Howard Fuller is always good. People avoid following him in speaking rotations in forums and on panels because his deft ability to make the truth plain will demolish your fanciest talk. He’s just that deep.
This was no less the case on a panel moderated by Andre Perry called “Race in Schools” at the Education Research Alliance conference in New Orleans last June. Drawing on the experience he’s had in New Orleans working with leaders in the black community to gain power in the next wave of school reform, he was teaching, not just speaking.
He also drew from the heady well of Howard Thurman’s book “Jesus and The Disinherited,” Paulo Freirie, Marcus Garvey, Derrick Bell, and Marxist theory.
Quoting Thurman’s book he said “often there are things on the horizon that point logically to the transformation of society, especially for the underprivileged. But he [the disinherited] cannot cooperate with them because he is spiritually and intellectually confused. He mistakes fear for caution and caution for fear. Now if his mind is free and spirit unchained he can work courageously for a new day.’
To Fuller means test scores are important because they determine so much about schools, teachers, and students.
But the problem is if we have an education strategy whose worth is determined by test scores, and therefore the worth of our kids is determined solely by test scores. We’re going to miss the point that if our kids are not spiritually freed and unchained they are not going to be able to fight for the freedom of their people.
His call is a challenge for school reformers to create a school system that “understands the relationship between kids learning and being prepared to engage in the practice in freedom.”
We won’t get there merely by building great schools led by white people. While that work is important, it doesn’t the institutional power needed in the black community for us to be truly free. Race matters in this world whether we want it to or not. Our children need to see people who look like them leading in the system, and they need to see that system connected to their own empowerment.
The call to make education relevant is particularly important in economically depressed areas where children in poverty experience so few opportunities to be fully human.
The middle folks
In Fuller’s view middle-class black people aren’t off the hook either.
He says there once was a “national bourgeoisie” who saw their economic reality connected to the progress of the black masses. After civil rights and integration many of them became upwardly mobile. They began to individual achievement and their focus shifted from collective liberation to personal progress.
That was a gift that keeps giving.
Now, even with black people leading districts and schools we realize “Black faces in what used to be high white places does not bring freedom to the people.”
The big lesson in that?
“Neocolonialism is as destructive to the human spirit as colonialism.”
Though the black middle class in New Orleans feels disinherited, there is no future in licking wounds forever. The question is what to do about their displacement? What is the plan for an alternative future? What are the concrete action steps are they willing to commit to doing, and how will they approach the next decade of reform with more consciousness for their place in the racial hierarchy than they showed before?
“It irks me that we don’t even understand that when the constitutional convention was held after the civil war, there were 50 white men and 49 black men. It was the 49 black men that wrote the education platform that created the structure that exists in Louisiana today,” he says.
We simply do not know our power and potential.
New Orleans Reboot, again
While Fuller supports the school reform efforts that have achieved gains for students in New Orleans, he also says focusing solely on how much schools have improved ignores some of the enduring wounds in the community.
For instance, the firing of over 7,000 teachers and school staff remains a sore spot.
Reformers would love to be done with that problem. They would love to change the narrative without changing their practices, but Fuller says the next wave of school reform must seek to empower the community above all else. Ignoring that goal again will put the entire reform project in jeopardy of being rejected by the black community like a bad kidney.
When asked by Perry about the powerful and wealthy interests that drive school reform in multiple cities, Fuller focused his attention on those of us who are in the game and have access to the rooms where decisions about education reform are being made.
He said that too often the few people of color who enter those rooms fail to push back when they should. “They’re just happy” to be in the room and afraid they won’t be invited back.
“They’re just happy.”
In the end he wants us to know that there is one way to be in those rooms – transparent and unencumbered by the need to be accepted.
That’s rare. He knows that. “There is one free negro amongst us. And it’s me.”
To see Fuller’s fully glorious discussion, watch the video below.
Short note about Network of Public Education’s (NOPE) focus on education fraud
My friends at NOPE need to broaden their scope of fraud reveals.
My friends at the Network of Public Education (NOPE) have an ongoing series under the hashtag #AnotherDayAnotherCharterSchool that aims to keep your eyes trained on the supposed never-ending abuses and fraud case in charter schools.
I applaud their commitment to public integrity and I share their vigilance in rooting out grift in public systems. Yet, their myopic focus on a small subset of public schools, in this case charters, is suspicious.
Why not expose all fraud, especially in the bigger system?
Well, you’ll have to ask them. They’ve mostly blocked me on twitter for asking such questions.
I guess their unionist funders and the privileged parents they cater to in America’s suburban hoarding schools want a clean message. Traditional schools with union teachers that work with privileged parents to rig the system in favor of white, middle-class, pampered children, well, that’s good.
Schools built for, by, or in favor of children so unfortunate as not to have suburban, white, progressive, college-educated families capable of obtaining mortgages for houses near the best hoarding schools, well, you know the drill, they must be stopped.
Thus, the campaign to turn public opinion against the most popular competitor to sputtering state-run schools that employ more people than they educate, and drown in so much pension debt that they can ill-afford parents choosing anything other than district failure farms.
In the interest of truth I should tell you that fraud in public education is indeed every bit the problem that NOPE says it is, but it’s much broader than they admit.
a KDKA investigation has found that the Pittsburgh Public Schools have issued no less than 650 of these cards to teachers and staff, who are racking up millions of dollars of purchases every year.
And while the cards are not supposed to be used for personal purchases, Controller Michael Lamb says it’s a system of loose oversight and controls that IS based mainly on trust.
“When you have that many cards, you lose control,” Lamb said. “And when the proper procedures aren’t in place, you create the opportunity for fraud. And that’s what you have in the school district right now.”
KDKA filed a right-to-know request for purchases made over the last three years and the results were eye-popping.
Last year alone, teachers and staff rang up a total of $3,254,000 in p-card purchases, with some putting upwards of $20,000 or $30,000 on their individual cards.
The summaries obtained by KDKA show purchases from Amazon, Sam’s Club, Staples and Giant Eagle.
And while employees are supposed to submit receipts and the stated reason for each purchase, controller office audits have found that it is hard to tell if all or most of those purchases are legitimate.
But at Faison School, for example, the controller’s office found no p-card reports for half of the 12 months audited and missing documentation for dozens of the purchases that were listed.
And KDKA’s review found questionable expenditures, as well.
Records show that teachers and staff at Oliver Academy used cards on a weekly and bi-weekly basis at both Wiseguys Pizza and Kuhn’s supermarket — raising the question of whether they were using the cards for their own lunches and groceries.
Fuller to charter advocates: You’re in a fight, don’t run home to Mama!
Dr. Howard Fuller has been on the vanguard of the fight for educational options, and today he has a message for education advocates: fight for your lives!
Creating alternatives to assigned district schools for families that wanted them was picking a fight with the educational establishment that lives or dies on the student headcount that drives per pupil revenue. Now, after years of losing market share, the empire is striking back with organized moves to establish moratoriums on charter growth, forge attacks on the the integrity of charter supporters, and calcifying public narratives about the supposed negative impacts of charters on public education.
So what do reform advocates do when the opponent finally hits back (hard) and our cherished reforms take a public whooping like they stole something?
According to lifelong freedom fighter Dr. Howard Fuller we firm our spines and fight like we mean it. That’s what he told attendees at a recent conference for the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools.
“You can’t go running home to your mama,” he says. “There are people out there who don’t care that you all have created good schools. They don’t care that you are going to teach computer science. They don’t care.”
His message comes at a time when weary charter school supporters are feeling drained from constant attacks, and many are vacillating between wanting to stand their ground and wanting to accommodate anti-charter organizers by finding fleeting common ground.
“They want you to not exist,” Fuller said of the organized opponents of charter schools.
See his powerful speech below.
It’s time to admit Diane Ravitch’s troubled crusade derails honest debate about public education
The longstanding arguments for charters could still be had in clean exchanges between judicious people – sans Ravitch – if we seek understanding and progress.
I should start adding a qualifier when I say the former scholar and historian Diane Ravitch is the Ann Coulter of education commentary.
In fairness, Coulter has better manners and makes more attempts to employ logic as she “owns” the libs with verbal Jujitsu.
Ravitch, by contrast, has fallen irreparably into polemics so much that her daily blogs put her in league with Alex Jones’ made-for-YouTube Info Wars.
Along those lines, her blog-fart today ties “the charter industry” to the “infamous pedophile and “super-rich” Jeffrey Epstein.
“In 2013, his foundation issued a press release announcing that he looked forward to the dominance of charter schools in Washington, D.C. and predicted that they would succeed because they were unregulated,” she crows.
Then she offers crude analysis of why people like Epstein would want to privatize schools in D.C.:
People often ask me, “Why do the super-rich cluster to the cause of privatization?” The Answer is not simple because many different motives are at work. Some see giving to charters as a charitable endeavor, and their friends assure them that they are “giving back,” helping poor children escape poverty. Others want to impress their friends in their social strata, their colleagues in the world of high finance. Being a supporter of charter schools is like belonging to the right clubs, going to the right parties, sharing a cause with other very rich people.
If you are reading this you probably know that Ravitch was once a charter school supporter, and that makes it fair to ask which camp of nincompoops she fell into?
Did she see charters as a “charitable endeavor,” or was charter support her attempt to “impress [her] friends in [her] social strata, [and her] colleagues in the world of high finance.”
Only she can say, but as an established scholar of education history (and a player in policy) it’s doubtful her support was so in want of a factual basis.
During testimony to Congress conservative William Bennett gave decades ago he invoked Ravitch as a bipartisan voice for school choice.
Regarding the school reforms that were advancing in Chicago under Mayor Daley and Paul Vallas Bennett declared “[t]he empirical evidence, now widely available, is irrefutable: Not only are many of our public-schools not getting better, they are getting worse. American students finish in the bottom half, and often near the bottom, in comparison to students from other industrialized nations.”
Then, after promoting the benefits of charter schools, he asked lawmakers to “follow my friend Diane Ravitch’s prescript” to:
…make Title I into a “portable entitlement” that would aid all poor kids regardless of what school they attend. This is the one way to assure that every single Title I child will receive Title I services at the school they currently attend. This is also the best way to assure accountability. If a parent is not satisfied with the Title I services they are getting, they can take their Title I dollars with them to the school or provider of choice; power to the parents, and not bureaucrats, in other words.
Was Ravitch’s support for school choice back then the result of suspicious philanthropy, or glossy marketing to mindless parents, or, more logically, the result of her considerable scholarship by that point in her life?
Again, only she can say.
In the spring of 1997 she praised then-New York Pataki’s proposed charter school policies that allowed groups other than local boards to grant charters, allowed for an un-capped number of charters to open, and allowed these schools to hire teachers who weren’t state certified.
In supporting Pataki’s push she said:
It’s impossible to know whether a law permitting charter schools will emerge from this session of the Legislature; the opposition of the teachers’ union, which is the most powerful voice in Albany on education issues, is certainly not encouraging. This is unfortunate, for a large and vital network of charter schools in New York would offer hope to educators, parents, and students in troubled school districts and would promote higher academic standards for all the state’s public schools.
Why would she support such craven policies of such anti-democratic that today she maligns as wealthy pedophiles and privatizers? Projection much?
Forget that teachers’ unions – the ones Ravitch herself once admitted were the “most powerful voices in education” – today block legislation making it a crime for teachers to sexualize students, defeat resolutions that called for them to re-dedicate their profession to student achievement, and pay retail civil rights organizations to defeat the voices of their grassroots members.
Here’s the real kick to the taco, when Lamar Alexander pitched the idea that every D.C. school should be converted to a charter (in 1997, six years before Epstein arrived at the same conclusion) he ascribed this definition of charter schools to his friend Diane Ravitch:
Think of a charter school as a public school district with only one school. It receives public funds, agrees to meet clear academic standards and accepts all students who apply. Unlike existing public schools, it has a contract that can be revoked if the school fails to make good on its commitments.
If she were at all generous she would at very least admit the decency of long-term charter backers who hold valid theories for why charters improve the educational landscape. The longstanding arguments for charters could still be had in clean exchanges between judicious people – sans Ravitch – if we seek understanding and progress. The tensions between autonomy and regulation, local control and federal oversight, and public education as an institution or as a service to American learners could still be exercised by smart people truly seeking solutions to the inarguable problems of public schooling.
But not if we follow the zero-sum and divisive lead of Ravitch whose enemy-imaging toward those who differ on policy has escalated so far she no longer sees them as human. We’ll predictably end up in her abyss of false binaries, intellectual excursions, and forlorn paralysis.
Given Ms. Ravitch’s clever wits and stockpile of information I can’t imagine she leads us to that confused, somber place by accident. There is no better way to ensure the education establishment’s special interests – those who are among Ravitch’s most ardent disciples – are never brought to account than to ignore the brisk but level Ravitch of yesteryear and listen to the caustic and battled one before us now.
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