Last weekend, the Network for Public Education (NPE) held a Public Education Nation conference at the Brooklyn New School in Brooklyn, NY. JeffCo School Board Watch sent two of its members to the forum. Today and tomorrow, they will report on what they found, heard, and learned there.
The NPE is focused on stopping the dismantling of public schools, and their growing privatization.
For many of us this may sound impossible – the privatization of schools?
Public schools are a cornerstone of our democracy. Although public schools did not spread across the U.S. until the mid-1800s , our founding fathers recognized the importance of education. Thomas Jefferson believed education should be provided by the government, free from religion, and free of charge. George Washington was also a supporter of public schools. John Adams wrote, “Laws for the liberal education of youth, especially of the lower class of people, are so extremely wise and useful, that, to a human and generous mind, no expense for this purpose would be thought extravagant.”
Our public schools have long represented our country’s freedom. It’s promise. It’s future.
Our desire to educate every child, no matter what race, religion, gender or economic status is a testament to our deep seated belief that All Men (and Women) Are Created Equal. This conference delved into how that system has come under attack.
A key discussion at the conference was the Opt Out Movement and mass stakes testing. JeffCo School Board Watch maintains a neutral stance on Common Core, but this discussion brought up some interesting questions for parents and educators to ask.
There is no doubt that schools need standards. And that metrics are needed to track those standards. But at what cost? And to what purpose?
The current standardized tests tell us what students are meeting standards. However, the NPE panel pointed out that the teachers are never given data on WHAT questions a student missed.
The tests are also used to decide what schools are ‘failing’. But rather than work to repair these schools, that failing grade is often used to simply close the school and disperse the students. And in doing so deprive them of their community and their community of it’s voice.
And finally, in some cases, the tests are used to measure our teachers. Regardless of factors that can affect the student’s test scores even more than the teacher: If the child taking the test is gifted. If English is their second language. Or if the child is simply living in such a state of poverty that when they took the test they hadn’t eaten since the previous day’s lunch or they had slept in car with their family that night. Yet, there are proponents for whom this is the only valid measure of a teacher.
Here is an analogy: Imagine you are an engineer for a car company. You build the car, manufacture copies of it and THEN send it to testing (remember most standardized tests are administered in the spring with results coming to the families weeks or months later).
The testing company tells you the car failed the safety test, but they do not inform you what failed. Did the brakes fail? Did the air bags not deploy? How can you fix the car if you don’t know the mode of failure? Maybe the problem is a simple one, that with extra training or extra resources, could not only be fixed, but amazing cars could be produced.
However, rather than dedicating the resources to fixing the problem, the CEO simply throw up his hands and closes the plant.
Our kids are not objects! They are human beings. They deserve better than a school district giving up on them, closing their schools, breaking up their communities and dispersing them. And our commitment to them needs to be deeper than the a ‘return on investment’ calculation.
At the conference education and parent leaders pointed out that this is what has been happening to our inner city schools for years.
Labeled as failing, districts led by ‘reformers‘ are throwing in the towel, closing schools. Worse, there are ‘reformers‘ that deliberately look for ways to force schools into failing. They then replace them with private charters. Charters that do not comprise children from the community, but of a mix of students from all over the city, breaking up the neighborhoods, and fracturing their communities.
Many of these charter chain schools (not actual neighborhood-developed charters) are run by companies who intend to make a profit from running the schools.
And the boards that run them are not made up of parents nor are they community members.
These students and parents have lost their voice in their schools and in their communities. This sentiment was echoed throughout the forum. As the stakes of testing getting higher, they feel their only option is to stand up by opting out. (Again, the JeffCo School Board Watch is not taking a stance on this. We are simply reporting the concerns of the NPE and the people who attended the forum.)
Quite frankly, we allowed these school takeovers to happen because we thought it couldn’t happen to us. Jeffco has great schools. Jeffco has a great community. And we elect our Board of Education. So it couldn’t happen to us.
But it did.
Now WNW is falsely labeling our schools as failing.
We have high schools with over 70% of the students graduating going to college, higher ACT scores than anyone else in the state, higher average AP test scores than the world. But Witt, Newkirk, and Williams say we are failing.
Do we have schools struggling? Absolutely.
Do we have schools that need help? YES!!!
But what is their plan for helping those schools, specifically?
When a school is at 170% capacity and the board offers no solutions, is that school being set up to fail? Are we, as a community, simply closing our eyes because that school has a Free/Reduced Lunch rate over 90%?
Now that we, as a district, are falsely labeled as failing, are we willing to wake up and see what this panel is fighting for? Not just neighborhood schools, but good public neighborhood schools (Note: We refuse to call them “district assigned.” That is a blatant propaganda ploy by WNW, trying to turn our neighborhood schools into a cold sounding prisons.)
Presenter and New York Principal, Carol Corbett Burris, challenged the audience with Martin Luther King, Jr’s letter from jail in Birmingham. She quoted this part of the letter, “In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self-purification; and direct action.” We at the Board Watch implore our readers to follow these steps:
- Collect the facts. Subscribe directly to JeffCo School Board Watch or ‘Friend’ us on our Facebook link. Do your own research.
- Negotiate in good faith (which WNW seems incapable of doing). Send emails to the Board. Ask your questions. See what the answers are (if any).
- Self-purification – as Diane Ravitch pointed out, we elected this board. We ignored other school attacks. We bear some guilt.
- Finally, Direct Action – Come to a board meeting, talk to your neighbors about what is going on, put up a yard sign, give to Support Jeffco Kids or join Jeffco Exodus.
Finally, in the spirit of the edict presented by these school leaders, many who have had their schools hijacked for years, and in the words of Dr. King:
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. …. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly”.
Tomorrow – Part 2: CHARTER SCHOOLS and AUTHENTIC REFORM
Resources and References
Visit their website for more information on the Network for Public Education.
Other great resources include: Diane Ravitch’s blog.