When Charters get Angry

education-nycWhen I was a teenager I was given some advice that has proven valuable over the years. If you want to know someones true nature, don’t base it on how they treat you. Base it on how they treat the waitstaff at a restaurant. This advice has proven invaluable over the years in assessing the people I want to associate with. You can be pretty sure that if someone’s rude and inconsiderate to a waiter, that’ll eventually they’ll get to you. If someone is dishonest with a bartender well that’ll carry over eventually. You don’t always have to go out to eat to apply this test either. Sometimes you can just sit back and watch how they treat others to get an assessment. Over the last couple of years I’ve applied this test to charter operators and found them incredibly lacking.

They are all feel good with supporters but watch how they treat anyone who even remotely challenges them. Just ask New York Mayor Di Blasso. He suggested Success Academy start paying some rent. He got a 2000 person march on the Capitol (http://www.capitalnewyork.com/article/city-hall/2014/02/8540831/charters-start-albany-push-capitol-rally).  Give off even a whiff of criticism of charter operators and I can guarantee you a parade of people bused in, chanting and hinting of racism. Now they will never come out and call you racist but they will certainly leave the dots clear as day for connecting. We often talk of code words in race conversations and rightfully so. However, words and phrases like “affluent” “their children” “well intention” are code words in their own right. I’ve often said the brilliance in the reform movement is their ability to shape language.

Race is such a difficult subject that has been manipulated in so many ways by so many people that having an honest conversation becomes nearly impossible. As someone writes about education practices I often need to include race in my musings. Truth is it scares me to death and I often avoid it. I am scared to write something that isn’t perceived as sensitive enough. To write something that will label me as a racist. So I end up shying away from the conversation. I move to a different subject and skirt away from the elephant in the room. I’m not proud of this because I truly believe that in order for us to affect true changing of perception and opinion we need to get to a place where we can voice any opinion and have it discussed. Ignorance never thrives in sunshine.

Recently here in Nashville we have an ongoing discussion about the direction our schools will take in the future. The superintendent of schools Dr Register announced an outline of a plan to deal with the districts priority schools. (http://www.tennessean.com/story/news/education/2014/09/09/jesse-register-calls-swift-shake-struggling-schools/15370817/0) The outline included turning over several schools to charter operators and working with the Achievement School District on others. This plan did not sit well with many parents on the Eastside. The formed a group to fight this plan called East Nashville United. Right from the beginning ENU made a concentrated effort to include all parents. They went door to door to recruit. They arranged transportation and babysitting so all parents could make the meetings. The created an open Facebook page that welcomed all views. I honestly don’t know what more they could have done to be inclusive. Apparently though it wasn’t enough.

At that this past weeks school board meeting they got an education on what happens when you challenge the charter community. (http://www.tennessean.com/story/news/education/2014/10/14/east-nashville-groups-flood-metro-schools-board-meeting/17285975/) Apparently a new group called East Nashville Believes showed up in light blue T-shirts at 2:45 for a 5pm meeting, effectively filling the meeting room to capacity. The ENU folks were not admitted due to lack of room. ENB leaders led their group in chants of “choice is power”. They were here despite the fact that nothing in the plan challenged their schools. ENU was also not proposing that any child who wanted to go to a charter be denied that chance. You see the East Nashville Charters are not filled to capacity. In fact most to the charters in Nashville are not filled to capacity and are still actively recruiting. So what was the impetus to get out and fill the room and deny entry to parents who’s children’s education options were actually subject to change?

Let’s take a look at the the cast for East Nashville Believes. The leader leading the chants is a long time political operator who has had a great deal of success running campaign’s for charter sympathetic candidates. So much so that he recently won an award from a local paper as best lobbyist. He is also the director of Community Engagement for the Tennessee Charter Association. The head of the ASD’s wife was in attendance. She by coincidence is the Head of Democrats for Education Reform, a supposed Democratic organization that attacks unions.. Several local founders of charter schools were also there wearing the light blue. Buses brought several children and parents directly from school to the meeting. Box lunches were provided for supporters. When questioned about the funding for T-shirts and box lunches, the answer was vague at best and an outright refusal to deny that funding came from charter foundations. Another coincidence was that just the week before Nashville Stand for Children was out in the neighborhood telling parents about services available to them and I’m sure using those code words. I don’t want to call it astroturf but…yea, I want to call it astro turf.

The show of force seems to have knocked ENU for a little bit of a loop. Questions of whether they are being truly inclusive have led to internal soul searching and repurposing of communication. Thats the power of words, it can often stop us and make us question our actions and motivations. Sometimes warranted and sometimes not. It can also lead to unproductive dialog. Reformists love talking. While your talking they are still implementing and you’re not opposing. By the time you realize that the conversation is futile, 12 more charters have opened and the whole conversation has changed. Collaboration is a word that charter schools like to throw out but have you ever heard them touting something they’ve taken from a traditional school? In reform talk,  collaboration means you let us do what we want and just agree.

East Nashville has a large population of people of color. I get that this population has been historically let down by our traditional system. The power though doesn’t lie in destroying that system and replacing it with one that educates some children very well but leaves a majority without opportunity. The true power lies in coming together as a community and forcing our schools to be properly funded. To force our schools to create productive citizens that are more then just good test takers. To make sure our schools remain a pillar of our democratic society. To address the needs of ALL our children. To do that we have to be able to talk about race in an honest manner without the constant fear of offending.

We also have to recognize that we have to very different views. Charter supporters like to say, “We all want the same thing. A quality education for the kids. We just differ how to get there.” Like the only difference is trying to take the highway or a back road. Thats a fallacy at the root of the whole conversation, because the definition of quality education is not the same. A quality education for some entails performance on testable measures, elevated discipline and a focus on the measurable. A quality education for others entails a more rounded approach that doesn’t put as heavy stock in the testable, that encourages the challenging of accepted ideas, and doesn’t require longer hours and elevated discipline. One looks to produce a more employable citizen. The other a better citizen. Two very different ideals and not at all in agreement.  So no we don’t all want the same thing and we need to be honest and admit that..

I don’t know where East Nashville Unites goes from here. Having been kicked in the head by the reform movement several times myself, I know how overwelming  it can be. You question everything you believe. Including your motives and things you know to be true. The beautiful thing is the more you stay in the fight. The more you research. The more you talk to experienced advocates. The more hollow the alternative becomes. Its nice to be involved in a conversation where you don’t need to convince people, you just need to lay out the information. We know what works and doesn’t work in education. We know whats scalable and whats not. We just have to have the backbone to stand up to private interest and keep our public institutions public and meet the needs of ALL children.


Categories: Uncategorized

7 replies

  1. TC – Well said!!

  2. “By the time you realize that the conversation is futile, 12 more charters have opened and the whole conversation has changed.” That’s the scary truth. The only way to get out ahead of this thing is to spend less time arguing pedagogical merits and start calling it what it is: the 1% opening up new markets, harvesting our kids for their profits.

  3. Very well said!
    I sent an email to both Dr. Register and Alan Coverstone about much of what you just discussed. I stressed the need for socioeconomic diversity and possibly tweaking the zones a bit to do so. Dr. Register put me in touch with a woman at MNPS about school options –even though my son does not start kindergarten until 2016 — she and I did have a very good and honest conversation about socioeconomic diversity and race in relation to public schools, and charters. We discussed the education I wanted for my child and how the charter’s approaches would not be a good fit for my child or me as a parent. One of my questions to her was if they could zone kids to a charter school; she said that 2 of the middle school charters are zoned schools. Cameron Prep and Brick Church Prep are both zoned charters.
    I am zoned Kirkpatrick and am very worried about it possibly becoming a charter. That scares me if Kirkpatrick gets handed over to the ASD… especially since MNPS keeps saying that they are not going to change zones and everyone one would be guaranteed a seat at their zoned schools. I went to the Kirkpatrick meeting and it did not sound like the parents there wanted it to become a charter either.

  4. Business is war and thanks to Presidents G. W. Bush and Obama the public sector democratically run schools have been opened to corporate raiders. Nothing short of an overwhelming act of Congress, the Supreme Court or a very bloody civil war that burns cities to the ground will stop these greedy, profit-hungry demons from ravaging the public schools and destroying the progressive movement that stated in 1900—the goal is to remove the people’s voice from government until the oligarchs rule all.

  5. To be clear the fight for ENU started as opposition to the PROCESS by which the “plan” was made. This was a long process with many closed meetings held by administrators that had no transparency, and lacked communication with, or any input from, the larger Nashville public community. The next step in the process was then to roll it out right when school tours for the next year and then Metro lottery applications start – leaving little time for public review, discussion, and input. This is very undemocratic and NOT the process by which major decisions to our school system and our community should be made. Yes changing the design of one of the largest neighborhoods in Metro is a major change to our whole school system, sets precedents for the entirety of all tax funded schools in Davidson county, and from there the whole state. We the taxpayers here in Nashville voted for our school board and we are supposed to have a public voice at the table & at the recorded and later televised public board meetings that usually precede major educational changes to the our school system. Into the mission of East Nashville United, from the start, has been the full support for all students & tax funded schools, charters included,in East Nashville. This quote from the article is actually what ENU has been saying as an organization from the start ***Charter supporters like to say, “We all want the same thing. A quality education for the kids. We just differ how to get there.”*** additionally on ENU’s part has been for the insistence for the voices of each school community in East to be heard and supported better from here on out. If a school community wants to close down and to become a charter then ENU will support them. So far though, in the meetings with Dr. Register at individual schools, parents have come out in numbers to voice that they do not want their school to be shut down and turned into a charter. ENU will support those parents as well. I have personally invited many charter supporters to come work with us. There has lately been a concerted effort to make the ENU (which has people of differing educational approaches in it) sound as if it is anti-charter, racist, supportive of the status quo for low income families, and only out for the good of the higher income families in East. This would deny the reality of the many well informed, unsatisfied with the status quo caring members of the group. It would also deny the other function of ENU which is to empower all of the schools in East. This would be to deny the reality that we have been working almost from the very start to ask and hear what the each school needs and help provide that. Examples are if a school needs more volunteers, standard school attire donated, extra hands for projects, help setting up better lines of communication and events within their school community, help creating relationships awareness and involvement across the entire neighborhood, or whatever it may be, then we are trying to organize support to fill those needs. In the short time we have been a group we have focused first on what the principals of our most stressed schools – technically and rightfully named priority schools are identifying as areas where they need support. We are trying hard…on a shoestring.
    Its possible that some charter supports have hung back from our group from the start because they support the result of this terrible process. The result as it was announced was more charters, closing schools, and more “choice.” There is debate about what “choice’ could really turn out to be. If the result were otherwise would there be protest on the part pf pro charter supporters? But if so then they are losing sight of how this is a means justifies the ends situation. To see the support for a shut down (the blue shirted – well funded by the charter industry) close out of our open organization of true community grassroots voices is a very sad indicator of the power of the charter business model. It is frustrating to me to hear that caring smart people support seem to not realize they are supporting a terrible means to their well intended end.


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