Archive for the ‘President Obama’ Tag

To hell with ‘waiting’ on Superman, we have Karen Lewis!   Leave a comment

‘I love to see a young girl go out and grab the world by the lapels. Life’s a bitch. You’ve got to go out and kick ass.’ ~ Maya Angelou

This post is not going to be about hyping some movie that promotes parents as desperate for immediate solutions to the public education crisis. I don’t like to think of minority and low-income families as ‘desperate’ for anything, unless of course they are amongst the millions of un- or underemployed Americans in this country. I think ‘victims’ would be a more accurate characterization because, well, they and their children have been robbed of 40 acres, a mule, and a separate but equal education. Sure, No Child Left Behind was enacted to address the latter, but by now we all know that all it really did was expose the decades-long disparities in the caliber of education between the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots.’ Of course, the ‘have nots’ are the kids relegated to dilapidated schools in neighborhoods where the jobs have long gone, hundreds of babies die by the hands of their peers, and people with NO practical experience in education have been bestowed the power to close neighborhood schools (leading to more violence) and create a working environment rife with fear and mistrust. (Examples: Chicago, Detroit, and D.C. Feel free to substitute any of these cities above.) Anyone wonder or even ask why we should ‘wait’ on Superman, much less anyone else to fix problems that our government has known about forever? Probably not.

Yes, those things are disappointing, disheartening, and enough to make anyone with common sense reconsider (several times) entering the teaching profession. But there is hope for parents, students, and teachers….and it ain’t Superman. It’s not Michelle Rhee, Arne Duncan, Joel Klein, or any of the other self-righteous, self-proclaimed education experts with their Ivy League degrees and colonialist complexes. Nope, it’s an educated Black woman, from the South Side of Chicago, with dreads, and a pair big enough to call a spade a spade and expose the truth about the mess Duncan and Daley created with the Renaissance 2010 debacle. Ok, maybe ‘pair’ is an overused cliché, but I couldn’t think of anything else.Well, I could but I don’t know Karen well enough to call her a ‘Bad B*&%$!’

Some people may not understand my excitement about the ‘arrival’ of Lewis onto the education scene as the newly-elected President of the Chicago Teachers Union. My excitement is comprised of equal parts enthusiasm for the fact that:  (1) Lewis is Black; and (2) she holds no punches. Ok, ok..maybe I am more excited about the second one..we have way too many people in education chasing the carrot, shuckin’ & jivin, skinnin & grinnin, and holding their peace for a small piece, of whatever. There are too many people who are cheerleaders for scientific experiments (masked as entrepreneurship) in education for the sake of securing additional blood money, er… funding for continued support. (I guess everyone forgot about the Tuskegee Experiment and it’s lasting effects, but I digress.) There are also people who work/worked under administrations that implement/implemented policies that failed, from the start, yet kept quiet until they made their exit (and nice salaries and built name recognition). I cannot respect such individuals or give weight to anything they have to say because they sold out millions of kids and never said a word. Not.One.Word. Until now, because it’s profitable to bash these doomed-from-the-start policies on the ‘Pimpin’ Education’ circuit. But I guess everyone has their price, I just haven’t found mine yet. God willing, I never will.

I am neither in Chicago or have any direct connection/affiliation with the city, but I am sure the thousands of teachers who work there can perform their jobs without worrying about being fired by some CEO who’s eager to jump through hoops for monetary offers to fire veteran, trained educators in order to make room for other Ivy grads and oops..wrong person. Where was I? Oh yeah, I am confident in the abilities of Lewis as she has not minced words on her stance on Race to the Top, Duncan, or anyone else making ill-informed decisions about education. Karen Lewis is a breath of fresh air, in a tight-knit circle long controlled by clueless windbags only interested in attracting businesses and government grants. Yes, it’s been a long time comin’ but a change has finally come for the teachers of Chicago.

Karen, may the force be with you. Dr. Angelou’s quote provides some good advice for us girls, but in a pinch do what my Granny and Mamma always said: ‘Kick ass and take names later!’

To hell with 'waiting' on Superman, we have Karen Lewis!   Leave a comment

‘I love to see a young girl go out and grab the world by the lapels. Life’s a bitch. You’ve got to go out and kick ass.’ ~ Maya Angelou

This post is not going to be about hyping some movie that promotes parents as desperate for immediate solutions to the public education crisis. I don’t like to think of minority and low-income families as ‘desperate’ for anything, unless of course they are amongst the millions of un- or underemployed Americans in this country. I think ‘victims’ would be a more accurate characterization because, well, they and their children have been robbed of 40 acres, a mule, and a separate but equal education. Sure, No Child Left Behind was enacted to address the latter, but by now we all know that all it really did was expose the decades-long disparities in the caliber of education between the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots.’ Of course, the ‘have nots’ are the kids relegated to dilapidated schools in neighborhoods where the jobs have long gone, hundreds of babies die by the hands of their peers, and people with NO practical experience in education have been bestowed the power to close neighborhood schools (leading to more violence) and create a working environment rife with fear and mistrust. (Examples: Chicago, Detroit, and D.C. Feel free to substitute any of these cities above.) Anyone wonder or even ask why we should ‘wait’ on Superman, much less anyone else to fix problems that our government has known about forever? Probably not.

Yes, those things are disappointing, disheartening, and enough to make anyone with common sense reconsider (several times) entering the teaching profession. But there is hope for parents, students, and teachers….and it ain’t Superman. It’s not Michelle Rhee, Arne Duncan, Joel Klein, or any of the other self-righteous, self-proclaimed education experts with their Ivy League degrees and colonialist complexes. Nope, it’s an educated Black woman, from the South Side of Chicago, with dreads, and a pair big enough to call a spade a spade and expose the truth about the mess Duncan and Daley created with the Renaissance 2010 debacle. Ok, maybe ‘pair’ is an overused cliché, but I couldn’t think of anything else.Well, I could but I don’t know Karen well enough to call her a ‘Bad B*&%$!’

Some people may not understand my excitement about the ‘arrival’ of Lewis onto the education scene as the newly-elected President of the Chicago Teachers Union. My excitement is comprised of equal parts enthusiasm for the fact that:  (1) Lewis is Black; and (2) she holds no punches. Ok, ok..maybe I am more excited about the second one..we have way too many people in education chasing the carrot, shuckin’ & jivin, skinnin & grinnin, and holding their peace for a small piece, of whatever. There are too many people who are cheerleaders for scientific experiments (masked as entrepreneurship) in education for the sake of securing additional blood money, er… funding for continued support. (I guess everyone forgot about the Tuskegee Experiment and it’s lasting effects, but I digress.) There are also people who work/worked under administrations that implement/implemented policies that failed, from the start, yet kept quiet until they made their exit (and nice salaries and built name recognition). I cannot respect such individuals or give weight to anything they have to say because they sold out millions of kids and never said a word. Not.One.Word. Until now, because it’s profitable to bash these doomed-from-the-start policies on the ‘Pimpin’ Education’ circuit. But I guess everyone has their price, I just haven’t found mine yet. God willing, I never will.

I am neither in Chicago or have any direct connection/affiliation with the city, but I am sure the thousands of teachers who work there can perform their jobs without worrying about being fired by some CEO who’s eager to jump through hoops for monetary offers to fire veteran, trained educators in order to make room for other Ivy grads and oops..wrong person. Where was I? Oh yeah, I am confident in the abilities of Lewis as she has not minced words on her stance on Race to the Top, Duncan, or anyone else making ill-informed decisions about education. Karen Lewis is a breath of fresh air, in a tight-knit circle long controlled by clueless windbags only interested in attracting businesses and government grants. Yes, it’s been a long time comin’ but a change has finally come for the teachers of Chicago.

Karen, may the force be with you. Dr. Angelou’s quote provides some good advice for us girls, but in a pinch do what my Granny and Mamma always said: ‘Kick ass and take names later!’

When action turns to acquiescence   4 comments

DISCLAIMER: After reflecting on some dialogue on Twitter, I took some time to process last night. I then started reading the bible to find some reference on dealing with ‘conflict,’ because we tend to shut people out when we disagree (2 Corinthians 7). I checked my ‘cliff notes’ in the margin of my bible and found this explanation: ‘First, believers are expected to cleanse themselves by turning from everything that contaminates the body or spirit- including every person who bends the truth.’ That was my confirmation that I had to write this blog, today. I need to get this off of my heart so that I can move forward. This blog post will include some very direct and honest insight. If you are sensitive or concerned about not offending your supporters, I suggest you turn the channel. Please understand that there is an urgency with the state of public education, so I refuse to pussy-foot or sugarcoat anything for the sake of making others feel comfortable. I am interested in the truth, the whole truth, so help me God. Thank you.

I think I am starting to get the hang of this blog-thing. I have connected with some really great intellectuals (Black, White, and everyone in between), who are also fighting to change education for those who need it most: Kids living in America’s urban cities and attending the some (not all) of the worst-performing schools. In my very first blog, I stated that I am not an expert but I do have a great deal of common sense. I do not claim to know everything that veterans with 20+ years’ experience know, but I know some things they do not. I have experiences they do not. I have the natural ability to relate to groups of parents and students they cannot. Shared experiences do matter in many instances. Am I claiming that a ‘non-member’ (insert any race/ethnic group) cannot contribute or help a member? Not at all. What I do know is that, as a single parent, I would never tell another single parent that his or her child will never amount to anything because there is only one parent present. I also know many people who have defied the statistics. It can be done. I am blessed that I never bought into other peoples’ limits on me simply because I was born to a single woman. My kids will never buy-into other peoples’ limits simply because they were born to a single woman. Why? Because I don’t believe in being a stereotype. Yes, I am a single mother. But, the description does not and will not stop there. I also happen to be a well-read, analytical, doctorate degree-seeking college graduate. Yeah, I belong to a very exclusive club. My integrity, principles, and refusal to label all single mothers and their children make me a very unique kind of educator. I would even go so far as to say that I am the kind of educator single parents would want on their side. I am not going to sell you out for a headline, a check, or a pat on the head by a group of old, White men studying ‘inner-city, disadvantaged, low-performing youth.’ Nope. Not gon’ do it.

Now that states are vying for Race to the Top funds, everybody and they damn mamma (excuse the slang, sometimes it’s the only way to accurately convey my true feelings) is an expert on education. Nevermind the fact that some of these yahoos have either never been in the classroom or have not been in a classroom in 20+ years. How about the fact that you cannot always treat people like statistics? Yes, as a researcher I understand that some things need to be quantified, but we cannot assign numbers to kids all willy-nilly. When discussing academic performance or graduation rates, it is acceptable to use numbers. When speaking about kids and their potential, we must view them as individuals. Every child has a name and a story. Just because society has written them off, does not mean that we have to continue the trend. Think about it. If you were told that you would never amount to anything, everyday, at some point you would begin to believe it. That is proven psychology. Don’t believe me? Look at all the young girls who don’t eat or make themselves sick because they want to look like the emaciated chicks on tv. They receive messages that they are not thin enough to be considered beautiful so they starve or make themselves vomit. The kids being written off are no different. Why do you think it’s so easy for 15, 16, and 17 year-olds to kill each other, with crowds of people watching? They know no one cares about them. How many times have we mentioned Derrion Albert in the past 3 weeks? Probably none because Tiger Woods was front and center, but I digress.

I have a challenge for you, especially those of you of the same hue: The next time you fix your lips to say “These single parents don’t care about education…” stop and ask yourself these questions:

1. How would I feel if someone were saying that about my mom/grandmother/aunt?

2. Is it better for a woman to remain in a physically/emotionally abusive relationship for the sake of the kids? (That’s the next biggest cop-out after people who say ‘I am not a racist. My best friend is Black, White, Asian, Latino!’)

3. Who are they (someone outside the group) to pretend to be an expert on something of which they have no knowledge?

4. What about the kids from two-parent homes who go to school strapped and kill their classmates and teachers? (Note: It’s not us)

5. What about the privileged kids who develop addictions to their parents pain killers? They are simply imitating what they see.

6. What about the kids ‘sexting’ and harassing each other to the point of suicide?

As I said before, I am not an expert on anything but I know a little about everything. Since I am African American, I can only write about that experience and what it means to me. I can only write about what I have seen as an African American educator of African American kids, mostly those tracked into Special Education. I do not know how the ‘other half’ lives because I don’t live near them.

My grandmother always talked to me about being able to spend time by myself; not to be with the ‘in-crowd’ all the time. As a kid, we don’t understand those gems that our elders pass down to us. As an adult, I can honestly say that now I understand. Being honest, especially when you have to ‘call-out’ your own, is a lonely journey but I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I need to be able to look at myself, and like what I see, everyday. I need to be able to humble myself before God (and God only) and honestly say that I did what I thought would be pleasing to Him. After reading the disparaging remarks about single parents and their children, I can say that there are not a lot of other people who can do that. I wonder how many people would make those same remarks about President Obama’s mother? I mean, after all, she was a single mother of two biracial children. Food for thought.

The next time you fix your lips to verbally assault your race and its future, ask yourself: What would Jesus do? If you are not a believer, here are some worldly translations: Why do I feel the need to attack/kick a group of people who are already down? What will my negative comments accomplish? Who am I trying to impress? What am I trying to gain? Do I really feel this way, or am I just going with the flow?

Until next time, I’m out!

An open letter to the Georgia Charter School Commission   Leave a comment

December 12, 2009

Dear Mssrs. Scafidi & Robinson:

For the past few days, I have been reviewing the charter petitions recommended by the Charter School Commission. I must admit that I am disappointed and quite disturbed. Explanations cited by the Commission are in direct contradiction to the legislative intent of charter school law. Furthermore, either White-owned management companies or affluent community groups submitted those petitions recommended. This continual selective practice places minority grassroots groups at a clear and blatant disadvantage. If the true intent of charter schools is to create school choice options for minority and low-income students, close the achievement gap, and involve parents in the educational process, then should not those same individuals have an opportunity at full participation by way of playing an active role in creating schools within their communities?  

I have shared these same concerns with the Charter Schools Division earlier this year, as the State Board of Education did not approve our charter petition because our group neither secured nor raised the entire operating budget prior to approval, as required by Andrew Broy. The charter landscape has only slightly changed since then, as it appears that Commission is placing the same barriers before more qualified charter applicants. An abbreviated list of charter petition discrepancies follows below. As the Commission made the recommendations, I rest assured you are more familiar with the petitions and deficiencies.

  • Board membership
  • Inadequate funds budgeted for Special Education
  • Conflict of interest with a board member being a paid school employee
  • Teacher salaries
  • Leadership competency – Contracting with EMO/CMO

 

Parents as Board Members

If I am not mistaken, the Obama Administration is challenging parents to become actively involved in their children’s education. As a parent and educator, it is my opinion that assembling a board comprised of dedicated parents ensures sound decision-making as it relates to children and a quality instructional program. I assume that this is a recent addition to the state’s charter school law and guidance, as Oglethorpe Charter School’s governing board is comprised mostly of parents. Oglethorpe has received federal recognition for the governance structure that includes a high percentage of parents with enrolled students. It is my sincere hope that the application of this rule applied to all charter schools, and not based solely on the proposed location of the school. 

Inadequate funds budgeted for Special Education

When drafting a charter petition, it is impossible to state with 100% certainty the school’s composition, unless the proposed school’s location is in a community absent of racial and/or ethnic diversity. This holds true when determining the number of students that will receive services through Special Education. At best, the petitioner can make an educated guess based on the district’s percentage of Special Education participants. Even so, determining the actual programs, e.g., Learning Disability, Emotional Behavior Disorder, etc., must wait until students actually enroll in the school. It is clear to me, a former Special Education teacher, that this is an area of confusion for Commission and State Board of Education members. I do suppose that petitioners can model the practices of traditional districts and track 40-50% of the students into Special Education. I digress.

Conflict of Interest of Board Members

The Internal Revenue Service provides specific guidelines on developing a Conflict of Interest policy for non-profit organizations. If the Commission has a policy beyond that of the IRS, it is imperative that petitioners have access before assembling their boards and hiring key personnel. I noticed that several petitioners received feedback regarding the potential conflict of interest of a board member who was also a potential employee of the charter schools. This is especially troubling considering that several charter schools in existence have individuals serving as founding members and employees. These charter schools have been approved by the local and state boards. In fact, one charter school in Gwinnett County has a husband and wife receiving compensation form the charter school. That, to me, sounds like a clear conflict of interest. Furthermore, other charter schools employ founding members. I digress.

Teacher Salaries

Neither the Commission nor the Charter School Division provides any guidance on setting teacher salaries, or salaries for other employees for that matter. I personally addressed this same issue with Andrew Broy, Clara Keith, and Kathy Cox earlier this year. As none of these individuals is directly involved with an organization’s efforts to recruit qualified and dedicated staff, neither they nor the Commission should have the authority to determine appropriate teacher salaries. The benefits of charter schools are numerous. One of them is the ability for teachers to have some creative freedom within their classrooms, as opposed to teaching to the test. Many teachers are willing to sacrifice a few thousand dollars for the opportunity to work in an environment where they will be treated as professionals and adults; traditional schools tend to devalue the importance of those liberties. It is quite possible that several charter school petitioners already secured verbal commitments from individuals wishing to work at the proposed schools; however, Georgia law stipulates that a teacher cannot sign a new contract while teaching under contract with another school system. As Education experts, all Commission members should possess this information.

Leadership Competency

“Neither does (insert charter school name here) propose to contract with an educational management organization for the provision of experience in educational services.” Again, if petitioners are required to contract with educational management organizations, then the Commission should make that information available to petitioners before they dedicate months and years to community outreach, marketing, researching, and writing the petition. Furthermore, many grassroots organizations oftentimes spend their own money to cover expenses associated with creating a charter school. If it is the intent of the Commission, legislators, Charter Schools Division, and Kathy Cox to create an  EMO/CMO-only charter environment in Georgia, please extend a professional courtesy to students, parents, and educators and make those intentions known locally and nationally.

In closing, I would like to point out the fact that for-profit management companies masked as non-profits have the upper hand here in Georgia. This is evident in their policies of locating schools only in districts where 60%+ of the students qualify for Free and Reduced priced meals, yet none of the parents are directly involved in the creation, management, or daily operations of those schools. That smacks of blatant racism. The laws, State Board of Education members, and Charter School Commission members are perpetuating the unspoken belief that minorities are not qualified to educate their own children, let alone anyone else’s. Spare me the rhetoric of your best friend being (racial/ethnic) or being married to a (racial/ethnic minority), as anyone who recognizes these policies, but says nothing to change them, is just as guilty as those who wrote them.

I have written this letter with an open mind and clear conscience. I am expressing concerns on behalf of those who still have an interest in resubmitting their petitions for future consideration. After spending more than 2 years of my life and time researching and developing a petition, I have accepted that changing Education from the inside may not be correct choice for me. As long as my principles and integrity remain non-negotiable, I am confident that the kind of radical change necessary for Georgia’s families must come from the outside. The Center for Education Reform was obviously extremely lenient in assigning a grade of ‘C’ to Georgia’s charter school law.

Thank you for taking the time to read and consider these observations.

Good day,

Monise L. Seward, Ed.S.

Parent-Educator

Do minority groups need their own thinktank?   Leave a comment

As I was reading the tweets of folks I follow in the Education field, I got to thinking: Some of Georgia’s education problems could be solved if we had some national attention, a la California, New Orleans, or D.C. Then I went a step further. Would a minority-developed and led thinktank make noticeable strides in educating parents, increasing advocacy, and actually closing the achievement gap? I know that some people are going to misinterpret my line of thinking, so let me clarify. I am not promoting segregating students, schools, etc. In reality, many of our country’s public schools have done an outstanding job of re-segregating any way (Yes, that was sarcasm). What I propose is creating a thinktank with some of the minority pioneers, movers and shakers, and decision-makers within the field of Education. No, I do not mean President Obama either. While I appreciate his desire to improve Education and close the achievement gap, I DO NOT agree with his decision to promote a non-educator to the rank of Secretary of Education. But that’s another blog post entirely.

Back to the issue at hand. There are many education thinktanks in existence; they receive major contributions from organizations such as The Broad Foundation, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, The Eli Lily Foundation, and countless others. But something is amiss: Many of the high-ranking decision makers in those organizations are non-minority. If we are to have honest and candid dialogue about students from low-income families, minority backgrounds, and all the other ‘at-risk’ groups (again, sarcasm), then members of those groups who have succeeded in spite of and because of those labels need to have a seat at the table. I get especially frustrated when ‘experts’ start spewing statistics about kids born to single-parent households with regard to graduating, going to college, etc. According to the ‘experts’, I should have never graduated from high school without at least one child and I certainly should have never graduated from the University of Notre Dame. Going by data alone, I should not be near the completion of a Doctorate in Education either. But that’s the problem: We are treating kids and their families like statistics-inanimae objects, when they are so much more than that. If those ‘experts’ insist on looking at the numbers, let’s start looking at the number of kids oorn to two-parent families who get pregnant in high school and never step foot on a college campus. When  dialogue becomes two-sided, maybe then I will give consideration to its validity.

Let’s face it: Asking a group of non-educators or non-minorities to address a problem to which they have no first-hand knowledge is akin to asking a group of podiatrists and dentists to conduct open-heart surgery. It just don’t make sense! (Sorry Grammar and English teachers!)