Archives for category: Closing schools

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.

Peter Greene explores why five percent has become the reformsters’ goal.

Not surprisingly, the originator of “the bottom five percent” is Mr. Reformster, Arne Duncan.

“It has a fine long history. All the way back in June 2009, we can find Arnie Duncan talking about the five percent in his address to the conference of the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools. The address, “Turning Around the Bottom Five Percent,” and it features the rhetorical sleight-of-hand that usually accompanies discussion of the five percent. Duncan leads with a description of chronically under-performing schools, noting the social and physical conditions of these schools are “horrific.” “They’re often unsafe, underfunded, poorly run, crumbling, and challenged in so many ways that the situation can feel hopeless.”

So now turning around or closing the bottom five percent is holy reformster writ.

Chris Barbic moved to the Achievement School District, took over the poorest five percent of schools and pledged to move them into the top 25%, but he failed and has resigned.

Greene gets it. There will always be a bottom five percent. Reform will never end.

He writes:

“Or the other big question mark in this whole system– the state will take those bottom five percent schools and do…. what? Turn them around and fix them? Is there any indication that the states or the privateers that they invariably hire to do the work– do any of them know the secret sauce for turning schools around? If they don’t, then what is the point of this exercise? If they do, why did we decide that only the bottom five percent would get the benefit of this miraculous brew of fairy dust and unicorn pee?

Any time you see “bottom five percent” crop up, beware. It’s one more time that reformsters are just making stuff up but trusting you’ll believe them because, look, numbers!”

Typically, schools with low test scores enrolled large numbers of students who are impoverished, are English language learners, and have significant handicaps. Such schools need extra staff and resources. But the vogue today is to threaten them with punishments, to fire the staff, and to hand them over to charter operators.

New York’s new state Commissioner MaryEllen Elia announced that, pursuant to the legislation that Governor Andrew Cuomo tucked into the state’s budget, she will take action against 144 struggling schools.

Cuomo’s “program creates carrots and sticks and sets out the possibility that the poorest performers could in a year’s time end up under outside receivership, that is, they could be taken over by an independent entity, such as a college or even a charter school operator.

There are 144 struggline schools statewide including 20 that are ”persistently struggling.”

For the persistently struggling schools, which includes Albany’s Hackett middle school, Burgard High in Buffalo and a slew in New York City as well as Rochester, an inside receiver, which is mostly likely the superintendent, will take charge this year. That person then has a year to show improvement or accept the outside receiver. The struggling schools have a year to improve or else they then go under the superintendent’s control, with outside takeover the year after that if there is no improvement.

The stick includes some potentially harsh measures, although it’s unclear how they will play out. In persistently struggling schools, for example, a superintendent acting as the local or in district receiver could conceivably fire teachers and administrators regardless of tenure. The superintendent also can change curriculum and institute a longer school day and school year.”

Blogger Perdidostreetschool notes that one of the struggling school was already being closed. He predicts that there will be many more sticks than carrots.

Perdido writes:

The goal of education reform is to slowly but surely privatize the school system, fire the unionized teachers, and replace schools with non-union charters.

That’s what Cuomo devised here with the budget legislation that allows for state receivership of so-called “failing” schools, but as is usual with the incompetents at NYSED, they screw stuff up and threaten to close a school that’s already closing.

As the Senate got close to a final vote on reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Democrats pushed to restore a punitive accountability system, much like NCLB.

Edweek reports:

“In the afternoon, senators voted on and rejected one of the most high-profile amendments the chamber has considered in its six days of debate—a proposal from Democrats to beef up accountability measures in the underlying bill to rewrite the No Child Left Behind Act, the current version of the law.

“Among other things, the amendment would have required states to establish measurable state-designed goals for all students and separately for each of the categories of subgroups of students. It also would have required states to intervene in their lowest-performing 5 percent of schools and those that graduate less than 67 percent of their students.

“NCLB said a lot on this issue, and most of it wasn’t helpful,” said Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., the principal author of the proposal. “But the amendment we’re offering takes a very different approach. This is an education bill, but it’s not a worthwhile bill unless it’s also a civil rights bill.”

“As we wrote Tuesday, Democrats weren’t expecting the amendment to pass. But they were hoping to cobble together 35 or more votes to show that strengthening accountability is a top priority going into conference with the House on its version of an ESEA overhaul.

“That way the Democrats, along with the dozen or so Republicans they anticipate voting against the bill no matter what, would be able to block final passage of a conferenced bill should it not include stronger accountability language.

“But the National Education Association threw a bit of a wrench in their plan when it came out in opposition to the amendment and urged senators to vote against it.

“The 3 million-member union argued that the amendment would “continue the narrow and punitive focus of NCLB and overidentify schools in need of improvement, reducing the ability of states to actually target help to schools that need the most assistance to help students.”

“In a letter to senators, the NEA wrote that it agreed with the intent of the amendment, in that states should be required to specifically factor subgroup performance into their system of school identification. But that overall system, the letter stated, should be decided by the states, not the federal government.”

The Democratic Senators apparently don’t know that state takeovers mean privatization (a la ALEC), that charters do not get better academic results than public schools, and that the root cause of low scores is inequity, not “bad” schools. State takeovers have not protected the civil rights of under served children. Privatization has created profits for the charter industry.

This is an incredible article. Please read it.

Kristen Steele’s article is titled “Education: the Next Corporate Frontier: Exposing Power and Evil in a Neoliberal World.”

Steele is an environmental activist who realized that the push for corporate profits has invaded education, as it has so many other sectors of the global economy.

She begins:

“I’m no education expert. Having worked in the environmental and new economy fields for the last two decades, my main concern when it comes to schooling has been what children learn. Along with most activists I know, I’d like to see kids get outdoors more, learn about the intricacies of ecosystems, understand the urgency of climate change, experience growing their own food, and acquire the knowledge and understanding essential to becoming environmentally-conscious citizens. I’d like school reform to be a part of rebuilding vibrant local economies and sustainable communities. This is what I thought was at the heart of the struggle for better education. But there’s a battle being waged on a different front. One that will overwhelm and undo any improvements we’ve made if social and environmental activists don’t join in the fight.

“Over the last thirty years or so, private corporations have been steadily taking over school systems all around the world. Going hand in hand with “free” trade and development, the privatization of education is simply another step towards corporate control of the entire economy. If you’re tuned in to education news in the US, you may be familiar with the public school closures in Chicago, the so-called Recovery School District in New Orleans, and the proposed budget cuts in Milwaukee that have brought parents, students and teachers into the streets. But few of us hear about how students in Chile have been protesting for nearly a decade against rampant privatization that has increased economic inequality. Or how the UK government recently passed an education act allowing the conversion of all state schools into privately run “academies”. Or how Structural Adjustment Programs and development aid have paved the way for privatization of schools acrossAfrica, which has resulted in reduced enrollment of girls and exclusion of the poorest children. Or how similar takeovers are happening in Canada, Sweden, New Zealand, India, and many other countries.

“Privatization exists in different forms, including vouchers, public private partnerships, low-fee private schools, and charter schools. Whatever it’s called, it amounts to the same thing: private corporations gaining control of and profiting from an essential public function. In every country, the identical argument is used: public schools are failing, reform is needed and big business will do it best, providing choice and efficiency. If the statistics don’t match the argument, they are concealed or doctored to fit.

“Privatization in education is eerily reminiscent of every other sector that has come under corporate control; many of the justifications and methods are exactly the same. Just as in agriculture, technology is touted as creating “efficiency.” Just as in healthcare, we’re presented with the illusion of “consumer choice.” Just as in global trade, corporations are deregulated and given generous subsidies. Just as in manufacturing, skilled employees are displaced by underpaid workers with no job security. Just as in energy, the profit motive trumps the wellbeing of people and planet. Just as in politics, legislation is influenced by rich private interests. In none of these sectors has corporate control brought about increased wellbeing for any but the richest segment of society. Why will education be any different?”

Read the rest.

Send this article to your friends, your elected officials, members of your state and local school boards, journalists, anyone else you can think of. It is that important.

Groups like Democrats for Education Reform, Education Reform Now, Students First, Campbell Brown’s The 74, and foundations like Gates, Walton, Broad, Dell, Arnold, Helmsley, and dozens more are leading this mass takeover of a crucial public institution.

In 2011, a former graduate student of mine ran an Internet search for the term “failing school.” It was almost never used until the mid-1990s. Then each year, it appeared with greater frequency. After the passage of No Child Left Behind, it become a cliche: Any school with low test scores was “a failing school.” The term “failing school” is especially useful to those who want to close them and turn their building over to charter operators, which may not accept the same students.

 

A reader writes:

 

 

The term “failing schools” is a weapon. I have worked in a public school in the south Bronx for almost 20 years. Our students come from poor, often stressed, families. Many are English Language Learners. Most are socially and academically “behind”. And I love seeing them every day. We LOOK like a failing school when you judge us through the prism of standardized testing, but when my kids win the Thurgood Marshall Junior Mock Trial Competition, or come back to tell me about their college experiences, or stare in wonder at the city in which they live but don’t really know while we take them on field trips, or beg me to continue reading To Kill a Mockingbird or Of Mice and Men instead of turning to test prep material, I KNOW we are not a failing school. Eva Moskowitz has chosen our building for her next conquest, and we’ve been told that no matter what we do, “it’s a done deal”. Need a laugh? The vote is scheduled to take place deep in Chinatown! How many of our parents do you think will be able to show up for that? My kids are not failures, no matter how many times they are told so by the VERY PEOPLE WHO RUN THE EDUCATION SYSTEM IN THIS CITY.

 
It’s humiliating and soul crushing to be a teacher in an inner city school. The people who should be getting accolades for working in such places are beaten down instead. I’ll go to work tomorrow and discuss the symbolism of the objects that Boo Radley leaves in the tree in To Kill a Mockingbird. My kids will ask great questions and make wonderful observations. Many of them will score poorly on the ELA exam in 2 weeks. They, and I, will be labeled failures. It’s so very, very sad.

A reader sent this email to me:

At the 6:43 mark of this latest Fordham podcast, Mike Petrilli says:
http://edexcellence.net/commentary/podcasts/opening-minds-about-closing-schools
“If this [opt-out] thing goes national, the whole education reform
movement is in serious trouble.”

Amen!

Peter Greene here takes apart the claim by Mike Petrilli and Aaron Churchill of the Fordham Institute in the Wall Street Journal that closing schools is good for students. By good, they mean that the students will get higher test scores if their school is closed and they move to a different school.

Greene calls this “four kinds of wrong.”

To begin with:

“Before we even get into what they said or why it’s baloney, let’s open with the caveat that they themselves left out of the article. The study looks at the benefits of closing schools and was done in Ohio, where the Fordham operates charters that directly benefit from the closing schools. So this is, once again, a study touting the benefits of cigarette smoking brought to you by your friends at the Tobacco Institute.”

They claim that students gain an extra 49 days by switching schools. No serious researcher, he says, uses this metric. It is a meaningless reformer extrapolation, Greene says.

He adds, an increase from the 20th to the 22nd or 23rd percentile is a statistical blip.

Worst of all, they propose destroying social capital, which children need even more than a few points on a standardized test.

Stan Karp was a teacher in New Jersey for many years. He now works as an advocate for public education. In this brilliant article, he describes two districts in New Jersey that have been under assault by corporate reformers. One is Newark, the other is Montclair. One is high-poverty and mostly African-American; the other is an affluent and diverse suburb. To different degrees, both have experienced the same failed “reforms”:

 

“Corporate education reform” is used here as shorthand for a set of proposals driving education policy at the state and federal level. These include:

 
Increased test-based evaluation of students, teachers, and schools of education.

 
Elimination or weakening of tenure and seniority rights.

 
An end to pay for experience or advanced degrees.

 
The privatization of school services, including reduced pay and benefits for the aides, custodians, and cafeteria workers who often form an important layer of community-based staff in schools.

 
Closing public schools and replacing them with privately run charters.

 
Replacing elected local school boards with various forms of mayoral or state takeover.

 
Vouchers and tax credit subsidies for private school tuition.

 
Implementation of a new generation of computer-based exams tied to the Common Core standards.

 
Typically, low-income districts like Newark, with majority populations of color, including many families who have been poorly served by the current system, have been the entry point for these policies. The rhetoric of civil rights and equity, once invoked to challenge segregation and institutional racism, is now being used to justify the radical dismantling of these districts.

 
Newark reached a turning point on this path in the fall of 2010, a high-water mark for the corporate reform movement: The pro-charter propaganda film Waiting for “Superman” had just been released and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan was calling it a “Rosa Parks moment.” Oprah Winfrey ran a week of back-to-school specials highlighted by the appearance of Bill Gates and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, who appeared with then-Newark Mayor Cory Booker and New Jersey’s newly elected Gov. Chris Christie.

 
Christie won election by campaigning against teacher unions, calling pre-K programs “babysitting,” and denouncing court-ordered funding levels for New Jersey’s urban districts as “obscene.” “We have to grab this system by the roots and yank it out and start over,” he said. Booker and Christie formed the kind of bipartisan political alliance that has been a defining characteristic of corporate ed reform. As reported by Dale Russakoff in the New Yorker: “Booker presented Christie with a confidential proposal titled ‘Newark Public Schools—A Reform Plan.’ . . . One of the goals was to ‘make Newark the charter school capital of the nation.’”

 

Christie agreed and Booker began pitching the plan to potential donors, including Zuckerberg.

 

So, as schools opened in September 2010, folks in Newark heard Zuckerberg, who had never set foot in the city, announce from a TV studio in Chicago that he was donating $100 million to support what Oprah described as a takeover of Newark Public Schools (NPS) by the “rock star mayor.” Community activists began referring to it as the second takeover.

 

Karp gives a history of the last 20 years in Newark, which was taken over by the state in 1995. Under court order, Newark Public Schools made significant progress. But after Chris Christie was elected governor, Newark became a hothouse for corporate reform.

 

Some of Newark’s highest profile charters are “no excuses” schools with authoritarian cultures and appalling attrition rates. Newark’s KIPP schools lose nearly 60 percent of African American boys between 5th and 12th grades, and Uncommon Schools lose about 75 percent. There are some Newark charters that provide high quality education for a fortunate few, but the overall impact on the district has been polarizing and inequitable, and has accelerated the district’s decline.
For many architects of corporate reform, that’s exactly the point. As Andy Smarick, a former deputy commissioner in Christie’s DOE now with the corporate think tank Bellwether, wrote: “The solution isn’t an improved traditional district; it’s an entirely different delivery system for public education: systems of chartered schools.”

 

Christie appointed Cami Anderson as superintendent of Newark, and her plans to dismantle public education are highly unpopular. She never attends board meetings; her office was occupied recently by a group of students. A new mayor, Ras Baraka, was elected running in opposition to Cami Anderson and state control. But despite her unpopularity, Christie reappointed her for another term and gave her a bonus. Other superintendents have a salary cap; Anderson has none and makes more than any other superintendent in the state.

 

Montclair, New Jersey, is a suburb that has long been desegregated. It has some unusual citizens, including Chris Cerf, the former state superintendent who now works for Joel Klein at Rupert Murdoch’s Amplify division, and Jonathan Alter, the national political journalist who is a cheerleader for corporate reform and had a starring role in “Waiting for ‘Superman,'” lauding accountability and charter schools. Montclair, writes Karp, was a “takeover without a takeover.”

 

In the summer of 2012, as Cami Anderson was hollowing out Newark, Montclair hired a new superintendent. Penny MacCormack was new to the state, had never been a superintendent, and wasn’t known to many in Montclair. But those who track state education politics knew she had been a district official in Connecticut who was recruited by Cerf to be an assistant commissioner in Christie’s DOE. The department had received several grants from the Eli Broad Foundation and was staffed with multiple Broad “fellows.” MacCormack, Cerf, and Anderson all have Broad ties.
MacCormack was at the N.J. Department of Education for less than a year when she suddenly resurfaced as the new Montclair superintendent without any public vetting, a clear sign the board knew this was a controversial hire.
Her welcome reception began with a video about the origins of the magnet system in the struggle to integrate the town’s schools. Some honored town elders who had played key roles were in the audience. MacCormack awkwardly attempted to connect her vision to the compelling town history framed in the video. Despite the town’s commitment to equity, she said, wide “achievement gaps” remained, and addressing those gaps would be her No. 1 priority.
MacCormack didn’t pledge to restore the equity supports that had been eroded in recent years or challenge Christie’s budget cuts. Instead, she announced that the Common Core standards and tests, and the state’s new teacher evaluation mandates, would “level the playing field” and “raise expectations for all.” “And,” she said, “I will be using the data to hold educators accountable and make sure we get results.”
After she finished, a latecomer took the floor and told the audience how lucky Montclair was to have MacCormack come to town. It was Jon Schnur, the architect of the Race to the Top. He also lives in Montclair. We later learned that Schnur was MacCormack’s “mentor” in a certification program she enrolled in after being hired without the required credentials to be superintendent.
In Montclair, there was no formal state takeover and no contested school board elections. Instead, the long reach of corporate education reform had used influence peddling, backdoor connections, and a compliant appointed school board to install one of their own at the head of one of the state’s model districts.

 

Over the next few months, MacCormack’s plans took shape, drawing on a familiar playbook. There was major shuffling at central office; experienced staff were replaced by well-paid imports. Half the district’s principals were moved or replaced.
The new superintendent created a multiyear strategic plan: a 20-page list of bulleted goals, strategies, and benchmarks. One stood out. MacCormack wanted to implement “districtwide Common Core-aligned quarterly assessments in reading, writing, mathematics, social studies, and science” from kindergarten through 12th grade.” The proposal quickly became a dividing line.
Like the rest of the country, Montclair had felt the impact of increased testing. New Jersey used to test students once each in elementary, middle, and high school. But since 2002, NCLB mandated annual testing for every student in every grade from 3 to 8 and again in high school. State testing mandates increased again when New Jersey adopted the Common Core standards and tests. MacCormack’s “benchmark assessments” were an additional layer designed to produce data for her strategic plan.
The town pushed back. Some parents formed a group called Montclair Cares About Schools (MCAS) and posted an online petition asking the board to defer the quarterly tests. Five hundred parents signed in a few weeks. A similar petition initiated by students drew another 500 names. Dozens of speakers lined up at board meetings to urge the board to slow down and change direction. But, as the school year ended, the board that hired MacCormack unanimously endorsed her plan.
When schools opened in September, neither the tests nor the new curriculum they were supposed to assess were ready. Teachers were scrambling to make sense of a complicated new teacher evaluation rubric. Confusion reigned about how this rubric would combine with student test scores to produce numerical ratings for staff, with high-stakes consequences for tenure and salaries. Again, parents and teachers pleaded with the board to delay the new tests, to no avail.

 

McCormack has since moved on, leaving behind an $8 million budget gap and a divided citizenry; the communities under siege are beginning to work together to resist disruptive and chaotic “reforms.”

 

The school reform battles in Newark and Montclair are part of a national struggle over the direction of public education, and the outcome is still very much in doubt. But there are some encouraging signs that building pro-public education coalitions across urban, suburban, race, and class lines is possible.
In the midst of Newark’s mayoral campaign, MCAS [Montclair Cares About Schools] held a fundraiser in Montclair for Ras Baraka. At an overflowing house party, MCAS parents spoke about their efforts to realize a democratic vision of integrated schools and put support for public education back at the center of state and national policy. Baraka spoke passionately about how much it meant to children and parents in Newark to know they had allies beyond their neighborhoods.
Ties across district lines are growing. “Cares about Schools” groups have popped up in more than two dozen other districts. Save Our Schools, N.J., a statewide parents group, has grown to more than 20,000 supporters and built an advocacy network that’s done terrific work on school funding, charter accountability, privatization, and testing. The N.J. Education Association has initiated a campaign against the overuse of standardized testing that is crossing community and constituency lines more consciously than in the past.
Two recent events hint at the possibilities. On a cold January night, MCAS partnered with the Montclair Education Association to sponsor “an evening of song, poetry, comedy, music, and spoken word celebrating the joy of creative teaching and educators.” A crowd gathered in the performance space of a local bar to celebrate the diverse voices of Montclair’s public schools. During a break, an MCAS parent made an announcement: A series of “Undoing Racism” workshops would be held in late March. Participants would be drawn from both Newark and Montclair, with representation from educators and community. “Undoing racism,” she repeated. “Let’s have more of that. And it comes right at the end of the first round of [Common Core] testing, a perfect time to look at issues of race in education.”
A few days later, Ras Baraka became the first mayor of a major city to publicly endorse the right of parents to opt out of state tests. “While test data can be a useful part of accountability systems,” he declared, “the misuse and overuse of standardized tests has undermined the promise of equity and opportunity. . . . New Jersey needs an immediate moratorium on using standardized tests for high-stakes purposes, such as graduation, teacher evaluations, and restructuring schools. . . . I stand in solidarity with the opposition to this regime of standardized testing.”
The seeds of solidarity are starting to sprout.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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