Defend Public Education

Teaching While Black: Exposing Institutional Racism at Claremont Middle School

Posted in Uncategorized by Nicole Conaway on May 10, 2015

Teaching While Black: Exposing Institutional Racism at Claremont Middle School.


Victory Through Action at Marquette!

Posted in union action by Nicole Conaway on March 16, 2015

18282_10206003845032870_8531899979730750903_nToday’s DFT-led rally at Marquette was another success. About 50 teachers, students, BAMN and other supporters, including Members of the Michigan Operating Engineers Union carried handmade signs and chanted boldly as we picketed near the school sign. Our voices were so loud, neighborhood students said they heard us from their house and came out and joined the picket!

Radio, internet, and TV news media all covered today’s event. Detroit CBS Local reports that DPS is “reviewing the situation” with Principal Lockhart.

We must build on this initial victory and not rest until Mr. Lockhart and all abusive Principals are out of our schools and Gov. Snyder’s Emergency Manager is out of Detroit!

Join us at the next picket to stand up against Principal Abuse and for the quality schools our students deserve Tuesday March 24, 3:15 at J.E. Clark Preparatory Academy

The Shock Doctrine- Alive and Well in Michigan

Posted in Uncategorized by Nicole Conaway on February 23, 2015


Symptomatic of what is occurring in education across the nation, Detroit Public Schools are deep in debt.

Detroit, though, is somewhat unique in that they have in place an autocratic and unilateral leader appointed by the Governor of Michigan.  They have an Emergency Manager, a person appointed at the governor’s behest to alleviate a financial situation that has been deemed by such governor to be an “emergency.”

DPS Financial HistoryIn Detroit Public Schools, this has led to the marginalization of a perfectly capable and democratically elected school board.  It has promoted the market fundamentalists’ premier value of economic efficiency over democracy, and it has done so at the expense of the economic health of the district, the academics of the students affected, and the community’s agency as expressed via the accountability of a democratically elected school board. It is no small thing to again point out the irony of the fact that Emergency Management has…

View original post 628 more words


Posted in Uncategorized by Nicole Conaway on January 25, 2015

January 25, 2015

Fellow educators,

I have called us together for this meeting to address what I believe
is the most urgent crisis in the history of our union and our public
school system. Today, I hope to initiate a plan of action to confront that
crisis, and I ask for your support in facing the monumental challenges
in front of us. While our politicians are delivering speeches on the state
of our nation, I wish to deliver an address on the state of our own union,
and to tell the truth that our politicians will not admit.

Our lives as teachers are built upon our commitment to the
young people of Detroit. We all embarked upon that commitment
knowing that we would face great difficulties, but also believing in the
possibility that our hard work could make a difference. Some of us are
old survivors who chose to endure the many years of hardships. Others
are new to the district, and have been tested from the very beginning by
what are now some of the most degraded school conditions in the nation.
All of us, young and old, live under the constant threat that our
jobs could be the next to disappear and that our students could be further
deprived of the few resources they have left. Many are here today
seeking answers to what can be done.

My pledge to you today is not that we will find every answer or
sweep aside all obstacles at once, but that we will begin a collective
fight for our students and our schools—a fight to save public education,
to save our union, and to realize the promise of hope and progress that
our city truly deserves. I believe that our strength and our potential extend
far beyond our own numbers, because the struggle for our union is
united with the needs of our students and community. As I have said
before, I will say again: the struggle for our union is, and must be, a civil
rights struggle for the people of Detroit. We will not march alone.
In the week since my election as DFT president, I have made
regular visits to schools and talked with many teachers about where we
go from here. It was a pleasure to be greeted by the enthusiasm and
smiles of old friends and new, and all of the teachers I met raised their
own concerns and demands. Class size, job security, frozen pay, principal
harassment, special education resources and ancillary services were
regular topics. And although the challenges required to confront these
issues are immense, there is clearly an awakening sentiment that something can be done. With your active leadership and support, yes, something will be done.

We find ourselves in the vortex of a national attack on public
education. From Lansing to the White House, all of the nation’s leading
policy makers advocate cutting resources from the public schools and
diverting the funds towards charter school experiments. But the charter
mania among the elite has not been shared by the rest of the population—
out of the 49 million students attending schools that receive public
funds, 96% of the students continue to attend traditional public
schools; only 4% attend charters. In fact, in the few places where charter
schools have become widespread, their introduction was foisted
against the will of the local population. In places like Detroit and Oakland,
the outright state takeover of the district was necessary in order to
impose the new system.

The results have been catastrophic: in every charter-imposed
district, the resource deficits have decimated the public schools, while
the charters have underperformed their public counterparts in spite of
every rigged financial advantage. Instead of benefitting from the supposed
“market competition” between public and charter, the real outcome
has been to lower the quality of education across the board.
Teachers’ unions—which had been the traditional line of defense for
public education—largely capitulated in the face of the attacks, causing
membership numbers and morale to plummet. The advocates for
greater resources for our most impoverished public schools are now
mocked as “waiting for Superman”—we are told to accept the corporate
schemes of Lex Luthor, instead.

This social experiment has long since failed in Detroit and in
numerous other highly segregated, majority-black and Latino districts,
and is now perpetuated only on the basis of completely circular arguments.
They say that the takeover is needed to balance the budget, but
when the takeover only makes financial matters worse, they say that
this makes it necessary to continue the takeover. They say that the
takeover is needed to improve academic performance, but when the
takeover diminishes academic performance, they insist on applying the
same bad remedy: more takeover. They say that charters are needed to
innovate education, but when the charters only exacerbate the crisis of
education, they say that this crisis necessitates the creation of more
charters. They say that school closings and layoffs are necessary to
eliminate the deficit, but when these policies force thousands of students
to leave the district along with their per-pupil funding, we are
then told that this requires even more school closings and more layoffs.
For over fifteen years, we have weathered this continuous cycle of destruction.

There is a common saying that the definition of insanity is
doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results—we
are living in a cyclone of insanity.

Our union can and must stand against this destructive cycle;
the human cost is too high a price for our society to afford. In every segregated school district where educational opportunities have crumbled,
the claimed reduction in government spending has in fact been completely
offset by the collateral expenses of social decay. In place of the
obligation to invest in the futures of our young people, we have witnessed
instead the counterposed investment in an increasingly militarized
police force and a titanic prison industry. We have witnessed the
proliferation of urban blight and unemployment. In places like Ferguson,
Missouri, we have witnessed new urban uprisings, echoing the
same social discontent that led to the Detroit upheaval in 1967 and
many disturbances across the nation. Authorities tell us that we are too
poor to invest in quality educational conditions; the reality is that we
can’t afford not to invest in the futures of our young people. Never again
can we afford to accept the argument that there is not enough money.
Either the nation will invest in teachers and text books, or it will pay a
terrible price for urban warfare and destruction. Let us be a united
voice for hope and progress.

Because we are educators, we also care deeply about the philosophy
of the education system in which we work. We are practitioners
of pedagogical theory, and earned our positions through careful study
of the accumulated methods for facilitating learning. We cannot ignore
the fact that the governing philosophy being imposed on our district is
not based in any tested educational method, but instead derives from
crude economics. The current regime is almost entirely based on the
privatized, cheap and narrow schemes of the conservative economist
Milton Friedman, rather than the proven science of traditional pedagogy.
The cheap and narrow focus is not only a theory for reducing government
spending, but it is also a theory about the position in society
for which our students are being trained.

The current regime in Detroit has stripped from the schools
nearly all humanities, creative arts and music programs—the hallmarks
of a liberal arts education. In their place, technical and vocational training
have taken priority. The theory of the regime has been to guide the
hopes of students away from the attainment of a top university education,
instead fixing their career paths towards lower-paying, less-educated
sectors of the workforce. Even the prescribed teaching schemes
cater to these backwards priorities, replacing creativity and critical
thinking with rote memorization and scripted test preparation. In the
EAA schools, many students barely receive any education at all—they
spend all day in front of a computer screen, following mindless instructions
like robots. Soaring class size also transforms schools into sweatshops,
diverting attention away from learning and squandering time
and energy on the taxing maintenance of discipline and order.
History teachers should recognize this regressive shift in priority
as an extension of the philosophy of Booker T. Washington. Over one
hundred years ago, Washington argued that the pursuit of full equality
in black education had been an error. “It is at the bottom of life we must
begin, and not at the top,” he said. His pragmatist theory governed the
Tuskegee education machine in the South, training young black men to
enter only those occupations which were acceptable to the old Jim
Crow system. Many thousands of black Americans fled the South, migrating
to Northern cities like Detroit in search of better jobs and education.
This was the origin of the black community that still resides in
Detroit to this day. But now, in the face of a national wave of attacks on
education, there is no North to which our community can escape. With
our backs to the wall, our only choice today is to stand and fight.
If our community is to thrive, this will require restoring the
promise of equal, quality education and Martin Luther King’s dream of
an integrated America. Education is the cornerstone of a democratic
society. Education is the litmus test for the democratic principle of
equal opportunity. Education ought to be a sacred obligation to the future
of our young people, and not a tool for private profit for the benefit
of today’s robber barons. Our role is not simply to prepare our students
for a career, but to enable our students to exercise their freedom and to
pursue their happiness as equal, educated citizens. In order to fulfill
that role, we must be better organized together to defend our students
and ourselves.

I intend to rebuild our union from top to bottom. Among my
first initiatives as your president, I will immediately begin the recruitment
and training of building representatives at every school where
there is a vacancy. I will work to ensure that teacher grievances receive
effective responses, and I will commit the weight of union leadership to
defend our representatives against all forms of principal harassment
and subversion. Under my presidency, teacher grievances will no longer
be swept under the rug; they will take priority and go to arbitration. Although
our contract is weak, we can do much more to enforce its provisions
that can offer some relief to our members. Building representatives
will be trained to conduct grievance campaigns and rebuild
teacher leadership in every building. Achieving smaller class size is absolutely critical—so many teachers labor under truly flagrant excesses,
and this problem compromises teaching and learning throughout the
district. The subjective and capricious evaluation system must also be
challenged. Teachers must receive their evaluation results and fall
teaching assignments before the end of the school year in June, with
appeals to be heard immediately afterwards. I pledge to restore monthly
meetings for our members, and to restore our union office as a professional
and functioning resource. I further intend to build organizing
campaigns to bring the EAA and charter school teachers into the DFT,
rebuilding our numbers and repairing the fragmented state of education.

I intend to rebuild our active capacity such that, in the event that
our members wish to use our most powerful weapon—the strike—we
will be in a strong enough position to win.

At all times, I will maintain an unwavering connection to our
students and community members, as well as to fellow union activists
across the nation. It is my hope that we can serve as a national model
for the defense of public education, inspiring teachers everywhere of
the possibility to stand up for our schools.

Today is a new beginning for the Detroit Federation of Teachers.
At a time when the very existence of our union is at stake, today is also
the most important turning point in our union history. We face a difficult
road ahead. I hope that today we can begin discussing and voting
on a program of demands, and that our members can now thrive as active
participants and leaders in a democratic decision-making process. I
accept your mandate to lead this union to fight for the quality learning
conditions that our students and teachers deserve. But I cannot succeed
without your help. Join this fight, and together we can strive for
the brightest future for the city we love.

Steve Conn delivers State of the Union Address to Detroit Federation of TEachers

Victory for the Teachers and Students of Detroit: Steve Conn elected DFT President

Posted in education, politics, union action by Nicole Conaway on January 21, 2015

Victory for Steve Conn and EON/BAMN in the Detroit Federation of Teachers—Victory for the New Civil Rights Movement in the Struggle for Educational Opportunity in Detroit

Teacher and Community Celebration and Action Rally: (1) to implement the democratic decision of the teachers and secure the inauguration of Steve Conn, and (2) to launch the new presidency and organizing campaign. Scheduled Tuesday, January 20 at 4:00pm, located at 7700 2nd Ave., Detroit.

In a courageous stand for hope and progress in Detroit, teachers elected Steve Conn as president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers. This victory represents the initiation of a new period of civil rights struggle in Detroit, a bold challenge to the segregated and unequal conditions that have only worsened during the years of hostile takeovers. Fighting the ongoing trend of the decimation of the Detroit schools, the teachers are now poised more than ever before to defend the educational interests of the students, the teachers, and the entire city.


Steve Conn of Equal Opportunity Now/By Any Means Necessary caucus is sworn in as President of the Detroit Federation of Teachers

Statement by Steve Conn: “With great pride and urgency, I accept the mandate of the Detroit teachers to fight for the futures of our students and for the quality teaching and learning conditions that our city deserves. We will not accept the continued regime of deteriorating, second-class education. With the support of my fellow teachers, of our students, and our community, I believe that we can stand up for the real hope and progress that has long been denied. I believe that our impoverished city can have a bright future, because I know the great potential of the students I teach, and I know the deep compassion of the teachers with whom I work. My first action as president will be to organize a mass meeting—for Sunday, January 25—in response to the demand of members to hold such a meeting for teachers to discuss and vote on a program of action to rebuild the union and to save public education. Teachers are circulating petitions to call this historic meeting. I will work tirelessly to rebuild the Detroit Federation of Teachers, and to enable our union to stand up for the basic rights of our students and educators. The DFT ought to be a leading voice to champion the cause of educational opportunity, and as DFT president I pledge that our union will resolutely struggle for the resources and policies that our schools so desperately need.”


EON/BAMN Campaign literature

How We Won Catherine Ferguson Academy

Posted in Uncategorized by Nicole Conaway on June 26, 2011

Catherine Ferguson Academy is staying open! Summer school starts tomorrow.

The school will continue to exist, not as A DPS school, but as a charter run by Detroit charter operator Evans Solutions. Some argue this isn’t a victory because it wil be a charter. Try telling that to the students of CFA. This is a complete victory for them. They still have their school, their “safehouse”. And they have it because of thier determination to keep it, because they organized themselves and supporters, because – as Danny Glover said at our rally – of those among them who “put their bodies on the line” and be arrested rather than let their school be taken away. This is a real victory, and our Demands for CFA Remain the same.

The victory could not have been achieved without leadership and organization. Below is the BAMN perspective on how this victory was won.

Catherine Ferguson Academy (CFA) will stay open. The announcement could come as early as today at this rally. (June 16, 2011) The announcement that someone has come through with money to keep Catherine Ferguson open could be made by actor Danny Glover, or Detroit Federation of Teachers President Keith Johnson, or a prominent Detroit pastor, or a Foundation spokesperson, or even the new Detroit Public Schools Emergency Manager Roy Roberts, the man Governor Snyder appointed to destroy public education in Detroit without sparking a riot. If CFA is kept open, we win. Yes, to prevent the closing of our school in the future, or its transformation into something very different from the CFA we are fighting to keep open; we will have to maintain our struggle and continue to build the power of our new movement for civil rights and social justice that created the basis for victory.

The people who offer the funding will demand as a condition to receive the money, that every student, teacher, staff person and administrator have nothing more to do with BAMN, and that BAMN is barred from the school. But that policy can only be enforced if we chose to abide by it. No one who wants to see Catherine Ferguson survive will enforce a ban on BAMN or betray their own leaders. We will have to make sure that the brave and bold BAMN student leaders- teens, babies and toddlers- and BAMN leader Nicole Conaway, the one Catherine Ferguson teacher who stood with us, are not expelled, fired, transferred or jailed. Our leaders, like Rosa Parks, sat down so that we could all stand up. They are not just the pride of Detroit; they are for literally millions of women worldwide who are following this struggle, heroes and role models.

We know that there will be new attempts to sell off our school, cut back our programs and classes, etc. All civil rights victories are partial until the oppressed take power. The pact that Dr. King signed to end the 1963 struggle in Birmingham that we attribute today to breaking the back of the old Jim Crow was very limited in scope. Dr. King’s real victory from Birmingham was that it provided millions of people who had lived as second-class citizens for decades, with the inspiration to fight and the belief that poor black people could beat the whole white establishment. Keeping CFA open is likely to be that same kind of victory, imperfect and incomplete in form, but for all those who have followed the struggle, vindication of BAMN’s assertion that the black, Latina/o and other oppressed communities have tremendous social power, that we can start winning real victories now if we just organize and act.

We have a lot of work ahead of us to defeat the attack against public education here and across the nation. Detroit, the city we love and are proud to represent, has faced the most concerted, bi-partisan, racist political attack of any city in America since Radical Reconstruction ended in the late 1800’s. Detroit is the testing ground for the new Jim Crow. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has designated our city ground zero. The continued decimation of Detroit is pressed by both the Democrats and Republicans.

The proponents of the new Jim Crow and their billionaire backers hate everything about Catherine Ferguson. Catherine Ferguson faces and will continue to face threats of closure precisely because everything about the school, from its educational philosophy to its brilliant and successful black teens, babies and toddlers, proves the lie of every racist, sexist , anti-gay and anti-youth stereotype needed to buttress and to further the implementation of the New Jim Crow. In a society where being a teenage mother enslaves most to a life of poverty and limited opportunity, CFA is like the first “safe house” stop on the underground railroad to freedom, a place of new beginning and hope for young women who have been told by so many that their own lives are over.

Describing Catherine Ferguson to a stranger, it is possible to list a number of its assets and strengths, the day care, the farm, the group discussions, etc. But the school is more than just its parts, it is a place filled with hope, a place where we learn to believe in ourselves and feel safe to experiment, where we learn that nothing is set in stone or pre-determined. Keeping Catherine Ferguson open is just another way of saying to all the bigots and Detroit-haters that the fight can never be taken out of Detroit, and with a few more movement victories, we will lead the nation again and defeat the New Jim Crow just like we defeated the old Jim Crow.

If the decision to keep CFA open is not announced today, either before or after the rally, it will occur sometime in the near future, because, we, the BAMN student, teacher and community leaders of this struggle, believe that losing CFA is not an option, and we know that it is possible to win this fight. Our support is growing across the city and across the nation.

Our rally today is a great opportunity to take our struggle a step further. We need to build on the policy that has put us within a heartbeat of saving our school. Most mass demonstrations today are treated like funerals. Many activists, even those who sound very militant, are scared to put down the coffin and pick up the struggle. We cannot allow today’s demonstration to become a memorial service for Catherine Ferguson, or a day when everybody talks the talk and nobody walks the walk.

Catherine Ferguson students are prepared to do another sit-down/occupation of the school. If hundreds of other people join them on the inside and on the outside of the school we can take the next step forward to victory. We must not allow anyone’s fear of organization, of action, of thinking big or being associated with the “BAMN radicals” to hold back what we all know we need to do to win.

When Dr. King arrived in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963, he was condemned by both the black and white leaders of the city. Most of the black churches in Birmingham opposed his tactics and denounced him as an outsider. When Dr. King began the Birmingham campaign in April 1963, there was no children’s crusade or even a clearly formulated plan of how the movement could win. For long stretches of time it looked like he would lose. But the one thing Dr. King knew for sure was that the only way to discover the road to victory was to stay in the fight and to keep on acting. We can win this fight for Catherine Ferguson and build on our victory if we just maintain the fight and keep moving forward.

We urge everyone who stands for equality and justice and is tired of being scared- – scared to defy some authority figure, scared of going to jail and having no back-up, scared that being yourself is not good enough, scared of who knows what — to join us in making this fight. On April 15 when we sat down or picketed outside we were different people. When we stood together and fought, even when we sat handcuffed in the back of police squad car, we felt free for the first time. Those of us on the outside felt our fears slip away, as we took bolder and bolder actions to defend our brothers and sisters who were arrested. By the end of the evening the fear was gone, and joy and love filled the void. We became the people we looked up to and respected. None of us were born leaders; we just made a decision to take a stand and stuck to it. We are learning how to lead through the process of just trying to always stand on the truth and never doubt the certainty of our cause. It is a decision we will be proud of for the rest of lives. We urge every person who wants to be free and to see the best side of themselves come out, to join us in this fight. We intend to win, and we would be so happy if you would come along.

June 16, 2011


Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration and Immigrant Rights and Fight for Equality By Any Means Necessary (BAMN)     855-ASK-BAMN (855-275-2266) Twitter @followBAMN

Tom Stephens: Assault on Detroit

Posted in education, politics by Nicole Conaway on June 26, 2011

via Tom Stephens: Assault on Detroit (

Weekend Edition
June 24 – 26, 2011

An Open Letter to Arne Duncan

Assault on Detroit


US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan labeled Detroit “ground zero” in education reform by video conference. He pointed out that Detroit students have posted the worst scores in the nation in math, reading and science, levels that shocked local and national education officials. Duncan said those results, on the National Assessment of Educational Progress Trial Urban District Assessment, caused some to view the city as having “no viable future if the status quo is allowed to stand.” (From The Detroit News, June 21, 2011)

Hon. Secretary Duncan:

Your labeling of Detroit and its People, including our Children, in a five-minute video conference address on June 21, 2011, is much more than an egregious display of bad manners, arrogance and racism.

The education “reform” movement whose standard you bear may have reached a new low – especially in your extraordinarily narrow and myopic, even obsessive focus on high-stakes testing of children and phony standards for “accountability” (standards that you apply to children, but never to the politicians and corporate interests who are pushing them). In short, you must have gone completely insane.

Permit me to explain this harsh judgment.

Many studies and competent professional educators have by now concluded that the infamous “No Child Left Behind” Act model of education has failed our children. Indeed, longstanding opponents of these “reforms” have been amply justified by experience in our original assessment of this model: it was designed to punish public school systems and children in low-income communities, predominantly of color, while generating enormous profits for corporate testing and turnaround ventures.

Even advocates of these failed “reforms” (most notably former Bush administration education official Diane Ravitch, in her bestselling book “The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education”), have evaluated the evidence generated by a decade of such “reform,” and exposed its failure to promote effective education, and its success at enriching and empowering unqualified political operatives like yourself, who are nevertheless pressing ahead amidst wars and recession with a second decade of this failed model.

However, until now as far as I know no one has been so bold, mindless or irresponsible as to claim that the results of a single standardized test battery condemn an entire community to non-viability. Standardized tests have often been shown to be scientifically unreliable for assessing and intervening in educational programs. When used as overly prescriptive guides to policy, they produce wildly divergent results, condemning successful programs working under the most difficult conditions to the label of “failure,” while rewarding far less effective educational systems in better-resourced communities. Perhaps even worse, the corporate “reform” mania for testing reinforces an anti-intellectual, reductionist and counter-productive praxis of “teaching to the test,” instead of real, dynamic education in the modes of critical thought, agency and empowerment through intellectual growth. All this is more than enough to condemn the high-stakes testing regime for which you stand as the federal government’s top bureaucrat. But until now no one has publicly claimed that a community could be condemned to “no viable future” by poor test results. Shame on you!

Your five-minute video conference assessment of Detroit’s community was in support of the third state takeover proposal for Detroit Public Schools since 1999. The first two state takeovers are now widely acknowledged to have inflicted nearly catastrophic damage on this system and the children it seeks to serve, amounting to a peculiar form of institutionalized and politicized corporate child abuse. Now you support yet another ill-planned experiment with the intellectual and cultural welfare of Detroit’s children.

What do you even know about Detroit or its people?

What evidence do you have that Governor Rick Snyder’s new, and vaguely defined “Educational Achievement Authority” and “”Educational Achievement System” will actually improve educational outcomes for Detroit’s children, as opposed to institutionalizing the school-to-prison pipeline in “underperforming” schools for children labeled as “failures,” underwritten by the biased, partisan agenda of the Broad Foundation and other members of what Ms. Ravitch appropriately calls “the billionaire boys’ club,” i.e., the Gates and Walton Foundations?

Will you apologize to Detroit, its people and children for your abusive statements, delivered in the most thoughtless and insulting way?

School “failure” results from the failure of your “reform” agenda to create a new paradigm for education – not a “race to the top,” but a race to regain our humanity and become well-educated, effective citizens in a democracy. Of necessity, Detroit is learning faster than most places how real education can address the challenges of our community, and how these challenges are opportunities to engage children and people of all ages in educational programs that grow our souls.

I respectfully suggest that Detroiters and others with actual knowledge of our community, and especially Detroit’s children, many of whom are thriving in excellent schools, should write Secretary Duncan and inform him, in your own words, why we are a distinctly viable, creative, flourishing and beloved community:

Honorable Arne Duncan
Secretary of Education
U.S. Department of Education
400 Maryland Avenue, SW
Washington, D.C. 20202

Tom Stephens is a lawyer in Detroit. He can be reached at:

Why We Need YOU at the Rally to Save Catherine Ferguson Academy -Video Statement from Aluma Tiffini Baldwin

Posted in Uncategorized by Nicole Conaway on June 15, 2011

Detroit Free Press Online Commentary: Don’t close Catherine Ferguson Academy, a lifeline for teen moms in Detroit

Posted in Uncategorized by Nicole Conaway on June 14, 2011

As published on the Detroit Free Press Opinion Page:

Briana Patton, 16, a 10th grader at Catherine Ferguson Academy and her baby Marianna , 1, along with  teachers, supporters  and other students march and rally to keep all Detroit Public schools open in May in front of Robert Bobb's office,  Detroit Public School's then Emergency Financial  Manager.

Briana Patton, 16, a 10th grader at Catherine Ferguson Academy and her baby Marianna , 1, along with teachers, supporters and other students march and rally to keep all Detroit Public schools open in May in front of Robert Bobb’s office, Detroit Public School’s then Emergency Financial Manager. / REGINA H. BOONE/Detroit Free Press


Nicole Conaway is a Detroiter, teacher at the Catherine Ferguson Academy for Young Women, activist in the Detroit Federation of Teachers, author of the blog and member of the Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration, and Immigrant Rights, and Fight for Equality By Any Means Necessary.


For the last five years, I’ve had the privilege of teaching at Catherine Ferguson Academy (CFA), a Detroit Public School for pregnant and parenting students. CFA offers small classes, a modified schedule and dual enrollment for recovering lost credit and a head start on college, healthcare for moms and babies, birth through pre-K early education and more. CFA teaches students they have worth, and their lives aren’t over because they’ve become mothers. All graduates are accepted to college and assisted in obtaining financial aid.

Because they value CFA so much, six students and their supporters held a sit-in at the school and were arrested for their efforts to defend their education.

State-controlled DPS claims the “extras” CFA provides are too costly. But, most funding for CFA comes from separate funding for at-risk and low-income students, not the DPS general fund. Want more ways to reduce the deficit? Forgive the debt incurred under state-takeovers, don’t cut corporate taxes, and create a regional, integrated school system operating on economies of scale. There is money for whatever we value as a society.

In the March 31 guest column “Improve lives and city by keeping young moms in school,” Benita Miller described Detroit’s lack of services for pregnant and parenting teens. She was right — more services are needed. Pregnancy is the number-one reason women drop out of school. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, 70% of teen moms do. However, for more than 20 years, Detroit has had one the nation’s best resources for teen mothers. Now it is on the verge of being taken away

In 2004, Michigan spent $115 million imprisoning sons of teen parents. We spend $35,000 per prisoner annually. Children of teens are 13% more likely to be incarcerated, according to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. The money spent on early childhood care at CFA is a wise investment in their future and ours. It provides the foundation they need and deserve.

One CFA graduate just completed medical school. Another is about to have her first art show. If CFA closes, thousands more young women with this same potential will dropout. All of them and all their children deserve the chance to achieve that potential. For this they need CFA, and so does Detroit. And right now, they need us to stand with them by joining them on June 16, starting at noon, as they rally to keep CFA open. The collective action taken at CFA this spring helped to keep several schools open. Hundreds of supporters had planned to attend the hearing for CFA that ultimately was canceled. If all of those supporters and more show up on Thursday at noon too express our collective power, we can win a great victory for the CFA students and for our community.

Miller was right. Keeping Detroit’s young moms in school is key to improving our city. We need CFA to stay open to provide the best possible chance for a real future for them, and for all of us.



Catherine Ferguson Acdemy Student statement says it best

Posted in Catherine Ferguson articles, education, politics by Nicole Conaway on June 9, 2011

A student wrote this today and asked me to use it to, in her words, ” gain support for our cause”

Save Catherine Ferguson
By: Ikeeah Dozier
It is often said that Catherine Ferguson Academy is the school for pregnant girls. This is not true, I wouldn’t even say that this is a school for teenage mothers – it is much more than that. Catherine Ferguson is not only for the continuing education of young mothers, but for the beginning education of our children. We don’t have day care here, we have early education classrooms. We aren’t leaving our children with glorified babysitters, we are leaving them with teachers. It isn’t just that our children are learning educationally, they are also learning socially. By being in the classroom from such an early age, our children are learning how to interact. Whereas children that stay at home for three years then enter preschool don’t know what to do in a room full of children their age.
Catherine Ferguson isn’t telling girls that it’s ok to get pregnant. We are saying that if you do get pregnant, there are options. I say “we”, because Catherine Ferguson is a family. We all travel great distances to get here. Some of us take one bus, some of us three. Some of us live on this side of town, some of us live east. Then there are those, like me, that don’t live in Detroit at all, but in one of the outlying cities. There are even girls that moved here from different states.
Why try to break up this school when it has everything that we need? We are learning, our children are learning, and should something happen, only a flight of stairs, or a short walk down the hallway, separates us. The nurse’s station is only a few feet away, and they are trained to handle many difficult situations.
By closing Catherine Ferguson, you are not only closing us out, but our children. It’s as if you’re saying that because we made a mistake, neither we nor our children deserve an education. Who is anyone to deny the children of teenaged mothers an education? Children are the future, so why send them into the world with anything less than the best?