Category Archives: School-to-prison-pipeline

Video: Black Lives Matter Holds National Week of Action At Schools

The Real News Network
Public school teachers Jesse Hagopian of Seattle and Cristina Duncan Evans of Baltimore discuss the Feb. 5-10 week of action aimed at bringing social justice into classrooms across the country.

Cristina Duncan Evans has been an educator in City Schools for 12 years and is currently an Elementary and Middle School Librarian. She is one of the founders of BMORE, which believes in organizing teachers to advocate for social justice and the schools their students deserve.

Jesse Hagopian teaches Ethnic Studies at Seattle’s Garfield High School, the site of the historic boycott of the MAP test in 2013. Jesse is an associate editor of the acclaimed Rethinking Schools magazine and founding member of Social Equity Educators, and blogs at I’mAnEducator.com. He edited the book More Than a Score: The New Uprising Against High-Stakes Testing.

 

 

#BlackLivesMatterAtSchool is a National Uprising for Racial Justice

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Artwork Caryn Davidson. The below article was first published in The Progressive magazine

by

Educators in America know all too well that the school-to-prison pipeline is not just a political catchphrase. Those who work with students of color know this pipeline is as real as any other.

 

“It extends across this country,” says Seattle educator, attorney, and organizer Nikkita Oliver.

This is why from February 5 to 9 Oliver and thousands of educators around the U.S. will wear Black Lives Matter shirts to school and teach lessons about structural racism, intersectional black identities, black history, and anti-racist movements for a nationally organized week of action: Black Lives Matter at School.

“The Black Lives Matter at School movement is about dismantling the school-to-prison-pipeline,” says Oliver, “and creating a school-to-justice-pipeline for our youth.”

Educators in Seattle, Los Angeles, Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia, Boston, New York  City, Baltimore, Washington, D.C., and elsewhere in between will join this national uprising to affirm the lives of black students, teachers and families. The lessons that week will correspond to the thirteen guiding principles of Black Lives Matter:

Monday: Restorative Justice, Empathy and Loving Engagement

Tuesday: Diversity and Globalism

Wednesday: Trans-Affirming, Queer Affirming and Collective Value

Thursday: Intergenerational, Black Families and Black Villages

Friday: Black Women and Unapologetically Black

“The Black Lives Matter at School movement is about dismantling the school-to-prison-pipeline and creating a school-to-justice-pipeline.”

The Black Lives Matter at School movement started in Seattle last year on October 19, when thousands of educators wore shirts to school that said, “Black Lives Matter: We Stand Together.” Hundreds of families and students did too. Many of the shirts also included the message “#SayHerName,” a campaign to raise awareness about the often unrecognized state violence and assault of women in our country.

This action attracted national news attention, helping it spread to Philadelphia. That city’s Caucus of Working Educators’ Racial Justice Committee expanded the action to last an entire week last year with teaching points around the principles of Black Lives Matter. Educators in Rochester, New York also held a Black Lives Matter at School day in 2017.


This year, a national Black Lives Matter at School coalition came together to coordinate a unified week of action with three demands:

1) End “zero tolerance” discipline, and implement restorative justice

2) Hire more black teachers

3) Mandate black history and ethnic studies in K-12 curriculum

The three national demands arose in response to political attacks on and systemic disadvantages experienced by black students and educators around the nation.

A recent study shows that low-income black boys who had at least one black teacher in the third, fourth, or fifth grade had a 39 percent lower probability of dropping out of high school than their peers who had no black teachers during those years. And yet since 2002, the total number of African American teachers has decreased by 26,000, even as the overall teaching workforce has increased by 134,000. In 2015, the Albert Shanker Institute reported a similarly stunning decline in the number of black teachers around the country. For example, in Philadelphia, the number of Black teachers declined by 18.5 percent between 2001 and 2012. In Chicago, that same figure dropped by nearly 40 percent. And in New Orleans, there was a 62 percent drop. As Mother Jones reported:

“In each of the nine cities the Albert Shanker Institute studied, a higher percentage of black teachers were laid off or quit than Latino or white educators. . . . Countless black principals, coaches, cafeteria workers, nurses, and counselors have also been displaced—all in the name of raising achievement among black students. While white Americans are slowly waking up to the issue of police harassment and violence in black communities, many are unaware of the quiet but broad damage the loss of African American educators inflicts on the same communities.”

Since 2002, the total number of African American teachers has decreased by 26,000, even as the overall teaching workforce has increased by 134,000.

As scholar Terrenda White has detailed, one of the factors in the whitening of the teaching force is corporate education reform programs like Teach for America. “What happened in New Orleans, for example, is a microcosm of this larger issue where you have a blunt policy that we know resulted in the displacement of teachers of color, followed by [Teach for America’s] expansion in that region,” White told another of The Progressive’s Public School Shakedown fellows, Jennifer Berkshire, in 2016.

In addition to systemic pushout of black teachers, there is a similar large-scale pushing out of black students from schools. Black students are over three times more likely than white students to be suspended or expelled from school. Black girls, in particular, suffer the most disproportionate disciplinary measures: they are seven times more likely to be suspended than white girls, and not because they are even charged with misbehaving more often.

These statistics are why the Black Lives Matter at School movement is demanding an end to so-called zero tolerance discipline practices that are fueling school pushout, and a rapid implantation of restorative practices that help to build community so students can solve conflicts. As education outlet Rethinking Schools editorialized back in 2014:

“There are a number of models of restorative practices, but they always start with building community. Then, when a problem arises, everyone involved is part of the process…. shared values are agreed on. Then questions like these are asked: What is the harm caused and to whom? What are the needs and obligations that have arisen? How can everyone present contribute to addressing the needs, repairing the harm, and restoring relationships? Additional questions can probe the roots of the conflict and make broader connections: What social circumstances promoted the harm? What similarities can we see with other incidents? What structures need to change?”


Beyond being pushed out of school, when black students are in class they are too often subjected to a corporate curriculum that obscures the struggles and contributions by people of color.

The McGraw-Hill textbook company was caught replacing the word “slave” with “worker” and placing the section on the transatlantic slave trade within the chapter on immigration—as if Africans came here looking for a better life. A textbook titled The Connecticut Adventure was removed from a Connecticut school district after a decade of use when it was revealed that it was teaching fourth graders that slave owners, “cared for and protected [slaves] like members of the family.” These kinds of distortions and whitewashing of curriculum are precisely why the Black Lives Matter at School movement is demanding mandatory black studies and ethnic studies classes for kindergartners on up to high school seniors.

When black students are in class they are too often subjected to a corporate curriculum that obscures the struggles and contributions by people of color.

Black Lives Matter at School has been endorsed by many luminaries in the struggle for social justice, including Opal Tometi (co-founder of Black Lives Matter), Jonathan Kozol, (author of The Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America), and Michael Bennett (Pro Bowl defensive end for the Seattle Seahawks).

“I wholeheartedly support and endorse the National Black Lives Matter at School Week,” Kozol tells me. “At a time when all too many weary semi-liberals are willing to knock down the statues of racist figures from the past but not to change the racist systems that crush the souls and amputate the destinies of millions of black children in the savagely unequal public schools of the United States, it’s time to raise the stakes and bring the struggle back into the classrooms.”

Join us in this national uprising for racial justice in education. Because when young people are valued, proud of themselves, and aware of their history, well, then they will be equipped to remove the structures of racism and oppression—from Confederate monuments to rhetorical but very real pipelines—and build a better world.

Jesse Hagopian teaches Ethnic Studies in Seattle, blogs at www.IAmAnEducator.com, and is the co-editor of the forthcoming book, Teaching for Black Lives. You can follow Jesse on Twitter at @JessedHagopian.

Solidarity with Black Lives Matter at School Week: Nationally Renowned Antiracist Activists, Artists, Academics, Authors, and Athletes Speak Out!

BLMatSchoolsBannerWe, the undersigned, are writing in support of a new uprising for racial justice that is being organized by educators around the country who have declared February 5-9, 2018, “Black Lives Matter at School Week.” Many thousands of educators will be wearing shirts to school that say, “Black Lives Matter at School” and will teach lessons about structural racism, intersectional Black identities, and Black history in cities all across the country.

At a time when the president makes openly racist statements about Africa, Haiti and El Salvador, it is more important than ever to support antiracist pedagogy and support Black students.  In addition, in this era of mass incarceration, there is a school-to-prison-pipeline system that is more invested in locking up youth than unlocking their minds.

That system uses harsh discipline policies that push Black students out of schools at disproportionate rates; denies students the right to learn about their own cultures and whitewashes the curriculum to exclude many of the struggles and contributions of Black people and other people of color; and is pushing out Black teachers from the schools in cities around the country. That is why we support the three demands issued by the Black Lives Matter at School movement:

1) End zero tolerance discipline, implement restorative justice

2) Hire more Black teachers

3) Mandate Black history/Ethnic Studies, K-12

Show your solidarity during this week of struggle by wearing your Black Lives Matter shirt to school or to work.

Signed,

Curtis Acosta
Former Mexican American Studies Teacher, Assistant Professor, Language and Culture in Education, University of Arizona South

Sam Anderson
National Black Education Agenda, retired Math & Black History professor

Jose Antonio Vargas
Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, filmmaker, and founder/CEO of Define American

Wayne Au
Professor, School of Educational Studies, University of Washington Bothell

Bill Ayers
Distinguished Professor of Education (retired), UIC

Michael Bennett
Pro Bowl defensive end, Seattle Seahawks

Bill Bigelow
Curriculum Editor, Rethinking Schools magazine

Judith Browne Dianis
Executive Director, Advancement Project, National Office

John Carlos
Bronze-medal winner in the 200 meters at the 1968 Summer Olympics

Nancy Carlsson-Paige
Professor Emerita, Lesley University; Senior Advisor Defending the Early Years

Linda Christensen
Oregon Writing Project

Noura Erakat
Human Rights Attorney and Assistant Professor, George Mason University

Eve L. Ewing
University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration

Kevin James
Emcee Son of Nun, fmr. Baltimore City HS Teacher

Brian Jones
City University of New York Graduate Center

Ibram X. Kendi,
Director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center and National Book Award-winning author of Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America.

Joyce King
Benjamin E Mays Endowed Chair for Urban Teaching, Learning and Leadership, Georgia State University, President, The Academy for Diaspora Literacy, Inc.

Shaun King
Columnist for The Intercept

Jonathan Kozol
Teacher, Author, of Shame of the Nation, Savage Inequalities, and the National Book Award-winner, Death at an Early Age

Jia Lee
Member, Movement Of Rank-and-file Educators and Change the Stakes/NYCOPTOUT

Barbara Madeloni,
President, Massachusetts Teachers Association

Edwin Mayorga
Assistant Professor, Swarthmore College, Dept. of Educational Studies, Prog. Latin American and Latino Studies

Deborah Menkart
Executive Director, Teaching for Change

Tom Morello
Musician, Rage Against the Machine, Prophets of Rage

Pedro A. Noguera
Distinguished Professor of Education
UCLA Graduate School of Education & Information Studies

Nikkita Oliver
Community Organizer

Alex Caputo Pearl
President, United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA)

Bob Peterson
Rethinking Schools Editor, Past President of the Milwaukee Teachers Education Association

Bree Picower
Associate Professor, College of Education and Human Services, Montclair State University

Adam Sanchez
Organizer and curriculum writer, Zinn Education Project

David Stovall
Professor, Educational Policy Studies and African-American Studies, University of Illinois at Chicago

Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor
Assistant professor of African-American Studies at Princeton University

Opal Tometi
Co-founder of #BlackLivesMatter; Executive Director of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI)

Jose Luis Vilson
Math Teacher, NYC Department of Education, Executive Director, EduColor

Dyan Watson
Associate Professor of Education, Lewis & Clark Graduate School of Education and Counseling

Yohuru Williams
Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, University of St. Thomas; Board of Directors, Network for Public Education

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Turning Pain Into Power: 2017 Black Education Matters Student Activist Award winners

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Black Education Matters Student Activist Award winners, with Michael and Martellus Bennett, Jesse Hagopian, and NAACP education chair Rita Green. (Photo by Sara Bernard)

It was one of the most triumphant days of my life.

Thursday, June 15th was a day when I took the most painful moment in my life and used it to produce one of the most joyous days of my life. This was the day I had the honor to present the Black Education Matters Student Activist Award to four incredible young changemakers in the Seattle Public Schools. The Student Activist Award fund offers a cash scholarship and community support to deserving Seattle public school students who demonstrate exceptional leadership in struggles for social justice and against institutional racism. Our winners this year were Jelani Howard, Baily Adams, Precious Manning-Isabell, and Mahala Provost—young activists who you will undoubtedly hear much more about in the future as they continue to challenge racism and transform every institution they encounter.

Each student received $1,000 from the fund I started after winning a settlement when I was assaulted by a Seattle police officer. I won this settlement by launching a federal lawsuit against the City and the Seattle Police Department after being pepper sprayed without provocation at the 2015 Martin Luther King Day rally in Seattle. While the officer who doused me with pepper spray, officer Sandra DeLaFuente, didn’t even receive a one-day suspension for assaulting me on the sidewalk, I was at least able to win some compensation that I could put to good use. I then partnered with leaders in the Seattle NAACP–education chair Rita Green and youth outreach coordinator Rachael DeCruz–to form a committee for finding and selecting leading student activists.

bennettBrosJoining us for the award ceremony were the Super Bowl champion Bennett brothers, Michael and Martellus–two of the greatest football players in the NFL and two of the greatest activist athletes in the world. Having these two celebrated athletes and powerful spokesmen for justice made the award ceremony deeply meaningful for all in attendance. Seattle Seahawk defensive end Michael Bennett gave one of the awards in the name of his mother, Pennie Bennett, to Mahala Provost. Bennett said of this newly established award,

The Pennie Bennett Black Education Matters award is given in the name of my mother who, as an administrator and a teacher, has dedicated her life to changing the school system and her community. This award is presented to the most outstanding student changemaker for their work in the community and at school–and for believing that anything is possible and inspiring others to be different.

Provost_BEMawardProvost won this award for her dedication to showing the power of STEM fields (winning seven gold medals statewide in the NAACP’s Afro-Academic, Cultural, Technological and Scientific Olympics) and her activism for food justice with the organization FEAST, where she worked to eliminate food deserts and teaches about nutrition in communities of color.

Student award winner Precious Manning-Isabell is the president of the Black Student Union at Chief Sealth International High School and has been a leader on and off the campus. She helped to lead the Black Lives Matter At School day action at her school, as a cheerleader she refused to stand for the national anthem to raise awareness about racism and police violence, and she helped produce an award winning documentary, “Riffing on the Dream,” about race relations at her high school.

Award winner Baily Adams is the president of the Black Student Union at Garfield High School and has helped organize teach-ins, die-ins, know your rights trainings, and was leader in the Black Lives Matter At School event this year. When Donald Trump was elected president, Adams was one of the students who lead a walkout of hundreds of students out of the school, joining thousands of other students from all around the city in one of the biggest walkouts in Seattle’s history.

GarfieldFootBall_kneeJelani Howard is a member of the Garfield High School football team and helped lead the team in discussions about taking a knee during the national anthem, building on the example of Colin Kaepernick, to raise awareness around racism and police violence against people of color. The entire team agreed and their action–all season long–garnered national news headlines and inspired teams all around the city, state, and nation to follow suit.

Seeing the joy in the faces of the student activist award winners and their families that evening made me certain that pain I endured from being assaulted by the police was not in vain.  As Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Education without social action is a one-sided value because it has no true power potential.”  These students represent a new generation of young Black rebels who are expanding our understanding of the purpose education, refuse to accept a system that does respect their humanity, and are becoming truly powerful agents of change.

Graduation Not Incarceration: No to exit exams in Washington!

Exit Exam

Professor Wayne Au has the most terrifying Halloween costume of all: The exit exam!

Some 6,000 high school seniors in Washington are at risk of not graduating because they haven’t passed one of the myriad of high-stakes tests, including the Smarter Balance Assessment Consortium (SBAC) Common Core aligned language arts and math exams, as well as a biology end-of-course exam. These students could have met all the other requirements, excelled social and academically in school, and yet be denied a diploma from a test-and-punish political system that is completely out of control.

However, because of the massive uprising of the opt-out movement in Seattle, Washington State, and around the country, politicians are being forced to reconsider the testing graduation requirements. There are currently two bills in the Washington State legislature that could help alleviate the pain.

House Bill 1046 would complete eliminate the requirement to pass any of the high-stakes exit exams for graduation. Proponents of corporate education reform, such as Stand for Children and the Business Roundtable, opposed the House bill and the Senate then drafted Bill 5891, which would only eliminate the biology end-of-course exam as a requirement for graduation—until the year 2021.

On Thursday, the Washington State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Chris Reykdal, announced he is asking the legislature to reach a compromise that would suspend all of the graduation test requirements until 2019. Then students who don’t pass one of the exams would have six alternative ways to graduate, including reaching a minimum score on college-entrance exams or taking a college-level course.

Let’s be clear: Requiring exit exams to graduate has nothing to with what expert educators know about best practices for assessing students. In fact, Boston University economics professor Kevin Lang’s 2013 study, “The School to Prison Pipeline Exposed,” links increases in the use of high-stakes standardized high school exit exams to increased incarceration rates.

Let’s be clear about another thing: none of these proposals to lessen the cruelty of the testocracy would have been possible without rebellion from parents, students, educators, and community members who have demanded an end to over-testing. From the student walkouts of high-stakes tests, to the teacher boycotts, to the parent opt-outs, it has been the grassroots struggle that has proven most important in changing the narrative about abuses of standardized testing and the authentic assessment alternative.

One of the champions of this movement is Rita Green, the NAACP Education Chair for  Seattle (and a three state region). Below is the testimony she gave before the Washington State Legislature on March 20, 2017 to demand they stop using high-stakes exams as graduation requirements.   Read her story and then contact a Washington State Legislator to let them know our children are more than a score.

Hi my name is Rita Green, I am the Education Chair for the NAACP, representing the State of Washington, Oregon and Alaska.

I am here today to speak in support of removing and delinking the passage of SBAC as a graduation requirement.

First, These exam do not show, prove or measure the entire character or capabilities of students. These exams do not measure discrepancies for the students whose families pay for test prep classes to artificially drive up their test scores. [These tests measure]:

1) Working memory-how well your child can hold information in their mind & execute upon it.

2) Processing speed-how quickly your child can solve problems

3) Nonverbal reasoning- how well your child can solve problems for which they received no previous education all 3 of these are universal skills.

4) What is measured in these exams are verbal comprehension skills. This measures the cultural knowledge – words, Ideas and concepts that white people use.  These are foreign to people of color because they have nothing to do with their experience and thereby makes these exams discriminatory.

Proficiency can be measured through Course Finals, and demonstration.

Second, my daughter Brittany never passed the Math [standardized test] WASL, because she missed a passing score by 6 points. In 2009 she graduated from High School. In 2013, Brittany graduated from Lincoln University with a BS in Criminal Justice and a Law Certificate. She worked one year for City Year at a school in Baton Rouge, LA. In 2014, she went back to school and graduated in 2016 with a Master’s Degree in Justice and Security Administration. Brittany plans to go back to school to get a PHD in 2018. This is a student who would not have graduated under the current WA State Graduation requirements.

How many other Brittany’s could our current law potentially hurt, harm or hinder?

 

Ethnic Studies Now!: Seattle students ask, “Why aren’t we learning this in school?”

By Jesse Hagopian

First published by The Progressive magazine.

From disproportionate discipline rates to its hyper-segregated schools, Seattle is a tough place to be for students of color. The city has an alarming pattern of segregation both between and within schools, and when the district was investigated by the Department of Education, it was found to suspend black students at four times the rate for white students for the same infractions.

In response, the NAACP, in collaboration with numerous education and social justice organizations, has launched a new ethnic studies campaign. “We have to get rid of this white supremacy,” Seattle NAACP Education Chair Rita Green told the Seattle Times in January. “Ethnic studies is learning about the other cultures within your building.”

The benefits of ethnic studies programs are numerous.


A recent study of San Francisco students conducted by researchers in the Stanford Graduate School of Education found that attendance increased by twenty-one percentage points, GPA by 1.4 grade points and credits earned by twenty-three. There were positive effects across male, female, Asian and Hispanic groups of students, and especially for boys and Hispanic students. The study also found significant effects on GPA specific to math and science.

As Jon Greenberg, Seattle social studies teacher, member of Social Equality Educators, and a leading organizer in the ethnic studies campaign recently told NPR, “The level of engagement goes up astronomically when you’re talking about issues that affect a lot of students’ lives.”

And benefits of ethnic studies go far beyond academics. Many of the discipline problems in the classroom stem from students who are disengaged with the curriculum and don’t see a connection to their lives. These students often act out and are quickly labeled disobedient—but maybe that disobedience is better understood as resistance to a whitewashed curriculum that doesn’t speak to the problems and issues those students face. As one student testified at a recent school board meeting, “Europeans did not ‘discover’ the land, they stole it from the indigenous natives that were enslaved and killed by white settlers.” When basic truths like these are disguised in a curriculum, students learn to not trust their education.

Ethnic studies programs, coupled with restorative justice approaches to discipline, can reduce suspension rates and help students realize their potential. By teaching students about the history of systemic oppression and the struggles against it, such programs can empower students to become change agents in their schools and broader society.


The social and academic benefits of ethnic studies were on full display in the acclaimed Mexican American Studies program at Tucson High Magnet School in Arizona, which boasted the highest graduation rates and college acceptance rates for Latino students in the district. It was shut down in 2010 by anti-immigrant Republicans who sought to deny Latino students access to information about their heritage. The educators and students of the MAS program launched an inspiring campaign to defend their community and curriculum—as documented in the excellent film “Precious Knowledge”—resulting, ironically in a blossoming of Mexican American studies programs in high schools across the country.

After a major campaign, a bill was signed into law in California in September 2016 ordering the creation of a model ethnic studies course for state high schools. The Portland school board voted in May 2016 to require high schools in that city to offer ethnic studies classes by 2018. In the 2014-15 school year, a group of teacher librarians in the San Francisco Unified School District created a Black Lives Matter online resource page for teachers to use in the classroom. This collection includes grand jury documents, poetry, videos and graphics, readings, and lesson plans and activities for students of all ages.


The push in Seattle to combat institutional racism in the schools erupted in Seattle with the unprecedented #BlackLivesMatterAtSchool day, organized by the Social Equality Educators and supported by the Seattle Education Association, on October 19th, 2016. Some 3,000 educators wore “Black Lives Matter” shirts to school and many taught lessons about structural racism, the history of struggles against white supremacy, and other ethnic studies curriculum. Since Seattle’s mass action, the Black Lives Matter At School movement has gone national with educators in Philadelphia and Rochester, New York, taking up similar actions to publicly declare the value of their black students.

At a Seattle School board meeting on March 15, dozens of educators, parents, students, and community members rallied to support ethnic studies, with signs reading, “Tell the Youth the Truth,” and “White Privilege is Your History Being Part of the Core Curriculum and Mine Being Taught as an Elective.”

One young Asian American woman recounted a program she participated in called “Seattle to Selma,” designed to augment the standard curriculum to give students a deeper understanding of the black freedom struggle. “One of the critical questions students kept asking,” she told the school board, “is why aren’t we learning this in school?” Raising her voice she continued,

All students—if given the chance—can benefit socially and academically if their scope of racial and civil rights history is expanded. When research has proven ethnic studies increases achievement, attendance, the number of credits students of color take, why wait to close Seattle’s unacceptable racial disparities? With ethnic studies, students at all levels learn not to blame individuals, but understand societal structures. Students learn to effectively navigate difference and understand the diverse cultures of our district. Seattle Schools can fundamentally affirm and empower more students to become agents of change.

May her words signal a new ethnic studies uprising to help combat misunderstanding, fear, and hate in our schools and in our society.

——-

Jesse Hagopian is a teacher in the Seattle Public Schools, editor of the book, More Than a Score: The New Uprising Against High-Stakes Testing, and an editor for Rethinking Schools magazine.  He serves as the Seattle Education Fellow for The Progressive magazine and runs the Black Education Matter’s Student Activist Award. Follow Jesse on twitter or on his blog,  www.IAmAnEducator.com.

Philly Educators Launch Black Lives Matter At School Week

Philly Educators Launch Black Lives Matter At School Week

phillyblmatschool

Today, educators in Philadelphia are launching the Black Lives Matter week of action, continuing to build the Black Lives Matter At School movement that has now reached school districts across the country. During this week-long campaign, teachers will dedicate more instructional time to issues of racial and social justice, diversity, and community building.

The #BlackLivesMatterAtSchool movement erupted in Seattle on October 19th of this school year when thousands of educators wore Black Lives Matter Shirts and many held discussions and taught lessons about institutional racism.   Now the Philly Caucus of Working Educators Racial Justice Committee has organized a powerful week of action to address the many intersectional identities within the Black community.

Here’s a list of the week’s activities and themes:

Jan. 23: Restorative Justice, Empathy, and Loving Engagement
A city-wide event starting in the classrooms, where all schools and educators are encouraged to allocate at least an hour of their school day/lesson plan for educating and empowering students on the Black Lives Matter movement.

Jan. 24: Diversity and Globalism (#EthnicStudiesPHL)
This first official meeting will create a work plan for educators and encourage the exploration and expansion of ethnic studies in the Philadelphia area. It will be held at 5 p.m. at St. Stephen’s Green, 1701 Green St.

Jan. 25: Transgender-Affirming, Queer-Affirming, and Collective Value
This event – titled “How to Bridge the Gap Between Parents/Families and Schools” – will be held as a town meeting at City Hall. Organizers say it will be a community conversation about the present disconnect and growing gap between parents and school staff.

Jan. 26: Intergenerational, Black Families, and Black Villages – screening of the movie 13th
The movie focuses on how the U.S. criminal justice system has unjustifiably and unequally imprisoned African Americans through the 13th Amendment, which made slavery and involuntary servitude illegal “except as a punishment for a crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.” After the movie screening, there will be a talkback discussion regarding intergenerational communities and the disruption of the Western nuclear family.  This event will be held from 5 to 8 p.m. at Edward T. Steel Elementary, 4301 Wayne Ave.

Jan. 27: Black Women and Unapologetically Black
A panel will discuss “Beauty, Society, & More” and the effects on Black girls and women. This event will start at 5 p.m. at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education, 3700 Walnut St., Room 203.

Jan. 28: Conversation & Closing Panel Discussion
After screening clips from the movies Pariah and Moonlight, there will be a conversation about LGBTQ people’s lives as they relate to the film and the Black Lives Matter movement. This event will be held from 12:30 to 3:30 p.m. in the Ritter Annex at Temple University

The closing panel will discuss “Next Steps: How Does the Work Continue Beyond Black Lives Matter Week?” from 4 to 5:30 p.m. at Temple, Tuttleman Learning Center, 1809 North 13th St. 

Black Lives Matter Week is co-sponsored by the Teacher Action Group Philadelphia and is also endorsed by many education organizations, including Parents United for Public Education, Neighborhood Networks, Philadelphia Children’s March, Philly Socialists, Teachers Lead Philly, Youth United for Change, and United Caucuses of Rank and File Educators (UCORE). Organizations that support these invaluable school and community dialogues can sign up to endorse here.

In addition, dozes of scholars and professors have signed on to a statement of support for the Philly Black Lives Matter At School action. You can read the statement below and if you are a professor you can add your name by visiting their website.

Academics Sign Statement of Support for Black Lives Matter Week

We, the undersigned professors and scholars, publicly express our support for and solidarity with teachers and community members and their January 23-28 action in recognition of making Black Student Lives Matter in our schools.

We believe that these goals are vital for educators, parents, students, and all communities in order to…

  • create a space for introspection and dialogue around the 13 guiding principles;
  • build deeper connections between educators, parents, students, and community organizations;
  • stand in support of national organizing supporting Black Lives Matter;
  • empower students and student groups to play a leading role in this week and moving forward.

As this work continues beyond January 28, we support the Racial Justice Statement written by the Caucus of Working Educators, which asserts that “purposeful action needs to be taken in order to eliminate the adverse outcomes derived from perpetual structural racism evident in public education.”

This ongoing work will promote equality; the value of human life; and educational, political, and social justice.  It requires us to develop the knowledge and actions necessary to eliminate the barriers that structural prejudice, stereotyping, discrimination, and bias create in Philadelphia and beyond.  We are committed to teaching, learning, and culture in our classrooms that reflect these missions and goals, and to our role in building the leadership of our students to live by them.  The survival and empowerment of all communities demands this.

Signed,

Rhiannon Maton, Ph.D., Critical Writing Program, University of Pennsylvania

Mark Stern, Ph.D., Department of Educational Studies, Colgate University

Amy Brown, Ph.D., Critical Writing Program, University of Pennsylvania

Sonia M. Rosen, Ph.D., Arcadia University School of Education

Camika Royal, Ph.D., Loyola University Maryland School of Education

Imani Perry, Ph.D., J.D. Princeton University Department of African American Studies

Kathleen Riley, Ph.D., Department of Literacy, West Chester University

Casey Bohrman, PhD, MSW Undergraduate Social Work, West Chester University

Seth Kahn, PhD, Department of English, West Chester University

Katie Solic, Ph.D., Department of Literacy, West Chester University

Kristen B.Crossney, PhD, Department of Public Policy and Administration, West Chester University

Gabriel A. Piser, PhD, Ohio State University

Tabitha Dell’Angelo, PhD, The College of New Jersey

Jill Hermann-Wilmarth, PhD, Western Michigan University

David I. Backer, PhD, West Chester University

Laura A. Roy, Ph.D., Penn State Harrisburg

Erin Hurt, PhD, Department of English, West Chester University

Craig Stutman, PhD., Department of Liberal Arts,

Delaware Valley University

Timothy R. Dougherty, Ph.D., Department of English, West Chester University

Edwin Mayorga, Ph.D. Dept. of Educational Studies and Program in Latin American & Latinx Studies, Swarthmore College

Miriam Fife, Ed.D.

Kira J. Baker-Doyle, Ph.D. Arcadia University School of Education

Jessica A. Solyom, Ph.D., Center for Indian Education, Arizona State University

Benjamin J. Muller, Ph.D., King’s University College at Western University (Canada)

Chonika Coleman-King, Ph.D., University of Tennessee, Knoxville

Bruce Campbell Jr., Ph.D. Arcadia University School of Education

Erin Whitney, Ed.D., School of Education, California State University, Chico

Susan Bickerstaff, Ph.D., Teachers College, Columbia University

Katie Clonan-Roy, Ph.D., Colby College

Jerusha Conner, Ph.D., Villanova University

Jill E. Schwarz, Ph.D., The College of New Jersey (TCNJ)

Anita Chikkatur, Ph.D., Carleton College, Minnesota

Kim Dean, Ph.D., Arcadia University

Rick Eckstein, Ph.D., Villanova University

Ali MIchael, Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania

Kelly Welch, Ph.D., Villanova University

Shivaani Selvaraj, D.Ed., Penn State Center for Engaged Scholarship, Philadelphia

Amy Stornaiuolo, Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania

Sukey Blanc, Ph.D., Creative Research & Evaluation LCC

Vicki McGinley, PhD, Department of Special Education, West Chester University

Rob Connor, PhD, CSA

Graciela Slesaransky-Poe, Ph.D., Professor and Former Founding Dean, School of Education, Arcadia University

Brian Lozenski, Ph.D., Educational Studies Department, Macalester College

Kathy Schultz, Ph.D. Dean and Professor, School of Education, University of Colorado Boulder

Jonathan Shandell, Arcadia University

Dean J. Johnson, Ph.D., Peace and Conflict Studies Program, West Chester University
Dean Rachael Murphey-Brown, PhD, Trinity College of Arts and Sciences, Duke University

Lan Ngo, PhD, Critical Writing Program and Graduate School of Education, University of Pennsylvania

Jessica Whitelaw, PhD, University of Pennsylvania

Ashon Crawley, PhD, University of California, Riverside

Shaleigh Kwok, PhD, Critical Writing Program, University of Pennsylvania

Rochelle Peterson, School of Education, Arcadia University

Keely McCarthy Ph.D.,  Chestnut Hill College

Kathy Hall, Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania

Marc Meola, MA, MLS, Community College of Philadelphia

Jamie A. Thomas, PhD, Dept. of Linguistics, Program in Black Studies, Swarthmore College

Steven Davis, PhD, Dept. of English, Community College of Philadelphia

Anna (Anne) Ríos-Rojas, Ph.D., Department of Educational Studies, Colgate University

Encarna Rodríguez, Ph.D., Saint Joseph’s University

Monica L. Mercado, Ph.D., Department of History, Colgate University

Debora Broderick, EdD., Chester County Intermediate Unit

Chandra Russo, PhD, Department of Sociology & Anthropology, Colgate University

Ali Stefanik, SERVE 101 Coordinator, Office of Student Engagement, Philadelphia University

Sally Wesley Bonet, Ph.D., Department of Educational Studies, Colgate University

Emily A. Greytak, PhD.

Danny M. Barreto, Ph.D., Colgate University

Rosemary A. Barbera, Ph.D., MSS, Lasalle University

Rachel Throop, Ph.D., Education Studies, Barnard College

Caitlin J. Taylor, Ph.D., La Salle University

Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, Ph.D., African American studies department, Princeton University

Cheryl A. Hyde, PhD, MSW, School of Social Work, Temple University

Jessie M. Timmons, LCSW, School of Social Work, Temple University

Mansura Karim, LSW, School of Social Work, Temple University

Emeka  Nwadiora, LLM., MED[c]., MSW., PhD., JD., PhD/DSW, College of Public Health, Temple University

Adam Miyashiro, Ph.D., Stockton University

Susan Thomas, PhD, International Studies, American University

Miguel Muñoz-Laboy, DrPH, MPH, School of Social Work and College of Public Health, Temple University

Debora Kodish, Ph.D., Philadelphia Folklore Project, retired

Dana Morrison Simone, Ph.D. Candidate, University of Delaware and West Chester University

Lauren Ware Stark, MA, PhD Candidate, University of Virginia

Richard Liuzzi, Ed.D. student, Graduate School of Education, University of Pennsylvania

Martha Carey, PhD, Urban Education, Temple University

Jen Bradley, Ph.D., Educational Studies, Swarthmore College

Susan L. DeJarnatt, Professor of Law, Temple University Beasley School of Law

Ryan Villagran, MSW, School of Social Work, Temple University

Katie Pak, Ed.D student, Graduate School of Education, University of Pennsylvania

Jody Cohen, Bryn Mawr College

Anne Pomerantz, Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania

Len Rieser, Temple University Beasley School of Law

Sherisse L. Laud-Hammond, MSW, School of Social Work, Temple University

Ryan M. Good, Ph.D., Adjunct Assistant Professor, Temple University

Monica L. Clark, M.S., Ph.D. Student & Undergrad Gen Ed Instructor, College of Ed, Temple University

Maia Cucchiara, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Urban Education, Temple University

Stephen Danley, DPhil, Assistant Professor of Public Policy, Rutgers-Camden University

Juliet Curci, PhD, Temple University College of Education

Elaine Leigh, Ph.D. Student, Graduate School of Education, University of Pennsylvania

Lynnette Mawhinney, Ph.D., Associate Professor, The College of New Jersey

 

#BlackLivesMatterAtSchool FAQ: Answering why hundreds of Seattle educators are wearing “Black Lives Matter” shirts to school

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#BlackLivesMatterAtSchool press conference.  Teachers pictured (from left to right) Rogelio Rigor, Donte Felder, Sarah Arvey, and Jesse Hagopian. (Photo by Benice Buhain)

On October 19th, 2016 hundreds of Seattle teachers, counselors, paraprofessionals, nurses, instructional assistants, librarians, and other educators will be wearing Black Lives Matter shirts to school in an unprecedented action, “Black Lives Matter At School.”  Already, some 2,000 shirts have been ordered and many of these educators will also be teaching lessons that day about institutional racism.  Educators at Washington Middle School and other educators from the Social Equality Educators have compiled this list of answers to frequently asked questions about this unprecedented action.

 

October 19th—#BlackLivesMatterAtSchool FAQ

Q: How did the October 19th Black Lives Matter At School event get organized?

A: In mid-September, two Seattle elementary schools decided to have African-American men from their communities welcome students to school with greetings and high-fives. Teachers planned to wear Black Lives Matter t-shirts. One school, John Muir, received a bomb threat from someone opposing the event. Although consideration was given to canceling due to safety concerns, the event was held anyway without any problems. In an act of solidarity, a few days later the Seattle Education Association (SEA) Representative Assembly passed a resolution unanimously supporting the schools and their actions, and encouraging all schools to participate in a day of solidarity on Wednesday, October 19:

Whereas the SEA promotes equity and supports anti-racist work in our schools; and,
Whereas we want to act in solidarity with our members and the community at John Muir who received threats based on their decision to wear Black Lives Matter t- shirts as part of an event with “Black Men United to Change the Narrative”; and,

Whereas the SEA and SPS promote Race and Equity teams to address institutionalized racism in our schools and offer a space for dialogue among school staff; and,

Therefore be it resolved that the SEA Representative Assembly endorse and participate in an action wearing Black Lives Matter t-shirts on Wednesday, October 19,2016 with the intent of showing solidarity, promoting anti-racist practices in our schools, and creating dialogue in our schools and communities.

On October 8, the Seattle Public Schools noted the event on its website, and stated:

During our #CloseTheGaps kick-off week, Seattle Education Association is promoting October 19 as a day of solidarity to bring focus to racial equity and affirming the lives of our students – specifically our students of color.

In support of this focus, members are choosing to wear Black Lives Matter t- shirts, stickers or other symbols of their commitment to students in a coordinated effort. SEA is leading this effort and working to promote transformational conversations with staff, families and students on this issue.

We invite you to join us in our commitment to eliminate opportunity gaps and accelerate learning for each and every student.

Q: Who has endorsed this Black Lives Matter At School event?

A: This event been endorsed by the Seattle Education Association, Seattle PTSA Council board, The Seattle NAACP, Diane Ravitch (former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education), Dr. Wayne Au (editor at Rethinking Schools and professor at UW Bothell) Carol Burris (Executive Director of the Network for Public Education), and a growing list of academics, organizers and activists from around the country.

Q: Why are school teachers and staff participating?

A: When people know that something is wrong, they often try to change it through social movements. Black Lives Matter is a social movement for racial justice in 21st century United States. Every individual chooses how they show their support of the movement. Some teachers want to be publicly supportive, others would rather be private.

Q: Isn’t this a political action and do political actions belong at school? blmshirt_1-jpg

A: This is a consciousness-raising event. School is part of society, students and staff are part of society, and so what is happening within our society deserves and demands our attention. This is a “teachable moment” for the Seattle Public School community.

Q: How will this event help promote racial equity at our school?

A: Racial equity will never be a reality unless people are willing to talk about it. This event provides an opportunity for conversations that can help our school move toward racial justice.

Q: How can I show my support?

A: Students and families are welcome to participate at school on racial equity activities in these ways:

1) Wear a Black Lives Matter t-shirt or sticker on Oct. 19th. Contact your school to find out what is happening there on the 19th.

2) Parents and educators, here is list of age appropriate resources you can use to teach about racial justice: http://socialequalityeducators.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/TeachingRacialJustice.pdf

3) Attend the Black Lives Matter At School rally/forum/show organized by Social Equality Educators on the evening of Oct. 19 at Washington Hall at 6:00 p.m.to 8:00 p.m.

Q: Why call attention to Black Lives when all lives matter and when there are other groups treated unjustly in our schools and country?

A: Over 50% of the Seattle Public Schools’ student population are non-white students. The call of All Lives Matter is often used to brush aside the concerns which led to the emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement over the last two years. In some cases, it reflects the universal consciousness and awareness that many members of the younger generations have come to embrace. However, until the lives of people of color are treated with equal value by the society, the call for all lives to matter rings hollow. By all measures, African-Americans, Native Americans and Latinos, are treated unequally by our society fifty years after the passage of major civil rights laws. This inequality can be found in incidences of police brutality and killings, imprisonment rates, repeated studies of job and housing bias, health care, and access to quality education resulting in the school to prison pipeline. Black students in the Seattle Public Schools are suspended at four times the rate of their white peers. Until we are treated equally, we must all raise our voices or be complicit in the racism.

Q: Isn’t the Black Lives Matter Movement only about police killings?

A: No. The origin of the the hashtag “#BlackLivesMatter” is in the killing of Trayvon Martin by a vigilante and the ensuing national protests that followed showed the potential a new social movement. Several years later, unarmed African American Michael Brown was killed by a police officer in the streets of Ferguson, MO. Then videotaped killing of Eric Garner in New York City helped ignite this movement nationally. Repeated cases preceded these, and have followed
them. Protest actions have been led by BLM activists in hundreds of U.S. cities. But this movement is not only focused on police accountability. This summer, a platform was written under the Movement for Black Lives, advocating economic justice, political empowerment, community control of policing, reparations to the Black community, and for education justice. The platform writers represented over 50 organizations. BLM activists have also joined with the thousands of Native people and their supporters in their stand for the environment at Standing Rock, North Dakota.

Q: Why do some educators’ t-shirts include the symbol of a raised fist? blmshirt_2-jpg

A: The raised fist has been used by organizers to symbolize solidarity in struggles for racial justice, social justice, labor rights, and human rights for a very long time. It has been used to support such diverse struggles as organizing for workers’ rights in 18th century France, organizing for labor rights internationally in the early 20th century, organizing against fascism during the Spanish Civil War, and – most relevantly – organizing for civil rights and racial equity in the United States since the 1960s. By wearing the raised fist, Seattle educators are demonstrating their solidarity with struggles for racial equity in Seattle schools and U.S. society as a whole. We are also acknowledging the ongoing legacy of struggles led by communities of color, in particular Black Lives Matter and other movements for racial justice in the United States.

Q: What does the hashtag #sayhername mean?

A: This hashtag was called for in May 2015 to call attention to the Black women and girls who have been killed by the police. This includes the case of Sandra Bland, an Illinois woman who was arrested over a traffic stop in Texas, and died in police custody, hanging in her cell. Black women are outnumbered by white women 5:1 in the United States, yet are killed by police in nearly the same numbers. The statement challenges us to recognize the intersectional nature of oppressive systems including racism and patriarchy and to value and make visible the lives and struggles of black girls and women.

 

#BlackLivesMatterAtSchool: Hundreds of educators across Seattle to wear “Black Lives Matter” shirts to school on Oct. 19th

Educators in Seattle are starting off the school year dressed for success.

In the fist action of this scale, many hundreds of Seattle teachers, counselors, instructional assistants, paraprofessionals, custodians, nurses, and other educators, will wear shirts to school on Wednesday, October 19th, that read, “Black Lives Matter.” This action is part of a Seattle Education Association sponsored day to draw attention to the school-to-prison-pipeline and institutional racism our society. Already over 700 educators and supports have ordered their shirts!

Educators at Seattle’s John Muir Elementary first conceived of this action and announced they would wear shirts to school on September 16 that read, “Black Lives Matter. We Stand Together. John Muir Elementary.” This was to coincide with an event to celebrate Black students that was organized by Black Men United to Change the Narrative. As third grade teacher Marjorie Lamarre told King 5 News at the time, “To be silent would be almost unforgivable, and I think we have been silent for almost too long.” Yet the forces of hate tried their best to silence the John Muir community as a white supremacist issued a bomb threat on the school and the event was officially cancelled. However, in a truly stunning show of courage, dozens of Black community members heeded the call of Black Men United To Change the Narrative and showed up to high five the students that morning and the John Muir staff wore the shirts anyway!

This bold action prompted the Social Equality Educators (SEE) to introduce a resolution at the Seattle Education Association to support John Muir and make a call for educators across the city to also wear Black Lives Matter shirts. The resolution reads:

Whereas the SEA promotes equity and supports anti-racist work in our schools; and,

Whereas we want to act in solidarity with our members and the community at John Muir who received threats based on their decision to wear Black Lives Matter t-shirts as part of an event with “Black Men United to Change the Narrative”; and,

Whereas the SEA and SPS promote Race and Equity teams to address institutionalized racism in our schools and offer a space for dialogue among school staff; 

Therefore be it resolved that the SEA Representative Assembly endorse and participate in an action wearing Black Lives Matter t-shirts on Wednesday, October 19, 2016 with the intent of showing solidarity, promoting anti-racist practices in our schools, and creating dialogue in our schools and communities.

Many educators will also use the day to teach about the ways institutional racism impacts education, our nation, and our world.  There are also teachers around the country working to build solidarity actions in their city.  Educators wearing the Black Lives Matter shirts on Oct. 19th are encouraged to gather together to take a photo and post at: https://www.facebook.com/events/1651069751869918/

Below is the press release for the press conference that will be held tomorrow to announce #BlackLivesMatterAtSchool

For Immediate Release: Monday, Oct. 10th, 2016

Social Equality Educators: http://socialequalityeducators.org/

What: Press Conference to announce unprecedented action by teachers in Seattle to affirm that Black Lives Matter in the public schools.  Hundreds of teachers across the district to wear “Black Lives Matter” shirts to school next week!

When: Press conference–Wednesday, Oct. 12th, at 4:30 pm. Day of Action Oct. 19th.

Where: Garfield Community Center, 2323 East Cherry St, Seattle, WA 98122

Speakers:

DeShawn Jackson: Instructional Assistant, John Muir Elementary

Sarah Arvey: Teacher Hamilton International Middle School, advisor for Hamilton Against Racism

Jesse Hagopian: Teacher, Garfield High School, editor for Rethinking School magazine

Rita Green: Seattle NAACP education chair

Donte Felder: Mentor teacher, Orca K-8

Kshama Sawant: Seattle City Council Member

Jon Greenberg: Teacher, Center School High, antiracist educator who was reprimanded for his courageous conversation curriculum.

And other community organizers and Black Lives Matter activists

Seattle, WA

In the first action of its kind in the country, hundreds of teachers, counselor, instructional assistants, office staff, and other educators, will wear “Black Lives Matter” shirts to school on Wednesday, October 19th.  At the time of this release, already over 700 shirts have been ordered by educators in Seattle.

This unprecedented action by educators in Seattle has been organized to let the community know that Black Lives Matter in Seattle Public Schools. On October 19, 2016, educators have planned a major action in response to the racist threats that John Muir Elementary School received on September 16.  The staff of John Muir planned an event with Black Men United to Change the Narrative, teachers, administration, custodians and other faculty to wear Black Lives Matter shirts to schools that day.  The building and district received threats of violence in an attempt to intimidate the educators, parents and students into not wearing the Black Lives Matter shirts or supporting their Black youth.  Many of the staff and community members continued with the event anyway.   Seattle educators want to ensure that these type of threats are not welcome or tolerated in our community.

Sarah Arvey, a teacher at Hamilton International Middle School, was inspired to begin organizing an action after students asked her if teachers at Hamilton would ever wear Black Lives Matter shirts. Arvey began to organize Hamilton’s staff and then went to present the idea to the Seattle Education Association (SEA) Representative Assembly.  SEA unanimously voted to endorse a district wide demonstration of solidarity and affirmation that Black Lives Matter in Seattle Public Schools to be held on October 19.

It is urgent for educators to stand up against racism in our society, city and schools.  The Seattle school district has grappled with institutionalized racism and remains a district that is segregated, has disproportionate discipline rates for students of color, and struggles to close the opportunity gap. It is imperative to see that educators continue to fight for the rights of all students and communities, especially those that have a long history disenfranchisement. “For Black lives to matter, they also have to matter at school,” says Jesse Hagopian, Garfield High School teacher and community organizer.  “I’m proud of my educator colleagues across Seattle who voted unanimously at the union meeting to affirm our Black students who are confronted with a school-to-prison-pipeline, disproportionate discipline, a dearth of culturally relevant curriculum, and state violence.”

“We must be bold in addressing racism. If we meter our responses in catering to white fragility, we will always heel towards the status quo of white supremacy,” says Ian Golash, Chief Sealth High School teacher.

As Mark Lilly, Instructional Assistant and leader of Bembe Olele Afro-Cuban Dance Company, states, “This is our opportunity to leverage the power of public education showing the world community that when faced with oppression, social justice, right action and compassion are the chosen response.”

The message is more than words on a shirt.  In addition to wearing the Black Lives Matter t-shirts, educators are doing teach-ins, presenting Black Lives Matter Curriculum, supporting student activism and leadership, and organizing with community members.

The “Black Lives Matter to Educators” event will culminate with a rally on October 19th at Washington Hall (153 14th Avenue Seattle, Washington 98122) from 6-8pm.  This event will feature educators, parents, students, and activists discussing their vision for supporting Black lives at school.  The event will also feature, musicians, poets, and Grammy award winning artist, Kimya Dawson.

Black to School: The Rising Struggle to Make Black Education Matter

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Tonya Ray, center, a math teacher at the Academy of Public Leadership, talking with students in Detroit, May 11, 2016. (Joshua Lott / The New York Times) Originally published by Truthout, Jesse Hagopian| Op-Ed


The struggle for equitable education went to summer school, and the new school year is getting underway with leading Black organizations bolstering the movement against the central components of the corporate education reform agenda.

In an earthmoving decision for the education landscape, the NAACP — the nation’s oldest civil rights organization — voted at its July national gathering to call for “a moratorium on privately managed charter schools,” saying charter schools:

do not represent the public yet make decisions about how public funds are spent [and have] contributed to the increased segregation rather than diverse integration of our public school system…. Researchers have warned that charter school expansions in low-income communities mirror predatory lending practices that led to the sub-prime mortgage disaster, putting schools and communities impacted by these practices at great risk of loss and harm.

A moratorium would halt the granting of any more licenses to open new charter schools — that is, schools funded by the public but privately run and not accountable to democratically elected school boards. The NAACP announcement has corporate education reformers reeling. Rick Hess, director of education policy at the right-wing American Enterprise Institute, said that if local governments adopt the NAACP’s proposed moratorium, “It would give a permanent black eye to the sector.”

If the NAACP’s stance on charters would bruise the corporate agenda, then the declaration from the Movement for Black Lives — the newest civil rights coalition, comprised of dozens of grassroots organizations around the country — would flatline it altogether. The coalition released a policy platform at the beginning of August that called for, among other things, a moratorium on all out-of-school suspensions and the removal of police from schools, replacing them with positive alternatives to discipline and safety. It also called for a moratorium on charter schools and school closures, and full funding formulas that adequately weigh the needs of all districts in the state. The Movement for Black Lives wrote:

Sixty years since Brown v. Board of Education, the school-to-prison pipeline continues to play a role in denying Black people their human right to an education, and privatization strips Black people of the right to self-determine the kind of education their children receive. This systematic attack is coordinated by an international education privatization agenda, bankrolled by billionaire philanthropists such as Bill and Melinda Gates, the Walton Family, and Eli and Edythe Broad, and aided by the departments of Education at the federal, state, and local level…. Their aims are to undermine Black democracy and self-determination, destroy organized labor, and decolor education curriculum, while they simultaneously overemphasize standardized testing, and use school closures to disproportionately disrupt access to education in Black communities.

Indeed, billionaire philanthrocapitalists have upended education over the past 15 years by backing a series of major policy changes — codified in the No Child Left Behind Act, the Race to the Top initiative and the Common Core State Standards. These policies have badly damaged education for all kids and have had particularly harmful effects on Black and Brown communities. Today, increasing numbers of people have discovered that these reforms are in reality efforts to turn the schoolhouse into an ATM for corporate America.

While their program for corporate reform is being eroded by research and rising grassroots movements, the corporate reformers are clinging to one last glossy brochure in the public relations portfolio — the one with photos of Black youth on the cover and promises that all of these reforms are really about civil rights and defending kids of color.

The president of the pro-corporate reform group Democrats for Education Reform, Shavar Jeffries, scolded the NAACP for its opposition to charters: “It’s a divide between families who are served by charters and see the tangible effects that high-quality charters are having, and some who don’t live in the inner-city communities, where it becomes more of an ideological question versus an urgent life-and-death issue for their kids.”

What these neoliberal reformers know, but don’t want you to know, are the findings of a recent study on charter school discipline practices. This comprehensive analysis found:

  • Black students at charter schools were suspended 6.4 percent more often than white students at the primary level and an astounding 16.4 percent more at the secondary level.
  • 374 charter schools suspended 25 percent of their enrolled student body at least once.
  • Nearly half of all Black secondary charter school students attended one of the 270 schools that was hyper-segregated (meaning at least 80 percent of the student body was Black) and where the aggregate Black suspension rate was 25 percent.
  • 235 charter schools suspended more than 50 percent of their enrolled students with disabilities.

Also of great concern for neoliberal reformers is the Movement for Black Lives’ opposition to the abuses of standardized testing. With the rise of a mass movement of teachers, parents and students opting out of standardized testing, the multibillion-dollar testing industry has been scrambling for talking points to maintain its legitimacy. The industry’s latest strategy for containing the movement against test-and-punish education policy is to pretend it is aligned with the civil rights movement. Take this sophistry on behalf of the testocracy from the Education Post, a website funded in part by the Walmart-funded Walton Foundation:

Spreading misinformation about testing threatens one of the primary data points that can be used by parents, teachers and lawyers to fight for the civil rights of children who have been under-taught…. Every time someone opts their middle-class kid out of an exam, they are impacting the validity of data that could be used in a court case to prove that students’ civil rights are being violated in their schools. Every time someone spreads the lie that teachers can’t do their jobs because of standardized testing, they give credence to forces who don’t believe that teachers should be accountable at all.

Forget the fact that the nation’s largest public school systems have more cops than counselors. Forget the criminal underfunding of our schools. Forget the racist corporate textbooks rampant in our schools. The testocracy would have you believe that the primary problem in education — indeed the real obstacle to civil rights — is the parent who opts their kids out of a standardized test, or the teacher who explains how the curriculum is being warped by having to teach to the test.

What the testocracy doesn’t want you to know is that standardized testing is a multibillion dollar industry, with the average student in the American public school system taking an outlandish 112 standardized tests during their k-12 career. They don’t want you to know that many schools that serve Black and Brown students have become test-prep factories rather than incubators of creativity and critical thinking, with testing saturating education at even higher concentrations in schools serving low-income students and students of color. They don’t want you to understand the way high-stakes tests are being used around the country in service of the school-to-prison-pipeline. A review by the National Research Council concluded that high school graduation tests have done nothing to lift student achievement, but they have raised the dropout rate. When one test score can deny students graduation — even when they have met every other graduation requirement — it can have devastating consequences. Boston University economics professor Kevin Lang’s 2013 study, “The School to Prison Pipeline Exposed,” links increases in the use of high-stakes standardized high school exit exams to increased incarceration rates.

While it may be true that the students opting out today are disproportionately white, to portray the movement against standardized testing as a white movement is to make invisible the important leadership role that people of color have played around the country. Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis, a Black woman, is one of the most important leaders in the national movement against corporate education reform, and she led the union in the “Let Us Teach!” campaign against high-stakes testing. The Black opt-out rate reached 10 percent in Chicago last year. In Ohio, a recent study shows that communities of color and low-income communities opt out at nearly the same rates as whiter and wealthier ones. This past school year in Baltimore, the predominantly Black students in the Baltimore Algebra Project produced a brilliant music video against standardized testing — and then led a walkout during the PARCC [Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers] test, coinciding with the anniversary of the murder of Freddie Gray by the police, in an effort to highlight the school-to-prison-pipeline. And some of the biggest student walkouts in US history against standardized testing occurred in New Mexico at schools serving a student population that is roughly 90 percent Latino and Latina.

Nationally, the NAACP has yet to join the opt-out movement and advocate for civil disobedience in the struggle for authentic assessment and education justice. However, an increasing number of local NAACP chapters are raising opposition to the punitive nature of high-stakes testing and preparing for a struggle at the national level. In Seattle, the local NAACP hosted a press conference to encourage parents to opt out of the Common Core tests. As Seattle NAACP president Gerald Hankerson put it, “The opt-out movement is a vital component of the Black Lives Matter movement and other struggles for social justice in our region. Using standardized tests to label black people and immigrants ‘lesser,’ while systematically under-funding their schools, has a long and ugly history in this country.”

The increasing involvement of the Black Lives Matter movement in struggles to democratize education may come as a surprise to the obscenely wealthy, who are using their money to control public education and often fancy themselves civil rights crusaders. But it shouldn’t surprise the rest of us.

The struggle for education has been a part of every major uprising for racial justice that Black people have engaged in throughout US history. This includes resistance to the “compulsory ignorance” laws during slavery, the establishment of the Freedman’s Bureau and public schools during Reconstruction, the debates between Booker T. Washington and W.E.B Du Bois on the purpose of education during Jim Crow, the Brown V. Board Supreme Court lawsuit, the Freedom Schools of the civil rights movement, and the fight for Black studies programs during the Black Power era. The struggle for Black education has always been central to the fight for Black liberation.

Today, a new Black rebellion has erupted — from the sit-down protests on NFL fields, to the urban rebellions in the streets — galvanized by extrajudicial executions of Black people by the police and racist vigilantes. While the movement to defend Black folks from unaccountable, racist police has been the most prominent aspect this new movement, Black Lives Matter doesn’t end with the demand that Black people not be shot down in the streets. While there are certainly many prerequisites to achieving a society where Black lives truly matter, one of them, certainly, is confronting the long legacy of racist schooling and replacing it with an a consciously anti-racist education system.

A world where Black lives matter and Black education is empowering will not come easily. It won’t be funded by benevolent philanthropists. It won’t be promoted by corporate lobbyists or legislated by the politicians they own. It will only happen with an uprising beyond even the scale and militancy of the last century’s civil rights and Black Power movements. The contradictions of unhinged police murder of Black people in the “land of the free,” coupled with corporate education reformers’ racist schooling policies enacted in the name of “closing the achievement gap,” are already producing large-scale, renewed social unrest. The question of how powerful this movement grows is up to us.

Time to hit the books and take our struggle for public education Black to school.


Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.

Jesse Hagopian

Jesse Hagopian is an associate editor for Rethinking Schools magazine. Jesse teaches history and is the Black Student Union adviser at Garfield High School, the site of the historic boycott of the MAP standardized test.  He is the editor and contributing author to More Than a Score: The New Uprising Against High-Stakes Testing (Haymarket Books, 2014) and recipient of the 2013 “Secondary School Teacher of the Year” award from the Academy of Education Arts and Sciences. A survivor of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, Jesse is an advocate for Haitian human rights. Visit his blog: iamaneducator.com. Follow him on Twitter: @jessedhagopian.

 

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