Bully pulpit

Mayoral control, Obama: unseen stars at Harlem Charter Night

The crowd at Harlem Charter Night.
The crowd at Harlem Charter Night.

Mayor Bloomberg and Lil Mama cheered charter schools, school choice, and mayoral control of the public schools before a crowd of thousands of parents and students last night.

The mayor and the rapper even shared some tactics. “Do we want more parent choice?” Mayor Bloomberg yelled. “I can’t hear you! Do we want more competition? Do we want better test scores and higher graduation rates?”

Lil Mama was more successful with the call-and-response style. She called “Parent” while the crowd screamed back, “Choice!” “You don’t have to send your child to a regular public school,” the Harlem native said before performing two of her hits, “G-Slide” and “Lip Gloss.” “You can send them to a public charter school.”

While many of the kids seemed most excited to watch Lil Mama perform, a team of volunteers and interns at the pro-mayoral control group Learn NY were on hand to encourage parents to sign a petition supporting mayoral control, and a parade of education officials used the unprecedented crowd size to push their causes. (The legislature will vote on whether to renew the mayor’s control of the public schools in June.)

The Harlem-born rapper Lil Mama performed on stage with charter school students.
The Harlem-born rapper Lil Mama performed on stage with charter school students.

Geoffrey Canada, founder of Harlem Children’s Zone and the chairman of Learn NY, spoke about how, just seven years ago, Harlem schools were the worst-performing in the state. “If people want to know why I support mayoral control, this never happens otherwise,” he told me after his speech, gesturing towards the enormous crowd of enthusiastic students and their parents. He said he’s a big fan of regular public schools as well, but “the issue is we want great education for our children, and if it’s parochial, if its public, if it’s charter—whatever it is, that’s what we’ve go to do for these kids.”

Because space is tight in lotteried charter schools, critics say the schools leave unlucky children in increasingly unsuccessful regular public schools. Bloomberg made one answer to the problem in his speech, saying that 30,000 kids are waiting to enter charter schools. The answer? Build more.

“We’ve got to make sure that the reforms that we made don’t all get rolled back by the politicians this June,” he said.

President Obama was the unseen star of the show. Organizers passed out buttons saying “Obama [heart] Charters,” and Canada played a video clip of the president’s recent education speech, where he declared that caps on charter schools are not “good for our children our economy or our country.”

Chancellor Joel Klein declared that charter schools can deliver on the promise of Brown v. Board of Education. “Unless you are willing to stand up and fight and support public charter schools and parental choice so that every kid has an opportunity for the American dream, we will never, ever be the country we want to be,” he said.

The activist Howard Fuller, who chairs the pro-voucher and pro-charter Black Alliance for Educational Options, said that demanding school choice continues in the spirit of Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, and other black leaders. “Harriet Tubman’s mission was to rescue slaves. Our mission is to rescue children,” he said.

I also spoke to Paul Fucaloro, the director of literacy and math for Harlem Success Academy, who departed slightly from the cheerleading to say that not all charter schools are excellent. “Just because people open schools doesn’t mean they’re going to get the same care and attention to detail that we have,” he told me. “We put our money where our mouth is.”

We’ll post more on parents’ experience at charter night later today.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at [email protected]

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”