Louisiana Senate Bill 432: Saving Face, Not Saving Schools

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The City of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina

August 2005 changed the city of New Orleans forever. In the wake of the infamous and deadly Hurricane Katrina, one of America’s most beloved cities was devastated by the natural disaster, and further ravaged by a lack of response from both the federal and local governments, and inadequate levee system, which critics heralded as one of the greatest engineering disasters in nearly 20 years. The result, in addition to nearly 1,500 deaths, was mass displacement and lasting devastation, which has yet to be fully rectified, more than a decade later. Yet, though officials were slow to assist those need at the time of the event, what followed was unwanted oversight and control of the city’s most vulnerable population, under the guise of education reform.

pencil-918449_960_720Following the storm, the city of New Orleans adopted a public charter school system over the traditional public school system, and the change was in no way subtle. Instead, some 77 charter schools exist in the city today, compared to just 6 public schools. Hence, more than 90 percent of the students attend the former. The problem: these schools, though open to the public, with the word contained in their title, are independently run, resulting in a dramatic and wholly undemocratic shift in the schooling process.

Speaking on the changes in a post New Orleans Katrina, National Geographic described the system as “the single-most transformed institution in the city.” Nowhere else in the country has such a transformation taken place, even in cities like the nation’s capital, which has had its own history of troubles, questionable leadership, and considered one of the worst systems in the country, based on factors as such as dropout rate and college preparedness. To be clear, since the shift, New Orleans has increased graduation and proficiency in certain subjects for many of the students. However, even after more 10 years, the system lacks perfect results, and contains a spate of issues persist over which locals and stakeholders with the most to lose, students and their parents, have no say.

senior-middle-school-993886_960_720So, earlier this month, when the Washington Post released news that the governor of Louisiana, John Bel Edwards, might sign a bill that would return school oversight and power to the locals–a democratically elected school board–many saw the move as a victory, a sign of restitution. Yet, upon further inspection, there’s a caveat. The board would still be left out of decisions regarding hiring, curriculum and instruction, and as I previously discussed, unions. Hence, the move is really just placation, a cover to quell the voiced anger of the constituency, which, it should be noted, is majority black, impoverished and historically underserved.

The danger in such is the precedent this system sets for the rest of the country, where the voices of communities are increasingly silenced. It is a threat to our democracy, and more, it is experimenting with something of vast importance, which will have lasting consequences, that will be near impossible to undo. To me and the people who are rightfully rallying against these proposals, this is about power and control than about truly seeking to help or better the community. And that is simply unacceptable.

The Case for Unionization in Charter Schools

Teachers_meeting_2048x1536Teaching is, perhaps, the most integral role and existing profession in a functioning society. Without education and the efforts of educators who work tirelessly to lay foundations in math and science for our doctors, challenge our lawyers with critical thought, language and social studies, as well as inspire and groom our artists, there is no hope; we do not become greater, stronger, and more powerful as a whole. That is why teachers are highly regarded in local communities around the world, and why, even today, there are a number of campaigns within and programs within the United States, dedicated to attracting individuals which will lead the way for the future.

However, despite acknowledgement of their vast importance, educators around the country face challenges which threaten to further weaken the fabric of our education system. I’ve spoken previously about the effects of charter schools on students in the most vulnerable parts of our society. How, due to strict no tolerance policies and bias, children of color are treated more harshly and those with disabilities are altogether excluded from schools which promise to be the answer for an academic infrastructure in decline. However, the problems don’t begin with the treatment of students; the problem is a result of the idea that school is a business rather than an institution created to develop and educate children.

Charter schools around the country are run by for-profit management companies. Often times, their approach to public education is rooted in a office-594132_960_720desire to attract investments rather than investing in children. As a result, these organizations compete for educators and students to create storybook schools which focus on standardized testing as a measure of success. Subsequently, it is not uncommon for teachers to be expected to work demanding hours for the sake of meeting these requirements. Moreover, many do so without comparable pay, receiving considerably smaller salaries than teachers in traditional public schools. This environment has been created by the anti-collective bargaining stance perpetuated by most charters, which are also subject fewer government rules and regulations.

startup-photos-largeThis lack of and overall fight against unionization undermines the value of educators. Furthermore, it is creates a system of absolute power without adequate legal representation for teachers treated unfairly. Some have argued that unions, in fact, give teachers too much power and are a threat to carrying out education reform in failing schools. However, I would argue, that is not the fault of nor the impetus behind unions. Failing schools exist for a number of reasons, namely: lack of adequate leadership, disproportionate resources, lackluster curriculums, and failure by greater powers to address systemic problems of the communities in which the school exists. Teachers, with proper skills and passion for teaching, remain on the frontlines of those fighting to not only fix these issues, but to ensure that students receive the education they deserve. In doing so, they have the right to be heard, appreciated, and compensated for the invaluable work they carry out daily, yearly and, often, for a lifetime.

Charting The Wrong Path

orphan-1139042_960_720School should be a place of promise and hope, where children come to learn, imagine, and be endowed with skills which will enable them to not only exist but excel in their desired career paths and future livelihood. For many black students across the country, that idea of school is wholly unfamiliar and seemingly nonexistent. Black children are more likely to be expelled from schools and disciplined more harshly for behaviors exhibited by other students, even as early as preschool. Multiple studies have revealed this bias, which correlates with a lack of educators and administrators of color, and since, some efforts have been made to correct these disparities, including programs from the federal government, like President Obama’s “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative.

Likewise, charter schools are a development that has grown in popularity in recent years, and touted as a true alternative to the spate of problems faced by public schools. Charters maintain freedom from many laws governing traditional public schools and are run independently, though public charters are, by law, open to all children and don’t enforce special requirements for entrance.

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Photo Credit: cybrarian77 on Flickr

Within the last 20 or so years, charters have rapidly expanded throughout the United States and generated support from public and private parties alike, which espouse its high test scores and noticeably different organizational culture. In comparison to traditional public schools, charters have been deemed as more valuable and better suited to address the needs of America’s declining education system.

children's swingsThis has resulted in the shuttering of public schools across the country, most remarkably in areas that are also marred by socioeconomic inequality like, Philadelphia, Detroit, and my city, New Orleans, where nearly all schools in the city are charter schools, as a result of reform following the disaster of Hurricane Katrina. The problems resulting from this shift become more acute when the philosophies of charters are studied with a more critical eye. Recent research from UCLA’s Center for Civil Rights Remedies revealed that the argument of the exceptional charter school is built on harsh disciplinary practices which target black children, and discrimination against children with disabilities. A quarter of all students at more than 300 charter schools were suspended during the academic year, a large number of them black. And for students with disabilities, the rate of suspension is an incredible 10 times higher than those without.

a pile of pencilsPerhaps this issue could be overlooked if it was isolated, but with over 1,000 schools in the study carrying out these same practices, it appears to be intrinsic to the operations and philosophy of this alleged alternative. What we have is hundreds of kids being excluded from the opportunities promised to them as not just students, but the future of our country and increasingly global society. Instead of preparing children in the most vulnerable parts of our communities with tools for success, we’re removing them entirely and exacerbating the issues of our lopsided system. It is not only unfair, it is dangerous, and we all must work to find real solutions to rectify this growing epidemic of an ill-prepared and unnurtured populace.