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Leslie T. Fenwick, dean of the Howard University School of Education, has a different analysis of the rationale for school closings. It is a land grab. This article, published originally over two years ago, kept haunting me as I watched the process of school closings and takeovers tearing urban communities apart in city after city.
The truth can be used to tell a lie. The truth is that black parents’ frustration with the quality of public schools is at an all time righteous high. Though black and white parents’ commitment to their child’s schooling is comparable, more black parents report dissatisfaction with the school their child attends. Approximately 90 percent of black and white parents report attending parent teacher association meetings and nearly 80 percent of black and white parents report attending teacher confereDespite these similarities, fewer black parents (47 percent) than white parents (64 percent) report being very satisfied with the school their child attends. This dissatisfaction among black parents is so whether these parents are college-educated, high income, or poor.
The lie is that schemes like Teach For America, charter schools backed by venture capitalists, education management organizations (EMOs), and Broad Foundation-prepared superintendents address black parents concerns about the quality of public schools for their children. These schemes are not designed to cure what ails under-performing schools. They are designed to shift tax dollars away from schools serving black and poor students; displace authentic black educational leadership; and erode national commitment to the ideal of public education.
Consider these facts: With a median household income of nearly $75,000, Prince George’s County is the wealthiest majority black county in the United States. Nearly 55 percent of the county’s businesses are black-owned and almost 70 percent of residents own homes, according to the U.S. Census. One of Prince George’s County’s easternmost borders is a mere six minutes from Washington, D.C., which houses the largest population of college-educated blacks in the nation. In the United States, a general rule of thumb is that communities with higher family incomes and parental levels of education have better public schools. So, why is it that black parents living in the upscale Woodmore or Fairwood estates of Prince George’s County or the tony Garden District homes up 16th Street in Washington D.C. struggle to find quality public schools for their children just like black parents in Syphax Gardens, the southwest D.C. public housing community?
The answer is this: Whether they are solidly middle- or upper-income or poor, neither group of blacks controls the critical economic levers shaping school reform. And, this is because urban school reform is not about schools or reform. It is about land development.
In most urban centers like Washington D.C. and Prince George’s County, black political leadership does not have independent access to the capital that drives land development. These resources are still controlled by white male economic elites. Additionally, black elected local officials by necessity must interact with state and national officials. The overwhelming majority of these officials are white males who often enact policies and create funding streams benefiting their interests and not the local black community’s interests.