Category Archives: Charter Schools

Open Letter to Dr. Julian Vasquez Heilig

Why the School Choice Hate?

Dear Dr. Vasquez Heilig, I hope this open letter finds you at your best. I thought about the many different ways to convey this message, and I finally settled on writing you an open letter. I know you’re busy these days, eradicating the privatization of public education, as well as keeping the pressure on charter schools.  Please don’t let me get in the way of your outstanding work, but I do want to understand more about your malcontent for school choice.

Moreover, I have been following your work as the California NAACP chair. Your ideas about school choice have been the catalyst for some strict legislation coming out of California.

All of this legislation seems to be anti-charter and dare I say, Anti-Black people.

I say Anti-Black folks because for years we’ve sat and watched a public school system not built for us continue to trap us (us meaning Black parents). People that have faced historical disenfranchisement should have a choice as to where they send their kids to school. To say anything besides that is admitting that you don’t have your fingers on the pulse when it comes to what is best for our students.

Three Local Branches Disavow.

Recently, three branches of the local NAACP in California have expressed their desire to contest your stance outwardly. Do you think this is a coincidence? Were these branches brought of by privatizers? I’m asking all of the questions that will be asked by a pro-traditional public school conspiracy theorists.

To be clear, I have no beef with people that choose to send their kids to traditional public schools, magnet schools, religious schools, private schools, etc. I believe that it is ultimately the choice of the parents to decide where their child attends school. No one else can make that choice for parents.

I don’t want to judge your stance without 100% understanding why you’ve taken such a position. Is there research beyond your thoughts on private money in charter schools? I want to make sure that I’m not missing anything. I’m coming from a peaceful place in my open letter. Generally, I want to understand how anyone could think that taking choice away from parents could be a win for parents.

Opinions are My Own.

Finally, I’m not a paid blogger. All of my thinking is original thoughts. I think it’s essential to be transparent when you seek understanding from someone. No one is trying to change your mind about charter schools. Your beliefs are your own. I want clarity on why you think your opinion on what’s best for Black folks is the only way.  I’m sure if we talk we’ll be able to find some common ground.

Maybe you’ve run schools. If so, I’d love to visit those schools and learn about best practices that work for Black and Latinx students.

I’m hoping that there is more to you than just theory. I’m looking for the substance. I know it exists, and even if I have to search hard to find it, I’m willing to do so.

Let’s Chop it Up.

Again, I hope this open letter finds you at your best. I’m willing to fly to wherever you are to sit in a room so that we can learn from each other. I’m extending an open invitation for you to visit my charter school in NY the next time that you are here. I am requesting that you join an episode of our podcast the 8 Black hands. I’m willing to do whatever it takes to get us to a point to where you can start advancing public educational opportunities for Black and Latinx students instead of playing “Thanos” in regards to school choice options for California parents. Whatever it takes!

Teach for America is not the Enemy, Bad Schools are!

Teach4America is not the Enemy.

Teach for America is not the enemy; bad schools are! Why is it so taboo to say we have a failing school system nationwide? Especially for Black and Latinx students.

It’s as if we are always looking for a scapegoat instead of admitting and fixing the real problems in education.

PoC Are Not Receiving a Quality K-12 Education.

Problem One: PoC are not receiving a quality education compared to their white peers. I saw a chart yesterday that showed homeless white kids outscoring their minority subgroups. It was so alarming that I had to ask follow-up questions because I could not believe the validity of the chart (see chart below).

Even though its painstakingly obvious what the problem is, rather than address the real issue, let’s say for kicks and giggles we blame Teach for America. Or if not TFA, let’s blame Ed Reform. If that doesn’t work, hell let’s blame the parents. Black and Latinx parents do not care about their kids.

That has to be the solution. Or, if all else fails, we can blame charter schools. That seems to work as well.  We have to stop thwarting the blame for why our K-12 school system does not work.  By playing the blame game kids are continuing to fail.  We have to play a new game in order to create a new narrative for Black and Latinx students.  Let’s call the new game “solutions.”  So when you have pundit conversations about K-12 failures, be bold, and ask for solutions.  That’s how we’ll shift this paradigm for the poor folks that need solutions the most.

Lack of Black and Latinx Teachers in K-12.

Problem Two: There is a scarcity of Black and Latinx male teachers in public education. They make up less than 2% of teachers nationwide. How is this a problem? Research supports the assertion that students learn better from educators that look like them. Moreover, teacher staff that mimics the population of the school will have a better grasp on classroom management and parent engagement. Both are unmeasurable intangibles that could be the catalyst for change in schools.

That does not mean that students can’t learn from others. Do not play on words or pontificate. Students can learn under the most adverse conditions. For example, in Minnesota, homeless white students outscore Black and Latinx students by a healthy margin.

Does that mean whites are superior to their Black and Latinx peers or does that mean K-12 education could care less about Black and Latinx students? I’ll let you decide.

Scapegoating TFA.

Problem Three: We live in an era of scapegoating. No matter what the situation, there is always someone else to blame for one’s shortcomings. If education is terrible for your region, let’s blame charter schools. If that doesn’t work, let’s blame TFA.

I would like for those that are in reform to stop being the punching bag for pundits that need someone to blame.

Ed Reform is Losing.

We are losing the race right now, not because charter schools don’t work, but because we are being outworked by those that are anti-reform.

TFA adds Diversity to the teaching field. They can be apart of the solution. Let’s engage them to see how we can make things better for the 8 million children fighting for a quality education.

New York City Specialized High School -BS-

The commitment to diversity in New York Specialized High School is B-S.  These students deserve better.  They deserve our attention.

If this latest Varsity Blues scandal combined with the abysmal acceptance rates of Black students in New York Specialized High Schools isn’t a wake-up call, what is?

Varsity Blues Scandal.

In light of the Varsity Blues scandal, we’ve had to stare privilege in the face and admit that the mighty dollar can buy school choice. Hollywood heavyweights were caught in a pay to play scheme that gave their children a competitive advantage in college admissions over Black and LatinX students. The Varsity Blues scandal should not come as a shock. Our educational system has always been this way.

New York City Specialized High School is B-S.

The NYC Specialized High School admission process may not be the same as the Varsity Blues scandal, but I will be darn if there are not any similarities. The Have’s are still in positions to benefit immensely from admissions. While the have nots struggle to make decisions about where to send their kids for high school. In Stuyvesant High School, there were 895 spots open to the incoming freshman class, only 7/895 of the admitted are Black. That’s .0078.

 

It’s insane and deserves political outrage. I believe this deserves a “Public School New Deal.” Hell, we can even make the deal green too, if it’ll make people act on it.

Truly Commit to Diversity.

The system needs fixing. Instead of talking about a system reboot, put in the work. Instead of catering to the affluent, let’s commit to creating an equitable system. Any other talk about building diverse systems is fluff. Black and LatinX folks are tired of the dust. We are tired of the sit back and wait your turn type attitudes that the affluent inflict upon the poor.

If the System Remains Broken.

If the system remains broken, and the Haves continue with their dominance, we should not dare blame parents for expressing a need for choice. Charter schools provide PoC hope. Our current educational system is bleak. The proof is in the results. We are not going to wait around while you all figure this out. We are going to make the best decisions for our children. You can judge all you want, be we won’t be sitting idly by while you fix the problem that you created. New York City specialized high school needs a reset.

My concluding thought is simple, fix the system. But until that system is problem free, please don’t you dare tell us where to send our kids to school.

Stop Blaming Charter Schools for Schools Failing.

Let’s, please stop blaming charter schools for school failure.  I know we’re easy targets, but I assure you that education is just outright bad for PoC.

Pundits that are anti-charter school/ anti-school choice have stated:

“Black and LatinX parents aren’t smart enough to choose schools for their children.” To the individuals that are shaming these parents for choosing for their children, I say, “we’ve been down this road before.” Historically, we have always had folks telling us what’s best for us.

Regardless of where you stand on the school choice argument, the one fact that we can’t debate is parents have the absolute right to choose the education that best fits their children.

Healthy Competition.

Sports, occupations, politics, everyone has competition. The beauty of education is that no one model works for 100% of students. We are continually practicing new strategies to teach students.

Recently, some said, “parents choose charter schools because they don’t do their due diligence.” It’s 100% opposite. Parents are fed up with traditional public schools. They watched these same schools fail generations. Due diligence comes in the form generational poverty experienced by relatives that attended and continue to participate in these failure mills disguised as educational institutions. There is no better spokesperson than someone that has continuously failed at a task. The lived experience of these parents has to account for something.

Agree to Disagree.

So, we can agree to disagree on the intellectual prowess of those that seek choice. As a parent that has chosen to educate my child in a charter school, I find it somewhat non-sensical that folks have the nerve to question me about my child and my decision. I’ve done my “due diligence.” Now what? You want me to put my baby, in a school that has failed generations? But, I’m the crazy one?

For the last three years, we’ve spent close to undergraduate tuition at a state school in NY, to ensure our daughter was ready for pre-K. I know many families are not as blessed to be able to allocate that kind of money towards their child’s education. However, these are the very families that need more than just a status quo education for their children. A quality education should help to break cycles of poverty, and not continue to create them.

The Story.

Every school choice parent has a story. Every child of a choice parent that has attended a public school, and no longer attends that school also has a story as well. Instead of persecuting these parents, let’s find out their stories. Have you ever asked a school choice parent why they chose the school they selected? This type of dialogue would be far more engaging. It may also help to get to the root of the problem, why certain schools no longer work for certain types of students.

The Nuance of Blame.

Let’s be real here. Charter schools are relatively new. Experts may disagree on the era In which public schools began to deteriorate. You may have some that say public schools were never intentioned for Black and LatinX students. While others may admit to public schools not being since the end of the cold war, wherever these folks preside in the argument, one that is public schools need to improve for minority students.

Moreover, if you’ve never stared poverty in the face, don’t talk to me about the choices I make for my child.

Enough of the Blame Game.

Okay, people. Let’s grow up. We have identified the problem. It isn’t charter schools. It is terrible schools. Now that we’ve identified the problem as bad schools, how do we fix them? Blaming the competition is not the answer. Admitting there is a problem, and committing to addressing the issue is the first step towards resolving it.  Stop blaming charter schools.

We need genuine and thoughtful dialogue. Enough with this “Let’s Blame Charters argument because it is getting tired.”

Successes and Failures of Success Academy.

Successes and Failures of Success Academy.

Any great school has its successes and failures.  I’m not saying we need to pick on everything that happens in every school, but when something does happen, we can’t stay quiet.

Full Disclosure.

I root for Success Academy like its no one’s business. As a charter school leader who wouldn’t? They boast some of the highest test scores in the state. For Black and LatinX parents, Success presents a strong argument that kids in the inner city are just as good if not better than affluent neighborhoods throughout the state of New York. I even send my teachers to their campuses every year as a part of their professional development. My thought process behind sending teachers to Success Academies to observe is, please don’t tell me Black and LatinoX students can’t achieve when we see it first hand that they can.

Eva as the Face of the Charter Movement.

Eva Moskowitz’s methods almost take away from everything that Success has accomplished. We can say, when you’re a top school, people are going to “gun” for you. I don’t buy this argument because other high performing charter schools manage to stay under the radar. Those charter schools aren’t as politically connected and don’t have a CEO that calls the mayor out every other week. Like it or not, Eva Moskowitz is the public face of the charter school movement.

The Current Controversy.

At current, Success Academy is embattled in a special education Civil Rights Violation scandal. In a complaint filed with the NY State Education Department, SA allegedly changed IEP’s without parent knowledge. If you know anything about the special education process, you know parents are an essential component and deciding determiner of the outcomes of IEP meetings. The mere thought of a school changing an IEP is implausible. In my mind and heart, I hope that there is a counter-narrative to explain these actions.

The Coverage.

All things being equal, I would not say I like writing bad things about charter schools. Charter schools already face an uphill battle contending with the anti-choice animus. However, if viewed as having an inability to police, and call out our own, that’s nothing short of hypocrisy. If we’re doing something wrong, it should be everyone’s business to call it out and offer suggestions as to how to improve things.

My Suggestion.

The work going on in the charter sector is too important for there to be one face. Eva is a constant target for charter school pundits. SA’s network is enormous and has a ton of talent. It may be time for the schools’ leaders to step into the forefront and be the faces of SA.

Eva’s work is too valuable on the grand scale of things, for her to continue to be the face of the organization. My advice would be to yield to the school leaders.

Moving the Work of Charter Schools Forward.

We have to call a spade a spade. If someone in the sector, no matter who it is, albeit CMO or Single-site charter is doing something wrong, we must all voice concerns. To remain silent is to stay complacent. I understand some of you are walking on eggshells. It’s okay if I lose followers or supporters for speaking about what’s right, those people were not the kind of folks that should be following me.

The Anti-School Choice Noise

Anti-School Choice:

Currently, there is much animus between traditional public-school pundits and advocates of school choice. School choice includes charter schools.  In today’s society, I’m not sure how you can be an anti-school choice advocate.

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Admittedly, those that oppose and advocate against charter schools have some legitimate concerns. I consider them Anti-School Choice.

This post serves as advice on how to address the major concerns of those that are anti-charter schools.

Concern One: There is a shortage of African-American school leaders that run charter schools in urban areas. The lack of PoC in leadership positions is indefensible. Some folks are doing some great work around supporting leaders of color. One group that comes to mind is the National Charter Collaborative. This group’s very existence is to help charter schools’ leaders of color navigate in this space. I have not taken advantage of the NCC’s offerings.


Extending on Point One: A Charter School Rooney Rule:

The Rooney Rule requires that an NFL team with a head-coaching vacancy must interview one or more minority candidates for the position. Given the NFL’s woeful history of considering and hiring minority candidates to fill head-coaching slots until the implementation of the Rooney Rule, the question asked was whether Pittsburgh would have even considered Mike Tomlin as a candidate for the Steeler head job without the Rooney Rule (Proxmire, 2008).

Moreover, what about a Rooney Rule in public education? Meaning– really, organic, purposeful conversations centered on school leadership in areas that serve high poverty families of color. Urban school districts would benefit greatly from having more minority male candidates as teachers, leaders, superintendents.

Consequently, what if for every principal and school superintendent vacancy, urban school districts had to (in good faith) interview a qualified minority candidate? The action alone would mean the world to minority families that have lost faith in the system.


Addressing Concerns:

Concern Two: Two: Some charter schools are ill-equipped to deal with the psychological trauma experienced by its student body. No charter school is perfect, and yes, some schools are tone deaf when it comes down to measuring the needs of students beyond academic requirements.

Mental Health has been making headlines as of recent. It is particularly important for schools to equip themselves to handle all of the needs of the students beyond just their academic requirements. Charter schools should employ multiple Social Workers. If budget cuts are on the horizon, the last cuts are the school counselors. Often they are the first to be cut.

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Recruiting Diverse Staffs:

Concern Three: Charter School staffs do not reflect the student body of the students they serve. Charter schools are doing a better job with trying to recruit for diversity, but “trying to do, and doing” are not the same thing. Charter Schools need to commit to diversifying, and then become relentless about doing it. Diversifying is no easy task, but given the importance of the work we do, one can see the importance of hiring a diverse staff.


Concern Four:  Charter Schools have high teacher turnover.  images-6As a charter school leader, one thinks about teacher turnover a lot.  Leaders want teachers to be in good mental space.  Having a healthy work-life balance helps this tremendously.  For example, when we see teachers working late, we send them home.  There has to be some time dedicated to not thinking about work, to re-energize and center oneself on the difficult work that a teacher does.

Beyond teacher exit surveys, “WE,” need to do a better job at taking the pulse of teachers, and ensuring they remain happy in our schools.  Students thrive off of consistency.  Having a consistent face for students and families is meaningful.

Works Cited:

Proxmire, D. (2008). Coaching diversity: The Rooney rule, its application, and ideas for expansion. American Constitution Society for Law and Policy, 1-9.