Making every school a quality school – not just for the lucky ones

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In Massachusetts there is big debate brewing around raising the current charter school cap. It is on the ballot for November 2nd. “The ballot question could allow charters to expand into areas where they don’t exist now, taking millions of dollars away from successful district public schools. Under the proposed ballot question, 12 new charter schools enrolling up to 1 percent of the school-age population could be approved every year, forever, with no limit. These charters could open anywhere in the state, and there are no restrictions on how many charter schools could be opened in a single community or how much money any one district could lose to these new charter schools. The amount of money lost will grow: $100 million more the first year, more than $200 million the next year, more than $300 million the year after that, crippling our school system with every passing year.” (saveourpublicschoolsma.com)

RuthDEY’s National Advisor, Ruth Rodriguez-Fay has written a public letter to Governor Baker of Massachusetts. We have included a few snippets below, and invite you to read the entire letter here. If you are resident of Massachusetts, we strongly urge you to vote no on question 2.

 

Dear Governor:

The people of the Commonwealth wait for your leadership to protect our most sacred institution, our public schools.  We look for your assurance to families that you will use the power to make every public school the quality every child deserves.  We have followed your campaign promoting charter schools, while portraying the public schools as failing.  The “failing” based solely on a test designed with a 60% failing rate. You have shown disrespect to the thousands of teachers, families and students that have been at the helm of a system that prior to the privatization reforms, enjoyed the admiration of the nation and the world.


There are unconfirmed reports that the people behind Question 2 are some of the same who contributed to your candidacy for Governor; and they expect something in return.  It is no secret that investors have found quite profitable the Charter School Enterprise. Why, we even have foreign companies investing in charter schools.  Perhaps you might want to encourage them of a more just and equitable way to help the children of the Commonwealth.


Finally, I humbly suggest that you listen to the advice of Juvenile Court Judges that since the implementation of the MCAS as a high school graduation requirement, and the zero-tolerance policies of the Charter Schools, have witnessed a rise in their courts of majority Black and Latino youths, and over 90% failed the test. This is a classic example of what we have come to see as the School-to-Prison Pipeline.

Again, consider making every school the quality school that every child deserves, not just the lottery lucky ones,

Thank you,

Ruth Rodriguez-Fay

Worcester, MA

 

For more information check out the Save Our Public Schools website: https://saveourpublicschoolsma.com/

 

 

Diversity and America’s Generation Gap

RuthOn July 7th, our newest member to DEY’s National Advisory Board, Ruth Rodriguez-Fay, made the following speech at the First Focus Summit that was held at the National Press Club in Washington, DC. Today we are honored to share her powerful words, with permission from Rodriguez-Fay.

 

Diversity and America’s Generation Gap

Ruth Rodriguez-Fay  ~ Diversity Adviser of Save Our Schools

“If you don’t understand the journey of those you serve, you cannot be an advocate for justice.” – Mary Bacon

 

Mary’s quote above is essential to this presentation that I have been honored to share today.  It is critical because of the present day infusion of Corporate America into the design and construct of our public schools.  It is also more so, because those who have set their goal into restructuring our public schools have chosen to isolate certified educators, child development experts and families whose stakes are high in ensuring our children success. Instead, we have everyone from billionaires, hedge funds moguls, real estate investors positioning themselves as the saviors of what they have come to label as “failing” schools.  They have used their $$power to influence legislators into passing an education reform that goes against what we educators have been trained to do.  The disrespect to the teaching profession, especially those of us educators of color, has been unprecedented. No other profession has received such attacks as teachers have, such blatant attacks by non-educators on our ability to do what we have spent our lifetime career mastering.

The Billionaires and hedge funds moguls have waged a war against public education, especially harmful to communities of color, never seen since a century ago, when a similar attempt by Corporate was made. The nation’s largest lobbyists, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), looking for profit ventures for their investors, determined that public education was a multi-trillion investment opportunity just waiting to be tapped; and they wasted little time to begin to concoct a business-model, profit-making endeavor masquerading as education reform with business, factory-style measure, one that these bandits will never consider subjecting their own children.  My friend, today’s leading respected civil rights advocate, Rose Saunders, almost brought me to tears when she declared that, “this is the worst war ever fought on American soil, for neither the civil war, nor the war for civil rights can compare, for the casualties of this war are our precious children.”

I was hopeful when Governor Deval Patrick of MA announced his Readiness Project, seeking advice on his education policies.  I was honored to serve on his Massachusetts Comprehensive and Assessment System (MCAS) and Assessment initiative, hoping to have the opportunity to present an alternative to the damaging high-stake test forced upon all the children, one that had killed the dreams of so many children who were denied a high school diploma based on this single test.  Learning that our alternative recommendations were denied, and the state would continue with the MCAS, I confronted the Governor at his event at Framingham State University, in an audience of over 300 people, I said face to face, “Governor, I thank you for giving the opportunity to serve in your Readiness Project on MCAS and Assessment.  I am saddened that you did not accept our recommendation for alternative form of assessment, and have made the decision to continue the harmful test.  But, I challenge anyone in this room, including you Governor, to immerse yourself in Spanish for one year, then take the test in Spanish, for that Governor, is what you are asking English language learners to do.” One year of English immersion was all that former Governor Mitt Romney believed English language learners needed to compete with their English speaking counterparts; as a result, MA has continued to demand that all students must take the test, and if they fail, they do not receive a diploma.  That night Governor Patrick promised that he will look into this and pointed me to one of his staff. Unfortunately, MA English language learners still are subjected to the test!

Let us look at how one goes about privatizing public education?  First, you manufacture a crisis and instill public fear.  We saw in the Hollywood propaganda, Guggenheim’s Waiting for Superman, where teachers were blamed for everything that is wrong in the country, and posed schools and the students as “failures”, who needed to be rescued, this time by a business-style intervention.  Create a rallying cry for the need to save citizens from an imminent danger, and only they can provide the relief, in this case, since teachers are the problem, they will provide immediate relieve through their profit-making endeavor, known as Teach for America.  These are recent young college graduates, (no need to have an education degree, only agree not to join the teacher’s union), who will receive 5 weeks of training where they are advised never to associate with union, certified teachers.  These teaching interns are replacing certified, union teachers with years of experience, then are placed in the school districts with majority Black and Latino student populations. They fit right in with the Charter Schools Enterprise, who enjoy the hiring of non-union, and many non-certified teachers.  You then create a system which becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.  This is done through the enforcement of a high stake test that is used to deny student’s promotion and graduation, evaluate teachers based on student’s test scores, then when a school reaches the level of failing based on the test, then they come in with the claim that since schools are failing they are the only ones that can save them.

I have a challenge understanding how these profiteers positioned themselves as the savior of a system that they created.  Remember when the Bush administration went to bomb Iraq?  The campaign prior to the bombing was filled with lies about weapons of mass destruction, how we were going to save the people of Iraq from their evil leaders.  Then, after destroying the country, our government came back to the people saying that our tax dollars will be used to give Chaney’s Halliburton a no-bid contract to repair what they broke.  It is the same playbook they are using in education, create the conditions for failure until the system is broken, then claim that they alone can fix it.  In order to fix what they broke, they use an appealing language, like “innovation”, “reform,” and their favorite, “choice.”  What we have come to understand about “choice,” is that the choice is only for the profiteers not the families of children with special needs nor the English language learners.

Another form used is to deflect the truths with dog-whistle propaganda, glossy presentations that disguise the real ideology of greed under the umbrella of “freedom” and “saving children.” Once the propaganda is solidified, that is when ALEC came in.  ALEC, with funding from Bill Gates, were the mastermind behind the Common Core, who were able to forge alliances with big business and state legislators.  Another brilliance of the profiteers was to buy off both major political parties, as we now know that both Republicans and Democrats have drunk the Corporate education reform cool-aid. This was done through the creation of legislation that politically and financially benefited the stake holders in this case the Billionaires and Wall Street investors and the politicians. They also use the tactic of laundering the policies through a number of non-profit agencies and corporate philanthropy, where the origins are not easily traced.

These are the same “stake holders,” comprised of corporations who are managing charter schools and online schools and other “options” in the place of the “failing schools.” Deals are made with textbook and testing companies that schools must use, generating billions of profits for these companies, while public schools languish from lack of resources, such resources that otherwise schools could spend hiring teachers to reduce class size, or provide essential needed materials.

Charter schools claims to be the solution for the failing schools, have been shown to do no better than the schools they rob the resources from, and many have established policies that “counsel-out” students that they fear will not pass the test, and the public school from where those students come, must take them back.  They traditionally do not take high leveled special need students, nor English language learners.

Now, I want to end with this food for thought: The Common Core was designed with little to none expert educator or child development advice.  When, the President announced its early education initiative, many of us were hopeful that our Black and Latino young children will benefit from early intervention.  But, as we read the wording and began to understand what was involved, it became clear that “test and punish” was now being imposed on children who were 4 and 5 years old. To her dismay, my friend Nancy Carlsson Page, Professor of early education at Lesley University expressed her disdain, as she told me, “for now we have 4 and 5-year-olds, who should be spending their time in play activities, learning about their environment and socializing as well as developing a love for learning, forced to spend the better time of the school year prepping for a single test, a test that has been shown to be harmful and abusive to children.”

How Parental Power(lessness) Distinguishes Suburban Public Schools from Urban Charters

by Emily Kaplan

This piece originally appeared on EduShyster.com

This is how you get your child into a public school in an affluent suburb:

  1. Make a lot of money.
  2. Buy a house in an affluent suburb.

Congratulations! Your child will now receive a top-tier education!*

*If you ever feel that your child is not receiving the education to which she is entitled,  exercise your right to go directly to the administration and complain. (Your tax dollars pay their salaries, after all.) Work with teachers and administrators, many of whom have decades of experience, to create an individualized education plan for your child. Do not fear retribution: your child cannot legally be driven from the district in which you have chosen to live.**

**If you still feel that your child is not receiving the best education property taxes can buy, you may choose among several courses of action, including: going to the school committee (an elected board on which sits one or more parent representatives like yourself); running for a seat on said committee; sending your child to a private school; or moving to another suburb, where you may repeat the steps above until you are satisfied.

This is how you get your child into a Boston charter school:

  1. Possess the social capital to be informed about the existence of— and application procedures of— charter schools. (Good luck to recent immigrants, particularly those who do not speak English!)
  2. Make the harrowing decision that the education your child would receive in the local district school is so under-resourced and/or deficient, academically or otherwise, that you are potentially willing to tolerate one or more of the following characteristics of many charter schools:draconian discipline; an obsession with testing; a developmentally inappropriate curriculum; a curriculum which is not culturally representative of your family; an inexperienced team of teachers and administrators, many of whom have never taught in any other environment; treatment as a pawn in a drawn-out political ruckus about charter schools’ right to exist and/or expand (or not.)
  3. Attend lottery night, at which you will be informedby a charter school administrator that if— and only if— your child “wins the lottery,” he or she can have the chance to graduate from high school, gain acceptance to college, and succeed there. (According to her, if you “lose,” of course, the chances of your child having a fair shot in life are slim to none.)
  4. Look around the room of parents and their children, all of whom are just as desperate for quality education as you are.
  5. Realize that, statistically speaking, 90% of them will “lose.”

If you “win,” congratulations! Your child has a chance of receiving a decent education!*

*If you ever feel that your child is not receiving the education to which she is extraordinarily lucky to have “won,” well… she can always go back to the district you fled, right?school bus

*       *       *

Charter schools in Boston compare themselves to public schools in the city’s most affluent suburbs. If their students’ scores can match those of wealthy suburban children, they reason, they will face similarly abundant opportunities in life.

Even if scores are comparable, however, the schools themselves are not. While the best suburban schools provide students with a balanced school day and curriculum, enriched by a well-resourced environment led by experienced educators, the common charter school model is vastly different. Here, the school day is far longer (at many, children are in school for over nine hours), and even the youngest children have recess for only up to twenty-five minutes. (Where I taught last year, my second graders did not have recess until three in the afternoon, after they had already been in school for eight hours.) Suburban parents would never stand for the very things which make these schools distinctive: a rigid, punitive discipline system which suspends students as young as five; a pedagogical philosophy which prizes quantifiable outcomes above all else, thus elevating testing to the forefront of the curriculum; and an ultimately counterproductive ignorance of children’s developmental need for exploratory play.

These urban charters tend to be run by white women in their twenties whose lived experiences differ sharply from those of their students, who largely come from low-income families of color. Their charter schools feel like reflections of them, of armchair philosophies about what poor kids need, and not the kids themselves. (These schools’ ideas and “best practices”reverberate in the echo chamber of the no-excuses universe, made up of charter networks which seem less distinguishable from each other with each passing year.)

That is, while suburban schools feel like the neighborhoods in which they are situated, these charter schools certainly do not: in the words of one educator I know, they feel like “schools for black kids run by white people,” imposed upon the communities they supposedly serve. And they feel like this, I think, due to all of the reasons listed above, but also in no small part to the parent recruitment process: while parents with means move to the suburbs because they want their children to attend “good schools,” urban parents who can’t afford to move out of the city must choose among a set of dismal options.

In a nutshell, then: suburban parents run toward; urban parents run away. Running toward is empowering; escaping never is.

Politically and financially, affluent suburban parents own their children’s schools. Parents of students at urban charters, however, better not push their luck. (They “won the lottery,” after all.) Suburban parents can question the system all they like; ultimately, they are the system. Charter parents are certainly not— and by questioning it, they have everything to lose. (The racial undertones of this environment—black parents should be grateful for the education these white educators so generously provide— are significant.) Unlike suburban students who attend district schools, students at urban charter schools can be expelled or pushed out— and no parent wants to be forced back to the district which drove them to enter the charter lottery in the first place.

Urban charters wield this power to ensure compliance from students and parents alike. The strict discipline for which charters are infamous is applied to parents as well as their children. Unlike at suburban schools—where parents are welcomed to join the PTA, to volunteer, to lead projects, and to meet with an administration that must earn their support—parental involvement at many urban charters is as unidirectional as it is punitive. If a student accumulates enough behavioral infractions, for instance, he or she must serve an in-school suspension until the parent is able—on one day’s notice—to take time off of work in the middle of the school day to observe the child in class for an hour and a half. Teachers and administrators threaten students who break the rigid rules of the school with parental involvement: “If your behavior doesn’t get better,” they tell these five- and six- and seven-year-olds, many of whom come from families struggling to make ends meet, “your dad will have to keep missing work to come here. You don’t want him to be fired, do you?” Parents who do not comply are told that the school may not be for them.

Take it or leave it, be grateful, kowtow: we know what’s best for your child.

Ultimately, this serves no one.

Last year, I had a student whose family and pediatrician believed she had a learning disability; I suspected the same. The parent was desperate for a way to help her child; she requested a school evaluation so that the girl could qualify for special education services. Before the meeting, for reasons I still do not fully comprehend, the school determined that the child did not qualify for services. When I expressed discomfort with this decision, I was informed that the staff members who had performed the evaluation— not me, not the pediatrician who had known the child from birth, and certainly not the child’s mother— were somehow the incontrovertible experts on this child and her learning needs. (Furthermore, I was icily informed, because I had questioned the school’s decision, I was no longer welcome at the meeting where this news would be broken to the parent.)

At a suburban school, a parent would have the power to challenge this determination; here, the parent’s only recourse was to remember— as administrators sighed at the end of almost every internal evaluation meeting— that “at least she’s not in public school.”

Perhaps, but that misses the point: charter schools should strive to provide the best education possible, not just one some deem the lesser among evils. Without parental involvement at all levels, however, charters will continue to stagnate in the ways that matter most. The steps for success, then, seem abundantly clear.

This is how wealthy suburban schools succeed:

1. Put children and parents in the driver’s seat.

This is how urban charter schools would succeed:

1. Put children and parents in the driver’s seat.

Emily Kaplan is an elementary school teacher living in Boston. She has taught in urban public, urban charter, and suburban public schools. Contact her at emilykaplan@post.harvard.edu.

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