Tuesday, December 16, 2008


Schools Matter - The new front group for the privateers and profiteers of the education industry is called Democrats For Education Reform, and it is was hot last evening to offer their quick and hearty endorsement of Duncan as Secretary of ED. This outfit is run by the charter school industry and . . . is funded from capital investments by "social entrepreneurs" who (from Gates on down) enjoy federal tax credits for funding the deconstruction of public education via charter schools managed, of course, by corporations--both for profit and non-profit.

DFER's website says the group was "founded in June of 2007 by a group of Democratic contributors and education reformers who were frustrated that the Democratic Party appeared to be unfairly resistant to positive change in schools.

Here is the "positive change" that Gates, Broad, and the impatient "disruptor" profiteers would like to see:

||| DFER supports Democratic candidates committed to progressive ideas like greater mayoral accountability [mayoral takeover] for schools; adjustments in teacher licensing requirements [make teacher preparation even weaker]; changes to teacher compensation to reward our best educators [bonus pay for test scores]; and a renewed focus on early childhood education (in particular, linking early childhood education with charter schools, which usually do not include Pre-K)|||

Now if the new education reform sounds just like the old education reform, you would be right, of course. More testing, more scripted teaching, more corporate control, erasure of teacher rights--just the kind of change you can believe in. Why else would Spellings be showing Arne around the office and offering glowing endorsements?. . .

Here is part of a piece from Catalyst on the "triumphs" in Chicago Schools by the next Secretary:

|||| The district's new schools initiative-Renaissance 2010-has garnered much national attention for Duncan. The idea is to close low-performing schools and replace them with smaller, entrepreneurial schools, many of them free from union contracts and some state regulations.

So far, Duncan has presided over the opening of 75 such schools, 42 of them in areas that have been identified as most in need of better schools. Early on, though, a Catalyst analysis found that of the students who were displaced by school closings, only 2 percent were enrolled the next fall in new Renaissance schools. Nearly half of the displaced students landed at schools that were on academic probation. . . .

Catalyst also found that not all students are making the best choices. Nearly 23 percent of African Americans who opt out of their neighborhood high school go to schools that are not much better. . . .

The effort has caused tension on the labor front, as the bulk of new schools are run by charter or other education management outfits that do not hire union members. Add to that, displaced teachers have no seniority rights on the job hunt, due to state legislation dealing with Chicago schools only.

New on the scene is the district's turnaround strategy, a response to community uproar over students who were displaced by school closings. Turnarounds, as they are called, allow the children to stay put while the district cleans house among staff, firing teachers and principals wholesale. To date, there are eight such schools, two of them high schools.

Despite the early claims of success, this model is largely untested. Sherman, the first turnaround school is in its third year. Experts predict it will take three to five years to know whether this strategy produces solid academic gains.

Another hallmark of Duncan's tenure is bringing business-oriented reformers into the fold, taking cues from Harvard University's business and education schools. Their input has shaped a data-driven, performance-based culture that rewards well-run schools and their teachers and leaders, and penalizes schools that make no progress.

Star schools and principals have been granted more flexibility and autonomy, and often financial freedom and bonus pay. Teachers in 40 pilot schools can earn bonuses based on how well they teach and their student do. . .

On the other hand, struggling schools have seen their decision-making powers greatly reduced. Probationary schools, for example, have little say over how they can spend poverty funding, an area otherwise controlled by elected local school councils. [Local school councils] at struggling schools have also lost the right to hire or fire principals-restrictions that have outraged some parent activists. . .
. |||

Harold Henderson, Chicago Reader, June 15, 2007 - Mayor Daley's brave new Chicago doesn't work for everyone. . . Northwestern University sociologist Mary Pattillo nails it with Black on the Block: The Politics of Race and Class in the City. . . Pattillo's participant-observer study of slowly gentrifying North Kenwood-Oakland began in 1998, when she bought a house at 4432 S. Berkeley. . .

In 1995 NKO was served by Martin Luther King Jr. High School (with a 58 percent graduation rate), Florence Price Elementary (with more than 90 percent of students scoring below national norms), and Jackie Robinson Elementary (slightly less than 90 percent below national norms). A third elementary school, Shakespeare, was closed in 1993 due to low enrollment. Today King has been turned into a citywide magnet school. Shakespeare has been replaced by two new schools -- Ariel Community Academy and the North Kenwood/Oakland Charter School. Most low-income children in the neighborhood attend Price and Robinson and Dyett Academy High School, but the old schools offer less education -- in Dyett's case, much less, with fewer than one student in five achieving at national norms.

The three new schools are technically public schools. There's no tuition, no signs saying "only our sort need apply." But they're selective all right. The devil's in the details, and Pattillo has them. Applications to attend Ariel are due in January for the following September, but siblings and family members of current students get priority. The charter school's three-page application isn't due until March, but there are almost no spots available for grade schoolers who don't already have an in. Like all Chicago magnet schools, the admission process at King College Prep is even more arduous. "It begins in November or December with an application that can only be obtained from a school counselor and which requires a letter from the counselor, test scores, attendance records, and additional student information. Students who qualify must then sit for a separate test. It is more like applying to college or graduate school than to high school."

Once a struggling parent's main job was to make sure the kids attended school. Now parents face the catch-22 of having to negotiate a maze that favors those who already have writing skills, verbal assertiveness, and knowledgeable friends. This is the Daley way -- the neoliberal, Clintonian way. "The model has changed," writes Pattillo, "from one in which cities 'deliver' public services like education, health care, and protection from crime, to one in which residents 'shop for' these goods in a service landscape that includes more nongovernmental, private subcontractors."

Pattillo quotes a woman who was born in the CHA's Ida B. Wells development in Oakland, moved out of the area, and returned in 1982 with a nursing degree: "There are kids in this neighborhood that will be bused or shipped out of their neighborhood in order to turn King into a magnet school. That's not right. If education is to be improved, it's to be improved for everybody. . . . If something is public, then ain't I the public?"

Real school reform would offer a better education to all the kids attending NKO schools. But that takes longer and costs more than putting in a few schools that target the middle-class and leave other kids behind. It's not a question of villainy; the reformers are just following the path of least resistance. "The imperatives of gentrification," explains Pattillo, "demanded some good schools now, even if only for a few, rather than good schools later for all."

Greg Palast, Huffington Post - The anti-union establishment has a second stringer on the bench waiting in case [Joel] Klein is nixed: Arne Duncan. Duncan, another lawyer playing at education, was appointed by Chicago's Boss Daley to head that city's train-wreck of a school system. Think of Duncan as "Klein Lite.". . .

Lawyer Duncan is proud to have raised test scores by firing every teacher in low-scoring schools. Which schools? There's Collins High in the Lawndale ghetto with children from homeless shelters and drug-poisoned 'hoods. They don't do well on tests. So Chicago fired all the teachers. They brought in new ones - then fired all of them too: the teachers' reward for volunteering to work in a poor neighborhood.

It's no coincidence that the nation's worst school systems are run by non-experts like Klein and Duncan. . .

It's not just Klein's and Duncan's empty credentials which scare me: it's the ill philosophy behind the Bush-brand education theories they promote. "Teach-to-the-test" (which goes under such pre-packaged teaching brands as "Success for All") forces teachers to limit classroom time to pounding in rote low-end skills, easily measured on standardized tests. The transparent purpose is to create the future class of worker-drones. Add in some computer training and - voila! - millions trained on the cheap to function, not think. Analytical thinking skills, creative skills, questioning skills will be left to the privileged at the Laboratory School and Phillips Andover Academy.


At December 17, 2008 8:29 AM, Anonymous Mairead said...

"trained on the cheap to function, not think" is about the size of it.

But that's quite logical, really. People educated beyond their station get uppity. They start asking inconvenient questions like "why should family wealth be more important to success in life than intelligence and hard work?"

Small wonder that wealthy, powerful people don't want to deal with unanswerable questions like that.

At January 1, 2009 3:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Teachers who are trying to do it differently need to be mobilized...

Some interesting stuff at The PiFactory blog


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