Dear Dr. Anderson,
I hope this note finds you well and staying warm enough!
Perhaps you remember our few exchanges by email last April. Since that time I have continued to spread the word about your work because of its extraordinary value.
Today I am writing to you to seek your opinion. I have been trying to process an idea, and I hope that you will give me your perspective.
For the past several years, I have become increasingly involved with trying to understand inner-city issues as they relate to the current education reform movement, as well as to the situation at my local public schools. From the research and thinking I have done, I have come to believe that the most recent reform approach, one of NCLB penalties and the installation of charter schools, will never be enough to get to the root of the problem for the young people in those communities.
In discussions about “what is wrong,” the profound impact of decades of underemployment, as well as the extent of the damage and suffering which it has caused to families, are nearly always ignored. The focus of the current crop of education “reformers” has been narrowed exclusively on the supposed inadequacies of inner-city public schools and their teachers, and this is where the blame is most often assigned. I have come to believe that teachers and schools are being made the scapegoats to avoid discussion or correction of the true, enormous underlying issues.
One reason "Code of the Street" was so fascinating to me was because of your insights about "decent" and "street" families. I recognized the two types immediately. Here in
My notion is that the low-income Black parents who seek out charter schools for their children are a specific type, the type who is more likely to stress the importance of education to their children and to support the mission of the school in their homes (= “decent”). I believe that their children are more likely to end up with greater academic achievement than the children who happen to have been born to parents who lack enough of that focus.
To enroll a child in a charter school requires more forethought, effort, research and consideration on the part of the parent. This makes the population of charter school families a self-selected one. Charter schools prefer to deny this, but I know for certain it must be the case. I have learned from personal experience that some parents, through no fault of their own, have very extreme limitations in regard to supporting their children’s educations and complying with the mission of their children's schools.
Once the parents who are willing to invest the energy in seeking out a charter school are separated from those who won’t, there are additional features about charter schools which separate the nature of their families even more. Many charter schools are permitted to have stricter policies which require minimum levels of parental involvement and compliant student behavior. Families must sign contracts and their obligations are monitored.
Also, some of the schools are known to place pressure on students with low-performance or problems with behavior, sometimes just before state testing. Sometimes this pressure is so great that students will leave the charter school, in which case it is justified as not being “a good fit.” Then those students arrive at the regular local public school to enroll. Those schools are required, by law, to accept every child despite any poor academic and/or behavior records.
There is no reciprocity between charter and regular public schools. The regular public schools must accept and serve all students, even the most-difficult-to-educate ones, but charter schools are not required to do the same. In addition, regular public schools cannot require parent involvement, and have no teeth for enforcing it either.
So, I am beginning to envision an inner-city school landscape where charter schools appear more and more successful simply because they collect and concentrate the children of “decent” families. Additionally, they become the recipients of large donations from philanthropists because they appear to be educating inner-city minority children more effectively than the regular public schools. It is rarely admitted that the charter schools and the regular schools have an increasingly different population of families.
While all this is happening, the regular public schools end up becoming less and less successful, because the concentration of the more challenging “street-oriented” kids is getting higher and higher. And as the percentage of challenging students grows, these schools appear to become worse and worse. Discipline problems and truancy percentages increase, and any remaining “decent” families who use the school begin to reject them. Community support for these schools languishes.
So, Dr. Anderson, these are my concerns. I greatly hope you will have time to respond to me, and confirm, rebut, or expand upon them from your point of view. Feel free to reach me by email or by phone.
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Within two hours I had received a call from Dr. Anderson. We talked on the phone for nearly an hour.
From his perspective as a sociologist who has spent a lifetime studying the inner-city Black community, he confirmed my notion on this post.
This is bound to create a situation where the kids who don't have anyone to advocate for them – and who have weaker educationally-minded parents – will indeed all be stuck together in the regular inner-city public schools, without peers from any other groups to associate with. I described a potential situation caused by the current mode where the public schools will become filled with “untouchables” that nobody wants to be around or really cares about. We discussed how this scenario has parallels to the incarceration situation for Blacks that currently exists.
So it is obvious that one day, the question will be, “What is this nation going to do with all those children next?”
He does see great hope with Obama being president, but also sees how everything Obama does is totally loaded with complex, and potentially politically-deadly racial booby traps. Obama has to proceed so very carefully.
I urged him to consider writing some of his thoughts about the way that racial and educational reform issues tie together, and if he does so, to please let me know.
(E.A.: If you read this, I hope it is okay. It is important to me to keep extending the conversation for everyone, so I wanted to reveal a few of the things we talked about.)