This may offend a few but it's meant to empower many. I've been quite blessed to have grown up with two amazing parents, strong relationships with uncles and aunts, elders, and peers. I've had a ton in common and several opposing perspectives from most that I've known my entire life but the one constant is that I've always come from a genuine place of understanding. And I'm not speaking of compassion but I'm speaking from a perspective of experience. Eating the same food, living in the same neighborhood, attending the same elementary school, getting in trouble for the same mistakes, fighting the same fight. Disagreeing with someone you know and who knows you is a significantly different perspective than disagreeing with someone who assumes that they know "what's best for you and your family" without ever actually having a real understanding of your background.
Just because someone "cares" about your struggle doesnt' mean that they're best positioned to do anything about it.
I'm gonna let you in on a little secret and I hope that you're paying close attention because you're not supposed to know this. EDUCATION is the biggest INDUSTRY in the WORLD!! Larger than Healthcare. Larger than Finance. Larger than any industry you can imagine. And you, Black and Brown people, have the largest financial stake in the industry without ANY of the power. If you live in a major city, your kid accounts for anywhere from $7,000 - $18,000 per year and that's not including severely disabled kids who can account for as much as $50,000-$100,000 every single year. This is an important stat to know because your kid is how a public school system (both districts and charter schools) affords to continue to disenfranchise you and your family. Even though it's not directly coming out of your bank account, it's still your check that you're writing every year.
How many of you know that your local Superintendent likely earns about $300K all in, will get fired in 6-18 months and will still get paid for about 1-3 years after they're gone using your tax dollars? How many of you send your kids to your neighborhood school in a neighborhood where everyone looks alike except for the people who actually work in the school and teach or lead your children? I've seen it time and time again and it frustrates me because information is PURPOSELY hidden from us. Our neighbors. Our families.
I've been in so many schools where the leadership didn't look like the kids nor did a single teacher yet all of the Para Professionals (another word for teacher's aid) reflected the kids. The only person in "leadership" who ever looks like the kids are the big Black dudes they hire as the "Dean of Students" which in reality is the discipline guy they hire to deal with "those kids" and "those parents" because they want no parts of us when we don't behave as they think we should.
Did you know that our kids are 3 or even 4 times more likely to be MISLABELED as "Special Ed" because they refuse to build a rapport with them and instead just label them as special needs? Or how about significantly more likely to be suspended or expelled? And they're disenfranchising you with YOUR OWN MONEY!! I could go on and on but it'll get us nowhere fast.
Here's my recommended solution. A few simple ways to respond to specific issues. Lemme know if this helps. It's far from an exhaustive list.
1) When your child's behavior is challenged ask for a VERY specific list of steps taken by the teacher AND the Principal prior to allowing your child to be suspended. More often then not, some 22 year old from a wealthy suburb who's only seen Black or Brown kids on TV before teaching at your school who hasn't ever shopped in your grocery store or stepped foot on your block made the decision that she wasn't gonna deal with your kid who was "acting out". And "acting out" could be something as simple as falling asleep in class because he was working late.
2) Go to every board meeting you can and if you can't attend in person, then go online and read the minutes. Every real decision is voted on there and votes often pass without anyone's knowledge because nobody shows up to challenge the votes or voice concerns.
3) Don't fall for the okydoke. Just because somebody talks a good game about improved test scores or even 100% college attendance, you should ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS, challenge the data. Ask about what percent of kids actually GRADUATE from College. Ask for a specific list of colleges they were admitted to. Remember 100% of people going to a B.S. college isn't better than 30% going to a GREAT one.
4) When someone tells you that their school is "High Performing". Ask them what percent of teachers AND leaders with school age children send their own kids there. This is THE MOST important question you can ask. If they don't send their own kids there then it ain't good enough for your's.
5) Ask about the demographics of the staff (or just look for yourself). If the only minorities there work in the kitchen, manage discipline, and clean the floors then you should really do a gut check to see if it's the right place for your kid. There are too many smart, talented, and committed people that look just like you for your kid to only see people who look like him/her to be in menial positions or as the guy in charge of keeping him/her in order.
6) Get a BUDGET from your school. A full scale dollar for dollar budget. If they don't wanna give it to you then you still have options. The district's budget is supposed to be available online and most districts have each school's budget pulled out too. If it's a charter school, go to Guidestar's website to read their latest 990. You have to know where the money is coming from and where it's being spent. That will tell you everything you need to know about their priorities.
7) Investigate teacher retention. I can really speak to this because I wrote a whole darn' dissertation on the topic. If your kid's school can't keep teachers, then they shouldn't be able to keep your kid. His/her education is far too important to be somebody's experiment.
8) Finally, don't OVER ESTIMATE the importance of test scores and good grades. We all want our kids to do well but I've seen so many parents faced between a choice of a school with good test scores and a school where the parent and the kids are loved and respected. It's NOT an easy choice and it shouldn't be the choice that anyone has to make but in reality it happens every day. And most importantly it's your CHOICE to make as a parent. Just don't devalue the importance of respect and love just because their test scores may not be as good. Emotional trauma isn't worth a perfect test score.
Please leave a comment or shoot me a note if you'd like to discuss further as these are ONLY MY OPINIONS...
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