by Ryan Felton
(Source: Wikimedia Commons)
Detroit Public Schools has an immense backlog of vacant properties in its portfolio, so the district scheduled a conference to educate developers who may be interested in purchasing the buildings.
The press release for the March 13 event at Gleaners Community Food Bank gave the event a positive spin: vacant schools, warehouses and offices in highly sought after development locations are scooped by developers who could redevelop the buildings into retail, offices, whatever.
Leslie Fenwick, dean of the Howard University School of Education, has a different take, one likely not to draw attention from attendees of the $65 event. Fenwick says urban school reform, including charter schools, Teach for America, and more, is not intended to solve flailing schools; it's about land development. Writing for The Washington Post, Fenwick says :
Local control of public schools (through elected school boards) is supposed to empower parents and community residents. This rarely happens in school districts serving black and poor students. Too often people intent on exploiting schools for their own personal gain short circuit the work of deep and lasting school and community uplift. Mayoral control, Teach for America, education management organizations and venture capital-funded charter schools have not garnered much grassroots support or enthusiasm among lower- and middle-income black parents whose children attend urban schools because these parents often view these schemes as uninformed by their community and disconnected from the best interest of their children.
Fenwick writes that resources that spur land development are "still controlled by white male economic elites. Additionally, black elected local officials by necessity must interact with state and national officials. The overwhelming majority of these officials are white males who often enact policies and create funding streams benefiting their interests and not the local black community’s interests."
So, she asks, why do black parents living in an upscale community have just as difficult of a time finding a decent public school for their kids as a public housing community?
The answer is this: Whether they are solidly middle- or upper-income or poor, neither group of blacks controls the critical economic levers shaping school reform. And, this is because urban school reform is not about schools or reform. It is about land development.
You can read the entire piece here.