Good morning, CharterFolk.
I hope you are all already following us on Instagram!
This morning I am delighted to share with you a Contributor Column from RaShaun Holliman, the inaugural Executive Director of the Freedom Coalition for Charter Schools.
I provide a brief bio for Rashaun below.
RaShaun Holliman is the inaugural Executive Director of the Freedom Coalition for Charter Schools. He comes to FCCS with extensive expertise in educational leadership, having served in the capacity of teacher, principal, state education agency leader, and advocate. He most recently served as Senior Vice President of the Georgia Charter Schools Association. Originally from Columbus, Ohio, RaShaun received his B.A. in Political Science from Wright State University and Masters in Educational Leadership from Capella University.
From my vantage point, I couldn’t be happier than to see RaShaun hitting the ground running at the Freedom Coalition! Let’s get straight to his post.
Elevating Black and Brown Voices as the Inaugural Executive Director of the Freedom Coalition
This Black History Month, I am celebrating the opportunity to embark on a journey with the Freedom Coalition for Charter Schools (FCCS) …
… a group of educational leaders who recognize that public charter schools embody the self-determination and resolve for freedom that resides in our communities. I was proud to join them as their inaugural Executive Director in January of this year. I believe Black and Brown leaders throughout this country have come to realize that by founding and opening public charter schools, there is a certain sense of power that we regain within our public education system. A public system that has historically advanced so many including myself, but if we are honest, as of late has also failed to keep that same promise for many of our children.
This fall we witnessed the power of Black and Brown voices in the election of President Joe Biden and the first Black woman, Kamala Harris, as Vice President of the United States.
It is no question that this would not have happened without Black and Brown communities voting in historic numbers. I have witnessed this same realization occurring in our education system, Black and Brown educators and community members coming together to form governing boards and open public charter schools, having a remarkable impact in communities where academic outcomes are improving and our children are flourishing.
That is the power I’m speaking of.
I live in Atlanta, Georgia where we have seen the power of Black and Brown communities when they stand up and speak out. Not only did Georgia make history in electing its first Black and Jewish Senators, Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, but the state also changed the trajectory of this country, providing President Biden with a Democratic-led Senate where the first Black Vice President stands to cast tie-breaking votes down the hall from a Democratic-led House.
I was among those who voted for them on November 3, 2020, because they spoke to so many issues impacting my community. However, I am also fully aware that these Senators may not fully support charter schools. It is now that I as a voter, advocate, and charter school parent will work tirelessly to hold them accountable on issues of school choice.
The historic results of this election occurred because of changing demographics and the determination of coalitions led by the likes of Stacey Abrams to speak to the concerns of those citizens, motivating them to come out and cast votes. Is this not what our charter schools do when they do the work and open in neighborhoods historically presented with limited educational options, that have been failing child after child for years, and in many cases, decades?
The answer is yes, when done right. Charter schools grow from the necessity in our neighborhoods to provide families with high quality public educational options that can deliver culturally relevant curriculum and positive academic results. Of late, we have witnessed something remarkable occurring within the charter school community. Black and Brown leaders have realized that they in fact have the expertise, acumen, and skills necessary to found and open charter schools that will serve kids who look like them. The charter community is also recognizing the importance of having Black and Brown voices lead in this work. I have sat in far too many meetings as the only person of color in the room in education reform circles.
In the slightly edited words of the late, great Sam Cooke …
… a change is definitely going to come!
FCCS was established in July 2019 to bring the voices of Black and Brown charter school leaders, founders, advocates and the families we serve to the forefront. We see the need for our authentic voice to educate our communities and nation to the foundational role that Black and Brown led charters play in our pursuits of equity and self-determination. We know that a community who does not control its education can never be free. FCCS exists to lay claim to our truth and to press on towards an immutable, powerful Black and Brown voice that will be cemented in the minds of all who engage in conversations of educating the public.
The tumultuousness of these times within which we find ourselves calls for an independent Black and Brown voice. Created by Dr. Howard Fuller …
… and co-chaired by Dr. Margaret Fortune and Dr. Steve Perry …
… FCCS immediately secured buy-in from over 250 Black and Brown leaders from 21 states, that collectively serve more than 1 million Black and Brown families. This validated the need for the establishment of an effective and acutely organized vehicle that speaks truth to power from our perspective. FCCS is a bold, advocacy group that cut its teeth with a series of direct actions at the 2020 Democratic Presidential Debates in which the group attracted significant media coverage including a front page story in The New York Times.
Our galvanizing principle is that we seek to expand access to charter schools to every child who seeks it.
Unfortunately, not everyone recognizes or wishes to appreciate the power that is unlocked when a community comes together with intentionality to open a public charter school in their neighborhood. Certainly charter school politics differ from state to state. But, there are still too many politicians on both sides of the aisle who have decided that charter schools should be treated as the “other” or some sort of outside idea that shouldn’t be embraced in many communities across the country. Of course those of us in the charter community know this is nonsensical, especially when you look at the academic outcomes. According to a recent national study conducted by Harvard University’s Program on Education Policy and Governance and examined by the National Alliance, charter schools advance student outcomes at a faster pace, especially for Black students and those from the bottom 25% of socioeconomic backgrounds.
Overall eighth grade students in charter schools are 3 months ahead of their peers on the NAEP and Black students are an astounding 6 months ahead, while low-income students overall advance twice as much as their peers in traditional district schools.
The data is on our side, but it will never be enough to convince the National Education Association (NEA) and American Federation for Teachers (AFT) of the value of public charter schools. They have adopted policy positions to undercut charter schools and push false narratives, taking some policy makers with them. That is why FCCS has emerged to push and at times, push hard. We are committed as people of color to advocate and defend the schools we have created for our own communities. And we demand more. There are certain truths that we can give voice to when others can’t.
For example, we are pushing back against President Joe Biden’s controversial nomination of Cindy Marten for deputy education secretary.
As superintendent of San Diego Unified School District, Marten is on record using the same harmful rhetoric used by the NEA and AFT. She has provided testimony promoting extreme anti-charter school restrictions: calling for school districts to be the sole authorizer of charter schools, advocating for districts to set aside student academic needs and deny charter schools citing fiscal impact, and eliminating appeals processes. Without the opportunity to appeal, a critical process in many states, many successful Black and Brown charter schools would not exist today.
We will hold elected officials on both sides of the aisle accountable for protecting and expanding school choice in Black and Brown communities where kids need high quality schools the most. As is the case with our opposition to Cindy Marten, we will come with allies and coalitions that reflect our deep and authentic roots in the communities we serve. FCCS stands in solidarity with the San Diego NAACP …
… and most importantly, Black families and advocates from San Diego …
… in opposing Marten’s nomination due to her poor track record with Black students.
The great Congressman and Civil Rights Icon John Lewis said:
This is our charge, today, tomorrow, and in the weeks and months to come. We will not get lost or weary in a sea of despair, instead we will make some noise when necessary, push our foes, and yes even our allies to ensure our kids receive the world class education they deserve. Look for FCCS to build upon our successes by being engaged in the 2022 midterms, speaking truth to power on behalf of Black and Brown children and their families, and getting into some “good trouble” along the way.
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