Cloaking Inequity: Walton Funded Organization Seeking to "Organize” and “Innovate” in the Bay

Parents and community members in San Francisco have called recently concerned about an “astroturfing” organization that has received several hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Walton Family Foundation seeking to “organize” and “innovate” in the Bay. It appears that the billionaires boy club has taken to heart calls for community-based reform (at least the appearance) as an alternative to top-down reform.

However, standing in the way of the billionaires boys club are civil rights advocates from Journey for Justice, the Movement for Black Lives and the NAACP.  I think it is important to understand that the the NAACP has recently stepped up it voice in the conversations about education.

The California NAACP has led the national charge for greater transparency and accountability in privately managed charter schools. In 2016, the national NAACP made an unequivocal national statement concerning charter schools in a convention resolution. The national resolution originally submitted by the California NAACP states,

  • Charters have “increased segregation”
  • Charters’ “appointed boards that do not represent the public”
  • Peer review research shows charters “have disproportionately high use of punitive and exclusionary” discipline and “differential enrollment practices.”
  • Missing charter funds are “nearly half a billion dollars nationwide.”
  • Charters have resulted in forced co-locations.

As a result of these and other ongoing enhanced malfeasance across the charter sector, the national NAACP adopted the California NAACP’s call for a charter moratorium until “legislation and executive actions” are taken to protect the civil rights of children attending charter schools.

In 2016-2017, the NAACP’s Task Force on high quality education undertook a listening tour across the United States. In addition to several recommendations to protect the civil rights of students in charter schools, the NAACP’s High Quality Education Task Force report made several recommendations that provide research and evidenced-based alternatives to privately-managed charters for improving education for African American students.

First, provide more equitable and adequate funding for schools serving students of color. The report states,

Education funding has been inadequate and unequal for students of color for hundreds of years. And the United States has one of the most unequal school funding systems of any country in the industrialized world. To solve the quality education problems that are at the root of many of the issues we heard about, school finance reform is essential to ensure that resources are allocated according to student needs.

Second, invest productively in low-performing schools and schools with significant opportunity and achievement gaps. The report states,

Students learn in safe, supportive, and challenging learning environments under the tutelage of well-prepared and caring adults. To ensure that all students receive a high-quality education, federal, state, and local policies need to sufficiently invest in: (1) incentives that attract and retain fully qualified educators, (2) improvements in instructional quality that include creating challenging and inclusive learning environments; and (3) wraparound services for young people, including early childhood education, health and mental health services, extended learning time, and social supports.

The California NAACP reaffirms the national NAACP Task Force on High Quality Education’s call for proven, democratically-controlled reform models, such as early childhood education and community schools. The report states that these models better meet students’ needs.

High-quality early childhood education can foster meaningful gains in school readiness, as well as long-term benefits, such as lower rates of special education placement, reduced retention, and higher graduation rates. Early childhood education has also been shown to narrow achievement gaps, because children from low-income families and children of color gain the most from the experience. Community schools are “both a place and a set of partnerships between the school and other community resources, [with an] integrated focus on academics, health and social services, youth and community development and community engagement.” This evidence-based strategy qualifies as a school turnaround strategy under ESSA and also qualifies for numerous federal grants, such as the Full Service Community Schools Program and the Promise Neighborhoods grants.

In conclusion, at the 2017 California NAACP state convention in Los Angeles, members affirmed a new resolution in support of properly-design, democratically-controlled, community schools and called for greater investment in this community-based approach as an alternative to more privately-managed (for-profit and non-profit) charter schools in African American communities. Stay tuned, I’ll post the California NAACP’s community schools resolutin here on Cloaking Inequity in the coming days.

p.s. For the parents in San Francisco battling KIPP tonight. Here are the resources I promised:

Vasquez Heilig, J., Williams, A., McNeil, L & Lee, C. (2011). Is choice a panacea? An analysis of black secondary student attrition from KIPP, other private charters and urban districts. Berkeley Review of Education, 2(2), 153-178.

The data also show that despite the claims that 88-90% of the children attending KIPP charters go on to college, their attrition rate for Black secondary students surpasses that of their peer urban districts. And this is in spite of KIPP spending 30–60% more per pupil than comparable urban districts.

Woodworth, K., David, J., Guha, R., Wang, H., & Lopez-Torkos, A. (2008). San Francisco Bay Area KIPP schools: A study of early implementation and achievement. Final report. Menlo Park, CA: SRI International.

A study conducted by SRI of four KIPP schools in the California Bay Area found that 60% of students that started the 5th grade in four KIPP schools were no longer enrolled at the end of the 8th grade (Woodworth et al., 2008). They also found, “On average, those who leave KIPP before completing eighth grade have lower test scores on entering KIPP” (Woodworth et al., 2008, p. xi). Their finding suggests that lower- achieving students were more likely to leave KIPP. Critics have argued that KIPP “backfills” their grades with high-achieving students as low-achieving students leave— thus producing illusory achievement success noted in Mathematica studies.

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Julian Vasquez Heilig

Julian Vasquez Heilig is an award-winning researcher and teacher. He is currently a Professor of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies and the Director of the Doctorate in Educational Leadership at California State Sacramento.

In addition to educational accomplishments, Julian Vasquez Heilig has held a variety of research and practitioner positions in...