Archives for category: Parents

Dountonia Batts is a parent advocate and community organizer in Indianapolis. she is a member of the board of the Network for Public Education. She explains here why she once supported vouchers but no longer does.

I can remember exactly when my thinking about school vouchers began to change. I was attending a community meeting, waiting to find out whether my small children, then in kindergarten and first grade, were going to receive vouchers to attend a private school. The meeting was almost over when a community member stood up and told us how disturbed she was by the way we all kept talking about ‘my children.’ “We have to be focused on the children who do not have the choices you have,” she told us solemnly. “They’re going to fall through the cracks.” It would take me years to see for myself what she meant, but the seed was planted that night.

My two sons did get school vouchers and were accepted to a private Baptist K-12 school. As the years passed, I became more aware of the impact of the decision I’d made. It started with my own children. After the murder of Trayvon Martin in 2012, my oldest son wore a hoodie to school and it was viewed as a political statement. The signs that he wasn’t really welcome at a school that got less diverse in each successive grade became more apparent. I saw the eyes and heard the comments in the bleachers. My youngest son was the only Black child in his class. He started to get discouraged, convinced that he wasn’t smart. He never found his people at that school. I began to understand that school is about more than academics. The social element really matters too.

My perspective really began to change when my husband, Dr. Ramon Batts, decided to run for school board in Indianapolis. He could see what I’d been missing—that as charter schools and vouchers expanded, the school system in Indianapolis was falling apart. All of the high schools in our neighborhood had been shut down, even as charter high schools were popping up. Here was the neediest school system in the state, serving the neediest kids, and yet funds were being systematically drained away. And it was only getting worse. In the years that my children had been attending their private school, Indiana had expanded eligibility for the voucher program again and again. Today, families earning up to $140,000 can attend private schools at public expense. 

For the first time I really began to think about the impact of the decision I’d made on everybody else. By pulling away from the public system, I was leaving less for the kids who’d been left behind, including the ones who couldn’t get into private schools, or who got kicked out because they didn’t conform to what the schools wanted. The more I saw, the more it bothered me. I was using public dollars to perpetuate discrimination in the name of school choice. I decided that I could no longer accept school vouchers for my children because it was unethical. 

Today, both of my children attend public schools, and my younger son has finally found “his people.” And I’m now an advocate for public education. I try to get parents to understand that if we defund, undermine or privatize public schools we’re doing a disservice to the majority of parents for whom private schools are not an option. I try to help them see what I finally did: that the decisions we make when it comes to our own children have an impact on everybody else. All those years ago, that woman at the community meeting warned that we were drifting dangerously away from the idea of a common good. At the time, I couldn’t understand what she meant. I do now.

New York State mandated mask-wearing in school. Six students arrived at school in Islip without masks. They were directed to a separate room. Their parents showed up promptly and called the police. This is a story that is repeated, in various ways, in districts across the nation, as parents debate and fight over whether their children should follow public health guidelines.

This is the question: why don’t these parents object too vaccines for measles, mumps, rubella, polio, smallpox, and other contagious diseases?

On Thursday morning, six Islip Middle School students came to school without masks. When staff asked them to put masks on, as required by current New York State health rules, the students refused. They were escorted to a room with a security guard when, according to the Suffolk County Police Department, a parent of one of the students called police, who arrived at 9:50 a.m…

Islip Superintendent Dennis O’Hara issued a statement about the incident: “The safety and well-being of our students and staff continues to be a top priority,” he said.

In a Facebook group called “Moms for Liberty—Suffolk County,” parents against school masks compared the district’s actions to “segregation.”

The state of Michigan allows school districts to determine their policies on masking, which is a terrible idea since it politicizes decisions in each district. The decision about masking and vaccinations should be made by public health professionals, not laymen.

In Ottawa, Michigan, a crowd of hundreds of anti-maskers showed up to a meeting of the County Commission to protest the decision by the school board and the Health Department to require that children from preK-6th grade, who are not yet eligible for vaccinations, must wear masks. Carol Burris of the Network for Public Education shared a tweet with me, which had gone viral.

After I listened to this enraged and threatening rant, I read more about Ottawa County. Dr. Rob Davison testified in favor of the masking requirement, and when he left the board meeting, he was confronted by hundreds of anti-masking parents.

The chair of the Ottawa County Board of Commissioners released a statement critical of those who came to the meeting to “bully and intimidate” anyone who supported the mask mandate that had been recommenced by the local Health Department.

On August 9, the county Health Department reported that the COVID risk level had increased from “moderate” to “substantial.”

Only a few days later, on August 13, the Health Department announced that the COVID risk had gone from “substantial” to “high,” the highest risk level.

Public health officials urged citizens to take all necessary precautions, including wearing masks indoors. They said:

The spread of the delta variant is most likely fueling the increase of positive case rates in Ottawa County. The delta variant is causing concern because of its high rate of transmission and severity of illness.

The virus is infecting mostly unvaccinated people, though breakthrough cases in vaccinated people are emerging.

“The delta variant is spreading quickly, increasing the number of positive cases reported in Ottawa County,” said Derel Glashower, Senior Epidemiologist at Ottawa County Department of Public Health. “The delta variant has pushed us into the ‘high risk of transmission’ category so it is important to take extra precautions to protect ourselves and our community.”

In light of the worsening situation, on August 20, the Health Department mandated masks for all students in Pre-K to sixth grade in schools.

The goal, health officials say, is to protect vulnerable people and those who can’t get vaccinated from the virus, slow the spread of the virus and keep kids in classrooms. 

“This was a necessary decision as we are seeing rapid increases in COVID-19 cases due to the highly contagious Delta variant,” Kent County Administrative Health Officer Adam London said in a Friday statement. “It also appears as though this variant may be more likely to cause serious illness and hospitalization, so we need to take precautions to keep our children healthy and in school.”

Despite all these warnings by public health professionals, large numbers of people in Ottawa County oppose masking their children.

Several parents at the recent County Commission meeting were seen with posters that said, “My body, my choice.” One can’t help but wonder if they support abortion, given their stance. One doubts it.


News flash: We are in the midst of a deadly, once-in-a-century pandemic. More than 600,000 Americans have died a horrible death, gasping for breath in a crowded hospital room with no family member there to comfort them, no family member to hold their hand as they die.

Yet, there are millions of people who refuse to be vaccinated and who vigorously protest any effort to mandate masks or vaccinations. They try to intimidate those who disagree with them, and even when they are a minority, they often succeed by their bullying tactics. Even when they are a majority, should their right to be free of masks and vaccinations take precedence over the rights of other parents who want their children to be safe from a deadly virus? I think not.


The Los Angeles Times reported stories that could easily be replicated in many other school districts:

The American Academy of Pediatrics recently urged the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to authorize COVID-19 vaccines for children under 12 as the Delta variant “created a new and pressing risk to children and adolescents across this country.”

But differences of opinion have led to aggressive confrontations at some school board meetings.

In Asheville, N.C., a few dozen parents opposing Buncombe County Board of Education’s mask mandate forced the board on Aug. 5 to call a recess, then “overthrew” the board and declared themselves the new leaders of the county’s public education system.

In Franklin, Tenn., a crowd of angry parents shouted, “We will not comply!” at a board meeting Tuesday and threatened public health officials who supported mask mandates.

Britt Maxwell, 43, a parent and internist who treats COVID-19 patients in Nashville, was left shaken after attending the board of education meeting in Franklin and finding that those who supported wearing masks were outnumbered about 10 to 1 by a raucous crowd of anti-maskers.

Maxwell said a mask mandate in Williamson County elementary schools was a no-brainer with Delta surging. His two children, ages 7 and 11, are not vaccinated. “The facts are clear,” Maxwell said in an interview. “This isn’t hypothetical. Children are getting sick, now more than ever, and hospitals all across the South … are being stretched to the limit.”

He and other healthcare workers were booed by a crowd that chanted, “No more masks,” and carried signs reading, “Your fear does not take away my freedom” and “Let kids be kids. No mask mandates.”

As Maxwell and his wife left the meeting, a woman called him a traitor.

“My colleagues came with facts and statistics; nobody wanted to hear that,” he said. “They treated us like the enemy and that couldn’t be further from the truth. We were there for the same reason as them — we want to protect the children, including their children.”

Nancy Ackerman Will, a teacher in Traverse City, Michigan, updated my post today about the angry protestors at a recent board meeting, who accused school leaders of allowing critical race theory to “seep in” to the schools.

She posted this good-news comment:

I am an elementary music teacher for Traverse City Area Public Schools. I appreciate your article, but you should know that three days ago the TCAPS Board approved a revised Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging resolution with much stronger language to support our students. This time the meeting room was packed with people in support of the resolution, wearing red shirts in solidarity. Parents, grandparents, members of the faith community and students spoke in support of strengthening and passing the resolution.

I am pleased to say this was the end result. https://www.record-eagle.com/news/tcaps-board-passes-equity-resolution-7-0/article_64121fba-ee47-11eb-83b8-036d823f2f6c.html

Video of the 3 hours of public comment at the meeting and then two hours of the Board members crafting a final document can be viewed here: https://livestream.com/tcapslive/board/videos/224040779

Three scholars have recently published a very informative book about the history of education in New Orleans. The authors tell this story by scrutinizing one very important elementary school in the city, the one that was first to be desegregated with one black student in 1960. The book is titled William Frantz Public School: A Story of Race, Resistance, Resiliency, and Recovery in New Orleans (Peter Lang). The authors are Connie L. Schaffer, Meg White, and Martha Graham Viator.

This is the school that enrolled 6-year-old Ruby Bridges in November 1960. Her entry to the school each day, a tiny little girl accompanied by federal agents, was met with howling, angry white parents. Her admission to an all-white school in New Orleans was a landmark in the fight to implement the Brown v. Board decision of 1954. It was immortalized by Norman Rockwell in a famous painting called The Problem We All Live With.

The authors set the stage for their history by pointing out that the Reconstruction-era constitution of Louisiana forbade racially segregated schools. In the early 1870s, about one-third of the public schools in New Orleans were racially integrated. Some schools had racially integrated teaching staffs. School board members were both white and black. When Reconstruction ended, rigid racial segregation and white supremacy were restored.

The William Frantz Public School opened in 1938 as a school for white children. It occupied almost a full city block.It was one of the few schools built during the Depression. It was built to accommodate 570 children. The authors demonstrate the vast inequality between white schools and black schools. Not far away was a school for black children of elementary age. Not only were black schools overcrowded, but black neighborhoods had problems with poorly maintained sewers, streets, sidewalks, gas and water lines, and structurally unsound buildings. Black schools were dilapidated, students shared desks, and class sizes were often in excess of 60 children to one teacher. Black students had fewer instructional hours than white students, due to overcrowding. White teachers were paid more than black teachers.

Black citizens of New Orleans were outraged by these conditions but they were politically powerless. The white power structure did not care about the education of black children.

Then came the Brown decision of 1954, which declared the policy of “separate but equal” to be unjust. The federal courts moved slowly to implement desegregation, but eventually they began to enforce it. The federal district judge who took charge of desegregation in New Orleans was J. Shelley Wright, a graduate of the city’s white schools. He determined to implement the Brown decision, despite the opposition of the Governor, the Legislature, the Mayor, and prominent white citizens of the city, as well as White Citizens Councils.

In 1958, the Louisiana legislature passed several measures to weaken desegregation efforts including laws allowing the governor to close any school that desegregated, providing state funds to any students seeking to leave the traditional public schools, and granting the state sweeping power to control all schools.

Their well-written history brings the reader to the present, to the all-charter model that privatizers hold up as an exemplar for every urban district troubled by low test scores and white flight.

The section of the book that I found most interesting was their detailed account of the white reaction to the prospect of school integration, despite the fact that the black students who applied to attend white schools were carefully screened for their academic potential and their behavior. Ruby Bridges was the one and only student chosen to start desegregation. Crowds gathered every morning to spit and scream. They harassed not only Ruby, with her federal protection, but any white student who dared to enter the school. Their blockade eventually forced whites to abandon the William Franz Public School. A few persisted, but little Ruby never met them. She was assigned to a classroom with no other students and one teacher.

The whites who tried to stay in the school were subject to threats of violence. Some lost their jobs, as did Ruby’s father. They feared for their lives. The hatred for blacks by whites was explosive. The portrayal of malignant racism is searing.

A relatively small number of whites tried to calm the situation. One such group was called Save Our Schools. They reached out to the white parents of the school, trying to bring peace and reconciliation.

In perhaps the most disturbing response to an SOS mailing, a WFPS parent who had received a letter from SOS returned the letter smeared with feces. A handwritten comment on the letter stated the parent would rather have ignorant children then to send them to a “nigger school.”

The mob won. By the middle of the school year, fewer than 10 white students remained in the school, and they too needed protection. By 1993, not one white student attended the school.

As the tumult continued after Ruby’s admission, prominent whites funded private schools so that white students could escape the specter of desegregation. The Legislature passed laws to support the resistance to desegregation and to give vouchers to whites fleeing the public schools and to underwrite the private academies where racist white students enrolled.

When the battle over desegregation began, New Orleans schools enrolled a white majority. Racism led to white flight, and before long the school district was overwhelmingly black, as was the city.

The authors detail the problems of the district. Not only was it segregated and underfunded, but its leadership was unstable. The management was frequently incompetent and corrupt. Its accounting department was a mess. So was Human Resources. Teachers were not paid on time. The management was woeful. The state wanted to take control of the district before Hurricane Katrina. Three months before the disastrous hurricane, the state leaned on the district to hire a corporate restructuring firm at a cost of $16.8 million.

In June, the Louisiana Department of Education and the Orleans Parish School Board signed an agreement relinquishing the management of the district’s multi-million dollar operating budget to the state. As a result, the district entered into negotiations with a New York turnaround management corporation, Alvarez and Marsal, to oversee its finances. In the contract, the board not only surrendered financial control, it also granted the firm authority to hire and fire employees.

Alvarez & Marsal put one of its senior partners, Bill Roberti, in charge of the district. Before joining the management consultants, Roberti had run the clothing store Brooks Brothers. A&M had previously received $5 million for a year of controlling the St. Louis school district, which was not “turned around,” and collected $15 million for reorganizing New York City’s school bus routes, with poor results (some children were stranded for long periods of time, waiting for buses on the coldest day of the year).


Before the hurricane, the state created the Recovery School District (in 2003) to take control of failing schools. In 2004, it passed Act 9, which allowed the state to take over schools with an academic score of 60 or less and hand them over to charter operators. After the hurricane, the Legislature passed Act 35, which changed the criteria for takeover and paved the way for the Recovery School District to take charge of most of the city’s public schools. Parents got “choice,” but the new charter schools created their own admissions policies, and most did the choosing.

Prior to Act 35, schools with School Performance Scores below 60 were considered to be in academic crisis. Act 35 raised the threshold score to 87.5, virtually ensuring every school in Orleans Parish would be deemed in academic crisis, and therefore, eligible for takeover by the Recovery District…Act 35 achieved what Governor Davis, Leander Perez, and segregationists failed to do in 1960. Act 35, for all intents and purposes, allowed the State of Louisiana to seize control of the Orleans Parish school district…The takeover of the failing schools within Orleans Parish made the Recovery District the largest school district in the State of Louisiana. Had the threshold for the School Performance Score not been raised in Act 35, the Recovery District would have taken over only 13 schools and had a much reduced presence and influence in public education in New Orleans.

After the hurricane, district officials and Alvarez & Marsal issued a diktat permanently terminating the jobs and benefits of more than 7,500 teachers and other staff.

Sixteen years since Hurricane Katrina and the privatization of public schools in New Orleans, the debate about the consequences continues, as it surely will for many more years.

For those interested in New Orleans, I recommend this book, along with Raynard Sanders’ The Coup d’Etat of the New Orleans Public Schools: Money, Power, and the Illegal Takeover of a Public School System, Kristen Buras’ Charter Schools, Race, and Urban Space: Where the Market Meets Grassroots Resistance. For a favorable view of the charter takeover, read Douglas Harris’s Charter School City: What the End of Traditional Public Schools in New Orleans Means for American Education.



The Brookings Institution published a study of the D.C. school system, which is almost evenly divided between public schools and charter schools. It was written by three scholars: Vanessa Williamson, Brookings Institution; Jackson Gode, Brookings Institution; and Hao Sun, Gallaudet University. The title of their study is “We All Want What’s Best for Our Kids.” Their findings are based on close reading of an online parent forum called “DC Urban Moms,” where school choice is an important topic.

What they found is not surprising. Choice intensifies and facilitates racial and socioeconomic segregation. This is the same phenomenon that has been documented in choice programs everywhere. The most advantaged parents master the system and get their children into what is perceived as the “best schools.” The “best schools” are those that have the most advantaged students.

The study begins:

Public education in the District includes a system of traditional public schools and a system of public 8
charter schools; in 2018–19, these schools served over 90,000 students at 182 schools. The city is highly diverse, as is the incoming school-age population. Among children under five, 48 percent are Black, 27 percent are white non-Hispanic, and 17 percent are Hispanic.9 54 percent of the city’s public school students are in traditional (DCPS) public schools, while 46 percent are in public charter schools (DCPCS). All students have the right to attend their local public school, or they can enter a lottery for a seat at another traditional public school or public charter school.10


In practice, parents’ school choices are limited. Housing in Washington is strongly segregated by race and class, with popular schools generally located in expensive or rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods.11 Housing prices in the District are high and rising, and affordable housing is in exceptionally short supply.12 The District’s school system does not provide regular school bus transportation; children can ride public transit to school for free, but commutes can be long, and it is often impractical for working parents to accompany young children to a school that is far from home.13 Most students attend a school in their own wards, with students in poorer parts of the city facing longer commutes.14


In making decisions about where to send their children to school, parents (and especially more privileged parents) are key contributors to school segregation and inequality.


Even for parents willing or able to enroll their children far from home, there remain fewer options than might first appear. The most popular traditional public schools rarely have spaces available to students who live beyond the school’s catchment area. Popular charter schools often have waitlists of hundreds of students.15 Moreover, researching the schools available via the lottery requires time and resources; school lottery waitlists are dominated by families that are more socioeconomically privileged.16


In making decisions about where to send their children to school, parents (and especially more privileged parents) are key contributors to school segregation and inequality. As the District of Columbia Auditor’s office has stated, “there is a pattern of District families moving away from schools with more students considered at-risk17 to schools with fewer students considered at-risk. These moves are facilitated by the robust choice model in DC.”18

Kevin Welner, director of the National Education Policy Center and professor of education at the University of Colorado in Boulder, writes here about the “testing pods” created by enthusiastic parents. Welner recently published a book of satirical essays called Potential Grizzlies.

Parents Rush to Form “Testing Pods”

Throughout the nation, anxious parents are worried that the pandemic will prevent their children from being sufficiently subjected this spring to the usual battery of state assessments. Some of these parents are taking the initiative and forming “testing pods” with neighbors and friends.

The pods typically include a testing proctor hired by the parents, who is tasked with ensuring that the students sit still, don’t interact with one another, and quietly focus on the days-long succession of test questions.

The nation’s children themselves have been fretfully yearning to experience testing again, after last spring’s cancellation of the incomparable experience. “These miserable children!  I know the testing-pod option isn’t available to all parents,” said Mindy McLean. “But we can’t ignore our own kids’ needs. Last spring was so traumatic for Billy when they heartlessly pulled the testing away.”

This spring, the challenges remain enormous, and there’s almost no possibility that the test results will be useful for measurement or accountability purposes. But the U.S. Department of Education has nonetheless told states that blanket waivers to the ESSA testing requirement are out of the question. 

The situation has left apprehensive parents like McLean in a state of limbo. “Do I trust that the state will come through, or do I take the initiative? Maybe I’m overreacting, but what if I trust the state and they end up cancelling again?”

The testing pod formed by McLean has already begun meeting,in order to begin the enriched-learning experience of weeks of test-prep. The children fill their days with practice tests, readpassages narrowly as test prompts, and dream of the time when they can once again relish the genuine testing event.

Reflecting on her family’s privileged position, McLean told us that she has no regrets. “Gandhi once said, ‘Live as if you were to die tomorrow.’ That’s what I tell Billy, and that’s why he can’t be deprived of these tests once again.”

In case you were misled, April Fools’ Day!

The Ossining, New York, school district has a creative response to the federal mandate to administer tests at a time when children’s lives have been disrupted by the pandemic. The superintendent has asked parents to write a letter asking for their child to be tested, that is, to “opt in” to testing.

Gary Stern of the Lower Hudson news (Lohud) reports:

At a time when many school districts are peeved that they are being forced by Washington to administer standardized tests, the Ossining district is taking the provocative step of only giving the tests to students whose parents request it.

This “opting in” approach may mean that few students will take the state-run tests for grades 3-8, which are scheduled for April, May and June. But that’s fine with Ossining officials, who say the tests will be unacceptably disruptive during the pandemic and will yield little meaningful data.

“We’re in a pandemic, and there is a lot our students are going through right now, and our staff,” Ossining Superintendent Ray Sanchez said. “We’re fulfilling the requirements to administer the assessments, and we’re giving parents a voice in the process.”

Kudos to Superintendent Sanchez for recognizing that children belong to their parents, not the state, and that parents should make the decision about the tests, not politicians.

U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona has yet to come up with a plausible reason for administering the state tests this year. The tests were suspended last year; there is no baseline data. The tests will not measure “learning loss.” If the Department wanted state and national data, it should not have canceled the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which gathers that data and has a 50-year timeline.

UPDATE TO NEWS RELEASE: 50,000 signatures submitted to SBE-parents, educators urge waiving standardized testing

NEWS RELEASE                      

California Teachers Association                                                                                                                                                                                                                        February 22, 2021

1705 Murchison Drive                                                                                   

Burlingame, CA 94010

www.cta.org

Contact: Claudia Briggs cbriggs@cta.org

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Educators Call on State Board of Education to Seek Waiver from U.S. Department of Education Suspending Standardized Testing for Current School Year
More than 40,000 concerned parents and educators sign petition echoing concerns over undue pressure on students, technology inequities, and data reliability; call for focus on other supports in response to pandemic


BURLINGAME 
— The California Teachers Association (CTA) has submitted a letter to the State Board of Education (SBE) urging the California Department of Education (CDE) to submit a waiver requesting the U.S. Department of Education (USDOE) to suspend standardized testing for the 2020-21 school year. In the February 22, 2021, letter to the SBE, CTA cites problems with both feasibility of administration, useability and reliability of resulting data, and the cruelty of putting students, families, and educators through high stakes assessments in the middle of a pandemic. If submitted and approved, the waiver would suspend summative assessments required under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), normally conducted in the spring.

Most California students are still engaged in distance learning, and many students still lack reliable internet bandwidth and access or inconsistent learning and testing environments. Educators have also expressed concerns about the validity and comparability of a statewide test administered under widely varying and largely uncontrolled circumstances. CTA is advocating for the suspension of high stakes tests that will take away precious instructional time and put unnecessary additional stress on students and their families.

CTA has also sent a letter to Acting U.S. Secretary of Education, Phil Rosenfelt, urging the USDOE to issue assessment waivers to states as soon as possible, reiterating educator concerns about the harm that standardized testing in the middle of a pandemic would cause.

“Given widespread inequities in student access to technology and the internet, as well as the concerns both educators and parents have about the value of any data gathered from traditional annual testing in the midst of a global pandemic, we firmly believe testing would be detrimental to students, and of little use to teachers and school districts,” said CTA President E. Toby Boyd. “These factors lead us to urge policy makers to instead focus on providing support to students in distance learning and their safe return to physical classrooms instead of on assessments of little value.”

petition by the California Teachers Association calling for the suspension of state standardized testing has so far gathered 40,000 signatures from parents and educators who are deeply concerned about the continuation of normal testing during this most challenging school year. That petition is being shared with the SBE and the USDOE.

More background on these letters, standardized testing, and CTA’s position on suspending testing this year can be found here

###

The 310,000-member CTA is affiliated with the 3-million-member National Education Association.

Claudia Briggs, Communications Assistant Manager, California Teachers Association (EST 1863)

916.325.1550 (office) | 916.296.4087 (cell) | cbriggs@cta.org

The California Teachers Association exists to protect and promote the well-being of its members; to improve the conditions of teaching and learning; to advance the cause of free, universal, and quality public education; to ensure that the human dignity and civil rights of all children and youth are protected; and to secure a more just, equitable, and democratic society.