Crippled Puerto Rico Offered School Privatization as Quick Fix for Woes



You’re Puerto Rico’s school system.


More than five months since a devastating hurricane hit the island’s shores, some 270 schools are still without power.


Roughly 25,000 students are leaving with that number expected to swell to 54,000 in four years. And that’s after an 11-year recession already sent 78,000 students  seeking refuge elsewhere.


So what do you do to stop the flow of refugees fleeing the island? What do you do to fix your storm damaged schools? What do you do to ensure all your precious children are safe and have the opportunity to learn?


If you’re Puerto Rico’s Governor Ricardo Rossello, you sell off your entire system of public education.


After an economic history of being pillaged and raped by corporate vultures from the mainland, Rossello is suggesting the U.S. Territory offer itself for another round of abuse.


He wants to close 300 more schools and change the majority of those remaining into charter and voucher schools.


That means no elected school boards.


That means no public meetings determining how these schools are run.


It means no transparency in terms of how the money is spent.


It means public funding can become private profit.


And it means fewer choices for children who will have to apply at schools all over the island and hope one accepts them. Unlike public schools, charter and voucher schools pick and choose whom to enroll.


Make no mistake. This has nothing to do with serving the needs of children. It is about selling off public property because it belongs to poor, brown people.


Something similar happened in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.


A district that served mostly black and poor children was swiped by private interests and turned almost exclusively into charter schools.


The results have been an abysmal academic record, the loss of black teachers, black neighborhoods, cultural heritage and in its place support for a status quo that just doesn’t care to provide the proper resources to students of color.


If the Governor and his wealthy backers have their way, Puerto Rico will be yet another ghettoized colony gobbled up by industry.


However, the people aren’t going to let this happen without a fight.


Mercedes Martinez, President of the Federacion de Maestros of Puerto Rico, an island teacher’s union, released the following statement:


“Dear comrades in the diaspora, now more than ever we need your unconditional solidarity.


Governor Roselló just announced his plan to shut down 307 schools, implement charter schools and vouchers. Disaster capitalism at its best. Added to the announcement of the privatization of PREPA. [Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority]


The way to victory is already paved, organized and militant resistance, concrete proposals to improve the public goods that we have, unity and organization. Be our voice in the states and let the world know that corporate reformers want to make PR the next New Orleans as they did after Katrina.


The hurricane has been the perfect storm and excuse for them to advance their plans. Today the so called “educational reform” will be sent to the legislature.


We will give the hardest fight of our lives, and we will triumph. Send letters and videos of support with our struggle. Teachers United, will never be defeated!


Lucha sí”


I don’t know about you, but I stand with these brave teachers, parents and their students.


I may live in Pennsylvania, my skin may be white, but I do not support the theft of Puerto Rico’s schools.


These children have just as much right as mine to a free and appropriate education. Their parents deserve the right to control their districts. They deserve transparency and self-rule.


They deserve the choice to guide their own destinies.


Teachers’ opposition to the move comes even though the Governor is proposing a $1,500 raise for all educators. Martinez says it could come to a general strike.


Their cause has hope on its side – especially in blocking the proposed school vouchers.


The Governor’s voucher proposal wouldn’t go into effect until the 2019-20 school year. However, the Puerto Rico Supreme Court struck down a similar program in 1994 when the current governor’s father, Pedro Rossello – himself a former governor – tried to push it through. The court ruled the island’s constitution forbids public money being used to fund privately run schools.


From this day forward, let us always remember what they did to New Orleans. Let us remember what they are trying to do to Puerto Rico.


Corporate school reform is not about making better schools. If it was, you would see plans like this being proposed in Beverly Hills and rich white neighborhoods across the country.


But somehow that never happens.


These schemes only show up in poor communities populated predominantly by people of color.


While the rest of our public schools are celebrating Black History Month, the children of Puerto Rico are reliving the struggle for their civil rights.


They are still the victims of colonization and brutality.


But they are not alone.


I stand with the people of Puerto Rico.


Will you stand, too?


Will you speak out for Puerto Rico?

Like this post? I’ve written a book, “Gadfly on the Wall: A Public School Teacher Speaks Out on Racism and Reform,” now available from Garn Press. Ten percent of the proceeds go to the Badass Teachers Association. Check it out!



Funny How School Closings Are Merely Accidental Racism. Never Intentional.

Students Protest School Closings At Chicago Public Schools Headquarters


It’s funny. When you close schools serving minority students, they tend to move away.


That’s what’s happening in Chicago.


In the last seven years, Mayor Rahm Emanuel closed 49 schools serving mostly students of color. And from 2015 to 2016, alone, the city lost 12,000 black residents.




Who would have ever thought that cutting funding to services for minorities might make them get up and leave?


But God forbid you suggest this is intentional!


These are just disparate facts. There is no conceivable causal link between making life intolerable for people and their leaving.


When has that ever happened before?


The Great Migration (1919-1950) when hundreds of thousands of blacks moved from the deep south to the shores of Lake Michigan looking for better opportunities?


Well, sure, but when else has that ever happened?


You can’t connect one dot to another.


That would just be rude.


Yet that’s just what Chris Kennedy, a candidate vying to run against Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner on the Democratic ticket, did this week.


He said that Emanuel is running a “strategic gentrification plan” to intentionally push black residents out of the city.


“My belief is they’re being pushed out. This is involuntary. That we’re cutting off funding for schools, cutting off funding for police, allowing people to be forced to live in food deserts, closing hospitals, closing access to mental health facilities. What choice do people have but to move, to leave?” Kennedy said at a press conference.


“And I think that’s part of a strategic gentrification plan being implemented by the city of Chicago to push people of color out of the city. The city is becoming smaller and as it becomes smaller, it’s become whiter.”



The establishment immediately pushed back against him.


The Chicago Sun-Times couldn’t find any fault with Kennedy’s facts, but they called his interpretation “irresponsible.”


Emanuel’s office likewise issued a press release likening Kennedy’s claims with those of Republicans like Rauner and President Donald Trump, even though both of those individuals would be more likely to champion a plan to kick blacks out of Chicago than criticize it.


Kennedy’s remarks simply echo what black Chicagoans have been saying for years.


FACT: Since 2001, 72 Chicago schools have been closed or phased out. Ninety percent of the students affected are black.


And now Emanuel is suggesting closing four additional schools – all from the predominantly African American Englewood community.


Sure, eventually they’ll be replaced by one new school, but only after at least a year without any high school in the area.


When the new school finally opens, the neighborhood will be less black and better suited to what? Gentrification!


Jitu Brown, National Director for a broad based collective of civil rights organizations called Journey 4 Justice, estimates that more than 30,000 people of color have fled Chicago since Emanuel took office.


Brown led a group of community members to sit in at the Chicago Board of Education today to protest the proposed closings.


“Rahm wants to close successful black grammar school to make room for upper income families! We have proof! That’s why we sit-in,” he tweeted.


Back in 2013, Brown broke down his argument at a hearing before the US Department of Education:


“To deny us the right to improve our schools as community institutions is a violation of our human rights. To destabilize schools in our community is a violation of our human rights. To have communities with no neighborhood schools is a violation of our human rights.  . . . We are America’s mirror. Do you have the courage to accept what you see?”


Kennedy really isn’t saying anything different. He’s just echoing the concerns of the community he wants to represent.


“I don’t know what you can say when the strategic plan for Chicago Public Schools suggest that the entire community of Englewood can go an entire year without access to a high school,” Kennedy said this week.


“What are you saying to the people there? No one’s going to move there who’s got a high school kid. And anybody with a high school kid has to think about what they’re going to do. It’s just a device to empty out the community.”


The problem is not limited to Chicago. It’s emblematic of public school policy nationwide.


From 2003-2012, in New York City, 117 schools were closed. Sixty-three percent of the students affected were black.


In 2008, 23 schools were closed in Washington, DC. Ninety-nine percent of the students affected were black, Latino or Hispanic.


Since 2005, in Detroit, 130 schools have been closed. Ninety-three percent of the students affected were children of color.


And one and on.


We intentionally segregate students based on race and class, then allocate funds accordingly. Richer whiter students get all the resources they need. Poorer blacker students get crumbling schools, narrowed curriculum until their schools are shuttered and they’re forced to either move away or put up with fly by night charter schools.


Look at what happened in New Orleans.


After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the state took over 107 of the city’s then-128 public schools, removing them from local control of the residents. The majority of these schools were turned into charters, closed or simply never reopened – a move affecting 90 percent of black students and only 1 percent of white students.


Karran Harper-Royal, a New Orleans parent and cofounder of the national group Parents Across America, argued at the same hearing in 2013 before the US Department of Education that the result was racist.


They call it school choice, but parents don’t have choice when 80 percent attend charter schools – some of which run a lottery enrollment process, she said. As a result, parents are forced to apply to multiple charter schools to ensure their children have somewhere to go to learn.


Your choice is between charter schools – 79 percent of which are rated “D” or “F” – and 15 state run public schools that are all rated “D” or “F,” she said.


“African-American students are more likely than their white counterparts to experience schools that are at risk of being closed down, phased-out, turned around or co-located,” Harper-Royal said. “To guarantee me a seat in a failing school system is not ‘choice.’ It’s racist is what it is.”


This is the reality for poor and minority students across the country.


It’s refreshing to hear a Democrat brave enough to actually speak the truth about it – especially since Democrats have been as apt to preside over these corporate education reform policies as Republicans.


Closing black schools and keeping white ones open is not an accident.


Neither is continuing school segregation, the proliferation of charter and voucher schools and the continued insistence that the only way to hold educators accountable for actually educating is high stakes standardized testing.


These are all choices that result in winners and losers.


It’s time we recognized that. If we really want to champion civil rights and equity for all, we need to stop promoting racism as school policy and pretending to be surprised at the results.

Making Puerto Rico the New New Orleans – Steal the Schools and Give Them to Big Business to Run For Profit


Charter school backers can’t help it.


They see a bunch of black or brown kids displaced by a natural disaster and they have to swoop in to help…


Help themselves, that is.


They did it in 2005 to New Orleans schools after Hurricane Katrina. Now they want to do it again in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria.


“This is a real opportunity to press the reset button,” said Puerto Rican Secretary of Education Julia Keleher.


“…this [is a] transformational opportunity for us to start to think fundamentally differently about what it is to be in school, and how one goes about getting an education.”


A dozen years ago in Louisiana, that meant stealing almost the entire New Orleans public school system in the aftermath of Katrina. About 90 percent of the city’s 126 schools were given to the Louisiana Recovery School District, which turned them all into charter schools.


In effect, Louisiana state officials elected by the white majority stole control from local school boards elected by the city’s black majority. More than 7,000 teachers most of whom were people of color and had been displaced by the hurricane found themselves replaced by mostly white teachers brought in from other parts of the country.


Now, more than 10 years later, the New Orleans experiment has been shown to be a failure. Scores on standardized tests have improved (kinda), but the curriculum has narrowed, teacher turnover has doubled, disadvantaged and special education students have even fewer resources while schools fight over high achieving children, students spend hours being bused to schools far from their homes, communities have been erased, and parents have less control over how their own tax dollars are spent.


That is what Keleher and others want to repeat in Puerto Rico – wrest control away from the public and give it to big business all wrapped up in a bow.

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Public schools come with expensive perks like local control, transparent budgets and regulations to ensure all the money is being spent on students. It’s much cheaper to run these districts with unelected bureaucrats, closed-door budgets and the ability to grab as much of the cash as possible and stuff it into their own pockets.


It ’s not like anyone’s going to complain. These schools aren’t for rich white kids. They’re for poor brown ones.


It’s just colonialism, 2017 style!


Jeanne Allen thinks that’s a great idea.

The founder and CEO of school privatization lobbying group, the Center For Education Reform, said that charterization is the best thing that could happen to Puerto Rican schools.


After dealing with the immediate effects of the hurricane, reformers “should be thinking about how to recreate the public education system in Puerto Rico.” And she should know. Allen was also involved in the New Orleans fiasco turning that system over to big business.


She added that charter school operators across the nation, including cyber charter school managers (whose schools often have even more wretched academic results), should be thinking about how to get involved in Puerto Rico post-Maria.


Keleher has already begun laying the groundwork.


Even though many Puerto Rican schools are only operational because of the work of teachers who have cleaned them up and have opened them despite being told not to by Keleher’s administration, the Education Secretary has pledged to lay off massive amounts of teachers and permanently close more schools – even schools that are structurally sound.


“Consolidating schools makes sense,” Keleher said in October. “They can go out and protest in the streets, but that doesn’t change the fact that we can’t go back to life being the same as it was before the hurricane.”


Puerto Rican teachers aren’t letting the vultures swoop in without protest.


Just this week twenty-one teachers in the capitol of San Juan were arrested during a rally at the Education Department headquarters. They were demanding all structurally sound schools be opened immediately.


“Our schools have served students well and although we recognize that it can be expensive to repair some schools, what we are asking is that schools that are ready be opened,” said social worker Alba Toro just before the arrests.


Administration officials are claiming the teachers were taken into custody because they physically attacked the civil servants, but witnesses say the protest was entirely peaceful.


According to Education Safety Commissioner César González, the protesters assaulted at least three security employees and a public relations employee while inside the building.
However, protestors dispute this version of events. Eulalia Centeno, who was part of the group that went inside the building, but left before the arrests began, said that no violent acts were committed and that the protesters only demanded to see the secretary to request the opening of public schools.


Seven weeks after the hurricane, less than half of the island’s nearly 1,200 public schools are open in any capacity. Though many schools endured severe storm and flood damage, others were repaired and cleaned to shelter hurricane victims and are ready to take in students.

“Keleher is using the crisis as an opportunity to close hundreds of public schools, lay off senior teachers and privatize public education,” says Mercedes Martinez, President of the Federacion de Maestros of Puerto Rico, an island teachers union.


Martinez was one of the teachers arrested during the protest.


When she was taken out of the building in handcuffs, her son was photographed leaning over a railing and patting his mother on the shoulder.


This is what real heroes do.


They refuse to back down despite the forces of prejudice and commerce stacked against them.


Will we let the charter school vampires suck Puerto Rico dry?



After Hurricane Harvey, Will Houston Public Schools be Charterized?


It’s an all too familiar scene in America.

A natural disaster devastates a major metropolitan city.

And then the forces of profit and privatization use the chaos and uncertainty as cover to steal public services and turn them into mechanisms to increase their own bottom line.

That’s what happened to New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. And, if Houston residents aren’t careful, it’s what could happen there in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, which struck this weekend.

Right now the immediate danger is the weather.

The storm has already affected about a quarter of the Texas population, or 6.8 million people in 18 counties. It’s been blamed for at least 8 deaths so far.

Thousands of people have evacuated to rooftops as rushing waters flooded streets and neighborhoods. Many roadways are only navigable by boat, and emergency services are so overtaxed that civilian volunteers have stepped up to help rescue stranded residents. By the time the weather system passes through, Houston could get as much as 50 inches of rain – the highest amount ever recorded in Texas.

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos was so overwhelmed by the news that she took to Twitter, saying, “Our prayers are with all those in the path of #HurricaneHarvey. @usedgov stands ready to assist impacted schools.”



To which noted liberal commentator Keith Olbermann responded, “The hurricane is going to do less damage to schools than you are, Motherfucker.”
And, if history is any guide, he may not be wrong.

In the aftermath of Katrina, New Orleans lost almost its entire public school system. About 90 percent of the city’s 126 schools were given to the Louisiana Recovery School District, which turned them all into charter schools.

For those uninitiated into the mysteries of corporate education reform, charter schools differ from traditional public schools because they are financed by tax dollars but privately operated. They often are controlled by appointed boards with little to no transparency, and are rife with opportunities for investors to profit through fraud and neglect – opportunities that just aren’t present at traditional districts.

So, in effect, Louisiana state officials elected by the white majority stole control from local school boards elected by the city’s black majority. More than 7,000 teachers most of whom were people of color and had been displaced by the hurricane found themselves replaced by mostly white teachers brought in from other parts of the country.

Now, more than 10 years later, the New Orleans experiment has been shown to be a failure. Scores on standardized tests have improved (kinda), but the curriculum has narrowed, teacher turnover has doubled, disadvantaged and special education students have even fewer resources while schools fight over high achieving children, students spend hours being bused to schools far from their homes, communities have been erased, and parents have less control over how their own tax dollars are spent.

This could be the future for the Houston Independent School District (HISD).

After all, Houston is where the infamous Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) charter school network got its start.

KIPP is known for two things: draconian discipline and high attrition rates. Even those kids who do well there often don’t go on to graduate from college. Two thirds of KIPP students who passed the 8th grade still haven’t achieved a bachelor’s degree 10 years later.

Moreover, its methods aren’t reproducible elsewhere. The one time KIPP tried to take over an existing public school district and apply its approach without skimming the best and brightest off the top, it failed miserably – so much so that KIPP isn’t in the school turnaround business anymore.

Yet, the charter network, one of the largest such chains with 209 schools nationwide, has one of the best propaganda departments in the industry. They pass off inhumanity to children as “rigor” and gloss over inability to teach difficult students as “high standards.”


Will Texas lawmakers be swayed by powerful charter operators to use the current catastrophe as a business opportunity to gobble up the existing school system?

Perhaps. But there are some significant differences between Houston and New Orleans.

For instance, the students served by the New Orleans system a dozen years ago were almost all living below the poverty line. By contrast, Houston has high and low poverty areas. In fact, many neighborhoods cater to upper middle class children.

It’s doubtful that parents from more affluent neighborhoods would put up with losing local control and all that goes with it. Their political and economic power would probably stop any wholesale charterization of the district. That’s why KIPP schools – and in fact most charter schools – are nearly nonexistent in wealthy neighborhoods.

However, there are plenty of community schools serving high poverty populations suffering from systemic disinvestment and neglect that could be in danger of just such “reforms.” In fact, many of those are exactly the ones that have been worst hit by flooding and weather damage. At least 10 consistently struggling schools could find themselves targeted for the New Orleans treatment. The state and federal government could withhold relief funding on the condition these schools give up their elected school boards and embrace the kind of Wild West, laissez-faire, free market deregulation that charter schools bring.

The Republican controlled state legislature already has a law on the books to swipe local control from struggling districts and turn them into charters. It’s a blatant threat to takeover entire districts like HISD if certain schools within the district don’t improve standardized test scores and other measures favored by corporate education reformers.



Hurricane damage could become a pretext to empowering state lawmakers to expedite this process. Perhaps they might even ask local school boards to give up control of their struggling schools in exchange for leaving alone the more affluent white schools.

I had the pleasure of visiting Houston a year ago for the United Opt Out Education and Civil Rights Summit. There I met with parents, students, concerned community members and representatives of the local teachers union – the Houston Federation of Teachers.

They helped me understand that Texas has a unique perspective on school choice.

For instance, they aren’t generally too fond of school vouchers.

This session a Tea Party favored voucher initiative was squashed by more moderate Republicans. In fact, in Texas even religious leaders don’t like vouchers. This is surprising because the program usually allows tax dollars to be used at private or parochial schools. An organization, Pastors for Texas Children, has been particularly vocal about supporting public education over BOTH vouchers and charters.

However, this is the land of former Gov. George W. Bush, one of the biggest charter cheerleaders in the country. His party broadly supports charter schools, yet the Texas legislature has struggled to increase them.

Last year, Gov. Greg Abbott and Lieutenant Gov. Dan Patrick made a big push to increase charter schools across the state. In an unusual move, state House Speaker Joe Straus refused to bring the bill to the floor for a vote. Straus held the issue hostage because he couldn’t get support for a new school funding formula.

It should be noted that all of these players are Republicans. Democrats are a minority with the ability to impact policy almost not at all.

DeVos and the Trump administration are unquestionably supportive of voucher and charter school expansion.

It’s still too early to tell if the state and/or federal government will take a page from the Shock Doctrine playbook and use Harvey as a distraction to embolden their agenda.

One can only hope that voters have learned the lessons from Katrina and Louisiana.

Otherwise, over time a manmade disaster could once again eclipse the damage done by a natural one.

Special Thanks to Zakary Rodriguez for help navigating the Texas education scene.


Charter School Lotteries – Why Most Families Don’t Even Apply

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Who gets to enroll in your school?


This question is at the heart of the charter school debate.


While traditional public schools have to accept any student who meets residency requirements, charter schools can be entirely more selective.


They don’t have to take just any student. They can pick and choose based on pretty much whatever criteria they want.


Despite the fact that charters are publicly funded and privately run, transparency requirements are so low in most states that regulators aren’t even allowed to check up on their enrollment practices.


It’s a situation rife with the potential for fraud and abuse with America’s most vulnerable students often being victimized and huge corporations raking in record profits.


Critics say that charter schools routinely accept only the easiest students to educate. They take those with the best academic records, without disciplinary problems or special education needs. This allows them to spend less money to run their schools and claim all their students are doing well because of artificially inflated test scores.
But when critics level such charges against the charter school industry, the most common reply is an appeal to charter school lotteries.


When these privatized schools get more applications than they have seats, they often resort to a lottery to determine which students get to enroll.


The infamous propaganda movie “Waiting for Superman” had a much quoted scene where poor children held onto their lottery tickets as they hoped and prayed to be saved from a “failing public school.”


Advocates claim this is what makes charters fair: Students get in by pure chance.


But it’s not true.


More often than not, whenever enrollment data is available, it shows that charter administrators are, in fact, selective.


Take BASIS School Inc., a charter chain with 18 schools in Arizona, three in Texas and one in Washington D.C. The chain’s schools in Tucson and Scottsdale are highly ranked on Newsweek’s “America’s Most Challenging High Schools” list, and on the Best High Schools list of U.S. News & World Report.


However, their enrollment figures show them to be out-and-out cherry pickers.


They typically over-enroll Asian-American students and under enroll Latinos. They also enroll a much lower proportion of special education students than the state average and – shockingly – have zero English Language Learners.


Despite corporate accolades, this is not a successful model of public education. It is prejudicial, exclusionary and entirely the goal of for-profit educational institutions everywhere.


But besides outright corruption from charter administrators, there are other factors that suppress the neediest students from even applying to charter schools.


In short, they don’t want to go to these types of schools. They can’t afford losing the services and amenities they would typically receive at traditional public schools. They can’t afford the extra out-of-pocket costs charters demand.


Frankly, many charter schools are set up for middle class or wealthier students. Even if accepted, the poor would get fewer services and be forced to pay more than they could afford.


1) They Can’t Afford Uniforms


Many charter schools require students to wear uniforms. Most traditional public schools do not. Therefore, even though your local charter school is funded by tax dollars, it can be a hefty financial burden to attend.


How much more does it cost? That depends. Each charter school has different requirements.


For instance, in the New Orleans Parents’ Guide, the cost for a single uniform is estimated at more than $70. That’s at least $350 for a week’s worth of clothes. However, many estimates I’ve seen have been much higher.


Many charters require students to wear blazers – something a traditional public school student wouldn’t be caught dead wearing. These are pretty expensive items. They can cost anywhere from $80-$250 each.


Moreover, some charters, like most in the KIPP network, require everyday items like socks and shirts to contain an embroidered school logo. That’s at least an additional $10-15 per item.


For impoverished parents who routinely shop at local thrift stores or the Salvation Army, charter school uniforms can put them out of reach.


To be fair, about 19% of traditional public schools also require uniforms. However, they are typically much less expensive. In fact, they rarely amount to more than requiring clothing to be of a wide variety of colors and/or styles.


And if parents can’t afford the extra cost, traditional districts are required to either forgo the requirement or help parents meet it. They cannot deny children an education based on their parents inability to buy uniforms. Charter schools, on the other hand, can.


2) They Need Special Education Programs



Charter schools are rarely – if ever – known for their special education programs. Traditional public schools, on the other hand, are renowned for meeting the needs of diverse students with various abilities. If your child has special needs, going to a charter school simply may not be an option.


One reason for this is the basic structure of each type of institution. Traditional public schools are usually much bigger than charter schools. As a result, they can pool their resources to better meet special students needs.


At charter schools nationally, disabled students represent only about 7-8% of all students enrolled. At traditional public schools, they average a little more than 11%, according to a Government Accountability Office analysis of Department of Education data. So traditional public schools already have the staff, infrastructure and experience to help these children. Moreover, it would be cost prohibitive for charters to add them, especially when they’re designed specifically to make a profit.


Perhaps more troubling is this: charter schools rarely identify students as having special needs. Students who would get extra help and services in a traditional public school setting, do without in charter schools. In fact, parents who feel their children’s needs aren’t being met at charters, often disenroll them and place them back in their traditional public school for the extra help.


Parents with students who have learning disabilities or extra needs simply can’t afford letting their children languish in a privatized school setting that may well ignore their child’s individual needs.


3) They Need Free/Reduced Breakfast and Lunches


Though the state and federal government pay for free or reduced breakfast or lunch programs, charter schools often don’t offer them. Traditional public schools do. It’s that simple. If you’re having trouble feeding your children, sending them to a charter school can mean letting them go hungry.


Take Arizona. Statewide, more than 47% of all students receive free or reduced-priced lunch. However, charter schools in the BASIS network have none.  This doesn’t mean none of their students qualify. Clearly some of them do. The BASIS chain has chosen not to participate.


Why? Perhaps it’s to keep away students who have greater needs.


If so, it’s working.


Even when charters don’t actively weed out hard to teach students, they can set things up to make them less likely to apply.


4) They Need Busing To-And-From School


Often students don’t live within walking distance of their school. Traditional public schools routinely provide busing. Charter schools often do not. If you can drive your child to-and-from school, this is not an issue. If you’re poor and don’t have your own means of transportation, this is an added burden.


And if you think this is only a feature of the most fly-by-night charters, think again. The BASIS network – again, which includes some of the highest rated charters in the country – does not provide busing.


Traditional public schools are often at the heart of the community. They spring up around community centers, parks, and social gathering places. Charter schools are more often located at new or repurposed sites that can be miles away from the people they serve.


When the traditional public school offers a free ride to-and-from school, it can be an insurmountable burden to go to a charter where you have to find another way to get there. Parents who are working multiple jobs and/or the night shift may find it impossible to take their kids to the local charter. But perhaps this is exactly why charters aren’t offering busing in the first place. They don’t want these children.


5) They Don’t Have Time and/or Money For Extra Charter Demands


Charter schools demand an awful lot from parents. Traditional public schools do not. While children often benefit from involved parents, that’s not always possible. It’s unfair to require parental involvement as a prerequisite of enrollment.


Many charter schools require parents to volunteer at the school for so many hours a week. They often require “suggested” donations for extra services and for parents to buy books, supplies, or to pay an additional fee for extra curricular activities that would be provided for free at traditional public schools.


The BASIS network, for instance, requests that families contribute at least $1,500 a year per child to the school to fund its teacher bonus program. Families are also required to pay a $300 security deposit, purchase books, and pay for activities that would be free if the student attended a public school.


This is simply out of reach for the most disadvantaged students. Their parents are out of work or working multiple jobs to support them. They can’t volunteer at the school when they have to serve a shift at WalMart. They can’t afford the additional costs.


So, yes, charters often select against the poorest and neediest students when deciding whom to enroll.


However, even when they conduct fair lotteries to determine enrollment, they often set things up to discourage the neediest families from even applying in the first place.


NOTE: Special thanks to Priscilla Sanstead on this article.


Is Love Enough to Fight Today’s White, Male Terrorists?


When I was growing up, I was told that love is all you need.

But now in the face of such hatred toward people of color, I’m not so sure.

Three brave people put their lives on the line to stop a knife-wielding white supremacist on a bus in Portland, Oregon, yesterday. Two of them – Ricky Best and Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche – lost their lives defending two young women being menaced with anti-Muslim slurs. The other – Micah Fletcher – was viciously wounded but survived.

As Meche was bleeding out on the floor of the bus, a witness recorded his last words: “Tell everyone on this bus that I love them.”

It’s heartbreaking.

What are we to do with such knowledge? Three people filled with love and one maniac filled with hate.

Was love enough?

It saved the would-be targets this time. The attacker is behind bars. But two precious lives have been snuffed out.

Why? So one scared little man can vent his xenophobia and intolerance?

The America I grew up in seemed to have learned the lessons of the Civil Rights movement. I was born after the murders of Dr. King, Malcolm X and the Kennedys. I was born after the church bombings, bus boycotts, freedom rides and marches.

I grew up in a time when we could look back on all that and wonder what we would have done had we been faced with the same challenges. And now

Marx said, “History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce.” What better term to define the age of Trump and the Alt-Right than farce?

Capitalism is dying and the one percent are so ignorant they’re only fueling the fires of their own demise. They ship jobs overseas and then wonder why no one has any money to buy their products. Meanwhile the frightened and forgotten white American men who used to sit atop the social ladder are once again looking for someone to blame. And the same convenient scapegoats present themselves.

I find myself asking what so many generations have asked before: will we survive this time?

It is not just racism and prejudice. It is not just economic uncertainty and systemic inequality. It’s climate change and nuclear proliferation. It’s a world on the brink of collapse and civilization-ending war.

And the only thing we have to fight all these enemies at the gates, the only thing we have is love.

Will it be enough?

Do we have enough love to overcome all the fear and hate?

I don’t know.

I love my daughter. That I can say with absolute certainty.

I look at her innocent enthusiastic face as she draws a crayon portrait of Ruby Bridges, the first black girl to desegregate a historic New Orleans public school in 1960. I smile and try to hope.

I love my wife.

I watch her look of triumph as she beats me again at Jeopardy. She can read the answers faster than I can voice the questions.

I love my students.

I smile as they furiously write their final 8th grade projects connecting The Outsiders, “The Diary of Anne Frank”, and To Kill a Mockingbird in one glorious essay. How much more confident they are now completing a project that would have seemed impossible 8 months before!

But do I love the stranger, too?

Will I look across the aisle at the black and brown boys and girls riding with me on the bus and have the courage to love them as much?

When a man who looks just like me stands and threatens them, will I love them enough to stand in his way? Will I suspend the love of all those I know to protect those I don’t?

Do I have enough love?

I hope so. Because in writing this article one thing has become clear to me about myself that I didn’t realize when I began.

I don’t know if love can save the world. I don’t know if it can heal the environment, stop global war, provide an equitable economy and eradicate racism.

But I still believe in spite of everything that it’s the only way to live.

We may not survive today. But we’ll love each other.

And maybe that matters the most.


Hero of New CW Action Series to be a Charter School Principal



Charter schools are incredibly contentious.


They serve about 7% of American students, but siphon away funding from traditional public schools serving the majority of the population.


They are rife with scandals: Many close suddenly without warning. They often hire teachers without certifications from accredited universities. Administrators have been known to buy yachts and expensive gifts with tax dollars meant to educate children. They cherry pick the easiest students to educate and kick out the most difficult.


And that just scratches the surface!


Why would you want to purposefully set your action adventure series there!?


That’s exactly what the CW has done with its new series Black Lightning.


The network released an extended description for the show today in an announcement for its fall schedule:



“Jefferson Pierce (Cress Williams) is a man wrestling with a secret. As the father of two daughters and principal of a charter high school that also serves as a safe haven for young people in a New Orleans neighborhood overrun by gang violence, he is a hero to his community…”


To which I can’t help but wonder, “WHY!?


Why, CW!? Why put your hero at the head of a charter school?


In the original DC comic book on which this television series is based, Pierce is a principal at Garfield High School in the fictional city of Metropolis.


When the writers moved the setting to New Orleans and made the hero a charter school principal, they were making purposeful changes to the mythology.




What does it add to the series with the inclusion of this extra detail?


Yes, Jefferson Pierce is African American. It’s about time we have more black super heroes. Marvel did an amazing job with its Netflix show based on Luke Cage, a character also created by writer Tony Isabella.


But charter schools are not uniquely black. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) issued a moratorium on charter school expansion just last year. The national civil rights organization has been publically critical of charter schools’ impact on children of color since 2010.


Specifically, the resolution states:


“…the NAACP opposes the privatization of public schools and/or public subsidizing or funding of for-profit or charter schools…”


“…the NAACP calls for full funding and support of high quality free public education for all children…”


The resolution goes on to oppose tax breaks to support charter schools and calls for new legislation to increase charter school transparency. Moreover, charters should not be allowed to kick students out for disciplinary reasons.


Yet THIS is where the CW decides to set its Sci Fi/Fantasy series!?



Perhaps the writers wanted to place the action in historic New Orleans, a city that has had almost nothing but charter schools since Hurricane Katrina.


But this is far from a success story.


After one of the worst natural disasters to hit the US in decades, the state fired almost all of its public school teachers, disbanded almost all local public school districts and reopened them as charter schools. New Orleans is now the only nearly all charter school city in the country.


Though supporters claim that this has resulted in increased test scores and graduation rates, the city’s schools cannot honestly be described as having turned around.


The district is still the fourth lowest performing educational institution in the country. Moreover, when compared with traditional public school districts in the state and controlling for factors like race, ethnicity, and poverty, New Orleans charter school students do much worse academically. For instance, on eighth-grade reading and math tests, charter-school students performed worse than their public-school counterparts by enormous margins—2 to 3 standard deviations.


These are the largest gaps between public and charter schools in the nation!


And that’s not all! Before becoming an all-charter district, the city had a substantial amount of teachers of color. Now they’re mostly gone.


This is where your escapist superhero fantasy is taking place?


New Orleans charter schools are notorious for strict discipline policies where students describe feeling like they’re in prison.


You want your hero to be a principal HERE!?


Teachers and parents describe feeling demoralized and ignored. They filed a federal civil rights complaint in 2014 and still pine for the community schools they experienced when they were children.


And this is where you’re shooting your action adventure series?


I can’t help but wonder why the CW would greenlight such an irresponsible drama.


Perhaps Black Lightning will fight to turn his nefarious charter school back into a traditional public institution with an elected school board, public meetings and sensible regulations.


Other than that, I cannot imagine why any sane television network would actively decide to champion school privatization.


In the original comic book, Pierce eventually was made Secretary of Education by President Lex Luthor. Perhaps the CW is drawing a parallel between their hero and our current Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.


President Donald Trump certainly brings to mind the super-villain Luthor – except that Luthor is known for being an evil genius and Trump is only known for one of those things…


But why would you want to associate your superhero with the most unpopular Education Secretary in history. DeVos only got her position after a split Senate confirmation and a tie-breaking vote by Vice President Mike Pence. She has been publicly booed at a graduation ceremony at an all black college where she spoke. Parents and protesters have physically stopped her from entering several schools.


You want us to associate your hero with THAT!?


Full disclosure, I love CW’s superhero line-up. The Flash is delightful Sci-Fi fun. Arrow is escapist vigilante justice. Supergirl is girl power drama. Legends of Tomorrow is time travel fun.


But what the heck will Black Lightning be!?


Moreover, I loved Netflix’s Luke Cage. I think it was one of the best Marvel superhero series – something that transcended the genre and seemed to be addressing authentic social issues like the Black Lives Matter movement, police brutality, etc.


I can’t imagine how Black Lightning would do any of that.


Having a political subtext can elevate a TV show and put it in the center of the cultural zeitgeist. But it has to be done with sensitivity and intelligence.


Having CW’s hero be a charter school principal is a ham-handed nod to school privatizers and equity managers. Audiences want someone who fights for the underdog – not investment bankers.


I just don’t get it, CW.