Sunday, December 4, 2016

A Tale of Two Education Systems: A New Jersey Story

In the name of school 'choice', education 'reformers' have stripped away choice for people of color

We see it time and again in our low-income/high minority, inner cities all across the country: public schools, the glue that holds neighborhoods together, are shuttered or flipped to charters in the name of 'reform', and parents and community members have absolutely no say.

But not so in mostly wealthy, mostly White, suburban America. I live in one such place: Hunterdon County, NJ, one of America's wealthiest counties. About 15 minutes down the road from me is the tiny, gorgeously bucolic, rural, Delaware River town of Stockton. With a population of only 516, the median household income is $93,049, it's 96.5% White, and the median house value is $384,200. 

With only 50 students, Stockton Borough School is New Jersey's oldest and smallest school, and the community doesn't want it to close. But because of declining enrollment, it's not exactly cost-effective to keep it open. But, after a packed community forum, former Stockton Borough Board of Education member, David L. Pasicznyk, wrote a letter to the school district:
"As you have undoubtedly noticed at the recent meeting at the Stockton Firehouse, where approximately 100 supporters turned out, the school is the glue that holds our community together. To have that many supporters (over 20-percent of the borough's population) show up at a mid-week evening meeting should be an indicator of the value that we, young and old, place on the school." 
Board President Dan Seiter told the audience Monday night that the board had heard the community's wish that the school remain open...
Superintendent Lou Muenker will work to create a committee made up of parents, residents of the entire district, teachers, staff and board members to look at ways to increase enrollment at the school, as well as make recommendations on the best use of the facility in the future. (emphasis mine) 
Don't get me wrong; I'm happy that the school will remain open at least another year. Hunterdon County has excellent schools, and I'm sure Stockton Borough School is one of them. I'm happy the school board is fulfilling the will of the people who want the very best for their children—and who are paying the bills. But, Stockton Borough would never dream of closing its school with that many people standing in opposition. However, in this era of education 'reform', school closings are business as usual in urban centers like Newark, Camden or Philadelphia—where parents' voices are simply ignored—or Chicago, where parents and community members went on a hunger strike to try to get the board of education to listen:
The larger issue, the protesters say, is how the district and city government ignore the input of local parents and students, especially when that input comes from racial minorities. In 2013, the city’s mayor, Rahm Emanuel, closed 49 schools — a move that was met with widespread resistance and disproportionately impacted minority communities. 
“What school district in their right mind would demonize and run away from parents that are activated to improve their schools?” protester Jitu Brown previously told The Huffington Post. 
“They just ignore us because they were hell-bent on closing this school and several other schools in this neighborhood, as if there’s no hope for black kids in neighborhood schools, and that’s just not true,” he said. (emphasis mine)
School closings—no matter where they are—are disruptive. But, if you live in wealthy, White America, the odds of that happening against your will are slim to none.

How many parents, students and community members all across this country have packed urban board of ed meetings, fighting to keep their neighborhood schools open? Fighting to prevent the destruction of their communities? Fighting against privatization? Fighting for their democratic right to determine how their tax dollars are spent, while those in charge turn a deaf ear? How many parents, students and concerned citizens in cities all across this country have marched in the streets against the destruction of public education in their neighborhoods? How many of these concerned citizens have been ignored by school boards that are often appointed rather than elected?

Too many. 

Want to see what people of color have to go through to get their boards of education to listen to them? Check out NJ Communities United's Facebook page. These dedicated parents and community members are relentless in their efforts to make their voices heard in Newark, even going so far as to follow former NJ Education Commissioner turned Superintendent, 'Reformy' Chris Cerf, to a swanky charter school function after he abruptly left a board of ed meeting right before the public address portion. I'm sorry I wasn't able to embed this video, but scroll down their page until you see it:

This would never, ever happen in New Jersey's mostly wealthy, mostly White suburbs. Nor would it happen in almost any other upper middle class suburb in any state in this country. But for far too many people of color who live in our urban centers, this is a daily occurrence.

Money and skin color speak louder than words in America. Money and skin color open doors of opportunity in every area of life, and it starts with education. This is the great Civil Rights conundrum that education 'reformers'—many of whom are people of color, all of whom are 'choice' zealots—have wrought upon the very communities they are trying to 'help'. They say zip code shouldn't matter, but they are the very ones making it harder for students in certain zip codes to choose the education they want.

'Choice' does not equal 'access'.