Archives for category: Closing schools

New Hampshire teacher Shawna Coppola wonders how to define a good school. She explains why the school she teaches in is an excellent school that defies all the current reforms and educates all children to meet their needs, not to raise their scores. The school may be closed because of the cost of renovations; besides, it does not have the cachet of the districts with high scores. This crazy notion that beloved community public schools should be closed is recent in our history, dating only to No Child Left Behind. That now discredited law decreed that schools must be subject to a cascade of sanctions, including closure, if their test scores don’t move towards 100% proficiency in grades 3-8. Never before in our history were public schools closed except for shrinking enrollments or consolidation of facilities—but not for test scores. Many states have adopted A-F grading systems, but those are overly simplistic and they rely too much on standardized test scores. How should we judge a school?


Here are Shawna’s thoughts on what makes a good school:


Recently a news item came out on our local NH station, WMUR, which listed the top 50 elementary schools in the state of NH. Previous to this, Newsweek had published their 2014 list of America’s Top High Schools. Both times, the district in which I live made the list. Our local high school was listed as the one of the best high schools in America, while our two elementary schools ranked near the top in the state of NH, respectively. You can find Newsweek’s list here ( and WMUR’s list here:


Over ten years ago, my husband and I moved to this highly-rated district so that our children could attend the schools here, which we had heard wonderful things about. By most accounts, the schools in the district are “excellent” schools. What people tend to mean by this is that the students in our district perform well on state-wide standardized assessments and on AP exams, graduate from the high school, and tend to matriculate at college immediately following graduation.


This used to impress me–at least, it did when I was still a wide-eyed classroom teacher only a few years out of college. With each passing year, however, it impresses me less and less.


The reason for this is because over the years, and through my experience as an educator, I have come to understand what it really means to be a school of excellence versus a school that is merely good at playing the game (or is lucky enough to be situated in an involved, highly literate, financially stable community). I do not believe ours is a bad or a poor district–far from it–but is it excellent? Does it deserve its place at the “top?” The short answer for me, as a parent to two students in the district, is…well, no. (I would be happy to elaborate further if you are interested.)


Alternatively, I believe that the school I work in now, Rollinsford Grade School, is one of the most excellent schools in which I have ever worked–even ever set foot in. If I were not here, working as a literacy specialist in grades K-6, I likely would not be working anywhere (in public school, that is). We have a long way to go, and can always improve, of course, but in all essence, Rollinsford is my dream school. At Rollinsford, we truly attend to the whole child. The social, emotional, and physical development of our students is just as important, if not more important, as their academic growth. We have worked hard to incorporate a sense of authentic inquiry into everything we–and our students– do. Our students have a voice, and their voice is heard and acted upon. We believe that there are a myriad number of ways that students can–and do–succeed. Each member of the faculty and staff identifies as a learner herself. Each of us goes above and beyond what is expected.


And yet, Rollinsford Grade School placed 130th out of 243 NH schools–in the bottom half. When I dug into the methodology used to complete these rankings, I wasn’t surprised to learn that it was highly flawed (you can find my somewhat detailed analysis here: Flawed not because of the science used, but because of the factors that were analyzed. Not one factor that went into ranking NH’s elementary schools included the factors that I, and most of my fellow educators, value– classroom pedagogy, school culture, student voice and choice, community outreach, etc. Sure, the rankings included analysis of surveys that were sent out to students, parents, and alumni of each school, but a district only needed 11 completed surveys per district to have its results counted toward the ratings. I’m sure it’s no surprise that the most affluent districts in the state, and the ones most likely to have more highly educated parents, fewer transient families, and less poverty (including the one in which I live), came out on top.


And now, with our enrollment decreasing each year and the need for minimal renovations that would bring a 78 year-old building up to code, Rollinsford Grade School is in the position of potentially being shut down, our students shipped off to a mediocre school district in the next town over. My colleagues and I–and many of our parents, whose children thrive here–are heartbroken. Not because we could potentially lose our jobs, but because one of the best schools with some of the most thoughtful, knowledgeable, progressive-minded educators may, someday soon, no longer exist. Because we have worked so hard to honor all of our students, not just those who fit the mold of the “typical” student. Because the children of this community will no longer have an alternative to the traditional, testing-focused, CCSS-centric types of schooling they will get in most other schools.


What I often write about–and what I think there needs to be a lot more conversation about, not only within the wider community, but within the world–is what truly makes a school “good” (or even “excellent”). (And is this the same everywhere?) Not for the sake of ranking schools, which is not something I believe does anyone any good, but for the sake of identifying those factors that make a school one in which both teachers and students are happy, safe, and engaged in the joy and the challenge of learning. So that schools that are not excellent can aspire to something–can make positive change toward excellence.


I think that in today’s educational culture, it is more important than ever to talk about what truly makes a good school vs. one that is only good at “playing” school. I would love to hear your ideas for how to make this happen.


Thank you for taking the time to read this.



Shawna Coppola

Literacy Specialist, Rollinsford Grade School

Rollinsford, NH 03869

Recognizing that Race to the Top may be defunded in the next budget, Peter Greene explains the program’s original purposes, priorities, and policies.


Greene calls it a “giant turkey” with its neck on the chopping block and warns that it is too soon to celebrate. It might be saved at the last minute.


After surveying its many parts, he concludes:


“Yes, when lost in the haze of debate and discussion, sometimes it’s best to go back to the basics. Here it is– exactly what the feds wanted. Good paperwork. A teacher rank and rate system based on student test scores that would drive everything from training. More charters. More school takeovers.

“While the document says that RttT ‘will reward states that have demonstrated success in raising student achievement,’ that’s not really what it rewards. It rewards states for remaking their education systems along the lines demanded by the feds. And though the document promised that the best models would spread their reform ideas across the country, five years later, there are no signs of any such spreading infection. But then, there are no signs that any of these federal ideas about fixing schools has actually improved education for any students in this country.

“If Congress actually manages to shut this mess down, there will be no cause for tears.”

Be sure to read the first comment about the turmoil unleashed by Arne Duncan, and the effect of chaos on students.

This story in the New York Times tells a lot about what happened in New York City during the Bloomberg years (Mayor Bloomberg was elected in 2001, won full control of the school system from the Legislature in 2002, and put his plans into effect in September 2003). Although the city had a term-limits law of two terms, Bloomberg persuaded the NYC City Council to allow him (and themselves) to stay in office for a third term. So, Bloomberg ran the public schools from 2002-2013, when he left office. The signal strategy of his years in office was closing low-performing schools–many of them large comprehensive high schools–and replacing them with small high schools or charter schools, sometimes with three, four, or five schools in the same building, each with its own principal and administrative staff. The small high schools were allowed to exclude students with disabilities and English-language-learners for a set number of years, and of course, they had better results than the big high schools. The big high schools meanwhile became dumping grounds for the students unwanted by the new small schools or the charters.


The linked article notes that the Bloomberg administration closed 157 schools–most of them large high schools–and opened 656 schools, including charter schools.


The irony of the article is that it features Santiago Taveras, who was the man charged with closing schools. In public hearings, he appeared stonily impassive as students, parents, and teachers pleaded for the life of their school. Taveras is now in charge of DeWitt Clinton, one of the few remaining comprehensive high schools, and he is leading the effort to turnaround the school. His is one of 94 schools selected by the de Blasio administration for extra resources and services, because de Blasio wants to help schools instead of closing them. Taveras led the effort to close schools, now he is part of De Blasio’s effort to rescue them. Flexibility is a good thing.


I personally believe that de Blasio is on the right track in trying to give schools the help they need to survive. As the article points out, many of the comprehensive high schools were doomed because they took in the low-performing students that the new high schools excluded. Some of those that were closed–like storied Jamaica High School–had extensive programs for college-bound students, for English-language learners, and for many other students with different interests and needs. But Jamaica High School died, despite the loyalty and efforts of its staff.



“Reformers,” as we all know, want to raise standards and improve education. Or so they say. To reach their goals, they say our schools are failing, our economy and national security are at risk, and our educators are rotten apples. their propaganda war against public education is relentless and has the financial support of the U. S. Department of Education, the Gates Foundation, the far-right Walton Foundation, the Broad Foundation, the Dell Foundation, the Arnold Foundation, the Helmsley Foundation, the Fisher Foundation, and many more.

“Reformers” close community public schools, fire teachers and principals, insist on tests that most students fail, and create constant disruption. Eventually the public realizes that they must choose a charter school or voucher school because there is no neighborhood school or its best students have been lured away by charters.

What’s going on?

Brett Dickerson explains that there is a carefully orchestrated plan to liquidate public education.

He writes:

“Plans are under way for investment corporations to execute the biggest conversion – some call it theft – of public schools property in U.S. history.

“That is not hyperbole. Investment bankers themselves estimate that their taking over public schools is going to result in hundreds of billions of dollars in profit, if they can pull it off….

“There are very clear plans being made for just such a thing.

“The plan has been and still is to execute the complete conversion or liquidation of public schools property built up at taxpayer expense for generations.

“It involves raiding pensions that have been hard-won from years of legislative work by teachers and their unions. I reported on ideas being floated in Oklahoma along these lines in this piece that I did for Red Dirt Report earlier this year.

“It will all be done through the control of legislatures that have been mostly compliant with lobbying efforts due to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision that allowed huge corporate money, mostly unidentified, to flow into elections. The Andre Agassi Foundation is just one of many who have worked this angle for their own return on investment….

“Offer to buy out a profitable company that has little or no debt.

“Silence the work force by tricking them into thinking life will be better with the new owners.

“Once the purchase is complete, fire the workforce.

“Liquidate the pension fund.

“Liquidate the company for the cash value of its paid-for property.

“Leave the host community in financial ruins.”

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 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.


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.”


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