February 20, 2015 at 12:30 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

As I continue to mull the announcement by Broward County Public Schools that they are investigating the possibility of selling [my interpretation] its population of fragile learners [of poverty], I am more and more incensed. First of all, [in theory] every youth should have an equitable opportunity to succeed. It is the role and responsibility of public education to insure that level of opportunity [in practice]. We have, admittedly, failed dismally in that effort. That failure does not give us license to stop trying! We cannot abandon our responsibility to our children or to our community.
Of course, poverty is a challenging, demanding barrier to opportunity. But to abdicate the responsibility to create a climate of success for a fragile group of children is unacceptable. To suggest that there are charter school providers who have ‘solved’ the conundrum is naive and disingenuous. Certainly there are organizations that have found ways to address, in some ways, the challenges these populations face. We should salute The Harlem Children’s’ Zone for their comprehensive approach to addressing these challenges. Notice the word comprehensive. The Harlem Children’s’ Zone made the commitment to both serve children’s academic needs while, concomitantly, providing whole life services to the children and their families. Bravo. Are we willing to replicate that here? Can a consortium of funders be called together to support the effort [over the time necessary]? By the way, looking at the history of the academic portion of the Harlem Children’s Zone, there was a point where the Board of Directors was about to remove academic leadership from the mix and ‘sell’ it to an academic management company. To abate that decision, they had to rethink their model and shift from a more nurturing style to a more accountability model. KIPP Schools represents another touted model for meeting the needs of these youth. Their model includes extended school days and regimented expectations for behavior [such as dress code], certainly nothing wrong with that. A transcendent portion of the KIPP philosophy is based on Dr. Martin Seligman’s groundbreaking positive psychology work addressing; grit, zest, optimism, self-control, gratitude, social intelligence and curiosity. Do we not have the will to include those components ourselves? Do we need an organization to instruct us in regard to alternative strategies that are effective with fragile learners [read poverty and minority]?
The charter school idea in the United States was originated in 1974 by Ray Budde, a professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Albert Shanker, President of the American Federation of Teachers, embraced the concept in 1988, when he called for the reform of the public schools by establishing “charter schools” or “schools of choice.” As originally conceived, the ideal model of a charter school was as a legally and financially autonomous public school (without tuition, religious affiliation, or selective student admissions) that would operate much like a private business—free from many state laws and district regulations, and accountable more for student outcomes rather than for processes or inputs (such as Carnegie Units and teacher certification requirements). Simply put, charter schools were designed to serve the needs of youth in ways that they were not being served to date; a laudatory idea. Is that, however, what is happening with charter schools. Certainly, in Broward County, there are two highly functioning city systems [Coral Springs and Pembroke Pines]. How are they different from the public schools they supplanted? What are they doing differently? In fact, could you walk into a city run charter school and a same community public school and be able to discern a different academic strategy? You might well be able to identify different behavioral styles because the parents who have enrolled their children into these systemic schools might have a different set of expectations for their children and for their childrens’ behavior. What about non city run charter schools? It is critical to note that these organizations are run for a profit. They present the appearance of being a private school in many cases. Charter schools in well to do communities often seem to be a private school. They reflect their community and the social classicism that inhibits our culture from embracing all its citizens. They function for the same reason that the children of Harvard graduates attend Harvard, the Children of Yale graduates attend Yale. To give your child the best advantage should be the goal of every parent. To have a select group of youth mingle primarily with other youth who are essentially from the same background serves to perpetuate the challenges we face as a society. I have mine, I will protect what is mine, I will do my best to insure that what is mine remains within my family, and the rest of you be damned! The fact remains that a child’s whole life legacy should not be determined by the free market system. We must not allow poverty to become destiny.

What of the independent charter school providers? Those passionate activists who get into the effort to truly meet the need designed by Professor Budde? Are they successful? Certainly, some are. At the same time, many flounder due to lack of fiscal support or acumen or due to an academic philosophy that cannot be supported in practice [often due to lack of educational experience]. What happens as a result of this: they often turn to a charter management company to ‘fix’ the flaws. Does that work? First of all, the charter management company [typically a division of one of the large charter school companies] is there to make a profit. There are only so many dollars available to educate a child so the profit comes out of the dollars designated to provide academic programming. If the original goal of the charter school was to meet an unmet need, it needs all the funds possible to do so. Consequently, the academic goal of the organization becomes secondary to the goal of keeping the school functioning. And what of the students? These fragile learners are threatened by mobility issues. As the parents struggle to survive in our community, they often have to relocate. Academic research clearly points to mobility as one of the key risk factors for failure to graduate. Creating the potential for additional mobility by moving from public school to charter or from charter to charter or from charter back to public school demonstrably adds to the potential for non-completion. Not to discount the academic levels and performance expectations that are inconsistent across deliverers of academics.

By the way, what does portend for other unique populations? Do we sell Foster Children next? Children involved with the Juvenile Justice system? Dually involved youth? Once the floodgates are open, entrepreneurs will seek – like medicine men in the old west – to get their piece.
I wonder how the community would react if Broward County Public Schools would bring forward the suggestion that they cannot serve Caucasian children and therefore are looking to sell them? Or Hispanic children? Or Girls?

There is more. Far too much [as if this was not already too long] for a simple posting. Having said this much however, what is next. I see the following options: [1] continue to challenge the Board, leadership and staff to make a commitment to find the appropriate tools and services to equitably educate all of our children. Do not allow any portion of our youth to be sold! [2] Split our district into a subdivision that believes that these children are a valuable resource to be nurtured. Commit to insuring the success of our community based on the success of its constituents, and [3] stay focused on this issue. This is a daunting, but not insurmountable, challenge. Can we not take the best of what we believe to be embedded in The Harlem Children’s Zone? In KIPP? In any other identified strength-based approach and make it work for the children [of poverty environments] of Broward County?
I am willing, prepared and committed to being part of the solution…are you?


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