Friday, January 11, 2013
The strange union between black leadership and school choice
It was a difficult conversation. I listened as Marcus Brandon, NC’s representative of the 60th District, passionately gave his pitch in support of charter schools. I left wondering if the goal of diversity is dead.
It’s one thing to contend with conservative Republicans backed by the big pockets of the Koch Brothers. How does one discount the funding of rightwing organizations like the Heritage Foundation, Americans for Prosperity and other groups supported by the Koch brothers? They have made clear their goal to dismantle public education and run schools like a business judged based on the data taken from standardized test scores.
Brandon pitched the importance of parental choice, and argued that it’s a right protected by the Constitution. He claims school choice is critical in narrowing the achievement gap in North Carolina. Brandon thinks there’s a correlation between black parents taking control of schools and academic performance. I suggested that parental involvement doesn’t necessitate the opening of more charter schools.
Why not improve what we have prior to throwing the sink and the rest of the kitchen out the door? This is especially true in lieu of mounting evidence proving that charter schools aren’t a sure remedy to poor academic performance. A 2009 Stanford study found that only 17 percent of charter schools provided better education than regular public schools.
“I think [racial and economic] segregation is the sinister subtext [of school choice].” Brian Jones, a New York City teacher and activist with the Grassroots Education Movement, stated on the blog Salon. “Very wealthy benefactors are going into Harlem and promoting segregated schools as a solution. But the Civil Rights movement saw racial justice as bound up with economic justice. The school choice movement claims to be about racial justice, but distances itself from questions of economic justice. Under the banner of ‘school excellence,’ school choice advocates would like for us to forget about equity.”
I asked Brandon to address the consequences of supporting a system that ultimately dismantles the hard work that went into integrating public education. North Carolina is at risk of turning the clock back to the days of separate and unequal schools, but this time it’s being pushed by black Democrats who buy into the message being fed by wealthy, white conservatives.
In North Carolina, Art Pope and the Koch brother push the privatization of education as a way to personally profit. Karey Harwood, ethics professor at North Carolina State University, says the application of the business model to education “pits schools against each other in a competitive market, and that’s really not the best way to go about improving school quality. In fact, it’s very counterproductive.”
I talked about the vicious campaign to take education out of the hands of administrators and teachers. The end result will be the formation of competing education system that profits from parents disillusioned with public education. It’s a slippery course, destroy what is left and create an alternative aimed at making a profit.
I talked about the myth of school choice. The tactics used reflect the strategy of a hostile takeover. It begins with seducing parents with promises that can’t be fulfilled. It’s followed up with rhetoric blasting teachers and their unions. Parents and teachers are systematically divided against one another as a way to further promote school choice.
Parents are encouraged by the promise of being heard after years of being discounted. They relish the potential of participating in a school that offers more parental input. They’re not told that charter schools offer less involvement.
“Historically underserved groups may see it as a solution to inequality. I can understand why some parents buy into it at first. If you feel like your child’s education has been neglected or if you’re a member of a group that has historically been underserved, you feel like finally someone is paying attention. But, in fact, school choice often disempowers parents,” Jones stated on Salon.
Brandon points to Barack Obama as proof that school choice is a bipartisan issue. Obama is a critic of teacher unions and has pushed for the expansion of charter schools. Obama’s support of school choice isn’t enough to offset the real backers of destroying traditional public education – the Christian Right intent of keeping their children out of public schools. They want school prayer and a place less tolerant to the LGBT community.
The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the Goldwater Institute, the Tea Party, Heritage Foundation, Alliance for School Choice, Friedman Foundation, Heartland Institute, Reason Institute, and many other right-wing groups are all behind the plan to dismantle public education in American in favor of school choice.
Public education in Durham is under attack. 11 applications to open new charter schools in Durham made their way to the state Department of Public Instruction. Durham currently has 10 charter schools. Brandon argues the high number reflects disenchantment among parents in Durham. I contend the public opinion related to public education is the result of a calculated campaign to destroy the image of Durham and its schools.
The train must be stopped before it’s too late to slow the efforts of people intent on taking us back to the days when everyone in a classroom shared the same race, class and interest. We learn best in diverse settings.
No, our schools aren’t perfect, but I trust those in charge of the Durham Public School system to find a way to improve what we have. It’s hard to do that when so many are committed to defeating every plan to remedy what is wrong.
It’s a lesson some refuse to hear. We’re in trouble when black Democrats can’t support public education.
We haven’t overcome when too many want to go back to the plantation.