Sunday, March 25, 2007

BAEo Promotes Black Parental Educational Choice

BAEO Promotes Parental Educational Choice

The Black Alliance for Educational Options a grassroots nation wide nonprofit, nonpartisan membership organization whose purpose is to empower families and fight for quality education options for black children held its seventh annual symposium at the downtown Marriott from Thursday through Saturday. BAEO was founded in 1999 after a meeting in Milwaukee Wisconsin on educational options for African-Americans which was held at Marquette University. Since then BAEO has expanded and as become one of the most prominent advocates for the full spectrum of educational options for black children, public, private as well as home schooling. This year’s annual meeting featured workshops on how to build coalitions, grass roots organization and mobilization, how to raise money, managing quality schools and the political implications of parental choice. BAEO is for quality education and the parents’ right to fight for and have the best education for their child by expanding the options and opportunities regardless of income. BAEO’s primary focus is on low income and working class African-Americans. They in turn educate their constituents to empower them to battle for the best education available for their children. In recent years BAEO has partnered with the Gates Foundation to start small quality high schools in poorly served urban areas. This is the second year in a row BAEO has chosen Philadelphia as the site of their annual symposium.
Dr. Howard Fuller Ph.D. is the Chairman of the Board of Directors. Dr. Fuller is a former Dean of General Education at the Milwaukee Area Technical College and a former Director of the Milwaukee County Department of health and Human Services. Dr. Fuller was happy to have the BAEO symposium return to Philadelphia for the second year in a row. “This is actually our third conference this is our second in a row. It is because of the support of State Representative Dwight Evans that we were able to get the resources that were necessary. Philadelphia is also the place where we have one of our strongest chapters. And clearly Philadelphia is a place where there are a variety of options for parents so for all of those reason it’s a great place to come to for us.” Explained Dr. Fuller. For Fuller and BAEO one of their biggest challenges is to support quality education in all its forms and to provide a framework whereby parents particularly low income and working class folks can have access to quality education. “The reality of it is as an organization we are working to try to get options in places where they currently do not exist. And while many of our parents, their kids and their relatives are concerned, the fact of the matter is that most of the political leadership of black people opposes the things that we stand for. We are misinterpreted as being people who are opposed to public schools and public education, which to me are different, public schools and public education are two different things. But we are not opposed to either. We simply believe that low income and working class parents ought to have the same ability to choose as those of us with money. And if the parents choose to be in a public school system, a traditional public school system that’s fine. But we think they ought to be able to choose a charter school, they ought to be able to choose a private school or engage in home schooling, and we support all of these options. The reality of it is for poor and working class people unless there is government support for them making those choices they are not going to be able to do it. So in the same way that the government provides a Pel Grant which allows people to access religious higher education or nonreligious higher education, we think the same thing should exist at the elementary and secondary level.”
As a national organization, BAEO has its detractors many who charge they are undermining public education. Dr. Fuller reiterates BAEO advocates for parental empowerment. “As an organization we are working right now in Missouri, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Florida, Wisconsin, Texas and in D.C. These are places that either have parental choice programs or we have the potential to create new programs. And then of course we are also supporting Charter Schools because the states that I mention are places where we are either fighting for a tax credit program or a voucher program and other states already have charter schools and so in some places we are fighting to improve the charter school law or protecting the charter school law.”
One of the things that makes BAEO so unique is that it is an inter-generational organization. They actively recruit and encourage the participation of young people. “We have a strand for high school students and there are a growing number of high school students coming to our conferences. We decided a long time ago that our organization would be inter-generational. Our view is that for high school students you have to incorporate them, they do the introductions in our meetings they have their own workshops and they are in workshops we all come to. We have a Baily-Sullivan leadership institute where we train the next generation of leaders.” Addison Small-Bradley 16, is currently a student at Parkway Northwest in Philadelphia he is on the national BAEO board. He attended a BAEO school and was chosen to represent the school at the BAEO Symposium in Detroit in 2005. Since then he has remained actively involved with BAEO. “It feels like I am helping the cause. I feel I have an advantage because even at my young age I’m able to help older people help us. I feel that they respect me as one of them and they treat me as an equal and I have an equal chance as one of them to help the cause. The fight is not going to end after they’re gone, I’m going to have to keep it going and the next generation is going to have to keep it going. We have to unite and work together.” As active as young Mr. Small-Bradley is, he feels he is the exception to the rule. Many of his peers are apathetic and unconcerned. “It’s difficult (to get his peers involved) because they say, ‘Why should I do it, I’m almost done school, how is it going to help me?’ It’s a selfish attitude that some people have.” His goal is to convince his peers to see beyond and step outside of themselves. “My goal is to change people’s minds to try to get them to think beyond them to think about their little brothers and sisters and think about the future. That’s an issue that a lot of us have.” He plans to attend college and major in electrical engineering and minor in business.
This year’s symposium was the largest in BAEO’s history more than 1,000 registrants which greatly pleased Dr. Fuller. “It’s been great. I want to feel that way but we have an objective measurement. Everyone who comes to the symposium is asked to grade and evaluate each session, we then go through and grade it in the aggravate. We are very data driven. The people who get the highest rating we’ll bring them back but we also like to do new things each year.” Dr. Fuller enjoys coming to Philadelphia and he is hopeful the BAEO symposium will return in the not too distant future. For more information about BAEO go to www.baeo.org

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