Yes, It Is Structural Racism

Photo Credit: Cindy Trinh, Activists of New York

I support the Pittsburgh Public School Board and Dr. Anthony Hamlet as the new superintendent. I hope they both stay strong against the onslaught of reaction they are facing now.

I want to talk about the role that racism has played in the educational reform movement. Racism is the elephant in the room either ignored or discouraged in conversation. It’s not overt racism, though there is plenty of that in comments to the Post-Gazette, rather, it’s a structural racism. It is less clearly defined and hidden under the guise of progress.

The reform movement’s focus on urban schools — comprised of students of color and the poor — has all but destroyed school systems in big cities across the country. In their zest to remake the cities, the reformers and their allies have closed schools, cut programs, and more. This movement is not about “fixing schools.” It is about land development.

Howard University School of Education Dean Leslie Fenwick explained in a Washington Post article “…schemes like Teach For America, charter schools backed by venture capitalists, and the Broad school for superintendents are designed to shift tax dollars away from schools serving black and poor students.” The land development primarily taking place in the East End and downtown Pittsburgh, while progress for some, has resulted in a significant displacement of the poor and black population. Some are moving away from the city. Many cannot afford to live here where the economic pressure on them and their ability to maintain homes or rentals in Pittsburgh, has been devastating. That’s why opponents to these schemes, label them as racist. Land development and the reform model of education negatively impacts the students with the highest needs — and for Pittsburgh, that is our black and poor populations.

Following is a more extensive quote from Dr. Fenwick, printed in the Washington Post:

As the nation’s inner cities are dotted with coffee shop chains… and the skyline changes from public housing to high-rise condominiums… listen to the refrain about school reform sung by some intimidated elected officials …that refrain is really about exporting the urban poor, reclaiming inner city land, and using schools to recalculate urban land value. This … is not about children, it’s about the business elite gaining access to the nearly $600 billion that supports the nation’s public schools. It’s about money!”

Does that sound like Pittsburgh today? We must maintain our democratically elected school board and support Dr. Anthony Hamlet as our new superintendent. We must continue to reject the business model of education. We must continue to fight to replace this model with a community school model — one that will improve student learning and work closely with teachers and community members. That’s what public education is about. Let’s keep the public in the school board and our schools.

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