I have begun thinking about the education reform dispute as a civil war in the Black community.
Incidentally, at my uncle funeral in Saginaw (Michigan) this past weekend, I met a fourth cousin who told me that our great great great grandfather fought in the US Civil War for the Union Army in the 110th colored. I learned he was captured at Fort Henderson in Athens (Alabama) by General Nathan Bedford Forrest and was a POW until his escape 8 months later. Probably one of the most, most profound things that has happened to me this year.
Returning to the civil war that is occurring in 2016. I spoke at a Journey for Justice Alliance conference at SUNY Old Westbury on Monday before the first presidential debates. I discussed my perspective on the education reform civil war in the Black community. A draft of my remarks is below the video.
We want policymakers to notice that there is something happening in urban communities. On the one side are charter operators, billionaire foundations, and their acolytes who are supporting the private control of public money for education that was envisioned by the economist Milton Freidman in the 1950s. On the other side are parents and communities who are demanding high-quality, properly resourced, democratically controlled, neighborhood public schools.
The dispute even has national civil rights organizations at odds. The National Urban League, United Negro College Fund, NCLR and other civil rights organizations have typically aligned themselves with market-based school choice proponents. On the other side, the NAACP delegates have voted on three national resolutions critical of charter schools over the past six years— the most recent resolution is awaiting a vote by the NAACP National Board. Black Lives Matters coalition, our nation’s newest national civil rights movement composed of more than 50 organizations, also released a platform of policy demands critical of charter schools and school privatization this past summer.
Recently, both sides of the education reform civil war have focused on communicating to policymakers and the public that they are representing the interests of urban communities that have been historically underserved on purpose by our nation. Market-based choice proponents underscored the dispute this past week when charter school owners and their supporters released a letter saying they represent the interests of tens of thousands of Black students and bemoaning the NAACP’s most recent resolution criticizing charter schools.
Today, in response to the market-based reformers, we, the supporters of high-quality, properly resourced, democratically controlled, neighborhood public schools are holding events at the first presidential debate in New York to focus on the release of the Journey for Justice Alliance (J4J)’s national public education platform. As a founding board member, I am honored that these events are co-sponsored by the Network for Public Education Action, a national organization led by Diane Ravitch.
Market-based school choice proponents’ primary agenda has been to promote privately operated “school choice” as the fix for the education of the poor in our nation. By contrast, the Journey for Justice Alliance believes that the conversation should be refocused the inequities in our nation. In the platform, the focus is on the lack of equity in public schools as the “major failure of the American education system.”
The platform calls for a moratorium on school privatization— which aligns with the NAACP’s 2016 national convention vote on a resolution for a privately operated charter moratorium. Over the past two decades, the US Department of Education has spent more than $2 billion on privately operated charter schools. The alternative vision presented by the Alliance is a federal funding request for 10,000 sustainable community schools.
The Alliance’s platform also calls for an end to zero tolerance discipline policies, which also aligns with the NAACP’s 2016 charter school convention resolution that cites school discipline research by the UCLA Civil Rights project that found charter schools are even worse than traditional public schools for Black and Brown students. The Alliance is also calling for ending mayoral control and appointed school boards for hostile takeovers of public schools and the overuse of standardized tests for school takeovers which has shown dismal results in the peer reviewed research literature.
Today we also march for equity— believing that school choice is families actually being able to choose equity— The platform so eloquent says “America does everything but equity” for education. As a result, the Alliance is calling for a national equity assessment for public schools in the United States. While inequity is readily apparent in the funding of public schools in the United States— wealthy neighborhoods usually have better funded public schools— the Alliance rightly demands a national assessment that considers “curriculum, teacher supports, wraparound supports, student climate and community engagement.”
Our being here today underscores community-based opposition to the destruction of community public schools at the expense of publicly-funded, privately operated charter schools, school takeovers, and over testing. The events surrounding the release of the Alliance’s national education platform today represents a difference that we hope this election will underscore.
There is a REAL and IMPORTANT difference in the the visions for education reform between those who believe in privately operated, market based school choice and those who are are demanding high-quality, properly resourced, democratically controlled, neighborhood public schools.
The J4J platform has made the alternative very clear.
View the J4J platform here.
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