Archives for category: Closing schools

Sarah Lahm has written an important article about an infusion of corporate reform campaign money for a school board seat in Minneapolis.

Do corporate reformers see Minneapolis as the next Néw Orleans, the next city where they can privatize the public schools?

She writes:

“In the aftermath of a failed 2013 bid for mayor, former Minneapolis city council member Don Samuels is running for a spot on the school board. If he wins, he will undoubtedly be able to thank the extensive financing and canvassing support he’s received from several well-heeled national organizations, such as the Washington, D.C.-based 50CAN, an offshoot of Education Reform Now called Students for Education Reform (SFER), and various people associated with Teach for America, which has been called a “political powerhouse” for its growing influence in policy and politics beyond the classroom.

“These groups often project an image of grassroots advocacy but are in fact very well-funded, often through the support of extremely wealthy hedge fund managers and large philanthropic foundations. Together, they and like-minded “education reform” proponents have dramatically, but not necessarily democratically, altered how public education works throughout the United States.

“While August campaign finance reports show Samuels out-raising his main competitor, incumbent Rebecca Gagnon, by almost 4 to 1 through local donations, they also show that Samuels is getting tremendous support from outside of Minnesota. The D.C.-based 50CAN Action Fund filed a campaign finance report in Minnesota showing that it was devoting $14,350 in financial resources to the Minneapolis school board race, as well as in-kind donations valued in the thousands of dollars. Since 50CAN Action Fund is a 501(c)(4), its reports do not have to disclose which candidates it is supporting, but 50CAN Action Fund’s Minnesota chair Daniel Sellers told a reporter in July that the group had spent money on Samuels.”

Laura H. Chapman explains that education is not a business.

“I live in Cincinnati, world headquarters for P&G. There is something more to notice than this observation:
“Proctor and Gamble hasn’t remained a very successful company because it keeps tossing out its leadership every three months.”

“True, P&G has a history of promoting from within. The wheel does not have to be reinvented every time there is a change in leadership.

“But P&G routinely does a triage on its underperforming product lines, and many of the people who are in charge of them.

“In August of this year, the CEO of P&G announced the company would cut 70 to 80 “core strategic” brands, and reorganize management of other brands into about a dozen business units under “four focused industry sectors,” creating a much simpler management and operational structure.

“The CEO said 
“There’s a lot of evidence in a number of our business categories that the shopper and consumer really doesn’t want more assortment and more choice, they want more value.

“And P&G wants more tax breaks than the last count several years ago of $3.2 billion, about in the middle of the pack of the largest U.S. corporations that we subsidize for doing business and making a profit.

“Education is not a business. It is a public service, a public responsibility, and civic virtue to the extent that it prepares students to be active participants in determining how the larger society is governed and the values it honors.

“The current triage in education seeks to close “underperforming schools,” fire “underperforming” teachers and principals, and blame students who are “underperforming” for not having enough grit, not having the right stuff, and not fixing the economy.

“Unlike brands that can be vanished from the marketplace, our “underperforming” students do not go away.”

Many wealthy families want to leave a legacy, something to remind the world of their beneficence and power. Andrew Carnegie covered the land with free public libraries. Others have endowed museums, public parks, zoos, and many other monuments that the public would enjoy long after the family had gone.

The Kramer family of Minneapolis will leave as its legacy the destruction of public education in that city. They have devoted their considerable energy and power to building public support for charter schools and cutting away public support for public schools. Because of their role as advocates for charter schools, Minneapolis this year has 34,000 students, while the surging charter sector has 20,000. This year, the public schools expected enrollment growth of 900, but only two new students appeared. Meanwhile, the Board of Education bickers about “market share” and forgets their primary mission as stewards of a public trust, as Peter Greene explained.

What have the Kramers to do with the sinking fortunes of public education? EduShyster documented their leadership of the privatization movement in Minneapolis. She writes, in her cheeky fashion:

“Readers: meet the Minneapolis Kramers. Father Joel is the former publisher of the Minneapolis Star Tribune and took home $8 million when the paper was sold to McClatchy. These days he presides over Minnpost.com and a brood of young rephormers. Son Matt is the president of Teach for America, in charge of TFA’s “overall performance, operations, and effectiveness.” Son Eli, another former TFAer, is the executive director of Hiawatha Academies, a mini charter empire in Minneapolis. Meanwhile, daughter-in-law Katie Barrett-Kramer is a former TFAer who now serves as director of academic excellence at Charter School Partners, a non-profit organization devoted to expanding the number of charters in Minneapolis, including the ones her brother-in-law runs.

“Now I have acquired a deep thirst just writing about the Kramer siblings and their dedication to the civil right$ i$$ue of our time. But there’s still more. Matt, who with his brother attended the tony Breck School (which I suspect is likely not a ‘no excuses’ school), also sits on numerous rephorm boards. Matt is the chair of the board of 50Can and a member of the board of Students for Education Reform.

“And did I mention that the Kramers are avid supporters of young TFA school board candidate and life-long educator Josh Reimnitz, who moved to Minneapolis in May, and received an undisclosed amount of money from TFA’s political phund???

But what about Père Kramer? Has he no role in this touching rephorm tableau? Phear not reader. Papa Kramer’s online publication, MinnPost, serves as an influential booster for all of the Kramers’ assorted kauses, including Hiawatha Academies. There is nothing the slightest bit conflict-of-interest-ish about this as evidenced by this, perhaps the kraziest quote from an actual publication that I have ever encountered:

“And here we must pause for Learning’s Curve’s lengthiest Kramer Disclaimer yet: [Charter School Partners] employs Katie Barrett-Kramer, wife of Teach for America President Matt Kramer and daughter-in-law of MinnPost founder and Editor Joel Kramer and Chief Revenue Officer Laurie Kramer.”

It is difficult to think that any family in the U.S. wants to be remembered as the family that destroyed and privatized public education. But that is how the Kramer family of Minneapolis will be remembered. How very sad.

Mark NAISON writes on the damage done to communities by closing neighborhood schools.

The one-two punch of No Child Left Behind and its ugly twin Race to theTop have led to the closure of thousands of neighborhood school, typically in black and brown communities.

He writes:

“Thousands of schools which have served neighborhoods for generations have been closed in cities all over the US, leading to mass firings of teachers and staff who grew up in or lived in those communities and disrupting the lives of hundreds of thousands of families. In some cities, the result has been exposing young people to greater risk of violence; in others, the process has promoted gentrification. But the disruptive consequences of this policy have been enormous and totally ignored by policy makers who have ironically claimed this strategy is promoting education equity.

“I will say this. Destroying neighborhood institutions and the historic memory invested in them is a form of psychic violence that should not be underestimated. School closings, and displacement of the people who worked in them are wreaking havoc with the lives of people who need stability, continuity and support more than continuous upheaval.”

“All I really need to know I learned in smoke-filled back rooms.” (apologies to Robert Fulghum)

0. *****Always accept grant money from Bill Gates.****

1. Test everything that moves (even the classroom goldfish)

2. Play with cut scores.

3. Don’t hit teachers (Just fire them)

4. Always leave things in more chaos than when you found them.

5. NEVER (EVER!!) CLEAN UP YOUR OWN MESS.

6. Never admit you are wrong and never (ever!) say you are sorry.

7. Wash your hands of everything that goes wrong.

8. Flush after each school closing.

9. VAMs and failings (students, teachers, schools) are good.

10. Unions and teacher independence and creativity in the classroom are bad.

11. Mandate a Fair and Balanced (TM) curriculum – teaching some Common Core math and some close reading and never (ever) allowing students to draw or paint or sing or dance or play or go out for recess and making sure they do a minimum of 4 hours homework every day (especially in kindergarten)

12. Take a shot of whiskey every afternoon.

13. When you go out into the world, watch out for Diane Ravitch, hold secret meetings, and stick together.

14. Beware the American Statistical Association. Remember Vergara: The student test scores go down and the teacher firings go up and nobody really knows how or why, but we all like that.

15. Statistics and standardized tests and VAMs – they all lie. So do we.

16. And then remember the Common Core books and the first word you learned – the biggest word of all – Test”

In this post, Paul Horton reviews an important book, and its implications for public schools today.

He writes:

“An important new study, The Long Shadow: Family Background, Disadvantaged Urban Youth, and the Transition to Adulthood by Karl Alexander, Doris Entwisle, and Linda Olson, casts doubt on the current policy push to starve neighborhood public schools and fund charter schools that are not connected to supportive communities.

“The 2014 Russell Sage Foundation study emphasizes that it does take a village to raise kids, and to the extent that schools are not a part of a supportive web of extended families, mentorship opportunities, institutions that provide constructive activities, health care, child support, and access to entry level and skilled jobs through community networking, they can not deliver success to disadvantaged urban youth.”

Horton adds:

“Although the authors of The Long Shadow do not come down on one side of the public vs. charter school debate, they do emphasize that building stronger communities and neighborhoods is the key to building schools that can leverage resources to strengthen schools to help construct more positive job pathways for underserved black urban youth.

“At a time when many charters are encouraging the segregation of students living in “hyperpoverty” neighborhoods schools need:

to desegregate beyond the selective magnet model

to develop quality preschools

to create smaller class sizes

to create high quality, engaging summer school and after school programs

to hire highly qualified, well prepared, well-supported, and committed teachers

to develop high standards and strong curricula

to support meaningful integration across SES levels

to create classroom environments that respect children’s background and builds from their strengths

to build an it-takes-a-village mindset that addresses children’s and their parents’ needs.”

Matthew Di Carlo of the Shanker Institute says that the reformers cannot succeed, despite their best intentions, because they over promise what they can accomplish. Whether it is a promise of closing the achievement gap in short order, turning around 1,000 schools a year for five years, college for all, or making every single child proficient by the year 2014, they set goals that might–if all goes well–be achieved in decades, but cannot be achieved in a few years. They say “we can’t wait,” as if their sense of urgency will surely cause obstacles to crumble. But the obstacles are real, and genuine change requires time, patience, will, and the collaboration with teachers that reformers think they can bypass.

Hubris has its limits.

Jesse Register, the Director of Metro Nashville public schools, proposes to close a number of low-performing schools and replace them with charter schools, despite the fact that the state’s all-charter Achievement School District has not outperformed public schools.

Parents, community members, and teachers are upset by his lurch to the corporate model. Where is the school board, whose majority supports public schools? Why did Jesse Register drink the privatization Kool-aid?

Just bear in mind that New Orleans Recovery School District is one of the lowest performing districts in the state.

Paul Thomas writes here about NPR’s whitewash of disaster capitalism in New Orleans. Without reference to the extensive debunking of “the New Orleans miracle” by Mercedes Schneider, Research on Reforms (Dr. Barbara Ferguson and CharlesHatfield), and others, NPR recycles the glories of closing public schools, opening privately managed charters, eliminating the union, firing thousands of veteran teachers (in this case, the core of the city’s black middle class), and replacing them with inexperienced Teach for America recruits, most of whom would leave after two or three years.

Here is the trick by which radio and TV shows give the illusion of balance: first, they give the narrative, then they invite two or three people to make a critical comment. What they are selling is the narrative. The critics are easily brushed aside. At times like this, I remember that NPR gets funding from both Gates and the far-right Walton Family Foundation, which is devoted to privatizing public schools.

Thomas calls out NPR for playing this trick:

“Framed as “remarkable changes,” erasing public schools and firing all public school faculty (a significant percentage of the black middle class in New Orleans) are whitewashed beneath a masking narrative embracing all things market forces as essentially good, even though the actions taken against pubic schools and teachers in the name of the mostly minority and disproportionately impoverished families and children of New Orleans have not accomplished what advocates claim.

“In the NPR piece, “no teaching experience” is passed over as if this couldn’t possibly be a problem; however, when public schools were dismantled and all the faculty fired, the second disaster swept over New Orleans in the form of “no excuses” charter schools (KIPP and their cousins) and a swarm of Teach For America recruits who were not native to New Orleans and have lived lives mostly unlike the children they teach.

“As well, that black and poor children are “part of an experiment” remains unexamined in this piece. Instead, the entire New Orleans experiment is called “kind of a miracle.”

“At 5 minutes in, NPR allows a critic to call claims of success “overblown,” and then 7 minutes in, one disgruntled parent announces that charter advocates “won’t be able to fool me this time.” But overall, this NPR whitewashing of the New Orleans education reform experiment fails as most education journalism does—absent as it is any real critical questions, absent as it is any effort to honor the weight of evidence in the pursuit of “balance.”

“I find here the exact same pattern I confronted in my criticism of the NPR “grit” piece. While the 8-plus minutes do technically include “both sides,” the less credible position (pro- charter, pro-market forces) is clearly given the greater weight while the stronger position is posed as mere “criticism.”

“Education reform in New Orleans in the wake of Katrina is a model of disaster capitalism and an ugly lesson in how we should not reform public education.”

As it happens, I am in the midst of reading a new book, Kristen Buras’ “Charter Schools, Race, and Urban Space,” that lays waste to every part of the alleged New Orleans’ “miracle.” It is a gripping study. By the time Buras is done, the reformers are stripped bare in the public square as yet another wave of white supremacists, in this case arrived in New Orleans to turn black children into a profitable “product.” I wonder if NPR will interview Buras?

Alan Singer compares Arne Duncan’s recent denunciation of over-testing–that is, his own policy in Race to the Top–to George W. Bush’s infamous victory speech in Iraq under a banner saying “Mission Accomplished.”

He notes that Duncan offers a one-year delay in using test scores to evaluate teachers, while the other leading voice in American education proposed a two-year moratorium. Wouldn’t you think a simple phone call between Arne and Bill could have settled the matter? You know, it’s not like states or local districts have anything to say about how or when teachers should be evaluated. This decision belongs to Arne and Bill.

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