By Barbara D. Parks-Lee, Ph.D., CF, NBCT (ret.), NNPA ESSA Awareness Campaign
Have you ever felt frustrated and ill-equipped to meet the needs of the students in your classroom as well as the dictates of those who have never been teachers in a classroom?
Sometimes, we teachers feel like there is too much to do and not enough time or resources to do what needs to be done well. Standardized testing frenzy, No Child Left Behind, Common Core Curriculum, STEM curriculum, professional development relegated to one day make-‘n’-take or lecture sessions, and demands from school boards, legislators, and the business community all may contribute to teacher frustration, burn-out, and being ROJ (retired on the job).
Well, how can we feel more professional and less like factory workers producing widgets? First, we must clarify our mission. Students are not widgets. There can be no reject bins for human beings with different needs and varied learning intelligence!
Secondly, we must reach our students before we can teach them. By reach I mean to be willing to acknowledge cultural and personal idiosyncrasies and to be friendly, fair, and flexible. Not everyone learns—or teaches—the same way. Being friendly involves knowing our students’ names and greeting them as they enter our classrooms.
It also involves dressing professionally as a means of demonstrating personal and student respect. There are three B’s no student should ever see on a teacher: no bosoms, no belly buttons, and no backsides. Students need a professional appearance. They form their own perceptions the first time they meet us, and we do not get a second chance to make a good first impression.
The culture of our classroom community must be one of acceptance, rigor, and high standards, for our students will either stretch or stagnate according to our expectations of them. Teachers must not only have a lesson plan A and a back-up plan B but also a back-up for the back-up in order to take advantage of any teachable moment.
If we do not have a plan for our students, they will most certainly have plans for us! I assure you, their plans will make our lives miserable and learning and teaching almost impossible.
Fairness involves demanding standards for which everyone is held accountable. Certain rules must be observed. For instance, no one can be allowed to ridicule, to bully, or to be disrespectful or disparaging of anyone’s personal appearance, answers, questions, or opinions. We, as teachers, must take control of our classrooms from the first day until the last.
When we wish not to be perceived as factory workers producing widgets, we must acknowledge that our calling is a combination of science, art, and craft. TEACHING IS PLAIN HARD WORK!
Our diverse students are real human beings with real needs and varied skills and talents. We must take the challenge of our profession and equip ourselves with the content knowledge and the pedagogy skills in order to deliver what our students must have. As we teach, we must also remember that these same students may have to serve us or to teach our children or grandchildren at some point after they leave us.
As teachers serving humans, we cannot allow them or ourselves to be treated any way except as we would want our own children and family members to be treated. We must be actively vocal as we present ourselves as advocates for the teaching and learning process.
Raise your hand if you weresick and tired but now resolveto be well and full of energy as you go forward.
By Barbara D. Parks-Lee, Ph.D., CF, NBCT (ret.), NNPA ESSA Awareness Campaign
What is the fallacy when someone says, “I don’t see color?” Immediately, when someone says this to me, a woman of color, two thoughts cross my mind. The first one is, “Is there some congenital abnormality that negates the ability to perceive colors?” The second, if more visceral: “If you don’t see color, does that render me invisible, unimportant, or not worthy to be seen?”
This statement prickles the hairs on the back of my neck. For, too often, these words are spoken by a white person to someone black or brown.
It almost fits into the trite utterance of “I have some (or a) black (or brown) friends,” or, another, “You are not like them.” So, if you do not see color, how do you know you have some friends of color or that I am not like the illusive “them,” presumably others of color?
Many of us have prejudices and/or stereotypes of those we view as “other” or ones different from ourselves in some way. It might be that culture, religious belief, ethnicity, gender, class, marital status, socio-economic status, or one or more of the –isms influence our perceptions. Some biases are so inculcated that, from infancy, we are programmed to have fears, stereotypes, and negative views of those unlike ourselves.
One part of this kind of fallacious thinking may hinge on the fact that in order for some groups to feel righteous and superior, other groups must have to be viewed as dangerous and/or inferior.
Our perceptions of the value of ourselves and others often determine our treatment of and reactions toward those we view as less than or not as valued. Wars are fought over cultural and religious differences. Regardless of the injury, all people’s blood is red and all of us can hurt or grieve, regardless of color.
In the classrooms across the United States, many children of color—and we all have a color—are castigated, segregated, and under-educated by least-qualified teachers who are sent in to work with children most needy.
As our schools become more multicultural, many of their teachers are becoming more monocultural and unprepared to acknowledge cultural differences, different styles of learning, or ways of showing respect and tolerance. The resulting revolving door of teachers who hone their craft on these children not like themselves often exacerbates the underachievement of students and the continual decline of the public-school system as we know it.
Until all of us are willing to forego our color and cultural blindness, we perpetuate students being placed on an assembly line to mediocrity, frustration, and wasted, unacknowledged potential. This, in no way applies to all teachers, for many teachers are diligent, dedicated, and hard-working people who care and who have students, many of whom, succeed in spite of the odds against them.
However, to “not see color “is, to a person of a different color, the height of insult from an arrogant, insecure, ignorant, condescending—even if unintentional—racist person!
By Barbara D. Parks-Lee, Ph.D., CF, NBCT (ret.), NNPA ESSA Awareness Campaign
When cultures clash in the classroom, students, teachers, administrators, parents, and the community at large all suffer. Education, or lack, thereof, can have a ripple effect on every facet of society. Not only are communities of color affected but also areas not considered “minority.” PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) is an equal possibility.
Children whose culture and realities are devalued are often, as Gloria Ladson Billings so aptly expressed, “considered as deficient white children.” (1999) The children she described may become drop-outs, push-outs, or disaffected trouble makers. These disaffected students often feel disrespected, misunderstood, and devoid of hope. Some of them are test-weary and content lacking.
When they are continually designated at “below basic” on standardized tests and their culture not understood by teachers and test makers, their behaviors are almost self-fulfilling prophesies. Often these students suffer from PTSD as painful and as debilitating as any combat soldier.
They encounter the vagaries of the results of having little affluence and no influence, of physical and/or emotional abuse, and poor educational opportunities offered by a revolving door of new, career-change, or culturally unaware teachers getting their OJT (on the job training), student loans abated, masters degrees, and housing allowances before moving on to the suburbs or to becoming the next national “expert” authors and speakers on educating the urban, rural, or culturally different child.
These are the children whose apparent apathy and less than “perfect” behaviors encourage a revolving door of teachers who have the inability to relate to students of different socio-economic or racial differences. In these cases, no one is the winner, even though neophyte teachers may gain some financial benefits, for these teachers, too suffer the PTSD resulting from not knowing how to teach diverse students and the daily chaos of classroom disorder, disrespect, and disaffectedness.
Lowered expectations may cause challenges for administrators also, for they face scrutiny about how their schools function on many levels, from standardized test results to efficient use of budget to how many expulsions and suspensions their students receive.
They must also contend with trying to find substitutes or replacements for teachers who are absent for whatever reason. Their teachers often are faced with coverage, which saps the enthusiasm and energy of those forced to babysit some other teacher’s class. In addition, many states are trying to meet the dictates of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and the Common Core Curriculum standards with inadequate funding and training for teachers and administrators in how to implement these mandated legislative programs. In the last few years, there has also been an emphasis on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) schools.
Parents suffer when their children are disaffected and under-educated. Their children who are suspended or expelled are left to get into difficulties with the law and court systems. Further, drop-outs and push-outs often cannot get jobs and become economic drains on not only their families but also on the community at large.
So, in answer to the question when cultures clash in the classroom, who suffers, we all do! Poorly educated students make for a society that alienates its young, one that is unable to retain skilled and experienced teachers, and a country frustrated with unemployment, under-employment, and an ever-growing culture of violence, fear, and intolerance. Court systems and privatized prisons, along with mortuaries, result when the classrooms act as prep schools for these expensive alternatives.
By Barbara D. Parks-Lee, Ph.D., CF, NBCT (ret.), NNPA ESSA Awareness Campaign
Teaching is a multi-faceted calling for many and an occupation for some, but how can teaching and learning effectiveness be measured without testing?
There must be some way—or ways—to measure what and whether students are learning, and teachers are teaching. Rigor, high standards, curriculum design, learning and teaching styles, and external demands all must be considered in any teaching and learning situation, regardless of location and resources.
As the teaching population becomes more monocultural and the school-aged population becomes more multicultural, teaching materials, beliefs, and techniques tend to rely too heavily on standardized tests and testing materials. In order for education to capitalize on the strengths and talents of learners and the skills and professionalism of their teachers, what kinds of additional progress measures might be employed?
Different kinds of professional development programs and materials may be needed to provide more sufficient and culturally responsive information about the teaching and learning process.
One way of assessing whether students are actively engaged in learning on a high level might be using multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary materials such as those in an original textbook of poems, shorts stories, and essays.
The book, Connections: A Collection of Poems, Short Stories, and Essays with Lessons, became part of a study in the Washington, D. C. schools and surrounding Metropolitan areas of Prince George’s County, Maryland, and Alexandria, Virginia, from 1996-2001. (Parks-Lee, 1995)
It addresses some of the challenges Gloria Ladson-Billings pointed out when she quoted Jonathan Kozol, saying that “…Pedagogic problems in our cities are not chiefly matters of injustice, inequality, or segregation, but of insufficient information about teaching strategies.” (Ladson-Billings*, 1994, p. 128)
Both neophyte and experienced teachers participated in a study that provided them with information, materials, and teaching strategies to employ with urban, poor, and predominantly, but not exclusively, African American youth.
The idea for the study originated with a concern that an increasingly middle class or suburban teaching force often seems unable to meet the needs of diverse students who are different from them in class, socioeconomic status, geography, ethnicity, and/or culture.
The Connections materials were intended to help address ways to foster a positive impact upon all children, but particularly upon children of color. In addition, teachers using these materials might also feel more empowered to think creatively and to utilize students’ strengths and talents as they incorporate high and rigorous interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary lessons and higher order thinking skills in order to increase academic achievement.
Effective teachers believe that we must produce and use materials that encourage students to be able to read, to write, to speak, to be creative, to understand, and to interpret what they hear and read. If students can develop these proficiencies, they may experience greater success on standardized tests.
Success breeds success, and if our students are to be involved learners and thinkers, we cannot keep doing the same things the same ways and then blaming students and teachers if standardized test scores are not optimal. There must be more inclusive ways of tapping into and measuring what is taught and what is learned. Standardized tests are but one way and should not be the only way to validate the teaching and learning processes.
There are three domains to teaching, the cognitive, the affective, and the psychomotor. The one that is not easily addressed by standardized testing is the affective domain.
As Sharon M. Draper says, “You must reach a child before you can teach a child.” (Draper, S., November 2002). The challenge comes when trying to measure the affective domain. However, affective success is often reflected in student attendance and behaviors that are involved, on-task, and diligent.
There is often a spirit of collaboration and cooperation between the teacher and the students. Fewer discipline problems are observed when there is a positive classroom community involved.
When diverse students are allowed to utilize their talents and skills, they often become self-motivated, because they feel affirmed, valued, and respected.
*Ladson-Billings, G. (1999). (Notes from speech delivered at Howard University).
During a wide-ranging hearing held by the U.S. House Education and Labor Committee, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos testified on a wide range of Education Department priorities.
Federal Flash covers the controversial exchanges during the hearing, including one question that DeVos struggled to answer.
The House Education and Labor Committee hearing this week examined the policies and priorities of the U.S. Department of Education. It was the first oversight hearing for Secretary DeVos to testify before the Committee since Democrats regained control of the House. While members asked questions on a variety of topics ranging from student loan debt to affirmative action to the rights of transgender students, many focused on implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA.
In one heated exchange, Representative Jahana Hayes from Connecticut pressed Secretary DeVos about an Education Department memo she obtained citing that the Secretary does have sufficient authority to block states from using ESSA Title IV funds to buy guns for schools. Our viewers may recall that funding for Title IV, or the Student Support and Academic Enrichment program, was hotly debated last year when Secretary DeVos said she did not have the power to block states from using Title IV funds to purchase firearms. The memo Representative Hayes presented, however, stated exactly the opposite.
While the exchange between Representative Gregorio Sablan from the Northern Mariana Islands and Secretary DeVos may not have received as much attention, Representative Sablan raised a very important issue regarding the Department’s approval of state ESSA plans that do not consider the performance of historically underserved students…
A student at the Ethical Culture Fieldston School, a K-12 private school in the Bronx, announced that he and his parents filed a lawsuit against the institution Monday, April 1, in United States District Court, Southern District of New York, with the demand that the Head of the School Jessica L. Bagby and other administrators resign or be terminated.
Students from Ethical Culture Fieldston School CONTRIBUTED
The last straw for senior Malakai Hart, it is alleged, was when a student blatantly used the ‘n’ word. When Hart confronted higher faculty about the issue, no steps of further discipline were taken. One of the attorneys at The Cochran Firm, which will serve on the behalf of Hart’s family in the lawsuit, claimed that multiple grievances had piled up to that point. Hart’s mother Robin and father Carl alleged racial discrimination, retaliation, aiding and abetting unlawful practices and negligent hiring, training and supervision.
“The school failed to address the student involved in the incident, to be able to show himself [on a video recording] among other students and refer to my client as a ‘ni*r’,” said Derek Sells, one of the three Cochran attorneys. “For that reason, he wanted to sue and did not want to deal with the administration anymore as he felt they had let him down. Now, he is going to the courts to try and rectify this situation.”
For Malakai Hart, this is not the first incident in which he has been discriminated against by other students. He has attended the school since kindergarten and has faced similar situations before.
Last year, Fieldston also was in court for a similar lawsuit, this time in which a 12-year-old student voiced racial discrimination allegations, but the school retaliated by making false allegations to Child Protective services. The case is still ongoing.
“We had received some complaints from parents about bringing false claims to administration about what happened to the students,” said Sells. “The school claimed that the parent sent the kid to school hungry so as a result, there was an investigation launched into that. There was a threat that the child may be taken away from his parents, but the investigation found that the claims were unfounded. The school then sent a school wide emailing that they were sorry and had said untrue things about the family.”
Last week, a large group of students held a sit-in at Fieldston to protest the treatment of African-American students. Hart did not participate in the sit-in although he was very supportive of the students who initiated it. Hart believed that taking it to court would be more significant than the talks due to the lack of progress in the past.
The newly issued lawsuit echoes incidences of the past and reflects the issues that Fieldston School has had before. Head of School Jessica Bagby recently distributed an email to parents of students acknowledging that there has been a “multi-year racial trauma” at the school.
The Ethical Culture Fieldston School issued a statement, in light of the recent charges that have been put against them.
“One day we’ll have a better understanding about why this particular lawyer finds it productive to file frivolous lawsuits against Fieldston, but for today we can say without reservation that this is meritless and does not reflect the truth about our school,” said Clio Boele, on the behalf of the school. “Jessica Bagby is not going anywhere and does not deserve to be blamed or scapegoated for whatever this family’s concerns may be.”
Sells listed the specific reasoning for the lawsuit and what the family is suing for, among the future they hope to engender through the case.
“We alleged that federal civil rights were violated, human civil rights were violated, the New York State human rights were violated among other causes of action,” said Sells. “We are also asking the court not only for damages to be awarded for what my client has suffered but also, we are asking the court to tell Fieldston to stop discriminating against African-American students there.”
Wiley College President Herman Felton (UNCF photo)
Tuesday, April 9, Herman Felton, Ph.D., president and CEO of Wiley College in Marshall, Texas, provided testimony before the House panel that decides the funding levels for all federal education programs. The House Appropriations Committee’s Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Subcommittee received public witness testimony from only 24 individuals to inform their crafting of the upcoming bill to fund the government for fiscal year 2020. The remarks provided by Dr. Felton focused on the funding and national benefits of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).
A Marine Corps veteran and lifelong educator, Dr. Felton’s testimony was the first of the afternoon to receive bi-partisan support from both Subcommittee Chairwoman Rosa L. DeLauro (D-CT) and Ranking Member Tom J. Cole (R-OK). The funding leaders commended Wiley College (a UNCF-member institution) and similar HBCUs, for their work with first-generation college students, specifically for being an integral part of the American higher education fabric for decades. Chairwoman DeLauro added, concerning the $39 billion National Institutes of Health (NIH), “We will be sure that the center of our discussion and debate will be that we strengthen HBCUs.” Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) who introduced Dr. Felton to the Subcommittee prior to his testimony, noted that funding recommendations in Dr. Felton’s testimony “just make sense.”
UNCF (United Negro College Fund) worked with Congress to garner the opportunity for HBCUs to be represented in today’s proceedings. Dr. Felton echoed the priorities laid out by UNCF’s president and CEO Dr. Michael L. Lomax during the organization’s inaugural “State of the HBCUs Address” on March 5, including:
Increase funding for the discretionary “Strengthening HBCUs” Program to $375 million ($93 million increase over FY 2019);
Reauthorize the mandatory “Strengthening HBCUs” Program this year;
Fund the HBCU Capital Finance Program, including support for the deferment authority;
Double the Pell Grant award and support Second Chance Pell; and
Support funding to produce more African American health professionals and researchers, including at NIH.
“What we witnessed today was history,” commented Lodriguez V. Murray, UNCF’s vice president for public policy and government affairs. “One of our HBCU member presidents delivered remarks about the needs of all HBCUs and their students, weaving in the history of Wiley College. The goals are clear: increase resources necessary for the Pell-eligible and first-generation college students who have found an HBCU education to be a necessity; and allot the funding necessary for HBCUs to continue to remain competitive and thrive.”
Murray concluded, “The reception Dr. Felton received at the hearing showed, once again, that when we take a positive proactive agenda to Capitol Hill, bipartisanship is the response.”
Arizona could lose $340 million in federal funding because the state hasn’t followed the Every Students Succeeds Act’s rules for testing its students, Frank Brogan, the assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education, told the state in a recent letter.
This spring, Arizona allowed its districts a choice of offering the ACT, the SAT, or the state’s traditional test, the AzMerit test, at the high school level. ESSA allows states to offer districts the option of using a nationally-recognized college entrance exam in place of the state test, but first they must meet certain technical requirements.
For instance, states must make sure that the national recognized exam (such as the ACT or SAT) measures progress toward the state’s standards at least as well as the original state test. They also must make sure that the results of the nationally-recognized exam can be compared to the state test. And they have to provide appropriate accommodations for English-language learners and students in special education. All of this is supposed to happen before the state ever allows its districts the option of an alternate test.
Arizona “hasn’t provided evidence that it has completed any of this work,” Brogan wrote.
The department has other, big concerns about Arizona’s testing system. The state passed a law allowing its schools a choice of tests, at both the high school and elementary level. That is not kosher under ESSA, which calls for every student in the same grade to take the same test, in most cases, Brogan wrote…
Read the full article here. May require an Education Week subscription.
By Sharonica Nelson, Ed.D.
Professor, Professional Education Consultant, Author
Once students reach middle school,
parents often become less engaged with their child’s academic environment. They
don’t walk them in the school’s doors anymore, they don’t communicate as often
with teachers, and they are less like to visit the school unless there is a special
program or sporting event after hours. This is especially true for African
As a former classroom teacher in
an urban, predominantly Black school, I have first-hand knowledge of this.
During middle school, school becomes more or less a mystery to parents. However,
under Every Student Succeeds Act, there is a push for parents to be more
involved with academic environment of their child.
Studies show that when parents are
more actively involved in their child’s schools, the child tends to perform
better academically. Therefore, parental engagement is an important concept of
discussion in terms of African American children’s performance.
Although parental engagement has a
strong correlation to student academic performance and achievement, why is it that
African American parents appear disproportionately less engaged than parents of
Studies have shown that there are
many factors that may hinder Black parents from being active in their child’s
schooling. Factors include lacking confidence when speaking to education
professionals or fear of seeming incompetent, being the sole provider in the
household with work hours that conflict with school hours, and not knowing how
to approach school officials with proper questions specific to individual child
These and many other nuisances
keep Black parents from approaching schools to be more active in their child’s
academic career. Nevertheless, for the sake of maximum student success and
potential, it is important that parents are actively engaged in their child’s
It is imperative that Black
parents are not only involved but also engaged in their child’s schools. Parents
must not only be involved through participating in school-planned functions,
but they must also create their own spaces and opportunities for active
engagement to demystify student performance. There are many ways to do so,
Use school system provided platforms to keep up with grades. The school system may provide
this service for free, and it may be associated with a special code or password
for log in. Parents should check with the school secretary for information on
this. Frequently checking student grades and holding them accountable for their
grades can send strong messages to students in terms of performance.
Know when reports cards are due. School systems may send home a calendar with this
information, they may provide automated calls as a reminder, and the dates may
be readily accessible on the school system website. It is ultimately up to the
parents to stay abreast of report cards and not wait until the last grading
quarter to show concern over grades. It’s too late then.
Email teachers. Email is a quick form of communication that most people use directly
from their phones. Most teachers use emails frequently. Make use of this to
maintain constant contact and communication with your child’s teacher. Most
teachers prefer to hear from parents with concerns of student progress and would
happily engage to inform parents concerning their children.
Check teacher webpages. Many teachers have webpages that they frequently update
with pertinent information pertaining to their classroom. This information may
include due dates, skills and concepts to be covered, and materials needed for
upcoming projects and assignments.
Create a parent network. Many parents may not have the time or resources to be
involved with the formal PTA (Parent Teacher Association). They may decide to
create social media groups that keep all parents abreast of current happenings
within the school. This could be a simple, easy way to connect to other parents
of students within same educational setting for accurate, current information
concerning the child’s school.
Regardless, of the age or grade of
a parent’s child, parents have a right to know about the current happenings of
the classroom and school. However, the school and parent relationship shouldn’t
be one-sided with school doing all of the work in terms of providing the
opportunities for parents to become engaged. Parents must understand the
importance of their involvement in their child’s educational trajectory, take
the reins, and create their opportunities for being actively involved.
Although, middle school is the
time when most parents become less engaged in the child’s school, it should be
a time when parents maintain engagement. To demystify further, parent
involvement weighs heavily on children’s performance. And simply put, children
need to see parents in their academic spaces for better performance, even in
middle school and beyond.
On any given day, you can find Sarah Carpenter organizing parents in the Memphis area. A single mother of four daughters and 13 grandchildren, Carpenter was an advocate long before becoming co-founder and CEO of The Memphis Lift, which she describes as “a parent organization run by parents, for parents.”
Born and raised in North Memphis, Carpenter says her experience as a single parent prepared her to lead The Memphis Lift. “I have always been an advocate for my daughters and for other’s kids,” she says. “I started in 1995 when I was asked to help open a Family Resource Center in a high school and students without involved parents in their lives took to me. Parents would stop me and say, ‘They are passing my son on to High School and he can’t even read.”
Carpenter and her fellow co-founders met during the training component of a public advocate fellowship funded by the Memphis Education Fund, which educated parents about the landscape in Shelby County Schools (SCS). At the time, SCS had the highest number of “priority schools” –those in which student scores on state exams ranked in the bottom five percent – in Tennessee.
Carpenter and her colleagues have since visited more than 10,000 homes to educate others on the state of Memphis’s schools. SCS students can attend four categories of schools: traditional neighborhood schools, charter schools, charter schools in the state-run Achievement Schools District, and schools in the district’s Innovation Zone.
For Carpenter and her organization, ensuring that all parents – regardless of income – have access to all the options SCS has to offer is paramount. In January 2018, the district launched a scorecard to help parents compare schools based on student achievement, growth, attendance, and suspension rates. The Memphis Lift helps parents interpret the scorecard and navigate their options, so they can make the best choices for their children.
Carpenter is intimately acquainted with the many options parents have: all of her daughters attended neighborhood schools, yet all but one of her grandchildren attend charter schools.
Charter schools are public schools operated by independent organizations—mostly nonprofits—typically on five-year “charters,” or performance contracts. They are free from many of the bureaucratic rules that stifle innovation in district schools, but in return they are accountable for their performance: if their students are falling too far behind grade level, their charters are not renewed and they must close.
Carpenter’s granddaughters are not unusual. Charter enrollment in SCS has increased every year for the past four years; currently, 15,200 students—15 percent of the district–are enrolled in 51 charter schools. In spite of the increased enrollment, enrolling in charter schools in SCS is no easy feat, even for the most engaged parent. Enrolling in the highest performing charters, which use lotteries to select their students because so many apply, is even more difficult. First families mustvisit their zoned school or approved school choice location to get a PowerSchool account, then they must register online, then visit charters they are interested in, then apply and hope they win the lottery. For parents with multiple children in multiple schools, the process can be difficult, expensive, and time-consuming.
The topic of charter schools in SCS was highlighted in The Memphis Lift’s Annual Parents Summit, last October. This year’s summit was done in collaboration with the Memphis Education Fund and the Progressive Policy Institute’s Reinventing America’s Schools project.
Charters in Tennessee are authorized either by districts or by the state Board of Education. In cities and states where authorizers close failing charters, their performance is usually far better than that of district schools. Where authorizers fail to close lagging schools, charter performance is far less impressive. Unfortunately, Shelby County Schools has not been rigorous about closing its charters, and their quality varies.
In the most recent SCS scorecard, SCS secondary charter schools perform better than K-8 charter schools when compared to district-managed schools. SCS secondary charter schools outperformed district-managed secondary schools, with 54 percent rated as “good” or “excellent,” compared to only 46 percent of district-managed schools.” District-managed K-8 schools outperformed K-8 charter schools with 41 percent rated as “good” or “excellent,” compared to only 33 percent of K-8 charter schools.
Parents attending the summit supported replacing underperforming charter anddistrict schools with stronger operators, both charters and district school leaders. This can usually be done without disruption to the students, who remain in the school under new leadership.
But for parents at the summit, a quality charter school didn’t mean much without access to it. So The Memphis Lift’s highest priority is a universal enrollment system for all Memphis public schools, through which parents can use a single application to rank their top choice schools. The system then uses a lottery algorithm to match students to schools based on availability and preference. For low-income parents, universal enrollment systems help ensure equal access to quality schools. New Orleans, Denver, Indianapolis, Washington, D.C., Newark, and several other cities have adopted such systems, which include virtually all traditional and charter schools.
The third priority summit participants chose was improving transportation to schools, because many families simply cannot get their children to quality schools
Carpenter is excited about the future of The Memphis Lift, but she understands how much work still needs to be done. “We have made an impact on waking parents up about how this system is run…but we haven’t moved the needle enough,” she says.
Meanwhile, Carpenter has received multiple requests for advice on how to replicate The Memphis Lift model in other cities. Currently the organization is mentoring parent groups in St. Louis, Nashville, Atlanta, and Newark.
Despite her national notoriety and popularity with those in the education reform community, Carpenter is quick to remind us that, “Before I heard the term ‘ed reform,’ I was already advocating for kids in my community and my own kids, too!”
Her advice to parents with children in underperforming school districts is to first “get educated on the landscape of education…You can’t fight for anything if you don’t know what you’re fighting for.”
Follow Carpenter and The Memphis Lift on their website www.memphislift.orgor on Twitter @memphis_lift.