That defies reason. Charter schools are public because the law says they are public, and those schools are accountable to select authorizers overseen by the state.

Here’s what the Massachusetts’ Department of Education says about charter schools: “Authorized by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ Education Reform Act of 1993, charter schools are independent public schools that operate under five year charters granted by the Commonwealth’s Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. Charter schools are usually proposed by teachers, school leaders, parents, non-profit organizations, or other members of the community.”

That seems pretty public to me.

So why are teachers’ unions and the upscale parents in suburbs that support them at odds with their own democratically governed state.

The politics of privilege.

Let’s be real: teachers’ unions seek to define schools as “public” only when they are under the control of local school boards because it serves the agenda of public workers, not the public at large. School board members are elected in low-turnout elections powered by the very public employees they are supposed to govern and negotiate with about money, expectations, and goals.

When Monsanto loads up the Environmental Protection Agency with its agents we cry foul. When public workers hire their own bosses by dominating election processes, overriding the individual voices of families and parents at the bottom of America’s social hierarchy, we call it democracy.

Why fight opportunity for the least of them?

Duncan is spot on when asked about the “tension” between supporters of charter schools and those fighting them. He says “I’m absolutely in support of high-performing charter schools….I think we need to replicate and learn from them … I think this tension is about adults, not kids. We need to make sure every kid has a chance to be successful.”

So we have to wonder why the “Save Our Schools” types bird-dog reformers like Duncan, but sit mum on questions about serious inefficiencies, classrooms, schools, and districts? Who are these people standing with mostly white public worker unions defending a system fully yoked with indefensible outcomes?

Searching pictures of their rallies and media appearances I feel safe drawing on some generalizations. They are mostly left-wing liberals (who think they’re progressives, but aren’t) and middle-class families with advantaged children who are fawned over by education officials. From their view the system is basically good. All it needs is more money. That’s why they say “save our schools” instead of “save our kids.”

Their schools are doing their bidding with their kids.

This is not to say there aren’t some black “leaders” ignoring the high support for charter schools among black families. Boston City Councilor Tito Jackson laments the budgetary impact on traditional district schools that happens when parents exercise choice and send their kids to schools outside of their districts. But, in a story that has become all too typical of middle class people who aspire to raise themselves in the ranks of politics, he benefited from school choice. Though he grew up in the Grove Hall neighborhood of Roxbury, his parents bypassed local schools for the better ones in another district.

We call that talking out the side of your neck.

And, yes, there are community-based groups supporting anti-charter campaigns too. But on closer inspection, most of them are grantees of either big labor or wealthy white “progressives.” That’s an odd reality given how many of these groups would have you believe the fight for school reform is one that pits a power mad oligarchy against the little people (who are only defended by the altruism of union bosses). Buyer beware on that bit of marketing.

Like most people pushing for new schools and better educational options, I often faced the tired claim that I’m driven by money from reformers. Does that mean charter opponents hold the moral high ground when it comes to motives? Hardly. No one in these fights should assume priestly purity when it comes to money. Both the labor groups and the “grassroots” organizations railing against independently run public schools have taken money from white billionaires (George Soros, hello!). At the same time they seem to have mastered the art of speaking with the devil’s forked tongue, railing against capitalism while sucking from its teat.

The bottom line is our children deserve better schools. Charter schools are often a lifeline for parents who feel trapped the way Jackson’s parents presumably did. No one should stand between parents and schools they want. We should all fight those who defend a system that isn’t working for students and families in poverty. Hard stop.

While no one has devised a kind of school that always gets it right, it should be clear to us that the single-minded fight to limit independent public schools – in this case, charter schools – couldn’t be more wrong.

Boston City Councilor Bought and Sold, Kids Be Damned

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Boston City Councilor, Tito Jackson

Boston City Councilor, Tito Jackson (Photo credit: Boston Herald)

There is something insidious about Boston City Councilor Tito Jackson growing up in Roxbury, being afforded the unique privilege of attending Brookline schools, and now leading the charge against school choice for families in the very same neighborhoods he is supposed to represent.

Jackson wants to be Mayor. I’m pretty sure that’s not a secret. And he has strategically embedded himself in the blood sport of education politics, working alongside union backed organizations, encouraging students to walk out of school to attend city council meetings, and now championing a resolution to keep the current charter cap and vote no on Question 2. It’s hard to find him anywhere without a giant “Vote No” sign nearby.

Tito’s repeated comments about charter schools demonstrate that he is either totally misinformed as to how the schools work or, the more likely scenario, that he has sold his soul to special interests because winning elections is more important to him than ensuring that the children in his district have the educational opportunities that he did.

One has to ask, how can Tito even be serious with his rhetoric? How can he look at the Boston Public Schools budget that rose every year from $737M in 2011 to over $1 BILLION today and still spread the lie that giving parents quality choices siphons money from the traditional system?  Perhaps his mistakes in budgeting are explained  by a Boston Globe analysis that Tito only appeared for slightly more than a quarter of hearings for the Ways and Means Committee.

No Choice for You

Tito Jackson’s family exercised school choice. And no one begrudges Tito for the excellent education he received in Brookline.

We do, however, take issue with his hypocrisy. He has become a poster child for the saying, “Do as I say, not as I do” and sadly, his constituents, both parents and children, are the victims of his double standard.

Black and Latino parents overwhelmingly support school choice both nationally and locally. A national 2015 survey conducted by the Black Alliance for Educational Options shows that 70 percent of black voters support having more educational options in their communities. Recent polling of Boston parents finds that 75 percent of them support lifting the charter cap with support highest among Black and Latino parents. Tito Jackson is an elected official in the black community. But he isn’t listening.

When we see reading and math score declines in both 4th and 8th grades in the 2015 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), we know that change is needed.  And when we see 70% support for more parent choice options such high-quality traditional public, public charter and scholarship programs, it’s a strong indicator that Black voters know what they want for their children and are engaged in the education reform process.               -BAEO Director of Policy and Research Tiffany Forrester

The Real Subscription to Poverty

Before voting to give himself a $20,000 raise, City Councilor Tito Jackson lamented his current salary of $87,500 and said public service should not be a “subscription to poverty. (Boston Globe, October 8, 2014)

Meanwhile, Tito Jackson is known for working hard to vote in raises for himself and his fellow councilors. He is so disconnected from reality that he fails to realize that denying kids educational opportunities is the real subscription to poverty.

Without a strong educational foundation like Tito got in Brookline, children in his community can only dream of making $87,000 a year; from the floor of Boston’s City Council chambers, Tito argued that salary constituted poverty, for him.

The reality for Tito’s constituents in Roxbury is much different – the federal poverty line is $24,000 for a family of four.  Can he really argue that a household with three times the income and three less people is equally impoverished?

Tito Jackson has lost his way. Let’s not let him take our kids with him.