"In a time of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

Posts Tagged ‘Charter Schools’

How To Destroy Public Education While Making A Trillion Dollars

In Uncategorized on April 30, 2012 at 2:24 pm

Oldspeak:”The U.S is ratcheting up a societal-level war on public education. At issue is whether we are going to make it better — build it into something estimable, a social asset that undergirds a noble and prosperous society — or whether we’re going to tear it down so that private investors can get their hands on the almost $1 trillion we spend on it every year. If America wants better education, it needs to fix the greatest force undermining education, which is poverty. The single most powerful predictor of student performance is the average income of the zip code in which they live. But one out of four American students now live in poverty, and the numbers are growing. One out of two will live in poverty sometime during their lives. Forty-seven million Americans are on food stamps. Is it any wonder American school performance is faltering? But poverty is a hard and expensive problem to fix. We prefer easy, painless fixes, or even better, vapid clichés about the “magic of the market” and such.” Robert Freeman, Public School Teacher.  When profit trumps quality free education, the future is very bleak indeed.  When the U.S. Secretary of Education oversaw the conversion of 100 public schools to charter schools while he was superintendent of Chicago Public Schools you can see the writing on the wall. It’s time to erase the blackboard and start with a clean slate. “Ignorance Is Strength”

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By Robert Freeman @ Common Dreams:

The Vietnam War produced more than its share of iconic idiocies. Perhaps the most revelatory was the psychotic assertion of an army major explaining the U.S. bombing of the provincial hamlet of Ben Tre: “We had to destroy the village in order to save it.” If only such self-extinguishing claims for intelligence were confined to military war.

The U.S is ratcheting up a societal-level war on public education. At issue is whether we are going to make it better — build it into something estimable, a social asset that undergirds a noble and prosperous society — or whether we’re going to tear it down so that private investors can get their hands on the almost $1 trillion we spend on it every year. The tear-it-down option is the civilian equivalent of Ben Tre, but on a vastly larger scale and with incomparably greater stakes: we must destroy public education in order to save it. It’s still early in the game, but right now the momentum is with the wreckers because that’s where the money is. Whether they succeed or not will be up to you.

Here’s a three-step recipe for how to destroy education. It maps perfectly to how to make a prodigious profit by privatizing it. It is the essential game plan of the big money boys.

First, lower the costs so you can jack up the profits. Since the overwhelming cost in education is the salaries of the teachers, this means firing the experienced teachers, for they are the most expensive. Replace them with “teachers” who are young, inexperienced, and inexpensive. Better yet, waive requirements that they have to have any training, that is to say, that they be credentialed. That way, you can get the absolute cheapest workers available. Roll them over frequently so they don’t develop any expectation that they’ll ever make a career out of it.

Second, make the curriculum as narrow, rote, and regimented as you can. This makes it possible for low-skilled “teachers” to “teach.” All they need do is maintain order while drilling students in mindless memorization and robotic repetition. By all means avoid messy things like context, nuance, values, complexity, reflection, depth, ambiguity—all the things that actually make for true intelligence. It’s too hard to teach those things and, besides, you need intelligent, experienced people to be able to do it. Stick with the model: Profitable equals simplistic and formulaic. Go with it.

Finally, rinse and repeat five thousand times. Proliferate franchised, chartered McSchools with each classroom in each McSchool teaching the same thing on the same day in exactly the same way. So, for the math lesson on the formula of a line, you only need develop it once. But you download it in Power Point on the assigned day so the room monitors, i.e., the “teachers,” know what bullets to read. Now repeat this for every lesson in every course in every school, every day. In biology, chemistry, geometry, history, English, Spanish, indeed, all of a K-12 curriculum. Develop the lesson literally once, but distribute and reuse it thousands of times with low-cost proctors doing the supervision. The cost is infinitesimal making the profit potential astronomical.

This is the essential charter school model and the money is all the rationale its promoters need. Think about it. There’s a trillion dollars a year spent on public education in the U.S. and enterprising investors want to get their meat hooks on it. Where else in the world can you find a $1 trillion opportunity that is essentially untouched? Not in automobiles. Not in health care. Not in weapons, computers, banking, telecommunications, agriculture, entertainment, retail, manufacturing, housing. Nowhere.

Oh, to be sure, you have to soften up the public with a decades-long PR campaign bashing teachers, vilifying their unions, trashing schools, and condemning public education in general, all the while promising the sun, moon, and stars for privatization, which is the ultimate charter goal. Voila! You’ve got your chance.

But to really make a killing, you need not just revenues, but profits. That’s why the low cost delivery and “build it once but resell it millions of times” model is so key. It was that very model that made Bill Gates the richest man in the world. It is what earned Microsoft 13 TIMES the rate of profit of the average Fortune 500 company in the 1990s and persuaded the Justice Department to declare it a “felony monopolist”. Gates recognizes the model very well, which is why his foundation is pouring tens of millions of dollars into charters. And you thought it was his altruism.

Of course, anybody who actually knows education, indeed, anybody who is simply intelligent, knows that intelligence does not come from rote repetition or parroting Power Point slides at the regimented direction of a room monitor, no matter how perky or well intended. It comes from an agonizingly complex, intricate, sustained set of challenges to the mind that are exquisitely choreographed over the better part of two decades, all intimately tailored to the specific needs of an individual, inquisitive, aspiring student.

That is what real teachers do. And it is precisely what a cookie-cutter, low-content, low-cost, high-turnover, high-profit money mill cannot do. Because it’s not intended to do that. It’s intended to produce profits. Real education, real intelligence, real character are agonizingly slow, dazzlingly complex, maddeningly difficult things to create. You can’t make a profit off of it, unless you destroy it in the process. That is why not one of the nations of the world that surpass the U.S. in education performance operate charter-based or privatized educational systems.

If America wants better education, it needs to fix the greatest force undermining education, which is poverty. The single most powerful predictor of student performance is the average income of the zip code in which they live. But one out of four American students now live in poverty, and the numbers are growing. One out of two will live in poverty sometime during their lives. Forty-seven million Americans are on food stamps. Is it any wonder American school performance is faltering?

But poverty is a hard and expensive problem to fix. We prefer easy, painless fixes, or even better, vapid clichés about the “magic of the market” and such. Why, look what we got from the deregulation of the banking system: the greatest economic collapse of the last 80 years and the greatest plunder of the public treasury in the history of the world.

This is the essential neo-liberal agenda which Obama enthusiastically supports: privatize and deregulate everything, especially public services, so that the money spent on them can be transferred to private hands. This is how Arne Duncan, Obama’s Secretary of Education, earned his bureaucratic bonafides: he converted more than 100 of Chicago’s public schools to charters while the city’s school superintendent. It’s unbelievable how credulous we are but obviously, propaganda works. That’s why the likes of the Gates Foundation keep pouring money into the cause.

The problem with charter schools is that they simply don’t work, at least not for delivering high quality education. Of course, given their formula, how could they? The most thorough research on charter schools, by Stanford University, shows that while charters do better than public schools in 17% of cases, they actually do worse in 37%, a more than 2-to-1 bad-to-good ratio!

If your doctor injured two patients for every one he cured, would you go to him? If your mechanic wrecked two cars for every one he fixed, would you go to him? Yet that is literally the proposition that charter school operators are peddling. And that 2-to-1 failure rate is after charters have skimmed off the better students and run what can only be called ethnically cleansed schools, counseling out poor performers, special needs cases, and “undesirable” minorities, leaving them for the public schools to deal with. For the data show they do that as well.

The irony of all this, indeed, the hypocrisy, is that America is at least nominally a capitalist county. You would think it would be ok to be honest about your intentions to make money by pillaging children’s futures while looting the public purse. God knows the weapons makers, the banks, the oil companies, the pharmaceutical companies, agribusiness and others aren’t bashful about it. But that doesn’t seem to be true here, in education.

Here, it’s all about “the children,” about “streamlining” education, boosting scores, uplifting minorities, making America competitive, and just about every other infantile fairy tale they can invoke to convince the country to hand over the loot. For that’s what it’s really about. The trillion dollars a year to be made by turning “the children” into intellectually impotent dullards but profit producing zombies? Well, that’s just a lavishly fortunate coincidence. Right?

Remember, you can’t save something by destroying it. Which isn’t to say that swashbuckling entrepreneurs aren’t willing to try. All they need is the liberating impetus of that essential American ethic: “I’m getting mine, screw you.” But the cost of this plunder will be incalculable, for it will ripple through the economy for decades. And the damage will be irreversible for, while public education is the most powerful democratizing institution in the world, it only works when the schools work. When they cease to work, it’s over.

So watch out. A destroyed educational system, a desiccated economy, and a debauched democracy are coming soon to a school district near you.

 

 

 

High Stakes Testing In Public Schools: Who’s Cheating Whom?

In Uncategorized on September 21, 2011 at 1:47 pm

Oldspeak:”Corporate school privatizers feign disgust with teachers that cheat standardized tests. But Big Business theft of  public education is by far the greater sin. High stakes testing was designed as a Trojan Horse for a corporate educational takeover, but packaged as a public good. This is the substance of education “reform” in the Age of Obama. The real cheats are those that pushed high stakes testing under the false pretexts of reform, when the actual goal was union busting and privatization” –Glen Ford. Rather than deal with the entrenched, institutionalized, centuries old social and structural problems which are driving many of the problems we see today with public education (poverty, inequality, racism, “banking system of eduction“), many “reformers” would rather privatize the system, automate it via ‘standardized testing’ and turn it into a perpetual revenue stream, with little regard for actual effective learning. Churning out widgets to plug into private corporations who in turn “sponsor” education “reform” and further increase their profits. A self perpetuating meat-grinder, with children being the meat.  A less educated, less competent, less critically thinking society of all-consuming “happiness machines” with no love of learning. Who see education as a means to an end (more education = more money = more consumption = more prescribed ‘happiness’) not as means of personal growth and development.  Sucesssive generations will be less and less equipped to critiscize and question the system which is failing them. Alas yet again, in then end, ‘We the People’ loseand the corporatocracy wins. “Freedom Is Slavery”

By Glen Ford @ Black Agenda Report:

The school privatizers now headquartered in the Obama administration are all pitching a morality fit over teachers that cheat by altering answers on standardized tests. Corporate privatizers, of course, have no real sense of morality beyond profit and loss: their own profit, and to hell with those that lose. But, when attacking institutions so historically revered as public education and the teaching profession, one must play dirty. You’ve got to get them on a morals charge.

The assault on public schools began with the blanket assertion that teachers – or, more precisely, teachers unions – are out for themselves; that they are sinfully selfish. Strange words, from the lips of corporate executives and free marketeers who preach that the highest virtues are revealed in the cutthroat corridors of commerce. Then again, pots and kettles are always calling everybody else black.

So, they slimed the teachers as the root of all that ails public education, teachers whose moral deficits could be corrected by rigorous competition regulated by standardized testing of students. If the students failed the tests, then the teachers would fail and be discharged, and the schools they worked in would also fail, and be replaced by privatized charters. High stakes testing was designed as a Trojan Horse for a corporate educational takeover, but packaged as a public good. Bad teachers and bad schools would come to a well-deserved bad end.

This morality play was always based on a lie. The standardized tests were bombs, designed to explode the public schools and the teaching profession. Everyone involved knew that inner city kids would fail the tests in huge numbers, setting the infernal machine in motion for the closing of schools and the wholesale firing of teachers. In their place would be recruited a new workforce that would either view teaching as a temporary job or cut every other teacher’s throat in order to stay – neither of which redounds to the benefit of students or anyone else but the bosses. This is the substance of education “reform” in the Age of Obama.

Faced with extinction of their jobs and their very profession, and with a teacher’s learned certainty that many of their students would be pushed into marginality by the testing juggernaut, teachers turned to cheating the test. They have been caught and shamed and may face prosecution in Atlanta and Philadelphia and elsewhere, but cheating the test surely occurs in virtually every inner city. I don’t think it’s cheating, in a moral sense, at all. The cheats are those that pushed high stakes testing under the false pretexts of reform, when the actual goal was union busting and privatization. Teachers are fighting for their lives, and all of us would cheat death, if we could.

The school privatizers are determined, not just to bust the teachers unions, but to remake teachers as corporate citizens. A schools superintendent in New Jersey said part of the difficulty for teachers under the new order is that they “are more concerned about relationships than about achieving more than one another.” When he gives teachers awards, he says, they won’t display them because “they don’t want to outshine one another.” His teachers would rather collaborate and cooperate to achieve a common goal. And that’s why they’ve got to change, or go.

© 2011 Black Agenda Report

Glen Ford

Back Agenda Report executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com.

 

The “Shock Doctrine” Comes To Your Neighborhood Classroom

In Uncategorized on September 7, 2011 at 2:22 pm

Oldspeak:“”Let’s hope the fiscal crisis doesn’t get better too soon. It’ll slow down reform.” – Tom Watkins, consultant, summarizes the corporate education reform movement’s current strategy. For sheer weapons-grade assholishness, Watkins’ publicly wishing for a crushing recession to continue ranks up there with such gems as “bring them on” and “let them eat cake. Disaster Capitalists rarely come out and acknowledge their strategy. That’s why Watkins’ outburst of candor, buried in this front-page New York Times article yesterday, is so important: It shows that the recession and its corresponding shock to school budgets is being  used by corporations to maximize revenues, all under the gauzy banner of “reform. In this case, he has told us what the “reform” movement to demonize teachers, undermine public education, and generate private profits from public schools is really all about: It is about using the shock of a fiscal crisis to enact a radical, unproven but highly profitable agenda that corporate forces fully know they cannot pass under non-emergency circumstances, when objective scrutiny would be much more intense. Indeed, corporate “reformers”are so reliant on the Shock Doctrine to glaze over uncomfortable questions about their agenda, that they are now praying that the shock of recession continues.” –David Sirota

By David Sirota @ Common Dreams:

The Shock Doctrine, as articulated by journalist Naomi Klein, describes the process by which corporate interests use catastrophes as instruments to maximize their profit. Sometimes the events they use are natural (earthquakes), sometimes they are human-created (the 9/11 attacks) and sometimes they are a bit of both (hurricanes made stronger by human-intensified global climate change). Regardless of the particular cataclysm, though, the Shock Doctrine suggests that in the aftermath of a calamity, there is always corporate method in the smoldering madness – a method based in Disaster Capitalism.

Though Klein’s book provides much evidence of the Shock Doctrine, the Disaster Capitalists rarely come out and acknowledge their strategy. That’s why Watkins’ outburst of candor, buried in this front-page New York Times article yesterday, is so important: It shows that the recession and its corresponding shock to school budgets is being  used by corporations to maximize revenues, all under the gauzy banner of “reform.”

Some background: The Times piece follows a recent Education Week report showing that as U.S. school systems are laying off teachers, letting schoolhouses crumble, and increasing class sizes, high-tech firms are hitting the public-subsidy jackpot thanks to corporate “reformers'” successful push for more “data-driven” standardized tests (more on that in a second) and more technology in the classrooms. Essentially, as the overall spending pie for public schools is shrinking, the piece of the pie for high-tech companies — who make big campaign contributions to education policymakers — is getting much bigger, while the piece of the pie for traditional education (teachers, school infrastructure, text books, etc.) is getting smaller.

The Times on Sunday added some key — and somehow, largely overlooked — context to this reportage: namely, that the spending shift isn’t producing better achievement results on the very standardized tests the high-tech industry celebrates and makes money off of. “In a nutshell,” reports the Times, “schools are spending billions on technology, even as they cut budgets and lay off teachers, with little proof that this approach is improving basic learning.”

The paper adds that the successful “pressure to push technology into the classroom without proof of its value has deep roots” going back more than a decade, which raises the fundamental question: Why? Why would this push be so successful in changing education policy if there is little hard evidence that it is the right move to improve student achievement?

The answer goes back — as it so often does — to corporate power and the Shock Doctrine.

Tech companies give the politicians who set education policy lots of campaign contributions, and in exchange, those politicians have returned the favor by citing tough economic times over the last decade as a rationale to wage an aggressive attack on traditional public education. That attack has included everything from demonizing teachers; to siphoning public money to privately administered schools; to funneling more of the money still left in public schools to private high-tech companies.

This trend is no accidental convergence of economic disaster and high-minded  policy. On the contrary, it is a deliberate strategy by corporate executives and their political puppets, a strategy that uses the disaster of recession-era budget cuts as a means of justifying radical policies, knowing that the disaster will have shellshocked observers asking far fewer questions about data and actual results. As the Times  sums it up, the recession’s “resource squeeze presents an opportunity” for corporate interests.

Or as Watkins explains, social pain is an opportunity: “Let’s hope the fiscal crisis doesn’t get better too soon. It’ll slow down reform.”

For sheer weapons-grade assholishness, Watkins’ publicly wishing for a crushing recession to continue ranks up there with such gems as “bring them on” and “let them eat cake.”

However, the real news here is that a Disaster Capitalist has spoken the unspoken and clearly articulated the Shock Doctrine in all its hideous glory. In this case, he has told us what the “reform” movement to demonize teachers, undermine public education, and generate private profits from public schools is really all about: It is about using the shock of a fiscal crisis to enact a radical, unproven but highly profitable agenda that corporate forces fully know they cannot pass under non-emergency circumstances, when objective scrutiny would be much more intense. Indeed, corporate “reformers”are so reliant on the Shock Doctrine to glaze over uncomfortable questions about their agenda, that they are now praying that the shock of recession continues.

The Times article does a good job of raising questions, forcing the corporate “reform” movement to resort to a revealing kind of hypocrisy. Check out the response from the Obama administration — which has been one of the leaders of the corporate “reform” movement — when confronted with data showing that its push for technology isn’t raising student achievement:

Karen Cator, director of the office of educational technology in the United States Department of Education, said standardized test scores were an inadequate measure of the value of technology in schools. Ms. Cator, a former executive at Apple Computer, said that better measurement tools were needed but, in the meantime, schools knew what students needed.

“In places where we’ve had a large implementing of technology and scores are flat, I see that as great,” she said. “Test scores are the same, but look at all the other things students are doing: learning to use the Internet to research, learning to organize their work, learning to use professional writing tools, learning to collaborate with others.” (emphasis added)

Cator, of course, is making the argument that supporters of traditional public education have been making against corporate “reformers” for years — namely, that standardized tests cannot be the primary tool to measure overall educational achievement, because they do not measure other equally important skills. And the fact that she is selectively making it in defense of her former technology industry tells us a lot about how public policy is really made in America.

Recall that this statement against standardized testing comes from the same Obama administration that has been pushing for more standardized testing — the same Obama administration that wants to use standardized testing as a key metric for withholding federal aid from “failing” schools and for firing teachers. That’s right, somehow, according to the Obama administration, standardized tests are the perfect tool to judge and punish struggling schools and the teachers who work with low-income kids, but they can’t be used to similarly judge technology products that are making Obama’s high-tech donors lots of cash.

In this oxymoron, we see who the corporate “reformers” in government really believe they work for, and whom they shape public policy on behalf of. It’s not the average parent or student or voter. It’s the Disaster Capitalists, who now have their sights set on your local schoolhouse.

Note: Steven Brill, the author of the new book “Class Warfare,” and Dana Goldstein, the Nation magazine’s education reporter, will be debating these and other education issues on my KKZN-AM760 radio show at 9 a.m. ET on Sept. 7. Stream it live or podcast it at sirota.am760.net.

© 2011 David Sirota

The McEducation of the Negro

In Uncategorized on January 6, 2011 at 1:31 pm

Oldspeak:“Administrators pushing out low-performing students. Teachers helping students cheat. Administrators hiring managers with no background in education or working with children. The banking system of education, infused with a profit (funding) driven, corporate business ethos centered around high stakes”teaching to the test”, with teachers as technicians and students as widgets to be serviced, produces results like these. Disadvantaged children are being groomed to be unthinking, creatively challenged happiness machines, learning to follow rules and directions in a hyper competitive ‘global marketplace’. Completely commodified. Neatly packaged to perform their designated functions without questioning the misguided system. Democracy has no chance in a society of  misinformed citizens, with no language to engage in critical thinking and discourse.”

From Natalie Hopkinson @ The Root:

Franchising is an outstanding model for selling Big Macs. But it can be toxic to classrooms.

Something wasn’t right at the high school that Darwin Bridgers’ son attends, so he sat in on the class to see for himself. All morning long, the instructor at the Washington, D.C., charter school pointed to a list of ground rules, a detailed list of rewards and punishments posted on a wall near the front of the class filled with black and Latino students.

Then the students filled out worksheets. That’s how it went: rewards and punishments, then worksheets. No instruction, just worksheets. At the end of the class, Bridgers, who works as an exterminator, pulled aside the teacher, a young white male and recent graduate.

“I wanted to know when he was going to do some, you know, teaching,” Bridgers explained to me recently. “You know, like, how we used to have in school? She would stand in front of the class … ”

I nodded my head. I attended K-12 at schools in Canada, Indiana and Florida in the ’80s and ’90s, but I knew exactly what he meant. There would be assignments to read from textbooks. A teacher would give a lecture and randomly call on students. Students would ask questions and write things down. Then there would be some sort of written exam to see what you’d learned.

Of course, today the “reformers” say that that way of teaching is old school. It was fine before the days of social media and the “information revolution” and the global economy. But now, as the argument goes in films like Waiting for Superman, no self-respecting parent would ever send his or her child to a “failing” public school like the one that generations of Bridgers’ family attended in their neighborhood in Northeast Washington.

For Bridgers’ son and a disproportionate number of black students around the country, charter schools have become the preferred choice. The idea is that charters can find a model that produces results — measured in test scores — then apply it to different campuses. They can raise and spend money independently. They can have management consultants, and they can compete — just like a business. As the charter school movement picks up steam nationwide, the District of Columbia may provide a glimpse of the future of “choice”: Roughly 40 percent of children enrolled in District of Columbia public schools attend charters.

Many D.C. parents are finding that, sure, there are plenty of choices — just not a lot of good, or even passable ones. When you mix corporate strategies with an ominous 2014 compliance deadline under the No Child Left Behind law, you often end up with scenes that look nothing like what most of us might recognize as a classroom.

“What once was an effort to improve the quality of education turned into an accounting strategy,” the acclaimed education historian Diane Ravitch writes in her book The Death and Life of the Great American School System. “The strategy produced fear and obedience among educators. It often generated higher test scores. But it had nothing to do with education. It produced mountains of data, not educated citizens. Its advocates then treated that data as evidence of its success.”

That strategy has grown even more intense as teachers and administrators are testing for their professional lives. Under NCLB, 100 percent of schools must reach certain test-score targets by 2014; schools that fall short could lose federal funding, or be closed.

Even if the law is repealed, which is something the Obama administration has signaled it will do, education has been changed in this country forever. Obama’s Race to the Topprogram continues to use the same sticks and carrots that require educators to teach to the test or else be fired or make less money.

The looming deadline is making people do crazy things: Like administrators pushing out low-performing students in North Carolina. Like teachers helping students cheat in Atlanta. Like officials producing math so fuzzy, it would make Wall Street CEOs blush. And, in the case of the Oprah-certified former D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee, like importing shoddy private managers to take over a school.

Under this framework, “failing” schools are by definition the ones serving the most vulnerable populations — recent immigrants learning English, families battling poverty, children with trifling or MIA parents. The reformers say that even these students would produce better test scores if only they weren’t sitting in front of “lazy” teachers collecting checks, a slight upgrade from Ronald Reagan’s welfare queens.

Under this movement, teachers don’t get better with practice. Instead they are installed and reinstalled like interchangeable parts. Teachers’ unions, originally organized to protect the mostly female work force from capricious regulations of their marriages and lifestyles by mostly male administrators, are depicted as the enemies of progress. (Police unions somehow escaped blame for rising murder rates.)

I’m less concerned about the teachers and administrators than I am the children stuck in those classrooms. What it means to learn has been transformed for a generation of urban children. Education is acquiring a basic body of knowledge needed to competently vote and play Jeopardy, appreciate music and art, go to college and get a job, communicate and so on.

But in the name of reform, it’s as if somehow the goalpost has been moved without our realizing it. Now education — for those “failing” urban kids, anyway — is about learning the rules and following directions. Not critical thinking. Not creativity. It’s about how to correctly eliminate three out of four bubbles. The whole messy, thrilling, challenging work of shaping young minds has been reduced to a one or a zero. Pass or fail.

A decade of this language has taken its own toll. Kids attend “failing” schools. A majority of black boys are “failures.” Whole communities are branded with a collective “F.” Conservative California politicians liken Compton parents who demand the heads of school staff to modern-day versions of Rosa Parks.

So in cities such as New York, they bring in the number crunchers instead of real education experts — even if these privatization experiments can go horribly, tragically wrong. And even if choosing a charter school often means choosing to racially segregate.

Public schools that enjoy certain socioeconomic privileges (and a minimal number of needy kids) are thriving and will continue to be left alone. But for the “failing” communities and students, there will be no public system. Instead they are required to navigate the education marketplace, choosing between neighborhood schools that have been creamed of their best students and the new experimental start-ups that on average perform worse than traditional public schools. “This strategy plays a shell game with low-performing students, moving them out and dispersing them, pretending they don’t exist,” Ravitch wrote.

We have collectively decided that we are incapable as a society of honoring the social contract to own buildings and pay teachers in disadvantaged communities. How can a whole demographic of children need to be “fixed”? How can all of them be wrong?

As for his black son, Bridgers believed that there was something wrong with the medicine. “The teacher was too young,” he says. “He couldn’t handle the pressure.” A week after Bridgers visited the school, his son told him that the young teacher had left and never come back. So Bridgers sent his son to live with his mother in Pennsylvania. “I coach football Little League,” he told me. “This is what we talk about on the sidelines. It’s terrible what they are doing to these schools.”




Obama Defends Sweeping Education Reforms In Face Of Criticism From Minority And Teachers’ Groups

In Uncategorized on August 2, 2010 at 10:24 am

Oldspeak:“So, what we’re going to see is—under his plan, is a massive privatization, particularly inner city. These are communities of color that have been targeted for the charter school invasions, where public schools will be converted to charters, where public schools will be closed in large numbers and replaced by privately managed schools. Some of them will be opened by greedy entrepreneurs. Some of them will be opened by incompetent people. And this is not educational improvement. It’s really—it’s really tragic, because the Secretary and the President are using Chicago as their template, and yet no one looks at Chicago and asks is Chicago a successful city. And the answer is no. If you talk to anybody who lives in Chicago who doesn’t work for Mayor Daley, Chicago is not an example of school reform. It’s an example where communities of color experience all these things —school closings, indifference to parent views about anything, and opening lots of new schools, opening lots of charter schools, massive infusion of money from the Gates Foundation, and yet Chicago remains today one of our lowest-performing urban districts. And that, unfortunately, is the model for the nation.”

From Amy Goodman @ Democracy Now:

President Obama took on critics of his administration’s sweeping education reform plan on Thursday in a nearly hour-long speech at the National Urban League’s 100th anniversary convention. His address came on the heels of news that New York public school students are not performing nearly as well as prior state tests had revealed. We speak with Diane Ravitch, the former Assistant Secretary of Education under George H.W. Bush, and Leonie Haimson, executive director of Class Size Matters.

Guests:

Diane Ravitch, Assistant Secretary of Education and counselor to Education Secretary Lamar Alexander under President George H.W. Bush and appointed to the National Assessment Governing Board under President Clinton. She is the author of over twenty books, is research professor of education at New York University and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. Her latest book is The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education.

Leonie Haimson, public school parent and executive director of Class Size Matters

JUAN GONZALEZ: President Obama took on critics of his administration’s sweeping education reform plan on Thursday in a nearly hour-long speech at the National Urban League’s 100th anniversary convention.

Through the $4.35 billion Race to the Top initiative, Obama’s Education Secretary Arne Duncan has prodded states to lift caps on charter schools and link student achievement to teacher pay. The administration has also succeeded in getting at least twenty-nine states and the District of Columbia to sign on to common academic standards that would for the first time set shared performance goals for math and reading.

In his address, Obama said his plan for education is working, but he acknowledged it has come under criticism.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: But I think the single most important thing we’ve done is to launch an initiative called Race to the Top. We said—we said to states, if you are committed to outstanding teaching, to successful schools, to higher standards, to better assessments, if you’re committed to excellence for all children, you will be eligible for a grant to help you attain that goal. And so far the results have been promising, and they have been powerful.

    I know there’s also been some controversy about Race to the Top. Part of it, I believe, reflects a general resistance to change. We get comfortable with the status quo, even when the status quo isn’t good. We make excuses for why things have to be the way they are. And when you try to shake things up, some people aren’t happy.

JUAN GONZALEZ: President Obama’s education program and the Race to the Top initiative have come under fire from civil rights organizations, community groups and teachers’ unions. Obama took on some of the specific criticisms in his address.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Even as we applaud teachers for their hard work, we’ve got to make sure that we’re seeing results in the classroom. If we’re not seeing results in the classroom, then let’s work with teachers to help them become more effective. If that doesn’t work, let’s find the right teacher for that classroom. So, for anyone who wants to use Race to the Top to blame or punish teachers, you’re missing the point. Our goal isn’t to fire and admonish teachers; our goal is accountability. It’s to provide teachers with the support they need to be as effective as they can be and to create a better environment for teachers and students alike.

    Now, so far about thirty states have come together to embrace and develop common standards, high standards. More states are expected to do so in the coming weeks. And, by the way, this is different from No Child Left Behind, because what that did was it gave the states the wrong incentives. A bunch of states watered down their standards so that school districts wouldn’t be penalized when their students fell short. And what’s happened now is at least two states, Illinois and Oklahoma, that lowered standards in response to No Child Behind—No Child Left Behind, are now raising those standards back up, partly in response to Race to the Top. And part of making sure our young people meet these high standards is designing tests that accurately measure whether they are learning.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Obama’s speech came on the heels of news that New York public school students are not performing nearly as well as prior state tests had revealed, for more than half of public school students in New York City failed their English exams this last year. Last year’s tests had claimed more than two-thirds were passing.

AMY GOODMAN: For more, we’re joined here in New York by Leonie Haimson, a public school parent and executive director of Class Size Matters. And joining us on the phone from Long Island is Diane Ravitch, a professor of education at NYU, New York University, and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. She’s the former Assistant Secretary of Education under President George H.W. Bush. Her latest book is The Death and Life of the Great American School System.

Let’s begin with you, Diane Ravitch. Your response to President Obama’s major address yesterday on education?

DIANE RAVITCH: Well, I think that what happened in New York City is—shows that the direction he’s taking is wrong, because everything he is proposing in Race to the Top and also in his blueprint will rely on exactly the kinds of methods that led to a massive fraud in New York state—that is, that Race to the Top is requiring states to judge teachers by the student test scores, and we now know, based on this immense fraud in the city and in the state of New York, that the test scores are not reliable. So teachers will be judged by unreliable data, and we’re going to dismantle the teaching profession in pursuit of this mechanical fix that won’t work.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, Diane Ravitch, one of the reasons President Obama gave that particular speech was that he’s coming under increasing fire even from civil rights organizations who are questioning not only the emphasis on testing, but the push for more and more charter schools regardless of the quality of those schools. And your sense of how the ground is shifting around the country, among parent groups, among civil rights groups, around the whole issue of school reform?

DIANE RAVITCH: Well, you know, I think this week, in the last week of July of 2010, turns out to be a pretty momentous week. First of all, six civil rights groups came together and issued a joint statement that blasted Race to the Top and also the blueprint, the Obama blueprint, because he is building—although he doesn’t admit it, he’s building his education agenda right on top of the Bush education agenda, which is to test and punish, to close schools, to evaluate teachers in ways that are unfair and unsound from a research point of view, to increase the number of privately managed charter schools. All this is going to be immensely destabilizing, and it’s going to hit hardest on minority communities, because most of the schools that will be identified as the lowest-performing schools will be in poor Hispanic and black communities. And there will be massive—excuse me, massive destabilization. This is not good. And the civil rights groups recognize this.

There was a second report out that came out this week from a group of community—from an organization of community groups from across the country, echoing the same complaints: we don’t want more community schools, we don’t want more charter schools, we want better public schools—help our public schools get better, not by more testing, not by more charters, but by sensible approaches like more pre-kindergarten, smaller class size, more support for the people who are teaching in those schools—commonsense approaches, which this administration seems to be avoiding and looking for the quick fix that George Bush pursued and that Mayor Bloomberg pursued, and it didn’t work. So I think there are immense implications here.

And we also saw in the Congress where Congressman Obey tried to strip money away from Race to the Top, away from merit pay and away from charter schools. And the administration’s response was, “Don’t take money from Race to the Top. Take it away from food stamps.” And Joel Klein said to take it away from Title I. These are all programs that benefit the neediest families in our society, and there were prepared to harm people who are in need of help in order to preserve the President’s favorite program.

So I think that the implications of this week, with the test score explosion, the blowup of the fraud in New York City, and these two grassroots groups saying, “This is not working, and take a more commonsense approach, and stop this destructive test and measurement and punishment approach,” this is big, because up ’til now everybody seems to have gone along with the rhetoric of President Obama. But you have to separate his rhetoric, which is always very elegant, from what his administration is actually doing, which is just more Bush, more No Child Left Behind.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Leonie Haimson, I’d like to ask you—in my column in the Daily News today, I zeroed in particularly on one of the big arguments that’s been raised about these testing programs and these school reforms, that they were going to close the racial—the achievement gap between black and Latino kids, on the one hand, and white children, on the other. And here in New York City, Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein have been claiming for years that they’ve been closing the gap. Now, all of a sudden, these new test scores are revealing that the gap has actually increased since 2003, when Mayor Bloomberg began his school reforms here in New York. Your sense of how the impact of these particular scores here in New York State and New York City and what it means for the rest of the country?

LEONIE HAIMSON: Well, I hope it provides another example about why test-based accountability as the primary method for school improvement just does not work. When you put all this pressure on testing, without giving students the tools and the teachers the tools to learn more, all you do is put pressure on schools and elected officials to game the system. And so, for over, you know, the last five years or so, we’ve all known that the state tests have gotten far easier and that the scoring has gotten far easier and that you could actually just randomly answer questions and pass. And, you know, we’ve been making that clear, and yet there hasn’t been any political will to do about it since—until now, because the state officials and the city officials and the principals and the parents all want to believe that our schools are getting better, even in the face of tremendous evidence that they aren’t.

So the same sort of policies, as Diane says, that have been predominant in New York City for the past eight years are the same sort of policies that Obama wants to now impose nationwide. They simply do not work, and they lead to very devastating impacts, especially on our highest-need students, who tend to be in the schools that are going to be closed, transformed or turned into charter schools. One of the schools that’s—there are over a thousand schools on the list nationwide that they want to either close or fire half the teaching staff or turn over to a charter school—is the Hawaiian School for the Blind and the Deaf. Where are those kids going to go? If you fire half their teaching staff, where are they going to hire, be able to recruit, trained people in terms of being able to reach deaf and blind children? It simply doesn’t make any sense. We need a whole new set of policies that’s actually going to improve the quality of instruction in the classroom, like, for example, smaller classes.

AMY GOODMAN: Diane Ravitch, you were Assistant Secretary of Education under President George H.W. Bush. You were a supporter of charter schools; now you are not supporting them. How does this picture feed into President Obama’s plan?

DIANE RAVITCH: Well, President Obama has proceeded with the belief that charter schools are some kind of a miracle cure. And, in fact, Secretary Duncan says, “Well, we recognize that there are some bad charter schools, but we’re only going to encourage good charter schools.” Well, that’s sheer nonsense, because what we will see in the next few years under Race to the Top is hundreds, if not thousands, of new charter schools, and the research is very clear that the overwhelming majority of charter schools are not excellent charter schools. And the interesting thing that happened with the score collapse in New York City was that the charters saw a bigger decline in their test scores than the regular public schools. And now, in reading, charters don’t outperform public schools at all; they’re at exactly the same point. And they barely outperformed them in math.

So, what we’re going to see is—under his plan, is a massive privatization, particularly inner city. These are communities of color that have been targeted for the charter school invasions, where public schools will be converted to charters, where public schools will be closed in large numbers and replaced by privately managed schools. Some of them will be opened by greedy entrepreneurs. Some of them will be opened by incompetent people. And this is not educational improvement. It’s really—it’s really tragic, because the Secretary and the President are using Chicago as their template, and yet no one looks at Chicago and asks is Chicago a successful city. And the answer is no. If you talk to anybody who lives in Chicago who doesn’t work for Mayor Daley, Chicago is not an example of school reform. It’s an example where communities of color experience all the things that I’ve just been describing—school closings, indifference to parent views about anything, and opening lots of new schools, opening lots of charter schools, massive infusion of money from the Gates Foundation, and yet Chicago remains today one of our lowest-performing urban districts. And that, unfortunately, is the model for the nation.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And Leonie, what’s going to happen now here in New York State? All these parents that had been told that their children were doing well, were meeting state expectations, are now suddenly—will suddenly discover in the next few weeks that their kids are in need of help, that their scores were not what they were before. What is going to happen in terms of the kind of remediation that New York City and New York State are going to have to now do for students that they weren’t recognizing before?

LEONIE HAIMSON: Well, I think parents are rightfully going to be devastated when they find out that the whole thing was a fraud and that their children are not doing well and not succeeding and not learning. Unfortunately, I don’t see any evidence, either on the state level or the city level, that they’re prepared to give any more help to these kids to really make sure that they succeed. Our budgets are being cut back radically. Class sizes are going to go up hugely in the fall. A lot of the support systems, the after-school programs, the tutoring, the interventions programs, are being cut. So it’s going to get worse, not better. And the only policy that this administration has in order to supposedly help these kids is holding them back. And the overwhelming research shows that holding back kids does not help, it hurts, and it leads to higher dropout rates in the end. So, we have no culture of helping to support schools in this city, and it looks like, across the nation, we again have no culture and no expectation that the Obama administration really wants to help our schools improve. They just want to shut them down, fire the teachers, privatize them, and impose other sort of test-based accountability reforms that simply don’t work.

AMY GOODMAN: And Leonie Haimson, can you talk, back in Chicago, about the new leadership of the Chicago Teachers Union, CORE, the Caucus of Rank-and-File Educators, and the significance of their victory?

LEONIE HAIMSON: Right, well, in Chicago, as Diane mentioned, they’ve been experiencing these sorts of policies longer than anywhere else in the country. Under Mayor Daley, who has total mayoral control and is sort of mayor for life, it’s been over twelve—

AMY GOODMAN: And Arne Duncan.

LEONIE HAIMSON: And Arne Duncan, who was—yes, who was the head of the Chicago schools under—for a long period of time. Those teachers have seen the failure of these policies, have seen their schools destabilized, have seen no progress, have seen teachers scapegoated as the source of all problems in the schools, which is, you know, of course, ridiculous. And so, a new faction in the teachers’ union has taken control and won the election, which has a much more aggressive posture towards these reforms and at every single moment is protesting, is pushing, and not taking any of this for granted, and saying, “No, this does not work. There’s a better way. And you have to listen to not just teachers, but parents,” who are also extremely disaffected in Chicago and who have shown up in huge protests to the closing of their neighborhood schools, because they don’t see that they’re being offered a better option.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to leave it there for today, but of course continue to cover this issue. Leonie Haimson is with us, public school parent and executive director of Class Size Matters. And thank you to Diane Ravitch, professor of education at NYU, senior fellow at Brookings Institution, former Assistant Secretary of Education under President George H.W. Bush. Her book is called The Death and Life of the Great American School System.