The central problem is not “mass school closings”; rather it is the horrible limited options that remain open for Black and Latino students!

 

 “…New York City high schools’ admissions policy is racially biased: lawsuit The complaint, filed with the federal Office of Civil Rights, calls for an investigation and overhaul of a system parents and lawyers say concentrates black and Hispanic students in struggling schools”…. . http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/suit-high-school-admissions-racially-biased-article-1.1348628

 

The central problem is not “mass school closings” (as desperate and misguided an act as that may be); rather it is that so many bad and ineffective schools remain open and continue to destroy the dreams and aspirations of  Black and Latino children.  Recently a judge declined to block a school districts large (and largely Black community) school closure “plan”; despite the very admiral efforts by the parents and community members whose children would be adversely affected by those school closures. In an interesting way I thought the judge’s ruling was correct. For sure, those folks who are fighting to keep neighborhood schools open are fundamentally right: Race, is always in play when these types of decisions are made; and those who are the least politically powerful (or at least unaware of their power); the least able to organize to protect their children, i.e.  Black and Latino Parents; lose the “race” because of their race. They are also correct in asserting that schools should be thoughtfully improved and enhanced, not closed; and made able to compete with any type of private or corporate (charter) school. Finally they are correct in asserting that neighborhood schools can serve as important “anchor” centers for learning and stabilization for a community; this becomes of greater importance in communities that are under social and economic siege, and lacking positive and inspirational spaces for children. However, Inside of this “stop mass school closing lawsuit” there was a fundamental flaw, regardless of the honest motivation for a very noble effort. And the correction of this “flaw” is unfortunately not subject to correction by this, or any other judge. For it was through the very legal will of the people; by way of their elected representatives, to grant mayoral control over education. If this has resulted in mayors placing people who have little or no experience, in charge of public education, and/or school improvement, then how is the judge able to correct (and overturn) that “legally proper” situation, even if the argument put forward by the parents and community  is worthy? The protesters were in essence asking the judge to rule on what is the best strategic policy (theirs or the districts) to raise Black student achievement. The “separation of powers” rule made that argument dead on arrival. The non-productive act of moving students from an under-performing school to a “little less under-performing school”; or to a school on the “tipping-point” of “underachievement” that would be now adversely affected (that is inflict harm on both the presently attending, and incoming students); or the particular negative effects of school closings on special needs students, is theoretically too complex, and subtle to be solved in the venue and manner in which this law suit was filed. Finally, in a city with a Black mayor, ample Black representation on the city council, State education department, and most critically as the head of the school system; how could “racial discrimination”, if seen through its historical definitional  lens be asserted here?  That is why the NYC lawsuit is qualitatively different and important. This law-suit goes further than the efforts to just keep ineffective schools open, often in the hands of ineffective leadership. The claimants are aware that this alone will not save their children. It also by definition says that the race or personality of the leadership of the district, or for that matter the leadership of the city, is unimportant. What the adversely affected children face here is “structural” and institutional discrimination; it is in a sense making a “post-racial” case for discriminatory acts perpetuated by people of color who are in places of power, a revolutionary and politically evolutionary thought.  Will they win, I don’t know but it is an important battle front that must be waged in what is a multi-front protracted struggle for educational equality.  The problem that has haunted Public Education, and hurt children of color for years; is our inability to create and maintain quality high schools (even after being built as academic beacons, they are often downgraded) that can at the very least, serve Black and Latino students who are “on and/or above grade level”; which means that academically struggling students don’t have a chance.  Well, maybe this lawsuit is the beginning of a knowledgeable awareness of a battle some of us have been fighting for many years. That is, give students of color, students of poverty of all colors, students who live in homes where the speaking of English is limited; give them all a chance to succeed. Give them the “environmental opportunities (a peaceful place to learn, good teaching, material/technical resources, high standards of efficacy and expectations) to thrive academically, and they will! Provide them with a well taught, well-resourced and inspiring career technical education (CTE); science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education and they will totally immerse themselves into these areas of study.  There is nothing wrong with the brains of these students that a good school can’t fix!

The parents and communities from which these children emerge should fight for and demand that every high school has a “3-E” minimum format as the central organizational culture of the school.

1)      Environment:   A fundamentally decent physical building that is an inviting and nurturing place to work and learn. A place where teachers can teach, students can learn, and everyone can feel safe to be excellent.  The school must be clean, well maintained; a richly resourced center of learning. Students and teachers must have adequate learning materials and equipment to learn and teach.

2)      Expectations:  A school that can creatively respond to the many hurdles placed in the paths of many of our children on their way to academic success; but refuses to use these “external” factors as determiners as to how much students can learn; how wide they can stretch their imaginations; how deeply they can expand their minds; and how high then can go to reach their career dreams and aspirations.

3)      Efficacy: A Place where every staff member (security, Kitchen, teachers, administrators, custodians, etc.) will utilize all of their energy, talents, skills and imaginations to create an atmosphere that will inspire and partner with student hard work to guarantee the success of every student in the school.

 

This lawsuit is one of many steps that should be taken by the parents and communities whose children are systematically and structurally denied their educational equal rights. They should not be discouraged, deterred or confused by the fact that this time; unlike the educational racial segregationist of the past; someone who looks like the children may be standing in, and blocking the school house door; In the words of those soulful poets-The Impressions; they should: “Keep On Pushing”; For our children’s lives depend on getting in the door of opportunity!