This week on “The Learning Curve,” Gerard Robinson and guest co-host Kerry McDonald talk with Bernita Bradley, founder and president of Engaged Detroit, a parent-driven urban homeschooling advocacy coalition. Bernita shares her background, and how she became a nationally recognized parent advocate for urban K-12 education reform. They delve into problems with the chronically underperforming Detroit Public Schools, the ways in which parents have responded, and the tensions in Detroit between the traditional public schools and charter schools. Bernita describes her daughter’s experience during COVID, why it was a turning point, and how it sparked an interest in homeschooling. She shares how Engaged Detroit and other parent organizations’ efforts to organize parents across the country are progressing, and the main lessons K-12 education policymakers should be learning from parent-driven school reform efforts.
Stories of the Week: A new study from a team of political scientists found that those college grads who worked for Teach for America were significantly more likely to vote than their peers who applied but weren’t admitted to the program. Former Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has called for the abolition of the agency she once led, and giving more authority back to states and localities.
Bernita Bradley is the founder of Engaged Detroit Homeschool CoOp, and is a social entrepreneur who advocates for and with families in Detroit, Michigan. She owns and operates the Village PCL, an outreach and recruitment team that works to assure the needs of the community non-profits, philanthropic groups, and school partnerships are successful. Bernita has also been the founder, lead recruiter, and support staff for several local initiatives, such the: My Brothers Keeper Initiative 2016 & 2018, Hope Starts Here Design Strategy Process and Community Recruiter 2017, Early Works Focus Groups 2016-2017, Detroit Area Pre College of Engineering Program 2015, 2017, and 2018 Real McCoy Awards, Detroit College Access Network 2014-2017, the Detroit Promise Outreach Team 2017, the Skillman Foundation Focus Groups 2016, Brilliant Detroit 2017-2018, Excellent Schools Detroit Review Process 2013-2017, and the Goal Line Bus Loop 2018.
Next episode’s guest: Richard Epstein, the inaugural Laurence A. Tisch Professor of Law at NYU School of Law, and author of The Classical Liberal Constitution: The Uncertain Quest for Limited Government.
Tweet of the Week:
Teachers Unions Are Why More Parents Want School Choice https://t.co/U3EyVrvaXm
Yes, but not mainly because of COVID closures. Many parents also feared in-person ed.
The union problem is they have so much power in some places parents know they are powerless. And they're done.
— Neal McCluskey (@NealMcCluskey) July 18, 2022
U.S. teacher-training program boosts voting among young adults | Science | AAAS
Betsy DeVos said the Department of Education, which she used to run, ‘should not exist’
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Read a Transcript of This Episode
Please excuse typos.
[00:00:00] GR: Hello listeners. Welcome back to another soon to be wonderful conversation between not only our guests, but I am joined again by my co-host Kerry McDonald. Who many of you know, she is not only an author, she’s also a host for her own education podcast. She’s a senior education fellow at FEE and she is a reoccurring co-host.
[00:00:50] I’m always glad to have her on board. So Kerry, welcome back.
[00:00:55] Kerry: It’s great to be back with you Gerard two weeks in a row. How exciting?
[00:00:59] GR: Yeah. [00:01:00] Two for two. This is a good thing.
[00:01:02] Kerry: And we’re actually going to meet in person for the first time later this week at a small education gathering here in Boston. So I’m really looking forward to.
[00:01:12] GR: I am as well. You know, many people think that COVID was the only reason people couldn’t see each other at in-person events, even though Carrie and I have known each other for years, this really will be the first time in person that we’ve ever had a chance to meet. So look forward to seeing you there.
[00:01:27] And other folks that we know talking shop about education and the world, we.
[00:01:32] Kerry: absolutely. Yeah. And so there’s a lot going on in the world. This week, Gerard, I know we’re gonna get right into our stories of the week. and one of the stories that made headlines was Betsy DeVos earlier this week saying that the department of education, which of course she used to run should not exist.
[00:01:51] This was an article in business insider, but so many other media outlets picked it up as well. Betsy DeVos made these comments both. [00:02:00] Freedom Fest, which was a Liberty event in Las Vegas that I actually presented in last week where various school choice advocates were including Betsy DeVos and Corey D and others.
[00:02:10] And then she also made the comment again at another event over the weekend. And, you know, it’s interesting these sort of inflammatory headline around the department of education shouldn’t exist, but if we dig a little bit deeper, it makes a lot of sense in that the department of education was created in 1980.
[00:02:29] So it’s relatively new. And of course there is no constitutional role for the federal government in education. It really. State and local issue. And so I think, you know, if we can get beyond headlines and really think a little bit more about what it means to return education control to the state and local levels it’s not quite as crazy as an idea as it may at first seem.
[00:02:50] GR: Absolutely. I’ve had a chance to work with secretary DeVos before she was secretary in a different capacity. In the role of advocacy. I’ve known [00:03:00] her for 15 years and her work was a supporter of her candidacy when she was nominated served as a thought partner to her when she was in office and am a supporter of her moving forward.
[00:03:11] As you know, in any family, there are areas where there’s simply disagreement and here’s one area where I disagree. Secretary DeVos’s call for the abolition of the us department of education. And here’s why department of ed plays an important role at the federal level as a go-to place for states.
[00:03:32] I totally agree with you. Education is nowhere in the constitution. That has been one way that people on our side of the fence have used that stance for years to say we don’t need a federal department of education. When I was at a heritage foundation event with our colleague Neil I definitely know he has the same opinion and I just look at this and come to the conclusion that there is a need for federal department of education for three reasons.
[00:03:56] Number one, even though the federal department of education or better yet [00:04:00] education is nowhere mentioned in the constitution. The federal government has played a role. In American education, going back to the 1860s when the department itself was created 1865, part of the rationale was for the federal government to initially collect data about what was taking place in the states.
[00:04:20] And so even though there was no federal department, there was always a federal role because federal stakeholders understood there was a role for the state, but there was also the role for a. View of how to make this work across states. So that’s number one. Number two, when you have national disasters in places like Louisiana with hurricane Katrina or hurricanes in Florida, or even flooding in Virginia, in fact state.
[00:04:44] Chiefs superintendents, local businesses and others have actually reached out to the federal department of education for not only financial assistance, but because so many states actually receive funding from the department of ed in title one, title two, and otherwise you’d be [00:05:00] surprised how much material that the us department of education has to.
[00:05:04] And support state and local government leaders in times of need, naturally someone can say that there’s other departments that can go to agriculture labor. Absolutely. Well, one of the reasons you had to create a department of ed is because when it was inside of the department of health, education, welfare, health, and education, not most of the love education got very little, so there’s a role for them to play beyond just education.
[00:05:29] And third schools. In school systems and education itself is a state and local issue. We know federal government only spends roughly 10% of all the money that goes into education. However, there is a role for the federal government to also say that there are national interest in education and these national interests could at least be not shepherded, but overlook at times or guarded.
[00:05:53] I people in Washington, DC, there is a difference between having a national interest and a Federalist interest or a federal interest.[00:06:00] So those are three reasons. I think there’s a role, even though I wanna see a department of education. Yes. There’s sometimes there’s a lot of overregulation and too much of a heavy footprint, but there are ways of dealing with that.
[00:06:11] So I understand her point. It’s something that Ronald Reagan campaigned on. And in fact, in the 1980s, there were a number. Candidates for primarily Republican candidates for us president and at times governors in certain states who ran on a ticket of not only abolishing the federal department of education, there, even conversations, abolishing this state or certain state departments of education.
[00:06:35] So those are my. Yeah, thoughts.
[00:06:38] Kerry: Yeah. I would also add Gerard that , in Betsy DeVos’s new book, which I highly recommend it’s called hostages no more. It’s an illusion to ho man’s famous quote about parents being hostages to our cause really excellent book where she talks about the administrative state within the department of education at the [00:07:00] federal level.
[00:07:00] And just how difficult it is to make any kind of reforms there and to. Sort of any kind of impact on change career bureaucrats and lots of red tape. And so I think that’s another piece of this that we’d want to think about more seriously, reducing the size and scope of the federal government by reducing the power of federal agencies, including the us department of education.
[00:07:25] GR: Yeah. And in fact, when you talk about, reducing red tape one of the recommendations I made early to a couple of administrations is that one thing that you can do and probably get bipartisan support is to streamline the amount of paperwork that states have to complete in order to receive federal money, or at times to apply with certain guidelines that are pretty minute, there was a study, I believe by Boston consulting group.
[00:07:51] Or McKenzie one of the two, and I’m sure if there’s the listener who works there, they’ll send us a note. They partner with Vanderbilt and Vanderbilt identified that they actually spent [00:08:00] close to 9% of their budget on compliance with federal guidelines, regulations to receive certain funds.
[00:08:07] So I’m for streamlining the process to help out. And that’s something that you can do with regulatory changes, not per se, always statutory in. Career bureaucrats. that’s definitely another topic worth a healthy conversation moving forward because there’s some things that people do that stand on the way.
[00:08:24] And that was true when Democrats were in, it was true with Republicans. The one thing I would say is, I do think the department of education has used its authority to have changes in education, such as no child left behind. And for the first time in American history, pulling back the veil and actually saying you have to show and identify.
[00:08:43] Students of color students with disability low income students and others to really show their achievement and true achievement that actually led to a lot of reforms that entrepreneurs social and private and otherwise made a difference. But these are the conversations we have to have. I have not purchased her book [00:09:00] yet, but I will definitely get ahold to it.
[00:09:02] Kerry: Yeah. It’s worth to read. Definitely. Uh, Put it on your summer reading list.
[00:09:07] GR: So my story is not about Betsy, the boss, but someone else whose name is well known in the world of education and And this is William James. So he is known as the father of pragmatism in the United States. He is a psychologist spent a number of years at Harvard in 1906.
[00:09:25] He proposed that national service had to serve a way to try to. Create more political engagement amongst young people. So he said in the absence of trying to do something radically different, it’s not gonna change. So he said, why do we try a national service model? So more than a century later, A team of researchers came together and they said, what would happen if we looked at recent college graduates, how many of them decided , to participate in voting?
[00:09:54] How many of them did not? And to look at a service based organization to identify whether it [00:10:00] worked or not. So a group of researchers decide to focus on teach for America, known as acronym, TFA as you know, TFA founder, the 19. They place teachers in high need, urban and rural public schools, both traditional public and magnet across the country.
[00:10:16] And the goal is to put them into tough to staff schools in order to try to a. Serve schools that need quality teachers in place B to try and improve student outcomes and C to get people engaged in education. Even if for two years, who may otherwise go on to other areas we know from research that.
[00:10:37] At roughly 50, I think 2% of those in TFA stay in the education profession one way or another others go off into different professions, but use their professional role to advocate, not only for TFA, but to use the two years of experience to say, this is why as a doctor, as an entrepreneur someone in the military, why I decide to work with schools.
[00:10:56] And so here’s the, theory, they theorized that a [00:11:00] national service program could improve low participation voting rates amongst young people and to do so, they said we’ve gotta do something differently. So the lead author on the paper is Cecilia. Uh, I was a political scientist at the university of California, Berkeley.
[00:11:16] Most spent two years in the early two thousands as a TFA core member, teaching math in a Los Angeles high school. And she said the experience fueled her decision to study ways to foster. democratic ideas and to reduce inequality. And she said, quote, we would sit around and talk about how the experience of being a TFA and shape our views of politics, increased our empathy for others and influenced our career paths.
[00:11:41] And so she wondered now, as professor, is this still the case of being empathetic and involved in terms of democratic ideas? Once you leave. Right now TFA has 66,000 alumni. who’ve worked in more than 9,000 elementary and secondary schools across the country. [00:12:00] So for this study they sampled nearly 30,000 subjects.
[00:12:03] Most of them are recent college graduates and they were drawn from two pools. Those who, fell basically those who applied and were accept. Into TFA and those who applied and were not accepted, this would’ve taken place between 2007 and 2015.
[00:12:21] So Mo and her co authors decided to use a unique research design. So they created a control group of. Rejected applicants with minimally different demographic characteristics. So they were trying to do an apples to apples on comparison. Social scientists looked at the national voter registry to see how many people in both groups voted in the 2012 and 2004 midterm elections.
[00:12:45] Based upon their study, the authors found that those who completed their two year TFA commitment voted at a rate of. Point seven to 8.6 percentage points higher than there are counterpart who applied but were not in the [00:13:00] program or what does this mean to the general public? The author said if generalized to the entire voting population you would see the increase in voting would close by as much as 30.
[00:13:10] Percentage points across the board, particularly for that age group. So they talked to a couple of people to see what they thought about the findings. One of them is David Campbell, who is a professor at the university of Notre Dame. I’ve had a chance to participate in the panel discussion about school choice with David many years at conference on families held in Alabama and David.
[00:13:34] that interesting study. He’s glad to see that they decided to use a unique piece to make it happen. He just wonders whether or not. According to David Campbell, who is a political scientist at the university of Notre Dame and someone, I had a chance to sit on a panel with many years ago and a school choice conference in Alabama.
[00:13:52] He said that the findings are significant and that the rigor sets a high standard for future studies.[00:14:00] there’s another scholar who took a look at this as well and said, you know what? The findings are equally good, but there are two questions that we have to ask. And this is coming from another professor.
[00:14:12] This is a political scientist at duke who thinks that it’s a good study, but it may be too soon to conclude that if people participate in. National service programs like the peace Corps or like AmeriCorps Vista that that alone will increase the number of young people who vote and more importantly, close the gap between young and old, who do not.
[00:14:35] Sunshine said, I think the mechanism is pretty good because it’s gonna set a good groundwork for future studies, but there are two points where the research. Said, well, maybe we should think about this are more people voting who go to because a more civically engaged and civically minded people go to TFA anyway.
[00:14:55] And that it may be as professor Campbell said, you’re just pushing people. [00:15:00] Through the door who otherwise would’ve walked in, better known as a nudge. Number two, there was no comparison to people in national service organizations. That’s not voluntary. So for example, the military it would’ve been great to do a comparison there.
[00:15:14] So overall I think it’s a good apples to apples study. I’m glad to see receiving some support for things outside the classroom. I think it’s an interesting study. The one takeaway. And in fact, it was somewhat of a lab for me in a good way is we often say that parents who choose homeschooling charter schools, tax credit, funded schools, voucher schools, are the parents who are more likely to participate anyway.
[00:15:41] And therefore they’re not the ones we need to serve. And yet for T. A similar nudge is in place. I wonder if we’ll make the same conclusion. What are your.
[00:15:50] Kerry: Well, Gerard, as I think, you know, I live in Cambridge, Massachusetts, right near the home that William James lived in. And there’s actually a plaque on his home, [00:16:00] just around the corner from the saying that, he was this famous psychologist and affiliated with Harvard.
[00:16:05] So interesting that that was how. article began talking about national service, and that was what raised my eye a bit. You know, anytime I hear about national service, I have the same sort of reaction that I have to military service, particularly when both are proposed as being compulsory in some way to encourage civic engagement or some other kind of people shaping.
[00:16:31] And so I had. Similar reaction here. And even if this wasn’t compulsory and I know there’s been, additional calls for more of this kind of compulsory national service in recent years, even if it wasn’t compulsory, if more and more taxpayer money is going to something like. National service or expanding national service through programs like teach for America.
[00:16:52] Then of course, as a libertarian, I would have to oppose that. So it’s interesting to see that, this research is maybe galvanizing [00:17:00] support for expanded models, it became more compulsory or just expanded in the voluntary sector.
[00:17:07] GR: Really good points. I’m also thinking about a, I think it was a report that definitely Jay green was a part of it.
[00:17:15] Rick Hess may have been a part of it, but he definitely wrote about it where they looked at the number. Of people from left leaning, nonprofit organizations who gave money to Democrats versus Republicans. And it was heavily on the side of Democrats while I don’t know the makeup of the TFA client until I’m pretty sure it tends to lean more left than right.
[00:17:40] Although I do know some TFAs who are Republicans what would be interesting to know is. Organizations that are civic mind that may focus on state policy that are on the right side of the fence. That if we did a similar study, the showing involvement in programs sponsored by the Institute for humane studies, or really [00:18:00] like organizations creates more civic engagement, comparable to what we see for TFA, but just food start
[00:18:07] Kerry: such a good point.
[00:18:08] ARD. Yes. That would be very interesting to see. , our guest today is Bernita Bradley. I’m really excited to talk with her after the break about her work with engaged Detroit, I look forward
[00:18:20] GR: to it.[00:19:00]
[00:19:44] Kerry: Our guest today is Bernita Bradley. She is the founder of Engaged Detroit homeschool co-op and is a social entrepreneur who advocates for and with families in Detroit, Michigan, she owns and operates the village PCL and outreach and [00:20:00] recruitment team that works to assure the needs of the community nonprofits.
[00:20:04] Philanthropic groups and school partnerships are successful. Beita has also been the founder lead recruiter and support staff for several local initiatives, such as the, my brother’s keeper initiative in 2016 and 2018 hope starts here. Design strategy, process, and community recruiter in 2017. Early works, focus groups, the Detroit area pre-college of engineering programs, real McCoy awards, Detroit college access network, the Detroit promise outreach team, the Skillman foundation, focus groups, brilliant Detroit, excellent schools, Detroit review process, and the goal line bus loop, Bernita Bradley.
[00:20:46] Welcome to the learning curve podcast.
[00:20:48] Bernita: Thank you for having me. Thank you.
[00:20:51] Kerry: It’s so great to have you here. I’ve been a fan of engaged Detroit and the work that you’re doing over the past couple of years, you founded in lead [00:21:00] engaged Detroit, and you’ve also become nationally recognized as a parent advocate for urban K to 12 education reform.
[00:21:07] And homeschooling, would you share with us your personal story background and how you became involved in this work in education?
[00:21:15] Bernita: . I would like to put my newest title in there. I’m the director for parent voice for the national parents union, which I should not have forgotten about that.
[00:21:24] Putting it in the bio cuz but yeah, that’s my new role, So my background, I come from I’m like most parents, right? Like I come from, I was a mom showing up at school, taking my child to school every day. And we had an issue happen at her school in second grade. Showed up one day and my daughter was not there.
[00:21:42] And I was like, okay, so where’s my child. And they’re like, oh, she left with you already. So I’m like, haha, like quit plan. Where’s my daughter like haha. literally seriously, I thought they were joking and she was not there. A long story short. We found her about 15 minutes later coming from the community, a [00:22:00] second grader who normally the same person, either me or my ex-husband would pick her up.
[00:22:05] Parents showed up and she was not there. Like I had my faith in the fact of the school that I sent her to would protect her. And she was fine. Like my first instinct was like, let me check her, let me, like, we’ve ran around the building, all this kind of stuff. I’m just thinking, let me check you, let me call the police.
[00:22:21] Find out where you’ve been, blah, blah, blah. And only thing she could say is mommy. I thought I saw your car and the teacher, let me go to you. And I was like, wow. But if you saw the distance from the door to even where cars park, it was like, who does this? So it turns into a, either. I was going to go to jail that day or like, you need to be fired, like there’s something wrong with this picture.
[00:22:46] Right. And while I was a advocate for getting this teacher fired, I was like, yeah, she does not need to ever work with children, blah, blah, blah. And mind you, she was at like an excellent teacher. Who normally reports everything going on with my [00:23:00] daughter to me. So I’m really confused at this moment.
[00:23:02] And the principal looked at me and said, Bern, We need you here. We need more appearance here. And I’m like, what do you mean? I show up, I’m a part of the bake seal. I’m doing all of this. Like whenever you guys have something I’m here, what do you mean? You need me here? And she was like, no, no, no.
[00:23:17] I need you to listen to me. Like our schools are overwhelmed. So something in me sparked in the midst of all this anger to think there has to be something wrong. And let me listen for a moment. Push forward. Six months later, I was at that school. I literally was a hair salon owner. I owned a hair salon in an independent living facility.
[00:23:36] I never intended on doing anything around education. I was fine with it. Right. I was like, I’m dropping my daughter off at a safe space. I’m good. I just. You know, want safety for her and education? Well, I got activated that day from that situation I got activated and I was always there at the school. I ended up joining AmeriCorps at the school that one teacher end up, I found out had 36 students in her class, seven of ’em [00:24:00] were special needs and she had no pull in or pull out support that does not excuse what happened to my daughter, but it made me think different as a mom.
[00:24:08] Like there’s something wrong here. And. That pushed me to just really start being in the building, like what’s going on in our schools. what does the safe and caring environment look like as a mom? I need to be here. and to be honest, we already had a PTA group or what we call the L S C O group there.
[00:24:25] And they would always, you know, like, Hey, Hey, you guys should come to these meetings. I’m like, no, no, I’m good. Like, I’m, there whenever y’all need me, but I’m good. I’m not doing all the. So, but, oh, I got activated. I was in every meeting. I was helping plan, like how we spend title $1 for the schools that in turn pushed me.
[00:24:42] Like I said, to become AmeriCorps, I end up also working for Detroit parent network and some of the other organizations you listed. But one of the biggest pieces was I started doing school ratings. I started training parents. To know, understand what a safe and caring environment look like and [00:25:00] going into their schools, advocating for what their children need and rating those schools.
[00:25:04] That was one of the first rating systems in Michigan head. I made friends and frenemies across the state, like with school leaders who was like, well, I don’t think my ratings were fair. And then other schools who were like, well, we got a low performance and proficiency rate, but parents actually like us because we have all these other things here for children.
[00:25:23] So getting that inside, look into all the things that was going on in schools really, really helped me inform other parents and helped me helped those other parents inform more parents and they inform and inform and inform. And so, basically we started. Engaged Detroit off of the fact that the pandemic happened.
[00:25:44] So backtrack a little bit further. My daughter asked me to homeschool her in fifth grade, and I think I may be jumping the gun for some of the questions, but she asked me to homeschool her in fifth grade. And I was like, yeah. I don’t wanna be your enemy. Like, Nope, I’m not gonna do this. I [00:26:00] really want you to have a beautiful education.
[00:26:03] And I don’t think I’m equipped to do this, And so when the pandemic happened fast forward, my daughter’s in 11th grade and school was catastrophic for her. And so we chose to homeschool. So I guess that’s a little bit about the. Question you asked. Yeah.
[00:26:20] Kerry: You know, I’m sorry that it took such a terrifying experience with your daughter being lost for you to become activated and involved and, see what happened in the schools.
[00:26:28] Luckily that turned out. Okay. But it also, I think, mirrors the experience in some way of other parents who got a close up look. Certainly during the school shutdowns of 2020 and the remote school of what was actually happening in their children’s schools. And they became more energized to be involved as well.
[00:26:47] And you mentioned that in your work as you became more and more involved in education that you were involved with, looking at these rating systems for the schools. And so in recent decades, The Detroit [00:27:00] public schools have made headlines for their chronic underperformance and ongoing educational crises.
[00:27:07] Could you talk a little bit more about your experience with the Detroit public schools and the difficulties in reforming traditional public schools, as well as the ways in which parents have responded to the troubles with those schools?
[00:27:21] Bernita: right now Had 16% of our children reading on grade level by third grade, that’s catastrophic.
[00:27:29] That is terrible that we only have. And that’s Detroit proper. so that’s all schools in Detroit, right? During that process of helping to review schools, we also started experiencing a lot of. School closure. So in Detroit, we have a lot of school deserts. We have not walkable, , schools where children, don’t have access to quality schools, , right.
[00:27:49] In their neighborhood. But yet across the street from their house is an old closed school building. So we start rallying around that. Like, what do we need to do to stop these schools from closing, but not just stop closing. Right. [00:28:00] Become a high performing school because it’s one thing to be open, but you’re not serving children, which is a part of the problem.
[00:28:07] That’s a part of the problem when it comes down to most traditional public schools, they are not serving children. Well, that is the reason why we need more choice. We needed more choice. there was also like a, a. All out, like fight against charter schools, opening, which nobody wants a school to open in their community.
[00:28:26] And all they’re about is just for profit and just, oh, I’m gonna open in school just to get some money, then I’m gonna close it in two years. Nobody wants that. Right. But at the same time, there are so many good options out there for families that are providing. Support that our traditional public schools just weren’t provided and so with that rating system, we also F. To get our budgets paid off. Now this is parents. This is parents, right? Rallying around public schools to help our public schools, which [00:29:00] we’re in oversight for a couple of years here in Detroit to get those public schools turned back over to the people to get a new board back.
[00:29:08] We have a superintendent Dr. Vidi who’s highly against. He really is. Right. And every chance I get I’m always reminding him, well, you know, like literally public schools are the reason why charter schools exist, because if you were serving children properly, they would not have had to leave.
[00:29:27] and parents should have choice. We have parents here in Detroit who. Five different children in their households. And two of ’em go to charter schools. One is homeschool and two go to public schools. so why would you take choice from, families who need choice? So, anyway yeah, we fought for a budget to pay off the deficit that our school’s hold and there’s still not this progress.
[00:29:54] The problem is. The schools keep telling us like most of our traditional public schools keep [00:30:00] telling us, well, you know, it takes time to reform schools. Well, parents don’t have time. parents don’t have time when, during the pandemic they saw like, wow, this is what you’ve been going through in the classroom.
[00:30:12] Not granted. It’s not the same impact as a parent being at home and getting a phone call saying, Hey, John’s acting up in the classroom and I need you to come pick him up. But parents were literally engaged now in a different way, like no longer were we saying, like, we need to change policies to make sure we give more funding to public schools, a lot of the parents, right. Uh, Now parents were saying, there’s something wrong with your system.
[00:30:38] And if you won’t change it, I’m gonna take my child out. Until you get your stuff together. Cause I’m not gonna even trust you with my child’s learning anymore because you don’t even care about my child. This is what parents were actually saying. Okay.
[00:30:52] Kerry: you’ve mentioned charter schools and the need and demand for education choice.
[00:30:57] I’m gonna quote you here. You’ve said in the past, [00:31:00] quote, you do know that if you, the public schools didn’t suck there wouldn’t be a need for charter schools and quote, would you talk about the tensions in Detroit a little bit more between the traditional public schools and the charter schools? .
[00:31:14] Bernita: so when I was just explaining a little bit about how we champion to get the deficit paid off for Detroit public schools proper. Right. Now during that battle charter schools came together with public schools. If you look up the coalition for the future of Detroit school children, there was charter leaders, public school leaders.
[00:31:36] Legislators, Hey, a gentleman by the name of John Ulta. Who’s a, building person. He does. Ah, I can’t even think of like, he’s a developer community developer. He helped right. This rich billionaire came our philanthropy organization. They all came together to fight for this deficit.
[00:31:53] It was all good. And well, when we were fighting for this deficit to help public schools get their act together. [00:32:00] Or give them another chance. But now. We have this battle. When you mention charter schools, they’re like, oh no, you should not sing charter schools are the problem. They’re the reason why we’re missing funds.
[00:32:12] No, they’re not the reason why you’re the reason why you’re missing funds. to me, it mirrors a marriage, right. Or a relationship like you’re the boyfriend. Who’s not treating me. Right. But not that I got a new boo. You are mad at. For moving on. No, like you cannot put the blame on parents for changing their minds and saying, or even not changing their minds, coming to their senses and saying, I’m not gonna keep letting you do this to me.
[00:32:37] and so now this year, when we were fighting for funding for charter schools, right, because they’re jeopardizing funding for charter schools, public schools are attacking charter schools saying you don’t need to exist. How so went. Five years ago, we fought for funding for you. We fought for, and you were all about choice then, right?
[00:32:55] Like we made videos and everything about it. And so, right now parents are [00:33:00] crying for more choice. parents could care less about a budget that you get. If you are not taking care of our children in a city where only 16% of our children are really on grade.
[00:33:11] GR: You hit so many great points. And I gotta say, it’s good to hear some use an example about relationships in boo on the learning curve. so I can definitely relate to that when I was ready to throw my shoe when I heard that one. So. You talked about homeschooling and many people may not be aware that many Midwestern cities like Detroit, Chicago, Milwaukee had black homeschoolers going back to the twenties, thirties, and forties for a holster reasons.
[00:33:39] But yes, we know they’re doing the pandemic. One of the fastest, in fact, the fastest rate amongst homeschool families who are saying this is the. For me were black parents. you gave us an example of the aha moment that said, you know what, I’m gonna homeschool go a little deeper about that, but also tell us how did you as an entrepreneur have to prepare yourself to now be a [00:34:00] homeschool
[00:34:00] Bernita: mom?
[00:34:00] I’ll give an example again for Detroit and Maryland. I’ll talk about Maryland a little bit too, but. When the pandemic first happened in March our children here did not get tablets till roughly may. Okay. So children were not just, charismatically, you know, at home, not doing nothing.
[00:34:18] People were telling kids, oh, can’t you use your mom’s cell phone if you don’t have a tablet. Oh, oh, can’t you use a, like, if I’m a household, I have five children. How are they going to use my cell phone? Also we had intern. Little deserts here where wifi did not work. So when the school system actually did get tablets for children, mind you, we are right next door to gross point, which is the richest community in our state.
[00:34:45] Okay. Those kids went home day one. The week of the pan that the pandemic shut down with resources and tools and tablets, our schools were telling us, oh, be patient. We’ll get it together. Okay. Finally, in may, when [00:35:00] children were able to log on teachers, weren’t showing up, or the teachers weren’t equipped, like the last two months, it took you to get us tablets.
[00:35:08] You couldn’t even prepare the teachers to show up. They extended the school year. So you had children who were getting past failed grades. Parents were like, I am tired of this. This is terrible. So many parents were saying that they were gonna take a sabbatical year in learning while I’m a proponent.
[00:35:25] Again, for choice. I am not a proponent for a child logging off of education, not in cities like this and. we started asking parents like with the national parent union, what, Hey, what do y’all wanna do? What, like, what do we need to do to get education learning? Like we’re fighting against the board.
[00:35:41] We had submitted a cease and desist order against the board to make sure that they stopped shaming parents and all, but what do you wanna do as a parent? So the parents say I wanna homeschool. Because I’m already doing it anyway. I’m printing off papers for my kids. I just really don’t know what I’m doing.
[00:35:57] I’m just printing it off myself. So I [00:36:00] got online with a whole bunch of homeschool experts. Some parents who’s been homeschooling for a while. I got them online with parents who weren’t homeschooled, just to ask questions, let’s have an open conversation. What do I need to do? Every parent was saying, what do I need to do to do this?
[00:36:14] Right? What do I need to do to homeschool? What do I need to do? And. Once we did that. I said, Hmm, it would be so nice if you guys could have like some private sessions doing this. Right. Cause I know some of you may be asking questions like that, you know, were scared to ask questions, but if you had a private session, maybe this would work well.
[00:36:34] We were able to get a grant through a partnership with Vela and national parent union to start a coaching process. They asked me like, what would you do in the grant process? And in the grant process, that was the thing. I would be coaches for parents. We have coaches for children for everything, and now our coaching was not for children while we were not supporting children directly.
[00:36:55] We were supporting the parents to become advocates for what their children need [00:37:00] in homeschooling and actually do it impact. and so they got individualized coaching once a week, hour, a week to start out and then as they progressed it went to an hour, every two weeks. But the coaching started in September.
[00:37:16] From that coaching we found out parents were like, well, I would like to know more about like robotics classes or I, so then I went back into my excellent schools, Detroit day. I got all these partnerships right. With schools and everybody, and these partnerships I, I know about like math programs, engineering programs, blah blah, that partner with the schools have worked for some of them.
[00:37:36] Right. So I started going to the partners like, Hey, I got this homeschool group. Would you partner with. And they were like, oh, well we’ve never partnered with homeschool groups. Like, what do you mean? Well, what, what do you mean? Oh, well everybody’s homeschooling right now. I’m like, no, no, no, no. We’re homeschool homeschooling, like not pandemic schooling.
[00:37:54] Right. And so, they came in and they started partnering with us and I got ’em to do it for free by the [00:38:00] grace of God. Like literally they were coming on board. Like, what do we, oh, we got this class we could offer you. So we had partnerships with like our local. Michigan state school of music partnerships with the local food co-op that does these food literacy classes.
[00:38:14] We have partnerships with the library who do art tutoring, DEP that does the engineering programs, stem programs for kids. Created about 19 partnerships in a couple of months. And so the children not only were being homeschooled, but they had tangible things that could support that homeschooling.
[00:38:33] Whereas if they needed a math class, they could go to a EP class and they could learn a little bit more about calculus or whatever it was. Right. Or. Or chemistry class. They could go to DEP and mostly all virtual. Now we’re moving of course, to back in person, but that was what we did. And that’s what we’re still doing.
[00:38:53] we had a conversation the other day and I was like, wow, this will be our third year. Like. I [00:39:00] never thought I was about to do something around homeschool. Like I said, when my daughter asked me in fifth grade, I was like, yep, Nope, that’s not gonna happen. And so now in 11th grade here, I was homeschooling my daughter.
[00:39:12] I’m a believer in, I’m not gonna just do something. I’m gonna practice what I preach. So when my daughter came to me in 11th grade and she told me that she was thinking about dropping out. So. Those first couple of months of, , the pandemic while she was in 11th grade, my daughter had interactions with one teacher that whole entire semester.
[00:39:29] The rest of the teachers were only emailing her children, emailing the children lessons, my daughter, and about 18 of her friends got on some chat and they began to be one another’s teacher. They were literally educating one another, like, Hey, what, class are you in? what do you need help with?
[00:39:49] They were, I’m sitting here watching her, like while y’all done created a whole school of ninth to 12th graders and they were supporting one another to graduate or to get to [00:40:00] the next level. I said, there’s something wrong with this, when you contact the principal and the principal’s like, well, you guys gotta understand it’s a pandemic.
[00:40:07] No, we don’t have to understand. Everybody has to understand it’s a pandemic. So from there, like I said, we got coaches for parents and it’s been successful. It said it’s challenges. Because now we have like, the world opens back. With the world opening back up, parents were like, well, how do I do this?
[00:40:24] And go to work. But we even taught parents during that time. How you homeschooling is anytime like education is anytime of the day. It’s not that traditional seven 30 to two 30 or seven 30 to three 30.
[00:40:41] GR: That’s a wonderful story. You happen to mention national parents union. I’m a former board member.
[00:40:45] So I wanna give a shout out to Carrie Tim and to, yeah. Yeah. Some of the folks, you know, and to I guess there’s actually Tim and then there’s Peter and others. Yeah. Yeah. So here’s a, closing question for you. We know money matters and where it’s spent. We [00:41:00] know it matters a lot. We know that families matter we know that having quality schools matter and we’ve known this.
[00:41:06] A hundred years, but somehow when it comes to politics and urban education, and Detroit’s going through a lot of changes, if you had an opportunity to change two things, you’re now in charge, what two things would you change to give you and families you work with what they need to truly prepare their children for the world we live in today and the world.
[00:41:30] They only care tomorrow.
[00:41:31] Bernita: So two things, one most definitely would be the money and the hands of parents. if parents could be taught to have like a yearly budget of how they spend that per pupil dollars and where it’s allocated, that would be so powerful. The reason why I say that, and I know there’s gonna be a whole lot of people who cringe every time I say it in the audience about the money following the child.
[00:41:53] I see people cringe like, oh no, right. But guess what? That would do. That would make people [00:42:00] more accountable because then if I’m spending the money and I’m trust, cuz I’m trusting my most valuable resource to you. My most valuable resource is my child. I am giving them to you every day. If I can pay and tell you, you have to treat them right.
[00:42:18] That’s gonna make you have more accountability of yourself, cuz what’s gonna happen is I’m gonna walk and talk with my feet. If you’re not treating’em right, I’m gonna vote with my feet and I’m gonna move and go to another district. If you’re not doing it, which is gonna make your per people dollars, even lower.
[00:42:34] And so that’s gonna make you step back and say as a public school or as a school entity, step back and say, what are we doing wrong? Cause last year we realized we lost right now, schools are losing students. But they still have no accountability to make themselves look internally. what do they do?
[00:42:51] They go head hunt for children and say, oh, well, we’re putting truancy out on you. Not why aren’t you coming? Why don’t you like our schools? [00:43:00] Like, why not none of that. Right. They just make it punitive for the school for the children. The second thing that I would do, I would. Make it where schools have a real accountability system, that accountability system would be governed by traditional parents.
[00:43:15] not a parent who’s in cahoots with schools, right. It would be governed every year by parents. And those parents , would be trained to understand growth proficiency and all of that and measure what every school is doing. And if you are not doing. If you are not doing well, those parents, other parents are notified in a timely matter, in a really timely manner.
[00:43:40] So if they know, and all the other options that are available to those children would be on display like your child’s school is failing you, but here’s some schools over here that are high performing. And here’s some seats available for you right now in places like, Pennsylvania and all of that.
[00:43:55] Like they, they have long waiting list. For parents trying to get in [00:44:00] charter schools. Only reason why they’re not hopping outta public schools is cuz they don’t have enough charter schools. And so I would make it where there would be enough spaces in charter schools and other types of schools, home schools freedom schools, where they can leave and take that money and go with.
[00:44:17] GR: well, thank you so much for sharing those two ideas. Thank you so much for just really sharing your story with both of us, but also with our listenership, , your story speaks to not only the spirit of entrepreneurship, but the spirit of just get it done and not waiting for experts to fly in, show up, show out, and then leave you live there.
[00:44:39] You’re gonna be there. Yeah. These are your children. And so, so glad to see you in that role. Look forward to following your work in this area, know that you have friends here at the learning curve. Thank you. Thank
[00:44:48] Bernita: you so much.
[00:44:50] GR: Take care. [00:45:00] [00:46:00]
[00:46:39] Kerry: Gerard, our tweet of the week comes from Neil McCluskey from the Cato Institute center for educational freedom. And he shared the daily beast article teachers unions are why more parents want school choice. And of course the influence of teachers unions has become more parent to more parents over the past couple of years.
[00:46:58] And certainly [00:47:00] some of them are, looking to school choice as a way to exit assigned district school that very often teachers unions have outsized influence over
[00:47:10] GR: well, Kerry again, thank you so much for joining me two weeks in a row for very lively conversation about not only the articles that we both shared, but also just an opportunity for us to just share ideas about.
[00:47:21] Different topics where there’s agreement, where there’s some not disagreement, but paths of difference, and also to have really good guests always enjoy being with you. And as you mentioned earlier, so look forward to seeing you in person really soon in Boston, which I’m assuming the weather’s a little better than where I am right now in Charlottesville.
[00:47:39] Kerry: It’s warm. It’s in the mid nineties this week. Dress
[00:47:42] Bernita: accordingly.
[00:47:43] GR: Ah, that’s good. Nothing else. I can work with my tan.
[00:47:48] Well, I know you’re not gonna be with me next week. We’re gonna have professor Richard Epstein from New York university who is a well known professor and an author of a book where he’s gonna talk to us about federalism.
[00:47:59] [00:48:00] So while I won’t be with you, I know you’ll be with us in spirit. And until we see each other in a few days, have a great. Thanks Gerard you too. Take care.[00:49:00] [00:50:00]