Raising the flag for integrated schools

I like everything about Courtney E. Martin’s new book “Learning in Public,” but what I like most is that it’s full of kid energy. It deals seriously with adult subjects – education, integration, race, class, the challenge of living “the white moral life” – but Martin’s young daughters and their friends fill up the pages, playing and learning together and reminding us of what this is all about.

Learning in Public” centers on the experience of having Martin’s older daughter, Maya, attend a public school in their Oakland, California, neighborhood. The title suggests two themes: Maya is learning in a public school. And Martin is learning the messy role of being a kind and responsible member of a racially integrated school community, with the public – the book’s readers — watching.

"Learning in Public" book cover

The neighborhood is historically Black and working-class, but it’s gentrifying, and Martin’s family is part of that. Her friends are mostly white, affluent and politically progressive, people who drive Priuses, eat organic food and support leftist causes. But in the elementary school down the street, called Emerson, most students are Black and most families are low-income.

Martin’s white neighbors profess to believe in public education, but many enroll their kids in a “progressive” private school where tuition is $29,000 or finagle their way into better-resourced public schools where only a handful of students are Black or poor. (Readers, does this sound familiar, if you live in a self-identified progressive community? Even if you don’t? I suspect it may). Martin and her husband eventually choose Emerson, never mind its low test scores and GreatSchools rating of 1 on a scale to 10.  

Martin feels the universal maternal urge of wanting what’s right for her daughter. But “most of all,” she writes, “I don’t want to live with the hypocrisy of claiming to care about equity but abandoning the kids with the least resources in my own city from day one. I want not that.”

Continue reading

Hannah-Jones: Beliefs are not enough

Nikole Hannah-Jones had a blunt message for the largely well-educated and politically liberal audience that she addressed Thursday night in Bloomington, Indiana. Go home, she said. Look in the mirror. Reflect on the decisions you make about your child’s schooling.

Ask if they serve the common good or if they benefit your child at the expense of other children.

Nikole Hannah-Jones

Nikole Hannah-Jones

“To believe in equality is not enough,” she said. “Your beliefs don’t help a single child.”

Hannah-Jones, a New York Times Magazine writer and 2017 MacArthur genius award recipient, spoke to several hundred people in the Buskirk-Chumley Theater in a lecture sponsored by several Indiana University organizations and the Indiana Coalition for Public Education.

She promised at the start that her talk would not be “uplifting.” It wasn’t. It was about tearing down the illusions of people who think they can in good conscience enroll their children in mostly white, low-poverty schools and avert their eyes from segregation that harms poor children and children of color.

“It’s not good enough to have a Black Lives Matter sign in your yard if you make decisions about your child that harm other children,” she said.

Continue reading

Reason for optimism at Network for Public Education conference

The movement to support public schools is big, diverse and deeply committed. That’s the obvious take-away from the fifth annual conference of the Network for Public Education, which took place last weekend in downtown Indianapolis.

The network has grown like crazy since its start a mere five years ago, boosted by the reputation of co-founder Diane Ravitch but also by a hunger among teachers, parents and activists for a way to voice their concerns about the threats facing public education. The conference drew nearly 400 people.

And they came from all over – from California, New York, Washington and Puerto Rico, and from across Indiana, where public schools have been under fierce attack from the Republican-dominated state government and bunch of generously funded advocacy groups.

The mood in Indy was optimistic and determined. Teacher walkouts last spring in West Virginia, Kentucky and Oklahoma, and the public support they garnered, were still on everyone’s minds. The expansion of charter schools has slowed, studies have found that vouchers don’t work and news media have caught on to how unregulated school choice promotes segregation and inequality.

Continue reading

PDK poll offers answers but leaves questions

Parents and the public favor racially and socioeconomically diverse schools, and they don’t put much stock in using standardized tests to measure school quality. At least that’s what they told the pollsters who conducted the 49th annual Phi Delta Kappa Poll of the Public’s Attitudes toward the Public Schools.

But if that’s the case, why do so many affluent parents get up in arms over proposals to desegregate their neighborhood schools. Why do we accept the idea that property values are higher where schools are whiter and test scores are better?

Are the poll respondents just giving answers that make them sound reasonable? Or do a majority really embrace values of tolerance and diversity. As always, the poll provides a lot of information but leaves plenty of questions for us to debate.

Results of the PDK poll were released this week. On diversity, it found that 70 percent of parents say they would prefer for their child to attend a racially diverse school, and 61 percent prefer an economically mixed school. A majority of the public said racial and economic diversity is good for schools.

Continue reading