Archives for category: Parents

Jennifer Berkshire writes in this post about the educational awakening in Arizona, the result of #red4ed and the teachers’ revolt of 2018.

Proposition 208 is on the ballot. It calls for a 3.5% tax increase on people earning over $250,000 a year, to be used to raise teachers’ salaries and hire more teachers. Surprisingly, 60% of voters appear to favor the measure, including a sizable number of Republicans.

She writes:

That taxing the rich to pay for schools would emerge as a cause with bipartisan support in 2020 is not a complete surprise. More Arizonans now identify education, not immigration, as the top priority facing the state, reflecting mounting concern with schools that are notoriously underfunded, teachers who are poorly paid, and a teacher shortage crisis so severe that 28 percent of the state’s classrooms lack a permanent teacher.

Education has become a potent political issue since #RedforEd protests shone a harsh light on the condition of Arizona’s schools in 2018. After a historic teacher strike, educators doubled down on electoral organizing. Democrats gained four seats in the state House of Representatives that year. Now they’re poised to tip the House and possibly the Senate in their favor. If they succeed, voter dissatisfaction with the GOP’s embrace of controversial policies aimed at dismantling, defunding, and privatizing education will be a major reason.

A similar pattern is playing out in other key battleground states, including Michigan and Texas. In these states and others, the gulf between voters who believe in taxpayer-funded public education and GOP candidates who are hostile to it has created an opening for Democrats.

For decades, Arizona has been a petri dish for free market education experiments. Charter schools, publicly funded private schools, education savings accounts that allow parents to spend taxpayer funds on a dizzying array of education “options” with little state oversight or accountability—the Grand Canyon State has them all...

As school choice offerings in the state have ballooned, they have increasingly competed for funding with traditional public schools. “It all comes out of the same funding bucket, and the bucket wasn’t that big to begin with,” said Sharon Kirsch, research director for the grassroots public education advocacy group Save Our Schools Arizona...

That hands-off, regulation-free vision is precisely what an array of deep-pocketed interest groups in Arizona are pushing. Organizations like the Americans for Prosperity, funded by Charles Koch and the American Federation for Children, founded by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, are a major presence in the state. More recent arrivals to the school choice lobbying space include Yes Every Kid, which is another Koch project, and Love Your School, an offshoot of the right-wing Center for Arizona Policy.

Said Kirsch: “I’m not sure most people have any idea that these groups are essentially running education policy in Arizona...”

Berkshire points out that teachers are running for office, and their prospects look good. Arizona may be about to throw off the shackles of one-party rule that has crippled the state’s public schools and turned it into a free-market for privatizers, religious zealots, rightwing nuts, libertarians, and profiteers.

Carl J. Petersen is a parent in Los Angeles. He is supporting Scott Schmerelson for re-election to the LAUSD school board because of his experience with Scott’s opponent, who works for a charter school.

Apoorva Mandavilli is an award-winning science reporter for the New York Times. She is a mother of two children. She lives in Brooklyn. In this article, she thinks through the pros and cons of sending her children back to school. To read the links, open the story. Yesterday, Mayor de Blasio and UFT leader Michael Mulgrew announced that the city’s public schools would open for blended learning on September 21. Orientation will begin September 16. Teachers will report to their buildings on September 8.


All summer, as information about how the coronavirus affects children has trickled in, I’ve been updating a balance sheet in my head. Every study I read, every expert I talked to, was filling in columns on this sheet: reasons for and against sending my children back to school come September.

Into the con column went a study from Chicago that found children carry large amounts of virus in their noses and throats, maybe even more than adults do. Also in the con column: two South Korean studies, flawed as they were, which suggested children can spread the virus to others — and made me wonder whether my sixth-grader, at least, should stay home.

Reports from Europe hinting that it was possible to reopen schools safely dribbled onto the pro side of my ledger. But could we match those countries’ careful precautions, or their low community levels of virus?

I live in Brooklyn, where schools open after Labor Day (if they open this year at all), so my husband and I have had more time than most parents in the nation to make up our minds. We’re also privileged enough to have computers and reliable Wi-Fi for my children to learn remotely.

But as other parents called and texted to ask what I was planning to do, I turned to the real experts: What do we know about the coronavirus and children? And what should parents like me do?

The virus is so new that there are no definitive answers as yet, the experts told me. Dozens of coronavirus studies emerge every day, “but it is not all good literature, and sorting out the wheat from the chaff is challenging,” said Dr. Megan Ranney, an expert in adolescent health at Brown University.

But she and other experts were clear on one thing: Schools should only reopen if the level of virus circulating in the community is low — that is, if less than 5 percent of people tested have a positive result. By that measure, most school districts in the nation cannot reopen without problems.

“The No. 1 factor is what your local transmission is like,” said Helen Jenkins, an expert in infectious diseases and statistics at Boston University. “If you’re in a really hard-hit part of the country, it’s highly likely that somebody coming into the school will be infected at some point.”

On the questions of how often children become infected, how sick they get and how much they contribute to community spread, the answers were far more nuanced.

Fewer children than adults become infected. But childhood infection is not uncommon.

In the early days of the pandemic, there were so few reports of sick children that it was unclear whether they could be infected at all. Researchers guessed even then that younger children could probably catch the coronavirus, but were mostly spared severe symptoms.

That conjecture has proved correct. “There is very clear evidence at this point that kids can get infected,” Dr. Ranney said.

As the pandemic unfolded, it also appeared that younger children were less likely — perhaps only half as likely — to become infected, compared with adults, whereas older children had about the same risk as adults.

But it’s impossible to be sure. In most countries hit hard by the coronavirus, lockdowns and school shutdowns kept young children cloistered at home and away from sources of infection. And when most of those countries opened up, they did so with careful adherence to masks and physical distancing.

Children may turn out to be less at risk of becoming infected, “but not meaningfully different enough that I would take solace in it or use it for decision making,” said Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health.

In the United States, children under age 19 still represent just over 9 percent of all coronavirus cases. But the number of children infected rose sharply this summer to nearly half a million, and the incidence among children has risen much faster than it had been earlier this year.

“And those are just the kids that have been tested,” said Dr. Leana Wen, a former health commissioner of Baltimore. “It’s quite possible that we’re missing many cases of asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic children.”

In the two-week period between Aug. 6 and Aug. 20, for example, the number of children diagnosed in the United States jumped by 74,160, a 21 percent increase.

“Now that we’re doing more community testing, we’re seeing higher proportions of children who are infected,” Dr. Ranney said. “I think that our scientific knowledge on this is going to continue to shift.”

Children do become sick with the virus, but deaths are very rare.

Even with the rising number of infections, the possibility that panics parents the most — that their children could become seriously ill or even die from the virus — is still reassuringly slim.

Children and adolescents up to age 20 (definitions and statistics vary by state) represent less than 0.3 percent of deaths related to the coronavirus, and 21 states have reported no deaths at all among children.

“That remains the silver lining of this pandemic,” Dr. Jha said.

But reports in adults increasingly suggest that death is not the only severe outcome. Many adults seem to have debilitating symptoms for weeks or months after they first fall ill.

“What percentage of kids who are infected have those long-term consequences that we’re increasingly worried about with adults?” Dr. Ranney wondered.

Multisystem inflammatory syndrome, a mysterious condition that has been linked to the coronavirus, has also been reported in about 700 children and has caused 11 deaths as of Aug. 20. “That’s a very small percentage of children,” Dr. Ranney said. “But growing numbers of kids are getting hospitalized, period.”

Children can spread the virus to others. How often is still unknown.

Transmission has been the most challenging aspect of the coronavirus to discern in children, made even more difficult by the lockdowns that kept them at home.

Because most children are asymptomatic, for example, household surveys and studies that test people with symptoms often miss children who might have seeded infections. And when schools are closed, young children don’t venture out; they tend to catch the virus from adults, rather than the other way around.

To confirm the direction of spread, scientists ideally would genetically sequence viral samples obtained from children to understand where and when they were infected, and whether they passed it on.

New York City has delayed the opening of schools by 10 days to give teachers and principals more time to prepare and to avert a possible teachers’ strike.

Under pressure from schools and advocates, the federal government has agreed to make it easier for schools to feed poor children.

“I keep saying to people, ‘It’s so hard to study transmission — it’s just really, really hard,’” Dr. Jenkins said.

Still, based on studies so far, “I think it still appears that the younger children might be less likely to transmit than older ones, and older ones are probably more similar to adults in that regard,” she said.

Sadly, the high numbers of infected children in the United States may actually provide some real data on this question as schools reopen.

So what’s a parent to do?

That’s a tough one to answer, as parents everywhere now know. So much depends on the particular circumstances of your school district, your immediate community, your family and your child.

“I think it’s a really complex decision, and we need to do everything we can as a society to enable parents to make this type of decision,” Dr. Wen said.

There are some precautions everyone can take — beginning with doing as much outdoors as possible, maintaining physical distance and wearing masks.

“I will not send my children to school or to an indoor activity where the children are not all masked,” Dr. Ranney said.

Even if there is uncertainty about how often children become infected or spread the virus, “when you consider the risk versus benefit, the balance lies in assuming that kids can both get infected and can spread it,” Dr. Ranney said.

For schools, the decision will also come down to having good ventilation — even if that’s just windows that open — small pods that can limit how widely the virus might spread from an infected child, and frequent testing to cut transmission chains.

Teachers and school nurses will also need protective equipment, Dr. Jenkins said: “Good P.P.E. makes all the difference, and school districts must provide that for the teachers at an absolute minimum.”

As long as these right precautions are in place, “it’s better for kids to be in school than outside of school,” Dr. Jha said. “Teachers are reasonably safe in those environments, as well.”

But community transmission is the most important factor in deciding whether children should go back to school, researchers agreed. “We just can’t keep a school free from the coronavirus if the community is a hotbed of infection,” Dr. Wen said.

Grassroots Arkansas is a coalition of parents and civil rights activists. When reading anything about Arkansas, bear in mind that in the background is the Walton Family. They pull the strings.

Grassroots Arkansas sent the following letter to Mike Poore, the state-appointed superintendent of the Little Rock School District:

Mr. Poore,

We realize that you have been serving the LRSD community as Superintendent for four years now, at the behest of Governor Asa Hutchinson and AR Sec. of Education, Johnny Key, and not at the will of the people of our community.

We are yet seeking your humanity and your ability to appreciate that you have the power and the authority to right some wrongs during your administration.

Under your watch, LRSD students have NOT experienced safety and equity in their public school education.

African American and Latinx students have disproportionately been over criminalized with you as Superintendent. Though, Johnny Key has the authority to overturn your decisions or make decisions without your permission, you have not shown strong leadership in protecting the students and educators you have been entrusted to serve.

Again, I understand that you were not brought here to make things better for our LRSD community, but to further promote the agenda of the billionaires who have used their wealth and power to dismantle public schools all over this country.

My appeal to you is to get off the train of destruction and join the moral movement to overturn systems of racism, poverty, and the oppression that results from both.

You have seen and read the news reports: nothing good comes from forcing educators and students back into classrooms during this Covid-19/Corona crisis.

Surely, you don’t want the blood of students and their families, school bus drivers, school cafeteria workers, school nurses, school environmental service workers, school secretaries, school teachers, school librarians, school counselors, school social workers, school paraprofessionals, and other school personnel and administrators on your hands.

Surely, you don’t want to put yourself at further risk of testing positive and potentially dying for the sake of helping billionaires stay ridiculously wealthy, while the community you are serving gets sicker and experiences mass, untimely and avoidable deaths under your watch.

We know that you have children and grandchildren. We hope that you would protect our LRSD community with as much or more love and protection with which you provide them.

We are asking you to take the high road of moral justice by calling for temporary remote, safe and equitable schooling until reputable scientists say so. And, we hope that you will wait until the number of persons in our being infected and dying by Covid-19/the Corona Virus are what we experienced in mid March of this year when you called for LRSD school buildings to temporarily close.

This is a more than reasonable ask of you.

You owe it to us to engage in a school by school assessment to ensure that no students or educators are without necessary means and access to the effective resources they need to begin safe schooling remotely on August 24, 2020.

Upholding Justice and Human Love,

Rev. Dr. Anika T. Whitfield
LRSD community member
Grassroots Arkansas, co-chair
Arkansas Poor People’s Campaign, co-chair

Maurice Cunningham is a dogged researcher into Dark Money and its role in the pursuit of privatizing public education. Cunningham is a political science professor at the University of Massachusetts. Open the link and read in full.

In his latest post, he reports that Koch money as well as Walton money, Zuckerberg money, Gates money, and Dell money, is supporting the “National Parents Union,” a front for the billionaires.

He writes:

There’s millions of dollars sloshing around Massachusetts Parents United and National Parents Union these days. Some of it is from Charles Koch…

The Koch connection was apparent when Charles Koch put a proxy on the board of National Parents Union. Now we know for sure Koch has money invested in NPU. Others holding stakes in NPU (housed in the same shop as Massachusetts Parents Union and run by the same team) include Bill Gates, Steve Ballmer, Michael Dell, Reed Hoffman, John Arnold, Eli Broad, etc.

It’s not just Koch, the Waltons are tossing even more money at NPU.

NPU is also feasting on big bucks from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s philanthropic arm.

Cunningham reminds us to “follow the noney. Dark Money never sleeps.”

And he adds:

We must make our choice. We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.” – Louis Brandeis

Jack Schneider is a historian of education. In this post, which he wrote at my request, he analyzes the new push for homeschooling. In the midst of the global pandemic, with millions of children quarantined at home, its not surprising that parents are compelled to be teachers. But how many parents will want to homeschool when real schools are one day available again?

Schneider writes:

Never let a good crisis go to waste. As any policy advocate knows, the destabilizing nature of an emergency creates a rare opportunity: sweeping change can happen quickly.

Both parties have a history of exploiting difficulties and disasters. During the Great Recession, for instance, the Obama administration pushed through a series of heavy-handed federal education reforms that might otherwise have met with stiff resistance. But during the COVID-19 pandemic, the most ambitious education proposals have come from Republicans, because the shuttering of schools has played to their advantage.

With state revenues shrinking before our eyes and schools forced online, conservatives have seized the opportunity to push for a number of long-standing pet projects: virtual schooling, spending cuts, union-busting, and privatization. Unthinkable in ordinary times, these ideologically-motivated reforms suddenly seem plausible.
Consider the recent push for homeschooling. The right has long made the case that public education is a waste of taxpayer funds and an offense to individual liberty. “Government schools,” as many conservatives deridingly call them, strip parents of their freedom to educate their children as they please; worse, they do so at an annual cost of nearly a trillion dollars. Homeschooling, by contrast, is defined by limited government oversight and costs taxpayers virtually nothing.

Homeschooling is no great evil. It predates formal schooling and has existed alongside the public education system for roughly two centuries. It also constitutes a small fraction of overall school enrollments in the United States.

Yet it is important to understand current advocacy for homeschooling as what it is: crisis-related opportunism. Homeschooling hasn’t suddenly become better or more appealing than it ever was. Instead, market-oriented conservatives understand that this is the best shot they’ve ever had at dismantling public education (an aim that Jennifer Berkshire and I detail in our book A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door). Homeschooling, for those like Betsy DeVos, is a means to that end.

A recent article in Education Next—a publication created by the conservative Hoover Institution—offers a perfect case in point. It may lead with the classic ideological argument—that homeschooling offers “the freedom to explore education as families see fit, with limited government oversight.” But the real aim of the piece is to persuade readers that our concerns about homeschooling are “overblown.” It’s a play for respectability—ammunition for the policy siege to come.

Yet the evidence on offer is hardly compelling. As we learn, homeschooled children go to museums and libraries somewhat more often than their public school counterparts—largely because they are not at school all day. They are slightly more likely to visit a zoo or aquarium. And they are 17 percentage points more likely to do arts and crafts projects. We are also told, as if we couldn’t have guessed, that homeschooled children are more likely to participate in family activities.

And that’s just about all.

There are some nods to the fact that homeschooling isn’t uniform—that families often band together, employ additional internet-based resources, and sometimes even participate in school-based activities. But on the whole, there is little evidence that homeschooling is a viable large-scale alternative to public education.

To his credit, the study’s author, Daniel Hamlin, doesn’t make that claim. But we need to imagine how such studies will be transformed as they careen across the internet, and as they are weaponized by ideologically-motivated legislators.

We must remember, too, that there is a cost to homeschooling. Most children who are homeschooled probably turn out just fine, though the truth is we don’t actually know—we don’t have the evidence. For many children, however, a shift away from school as we know it would be devastating. Their academic experiences would be more limited and their social experiences much narrower. They would lose out on nutrition and health services, miss opportunities to build interracial and cross-class friendships, and experience far more idiosyncratic forms of citizenship preparation. All of this, as we know from educational research, would most severely affect the least advantaged—those from historically marginalized racial groups and low-income families.

Despite the limited evidentiary base for homeschooling, and the serious concerns we should have, we can be sure that the push for widespread homeschooling will come. The present crisis is simply too good to waste. And given the nature of this emergency, the case for channeling funds directly to families—even if it is at the expense of public school budgets—is an easy one to make.

So, expect to see a sudden influx of research (and research-like products) that tells us to put our concerns aside, to embrace homeschooling for the time being, and to allow policy leaders to blaze a new trail. But read carefully, and remember that any changes implemented now may endure far into the future.

Pawan Dhingra, a Professor of American Studies at Amherst College, writes about what he calls “hyper education,” the stress that parents apply to get their children to become high achievers. In this article, he writes about the phenomenon of Indian American students dominating spelling bees.

He begins:

Succeeding in the Spelling Bee for Indian Americans is more than a family affair

Growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, my parents insisted on me receiving good grades in school. They were eligible to immigrate from India in large part due to their advanced educational attainment, which helped earn them work visas. As long as I attained good grades, they did not worry about what activities I chose after-school. If I was a child today, that would probably be very different. I would likely be enrolled in some after-school scholastic activity to supplement my schoolwork. And as a family of Indian origin, there is a good chance that would have been a spelling bee or some other academic competition.

Over the past 20 years, Indian Americans have come to dominate the Scripps National Spelling Bee. The last Scripps Bee without an Indian American champion was 2007. In 2019, the last time a Scripps Bee was held, there were eight co-champions, seven of whom were Indian American. There is even a documentary on this trend, Spelling the Dream. What’s more, they have over-achieved in National Geography Bees, MATHCOUNTS, and other academic competitions.

I spent years with families engaged in spelling bees, math competitions, and other forms of after-school academics for my book, Hyper Education: Why Good Schools, Good Grades, and Good Behavior Are Not Enough. In part, I explain why Indian Americans have come to dominate them, which has to do with their own ethnic circuits of academic competitions, their command of the English knowledge, the family commitment of support and time, and the financial resources necessary to prepare.

Why care about academics in the first place?

But there is a more fundamental question I focus on, which is what motivates Indian Americans’ and others’ interest in after-school academics (e.g. learning centers, competitions) in the first place? Most other parents have their young children in sports, the arts, religious, or civic extracurricular activities. Indian immigrant parents do all of these as well. But they also put their children in extracurricular academics and, in particular, competitive ones.

As immigrant minorities, parents believed college entry would depend on having an undeniably strong academic record to compensate for a lack of networks, college legacy status, or athletic recruitment. They worried about being held to a higher standard in college admissions as Asian Americans. As one father told me, “The college admission system is that we need to be one step up. From what I’ve read, we have to have 130 points above others. That is how admissions are determined. Spelling bee will help with the SAT.”

Parents were not narrowly focused on spelling as how to boost their children’s competitiveness. I shared with a mother at a bee that my son enjoyed U.S. history but was not much into spelling. She excitedly shared that there is a national history bee I should enroll him in. The important point was to enroll the child into something academic.

It is indeed interesting to wonder why some immigrants are super strivers, others are not. Some see education as a route to success, others do not. In my own family, with an immigrant mother and eight children, we ran the gamut. I was focused on education, along with at least one other, but most were not.

K.A. Dilday is a parent and journalist who lives in Central Harlem.

She wrote critically about efforts to integrate the selective high schools. Putting your child into an academic pressure-cooker is the wrong definition of success, she believes. She wants something better for her child.

She writes:

This weekend, nearly 30,000 eighth graders in New York City will take the Specialized High School Admission test (SHSAT). About 5,000 of them will score high enough to get an offer to attend one of eight of the city’s prestigious specialized high schools.

When the classes are compiled, the demographics at these schools do not resemble New York City, and they certainly do not mirror the demographics of its public-school students. The three schools that serve the bulk of SHSAT-admitted specialized high-school students have populations that are disproportionately Asian, white, and male.
For 50 years, admission to this trio (The Bronx High School of Science and Stuyvesant and Brooklyn Technical high schools) has been determined by this test. The five other specialized schools were created in the 2000s; together, these eight institutions serve about 6 percent of the city’s high school population. There’s been a fierce debate locally about whether the specialized schools should look more like the city’s general population, and if you agree with that (some don’t), how to accomplish that.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio unveiled his own plan to diversify them, which involves admitting the top students from every city middle school, and expanding the 50-year-old Discovery program, which is designed to prepare low-income students to gain admission. (So far, that program has primarily benefitted low-income Asian and white students). Some have pushed back, arguing that such reforms will unfairly penalize Asian students, and that the schools will change if admission methods are altered.
But there is a disturbing acceptance by all sides in this debate that there is one form of success and achievement, of happiness and fulfillment—that there is a “best” defined by a conventional measure. Admission to these schools unlocks it, and we all want it, or should.

I can’t get behind this: It affirms a supremacist mentality. I thought we were done propping that up.

As a New York City parent and a journalist, I have been closely following this debate, and many studies about the systemic exclusion from success, and a good life, for blacks and Latinos in the United States. The people who fight to change the admissions believe they are fighting for the cause of black and brown children, including my 9-year old daughter. In reading these debates and studies, I’ve learned a few things. First and foremost: I am a failure, and I am setting my daughter up to be a failure.

Just by living in this neighborhood—one which has about the same ratio of blacks and whites as the one I grew up in—I’ve knocked two points off my daughter’s IQ score, as a cute little graphic in this Vox article shows.

Oh, wait: There was a murder within seven blocks of our home. This same article relies on NYU research to tell me that my choice of apartment knocked seven more points off my daughter’s IQ. (Although I do wonder if there is a neighborhood anywhere in Manhattan where there hasn’t been a murder within seven blocks during a five-year period.)

In other words, I started off strong as a child but I am a failure who is failing my daughter, and here’s the kicker: Despite the studies that tell me that I live here because racism did the dirty to me, I claim agency in this. I chose it all. I chose not to have my daughter tested to enter kindergarten in the gifted and talented programs that feed to specialized high schools. Nor do I want her to attend a specialized high school. I am choosing for my daughter to be “left behind.”

With her father, I made these choices in location and education because we find beauty and value in our neighborhood, and reward in schools where students leave with a broad idea of what achievement looks like, an expansive idea of the path to happiness, success, societal contribution, and fulfillment—and the capacity to choose their path.

The Times offers a few clues to the criteria they use. “These schools have a vital mission, to challenge the city’s sharpest young minds.” Referring to the criticism of the mayor’s plan from alumni, the op-ed concludes that “the very intensity of the response underscores how formative an experience it is to attend a specialized high school.”

The first criterion I understand but disagree with; the second makes little sense. Passion about changing admissions indicates that it is such a formative experience? I think it’s more that admission confers bragging rights, something very important in highly competitive New York City.

“They all but shut out black and Latino students,” the article states, “leaving untold numbers of New York’s brightest children behind.” The Times seems to know who is “bright” and who isn’t: Like the SHSAT, they feel confident this can be assessed. And where is this “behind?” Those “shut out” students are left to attend many other good schools in New York. “Behind” implies that the specialized high schools are in front, and that schools that don’t earn that honorific by choosing a student body based on that narrow form of achievement are lesser.

Let’s dial back a bit. As I said, I grew up in a middle-class neighborhood, but I didn’t mention that it was in Jackson, Mississippi, 1972 to ’87. I fully understand that my parents—first-generation college attendees—gave me choice. My background and private-college degree helped open up a world of opportunity. I was able to choose a rewarding but not well-remunerated (compared to working graduates of a university like mine) job. I was able to choose where I lived, and I knew I didn’t want to live in a keeping-up-with-the-Joneses neighborhood, whether it was mostly white or brown, or Asian. I chose my neighborhood because of its mixed-up income and mixed-up races.

So why do so many people who lament what is called white supremacy—and who hate the fact that it is guarded so jealously—reaffirm its values? Our lives are diminished because we are “shut out” of specialized high schools; our lives are limited because we live in majority black and brown neighborhoods. Our proximity to too many poor people, after having started life in middle-class communities, is evidence of slippage.

Until I read all of these school debates and articles about the drawbacks of my area, I was happy and pleased with the life I was providing my child. I thought that, through her neighborhood and education, she’d have what I had wanted from mine: familiarity, ease, and appreciation of an incredibly wide range of people; capacity for hard work; intellectual and moral rigor; and a desire to do something good in the world. But to academics and reporters, black, white, Latino, etc., my child and I are tragic: We are black American retrogression.

Jason Warwin, a New Yorker who came through the New York City public school system, graduated from Central Park East Secondary School, a small progressive 7-12 school in East Harlem. I met him while fighting to preserve my daughter’s progressive public elementary school when the New York City Department of Education was insisting that a more rigid form of education was the only one suitable for brown children in Harlem.

Warwin recalls being set extra work at Central Park East Secondary and being annoyed sometimes when he was asked to work with other students to teach them something he had already mastered. But it didn’t take him long to appreciate what the teachers and administration wanted him to realize.

Warwin went on to an Ivy League university, Brown, where he met a fellow student from New York City, Khary Lazarre-White. As undergrads, they created an organization they still direct called Brotherhood Sister Sol, a mentoring, academic, and social support organization primarily for black and brown students in Harlem. When we spoke this fall, Warwin was only slightly aware of the current demographics of the specialized schools. I can only guess that this is because it is marginal to his students’ experience, and to what he hopes for them.

“Supporting people who are trying to live moral lives is not something you hear as a focus of these [specialized] schools,” Warwin told me. “Of course, we [at Brotherhood Sister Sol] are very happy when a young person gets into an Ivy League college. But our primary objective isn’t to get them into elite schools. We want them to develop in a positive direction in how they interact with the people in their lives.” He said he’d rather see the city develop more consortium high schools, similar to the one he attended, and particularly in low-income neighborhoods like West Harlem where Brotherhood Sister Sol is located.

And I myself, can get only so enthused about discussing initiatives to diversify these schools: To me, the families who want the brand enough to submit their children to the hours and hours of homework and intensely competitive environmentof these specialized school hothouses and send their children for hundreds of hours of test prep(and many of the families who do are of modest income) are welcome to it. I lump these schools in the same category as I put Gucci handbags and Patek Philippe watches: expensive trophies for the status conscious. I can get something that does as good a job or better, for a fraction of the monetary or human cost.

The parent of one of my daughter’s school friends disagrees with me. He’s a black man who attended one of the big three and went on to earn Ivy undergraduate and graduate degrees. He says that this fight is important because any chance people get, they will discredit the intellect and achievement of people of color: More of us need degrees from these institutions because they serve as irrefutable counter to such claims. But I wonder: If the admissions processes are changed, will it continue to have that validating power?

Ani also went to Brown. She was ashamed that she wasn’t accepted to Harvard; her father, who immigrated to New York from China, always wanted her to go to whatever he thought people perceived as “the best.” She became an M.D.; only now, after her father and his parents have died, has she begun to retrain as a teacher. “I had told my dad that I wanted to teach young children, and he said, ‘Well, if you want to work with young children you should become a pediatrician.’” She also asked that her full name not be used, because “my father’s family still don’t know that I’m leaving medicine.”

Ani also chose not to have her children tested to enter the city’s gifted and talented (called G&T) program in kindergarten. Instead, she enrolled them in a progressive, non-test-focused public elementary school. “Kids bring all different kinds of things to school and that those are equally valuable,” she says. “In G&T, they are only kids who do well on a test.”

Schools in high-poverty neighborhoods would be remade and neighborhoods recast. Perhaps this long-standing idea that the specialized schools serve the city’s best and brightest would retreat. (It’s happened before: As The Atlantic recently pointed out, the number of white students dropped at the specialized schools as good alternatives emerged around the city.) Most important, these children would not only be surrounded by highly academic peers, but others from whom they might learn other, perhaps equally important, lessons.

My wan support for the quest to diversify New York City’s specialized high schools is not because I don’t believe that there is racism and inequity in the design and implementation of the New York City Public school system. I do. But the battles that are fought and the studies that are published in our names constantly affirm institutions and ideals that affirm hierarchy, convey a narrow definition of worth and success, and, by exclusion, diminish other values.

There is more honor and civic value in fighting to create graduating classes of youth whose focus is co-existing, supporting and contributing, than in facilitating the entry of more black and brown youth to a school of competitors driven to win and dominate.

It’s time for everyone—but particularly people of color and poor people—to stop directing this fight against racism and inequity toward equal access to what conventional wisdom says is most worth having.

Last night the Detroit Board of Education, which opened for summer school Monday, voted to unanimously reopen school on the regular first day in August. This happened despite three hours of unified testimony by teachers, parents, and community organizers that the schools should not be reopened until minimum conditions are met. We held a state wide Press conference this morning calling on schools not to open until a set of health conditions have been met. Here is some remarkable testimony given by one teacher to the board last night. 

.https://www.facebook.com/30308059/posts/10107099891572474/?d=n

Here is our archived press conference from this morning:

https://www.facebook.com/38514087/posts/10104168872243786/?d=n

Here are the demands:

https://mailchi.mp/afbe6d675b55/press-release-on-school-reopenings-5033109?e=71d7c71fdb

Best, Tom

Thomas C. Pedroni

Associate Professor, Curriculum Studies
Wayne State University 

Media Contact / Anna Bakalis 213-305-9654

For immediate release / June 9, 2020

Press release: https://www.utla.net/news/utla-recommends-keeping-school-campuses-closed

UTLA recommends keeping LAUSD school campuses closed; refocus on robust distance learning practices for Fall

LOS ANGELES — Amid COVID-19 infections and deaths surging to record highs, Trump’s threats to open schools prematurely, and a groundbreaking research paper that outlines necessary conditions for safely reopening schools, the UTLA Board of Directors and Bargaining Team are recommending to keep school campuses closed when the semester begins on Aug. 18.

“It is time to take a stand against Trump’s dangerous, anti-science agenda that puts the lives of our members, our students, and our families at risk,” said UTLA President Cecily Myart-Cruz. “We all want to physically open schools and be back with our students, but lives hang in the balance. Safety has to be the priority. We need to get this right for our communities.”

UTLA is also engaging all members in a poll on Friday, July 10, to find out where they stand on re-opening campuses. UTLA will notify members of the results of the poll Friday night.

The research paper, Same Storm but Different Boats: The Safe and Equitable Conditions for Starting LAUSD in 2020-21, (attached) looks at the science behind the specific conditions that must be met in the second-largest school district in the nation before staff and students can safely return.

Even before the spike in infections and Trump’s reckless talk, there were serious issues with starting the year on school campuses. The state and federal governments have not provided the additional resources or funds needed for increased health and safety measures and there is not enough time for the district to put together the detailed, rigorous plans for a safe return to campus.

According to UTLA’s research paper, there is a jarringly disparate rate of COVID-19 infection, severe illness, and death among Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) working communities, where structural racism and economic inequality mean people live with economic and social factors that increase risk of illness and death. In these communities, people are more likely to have “essential” jobs, insufficient health care, higher levels of pre-existing health conditions, and live in crowded housing. Because of the forces of structural racism, Blacks, Latinx, and Pacific Islanders in Los Angeles County are dying of COVID-19 at twice the rate of white residents.