Monday, July 31, 2017

Race to the Bottom: How Charters Have Undermined Public Education

Advocates of charter schools have long argued that public schools would improve if they faced competition from charters. In fact, the opposite has occurred. Public schools, to compete with the best financed charter chains, have become more rigid, authoritarian and test centered. All over the nation, arts, science, history, and physical education have been sacrificed in a single minded effort to raise scores on Math and ELA tests. What we have seen, in the name of competition, is a systematic degradation of our education system that has squeezed the joy and creativity our of our classrooms and has demoralized our best teachers. Because the competition has not been focused on who can have the best arts programs, or who can best motivate children with special needs, but on who can produce the best results on high stakes tests. Which has triggered a Race to the Bottom in terms of student engagement and quality of teaching

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Letter to SUNY Charter Committee Protesting Proposed Lowering of Teacher Standards

Dear Chairman Belluck and CUNY Charter Committee

      I am a Professor of African Studies and History at Fordham University, who has been a teacher, coach and professor for more than 50 years, and has spent the last 15 years doing community history programs in Bronx schools. I have watched, with some dismay, the emergence of disciplinary practices and employment practices in New York's best known and best financed  charter schools which violate the rights of students, teachers and families, and which also undermine what I have become convinced are best practices in the education of high needs students.  Foremost among the issues I have encountered, not only through first hand conversation with people in charter schools, but through research conducted by my own students, is high rates of turnover among charter school teachers due to excessive demands made on them by authoritarian administrators, and intimidating styles of management which discourage teachers from speaking honestly about what takes place in their classrooms. The result of this is that students in those schools do not have access to teachers who stay in their jobs a long time, who can be mentors for long periods and  and who have the courage  and standing to speak out against disciplinary practices which violate their professional conscience.

      Right now, charter school teaching is too often a revolving door career for recent college graduates who rarely come from the same background as the students they teach. That is something that needs to be changed, not reinforced. Students in high needs communities need teachers with extensive training, student teaching experience, and employment protections which allow them to speak out against excessive testing, zero tolerance disciplinary policies, and discrimination against ELL and Special Needs students, all of which can be found in too many of the best financed charter chains.  The current proposal moves us in the opposite direction from much needed oversight and reform in the Charter Sector in New York State. 

      The SUNY Charter School Institute should reject the proposal to lower standards of teacher certification in charter schools, and instead start designing measures designed to improve teacher quality, retention, and ethnic and cultural sensitivity in the Charter schools of New York State


Mark D Naison
Professor of African American Studies and History
Fordham University
Founder and Director
Bronx African American History Project

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Why We Need Freedom Schools Now

This summer, I decided to use the Freedom School model from the civil rights movement to promote solidarity among people looking for inspiration and direction out of frustration with the many social media groups that I was part of and in some cases helped to start. Don't get me wrong, those groups played and continue to play an important role in our political life and in the lives of many individuals
But in the face of the despair so many people felt during and after the Presidential election, and the challenges many experience as a result of events at their schools and workplaces, I felt face to face encounters were needed to give people the energy and support they needed to move forward.

So I decided, as an experiment, to organize three meetings at my home with great speakers, talking about important subjects, with lots of food and beverages to make people feel comfortable. The sessions were:

Michael Partis on "Bronx Hip Hop and Bronx Communities"
Jamaal Bowman on "Revolutionizing Public Education"
Melissa Castillo-Garsow on "The Radical Mexican Diaspora in NYC"

The results were extraordinary. All the sessions were filled, with a multiracial audience that varied markedly in age and life experience, with discussions that were inspiring, honest, sometime painful, and deeply appreciated. On each occasion, people stayed long after the scheduled time and not only created valuable connections; in some cases they started new friendships

When word of this got out, several friends in Eastern Long Island asked to create Freedom school sessions there, and the first one held there, featuring Justin Williams talking about Race and Immigration issues in Long  Island Schools and Communities, was, if anything more powerful than the ones in Brooklyn! People, many of whom had only met for the first time, stayed for five hours and probably would have slept there if they had been offered the opportunity.

Clearly, this model has met a powerful need. Not only do we have another session scheduled in Eastern LI, we have an entire set of Freedom Schools organized in the Bronx, by Aixa Rodriguez, a session organized in Livingston, New Jersey, and sessions being discussed in Buffalo, :Lower Westchester, and Danbury Connecticut.

For those of you who want to spread the movement to your city I have the following suggestions

1. Organize your sessions at someone's home, or at a comfortable public venue where people can let their hair down
2. Make sure you have a subject that will attract a multiracial audience, and a speaker with a proven ability to cross racial and cultural boundaries.
3. Make sure there are food and beverages at the event
4. Encourage people to bring high school and college age children to the event.
5. Advertise the subject of the talk publicly, but only give out the address of the talk to people who PM or email you, especially if the even it held at someone's home.

Doing this has given energy and purpose to me and many other people.

Let's build the movement!

Thursday, July 20, 2017

A Crime Against History: A Crime Against The Bronx: The Demolition of St Augustine RC Church

"They paved paradise and put up a parking lot"
Joni Mitchell
Today, as i was taking Fordham College Dean Maura Mast on a tour of the Morrisania neighborhood, one of the sites I had planned to show her was St. Augustine RC Church, once site of a vibrant predominantly Black parish in that community, and a place where I had once celebrated mass with people from its sister church in New Orleans shortly following Hurricana Katrina. I knew the parish had been closed, but wanted to show Dean Mast the building and explain some of the parish's noble history of serving African Americans in the Bronx largest Black community. But when I drove by the site of the church on Franklin Avenue and 167th Street, what I saw filled me with anguish and rage.
The church had been knocked down and an apartment building- and an ugly one at that- was being erected in its place.
How did that happen? Why did it happen? Why did people allow a beautiful building, first erected in 1853 through pennies saved by German immigrants and which, in another era,became a cultural as well as spiritual home for the Bronx's Black Catholics, get knocked down. Where was the Landmark Commission? Where was the Archdiocese of New York? What kind of world do we live in that a church of such beauty, and with such a history, can be DEMOLISHED.
I cannot accept this. What kind of city do we live in? What kind of country? If we do this to buildings, what will we do to people?
The picture below shows us what the Church looked like

Image may contain: sky, tree and outdoor

Sunday, July 16, 2017

When Anti-Immigrant Hysteria Swept the Land

During and after World War I, anti-immigrant hysteria swept the nation, focusing largely on Catholic and Jewish immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe. Some of the results of that hysteria were:
The Prohibition of alcoholic beverages by Constitutional Amendment
A Red Scare resulting in the jailing and deportation of thousands of immigrant radicals
The resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan as an anti-Catholic, anti-foreign and anti-wet organization as well as an anti-Black one.
The passage of draconian immigration restriction legislation, favoring immigrants from Norther Europe, which restricted total immigration from 1,100,000 in 1919 to under 100,000 by the late 1920's.
The same era also saw pogroms and massacres directed at Black communities in East St Louis Missouri, Elaine Arkansas and Tulsa Oklahoma, including the torching and aerial bombardment of the wealthiest Black community in the nation in Tulsa.
If you want to read a novel which captures the wave of rage and fear sweeping through the nation in that era, read Dennis Lehane's "The Given Day."

Sunday, July 9, 2017

How Charter Schools Have Stifled Educational Innovation and Fought the Opt Out Movement

Although charter schools were originally promoted as a vehicle to encourage educational experimentation, their meteoric growth in influence has actually coincided with a REDUCTION in innovation in schools because those promoting them most have also pushed for national testing and test based accountability measures for rating schools. In New York City, for example, the largest charter chains have fiercely opposed the opt out movement, and used their political influence to support state testing at all grade levels and the continued use of testing to rate teachers and schools. They have also virtually eliminated all instruction outside ELA and Math and used high test scores as a selling point, putting pressure on local public schools to raise their test scores to compete with them. They have helped create a political climate, in New York City and New York state, where teachers and principals in high poverty communities feel they might be subjecting themselves to a state takeover and eventual closing if they do anything to serve their students that doesn't translate into higher test scores. Make no mistake about it, the Charter Lobby welcomes such an atmosphere. It is their version of educational entrepreneurship, even though its results are toxic in high need communities which need arts, sports, community history, and caring teachers and counselors to help students stay and thrive in schools.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Why I Am Against Raising the Charter Cap in NY or Anywhere Else

I am against against raising the charter school cap in New York State because charter schools systematically try to undermine public schools through their lobbying and political activism. They fear strong public schools because their best teachers would all leave if they had the option of moving to a quality public school. They NEED public schools to fail and do everything in their power to assure that they do. They are a toxic force in educational policy in NYC and around the nation, supporting the most abusive forms of testing and test based measures of school accountability. There are individual charter schools which promote creative instruction, but the most powerful and well financed charter chains promote test based pedagogy, draconian discipline and scripted instruction by inexperienced teachers

Why The Bronx Leads the Way

They wrote us off for dead- from the halls of Congress, to the offices of banks and media conglomerates, to the announcing booth at Yankee Stadium, but we
Created a new form of music, Hip Hop, that inspired the world
Rebuilt neighborhoods devastated by fires with town houses, apartment buildings and shopping centers
Offered homes and opportunities for immigrants from every portion of the globe from Africa to Eastern Europe to Latin America and South Asia.
Became the place where those pushed out of gentrifying neighborhoods ended up settling and raising families
Showed how Muslims, Christians and Jews can live and work together in peace.
Sustained great public schools like PS 140, PS 55, Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom HS and CASA Middle School in spite of school closings, charters and vicious attacks from leaders of both parties.
We never listened to pundits. We never gave up. We created our own future
The nation has much to learn from the people of the Bronx.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Confidential Conversations With People Who Work in NYC Charter Schools

During the past few months, I have had several confidential conversations with people who work in some of the major charter school chains in New York City. Here is what I have come away with from those conversations.
1. There is a systematic effort to drive away families of children who pose discipline problems in the schools. One method is suspensions, but a more common method is constant harassment of the parents of children identified as troublesome through phone calls whenever those children "act out."
2. The burnout rate of teachers is enormous. It is very rare for a teacher to remain in their job for more than five years and most of the best teachers would leave if they could get a position in a good New York City public school.
3. There is tremendous waste of materials, with basements filled with extra lap tops and books that could be donated to resource starved organizations, including public schools which often occupy the same school buildings
4. The only subjects which get taught, especially in elementary schools and middle schools, are those which are tested-- ELA and Math. Science, social studies, and the arts, are not given any weight in the curriculum, and the schools become test prep factories in the weeks before State Exams, with students drilled relentlessly to make sure their scores are as high as possible
5. There is a great emphasis, on all levels of the institution, on pleasing those who fund the schools, who include some of the wealthiest individuals in New York City.

If you examine these comments carefully, you will see why charter schools can NEVER be a credible substitute for public schools in New York City, which are designed, at least in theory, to serve all students and families. If they have a role to play, it is comparable to what Catholic schools once did for upwardly mobile families living in the city's working class, immigrant neighborhoods