Darrell Allison: Access denied, from lunch counters to zip codes



Editor’s note: This is the second in our series of posts commemorating the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Darrell Allison is president of Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina.

Is school choice the civil rights issue for the 21st Century? I say it’s always been an issue.

While the battles, faces, and nuances have changed, we are still wrestling with core questions of equality, education as a means of opportunity, and creating a just society.

On Feb. 1, 1960, four young men from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, Ezell Blair, Joseph McNeil, Franklin McCain, and David Richmond, were refused service at a lunch counter in Greensboro, N.C. because of the color of their skin. In response, they turned the nation’s attention to injustice and inequality by remaining in their seats until closing time. The sit-in continued the following day; pretty soon, after significant media attention, sit-ins were happening elsewhere in North Carolina and in cities across the South.MLK snipped

In 2013, four courageous young men followed in their footsteps by bringing attention to educational injustice to the North Carolina legislature. Reps. Marcus Brandon and Ed Hanes (both Democrats), and Brian Brown and Rob Bryan (both Republicans), each took political hits and overcame harsh rhetoric as they jointly sponsored The Opportunity Scholarship Act.

Opportunity Scholarships give students from low-income and working-class families the ability to attend non-public schools that could better meet their needs. The hard reality is, not much has changed since the 1960s when it comes to educational choices. Wealthy parents have always had access to an array of options that many lower-income, mostly minority students do not. This was the justification behind Opportunity Scholarships – to provide the same equality of choice to poor families.

As Dr. King once said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere … whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” In North Carolina, we have a 30 percentage point achievement gap between non-poor and economically disadvantaged students, a 30 point gap between whites and blacks, and a 24 point gap between whites and Hispanics. If we treat Dr. King’s quote as truth and not a catchy saying, where is the moral outrage?

These statistics reveal a great divide – one that Brown v. Board of Education sought to address in 1954. The landmark case recognized segregation in public education was wrong. However, I contend that Brown v. Board was not simply and narrowly about placing black kids in classrooms with white kids. It was, at its very core, a school choice issue because one of its underlying premises was the quality of education was not the same for minority students compared to their white counterparts. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: PARCC, Common Core, class size & more

Ed summit: Education leaders from across the state convene for a three-day conference that could shape the future of teaching, testing and a school-grading system. Palm Beach Post. More from the Orlando Sentinel, Associated Press, Tampa Bay Times. Long before the summit, former Education Commissioner Tony Bennett had made it clear he might recommend Florida shift gears and pick a new replacement for FCAT other than PARCC. School Zone. Interim Education Commissioner Pam Stewart tells reporters her goal for the summit is to listen. StateImpact Florida.

florida-roundup-logoCommon Core: Tampa Bay Times’ columnist Dan DeWitt confirms that Common Core State Standards will not allow the federal government to mine the DNA of unsuspecting students among other criticisms of the new measures.

PTA: A Weston parent-teacher association is reinstated after it was shut down for paying members $10 an hour to volunteer and for keeping shoddy financial records. Sun Sentinel.

Charter schools: The Coalition of Boynton West Residential Associations is not supporting Broward County’s proposed construction of Trails charter school because there are too many schools in the area, the group says. Sun Sentinel. Lake Wales Charter Schools grapples with a good thing: an increase in enrollment. The Ledger.

Class size: Duval County has a plan that includes giving teachers extra pay if they choose to teach another  class and moving teachers from under-enrolled schools to schools that enrolled  more students than anticipated. Florida Times-Union.

Continue Reading →


Florida education summit aims for listening, common ground

“I’m not sure if we’re going to walk out of here with consensus,” interim Commissioner Pam Stewart told reporters during a break. But “we pulled the right stakeholders into the room … and we’re listening to everyone.”

“I’m not sure if we’re going to walk out of here with consensus,” interim Commissioner Pam Stewart told reporters during a break. But “we pulled the right stakeholders into the room … and we’re listening to everyone.”

Even for Florida, a state that has put education policy on overdrive for 15 years, Monday’s summit was remarkable: Three dozen education leaders, business leaders and lawmakers, all but locked in a room to hash it out over the state’s contentious approach to standards, testing and accountability.

Gov. Rick Scott called the three-day event at St. Petersburg College after a tough summer for those who back Florida’s current vision of education reform. The goal, if reachable, might be even more remarkable: A common road map for an education system that has generated some of the biggest academic gains in the nation over the past 15 years yet has also been subject to relentless criticism and, more recently, self-inflicted wounds.

The participants, who also included teachers, parents, superintendents and school board members, politely hinted at the divisions during introductions.

Florida’s accountability system “has had a great deal to do with rising student achievement,” said Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, who was House speaker when the heart of the system was installed under former Gov. Jeb Bush. “I hope we don’t take a step backwards.”

“Florida has been on the right course,” said Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho. But “it doesn’t mean we’ve done everything right.”

Now, he continued, we have the opportunity to fix the rest.

The state’s fledgling teacher evaluation system, one of four areas targeted for discussion, also surfaced as a sore point.

Teachers “don’t trust the system,” said Joanne McCall, vice president of the Florida Education Association.

But Keith Calloway, with the Professional Educators Network of Florida, said teachers were not uniformly opposed. “There are many of us teachers out there right now that like the evaluations,” he said.

It remains to be seen whether parties long at odds can agree on meaningful steps in the short term, let alone stick together on common ground for the long haul. History suggests it will be tough. Continue Reading →


Parental school choice spurs surprising reactions from advocates of the poor

As a white person from Iowa, I am always hesitant to write about the racial aspects of ed reform and parental school choice. I feel it is always better to have others with more credibility speak of it. But this weekend I saw two things that compelled me to write.

Kirtley: On the 50th anniversary of Dr. King's great speech, a black U.S. attorney general working for the nation's first black president filed a lawsuit to halt a program that is helping low-income black families in Louisiana choose a better school for their children.

Kirtley: On the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s great speech, a black U.S. attorney general working for the nation’s first black president filed a lawsuit to halt a program that is helping low-income black families in Louisiana choose a better school for their children.

On Saturday, I read that the U.S. Justice Department is suing the state of Louisiana to block vouchers for students in public school districts that are under old federal desegregation orders. The statewide voucher program, officially called the Louisiana Scholarship Program, lets low-income students in public schools graded C, D or F attend private schools at taxpayer expense. This year, 22 of the 34 school systems under desegregation orders are sending some students to private schools on vouchers.

The Justice Department’s primary argument is that letting students leave for private schools can disrupt the racial balance in public school systems that desegregation orders are meant to protect. Sounds like a good idea, right?

But here’s the thing: according to the Louisiana Department of Education, 86 percent of the children on the program are black. Only 9 percent are white.

If roughly 90 percent of the kids on the program are black, I don’t really understand how them moving to private schools that would better serve them would worsen segregation in the public schools. Are they leaving schools that are mostly white? If so, should they be forced to stay there even though they aren’t being well served? How would you explain that to their parents?

On the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s great speech, a black attorney general working for a black president filed a lawsuit to halt a program that is helping low-income black families in Louisiana choose a better school for their children. This law was not just backed by Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal,  but was sponsored and supported by numerous black Democratic legislators. Half of the Senate Democratic caucus and a quarter of the House Democratic caucus in the Louisiana legislature backed the initial expansion of the program from its New Orleans origins.
Continue Reading →


MLK and God’s schools



Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of posts we’re running this week to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

I grew up in a Minnesota city of 100,000 with – in my time – one black family. My introduction to the reality of public school segregation came in 1962 as – now at Northwestern in Chicago – I agreed to probe the public schools of the district on behalf of the U.S. Commissioner of Education. The racial separation was there as expected, but there was one big surprise; I was astonished to find enormous disparities, not only in taxable local wealth – hence spending – among the hundreds of Illinois districts, but even in individual school-by-school spending within the Chicago district itself. I wrote about both problems, sprinkling research with “action” including marches and demonstration both in Chicago and in Selma (prior to the main event there).MLK snipped

My interest in deseg politics had already provoked a law review article on the risks of anti-trust liability for King et al. who were planning boycotts of private discriminators. On the strength of that essay, Jack Greenberg, then director of the NAACP Inc. Fund, invited me to meet with King and his lieutenants at dinner in Chicago to discuss the question. We spoke at length – mostly about boycotts but also about schools. By that time I was already into the prospects for increasing desegregation in Chicago, partly through well-designed school choice.

I won’t pretend that I recall the details of that evening. What I can say is King’s mind was at very least open to and interested in subsidies for the exercise of parental authority – which clearly he valued as a primary religious instrument. I took my older boys next evening to hear him at a South Side church and, possibly, to follow up on our conversation, but he had to cancel. We heard sermons from his colleagues, some to become and remain famous. I did not meet King again.

King’s “Dream” speech does not engage specific public policy issues – on schools or anything else. Essentially a sermon, it is a condemnation of the sins of segregation and an appeal to the believer to hear scripture, with its call for indiscriminate love of neighbor, as the life-task of all who recognize the reality of divine love for us – his image and likeness. It is purely and simply a religious appeal that declares the good society to be one that rests upon benign principles that we humans did not invent but which bind us. I don’t know King’s specific understanding of or attitude toward non-believers, but this document clearly rests the realization of the good society upon its recognition of our divine source and its implication of the full equality of all persons.

Given that premise and the Supreme Court’s insistence upon the “wall of segregation” in the public schools, plus – on the other hand – the right of parents to choose a private religious education, the logic is rather plain.

Private schools live on tuition, and many American families couldn’t afford to enroll then or now. If low-income families were to exercise this basic human right and parental responsibility enjoyed by the rest of us, government would have to restructure schooling to insure access to an education grounded upon, and suffused with, an authority higher than the state. Given the economic plight of so many black parents, the only question would be how to design the system to secure parental choice without racial segregation by private educators.

And that possibility was to be the principal crutch of “civil rights” organizations in hesitating about subsidized choice. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Common Core, lunch programs, reading tests & more

School safety: Across Florida and the nation, schools open with more armed security following the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting. Associated Press.

florida-roundup-logoCommon Core: StateImpact Florida listens to what readers have to say about the new education standards. The Badass Teachers Association represents a new wave of liberal opposition to the standards with teachers joining forces with tea party groups and libertarians, who want states to slow down efforts to adopt the new benchmarks and corresponding tests. Times-Herald.

Lunch line: Every elementary student in Lake Wales gets a free lunch thanks to a new federal program. The Ledger. New federal lunch rules result in healthier meals for children, more costs for schools. Florida Today.

Summer Slide: Treasure Coast teachers assess students during the first days of school to see if they kept up with learning and reading during the summer. TC Palm.

Reading tests: Most Duval County public school students will take new reading tests this week to pinpoint deficiencies. Florida Times-Union.

Online requirement: Few high school juniors have completed the online course they need to graduate. Fort Myers News-Press.

Charter schools: Nine charter groups have applied to open schools in Sarasota and Manatee counties next fall. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Visible Men Academy finishes its first week in Manatee County with 74 kindergarten through second-grade students enrolled. Bradenton Herald.

Continue Reading →


redefinED roundup: School choice polls, lawsuits in Alabama & Louisiana, bipartisanship in Kentucky & more

MondayRoundUp_magenta Alabama: The Southern Poverty Law Center is suing to block the new school choice law under equal protections grounds (AL.com, NPR, Times Daily, US News and World Report). Essentially, they’re arguing that if you can’t help every child, you shouldn’t help any child (HT to Jason Bedrick).

Florida: Step Up for Students, which administers Florida’s education tax-credit scholarship program, received a $1 million donation from WellCare Health Plans, Inc. The contribution will fund 198 scholarships this school year (PRWeb).

Kentucky: U.S. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) appeared at an event with the Black Alliance for Education Options and Democrats for Education Reform to promote school choice and charter schools (Huffington Post, Education Week).

Louisiana: Education leaders in Baton Rouge are reviewing applications from charter schools to see who might be eligible to use some of the $16 million available for capital and start-up costs (The Advocate). The U.S. Justice Department is trying to stop vouchers from being offered in any school district still under court ordered desegregation (Associated Press, Times-Picayune, The Advocate).

Massachusetts: School choice students in the Berlin-Boylston area won’t be getting bus rides to school anymore (The Telegram).

Minnesota: Charter schools are feeling more pressure to participate in accountability rating systems (Hechinger Report). Continue Reading →


Dr. King, the Dream & educational progress

Fifty years ago next week, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have A Dream” speech to 250,000 people in Washington D.C. It remains one of the greatest speeches in American history, offering a sweeping vision of hope and equal opportunity in the midst of so much fear and turbulence.

MLK snippedMany of us will reflect on how far we have come, and how far we have to go, since Dr. King energized millions with his words – and there’s no doubt education will be part of those discussions. To that end, we’re running a series of posts next week on the Dream and our schools.

We asked our bloggers to consider a scenario described by education leader Howard Fuller: On Feb. 1, 1960, four black students sit down at a lunch counter in Greensboro, N.C. and are denied service. They spark the lunch counter movement, helping to focus the nation’s conscience on racial segregation. Now, four black students sit down at a lunch counter and they’re welcomed like other diners. But they can’t read the menu.

What do racial achievement gaps say about the state of Dr. King’s dream? How does our current education system expand or contract his vision of social justice and equal opportunity? Is there reason to be hopeful when it comes to school choice, educational quality and the academic success of low-income and minority children? Please join us, beginning Monday, to read what some of our bloggers have to say. And please add your thoughts to the discussion.