Race, Education Reform and Public Schools

A very fine article from NPR from last September about race and charter schools provided a wide variety of thoughtful opinions.  Much of the debate has been around the NAACP calling for a moratorium on the opening on new charter schools. 
Some education leaders are rushing to embrace the newly frank conversation about the racial impact of education reforms. Others are caught awkwardly in the middle. And some — especially conservative — reformers feel alienated.
 Jonathan Stith 
"A lot of charters are just shiny versions of the school-to-prison pipeline. There are reports of fraud.

"I have yet to see a black community that has voted directly for charter schools. They always are imposed. Districts are being taken over by governors or mayors and given very little voice. And so there's this false language around choice.

"At the same time, we're not with the status quo. We're clear that 50 years after Brown v. Board of Education, public schools have never served black children."
Jacqueline Cooper
"The NAACP moratorium is inexplicable to me. Over 700,000 black students are enrolled in public charter schools.
"Who is anyone else to tell a parent where their child should be educated?"
I find that last statement puzzling when you are talking about public schools.  The government, funded by the citizens gets to choose the teachers, the principals, the curriculum, so why wouldn't they decided on where schools are and who goes to them?

The issue really is - and can be singly put - that every child deserves a quality neighborhood school.

Dr. Michael Lomax
"I disagree with the moratorium on charters because I think charters are part of the solution.

"But many of these charter providers — social entrepreneurs with a new generation of philanthropists supporting them — know very little about their communities and are dismissive of legacy institutions that they see as dinosaurs. And as a new generation of African-American activists are coming to the fore, they're saying: Why are these organizations setting the agenda for educational change in our communities and not engaging us in the discussion?
Rick Hess
"Reform is increasingly a question of race-based grievance rather than helping all children."
Black Perspectives published a great provocative article last October called Why the Academic Achievement Gap is a Racist Idea by Professor Ibram X. Kendi.

But what if, all along, our well-meaning efforts at closing the achievement gap has been opening the door to racist ideas? What if different environments actually cause different kinds of achievement rather than different levels of achievement? What if the intellect of a poor, low testing Black child in a poor Black school is different—and not inferior—to the intellect of a rich, high-testing White child in a rich White school? What if the way we measure intelligence shows not only our racism but our elitism?
Gathering knowledge of abstract items, from words to equations, that have no relation to our everyday lives has long been the amusement of the leisured elite. Relegating the non-elite to the basement of intellect because they do not know as many abstractions has been the conceit of the elite.

What if we measured literacy by how knowledgeable individuals are about their own environment: how much individuals knew all those complex equations and verbal and nonverbal vocabularies of their everyday life?

The testing movement does not value multiculturalism. The testing movement does not value the antiracist equality of difference. The testing movement values the racist hierarchy of difference, and its bastard 100-year-old child: the academic achievement gap.
 That's quite the throwdown to testing.  Is testing really testing "abstract items?"  And how do you create a test for a nation that is heterogeneous in so many different ways?

From Education Next, in New Priorities for Equity in Reform, author Ryan J. Smith writes about the evolution of educaiton reform from the POV of reformers of color. 
Reformers of color, many of whom have supported the movement for decades, have decided to more aggressively tell mostly white leadership that a traditional reticence to discuss issues of race, class, and power can no longer be the movement’s modus operandi.

We can’t afford to continue advocating on behalf of the students, educators, and families we serve. We must work with them. Low-income communities and communities of color have had a front row seat to the decades-long failures of our education systems. They have critical insights and opinions, and deserve the right to inform and set the agenda. The failure to do this has left reformers looking elitist at best, carpet bagging at worst.
I absolutely agree with that last paragraph.
Second, we must remember that the fight for education reform has always been a fight for racial justice. As civil rights icon Julian Bond said, “Violence is black children going to school for 12 years and receiving 6 years’ worth of education.”

Third, equity must be at the center of an education reform agenda—as an action, not a word. 
Simply saying “equity” doesn’t mean we’ve truly prioritized it. That entails shifting power and resources. Equity means education leaders committing to close, not merely narrow, achievement and opportunity gaps and fighting for the resources and evidence-based strategies to do so.
I strongly agree with the last paragraph and I see some of this in what Seattle Superintendent Dr. Larry Nyland and other senior management are trying to do.  But the Racial Equity Toolkit used in the district seems awkward and time-consuming and I wonder how many principals will give it due diligence.  As well, those "evidence-based strategies" remain murky at best in the district.
And fourth, education reform must retain its collection of strange bedfellows. Only a dynamic coalition of leaders from every corner of our nation can finally dismantle the harmful structural inequities that plague students every day. We may not agree on all the issues, but if Van Jones and Newt Gingrich can find common ground, we can too. Recognizing race, class, power, and privilege isn’t a ploy to drive out white liberals or even social conservatives; rather, it is an attempt to help the movement mature.
Bravo! I would love to see more differing groups/people working together, lending expertise and knowledge, rather than fighting each other.   But we have seen that the Gates Foundation certainly isn't interested in listening and I myself have experienced what it is like to try to find common ground with ed reformers - it's not easy.


Anonymous said…
We know that soon to be Ex Mayor Murray will never run Seattle schools.

Anonymous said…
Class, power and privilege influencing education can be more broadly applied to many ethnic groups, including those who fall within the "white" racial category. Does a kid from a poor rural or small town environment receive an equal education to a kid in a rich suburban environment? Class is a huge issue that influences the achievement gap and recent research coming out of Standford has provided strong evidence. If we can find common ground and understand that it is not just a black/white issue but more complex, perhaps we can work on better solutions. Provide a true investment in our country and provide much better economic opportunities for those who are disenfranchised.
Anonymous said…
When education is termed as something someone 'receives' rather than any active participatory term I am troubled. Students don't receive an education they must work at becoming educated. The library withholds nothing and students can challenge their teachers to go as far and as fast as they need. One of the core tenets of teaching is to not just lecture but to lead so that students can take control of their own destinies.

When I see complaints about 'receiving' it takes all of the ownership from students and families and puts the onus on teachers to do the learning and struggling that students are supposed to do for themselves.

We keep doing so much of the student portion of education and yet we wonder when students haven't developed the skills we expect of them.

Mr. Theo Moriarty
checking in said…
Comment appreciated, Mr. Moriarty.

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