OPINION: Importance of Educators of Color for Black & Brown Students

OPINION: Importance of Educators of Color for Black & Brown Students

By Ron Rice, Senior Director, Government Relations at the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools

I have been a Black student, education policymaker, and now an advocate for providing the best educational opportunities for all our children. One reality that I’ve had to face and embrace through each of these stages in my life and career is that the prevalence of leaders of color like me is a major contributor to educational success and whose lack thereof stifles that potential. As a student of color, those examples helped me thrive; and today they inform my advocacy.

This month, my organization, the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools released its highly-anticipated report, “Identity and Charter School Leadership: Profiles of Leaders of Color Building an Effective Staff” which examined the ways that school leaders of color’s experiences and perspectives influence how they build school culture, parent and community relationships, and effective staff. This needed report affirmed what I and many fellow school leaders of color have witnessed first-hand in schools from New Jersey (where I advised the state Department of Education) to Massachusetts, California, Louisiana, Missouri, Wisconsin, and North Carolina, where school leaders of color were studied. The report’s finding is clear: our children of color thrive with diverse and experienced teachers who understand their challenges and have a personal, unwavering dedication to their success.

Most importantly, our report is instructive as well because it sheds light — through the profiles of three public charter school leaders of color from Louisiana, North Carolina, and California — on the principles that can help match our best current and future teachers with our nation’s students. Three of those principles that resonated with my two decades in education policy are:

First, fill our school leadership pipeline with talented educators of color who come from nontraditional backgrounds and fields of study. But how do we dispel the myth that there are not enough qualified and passionate people of color who can and want to fill this educational pipeline? One way to do this comes from Eric Sanchez, co-founder of Henderson Collegiate — a network of three schools serving elementary, middle and high school in Henderson, North Carolina. Instead of only recruiting future educators from traditional education programs, Eric also recruits graduates from university programs focusing on social justice and ethnic studies. And this encouragement doesn’t end once the teachers reach the classroom — we must provide clear pathways for these teachers to pursue school leadership.

Second, school leaders and education policymakers of all colors must be committed to seeing and promoting diversity as an asset, not a deficit; an opportunity, not an obstacle. Imagine how better prepared our children will be for the world of tomorrow if they have been taught the history behind their identity, the language behind their culture, and the geography behind their journey. While nearly all schools struggle with activating this principle for the benefit of our students, our report demonstrates that public charter schools are making substantial progress where traditional public schools haven’t.

Third, achievement and demonstrated success — not myths, preconceptions, and inherited political biases — must be the basis upon which we support the best educational opportunities for all our children. For example, by their design, public charter schools have the flexibility to create and finetune curricula, teaching methods, and optimal outcomes that traditional public schools do not. So, why would we ever consider putting obstacles in any educational paths that are showing real achievement?

Race and identity of both our educators and students is only one factor in the holistic successes we are all working towards. However, it’s also true that all schools across our country in every community have historically not valued students’ diversity and identity as assets to enrich the education they receive. Public charter schools are making real progress to expose this blind spot and make the needed course corrections to ensure the success we’ve seen for some students are the norm for all.

Ron Rice Jr. is a former two term Newark, NJ city councilman, chief advisor to the New Jersey Department of Education, and is currently Senior Director, Government Relations at the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools.

OP-ED: Student Loan Debt is a Crisis

OP-ED: Student Loan Debt is a Crisis

By Harry L. Williams

There has been a lot of talk about whether or not there is a crisis on the border. I will leave that debate to the politicians. However, there is no debate about whether or not America has a crisis hitting all 50 states and over 40 million people. This crisis is impacting millions of students pursuing their dreams of earning a college degree. The crisis is impacting millions of young people coming out of college, wanting to be fiscally responsible and save, and buy their first home. What is the crisis? It is America’s $1.56 trillion student loan  debt.

Today, student loan debt is the second greatest source of individual debt, only behind mortgages, according to the Federal Reserve. Something must be done about the ever-rising student debt, and the Thurgood Marshall College Fund (TMCF) is taking the issue of financial literacy with HBCU students head-on. Exposing the nearly 300,000 students we represent to the host of scholarship offerings is one of our main strategies for decreasing student loan dependence. TMCF understands that student loans disproportionately impact minority students – with the greatest negative impact on African-American students. We have to put just as much early attention on student loan debt by providing student scholarships, grants and wraparound services, so HBCU students can persist in their studies without dropping out because of finances. The more scholarships we can award, the fewer loans students are forced to take, so they graduate without the strain of insurmountable student loan debt.

As the wealth gap continues to grow we know that by 2053, the Net Worth of African-American families is projected to hit $0, so there is a clear urgency to educate and support organizations that have direct connections to young African American students that will be entering the workforce. TMCF is committed to empowering students attending HBCUs on how to secure and keep a good paying job and build a career into the C-Suite, or become entrepreneurs, save money and build wealth for the future in the hopes of being great global leaders that give back to future generations.

Additionally, we are teaching HBCU students to be better college consumers, moving career-focused programming to  Freshmen and Sophomores, so they can choose college course strategically, in order to graduate in four years, while entering the talent pipeline earlier.

More than 80% of all HBCU students attend TMCF member-schools and 97% of those students rely on financial aid in their pursuit of a degree. Through our partnerships with many companies such as Wells Fargo, Boeing, Ally, and Apple we are providing scholarships, internships, corporate immersions, and innovation programs as well as good paying jobs.

For example, over the course of our partnership with Wells Fargo, they have provided more than $7.2 million in support of TMCF student scholarships and financial literacy curriculum development and announced a $1.1 million for the 2019-2020 academic year. In 2018, TMCF provided close to $10 million in direct aid for student scholarships, stipends, awards, wrap-around services, and institutional grants. Those are real dollars and for the majority of the students we serve, the dollars are transformational. This is important because according to a LendEDU study nearly three in 10 college students in America are solely responsible for paying for all of their higher education costs.

Finances should never be a barrier to graduation, nor should the financial impact of earning a college degree be a barrier for buying a home, saving money, starting a family, and having a good credit score. TMCF prides itself on building pipelines into good paying jobs but we also have to work to ensure that those students are able to truly reap the financial benefits of their achievements without having to pay off years of student loan debt.

Yes, the student loan situation is a crisis that must be addressed early and often with students, parents, family members, and guidance counselors. We need to make this an issue on the campaign trail on both sides of the aisle in every election, not just the 2020 presidential one. Roll Call recently reported that there are 66 members of Congress who are currently paying off their own personal student loans or debts for dependents. “Collectively, the 44 Democrats and 24 Republicans have higher education liabilities of $2.5 million, according to recent financial disclosures. The median student loan debt is $15,000, while average debt is $37,000.”

This is not a partisan issue and we will continue advocating for bipartisan solutions and effective student financial aid literacy opportunities especially for the Black College Community because we know they work. The student loan debt crisis can be corrected if we all work together to make sure our future innovators, government and corporate leaders can lead without the crippling burden of student loans. The time is now.

This article originally appeared in The Westside Gazette

COMMENTARY: Is There More to Teaching and Learning Than Testing?

COMMENTARY: Is There More to Teaching and Learning Than Testing?

By Barbara D. Parks-Lee, Phd

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 wayand should not be the onlyway 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).

This article originally appeared in New York Amsterdam News.

OP-ED: Black Studies becomes major factor in social advancement

OP-ED: Black Studies becomes major factor in social advancement

By Merdies Hayes, Editor, Our Weekly News

The Black Power movement of the late 1960s helped to redefine African American identity and establish a new racial consciousness. As influential as this period was in the study and enhancement of the African Diaspora, this movement spawned the academic discipline known as Black Studies on our college and university campuses.

While there are more than 100 Black Studies degree programs nationwide, it can be confirmed that the beginning of this curriculum evolved from a student strike at San Francisco State University in 1968. Young people there forced the establishment of the Division of Ethnic Studies and departments of Black, Asian, Chicano and Native studies, all accomplished despite the discouragement of then university president and future United States Sen. S.I. Hayakawya.

The Black Student Union

The Black Student Union on campus drafted a political statement, “The Justification for African American Studies,” that would become the main document for the development of the academic departments at more than 60 universities by the early 1970s. Shortly thereafter, Black Studies programs were implemented with inherent reservations from the various campus administrations at UCLA, Cal State Los Angeles, Cal State Long Beach and at Cal State Northridge.

Black students demanded an end to the so-called “liberal-fascist” ideology that was rampant on campus, as well as calling for the immediate preparation of African American youth including secondary school students to have direct participation in the struggles of the Black community and to define themselves as responsible to and for the future successes of that community. Black Studies departments were created in a confrontational environment in a forceful rejection of traditional curricula content.

It was a novel idea that was met with early opposition from the entrenched White faculty and administration already reeling from the Free Speech movement, opposition to the Vietnam War and a general uprising from young adults of all races, religions and creeds. Black students, specifically, wanted to reinforce the position that African Americans must possess the rights to self-determination, liberation and voice opposition to the dominant ideology of “White capitalism” (e.g. world imperialism, White supremacy) that for centuries had excluded persons of color.

The Atlanta University Conferences

Black Studies can be traced back as far back as the Atlanta University Conferences held from 1898 to 1914. This early formulation was under the auspices of W.E.B. DuBois in marking the inauguration of the first scientific study of the conditions of Black people that covered important aspects of life (e.g., health homes, the question of organization, economic development, higher education, voting).

By 1915, Carter G. Woodson had founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH) in marking a brave new era for Black curriculum. The group was founded to promote historical research, publish books on Black life and history, promote the study of Black history through clubs and schools and, in a noble effort, to foster harmony between the races by interpreting one history to the other. It was during this period that the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HCBUs) began to respond to scholarly activities in history and social science.

It had become abundantly clear more than 100 years ago that Black education should conform to the social conditions of Black people. Black colleges began to add courses in Black history to their curricula. This effort corresponded with a call by Black college students for a culturally relevant curriculum, the same theme that occurred some 50 years later when mainstream support for Black Studies grew, particularly when more African American students were admitted into predominantly White institutions.

For the past 50 years, Black Studies has been evolving as a result of the social movement that opposed institutional racism in higher education. As more Black families were moving into the middle class, young people in many sectors either saw education as oppressive or liberating. Many African Americans began to consider Black Studies and Black education as having a “special assignment” to challenge and call out White mainstream knowledge for its deficiencies and racial corruption.

Pan Africa movement

Black Studies in large part grew out of Pan Africanism, which had its origins as a movement of intellectual protest against ill-treatment of Blacks all over the world. This movement was initiated by Black persons in the America and in the West Indies whose ancestors came from Africa. There are similarities between Black Studies and Pan Africanism in that the latter movement was created because Black people all over the world were tired of being mired with the “slave mentality” that had been connected with them from their African ancestors.

The advent of Pan Africanism was the result of Black people deciding that they were better than how they were treated, and if they banded together in a practical standpoint, they could possibly change the world. Far more than an “en vogue” application of the Civil Rights Movement, Pan Africanism and the resulting Black Studies was an emotional, cultural, psychological and ideological movement that would allow African Americans to feel secure while striving for long-sought political, economic and psychological power vis a vis other races or world regions.

At its origin, Black Studies offered a clear and precise application of the African American experience, because many of the traditional history books for decades presented Black people as a hapless, helpless lot always mired in despair. It was only then that African Americans would study in detail persons like Anthony Johnson one of the original 20 Africans who arrived in Jamestown in 1619 and would later become a successful entrepreneur, or Denmark Vessey, who fought to liberate his people from slavery by organizing 9,000 slaves and freemen to revolt in Charleston, S.C. In 1822. there was also Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler who in 1864 became the first Black woman to earn a medical degree. This area of study helped to forge a pathway for each succeeding generation to learn that African Americans have always been innovators, fighters and intelligent persons well capable of succeeding in any endeavor.

Development of Black scholars

Black Studies is not exclusively reserved for Black scholars. There are a number of scholars from a variety of backgrounds who have done important work looking at the Black Diaspora. From the African American point of view, however, a primary reason for the implementation of Black Studies was to develop a critical mass of Black scholars. The significant presence today of African American academicians is due in large part to the existence of a longstanding tradition within Black Studies that offers a route into academia for an untold number of Black scholars.

The subject of Black Studies is interdisciplinary in nature. The subject draws in academics from a range of disciplines, including history, literature, education studies, sociology, theology, health studies, and some subjects as unexpected as sexuality and criminology. A strong tenant within Black Studies is the exposure to a range of ideas and discussions that can forge meaningful connections that can be built on the future. Had it not been for the Black Studies agenda, there are historic figures and contemporary individuals who may have never been encountered and whose work was and is relevant to contemporary dynamics within the Black community.

Women’s studies, as well, are an important aspect of Black Studies. In “Out Of The Revolution: The Development of Africana Studies” (2000), authors Delores P. Aldridge and Carlene Young attest that while the emergence of Black feminism was an offshoot of White feminism, the two groups are far apart in terms of battling sexism and striving for equality in a White-male-dominated world.

“During American slavery, Africana women were as harshly treated physically and mentally as were their male counterparts, thereby invalidating the alignment of Africana women and White women as equals in the struggle. The endless chores of the Africana woman awaited her both in and outside the home. Africana men and women have been equal partners in the struggle against oppression from early on. Thus, they could not afford division based on sex. In the African American slave experience, Africana men and women were viewed the same by the slave owners, thereby negating traditional (African and European) notions of male or female roles.”

Valuable study for both genders

Such study has proved valuable to African American students of both genders. Aldridge and Young state that Black Studies has empowered the Black student in noting that this academic challenge was a direct response to the mandate for change at all levels that characterized the Civil Rights Movement and the social rebellions of the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s.

At the modern HCBU campuses, most have established courses in Black Studies, but few have departments dedicated to the field. Only Howard and Clark Atlanta universities offer a Master of Arts in Black Studies. Howard is the only HBCU to offer a doctoral program in African Studies; eight traditionally White institutions (including Princeton and Yale) also offer a Ph. D in African Studies.

Why don’t more HBCUs offer a diploma in Black Studies? The problem is money.

“A program in African American Studies is very difficult to sustain in good times, and it’s near impossible in tough times,” said Dr. Johnny Taylor, president and CEO of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund. “However, some of the majority institutions have been able to get someone to underwrite less popular programs.”

The University of Wisconsin-Madison offers bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees in Black Studies, much to the disappointment of Dr. Mayibuye Monanabela who is among the founders of the Africana Studies department at Tennessee State University. He said getting students to major in Black Studies is often difficult primarily because, outside of teaching, there are not many well-paying trades that would require such professional acumen.

“We (HBCUs) should be doing better,” Monanabela said. “When students are ready to sign-up for a major, they ask ‘What can I do with a degree in Africana Studies?’“

Dr. David H. Jackson Jr., chair of the department of history and political science (which includes Black Studies) at Florida A&M University, believes the current attitude toward Black Studies among African American students could be an obstacle in the field’s development.

“If I looked at FAMU and the country in general from the 1980s and early ’90s in terms of an aggressive attitude toward embracing Black culture, I don’t see that as much now,” he said. As well, some Black students at predominantly White institutions may have the assumption that students at an HBCU tend to be “Africa-centered” or “radical,” and that belief could contribute to an apathy about the subject, which is in direct contrast with the roots of Black Studies programs.

Looking toward the future

HCBUs faced internal challenges in developing these programs as an older generation of administrators may have been reluctant to establish such a curriculum, because of the association with “militancy” and for fear of losing support from outside communities. Also, some HBCUs felt that because they were Black institutions, they were not obligated to dedicate a department to the subject because “just being a Black school was sufficient.”

At Princeton, Black Studies has proven to be a popular and successful program. Dr. Eddie Glaude Jr., chair of the Center for African American Studies at the New Jersey campus, believes the burgeoning interest in Black Studies may provide ground for a degree program.

“I think we’re seeing a new phase in the presence of Black Studies in higher education,” Glaude said. “We need to find an institutional configuration that reflects the complexity and nuance of the field. We haven’t changed our name to ‘Diaspora studies,’ and we have insisted that in order to mark that, as a field, Black Studies should be thought of more broadly.”

People of African ancestry have a long history and tradition in practically every region of the world. This history has been hallmarked by a number of struggles for recognition and against discrimination. In the present context of global uncertainty and the political reshaping of nation states Black Studies can play an essential role in the examination of the world’s Black population and the challenges that lie ahead.

This article originally appeared in Our Weekly News. 

Betsy DeVos Approves Testing Flexibility Under ESSA for Two More States

Betsy DeVos Approves Testing Flexibility Under ESSA for Two More States

The number of states that can try out new ways to test students under the Every Student Succeeds Act just doubled.

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced that she had approved Georgia and North Carolina to try out new assessment methods for the 2019-20 school year, joining Louisiana and New Hampshire as states to successfully apply to participate in this pilot.

Georgia’s approach to the pilot is particularly notable, since it will be trying out not one but two assessment systems for the upcoming academic year. One will rely on adaptive assessments, which present students with questions based on their answers to previous ones, instead of relying on a fixed progression of test questions. The other will rely on “real-time” information on student performance. Meanwhile, North Carolina’s pilot system will rely on customized “routes” based on students’ prior answers on formative assessments. (More on formative assessments here.)

Read the full article here. May require an Education Week subscription.

COMMENTARY: Financial Literacy Transforms Students’ Lives. Here’s Where to Start

COMMENTARY: Financial Literacy Transforms Students’ Lives. Here’s Where to Start

Personal finance education is most effective when teachers are comfortable with it themselves

By Annamaria Lusardi & Nan J. Morrison, Education Week

Would a school allow athletes into a game without any practice? Send kids to their library or point them online but not help them learn to read? Should schools stop teaching math because some children find it hard or might fail? The notion, as advocated by some, that America should let students slide into adulthood without teaching basic personal finance concepts is equally shortsighted. As a researcher and a leader of a financial education organization, we could not disagree more. In fact, we experience every day the profound, lasting impact that financial education has on our nation’s young people.

One high school senior who recently completed classes in economics and personal finance told us that this practical curriculum was transformational: “At first, it felt like a foreign language. Now, I understand how to make more thoughtful decisions about my life. It’s a new way to think,” the student said. We’re thrilled the teacher was able to get the training necessary to master the subject and inspire kids in another avenue of knowledge.

Not every teacher, student, or school has that option.

They should.

“Teachers, like many other Americans, need to build the competence and confidence to teach this subject.”

The 12th grader’s observation puts a fine point on who needs financial education and how to deliver it. If we want to demystify the language of finance and build capability, we must ensure that every child has access to quality financial education. That happens best in the classroom when personal finance is treated like any other subject. Ideally, these essential life lessons should be integrated into the K-12 curriculum—a bit each year, culminating in a full semester class. In a standard math education, for instance, we teach kids to count in kindergarten so they build readiness for algebra years later. Personal finance education should be treated similarly.

Read the full story here. May require a subscription to Education Week.

DeVos Seeks to Align Education Grants With Trump-Backed Economic Initiative

DeVos Seeks to Align Education Grants With Trump-Backed Economic Initiative

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos wants to put a priority on competitive grants that square with the Trump administration’s initiative to improve economic opportunities in distressed areas.

In the Federal Register, which is where the U.S. government publishes agency rules and public notices, DeVos’ proposed priority is to “align the Department of Education’s … discretionary grant investments with the Administration’s Opportunity Zones initiative, which aims to spur economic development and job creation in distressed communities.”

Perhaps the best-known program to get funding through discretionary grants is the Expanding Opportunity Through Quality Charter Schools Program, which gets $440 million and supports new charters as well as those seeking to expand. In fact, the department announced at the start of this month in a rule that a priority for distributing these charter school grants will be to fund charters that are in Opportunity Zones, which provide tax breaks to investors in exchange for long-term investment in identified areas. (More on that below.)

But the department’s proposed rule, published on Monday, could broaden the extent to which these competitive federal grants are tied to the zones. It’s possible federal grants to magnet schools, arts education, and programs like TRIO and GEAR UP that help bridge gaps between K-12 and higher education could also prioritize Opportunity Zone investments in the future…

And in general, there’s some hope these Opportunity Zones could strengthen schools by bolstering and diversifying the services available to students in struggling communities.

Remember: The big-ticket education funding programs, such as Title I services for disadvantaged students and special education state grants, rely on formulas and not competitive-grant applications. So those funding streams wouldn’t be affected by this new grant priority.

To read the full article, visit Education Week. May require a subscription.

No More Scissors. No More Mail. Box Tops for Schools Goes Digital

No More Scissors. No More Mail. Box Tops for Schools Goes Digital

By Kristen Leigh Painter, Star Tribune (Minn.)

Smartphones are replacing scissors in the decades-old Box Tops for Education program that raises money for schools through food purchases.

General Mills, which founded the program 23 years ago, announced Wednesday the program will soon be digital-only. Customers now earn money for their schools by scanning receipts rather than clipping box tops and mailing them in.

Participants can download the new mobile app, scan their store receipt, which will automatically analyze which products were box-tops items and tabulate the amount that will be donated to their school of choice. Every box top will still be worth 10 cents.

For those with a competitive spirit, the mobile app will allow participants to track their personal contributions as well as the school’s running total.

One noteworthy caveat: receipts must be scanned within 14 days of purchase.

As for those who like the old-school clippings, there will be a transition period during which each item can be counted twice — once during the receipt scan and another by mailing in the traditional box top.

Since 1996, 70,000 schools have received more than $913 million through Box Tops for Education.

“Modernizing Box Tops to fit the needs of today’s families brings the next generation of supporters and brands into the program, so we can stay true to our mission: to help schools get what they need,” Erin Anderson, manager, Box Tops for Education, said in a statement.

Jon Nudi, General Mills’ president of North America retail, announced the digital transition at the company’s annual investor conference earlier this month.

“This well-known program,” Nudi said, “is now available on a mobile app, allowing our brands to show up in a modern way, making it easy for our consumers to buy, scan and earn.”

Educator Spotlight: Donald Hense

Educator Spotlight: Donald Hense

By Curtis Valentine

The African-American community’s fight for quality education requires constant dedication and reflection on successful strategies to educate our children. Donald Hense and the Friendship Charter Network is an example of success worthy of recognition.

Hense is the founder and board chairman of the Friendship Charter Network, the largest African-American-led charter school network in America. Hense’s accomplishment is significant, because, while over 80 percent of charter school students are Black or Latino, fewer than 10 percent of charter schools are founded and led by Blacks or Latinos, according to a study by the Brookings Institute.

Three-quarters of the students enrolled in Friendship schools in D.C. are from Wards 7 and 8, the city’s two poorest areas, and nearly all are African-American. Their achievement is reflected in their continuous improvement on standardized tests. Most recently, Hense and his team celebrated, when five of Friendship’s 12 D.C. schools were rated Tier 1 by the Public Charter School Board – the highest of three ratings a charter school can earn.

As a native of St. Louis and graduate of Morehouse College and Stanford University, Hense has long understood the power of a quality education. But for years he had no interest in working in K-12 education. He was serving as executive director of Friendship House Association, a non-profit serving low-income families in Washington D.C., when he was approached by an executive from a local charter operator about using Friendship House to charter a school. After some reflection, he agreed to transfer his experience fighting intergenerational poverty to the fight for quality public education.

Hense made history as the first African American to win a grant from New Schools Venture Fund, which supports charter school founders. Friendship was among the first group of schools chartered by the D.C. Public Charter School Board in 1998. Twenty years later, it has12 campuses for students in grades Pre-K3 to 12 in D.C., an online school, and schools in Baton Rouge, La., Baltimore, Md., and Little Rock and Pine Bluff, Arkansas.

Hense is proud of Friendship and of education reform efforts in Washington, but he is not ready to celebrate. “We declared victory too soon,” he says. “Fifteen years of education reform is not an institution.”

To Hense, the fight to reform school systems serving African-American students should include more leaders of color. For years, he held a monthly meeting of black charter school leaders in D.C. to talk about their experiences and discuss lessons learned, but it “fizzled out” after young leaders lost interest. “We brought in second and third generation [leaders] and forgot to show them that [African-Americans] need to work together to get things done,” he says. “New [leaders] have to participate in black organizations.”

In spite of a few setbacks, Hense is still dedicated to supporting African-Americans interested in opening their own charter schools. The greatest obstacle to their success, he believes, is lack of experience in management. A potential founder needs “a good plan and a good board of directors. It’s best to go in [to the charter application process] with a strong [management] team.”

Fortunately, there are positive examples of young, African-American charter school founders to emulate. In 2017, Dominique Lee of BRICK Avon Academy in Newark, New Jersey won a Promise Neighborhood grant from the U.S. Education Department. Dominque aims to use the grant to educate 3,000 students in Newark over the next few years, making BRICK the state’s third-largest CMO and the only one led by a person of color.

Hense recommends that other African Americans interested in starting charter schools apply for funding fromthe New Schools Venture Fund or for charter school design grants from Friends of Choice in Urban Schools (FOCUS), if they are in D.C.

At 75, Hense says he is not done. The Friendship Education Fund continues to identify opportunities to replicate their model around the country. Friendship’s goal is to bring what Hense and his team learned in Washington to the countless districts struggling to grow African-American student achievement. As DCPS welcomes a new chancellor with experience championing school choice, there may be new opportunities in D.C. as well.

This article is a part of The ‘Reinventing America’s Schools’ series. This series highlights Change Makers from our community who are walking reflections of what’s possible when we place Accountability and Autonomy at the forefront.