Black educator: Is the education reform movement too white?

Andre Perry, the founding dean of urban education at Davenport University in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and author of  “The Garden Path: The Miseducation of a City” wrote a piece on the PostEverything blog on washingtonpost.com that offers a different take on race and school reform. Perry — who tweets @andreperryedu — wrote in part:

…  There’s not quite yet an internecine war within the current crusade, but black education reformers are beginning to revolt. A group of us convened on the 60th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education [in May] to identify the most pressing challenges in the reform movement — and to reclaim the brand and identity of “reformer.”

Let’s stipulate that, yes, change is badly needed. Call it “reform” if you like: Charter schools, curriculum changes (Common Core), testing, and accountability are not inherently bad things. They can bring justice.

But let’s also stipulate that overwhelmingly white movements pursuing change for black and brown communities are inherently paternalistic. The great educator Benjamin E. Mays famously said, “I would rather go to hell by choice than to stumble into heaven.” Reform is being done to communities of color. That’s why saying you’re a black education reformer effectually elicits charges of “acting white” from black communities.

One of the meeting’s attendees, Sharhonda Bossier, co-founder and chief fellowship officer of Families for Excellent Schools, believes black and brown communities want change, but those very communities are skeptical of tokenism and duplicity. She said parents essentially say, “Don’t think you can fool us just because you put a black face on a white agenda.” Bossier reacted, “Sometimes I have to look back and ask myself, ‘Am I causing damage to my communities?’”

It’s a legitimate question. Reforming through school closure has a disparate impact on communities of color. Even though African Americans make up only 43 percent of all Chicago Public School students, they represented 87 percent among the 50 schools that were closed last year. Why use it as a technique if it disproportionally harms the communities you endeavor to serve? In New Orleans, where I have worked, alumni and local community organizations struggled to get approvals for their charter applications. D.C. charter schools suspended students at much higher rates than their traditional counterparts (and that’s a bad thing)….

… We need less “reform” and more social justice.

You can read the entire piece here. What do you think?

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.

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Valerie Strauss · June 3, 2014

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