School turnarounds prompt community backlash

From staff and wire reports
February 4th, 2013

‘Our concern is that these [school turnaround] reforms have further destabilized our communities,’ said one organizer.

The federal government’s push for drastic reforms at chronically low achieving schools has led to takeovers by charter operators, overhauls of staff and curriculum, and even school shutdowns across the country.

It’s also generated a growing backlash among the mostly low-income, minority communities, where some see the reforms as not only disruptive in struggling neighborhoods, but also as civil rights violations because school turnaround efforts primarily affect black and Latino students.

“Our concern is that these reforms have further destabilized our communities,” said Jitu Brown, education organizer of Chicago’s Kenwood-Oakwood Community Organization. “It’s clear there’s a different set of rules for African-American and Latino children than for their white counterparts.”

The U.S. Department of Education’s civil rights office has opened investigations into 33 complaints from parents and community members, representing 29 school districts ranging from big city systems such as Chicago, Detroit, and Washington, D.C., to smaller cities including Wichita and Ambler, Penn., said spokesman Daren Briscoe. Two additional complaints are under evaluation, and more cities, including Los Angeles, are preparing their filings.

Last week, Education Secretary Arne Duncan fielded complaints at a public forum in Washington. The forum was attended by some 250 people who boarded buses, vans, and planes from around the country to demand a moratorium on school closings and present a school turnaround model that calls for more community input, among other items.

The recurrent theme is that communities are fed up with substandard education, but they want solutions that will not create upheaval at the schools, which are often seen as pillars of stability in neighborhoods where social fabric is fragile.

(Next page: An alternative to school closings?)