Thursday, January 22, 2015

What Does Success Look Like?
By:  Terri Michal

“What does success look like?”  That’s the question Sacramento, CA Mayor Kevin Johnson  posed to  a roomful of Birmingham citizens that had gathered in the 16th Street Baptist Church this Tuesday morning to discuss charter schools in Alabama. The event was sponsored by the Black Alliance for Educational Options and featured Michelle Rhee Johnson of StudentsFirst. Unfortunately we never really received an answer to the question Mr. Johnson posed.  Actually, not one minute was spent talking about what a successful charter looks like.  Not. One. Minute.

Why is that?  

Are there no success stories for the corporate owned charters that the BAEO and StudentsFirst represent?  Could it be because the public is becoming more aware that many ‘charter success stories’ actually involve manipulating data? Let’s take a look at Foundation Academies in Trenton for example. Their test scores are the highest in Trenton but Jersey Jazzman, a highly respected teacher blogger from New Jersey, exposes the truth behind the population that is enrolled there and how they manipulate the data to show high graduation rates.  One way to cheat the system, take special need kids but make sure none of them have profound learning disabilities.  

Yes, Charter schools, in many instances, cherry pick their students which invalidate its comparison to public schools. ‘Open access’ is a term charters love to use, but how open is it when you have to write seven essays and an autobiography just to get into the lottery? That’s what students have to do in Santa Rosa, California.  

The public is educating itself, that’s one thing you can’t deny, and as time passes by these corporations and foundations can no longer hide the fact that charters just aren’t performing at the level they first suggested.  As a matter of fact, only 17% perform better than traditional public schools.  It is evident, when comparing the underlying tone of Michelle Rhee Johnson’s Sept. 2013 Town Hall meeting in Birmingham to this Tuesday mornings summit, that the shiny promises of the charter movement are starting to tarnish.

So it appears that instead of discussing what success looks like they decided to tap into their audience’s fears.   Failure after failure after failure was discussed.  From student test scores to high incarceration rates to low graduation rates it was a constant barrage of negativity.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that those aren’t real concerns.  What I am saying is if charters were really the answer why did they not then follow up the gloom and doom with facts about how charters will help? How will charters address these problems? If they truly believe in their charters they could have, and should have, been creating excitement over their potential instead of spending so much of their time discussing failures. 

The time that wasn’t spent talking about failing students and bad teachers was spent talking about how white people have oppressed people of color.  I know this has happened, and I know this is, indeed, part of the equation.  I’m just quite exasperated with organizations, like BAEO, that come from out of state and represent white owned and operated corporations and foundations, talking to us about civil rights to further their agendas.  These agendas are decimating public schools in high poverty urban districts all across this country.  It’s almost incomprehensible when you hear them use such tragic events as the 16th Street bombing to further their cause as BAEO board chairman Howard Fuller did at the beginning of this summit. 

In this summit they told us the ‘belief gap’ is a huge problem.  I completely agree that society’s lack of faith in the intellectual abilities of our children of color IS a very real problem.  Yet organizations like BAEO are in bed with such folks as Eli Broad, the billionaire that published an instruction manual on how to close urban schools, and the Waltons, who are more than happy to fill school systems like Chicago’s with non-professionally certified, fresh out of college Teach for America teachers.  What are the ‘beliefs’ of those foundations and corporations concerning our high poverty kids I wonder? They must believe that closing neighborhood schools and hiring lesser qualified teachers are better for those students than life long educators that are committed long term to the surrounding communities in which they teach.   

You really have to wonder what qualifies an organization like BAEO to say what a civil rights issue is when they are cozying up with the likes of the Friedman Foundation.   The Friedman Foundation is known to be on the OPPOSITE side of the table from those that fight for civil rights.  Here is just one example: Milton Friedman had this to say about a Market Economy and discrimination in relationship to fair employment practices legislation: "Such legislation clearly involves interference with the freedom of individuals to enter into voluntary contracts with one another…. Thus it is directly an interference with freedom of the kind that we would object to in most other contexts" Seems the BAEO may be suffering from its own ‘belief gap’.  Don’t you think it’s time we talk about that? 
So, what does success look like?  It looks like adults putting aside their personal agenda to sit at a table with others from all political parties and backgrounds, to talk about the real issues affecting our high poverty kids.  Until we have true discussions about poverty and race, brought about by people acting independently of any financial or political benefits, our high poverty kids are going to continue to suffer in Alabama.  You may think my definition of success is nearly impossible but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s true, just like ignoring the absence of data about these corporate charters successes won’t make them, or our students in Alabama, successful. 

Parents, educators, and stockholders, you deserve a place at the table when it comes to our public schools in Alabama. Write your legislator TODAY and tell them that there needs to be more transparency concerning decisions about vouchers and charters in Alabama.  There is something terribly wrong when Michelle Rhee and Howard Fuller are at the table deciding the fate of our student’s education and parents and educators are left in the dark. 

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