When It Comes to Charter Schools, Bernie Sanders Needs to Learn From Black Families

May 17, 2019 12:00:00 AM

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Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders said he would use his power and platform to temporarily ban Black families from exercising the right to make choices about their children’s education.

It would be disheartening to hear that a senator (from a virtually all-White state) would attempt to decrease parental right to school options, except that Black families are wholly accustomed to White people whose lives are seeping in privilege and steeped in patriarchy to be disengaged with the real lives, priorities, and the impact of being walled off from quality options that Black families are subjected to.

This call for a moratorium is another arrogant and backhanded way to tell Black families, I know what’s best for your children…you don’t.

In Philadelphia, in 2014-15, less than 60% of Black boys graduated high school in four years. Hey, Bernie, put a moratorium on that. Across the country, Black students, beginning with 4-year-olds, are suspended and expelled at obscene rates, several states still allow educators in public schools to whip kids, many of whom are poor Black students. If you want to make a splash, get on your platform about these educational issues and lack of outcomes, not call for halting one of the few options for Black families that doesn’t involve paying for their children’s education through a mortgage in a wealthy suburb or well-to-do enclave within a city.

Before a well-heeled politician, like Bernie Sanders, with almost zero lived experience that relates to Black families prioritizes a boneheaded policy that negatively impacts Black students’ outcomes, quality of education, and therefore, quality of life, he should visit schools outside of Vermont. [pullquote]Come to Philadelphia and hear from Black families that have chosen to send their children to Mastery Charter Schools[/pullquote]. Visit the Shoemaker Campus, where students feel safe, respected and engaged.

Talk to the college graduates we have produced, the student activists who started Raised Woke, and the kids who spend their entire senior year as full-time dual enrollment students. Come speak to students who struggled but persisted because they found in our charter school, a committed and caring staff, speak to Black parents who put their child in our schools years ago and then choose to enroll other children as well, and engage those students who have earned millions of dollars to colleges. As a matter of fact, if West Philly is too far for you, go to UVM (University of Vermont) and speak to the students from Shoemaker who attend there and know that more are on their way. Ask them about their experiences.

Even more importantly, come engage Black families who languish on waitlists for quality seats in America’s public school systems. We need less rhetoric about moratoriums and more actions that implement permanent ending of inadequate funding, tiered systems of education for those who are connected and privileged, and institutional racism that requires Black families to not have agency in their choices for how to educate their children.

Speak to the 87% of the 9,000 Black kids that Professor Paul Harrington of Drexel University, said graduated high school who received no post-secondary training whatsoever.

Since you have limited knowledge or experience of the frustrations of Black people throughout the country who watch politicians call for policies that mitigate their chances for educational justice, engage with them, listen to them, side with them. Moratoriums on one of the very things that most Black people support is nothing short of gross shortsightedness.

Sharif El-Mekki

Sharif El-Mekki is the Founder and CEO of the Center for Black Educator Development. The Center exists to ensure there will be equity in the recruiting, training, hiring, and retention of quality educators that reflect the cultural backgrounds and share common socio-political interests of the students they serve. The Center is developing a nationally relevant model to measurably increase teacher diversity and support Black educators through four pillars: Professional learning, Pipeline, Policies and Pedagogy. So far, the Center has developed ongoing and direct professional learning and coaching opportunities for Black teachers and other educators serving students of color. The Center also carries forth the freedom or liberation school legacy by hosting a Freedom School that incorporates research-based curricula and exposes high school and college students to the teaching profession to help fuel a pipeline of Black educators. Prior to founding the Center, El-Mekki served as a nationally recognized principal and U.S. Department of Education Principal Ambassador Fellow. El-Mekki’s school, Mastery Charter Shoemaker, was recognized by President Obama and Oprah Winfrey, and was awarded the prestigious EPIC award for three consecutive years as being amongst the top three schools in the country for accelerating students’ achievement levels. The Shoemaker Campus was also recognized as one of the top ten middle school and top ten high schools in the state of Pennsylvania for accelerating the achievement levels of African-American students. Over the years, El-Mekki has served as a part of the U.S. delegation to multiple international conferences on education. He is also the founder of the Fellowship: Black Male Educators for Social Justice, an organization dedicated to recruiting, retaining, and developing Black male teachers. El-Mekki blogs on Philly's 7th Ward, is a member of the 8 Black Hands podcast, and serves on several boards and committees focused on educational and racial justice.

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