The Leap to Better Advocacy in the Era Beyond the Beginning

Weekend greetings, CharterFolk.

I start today thanking Allen for his great Contributor Column this week.

I confess, CharterFolk, the whole situation that gave rise to Allen’s post I find to be one that challenges my ability to maintain zen.

I wrote about it in this section of my post from the 3rd of July this year.

Much as that piece’s date of publication was highly resonant with its content, so too do I find the date of publication for Allen’s article highly resonant with its content.

Yes, the last day of Black History Month.

But even more than that.

The last day of a month that is only extended to 29 days once every four years.

In my view, the fact that Allen’s piece was posted on “Leap Day” is deeply emblematic of the leap in thinking our world needs to make on the issues Allen addresses if we are to thrive in “The Era Beyond the Beginning.”

Part of that future thriving will hinge on whether we stay deeply rooted in history where we can see the ironies that arise at the intersection of education and politics.

Like a school meant to serve the students and families of Fort Worth’s South Side …

… being turned down …

… in the same month that the city opened up a new exhibit on the history of redlining and its legacy impact on Fort Worth.

The zip code wherein the school was to be located lies in the heart of the redlined section of the city.

Archival video footage shows the abhorrent behavior of city residents when Black people attempted to integrate a Fort Worth neighborhood in 1952 …

… and an area high school two years after Brown v Board.

Indeed, Fort Worth was among the communities most vehemently opposed to school integration …

… becoming, as the Fort Worth Star Telegram described it, “the last major city in Texas to integrate its public schools …”

… ultimately refusing to integrate its high schools until 1967, thirteen years after Brown.

Some 56 years later, a new debate-themed school proposed by Black educators for the community that bore the brunt of this history of mistreatment was denied because of regulators’ concerns that the school’s students might learn about diversity, equity and inclusion.

One would hope that the abhorrence of Fort Worth’s historical record on matters related to public school homogeneity, inequity and exclusion weren’t even open to debate.

But apparently, it is, arguing all the more for the need for a school that would produce students equipped to take on that debate.

And yet, the school is denied.

If only Fort Worth were an aberration.

Sadly, it is only part of a broader trend.

In Philadelphia this week, we saw a school district that is on the cusp of financial implosion …

… offer a raise to teachers that even members of the union found surprisingly generous …

… while simultaneously denying for the third time a new charter petition …

… from a highly respected, Black-led organization.

Board members voting in opposition to the charter cited the “dangerously low standards” that approving the charter would create, not the beyond-appallingly-low-standards the district maintains across a decades-long history that is very reminiscent of the experience in Fort Worth.

It’s the Philadelphia (Eagles) equivalent …

… of what I have called “the Chief’s phenomenon:”

A school district serving as both player and referee, calling fouls against charter schools.

It’s absurd on its face.

And yet, it’s allowed to go on and on.

Part of the solution, undoubtedly, is bringing the power of the voices connected to our schools to bear within the policy realm, another example of which happened this week at an event hosted by the Freedom Coalition for Charter Schools and other advocacy organizations at the Georgia state capitol.

It’s the charter school movement “Keepin’ On” in its efforts to build advocacy strength across the country as I wrote about at Education Next in November.

But another part of it, CharterFolk, in my opinion, involves more than a simple “keepin’ on.”

It involves instead making a leap.

A leap in the advocacy priorities we strive for.

Not us broadening our agenda to deepen our ties to political allies, or even to project what our values might be on a range of issues.

But us remembering the specific history of public education in our country, a history that allowed appalling unfairness to get cooked into the very DNA of our public education system, and a debilitating incapacity to grow excellent new opportunities, especially for the student and families who need them most.

A public education establishment that has historically, across our entire country, screened out kids using redlining attendance boundaries, has created financial systems and practices that have deprived high-needs communities of the resources their schools need to thrive, and has allowed for a tragic level of unaccountability across the entire system permitting school districts to operate self-evidently unsuccessful schools for generations without meaningful intervention.

It’s the history, in short, that gave birth to our movement in the first place.

A history which vast numbers of our schools demonstrate can actually be overcome.

And yet, our policy agendas have not evolved to reflect the fact that our movement is now uniquely poised to help our society take on these challenges at whole new levels, an example of which was made clear just a few weeks ago when a new coalition of advocacy organizations announced an effort to erase attendance boundaries in our country …

… and not one charter school-specific advocacy organization was to be found in the coalition.

This, CharterFolk, is the leap that has to be made in the Era Beyond the Beginning.

Not just us keepin on with our advocacy efforts to simply grow as many great charter public schools as fast as we possibly can that are free of the DNA-deficiencies that plague so many of our other public schools …

… but making “the leap:”

Dedicating some prudent increment of our growing advocacy capacity to take on the broader challenges that lie, as Allen described it in his Contributor Column, at the intersection of politics and education.

For when we do, we will finally begin to see released the full potential of the charter school movement, a potential to help our society catapult across an aspect of our history that simply must be leapt over as quickly and as completely as is humanly possible.