President Obama Just Ended No Child Left Behind. Here’s the One Thing You Should Know.

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President Barack Obama signed today the long-awaited overhaul of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), one of our country’s most important education laws.

The Every Student Succeeds Act, which tackles several issues in George W. Bush’s signature 2002 education law, was approved by large, bipartisan margins in the House and the Senate. This comes as a huge relief to many education advocates, parents, students, and lawmakers who have been trying to improve the increasingly unpopular NCLB for more than a decade.

While there are still countless unanswered questions around how exactly the new mandates will be implemented and funded in states and districts, one thing is clear: The new bill reflects a growing national consensus that schools can’t be fixed through one-size-fits-all solutions coming from distant, federal officials.

As I wrote in my NCLB cheat sheet last week:

The original, well-intentioned No Child Left Behind law was intended to reduce stubborn race- and class-based achievement gaps. Instead, it created a system in which American kids take more standardized, mostly multiple-choice tests than their peers in any other industrialized nation. One high school senior in Florida told me that she took 15 standardized tests last year alone. By her own estimates, she spent about three months out of every high school year taking or preparing for multiple-choice tests.

Oh, and those achievement gaps haven’t budged at all since NCLB went into effect. While racial gaps have narrowed slightly since 2001, they remain stubbornly large. The gaps in math and reading for African American and Latino students shrank far more dramatically before No Child Left Behind—when policies focused on equalizing funding and school integration, rather than on test scores. In the 1970s and ’80s, the achievement gap between black and white 13-year-olds was cut roughly in half nationwide.

How is the new No Child Left Behind different, and will it improve learning and close racial and class disparities in achievement?

Short answer: The big change in the new bill is that it significantly reduces the power and the role of the federal government in grading, reforming, and punishing schools or teachers.  As I pointed out earlier:

The Every Student Succeeds Act keeps the biggest pieces of NCLB in place. Students are still required to take yearly tests in math and reading from third to eighth grade and once in high school. Schools still have to report the results of these tests by subgroups such as race, English-language proficiency, poverty, and special education. States will still be required to intervene in schools that are not meeting their goals. But they, not the federal government, will decide how to turn things around.

States, not the feds, will now be responsible for measuring students’ academic progress. This means schools can ditch some standardized tests for things such as evaluations of student work and parent surveys. States and districts could theoretically use their limited money to pay local teachers—rather than education software companies—to measure kids’ performance. And the federal government will no longer require using standardized-test scores to evaluate teachers, although states can chose to do that.

Will these changes improve learning and close kids’ achievement gaps?

Short answer: Maybe. The new bill doesn’t include all the pieces of the larger puzzle.

While these policy changes include many big steps in the right direction, including much-needed increases in funding for early childhood education, simply improving the criteria for grading schools and teachers won’t necessarily lead to improved teaching and learning. Using more sophisticated ways to measure a patient’s temperature doesn’t automatically cure the root causes of a disease. Teachers, like doctors, need to continuously improve their craft and professional judgment so they can provide personalized teaching and address everyone’s unique needs.

There are no easy answers, I wrote:

Research tells us that schools improve most when teachers are empowered. This includes reforms like increasing paid time for teachers to plan intellectually engaging lessons, letting them design their own assessments, and reflecting on student work to adjust their teaching. Successful, experienced teacher leaders need a variety of quantitative data, such as grades and attendance, and qualitative metrics like student engagement to find the root causes behind their pupils’ achievement gaps.

Nationally, this sort of school-based professional development is difficult to sustain because American teachers have heavier teaching loads than educators in many other countries and little time for learning and leadership (three to five hours per week in most schools). Teachers in Finland, Singapore, and South Korea, by contrast, spend 15 to 25 hours each week working to improve their craft. In theory, Every Student Succeeds calls for districts to work directly with teachers and staff to design tailored classroom reform plans. But historically such mandates have not been fully funded and have been difficult to sustain.

Most importantly, classroom reforms face the biggest obstacles in schools with large numbers of low-income kids and students of color. In the past 10 years, the per-student funding gap between rich and poor schools has grownby 44 percent. Less funding means fewer qualified teachers, larger classes, and less time for teachers to plan, learn, and lead. It’s hard to imagine making any significant progress in closing our achievement and opportunity gaps when these inequities are not addressed with the same systemic attention that’s been devoted to standardized test taking.

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BOSTON, MA COPS SAYS HE “FITS” THE DESCRIPTION

TEACHERThis is what I wore to work today.

On my way to get a burrito before work, I was detained by the police.

I noticed the police car in the public lot behind Centre Street.  As I was walking away from my car, the cruiser followed me.  I walked down Centre Street and was about to cross over to the burrito place and the officer got out of the car.

“Hey my man,” he said.

He unsnapped the holster of his gun.

I took my hands out of my pockets.

“Yes?”  I said.

“Where you coming from?”

“Home.”

Where’s home?”

“Dedham.”

How’d you get here?”

“I drove.”

He was next to me now.  Two other police cars pulled up.  I was standing in from of the bank across the street from the burrito place.  I was going to get lunch before I taught my 1:30 class.  There were cops all around me.

I said nothing.  I looked at the officer who addressed me.  He was white, stocky, bearded.

“You weren’t over there, were you?” He pointed down Centre Street toward Hyde Square.

“No. I came from Dedham.”

“What’s your address?”

I told him.

“We had someone matching your description just try to break into a woman’s house.”

A second police officer stood next to me; white, tall, bearded.  Two police cruisers passed and would continue to circle the block for the 35 minutes I was standing across the street from the burrito place.

“You fit the description,” the officer said. “Black male, knit hat, puffy coat.  Do you have identification.”

“It’s in my wallet.  May I reach into my pocket and get my wallet?”

“Yeah.”

I handed him my license.  I told him it did not have my current address.  He walked over to a police car.  The other cop, taller, wearing sunglasses, told me that I fit the description of someone who broke into a woman’s house.  Right down to the knit cap.

Barbara Sullivan made a knit cap for me.  She knitted it in pinks and browns and blues and oranges and lime green.  No one has a hat like this. It doesn’t fit any description that anyone would have.  I looked at the second cop.  I clasped my hands in front of me to stop them from shaking.

“For the record,” I said to the second cop, “I’m not a criminal.  I’m a college professor.”  I was wearing my faculty ID around my neck, clearly visible with my photo.

“You fit the description so we just have to check it out.”  The first cop returned and handed me my license.

“We have the victim and we need her to take a look at you to see if you are the person.”

It was at this moment that I knew that I was probably going to die.  I am not being dramatic when I say this.  I was not going to get into a police car.  I was not going to present myself to some victim.  I was not going let someone tell the cops that I was not guilty when I already told them that I had nothing to do with any robbery.  I was not going to let them take me anywhere because if they did, the chance I was going to be accused of something I did not do rose exponentially.  I knew this in my heart.  I was not going anywhere with these cops and I was not going to let some white woman decide whether or not I was a criminal, especially after I told them that I was not a criminal.  This meant that I was going to resist arrest.  This meant that I was not going to let the police put their hands on me.

If you are wondering why people don’t go with the police, I hope this explains it for you.

Something weird happens when you are on the street being detained by the police.  People look at you like you are a criminal.  The police are detaining you so clearly you must have done something, otherwise they wouldn’t have you.  No one made eye contact with me.  I was hoping that someone I knew would walk down the street or come out of one of the shops or get off the 39 bus or come out of JP Licks and say to these cops, “That’s Steve Locke.  What the FUCK are you detaining him for?”

The cops decided that they would bring the victim to come view me on the street.  The asked me to wait. I said nothing.  I stood still.

“Thanks for cooperating,” the second cop said. “This is probably nothing, but it’s our job and you do fit the description.  5′ 11″, black male.  One-hundred-and-sixty pounds, but you’re a little more than that.  Knit hat.”

A little more than 160. Thanks for that, I thought.

An older white woman walked behind me and up to the second cop.  She turned and looked at me and then back at him.  “You guys sure are busy today.”

I noticed a black woman further down the block.  She was small and concerned.  She was watching what was going on.  I focused on her red coat.  I slowed my breathing.  I looked at her from time to time.

I thought: Don’t leave, sister. Please don’t leave.

The first cop said, “Where do you teach?”

“Massachusetts College of Art and Design.”  I tugged at the lanyard that had my ID.

“How long you been teaching there?”

“Thirteen years.”

We stood in silence for about 10 more minutes.

An unmarked police car pulled up.  The first cop went over to talk to the driver.  The driver kept looking at me as the cop spoke to him.  I looked directly at the driver.  He got out of the car.

“I’m Detective Cardoza.  I appreciate your cooperation.”

I said nothing.

“I’m sure these officers told you what is going on?”

“They did.”

“Where are you coming from?”

“From my home in Dedham.”

“How did you get here?”

“I drove.”

“Where is your car?”

“It’s in the lot behind Bukhara.”  I pointed up Centre Street.

“Okay,” the detective said.  “We’re going to let you go.  Do you have a car key you can show me?”

“Yes,” I said.  “I’m going to reach into my pocket and pull out my car key.”

“Okay.”

I showed him the key to my car.

The cops thanked me for my cooperation.  I nodded and turned to go.

“Sorry for screwing up your lunch break,” the second cop said.

I walked back toward my car, away from the burrito place.  I saw the woman in red.

“Thank you,” I said to her.  “Thank you for staying.”

“Are you ok?”  She said.  Her small beautiful face was lined with concern.

“Not really.  I’m really shook up.  And I have to get to work.”

“I knew something was wrong.  I was watching the whole thing.  The way they are treating us now, you have to watch them. ”

“I’m so grateful you were there.  I kept thinking to myself, ‘Don’t leave, sister.’  May I give you a hug?”

“Yes,” she said. She held me as I shook.  “Are you sure you are ok?”

“No I’m not.  I’m going to have a good cry in my car.  I have to go teach.”

“You’re at MassArt. My friend is at MassArt.”

“What’s your name?”  She told me.  I realized we were Facebook friends.  I told her this.

“I’ll check in with you on Facebook,” she said.

I put my head down and walked to my car.

 

My colleague was in our shared office and she was able to calm me down.  I had about 45 minutes until my class began and I had to teach.  I forgot the lesson I had planned.  I forget the schedule.  I couldn’t think about how to do my job.  I thought about the fact my word counted for nothing, they didn’t believe that I wasn’t a criminal.  They had to find out.  My word was not enough for them. My ID was not enough for them.  My handmade one-of-a-kind knit hat was an object of suspicion.  My Ralph Lauren quilted blazer was only a “puffy coat.”  That white woman could just walk up to a cop and talk about me like I was an object for regard.  I wanted to go back and spit in their faces.  The cops were probably deeply satisfied with how they handled the interaction, how they didn’t escalate the situation, how they were respectful and polite.

I imagined sitting in the back of a police car while a white woman decides if I am a criminal or not.  If I looked guilty being detained by the cops imagine how vile I become sitting in a cruiser?  I knew I could not let that happen to me.  I knew if that were to happen, I would be dead.

Nothing I am, nothing I do, nothing I have means anything because I fit the description.

I had to confess to my students that I was a bit out of it today and I asked them to bear with me.  I had to teach.

After class I was supposed to go to the openings for First Friday. I went home.

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Teacher: A student told me I ‘couldn’t understand because I was a white lady.’ Here’s what I did then.

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Emily E. Smith is a fifth-grade social justice and English language arts teacher at Cunningham Elementary School in Austin, Tex. She was just awarded the 2015 Donald H. Graves Excellence in the Teaching of Writing award given at the National Teachers of English Language Arts Convention in Minneapolis.  Smith created and founded The Hive Society, a classroom that inspires children to creatively explore literature through critical thinking and socially relevant texts.

In her speech accepting the award, Smith talked about a seminal moment in her career when she realized she needed to change her approach to teaching students of color, one of whom told her that she couldn’t understand his problems because she is white. The following is an excerpt of the speech in which she discusses her transformation (and which I am publishing with permission).

From Smith’s speech:

I’m white. My classroom is not. Sure, it’s been my dream to work at an “urban” school. To work with kids whose challenges I could never even fathom at such a young age. And changing at-risk lives through literature is almost a media cliché by now. These were, however, how I identified myself at the beginning of my teaching career. I was a great teacher. I taught children how to truly write for the first time and share meaningful connections on a cozy carpet. We made podcasts about music lyrics and filled our favorite books so full with annotated sticky notes that they would barely close. We even tiptoed into the alien world of free verse poetry.

But something was missing. If you’ve already forgotten, I’m white. “White” is kind of an uncomfortable word to announce, and right now people may already be unnerved about where this is going. Roughly 80 percent of teachers in the United States today are white. Yet the population of our students is a palette. That means America’s children of color will, for the majority of their school years, not have a teacher who is a reflection of their own image. Most of their school life they will be told what to do and how to do it by someone who is white, and most likely female. Except for a few themed weeks, America’s children of color will read books, watch videos, analyze documents and study historical figures who are also not in their image.

I’ve been guilty of that charge. But things changed for me the day when, during a classroom discussion, one of my kids bluntly told me I “couldn’t understand because I was a white lady.” I had to agree with him. I sat there and tried to speak openly about how I could never fully understand and went home and cried, because my children knew about white privilege before I did. The closest I could ever come was empathy.

My curriculum from then on shifted. We still did all of the wonderful things that I had already implemented in the classroom, except now the literature, the documents, the videos, the discussions, the images embodied the issues that my children wanted to explore. We studied the works of Sandra Cisneros, Pam Munoz Ryan and Gary Soto, with the intertwined Spanish language and Latino culture — so fluent and deep in the memories of my kids that I saw light in their eyes I had never seen before. We analyzed Langston Hughes’s “Let America be America Again” from the lens of both historical and current events and realized that the United States is still the land that has never been. The land that my kids, after reading an excerpt from Ta-Nehisi Coates’s letter to his son that connected so deeply to their personal experiences, decided they still wanted to believe in. The land they decided to still hope for. The land that one of my kids quietly said would be changed by her generation. A generation of empathy.

We read about the Syrian crisis, analyzing photographs of war-torn faces at the border and then wrote poetry of hope, despair and compassion from the perspectives of the migrants. Many of my kids asked to write about their own journeys across the border and their [dreams] for a better future. One child cried and told me he never had a teacher who honored the journey his family took to the United States. He told me he was not ashamed anymore, but instead proud of the sacrifice his parents made for him.

We listened to StoryCorps podcasts by people from different walks of life, and children shared their own stories of losing pets, saying goodbye to a mother or father in jail, the fear of wearing a hoodie while walking to a 7-Eleven, and thriving under the wing of a single parent who works two jobs.

So as I stand here today I can declare that I am no longer a language arts and social studies teacher, but a self-proclaimed teacher of social justice and the art of communication with words.

Looking back, I think that my prior hesitation to talk about race stemmed from a lack of social education in the classroom. A lack of diversity in my own life that is, by no means, the fault of my progressive parents, but rather a broken and still segregated school system. Now that I’m an educator in that system, I’ve decided to stand unflinching when it comes to the real issues facing our children today, I’ve decided to be unafraid to question injustice, unafraid to take risks in the classroom — I am changed. And so has my role as a teacher.

I can’t change the color of my skin or where I come from or what the teacher workforce looks like at this moment, but I can change the way I teach. So I am going to soapbox about something after all. Be the teacher your children of color deserve. In fact, even if you don’t teach children of color, be the teacher America’s children of color deserve, because we, the teachers, are responsible for instilling empathy and understanding in the hearts of all kids. We are responsible for the future of this country.

So teach the texts that paint all the beautiful faces of our children and tell the stories of struggle and victory our nation has faced. Speak openly and freely about the challenges that are taking place in our country at this very moment. Talk about the racial and class stereotypes plaguing our streets, our states, our society. You may agree that black and brown lives matter, but how often do you explore what matters to those lives in your classroom?

Put aside your anxieties and accept your natural biases. Donald Graves once said, “Children need to hang around a teacher who is asking bigger questions of herself than she is asking of them.” I know I’m going to continue to ask the bigger questions of myself and seek the answers that sometimes feel impossible, because my kids deserve it … you’re welcome to join me. Thank you.

(Update: removing extraneous word, “even” from this sentence: “The land that my kids, after reading an excerpt from Ta-Nehisi Coates’s letter to his son that connected so deeply to their personal experiences, decided they still wanted to believe in.”

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Ghanaian millionaire quits Microsoft to build university that Educates young Africans

At a time when quite a number of Africans queue up at the embassies of foreign countries, with the hope of being granted visas into countries with ‘better living conditions’, a rare few like Patrick Awuah are sacrificing that to make a difference by returning home.

In 2001, after living in America for almost two decades, Patrick Awuah returned to Ghana, leaving his job at Microsoft, where he earned millions as program manager to set up Ashesi University in Accra, to educate young Africans. “If the current leadership core was educated a certain way, if they were problem solvers, if they had deep compassion for society, we would be in a different place,” he thought. Hence, Ashesi University is known for its innovative curriculum, high tech facilities, and strong emphasis on leadership. The University stirs a new path in African education.

In his TED Global talk in 2007, Patrick Awuah explains his call to educate Africa’s future leaders, and why he believes this is very important.

At the age of 16 in Ghana, Patrick Awuah had his first memorable experience of leadership. At the airport to meet his father, he is stopped by two soldiers wielding AK-47 assault weapons. “They asked me to join a crowd of people that were running up and down this embankment. Why? Because the path I had taken was considered out of bounds. No sign to this effect,” he noted.

Typical of teenagers, Patrick was quite concerned of what his peers, especially girls, would think if they saw him running up and down the hill. So he argued with soldiers. Luckily for him, a pilot falls into the same predicament. The soldiers addressed him differently because he wore a uniform; they explained that they were only following orders. The pilot takes their radio, talks to their boss, and gets everyone released. Patrick learnt several things from that experience. “Leadership matters – those men are following the orders of a superior officer. I learned something about courage – it was important not to look at those guns.”

A few years after that event, Patrick left Ghana to attend Swarthmore College in the United States. “The faculty there didn’t want us to memorise information and repeat back to them as I was used to back in Ghana. They wanted us to think critically. They wanted us to be analytical. They wanted us to be concerned about social issues.” At Swarthmore, Patrick got high marks for his understanding of basic economics in his economic classes, but the deeper lesson was that, the leaders, the managers of Ghana’s economy were making really bad decisions, some of which had fuelled the near-collapse of the country’s economy. “And so here was this lesson again – leadership matters. It matters a great deal,” he explained.

In spite of Patrick’s Epiphany at Swarthmore, it wasn’t until he started working at Microsoft Corporation that he realised it. “I was part of this team, this thinking, learning team whose job it was to design and implement new software that created value in the world…. And I realised just what had happened to me at Swarthmore … The ability to confront problem, complex problems, and to design solutions to those problems. The ability to create is the most empowering thing that can happen to an individual.”

At Microsoft, Patrick became a parent. The thought of his children’s perception of Africa in comparison to the rest of the world instigated a desire to return home and change the overwhelming narrative that portrayed the dark continent. He was determined to contribute his quota towards the continents development.

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On his return 14 years ago, he found out that for every problem three things kept coming up; corruption, weak institutions, and the people who run them – the leaders. Patrick asked two very important questions: where are these leaders coming from? What is it about Ghana that produces leaders that are unethical or unable to solve problems?

In search of answers, he scanned the country’s educational system and realised that nothing had changed during his time away. “It was the same learning by rote, from primary school through graduate school. Very little emphasis on ethics … and the typical graduate from a university in Ghana has a stronger sense of entitlement than a sense of responsibility. This is wrong.” Patrick’s resolve to address this problem resulted in the conception and birth of Ashesi University, an institution launched to develop young African leaders. “Every society must be very intentional about educating its leaders … so this is what I’m doing now. I’m trying to bring the experience I had at Swarthmore to Africa. What Ashesi University is trying to do, is to train a new generation of ethical, entrepreneurial leaders. We’re trying to train leaders of exceptional integrity, who have the ability to confront the complex problems, ask the right questions, and come up with workable solutions.”

Ashesi started with 30 students in 2002 in a rented building. Today the university campus is set on a 100 acre land near Aburi, an hour’s drive from Ghana’s capital, Accra, with over 500 students. The academic curriculum is a blend of Liberal arts and Sciences. “we’re going to educate computer science students who’ve also done philosophy, and leadership, and ethics … we’re going to educate business majors who’ve studied literature and have also done computer programming because we think that broad perspectives are important,” a bullish Patrick told the audience at the TEDEx talk.

The university has an Honour Code, where the students pledge to be honest and to hold each other accountable. The students of Ashesi University take ownership of their ethical posture on campus. “This is a huge break from the norm in most African universities, where corrupt practices run free,”Patrick says. “While the Honour Code may constitute a reach for a perfect society, which is unachievable, we cannot achieve perfection, but if we reach for it, we can achieve excellence.”

If more exceptionally minded and critical thinking individuals like Patrick Awuah would rise to the occasion of transforming Africa, the continent will make great strides in ridding itself off corruption, weak institutions, and most importantly unethical and inefficient leaders.

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BRAVO

 

 

Wanted: Bilingual Teachers

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More than 5 million students in the public school system are English language learners.

Two weeks from now, thousands of teachers, researchers and policymakers from across the country will descend on Albuquerque, New Mexico, where they’ll attempt to solve one of the most pressing but often overlooked issues in education today – the shortage of bilingual teachers.

“There’s been a lot of talk, but our K-12 education system has not paid close enough attention to the need to increase resources to ensure we have teachers who can provide that,” says David Rogers, the executive director of Dual Language Education of New Mexico, a nonprofit that works with low-income communities to close achievement gaps.

Rogers is one of the organizers of the the 20th annual La Cosecha conference, where the 2,500 expected attendees will convene for three days to begin solving a situation that many say is becoming more dire by the year.

“The short answer has been recruiting them from Puerto Rico, Spain or Mexico,” Rogers says about how the vast majority of school districts today find their bilingual teachers. “They have the right academic qualifications, but they don’t always have the socio-cultural understanding of the students we serve in the U.S.”

The U.S. has always been short on bilingual teachers, especially those needed in low-income urban and rural communities where English is not the first language for many families and children.

But compounding the issue at this moment is the uptick in the percentage of Hispanic students for whom English is a second language, the influx of migrant children streaming across the border from Central America, and the increase in demand for dual-language programs for traditional students, all of which are occurring during a wave of teacher retirements.

“Now we’re seeing our good bilingual education teachers retiring and there are no new teachers to replace them,” Rogers says. “There was already a shortage of teachers, but now this is a crisis.”

Today, more than 5 million students in the public school system are learning English, a number that has more than doubled since 1998, according to the Migration Policy Institute. And a 2013 report by the Council of the Great City Schools, a policy and advocacy group that represents most of the nation’s largest school systems, found that about half of large city school districts either have a shortage of teachers for those learning English, or will have one within the next five years.

Puerto Rico has become a particularly fertile recruiting ground for school districts, especially since its teachers are already U.S. citizens, they don’t require green cards, and the island is slogging through an economic downturn.

But that solution, many dual language educators say, is neither sustainable nor good policy.

“We rely heavily on programs like visiting international faculty,” says Joan Lachance, assistant professor of Teaching English as a Second Language in the College of Education at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte who did her graduate school work in Puerto Rico.

“They are always temporary positions,” she says. “The question comes back to how can we prepare our own teachers for this. How can we tap teachers who may already have a language experience in their background? How can we locate people who haven’t considered dual language and make them consider it?”

There’s no simple answer. The profession of teaching is having trouble recruiting and retaining quality teachers, and recruiting bilingual teachers, or preparing teachers for a specialized field like dual language, has been particularly challenging.

“Dual language education is so much more complex than just providing translation from one language to another,” Lachance says. “It’s a very specialized field.”

On the plus side, education policy experts say that school superintendents across the country are beginning to ask schools of education to prioritize the field. And that’s a sure sign, they say, that they’re beginning to recognize the implication that dual language speakers will have on the U.S. economic and international competitiveness.

“This is a civil rights problem, but it’s also a problem that threatens our national interests,” says Santiago Wood, the national executive director for the National Association of Bilingual Education.

Wood spent decades as a teacher and later a superintendent in several school districts across California. He personally recruited teachers from Mexico, Spain, and Hong Kong, among other countries.

“What do you call a person that speaks one language,” he quips. “American. It’s in our best interest to be globally competent. It is that simple.”

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Why White Parents Won’t Choose Black Schools

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Last year when I attempted to pick my daughter up from school, the volunteers in the carpool line tried to put a fourth grader in my car, not the four year old I was attempting to retrieve. Both of us were vehemently shaking our heads, both of us looked totally confused, but the man with the radio would not be deterred. There are only a handful of white kids at my daughter’s school, and only two of them are car-riders. One of them gets picked up by her mom, the other, her dad. This white girl went with the white mom, and I was a white mom. This must be the right van.

This slightly awkward, but hilarious interaction strikes at the heart of the change in our neighborhood. While we were once one of the only white people in the neighborhood, most of the abandoned houses are now snapped up and fixed up by young white couples, often with kids. Those kids don’t go to our school.

Though my daughter is not the only white kindergartner in my neighborhood, she is the only white kindergartner in her class. My new neighbors, ones who come into the neighborhood raving about how much they love it, do not send their kids to the school. While they love my neighborhood, they do not love my school.

A friend and I were recently chatting about her move to the neighborhood next to mine. I was surprised that she didn’t even look across the dividing line road we live about two blocks from. She shrugged her shoulders, “yeah, I really like your house but our real estate agent said we shouldn’t even look there because of the schools.” Because of the schools. The school I send my daughter to. She did not look at the houses with more square footage and a smaller price tag because someone who has never been in the school doesn’t find it suitable.

This summer, when I told the other moms at the pool where my kids went to school. I was repeatedly told to move them. This from women who had never ever set foot in my school. They had not had contact with our deeply passionate, and very responsive principal, had not met the pre-k teachers who my daughter loves more than Santa. They had not toured the various science labs, or listened as their child talked incessantly about robotics. They don’t know that every Tuesday Juliet comes home with a new Spanish song to sing and bothers me until I look up the colors in Spanish if I can’t remember them from High school. Juliet loves her school. Her mother, a teacher at a suburban school, and her father, a PhD candidate at the state university, both find the school completely acceptable, more than acceptable. We love it too.

But my neighbors will not send their kids there and my friends won’t even move into the neighborhood. They will whisper about it. They will tell their friends not to go there. They will even tell a stranger that she should move her kids immediately as they both wait for their children to come down the water slide. But they will not give the neighborhood school a chance. They will even go to great lengths to avoid the neighborhood school.

In July, through the neighborhood list serve I got invited to attend the charter school exploration meeting. A group of parents were attempting to start a charter school to center on diversity. They wanted a Spanish program and a principal that was very invested in the neighborhood. After inquiring I discovered the local elementary school had not even been contacted. The one with a principal who left his high profile high school job and came back to his neighborhood to an elementary school where he immediately implemented a Spanish language program. Before starting their own charter school, not one person had bothered even contacting the school already in existence. The school that has made huge strides, and could do even better with some parents who had this kind of time and know how. No one was interested in the school of the neighborhood.

The same people who were questioning the school I picked for my girls and starting their own charter school, wanted to talk to me about the This American Life Podcast about segregated schools. They wanted to talk to me about things I already knew. Our schools are more segregated than they have ever been. Our educational system is deeply inequitable. Things are only getting worse. They shook their concerned liberal head in sadness wondering what they could do. Then they made sure their child got into the very white, pretty affluent charter school that is not representative of their neighborhood. When one didn’t exist, they took their resources and began creating one.

When I am able to move past the anger, the frustration that people are talking about a school they know nothing about, I listen to what they say. Behind all the test score talk, the opportunity mumbo jumbo that people lead with, I feel like what is actually being said, and what is never being said is this: That school is too black.

The people who are moving into my neighborhood want their children to have a diverse upbringing, but not too diverse. They still want a white school, just with other non-white children also participating. They want to go to the Christmas pageant and not have their white sensibilities violated because the other parents are too loud and boisterous and it makes them uncomfortable, for really no good reason. They don’t want their kid to notice her whiteness in Pre-k and then find out while addressing that question, that while they already own great books about diversity, the only children’s books specifically about whiteness are published by the KKK. They don’t want their child to ask them why Quintavious’s sister says she doesn’t like white people. They don’t want to have to wonder when the teacher calls, if they are getting extra attention because white parents are often perceived as overbearing. They want diversity, just not too much.

And I get it. I do. It is hard to not always be comfortable in a place you had once thought of as completely familiar. It is weird when you and your child have some different cultural touchstones that you thought of as universal but are actually white (I am looking at you, birthday song.) It is kind of tricky to explain MLK day and black history month to a kindergartner who is the only one in her class that looks like the oppressor, the only kid that has benefited from the oppression being exposed. It is just way easier for white kids to talk about black history at a white school.

But why are we choosing easier and comfortable? White people get to be comfortable in most of American society. It took me until I was an adult to be somewhere white feelings were not centered. That stripping of privilege felt awful and unfair, even when it wasn’t. My kids already know what that is like.

It is a gift for my kids to learn in an environment where their experiences are not the experiences of the majority of the kids in the room. Amidst the discomfort, the worrying about what to tell my kid when she asks complicated questions about race in her simple vocabulary, I have found so many gifts. My child does not look side-ways at non-white names. She is not perplexed by non-white hair. (She is perplexed by why her mother won’t let her wear all those clicky and awesome beads.) She is talking about race, and it is not just for special occasions like MLK day or black history month. My child is getting a very good education in the classroom and on the playground. She knows about diversity because she is exposed to it, every day when we drop her off at school.

My neighbors and I don’t have to build a charter school for our children to experience diversity. But we do have to build a charter school in order for our kids to experience diversity on our terms. Really, if we are experiencing diversity on white terms, what good is that diversity anyway?

I hear my neighbors saying they value my neighborhood, they value diversity, and they value all kids getting a decent education. I just wonder when they will value those thing enough to give our neighborhood school a try.

 

SOURCE

Don’t Quit on Me: Don’t Call Them Dropouts


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