Archives for category: Closing schools

The Badass Teachers Association has produced a series of videos to explain the intricacies and deceptions of corporate reform.

The first laid out the corporate reform strategy.

The second examined the Broad superintendents.

The third looks closely at the legacy of Michelle Rhee.

The thesis that ties them together is that “reform” is a house of cards built on lies that will inevitably fall down, as houses of cards tend to do.

In an unusual turn, EduShyster writes a serious article about the increasingly insidious role played by Teach for America today.

The organization began with the laudable goal of supplying teachers to schools where there were chronic shortages.

However, it has become a mainstay of the privatization movement, staffing charters that open as public schools close.

She warns:

“By fueling charter expansion, TFA is undermining public schools

“You wouldn’t know it from the heat of the debate but Teach for America has largely abandoned plans to expand into urban districts in any significant way. Instead, TFA increasingly serves as the designated labor force for urban charters. In Chicago, for example, where charter expansion is the real driver of public school closures and teacher layoffs, TFA has functioned as a placement agency for the fast-growing and politically connected UNO charter chain since 2010. In Philadelphia, where 23 schools were closed this spring and thousands of teachers and support staff laid off, TFA supplies hundreds of new teachers for charters in the city. Of the 257 corps members teaching in Philly in 2012, just 21 were in district schools.”

In addition, the leaders groomed by TFA increasingly are trained exclusively in the charter sector, and consequently,

“TFA views traditional public schools with disdain

“TFA’s shift away from its original mission of serving public schools to becoming a provider of labor for charters also means that its much vaunted leadership pipeline is producing a different kind of leader. TFA increasingly grooms leaders with no experience of traditional public schools. Recent corps members teach in charters, go on to lead charters, or move on to careers in educational policy in which they advocate for more charters. Their first encounter with a public education system will likely be when they are hired to dismantle one.”

As a result, TFA is integrally tied to the forces who are hostile to public education and intent on its privatization.

Asean Johnson, a nine-year-old student in Chicago, read the riot act to the Chicago school board. He told them they should be helping schools, not closing them. He made more sense than any of the grown-ups on the other side of the podium. He had only two minutes, and he used them well:

“With tears sliding down his cheeks Johnson told the school board, “You are slashing our education. You’re pulling me down. You’re taking our educational opportunities away.”

Will they listen?

This is one of Gary Rubinstein’s best posts, wherein he challenges the new co-leader of Teach for America to give more thought to his facile reference to “the status quo.”

The post follows some tweets between Gary and Matt Kramer. Gary explains that those who disagree with TFA are not defending the status quo.

Gary writes:

“I could easily make a list of things that I’d like to change. I could bore you for hours about how I feel the math curriculum in this country and this world has evolved into something that leaves out the thing that makes math great — beauty. I could also very easily pick places where money is wasted on consultants and bad education software, and also places where not enough money is spent to do things right. But I’m called a status quo defender, still, just because I think that certain things should not be changed and that other things should not be changed, just for the sake of changing them, but until something that won’t make things worse is devised.

“So I am opposed to school closings. I can understand the allure of school closings — lighting a fire under the butts of the staff of a school (the ‘adults’ as reformers like to call them) to get their best work out of them. But I’m opposed to them because I feel they cause more harm than good. Is that why I’m a status quo defender? Because of all the things that I think should not be changed (just as ‘reformers have a host of things that should not be changed) this controversial practice is a new change that I do not embrace?

“I am opposed to using ‘value-added’ to judge teacher quality which, in turn, will get used to decide on pay increases and firings. I’m not convinced that a computer algorithm has been devised yet that can calculate what a group of thirty students ‘should’ get with an ‘average’ teacher on a poorly made state test. I’ve seen so many examples of a teacher getting wildly different results in consecutive years and even getting wildly different results in the same year when they teach two different grade levels to have any confidence in this golden calf of school reform.”

And he adds: “I don’t know of anyone in my camp who would say that we should do ‘nothing.’ And, yes, it is better to do nothing sometimes than to do something when that ‘something’ is likely to make matters worse.”

TFA, he points out, is deeply resistant to changing their own status quo.

Daniel Denvir, crack investigative journalist in Philadelphia, reports that the state has dragged its feet on an investigation of a major cheating scandal.

Despite evidence of high rates of erasures, the state has done nothing and refuses reporters’ requests for information.

Denvir writes:

“Over the last two years, inquiries were closed or altered with little explanation, and state and school administrators refused to answer basic questions about the investigations’ nature or methods. Some schools were left to investigate themselves. Only a handful of administrators and one teacher have been publicly held to account.

“It’s dragging on at an incredibly slow pace compared to investigations elsewhere,” says Bob Schaeffer, public-education director at FairTest, an organization critical of high-stakes testing. “And it makes you wonder: What’s going on?”

“The Notebook and, to a lesser extent, the Inquirer have covered each turn in this story. But despite continued questions, few answers have been forthcoming. “Some people probably want this story to go away,” says Notebook editor Paul Socolar. “Some people may think it has gone away because there hasn’t been a lot of information coming out about what actually happens. That’s not for lack of effort. We’re not getting a lot of information from the authorities about what they found out in their investigations.”

“After all, politically, the state would have a great deal to lose by prosecuting cheaters. Some of the most damning evidence of cheating has come from Philadelphia, a district run by the state since 2002, and from charters, including a Chester school run by a prominent leader in Pennsylvania’s self-described school-reform movement who is a backer of Gov. Tom Corbett. But more than that, bubble tests have become the high-stakes centerpiece of American public education; when the scores are tainted, it could throw an entire way of running schools into question.

“Given the scope of the issue and the lack of action since, it appears Pennsylvania is covering up one of the country’s largest cheating scandals — and doing so in plain sight.”

The pursuit of ever higher scores, Denvir reports, has produced not only massive cheating, but also intensive test prep, narrowing the curriculum, unjust firings and school closings.

This is the first review of my new book.

Kirkus sends out early reviews that are read by journalists, librarians, and others in the publishing industry.

This reviewer provides an accurate summary of the book. He or she got the main point and presents it succinctly here.

The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools
Author: Diane Ravitch

Review Issue Date: August 1, 2013
Online Publish Date: July 21, 2013
Pages: 416
Price ( Hardcover ): $27.95
Publication Date: September 18, 2013
ISBN ( Hardcover ): 978-0-385-35088-4
Category: Nonfiction

“A noted education authority launches a stout defense of the public school system and a sharp attack on the so-called reformers out to wreck them.

“We’ve been misinformed, writes Ravitch (Education/New York Univ.; The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education, 2010, etc.), about the state of our public schools. Test scores are higher than ever, the dropout rate is lower, and achievement gaps among races are narrowing. The only “crisis” is the one ginned up by government bureaucrats, major foundations, an odd coalition of elitists and commercial hustlers intent on privatizing education. They’ve made inflated claims about the virtues of vouchers, charter schools, virtual schools, standardized testing (and its efficacy for identifying excellent teachers) and merit pay. With no supporting evidence, they insist poverty has no correlation to low academic achievement, that abolishing tenure and seniority will improve schools, and that overhauling the entire system along business lines is the way to go. Ravitch makes her own proposals for genuine improvement, and if they are as unsurprising as they are expensive—e.g., prenatal care for all expectant mothers, high-quality early education for all, reduced class sizes and a full, balanced curriculum, medical and social services for poor children—they at least leave responsibility for the public school system where it belongs: in the hands of our elected representatives. When it comes to education, notoriously plagued by fads, it’s always difficult to determine truth. Ravitch, however, earns the benefit of the doubt by the supporting facts, figures, and graphs she brings to her argument, a lifetime of scholarship, and experience in and out of government. She’s as dismissive of George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind as of Barack Obama’s Race to the Top and as critical of former Secretary of Education William Bennett as of the current Arne Duncan.

“For policymakers, parents and anyone concerned about the dismantling of one of our democracy’s great institutions.

“41 graphs. First printing of 75,000. Author tour to Boston, Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, New York, Portland, San Francisco, Seattle, Washington, D.C.”

A note from Diane: I will also be in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and other cities.

What a strange bureaucracy is Chicago Public Schools. Also, like many bureaucracies, cold and heartless.

CPS fired veteran Chicago teacher Xian Barrett by informing his mother. The principal called his mother and read a script. It’s not like Barrett is a minor. Why wouldn’t they have the nerve to call him directly?

The mass layoffs follow an unprecedented mass closing of 50 schools.

Could this be payback for last fall’s teachers’ strike? Or just Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s determination to starve public education and call it reform?

“In one of the city’s largest teacher layoffs ever, the district pink slipped 2,113 teachers and other employees.

“Of those laid off, 1,036 are teachers and 1,077 are support staff, with the laid-off teachers accounting for about 4 percent of last year’s total faculty of 23,290.

“Budget cuts are to blame for 815 support staff, 398 tenured teachers and 510 non-tenured teachers; school closings for 68 support staff employees and 194 food staff employees, and changes in school enrollments account for rest, the district said.

“Another 161 highly-rated teachers from the 48 schools that closed permanently in June also learned later Friday they will not follow their students to new schools — there aren’t enough open jobs in the receiving schools, according to CPS spokeswoman Kelley Quinn. Their positions have been cut, but they’re not technically laid off since they continue to collect full pay and benefits in a teacher reassignment pool for the first five months of the school year, and slightly lower pay in the cadre substitute pool for the next five months, Quinn said.”

This investigative article by Steve Horn traces the money trail that ties together the major players in the corporate reform movement in Chicago. From President Obama to Arne Duncan to Rahm Emanuel, the thread that ties them all together is the Joyce Foundation. As the privatization movement advances, its path has been well prepared by the city’s power brokers, who have decided not to support public education.

The following account of Delmont Elementary School was written by Jill Saia, who was its principal.

I have deleted the “Dream School” folder on my computer. I am hoping that enough time has passed since our school was closed that I can write about it clearly and rationally, even though what was done to us was neither clear nor rational. For the last ten years that folder on my computer has contained all our plans, hopes, and ideas for a school run by professional educators for children who need it most. We knew that if we could put the highest-quality team of teachers together that we could affect true change in the lives of children in an at-risk school.

Two years ago when I was given the opportunity to become principal of Delmont Elementary School, I cautiously accepted the position. You see, I never wanted to be a principal. My graduate work in Educational Administration and Supervision confirmed this for me: being a school principal was too stressful and too far removed from teaching and learning. So I finished my degree and became certified, although I was certain I would never use this credential.

After 28 years in public education, I was offered the chance to become the Instructional Leader of Delmont. This would give me the chance to put into practice everything I had learned about high quality instruction and ongoing professional development. The position had been very carefully designed so that I would have autonomy in decisions and would be able to focus my time on classrooms and instruction instead of administrative duties. I would never have accepted this position if those guidelines weren’t clear.

Those guidelines remained in place for about two months. I was able to hire a very skilled staff, six of whom were National Board Certified Teachers. But my request for an Assistant Principal and Dean of Students was denied, even though there was money in the budget for it. I very quickly encountered resistance at all my personnel suggestions, and it began to seem as though the district didn’t really want us to succeed. The next two years were the most rewarding of my educational career, but also the most disheartening.

A change in top-level leadership at the district caused the team that had written the plan for Delmont to be totally dismantled. The new administration did not seem to know or understand why we were designated a “turnaround school” and what that meant in terms of academic freedom. I started carrying the SIG plan around with me when I went to meetings so I could explain what we were trying to do and show what the guidelines spelled out. Yet I increasingly encountered resistance from the Director of Turnaround Schools, who was a former superintendent of the failing Recovery School District. Looking back on it now, I think that this was all by design; “leaders” in the Central Office really didn’t think we would be able to turn Delmont around, so they created obstacles to keep it from happening.

One such obstacle presented itself in our first year. After having spent the summer hiring a top-notch staff and building a collaborative team, the district swooped in on October 10 to move two teachers and one aide out of our building. My plea to stop this from happening fell on deaf ears, and I was even cited for insubordination when I tried to show them what the SIG plan said about staffing. (That we were entitled to additional staff because it was a turnaround effort). So we said goodbye to three valuable staff members, shuffled kids into new classes, and kept going.

We did not make tremendous progress on test scores in the first year. We did change the culture and climate of the school, increase enrollment, and foster a high level of parental involvement. At the end of our first year, we packed everything up and moved out, because the district had chosen to remodel our 60-year old building. It is hard work to pack up an entire school, but we hoped that the renovations would make for an even better learning environment.

We were allowed to move back in two days before school started. We began the move and the readjustment to new classrooms, then had to stop for a half-day district “convocation” called by our new Superintendent. After district officials, community leaders and politicians had all given us their “rah-rah!” speeches about what a terrific year it was going to be, we boarded our yellow school bus back to Delmont and got back to work getting set up for the first day of school. Office staff and I stayed until after 10:00 p.m. that night to make sure we had everything ready for kids and parents the next day.

What a joy when the kids returned on the first day of school! They were so excited to see all of us again, to know that we were still here, and now in brand new buildings and classrooms. Hugs and high fives everywhere, and all the hard work of the summer instantly paid off when we saw their smiles. These children had suffered through tremendous staff turnover in the past, and it took a toll on their academic achievement and emotional well-being.

There were still the usual battles with the central office, but we were finally granted our extended day program that was in the plan the first year, but that the district chose not to fund. In the second year we convinced them that it wasn’t really their choice not to do it – it was written in the federal grant. So after Labor Day (and after Hurricane Isaac, which caused us to lose a week of school), we began doing extended day four days a week, with half a day on Wednesdays for team meetings and professional development. This gave us extra time to do targeted interventions, and also time to meet with each other and plan collaboratively.

We began to turn the corner – more children were reading, asking questions, and flourishing. Less behavior problems, more time on task. Children were communicating with each other, with teachers, with staff. They understood what the parameters were for being a student at Delmont, and they rose to our challenges. We planted our vegetable garden, had choir concerts, and participated in the Kennedy Center for the Arts program to integrate arts into the curriculum. We partnered with the local hospital’s health program to host the “Big Blue Bus” every week, which provided medical and mental health care to children and families. We were awarded a sizable grant from a local foundation to adopt a parenting program, and worked with a local university to design a new playground.

Then in November things started changing. Our new Superintendent announced his “Family of Schools” plan, which restructured many of the schools in the district. He called me into his office for a meeting on the afternoon of the first community forum held to discuss the changes. He told me that he was going to close Delmont. I remember being so stunned that I couldn’t even react at first. We did not see this coming; we were on our way up. But Dr. Taylor didn’t want to hear that, didn’t want to be reminded of how much he loved our school when he visited earlier in the year, or how endearing the kids had been to him. This was a business decision, and he preferred to keep emotions out of it.

Much of our staff was in disbelief when I told them, and when they heard it later that evening at the forum. Many had been at Delmont for ten years or more, and had not planned on leaving. They loved the fact that Delmont was a true neighborhood school with a family atmosphere, and just couldn’t understand why or how that family could be disintegrated. And I had trouble explaining it, because honestly I still don’t know why this decision was made.

At the next set of community forums, the family of schools plan was tweaked, and Delmont was now going to remain open as a K-2 school. This of course would remove us from state scrutiny of test scores by getting rid of the high-stakes test grades. Then in the next proposal, Delmont was going to be a Pre-K center. This is the proposal that the school board voted for, which somehow changed before the next day to it being a PreK – K center.

The March School Board meeting had a packed agenda, and at around 9:00 p.m. they finally got to the item about Delmont. Several school board members spoke out about how much they supported our efforts, and knew that we were doing great work. But when the vote came, they all voted for the motion to turn Delmont into a PreK-K center. The Superintendent had successfully convinced them that we were going to be taken over by the state if they didn’t make this move. No mention was made of our 3-year SIG plan and the fact that we were only in year two…

The school board member representing the region Delmont is in declined to speak, and abstained from the vote.

On the Wednesday of state testing week, the district sent the deputy superintendent to Delmont to meet with parents and staff to tell them of the decision to close the school. Yes, in the MIDDLE of STATE TESTING WEEK! The insensitivity was astonishing. Parents who walk their children to school were the most upset, because the school that their children were now assigned to is three miles away. (It is also an “F” school), Teachers and staff members were assured that the district would do everything they could to find new positions for them, and that many of them would follow their students to the assigned school. No surprise here – not a single Delmont teacher or staff member has been hired at that school. They all found their own jobs, without help from the central office; many have moved out of state or at least out of the district.

As for me, well, because I stood up for my school and tried to keep it open, I was given another letter of insubordination. I was also rated “ineffective” at midyear because of my refusal to change my ratings of teachers to match their pre-identified quota in the value-added system. Their assumption was that if test scores were low, then the teachers must be ineffective. Therefore, I must not know how to evaluate teachers. I was placed on an Intensive Assistance plan. Two months later, I turned in four binders full of data, observations, meeting notes, mentor reviews, etc. My mentor was a local award-winning principal who was part of the original “Dream School” team. Needless to say, she loved Delmont and what we were doing there. She even brought her assistant principal with her on one visit so she could have another perspective. After looking at all of my documentation, the director said that it “looked complete”, but then a week later told me that I was still ineffective and would have to wait for his final evaluation.

I chose not to wait for that final evaluation. I began the job search, had several very promising interviews, but it soon became clear that no public school district in this area would hire me because of my track record in a “failed” school. I really wanted to stay in public schools, because it is where I have spent my entire career, and because I truly believe in them. But in this case the system let me down. After 29 ½ years in the state retirement system, I was looking at having to retire with less than full benefits – a sizable financial difference. And up until this last year, I have had a stellar record in public education. No blemishes, no letters, no confrontations.

I can’t begin to describe what this last year has done to both my physical and mental health. I have been bullied and blackballed, all because I stood up for the children and families that needed us most. I knew I could no longer work for a system that is so dysfunctional, whose superintendent has already threatened to quit a few times when he didn’t get his way. (He, by the way, does NOT have a stellar track record.) Our dream school turned into a nightmare.

I have now resigned from the district and accepted a position as Dean of Instruction at a public charter school about ½ mile from Delmont. Many of the parents have heard that I am here now, and have enrolled their children. This is a brand new facility with a young faculty and plenty of opportunities for me to build instructional leadership. Their test scores rose dramatically last year, and they have begun to stabilize after a few rocky starting years. I am looking forward to the challenges of this new school, but also can’t help but look back.

The two years at Delmont profoundly changed my life, and I would like to think that it changed the lives of some of the children. I cannot begin to describe the last week or day of school. It was a blur of tears, hugs, graduations, celebrations, and uncertainty. I moved through it on auto-pilot; no one ever trained me how to say goodbye to 400 students and families, not to mention a beloved staff. We are now all scattered – students to at least three different schools, and teachers and staff to many more. We vowed to keep up with each other, but I know that we will eventually move on.
By the way, test scores in year two were outstanding. While we don’t yet have a final SPS from the state, preliminary data from our chief of accountability show that we made AYP and would no longer be a “failing” school. Our fourth-graders had a 20% jump in the number of students rated proficient; the district average growth was 6%.

So, this is what “reform” has done; it has transformed our dream school into a nightmare. I hope that we all wake up from it soon in a better place, but I know that for a few years, there was no better place than Delmont.

Responding to another reader, Robert Shepherd challenges the claim that reformers want a free market in schooling:

“We are NOT seeing the emergence of free market alternatives to public schools. We are seeing is crony capitalist alternatives dependent upon federal and state regulation and the public dole that could not possibly survive in truly free markets. It doesn’t matter whether it originates on the right or the left or what rhetoric it uses, tyranny is tyranny. It’s a NewSpeak version of the language of classical liberalism that is being used to defend what is actually happening. It’s incredibly naive to buy into the rhetoric in the face of the realities. Let’s see: Pass a federal law that ensures that almost all public schools will fail. Require states to provide alternatives. Have the Secretary of Education, now a private citizen, found an online virtual school to provide those alternatives, one that depends upon the same taxpayer dollars but siphons off a lot of those into private profits. There are eight million stories in the Naked City, and this has been one of them. The others have much the same general form.

“If that’s what you think of as the creation of free market alternatives, then you have started mainlining the Soma.”


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