Last June the employees of Cesar Chavez PCS’s Prep Campus voted to join the District of Columbia Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff through the American Federation of Teachers. The charter school, which first opened its doors in 1998, has sent almost 100 percent of its students off to college. These are kids whose parents most likely never even graduated from high school. A few days ago, the president of the American Federation of Teachers Randi Weingarten had this to day about the movement that created schools like Chavez:
“Make no mistake: This use of privatization, coupled with disinvestment are only slightly more polite cousins of segregation. We are in the same fight, against the same forces that are keeping the same children from getting the public education they need and deserve. And what better way to pave the path to privatize education than to starve public schools to the breaking point, then criticize their shortcomings, and let the market handle the rest. All in the name of choice.”
So this is what the head of Chavez’s union thinks about the work of this institution and others in the nation’s capital that, as an outcome of parental choice, educate 41,506 pupils or 46 percent of all public school students.
I am sincerely sorry and extremely disappointed that Ms. Weingarten introduced the issue of race. I don’t like writing about this subject. But fortunately for those of us residing in Washington, D.C. we have an antidote.
In 2011 the founder and board chair of Friendship PCS my hero Donald Hense was inducted into the National Alliance for Public Charter School’s Hall of Fame. At the time Friendship was educating approximately 8,000 students in two states. Over 60 percent of its pupils qualified for free or reduced price meals. It’s Collegiate Academy had just presented its 2,000th high school diploma. Over the previous three years this school had helped its seniors earn over $25 million in scholarship assistance which included four Gates Millennial, four Posse, and 414 D.C. Achievers Scholarships. Here is what Mr. Hense observed during his acceptance speech.
The Friendship PCS founder informed the audience that he had graduated from Morehouse College in Atlanta. While in school he served as a student representative to its board of trustees along with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his father. Mr. Hense was an usher at the funeral for Mr. King after he was assassinated. He remembered in the aftermath of this terrible event sleeping with buckets of water next to his bed in case his home was firebombed. In the middle of the night he would be escorted to secret places in order to keep him safe.
Mr. Hense recalled that there was a lot of turmoil in the 1960s, but considering everything that he and those around him faced, he felt threatened more today by being a part of the education reform community then he did back then.
He revealed that he believes our schools are threatened not by people who don’t support charters or school choice but by education reformers who believe that reform is best chartered and directed by the same public school system that did nothing for the last 100 years.
Mr. Hense concluded by contending that he lives in a city that will try and kill charters by a thousand cuts. Every single year, he asserted, something happens to try and knock the legs of education reform from under charter schools. Every single year. Then, he predicted, people somewhere in the future will sit around and say “You know I told you that charters wouldn’t work.” Well, Mr. Hense opined, they will not work if you cripple them.
Well, we now have the staff of Cesar Chavez to thank for the latest threat to our schools.