The Second Line Blog

Yes! to School Taxes

Three property taxes were renewed in New Orleans recently.  The taxes help to ensure school employee salaries, as well as supplies.
Voters again backed a 1.55-mill tax funds textbooks, library books, instructional equipment, and materials. The district expects this millage to generate $5.7 million annually.
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The Race Has Begun: Lake Forest Charter School Begins their 2017-2018 Enrollment

Despite the criticism Lake Forest Charter School has received over the years for being one of the few public schools with selective enrollment, it isn’t stopping New Orleans’ parents from trying to claim a stake in the city’s school choice melee.  

As described in an article from The Times Picayune which focused attacking the city’s only three selective-enrollment schools (now only two with Audubon Charter now an open-enrollment school),

these three schools impose mind-numbingly complex application processes that test a parent’s savvy, access to transportation and ability to get off work.”

Having maintained their position as a high-performing K-8 school for years, #18 in the state during the 2016-2017 school year 2013 Blue Ribbon School), especially in the everlasting disapproval of the city’s past and present school system, which was aired by upset parents and students alike during the NAACP’s visit to the city earlier this year,  I can understand why a school would elect to maintain their admission standards to remain a separate entity from the chaotic conversations; however, some members of the community, including school staff of open-enrollment programs find the process of schools like Lake Forest Charter to be a daunting one based upon class rather than need.  

Orientations, assessments, and application submissions just about sum up the process, but to community members who support inclusion and children from low-income households being given as many opportunities as those with resources, selective schools like Lake Forest Charter School are problematic for the city’s youth.

As not only an employee of an open-enrollment charter school, but also the mother of a child who was not placed in a Pre-K program through the city’s open-enrollment program (One-App) due to my income being considered too “high” for Pre-K and only eligible for tuition-based Pre-K programs (which limited the availability), I for one have certainly looked into the application process for Lake Forest Charter School after my dissatisfaction with the One App process and its algorithmic lottery system.  

The uncertainty of the open-enrollment application process is just as emotionally taxing as rearranging my schedule to visit the school for an assessment and orientation (which occur simultaneously).  

I can’t argue with what is fair in terms of how a school chooses to admit students, but what I can say is during a time in my life where I am most concerned about fostering my son to ensure he is armed with an excellent education to combat his identity markers of being a black (no privilege) male (greater privilege), I cannot afford to take a gamble on where he is assigned to spend the next nine years of the most pivotal time of his foundation.  

And if that means engaging in whatever the “mind-numbing” application process, it’s a challenge that I am willing to take.

Confederate flags in the educational environment

Following the August events in Charlottesville and an ongoing nationwide discourse about confederate monuments, there has also been a quiet groundswell of movement happening around the issue of confederate flags in schools. Recent news reports have included community discourse around a rash of racial incidents in Pennsylvania, racial tensions at a high school football game caused by students displaying the flag in Colorado, and a number of schools and districts across the nation, from Indiana to Durham, North Carolina, are beginning to ban the Confederate flag and apparel.  Most recently, a similar issue came up when a school in San Antonio changed its name from Robert E. Lee to just Lee.  A part of me feels relief. Another part of me is sad we are still having this discussion.  When I was a teenager in the late 90s, I advocated for the removal of Confederate apparel in my own school, and it was eventually banned.  Even at that time, I thought we were decades late in having the dialogue, but the KKK had a strong legacy in the area of southwest Ohio where I grew up. There were also a lot of migrants from the south who held onto their confederate pride. Students wore confederate belt buckles, t-shirts, buttons, and patches, and attached the full flag to the back window of their trucks.

The result was an incredibly hostile environment for the few students of color who attended our rural school, including me. Being a teenager is hard enough without having to worry about racial intimidation. Today, I think about what other children are possibly enduring after last November’s election. I wonder about rural districts in Louisiana and beyond where students of color comprise a small minority.  I lived in a northern state that twice had helped elect President Clinton, a man who made a speech on how affirmative action was “good for America.” I published a poem in the school newspaper called “Ode to the Ohio Rebel” which pointed out that our state had contributed the most soldiers to the Union army, but my classmates weren’t deterred. I can only imagine how some teenagers in the south, as well as across the country, might feel they have free license on their hatred now. That’s why a clear message to ban the Confederate flag is important to protect students of color.

In New Orleans and other urban districts, students might not think much about the issue. The majority of students in our public schools are African American so it would be almost masochistic for a student to wear a confederate flag.  African American students encounter racism and implicit bias in and out of school and are affected by a larger context of institutional racism. Additionally, they deal with the subtle and not-so-subtle glorification of the Confederacy and other symbols of white supremacy throughout our city. They walk and drive on Jefferson Davis Parkway, a tribute to the President of the Confederacy who helped provoke a war in order to protect the South’s economic interest in slavery. They pass by Jackson Square, where Andrew Jackson, who signed the Indian Removal Act, is placed on a pedestal. Lusher Charter School, named after a segregationist who believed in education as a means to maintain white dominance, is one of the most sought-after schools in the city.  There may not be peer-to-peer messaging, but the message is clear on a larger community scale.

By banning the confederate flags in schools, we acknowledge they are harmful in certain environments. Courts have allowed these bans because they agree these symbols exacerbate racial hostilities, lead to fights, and cause disruptions in school. While the first amendment legally protects these same symbols in our communities, we might still reflect on its impact and what it means for the children, as well as adults in New Orleans, to have them. We have made progress in the last year with the removal of four monuments, but we can’t forget there is still more work to be done. We can join together with the Take Em’ Down Nola Coalition to press the city and Orleans Parish School Board to continue moving forward with the removal of all symbols of racism from our streets and schools.  While schools across the nation seek these bans, we should focus our energy on the educational environment that is everywhere around us.

The Rising Cost of TOPS

A TOPS task force has been formed to study the issue of rising program costs.  TOPS pays for tuition for qualified students.
“Boutte’s figures show that TOPS costs have risen because of increases in tuition, the number of TOPS recipients and the movement of students between award levels and schools.”
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The Waiting Game

Three dozen charter schools are waiting on a decision by the Louisiana Supreme Court on the constitutionality of charter school funds.  Parents and students must be prepared to make decisions about the court’s ruling.
“We don’t want anyone to feel panic.  We are very positive that our students will have an opportunity to choose an appropriate place for their education.”

Read more here

Columbus Day is coming and I just can’t

By Tanzi West Barbour

Monday is a holiday for some. According to the calendar, it’s Columbus Day. Thinking about this day as someone who is part Native American, and its historical context reminded me of a conversation I had with one of my son’s teachers at the beginning of this school year concerning the social studies objectives for the class.

“It’s all focused on European history,” I told him. “Where is his history?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” he said.

“No worries,” I said. “He’ll introduce it to you and that way you both will learn. His connection will be through his ancestral history.”

“That’s fine,” the teacher said. “I am open to being flexible with how students approach the material.”

Now trust me when I say I believe educators should be in control of their classrooms and they should be able to set boundaries around what will be accepted and what won’t. And that would be okay in this instance except I wasn’t asking for permission. I was simply making sure my son did not spend the school year learning about someone else’s history without the ability to either learn or teach others about the impact his ancestors had on those same historical lessons. I wanted to make sure he knew he was being included.

Additionally, I do not believe that anyone should ever have to ask for permission to be counted.

Not the student in a predominantly black private school where black history isn’t part of a social studies class.

Not the lone token person of color who is the only or the first in their workplace.

Not the Dreamer who came to this country for a better life.

Not the resident of the U.S. island who has been waiting to receive the basic necessities needed to survive after being ravaged by a hurricane more than two weeks ago; only to have the 45th President of the United States visit and throw rolls of paper towels at them.

We should all be counted.

That’s why each year it has become harder and harder for me to acknowledge Christopher Columbus Day until I finally stopped two years ago. I just…can’t. Perhaps it’s my version of taking a knee against all things that holiday represents in its celebratory rhetoric and store sales. I just can’t honor a man who stole, killed, and lied. I cannot in good faith nor in truth allow myself to honor a commemoration of a time when we weren’t counted as important.

And we were here first.

When I have this conversation with my friends and colleagues, many of whom are white, they nod in receipt of my viewpoints but not necessarily in agreement. And that’s okay. Again, this is not about seeking approval. But if I had the opportunity to create a call-to-action for Monday it would be to use your position, whatever it is, to create opportunities for the disconnected to become connected. Use your voice to speak for the disenfranchised when decisions are being made for them without their inclusion. Or better yet, give up your seat in the room so they can finally, FINALLY join the conversation.

My constant prayer since the day that I became a mother has been for my children to never feel like they need approval to be who they are – unapologetic and awesome. That prayer has broadened recently to include all of us. May we all live long enough to exist in a world where we are all counted and gone are the days when one race of lives seemingly means more than others.

Enough is enough.

As I tell my children every day, “Birds never ask for permission to fly. They just do. Just like you never have to ask permission to be great or smart or included. Just be. That’s your inalienable right and it’s your blessing. Live it to the fullest.”

Call me on Monday if you want to talk. I’ll be at work.

 

College or Bust? Ed Reformers Should Offer More Choices.

 

This blog was sparked by an article from the Hechinger Report, After Decades of Pushing Bachelor’s Degrees, U.S. needs more Tradespeople.  Reading this article made me subsequently begin my mind to churning and thinking about the way I have seen education play out over the recent years. Let’s just be practical about this debate. Among almost all of us, we know a handful of people who owe student loans whether they obtained a degree or not and honestly we know many people who have degrees who struggle to find work in their field of study. Many are underemployed and underpaid yet schools continue to push a monolithic form of post-secondary achievement.

According to the article,

The United States has 30 million jobs that pay an average of $55,000 per year and don’t require a bachelor’s degree, according to the Georgetown center. People with career and technical educations are actually slightly more likely to be employed than their counterparts with academic credentials, the U.S. Department of Education reports, and significantly more likely to be working in their fields.”

Earlier this year a group of high school seniors from Warren Easton Fundamental School and Grace King High School proved that academics and career path can both be beneficial whether pursued together or separately. In their case, they benefited from a dual enrollment program between their high school and Delgado Community College by earning their Electrician Certificate of Technical Studies one week before they graduated from high school. Sixteen of those students also made the national academic honor society by achieving a 3.4 GPA in the program

Delgado Community College says that “some of the class plan to go directly to work, some plan to continue at Delgado and some are heading to four-year colleges”.

Seeing that success, knowing what we know about educational options and data, I would like to ask advocates in the charter school movement, “Why have we been so one-sided on our support of what children desire to do after graduating from high school?

Why aren’t we pushing back against this mass herding towards a bachelor’s degree when it may not be the best option for all students? Is anyone looking at high student loan debt and the juggernaut of supposedly sufficient high school students using their pell grant money to pay for remedial courses which cause major financial hardships in the pursuit of a bachelor’s degree?

Ultimately I believe an education to be priceless and the pursuit of it to be a personal plight for every student individually. However being a practical man I know that the many experiences and guidance from adults often times shape the pathway and future of our children. I see it as a true disservice to the students of today to not expose them to the extensive amount of careers that are available to them. Are we developing open-minded critical thinkers by feeding them a singular path of achievement without vividly highlighting the various options that they can pursue doing their lifetime?

The charter school movement should weigh its options when it comes to presenting life decisions to its students and families. Maybe a diversification in their portfolio is needed going forward. A portfolio that is full of choices

Brandon Caples is in the Game

 

Brandon Caples is a twenty-something Orleans Parish public schools graduate who represents the next generation of education advocate. He is a millennial who is just breaking into the field of education justice, working with whatever organization he can to get the work done. He wants every child to get the best education available, and he’s willing to play his part in making this happen.  In fact, he reminds me of when I was in eighth grade and played basketball for my church. The coach moved me around nearly every week. I played point guard, forward, even the center a couple of times because even though I wasn’t tall, I was feisty. At the end of the year the coach gave us each an award. I received the “I’ll play anything” award. I’m now ready to pass on this award to Brandon Caples, who also doesn’t seem to mind what position he plays, as long as he’s in the game. And the game, of course, is education justice.

I first met Brandon when my organization hired him to organize youth to intervene in the school-to-prison pipeline. Out of all the applicants he stood out as the most passionate and determined, and after the interview, we immediately knew we would hire him. In that time, he was willing to do what he could to learn about the laws and policies that create inequitable discipline practices in schools, and share the information with other youth. In just a short while, he organized a small, but powerful group of college students who were invested in the work.  Although he has moved on from our organization, he continues to make an impact on education in New Orleans.  He has patiently endured the many cycles of funding and losing funding at a few organizations in town. But he has stayed persistent and keeps finding new roles in the education equity movement.

Talking to him, it is clear he cares deeply about the school system and the City. He often compares his experience of school to the experience of his nieces and nephew, who range in age from nine to thirteen and currently attend New Orleans public schools. Brandon grew up in New Orleans East and went to a private school until second grade, but then switched to a public school in the Pontchartrain Park Gentilly neighborhood for the remainder of elementary school. He attended middle school in Mid-City and high school in the Uptown area of New Orleans, with a brief interruption caused by the flooding in 2005. Reflecting on his experience, Brandon appreciated his ability to attend schools outside of his neighborhood.

“My parents wanted me to be able to go the best schools I could. I had to take a lot of public transportation, but I could go to a school across town, not just the ones in my neighborhood.”

He is worried that in the past several years, school choice has actually become more difficult in practice, even though it seems easier on paper. He explained that his nieces and nephew were simply placed in the schools they attend even though those schools weren’t their parents’ top choices.  In particular, he sees more racial disparity.

“Families are not making choices from an even playing field. The system needs to account for that. White kids get into the good schools, and Black kids end up in the failing schools.”  Brandon believes the system is designed to privilege those who are already privileged. He points to selective admission schools as evidence.  He also thinks the school enrollment system is too difficult to understand. He himself didn’t know much about it until he worked for Sharon Broome when she was serving as a state senator and focused on educational equity. That’s when he became a more active advocate of policy change.  When I asked him what he wants to see changed in New Orleans, he explained that he wants schools and children to have an expanded view of the world and of education.

“Schools need to reimagine the education system and what we want kids to learn. The world is changing, but I don’t think schools have kept up. They have to realize there are a lot of ways for kids to be talented. They need to value these other ways, like writing a book, doing poetry, or being creative. We need to find new ways to teach. We need to realize it’s not a one-size-fits-all approach. ”

Brandon advocates for school partnerships with non-profits who can provide creative outlets as well as bring expertise in other important areas, such as healthy eating.  He is also concerned that with a narrow view of what education means, schools are too focused on their own performance scores. He tells me about his nephew’s recent experience at a local school.

“I think the school passed him just to pass him so they didn’t look bad. He was in the third grade and he couldn’t read. But he was getting ‘C’s. We moved him to another school and he started getting ‘F’s, but that was where he was really at. And he had to work harder and the teachers had to work harder, but at least we knew.” From his own family’s experience, Brandon recognizes it can be hard to get a child into a good school, and it is important to intervene before they are failing.

Brandon also knows the value of seeing a bigger picture.  He was fortunate that his parents took him on vacations usually twice a year, mostly in the south, but also in the mid-west. He visited family in Detroit. Though he does not downplay the trauma, he thought this was the one upside of the flooding in 2005—a lot of families and children got to experience life outside of New Orleans.  So when he was applying for college, he knew he wanted to go out-of-state. He applied only to out-of-state colleges, and ended up at the University of Tampa in Florida.  Knowing the value of that experience, he wants all children to be curious and engaged with the world, however possible. He hopes new generations can find a balance between technology and human interaction.

“We all need to find a common ground, respect each other, care for each other. I think this generation will create a lot of new things. They are great with technology. But they need to balance that with humanity.”

Older generations of activists seem concerned that millennials are not engaged enough. But Brandon is proof of how that engagement might just look different among younger generations. He is finding balance between multiple projects.  Along with working with various education justice efforts, he is a writer, and he started a small business that he hopes will brings visibility to plus-size men’s fashion. He is a new kind of advocate, tackling social justice issues from many different sides, in many different roles.