All They Want for Christmas … is Art Education

Last night at the final board meeting before the winter holidays, Pittsburgh students told school board directors what they want for their schools. If Santa was paying attention, he didn’t have to write down very much. The students’ wish list contains only one item: arts education.

The students who spoke at the meeting attend Pittsburgh CAPA 6-12 and are concerned about the impact of several years of budget cuts on arts education across the district. They reached out to Yinzercation, and steering committee member Kathy Newman worked with them and helped them understand the process of presenting to the school board. Two of those students, seniors William Grimm and Margaret Booth, are co-presidents of the CAPA chapter of the National Arts Honors Society (NAHS). Through that chapter, they collected statements from other CAPA students about why the arts are important in public education.

National Arts Honors Society CAPA chapter co-presidents, Will Grimm and Meggie Booth, at their presentation to the Pittsburgh Public School board.

National Arts Honors Society CAPA chapter co-presidents, Will Grimm and Meggie Booth, at their presentation to the Pittsburgh Public School board.

As Grimm explained, “Recent budget cuts to the arts have had a profound impact on our district, especially CAPA. The visual artists lost their sculpture class, the instrumentalists their private lessons…it hit everyone hard.” Before presenting the statements from his fellow students, he told the board of directors, “They are real responses from real students who know how much the arts matter. These are from students of every grade, gender, race, and background. They are the voices of the ones most affected but least heard.”

You would have to have a heart like the Grinch – three sizes too small – to not be moved by these students:

  • “Art is empowering. It gives an outlet for emotions to youth struggling to figure them out. The arts allow a freedom no other discipline can offer. Without art, I would be nowhere; and everyone deserves the right to be somewhere.” – 11th grade
  • “Cutting money towards the arts is like cutting out a child’s personality. Students aren’t at school to just do math, science, English or social studies. We are here to learn about the world and how to interact with it.” – 9th grade
  • “To deprive public schools of the accessible and thriving art programs is to completely ignore a monumental aspect of a child’s development—their creativity.” – 10th grade
  • “We need to keep the arts in schools because nothing has taught me more about myself, what I believe, and how I connect with the world around me than the arts.” – 12th grade
  • “I believe that art should be kept and funded in schools because of the expressive value and apparent lack of freedom in school otherwise. Arts give people a sense of belonging and keep many people level headed. Art means everything to us and we thrive off of it’s cultural value.” – 12th grade
  • “…when we think of nuclear fission and sending men to orbiting celestial bodies, paint brushes and piano keys don’t come to mind. However, sometimes what matters is what we don’t see. Art has had an underlying current propelling academia. Leonardo da Vinci sketches of the human body led to research into anatomy. Philosophy and film inspired rockets to the moon. Why should we keep the arts? We should keep the arts because they provide direction to the force of math and science.” – 12th grade
  • “Art is important because it brings beauty to the world.” – 11th grade
  • “Why is this even a question?” – 12th grade

Margaret Booth began her testimony by saying, “Shakespeare gave me the words in 4th grade when I participated in the Shakespeare Scene And Monologue Contest with my elementary school. Frida Kahlo gave me strength in 9th grade as I admired her paintings and her story. The arts, in general, have given me the voice I have today.” Here is the rest of what she told the school board:

I have been in the Pittsburgh Public Schools since kindergarten. If I were to pick one aspect of these past years that has influenced me most significantly as a person, I would pick the exposure I have had to art, whether it be drawing on construction paper, acting in a play, or playing a screechy version of jingle bells on the school-provided violin.

During my time at CAPA, I have met hundreds of students with similar stories about how the arts have opened opportunities and possibilities in their lives. While I know the majority here agree with me about the importance of the arts in our schools, I am here today to reiterate the message that the arts have a profound impact on students, especially young children who begin to internalize self-worth at such an early age. When I think about my own confidence building, which can be attributed to early exposure to the arts, it saddens me to think that all children will not get these opportunities soon enough. As Colfax cuts middle level choral programs and Linden is unable to offer instrumental programs until 5th grade, I see systematic potential barriers for students from lower income homes, minority students, and those with disabilities from entering a school such as CAPA.

But aside from CAPA, I believe that students everywhere need exposure to the arts sooner. There have even been notable studies showing increased achievement in STEM classes when students also participate in art. This is because the confidence the arts offer is invaluable; art is neither right nor wrong, it is a life long process of creation that trickles down into the confidence to do anything.

As budgets are planned, I would ask you to keep the imaginative quality of youth in mind. The arts give students like me a voice louder than their own. Give them an instrument or a marker or music and they will give you a masterful new idea that could change the world. The arts unlock creative thinking and new approaches to problem solving quite different from STEM programs, something our future desperately needs.

I hope the Pittsburgh Public School board and administration listen to these wise students. If they have to send a letter to the North Pole as well, I’m sure these students would do it. But arts education is difficult for elves to manufacture and for reindeer to deliver. So we will continue working with these fabulous young people to make sure our state legislators – who control the purse strings for public education – hear them, too.

In Memoriam: Tony Woods

We lost an amazing man this week in the struggle for education justice for all our children. Kindergarten teacher extraordinaire Tony Woods will be dearly missed by the legions of families whose lives he touched in over 25 years of teaching in the Pittsburgh Public Schools.

Tony Woods at one of the coldest rallies we've held (!), December 2013, outside Governor Corbett's office in downtown Pittsburgh.

Tony Woods at one of the coldest rallies we’ve held (!), December 2013, outside Governor Corbett’s office in downtown Pittsburgh.

As his friend and colleague, Kipp Dawson, reminds us, “Tony will be with us so long as we love, and fight for, all children.” He told her just a few weeks ago, “The love thing goes without saying. Nothing needs to be done to prove that. Just keep advocating for those kids. That has always been my passion and to know it’s going on keeps the love alive.”

A celebration of Tony’s life will be held tomorrow, Saturday, December 7th, at 11AM at First United Methodist Church of Pittsburgh (5401 Centre Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15232). The family requests that donations be made to The Pitt Men’s Study or Shepherd Wellness Community.

Tony’s Pastor, Gail Ransom, shared this about him: “Tony was a spiritual warrior who always led from his heart. And that heart was an expression of divine passion for the young, the disenfranchised, the lost, and the left-behind. He was a protector, a nurturer, a mentor ….”

One of the things I loved about Tony was his ever-present, warm smile. His face would just light up when he saw you. He will help me remember that the path to education justice is a long one and that it helps to keep smiling.

Tony Woods with fellow Colfax teachers on our bus trip to Harrisburg to rally for restored funding for our schools, June 2013.

Tony Woods with fellow Colfax teachers on our bus trip to Harrisburg to rally for restored funding for our schools, June 2013.

Here is Tony’s obituary:

WOODS, ANTHONY E. “TONY”
Age 63, of Pittsburgh, passed away Sunday, November 30, 2014, with friends and family by his side. Born November 13, 1951, he is the son of the late Samuel William and Patti Palmer Woods; brother of the late Laurence Woods; he is survived by his loving husband, Ron; he is the esteemed brother of William, David, Richard and Charles; and sisters, Vicki Schroeder of Albuquerque, NM and Penny Elliot of Washington, PA; Tony is also survived by several adoring nieces and nephews. He will be dearly missed by his family and the numerous friends made over the years. Tony was a long time member of the Recovery Community. “He was devotedly involved in the social justice and labor movement.” “He was a bright light in a world of hatred and darkness.” Tony received his undergraduate degree from Carlow College in Early Childhood Education and a Master’s Degree in Education from the University of Pittsburgh. Tony spent over 25 years in the Pittsburgh Public Schools, retiring in January 2014. Until his illness, Tony worked with the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers. Tony was a well-loved, respected, and admired Kindergarten teacher at Spring Hill, Morningside, King, and Colfax Schools. Tony was a light for all students, a mentor, friend to fellow teachers, and an active, vocal advocate for children. As one teacher said, “Tony is the Lorax of Education; he speaks for all children. ” These are the truest words, spoken about this loving, warm, dedicated teacher, and friend. A profound thank you to the staff of The Center for Compassionate Care – Canterbury Place, for their care, support, and compassion during his stay. “HE WAS LOVED BY ALL AND PRAISED BY MANY.”

A Moment of Silence for Michael Brown

Yinzercation:

Steve Singer is a Yinzercation steering committee member and a teacher in the Steel Valley. This was his experience in the classroom yesterday with his students as they tried to process Ferguson together. This Thanksgiving, I am grateful for teachers like Steve.

Originally posted on gadflyonthewallblog:

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Michael Brown has been dead for more than 100 days.

Yet he was in my classroom this morning.

He stared up at me from 22 sets of eyes, out of 22 faces with 22 pairs of mostly Black and Brown childish cheeks.

The day after it was announced Missouri police Officer Darren Wilson would not be indicted in the shooting death of the unarmed Black teen my class was eerily quiet.

There was no yelling.

No singing or humming or tapping either.

No one played keep away with anyone else’s pencil or laughed about something someone had said or done the night before.

No conversation about what so-and-so was wearing or arguments about the football game.

My first period class filed into the room and collapsed into their seats like they’d been up all night.

Perhaps they had been.

By the time the morning announcements ended and I had finished…

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Diagram of a Victory

And that, my friends, is how you win an election. For three long years we have been fighting the devastation wrought by Gov. Corbett on our public schools. But last night we helped unseat the first incumbent governor in Pennsylvania history, to elect Tom Wolf, who ran on a strong public education platform! In fact, I dare say that we here in the grassroots are largely responsible for this victory.

The political analysts all over the news this morning have missed this point. Although they are quick to highlight that Gov. Corbett’s budget cuts made him deeply unpopular, most have failed to mention the authentic, bottom-up movement that formed around Pennsylvania’s public schools. For instance, Terry Madonna of Franklin & Marshall College explained that, “Governor Corbett’s job performance dropped in his first year and he’s never been able to recover,” as drastic cuts, particularly in education, “simply dogged him throughout his administration.” [Post-Gazette, 11-5-14]

While this is true, what really dogged Corbett was – us! Ordinary parents, students, teachers, and community members refused to let this issue go. We wrote letters to the editor, op-eds, and blog pieces; we staged rallies and demonstrations; we held mock-bake sales; we wrote petitions and got on buses to Harrisburg to deliver thousands of signatures; we hosted public debates, lectures, and national authors. With “dogged” determination, we took every opportunity to counter Corbett’s attempts to minimize the damage he was inflicting on our schools: we took to social media and made on-line comments on news stories at every chance.

Some folks had been doing this work for many years and became advisors and mentors to the more recent groundswell of advocacy, as we joined the long arc of the education justice movement. We connected with others across the state, from Philadelphia, to the Lehigh Valley, State College, Shippensburg, Erie, and beyond. I’m especially grateful to parent leaders such as Helen Gym, Rebecca Poyourow, Susan Spicka, Mark Spengler, and Dana Bacher. One take away message from this election is “don’t mess with Pennsylvania parents – or hurt their kids and schools!”

I also have immense appreciation for the work of state-wide advocates and organizations such as Larry Feinberg and Lynn Foltz at the Keystone State Education Coalition; Susan Gobreski and Education Voters PA; the Education Law Center; the PSEA; and the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center.

Locally, I especially need to give a huge shout out to the 14 members of the Yinzercation steering committee who have kept this work going day-in and day-out for three straight years, entirely as volunteers: Beth Bosco, Valerie Brown, Matt Chinman, Kipp Dawson, Gabriella Gonzalez, Sara Goodkind, Pam Harbin, Tara McElfresh, Kathy Newman, Wallace Sapp, Cassi Schaffer, Steve Singer, and David Taylor. And there are so many, many others doing this work.

So when reports say that Gov. Corbett “never successfully countered Democratic messaging, specifically around education” – I feel we must point out that this was not merely political party messaging. In fact, we are the ones who created the message, by speaking the truth about what has been happening to our children and their schools. And then we kept that message out there constantly in the public eye. One Republican committee member explained Corbett’s loss saying that Democrats, “hit the ground running with the education thing.” [Post-Gazette, 11-5-14]

But that obscures the real involvement of thousands of ordinary people who became politically activated around this issue, yet were not acting as rank and file members of a political party – or any group, for that matter. There were plenty of Republicans furious about public schools, too. For many people, this was more a social movement – focused on kids, schools, and communities – rather than a political campaign orchestrated by party officials from the top down.

Why is this an important distinction? We just saw an authentic, grassroots movement give voice to real people, about an issue central to our democracy and our state’s future – and we won. We. Won. People matter, our voices matter, and we can make a difference when we work together. Congratulations public school advocates! And thank you!!

Top 10 Education Reasons to Vote Corbett Out

Tomorrow is the day! We have the chance to make history and vote Gov. Corbett out of office. After four long years of hurting our children, Corbett’s time could be up – if enough people show up at the polls. With the race tightening between Tom Wolf and Tom Corbett, we not only need to cast our own votes on Tuesday, we need to make sure everyone we know heads to the polls, too. Here is a list you can share with your friends of the top 10 education reasons Gov. Corbett needs to go:

1.  Slashed almost $1 billion from public education. Gov. Corbett continues to claim that he has increased funding for our schools, which would be funny if it weren’t so painfully untrue. He actually eliminated multiple education line items and collapsed several others into the “basic education” line item, and then boasts that he increased “basic education” funding. He even admitted on record that, “We have reduced education funding if you look at it as a whole.” [See “The Governor’s Bad Week”] He also likes to claim that the cuts were really the result of the expiring federal stimulus program, but Corbett has taken state funding for our schools back to pre-2008 levels, lower than before Pennsylvania even accepted federal stimulus dollars. [See “The Truth About the Numbers”]

2.  Eliminated our modern, fair funding formula. For reasons I still cannot fathom, Gov. Corbett eliminated the state’s equitable funding formula, so that the poorest students and most struggling schools get the least support. [See “Hurting the Poor”] He made Pennsylvania one of only three states in the nation without a modern formula that would take into account things such as the actual number of families living in poverty or the true number of students with special education needs. [See “A Shameful Betrayal”] Instead, we have a system that allows politically connected legislators to hand pick their favorite pet school districts to hand them extra cash. [Newsworks, 7-11-13]

3.  Caused students to lose 27,000 of their teachers and educators. Corbett has tried to downplay this astonishing figure arguing that not all of the jobs lost were teachers – they include guidance counselors, nurses, librarians, and classroom aids (as if students don’t need these professionals in their schools). [PA Fact Finder, 10-1-14] Not only are our children missing thousands of trusted adults in their schools, the cuts have dramatically increased class size. The latest data shows that over 90% of PA school districts have cut staff, and 64% have increased class sizes since Corbett’s historic budget cuts in 2010-11, with the elementary grades hit the hardest. [See “From Bad to Worst”]

4.  Wiped out music, art, library, tutoring, athletics, Kindergarten, and more. Over half of Pennsylvania school districts will eliminate or reduce academic programs this year. Most cuts will come from field trips (51% schools will eliminate); summer school (37%); world languages (34%); music and theater (31%); and physical education (24%). In over a third of districts, students are also losing extra-curricular and athletic programs, or have to pay a fee to participate. And those cuts are on top of massive cuts made the past two years. [See “From Bad to Worst”]

5.  Forced over 75% of PA school districts to raise local property taxes. In nearly every part of the state, districts are relying on local revenue from property taxes to pay for a growing majority of school budgets. Over three-quarters of school districts will increase property taxes this year – more than any in the past five years. [See “From Bad to Worst”] Pennsylvania is now one of the stingiest states in the entire country in terms of the proportion of school funding provided at the state level: we rank #45. [Census Bureau data summarized in PA School Funding Project]

6.  Promoted vouchers and tax credit programs to send public dollars to private and religious schools. While Corbett failed to pass voucher legislation, his #1 education priority, he instead expanded the EITC tax credit programs. Essentially “vouchers lite,” these programs cost us $150 million per year by funneling corporate tax money that should have gone to the state for our budget needs into the hands of private and religious schools instead, with zero accountability to the public. [See “EITC No Credit to PA”; Keystone Research Center, “No Accountability,” 4-7-11]

7.  Cut public higher-education by 20%. Historic, truly enormous cuts to public colleges and universities have forced those institutions to pass along costs to students and their families. For instance, Corbett cut $67 million from the University of Pittsburgh three years ago, and then locked those cuts in for the past two years: Pitt’s state aid is at its lowest level since it affiliated with the state system in the 1960s. [See “Rolling in Dough or Debt”] And Pennsylvania college students are now the 3rd most indebted in the entire nation. [Post-Gazette, 6-1-14]

8.  Tried to eliminate local control and accountability from elected school boards. In the fall of 2012, Corbett attempted to ram through a statewide authorizer bill, which would have permitted only a state commission of political appointees the right to open new charter schools and to supervise them. This end-run around locally elected representatives would have removed fiscal and academic accountability from those tasked with protecting taxpayers and their communities. [See “Real Charter Reform” and “Now That’s More Like It” for details.]

9.  Expanded high-stakes testing. Gov. Corbett has subjected Pennsylvania students to a dramatically increased number of standardized tests – and has jacked up the stakes, as well. For instance, in opposing the new Keystone graduation exams, which will prevent many students from graduating from high school, the NAACP called them a “present day form of Eugenics” and a “human rights violation.” [Public School Shakedown, 2-2-14] The tests are also an unfunded mandate on local school districts that cost millions. For example, the new School Performance Profile system, largely based on student test scores, cost us taxpayers $2.7 million to develop over the past three years and it will cost an estimated $838,000 every year to maintain. [Post-Gazette, 10-5-13] This does not include the $201.1 million contract Pennsylvania made with Data Recognition Corporation to administer high-stakes-tests to our students. [PennLive.com, 12-1-11] And all this testing is not actually helping students learn. [See “High Stakes Testing”]

10.  Practiced cronyism instead of protecting students. Corbett tried to pass a bill exempting charter school operators – his top campaign donors – from Pennsylvania’s Right to Know “sunshine” law. [See “Where are the Real Republicans?” and “Charters are Cash Cows”] Then he appointed his friend Ron Tomalis, who had been the PA Secretary of Education, to a $140,000 ghost position where an investigative report found he did no work. However, in that capacity Tomalis did advise private equity investors in New York City on how to make money by selling products to school districts. [Post-Gazette, 9-14-14]

Who is Voting for Tom Corbett?

Ever since he slashed close to $1 billion from public education back in 2011, Governor Corbett has been claiming he did the very opposite. So it’s no surprise – though completely ludicrous – that he has been campaigning on his “record of support” for public schools. Still, I spit out my coffee when I saw the full page ad in this morning’s Post-Gazette. (See first image, below.) To set the record straight, I made some factual corrections. (See revised ad, below.) We don’t have Corbett’s deep pockets to take out a full page ad in the paper, but we can share this post – and share the truth!

CorbettPG2014adCorbettAdSpoof

School Choice: Trick or Treat?

Boo! Halloween is a scary time of year, so I suppose it’s an appropriate week to talk about “school choice.” Tomorrow evening, A+ Schools is sponsoring a panel discussion with Dr. Howard Fuller, a well-known advocate of charter schools, vouchers, and tax-credit programs. Dr. Fuller will also be the keynote speaker at a full-day seminar sponsored by the Heinz Endowments at the University of Pittsburgh. I’m not sure if anyone will be handing out chocolate, but as we consider whether these programs actually work for students I hope folks will ask: is school choice a trick or a treat?

A former civil rights activist and superintendent of the Milwaukee Public School district, Dr. Fuller is now a professor of education at Marquette University. He serves on the Milwaukee Region Board of Teach for America, and the Milwaukee Charter School Advocates, and is an Advisory Board member of the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools and the National Association for Charter School Authorizers. His Black Alliance for Education Options is funded by the Gates Foundation, the Walton Foundation, Betsy DeVos of the American Federation for Children, and many others who like to talk about school choice as a way to “rescue” poor black and brown children from “failing public schools.” [See “Big $” for a rundown on many of these organizations.]

Let’s start with charter schools. As I have argued before, there are a handful of “good” charter schools, but most are not serving Pennsylvania students well at all. [See “12 Problems with Charter Schools”] The state considers a score of 70 or above on its new School Performance Profile (SPP) system to be in the acceptable academic range. (I have also argued that the SPP system is highly flawed, but let’s go with the state’s own data here.) Pennsylvania’s public schools average 77.1, but charter schools lag more than ten points behind, with an average of 66.4.

Here in Pittsburgh, only 4 of the 9 charter schools authorized by the district received an SPP score above 70 last year. And crucially, not one of those schools is serving the same population as the Pittsburgh Public School (PPS) district. For instance, 18.1% of PPS students have special needs, but none of the top ranked charter schools comes close to serving that proportion of kids with special needs. Two of the four also do not educate the same proportion of students living in poverty or African-American students. (This includes City Charter High School, whose founder, Richard Wertheimer, will be speaking on the A+ panel with Dr. Fuller.)

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The situation is much the same in Dr. Fuller’s Milwaukee: the charter schools there are not educating the same students as the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS). One recent report found that “MPS educated three times as many students learning English and twice as many students with special needs, compared with independent charters. The charter schools enrolled a lower percentage of white students and lower percentage of students in poverty than MPS.” What’s more, the two Milwaukee charter schools with the lowest grade “were Milwaukee Math and Science Academy and Milwaukee Collegiate Academy, formerly called CEO Leadership Academy and connected to voucher school advocate Howard Fuller.” [Journal Sentinel, 9-23-13]

In addition to those charter schools listed in the chart above, Pittsburgh pays to send students to another 13 charter schools (authorized by other school districts and not accountable to the city’s school board) as well as 9 cyber charter schools. [Post-Gazette, 10-14-14] Not one of Pennsylvania’s 14 cyber charters schools scored over 70 on the SPP system; in fact, eight of those schools had scores below 50! And over half of all Pennsylvania brick and mortar charter schools (55%) also scored below 50. [Rep. Roebuck Charter Update, 4-14] These dismal numbers are backed up by recent research: a national study last year concluded that Pennsylvania’s charter schools are the third worst in the entire country. It found that charter students here cover 29 fewer days of reading material on average, and 50 fewer days of math than traditional public schools. [Stanford CREDO, National Charter School Study 2013]

This evidence strongly suggests that charter schools are far more “trick” than “treat” for our students. Yet Dr. Fuller argues that poor students, and especially students of color, need access to more charter schools. Presumably he means the “good” ones. But remember, even the “good” ones in Pittsburgh are not educating the same students as the public school system. Let me be clear: schools like the Environmental Charter School are gorgeous and all of our students deserve the small classes and other opportunities offered there. I want all of our children to have theater training with someone as amazing as my friend Hallie Donner at the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh Charter School.

Will Dr. Fuller talk about how to (finally) feed innovative ideas from charter schools back into traditional public schools so that all students can benefit? Will he talk about how to get rid of the under-performing charter schools that are costing our district a fortune and preventing us from spending desperately needed dollars on student programs? Will he suggest specifically which public schools we should close if we open more charter schools (because that is, in fact, what we will actually have to do)?

Maybe he would like to comment on the recent report released by 27 (!) Pennsylvania school superintendents from five different counties in the Lehigh Valley area calling for desperately needed charter reform. Explaining the need for a revised charter funding formula, one superintendent noted, “The charter school concept is a caterpillar that never became a butterfly … In this story, the caterpillar eats the green leaves of taxpayer dollars and deprives the larger community of children from receiving valuable supplies and interventions.” [Morning Call, 10-17-14]

Perhaps Dr. Fuller will comment on the situation in Hazelwood, where the district created an education desert when it closed all the local public schools. It shifted the neighborhood’s students to Pittsburgh Minadeo in Squirrel Hill and then sold the former Burgwin school to Propel, which opened it as a charter school this year. Now Propel Hazelwood has 123 students paid for by Pittsburgh – almost exactly the number of students (113) that Minadeo lost in enrollment this year, causing it to lose teachers and leading to increased class size. [Post-Gazette, 10-14-14] How does Dr. Fuller want to account for this constant churn and displacement, and the consequences (such as larger class size and fewer resources) for those “left behind” in the public school system?

I suspect Dr. Fuller will also talk about vouchers, which Milwaukee has had since 1990. In her book, Lessons from the Heartland: A Turbulent Half-Century of Public Education in an Iconic American City (2013), journalist Barbara Miner explains, “After more than 20 years, one of the clearest lessons from Milwaukee is that vouchers, above all, are a way to funnel public tax dollars out of public schools and into private schools. Vouchers, at their core, are an abandonment of public education.” Wisconsin state test scores show that poor children are not performing any better in voucher schools than in traditional schools (and actually had worse math scores in voucher schools).

The people of Pennsylvania have joined citizens in numerous other states rejecting voucher systems. In a nutshell, vouchers are unconstitutional, expensive, not supported by research, and funnel money away from public schools to private institutions that lack accountability, both fiscally and academically. [See “Vouchers, Coming Again Soon”] So would vouchers really be like candy for our children, or a nasty trick?

Finally, Dr. Fuller promotes tax credit programs, such as those initiated in recent years in Pennsylvania. These programs are actually tax cuts for corporations that cost us $150 million per year by funneling revenue that should have gone to the state for our budget needs into the hands of private and religious schools instead, with zero accountability to the public. [See “EITC No Credit to PA”; Keystone Research Center, “No Accountability,” 4-7-11]. Yet Dr. Fuller’s Black Alliance for Education Options (BAEO) actually boasts about its role in creating those programs here in our state.

Even more shocking, the BAEO claims it was “instrumental in passing the law that led to the state takeover of the School District of Philadelphia, which has led to an increase in quality educational options for poor families.”  That’s right — the BAEO is proud of the state takeover of Philly, which has mercilessly defunded that school system and created horrific conditions there. It’s even worse than that Halloween when you thought you would get a full sized Hershey’s bar from the house down the street and wound up getting a toothbrush, instead.

Tomorrow’s A+ event is being co-sponsored by PennCAN, which will be giving away copies of Dr. Fuller’s new book, No Struggle No Progress: A Warrior’s Life from Black Power to Education Reform, to the first 100 people in the door (costumes are apparently not required). PennCAN is an off-shoot of the Connecticut based ConnCAN, founded by hedge fund managers with a long history of funding charter schools and charter management organizations (CMOs). These are not educators, they are financiers who know about making money for their portfolios, and view schools as investment opportunities. [See “Can or Con?”] Here in Pennsylvania, PennCAN promotes charter expansion, a statewide authorizer of charter schools (that would remove control and accountability from democratically elected local school boards), vouchers, funding for early childhood (something we agree on), the elimination of teachers’ seniority, and teacher evaluation based on high-stakes student testing.

Are these the answers we are looking for to help all of our children? Why aren’t they talking about things like smaller class sizes, libraries for all students, the restoration of art and music, tutoring programs, and wrap-around services? Charter expansion, vouchers, and tax credit programs don’t get us great public schools for all our kids. So you decide: is school choice a trick, or a treat?