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  March 5, 2018

Cutting School: Privatization, Segregation, and the End of Public Education (4/4)

In Part Four, author Noliwe Rooks and Dwight Draughon examine real solutions to educational apartheid
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OMARI JACKSON: Thank you all for sharing. I guess my question is ... I'm sorry, what's your name again, sir?


OMARI JACKSON: Dwight. So how did you feel ... Do you have children now?


OMARI JACKSON: So I'm asking that question because I currently teach urban education at Morgan State and I love cities. I would probably love public schools, but I feel like ... I'm from Detroit ... I feel very challenged by sending my child to Baltimore city public schools because I literally have colleagues, friends, people, church people who don't seem to travel to Baltimore city schools. Again, colleagues in this area, it's just difficult for someone who's from the area, like I would, I would tell people who come to Detroit that there are schools you can send your kids to, but I wouldn't send my kid to. The majority of schools that you ... there are schools you can. So long story short, my wife and I decided to send our son to an independent school rather than signing onto one and I feel so conflicted about it. But what was your experience like? Would you do it over again? Would you send your child ... Are they in public school now?

DWIGHT DRAUGHON: So she is 16 months, but my wife and I had long conversation about this. We both are passionate about education. We chose to live in Prince George’s county because of the demographics of the county. I'm an attorney, I work at a big firm. A lot of my coworkers were confused, "You're not in Virginia? You're not in Montgomery county?" Because there's a stigma against PG county. And part of that conversation is that I cannot, knowing how passionate I am about education, not send my child to public school.

My child has to go to public school. and my thinking was, what I noticed was the biggest difference was parental involvement. Parental education is one of the higher factors for a child's success. So it's not even so much about the school. People use school as a passive way of self-segregating. They blame it on a school system but they're really just separating themselves from the others. If you have parents involved that have the resources to help with those fundraisers, which my attorney friends do, and that have the knowledge and the resources to come in and say, "That doesn't seem right, and if that doesn't get together, I'll call on my judge friend. I'm calling my politician friend.” That political influence, that social capital, isn't applied to schools that we need it to because the people that have it, choose to separate themselves from the community. So I'm all on board and I will be a helicopter parent until they get it together.

OMARI JACKSON: The only thing is that's Prince George’s, though. I understand that there is challenges in every place, but I mean, Baltimore city and Prince George still hear this and that. Would you send your child to an inner city school in the Bronx, in Baltimore city, in Detroit?

DWIGHT DRAUGHON: I think you have to. I mean, now part of it is bias. I'm from the hood, I'm not afraid of the hood. Right? I think that there's ... I have done well in adverse situations because of the way I was brought up. So for me, it's not all negative. There are a lot of virtues that I got from the way that I grew up and I want my child to know what that's like.

I want my child to have conflicts in school. I don't want them to be coddled their entire experience and the first time they get a C on the paper, they're in tears. I want them to know, having parents with two advanced degrees, one of the things that I'm most concerned of ... and I mean me and my wife, not my parents ... I don't want my child to be entitled. I don't want my child to be arrogant. I don't want them to think that they're better than people. So I want them to go to a school with real people and have their friends have real problems so that they don't look down on the taxi driver when they get in the car. I don't want them to ever be that way and I think it's hard to have your child think that way if they only grow up around silver spoon kids.

So I would send my kid to those schools, and if you're concerned, convince your friends to do it too. For me, it's got to be a communal effort. We can't sit here and say, "The education system is broken, but I'm not going to help."

TIFFANY ONEAL: I actually don’t have a question. I just came out to give mega kudos and praise for what you have done, because this is very much needed. I am an educator, I'm an assistant speech pathologist. I've worked for Baltimore City schools for five years, I worked in Hartford county schools, and I currently work for Sheppard Pratt. And I've worked with every population of students you can name, emotionally disturbance, autism, typically developing. And I started to come up here and you literally just took almost everything I was going to say out of my mouth.

To me, education starts, it starts at home and it should be broadened at home, it should be grown at home. When we have snow days, that doesn't mean this is the day we get to stay up late, stay in bed and eat cereal. Why aren't you saying, "Okay you know what, you would be at school right now, so how about we read this one chapter or this one book and then you can have a snow day."

Educators literally, I think the principal said it earlier, our day doesn't start at 9:00. I got up for work at 4:00. I left the building at 6:15 today. I got there at 7:45 this morning. I don't gripe about it, I won't whine about it because when I go into classrooms, my child, my student who is non-verbal, is using their device and saying, "I want cookies, please," or signing to me, and that's my gratification. But at the same time, our system is so broken, and we do need the support to get the children ... all the children, the white, the black, the rich, the poor ... the resources that they need or get those that have the resources to understand that there's a need greater than them.

And I just really wanted say kudos to the gentleman who is thinking about Baltimore City. I have two children. I raised them by myself. I had my oldest son when I was 19. He graduated from Baltimore College Technical Institute, which is a pretty prestigious school in Baltimore city. My youngest son, he graduated from Digital Harbor in 2016. And so now my oldest is graduated from college, is graduating from Morgan State on May 19, 2018, and he was accepted to Rhode Island School of Design, graduate school, and they've offered him $40,000, a teaching assistant, and a fellowship for Baltimore city schools. He went to Margaret Brent right here, he went to Govans Elementary, and he went to, I can’t remember the school. Margaret Brent.

And then the baby boy who has dyslexia, who came out of Digital, is in Kansas right now in college. And he's waiting to get money to transfer, because Digital Harbor’s track team, if you don't know, is the thing. It didn't take just the teachers, it was the coaches, it was the parents, it was the principals, it was the counselors at those schools. And that's why they are doing what they’re doing. So don’t wash them out yet, just be a part of it.

NOWILE ROOKS: Talk about what to with schools, what to do with education. The hand-wringing, they're falling apart.

One of the things that I've researched and talked about, that Ashley helped me research and talk about, is those black independent schools. And the thing that I've found most surprising about these schools, call them Panther schools ... so the community school, the East [Oakland] Community School that Ericka Huggins started ... they took kids without parental involvement, they were often going outside the heads of the parents, because the parents were not acting in the ... They were like, just don't stand in our way. Right? I just need you to not put your hands on your child or ... they were a little gangster when we were talking about it. Not that the rest of us are actually going to act like this.

But, my point would be for them, for the Margaret Cullens school, for Ivy Leaf Academy, for Piney Woods, for ... these spaces where black people took responsibility for educating kids, it wasn't rocket science what they were doing. They educated kids who the public schools consistently said, we can't educate. Like they can't be in classrooms with regular people. They have needs, they need drugs, they need ... bad things are happening consistently.

Margaret Cullens would say, "Give me the worst. Give me the ones who spell the worst," is what she would say. And she would say that's a proxy for her, for a kind of dysfunction in the home and lack of parental involvement. She would say, "I can bring out the best in them." The thing that looking at all of these schools ... there 40 or 50 of them between ‘60 and ‘72 ... all of these schools, success for them was graduation from college and not a high school graduation, not a giving them a couple grade levels on a reading test. What they would all say is we are changing the life of the next generation.

If we take you, who's got no college graduates in your family and we get you through college, the chances are yours are going to start life somewhere very different and have a different kind of fighting chance. That's why they said college graduation.

Here's the thing. They were successful for a really long time, and I guarantee you nobody is sitting in schools of education teaching their methods, telling you how they did what they did. What they did is not part of educational discussion. You wouldn't know that it existed. Right? And so we talk about wanting to reform the lives and communities, and I'm saying, there's a roadmap. You don't have to reinvent it. People did it and did it well. Hundreds of schools ... Piney Woods is still doing it well. Piney woods is still taking whoever and educating them to the highest levels. And so my plea is always with educators, if those are the outcomes that interest you, if the outcomes that those kinds of schools were able to enact with the same kinds of kids that schools are still saying, "We cannot educate them," then please just look at what the people did to roadmap. You don't have to make it up. It's possible, it really is possible.

LAWRENCE BROWN: Hello, I just want to thank you both for being here. And I want to say that in Baltimore, we've had over 70 public schools permanently closed since 2000. We've had the black teacher workforce go from 63% in 2005 to 38% in 2014. And so we have permanent closure of black schools, mass reduction of black teachers, and so in light of your term sacred [inaudible], I'm wondering what are your thoughts around the way the system of the Baltimore City Public Schools is operating.

NOWILE ROOKS: All over the country what you're seeing is a decrease in black ... you're seeing a decrease in teachers, period. Right? Teachers are fleeing and now that you have to be armed, apparently. Apparently, part of you being the classroom you have to be certified and … but you're seeing a big decrease. But the decrease around black teachers in particular ... and most of the data really will tell you, you don't have to have black teachers but, pretty consistently black teachers get better outcomes. Certain kinds of black teachers. Not all the white teachers, not all black people got all that much knowledge about black people. Right? You can get lots of black people who never grew up around any black people either. Right?

The ones that actually care about black folks do really well, but the reduction really has to do with an assault on the union and on teacher's unions. Black folks fought hard in the ‘40s and ‘50s and to even get in the unions. If they were not welcoming with open arms, but if they wanted to have the job security, if they didn't want to be fired first, if they didn't want to be subject to different kinds of racial and sexual harassment, they understood that union protection was going to get them there. Union households for black folks in the U.S. go hand in hand with the rise of the middle class. So affirmative action policies and unionization track with when you start to get a black middle class. The reduction has everything to do with folks like Dems for Ed Reform and other entities, I guess, talking about education, who have made it their job to bust the union.

You know the story about Dems for Ed Reform, let me tell you really quick. For this in particular, there are a bunch of folks who all came out of TFA together ... literally they did, I'm not demonizing TFA. They all started TFA together in the first few years with Wendy Kopp. Whitney Tillson is one of these folks. He went on and founded this big, huge hedge fund and he was working with Richard Barth, Dave Levin, and Mike ... Richard Barth is with the KIPPs because ... yeah, he's also the CEO of the KIPP schools now. He worked for Ericson's schools for a while, he's the CEO of the KIPP schools.

So all of these folks, they were all real tight. The folks who were most impacting the education of poor folks, black folks, and Latino folks in this country all started together. Really, truly, no lie. Dave Levin starts complaining to Whitney Tillson that "We want more charter schools. We need more, look what we're doing". They were going and touring schools and they were like, "the kids are so cute when they're marching around" ... what's that slant thing where you have to raise your hand, sit up, do the right ... they like that. So the hedge funders are coming and touring the charter schools and these behaviors that they're teaching the kids, they loved that. They were like, "We need more of these schools,” and started to be a proxy for good education all of a sudden.

Dave Levin says, "We can't open any more schools because unions are standing in the way and unions are such a big supporter of the Democratic party. That even though we are Democrats, we can't get any traction for these things that we want more of, the charter schools, because unions keep saying, 'no'". So Whitney Tillson says ... this is in an interview that he gave, so I'm not making this up. These are his own words here ... then that's a political problem, and the way that you deal with politics in the U.S. has to do with money. We could solve that problem. And so they founded that Dems for Ed Reform, Democrats for Educational Reform, not to provide different kinds of education to folks, literally they founded it to break the power of the teacher's union and the hold that the teacher's union had on the Democratic party.

According to the founders, right? They said they had their first two big wins with their new organization when they identified Cory Booker in his first run for mayor of Newark. They started to fund him. They funded him for his second run where he won, and Barack Obama, and his losing effort at the Senate. What they said is once Cory won and when Barack became president, the field was wide open. And what they required of Barack Obama according to Whitney Tillson was to hire Arne Duncan. Right? As the Secretary of Education, that was the price that they said they extracted because they knew that Arne Duncan, they said, would be open to breaking the power of teacher's unions.

That's the kind of organizing and money that we're looking at when we talk about something like a reduction in black teachers. With the reduction of union advocacy and the literal obliteration of the unions, what comes along with that if it's intended or not, is you just have fewer black teachers.

JESSICA SHILLER: Hi, thank you for being here. I'm a professor of education here and I proudly sent my kids to Baltimore city schools. I have a question. I’m intrigued by this idea of democracy tracking along with education that you mentioned. And I'm formulating this question as I think it out, so be patient but, this idea of the black independent schools ... Is it also true that black independent schools that do great things here and some folks have proposed that in order to do better by our black students, we need to make more of those schools and in fact, what would be good in order to spur that on would be to get vouchers for folk to have tuition dollars, to have more of those schools. So it creates these strange bedfellows between people who want to see civil rights and who also want to see privatization. So I wonder if you could speak to that.

NOWILE ROOKS: Were you about to ask a question?


NOWILE ROOKS: I’m going to get you to ask your question so we can answer both of them at the same time, since there's only time for that. So you ask yours and then we'll get to both. You got something to say back here?

MEREDITH NICHOLSON: I'll try to be quick. I really appreciate you talking about students with disabilities which if you're not sure, students with disabilities is a term that you could use if you're not sure. Especially because these are disability rights issues. As someone who is very engaged in disability rights, however, I will the first to admit that our movement is often very white and very single-issue so I would love to hear more about our movement can engage better with racial justice.

NOWILE ROOKS: Okay, I'm going to start with vouchers and then you want to do, okay, you can do both then.

So what I want to say about vouchers ... can you hear me, do I need to talk in this? Can you hear me? You've been like, "Okay, fine." I think that I project well and people keep saying, "No, you need a mic," so I don't know.

Here's [about vouchers]. In Annabelle charter school, and a lot of these ed reform movements, if you go to black parents and say, "I have a way to educate your child. I have a way to break this cycle of under-education that you are being placed, played with." Throughout history, from post Reconstruction on, they will move heaven and earth and run over anybody in their path for the hope to potentially ... you don't even have to necessarily prove that what you're offering is effective or will work, all you have to do is say you know what you have now is not working.

And so, for vouchers and for schools, the two things I want to say very quickly because I know that we're running out of time, vouchers got started, this woman named Colleen Williams in Milwaukee is the first large-scale experiment in vouchers. It literally got started because she was black from Alabama, long-term resident of Milwaukee, which has horrible schools, has always had horrible schools, or have had horrible schools since the ‘70s, let me put it like that. She said, "There are some independent schools that are doing great things, this would be a way to fund them. Let's do vouchers so that we can fund the work of the schools that we know are doing well."

What happened that time and every other time that anyone has ever tried vouchers is it’s white parents and wealthy parents who end up sending their kids to religious schools, and somehow it's never possible for the black parents, who are supposed to be the focus, to get any of those resources. And in fact, what put most of the black independent schools out of business was the fact that they couldn't get charters. Right? As charter schools started coming into these same communities, even though they were performing at crazy high levels, they were consistently denied charters.

The folks who were approved for charters had these experimental techniques where you're doing the slant thing. They were sort of like ... yes, that ... we're going to come in and do that. Parents went rushing to the charters because they couldn't afford to keep paying for the black independent schools which were modest, but still it was money that poor people didn't have. That's what put them out of business, and every instance for the other thing with the vouchers, that they were tried in any large scale way. It doesn't help the people it's supposed to help, because people who are organized with access to power will always find a way to hoard educational resources for their kids. The people who do not have access to power do not often find a way to even access, much less hoard resources for their kids.

DWIGHT DRAUGHON: So I'm sort of torn when it comes to vouchers and other mechanisms to pull kids out of public school, because I benefited from being poor, brought up in public school. But I think the issue with those sort of programs and charter schools in general is that it doesn't fix the system for the larger population. I think often times what I have seen with charter schools, even the successful ones, they have strategies that cannot be replicated. One strategy would be filtering out their kids. You know, there's a self-fulfilling prophesy if you have a lottery system, certain types of families will even seek out that opportunity, so you're already filtering some of your kids. And then having a zero tolerance rule that public schools don't have the luxury of, you're filtering kids even more. Now you tout these test scores and these college admissions, that is a bit deceiving and it doesn't help the community at large.

For me with regards to disabilities and how it's used and addressed in schools, I've had a stuttering problem my entire life. I still have it some, I've figured out ways around it. I've had family members with disabilities. One of my best friends had bipolar disorder was untreated until he got to college. And I think what often happens is that when black kids especially, or kids of color, have disabilities, they're ignored. Because if you have ADHD or something else, you're just a kid that's bad. Right? And if you come from a more privileged background and you have that, there is a team of people that's going to help you figure it out. So it's an important issue for teachers in low income communities to figure out. How do we make sure that we're actively taking care of our kids who have an array of disorders that they have to deal with.


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