Halloween came early in Philadelphia. A new documentary wants to trick folks into believing that “alternatives,” i.e., charter schools, “compromise [traditional public schools’] ability to deliver quality education to all students.” The film, “Backpack Full of Cash,” premiered at the Philadelphia Film Festival on October 22nd.
I skipped the screening. I didn’t want to be spooked by the ranting of the usual suspects.
Besides, I believe the money should follow the student. Parents seek out “alternatives” because traditional public schools are not delivering quality education to their children.
Narrated by Oscar winner Matt Damon, the film wastes little time revealing its point of view. Damon, a well-documented skeptic of what critics call “corporate” education reform, begins the documentary with a dark warning:
“A battle is underway over who should control public education,” he says. Parents, teachers and activists are up against a well-organized coalition headed by business leaders and conservatives.”
Yeah whatever, dude. Tell that crap to John King, Acting Secretary of Education. Prior to joining the Department of Education, Dr. King was a co-founder of Roxbury (Massachusetts) Preparatory Charter School.
Dr. King recently spoke before the National Press Club. During the Q&A, he said, “I think any arbitrary cap on the growth of high-performing charters is a mistake in terms of our goal of trying to improve opportunities for all kids.” BOOM!
The producers of “Backpack Full of Cash” take creative license with the facts. But the fact is, charters work.
In an essay published in Essence magazine, singer and songwriter John Legend wrote:
Charter public schools are not the solution to every problem that’s plaguing public education. The NAACP is right to raise some questions over the practices of some individual charter schools. There are schools of all models - district, charter, magnet, private - that are failing to educate our kids properly and accountably. States and districts should hold all of these school types to high standards of accountability.
What’s shortsighted about the NAACP’s decision is that it’s ignoring the many successful charter schools that are delivering results for many communities. In New York City, third grade charter school students outscored students at district schools in math and in English. Charters here are closing the achievement gap between economically disadvantaged Black students and their more affluent white peers.
Today is United Nations Day.
In 1948, the United Nations General Assembly declared October 24, the anniversary of the ratification of the Charter of the United Nations, “shall be devoted to making known to the peoples of the world the aims and achievements of the United Nations and to gaining their support for” its work.
The worldwide commemoratory events include a concert to celebrate and reflect on the work of the UN through the universal language of music, featuring Korean Traditional Music Orchestra, UN Messenger of Peace pianist Lang Lang, the Hungarian State Opera with soprano Andrea Rost, and the Harlem Gospel Choir. The concert will be held in the United Nations General Assembly Hall.
The theme of this year’s concert is “Freedom First.” On a recent visit to UN headquarters, freedom was foremost on my mind as I walked through the Ark of Return, a memorial to honor the victims of slavery and the transatlantic slave trade.
For more information, visit Remember Slavery.
On Saturday, the NAACP National Board adopted the resolution calling for a moratorium on new charter schools passed in July at its 107th National Convention:
We are calling for a moratorium on the expansion of the charter schools at least until such time as:
(1) Charter schools are subject to the same transparency and accountability standards as public schools
(2) Public funds are not diverted to charter schools at the expense of the public school system
(3) Charter schools cease expelling students that public schools have a duty to educate and
(4) Cease to perpetuate de facto segregation of the highest performing children from those whose aspirations may be high but whose talents are not yet as obvious.
The reactions to the vote were fast and furious.
Jacqueline Cooper, president of the Black Alliance for Educational Options, said in a statement:
We are absolutely stunned that the NAACP voted to put distortions, lies and outdated ideologies about charter schools above what is in the best interest of our children. It is inexplicable to me that such a storied organization, responsible for leading a powerful civil rights movement to tear down barriers for generations of Black people, would erect new ones for our children.
American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten applauded the foregone conclusion:
When Al Shanker and others envisioned charter schools, they proposed teacher-led laboratories where educators and parents could explore and incubate ways to improve instruction. Charters were intended as part of—not a replacement for—the public school system. But some who promote and fund charters today have other designs, and the explosion of unaccountable charters has drained resources for children, forced the closing of neighborhood schools and destabilized districts and communities in cities like Philadelphia and Detroit.
Tellingly, Weingarten invokes the ghost of Al Shanker who famously said, “When schoolchildren start paying union dues, that’s when I’ll start representing the interests of schoolchildren.”
Lily Eskelsen García, president of the National Education Association, said:
The chorus of those of us who have been sounding the alarm on the many long-standing structural and governance problems that have plagued charters in recent years is growing. The time is right to pause and reassess.
The NAACP appointed a special taskforce to “lay the foundation for a national stakeholder convening” (read: “reassess”). The taskforce will be chaired by Alice Huffman who, among other things, serves on the Wells Fargo Company Advisory Committee. Taskforce members include Adora Obi Nweze, Chair of the NAACP Education Committee and past recipient of the Florida Education Association President’s Award.
For a lot of nonprofits, policy positions follow the money. The Wall Street Journal reported:
The nation’s two largest teachers unions contributed nearly $400,000 to the outfit between 2011 and 2015, and other labor unions are also financiers.
I have called out the NAACP for its “partnership” with predatory lender Wells Fargo. Now in obeisance to its AFT and NEA paymasters, it’s back to the bad old days when the NAACP was called the National Association for the Advancement of Certain People.
In the run-up to the National Board meeting, the New York Times chastised the NAACP for figuratively standing in the schoolhouse door:
These schools, which educate only about 7 percent of the nation’s students, are far from universally perfect, and those that are failing should be shut down. But sound research has shown that, when properly managed and overseen, well-run charter schools give families a desperately needed alternative to inadequate traditional schools in poor urban neighborhoods.
For many parents and students, a charter school is the only route to a superior education. In advocating a blanket moratorium on charters, the N.A.A.C.P. would fail to acknowledge what’s happening to children who need and deserve a way out of the broken schools to which they have been relegated.
The editorial noted the NAACP “has struggled in recent years to win over younger African-Americans, who often see the group as out of touch.” With this misguided policy, the struggle continues.
With the ringing of the First Baptist Church Freedom Bell, President Barack Obama opened the doors to a view of African American history and culture through an African American lens.
I was in DC for the grand opening ceremonies.
I did not visit the Museum because I did not want my first visit to be rushed (I have tickets for October and November). So I spent the weekend reveling in the Freedom Sounds Festival. It was comforting to see the ancestors presiding over the community celebration.
By the way, Ray Charles’ “Lonely Avenue” was remixed into a freedom song, “Fighting for My Rights.”
On my visit to the Museum on October 3rd, my first stop will be the Slavery gallery. If time permits, I’ll check out the Music collection. My plan is to check out one or two galleries on each visit.
Are you ready to visit? Admission is free, but you need a timed pass. You’ll have to plan ahead because Museum tickets are sold out for the rest of the year. Passes for Museum admission between January and March 2017 will be available online starting Oct. 3 at 9 a.m.
For more info, check out Top 10 Things To Know About Visiting the Museum.