February 28, 2012 Dr. Howard Fuller is a Distinguished Professor of Education and Founder/Director of the Institute for the Transformation of Learning at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The mission of the Institute is to support exemplary education options that transform learning for children, while empowering families, particularly low-income families, to choose the best option for their children. The following is an excerpt of his remarks delivered on February 28, 2012, at the 19th Annual California Charter Schools Conference, where the theme was "YOU are the charter school movement."
Frances Fox Piven and Richard Cloward years ago said a movement has two basic characteristics:
- A large number of people quit believing that things have to be the way they are. (Consciousness)
- The people begin to function as a group not simply as isolated individuals (Behavior)
There is only one real purpose for changing our consciousness and our behavior - It's to educate our kids!!
We are supposed to be about Change- We hear a lot these days about CHANGE.
I am all for change, but I want to know what kind of change? I want to know whose interests will be served by the change. Over the years I have come to a cynical conclusion about most of the calls for change in our society and that conclusion is- most people want change as long as nothing changes.
I believe poor children in this country; particularly poor children of color are caught in this "talk but no action" concept of "change."
For example many of our leaders say they want to change the educational reality for these children in one breath and then in the next breath they want the unions and all the other protectors of the status quo to remain in power. In far too many places the people who are now in charge of leading us on the Race to the Top are the same people who led us on the Race to the Bottom.
There will NEVER be any real change in education in California and the rest of America for our poorest children without changing the power relations within systems of education that serve as one of the major barriers to any significant and sustained change that will benefit our children who need the help the most. Never!!
In fact we must be brutally frank about what this movement is and what it is not. If we are for true change then our movement will not replace the old system with a new system that finds new ways to put adult interest before the interests of our children.
We did not create this movement so that individuals or companies could make money.
We did not create this movement for people to be able to hire all of their family members and friends no matter what their level of competence.
We did not create this movement for caring, loving people to establish schools that they are incapable of running.
We did not create this movement to give people an opportunity to create citadels of privilege for their children and deny access to poor kids or kids of color.
We did not create this movement for you to leave the traditional system and then bring the mentality and the practices that did not work for our children there to the charter sector.
Let me be clear, I do not oppose for profit companies. I just think when they start making decisions that are not in the best interests of kids to enhance their bottom line that contrary to what this movement is about.
I believe a great school being run by family members is wonderful. But, if the family members are being hired because they are family members not because they have the skills needed to help kids that are a total distortion of the purpose of this movement.
I think we need people who are caring and loving towards our kids operating schools but that is necessary but not sufficient. In fact if you truly love kids you will be honest with yourself about your capacity to operate a school because the movement's purpose is to educate kids and if you can't do it the fact that you love kids is admirable but does not measure up to the purpose of this movement.
I believe the chartering process is an important element of the parent choice movement, which I fully support. But, I don't believe in people using choice as a way to avoid interactions with "certain kids." I got into trouble with some people in NOLA a couple of years ago because I voiced my opposition to "selective admission" charter schools. Because this movement is about giving kids who need us the most the justice that has alluded so many of them in the current system.
I am pleased to see good educators come from the traditional system to create great learning environments for our kids in the charter sector. But, the purpose of your coming should be your passion for kids not just the fact that you needed a change of venue. If it is your passion, your commitment, your belief in our kids that brought you then we welcome you. But, if it is really not about them then please go back to where you came from.
So, what does it mean to say you are the Charter School Movement?
If you are the Charter School Movement when they say these children cannot learn because they come from dysfunctional families, you will say that may be true in your school but not ours.
If you are the Charter School Movement when they say there are too many variables to evaluate teachers and our school based on performance, you will say not at our school.
If you are the Charter School Movement when they say it is the responsibility of the parents to educate their children, you will say at our school we believe it is our responsibility to educate the children. We of course want the support of parent /or guardians but we will educate the students who come to us irrespective of what their parents/ or guardians do or don't do.
If you are the Charter School Movement then you will have a vested interest not in protecting the Charter School Movement instead you will have a vested interest in serving the needs of our children. Because you will be committed to purpose not to the institutional arrangement to get us to purpose. Because if you are the Charter School Movement you know that our purpose is not to exist to exist. Our purpose for being is to educate our children and if the Charter School Movement is not getting us there then we will fight for something that will.
If you are the Charter School Movement when your students come to you with crushing problems they are dealing with in their homes and their communities, you will be genuinely empathetic, caring and help them as much as you can but at the same time they must understand and you must understand there still can be "no excuses."
If you are the Charter School Movement when they say we won't close schools that clearly are not educating kids and even with help are not capable of educating kids, you will say I will demand that we stay true to our motto of freedom in exchange for accountability.
If you are Charter School Movement then when they say race and class does not matter in America. You will say that is the most ridiculous thing that I have ever heard. You will say, but at the same time while I recognize there are real barriers for our students in this country, we will not confuse recognition with an excuse not to educate them.
If you are the Charter School Movement then you will clearly have etched in your hearts and your souls the words of MLK Jr. when he stated:
"We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history there is such a thing as being too late. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residue of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words: 'Too late.'"
If you are the Charter School Movement this urgency will drive you to do whatever it takes to educate our children.
If you are the Charter School Movement then you will refuse to let another day go by where we continue to fail our children.
We must do it now; Today- not tomorrow because we do not want the historical epitaph of charter schools to be "too little too late."