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A call to stop the spread of charter schools

By Freddie Allen/Senior Washington Correspondent
On June 8, 2015

Civic leaders are wary of the allure of contract charter schools.

Empower DC’s Daniel del Pielago says that
there are solutions to public education
that do not require corporate intervention
often associated with charter schools.

(NNPA) – The pressure is on for civic leaders to end the expansion of charter and contract schools in Black and Latino communities across the nation.

Jitu Brown, national director of the Journey for Justice Alliance, claims that the fight for public education – which suffers with the expansion of charter and contract schools – is a human and civil rights issue.

As voices from the community were increasingly drowned out by philanthropic groups seeking wholesale educational reform, corporate charters and appointed school boards have become the status quo, said Brown.

According to an article in Education Week, a magazine published by Editorial Projects in Education, more than 60 percent of philanthropic donations funneled into educating young people in the United States went to charter and contract schools in 2010. Less than 25 percent of funding went to those programs about 15 years ago.

“What would actually be revolutionary, brand new and fresh is if community wisdom was listened to and [corporations] worked with the people who are directly impacted by the institutions that they have to live with everyday,” said Brown.

Daniel del Pielago, education organizer of the grassroots group Empower DC, agrees.

Pielago asserts that when communities work together, and when they’re given the chance to put together solutions that work, they find success that doesn’t require corporate intervention.

That success is embodied by the community school model championed by groups such as the Journey for Justice Alliance.

According to the Coalition for Community Schools, community schools feature an “integrated focus on academics, health and social services, youth and community development and community engagement” that promotes “student learning, stronger families and healthier communities.”

Helen Moore, the co-chairperson of the Keep the Vote/No Takeover Coalition in Detroit, Michigan, said that the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), currently working its way through a Republican-led Congress still at odds with Obama, should give communities the power to control the destinies of their children.

Moore said that neither the “No Child Left Behind” Act or President Obama’s “Race to Top” fulfilled what was supposed to really happen: giving Black and Brown school systems the power and resources they needed to implement high-quality educational programs for their children. “What’s lost in the minutiae of school closures is the dismantling of good neighborhood schools,” said Brown. “There were actually solid well-performing schools in our community that were receiving schools for students that lost their schools due to closures.”

Two years later, Brown said, those schools often saw their test scores plummet, creating a cascading effect. Overcrowded classrooms make it harder for teachers to do their jobs, lowering morale and having a negative impact on an already stressful learning environment.

“One of the casualties of corporate education interventions is the removal of Black teachers, a significant part of the Black middle class. And who are they replaced by? They are replaced by newer, younger, Whiter and more transient teachers.

“We are all for teaching diversity, but we also know that that is a civil rights issue. Children have the right to look at their teachers and dream that they can be that; they should be able to see themselves,” said Brown.

Earlier this month, the Alliance hosted a conference in Newark, New Jersey in an effort to strengthen national networks and equip citizens with the tools to organize and combat myriad inequities that exist in public school systems nationwide.

They also advocate for more penalties for schools that lean too heavily on zero tolerance policies, which causes disproportionate suspension and expulsions of students of color for minor infractions. It favors more federal support for schools that implement restorative justice and student leadership development programs.

Although Brown said that he supports parents who seek innovative educational alternatives for their children, he called for a federal moratorium on all charter and contract school programs.

“The prerequisite to choice is stability,” said Brown. “You can’t anchor a community with schools where people have contracts to run them. [School] privatization and community schools cannot coexist. They are like oil and water.”

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