Archive for ‘Open Conversations’

October 1, 2012

Two Thumbs Up for Won’t Back Down

The latest film from Walden Media and 20th Century Fox shows American audiences how to stage a parent revolution.

Won’t Back Down is a new feature film starring Oscar-nominated actresses Maggie Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis as two moms, Jaime and Nona, who take over their F-grade public elementary school. The school has a mathematical problem: Eighty percent of graduates can’t read. It’s personal for Jaime, whose 8-year-old daughter, Malia, is a walking statistic. The film opens with Malia’s anguished attempt to sound out a command: “Put the story in order.”

Okay.

  1. Choose an American city with a troubled public school system. Make it Pittsburgh.
  2. Cast a svelte pale-skinned girl with deep brown eyes and honey-blond hair as a FARM-eligible dyslexic second grader.
  3. Give her a feisty, single white mom who has no college degree, works two jobs, and earns less than $27,000 a year.
  4. Stick them in a class with a really bad union teacher who is “tenurized” (in non-college-educated-white-mom parlance), and therefore can never be fired.
  5. Block the exits. a) Make sure the kid can’t switch classrooms. b) Show the heartless Catholic school turn the child away for her parent’s failure to make timely tuition payments (as in Walden Media’s Waiting for Superman.) Then c) recreate the emotional trial of a lottery for a seat in a charter school. Call it Rosa Parks.
  6. When luck is less than a lady, have a linebacker of a principal (Ving Rhames) say something locker room-speechy, like, One in four Americans can’t read. If you don’t like the odds, go out there and fight for something better. You can do it. Yes you can.

But how?

  1. Read The Secret (Jaime has), and brush those teeth. Your winning smile is your greatest asset.
  2. Get the gossip. Pull the receptionist card to get in with the superintendent, then buy that chatty gal a cup of coffee. You’ll never need her again, but she’ll give you the skinny on the latest law that will enable you to takeover your failing school if only you can get half the parents and teachers to agree.
  3. Find a partner. A smart woman. A smart Black teacher whose ideals are in a cardboard box at the bottom of a closet in a Cosby Show-quality African-American home from which her soon-to-be-ex-husband has removed his clothes. Throw in a kid who is picked on for being slow. (This fact may be her fault and your plot’s undoing. Drama!)
  4. Crush on the miraculously still-teaching Teach for America alum at your F-grade school who plays the ukelele, can do the electric slide, and will rub his teeth clean for a woman with a full grown kid and no college degree. You’ll need him.
  5. Try and try and try again to get girlfriend fired up. Keep at it until you see a curl of smoke in her smile and a glint in her eye.
  6. Get to work.

This is the point when real parent organizers will start sharpening their pencils. Because from the looks of it, you need to buy three reams of paper ($15). Make that colored paper, so it looks good on camera (add $3). Copy up some petition forms (200 x $.10). Then take off from your minimum wage receptionist job so you can gather signatures when school lets out at 3 p.m. sharp (at least 8 hours at $8.48 an hour) and lure your new squeeze away from his union with shots of Jack Daniels from the bar where you work nights ($9). Use him to a) convert other teachers to your anti-union cause (his soul), and b) babysit your kid (free) while you and your partner canvass the tenements in your inner city neighborhood in the dark (priceless).

Once you’ve got your petitions signed, stage a rally. Borrow some bullhorns. Call the media. Make sure to have 220 or so custom green T-shirts ($2,200), two bounce houses ($378 plus tax), and a bakery-grade cookie the size of a Frisbee for everyone and his/her mother ($500). Reserve one plate of cookies for the crew in the local news van so they’ll run your story at the top of the hour. Don’t forget the $60 you need to replace your daughter’s backpack, which her classmate broke during an in-classroom cat fight. You’ll also need money for the two buses it takes you to get to the tony private school where the beret-wearing head of the teacher’s union (Holly Hunter) wants to pay your child’s way in a last ditch effort to prevent your becoming the downfall of the American labor movement ($9.50).

By my count, Jaime is out $3262.34 so far. Not that the film ever mentions money. (That is, not until a line item in a proposed budget almost torpedoes the entire enterprise. But I don’t want to spoil the ending.) The question of who’s paying for all this is another math problem the film never solves. For that, one has to look at “actual events.”

“Inspired by actual events” may be the most honest line in Won’t Back Down. Though the city and the cast looked and sounded a lot different. In real life, the first attempt to call “Action!” on the set of a parent trigger law-enabled takeover took place not too far from the sound stages of Hollywood. Printing up forms, canvassing, transporting people to rallies, handling the press – Parent Revolution, a nonprofit with a $1 million budget paid for by corporate philanthropists, took care of all that. (For the skinny, read Parent Trigger: Straight Outta Compton? I wrote it.) Parent Revolution told parents about the trigger and collected their signatures. Just like in the movie, they never asked about a PTA. They even fronted people matching T-shirts. They made them yellow.

Won’t Back Down is unbelievable crap. But it’s also phenomenal as a witless send up of Parent Revolution. The Los Angeles-based equivalent of a production company hammers together Potemkin villages of faux-populist uprising for audiences across America. The ruse, for which Compton was a dress rehearsal, seems designed to convince elites (Democrats for Education Reform, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Broad Foundation, Michelle Rhee, etc.) that real people will buy the reform package that their money bought and paid for.

Brilliant. Two thumbs up.

UPDATE: Parent Revolution had a $1 million budget when it was working in Compton, per this article in Mother Jones published April 7, 2011. According to this article, published October 2, 2012 in the Hechinger Report, Parent Revolution’s budget is “roughly $3 million.”

June 28, 2012

Hebrew Language Charter Schools: Who Knew?

The language spread of Hebrew in the United States according to U. S. Census 2000 and other resources interpreted by research of U. S. ENGLISH Foundation, percentage of home speakers, via Wikimedia Commons

A Hebrew language charter school won approval last week to open in Harlem. In April, Washington, D.C., approved its first Hebrew language charter school. In March, San Diego approved one for a September 2012 opening. There is a Hebrew language charter school movement afoot. When I wrote my last post, on teaching identity in traditional public schools, I had no idea how current the Hebrew charter school issue would turn out to be. I obviously hadn’t been keeping up with Jewish Week.

I bring up this movement not because I have an opinion as to whether it’s good or evil, but because (to my mind, at least) it raises interesting questions not just about public schooling and who charter schools are meant to serve, but more specifically about:

  • the ways in which the charter school movement parallels the big sort, the geographic clustering of like-minded people – people with similar political beliefs and values – that some argue is tearing America apart
  • what’s happening to the role American public schools have long played in assimilating the children of immigrants (Antero Pietila, author of Not in My Neighborhood: How Bigotry Shaped a Great American City, brought up this topic in this comment on my last post.)
  • what happens when charter schools – quasi-public, quasi-private institutions – become an out for independent schools that are incapable of sustaining their operations through tuition and fundraising

What follows is a set of links to articles and websites meant to give anyone new to the subject of Hebrew charter schools a running start. I’ve divided them by location.

New York City 

  1. Sara Berman, 35, Hebrew charter school pioneer, Julie Wiener, Jewish Week, June 15, 2010 New Yorker
    Sara Berman founded the first Hebrew language charter school in New York City and now runs the Hebrew Charter School Center. Berman’s father is Michael Steinhardt, a philanthropist who made his money in hedge funds. He is an atheist, but he backs Birthright Israel and other Jewish organizations. (In our secular age, you don’t have to believe in God to be Jewish.) Her background is much like mine – New York City independent schools followed by the Ivy League. She sends her kids (she has six) to the yeshiva where I went through sixth grade. I met her after a panel she was on at the PEJE conference in 2010, at which she introduced the Hebrew charter she founded in Brooklyn. She was unfazed by angry representatives of Jewish day schools in Florida who bore witness to significant drops in enrollment when Hebrew charter schools emerged on the scene. She is on a mission.
  2. Here is the proposal from the Harlem Hebrew folks. I won’t say anything about it except that the leading is a tad tight: http://www.p12.nysed.gov/psc/documents/HHLACSAppRedacted.pdf. The website: Harlem Hebrew Charter School.
  3. A new Hebrew Charter School approved for NYC District 3 in Harlem! Alina Adams, examiner.com, June 21, 2012 This is an excited post from a mom who is well-informed of the work of Sara Berman and the Hebrew Charter School Center. The mom sends her child to a Jewish day school, but she would consider Harlem Hebrew if she could.
  4. Hebrew Language Charter School Approved for Harlem, JTA (Jewish Telegraphic Agency), The Times of Israel, June  21, 2012, originally published as Hebrew-language charter school in N.Y.’s Harlem gets go-ahead, JTA website, June 20, 2012
  5. Harlem Hebrew Charter Ok’ed, Julie Wiener, Jewish Week, June 19, 2012
  6. Hebrew School: The Hebrew Language Academy, New York City’s first Hebrew-language charter school, opened two years ago. Now its backers – including financier Michael Steinhardt – want to replicate the model nationwide, Anna Phillips, Tablet, March 9, 2011
  7. Outcry over plan for Hebrew language school in Harlem, Michael J. Feeney, New York Daily News, March 3, 2011

Northern New Jersey

  1. Hebrew Charter School Seeking Approval for Teaneck Location School files application for space on Galway Place, Noah Cohen, Teaneck Patch, June 14, 2012
    This article is about Shalom Academy’s struggle to find a building.
  2. Hebrew charter school prevails in state Supreme Court (Decision ends dispute with East Brunswick Board of Education), Debra Rubin, New Jersey Jewish News, April 3, 2012
    This is on Hatikvah International Academy Hebrew charter school.
  3. Hatikvah Charter Still Facing Legal Challenges, Julie Wiener, Jewish Week, January 31, 2012 This article is on much more than Hatikvah. It also covers Tikun Olam, a proposed high school that does not have the backing of the Hebrew Charter School Center. Its application for charter was rejected multiple times. Still, they received a $600,000 grant from the federal government for the project, as discussed in this next link:
  4. Rejected 3 Times, School May Still Open Soon, and With a Grant, Too, Michael Winerip, New York Times, January 8, 2012

San Diego, California

  1. Kavod Elementary will open in fall 2012. Their website has stock photography of blond and brown children in a school setting together. Given that the Brooklyn Hebrew charter on which it is modeled is around 40 percent minority, this dream may be realized.
  2. The RosenRant This is a blog by one of the school’s founders, Michael Rosen. (I think all the founders are Jewish.)
  3. New Hebrew Charter School Approved in San Diego, Julie Wiener, Jewish Week, March 28, 2012
  4. Kol Ha Kavod Moment for San Diego Charter, Julie Wiener, Jewish Week, April 17, 2012 (Is it me, or has Julie Wiener become completely sold on the Jewish, er, Hebrew charter school trend over the years?)

Washington, D.C.

  1. Hebrew Charter School Approved in D.C., JTA, Jewish Daily Forward, April 24, 2012 Originally published by JTA as Hebrew-language charter school gets OK in D.C.
  2. Sela, a Hebrew language charter school, will strengthen D.C. Jewish community, Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld, Washington Post (Opinion), June 24, 2012 (This rabbi is looking to populate his after school programs with the children of secularly minded Jewish parents, if you ask me.)
  3. Hebrew Charter Schools Focus on Israel; New Crop of Public Schools Groom Generation of Advocates, Nathan Guttman and Naomi Zeveloff, Forward, May 8, 2012 – The leap from charter school founding to advocacy for Israel isn’t so far fetched given the connection between Modern Hebrew and Zionism.

South Florida

  1. Ben Gamla charter school website  Here’s the website of the first Hebrew charter school in the country, which opened when a private Jewish day school in the neighborhood closed. An estimated 80 percent of the private school’s attendees enrolled in the charter school. It’s located in Hollywood, Fl.
  2. Hebrew Charter School as Growth Industry: Former Florida Rep. Peter Deutsch’s burgeoning network of schools is toeing the church-state line, and could greatly affect American Jewish life, Julie Wiener, Jewish Week, March 20, 2012
  3. A Charter Network’s Emerging Imprint: Across South Florida Jewish institutions learn to live with – and embrace – Hebrew language schools, Julie Wiener, Jewish Week, March 27, 2012
  4. Hebrew Charter School Spurs Dispute in Florida, Abby Goodnough, New York Times, August 24, 2007

Miscellaneous Related Links

As an Israeli-born Jew married to a Catholic, I am personally interested in the secularization of American Jewry and Jewish leaders’ responses to it. Here are some pieces I found intriguing as I slogged through putting together the post you are reading right now:

  1. Across Differing Faiths, Shared Holidays, Michael Winerip, New York Times, December 17, 2008 This article has some good stats on the rise of interfaith marriage. It’s also a good read.
  2. The Next Jew blog by drdan, August 13, 2011 There are some interesting thoughts on the Hebrew charter school trend here, from someone much more in on the Jewish scene than I. Worth reading.

Like this post? Or not? Let me know in the comments section. (In English, please.) And feel free to share it. Toda raba!

-Edit Barry

May 31, 2012

Some Thoughts on Public Schooling and Segregated Cities

Cities cleave along racial and ethnic lines, and every city I’ve ever lived in proves it. When I grew up in Manhattan, there was Harlem, which was black. And East Harlem, which was Hispanic. And the Upper East and Upper West sides, which was where I and most of my friends lived. I’m white and they were, too. Over the years, I watched the formerly Jewish Lower East Side, where my grandpa used to own a textile shop with a handful of his brothers, turn Chinese. Later on I lived in Oakland, where the hills were white. There’s a Chinatown there, too.

In Baltimore the racial divide feels more extreme. Small numbers of young Jews are moving back to town, but the Jewish community at large worships outside the beltway. The Spanish speaking population is growing but per the 2010 U.S. Census only 4.2 percent of Baltimoreans are of Hispanic or Latino origin. The racial split is almost purely Black and White, 63.7 to 29.6 percent. And a fifth of people here live below the poverty line.

Baltimore City School demographics are another indication of how segregated and poor this city has become. This school year, 2011-2012, the public school student population is 86 percent black, though there are still individual neighborhood public schools – like the one in Hampden – where the racial breakdown looks more like that of a New England liberal arts college than of an HBCU. That is, the percentage of students of color in Baltimore’s predominantly white public schools is large enough that an elite college with similar numbers would tout itself as highly diverse. (Everything’s relative.) The big difference: 84 percent of kids in Baltimore City Schools come from low income backgrounds.

Given my private school background, my thoughts on public schooling are skewed. My thoughts on  integrated elementary schooling are just as funky. I was born in Israel. Before my first birthday, my mother took me from Tel Aviv to New York, where I attended a yeshiva from kindergarten through sixth grade. I learned all the things most public school students would learn. I also learned about my cultural heritage and Jewish identity.

My background colored my thinking about the reports and opinions in the New York Times a few weeks ago – they came out around the time of the May 17 anniversary of the decision in Brown v. Board – about what is effectively segregated public schooling in New York City schools. My thoughts went something like this: If the de facto segregation in predominantly Black or Latino or Asian elementary schools included curricula that engaged students in learning about their heritage and grappling with the meaning of their identity as Black or Latino or Chinese, wouldn’t our pluralistic society be better off? Is it enough to prepare students for “democratic citizenship” (if that is what public schools are doing) by teaching them about the Declaration of Independence and Constitution? Maybe we would have a more vibrant political culture if we also prepared students by teaching them about themselves.*

Learning about where I came from when I was young shaped my thinking for life. Is there a better place to do that than in school? Is whitewashing personal and cultural history part of the tragic legacy of the separate but equal logic that led to forced and legally enforced desegregation?

Can public schools teach us about our complex identities? Should they? Do they?** Can it be done in schools where integration is forced?*** I have many questions and few answers. So I read.

* Baltimore-based writer Stacey Patton’s piece on Black studies in the Chronicle of Higher Education also got me thinking about disciplined approaches to teaching identity. The piece kindled a well contained conflagration of controversy when a blogger for the CHE not only questioned the merit of dissertations in the field but outright ridiculed them based on their titles. She was fired.

** Hebrew charter schools are ruffling feathers in the private Jewish day school world. I attended a panel at the Project for Excellence in Jewish Education (PEJE) conference in 2010 that included the founder of the Hebrew Language Academy Charter School in Brooklyn. The school cannot teach prayers or engage students in religious study. They can teach Hebrew and cover topics such as Israeli independence. (Nevertheless, I found it online by searching “Jewish charter school.”) Washington D.C. approved a Hebrew language charter school on April 25, 2012.

*** In thinking about all this, I returned to the 20th century political philosopher Hannah Arendt’s controversial essay, “Reflections on Little Rock.” It’s difficult to make sense of her thinking without knowing something about her allegiance to distinctions between the private and public realms and her critique of the rise of the murky region she calls “the social,” but it’s worth a look.

Up next, some curated links to posts on and around these issues.

April 25, 2012

Tonight in Baltimore: Seeds of a Parent Revolution, Grassroots Style

Tonight at the Village Learning Place in Baltimore’s Charles Village, just a few blocks southeast of the Johns Hopkins University Homewood Campus and a few yards south of Margaret Brent Elementary/Middle School, a group of parents and caregivers will convene to hear about how three neighborhood public schools in Baltimore turned around. (Hint: It didn’t require state intervention or the contracting of outside operators or charter conversions.)

If you’re curious about the power parents have to improve a city school, don’t miss it. Cases under discussion will be Roland Park Elementary/Middle School, The Mt. Washington School, and Federal Hill Prep.

WHEN: TONIGHT! Weds, April 25, 2012.
Doors open at 7 for refreshments and the panel starts talking at 7:30 pm.

WHERE: The Village Learning Place, 2521 St. Paul Street, Baltimore, MD 21218

Check out the invite on the Village Parents website for more details.

Many thanks in advance to the Village Parents for organizing the event and to Downtown Baltimore Family Alliance President Judy Chung O’Brien and others for their participation.

April 11, 2012

Reflections on Year One of Re:education in Baltimore

Honoré Daumier 017 (Don Quixote)

Don Quijote and Sancho Panza by Honoré Daumier, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

A week ago Baltimore storyteller Rafael Alvarez challenged me, over pita points and taramosalata at Samos, to explain what I was doing with this blog and who I was doing it for, in 140 characters or less. I couldn’t. But I took up the challenge to explain my quixotic quest, as he painted it, in my anniversary post.

Today marks one year of Re:education in Baltimore. It’s my paper anniversary. After filling a dozen creamy pages with ink (they used to call that writing), it’s time to transfer some thoughts to the Web.

What am I doing? 

I started this blog to prevent myself from alienating my friends and family. After a year of engagement with the charter versus neighborhood school quandary, I was bombarding everyone in earshot with talk of issues they either didn’t want to talk about or didn’t want to confront at the same high level of intensity. I’d learned a lot. The people in a ten-foot radius may not have cared, but I was sure others did. Why not write a blog?

What started as (and still is) an outlet for sharing knowledge and curating stories of interest quickly turned into a platform for staging public resistance. Less than a month in, I published “Why I Don’t Want a Charter School in My Backyard (Not Just Yet. Not So Fast.).” May 2011 would prove the blog’s biggest month in page views for all of 2011, not surpassed until January 2012. The uptake was thrilling in a sort of crazy-making way. I was the rookie who hit a homer in his first at bat. But it was only the beginning. I was in it for the long haul. I had bigger fish to fry.

The uptake of that post changed the direction of the blog when Baltimore NewsTrust reposted it. The site was a short-lived experiment in allowing the public to evaluate the merits of local news stories. It’s sort of like Star Search in that readers can rate selections for “style” and “originality.” It’s a grand experiment. It’s also supremely irritating in that it turns readers into judges. State senator Bill Ferguson, of all people, rated the post, and rated it “poor.” This did not endear him to me. It did get me on his radar, though, and I called him to see if he could help me improve my neighborhood school. He gave me some names. This blog became a foot in the door, a way to link to potentially helpful people in real life. I love it for that. I think that’s why I value it most.

As a result of the NewsTrust attention I began to think of myself differently as a blogger. I began to think of myself as having a journalistic obligation. That was odd. I have a full time job writing for a marketing agency that brands colleges, universities, and independent schools. I hadn’t reported a news story since 1999. But I couldn’t help seeing a major hole in news coverage in this town and a slant in opinion making that is less than progressive or populist – two words I would like to think describe my political values. When mayoral candidate Otis Rolley came out with an education agenda that encapsulated everything that was wrong with the federal push for reform, I used it to take the national conversation down to the local level. I loved his candidacy. There is no greater friend to an activist than an enemy with a four-point plan. But the race ended. And so did my turn as a spotlighter of local politics. I turned inward again, back to the mission to make my neighborhood school a top choice, and the personal tale that goes along with it.

Who’s it all for?

“This isn’t just for your son,” Rafael tells me between bites of a gyro sandwich. He’s right. I wish I could say it was. But it’s not.

Who am I fighting for? Poor people? Black people? I don’t claim to speak for anyone but myself. I can’t. I won’t. I write as a parent whose salary is not commensurate with her level of education. (The irony is that I haven’t been able to cash in on my education because I work in education. I sell it. Before that I developed content for it. These are not lucrative tasks.) I might say I am a fighter for the shrinking middle class. I’m one of its voices. I care about the direction the country is taking. I worry about the future of the world my son is growing up in. I witness behavior and read language that is thoughtless and careless, that is based in prejudice, classism, and racism, and I feel compelled to call it out. I’ve been doing that since the ninth grade. It has never won me any friends.

“You’re earnest,” Rafael tells me.

“That’s my blogger persona,” I explain. “I cultivate that. I can do snark and irony and cynicism, but the blogosphere doesn’t need it.”

“That’s fine,” he says. “You can make your nuanced arguments. You can take the high road. But people want their 140 characters.”

Fine, then: I want to leave my little world better than I found it.

If that’s not enough, follow me on Twitter. Better yet, help me celebrate my anniversary by subscribing to Re:education in Baltimore today.


April 10, 2012

Are Baltimore Parents Taking Out Loans for Private Kindergarten?

A recent piece in Smart Money reports that more parents are borrowing money for their children’s independent schooling. I recently met a parent in Baltimore who had borrowed to send his child to private school here, and told me it’s cheaper to send a kid to college, after financial aid and student loans are factored in, than it is to repay loans for private school. I wonder if other parents in a similar situation would be brave enough to share their stories in the comments below.

 

April 3, 2012

Public Education Communication Breakdown

I just came across a section of a piece on education reporting — “Flunking the Test” by Paul Farhi in the February/March issue of American Journalism Review — that I find myself wishing the communications officials at Baltimore City Public Schools would read:

…veteran education reporters say they face a simple yet profound barrier to doing their job: It’s hard to get inside a classroom these days. They say administrators are wary about putting potential problems on display, particularly in the wake of No Child Left Behind and the Obama Administration’s initiative, Race to the Top.

“School systems are crazed about controlling the message,” says Linda Perlstein, author of two books about schools and, until recently, public editor of the Education Writers Association. “Access is so constricted.” As a result, she says, “There’s great underreporting of what happens in classroom, and it’s just getting worse.”

Perlstein spent three school years in classrooms to report a series about middle school for the Washington Post in 2000, and for her books, “Not Much Just Chillin'” (about middle schoolers in Columbia, Maryland) and “Tested” (about high-stakes tests). But Perlstein says other reporters were never able to gain similar access to other schools, including those in Washington, D.C., where the reform efforts of former Schools Chancellor Rhee attracted national attention.

Even with a cooperative principal or school superintendent, few reporters could make the lengthy commitment that Perlstein did in her reporting. That means journalists don’t get to see the very thing they’re reporting about. Imagine if sportswriters never got to see athletes play or political reporters never attended a campaign rally. Some districts even forbid teachers from speaking to the media on the record outside the classroom.

What to do? “You rely more and more on talking heads and less on what a school looks like,” Perlstein says. She adds, “That matters.” Ironically, superintendents and administrators “always tell me that the media gets it wrong. Well, how can we get it right when they won’t talk to us?”

March 21, 2012

Two Year Olds Shooed Off Baltimore City Public School Playground Due to State Tests

When I picked up my son – age 2.5 – after work today, his babysitter told me that she, along with him and his 2-year-old playmate, had been kicked off the playground behind her house. 

“Why?” I asked.

“It’s the MSAs,” she said. 

“Oh,” I said.  

March 18, 2012

If You Give a Kid a Cupcake, or Is Baltimore the New Brooklyn?

Yes, moms and dads, I was thinking of this book when I wrote this post!

The New York Times reported on March 16 on the cupcake wars at a Brooklyn public school. There’s some class conflict stirring up in the gentrifying neighborhood of Sunset Park, where the median income has gone from the mid-$30Ks to around $60K in the last decade. Other neighborhood schools in Brooklyn have similar stories, with some P.T.A.s running auctions that bring in thousands of dollars. Inequality is no good for community relations, even inside public schools. (The idea that P.T.A.s have to raise that kind of money at all is another issue.)

A few months ago on this blog I mentioned a book that changed my thinking about starting a charter school – sociologist Judith de Sena’s Gentrification and Inequality in Brooklyn. In it she reveals some bitterness about the new middle class’ rejection of neighborhood public schools in Greenpoint in favor of charters. What she seems not to appreciate is the resistance of longtime immigrant and working class communities to gentrifiers. The reasons to resist are many, not least of which is the rising costs of living that the gentry bring in their wake. An important site of resistance is the neighborhood public school, over which the old guard may not be eager to relinquish its hold.

The same dynamics are at work in Hampden, the Baltimore neighborhood where I live. The divide between old Hampden and new Hampden is so clear that it pretty much goes unmentioned. Old timers drink at Zissimo’s. Newcomers drink at Golden West, or Holy Frijoles, or 13.5% Wine Bar. Old timers buy coffee at Royal Farms or 7-11. Newcomers buy it at Common Ground or Spro. (There is no Starbucks here. The newcomers value local over corporate enterprise.) Old timers send their children to the local public school or the Catholic school a few blocks away. Newcomers? Historically, they move or pony up for private school. These days, they attempt to start charter schools or enter the charter school lottery. Now a growing group is doing what my husband and I are doing – work to make the neighborhood public school a top choice for every family zoned for it.

About a year ago I sat down on my couch and drew up a mission for an organization that was already beginning to take shape on its own. I called it Wham!, an abbreviated mash-up of Wyman Park and Hampden, two neighborhoods with lots of newcomer parents of infants and toddlers. Our first event was a playground clean-up with the principal. We’ve become regular contributors to our community organizations’ respective newsletters on the school’s behalf. We’ve connected with current parents at the school and catalyzed a move to get every conceivable volunteer opportunity at Hampden Elementary/Middle School #55 loaded up on the Baltimore City Public Schools website. We raised some cash by running a booth at Hampdenfest. We’re putting it toward painting a gigantic U.S. map on the school playground in May. The principal has dubbed us the Pre-P.T.O.

I get lots of “good for yous” and “more power to you” when I talk to people about Wham! It’s encouraging. But we all know that what’s going on in Brooklyn right now presages the kind of friction that could be stirred up here.

We know you can’t make a cupcake without breaking some eggs. If we do this right, though, we might just get some sprinkles to go with it.

March 7, 2012

Today in Annapolis: Last Stand for Baltimore City Schools Renovations

This is an email from Frank Patinella, tireless leader of the Transform Baltimore movement. Get on the bus. And if you can’t get on the bus, spread it:
Transform Baltimore
Build Schools. Build Neighborhoods.
Last hearing to support the renovation of city school buildings – We need a big turnout!  Join us!

Goal: Pass Senate Bill 533 (House Bill 304)

This bill would lay the foundation to fund more than $1 billion in school construction and renovation needs for Baltimore City, and the upcoming hearing in Annapolis is our highest priority!

We had a great presence in the House Appropriations committee on Tuesday afternoon.  The room was packed!  Mayor Rawlings-Blake and Dr. Alonso sat together and gave testimony in support of the bill.  We also heard powerful statements from over a dozen students, school staff, community advocates, religious leaders, building contractors, architects, and other experts.  We need that same energy for the Senate hearing this coming Wednesday if this bill is going to move forward!

Can you join us?  
We’re providing bus transportation!  RSVP required (leaving from Barclay Elementary at 11:30am, see below)

Wednesday, March 7 at 1:00pm
Senate Budget and Taxation Committee
Miller Senate Office Building
11 Bladen Street
Annapolis, MD 21401

Bus will leave at 11:00am from Barclay (2900 Barclay Street) and return ~4pm.  RSVP as soon as possible to transform.bmore@gmail.com or call 410.889.8550 x 123 or 119 to let us know if you plan on attending.  If you will be driving to the hearing, let us know as well!

Ben Kaufman and Frank Patinella for the Transform Baltimore team

———————–

Frank Patinella | Education Reform Project
American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland
410.889.8550 x 123 | patinella@aclu-md.org
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