Here we go again: The privileged suburbs deciding what’s best for Black and Brown children

There’s something depressingly familiar about the privileged pushback we’re seeing in Massachusetts around the ballot measure to lift the cap on charter schools.

An active group of affluent white parents in well-resourced suburban districts are organizing to deny low-income black and brown families access to better schools, all under the progressive guise of “saving our public schools.”

If this sounds a lot like the anti-testing opt-out movement that took hold in tony Long Island and spread to other lily-white enclaves, it’s because both “movements” are driven by the same selfish mindset and the same powerful political forces that are most threatened by public school choice and public school accountability–teachers unions.

I’ve been in Massachusetts the past few days, and I’ve seen the barrage of “No on 2” commercials, yard signs and bumper stickers. And I understand why national unions and the state teachers union are bankrolling the “No on 2” opposition campaign in Massachusetts. Unions lose money and members when parents flee failing urban schools and enroll in charter schools, so it is in their best interests to fight charter expansion, even if it hurts the most vulnerable students in Massachusetts’ struggling urban districts.

This is what I don’t understand: What motivates a family in Belchertown, Massachusetts to proudly display that “No on 2. Bad for Our Schools!” yard sign (which I drove by yesterday with a sad shake of my head) when there isn’t a charter school within 15 miles of their small-town western district–or any conceivable plans to build one?

Charter schools don’t “drain” a single dime from the Belchertown school district coffers, which is two-thirds White, 17 percent low-income and where all four schools are rated either Level 1 (the highest rating) or Level 2 under state accountability guidelines.

There are a lot of Belchertowns out there. So far, 202 school committees from mostly non-urban and well-resourced districts statewide have backed resolutions opposing Question 2­–which means these affluent communities In Massachusetts will decide what happens in the nine urban cities most impacted by a charter cap lift–Boston, Lawrence, Lowell, Fall River, Everett, Holyoke, Chelsea, Springfield and Worcester. These nine cities are at or close to the cap on charter schools, and fall in to the lowest quarter of performing districts.

Many teachers in affluent white suburbs are deeply discomfited by the all-out union battle to deny urban students better schools, although it’s not something they can readily push back against, as former Massachusetts teacher Erika Sanzi wrote in a recent commentary:

Most teachers have enough on their plates as educators and they certainly didn’t sign up to be seen as complicit in this battle to fight against low income children in Boston, Springfield, Holyoke, or Chelsea.

The ‘ick’ factor has gotten hard for many teachers to stomach as we enter the final weeks of the campaign. Like so many Americans this election season, they are ready for this all to be over. And those teachers planning to buck the tide and vote yes are being cautious and keeping it to themselves, including retirees who still feel pressure to think–and vote– a certain way.

I don’t live in Massachusetts, but I’ve got a little skin in this game. I’ve got a daughter who teaches in a high-performing (Level 2) Boston charter school, where more than 1,600 students are languishing on the waiting list so they can have an alternative to the failing (Level 5) schools they are attending in Boston.

If you are in a community wholly unaffected by charters but still voting no on the cap based on some kind of philosophical disagreement with charter schools, then that is your right. But please understand that your vote is a luxury afforded by privilege and potentially devastating to families who don’t have that luxury.

This Roxbury charter mom made that point crystal clear in her comment to the Boston Herald:

“You are hurting our children — not yours. Do you actually care what happens to little black and brown children? No, you don’t.”

What do you think?
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Tracy Dell'Angela

Tracy Dell'Angela

Tracy loves to ask questions and write stories. She roots for the underdog, wants our nation to reimagine schools and the teaching profession, and seethes about how much school inequity she sees. She spent most of her career as a journalist covering schools and crime. She and her husband raised two daughters in a diverse suburb of Chicago. She currently runs an education foundation in her community and formerly served as managing editor of Education Post. After leaving journalism she explored her wonkier side communicating school research at the University of Chicago and the Institute of Education Sciences at the U.S. Department of Education. She is Californian by birth and a Chicagoan in spirit. She loves the outdoors and all animals, especially her spoiled "dingo" dog.

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