There is probably only one thing that aligns all education advocates and activists and that is the engagement of caregivers and students. It is essential for building and maintaining school communities that truly serve every student. But parent engagement that focuses on a single school, a single student, or a single policy can send harmful messages, whether intentional or not.
Recently, at the Education Council’s monthly action meeting, many parents and students spoke out against changes to the school selection process. They continued in a city council hearing called by Republican Council member General David Oh. In their testimony of how the changes would affect them personally, neighborhood schools were frequently mentioned. None of the speakers discussed these pillars of their community with anything but rejection and ridicule. These schools, which are full of loving, practical staff, and required to welcome all students without applications, test results or lotteries, were mentioned as the fate that all stakeholders were trying to avoid. It is not known how much time and energy was spent exploring the schools in their neighborhood by the speakers, but given our experience, we wonder if any of them have ever been to the interior of buildings.
Our own student organizers have also told us that in their day-to-day experience at these special admission schools, teachers and staff use the threat of sending students back to “their neighborhood school” to urge them to keep their grades and their grades. attendance. and as an incentive to “behave well”. We hope it was not the speakers’ intention to denigrate and harm the students, teachers and staff who show up every day in our neighborhood schools; but they did. It is scathing to hear that people would be leaving town instead of going to the school where many of our children show up every day.
While there is much to blame for the state and the school district for the conditions of our neighborhood schools, we cannot forget the role of parents, caregivers and students. The majority of admissions-based schools have substantial parent groups ready to organize and fund many of the gaps left by dismal state and local funding. These schools are then better placed to fill the gaps left by a lack of urgency in the management of facilities and resources by the school district. In this case, parent voices and advocacy have widened the inequalities between schools by giving heaps of money to some special admissions while letting the rest of the schools take what is given to them.
Many of those who have spoken, young and old alike, know this to be true, but even in their testimony there has been no recognition or movement to advocate for new facilities, equipment or equity for these neighborhood schools. by none of them. By September, if the number of parents fighting against changes in the special admissions policy showed up and asked their neighborhood schools for what they needed and helped them get it, a real start in the fight against inequalities could be done. This is what we are advocating.
While this outrage at the change in admissions process stifles all other school-related pleas, a number of points are missed. There is no hindrance to how students from “under-represented” postcodes (which should be “systematically excluded and institutionally oppressed”) will be cared for upon admission. Many of these schools have a terrible record in supporting students of color, who are often marginalized in schools like Masterman. At the same time, schools like Carver ES are not recognized for their role as a historically black institution with rapidly changing demographics (from 68% Black / African-American in 2018-19 to 60% in 2021-2022). There is also no demand to learn from neighborhood schools like Strawberry Mansion and Furness High Schools who have worked to create tight-knit communities that support the whole student.
We will always remain fierce and firm advocates and activists for more parent and student voices in every part of our school system, but we felt that the great chorus of outrage was stifling the real work that is needed to truly fight back. inequalities and transform our schools. Decreasing inequalities in our schools starts at the neighborhood level and that is where the focus should be, not a battle for admissions of a few students.
Zakia Royster-Morris is a parent of a neighborhood school and a member of the Our City Our Schools coalition. Shakeda Gaines is President of the Philadelphia Home and School Council. Laurie Mazer is a parent of a neighborhood school and a member of Parents United for Public Education. Pep Marie is a member of the Our City Our Schools coalition.