Romney Calls Education Gap ‘Civil Rights Issue of our Time’
Mitt Romney suggested class size has little bearing on educational outcomes at a West Philadelphia charter school Thursday, The Philadelphia Enquirer reported. “Calling the gap in education performance between black and white students ‘the civil rights issue of our time,’ Romney said quality teaching and parental involvement were the keys to classroom success. He made his comments during a roundtable discussion in the library at Universal Bluford Charter School, an elementary school named for astronaut Guion Bluford and one of five schools run by a nonprofit founded by music mogul Kenny Gamble,” The Enquirer reported. Romeny cited analysis that was done of 351 Massachusetts schools when he was governor to back up his claim, as well as a study by McKinsey Global Institute, but both educators in the room and experts contacted by the paper disagreed, the article said.
Hecklers, Mayor Taunt Romney
Outside the school, the candidate was met by hecklers, The Washington Post reported. “Seeking to broaden his appeal heading into the general election, Romney was venturing for his first time in this campaign into an impoverished black neighborhood … But here in the streets of West Philadelphia, the emotion surrounding his contest with the nation’s first black president was raw, as dozens of neighborhood residents shouted, ‘Get out, Romney, get out!’” the article said.
Some protesters were organized by the Obama campaign, according to The Post. Whether Democractic mayor Michael Nutter was among them is anyone’s guess, but Nutter told MSNBC host Martin Bashir, “If you want to come to Philadelphia to talk about education, or if you want to talk about issues in a presidential campaign, then your record is going to be examined.” Nutter also said, “I’m not going to let him or his folks come into our town and dupe people into thinking that he actually knows something about education.”
Romney Promises Federal Funds to Disadvantaged Students
Romney’s visit to the school “gave him the opportunity to see firsthand the type of urban charter school he advocated for” in speech delivered to a Latino business group Wednesay in Washington D.C., Annenberg Digital News reported. “Romney promised that if elected, he would tie federal education funds directly to low-income and special needs students to allow them to attend ‘any public or charter school, or…private school, where permitted'” in that speech, the article said. “The reaction to Romney’s visit to this mostly African-American community” in Philadephia “should not be too surprising,” however, the article said, because, according to an Associated Press GfK poll conducted this month, “90 percent of blacks would vote for Obama in November and just 5 percent would support Romney” and “just 3 percent of blacks said Romney ‘understands the problems of people like you’ better than Obama does.”
Update: The Romney campaign has hired Tara Wall, a former Bush administration official as a senior Romney communications adviser to handle outreach to African Americans, The Washington Post reported. Wall previously worked as a television journalist in Detroit, as a Republican National Committee adviser, a columnist and editor for the Washington Times, and as a CNN contributor, according to the Grio. She told the Grio that “her role would not be just outreach to blacks, but women and other groups, as well as shaping Romney’s overall communications strategy.”
What do you think?
Does Mitt Romney understand the problems of Black urban voters or was it a political misstep for him to highlight an apparent disconnect?
CLASHING PERSPECTIVES: Conservative activist and Tea Party member Jesse Lee Peterson (left) will protest the NAACP's convention; NAACP spokesman Hilary O. Shelton welcomes the debate.
On July 24, when the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) holds its annual convention in Los Angeles, the newly formed South Central L.A. Tea Party will be there to protest.
In a press release, the Brotherhood Organization of a New Destiny (BOND Action) said the NAACP has made “false allegations of ‘racism’ against the Tea Party movement,” has supported failing schools and teachers unions in opposition to black parents, especially in Harlem, where the organization filed suit along with the United Federation of Teachers to stop 22 school closings and the expansion of 20 charter schools, has “remained silent while black thugs attack white Americans and commit crimes in flash mobs across the country,” and “supports black genocide” as an ally of Planned Parenthood.
“The NAACP is set up as a non-profit organization with the pretense of helping black people get themselves together, but I can clearly see that the NAACP is a political pawn for the liberal elite white racist Democratic party and they are using black Americans for their own personal gain,” said Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson, founder and president of BOND Action.
“They’re continually being served by our tax dollars and black Americans continue to support them because they don’t really know and understand that the NAACP is out of touch with reality,” he said.
‘We Were Lied To’
Peterson used to believe in the NAACP and its goals, he said, but about 20 years ago he changed his mind.
“I stepped back and realized that we had been lied to and that they’re deliberately keeping the races divided. They’re deliberately keeping blacks dependent on governmental programs so that they can use black Americans for their own personal gain,” said Peterson.
In contrast, the Tea Party stands for freedom, the Constitution, God, country, and family, he said.
Peterson has spoken at Tea Party rallies around the country and has never seen “one glimpse” of racism, he said.
It’s not that clear-cut, says one NAACP representative.
“The NAACP did a very extensive analysis of the Tea Party, so it would be good to find out which Tea Party he spoke for,” said Hilary O. Shelton, director of the NAACP’s Washington Bureau and Vice President for Advocacy. “One of the things the Tea Party says all the time is that there is no one Tea Party.”
“There are some Tea Party constructs that we’ve been in contact with, quite frankly, that as much as we may not agree with them politically, they are advancing an agenda that is done in a civilized manner and they are, quite frankly, just fine, as far as we’re concerned,” said Shelton.
“We’ve never denounced the entire Tea Party, but, as the resolution says, only those racist elements within the Tea Party. What [the NAACP] calls upon the Tea Party to do, and Rev. Peterson as well, is to simply denounce that kind of behavior,” said Shelton.
Defending the NAACP
BOND Action’s charges that the NAACP supports abortion and ignores black-on-white crime are “simply not true,” Shelton said, and the NAACP has never taken a position on “a woman’s right to choose,” but does support “a woman’s right to control her reproductive life” and Planned Parenthood’s other work in providing basic health services to women and children in underserved communities.
“If you look at the NAACP’s position on crime and violence, it is never limited to African Americans. We want to stop crime and violence for all Americans. The issue you hear most often is us talking about the disparities in how our criminal justice system treats African Americans,” said Shelton.
He suggested Peterson examine the NAACP’s new report, Smart on Crime, which compares spending on criminal justice with spending on education. The report advises redirecting resources away from incarceration and towards rehabilitation and education. Shelton also suggested Peterson look at a bill the NAACP supports that would create a federal blue ribbon commission on crime that would investigate the root causes of racial and ethnic minorities over-representation in the system.
In regard to the NAACP’s opposition to charter schools, Shelton said, “There’s a disagreement there.” The lawsuit filed by the NAACP was designed to “advance the concerns” of the 96 percent of New York students who attend traditional public schools, he said. (See the sidebar below for another perspective.)
In regard to this and the other issues outlined in BOND Action’s press release, Shelton suggested that Peterson read its position statements before making “ill-informed comments.”
UrbanFaith emailed Peterson’s office to ask if he had read any official documents about the issues he had publicly criticized.
“Rev. Peterson read news reports about the lawsuit before releasing his statement,” an email reply stated.
‘Good vs. Evil, Nothing to Do with Color’
This is the first time BOND Action will protest an NAACP convention, but it isn’t the first time its members have protested a civil rights organization. For five years, on Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, BOND Action held Repudiation of Jesse Jackson rallies outside Jackson’s Rainbow PUSH office in Los Angeles, Peterson said.
“Bad things were written and said about me, but it also educated those blacks that really didn’t know about Jackson and as a result, he doesn’t have that same influence prior to us exposing him. We showed the contrast between Dr. King’s dream and Jesse Jackson’s nightmare with those rallies,” said Peterson.
UrbanFaith spoke to a media relations representative in Rainbow PUSH’s Chicago office on July 14. She said she would ask Rev. Jackson for a response and get back to us, but never did, despite several follow-up phone calls.
As strong proponents of free speech, the NAACP has a policy of honoring protest picket lines wherever they are, said Shelton. “[Peterson] is welcome in a non-violent, non-disruptive way to express his position, regardless of how inaccurate it might be,” he added.
“We want black Americans to know that this is a spiritual battle that we’re dealing with. It’s a warfare between good and evil, right versus wrong. It has nothing to do with color at all. Once upon a time black Americans understood that, but when they turned their lives over to government and to other people to lead and think for them, that’s when they lost that reality of what the matter’s all about and then they fell away from God and that’s why they’re living the type of lifestyle that they’re living,” said Peterson.
At one time Shelton was Federal Policy Program Director for the United Methodist Church’s social justice advocacy agency. He said that as a fellow Christian, he finds some of Peterson’s critiques “inconsistent with Christian values” as he understands them.
“I don’t want to judge what’s in his heart. I believe our faith is something that we carry in our hearts. I do think he is factually inaccurate and when you have factual inaccuracy, what you deduce from those facts is also going to be inaccurate. My guess is if he was better informed, he’d probably come to very different conclusions,” he said.
“It’s appropriate for Christians to tell the truth and if the truth is harsh; there’s nothing I can do about that. But the truth is only harsh to the ear that loves lies,” Peterson replied in an email.
The NAACP’s opposition to charter schools has opened it to criticism from conservative activists like Jesse Lee Peterson, but there are also progressive voices that take issue with some of the group’s positions on education.RiShawn Biddle is a columnist for The American Spectator, a former award-winning columnist for the Indianapolis Star who covered education and urban affairs, and publisher of DropOut Nation, a website dedicated to education reform. In a blog post, Biddle questioned NAACP president Benjamin Jealous’s insinuation that the U.S. spends more money on prisons than schools.Biddle sent UrbanFaith statistics from the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Education comparing spending on criminal justice and education. In 2006-2007, the U.S. spent $228 billion on criminal justice and $562 billion on K-12 education; $1.5 billion of that spending went to building new prisons and $62 billion went to school construction.“The reality isn’t so much that America doesn’t spend too much on prisons or that too much is spent on education. It’s that the country spends far too much on both inefficiently and ineffectively,” DropOut Nation concluded.“When it comes to education, the NAACP has had a very proud legacy. What they did throughout much of the last century in terms of fighting for desegregation, trying to provide greater resources for schools that serve black children, to pushing for integration, those are wonderful legacies,” said Biddle.But, Biddle added, there is definitely room for improvement in today’s NAACP. “The issue for the NAACP these days, at least from the perspective of those folks who are supportive of school reform, is more of where is the NAACP? They seem to be adrift in terms of having an education policy and in having some approach to improving education for black and Latino children that really matches what’s happening in the 21st century,” he said.Biddle pointed to the NAACP’s longstanding relationship with teachers’ unions, particularly the American Federation of Teachers, and the fact that many older members are themselves teachers, as reasons for the organization’s opposition to charter schools.“They’re opposed to anything that in their minds seems to lead to the denigration of public education, even though what is happening is basically charter schools are public schools, privately operated,” said Biddle.It’s not just Tea Partiers who are disappointed in the NAACP’s stance on education, Biddle said. Notable black leaders who have criticized the organization include Kevin Chavous, chairman of Democrats for Education Reform; New York Daily News columnist Stanley Crouch; Capital Prepatory Magnet School founder Steve Perry; former New York City councilwoman Eva Moskowitz; and Harlem Children’s Zone president Geoffrey Canada.“I am unhappy in many ways that the NAACP is not living up to its legacy, and not moving with the times, and basically is fighting against black children. But we have to get them on board because they are the grandaddy of the civil rights movement, and, in all honesty, we need everybody on board to reform American public education,” said Biddle.
In Waiting for ‘Superman,’ director Davis Guggenheim examines the reasons for America’s public education crisis, and challenges us to do something about it.
I recently had the opportunity to view the new documentary Waiting for ‘Superman’ at a special pre-release screening. As an urban pastor, in Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood, education and its impact on our children has become an issue close to my heart. So I settled into my seat with high hopes for the potential of this film to shine light on the many problems facing our nation’s schools. I was not disappointed.
Director Davis Guggenheim strikes an effective balance between telling personal stories (he follows the journey of five students) while also examining the demise of the national public school system, at a systemic level, over the past four decades. It is not a pretty tale.
The curious title of the film comes from Geoffrey Canada, the innovative and relentless leader of the nationally acclaimed Harlem Children’s Zone. Canada tells the story of growing up in the projects of the Bronx and how he often fantasized about someone swooping in from the outside and saving him and his friends. His favorite superhero was Superman, who always seemed to show up when the people were in the greatest peril. Even as a young child, Canada knew the residents of his neighborhood were in grave danger because of socioeconomic inequities. It was a life-altering moment for him when his mother sternly warned him, “Geoffrey, Superman is not coming to save us. Nobody is coming to save us. We have to find our own way out.”
With this anecdote, Canada connects the viewer to the seriousness of this issue. He points out how children begin receiving contradictory messages about education from an early age. They are told, on one hand, that education is the key to being successful in this country’s economy. On the other hand, he says, they attend local schools that are “failure factories” that give them no chance at academic success. Kids are smart, and they interpret what is happening. They perceive early on that “this society is a cold, hard place.” They see that they are getting the short end of the stick, and they don’t know why. But they quickly figure out that there is no use in waiting for a superhero to fix the problem.
Throughout the film we are drawn into an emotional connection with the five young students (Anthony, Francisco, Bianca, Daisy, and Emily) and their respective parents/guardians. Each child shows a great deal of aptitude and hope for the future, yet each is in danger because they live in a neighborhood with failing or dysfunctional schools. I imagine that each person in the audience who watches this will closely identify with at least one of the children.
For me it was Bianca, an amazing sixth-grader who wants to become a doctor someday so that she can spend her life “helping people.” As she shares her dreams, it’s easy to think that this bright girl’s internal drive and the nurture and support of her loving family should be enough to help her succeed. But then Guggenheim’s camera pulls back to give us a full view of the dilapidated school Bianca is on track to attend for seventh grade. It is one of the schools deemed a “failure factory.” Attending there, he notes matter-of-factly, will drop Bianca’s chances of success to an almost impossible percentage. Her parents decide that that Bianca’s best chance for achieving her dream will be to get accepted to the KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program) charter school miles away. But KIPP has only a handful of spaces open and hundreds of applicants.
In the Trenches: Harlem Children’s Zone founder Geoffrey Canada in the classroom. (Courtesy Paramount Pictures)
This is the essence of the first big point Guggenheim seems to be making in the film. In urban areas in particular, the vast majority of public schools range in quality somewhere between “mediocre,” at best, to “abject,” at worst. Typically in a large city there’s at least a handful of schools that are doing exceedingly well, but the demand to get into those schools is exponentially greater than the number of students those schools are able to admit.
As the film progresses, Guggenheim proposes what he seems to think may be the most substantial obstacle of all: selfish human agendas intertwined with antiquated policies and immoveable teacher unions. To make his point, the director spends a large amount of time following Michelle Rhee, the controversial chancellor of the Washington, D.C., public school system. Rhee is a fiery and dynamic personality whose brash efforts at school reform are shown to be both innovative and polarizing. In Guggenheim’s narrative, she and Geoffrey Canada (as well as other iconoclastic teachers and administrators) represent the kind of super-persons required to rescue an imploding system. But the odds are stacked against them like a wall of Kryptonite.
Guggenheim weaves in and out of the lives of the five students and their families while regularly coming back to the list of obstacles to educational equity. Teacher tenure for those in the public school system is another heavy issue that’s tackled. How can a school insist on great teachers if there is no motivation for greatness and no way to fire underperforming teachers? Other obstacles explored include confusion between federal and state regulations, poor leadership in schools, and unmotivated teachers.
It’s here that Guggenheim is bound to run into the greatest amount of resistance from some within the public education community. With his previous film, An Inconvenient Truth, the director drew the skepticism and ire of conservative critics who question the science behind global warming. With Waiting for ‘Superman,’ teacher unions and the politicians (primarily Democrats) who depend on them most for support comes under the most severe scrutiny. But, to be sure, Guggenheim spends just as much time highlighting the extraordinary and often sacrificial efforts of teachers who are making a difference in their students’ lives.
As the documentary moves toward its conclusion, at least two major themes emerge. First, Guggenheim wants to bring into the open a fallacy that has become too commonplace behind closed doors: that children in poverty-stricken neighborhoods cannot be educated at as high a level as children in middle-class environments. To make his point, he takes viewers deep into two successful charter-school models: KIPP — which now runs 52 schools and counting — and the Harlem Children’s Zone. In a nation with increasingly low expectations for urban schools, these two models are changing the stakes. Both are generating incredible results year after year, and these results are changing the landscape. Guggenheim observes that children from KIPP and HCZ are not just achieving scores higher than other poor kids; they are achieving scores higher than all kids.
The second big theme is the call to all Americans (not just educators) to be concerned, and even outraged, by the discrepancies that exist in our public-school systems. Viewers are instructed to take action by visiting the film’s website for tips that include getting involved by attending local school board meetings, donating funds to help purchase supplies for under-resourced schools, and encouraging your governor and other state leaders to adopt the Common Core Standards as a way of improving the quality of the schools in your state.
For me, the most poignant moment of the documentary came near the end. We travel with each of the five children attending the lotteries where they will discover whether or not they have been accepted into the schools that give them their best shot at success. As you see the lottery balls turning in slow motion and names being drawn out of a hat, it seems impossible to believe that the fate of these children is left to something as arbitrary as a random drawing.
At a personal level, I’m both provoked and inspired by Waiting for ‘Superman.’ The film’s message compels me to do more. It makes me hope that many of us will rise to the challenge for the sake of our kids. It reminds me of the piercing words of Jesus of Nazareth, who said, “But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” (Matthew 18:6, NIV).
The educational system in this country has become a stumbling block for too many children and families. If nothing else, Waiting for ‘Superman’ exposes the mish-mash of agendas and broken-down systems that brought us to the sad place we are today. We must deepen the national conversation about how to best improve schools. But even more important, we must experience a national awakening to the importance of our children. We must place their futures at the forefront of our agendas.
Waiting for ‘Superman’ opens Sept. 24 in limited release and everywhere on Oct. 8. For more information, visit the film’s website.
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