Archives for category: Closing schools

Mike Klonsky has the latest update on the Dyett hunger strikers. The strike is now ending its 16th day, in which the strikers have had liquids but no solid food. Their resolve is undiminished. Apparently, so is the Mayor’s.

The post includes a link to a debate between Eve Ewing and Peter Cunningham, who used to be Arne’s flack. Ewing wrote an eloquent article about the ghosts of Dyett and what the school meant to the community.

New York State’s new Commissioner of Education MaryEllen Elia says she will put together a team to fix the state’s 144 lowest-performing schools and give them one year to improve. If they don’t, she will hand them over to independent managers or make them charter schools.

This is magical thinking at its best. On Long Island and probably everywhere else in the state, the struggling schools are racially segregated and have high proportions of poverty.

Can they be “turned around” by a member of Elia’s crack team? Where is Beverly Hall when we need her?

Troy LaRaviere is principal of Blaine Elementary School in Chicago. He was invited to speak on a problem at the Chicago Civic Club, where civic and business leaders convene. The topic was bankruptcy and the schools. Troy was the only school-based educator on the panel.

Here is the link to the event (you might want to hear Paul Vallas on the topic).

And here is Troy’s presentation:

“I recommend watching the last few minutes of Paul Vallas’ presentation in which he lays out the basic rules CPS operated by before the financial crisis. This part of his talk begins at the 36:00 time segment. I think all of Chuck Burbridge’s presentation is worth listening to, and that George Panagakis’ presentation on the intricacies of bankruptcy was eye-opening. This panel represents the first time I’ve prepared all of my remarks beforehand, so I’ve included those remarks below. I learned a lot from my participation on the panel and I hope you learn from it as well.

“Prepared Remarks

“Thank you to the City Club for inviting me to this panel and luncheon. Unfortunately I could not take advantage of the lunch as I am fasting today in solidarity with the 12 parents and community members who are in their 9th Day of a Hunger Strike to save Dyett School as the only open enrollment neighborhood high school left in their community (I mistakenly said “city” in my remarks). This gesture on my part is relatively insignificant when compared to the sacrifice they are making on behalf of their children. But I make it nonetheless before I begin my remarks.

“As residents and taxpayers we have to do more than identify problems. We have to identify and understand the source of those problems. If we don’t neutralize that source then we might be able to solve this problem today but that source will rear its head a few years down the line to re-create the same havoc that it’s wreaking on us today.

“We’re being told that pensions are the problem. We have a problem with pensions but pension are not the source of our problem. This administration consistently misappropriated pension funds, and then attempts to convince us that pensions themselves are the problem. That’s like a thief stealing your rent money and then attempting to convince you that the landlord is the problem.

“The source of our problem is city and school officials who spend and borrow money in a manner that is reckless and corrupt; the parasitic private sector banks and investors who are always looking for creative ways to rip off taxpayers, and the state legislators who enabled this irresponsible fiscal behavior in the first place.

“For the sake of time, I’m going to focus my comments on this administration’s reckless borrowing and the bank that benefit from it. When the Tribune attempted to look into the cost of this borrowing their reporters and attorneys were forced by CPS to spend a year getting the details about how much it spends in interest on its massive debts. So not only are they putting us in debt but they tried to prevent us from finding out just how much debt they put us in.

“Interestingly enough, CPS recently hired Ernst and Young to do an analysis of their structural deficit. That analysis shows that pension costs are projected to rise only 32% over seven years, while debt service is projected to rise 350% from $119 million to $421 million. THIS is the debt that’s driving up costs. This debt is not owed to teachers. This debt is owed to financial institutions like the Pritzker Group, Goldman Sachs and Northern trust—all Emanuel Campaign contributors; and his administration wants to ensure they get paid what they’re owed.

“This debt is also owed to banks and investors who virtually swindled CPS out of $100 million. Financial institutions like Bank of America and the Royal Bank of Canada. They have documented evidence that these banks knew that the auction rate securities market was about to collapse while they were preparing to underwrite a massive auction rate bond issue for CPS.

“That’s illegal. You can sue them and get those millions back. But the Emmanuel administration refuses. They want them to get what’s owed to them even though they got it in through corrupt and deceptive practices.

“This administration wants to pay your tax dollars to EVERYONE they owe, except one group. The only people the Emanuel administration doesn’t want to pay what they’re owed are teachers.

“Let me say it again another way.

“The only group of people the Emanuel administration doesn’t want to pay, just happen to be the only group of people who actually worked for what CPS owes them–spent their entire careers working and sacrificing for what CPS owes them.

“PNC Bank didn’t sacrifice a more lucrative career to dedicate itself to teaching science and mathematics. Chicago’s teachers do that.

“Goldman Sachs didn’t sacrifice time with their own families to stay after school to tutor struggling readers. Chicago teachers do that.

“None of these institutions spent consecutive years of his career working with four struggling students in hopes that that sacrifice and investment of time would pay off on their graduation day …. only to have those hopes destroyed when the news reaches you that you’ll be preparing instead for their funerals—in part, as a result of the neglect of their communities by many of the same people responsible for the neglect of their schools. Their names: Miguel. Tyray. Roberto. Candace. Those are the names I carry with me, but teachers all across Chicago have names of their own etched in their memories forever.

“As our teachers feel this district coming in to take what little they do get in return for their sacrifice, this administration’s hollow, empty, and hypocritical use of the term “shared sacrifice” to justify this encroachment must seem profoundly disrespectful and painfully ironic.

“To reiterate. The source of our problem is:

(1) city and school officials who spend and borrow money in a manner that is reckless and corrupt;

(2) the parasitic private sector banks and investors who are always looking for creative ways to rip off taxpayers, and

(3) the state legislators who are all too eager to create a legislative environment in which this legalized theft can occur.

“If anyone is made to sacrifice, it has to be members of these three groups, because the behavior of teachers did not cause this problem. The behavior of these three groups caused this problem. Teachers have already made their sacrifice a thousand times over, and those whose behavior caused this crisis have no right to ask them for more.”

Eve L. Ewing has written a moving and important article about the meaning of the fight for Dyett. It is far more important than the closing of one school in Chicago. It is about a community’s fight for survival, a fight to retain its identity and its history. New Orleans is a story of obliteration of the landmarks of the Black community. The hunger strike to save Dyett is a fight to preserve what belongs to the community.

She tells the history of Dyett High School, of its famous graduates. She explains what an open enrollment school is:

“In Chicago, as in many large urban districts across the country, over the course of the last 15 years the concept of “school choice” as a popular bipartisan idea has entrenched itself to an impressive degree. Whereas once upon a time, cities and counties were divided up on a map and students simply attended the school closest to where they lived (what’s known technically as a “catchment school,” or in big cities, a “neighborhood school”), the era of choice has more or less changed all of that in places like Chicago, Boston, New Orleans, and other large districts that serve primarily children of color. Where once the only way to exercise some kind of “school choice” was to attend private school, children can now stay in the public school district and apply to a magnet school, enter the lottery for a charter school, apply to a special vocational or career academy, or try to test into an academically elite “selective enrollment” school serving only a small sliver of top-performing students. (In New York these are known as “specialized schools,” in Boston you may know them as “exam schools.”) While such elite schools are often publicly touted as gems of the district, Chicago’s selective enrollment schools only serve about 12% of the city’s public high school students. Charter schools, meanwhile, are more likely than traditional public schools to expel or suspend students with disabilities, and two of the city’s most high-profile charter high schools—Noble Street and Urban Prep—are also two of the most likely to lose students between freshman year and graduation….

“The community of Bronzeville is no stranger to hardship or the racism that begets it: from the 1919 race riot to the high-density kitchenette buildings that packed in black residents in the 1930s and 1940s, where an entire family might have shared a room furnished with a hot plate in lieu of a real kitchen and use a bathroom in the hallway shared with other residents, to the struggles of families living in the public high-rise projects that emerged during the 1950s and 1960s—the Ida B. Wells Homes, Stateway Gardens, Robert Taylor Homes, and other names that came to strike terror in the hearts of white Chicagoans who never actually set foot south of the Loop. But, amidst all those challenges, school closings stand out as a particularly insidious and heart-wrenching form of hurt. By my count, CPS has closed 16 elementary schools in Bronzeville since 1998, bouncing students unceremoniously from one building to the next, with some students experiencing multiple closures over the short span of their elementary school education….

“Losing your school is hard for everyone involved. Really hard. When I found out that the school where I taught would be closing, I was visiting my father in Florida for spring break, and I locked myself in the bedroom and cried like a little kid. I started replaying life there in my head, over and over, like a sappy montage in a bad movie. Here’s me walking down the hallway for the first time, on my way to meet the principal for a job interview. Here’s Nathan, staying in my classroom after hours to write and illustrate a story about the Great Depression. Here’s Patricia standing proudly in front of the whole school and perfectly reciting her lines as Lady Capulet, despite her hearing impairment and speech impediment. Here’s the staff meeting where we find out that Nashae has cancer, and strategize about how we’re going to coordinate hospital visits, frozen dinners, and rides home for her sister. Here’s Omari connecting a circuit for the first time, and Sierra lovingly feeding Peanut, the gecko that was our class pet. Here is our school.

Here is my personal opinion, as someone who has gone through a school closing, my professional opinion as an educator, and my scholarly opinion as a researcher who is now writing a dissertation about Bronzeville’s shuttered schools. I will say it without reservation to whomever will listen, so listen: the decision to shuffle students from one building to another in the name of numbers is shameful. The decision to do so is based on the premise that children, teachers, and schools are indistinguishable widgets, to be distributed as efficiently as possible across the landscape. But the fact is that schools are ecosystems, each with its own history, culture, and intricately woven set of social relationships. Schools are community anchors. They not interchangeable, nor are they disposable. Schools are home.

Regular school closings, like I experienced, are hard. What’s happened at Dyett is arguably even harder. Since CPS opted for a slow “phase-out” over several years, students and teachers had to watch as the world around them was slowly dismantled, piece by piece. As teachers and students left, the school’s budget was thrown into disarray, so that the students who were left had to take online courses to get credits in Spanish and social studies, and even art, music, and physical education. One girl I interviewed told me that her teacher quit, for fear that if he stuck around until the school was totally closed, he wouldn’t be able to find a job the next year. He never told his students he was leaving—they walked into the classroom one day and found a note he had left for them. Like he was dumping them….

“A closed school is like a ghost. It lingers. It fills the space. In 2008, the year I began teaching and five years before my school was closed, it was already an occupant of a building where another school had lived and died before it—Douglas school, which was closed in 2004. Sometimes I would stand in the school auditorium when it was empty and try to imagine throngs of children and teachers I had never met, filling the seats for a talent show or an end-of-year award ceremony. I wondered about what their names were, and what music they liked, and what books they read.

Since my school closed, I guess you could say I’ve become something of a ghost hunter. On humid afternoons you can find me peering through the windows of closed schools around Bronzeville, trying to picture what used to be there. Inside the buildings you can sometimes catch glimpses of what’s left. Chairs, stacked high in layers of gleaming chrome. An American flag leaned against a dusty window. A haphazard pile of textbooks. I walk across empty playgrounds and trudge through unmown grass and I see all the ghosts. Sitting in a folding chair amid the Dyett hunger strikers and their supporters, I don’t have to see the ghosts alone. “I always think of double dutch,” one woman tells me. The whole line of girls playing double dutch, all along this way. And I used to enter through that door.”

I remember what Martin, one of the thirteen students who stayed at Dyett until its final year, told me recently. “Dyett is our fort.” Dyett is different than the other schools. Because Dyett might come back. And that, really, is what the hunger strike is about—the hope that what’s lost can return. Like maybe even in a city that never wanted us, and has found creative ways to show it, from the 1919 race riots to stopping and frisking people at a rate four times that of New York City, a city that broke our hearts so bad that the blues made us famous—maybe even here, black children and all of Chicago’s children can be guaranteed a high-quality education, whether or not they have high test scores or parents who enter them into a lottery. Maybe we can learn well and live well, right here in our own home.”

“Unlike a charter school, where students have to enter and win a lottery to enroll, or a selective enrollment school, where students have to be deemed members of the academic top tier to enroll, an open-enrollment neighborhood high school is open to any student who lives nearby. That means that everyone is guaranteed a spot.”

The New Yorker magazine has published a moving article about the closing of Jamaica High School in New York City, once one of the best high schools in the nation. The author, Jelani Cobb, graduated from Jamaica in 1987. He remembers his years there with great affection and pride, recalling a school where students from many ethnic and racial backgrounds worked and played together.

Jamaica High School was a victim of many converging trends: white flight from the city; the Gates-funded infatuation with small schools; choice policies that encouraged the departure of successful students; the faddish belief that closing a school would magically solve the problems of the school; the faddish belief in cookie-cutter small schools; New York City’s policy of dumping the neediest students into large schools like Jamaica while draining away resources, students, and programs. This was how a school that had served generations of newcomers and striving students died.

Blogger Steven Singer reports that parents and children of a school in Puerto Rico are fighting to protect its contents and to persuade the government to reopen the school.

For more than 80 days, about 35 parents and children have been camping out in front of their neighborhood school in the U.S. Territory of Puerto Rico.
The Commonwealth government closed the Jose Melendez de Manati school along with more than 150 others over the last 5 years.
But the community is refusing to let them loot it.
They hope to force lawmakers to reopen the facility.
Department of Education officials have been repeatedly turned away by protesters holding placards with slogans like “This is my school and I want to defend it,” and “There is no triumph without struggle, there is no struggle without sacrifice!”
Officials haven’t even been able to shut off the water or electricity or even set foot inside the building.
The teachers union – the Federación de Maestros de Puerto Rico (FMPR) – has called for a mass demonstration of parents, students and teachers on Sunday, Aug. 23. Protesters in the capital of San Juan will begin a march at 1 p.m. from Plaza Colón to La Fortaleza (the Governor’s residence)….

Unfortunately, things look to get much worse before they’ll get any better.
The government warns it may be out of money to pay its bills by as early as 2016. Over the next five years, it may have to close nearly 600 more schools – almost half of the remaining facilities!
Right on cue, Senate President Eduardo Bhatia is proposing corporate education reform methods to justify these draconian measures. This includes privatizing the school system, tying teacher evaluations to standardized test scores and increasing test-based accountability.
“Our interest is to promote transparency and flow of data through the implementation of a standardized measurement and accountability system for all agencies,” Bhatia said, adding that the methodology has been successful in such cities as Chicago.

Chicago? Really? As usual, there are moguls and captains of industry behind the machinations, ready to sacrifice the education of children in Puerto Rico so the bond holders are repaid.

Mike Klonsky reports that Kristin McQueary of the Chicago Tribune wishes that something like Hurricane Katrina would hit Chicago and wash away the school system and large parts of the city. That way, the city could start from scratch. Call it Katrina-envy.

He writes:

The Tribune is on a roll. Weeks after calling for a Mussolini-type dictator to run the school system, editorial board member McQueary now prays for a Katrina-like disaster, suggesting a catastrophe of that magnitude could change Chicago for the better without borrowing money or raising her taxes.
I find myself wishing for a storm in Chicago — an unpredictable, haughty, devastating swirl of fury. A dramatic levee break. Geysers bursting through manhole covers. A sleeping city, forced onto the rooftops. That’s what it took to hit the reset button in New Orleans. Chaos. Tragedy. Heartbreak.
Yes, I know McQueary is making a stab at metaphor (or is she?) and probably doesn’t really want water damage in her condo. But her disgusting worse-the-better message of New Orleans envy, without a thought for the thousands of people, mostly African-American families,who died or were driven out of the city when the levees broke, comes through loud and clear.

For sure, Mike is reminded of Duncan’s observation that Katrina was the best thing ever to happen to New Orleans schools (if you don’t think about the people who died.)

Another writer, Adolph Reed, wrote about McQueary’s absurd column here.

Reed writes:

The greatest irony of her original stupid article and the backtracking unpology is that she can’t recognize that it’s precisely the sort of arrangements she enthusiastically touts as the utopian possibilities opened by the horrors of Katrina that created that disaster in the first place. She’s right; it was man-made, but, if she were a little less smugly shallow and ideological, she might have asked how it was man-made. It was the product of decades of the sorts of policies, pursued at every level from Orleans Parish to the White House and by corporate Democrats as well as Republicans, she rhapsodizes about—privatization, retrenchment, corporate welfare paid for by cutting vital public services and pasting the moves over with fairy tales about “efficiency” and “lean management” and “doing more with less” and hoping to avoid the day of reckoning.

So, I’ll give this much to McQueary; she’s right that Katrina has a lesson for us. It’s a lesson about what happens when you follow the sorts of destructive approaches to public policy that McQueary shills for.

The New York Times reported in June that hedge funds invested heavily in Puerto Rico, feeling sure that the Puerto Rican government could turn the economic crisis around.

Now that the debt crisis has worsened, hedge funds are advising the government of Puerto Rico to save money by closing some schools, laying off teachers, and cutting university budgets. Most people think of education as the seed corn of future growth, but not the hedge funds. They want their debts repaid. Maybe they will propose bringing the African model of cheap, for-profit schools to Puerto Rico, which will cut costs considerably while opening new investment opportunities. (See here.)

According to the Times:

Hedge funds like Appaloosa Management, Paulson & Company and Blue Mountain Capital gathered in a conference room at the Barclays offices in Midtown Manhattan last September to talk about what was then the hottest trade: Puerto Rico.

An hour into the conversation, however, it became clear that if things started going bad, not everyone in the room was going to get along. Some had wagered on real estate, while others had bought up the debts of the central government and its troubled electric utility.

Those divisions intensify an increasingly contentious battle the hedge funds are beginning to wage to salvage an investment that, less than a year ago, looked like a sure thing.

This week’s announcement by Gov. Alejandro García Padilla of Puerto Rico that the commonwealth may seek to delay debt payments has thrown the hedge funds’ investment strategies into turmoil.

The governor said that at the rate the debt is developing, every person in Puerto Rico would owe creditors $40,000 by 2025.The Bonds That Broke Puerto RicoJUNE 30, 2015
Puerto Rico is struggling with more than $70 billion in debt and a sluggish economy.Puerto Rico Debt Crisis Splits Congress on Party Lines and Draws Muted Response From White HouseJUNE 29, 2015
Gov. Alejandro García Padilla plans to discuss the island’s fiscal crisis on a televised broadcast on Monday night.Puerto Rico’s Governor Says Island’s Debts Are ‘Not Payable’JUNE 28, 2015
Even debts that appeared to be secure now seem in jeopardy, sending hedge funds and other investors scrambling to re-examine their legal rights and potential remedies should the government push for a restructuring.

The Commonwealth’s biggest cheerleader on Wall Street has been John Paulson:

For the hedge funds, the idea was to lend the money at high interest rates, then flip the bonds to traditional municipal bond investors, like mutual funds, once the fiscal crisis on the island had passed. As part of that strategy, some of the hedge funds circulated research last summer arguing that Puerto Rico’s problems were overstated.

But Governor García Padilla is now contending exactly the opposite, releasing a report by former officials at the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank that says that Puerto Rico’s deficit is worse than it appears and that the commonwealth cannot solve its problems without restructuring its debts, possibly even its general obligation bonds.

Still, Puerto Rico’s relationship with the hedge fund industry is complicated. At the same time the government is gearing up for a series of restructurings with hedge funds and other creditors, officials are courting investments in the broader economy.

Hedge funds have been among the few investors willing to take a chance that Puerto Rico can turn things around.

Puerto Rico’s biggest hedge fund cheerleader in New York has been the billionaire John A. Paulson. Mr. Paulson told investors at an investment conference in San Juan last year that Puerto Rico’s economy was turning a corner. He went as far as to predict it would be the Singapore of the Caribbean, referring to the Southeast Asian city-state that is considered the region’s biggest economic success story.

Mr. Paulson bought up some of the island’s most exclusive luxury hotels, including the St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort, the Condado Vanderbilt Hotel and the La Concha Renaissance hotel and tower.

And he has acted as a de facto liaison between the commonwealth and Wall Street.

The New York Times has a fascinating article today about how a handful of very wealthy people invested in Andrew Cuomo and the Republican majority in the State Senate to gain control of public schools in Néw York City and state. The article says they want to continue former Mayor Bloomberg’s policies of closing public schools and replacing them with charter schools and tying teacher evaluations to test scores.

The leader of this effort, the story says, is former chancellor Joel Klein, who now works for rightwing media mogul Rupert Murdoch.

Unmentioned is the undemocratic nature of this purchase of public policy. There was a mayoral election. Bill de Blasio won handily, after making clear his opposition to Bloomberg’s education policies. So, the reformers lost at the polls but used their money to nullify the voters’ choice.

Peter Goodman is a close observer of city and state education policy in Néw York. In this post, he describes how Governor Andrew Cuomo bypassed the state Constitution to impose his own ideas on nearly 200 struggling schools across the state.

Since the state Constitution gives the governor no role in education policy, Cuomo used the budget process for his coup.

“True to his word the Governor attached a number of proposals to the budget: extending tenure for new teachers from three to four years, another principal-teacher evaluation plan (the third in four years) and receivership, a system to deal with low performing schools.

“From April through June the Board of Regents grappled with the dense, new, teacher evaluation law: an Education Learning Summit, two lengthy and contentious public Regents meetings, thousands upon thousands of emails, faxes, letters and phone calls to the Governor and Regents members all protesting elements of the new law. Eventually the Regents approved a set of regulations that will require the 700 school districts in New York State to negotiate the implementation of the new law.

“What received virtually no discussion was receivership – a system by which “struggling” schools are given two years to improve before they are removed from their school district and placed under the supervision of a receiver, who has sweeping powers including the ability to change sections of collective bargaining agreements. The Lawrence Massachusetts receivership district is frequently referenced as a successful example of the receivership model (See discussion here and the Mt Holyoke School District is in the process of entering receivership, with strong opposition from the community and teachers (Read discussion here).

“The New York State model is directed at schools rather than school districts.

[The new law says:] “In a district with a “Persistently Struggling School,” the superintendent is given an initial one-year period to use the enhanced authority of a Receiver to make demonstrable improvement in student performance or the Commissioner will direct that the school board appoint an Independent Receiver and submit the appointment for approval by the Commissioner. Additionally, the school will be eligible for a portion of $75 million in state aid to support and implement its turnaround efforts over a two-year period.”

“In the first year the superintendent, with “enhanced authority” has to show that the school has made “demonstrable improvement in student performance” or the school board, with the approval of the Commissioner will appoint an Independent Receiver.”

New York City recently started a 3-year turnaround program, but most of them are now targeted for receivership.

What is receivership? It means the school is handed over to an outsider with sweeping powers, “including requiring that all teachers reapply for their positions.”

Cuomo has no experience or knowledge about schools, other than having gone to schools. But he is threatening scores of schools either to improve or get taken over. This is a continuation of his vendetta against public schools and their teachers. In his way of thinking, the best way to bring about change is by threatening to beat up the other. Improve or die.


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