Melissa Westbrook, a longtime education activist and blogger, announced this week the official kick-off of a group she is chairing opposed to Initiative 1240, which would allow charter schools. It's an interesting role for Westbrook, who is often a sharp critic of the schools establishment.
Now, despite heading a group that has "No" in the name, she is acting as a booster, if not exactly of the establishment, then of current public schools.
In a press release, she outlined criticism of charters, of course, including their mostly mediocre performance around the country. But she also listed roughly a dozen upbeat developments relating to schools around the state, the point being that we don't need charters to swoop in and save us from a "failing" system, as charter school proponents like to say.
It's an impressive list, with some bullet items that many people might not have heard about. The White House, for instance, honored Rainier Beach High PTSA president Carlina Brown last month as a "Champion of Change." That's right, Rainier Beach, the school that is perpetually and dramatically under-enrolled. Yet, apparently thanks in part to the PTSA's "kick-ass" efforts--as Westbrook puts it speaking to SW yesterday-- the school is starting a highly-regarded International Baccalaureate program.
Also, Westbrook notes, Beacon Hill's Mercer Middle School, with three-quarters of its students poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, is busting out on its test scores. On state tests, students perform in the high 70s and low 80s, in terms of percentile, on a par with middle schools in the most prosperous parts of the city. (See Eckstein's scores, for example.)
"One of the things I like to talk about is Everett," Westbrook says. Not too long ago, she says, the city "had a 53 percent graduation rate. So the district hired four graduation specialists, who tracked kids down on Facebook, anywhere, asking 'what can we do to support you'? Now, it has over an 80 percent rate."
"Nobody is saying schools are perfect," Westbrook hastens to add. But she says that as she gathered material for this campaign--provoked by the question "we know what you are against; what are you for?"--her eyes were opened to upward trends. "I'm seeing change happening," she says. (In upbeat mode, she even calls new Seattle Schools Superintendent José Banda "inspiring," someone who exudes a "quiet confidence" and "connects with people" in a way his predecessor never did.)
Westbrook's No on 1240 campaign joins another, labor-backed group in opposing charters, People for Our Public Schools. They face an astonishingly well-funded Yes campaign, which has so far raised more than $4 million, including $1 million from Bill Gates, whose foundation has long supported charters. Westbrook's group, in contrast, has raised approximately $8,000. Even with the support of the powerful SEIU, People for Our Public Schools has only collected about $189,000.
Guess whose message is more likely to be heard? It would be a shame, though, if Westbrook's got lost, because it's good to aware, among all the usual complaints, of what's worth celebrating in the public schools.
Please see text of I-1240 on the following page.