Thank you, Nate Bowling, for cutting right to the heart of the perpetual argument over charter schools

Nate Bowling wrote everything you need to know to put an end to the exhausting point-missing debate pitting charter public schools versus traditional public schools.

For those unfamiliar, Nate is a public school teacher in Tacoma who, as far as I can tell, has been kicking ass for a long time now. In the last few years, he's really started to get noticed for it, too. He was a National Teacher of the Year finalist in 2016 after being named Washington State's Teacher of the Year, but he's much more than just an effective classroom teacher. He's also the kind of activist for racial justice and the rights of his marginalized students that I dream of every teacher aspiring to be.

Plus, he writes about nuanced issues with the kind of clarity that my overly wordy rants find themselves dreaming about at night (in overly wordy dreams).

In fact, if I was more internetty, I might have made this about myself and started this diatribe like this:

"TFW you write and write and write about charter schools and then someone else says everything you were trying to say much more simply and effectively than you ever have. SMH LOL!"

Obviously I'm not convincingly internetty, but you get the idea. Nate Bowling has written something important about the mind-numbing debate pitting charter schools vs. traditional public schools. He begins by acknowledging that many parents of students of color are choosing charter schools, and that this is a valid choice. Then he gives three critical pieces of advice for well-meaning folks who are still actively opposing charter schools:

First, Nate says, "you must address [the] concerns and motivations" of people of color who are choosing charter schools, because those concerns are real and warranted.

"The loudest, most vociferous opponents of charter schools I see are middle class, white, college educated, liberal-progressives entrenched within the educational establishment," Bowling writes. "In contrast, charter parents are typically from low-income neighborhoods that are serviced by under-resourced, low-performing public schools. Understanding that dichotomy is essential."

Yes! I couldn't agree more. A failure or unwillingness to acknowledge this truth is the foundation of most misunderstandings over charter schools.

Second, he says we must "improve the experience of students of color in traditional public schools," and I'm convinced he's right about this, too. If we don't, we're essentially telling those parents to accept the unacceptable for their children. That's pretty cruel.

Finally, Nate says, "you can be right on the issue and still be wrong." This is so blisteringly important that I can't believe it hasn't been said this way before. Opportunity gaps and disproportionate discipline and teacher bias and segregation are not just abstract concepts and theories. They create realities that have intense, long-term impacts on real-life kids. So it's one thing to value public education, to see it as a great equalizer and a pillar of our society, and to view charter schools as an infiltration of private money and control, but it's quite another thing to keep people from accessing alternatives to the system when it's not working for them.

If we don't acknowledge our current gap between theory and reality, between the ideals of education in a vacuum and the realities of biased schooling in present-day America, we're leaving a lot of kids to the wolves in the name of incremental progress and education theory -- including mine. My oldest son goes to Emerson Elementary in Seattle's Rainier Beach, meaning he's literally a student of color in one of the "low-income neighborhoods that are serviced by under-resourced, low-performing public schools" that Nate is describing. And I can tell you first-hand, it's not okay. We're demanding change, we're exploring all of our options, and if a charter elementary school opened up in the area, we'd probably look into switching schools.

Anyway, I'll stop now. Please read what Nate Bowling has to say. He's a smart man.



Stop Berating Black and Brown Parents Over Charters (and Give Your Twitter Fingers a Rest)
By Nate Bowling
I read too many edu arguments for my own good. It’s a known issue in my household.
The argument I find most cringe-inducing is the fight over charter schools. With the news that Secretary DeVos is coming to Seattle, I’d like to put this out there for folks.
If there's one lesson that I have learned over the last few years, it’s that you're never going to convince a black or brown mother to change her mind about where to send her child by demonizing her choices, calling her a “neo-liberal,” or labeling her a “tool of privatizers.” And since black and brown parents are the primary target of most charter operators, this presents a conundrum I want to help my (mainly white) progressive friends work through.
Before I go further, a few caveats: I’ve worked in public schools since 2006. This is by choice. I have been offered roles in teaching, as a principal, and on the board of charter operators in my state. I have declined. I consider myself a “charter agnostic.” I believe the traditional public school is the right venue for the kind of work I want to do and the student population I desire to work with. But, I don’t begrudge the choices others make for their own children.
Now that my cards are on the table, I want to give y’all some advice:
You must address their concerns and motivations: The loudest, most vociferous opponents of charter schools I see are middle class, white, college educated, liberal-progressives entrenched within the educational establishment. In contrast, charter parents are typically from low-income neighborhoods that are serviced by under-resourced, low-performing public schools. Understanding that dichotomy is essential.
The ed establishment has a lot to answer for. Folks in educational spaces systematically silence, marginalize, and awfulize parents of color and their children. We can cite example, after example, after example, after (local) example. Add to this report-after-report about disproportionate discipline practices and persistent Opportunity Gaps, it shouldn’t surprise us that parents of color are looking for options and not in the mood for finger-waggy lectures on privatization. For activists this is a long-term societal-philosophical-cultural-political issue; for parents it’s an immediate, pragmatic what-is-best-for-my-child issue. You have to approach them through that lens. 
Work to improve the experience of students of color in traditional public schools:In urban areas, students of color are the bread and butter of charter schools. If these students received the quality of education they deserve and were treated with the dignity afforded to white, suburban, and wealthy students, charter schools wouldn’t exist and wouldn’t attract families of color at the rates they do. If you truly oppose charter schools, the most impactful thing you can do is work to make public schools places where students of color, particularly low-income black and Latinx students, feel valued, welcomed, and loved. 
Every time a parent of color enrolls their child in a charter school it's a vote of no confidence in the traditional K-12 public school system. Sooner or later we have to reckon with that.
You can be right on the issue and still be wrong: Here’s the deal, friends. You’re right about neo-liberalism and the decaying of public goods, but ain’t nobody trying to hear that from you when it comes to their child’s well-being. We all know there are awful schools and school systems out there in desperate need of transformation. The folks who are supposed to send their kids to these schools deserve better.
Whether intentional or not, sometimes it seems activists value the “institution of public education” more than they value the "outcomes of the kids within it." I don’t think this is actually the case, but this is a rhetorical misstep that parents of color see and that school choice advocates seize on.  
Screeds, hot take FB rants, and 300 word newspaper comments berating folks may feel good, but they also turn potential allies into actual enemies. If you really care about public education, you’re better off standing shoulder-to-shoulder with parents of color in pursuit of fair treatment, (non-test based) accountability for teachers, better instruction, and funding equity than you are berating them in FB threads and with your Twitter fingers.
That's the real work.
Dedicated to my friends Sheree, Keith, and Korbett for putting up with more nonsense than you should ever have to about what’s best for your own children

Nate Gibbs-Bowling's 'Syllabus for Students When Dealing with Law Enforcement'


Nate Gibbs-Bowling has shared a two-page syllabus for a workshop he leads on students' rights when dealing with law enforcement, which he describes as "most important lesson I teach each year."

"The stakes are high for my students. Whenever I give a talk about teaching, I talk about the lack of predictability and danger that children of color and those in poverty face, on a daily basis. Never is that lack of predictability more dangerous than when it comes to encounters with those who are sworn to protect them. I know that no amount of 'respectability' can keep people of color safe in America; Sandra Bland, Henry Louis Gates and James Blake have taught us so, but my hope is that I can increase the odds for my students and yours."

Gibbs-Bowling: 'Segregation is not an accident of American history. It is the story of American history.'

Like virtually everywhere else in the country, Seattle and the broader Puget Sound region are largely segregated based on race and income. This isn't without handfuls of exceptions, but on the whole, it's true.

Our schools are a reflection of our society. My son just finished first grade at Emerson Elementary in Seattle's Rainier Beach. There are quite a few white families in the neighborhood, and almost none are sending their kids to Emerson.

Nathan Gibbs-Bowling has written another sharp blog post, this time reminding us that this segregation was no accident:


We have the power and tools to dismantle segregated schools. To do so, we must disabuse ourselves of the notion that somehow, organically, in every major urban area in our nation, a uniform pattern of segregated housing, segregated schools, and disproportionate policing practices simultaneously arose. That is, at best, magical thinking. Segregation was constructed by the government, at the behest of the people (for more on that construction see herehere and especially here). It something we chose to build; it is no different than the transcontinental railroad or the Washington Monument.
We make a choice, we make it everyday. When young, white professionals, live in a working class, mixed race neighborhood as long as they must, but flee to whiter wealthier confines, as soon as they can or when it’s time to have children, they serve as the foot-soldiers of neighborhood and school segregation. Most urban segregation is the result of the absence of white families--white flight. Put differently, people of color do not choose to live in segregation. Segregation is created by white families when they make the choice, conscious or otherwise, to leave communities, en masse. This framing is essential in understanding and solving the problem.
The hallways of my school tell this tale all too clearly. Abraham Lincoln High School was built in 1913 and we have portraits of every graduating class from 1914 through the near present. These are amazing historical markers. I often walk my students through the pictures. I point out famous grads, we discuss how the senior classes in 1942-45 were smaller because so many males enlisted. We note the appearance of the first afros. Every year the same question comes up… “What happened to all the white students?”
The photos are nearly uniformly white until the late 60s (there are a few Japanese students in the late 30s photos, but they vanish after the internment). And then poof somewhere between 1968 and 1972 everything changed. Lincoln is now 75% students of color; it is situated in a city that is 65% white, in state that is 77% white--nearly the perfect inverse. These figures are neither organic nor an accident. 
School segregation is the result of intentional policy choices and governmental interventions. It was constructed, and to end it we must deconstruct it through further interventions. We also must acknowledge that segregation was created at the behest of middle class white voters and business leaders and it can only be undone at their behest.


Let's revisit that last paragraph one more time, because it's important: segregation can only be undone by middle class white voters and business leaders because it was intentionally created.

But not here, right? Segregation? Racism? Couldn't be. I live in progressive Seattle, where everybody's raising chickens and going to farmer's markets and voting Democrat. Where the ills of a Trump-addled America are beneath us.

Or where, as a friend puts it, "gay people can smoke weed at their weddings, but black kids can't get an education."

To be clear, it was a triumph to have been able to vote in favor of marriage equality. But we can't rest on those laurels. We are closing our eyes as a city and as a region to the intertwined realities of race, class and the rest of our lives, and it seems to me that it's happening because it conflicts with our self-image. Our collective ego is so wedded to the idea of being unimpeachably liberal that we can't acknowledge our shortcomings.

As long as that persists, the racist, classist systems that built our segregated liberal bastion will persist as well.

Let's take a deep breath. Here we are. What are we going to do about it? What are we going to do differently?