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Parents walk in to support public schools

Posted by: Gordon on 2/22/2016

Some 40,000 people participated in walk-ins on and around Feb. 17 at 838 schools in over 30 cities according to the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools.

“Our children deserve a whole lot better than what they’re getting,” in the words of Rev. Keith L. Whitney, pastor of Sanctuary Fellowship Baptist Church and chair of MOSES’ Education Task Force.

Support for community schools and more accountable charters topped the list of education issues on the agenda for Whitney and other leaders at Gamaliel affiliates in Detroit, Milwaukee and Pittsburgh who participated in last week’s national action. Details about the education issues leaders face in the 3 cities are below:

Pittsburgh

walk in at Langley School in Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh may be furthest along toward achieving the vision of the community-school movement thanks to work by the citywide Great Public Schools Pittsburgh coalition, which includes Pennsylvania Interfaith Impact Network.

The city is currently hiring a new school superintendent. “Commitment to community schools and full-service school initiatives” is in the top 5 requirements, according to the job description.

“Community schools are the way we see to close the opportunity gap between children of different races and economic levels,” says PIIN education committee co-chair Dr. Sandra Woolley. She and other experts say community schools have the following characteristics:

  • Offer curriculum that is engaging, culturally relevant and challenging, with a broad selection of classes and after-school programs
  • Emphasize high-quality teaching over high-stakes testing
  • Provide wrap-around supports such as health care, eye care and social and emotional services to assist learning
  • Stress positive discipline practices such as restorative justice and social and emotional learning supports
  • Prioritize transformational parent and community engagement to allow the full community to participate in planning and decision-making

In addition to providing input as the search process continues, Woolley noted coalition members are seeking a vote from the school board to formally adopt a community schools policy.

Detroit

In Detroit, public education faces a starker future. Darnell Earley, now nationally infamous as the emergency manager on whose watch Flint purchased and poisoned with lead its public drinking water, recently resigned from a similar position with the Detroit Public Schools, DPS.

Protest at Detroit Public School

MOSES leader Rev. Whitney, who has had many connections with DPS as a teacher, parent, alumnus and now pastor to families in the system, says the schools are "in chaos." 

The basic contract between charters and the communities and parents they serve was supposed to be that charters would get freedom to educate kids the way they wanted in return for strict accountability on their performance. In Detroit, it has not worked out that way, Whitney says. 

A dozen organizations have authority to open and close charter schools in Detroit. All are based far from the city and hard to reach by those they serve, and none coordinate with the others. As a result, schools are opening and closing each year and even during the year, destabilizing kids’ education.

Although charters have pushed out many public schools, some say the schooling was better before. College student Tierra Modock, who works with MOSES and its CB3 youth group on education, was one. Modock, who attended both public and charter schools in Detroit, says the curriculum was stronger in her public school: “When I was in public school the work seemed to be more challenging and I felt it was more college prep work.”

Milwaukee

MICAH Walk in North Division High SchoolFor the MICAH Education Task Force, the focus of the day was two-pronged: both highlighting the promise of community schools and pushing back against recently-passed legislation many fear will allow public officials to take over public schools and quickly convert them to charters.

Opportunity Schools threaten the public system, especially since like in Detroit, the charter authorizers often lack transparency and have few or no built-in mechanisms for accountability.

“I have tremendous respect for our president but [charters are] going to go down as one of his big failures,” says Jane Audette, co-chair of MICAH’s education task force. “When you’re basically experimenting with our children, you better have a good reason for what you’re doing, you’d better be documenting it, and you’d better be accountable,” she said.

With 3 main authorizers for the county – Milwaukee City Council, the public school system, and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Audette says the charter system needs more transparency and accountability.

She also notes the “opportunity schools partnership program,” is a threat to public schools

To Audette the national walk-ins were helpful: “Seeing that different districts are dealing with different kinds of oppressive systems was very effective.”

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