Archives for category: Closing schools

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.

Andy Hargreaves of Boston College asks an important question: What is the purpose of benchmarking? We collect data, we measure, we test, we set goals, but why? Will it improve performance if we know that someone else does it better? Do they have the same challenges, the same resources? Is there more to education than raising tests ores and do higher test scores necessarily mean better education?

Andy begins with two stories about benchmarking, one positive, one negative. One improved public health, one made it easier to conduct war.

Right now, under pressure from No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, everything is measured. Why? To fire teachers and principals? To close schools? To hand public property to entrepreneurs? Who benefits? What do we do with the losers? Throw them away? Plenty of children were left behind, and many will not make it to “the top.”

Andy writes:

“Is the purpose of our educational benchmarking to further the public good, to raise the standards of education for all, to elevate the poorest and most disadvantaged students to the greatest heights of accomplishment? And once we have done our calculations and made our maps, what pathways will be opened up, and what people and resources will be pulled along them in this worthy quest for equity and excellence? The White House announced earlier this summer that it would address educational inequities by collecting data to help pinpoint where they existed, but there seemed to be no plan to bring up the people and resources to correct them.

“Is there a second purpose of educational benchmarking then? Is it to delineate the weak from the strong, inciting nation to compete against nation, Americans against Asians, and school against school. After we have pinpointed schools that are failing, does this just make it easier for invading opportunists to set up charter schools in their place, or to market online alternatives, tutoring services and the like?

“As in surveying, benchmarking in education should be about discovering where we stand and learning about who we are and what we do by observing those around us. It should be about improving public education, just as the sewer maps for my hometown contributed to public sanitation. Benchmarking should not be about fomenting panics about performance in relation to overseas competitors. And it should not be about dividing schools, families and communities from each other to create easy pickings for the educational market.

“Whenever we are engaged in the data-driven detail of educational benchmarking, these are the greater questions we should be asking. Of what map or whose map are we the servants?”

In a truly wonderful article in Sunday’s New York Times, David Kirp of the University of California at Berkeley lays waste the underpinnings of the current “education reform” movement. Kirp not only shows what doesn’t work, he gives numerous examples of what does work to help students.

Kirp explains in plain language why teaching can never be replaced by a machine. Although the article just appeared, I have already heard about angry grumbling from reformers, because their ultimate goal (which they prefer to hide) is to replace teachers with low-cost machines. Imagine a “classroom” with 100 students sitting in front of a monitor, overseen by a low-wage aide. Think of the savings. Think of the advantages that a machine has over a human being: they can be easily programmed; they don’t get a salary or a pension; they don’t complain when they are abused; and when a better, cheaper model comes along, the old one can be tossed into the garbage.

David Kirp dashes cold water on the reformy dream. Today’s reformers devoutly believe that schools can be transformed by market mechanisms, either by competition or technology. Kirp, author of “Improbable Scholars: The Rebirth of a Great American School System and a Strategy for America’s Schools,” says that the tools for the improvement are not out of reach and do not depend on either the market or technology. His common-sense formulation of what is needed is within our reach, does not require mass firings or mass school closings, privatization, or a multi-billion dollar investment in technology.

But Kirp writes:

“It’s impossible to improve education by doing an end run around inherently complicated and messy human relationships. All youngsters need to believe that they have a stake in the future, a goal worth striving for, if they’re going to make it in school. They need a champion, someone who believes in them, and that’s where teachers enter the picture. The most effective approaches foster bonds of caring between teachers and their students.”

Reformers have made test scores “the single metric of success, the counterpart to the business bottom line.” The teacher whose students get high scores get a bonus, while those whose students get low scores get fired, just like business, where low-performers are laid-off. And, just like business, where low-profit stores are closed, and new ones are opened “in more promising territory, failing schools are closed and so-called turnaround model schools, with new teachers and administrators, take their place.”

Kirp says bluntly:

“This approach might sound plausible in a think tank, but in practice it has been a flop. Firing teachers, rather than giving them the coaching they need, undermines morale. In some cases it may well discourage undergraduates from pursuing careers in teaching, and with a looming teacher shortage as baby boomers retire, that’s a recipe for disaster. Merit pay invites rivalries among teachers, when what’s needed is collaboration. Closing schools treats everyone there as guilty of causing low test scores, ignoring the difficult lives of the children in these schools — “no excuses,” say the reformers, as if poverty were an excuse.”

Kirp throws cold water on the reformers’ favorite remedy: “Charter schools,” he writes, “have been promoted as improving education by creating competition. But charter students do about the same, over all, as their public school counterparts, and the worst charters, like the online K-12 schools that have proliferated in several states, don’t deserve to be called schools. Vouchers are also supposed to increase competition by giving parents direct say over the schools their children attend, but the students haven’t benefited.”

As we have frequently noted, Milwaukee should be the poster child for both voucher schools and charter schools, which have operated there for nearly 25 years. Yet Milwaukee is one of the nation’s lowest performing cities in the nation on the federal NAEP tests. Milwaukee has had plenty of competition but no success.

What’s the alternative? It is obvious: “talented teachers, engaged students and a challenging curriculum.”

Kirp points to the management ideas of W. Edwards Deming, who believed in the importance of creating successful systems in which workers were chosen carefully, supported, encouraged, and enabled to succeed by the organization’s culture. The best organizations flourish by supporting their employees, not by threatening them.

Kirp identifies a number of models in education that have succeeded by “strengthening personal bonds by building strong systems of support in the schools.” He refers to preschools, to a reading and math program called Success for All model, to another called Diplomas Now, which “love-bombs middle school students who are prime candidates for dropping out. They receive one-on-one mentoring, while those who have deeper problems are matched with professionals.”

Kirp cites “An extensive study of Chicago’s public schools, Organizing Schools for Improvement, identified 100 elementary schools that had substantially improved and 100 that had not. The presence or absence of social trust among students, teachers, parents and school leaders was a key explanation.”

Similarly, Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, “has had a substantial impact on millions of adolescents. The explanation isn’t what adolescents and their “big sibling” mentors do together, whether it’s mountaineering or museum-going. What counts, the research shows, is the forging of a relationship based on mutual respect and caring.

Despite the success of programs cited by Kirp, which are built on personal relationships, “public schools have been spending billions of dollars on technology which they envision as the wave of the future. Despite the hyped claims, the results have been disappointing.”

Kirp concludes that “technology can be put to good use by talented teachers,” but it is the teachers who “must take the lead. The process of teaching and learning is an intimate act that neither computers nor markets can hope to replicate. Small wonder, then, that the business model hasn’t worked in reforming the schools — there is simply no substitute for the personal element.”

David L. Kirp is a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and the author of “Improbable Scholars: The Rebirth of a Great American School System and a Strategy for America’s Schools.”

Wow! This post will knock your socks off, unless you work for the U.S. Department of Education. The post was written by Mark NAISON, one of the co-founders of the BATs. (I don’t know why, but my iPad always converts Mark’s last name into all-caps.)

The Badass Teachers Association held a rally outside the U.S. Department of Education on July 28, and several were invited to meet with staff at the Office of Civil Rights to air their grievances and see if they could find common ground. After some talk, some of which was contentious, Arne Duncan dropped in unexpectedly and joined the conversation, but said he would talk about only two subjects:

“Secretary Duncan after introducing himself, and saying that he could only stay for a few minutes, asked for two things; first if we could articulate our concerns about the Department’s policies on dealing with Special needs students, and secondly, if Shoneice and Asean could step out with him to talk about what was going on in Chicago.

“In response to his first comment, Marla Kilfoyle started speaking about her concerns about Department from her standpoint of the parent of a special needs student as well as a teacher. She said it appeared that Department policies were forcing school districts to disregard individual student IEP’s and exposing special needs students to inappropriate and abusive levels of testing.

“Secretary Duncan deflected her remarks by saying that the Department was concerned that too many children of color were being inappropriately diagnosed as being Special Needs children and that once they were put in that category they were permanently marginalized. He then said “We want to make sure that all students are exposed to a rigorous curriculum.”

“At that point, I interrupted him in a very loud voice and said “ We don’t like the word ‘rigor.” We prefer to talk about creativity and maximizing students potential.”

“Secretary Duncan was somewhat taken aback by my comments. He said “ we might disagree about the language, but what I want is for all students to be able to take advanced placement courses or be exposed to an IB (International Baccalaureat) curriculum.

“At this point, Larry Proffitt interrupted the Secretary and said that in Tennessee, Special Needs students were being abused and humiliated by abusive and inappropriate testing and that their teachers knew this, and were afraid to speak out.

“We were clearly at an impasse here, which the Secretary dealt with by saying he had to leave and asking Shoneice and Asean to step into the hall with him and continue the conversation.”

This is a small part of a fascinating report on the BATs meeting at the DOE. When people ask me why I support them, I say, “They speak truth to power.” Here is the proof. Too many educators are docile and compliant. They are not.

Please read the whole post.

Do you think that Arne Duncan really believes that the greatest need of students with disabilities is access to rigorous AP and IB courses?

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