Making the Grade, a new partnership between Education Week and PBS News Hour, is so cool…and needed. Charter school news coverage has essentially become all the same: You can guess the setting, cast of characters and plot before the video even starts. Usually, it takes place at the school board meeting (which is a pretty lousy place to tell the story of how a community is feeling about its schools) with the subdued, somber superintendent/board members proposing a new charter school versus the apoplectic opponents (usually union or union-fomented)—repeating the cacophonous cadence of “privatization” or “billionaires” every third word. So, the latest episode of Making the Grade is a welcome breath of fresh air.
Reporter Lisa Stark looks at the charter school issue through the lens of the African-American community in Memphis, with the
NAACP’s charter moratorium as the backdrop. And it’s a comms person’s dream—a full 8 minutes and 22 seconds of context and nuance, more conversations than sound bytes, and student voice. In addition to the kids, Memphis parent Sarah Carpenter, who runs the Memphis Lift advocacy group, is just terrific in the piece, standing up for parents’ rights to choose a school for their children. Cornell Williams Brooks, the head of the NAACP, makes some very good points about needed charter reforms (although I’d argue that calling for a moratorium that keeps parents trapped in struggling schools is over-correcting). And then there’s an utterly jaw-dropping conversation with Keith Williams, head of the Memphis teachers union. Instead of going after “billionaires” and “privatizers,” he goes after parents. “I am saying that some parents are not capable of determining venues that will be the most advantageous for their children,” he condescendingly tells Stark. “That is a fact.” You probably won’t be surprised, in watching the story, that Mr. Williams made that statement from the safety of his own office, and not at a school board meeting. Check out the video above, definitely worth watching.