The Board Must Stop Paying Lip Service to Equity

Testimony of Lisa Haver to the BOE, 11/19/20

I want to speak about Item 2 and the issues of equity and contracts.

First, though, I must say how disturbing and offensive I find the District’s decision to recruit public school students for a Grit Lab as reported in today’s Inquirer.  A Hechinger Report article found:  “At least five studies published in peer-reviewed journals in the past two years have identified problems with the notion of grit…The criticisms range widely, from statistical and methodological errors to bad survey questions. More importantly, researchers are finding that grit isn’t strongly associated with academic achievement and that other soft skills are far more powerful than grit.”

The premise of the Grit model is that if kids could improve themselves and make better decisions they could succeed. Just don’t mention that they attend underfunded schools without basic resources. Or that they have been traumatized by gun violence which the City despite spending millions can’t get a handle on. Or that as Black and Brown children they are treated as 2nd-class citizens.  Or that they are expected to be grateful when Penn or someone flicks a few crumbs their way.  The District leadership should be ashamed of itself for buying into this program–which has a built-in absolution for its own failure to provide what our children need. The Grit industry sells little more than a re-branded “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” message. That is, students and families should be grateful for charity and learn that when there isn’t enough charity to go around, then they will just have to be grittier. 

Action Item 2 raises the question of how and why some schools have more than others—which would then mean some students don’t have to be as grittier as others. The Friends of Chester A Arthur, according to the Item, has raised money to pay for improvements to the school grounds. The Friends of  reviewed proposals from various contractors, chose one, then paid for the work through their fundraising. Since the tonight agenda is  relatively brief, I’m hoping the Board can answer these questions.  Are non-District employees allowed to contract with companies for work to be done on District property?  Are non-District employees permitted to decide what the spending priorities are for District schools?  The Item raises obvious questions of equity, a word we hear a lot from the Administration and the Board. Is this an example of equity?  That a school with an active parent group, with resources to vet and negotiate with contractors and able to raise tens of thousands of dollars, can improve its grounds while other schools still have unabated lead and asbestos issues? Should families in schools without Friends of groups just learn to be grittier?