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Archive for the ‘Privatization’ Category

The last public school

[This editorial originally appeared in the June 5 issue of the New York Teacher.]

This June, New Orleans’ Recovery School District closed its last five traditional public schools, making it the first all-charter school district in the country.

Some observers call the all-charter district a grand urban experiment. We see the unfettered, underregulated expansion of charters as a threat to children’s education and to democracy.

After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the state took over 102 of New Orleans’ 117 schools. More than 7,000 teachers and other school employees were booted out. Charter operators were invited in.

Charter boosters in New Orleans point to higher state test scores and graduation rates than before Katrina. But such comparisons are questionable because many families and students who lived in the city prior to the storm have left.

Other trends are clearer. A 2010 study by the University of Minnesota Law School found that while New Orleans remains a majority African-American city, 80 percent of its white students attend the most selective, higher-performing charter schools while children of color and lower economic status attend lower-ranked schools.

Similarly, advocates for students with disabilities say children with special needs are routinely denied equal access to educational opportunities and are often pushed out of New Orleans’ charter schools.

A similar lack of fairness can be found in the treatment of educators. While most of the fired teachers were African-American, many of the new recruits are white. The fired educators sued for unfair termination and won.

Unequal treatment can thrive more easily in a district of privately run, though publicly funded, charter schools. The privatization and decentralization of New Orleans schools have led to both a loss of community control and a diminished sense of community as neighborhood schools disappear.

At a time when public education is under attack, New Orleans should remind us that public schools offer both an equality of access and a sense of community essential to our diverse democracy.

“Public education isn’t important because it serves the public,” the late cultural critic Neil Postman said. “It is important because it creates the public.”

Closing the Harlem-Scarsdale Score Gap

Caroline Hoxby’s updated report on New York City’s charter schools uses a provocative construct: she finds that Harlem’s charter students are making standardized test score gains that put them on track to substantially close their achievement gap with Scarsdale.

Hoxby, a Hoover Institution fellow and Stanford professor who has published extensively on charter schools (favorably) and teacher unions (unfavorably), looked at students who won admittance by lottery to certain New York City charters and compared their performance to students who applied but were not admitted.

More »

Re-Framing the Public School Debate

[Editor’s note: This post originally appeared at Crow Man Blues.]

“Frames are the mental structures that allow human beings to understand reality — sometimes to create what we take to be reality.”
— George Lakoff

Do you believe that the American business model applied to schools will produce better teachers and more qualified students? Then your thought process about public schools is probably mired in the myths fostered by the 1980s report, A Nation at Risk, which claimed that the failure of our public schools would eventually lead to our economic decline and inability to compete in the world market. Those findings were driven by a right wing ideology from the likes of CEO’s and business leaders who posed the idea that we can only keep our competitive position in the world by improving our schools. More »

The Spectacle Of Overstimulated Edu-Cons

In his final column on the editorial pages of the New York Times, neo-conservative Bill Kristol unhappily conceded that with the election of Barack Obama, America has now seen “the end of the conservative era.” But his fellow “true believers” in the laissez-faire market who inhabit the world of education — the edu-cons — seem intent upon living in the past.

WCTU: Ideological Fore-Mothers Of Rick Hess?

Woman's Christian Temperance Union: Ideological Fore-Mothers of Rick Hess?

The edu-market fundamentalists have been making themselves into quite a spectacle in recent days,  as they respond to the stimulus package that has begun to take shape in Washington DC. Unchastened by the fact that it was the policies that they pushed for the last quarter century — deregulation and privatization, unfettered and uncontrolled markets —  which got us into this  hole, they now proclaim that we need more of “the hair of the dog that bit us” as a remedy to one nasty economic hangover. Who cares that the stimulus package is all that stands between America and a depression? “Bring  it on,” they chant in unison, in an echo of George Bush’s fated approach to Iraq. More »

Everything For Sale?

When you have spent that last decade telling everyone who would listen that public schools should be for sale, on what grounds do you complain about someone who would sell a Senate seat to the highest bidder?

McDonaldization of Education

When teachers talk of the “McDonaldization of education,” the term is commonly employed in a metaphorical way, to describe a process that, if it were taken to its logical conclusion, would transform schools into the instructional equivalent of fast food outlets. Of particular concern is the de-skilling of educators into deliverers of canned programs, the unhealthy standardization of curriculum and pedagogy and the commercialization of public schools.

Now it appears that the term has a literal, as well as a metaphorical, application. The New York Times reports that the Seminole County public school system is sending home report cards in packages covered with Mc Donalds’ advertisements, pictures of Ronald McDonald and photographs of ‘happy meals.’ The district even provides a ‘happy meal’ to fifth graders with good grades. More »

The Defense of Public Education, Democratic Change And Charter Schools

The defense of public education is not the defense of the status quo in public schools.

This is an important and essential truth that teacher unionists and other advocates of public education need to grasp. With very real enemies targeting education of, by and for the public, the temptation is to treat every criticism of public schools as a mortal threat, and to rush to the defense of ‘actually existing school systems’ and ‘actually existing schools,’ regardless of the merits of the criticisms. When we do that, too often we become apologists — unwitting apologists perhaps, but apologists nonetheless — for much of what actually harms public education, from dysfunctional bureaucracies and out of control testing to inept district leaderships and tyrannical school leaders.

The real defense of public education is the defense of the democratic educational values and vision which are central to the idea of public education. More »

Peoples’ Democratic Republicans For Education Reform [Updated]

We’re now well into the fourth month of the Democrats for Education Reform, established and financed by four Wall Street hedge fund operators.

Joe Williams, who first entered into the blogging world on behalf of the anti-union New York Charter School Association [NYCSA], has been blogging for DFER. What’s interesting is that despite a steady stream of criticism against Democrats of every conceivable political stripe, including all of the leading Democratic presidential candidates, Williams has yet to find a single Republican worthy of criticism. The sole mentions of Republicans on the blog — Tom Carroll of NYCSA and recently turned independent Michael Bloomberg — have been positive. Perhaps this is what the Sun was getting at in their headline to the story announcing the arrival of DFER, “How New Generation of Reformers Targets Democrats on Education.” More »

The Right To Vote? Perhaps Not, Says Fordham’s Gadfly.

The Gadfly, published by Checker Finn’s Fordham Foundation, announced in its latest issue that the people of Washington DC, predominantly African-American, probably don’t deserve the right to elect representatives to Congress held by the rest of the American people. It seems that DC’s non-voting representative, distinguished civil rights movement figure Eleanor Holmes Norton, had the nerve to disagree with Fordham and oppose the voucher system imposed on DC schools by a Republican Congress that ignored the wishes of the people of the district.

At Extra Credit, James Forman Jr. takes apart the Fordham position. For anyone concerned with the intersection of race and education, this is a must read.

The Tragic Consequences Of Abandoning The Common Good

This week’s collapse of the Minneapolis bridge was an immense human tragedy. In grieving the loss of human life, it is essential that we not lose sight of that which compounds the tragedy of this moment: the collapse of the bridge was entirely avoidable, and the loss of human life was completely unnecessary. There simply is no good reason why a major bridge, used by thousands of people daily, should collapse in 21st century America. If we are to prevent its recurrence, we need to understand why it happened.

There is no question that part of the cause of this tragedy lies in flawed inspections. But it would be a serious mistake to conclude that the explanation ends there. Inspections of the bridge done years ago rated it “structurally deficienct,” at 50% of what it should be. Even if its imminent collapse was not properly forecast, there was ample warning that it was seriously in need of remedial repair. Why was that warning not heeded? More »

Voucher Debates

Two interesting exchanges over vouchers took place in the blogosphere.

At TPMCafe, Stanford University Professor Martin Carnoy, who was written often on education, sparked quite a thread with a commentary deconstructing the case for vouchers. Says Carnoy: More »

The Other Student: NYC’s Hidden Graduation Rate Crisis Among English Language Learners

The recent publication of graduation rates for the class of 2006 in New York City public schools — first the city’s calculations and then the state’s measurements — were greeted as good news by Chancellor Klein, Mayor Bloomberg and State Education Commissioner Rick Mills, given the overall increase in the four year graduation rate. But lost in those improvements was a decline in the graduation rates of a key cohort at higher risk for academic failure, English Language Learners [ELLs].

According to the city’s calculations, only 26.2% of ELLs in the class of 2006 graduated on time, compared to 61.1% for English Proficient Students. Worse, this represented a decrease of 9% from the 2005 four-year ELL graduation rate of 35.3%. The state set the four year graduation rate at 22%, reflecting its more parsimonious method of counting graduates. The five and six year graduation rates increase significantly [for the classes of 2003 and 2004] — as one would expect, given the additional time needed to master English and meet standards for recent immigrant ELLs — but they remain below 1 in 2.

Such a decline, at a time when overall graduation rates are increasing, tells a story of the institutional neglect of those NYC public school students who most need extra academic and social supports to suceed. It comes after exposés of the failure of the new small high schools to educate ELLs. The commentary of the New York Immigration Coalition summarizes it all:

These rates underscore the urgency to ensure that ELLs receive the instruction and support they need and that funding intended to help these students succeed actually translates into more ESL and Bilingual teachers and better quality ELL programs.

Philadelphia Follies Continue, As Vallas Prepares To Take His Show On The Road

What’s absolutely stunning about the continuing fascination with “multiple provider” models of outsourcing public schools to private management is the obliviousness of its leading adherents to the disastrous results in the two major urban school districts — New Orleans and Philadelphia — where the model has been tried. In the past, Edwize has pointed out major studies highlighting the failures of both experiments, here and here.

This week’s news brings to light yet another exposé of the failures in Philadelphia — this time an internal district study that Philadelphia school district head Paul Vallas had done his best to deep six, as it had concluded that the district should pull the plug on the contracts with every one of the six private EMOs. The intrepid Philadelphia Public School Notebook published the report on its website, and the Philadelphia Inquirer reported on its details. The AFT’s NCLBlog reports on it here.

Vallas is now triumphantly heading off to New Orleans, as if he was a conquering hero. He seems to have become the Sanjaya Malakar of American education — you watch his performance, and you’re damned if you can figure out what people see in him. Where is Simon Cowell now that we need him?

White Whales for Pink Elephants?

Over at the AFT’s NCBLog, John cites some interesting US Department of Education contracts, including these gems – each obviously indispensable to American education:

  • More than $50,000 to Moby Dick Airways;
  • $16,000 to a 24 hour fitness center called “Oz Fitness”;
  • $11,200 to the manufacturer of automatic pistols, Glock.

This is the first we heard of Moby Dick Airways. Do you think they answer their phones, “Call me Ishmael?” A Google search reveals that it is an airline of choice for the Republican National Committee and various Republican presidential candidates. Maybe the name is inspired by the Bush administration’s conduct of the war in Iraq.

Oz Fitness is also unknown to us, but we wouldn’t want the DOE apparatchiks to be setting a bad example in the age of the obesity epidemic.

The contract which really caught our eye was the Glock pistols for the DOE’s Inspector General. They must be really afraid of the Houston cabal’s reactions to their exposes of Reading First. Now we know that there was a lot of ‘gang talk’ on the e-mails in the IG reports, but if educational policy is any guide, Rod Paige, Mike Petrilli, Chris Doherty and company are education’s gang that couldn’t shoot straight.

The Future of Tweed’s ‘Edison Partnership,’ As It Is Playing Out In Philadelphia

Inside sources report that while the Department of Education solicited a number of last minute applications to bolster their numbers, there were five significant bids to become one of the ‘partnerships’ to which Tweed would like to outsource its educational functions. Those five bidders were: New York University, Teachers College, the Center for Educational Innovation, New Visions and Edison.

If you want to look into the future and see what New York City will get with Edison as a “partner,” consider this story, Schools Pay $1.6 Million for ‘Ghost’ Pupils, in today’s Philadelphia Daily News. The Philadelphia school district is running a rather large deficit, and yet it is paying Edison more than $1.6 million to educate students who, in the words of the Daily News, “do not exist.”

The Daily News explains that the Orwellian named

School Reform Commission… decided to maintain the per-pupil funding level for 12,591 students in Edison-run schools, even though the combined enrollment at the company’s schools had been dropping since the contract began in 2002.

The effect this year is that Edison, which receives $750 per student, is being paid for 12,591 students while actually only educating 10,395.

What is amazing is that Edison keeps tottering on the brink of financial disaster, given that it is paid so handsomely for not educating Philadelphia public school students.

A hat tip to the Philadelphia Public School Notebook, a great on-line journal of news on Philadelphia public schools, which originally broke this story.