At a recent Atlanta Board of Education meeting, my inner alarm bell rang as I listened to a school board member ask Karen Waldon, Deputy Superintendent for Instruction, and Steve Smith, Deputy Superintendent and Chief of Staff, questions regarding how to handle public schools that fail to meet AYP.
The school board member stated that we need to take drastic measures to correct our problems and asked if APS would be willing to work with lawmakers to hand over control of Atlanta Public Schools to some sort of charter/privatization/voucher organization.
I consider this request both un-American and a betrayal of public trust.
The school board has been entrusted with the job of providing quality education to all students, not to hand off that responsibility to someone else. What I heard was a school board member admitting that he did not believe the board had the ability to provide quality education to our children.
I was happy to hear Ms. Waldon and Mr. Smith clearly respond that APS is not pro-voucher or pro-privatization and that they believe we can turn the system around.
Providing an education to the least of these is a hallmark of American society. Our nation was built on the idea that anyone can rise above his or her station in life with a great education. Quality education in public schools is critical to the success of America.
So it disturbs me when I hear one of our elected officials talking about relinquishing control of our schools to Corporate America and diverting more of our limited resources.
We have a moral obligation to help all children learn. The end result of most charter and voucher movements is the separation of motivated parents and students from those who don’t have the support system or wherewithal to take advantage of a lottery or application process. This produces a devastating effect on our communities and local schools, which are left with a remnant of the most vulnerable students.
Why are we running from our problems?
Where is the innovation and creative problem solving? Have we given up? Why do we want to continue to create unequal tiers of education?
Based on the publication "Why We Still Need Public Schools" by the Center on Education Policy, Americans expect our public schools to serve the following purposes:
- Provide universal access to free education.
- Guarantee equal opportunities for all children.
- Unify a diverse population.
- Prepare people for citizenship in a democratic society.
- Prepare people to become economically self-sufficient.
- Improve social conditions.
By fulfilling these expectations, we help all children become part of the intellectual capital of this country. Education is the great equalizer. Our success at providing access to all will determine where we go as a nation.
How can we reap the benefits of each member of society if we do not give students the tools to contribute? Can we trust corporate America to do the right thing instead of the profitable thing?
As I listened, I wondered why this board member did not talk about creating successful public schools in Atlanta. If we deem charter schools, private schools, and any school other than public to be successful, can we not look at their best practices and copy where appropriate? What about making sure public schools have the basics: strong leadership, safety and discipline, empowered teachers, high expectations and a strong curriculum.
Why not engage the community to support our existing local schools? This is not impossible—we have numerous examples of excellent public schools across the nation. In my opinion, it’s a matter of deciding that you want successful public schools and then making sure your actions match your words.
Of all the civil rights for which the world has struggled and fought for
5,000 years, the right to learn is undoubtedly the most fundamental . . .
The freedom to learn . . . has been bought by bitter sacrifice. And whatever
we may think of the curtailment of other civil rights, we should fight to the
last ditch to keep open the right to learn . . .
—W. E. B. DuBois, civil rights activist and educator, from "The Freedom to Learn," 1949
Dawn Brockington-Shaw lives in Cascade Heights and is a West Manor Elementary and Jean Childs Young Middle School Parent. She is active in several education organizations including Step Up for Public Schools and EMC2, a new Cascade area parents group that supports Mays High School and all the elementary and middle schools that feed to Mays.