Tonight is a special night in our house. It’s the night before my middle child, Miles, starts kindergarten. As I shared earlier this year, I had to make the decision to send him to Saint Catherine’s of Genoa instead of our district placement because the school where he was assigned simply can’t get the job done when it comes to teaching little Latino boys like mine how to read.
(Updated to add the obligatory back to school picture. They were so excited this morning!)
And because my boys are Latino, the pressure to do anything in my power to keep him our of the school to prison pipeline is real — and real enough for me as a single mother to scrape together the money to pay for him to go to Catholic school this year — as he’s on the waitlist for a charter.
This is no pity party, but I feel like I have to keep reminding people that the fight for high quality education in Massachusetts is not over. Black and brown children in Massachusetts are still getting the shaft and the struggle of being a parent in an education system that is set up to fail my children isn’t something that went away for me after the ballot question about charter schools. In fact, it’s more real to me now than ever.
(My kids go to district school and Catholic schools. I also have a kid on a waitlist for a charter school. Most of the schools in my city are bad at teaching Latino kids how to read. None of these situations make me unique. None of these things disqualify me from being an education advocate no matter how much you’d like me to shut up and go away.)
Yet apparently there are some who wonder why those of us here in Massachusetts still keep up the fight. As if the defeat of the ballot question about charter schools was supposed to shut us up — devalue our voices or halt our passion to fight for our children. I remain on the front lines advocating for children like mine. My children didn’t disappear after question 2. I still have to fight to get my kids a shot at a decent education every single day. Neither did the thousands of other children (including 27,000 out of 54,000 in Boston Public Schools who are still stuck in low performing schools.) These kids aren’t going away and we’re not giving up on them.
Personally, I don’t care whether they are a district family, a charter family, a homeschooled family or a mixed education family like mine — they can be special needs or general matriculation, ELL or gifted and talented — I fight for the right for parents like me to be heard and respected in the education conversation. Sorry if that makes you uncomfortable.
With all of this swirling around in my head — the other day, my friend Chris Stewart posted something on Facebook that literally hit me between the eyes — and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since:
This is the straight truth. There is an expectation that we are literally supposed to fight to the death for a system that is failing our kids left and right. That we are meant to sacrifice our children for the protection of this system. To stay silent. Agree quietly. Accept the crumbs and the scraps that are given to us and be grateful for whatever perceived power is graciously afforded us — by those who tell us our children are just too tough to teach, are too brown to learn and not worth the effort.
I refused to be chained to a system that can’t seem to get it together to educate my child — regardless of how nice I think the people failing my children are. I’m not here to fight to protect an employment system. I’m here to fight to rebuild the education system that every child in Massachusetts deserves. Period.
Chris’ comments are so perfect to describe what happens here in Massachusetts in Boston — all the way to Springfield.
Starting off in the western part of the state, MPU is helping parents who are literally trapped in a school with an entrenched racist and bullying culture find a way to stand up and fight against entrenched power. Similar to the situation in Holyoke — where our coalition partners Padres Latinos de las Escuelas de Springfield y Holyoke (PLESH) — has been leading the charge, the Brightwood Elementary School has literally been failing children for generations. So much so that the current city councilor who attended the school now sends his own children to a charter — yet some in the community have thrown up their hands and accepted this as just "they way things are at Brightwood."
(EduMom — at a recent MPU Brightwood Parent Meeting — is not interested in your excuses. Also, some are not happy that EduMom and MPU are now helping the parents at Brightwood. Unfortunately, although some community groups have known about the situation for years but haven’t taken action — so the parents called us. It took us less than 2 weeks to bring parents together. Now we’re working together to make real change happen. Legally, if necessary.)
And in the middle of a municipal election year — while parents are crying out for help — some of these candidates have no idea about the severe achievement gap or the disaster happening in the school that serves the highest number of Latino kids in the entire district — in a city that is majority Latino. Other candidates would rather not talk about the issue at all and sit on their hands. If you are an elected official or community leader who listens to the parents of the Brightwood and you aren’t motivated to get up and do something, then you’re just not paying attention.
During the past week, many in Boston acted surprised to see the Boston Public Schools once again kick the can down the road when it comes to implementing real reform in the BPS contract. Meaning that black and brown children will be forced to listen to another year of excuses as to why incredible inequities are allowed to persist in this system — while watching teachers who now make an average of over $100k per year take home an extra 5% this year. And then of course, we’ll continue to pay teachers not to teach:
More critical is what the contract doesn’t address. Unquestionably, the one issue screaming for reform is that of the tenured teachers who land in the “excessed pool” and are unable to find a lead teaching position but still get a paycheck. The city was seeking the ability to discharge these teachers after a reasonable period of time, while the union wanted to protect their jobs.
The one hope that we have in all of this is that the contract is short enough to see Marty reelected — and then finally with enough political space to make some of the hard choices needed. Like the closure/consolidation of schools. This from David Bernstein in Boston Magazine this weekend:
When it comes to improving Boston schools, the obstacles can seem insurmountable. Shrinking budgets are just the tip of the iceberg. Still, it might be possible to chip away at some of the more intractable problems by attacking those that are firmly rooted in the ground. In other words, it’s time to take a hard look at the brick-and-mortar schools themselves.
Across the city, school buildings are underused and out of date; nearly two-thirds of them were built before World War II. In addition, the number of students has declined by more than 1,000 over the past 10 years—disproportionately in middle schools. That translates into wasted dollars going toward teachers, janitors, maintenance, and other costs. “We’re spreading school dollars thinly, because we’ve got excess capacity in the system,” says Sam Tyler, president of the Boston Municipal Research Bureau, which analyzes the city’s finances and services. The city is staring at inevitable renovations and major efforts to redesign classrooms for 21st-century learning.
To improve the system, Walsh needs to do something that a lot of people are going to hate: close and consolidate some schools, starting right now. This will lead to fewer employed teachers and support staff, which of course will piss off the Boston Teachers Union. Even now, parents have begun organizing against closures, and many more will join the cause when a plan comes out showing their kid’s school is on the list. But everybody will win in the end. The resulting savings could fund teacher training and support, classroom resources, and new programming. “There’s no opportunity for reinvestment,” says one longtime Boston education activist who asked not to be named criticizing the mayor’s foot-dragging, “until somebody puts on their big-boy pants and gets it done.”
Let’s be clear: if parents once again organize against closures of schools that are failing their children, it will be because the Boston Public Schools once again fails to engage parents. The Boston Teachers Union will once again manipulate parents into organizing against their own self interest, because they are the only folks engaging in a meaningful conversation with folks on a grassroots level.
The BTU has one agenda: protecting their membership. Closing schools and consolidation is not good for business. So you can bet they will launch an aggressive campaign to "save these schools" that "can’t teach black and brown children how to read" but will have everyone convinced that this is all about justice. And Stockholm syndrome will commence in Boston once again.
Stockholm syndrome is alive and well in Massachusetts. It’s time to break the spell and stand up and fight.
What do you think?