Not one person disagreed with my assessment that "As a movement, we have so far largely failed to build a broad and diverse base of support, especially among minorities and in minority communities – and this is a HUGE area of weakness." (A friend in California, however, wrote: "That is really not true here in Los Angeles and that is why it's working.") There is widespread agreement that this needs to be a top-of-mind issue, but one friend asked a great question: what, specifically, should we do to change things? Some thoughts:
· We need to be doing a lot more outreach and listening.
· We should be encouraging the formation of and funding grassroots parent and community organizations around this issue – things like Gwen Samuel's State of Black CT Alliance (www.stateofblackct.org), Parent Revolution (www.parentrevolution.org), Harlem Parents United (www.harlemparentsunited.org), etc. Ditto for new teacher organizations like Educators 4 Excellence (www.educators4excellence.org). These organizations need to be genuinely owned and controlled by the people on the front lines.
· The boards of directors of school reform organizations need to be much more diverse (defined broadly).
· Charter schools boards should have parent and perhaps community representatives.
Here is Jeanne Allen of The Center for Education Reform on this:
I have to tell you, Whitney. The main reason that poor and minority communities fail to engage in our movement has very little to do with elected Republicans or Democrats and everything to do with us.
As a movement (and I've seen this first hand for more than 20 years) we believe advocacy is when a professional shows up in their friend the majority leader's office and has a good meeting. Too many in well-funded positions believe that advocacy is when the head of an association goes to the Capitol for a meeting. Too many believe that having a rally with 2,000 children is enough to demonstrate power. Those 2,000 children, their parents, their teachers who may have gone to the Capitol to get engaged rarely get contacted to go to their legislator's home office, get good advice or guidance or even get pulled into the parties, receptions and local community events we go to. What's worse is, nearly the entire reform funding community, no matter what their ideological leanings, fund real, grassroots efforts. Real grassroots efforts are on the ground, neighborhood-by-neighborhood, long-term, sustainable, education efforts to engage and fortify REAL people, to be REAL voices. Neither ConnCan, nor Stand nor any of those who claim to do grassroots do it. They involve grassroots and they have successes, but your assertion -- that we have failed to build a broad and diverse base of support -- is directly rooted in a lack of appreciation for or commitment to engaging in very, very, difficult work that is required. Funders care more about seeing high level tactics employed, or sexy spokespeople over the front pages of the papers. Meanwhile, those papers and high level tactic are completely absent from the homes of the people we most need involved NOT because they don't understand or can't read, but because they are busy staying alive and paying their bills.
This is a failure of the infrastructure of the reform movement. It is not a failure of our political leaders, Rs or Ds. Rich White Republicans or poor Republicans are not to blame for minority voices being central to reform. In fact, look at the marketing for Waiting for Superman, which, despite people like me and Kevin Chavous telling them they had to go to the real grassroots, engaged United Way, Communities in Schools, the Business Roundtable, to do that work (which they can't.) That's not rich or white or republican or democratic failures. It's the failure of people who love and advance an issue through their own, narrow (albeit powerful) lenses and fail to recognize that the marketing and lobbying firms they hire are clueless about what is really necessary to truly make progress.
So the solution is learning first what real advocacy is, and how to truly empower voices of those most disenfranchised. Howard Fuller is distinct among our entire movement for knowing this first hand. Others can and have already begun to take his lead -- BAEO at the top of the list. But we need more, and those of us who get it, and know how to do it, are a vocal, but a big minority in the reform movement, who lack the resources and the recognition of those who have the resources as to what where they really should be putting their money.
Thanks for letting me share.
I'd welcome further ideas and examples/case studies, which I'm happy to share.