Diane Ravitch, the nation’s leading voice for public education explains,
As segregation grows worse than it has been for decades, the problems are worsened by current “reforms.” School privatization intensifies segregation, high-stakes testing creates cause for closing struggling schools instead of helping students.
As Wendy Lecker writes, there is a growing grassroots to prevent the corporate takeover of public education and to turn schools into profit centers. The victory of Ras Baraka in Newark is the latest example of a community fighting for dignity.
In many cities and states, this is a bad time for public education. Plutocrats want to take control of the schools and decide which children to educate.
Over time, history teaches us that bad things don’t last forever. This is a democracy, and when people organize and unite, the plutocrats lose.
The following is Wendy Lecker’s latest commentary piece. It first appeared in this weekend’s Stamford Advocate. You can read the complete column at: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Lecker-The-grass-roots-movement-for-educational-5484585.php
The grass-roots movement for educational equality (by Wendy Lecker)
This weekend marks the 60th anniversary of the landmark U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education that separate is never equal when it comes to the education of our children.
Judging from the lack of progress in school equity in the past 60 years, it is easy to despair that the promise of Brown will never be fulfilled. Schools are more segregated today than they have been in more than 40 years. Schools serving predominately African-American and Latino students receive far less funding than schools serving predominately white students. African-American and Latino students are much more likely to have inexperienced teachers than their white counterparts.
Compounding these inequities, current school “reforms” disproportionately harm children and communities of color. In Chicago, Philadelphia, New Orleans, Newark and elsewhere, officials, often backed by outside billionaires, have waged identical campaigns of destruction: disinvesting in community schools while funding and promoting privately run charter schools, declaring underfunded community schools “failures,” closing them and replacing them with more charters.
The results are devastating. Children are uprooted, interrupting their education and harming their achievement. They often must travel far, through dangerous neighborhoods, to unfamiliar schools. Many replacement charters have exclusive enrollment policies that shut out neighborhood children, and harsh discipline policies that push out even more. Experienced teachers from the community are replaced by outside Teach for America recruits with five weeks of training. Schools that have been community anchors for generations disappear, signaling the demise of the neighborhood.
Parents are not given a choice or a voice. When they protest these policies and instead demand the resources and support their schools and communities need, they are ignored. As New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie insisted when faced with grass-roots opposition to his slash-and-burn policies in Newark: “I don’t care about the community criticism. We run the school district in Newark, not them.”
These policies have proven to be failures. Test-based accountability has done nothing to help learning. Charters are no better than public schools, show no innovation and increase segregation. “Turnaround” strategies hurt school performance by destabilizing the school community. Yet despite the evidence, our political leaders push the failed schemes, simply because they are backed by the wealthy and powerful.
Worse still, those who impose this devastation on communities of color against their will cynically don the cloak of Brown. They adopt civil rights rhetoric, claiming they are “saving” children of color, while disempowering their parents and imposing a type of “education” on them to which they would never subject their own children.
So it is easy to fall into despair. Yet, from those very communities reformers seem intent on silencing and destroying, rays of hope are emerging.
Parents in Newark, New Orleans and Chicago have organized joint protests and marches to call attention to the destruction of their community institutions: their public schools. This week, grass-roots parent groups filed civil rights complaints demonstrating that school closures in their cities have disproportionately harmed African-American and Latino students and their families. Beyond these complaints, this 21 city coalition, the Journey for Justice, has presented a positive plan for sustainable schools and neighborhoods; a plan built on real evidence of what works both in schools and in communities.
While school privatizer and former Newark Mayor Cory Booker once said “real change has casualties,” these parents are declaring “our children are not collateral damage.”
And they are taking their fight to the ballot box. This week, voters in Newark beat back the Wall Street-financed charter school board member candidate and elected public school principal Ras Baraka as mayor. The biggest issue in the election was the so-called education reform — disinvestment, school closures, exclusive charters — that has wreaked havoc on families in that city. One supporter noted that people across the country are watching this race, as it is “the beginning of a surge of resistance” against school privatizers.
Here in Connecticut, that surge began in November 2012, when big money tried to eliminate a democratically elected school board in Bridgeport. Despite the millions poured into that effort from outside agitators, Bridgeport voters flatly rejected the attempt to disenfranchise them. Parents are also rising up to protest the profound racial isolation wrought by Connecticut’s charters.
Voters in the cities most affected by education reform are joining together to speak truth to power. Watching this genuine grassroots movement grow gives hope that one day soon, this country will reclaim its commitment to Brown’s vision not only of educational equality, but also of a just and equitable society.