The Real Baltimore: Educators Say Destabilization of Public Schools is National Policy
In this episode of The Real Baltimore, a former superintendent and current teacher says public schools are being purposefully underfunded to pave the way for privatization - By Taya Graham and Stephen Janis
In this episode of The Real Baltimore, a former superintendent and current teacher says public schools are being purposefully underfunded to pave the way for privatization - By Taya Graham and Stephen Janis
TAYA GRAHAM: One of the foundations of democracy is public education. Ideally it provides an equal avenue for opportunity in a country that prides itself on exemplifying the idea but the future of public education is in doubt. With the election of Donald Trump, and his appointment of school-choice advocate Betsy DeVos, never before in our history has the premise of a strong public education system been under such intense assault.
And nowhere will this conflict have a more profound effect than in Baltimore. Officials say Baltimore schools face a $129 million deficit and plans are being made for cuts to both support staff and teachers. Along with the fiscal challenges, Baltimore already has a sprawling charter school system, which critics say is hurting public education. To help discuss both the local and national implications of the City’s faltering public schools I’m joined by three guests. Dr. Joe Harriston was the former Superintendent of Baltimore County Public Schools. He currently teaches education at Howard University in Washington DC.
Stephen Janis is an award-winning investigative reporter for The Real News, and Mr. Phoenix, a Baltimore City schoolteacher who has spoken about conditions inside City schools. Thank you all for joining us. But before we get started we have a package from Stephen about the current conflict over funding.
MAN: Our presence here today is to show our solidarity as school leaders, and for our youth of Baltimore City.
STEPHEN JANIS: They gathered outside City Hall this week to show their anger over the precarious Baltimore school budget. A group not often inclined to demonstrations but now within an ear-shot of Mayor Catherine Pugh’s office, demanding that someone fill a $129 million budget deficit.
WOMAN: The current budget season has brought with it a particularly extreme level of angst and has the potential to make negative, lasting impacts on our students’ lives.
STEPHEN JANIS: Roughly 50 principals of Baltimore City schools airing publicly the implications of the across-the-board 20% cuts to their budgets. The protest was at times emotional.
MAN: And will you pack the stands with Benjamin Franklins? And Benjamin Franklin stands with Roland Parks. And Roland Park stands with John Commodore.
STEPHEN JANIS: But also, different than past public displays, the dissatisfaction was school funding. That’s because there is an awareness that short-changing education in Baltimore is not just about the fiscal ills of the City, but a result of the stark choices made over decades. Among them consistently funding police at twice the rate of education, and major tax breaks given to developers over the years including a recent $600 million subsidy to Under Armor owner and billionaire Kevin Plank to build at Port Covington.
MAN: Last week, I sat down with a group of students from Patterson High School and showed them a copy of a past City budget. And one young woman looked up and said, “Councilman, I don’t believe this. Is it really true that you all spend almost twice as much on police, as on our schools?” And I said, “Yes.” And she said, “Councilman, the message this budget sends is that you all are more interested in incarcerating me, than in educating me.”
PROTESTORS: “Save our schools! Save our schools!”
STEPHEN JANIS: Which is why when 100’s of students gathered last week at Annapolis, they aired the same concerns.
FEMALE STUDENT: That should be the number one priority of funding in Baltimore, is education. Because if we don’t educate our kids, some of them will end up in jail. The school-to-prison pipeline is happening. The only thing they have to get ahead is education.
STEPHEN JANIS: That the time had come to invest in them and by extension the future. This is Stephen Janis and Taya Graham, reporting for The Real News Network in Baltimore, Maryland.
TAYA GRAHAM: Okay, Dr. Harriston, let me start with you. You managed a large school system. How devastating is a 20% across-the-board cut?
DR. HARRISTON: It’s unimaginable, quite frankly. In my 43 years as an administrator and educator, it seems to me that appropriate planning can offset, or defer, many of those critical decisions that are devastating to the young people.
If you have that fiscal authority, you have an obligation, quite frankly, to be more responsible. And by planning ahead, it’s no different than working out your personal budget, you know well in advance how much you have to work with, and what you need to survive. School settings are no different and to wait until the last minute to discover that you have such a deficit, I think is irresponsible.
TAYA GRAHAM: Now, let me to turn to our teacher. Classroom size is already a problem and they’re proposing to cut staffing. How do you think this is going to affect classroom size and things like music and art education programs?
MR. PHOENIX: Any spare or whatever terminology they use for extra, anything outside of math, and English, and social studies, those types of things, they’re going to get cut. And directly, I have a kid going into Kindergarten and he could attend Mount Washington Elementary Middle School. Well, you heard the Mount Washington principal on the news the other day saying, you know, I might have classes with 35 kids in it.
Well, guess where I’m not going to send my kid? To the neighborhood school that I live in that neighborhood to be able to send my kid to. And now I can’t have my Kindergartner go to the school in my neighborhood because I hear the principal telling me already they have to cut not just some teachers, but other essential staff: secretaries, and paras and support staff.
How are you going to run the school? And this is considered one of the — this is a blue-ribbon school and one of the best schools in the City. So, if Mount Washington is suffering or Roland Park is suffering, well, what do we think is going to happen in other schools around the City, right?
TAYA GRAHAM: Stephen, there is a lot of discussion and conflict over who is responsible for this crisis.
STEPHEN JANIS: Yeah.
TAYA GRAHAM: Can you tell us a little bit about the politics surrounding it?
STEPHEN JANIS: Well, right now a lot of the conflict is focusing over the State bailing out the City school system and what is Governor Hogan going to do. And there is a recent report that said the State has underfunded public schools by about $347 million over the past decade or so. And so, there is a lot of people have been in Annapolis protesting, saying, you know, the State has to step up. It has to fund the City schools.
There are also other structural problems that we’ll talk about later, you know one being police funding. And the other one though you know we should talk about is the tax breaks that have been given out around the City to developers. Those tax breaks basically create new wealth in this City that is not taxable. But the State considers to be part of the taxable wealth of the City which is how they use to calculate the school funding formula. So, save for the fact that the Legislature last year delayed some of the implementations we’d be even worse shape.
So, in other words, we gave $600 million tax break to Kevin Plank, who is the billionaire owner of Under Armor. If you compile that with the fact that the State has already supposedly under-funded the schools, it’s a terrible situation. And I think it’s a matter right now that’s really being sorted out politically. Like, who did this? You know, it’s like a “who dunnit?”
TAYA GRAHAM: Oh, please go ahead.
MR. PHOENIX: Well, it’s just like déjà vu. Wasn’t it ten or twelve years ago that we had Governor Ehrlich and Mayor O’Malley trying to cover that $50, $60 million gap. And they wanted to take teachers’ salaries? We had a sickout without the support of the Union, of course. We went to Polly. The Union of course showed up and Marietta English of course, she wanted to get the time on the TV, and all of a sudden, they wanted to support the teachers.
And then we had the case that was through the Math Works and the kids and the Stadium school and some other people, Federal Judge Kaplan, remember? And they said for decades you’ve been disenfranchising the Baltimore City schools. And the State owes the City $1 billion in back money, right? And we had a surplus that year. And no money came from the State. We had a surplus in Maryland. And so, this is like we’re just — it’s the same narrative all over again.
DR. HARRISTON: Yes.
MR. PHOENIX: And it’s unfortunate.
DR. HARRISTON: But an interesting conversation.
TAYA GRAHAM: You know, let me ask you this. Are Baltimore City Schools’ CEO, Sonja Santeliss, said that the budget deficit is not due to the mismanagement of funds but just that the State is using an outdated equation to determine what funds the schools should get. Do you agree with the statement that it is not a mismanagement of funds that caused this crisis?
MR. PHOENIX: I can’t agree with that. I might agree with the fact that the State may be determining what the funds with a formula that’s probably bogus. We’ve been underfunded for decades, right? But you know, remember she was part of the Edwards-Alonzo crew and she was the head of Academics, Chief Academic Officer, I believe, right?
DR. HARRISTON: Yeah. Uh huh.
MR. PHOENIX: And then she quit, like, in ’13. Tisha Edwards took over for a minute and then we had the other guy.
DR. HARRISTON: Yeah …
MR. PHOENIX: ..who left and we still paying, we paid this, so… Remember, they had a big budget problem. They had tens of millions of dollars in budget deficit. Remember, she paid herself bonuses. I’m sure Alonzo did and top of a bunch of other people up there at the top, while they were going after senior teachers, illegally pipping. This was all reported in the Sun.
DR. HARRISTON: –Yeah.
MR. PHOENIX: They were going after senior administrators and teachers. They were hiring people through their make-believe, you know, administrator program. So, you know, someone goes to college, becomes an administrator and then you can go through your… I can’t remember the name of it … for a minute. They wanted me to do it and I was like, “How can I become a principal after one year?” You know, and I’m working with people who went to school. They have years and years of experience. There was a problem with the Principal’s union about how do we pay people who don’t have the experience, have got the credentials, but then we’ve got all these experienced people and we’re going to pay them?
So, they’re, you know, this mismanagement of funds, of personnel, of allocation of materials, I mean, this has been going on forever. While they made that few million-dollar deal to redo schools right? But we have no money.
STEPHEN JANIS: Yeah, $2 million.
TAYA GRAHAM: You know there was a whistle-blower teacher that said that the schools are being used sort of as a stepping-stone. That people come from other states, do a year or two in the Baltimore City school system, and then leave. And also, that they teach for America.
STEPHEN JANIS: They get like a Masters’ degree.
MR. PHOENIX: Well, she’s exactly right.
TAYA GRAHAM: And then they get a Masters’ degree, right.
MR. PHOENIX: There was more. There was the MAT program. There was the TFA program, which of course, got a big contract with the City. It pays a lot of money. And they get these kids and the majority of them are white, often female, and all good people. I mean, they’re really trying to come do their thing, but they come, they do two years and think about it, they don’t just get a free Masters’ from Hopkins.
But then they get full pay and full benefits. And a lot of these kids, because they’re really young, will come. They’ll do their two years, they have to do two years after they get their Masters. But they won’t even pay for that. They’ll leave and pay the difference, or they’ll get headhunted by all these companies–
DR. HARRISTON: –Oh, so they bow out early.
MR. PHOENIX: –who will pay to, so, you see a kid who’s there–
TAYA GRAHAM: –Incredible.
MR. PHOENIX: –two, three years, maybe and they’re gone. And they go get another job, a free Masters from Hopkins in Education, which is a great thing to have. You can do a lot with…
DR. HARRISTON: Uh huh.
MR. PHOENIX: It’s like a law degree, right. And so, they did their little… they did their time. They got their free Masters, a little Ivy League school, and they’re on their way. And most of us, who are career teachers, we don’t get that.
So, I was in a program in the late ’90’s that was supposed to do the same thing for teachers, career teachers in Baltimore City. And in the middle of that program, they cut the funding. We were told we could pay $30 grand a year to finish the program. But they were bringing in TFA-ers and MAT people. And I had doctors from NIH, two African-American scientists, which is a big deal especially in you know, like, Chemistry and that kind of thing. And they were turned down by the MAT program–
TAYA GRAHAM: –Really?
MR. PHOENIX: –to come in through the MAT program, and they had Doctorates and they worked at the NIH and they wanted to teach. So, they were very selective about who they… just putting that out there, you know, so a lot going on.
TAYA GRAHAM: You know, actually I have a question for Dr. Harriston. We spoke to a whistle-blower teacher that said they felt that public city schools were being purposefully defunded to destabilize them and make way for gentrification. What do you think of that statement?
DR. HARRISTON: Gentrification is universal in this country, quite frankly. So, I wouldn’t want to just single Baltimore City out. Unfortunately, there’s a cost that goes along with that. And a lot of it has to do with money, the investment in schools, and resources.
And you find in most cities, Washington DC, Atlanta, Boston, where gentrification does take place, you’ll find that there’s a lack of equity within the infrastructure itself, in terms of the systems. Those areas within the city where there is redevelopment, you will find that the resources come along with it, at the expense of some of the more traditional communities. And unfortunately, some of them end up being food deserts, where there’s just no infrastructure, no support that goes along with sustaining those communities.
Then we need to take a serious look at ourselves in terms of our moral and ethical commitment to children. And I mean all children.
TAYA GRAHAM: Right. Do you think that these schools are being purposefully destabilized for gentrification purposes?
MR. PHOENIX: I definitely agree with that and this is… I agree with Dr. Harriston. This is not about Baltimore. This is a trend happening all over the country, where people are trying to take back the urban areas. And what’s happening is the poor, lower income people regardless of their flavor, are being squeezed out. And Baltimore County, Howard County you can see the consequences of that.
DR. HARRISTON: Absolutely.
MR. PHOENIX: Their schools are being affected. They’re getting a lot of lower-income people moving into neighborhoods where people, you know, are wary of that. Crime is going up. Baltimore County just changed its grading system, which I’m very disappointed in.
I took my kids out of city schools and high schools to go to Baltimore County, and I’m a city schoolteacher but it was because Baltimore County didn’t play. If you were absent a certain amount of times, you got a letter. You’re absent one more time; you’re doing this grade again. If you’ve acted up, you got caught with marijuana? You were in a program and you weren’t in that school because we can’t have you coming in high. They actually enforced the law. So, to hear that they said they adopted the city’s policy of you get a 50 no matter whether you show up or not, really kind of hurt my feelings. I’m sure it may have hurt yours too because…
DR. HARRISTON: What do you mean by that? You get, if you…
MR. PHOENIX: Whether you show or not–
DR. HARRISTON: –You get a passing grade?
MR. PHOENIX: –Whether you show up and do no work, you get a 50… you automatically start with 50 points. And to me that violates COMAR, that says you have to be College and Career Ready. When we go to Howard, they don’t use fake GPAs. So, if everybody gets a 50 from the jump, and then a parent will come in, if the kid gets a 59 for the class grade, they don’t understand that it’s not a matter of one point. Your kid got 50 points without even being here. Now, you’re haggling over ten points. It’s just terrible.
DR. HARRISTON: Do you think the graduation rates that they often tout have no credibility because…
MR. PHOENIX: They don’t have any credibility. They’re dumbing this stuff down, because it’s a numbers game. You know, education has been politicized and you know, we don’t want to tell the truth about how poorly our young people are actually doing.
And it was simple, when I was coming up you had to be twice as good as your white counterpart, that’s the first thing. But a GPA was a GPA. And so, you busted your butt to make the real grade. It’s important that kids know what’s real. They don’t want you to lie to them.
We do the same thing with discipline. We lie about the stats about violence and that kind of thing. How can we ever clean these things up and get them right, if we’re not even actually giving real grades? And we know this by testing. Last year only 3% of 12-graders tested on grade level for reading.
DR. HARRISTON: It’s a fuzzy picture when we look at public education in America today, quite frankly. You find many of our suburban school districts are sitting there with urban traits. And that becomes a dilemma. And at the same time, it becomes an opportunity for those critics who want to go in a different direction with regards to how they view public education in this country, i.e. charter schools, vouchers, choice, options, anything that would substitute the traditional approach to teaching and learning.
TAYA GRAHAM: I have a question for you. Is there anything really wrong with privatization? Like, do you think charter schools actually are hurting public schools?
DR. HARRISTON: Well, I think we need to be honest with ourselves. Private schools were in this country long before public schools so, that’s not a phenomenon. What we had to be guarded against is the fact that there’s an exclusionary process in place. And when it comes to equity, if all means all, good schooling is good for some students; it should be good for all students. We’re not seeing that. And that’s where our challenge has to be at this point now.
TAYA GRAHAM: Do you think charter schools are helping or hurting?
MR. PHOENIX: I think they’re hurting. And I would agree with Dr. Harriston. The public school system is still an evolving creature in our society, just like our Constitution, right? And before World War II really it was 40% or less even went to high school.
DR. HARRISTON: Right.
MR. PHOENIX: We hear these graduation statistics every year. You know, President Obama was right, more people have graduated high school than ever before, but we also have to put a caveat. A lot, you know, more than 50%, or around 50% are dropping out. They come back. They get their GED. So, you’ve got to, you know, those numbers kind of go up within two years after we see. But what’s happening is if we funded public school correctly, most of those private schools and they were started out private, were usually religious, right, or something like that.
DR. HARRISTON: Uh huh.
MR. PHOENIX: If we funded public school correctly, people wouldn’t have to go make those choices.
TAYA GRAHAM: Right.
MR. PHOENIX: When I went to school, all the stuff I had and again, this is coming out of segregation. So, it was an experiment and they dumped a lot of stuff in public education, but the stuff now that I got in public school is now what you pay $30 grand a year at McDonough for private school.
DR. HARRISTON: Uh huh.
TAYA GRAHAM: Yes.
MR. PHOENIX: Which is like, why? Even it’s not even real food in public school, which shocks me. They actually made food, a cafeteria that actually had cooks. You know, you could smell the lunch. For many of us that might have been the meal of the day and you got real food. So, I think that’s definitely been a problem.
TAYA GRAHAM: You know, let me ask you another question. I had heard that school conditions were unsafe, unsanitary and even dangerous for both students and teachers. Tell me what a day at school is like for you.
MR. PHOENIX: The whistle-blower teachers that are up there and people who have come out at the rallies and the kids and the principals: asbestos tiles falling on your head, pot smoke in many schools every day, mice feces everywhere. I don’t think I’ve been in a school, even a renovated school there wasn’t mice problems. No heat, no air, no water.
When I was at Northwestern, I had three different rooms, and I had three windows out in each room never fixed. Requisitions had been put in years before. We smelled natural gas for ten years there. Called the Fire Department, “Oh, it’s negligible. It’s probably a leak way down.” I can smell it. If you can smell natural gas, there’s a problem. “Aw, that’s not a problem.” It’s natural gas. The conditions are terrible.
And when you have notices in the main office for workers who come in to work at the school to wear protective gear, because of lead and asbestos and other toxic stuff, chemicals that might be or substances, that’s for the workers coming in to work while you’re there. When I was at Carver, my second stint, they did the whole rehab with us in the school. So, people are wearing hazmat suits first and second time, in the ’90’s and in 2000’s.
TAYA GRAHAM: Oh, that’s terrible.
MR. PHOENIX: While we’re in school. The floors were stripped, you could see through holes to the bottom. Classrooms ceilings they were doing work, they’re laying down tile, chemical smells, fumes, no problem. People went out with respiratory problems. They would go to the clinic, follow this process, and they almost wanted to discourage you to, you know, care about your health.
TAYA GRAHAM: That’s incredible.
DR. HARRISTON: Sure.
MR. PHOENIX: This is… this is… pervasive.
STEPHEN JANIS: Yesterday we were sitting there at the US Attorney’s Office where they’re describing how these seven police officers were indicted. How easy it is to make money in the Baltimore Police Department. How you actually could work one hour and get eight hours of overtime, making tens of thousands of dollars, stealing, you know, and the City… And that’s why I think this year, and I don’t know if this has been much in the past… In the past when I covered this issue, a lot of it was just school funding from the state level, but it seems to me people are finally starting to wake up and say, “Why is the Police Department running a $40 million overage, on overtime, when our school system is short $129 million?” I mean, the Police Department historically, in Baltimore City, has had no problem getting funding.
MR. PHOENIX: Right.
STEPHEN JANIS: And a matter of fact, one of the things when we always debate “The Wire”, right? Everyone loves “The Wire”. And Carcetti supposedly wants to put money in schools, doesn’t have any money for policing. Exact opposite is true in Baltimore City. Policing has gotten the majority of increases in funding, to the detriment of the schools.
MR. PHOENIX: That can kill people, like students with impunity.
STEPHEN JANIS: Yeah and when you listen to the conversations of these police officers saying, “It’s so easy to steal this money,” it’s hard to imagine when I hear you talk about the conditions in your school and there are police officers who, on a regular basis, while they were robbing people in the city.
MR. PHOENIX: And to add insult to injury, don’t complain about the conditions because you’ll be removed. Or silenced, or your evaluation will be affected. Some of your whistle-blowers talked about that.
TAYA GRAHAM: Absolutely.
MR. PHOENIX: It’s standard fare. I’ve been surplus six times.
STEPHEN JANIS: And just explain what surplus means.
MR. PHOENIX: So, I lose my job but I still have a job at Baltimore City. That’s how they get around the labor issues. You still have a position somewhere.
STEPHEN JANIS: Is it that room in North Avenue where all the teachers…?
MR. PHOENIX: There are a lot of secret rooms in North Avenue, like the truancy office room.
STEPHEN JANIS: Well, describe it so people can… Some people are saying you go to this room, right, and you just sit there.
MR. PHOENIX: I haven’t been to the room yet. I haven’t got the room treatment.
STEPHEN JANIS: Oh okay. What is that room?
MR. PHOENIX: I just, you know, I keep getting highly effectives, the highest rating and then I lose my job. And there’s always some excuse; it’s budgetary, it’s this, it was the fake pips. So, intimidation, retaliation — that’s big. I mean this stuff has been well reported. This is not stuff that, you know, secretly all of a sudden exposing. Everybody knows. Just because your whistle-blowers refer to it and more and more people come out, because they’re emboldened now.
And so not only are you in bad conditions where your civil rights are violated, but they’re asking you to, you know, work with the system to violate the civil rights of the kids because we’re advocates for the kids. So, if I have no heat and I say to the principal, “We can’t be in here.” “You can leave.” I can leave and have my job affected. There’s no heat.
Or, there’s no air. It’s 100 degrees in the room. See, what happened in the County when people finally got tired, right, it took a few months for the City to be kind of added on to the County air conditioner issue, right? But we can violate civil… no water. How do you not have water, right? So, these are really basics. It’s not even getting to the stuff I think is–
STEPHEN JANIS: –Right, more sophisticated stuff, yeah.
MR. PHOENIX: Even, you know, this is just the physical condition of where you are.
DR. HARRISTON: Basic infrastructure.
MR. PHOENIX: And the kids, and I was one of these kids, they’re coming from rough situations. So, you know, they’re very smart. You know these kids are very street smart. They come in here and then they see bad conditions at the school. And they’re mistreated. They’re discriminated against. They can see this, right, and so this kind of compounds their psychology, when they come to a place that’s supposed to be safe, that’s supposed to be provided and afforded certain basic rights. And the door doesn’t have a lock, the windows are broken, smells like weed everywhere. They’re scared because kids are getting beaten up with impunity. There’s no consequence. I mean, I can go on and on and on.
And so, if the adults are struggling with that and I just, you know, I ask you, if you come to that work environment every day, as an administrator, a teacher, a parent, a student, when does that begin to take its toll on you?
DR. HARRISTON: It’s very demoralizing, yeah.
TAYA GRAHAM: Absolutely. Now, Stephen we have a new City Council, a new mayor. Do you think they’re going to shift their priorities away from policing towards education? Or at least give education the same treatment and standing for their budget?
STEPHEN JANIS: You know, it’s interesting, not given what’s happened, is we reported several weeks ago, that the mayor has allocated $3 million to hire 100 new police officers. Because apparently out of one of the largest police departments per capita, none of these officers can make their way onto the streets. They all tend to be in administrative or office positions or investigative positions. And then of course, you know, barely a peep was heard when it was revealed that, like we said before, the City Police Department spent $40 million excess on overtime.
So, you know, I have heard the mayor talk about it. The mayor has talked about it. But I have not seen any action. Now, the Council is a different question. I mean, you have as we in our package there, Councilman Zeke Cohen says specifically that one of the students said, “You want to arrest me more than you want to educate me.” I do believe that with eight new members there’s more consciousness of this but remember the mayor controls the purse strings. So, the City Council is kind of limited in what they can do. The can subtract money.
I think within the teachers and the community and the school community there is consciousness of this, and they want change. Because people are starting to realize well, we spend all this money in policing, it’s not going to do us any good because it’s not going to make the City any safer because it hasn’t. But I do think the Mayor so far as not done anything substantive to actually change that funding ratio.
TAYA GRAHAM: So, have City officials actually made any comment on the whistle-blower interviews that describe these unsafe and unsanitary, dangerous conditions?
STEPHEN JANIS: Well, that’s the other thing, the mayor’s office was well aware of it, and they have not commented. I sent it to North Avenue, which of course, is kind of like dumping something into a, you know. They haven’t said anything. So, no, I mean, these really horrible allegations about the conditions of the schools have gone unanswered.
TAYA GRAHAM: Now, we have a video package so that we can listen to the voices of those who are most impacted by this budget crisis, the students.
TAYA GRAHAM: Are you worried that you’re going to lose some of the City schoolteachers because they don’t have enough money in the budget?
FEMALE STUDENT: Yes, we are because, like, many of the teachers have helped us, especially us. Because, like, we were unable to speak English like four years ago and they helped us.
TAYA GRAHAM: That’s terrific. Are you worried about losing some of the teachers that you’ve learned English from?
MALE STUDENT: Yes, because they have helped us a lot, like my sister said. Because when we came, we didn’t know nothing about English. And they helped us a lot in the last few years.
FEMALE STUDENT: If you, like, just look in our school, we go to Baltimore City College, like… ceilings falling in and it’s… Like, the bathrooms are all messed up. Like, only one toilet will work in the whole, like, bathroom. And it’s just crazy that we’re getting more money, like, taken away. So, it’s gonna hurt us, like, a lot.
MALE: The system is putting more money into prisons than they are schools. And that money that is being put into prisons, and especially the prison that is trying to be made for adolescents, that could be going into the future of our children and me, and the rest of the children upcoming. So, instead of putting the money into what you think we’re going to be without the education, put the money into the education and change… change us, instead of like, yeah.
TAYA GRAHAM: So, we heard what the students said. One in particular talked about a school-to-prison pipeline. Do you think the concerns of the students, that their programs are being removed, that their favorite teacher are being removed, and that the City cares more about putting them in prison than educating them — do you think their concerns are?
DR. HARRISTON: Students are very honest. They’re very emotional. And they’re very personable. And it would be unrealistic not to take them serious when it comes to realizing that the adults who are responsible for their care are not behaving in a manner that would give them the confidence that there’s a future for them. That they are going to be cared for and they will be nurtured.
So, I think there is a confidence issue that has to be addressed. A matter of trust, and a very powerful belief factor that has been crumbled. Somehow or another we need to restore a level of confidence and belief that our children can trust the adults who are responsible for them. We see that across this country, unfortunately. In the areas like Baltimore, again Washington, Atlanta, Boston — it becomes more predominant.
And if there’s going to be a future and that future rests with our young people now, I think it is up to the adults to become more responsible.
TAYA GRAHAM: Dr. Harriston, you have a famous saying that encapsulates your theory of public education. Can you tell us what the saying is and what it means?
DR. HARRISTON: All means all. What we are seeing can cover the civil rights movement. If something is good for some students, it should be good for all kids. You can’t have a charter school that’s supposed to be wonderful for a certain group of students but not wonderful for the other students who are watching it.
We saw that happening with our MAGNA programs. Anywhere where there is choice option, and there’s a lottery, and there’s a selective process, someone’s going to be left out. And in our supposedly free society, the opportunity should be there for all of our students to have access to a quality experience when it comes to schooling. All does mean all.
TAYA GRAHAM: Now, let me take this nationally. President Trump addressed Congress on Tuesday night, and he said, “Education is the civil rights issue of our time.” Now with his appointment of Betsy DeVos, as Secretary of Education, what do you think his policy is going to be for the American Education System? What kind of proposals do you think he’s going to have?
DR. HARRISTON: I’ve been watching that very carefully. I do teach education, but education administration. My primary responsibility is preparing Superintendents. We are in the process of preparing leaders in education for the future.
I decided I needed to take a very close look at the new Secretary of Education, and our new President, and the direction that they’re heading with education in order for us to be in alignment. The picture is rather fuzzy at this point now. And to say education is a civil right, well that’s just cliché. We’ve heard that before. And I think the President needs to come up with something more original to give us some indication that he believes in what he’s saying, or if he’s just following through on some rhetoric from another era.
And if he truly believes in that, then let’s take a look at the direction that we’re headed with our charters and our voucher system. There’s no clear indication whatsoever in any specific matter where we’re headed.
TAYA GRAHAM: I want to say thank you to my guests, Dr. Harriston, Mr. Phoenix, and our reporter, Stephen Janis. We had a lively discussion. Thank you so much. I’m your host, Taya Graham. And thank you for joining me at The Real Baltimore.