Friday, February 04, 2011

'A Rosa Parks moment for education'

Washington Post columnist (and Exec VP of Public Affairs for TFA) Kevin Huffman wrote a brilliant op ed entitled 'A Rosa Parks moment for education' about the women in Ohio who was jailed for trying to give her kids a chance in life by sneaking them into a better school.  Here's the email Kevin sent out yesterday in which he comments about the incredible response he's gotten to his column:


I wanted to just note some quick thoughts. First, many thanks to everyone who pushed the column out through email, Facebook, Twitter, etc., and many thanks to people who sent notes. It makes a huge difference. This was - by a large margin - my most widely read piece and was my first piece to be number one on the op-ed page. Also, to date, more than 2,200 people have shared it on Facebook from the Post site.


I read a lot of emails yesterday, and was struck by a couple of things.


The practice of lying/cheating/maneuvering in order to get kids into a better school is incredibly commonplace, among both low-income and middle-class people. I was stunned at the sheer volume of people who had a story about friends, neighbors and relatives.


Second, there is a huge appetite for discussion about inequity in our education system. It can be disheartening to spend time in the blogosphere and comments sections of websites, but the emails I read from strangers were inspiring and gave me a window into the broad appetite to engage in taking on issues of poverty and educational equity.


PS--I did an online chat for the Post today, to follow up on yesterday's column:


Here's the opening of his column:

Last week, 40-year-old Ohio mother Kelley Williams-Bolar was released after serving nine days in jail on a felony conviction for tampering with records. Williams-Bolar's offense? Lying about her address so her two daughters, zoned to the lousy Akron city schools, could attend better schools in the neighboring Copley-Fairlawn district.

Williams-Bolar has become a cause célèbre in a case that crosses traditional ideological bounds. African American activists are outraged, asking: Would a white mother face the same punishment for trying to get her kids a better education? (Answer: No.)

Meanwhile, conservatives view the case as evidence of the need for broader school choice. What does it say when parents' options are so limited that they commit felonies to avoid terrible schools? Commentator Kyle Olson and others across the political spectrum have called this "a Rosa Parks moment for education."

For me, the case struck an additional nerve. As a young teacher nearly two decades ago, I taught bilingual first grade in Houston. Some of my students were in this country illegally; by my third year, a number of them also lived outside the school and district zone. Given their substandard neighborhood options, some parents drove 30 minutes or more each way just so their kids could be in my class. I was supportive of, and flattered by, their efforts. These were good parents, doing the best they could for their families.

In this country, if you are middle or upper class, you have school choice. You can, and probably do, choose your home based on the quality of local schools. Or you can opt out of the system by scraping together the funds for a parochial school.

But if you are poor, you're out of luck, subject to the generally anti-choice bureaucracy. Hoping to win the lottery into an open enrollment "choice" school in your district? Good luck. How about a high-performing charter school? Sure - if your state doesn't limit their numbers and funding like most states do. And vouchers? Hiss! You just touched a political third rail.

Williams-Bolar lived in subsidized housing and was trapped in a failed system. In a Kafkaesque twist, she was taking college-level courses to become a teacher herself - a dream she now will never realize as a convicted felon. It's America's version of the hungry man stealing bread to feed his family, only to have his hand cut off as punishment.


'A Rosa Parks moment for education'

By Kevin Huffman
Monday, January 31, 2011

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