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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.”

Pursuing the power of self-sovereignty and personalized learning to create secure citizens and abundant communities. #TheOppositeOfSchool #AllPowerToThePupil

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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

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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Charter Schools

Progressives have a troubling and worsening race problem in education

If the goal is democratic debate about how public institutions like public schools should work for families and communities, then leading progressive voice need a fact-based come-to-your-deity about the fact that some of their assumed constituencies, black folks and people of color, disagree with the union-aligned top-down agenda prevalent in liberal politics.

Last week Robert Kuttner from The American Prospect wrote a hot and bothered piece ripping the New York Times for writing a sympathetic story about the parent group that protested a speech by Elizabeth Warren on a recent campaign stop.

He complained that “The Times ran an overwrought and overwritten front-page story Wednesday under the breathless headline, ‘Minority Voters Feel Betrayed Over Schools.'”

While I appreciate the story because it treated Black parents who choose charter schools as people with practical aims, valid lived-experience, the confidence of agency, and demonstrable intelligence. That’s a departure from how they are usually cast. That so many white progressives labeled these parents as something close to slaves for white people says more about progressives than the parents.

For his part, Kuttner says Times journalists Erica Green and Eliza Shapiro overstated nonwhite support for charter schools and buried an important fact deep in their story.

He says:

…if you read all the way to paragraph 38 (!), you will learn that according to a poll by Education Next, a journal that supports charters, black opinion on charter schools is in fact evenly divided, 47 percent supportive to 47 percent opposed. 

While Kuttner accuses Green and Shapiro of quoting “fervent charter school supporters” and using “unsupported generalizations” to manufacture decisive support among Blacks, he erred by claiming support “is in fact evenly divided.”

That’s inaccurate.

The Ed Next poll he quotes shows Black respondents support charters more than any group except Republicans, and the group most opposed are public school teachers in unions.

See:

After public and private prodding Kuttner published a sorry-not-sorry correction this week.

“I owe our readers a much deeper look at the charter school controversy, as well as error-free reading of polls. Both will be forthcoming,” he chafed, then foreshadowed what might be his next line of attack on the Times story: ” polling results vary widely depending on the wording and framing of the question, the sponsor of the poll, and the context.”

This is, unfortunately true. It is possible to make data and surveys say whatever advocates what them to say.

For example, Kuttner may be talking about polls like the one conducted by Brilliant Corners for RolandMartin.com. Their results showed remarkably high levels of Black support for charters and choice (in addition to increased school funding).

This is where judgment is essential. For me, that poll asked what looks like the cleanest version of a charter school question I’ve seen: “Generally speaking from what you know, do you favor or oppose public charter schools?”

That question – free from contrasts or push polling about presumed negative impacts by charters on traditional schools – yields 72% Black favorability and just 13% opposition.

As you might expect, an even higher percentage (97%) of African-American charter school parents favor charters.

Another useful angle Brilliant Corners took was to put the narratives of reformers and opponents of reform to the test.

Respondents were given two statements to rate as most agreeable:

That match up of opposing ideas results in unambiguous support on the charter side.

See:

Kuttner would likely be unmoved by Brilliant Corners, especially given their poll was done for Roland Martin, who is known to support charters.

Instead, Kuttner shifts attention to a poll more to his liking, one done by the Public Policy Institute of California that he says “reverses the finding of the Education Next poll cited by the Times.”

In that poll, Black support in California for charters is an eyebrow-raising low of 36%, well below white support at 50%.

Here is a snapshot of those results:

While interesting, it’s unclear why Kuttner thinks Black opinion in California trumps Black opinion nationally.

It’s important to note that Black concern about charters taking money from traditional district schools is profound, especially in California cities like Los Angeles, where teachers’ unions have conducted long and expensive campaigns to exploit Black fears for political purposes. Connecting charter schools to long-standing fiscal incompetence and flat funding in traditional school districts like L.A. and Oakland is persuasive and worth the investment of unions who know that families leaving for charters reduce their dues-paying ranks.

I wonder if Kuttner missed bad news his argument, and, ironically, support for some significant claims made by reformers?

For example, African-American respondents in the PPI poll also were far more likely to rate the quality of their local public schools poorly. They were more likely to say schools are doing a poor job of preparing students for college or work, and they were more likely to say teacher quality is a significant problem.

In his haste to claim Black opinion is on his side, Kuttner leaves the most crucial response from Black respondents unaddressed:

…most Californians (75%) and public school parents (81%) say it is very or somewhat important for parents in lower-income areas to have the choice of sending their children to charter schools instead of traditional local public schools. African Americans (52%) are the most likely to say this is very important.

However ambivalent Blacks are about charters in California (the state Kuttner strategically uses to make his point) African Americans believe parents in poor communities should be the ones who choose whether or not charters are worthy for their needs. Other subgroups agree.

Kuttner’s quarrel isn’t with the Times as much as it is with facts and Black people.

Seeing this, I think Kuttner’s argument grows more desperate, the more he writes. At one point, he complains that one of the polls cited by the Times uses the phrase “public charter schools.” He seethes: “charter schools are public only in their taxpayer funding; their actual accountability to public systems varies widely. Many are for-profit, or nominally nonprofit but managed by for-profit management companies.”

In fact, whether or not charter schools are public can most decisively be determined by a simple reading of how charters are defined by the state laws that create them.

In California, the state Kuttner wants us to focus on, the state defines charter schools as follows:

A charter school is a public school that may provide instruction in any combination of grades (kindergarten through grade twelve). Parents, teachers, or community members may initiate a charter petition, which is typically presented to and approved by a local school district governing board. The law grants chartering authority to county boards of education and the State Board of Education under certain circumstances, such as the appeal of a petition’s denial by a school district governing board or the direct approval of countywide benefit or statewide benefit charter schools.

If the goal is a democratic debate about how our shared institutions like public schools should work for families and communities, then leading progressive voices should reconcile their positions with their assumed constituencies. Black folks and people of color disagree with the union-aligned top-down agenda that dominates liberal politics.

The fact is, Kuttner is representative of the dominant culture in progressive “thinking” circles. Like Diane Ravitch, he represents a long list of white paloeliberals, higher education ideologues, unionists, PTA moms, hipster journalists, college-educated middle-class neosocialists Tweeting from suburban basements, and a vast system of pressure groups.

They can’t keep prioritizing an education system that they bubble wrap in starry-eyed nostalgia without coming cleaning about how that system has harmed some groups for generations.

If progressives want to live up to their declared values of equity, social justice, and equal opportunity, then they can’t continue erasing pro-charter school families as if they don’t matter.

The clearest example of what people of color think about charters is evidenced by how many of them choose a charter school when given the opportunity.

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