Monday, October 24, 2016

Charters used to enjoy bipartisan support. Not anymore

Massachusetts’ 23-year-old charter school experiment has long enjoyed bipartisan support. Just a few months ago, polls showed Democrats and Republicans alike supported an upcoming ballot measure that would allow for more of the schools.

But recent surveys show Democrats turning against the question — breaking the broad consensus on charters and threatening to stall one of the country’s most ambitious efforts to reshape public education.

A new WBUR poll out Wednesday morning has the ballot measure failing by 11 points overall, with Democrats opposing it 64 to 30 percent.

“It didn’t used to be a partisan issue, really,” said pollster Steve Koczela, who conducted the survey for WBUR and has worked for charter advocates in the past. “Now, it is.”

In recent weeks, with Election Day approaching, a handful of prominent Democrats like US Senator Elizabeth Warren and Mayor Martin J. Walsh have come out in opposition to Question 2, which would allow for the creation or expansion of 12 charter schools per year.

Approval of Question 2 would greatly increase the likelihood of school failures that hurt kids and discredit the education reform movement.

But political operatives say that high-profile opposition does not appear to be the driving force in liberal voters’ mounting worry over charter schools, which have a freer hand with budgets and curriculum than traditional public schools and are frequently not unionized.

Instead, they point to a teachers-union-backed “No on 2” campaign that has hammered home a simple message — that charters drain traditional public schools of hundreds of millions of dollars per year. The opposition of over 180 school committees and hundreds of individual teachers has been powerful as well, they say.

That’s evident in places like left-leaning Brookline, where blue-and-yellow “We Trust and Support Brookline Teachers” signs are on lawns all over town.

The placards refer to an ongoing contract fight, not the Question 2 campaign. But Democrat Anne-Marie Codur, a Tufts University researcher who sends her son to Brookline High School, said conversations with local teachers played a central role in building her opposition to charter expansion.

“I didn’t know, at the start, [where I would land on the issue],” said Codur, standing in her doorway on a recent morning. “But I read, I listened to NPR, and I talked to educators here — I know many teachers here, and they are the ones who really made up my mind.”

Of course, it’s not just Democrats who are talking with their children’s teachers about charter expansion. But for liberals, concerns about Question 2 carry a particular resonance because they bump up against some core beliefs.

Codur, who has planted a “No on 2” yard sign between her “Clinton-Kaine” and “Joe Kennedy for Congress” signs, cast her opposition as a defense of public education itself. And for many Democrats worried about the growing influence of “dark money” in politics, the flood of anonymous donations to the “Yes on 2” campaign — some donors can keep their names concealed by law — has hit a nerve.

Democrats make up just one-third of the electorate, with more than half of voters independent and about one in 10 Republican. But Democrats’ sharp turn against the question seems to be having a real effect on its overall chances.

In April, a Western New England University Polling Institute survey of 497 registered voters in Massachusetts found 45 percent of the Democrats polled supported charter expansion and 34 percent were opposed.

By the end of September and beginning of October, a survey by the same group found just 29 percent of Democrats in support and 54 percent opposed. The gap was even wider among likely Democratic voters, a more select group than registered Democrats.

The Western New England poll had Republican and independent support for charters declining, too, reflecting an overall tightening of the race. But those shifts, if substantial, were not as dramatic. Overall, 47 percent of likely voters opposed Question 2 and 34 percent supported it.

Even the one recent public poll that had the “yes” side winning showed Democrats opposed by a small margin.

Massachusetts Democrats’ shift against the ballot measure puts them at odds with the national leaders of their party. Both President Obama and Hillary Clinton are charter school supporters, something organizers of the “Yes on 2” campaign frequently invoke in their efforts to win over liberals.

And pro-charter strategists remain sanguine, overall, about their chances with Democrats and the broader electorate.

A recent analysis by the Center for Public Integrity showed supporters of the ballot initiative are outspending opponents on television advertisements by a two-to-one margin, in what has emerged as the most expensive ballot-question air war in the country.

Many of those ads dispute the opposition’s claim that charters are a financial drag on traditional public schools, citing newspaper editorials that say otherwise. Strategists say their polling shows the effort is working.

And in recent days, the “Yes” campaign has opened a new front: appealing directly to the conscience of white, suburban voters with a new ad that asks them to imagine what it would be like to have a child trapped in a struggling urban school.

“If you like your public school, Question 2 won’t affect you,” a narrator says, as a picture of a white family fades to images of black and Latino families. “But for kids stuck in failing school districts, Question 2 will let parents choose something better — and give all our kids hope.”

Massachusetts charter schools have performed well with low-income, minority students. A recent Brookings Institution report found that “test-score gains produced by Boston’s charters are some of the largest that have ever been documented for an at-scale educational intervention,” better than the Head Start early education program, for instance, or a small-class-size experiment in Tennessee.

That explains why one crucial bloc of the Democratic electorate — nonwhite voters — has consistently been in favor of charter school expansion in Massachusetts, even as white Democrats have begun to oppose Question 2 in greater numbers.

Reginald Gay, a black retiree who sent three of his four children to Boston charter schools, said they are “much better” than the traditional public schools in the city. “Most charter schools,” he said, eating breakfast at Brothers restaurant in Mattapan Square on a recent morning, “the children are pretty much guaranteed to go to college.”

Charter proponents say they dread the idea of black and Latino, inner-city families voting for more of the schools, only to be swamped by white, suburban voters opposing the measure. “I’m going to feel sick about this if that’s where we end up,” Governor Charlie Baker said in a recent radio interview.

Philip Johnston, a former chairman of the state Democratic Party who opposes Question 2, said the struggles of urban families do weigh heavily on left-leaning voters in better-off communities.

“Many of us are well aware of the fact that in minority neighborhoods ... public schools are suffering very badly and parents see the charter schools as their only alternative,” he said. “But I think many of us also feel it’s a sad day when society isn’t willing to put more resources into making those neighborhood schools . . . as good as the ones I went to in an affluent suburb.”

Johnston said it may ultimately take court action to steer more funding into traditional public schools in Boston, Springfield, and other urban centers. But many Democrats, he suggested, believe improving those schools, rather than expanding a separate charter system for the few, is the best approach.


The “Black Lives Matter at School” rallies attracted hundreds of students, parents and teachers on Wednesday

About 2,000 Seattle educators wore Black Lives Matter shirts at their schools Wednesday to call for racial equity in education.

Schools across the district held “Black Lives Matter at School” rallies before classes began for the day. Students, parents and teachers also wore stickers and buttons emblazoned with the “Black Lives Matter” slogan.

The purpose of the day was to affirm that “black lives matter in the public schools,” according to organizers, who are members of Social Equality Educators, a group of educators within the Seattle teachers union. Teachers also wanted to show their support for John Muir Elementary, which had its “Black Men Uniting to Change the Narrative” event canceled last month after receiving a threat over teachers’ plans to wear Black Lives Matter shirts.

Before school started Wednesday at Chief Sealth International High School, dozens of educators and students gathered outside the building and held up banners and signs.

About 60 Chief Sealth educators had ordered the shirts beforehand. Some of the shirts said “Black Lives Matter” and “#say­hername,” a reference to Sandra Bland, a black woman who died in police custody in Texas. Those shirts had an image of a fist. Others wore shirts that said “Black Lives Matter” and “We Stand Together” with an image of a tree.

Teacher Diana Romero said she decided to wear a shirt “to support our black brothers and sisters in support for justice.” As a Latina, she said she has seen firsthand the unfair treatment of people of color by police officers.

A sixth-grade class from nearby Denny International Middle School, whose teacher brought them to the Sealth rally, wore Black Lives Matter stickers. Teacher Ben Evans said he wanted them to see how their voices can be heard. Many of his students are aware of racial inequities already, he added.

“Black Lives Matter At School” wasn’t sponsored by the school district, but it coincides with Seattle Public Schools’ “day of unity,” aimed at bringing more attention to racial equity in education. The district said in a statement that it has asked students, family, staff and community members to “engage and join the conversation in our united efforts to eliminate opportunity gaps.” As a public institution, the district doesn’t take official positions on social or political movements, district spokesman Luke Duecy said in a statement earlier this week.

Because Wednesday’s rally at Sealth was not an official district event, teachers were told to leave before students started arriving for school. But members of the Black Student Union (BSU) remained until the start of classes.

For BSU President Precious Manning, 17, the rally and shirts represented the international school coming together in solidarity. Black Lives Matter means making sure everyone is included, she said. “Black Lives Matter means ‘don’t leave us out,’ ” she said.

Each school planned its own events for “Black Lives Matter at School” day. At Leschi Elementary, for example, participants taped notes on a banner that asked “What does Black Lives Matter mean at Leschi?” Lowell Elementary’s front sign read “Black Lives Matter at Lowell.”

In addition to Seattle schools, staff at Highline’s White Center Heights Elementary wore shirts.


UK: Banning chav costumes? I’m offended...

A chav is a young lower-class person typified by brash and loutish behaviour and the wearing of colorful clothes

As a working-class student, there are many things that worry me. Deadlines, budgeting and balancing a work and social life all weigh on my mind. In fact, these are things that concern most students. One thing that isn’t keeping me up at night is a chav-themed social. But, according to Bristol Students’ Union (BSU), it should be.

The BSU equalities officer has reprimanded the Bristol cheerleading society for planning a chav-themed social. Apparently, dressing up as a chav is ‘appropriating working-class culture’. And, as we have seen countless times in cases of campus censorship, the society has had to back down and cancel the event. Middle-class outrage has prevented students from having a bit of fun.

I have a message for BSU officers: how dare you presume being a ‘chav’ is part of my culture. How dare you think that because I am working class, I will be scared and offended by a little piss-taking fancy dress. To my mind, the truly offensive thing about this entire debacle is the fact that students – many of whom are working class – are being told what they can and cannot wear. Even though the organisers of the social pointed out to the offended officer that they themselves were working class, BSU decided that it knew best.

This cultural policing needs to stop – it’s patronising and insulting. No one owns a copyright to a culture. I know this may come as a shock to some students’ union officers, but some middle-class people like to relax in tracksuit bottoms and a hoodie. Are they appropriating working-class culture? Would I be appropriating middle-class culture if I turned up suited and booted to a black-tie event? No, of course not. People should be free to wear whatever they damn well like.

Never mind the cheerleaders, the BSU officers are the real snobs here. These white knights protesting against so-called cultural appropriation don’t give a damn about what working-class students want. No, they only care about their virtue-signalling crusade to implement what they think is acceptable forms of fun on campus. This means clamping down on banter, jokes, and now, Vicky Pollard-style get-ups.

So, students, dress up in whatever the hell you like. You’re adults at university. If someone tells you you can’t dress like a chav, tell them to do one


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