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by Wayne Au

wayneheadshotThis post is an excerpt from the introduction to our new and expanded 2nd edition of Rethinking Multicultural Education: Teaching for Racial and Cultural Justice published just last week.   

Rethinking Multicultural Education: Teaching for Racial and Cultural Justice, second edition, has been a long time coming. Over its almost 30 years of existence, Rethinking Schools has published more than 200 articles that dealt explicitly with issues of race and culture. Even though Rethinking Schools has always kept racial and cultural justice amongst our main focal points, until the first edition of Rethinking Multicultural Education in 2009, we had never published a book that specifically focused on race and culture in education in their own right. This book does just that: provide a Rethinking Schools vision of anti-racist, social justice education that is both practical for teachers and sharp in analysis.

It is my hope that the selections included in the second edition of Rethinking Multicultural Education: Teaching for Racial and Cultural Justice offer a more robust and powerful definition of multicultural education than we see so often used. For instance, some educators and teacher educators say they teach multicultural education, but do it under the guise of “global education.” This form of multiculturalism feels safer to some because it uses the veneer of international cultures to avoid more serious and painful realities of issues like racism. Similarly, “diversity education” and “cultural pluralism” get used with the singular intent of promoting heroes and holidays and celebrate individual differences, again circumventing issues of power and privilege.

RME2_cvrThe terms “diverse students” and “urban students,” two more stand-ins for “multicultural” students, have devolved into meaning “poor African American and Latino students” or “students who aren’t white.” This is particularly ironic given that in some school districts in the United States, schools might be approaching 100 percent African American or Latino students, as is the case in Detroit and Santa Ana, California, respectively, and are regularly referred to as “diverse” by professors, teachers, and politicians alike. The right wing has also developed its own, sometimes contradictory definitions of multicultural education. While some conservatives have vehemently attacked multicultural education as representative of the downfall of Western Civilization, others such as E. D. Hirsch (founder of the Core Knowledge curriculum) have developed a different definition of multicultural education. As Kristen Buras, professor of education at Emory University, talks about in her book, Rightist Multiculturalism, Hirsch’s Core Knowledge curriculum has recently taken up the banner of multicultural education by defining the United States as a multicultural nation of diverse immigrants—while simultaneously covering up systematic oppression based on class, race, and nation status.

Multicultural education is also being narrowly defined as a path students can take to “higher” status literature. Teachers use Tupac’s lyrics to move students to Shakespeare; students can unpack hip-hop lyrics as a way to learn literary language like stanza and rhyme, but they need to study Frost and Yeats to be considered well read. Students in regular classes can read “thug” literature, but AP classes need to read the classics. (Does anyone read Morrison as a precursor to Chaucer? She’s harder than the Canterbury Tales). This version of multicultural education focuses on access to the canon of high-status knowledge. In doing so, such a definition not only keeps the Eurocentric canon of knowledge at the heart of “real” education, it also communicates to students the idea that the diversity of their identities, lives, and communities do not really matter when it comes to learning.

The second edition of Rethinking Multicultural Education is an attempt to reclaim multicultural education as part of a larger, more serious struggle for social justice, a struggle that recognizes the need to fight against systematic racism, colonization, and cultural oppression that takes place through our schools. In the chapters included here, multicultural education:

  • is grounded in the lives of our students.
  • draws on the voices and perspectives of those “being studied.”
  • teaches through dialogue.
  • critically supports students’ identities.
  • embraces and recognizes the value of students’ home languages.
  • critiques school knowledge, knowledge that has historically been Eurocentric.
  • invites students to engage in real social and political issues.
  • creates classroom environments where students can meaningfully engage with each other.
  • is rigorous, and recognizes that academic rigor is impossible without it.
  • connects to the entire curriculum.
  • is rooted in an anti-racist struggle about which knowledge and experiences should be included in the curriculum.
  • celebrates social movements and the fight against nativism, xenophobia, and white supremacy.
  • explores how social, economic, and cultural institutions contribute to inequality.

It is critical that I take a moment here to address an issue regarding how I am defining “multicultural” in this book. Some friends and allies, for instance, critiqued the first edition of Rethinking Multicultural Education for focusing too narrowly on typical categories of race, ethnicity, and culture, to the exclusion of more expansive definitions of “multiculturalism” that might include, for instance, an attention to the identities of LGBTQ youth in our classrooms and curriculum, or to the religious diversity of our students and communities. I understand and appreciate these concerns. The identities of our students and their communities are diverse and exceedingly complex, and certainly one approach is to define “multiculturalism” in ways to match every aspect of those identities—every aspect of “difference.” My answer in conversation with these friends and allies has been along two lines. First I attend to the context of Rethinking Schools itself. Two of our earlier, widely used books, Rethinking Our Classrooms Volumes 1 & 2, take up a broad definition of teaching for social justice, and in doing so, both volumes seek to embrace an expansive definition of culture, and also span grade levels and subject areas. Granted these two volumes are not perfect, but in many ways, my choice of focusing on more typically defined notions of race, culture, and ethnicity was a conscious one within the context of Rethinking Schools. We had already worked with the more expansive notion of culture in those two volumes, but had yet to take up a book that focused on race, racism, and the ways culture intertwines with them. The second part of my decision to define “multiculturalism” in the manner that I have for Rethinking Multicultural Education is connected to my experience teaching multicultural education and diversity courses at the university level. As I discussed earlier in this introduction, I worry that multiculturalism has been equated with “diversity” and has become the “everyone else” category. Teacher education credential coursework at many universities, for instance, require some sort of “diversity” class as a part of their core sequence of courses. Although I generally believe in the importance of requiring such courses and certainly do not want them taken out of teacher credential programs, the “every aspect of difference” nature of these classes oftentimes means that students—future teachers in this case—may talk about race, privilege, and myriad issues associated with diversity but give short shrift to the painful and powerful systemic racism, the legacies of colonization, and the realities of cultural oppression.

To be clear, I’m not opposed to more expansive definitions of multiculturalism and diversity, and I’m open to hearing the critiques of my friends, colleagues, and allies regarding the definition of multiculturalism I’ve chosen within the context of Rethinking Schools as a whole and the field of multicultural education as it currently exists. But this book represents the need to defend the conscious and explicit attention to race and ethnicity, and the aspects of culture that extend from them, as I have done here in this second edition of Rethinking Multicultural Education.

Read the rest of Wayne’s introduction >>

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We are pleased to announce that we are in the early stages of work on a book about bilingual education.  If you’re a subscriber or have been following this blog for long, you have probably noticed that Rethinking Schools has published a number of excellent books relevant to teaching and learning in bilingual classrooms.

Yet, if you consider yourself a bilingual education advocate, you also know the importance of improving and reforming bilingual education in collaboration with other bilingual educators, activists and students. We hope you will contribute to the conversation in this new book dedicated to rethinking bilingual education.

We are looking for articles—social justice-oriented, story-rich, and replicable—that describe bilingual classroom teaching and curriculum. Review our call for submissions below for details, and please share this with your professional network!

Thanks,

Grace Cornell Gonzales, Elizabeth Schlessman, and Pilar Mejía

Call for Submissions: Attention Bilingual Educators, Students, and Activists!!

Seeking Narratives for a new book by Rethinking Schools
Working Title: Rethinking Bilingual Education

Bilingual education is a perspective. A human right. An opportunity. Bilingual learning affirms that there is more than one way to say, see, and know. Yet bilingual programs too often replicate the inequities of the dominant culture. We must rethink bilingual teaching—day in, day out, from multiple perspectives—to ensure that the injustices and inequities that permeate our schools are not simply translated from monolingual to bilingual learning environments.

We invite you to submit a story that relates to teaching and learning in bilingual classrooms in the United States. We are particularly interested in articles that describe bilingual classroom teaching and curriculum—those that are social justice-oriented, story-rich, replicable, and critical. We hope to include articles about bilingual education across the curriculum so teachers and students of all disciplines are encouraged to contribute. We are especially looking for articles about:

  • teaching in bilingual classrooms from a social justice perspective
  • special education in bilingual contexts
  • confronting the challenges of bilingual education
  • perspectives from a diverse range of bilingual programs (especially those taught in languages other than Spanish, and programs that incorporate African American Vernacular English or ASL)
  • family involvement
  • how policy matters affect bilingual ed (e.g., analysis of testing, legislation, CCSS, etc.)
  • stories that offer historical perspectives with a connection to the present

Students’ voices are important; make sure we can hear them! We especially encourage submissions from teachers and students of color, particularly those who speak a language other than English as their first language. We will also read submissions written in Spanish.

Please remember that Rethinking Schools is not an academic journal. We want the writing to be lively, conversational, and to avoid the kind of needless jargon that infects so much education writing. Please approach it as a narrative with a beginning, middle, and end, filled with anecdotes and the voices of teachers, parents, and/or students. Academic/scholarly articles will not be considered for this book.

The best way to understand what works for Rethinking Schools is to read through several issues of the magazine with an eye to how the authors show specifically what they do in the classroom and how they integrate information about the topic into the article. Specific models you might want to look at include:

As a model of writing for the magazine, see anything by Linda Christensen.

Before you begin writing, check out the writers’ guidelines.

Please send submissions electronically (Word.doc). We are unable to read submissions of more than 3,500 words, and are generally interested in articles that are substantially shorter.

The initial submission deadline is April 30th.

If you have questions, e-mail Grace Cornell Gonzales.

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HelenGymHelen Gym is a member of the Rethinking Schools editorial board, but that is only one of many hats she wears in her life as a mom, spouse, educator, and not-to-be-reckoned-with activist in Philadelphia.  The  Philadelphia Magazine recently ran this article about Helen, and the anecdote that best captures Helen’s passion and impact is this:

At A.S. Jenks, a quality K-4 school in South Philadelphia, only the kindergartners avoided enrollment in split grades. The parents were livid. But they had no idea how to actually change matters until they connected with Gym, who coached them in the art of activism. They filed complaints. They got in touch with the press. They organized a protest (in the rain) that lured the television cameras.

It worked. According to parents at the school, superintendent William Hite Jr. intervened personally. “I wrote on my Facebook page: ‘When I grow up, I want to be Helen Gym,’” says Jennifer Miller, a Jenks parent. “She really makes you want to fight for your children.”

We would argue that Helen makes us want to fight for all children, as do so many of our editorial board members-many of whom have been committed to social justice for decades.

Here’s more from the Philadelphia Magazine article. Read the full article about Helen here.

Helen Gym advances, and Mayor Nutter inches warily back. She waves a thick stack of papers at him, each sheath a complaint lodged by parents lamenting the calamitous conditions in Philadelphia’s reeling public schools. There’s the kid with dangerous asthma at the school without a nurse on hand. The dyslexic, orphaned high-school senior applying for colleges with no counselor to lean on. The bullying victim who fled Overbrook High only to find it impossible to enroll at another school.

“This is what we’re fighting against,” Gym tells Nutter. The Mayor is just a few yards from his office door, but he’s the one shifting his feet, looking to get away.

Minutes earlier, Gym had wrapped up a news conference in the ornate Mayor’s Reception Room, where, with the assistance of City Council, she’d usurped a podium usually used by Nutter and his invited guests. Gym and her allies were there to tout their latest pressure tactic: written complaints designed to compel the state to meet basic education standards and shake loose some badly needed dollars for the district.

“It would be nice to have your support, Mayor,” Gym tells him. Nutter issues a few noncommittal mumbles, cleans his glasses, and back-steps for the stairway. Gym shrugs. Powerful figures often look for the exits when she approaches.

That’s what happens when you develop a rep as perhaps Philadelphia’s preeminent public agitator. Relentless, whip-smart, meticulously prepared and utterly fearless, Gym—a private citizen who works without the heft of any meaningful institutional support—has managed to build herself one of the city’s largest bully pulpits . . .

A youthful 45, Gym is as ferocious as ever, and her public profile has never been larger. But these days, she’s laboring mightily not so much to remake the system as to preserve what’s left of it.

Philadelphia has become a premier battleground in a high-stakes national debate over the future of K-12 education. On one side are the self-styled reformers, a group with not much patience and a thirst for bold experimentation. On the other sit the teachers unions and, more interestingly, activists like Gym, whose opposition to the reform agenda is layered and nuanced but boils down to an aversion to the dismantling of traditional public schools and a deep-seated mistrust of the reformers’ motives.

Read more…

Articles by Helen Gym in Rethinking Schools:

School Closures Rock Philadelphia

Tiger Moms and the Model Minority Myth

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This holiday season, teach a lesson that helps your students question our society’s focus on material goods, and pushes back against the relentless messages to find happiness through consumption.

Here are some Rethinking Schools articles and lessons that nurture a critical lens when examining the market forces that underpin so much of what needs changing in the world. 

21-2Enjoy these articles, free to all friends of Rethinking Schools:

The Human Lives Behind the Labels:  The Global Sweatshop, Nike, and the race to the bottom, by Bill Bigelow
Originally published in 1997, this article offers ways to help students think about the human and environmental consequences of our stuff—the high cost of low prices.

Lost in the Market, by Barbara Miner
A review of the book Consumed: How Markets Corrupt Children, Infantalize Adults, and Swallow Citizens Whole, by Benjamin R. Barber.

Why We Banned Legos, by Ann Pelo and Kendra Pelojoaquin
These early childhood educators didn’t really “ban” Legos, but they did take drastic action to help children explore power, ownership, and equity.

Blog bonus article: “‘Lego Fascists’ (that’s us) vs. Fox News

Standards, Markets, and Creating School Failure, by Michael Apple
“Democracy is increasingly being defined as consumer choice. The citizen is seen as a possessive individual, someone who is defined by her or his position in market relations.”

These articles are free to our friends who subscribe to our magazine. Subscribe today to gain access.* Use code 7BHL13 for a 25% holiday discount!

Six, Going on Sixteen, by Geralyn Bywater McLaughlin
Teachers can work against the commercialization of childhood.

Masks of Global Exploitation: Teaching About Advertising and the Real World, by Bill Bigelow
How we can help our students “read” advertising critically.

Living Algebra, Living Wage, by Jana Dean
Eighth-grade math comes alive when it deals with the economic issues that affect students’ lives.

Can’t Buy Me Love, by Linda Christensen
Students learn to write critically about clothes, class, and consumption.

*All subscribers enjoy access to our online archives. If you have a subscription, but are not sure how to activate your online account, please call customer service at 1-800-669-4192. 

Recommended Resources:

Rethinking Globalization

Rethinking Globalization: Teaching for Justice in an Unjust World, edited by Bill Bigelow and Bob Peterson
This comprehensive 400-page book from Rethinking Schools helps teachers raise critical issues with students in grades 4–12 about the increasing globalization of the world’s economies and infrastructures, and the many different impacts this trend has on our planet and those who live here.

9780942961485.MAIN

Rethinking Popular Culture and Media, edited by Elizabeth Marshall and Özlem Sensoy
This anthology includes outstanding articles by elementary and secondary public school teachers, scholars, and activists who examine how and what popular toys, books, films, music, and other media “teach.” These thoughtful essays offer strong conceptual critiques and practical pedagogical strategies for educators at every level to engage with the popular.

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by David Morris

Editor’s note:  This news has been making the rounds in education activist circles, and we wanted to further amplify this important message. Turns out corporate style reform isn’t just bad for schools, it’s bad for corporations.

Schools have a lot to learn from business about how to improve performance, declared Bill Gates in an Op Ed in the Wall Street Journal in 2011. He pointed to his own company as a worthy model for public schools.

BillGatesBill Gates foisted a big business model of employee evaluation onto public schools, which his own company has since abandoned. “At Microsoft, we believed in giving our employees the best chance to succeed, and then we insisted on success. We measured excellence, rewarded those who achieved it and were candid with those who did not.”

Adopting the Microsoft model means public schools grading teachers, rewarding the best and being “candid,” that is, firing those who are deemed ineffective. “If you do that,” Gates promised Oprah Winfrey, “then we go from being basically at the bottom of the rich countries [in education performance] to being back at the top.”

The Microsoft model, called “stack ranking” forced every work unit to declare a certain percentage of employees as top performers, certain groups as good performers, then average, then below average, then poor.

Using hundreds of millions of dollars in philanthropic largesse Bill Gates persuaded state and federal policymakers that what was good for Microsoft would be good for public schools (to be sure, he was pushing against an open door). To be eligible for large grants from President Obama’s Race to the Top program, for example, states had to adopt Gates’ Darwinian approach to improving public education. Today more than 36 states have altered their teacher evaluations systems with the aim of weeding out the worst and rewarding the best.

Some states grade on a curve. Others do not. But all embrace the principle that continuing employment for teachers will depend on improvement in student test scores, and teachers who are graded “ineffective” two or three years in a row face termination.

Needless to say, the whole process of what has come to be called “high stakes testing” of both students and teachers has proven devastatingly dispiriting. According to the 2012 MetLife Survey of the American Teacher, over half of public school teachers say they experience great stress several days a week and are so demoralized that their level of satisfaction has plummeted from 62 percent in 2008 to 39 percent last year.

And now, just as public school systems have widely adopted the Microsoft model in order to win the Race to the Top, it turns out that Microsoft now realizes that this model has pushed Microsoft itself into a Race to the Bottom.

In a widely circulated 2012 article in Vanity, award-winning reporter Fair Kurt Eichenwald concluded that stack ranking “effectively crippled Microsoft’s ability to innovate. “Every current and former Microsoft employee I interviewed—every one—cited stacked ranking as the most destructive process inside of Microsoft, something that drove out untold numbers of employees,” Eichenwald writes. “It leads to employees focusing on competing with each other rather than competing with other companies.”

This month Microsoft abandoned the hated system.

On November 12 all Microsoft employees received a memo from Lisa Brummel, Executive Vice President for Human Resources announcing the company will be adopting “a fundamentally new approach to performance and development designed to promote new levels of teamwork and agility for breakthrough business impact.”

Ms. Brummel listed four key elements in the company’s new policy.

  • More emphasis on teamwork and collaboration.
  • More emphasis on employee growth and development.
  • No more use of a Bell curve for evaluating employees.
  • No more ratings of employees.

Sue Altman at EduShyster vividly sums up the frustration of a nation of educators at this new development. “So let me get this straight. The big business method of evaluation that now rules our schools is no longer the big business method of evaluation? And collaboration and teamwork, which have been abandoned by our schools in favor of the big business method of evaluation, is in?”

Big business can turn on a dime when the CEO orders it to do so. But changing policies embraced and internalized by dozens of states and thousands of public school districts will take far, far longer. Which means the legacy of Bill Gates will continue to handicap millions of students and hundreds of thousands of teachers even as the company Gates founded along with many other businesses, have thrown his pernicious performance model in the dustbin of history.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.

Related Resources

Taking Teacher Quality Seriously: A Collaborative Approach to Teacher Evaluation, by Stan Karp

Neither Fair, Nor Accurate:  Research-based reasons why high-stakes tests should not be used to evaluate teachers, by Wayne Au

Professional Development: New terrain for big business? by Rachael Gabriel and Jessica N. Lester

Special collection from Rethinking Schools: Keeping Quality Teachers Teaching

CovrPencilsDown120229.3_42Pencils Down:  Rethinking High-Stakes Testing and Accountability in Public Schoolsedited by Wayne Au and Melissa Bollow Tempel

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We “soft-launched” our fall issue on our website over the weekend.  Perhaps you already checked it out, or if you’re a subscriber, you have the magazine in hand already.  If you haven’t seen it, here are a few highlights.

We are proud of this issue, and we hope you enjoy reading it!

v28.1Of Mice and Marginalization,” by English teacher Michelle Kenney, is the cover story. Under pressure from parents, Kenney assigns a classic: Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. Her students’ reactions—from cutting class to lifting essays off the internet—lead to a deeper understanding of what’s wrong with “the canon.”

In “Standing Up for Tocarra,” Tina Owen describes her dilemma when a homophobic minister preaches about the “sin” of a transgender student at the student’s funeral.

Our curriculum editor Bill Bigelow uses a classroom mixer to introduce students to Bill McKibben’s important article on “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math.” Check out “The Mystery of the 3 Scary Numbers.”

In “Rethinking Shit: Excrement and Equity,” social studies teacher Noah Zeichner and his students explore the worldwide sanitation crisis.

Charter Schools and the Future of Public Education,” by Rethinking Schools editor Stan Karp, puts the history of charter schools in context, then analyzes their current role and impact.

Our editorial is on school closings, “Clear-Cutting Our Schools

Let us know in the comments what you think, and which article(s) you like best or plan to use.

If you don’t subscribe to our magazine

We’re happy to make a number of articles from every issue of our magazine free for nonsubscribers. But subscriptions (and donations) sustain our work. So if you like what you’re reading, go ahead and do us both a favor: subscribe now for just $19.95. With your new subscription, you’ll gain access to the entire fall issue and to our archives.

Thanks for your support!

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On Friday, Rethinking Schools editor Stan Karp delivered a speech “The Trouble with Common Core” to Portland area parents, educators, administrators, elected officials, among others.  (See our summer editorial with the same title.)

Watch and share.

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We’re pleased to announce that the summer issue of Rethinking Schools magazine features a special forum with three perspectives on edTPA, the high-stakes test for new teachers that is being piloted in teacher education programs around the country.

V27-4

We know edTPA is an issue of great interest to everyone in the field of education as we consider how best to maintain teaching as a profession.

In that spirit, we invite you to read the articles and join the critical conversation about edTPA in the comments section of this blog post.

We also invite you to consider donating or subscribing to Rethinking Schools if you don’t already do so.  Because we feel so strongly about the need for education and reflection on the edTPA, we opened up the majority of this issue to nonsubscribers, but as a nonprofit independent publisher, we rely on your donations and subscriptions to keep us going.

Thanks for reading, donating, subscribing, and supporting critical conversation.

Sincerely,

The staff and editors at Rethinking Schools

The articles in “A Forum on the edTPA”

Linda Darling-Hammond and Maria E. Hyler argue that the edTPA will lead to better teachers and more professional respect. Their article is titled “The Role of Performance Assessment in Developing Teaching as a Profession.”

In “Wrong Answer to the Wrong Question,” Barbara Madeloni and Julie Gorlewski disagree. The edTPA distorts the teacher education process, they say, and opens the door to Pearson reaping more profits and power.

What’s a Nice Test Like You Doing in a Place Like This?” by Rethinking Schools editor Wayne Au, puts the discussion in the context of corporate education “reform” as he shares his experience with the test in his own teacher education program.

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Below we preview our Action Education column from our Summer issue, about the massive school closings in Philadelphia. Helen Gym, a Rethinking Schools editor, is a parent and long-time activist in Philadelphia who has been one of the leaders of the movement to save public schools. On June 7, after the magazine went to press, the district announced a staggering layoff of 3,783 employees. This will only further devastate the public schools in Philadelphia and fuel the fires of privatization and corporate education reform. We’ve included some resources and links at the end of this post to help you stay up-to-date with the fight to save public schools in Philadelphia–and across the country.

School Closures Rock Philadelphia

by Helen Gym

HelenGymThis spring, the School District of Philadelphia vot­ed to close down 24 schools, about one in 10 pub­lic schools, affecting nearly 10,000 students across the district. The vote followed months of protest and community opposition, and was backed by Demo­cratic party leadership in the city, primarily Mayor Michael Nutter—co-chair of the U.S. Conference of Mayors—and by newly sprouted nonprofit organizations focused on school “transformation” models.

The district’s push to close schools, in classic “shock doctrine” style, is playing out in the context of Philly’s third massive fiscal crisis and its 12th year under state receivership. A late spring school budget stripped Philly schools of all non-legally mandated personnel, resulting in zero secretaries, assistant principals, counsel­ors, librarians, and classroom assistants. Also zeroed out were all sports, extracur­ricular and gifted programs, and book and supplies money. Summer negotia­tions over teachers’ contracts are under­way, with the district demanding more than $131 million in givebacks and elimi­nating most teacher protection.

Philadelphia’s school closings plan is a massive disinvestment, not only in public education, but also in vulnerable communities. Swaths of Philadelphia are now “education deserts” where no public neighborhood school option exists. Nine of the 24 schools closed are high schools, disrupting young people during their most critical years toward graduation. Parents have raised concerns that the school closings are the tipping point of a disinvestment spiral that threatens every school in every neighborhood of the city.

Philadelphia’s plan follows patterns well documented in other cities where mass school closures have occurred:

  • Role of Private Philanthropy: A local foundation solicited millions of dollars from private donors to contract directly with a private outfit, the Boston Consulting Group, to develop a mutually agreed upon plan to restructure Phila­delphia schools. Two parent groups and the Philadelphia chapter of the NAACP have filed a complaint with the city ethics board that the foundation, its private do­nors, and the Boston Consulting Group engaged in lobbying rather than philan­thropy. The foundation’s head suddenly resigned after receiving preliminary no­tice of the intent to file the ethics com­plaint.
  • Concurrent mass charter expansion: Philadelphia’s school closures were accompanied by mass charter school expansion, a specified “contract deliv­erable” in the agreement between the Boston Consulting Group and its private donors. The same year it closed 24 public schools, the district expanded charters by more than 5,000 seats and closed only one of 26 charters up for renewal. Char­ters with school performance index fig­ures that ranked them among the worst in the district received five-year renewals and expansions. Charter expansion is es­timated to add more than $139 million to the district’s costs over a five-year period.
  • No achievement gains: Local re­searchers found that there was no sig­nificant difference in academic quality between closing schools and receiving schools. More than 80 percent of the dis­located students will transfer to a school no better than the one they currently at­tend, according to Research for Action. Moreover, the district’s unprecedented cuts to local school budgets—25 percent across the board—make already fragile receiving schools even more vulnerable amidst a massive effort to merge student populations.
  • Disparate impact: School closures overwhelmingly targeted low-income black neighborhoods. Although the dis­trict has a 55 percent African American student population, schools targeted for closure were more than 80 percent Af­rican American. Philadelphia’s Action United was among a group of organiza­tions across the country that signed onto a civil rights complaint with the U.S. De­partment of Education around disparate racial impact of school closures. The De­partment of Education has said it will in­vestigate. In addition, many of the schools targeted for closure had high percent­ages of special needs students. One clos­ing high school had a 30 percent special ed population and was merging with a school with a 33 percent special ed popu­lation. The district average is 14 percent.
  • Fast-tracked process: The district suspended the traditional process for closing schools and instead put schools on an accelerated timeline, limiting time and opportunities for public discussion and debate. One elementary school, M. H. Stanton, had fewer than 60 days notice between the announcement of its closure and the formal vote to close the school. Stanton was the subject of a 1994 Oscar-winning documentary, I Am a Promise, about its success in serving a low-income, predominantly black community.
  • Questionable monetary savings: District officials have not disclosed a full account of transition costs and other ex­penses associated with closing schools. A 2012 Pew study of six school districts found that school officials frequently overestimate cost savings. In early May, Chicago officials admitted they may have overestimated savings from school closures by at least $122 million. Wash­ington, D.C., reported that 23 school closings had not only failed to reap any savings, but also had actually cost the district nearly $40 million in expenses.

Although these elements have a familiar ring, the opposition to school closings in Philadelphia has generated encouraging signs. A large communi­ty-labor coalition formed with signifi­cant support and engagement from the American Federation of Teachers. This group, the Philadelphia Coalition Ad­vocating for Public Schools (PCAPS), organized town halls and has focused on a “community schools” vision. Student walkouts and rallies have started to take center stage. A broad coalition of com­munity advocates highlighted the in­consistency of mass school closures with mass charter expansion. As a result, the district announced no charter expan­sions for the following year. And a strong protest movement from parents and communities across the city seems likely to result in some level of increased fund­ing for schools.

In addition, Philadelphia has ben­efited from a vibrant, independent edu­cation media, including the Philadelphia Public School Notebook, a citywide edu­cation newspaper, and the Media Mobi­lizing Project, which has created videos and other storytelling vehicles to docu­ment the resistance.

In this critical moment, school clo­sures in Philadelphia should not be seen simply as an end in itself but as a means to an end that has yet to be determined. Where the final endpoint lies will be de­cided in the struggle between grassroots community activists and the moneyed and political interests seemingly bent on dismantling public education across the country.

Additional readings and resources:

  • Teacher Action Group-Philadelphia has launched a “Faces of the Layoffs” site where people can view why we need to fight to restore these positions.
  • Parents United for Public Education (of which Helen Gym is a co-founder) issued this statement: “This is not a school.”
  • Media Mobilizing Project has posted a video about the national pushback against corporate ed reform.

Is education activism important to you? We feature stories about communities fighting for public schools in every issue of our magazine. Subscribe today.

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Curtis Acosta

If you have seen the remarkable film Precious Knowledge, about the Mexican American Studies (MAS) program in Tucson, you’ll remember Curtis Acosta, the caring and charismatic high school language arts teacher. Despite its well-documented accomplishments and success in reaching historically marginalized students, Arizona politicians set out to destroy Tucson’s MAS program—through House Bill 2281, which singled out this program, and then through a decree from Arizona’s superintendent of public instruction, which ruled Tucson’s program out of compliance with state law.

Rethinking Columbus banned

Rethinking Schools was drawn into the controversy when Tucson Unified School District banned and confiscated our book, Rethinking Columbus, which was one of seven core texts used in the MAS program. We published several blog posts and articles (here and here) on the struggle in Tucson, including two by Curtis Acosta.

Here we publish an open letter from Acosta, announcing his departure from Tucson High Magnet School and describing his new plans to continue his career as a mentor to young people and defender of public education.

By the way, Curtis Acosta will be leading workshops at this summer’s Free Minds, Free People conference in Chicago, and will keynote the Northwest Teaching for Social Justice conference this Oct. 19 in Seattle, co-sponsored by Rethinking Schools.

  - Bill Bigelow
Curriculum Editor

Dear supporters, colleagues, and friends,

Last Thursday my career at Tucson High Magnet School came to an end. It was never supposed to be this way. I always believed that I would leave with a fully gray head of hair and thicker lens than those currently in my black frames. I imagined that there would be a legacy of former students who would take my place and would take our levels of success even further. Instead, I took down each poster and photo from my room with a deep sense of loss and the words of Langston Hughes’ “A Dream Deferred” in my mind. It was as if I was participating in self-ethnic cleansing. (A wonderful side note to this story is that Bob Diaz, a librarian at the University of Arizona, has decided to create an archive of our classroom so that it can live on forever. Have I mentioned lately how much I love librarians?)

However, the reality is that the room and the power of the space were lost far before the pictures came off the walls. This moment was fated as soon as Tucson Unified School District eliminated our highly successful Mexican American Studies program, banning my colleagues and me from our own curriculum and pedagogy, as well as boxing up books. Yet, I would like to thank my students, compañer@s, parents, and the local and national voices that supported us through these difficult years in building up my resiliency and resolve to stand up and never to submit to acts of educational malpractice.

Thus, I am happy to inform you all that a brighter day lies ahead. Yesterday, I held a local press conference announcing that through a partnership with Prescott College, Mexican American Studies lives on through Chican@ Literature, Art & Social Studies (CLASS) where high school youth will receive free college credit. This is a class that was born from the injustices performed upon our students in Tucson and my indignation toward political opportunists using our students, literature, and history to create a wedge issue founded in hate for their own selfish means.

CLASS had a successful first year as a collection of 10 amazing youth, who sacrificed their Sunday afternoons throughout the entire year to rigorously study, analyze, and read the world together. It was a thirst of justice and knowledge that fueled them and they will soon be sharing their voice with the world at Free Minds, Free People in Chicago—a national education conference centered upon education for liberation and youth empowerment. However, our youth need financial help to attend, and although I am using the stipend from Prescott College to pay for part of the trip, it is still not enough. We would be humbled by any and all support and you can follow us now on Facebook and donate here.

Along with CLASS expanding and continuing next fall, I am happy to announce that I have founded the Acosta Latino Learning Partnership, an educational consulting firm that will continue the work that we started in Tucson throughout the nation. It is my vision to help teachers, schools, and educational organizations empower youth to find their own voice and academic identity through culturally responsive and engaging academic experiences.

I look forward to this next chapter of my career as I continue to be an advocate for public schools. After all, we know public education works. We’ve seen it be successful time and again, and as teachers we are honored to be the guides and mentors of beautiful young people who will forge a better nation and world. By following the inspirational leadership of the powerful teachers, students, and parents in Seattle and Chicago, this devious trajectory to destroy public education will end. One day soon we will stop the obsession of measuring our children and teachers with corporate driven instruments aimed at eliminating all of the creative joy from public education. And this is why our work here in Tucson must continue, we must never comply with unjust laws and policies that dehumanize and degrade our children.

Let all the reformers be warned that we are aware of why you want to discredit our profession and the heights that we reach with our students every year. We are more than a budding marketplace or real estate to redevelop, and we will not rest until our children are treated with more love and respect than the banks and corporations of this country. Trust teachers to work with their students, parents, and communities as true partners; support us with resources that our children deserve, and then watch the magic of learning take root and grow.

I want to thank you all for your support through the years and truly believe that great victories lie ahead for communities of color, our students and public schools throughout our nation.

In Lak Ech (Tú eres mi otro yo / You are my other me),

Curtis Acosta
Chican@ Literature Teacher
Tucson, AZ

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