We can’t celebrate successful schools that don’t celebrate diversity, period.
During the State Board of Education meeting tonight, a fascinating conversation took place concerning diversity at Newark Charter School. While Delaware Charter Schools Network Executive Director Kendall Massett did not say a word during the talk, she did something that exhibited a distinct brand of white privilege that had to be seen to be believed. Lucky for me, I saw it.
The conversation about diversity centered around Newark Charter School’s application for a ten-year renewal. Perhaps in response to Red Clay not approving Charter School of Wilmington for a ten-year renewal due to diversity issues at that school, State Board of Education member Wali Rushdan brought up the issue.
Wali Rushdan: The school has definitely demonstrated, as mentioned in the presentation, a certain level of superior performance. I do however, have a concern, in the context of the ten-year renewal in the context of the school is doing fantastic. The numbers though, with respect to the students that constitute this school, it seems it has more to do with their diversity. I don’t know what… I’ve looked at some of the material… I just want to continue attention to how the school is making their outstanding education environment available to a more diverse population so they can get the benefit of that environment as well. And I don’t know if you get an opportunity to do that with a ten-year renewal where they will not have to come before a body again for five years as most other schools do.
The Charter School Office explained there is a mid-point evaluation where things are checked and if the school isn’t performing to those expectations they might not get another five years if they aren’t meeting those benchmarks. This implied they would go back down to a five-year renewal and would have to apply again for charter renewal.
John Carwell: In terms of that charter school they have a geographic preference in the Newark community that is allowable as per their charter. So that’s one factor to keep in mind.
Audrey Noble: This issue about schools and diversity… I mean, I think it’s a nationwide issue. We are actually saying schools, not just because of charter schools… When I joined the accountability committee (Charter School Accountability Committee), I anticipated and hoped we would have some discussion about this. But I recognize in the framework that the state has established, while looking at academic success, organizational soundness, and financial viability, there’s really no avenue to examine that, or to even have a discussion about it. And I don’t know if that’s something CSAC, or the Charter School Office, or the Secretary, or the Board, should we be considering this… should that be a part of our discussions about these schools? And I think we should always look at many schools that are predominantly African-American or poor in the city. That diversity conversation is a difficult one because of the frameworks. (next two sentences illegible due to sound) I don’t know how we report that but I recognize with the framework we have there’s really not an avenue to look at that and those factors related to the schools. I don’t know what your thoughts on that are.
Leroy Travers: I think at the Charter School Office we should commit ourselves to continue to work with Newark Charter School to work with them on improving diversity. (the next thing he said was illegible)
Audrey Noble: I’m not just talking about Newark, I’m talking about the whole general procedure to look at the schools. Is that an issue that is before us and is that an issue we should be looking at or not? I personally think we should be but I can’t speak for this Board.
As Noble asked if this was an issue they should be looking at, Kendall Massett was visibly seen shaking her head no. Not for a second or two, but for five seconds. While that doesn’t seem like a long time, try it out right now! I will fully admit as Kendall was shaking her head no in the row in front of me I was shaking my head yes longer than she was shaking no. And I’m okay with that. I’m okay with thinking it is not okay for any public school to have enrollment preferences that would keep out any minority group or students with disabilities. I agree with Wali Rushdan that if our schools are not representative of the communities around it, how much of a success can they really be? If you stack the deck in your favor, it is easy to win the school competition game. We have seen this with Charter School of Wilmington and Newark Charter School, and, to some extent, Sussex Academy. It is no coincidence these three schools were the ones that were the heart and soul of the ACLU lawsuit against the state and Red Clay that was dropped by the Office of Civil Rights for unknown reasons.
For Kendall Massett, a successful white woman, to sit there and say no to tackling diversity issues in Delaware charter schools… this shows a hefty amount of white privilege. If she were an African-American woman would she be saying no? I think we all know the answer to that. She is part of the problem. I get the whole part about diversity not being a part of the charter school performance framework and it isn’t in state law where it has to be part of the conversation. But this is the 21st Century and it should be. We can’t celebrate successful schools that don’t celebrate diversity, period.
This is something our legislators need to tackle because it is painfully obvious the Charter Schools Network, the Delaware DOE, the Charter School Office, and the State Board of Education aren’t legally required to do. The problem comes when lobbyists (which Kendall very much is) interfere with laws that tackle these issues and pressure the General Assembly to vote no on legislation that would provide more diverse charter schools. When the heads of the House and Senate Education Committees either live in the radius of the school or have a family member that teaches there, we have some serious conflicts of interest going on.
At this point in time, the State Board of Education voted in favor of Newark Charter School’s ten-year renewal with five yes votes. State Board President Whitney Sweeney recused herself from the vote because the financial firm she works for purchases bonds that are sold to Newark Charter School
As the vote ended, Kendall Massett clapped loudly. She did this for no other charter school that got their five-year renewal. To put this in context, there were six other charter schools up for renewal tonight. What makes Newark Charter School better than those six other schools? Because they do great on standardized test scores? Let’s wake up Delaware. We need more than Kendall Massett controlling the questions we can’t avoid any longer. There is lobbying for charter schools but when that includes allowing schools to have enrollment preferences that do not benefit ALL students, that isn’t a leader, that is a coward hiding behind a veil of racism that may not seem overt, but it actually is.
Newark Charter School has more than just their five-mile radius (which a considerable part of it isn’t even in Delaware so that doesn’t count). The school’s wait list is high. But they do other things: a sibling preference, a child of an employee, and other weird tactics. Like a kid can’t apply twice. So if a child applies for Kindergarten but maybe they aren’t developmentally there yet, that kid can’t apply again. You can only apply once. With their wait list being so high, the only grade kids can really apply for is Kindergarten. And that sibling enrollment preference kicks in every single year, evaporating the chances for kids that don’t have a sibling there. It is stacking the deck and creating the type of school they have.