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Has the charter school field become too woke for its own good?

Steven Wilson thought he was writing a strong defense of classical education for students who have been traditionally offered weak schooling. It didn’t go well.

In this post I will treat you as if you are a thinking person. I’ll give you facts about the cancellation of an educator, and you can evaluate it for yourself.

The case involves a white male charter school leader who caught figurative hands for saying the wrong thing publicly.

Steven Wilson, the leader of a successful charter school network in New York wrote a piquing blog post making the case that children – especially those falling outside of aristocracy – have long-suffered the tradition of “anti-intellectualism.” In his winding review of education history he made the case for “intellectual joy” using a classical liberal frame.

He was fired.

His board of directors for 5,500 student Ascend Public Charter Schools, Wilson’s former employer, issued a statement claiming his dismissal was not the result of his one blog post – hinting that there were other problems.

Chalkbeat reported them saying:

We want to be clear: our decision is not the result of a single event or a simple reaction to recent unrest,” Bator said in a statement to Ascend staff. “Rather, events and unrest caused us to take a serious look at the whole of Ascend, now and for the future, and to see that as we continue to evolve as a school network, our leadership can and should evolve as well.

A petition on issued by ” The Ascend Public Charter Schools Community,” demanded Wilson’s ” white supremacist ideology” be addressed.

On June 4th, 2019, Ascend Public Charter Schools published an article written by Ascends Chief Executive Officer, Steven Wilson, on the blog portion of their website entitled, “The promise of intellectual joy.” This article contains offensive and oppressive content that perpetuates white supremacist ideology and propagates destructive messages about the community that Ascend serves.

The school’s website says their approach is to “develop children’s potentials” and “encourage critical thinking and questioning.”

“Liberal learning liberates,” they say.

The Ascend schools:

…offer a rich, Common Core-aligned liberal arts curriculum coupled with the uniquely warm and supportive Ascend school culture. Blending exciting and rigorous academic study with a nurturing environment, our model assures that our students are instilled with the knowledge, enthusiasm, character, and determination to succeed in college and beyond.

Though Wilson found himself isolated in the bear trap of racial blow back, he wasn’t without supporters. Several months after his provocative blog post, two prominent education reformers – one black and one white – pushed back on the petition written by ” an anonymous author” calling for his head.

They pointed out that Wilson’s work has lifted the students he serves out of the typical academic desolation so characteristic of New York public schools.

At Ascend Steven and his team have built a network of 15 public charter schools educating 5,000 students in some of the most impoverished communities in Brooklyn. Ascend has not only closed the achievement gap, it reversed it. Its students, 96% of whom are black or Latino and 84% economically disadvantaged, are more likely to be proficient on the New York State exams than their white peers and middle-class peers statewide.

Additionally, in an article for National Review, dauntless school reform stalwart Rick Hess works to rescue Wilson’s classical – and, yes, white – idealism by lodging three points:

1) the charter school field is captive to a dangerous form of “woke” group think,

2) Wilson has paid his “woke” tithes by committing his life’s work to better schooling for marginalized kids (and being on the front line of issues like “restorative justice”), and…

3) while perhaps too “sweeping,” Wilson’s characterization of the tradition of anti-intellectualism, specifically in the civil right community who Wilson claims were resistant to rigorous academic work for nonwhite students, has a plausible element of truth to it.

A statement by Wilson made in 2017 after President Trump’s post-Charlottesville bothsiderism regarding neo-Nazis and Antifa protesters certainly adds support to Hess’ second point.

Wilson wrote on the Ascend Facebook page:

We now know where his sympathies lie: with the American Nazis and white supremacists who spew anti-Semitic and racist epithets, brandishing assault weapons. In an appalling failure of moral leadership, he refuses to distinguish between those invoking the slogans and ideology of the greatest genocide in modern times, and protesters condemning their hateful speech. What more need be said than that the former Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan David Duke tweeted his congratulations to the president?

We live in terrifying times. President Trump has emboldened and legitimized racists everywhere, and similar demonstrations by hate groups are now planned in cities around the country. By refusing to unequivocally condemn these odious acts, President Trump has taken aim at the very idea of America: equality. It is to this idea that Ascend is devoted.

In other writings it’s clear that Wilson is an evangelist for the power of “content” over “progressive pedagogies” that expect children to simply discover what they need to learn on their own. If you aren’t a studied education practitioner his traditionalist focus could easily look like cultural chauvinism. If you are a charter school leader who has looked at how to structure a school from all angles, Wilson’s argument is one of many that have merit.

So, this is the part where I treat you like a thinking person. Seeing the facts of the case, what say you? Is Mr. Wilson a white supremacist sympathizer or a pedagogue misunderstood by a mobocracy?

Read Wilson’s blog post below and let me know what you think.

The Promise of Intellectual Joy by Citizen Stewart on Scribd

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Charter Schools

I don’t care if KIPP changes their slogan if they still get results


Good People, some of y’all keep asking me about the internal work the KIPP charter school network is doing to interrogate itself for racial justice concerns, which begins with them changing their well-known slogan”Work Hard, Be Nice.”

I’ve resisted commenting because I think it’s a phony problem.

But, since questions continue to come my way, here a few thoughts:

1. KIPP can change their slogan to whatever they think helps them meet their organizational objective. You don’t have to like it. Stay in you lane.

2. People from the Right love any facile news peg that allows them to belabor the case that “woke” is going too far. I’m sympathetic to their complaint, but notice they have ZERO to say about it when white supremacy goes too far…..ever. It’s way too convenient and I’m tired of that. To them I say: woke isn’t doing nearly the damage to our country and out culture that your president, your party, and you are doing. Clean your own toilet before inspecting others’.

3. So-called “Ed Reform” is full of self-important individuals with axes to grind for one reason or other. Sometimes it’s just straight up competition, sometimes it’s malignant jealousy, sometimes its egotism because they didn’t get a grant or one of their AMAZING criticisms wasn’t heard, or whatever. To them I say, focus on your own house people and shut up about what others are doing.

4. On the liberal side, there are school/reform leaders who blow with the wind and will swing to something like racial justice theology as a shrewd value-signaling move to save their position within the field. Their perfection of woke-speak is a shield meant to position them as “allies” against white supremacy even as they enjoy every privilege and benefit of it.

5. I don’t give a damn if KIPP changes their slogan from “Work Hard, Be Nice” to “Eat Healthy, Drink Water,” or “Say Nice Things To People,” or “Don’t Take Crap From People On The Internet” – just as long as they keep teaching kids to beat the odds in the classroom. As of this point I haven’t heard a single them from them that tells me they aren’t going to keep focusing intently on teaching, learning, and outcomes.

6. And, finally, no – telling kids to “Work Hard, Be Nice” is not telling them to be complicit or be a slave or be compliant to white masters. That is almost as stupid as saying changing the slogan it teaching kids that merit doesn’t matter. Both claims are so damn stupid I can’t imagine educated people aren’t embarrassed to make them.

In the end, I hope everyone can focus on education, focus on results, and focus on the opponents of our field.

Please people: pop open a can of Mind Your Damn Business and drink heavily.

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Charter Schools

Sydney Johnson: California charter schools support their families during a tough time

If you listen to critics you’ll believe charter schools are the enemy of public education. If you look at how many of them are serving their students and families during the coronavirus pandemic, you might see a different story.

Private schools and some charters have found the transition to “distance learning” relatively easy, but public school districts have struggled to ensure students have functioning technology, internet access, and teachers trained to teach online.

Even worse, less than half of school districts have written plans to address pandemics even as experts have been warning of one coming for years. (Isn’t it delicious for public school cultists that Bill Gates is one of those who sounded the alarm about a coming pandemic, and he’s now putting his considerable resources toward expediting the search for a COVID-19 vaccine?).

Sydney Johnson tells the story of how *some* charter schools in California have acted quickly to meet the needs of families (even beyond their educational needs):

For schools like Fuerza, shifting to online classrooms was a relatively quick endeavor because the TK-5 charter school already had technology in place. At home, ensuring a supportive learning environment for students is more of a challenge. Fuerza and a handful of other charter schools across the state are responding by connecting families to resources they need so students can participate in class at home, from internet discounts to legal support.

In the switch to distance learning, many California schools have struggled to purchase devices for students, get teachers up to speed with online teaching and contact parents of students who aren’t participating in distance learning. But at Rocketship and some other charter schools, students were already completing digital assignments daily and teachers were routinely reaching out to parents through texts and home visits.

During the first week of distance learning, Anguiano’s oldest son Abraham, who is in fourth grade, was unable to turn on the laptop provided by his school, and the family didn’t have an extra working computer to give him. The next day, Anguiano had a new charger for her son’s laptop and was ready to go after replying to the morning text message, notifying staff that the device wasn’t working.

Most days, Anguiano said her kids have what they need. But the transition to distance learning has been difficult for the whole family. On top of managing two kids and her own office work, which is now mostly remote, her husband, along with thousands of other workers throughout California, was recently laid off from his construction job.

To help families with similar struggles, Rocketship, a charter management organization with 13 schools in California, initiated a new program at each campus called the Care Corps, a team of staff who reach out to every family every day during the shelter-in-place order to ask if they need support.

“Some say, ‘I’m an essential worker and I’m concerned that I will bring something home to my family,” said Christina Vasquez, the business operations manager at Rocketship Fuerza. “Sometimes they just need someone outside of the home to talk to.”

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Charter Schools

Why aren’t teachers freaking out about Biden and Bernie’s education task force?

New York’s governor, Andrew Cuomo, put together an advisory council to help his state “reimagine” public education. Fearing Cuomo and his partner, the Gates Foundation, will produce a plan that creates accountability and expectations in their public school pension farm, the NYC teacher types pounced.

“There’s no current classroom teacher on this list of advisors” they whined.

For the record, here is Cuomo’s list of advisors:

  • Kaweeda Adams, Superintendent, Albany City School District
  • Jaime Alicea, Superintendent, Syracuse City School District
  • Jody Gottfried Arnhold, Founder, Dance Educator Laboratory (DEL) 92Y
  • Melodie Baker, Director of Education, United Way of Buffalo & Erie County
  • Kyle Belokopitsky, Executive Director, New York State PTA
  • Meg Benke, Provost, SUNY Empire State College
  • Jackie Burbridge, Parent, Suffolk County
  • Katie Campos, Partner, Strategic Collective
  • Anthony Collins, President, Clarkson University
  • Stephanie Conklin, Master Teacher, South Colonie Central School District
  • George Dermody, CEO, The Children’s Home of Wyoming Conference
  • Karol Mason, President, John Jay College of Criminal Justice
  • Austin Ostro, President, SUNY Student Assembly
  • Martin Palermo, Master Teacher, William Floyd School District
  • Roger Ramsammy, President, Hudson Valley Community College
  • Seema Rivera, President, Guilderland Central School District School Board
  • Shannon Tahoe, Interim Commissioner, New York State Education Department
  • Dennis Walcott, Former Chancellor, New York City Department of Education
  • Randi Weingarten, President, American Federation of Teachers

As you can see, teachers, parents, students, higher education, nonprofits, superintendents, and other education officials are represented.

Now, contrast that with the farcical “unity” education task force assembled by current and failed presidential candidates Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders.

Per Vox Media, here’s their list:

Sanders’s picks:

Biden’s picks:

  • Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH), task force co-chair and former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus
  • Lily Eskelsen García, president of the National Education Association
  • Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers
  • Maggie Thompson, executive director of Generation Progress
  • Christie Vilsack, literacy advocate

Hmmm. This feels a little paltry.

Let’s start with the fact that Sanders seems to continue his trend of giving zero effs about honest Black representation or truly addressing K-12 education’s pedagogical and social issues beyond what political neosocialist agenda setters tell him works best.

Looking at his picks tells me his post-racial disaster socialism once again proves him an unserious candidate for any post responsible for educational progress.

Now, Mr. Biden, what gives?

Two national teachers’ union bosses, a political consultant, and the former first lady of Iowa?

Together, these picks reveal why the Democrats’ education agenda is useless to America’s most marginalized students:

Their list includes:

  • No school leaders who are successfully educating children deemed “hard-to-teach” by an out-of-touch education establishment;
  • No classroom teachers with a track record of success;
  • No parents of color desperate for improved educational options;
  • No one with direct pedagogical insights into what will improve education for those who are poorly served in today’s public schools;

In short, both Biden and Bernie, when given the chance to show how genuine their interest is in educational improvement, fail the test by stacking the deck with political advisors in place of accomplished educators.

The funny thing is, none of the Badass Miseducators so abundant in social media grievance groups have come for Biden and Bernie, even as they have indignant seizures about the fact that Cuomo dare work with Bill Gates for his “reimagine” counsel in New York.

I guess that’s the surest sigh it’s all politics folks.

If you care about fixing education so it works equally well for everyone, there’s nothing to see here.

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