Angélica Infante-Green did not pull any punches when answering questions about a devastating report released yesterday by Johns Hopkins University Institute for Education Policy. When asked to describe the report in a word, she said “heart-wrenching.” And anyone who has read the 93-page report likely knows exactly why she landed on that word.

When asked directly if she would send her own children to a Providence school, Infante-Green was emphatic in her answer: "No. Very clearly, no."

I applaud her for her honesty and my answer would be the same as hers. But what does that mean for the thousands of Providence mothers who have no other choice but to send their children to the school to which they are zoned? We are asking them—actually, the law is forcing them—to do something that we would not do ourselves.

When I asked the question on Twitter, albeit rhetorically, Commissioner Infante-Green responded:

Decades of neglect. Say it out loud and then picture the faces of children. That is what has been allowed to happen in our capital city. Unconscionable is another word that comes to my mind. And criminal.

I have long said—and written—that if you aren’t going to ask me to accept an unsafe or chronically underperforming school, then it is wrong to ask any mother to accept it. But the powers-that-be disproportionately expect low-income parents and parents of color to accept conditions that they wouldn’t abide for their own children for one single day.

And we as mothers are complicit by not speaking out on behalf of our fellow mothers (and yes, fathers and other caregivers too!) who are forced to accept deplorable conditions and substandard instruction in the buildings to which they are compelled, by law, to send their children 180 days a year. It’s enough to make any decent person want to throw lifeboats to the 25,000 students quite literally trapped in schools that are failing them. Schools that have failed their communities for generations. Schools that have graduated generations of students who are only partially literate. And barely numerate. Schools that have knowingly set their graduates up to fail.

But where are the lifeboats? Powerful people, largely owned by the teachers unions, will fight to the death to make sure that the parents in Providence have no other options. They will do everything in their power to ensure that new charter schools don’t open and existing ones can’t expand. The higher performing the charter school, the more they lie and the harder they fight against it. Strong student outcomes don’t sway them. Emotional and brave testimony from parents falls on deaf ears—they are faithful to a system no matter how broken it may be, a system in which they would never enroll their own children.

The constraints imposed by the collective bargaining agreement comes up repeatedly throughout the report. But when we talk about moving to a “thin contract”—no more than ten pages, as opposed to the seventy-plus pages we have now—the unions say no way. This far more student-friendly contract that would allow for much greater flexibility around hiring and firing as well as determining the length of the school day and the school year is dead on arrival because way too many of our elected officials live in the pocket of our teachers unions. (Let’s remember that these are the same people who still haven’t gotten a bill passed to make it a crime for teachers to have sex with their students because the NEA and AFT opposed it.)

And let’s all be wary of those elected officials and community leaders who are quick out of the gate to call this a “wake-up call”—while they may not have understood the problems with this much granularity, they certainly knew that PPSD was in crisis and it was allowed to continue on their watch.

Providence is an example of generational failure and for anyone to pretend otherwise is self-serving and dishonest.

And to all the others who are saying they aren’t surprised by the findings in the report, one must ask: Then where the hell have you been? As Infante-Green pointedly says in her interview with Steph Machado of WPRI, “How can everybody not be surprised and be OK with it?” She goes on to say that, “Everybody here has looked away.” And then she promises that moving forward, “We will not look away.”

And she is right. Those who could have changed this didn’t have the courage to be disruptors. Those who knew children were languishing in failure factories year after year made the calculated choice to play nice for the grown-ups instead of stand up for the kids.

We see you. All of you. Either hang your heads in shame and resign or commit to being part of the solution no matter which special interest groups you upset in the process.

Over the next days and weeks, Good School Hunting will offer commentary on the Johns Hopkins report and we certainly invite guest commentary as well. Twenty-five thousand students’ futures hang in the balance—we are committed to putting what’s best for them at the forefront of every conversation.

Until the next installment on the report, the summary below will give you a sense of the report’s findings.

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To read the report in full, click here.

This article was first published on the author’s blog, Good School Hunting.

Erika Sanzi spent a decade as a teacher and school dean before becoming a full-time education advocate. She also served a term as an elected school committee member. Her love for writing coupled with her willingness to take on people in power has led her to spend much of her time responding to status-quo protectors inclined to put adult interests ahead of kids. She is particularly focused on inequities in the system,…

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