From Portugal, with no Love from the Education Reformers

I recently had the opportunity to be the “skunk in the garden party” so to say at the 2019 International School Choice and Reform conference in Portugal.

I was invited by Steve Nelson, faculty member at the University of Memphis, to be the discussant for a panel entitled School Choice and Black Communities: Discussing Educational Equity and Educational Racism Beyond Test Scores. The researchers in the panel (go the the third photo in the instagram post above) discussed how market-based school choice has limited self-determination in the African American community. As you might expect there was quite a bit of pushback after the presentation from the audience that included leaders from EdChoice, Cato and other neoliberal supports of education privatization. In fact, the pushback basically came at us throughout the conference— during lunch, in the hallways etc. Pretty much the same experience that I had when I attended AEI education reform workgroups in past years (ask me about being in the room at AEI next time you see me and how I managed to get disinvited from their events— has something to do with Nazis, I am NOT lying).

Here are my remarks that I prepared, but not necessarily as delivered. I’ll follow the text with a YouTube video of the remarks.

The United States has not yet realized the 1954 mandate of Brown v. Board to address segregation and deep-seated education inequity across our nation.

Today, more than 60 years later, schools across the United States are still profoundly separate and unequal based on race and class.

As these papers demonstrate, our failure extends disparities across the spectrum of education including education law, performance, access to school boards, and how school discipline is administered.

It’s a national shame that the state-sanctioned sabotage of human potential is readily apparent in communities in Louisiana, Tennessee, Michigan and other states across the nation.

As these papers demonstrate, these issues are being amplified, in fact, made worse, by the school privatization and private-control movement, which #WeChoose community campaign has called the illusion of school choice

The NAACP and other community-based activists have called upon education reforms to refocus on inequality rather than privatization and private-control of education. They are seeking to move the discourse concretely from choice, to equity.

Jitu Brown, National Director, Journey for Justice Alliance, has talked about this problem in Chicago by asking the following questions:

  • Why does one child have the opportunity to learn a world language and the other does not?
  • Why does one school have debate teams, robotics clubs, social emotional support and the other does not?

He continues, unequal education is about access to resources and opportunity, not whether large numbers of schools are available. We must stand firm on the equity issue, critique structural and institutional racism, and advocate for the right for low income families to be treated with dignity and provided educational opportunity.

Organizing efforts to focus on community-based reform and equity instead of choice and privatization are growing.

The platform promoted by the NAACP, Movement for Black Lives and the #WeChoose coalition includes a moratorium on school privatization. Community advocates are also advocating for sustainable community schools, an end to zero tolerance policies; a national equity assessment of public education in the U.S.; to stop the attack on teachers of color; an end state takeovers, appointed school boards, and mayoral control; and finally, limit the continued over-reliance on standardized testing in public schools.

Community advocates are solution oriented as they are organizing to advance a progressive public education agenda in cities across the United States to inform and build momentum for a national consensus to end school privatization and support sustainable, community-based education reform as a remedy.

Both the NAACP and the Journey for Justice coalition have launched a series of critical conversation townhalls across the United States to listen to communities and understand their perspectives on the impact of Betsy DeVos on public education

The modern civil rights movement is also successfully engaging people power in social media and in person on the ground and undertaking critical conversations about privatization and private-control of public education.

Community stakeholders in cities across the United States have won sustainable community schools as an alternative to privatization, are seeking to stop school closings, are supporting progressive school board members, leading a revolt against standardized testing, and organizing boycotts to pressure policymakers to stop closing schools.

The NAACP and other community-based organizations continue to organize in cities across the United States to build the political will to advance a community-based education agenda focused on equity as an alternative to the privatization and private-control of public education. These organizations have laid bare that the United States is shortchanging communities of color and that the nation’s children deserve equal education opportunities offered by community-based education reform.

The trend towards private control of public schools and the failure of the approach has been made clear in Chicago, New Orleans, Detroit, Memphis, DC and many other cities

Indeed, while our schools have many successes, public education still needs improvement— especially to remedy the severe inequities.

Sixty years after Brown v. Board, education is still very separate and unequal. Despite decades of school choice policies and education privatization, wealthier students still have priority access to ideal educational environments.

Black and Brown communities are being denied those same opportunities and they are in many cities bear the onus of improving “failing” schools

But, there is hope for change. Hope remains in empowerment— in creating coalitions, in the ability to organize communities of educators and other public education stakeholders around the problem with school choice and our liberty to advocate for community-based education for students rather than private control.

https://youtu.be/C88Xc3dnlaY

As a heads up, tomorrow I will blog about “The Moral Disengagement of Education Reform” and cover an exciting new dissertation study!

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Twitter: @ProfessorJVH

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