"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Dear Anonymous Parents

I received this letter from a parent who wishes to remain anonymous. Below is my response.

On Tue, May 5, 2009 at 9:33 PM, __________ wrote:

Dr. Horn,
Have you seen the study commissioned by our school CEO? Try here. Some of our existing school inventory is being "given" to charter school operators (not clear on the terms, if they rent,etc.) Our newspaper, what's left of it (Baltimore Sun) doesn't seem to care, and the edu-blogger at The Sun is clearly biased toward charters (like Jay Matthews). I enrolled my son at one of the most prominent charters in town (run by a team of hucksters, in my opinion) and rue the day I did. I am opposed now on philosophical grounds, but there doesn't seem to be much organized opposition to the "charter school movement" as they call themselves.

I also recently saw C-Span's Book TV panel featuring the Jay Matthew's book about KIPP with the KIPP CEO in which they constantly talked about how many schools they had and that they were basically unstoppable. I saw your review of that book and am encouraged a few people must be seeing things clearly.

My family's experience with a charter (a KIPP wannabee) was more in line with your interpretation. My son was enrolled at that charter for two years. The CEO wrote letters to the parents asking them to be "faithful". We were lied to, manipulated, even pressured to write supportive letters about the school to get their contract renewed (I declined). These people are professional school jockeys, intent on taking over the Baltimore City Public Schools (I heard the CEO of the charter say just that) How do citizens stand up to that kind of onslaught, especially in a city like Baltimore?

Please don't publish my name on your blog, this is a small town, I have school-age kids and the shadow of the charters is growing! I do have the sense that much of what they do is smoke and mirrors, but I've seen families pushed out of them (I guess mine was...) and it was very upsetting. Maybe that's part of the problem - the people who care have kids that could be hurt by the chaos caused by charters, and people who don't have kids don't have an opinion.


Dear Anonymous Parent,

Thank you for your letter and sharing of the charter news from Baltimore. You are right, of course, that public education is under attack from an anti-democratic band of corporate welfare capitalists comprised of big spending vulture philanthropists and testing corporations, the professional parasites running the social capital investment funds and foundations, corrupt politicians looking to build their own political capital, and, finally, parents like you whose unfortunate cowardice makes you complicit and victim at the same time. Most of all, you are victim of your own excuses about trying to protect your children as a legitimate reason for not getting involved in the battle to make your child's education better.

When I hear the fear expressed in letters like yours, I always think back to the black parents in the the 1950s and 1960s who wanted to protect their children, too. They wanted to protect them from a second-rate education, second-class citizenship, third-rate jobs, and first-rate patronizing bigotry. In order to protect those children's futures, however, they had to make the conscious choice to send them through the throngs of ugly, screaming white racists carry clubs and guns, only to be turned away from white schoolhouse doors.

In case you've forgotten or have never been taught (history has never been on the Test), President Eisenhower called out the 101st Airborne Division in defiance of Gov. Faubus of Arkansas, who had activated the National Guard to make sure the black children of Little Rock would not be allowed to go to school with whites. Still, parents sent their children, tip-toeing through broken glass and absorbing the insults of wild-eyed haters. And for the first year after integration of Little Rock High, the black children who had the courage and whose parents had the courage to demand better, absorbed the hatred of peers as individual children had their own individual 101st Airborne guard to go with them to classes. These were parents interested in their own children's futures, and the children of the generations to come.

So please don't tell me about your fear for your child. You are simply caught up in the pandemic of cowardice that has made sheeple of the American electorate, sheeple who refuse to stand out from the crowd or to move off the path of least resistance. And in supporting the pillaging of public schools by the corporate goons, you have turned your back on those who made the sacrifice 40 and 50 years ago, just as you have turned your back on your own children's future that you would, otherwise, protect.

Get off your ass and get involved if you really care about your children. When parents (voters) like you band together and demand something better than the cheap, segregated charter chain gangs and KIPP knockoffs, the conversation in Washington and in Baltimore will change very quickly. But not until then.

You and other parents have the power to change schools. Your children are their only customers.

Jim Horn


  1. As a parent of a charter school graduate who spent many years on the Board of Directors and a retired public school teacher, I could not agree with you more. I've been at the school well past midnight many times to ensure that we found workable solutions to challenges that prevented our students from receiving the best possible educational experience. And, by school, I mean both charter school as a parent and public school as a teacher.

    I hold district administrations as accountable as for-profit charter operators in the problems that face public education. Your comment, "Your children are their only customers," nails it. Nothing measures up to the responsibility we have to students. District boards cannot meet a fiduciary responsibility to the district and serve students first at the same time. For-profits cannot equate the need to make money with the needs of students.

    Yes, we have stake-holder groups. They'll have to take their places in line well after kids. The TQM philosophy that business injected into American public education in the 80s and 90s helped us in many ways, but not with regard to our priorities. We simply can't serve other stakeholders until we meet the needs of our kids.

    Anonymous parent, you have only to look in the mirror to find out who is responsible for the failures you've experienced in public education in your community. Start signing you name to letters to the Board, letters to the editor, filing forms to run for the boards themselves. Attend meetings, ask questions. Be polite but expect answers. Expect to be part of the solution and expect it to take hours and hours of work. Call you neighbors and family members and get them involved, too. You'll make things better for your own child and every other child in your community.

  2. This is such an important statement.

    I believe it is empirically, possibly even absolutely, true:

    For-profits cannot equate the need to make money
    with the needs of students.

    For-profits cannot equate the need to make money with the needs of students.