At first I thought the October 15th NAACP moratorium on charter schools was just an official gesture.
You know-a symbolic response from the civil rights organization to the feverishly funded and promoted “say yes” drive to wedge private 1% interests and out-of-state investor millions into Massachusetts’s obligation to its own public. In other words: a “moratorium” (obnoxious finger air quotes) that was the strategic equivalent to the “choice” (same finger waggles with an eye-roll) described in untold amounts of advertising, promotion, self-righteous warrior for the iddy-biddy babies BS that came along with The Massachusetts Authorization of Additional Charter Schools and Charter School Expansion Initiative.
Not that flaming bags of pseudo-reform BS landing on the teaching-porch was something new. The campaign to disrespect and undermine public (truly public) schools has been going on for some time. But if there’s anything to be learned about how things play out-it’s this: When you see the pointing fingers and hear about “shared sacrifice”, “rigorous standards”, “robust accountability systems”, “stealing possible”and such- you know that the real thieves are likely paying for that deflection from their own responsibility/accountability. Some of them don’t even seem all that interested in the plight of poor people and children beyond busting up their schools and are just plowing forward on a path of self-interest and self-promotion. In this way, the “failing schools” narrative serves them well, shifts the obligation to one primarily limited to good test scores, and promotes a model of privately managed selective schools for some-operating under the “public” and “choice” banners-while sometimes being neither.
But now I’ve heard that the opposition to privatization isn’t just about traditional schools and the NAACP…
… it’s also that misguided and under-informed middle class that just doesn’t understand how much more important testing children is than feeding them, housing them, preparing them with the foundations that lead to the development that then prepares them to succeed… Sorry-just a touch of snark there for the ever-changing winds of reform that swiftly turn to target the truth when it pops up to challenge them. I think most of the folks crafting the mainstream reform narrative would say they care about children in a Hallmark, summers in the Hamptons kind of way-they just seem unfamiliar in a day-to-day, closeup, hands-on, real children in real schools, actually living the struggle-to-survive kind of way. I know that many parents can describe their own need for school choice for their children because of neglected and violent neighborhoods where schools are struggling to meet the needs of a challenging student populations while being under-supported by policymakers, unable to provide a controlled setting and opportunities for those who come ready to achieve. They get it. But to what extent are the traveling consultant “choicers” willing to put their morality and word-craft to fighting the more systemic neglect getting in the way of better communities, better schools, and better outcomes? When will they step back from the worship of testing, and call for a more collaborative, whole-child/whole community approach to children and their education?
“If we know for a fact that the first three years of a child’s life are incredibly important for a child’s later learning, let’s give up the idea that education starts in kindergarten and train new parents and work with 0-3 children as early as possible. If you really want to be branded as a radical, suggest that we provide better health care and other services for children.” (Geoffrey Canada)
I think most people understand that there are more important things than tests, and that understanding is likely the source of much of that “opt out” effort that has resisted boiling down our obligation to and value of poor children to test scores.
So with this moratorium, has the NAACP made somebody’s poor children’s greatest enemies list?
Must be, because the responses to the NAACP came swiftly and were a little over-the-top: accusations of taking parents’ rights away; slamming “the door on that chance for children of color to boost their academic achievement“; opposing “choices”, and so on. The organization had apparently joined the ranks of unions, Diane Ravitch, suburban mothers and their pretend genius children, Jesse Hagopian, Julian Vasquez, teachers with pensions…
The contrast seems clear: the NAACP and others on that hit-list battle systemic inequity continually while the mantra of the edu-marketeer/reformers is “poverty is just an excuse”. That’s certainly a nice thing to get tattooed on your ass if you’re rich. And if you are rich the tattoo will probably be quality-inking, not like becoming tagged property bent over a jailhouse bunk with a paper clip and ink made from urine mixed with cigarette ash. Those poverty-mottoes sure are great when’re not poor, are well-connected or well-married, and if you are ignoring, maintaining or even creating poverty. Yes, of course you cannot use poverty as an excuse not to teach and try to reach students, and real teachers in all sorts of schools know that. They also know you can’t use emotional outburst, inattentiveness, non-participation, chronic hunger and fatigue, violence, broken or unstable homes, non-supportive parents..as excuses. They know because their schools have open doors and classrooms for all children, and teach them all in a group together.
If reformers believe that should change for traditional schools-they should say so.
For children who grew up poor and became successful-they did not settle for poverty as an excuse either. Everybody gets it-but this type of “poverty is not an excuse” gas-lighting while creating filtered-enrollment schooling choice-for-some mostly serves to blame/shame front line educators and keep non-teachers on their paid-speech tours. It also avoids addressing the greater issues.
Why do those claiming to care so much about children deny the negative impacts of such a system while blaming those actually serving children?
Maybe it’s because systemic evil is either too great and scary an enemy for them to “strap up” for, or maybe systemic evil is exactly where their bread-n-butter is found. Don’t bite the hand…right? But before I became too irritated at the whole reform apparatus response to the NAACP, I had to gather the facts. I needed to find out what the NAACP moratorium had to say, because it must be bad. So a few weeks ago I went to find the actual words the NAACP used, found the conditions they wanted for charter schools, and wrote up a quick post. I also put those conditions below and am revisiting them because I have yet to see a real, intelligent explanation for the resistance. Yes, there has been an attempt that amounts to this (my paraphrasing):
Well, we just don’t know if any of that bad stuff in charters is happening, really, because we lack enough real proof- data…and you know data isn’t something we really profess much interest in usually. It’s a hard thing to collect- other than test scores, so asking for rules that make the playing field level and honest would just steal possible from poor children; it just makes innovative schooling impossible when you put transparency, conditions and expectations on it-just ask Eva Moskowitz. Those are things for traditional schools, their teachers and the kids we won’t take from them. So more or less the NAACP has intentionally made it impossible for great schools to serve poor children (My paraphrasing of pro-choice response to the NAACP)
In separate conventions, the N.A.A.C.P. and the Movement for Black Lives, (assembled by Black Lives Matter) passed resolutions declaring that charter schools have made segregation worse-especially in the way they select and discipline students. Remember that the NAACP, as described here , is the nation’s oldest, largest and most widely recognized grassroots-based civil rights organization. Yet a Washington Post article describing the moratorium announcement said that one of the responses included a letter from African Americans involved in education that accused the NAACP of making a false anti-charter argument and said that a “blanket moratorium on charter schools would limit black students’ access to some of the best schools in America and deny black parents the opportunity to make decisions about what’s best for their children.
I have to wonder, though, if “Question 2” was about additional charters and charter expansions, how do we know ahead of time that they are some of the best schools in America? If we don’t have some common sense requirements of them-how can we know? Are we really going to go just by test scores after allowing charters to manufacture their enrollments specifically for that purpose?
But that’s just food for thought. Here is what the NAACP wants:
(1) Charter schools are subject to the same transparency and accountability standards as public schools
Okay…fair to compare-right? As a parent, how do I know what to choose if some schools are allowed to hide behind a veil of secrecy, and especially if the owner/operators of those schools are heaped with undeserved praise and promotion? How can I trust school leaders that only want blind trust? Some of the reform blow-back I’ve seen on this concern is (My paraphrasing again):
Maybe parents don’t want to be bothered by all those details, they just want “results”. Maybe not having a Board of Education and administration that feels it needs to answer to them is a moot point once they’ve signed the contract and agreed to the charter schools conditions. If they become unhappy, if they are called daily because their child doesn’t sit up straight, or their child gets their paper ripped and spends too much time in the calm down chair…well maybe that school simply isn’t the right fit for their child. (My paraphrasing of the “parents definitely deserve choice but may want no say” point of view)
(2) Public funds are not diverted to charter schools at the expense of the public school system
Charter schools have been shown to impact traditional schools negatively, by diverting resources, and participating actively in the “what other choice do we have” choice-game. When traditional public schools are over-mandated and under-funded, and/or educating a challenging student population-of course involved and supportive parents who place a high value on education seek escape to a more stable cohort and controlled environment. What choice do they feel they have?
(3) Charter schools cease expelling students that public schools have a duty to educate
Schools exist to serve the community by schooling the child that will grow to someday serve the community he/she serves. They shouldn’t prevent access or refuse to serve students that don’t fit an efficiency model that serves the school’s reputation first and then children-if it works for the school. To pretend you don’t know this happens is a little silly. To cast out the false equivalence that traditional schools “push out” students too rings of strategy and PR.
(4) Charter schools cease to perpetuate de facto segregation of the highest performing children from those whose aspirations may be high but whose talents are not yet as obvious.
We should be empowering the public school system to provide the educational options all students deserve. Why is it, instead, that these options are just for parents who win lotteries; who are involved enough to choose; who can themselves and who have kids who can conform to sometimes rigid guidelines?
Maybe parent voice does not drive the creation and promotion of this product being called choice.
It was a market opportunity from the beginning, planned for and driven by wealthy interests. From Bill Gates, to Rupert Murdoch (“When it comes to K through 12 education, we see a $500 billion sector in the US alone that is waiting desperately to be transformed”), to stars bringing in school branding efforts from rappers and music moguls… That an effort by the NAACP, Movement for Black Lives, and others close to education to level opportunity and resources for all children in black and brown communities has been described as creating division should tell you where that “choice” loyalty lies: with a business model, it’s investors, and a select consumer group.
The NAACP critics are clearly not looking for a better conversation or an honest debate.
The NAACP kinda threw a wrench into the popular,wealthy white reformers’ PR shtick. Up to then, it was standard fare to see nay-sayers of privately managed “choice” schools, critics of much touted non-educator edu-reform celebrities, and resistors of test-centrism to all be painted as elitist, union-shill enemies of poor children and deniers of civil rights. And now here’s the oldest civil rights organization in the country also expressing concerns.
So I have to wonder what is the real deal with resistance to transparency and accountability. To demand so much from traditional schools, and then to come out so fast and hard to cry “foul” when it’s asked of charters-before green-lighting their creation/expansion…it just makes me wonder what it’s all about.
I wrote this a little while ago as an example of something a well-known charter school leader could say to really just lay it out there and stop the pretending.
“I am really nothing special, and certainly no teacher. My school is not one that dares take on the more serious behaviors and challenges that traditional schools and experienced professionals take on every day, and I know that. What I do have is access to a market and some promotional mechanisms that will provide some of the more capable and willing parents and students an escape hatch to greater achievement and opportunity than they might have otherwise realized in schools and classrooms failed by our economy, society, and policymakers. True, we don’t want them all. True, we can’t really just come in and work the same type of magic in a regular classroom, because not all students are so easily trained to comply. But by me simplifying the job for us, we can help some kids get great test scores. Not all, I know, so I promise not to keep comparing my school’s results with traditional schools and I ask the press to cooperate in helping keep me humble. What my schools choose to do and how we do it is far different than what other schools are obligated to do. I just want to help those with potential that could otherwise risk getting lost. Thank you.” (A fictional speech that could potentially be given by a non-fiction charter leader character)
Would this kind of honesty be wrong, or is it only wrong business-wise? How would the NAACP respond if the charter and choice promoters were this honest? Is this easier/better than the NAACP’s conditions-or is unfettered access to just certain children and no oversight other than supply-and-demand the reformers’ wish?
I think I can understand the NAACP’s desire to have some common sense equity and understanding injected into the opportunity charter schools could and should provide.