Pioneer Institute Hold Conference on Civil Rights, Charter Schools and Teacher Unions

On Thursday Pioneer Institute hosted a discussion on the tensions between charter schools and teacher unions with experts on the Civil Rights movement at the Omni Parker Hotel in Boston.

Former Senate President Thomas Birmingham, who helped write the state’s landmark 1993 education reform act and recently joined Pioneer as an education fellow, delivered welcoming remarks. His remarks were followed by civil rights activist Dr. Sephira Shuttlesworth and Stanford University history professor Dr. Clayborne Carson.

Shuttlesworth spoke at length about her efforts and the efforts of her late husband Rev Fred Shuttlesworth, to bring equality to American schools. Shuttlesworth and her siblings were the first African-American children to integrate Pope Elementary School in Jackson, Tennessee. She now believes charter schools are the next stage in bringing equality in education to all children.

Keynote speakers were followed by a panel that included presidents of both of Massachusetts Teachers Unions – Barbara Madeloni of the Massachusetts Teachers Association and Thomas Gosnell of the Massachusetts chapter of the American Federation of Teachers. The panel also included Kevin Andrews, senior advisor to the Boston Alliance of Charter Schools and Gerard Robinson, chairman of the Black Alliance for Educational Options Action Fund.

Gosnell argued that charter schools degraded the public school system as a whole. Madeloni stated she believed it was better for resources to stay in traditional public schools so that they could meet the needs of all struggling students. Robinson said that disadvantaged children need high quality educational options now. Andrews, a former public school teacher, argued that charter schools allow for the kind of targeted education that struggling students need to graduate college high school.

The event was sponsored by the Program on Education Policy and Governance at the Harvard Kennedy School, the Black Alliance for Educational Options and the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

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