Thursday, April 17


JUST LIKE BUSH with Blackwater, if you can't fight the fight yourself, you go out an hire some mercenaries. The beauty of this approach: fewer questions to answer from parents, nosy council members and the media not to mention getting rid of the conveniently purported root cause of all educational failure: the teachers union.

There are a few problems, however. For example, public education in DC is becoming less public by the day. The vital connection between community - its values, concerns and needs - and education are smashed. And, most of all, no one really knows what the hell is going on until it's far too late.

A good clue to the fundamental dishonesty of the Fenty-Rhee approach is in the language being used. Those using misleading euphemisms are not to be trusted. Dion Haines of the Post got it down well:

As a public service, D.C. Wire is offering a handy-dandy translation to the growing list of catchy sounding phrases and concepts:

- The six nonprofits are "partners." That sounds much better than "contractors," which in the District has a nasty connotation associated with corruption, overbilling and favoritism.

- The nonprofits would be hired to help the 10 "partner schools," which is kinder than referring to them as "10 high schools that failed to meet academic targets under the No Child Left Behind law for five consecutive years because of low-performing students."

- Partnership Schools join the newly launched "Teacher Transition Program." Under that initiative, Rhee is offering "awards" - translation buyouts - ranging from $1,000 to $20,000 for up to 700 teachers at the 10 high schools and 17 other failing elementary and middle schools. To receive the "awards," the teachers will have to "transition" out of their jobs - in other words, quit.

- Before that, we learned of the central office "separations." That's when Rhee fired nearly 100 workers in the administration building at 825 North Capitol St. NE.

- And before that, Rhee unveiled the "Reorganization and Rightsizing" program, with the alliterative slogan: "Renew, Revitalize and Reorganize!" For parents at 23 low-enrolled schools throughout the city, that meant, "We want to displace your children by closing their buildings and sending them elsewhere to learn." Hey, it's all about marketing.

Another clue: a near total absence of news of anything substantively good happening in the DC school system. Reorganization doesn't count; that's not education. And it's usually not good government. Good education is about good places where good teachers can do good things. It doesn't happen where good places are being closed and good teachers have to lie awake wondering if they're going to be be the next victim of a miserly "transition award."

What arguments are there for turning over public schools to mercenaries? Well, one might be that the contractors do a better job of it. So let's take a look at Friendship, which is already running some schools in DC. The record according to a study by a school activist: 3 of the 5 campuses failed to meet annual yearly perforamance requirements in both reading and math. One of their campuses met AYP in reading and not math. Only one campus met AYP for both math and reading.

GINA ARLOTTO, CONCERNED 4 DCPS - And if after a few years, those contractors don't work, Rhee will just say oh well and write another contract for somebody else. . . It really saddens me that the leader of our school system has a vision that is to find somebody else's vision for our children and our schools. I also take exception to the term "non-profit" for many of these companies, as we know that Friendship pays Donald Hense $265,000 to run five schools with 4000 kids total. Friendship then pays out over $5 million to Edison for their supposed "great ideas" for education. And are we really going to change our curriculum again? My kids have whiplash from the curriculum changes every other year. Good grief! Pick one curriculum and stay with it-as in so many things in parenting, consistency is key.

WASH POST D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D) said that he and Rhee played phone tag yesterday and that he did not know why she was calling. "I couldn't tell you who the nonprofits were if you gave me a million dollars," Gray said. "I know we're in the restructuring mode, but I don't have any details. I really don't know too much about it." The 10 high schools, which enroll 8,148 students, are: Anacostia, Ballou, Cardozo, Coolidge, Dunbar, Eastern, Roosevelt, Spingarn, Wilson and Woodson. The seven other high schools in the District are not on that list.

BRIAN GILL, RAND - Since 2002, Philadelphia has been the site of the nation’s largest experiment in the state takeover and private management of public schools. As such, the city serves as a test case for some of the most aggressive interventions sanctioned by the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 and offers lessons for schools and districts nationwide.

Soon after Pennsylvania took over the Philadelphia school district, the district adopted a “diverse provider” model, handing over management of 45 of its lowest-achieving schools to for-profit organizations, nonprofit organizations, and local universities. The aim was to capitalize on the know-how of the private sector to improve the performance of public schools. The district also gave the private managers extra funding per student. The aim was to capitalize on the know-how of the private sector.

Four years later, student achievement across Philadelphia has risen substantially. On average, the schools under private management have matched but not exceeded the district-wide trends. In contrast, a set of district-managed schools that were given both additional funding and a “restructuring” intervention showed consistently and significantly larger achievement gains in math.

The Philadelphia model diverged from theoretical models of competition in important ways. There was little competition among providers, no parental choice of schools, and continued district involvement in the privately managed schools. . .

From the 2001–2002 school year to the 2005–2006 school year, an additional 11 percent and 23 percent of fifth graders reached proficiency in reading and math, respectively. Likewise, an additional 20 percent and 19 percent of eighth-graders reached proficiency in reading and math, respectively. Philadelphia’s achievement gains were in most cases approximately equivalent to the gains of similarly low-achieving schools elsewhere in the state.

We then compared the trends in the privately managed and restructured schools with the trends of other Philadelphia students. Our major findings are as follows:

- Privately managed schools: There were no statistically significant effects, positive or negative, in reading or math in any of the four years after takeover.

- Restructured schools: There were significantly positive effects in math in all three years of implementation and in reading in the first year. In the fourth year, after the additional resources for these schools had ceased, they maintained a substantially positive effect in math (although the effect was just marginally statistically significant).

In short, after four years of intervention, the achievement gains in Philadelphia’s privately managed schools were, on average, no different from Philadelphia’s district-wide gains. However, the restructured schools remaining under district management outgained the rest of the district in math in all three years of restructuring, with evidence of the gain persisting a year afterward. . .

While the private managers’ contracts are now coming up for renewal, we do not find evidence that would support providing the private managers with additional funding beyond that available to district-managed schools. Nonetheless, average results obscure considerable variation across schools and managers, and we hope that the school district carefully considers the success of each school and each provider as it considers contract renewals. . .

ROSENHALL, SACRAMENTO BEE, NOV 12 [2007] - The Sacramento City Unified school board is reviewing one of its most politically charged decisions: whether it made the right call in 2003 in giving the city's namesake high school to a nonprofit group run by a retired basketball star.

Kevin Johnson's St. HOPE Corp. has asked permission to run Sacramento High as a charter school for another five years. The board will decide by the end of December whether to renew the charter, which allows St. HOPE to run the school free from many of the regulations governing traditional public schools.

The charter school's success has become a matter of great debate. Some of the teachers who bought into Johnson's vision of giving disadvantaged kids a private school-style education for free left after a couple of years. They say St. HOPE hasn't lived up to its promise.

Some students who tried the school have pulled out, and Sacramento Charter High School has not attracted the nearly 2,000 students it was intended to serve.

But the roughly 1,100 students there now say it's a place where they feel safe, cared for and academically challenged. . .

On California's standardized tests, Sacramento High students are improving, but so are all students in the state. So even though the percentage of kids proficient in math and English has risen, Sacramento High scores remain in the bottom 20 percent statewide, the same ranking the school has had since 2002, when it still was run by Sacramento City Unified.

When Sacramento High reopened in the fall of 2003 as an independent charter school, St. HOPE made many changes intended to improve that shoddy performance. It made the school day longer, hired nonunion teachers who were available to students around the clock, and paid for kids to go on college tours.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has given Sac High more than $4 million. While test scores aren't where the foundation would like them to be, spokeswoman Carol Rava Treat said, "we feel confident in their commitment" to getting disadvantaged kids into college. . .

Among Sac High's class of 2007 - the first to graduate under four years of St. HOPE leadership - the school reported that 70 percent of graduates went on to a four-year college. But a closer look shows that the class of 2007 - which started with 505 freshmen, according to state data - shrank by 48 percent over four years. Only 262 graduated.

Critics say St. HOPE allows only well-behaved students to stay at the charter school, leaving problem kids to fill Sacramento's neighborhood schools.

And some teachers who joined Sac High when it became a charter school have left disillusioned and bitter. They thought they were signing up for a revolution in public education, several former teachers said. Instead they found erratic leadership, classrooms without enough desks or books, and frequent 12-hour work days.

"It was intensely mismanaged from Day One," said Barbara Modlin, who quit after 2 1/2 years teaching English. "I felt like the doors were opened and the teachers were pushed (into the classroom) and the doors were closed. We were given no support."

When enrollment dropped, former teachers said, St. HOPE asked teachers to recruit middle-schoolers as they walked home from school.

"It was demeaning. I'm a professional educator and I'm supposed to stand on a street corner and recruit kids?" said Mara Harvey, who taught history at the charter school for two years.


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