Archives for category: Closing schools

When I returned from the hospital, I had a large stack of mail.

Among my mail was a tiny illustrated book, the kind you usually buy for 8-year-olds, called “From Once There Was a School to A School Was Once There.” It was written by Michael Mugits and illustrated by Anna Liu-Gorman.

The book tells what happens to a beloved neighborhood school after cuts in the budget, increased enrollment in charter/private/parochial/home schools, a tax cap levy, mandated teacher evaluation by test scores, Race to the Top mandates, layoffs and school closures. This little book contains this sad and terrible story of what is deceptively called “school reform” in only 25 illustrated pages.

On the cover is Longshore Elementary School, surrounded by swings and a sliding board and trees. On the back cover is the same building, now called Senior Center of Longshore. The swings and slide are gone. So is the school.

It is a very touching, very moving book. It tells the story of the destructive policies that have destroyed schools in community after community. In the back is a helpful list of acronyms.

If you want anyone to quickly understand the war against public schools, send them this little book. It is $8.95.

Here is a quote, the one that ends the book:

“Years ago as a boy

I recall with great joy

Everything I had learned

And the future I had yearned.

All of the hopes and dreams,

teachers, classmates and teams.

I looked at the building and lawn.

The playground was long gone.

So were the echoes of laughter,

The big sign above the front door

read Senior Center of Longshore.

I muttered in despair…

A School Was Once There.”

You can get copies by contacting the author, Michael Mugits, at mmugits@hotmail.com.

He is a school district administrator in upstate New York. The illustrator is an art teacher and a Nationally Board Certified Teacher.

The Bloomberg years have been good for New York City in some ways; for example, smoking has been extinguished in all public and even many private places. The mayor’s dedication to public health is highly commendable.

But other things have been disastrous. The mayor has succeeded in making Manhattan a playground for international tourism and the uber-rich, but the explosion of new residential construction has added apartments that sell for millions of dollars. The New York Times, when it endorsed Bill de Blasio for mayor on October 27, noted in passing that 46% of the populace is New York City lives below the poverty line. In a city as expensive as New York City, nearly half the population is poor. That is a sad record, and it is reflected in the continuing struggles of the schools, which must educate the children of those who are homeless, hungry, and in need of intensive supports of all kinds.

At the outset of his administration, some dozen years ago, Mayor Bloomberg decided that the reform of the education system would be his greatest legacy. He said it again and again in his campaign. He was convinced that the only thing missing was management skills, of which he had plenty. He actually claimed that he could get better “results” with the same amount of money (then $12 billion). The spending has more than doubled, but the better results remain elusive. Unfortunately, the mayor decided that testing and accountability and choice would be the strategies that he would rely on to transform the system. In doing so, he mirrored George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind. That was the zeitgeist of 2002, when Bush signed NCLB and Bloomberg took office and gained complete control of the school system.

Some observers, especially those who live thousands of miles away, are impressed with the Bloomberg record. Certainly the mayor has expanded the public relations staff devoted to selling the story of his “success.” In the years before Bloomberg, there were three people in the press office, whose job was to get information for reporters. Under Bloomberg, the PR staff ballooned, not only at the Department of Education itself, but grew to include the mayor’s own PR staff, so it is difficult to say exactly how many people were paid to “sell” the mayor’s story of success. Some thought it was a staff of at least 20, but it may have been even more.

Sadly, what was lost was any possibility of getting accurate information from the Department of Education. The PR staff existed to “sell the story” and spin results, not to candidly assess what was happening and how initiatives were working. That work was left to independent groups, which found it very difficult to raise money since the mayor used his considerable influence to affect decisions at the city’s major foundations. Anyone who questioned the administration’s claims had a difficult time finding any funding at all.

In pursuit of his elusive goal of 100% success, the mayor went through several iterations. He had three chancellors: Joel Klein, a lawyer, who lasted eight years and reorganized the schools at least three, perhaps four, times; Cathie Black, a publisher, who lasted 90 days and was a disaster, almost singlehandedly wrecking the mayor’s reputation as a reliable judge of management capability and displaying his disdain for anyone who had any experience in education; then Dennis Walcott, who had once headed the Urban League, but was better known for his long and acquiescent service to Bloomberg as an education advisor.

Over the course of this past dozen years, many schools have closed, many schools have opened. Many new schools also closed after they too posted low scores. The mayor never rethought his strategy of closing schools and opening schools, of using test scores and letter grades as measures of school quality. The graduation rate went up, but the remediation rate at local colleges remained staggeringly high.

What the city needs most today is an administration committed to telling the unvarnished truth about what is happening to the students, the teachers, and the school. If it is possible in our society today, the new administration must be prepared to be honest about successes and failures, and devote the resources necessary to have a high-quality internal department of evaluation and research. Much more is needed, but a good place to start is with a firm commitment to tell the truth without spin or hype.

Here is an analysis of the Bloomberg record, written by an insider at the Department of Education.

Click on the images to enlarge them.

Grading A Dozen Years of Education Policy in the Big Apple: A Report Card

As we come to the end of a dozen years of Michael Bloomberg’s control of New York City’s schools, it is an appropriate time to take stock of the results. Using actual data from New York City schools, what do we learn about results of the specific policies implemented over the past 12 years? [1] Is the education of our students better after many changes and new policies? Has the focus on testing students, using test scores and formulas to grade (and punish) teachers and schools, closing schools, opening schools (and closing those schools too), co-locating and championing charter schools and new schools, and the multiple re-organizations of the bureaucracy helped students?

Screen shot 2013-10-23 at 10.43.38 PM Screen shot 2013-10-23 at 10.43.54 PM Screen shot 2013-10-23 at 10.44.11 PM Screen shot 2013-10-23 at 10.44.26 PM Screen shot 2013-10-23 at 10.44.40 PM
FINAL GRADE= D[14].Some readers may have questions or doubts about the data presented above. We do our best to answer them in the section below.

Have you cherry-picked data? These are the real numbers and we have sourced all the data. In fact, some data that were not included show even greater under-performance in New York City schools over the past 12 years. For example, the NAEP results in science show New York City lags behind the national average by 14 points in 4th grade and by 20 points in 8th grade. [15] However, since the most recent data are from 2009 and over 4 years old we did not include them.

Why do some of the metrics have different years of data cited? Because the New York City Department of Education refuses to publicly release complete data sets (and often denies data requests of researchers), we had to use the data we could identify by scouring the web and academic publications. The DOE’s secretive approach to sharing data with researchers, even with all identifying student information removed, is ironic given that they share private student information with corporations. [16]

Is it fair to compare New York City to the national average? The New York City Department of Education uses a similar measure by evaluating individual school in comparison to the performance of all city schools. This means that a school with primarily high needs students is evaluated against screened specialized schools. However, we are fairer than the NYC DOE and do not use the national comparison in the actual scoring. In this context it is worth noting that the formula New York State created and that New York City has implemented to evaluate teachers based on students test scores penalizes teachers who teach significant numbers of disadvantaged students. [17]

Why do you use test scores as your evaluative criteria? Because these are the very criteria that the education policies in New York were based on. As it turns out, even on their own terms, the policies have shown very poor outcomes. Even with the deck stacked in favor of Bloomberg’s policies the data still show that the policies have not been successful. If we were to add other criteria such as quality arts programs things are even worse. Data self-reported by schools shows that since 2006 elementary school students have at least 5% fewer opportunities to take visual arts, dance, theater and music classes taught by arts teachers. This is clearly an underestimate of the loss of arts options for students as an independent audit has demonstrated. [18]

How do you explain the increase in graduation rate in New York City? An independent study based on full access to DOE records and internal emails would help answer this question. A couple of points are in order.

A) The New York State Regents exams were made significantly easier over the past dozen years especially in terms of the grading scale applied to the exams. Math is an illustrative example. The Sequential Math 1 exam required the test taker to earn 65 percent of the available points to receive a passing score. The Math A exam, which replaced Sequential 1 in June 2002, required the test taker to earn 43 percent of the available points to receive a passing score. The Integrated Algebra exam, which replaced the Math A exam in 2009, requires the test taker to earn only 34.5 percent of the available points to receive a passing score. [19] Additionally the Biology exam was replaced by the Living Environment exam in 2001 and the Global Studies exam by the Global History exam in 2000. In each case the newer version was less content driven. [20]An academic study looking at changes in scoring and in difficulty of the Regents exams over the past 15 or so years would fill a gaping hole in our ability to make sense of test trends.

B) Schools were graded on the number of students earning credit. This led to some schools having jumps of 30-55+ percentage points in the number of students passing 10 or more classes. [21]In the space of 4 years the overall level of credit accumulation by students increased by 16 percentage points. [22]This can only be explained as being due to a citywide lowering of the bar on the expectations for earning credit, leading to a higher graduation rate, presumably at the cost of the actual quality of the diploma/college readiness of the student. [23]

C) The demographics of school age children in New York City changed dramatically since 2000, with white and Asian children becoming an increasingly larger proportion of the population. [24]As is well-known those demographic groups have significantly more educational success than Black and Latino children. Closing this achievement gap is one of the core missions of public education.

D) How can the increase in graduation rate reflect true increases in student learning when the grades 3-8 test scores have been mostly flat over the past dozen years? [25]Did students miraculously begin to learn more only when they hit 12th grade? The 8th grade Math/ELA scores on the NAEP increased by less 1.5% between 2003 and 2009, significantly less than the increase of other large urban school districts. How does that translate into an increase in graduation rates 4 years later unless the quality of a high school diploma and the bar for earning one was significantly lowered during that time?

E) The New York City Department of Education likes to compare its numbers to those of the “Big 5” cities (NYC, Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and Yonkers) in New York State. This is a deliberately misleading comparison as only 1 of these cities, Yonkers, is demographically similar to New York City. [26] NYC has significantly underperformed when compared to Yonkers. In fact, since 2008 the graduation rate in NYC has barely budged (the percent of students graduating by August after 4 years having gone from 62.7% to 64.7%). Yonkers, on the other hand, has seen its graduation rate increase by over 9 percentage points (from 62.9% to 72.1%). [27] Yonkers has outperformed New York City while serving a similar student population.

Bottom line: The data used here is comparable across years. It is more reliable than graduation rate which is a social construct having no set criteria or meaning. New York City underperforms on graduation rate when compared to comparable districts in New York State.

What does this all mean for the future of education in New York City? It means that we have our work cut out for us, as does the next mayor. With each mistake made over the last dozen years we have learned how we can do better. What have we learned?

  • We need to ensure that every single school has as diverse a student body as possible. Whether G&T programs, screened or specialized high schools, all schools must have a student body that reflects the diversity of New York City. The Office of Enrollment must improve their systems so that diversity is a crucial element of the process.
  • We need to provide schools with expert support and guidance in curriculum. We cannot take a sink or swim approach to teaching and learning, with every school left to their own devices. The Office of Teaching and Learning must be re-opened after having been shuttered under Bloomberg. Truly expert teachers must be identified at each grade level and subject area, their lessons videoed, their materials copied, and all of such resources must be shared with teachers throughout the city.
  • We need to develop rich early intervention and support services for students. This includes vastly increasing the number of speech teachers and math and reading intervention specialists in elementary schools. We cannot pretend that merely increasing the demands we make on students with the Common Core can take the place of our responsibility to support students in the critical early years to ensure they do not fall behind. This will also require developing a citywide early warning system and specialized curriculum to identify and provide quality remedial opportunities to students who are falling behind.
  • We need to provide support to schools that are struggling. It is wrong to continue to close schools just because they serve a high-needs student population. [28]Teams of experts must be formed to work directly with such schools in the areas of programming, data, and instructional cohesion. Each team must be assigned to one school to ensure quality support. This will also require changing Fair Student Funding so that all schools are funded equitably. [29]
  • We need to reform the DOE central office so that they take ownership of, are responsible for, and are held accountable for the success of every school (and student) in New York City. They must do the hard work of helping all schools and students improve. [30]They can no longer be allowed to take the easy way out. [31] The enormous support for a small percentage of charter schools, with no clear improvement in performance, makes no sense. The significant resources and PR devoted to the charter sector must end, while ensuring that the 6% of NYC’s children in charter schools receive a quality education. [32]Instead of destroying existing schools in order to create new schools we must add new and 21st century aligned academic and CTE programs to the schools we already have to ensure their success and that students have genuine choices and opportunities. [33]
  • We need to create an independent research office to evaluate educational initiatives so that the metrics are uniform across schools and can’t be gamed. [34]This office should report to the Panel for Educational Policy whose members should be selected to time- limited terms of office. The panel will then collaborate with the mayor in ensuring that community voice is heard.
  • We need to reorganize the bureaucracy so that schools are evaluated and coached on instructional techniques and youth development approaches by geographically based personnel with knowledge of the school and community. Other functions such as budgeting, HR and the like should be run out of regional offices. Web-based platforms will allow schools to form non-geographic affinity groups so that similar schools can share ideas no matter how far apart they are in the city.
  • We need to think creatively about ways to provide students with the additional quality learning time they need to succeed. The school year should be extended with a shorter summer break in the month of July and the new school year beginning again at the start of August. Summer learning loss is a huge factor in diminished student outcomes and we must address it system-wide.
  • Finally, we need to develop better ways to communicate with parents and communities to present an accurate picture of school performance. The current system penalizes schools and teachers who work with high-needs students. These are the precise parents and families who need the most help. Transparency about these factors must be improved.

[1] There have been some earlier attempts to answer this question http://dianeravitch.net/2012/10/02/after-a-decade-bloomberg-reforms-still-failing/. Our grading policy is as follows: significant improvement (by 10+%) over the past dozen or so years=A, improvement (2-9%) over the past dozen or so years=B, flatlining (-1,0,+1) over the past dozen or so years=C, decline (-2- -9%) over the past dozen or so years=D, significant decline (-10+%) over the past dozen years=F. This is, of course, a rather charitable grading policy as it assumes that no improvement even after a dozen years earns a gentleman’s C and not a F. We will weigh the 3 sections using the same weights as the School Report Cards implemented under Mike Bloomberg for New York City schools. Progress=60% of the final grade, Performance=25% of the final grade and Environment=15% of the final grade.

[2] http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/pdf/dst2011/2012453XN4.pdf

[3] http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/pdf/dst2011/2012456XN4.pdf

[4] http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/pdf/dst2011/2012453XN8.pdf

[5] http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/pdf/dst2011/2012456XN8.pdf

[6] http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/02/09/15-of-high-school-seniors-passed-an-a-p-test-last-year/ and http://nypost.com/2010/02/11/ny-schoolkids-do-a-ok-on-ap-tests/

[7] http://media.collegeboard.com/digitalServices/pdf/ap/rtn/9th-annual/9th-annual-ap-report-appendix-b.pdf nationwide AP results

[8] http://www.manhattan-institute.org/html/cr_26.htm NYC’s 2000 SAT results. http://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=171 nationwide SAT results through 2011. http://professionals.collegeboard.com/testing/sat-reasoning/scores/averages 2012 SAT results.

[9] http://eyeoned.org/content/closing-the-achievement-gap-have-we-flat-lined_379/

[10] http://eyeoned.org/content/the-emperors-new-close_313/

[11] http://schools.nyc.gov/NR/rdonlyres/B54A0720-E4EE-432D-A322-940346CCE61B/0/2013DemographicSnapshotPUBLIC.xlsx and http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2012/05/11/nyregion/segregation-in-new-york-city-public-schools.html?_r=0 showing that “Black isolation in schools has persisted even as residential segregation has declined.” http://dianeravitch.net/2013/09/08/insider-at-bloomberg-doe-spills-the-beans-about-failed-policies/ has data on the extreme inequities in school outcomes where only a small handful of NYC produce outcomes at the national average. Finally, the Independent Budget Office has shown that from 2002-2011 school integration has remained flat http://www.ibo.nyc.ny.us/iboreports/printnycbtn11.pdf

[12] http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2011/09/07/nyregion/20110907-nyc-schools-poll.html?ref=education

[13] The DOE, when reporting numbers, often uses percent increase rather than the actual number of percentage points. This makes small gains looks much larger than they otherwise would.

[14] Following the formula outlined in the first footnote the calculation is as follows: Progress x 60% + Performance x 25% + Environment x 15%= Final Grade. Replacing the letter grades with numbers A=1, B=2, C=3, D=4, F=5. The scores of each component were averaged and plugged into the formula as follows: (4.1667 x .6) + (3.3333 x .25) + (5 x .15) = 4.08=D.

[15] http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/pdf/dst2007/2008471XN8.pdf

[16] http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/06/business/deciding-who-sees-students-data.html.

[17] http://www.lhcss.org/positionpapers/nysgrowthmodel.pdf

[18] http://schools.nyc.gov/offices/teachlearn/arts/ArtsCount/ArtsReport/2011-12/Final2012ArtsInSchools.pdf

[19] http://nycpublicschoolparents.blogspot.com/2008/01/ny-state-math-regents-exams-soft.html and http://atfss.wordpress.com/nys-regents/. Note that these numbers vary slightly with each exam.

[20] http://www.city-journal.org/2009/eon0731me.html

[21] http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/eduwonkette/2008/11/the_nyc_high_school_progress_r_1.html

[22] http://www.edwize.org/credit-accumulation-soars-in-nyc-but-students-remain-behind

[23] Note that this may be very good public policy. Lowering the bar for a high school diploma so that more young adults have the opportunities for college education and job training where there is more flexibility around pursuing one’s interests is intuitively smart policy. However, when the bar is lowered policy-makers can’t claim that the graduation rate is comparable to earlier rates.

[24] “The fact is, the number of children in New York decreased by almost 9 percent between 2000 and 2010. According to the Department of City Planning, the black population under 18 decreased especially dramatically during those ten years, by 22.4 percent, while the population of white children decreased by only 3.8 percent. In the city’s richest borough, Manhattan, the number of white kids actually grew—by nearly 23 percent—and in rapidly gentrifying Brooklyn, the number of white kids increased by 7 percent. (The displacement of blacks and Latinos in some neighborhoods is painfully pronounced: In Brooklyn’s District 6, which encompasses Park Slope, the South Slope, Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens, and Red Hook, the number of white kids grew by 28.5 percent while the number of black and Hispanic kids each dropped by 36 percent.) Asians are the one ethnic group whose number of children increased overall during the decade.” http://nymag.com/news/features/childhood/modern-childhood-2013-4/index3.html

[25] http://gothamschools.org/2010/07/28/test-scores-down-sharply-biggest-decline-for-needy-students/ data showing flat scores after New York State stopped lowering the bar for proficiency on the grades 3-8 exams.

[26] http://assembly.state.ny.us/member_files/044/20090319/report.pdf

[27] http://www.p12.nysed.gov/irs/pressRelease/20130617/GradRateSlides.ppt

[28] http://annenberginstitute.org/sites/default/files/SchoolTransformationReport_0.pdf http://dianeravitch.net/2012/08/25/nycs-schools-for-poorest-faring-poorly/ and http://dianeravitch.net/2012/08/09/after-ten-years-of-reform-in-new-york-city/

[29] http://dianeravitch.net/2012/09/05/how-new-york-city-stiffs-the-neediest-students/ http://dianeravitch.net/2012/08/12/in-nyc-fair-student-funding-is-unfair/ and http://dianeravitch.net/2012/08/30/who-is-putting-children-first/

[30] http://dianeravitch.net/2012/10/17/if-teachers-ran-their-classes-like-nyc-runs-schools-then/

[31] http://dianeravitch.net/2013/10/22/a-report-from-the-sinking-ship-at-nycs-doe-headquarters/

[32] http://dianeravitch.net/2013/10/15/the-charter-school-bubble-in-new-york-city/ on spending for charter schools. http://dianeravitch.net/2013/02/26/an-inside-the-doe-view-of-the-nyc-credo-study/ on the performance of charter schools. http://dianeravitch.net/2012/12/20/inflated-claims-of-charter-success-in-nyc/ and http://dianeravitch.net/2012/12/03/reader-calls-out-ny-daily-news-for-charter-spin-2/ on the exaggerated PR on behalf of charter schools.

[33] http://dianeravitch.net/2013/03/01/why-nyc-closes-high-schools/ on the coddling of new schools at the expense of existing ones.

[34] http://dianeravitch.net/2013/09/19/nyc-whistle-blower-how-the-doe-is-like-enron/


A reader explains why public schools matter to the life of communities:

“Public schools are not panaceas for poverty or crime or any of the other ills of our society, but they can provide a place for a community to come together, to learn to get along with each other, to watch out for each other. They can create a sense of security and predictability for our children. Privatization of our schools destroys this sense of community. It takes ownership out of the hands of the community and renders parents powerless in the education of their own children. Those in power would do well to invest in schools that strengthen our communities.”

Brock Cohen taught for a dozen years in the public
schools and is now pursuing a graduate degree. Here
he tries to explain
the madness of local, state, and
federal mandates that crush teachers, principals and schools as
they labor under the burden of being labeled a “failing school.”
Here is a sample of how these mandates destroy schools instead of
helping them: “Most of my 12-plus years as a high school teacher
have been spent in a Title I Los Angeles-area public high school
that is perennially labeled with Program Improvement (P.I.)
probationary status. Being branded as such means continually having
to grapple with a host of federal, state, and local sanctions that,
at best, cast pall of shame over the entire school and at worst
cause direct harm to student learning outcomes. “Program
Improvement,” incidentally, is bureaucratic vernacular for
“failing,” which is ironic, since many of the California schools
designated with this term have actually been meeting or exceeding
their school-wide Academic Performance Index (API) goals for years.
I know: I don’t get it either. So what gives? “Here’s a hint: the
fundamental problem of “failing” schools isn’t lurking within the
decaying brick and mortar of dilapidated school walls. It does,
however, lurk within a dilapidated system that stubbornly refuses
to transform itself into what it should – or could – be. This
autocratic paradigm tries to paper over outdated or incoherent
curricula, abysmally low organizational capacity and scripted
“test-best” instructional mandates with a new generation of
high-stakes tests and massive rollouts of iPads. It also includes
the cynical but rosy rhetoric of school leaders and media pundits
who call for teachers and principals to work their way through this
manufactured crisis – to Teach Like a Champion! – as if balling
one’s fists and punching a concrete wall harder, harder, HARDER!
could ever serve as a template for reconstituting a building’s
framework. “The problem also lurks within an ethos that continually
fails to realize that our hallowed learning and achievement targets
actually descend into an abysmal rabbit hole. Without delving too
deeply into this abyss, let’s just say that data collection isn’t
inherently a bad thing. But the performance indicators on which
we’ve chosen to fixate have rendered the whole process pointless
and fantastically detrimental to the cognitive growth of a
generation of students. That leaders and practitioners have been
somehow coerced into believing that learning indicators are
something that can be reflected in the crudeness of high-stakes
standardized test scores reveals the extent to which intellectual
atrophy has devolved into an institutionalized norm.” Read it all
and weep for the children and those who are trying their best to
educate them.

With the likely election of Democrat Bill de Blasio as mayor of Néw York City, the educrats at Bloomberg’s Department of Education are updating their resumes and starting to pack their bags.

First to jump ship is Deputy Chancellor Marc Sternberg, who is moving to Arkansas to help the Walton Family Foundation in its quest to replace public schools with vouchers and charter schools.

This article, written before the Democratic primary (which de Blasio won) explains why the DOE will no longer need Mr. Sternberg’s inestimable services:

“Two days ago NYC Mayoral Candidate de Blasio (the frontrunner for Tuesday’s Democratic primary) announced his support for a moratorium on ‘co-locating’ charter schools into buildings already occupied by neighborhood schools. If ‘co-locating’ sounds reasonable, well it’s because the practice was given a deceptively anodyne title.

“NYC co-locations are really hostile takeovers (sometime in whole, sometimes in part) of zoned neighorhood schools. Kids attending then’co-located’ neighborhood schools are kicked out of their classrooms and forced into yet more crowded classrooms. Charter schools don’t pay rent, often get the best facilities, and cherry pick the use of ‘shared space’. They often reject students who don’t fit in their managers’ model of the right sort of student.”

Apparently Sternberg will keep pushing those co-locations in NYC until the day he moves to Arkansas. The Bloomberg administration has a long list of co-locations that it expects to approve next month.

It is time for de Blasio to assert that the last-minute efforts of Bloomberg’s lame-duck Panel on Educational Policy to give as much space as possible to charter operators will be subject to a moratorium on January 1, when a new day begins for Néw York City

A Korean camera crew showed this photo-essay to me. I think they had a hard time understanding the number of police officers that created “safe passage” for students on their way to school in Chicago.

They came to interview me about how money affects the politics of education in the United States. The producer had a copy of The Death and Life of the Great American School System, translated into Korean. I gave him a copy of Reign of Error to take back to Korea. I asked whether there were any charter schools or vouchers in Korea. He said, “No. But there are alternative schools. The alternative schools are for children who misbehave.”

He asked me again and again to explain why political leaders were closing public schools. He found this concept incomprehensible.

Korea is one of the highest performing nations on international tests. It has the highest proportion of college graduates of any nation in the OECD.

Arthur Camins is director of the Center for Innovation in Engineering and Science Education at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey. When Camins read Paul Thomas’s latest commentary about the lack of evidence behind reform strategies, he wrote the following:

“Over the past several years I have read countless articles and books all saying basically the same thing: The foundations of current education reform – competition, reward, sanctions and consequential testing – are not supported by evidence. In fact, they are contraindicated. Their use as policy levers promotes competition rather than collaboration, teaching to the test rather than deeper sustainable learning and increased school segregation. Many have expressed incredulity that reform supporters ignore evidence. Maybe it is not so surprising.

I think there are two explanations.

The first is the power of ideological blinders and hubris or what I called in an earlier article, The Fog of the Education War. (http://www.arthurcamins.com/?p=36)

The second explanation is different goals and values. I, and many other critics of current reform strategies place high value on education for democratic participation and responsible citizenship, educational equity for all and deeper learning. We have argued that charter schools, merit pay and over-testing undermine those goals. Maybe “reformers” know this too, but do not object. Maybe they want different things. Maybe they accept inequality as a fact of life. And, some may be just out to make a buck.

The question is which road will we choose – improvement for all or just a few. (http://www.arthurcamins.com/?p=191)”

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo called for the “death penalty” for failing schools recently, setting off a war of words between those who believe in closing struggling schools and those who want to kill them and fire the staff.

Bruce Baker takes a different view. Here he demonstrates that Néw York has a funding system that is unfair to the schools with the neediest students.

Instead of vilifying teachers and principals and pretending to advocate for the children and families, Cuomo should look at where the money goes. It is not going to the kids who need it most.

Baker writes:

“Put simply, what the New York public should NOT tolerate, is a Governor and Legislature who refuse to provide sufficient resources to high need schools and then turn around and blame the schools and communities for their own failures. (all the while, protecting billions of dollars in separate aid programs that drive funds to wealth districts).”

NOTE: I cross-posted this piece on Huffington Post. Be sure to leave comments there too.

Two years ago, Kevin Kosar, a former graduate student of mine, conducted an Internet search for the term “failing school.” What he discovered was fascinating. Until the 1990s, the term was virtually unknown. About the mid-1990s, the term began appearing with greater frequency. With the passage of No Child Left Behind, the use of the expression exploded and became a commonplace.

Kosar did not speculate on the reasons. But I venture to say that the rise of the accountability movement created the idea of “failing schools.”

“Accountability” was taken to mean that if students have low test scores, someone must be blamed. Since Bush’s NCLB, it became conventional to blame the school. With President Obama’s Race to the Top, blame shifted to teachers. The solution to “failing schools,” according to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, is to fire the staff and close the school.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo recently took this idea to an extreme by saying that he wanted a “death penalty” for “failing schools.” His believes that when schools have persistently low test scores, they should lose democratic control.

They should be taken over by the state, given to private charter corporations, or put under mayoral control. In fact, none of these ideas has been successful.

Low-performing school districts in New Jersey have been under state control for more than 20 years without turning them into high-performing districts. Mayoral control in Cleveland and Chicago has been a flop. And private charters typically do no better than public schools, except when they exclude low-scoring students.

Undoubtedly there are some schools where the leadership is rotten and corrupt. In such cases, the responsibility lies with the district superintendent to review the staff and programs, and make significant changes as needed

But these days, any school with low test scores is called a “failing school,” without any inquiry into the circumstances of the school.

Instead of closing the school or privatizing it, the responsible officials should act to improve the school. they should ask:

What proportion of the students are new immigrants and need help learning English? What proportion entered the school far behind their grade level? What proportion have disabilities and need more time to learn? What resources are available to the school? An in-depth analysis is likely to reveal that most “failing schools” are not failing schools, but are schools that enroll high proportions of students who need extra help, extra tutoring, smaller classes, social workers, guidance counselors, psychologists, and a variety of other interventions.

Firing the staff does not turn around a low-performing school. Nor does handing it over to a charter chain. Nor does mayoral control. Most of the time, what we call a “failing school” is a school that lacks the personnel and resources to meet the needs of its students.

Closing schools does not make them better. Nor does closing schools help students. It’s way past time to stop blaming the people who work in troubled schools and start helping them by providing the tools they need and the support their students need.

A large national alliance of civil rights organizations has joined under the umbrella heading of “Journey for Justice.”

This coalition has called for the resignation of Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

To understand why, read the flyer it distributed.

Anyone who thinks that closing public schools and replacing them with privately managed charters and with vouchers is somehow part of the civil rights movement has no understanding of the purposes of the civil rights movement.

It was not to destroy the public sector but to assure access to good education, decent housing, and jobs without any racial discrimination.

It struggled for equality of educational opportunity, not privatization or a “race to the top.”.

It did not claim that poverty could be cured by “fixing” schools or privatizing them.

It demanded an end to poverty by creating jobs and justice.

It fought segregation in schools and housing.

That vision is not the vision of the corporate reform movement in education today.

It fights not for equality of opportunity but for a market-based system of winners and losers.

It accepts segregation as tolerable.

It is not a civil rights movement.

The Journey for Justice calls out these contradictions and speaks truth to power.

“A National Grassroots Education Alliance”

COORDINATING COMMITTEE:National

Alliance for Education Justice

Washington, DC

Empower DC

Chicago, IL

Kenwood Oakland Community Organization

Baltimore, MD

Baltimore Algebra Project

Detroit, MI

Keep the Vote, No Takeover

Black Parents for Quality Education

Newark, NJ

Parents United for Local School Education

New York, NY

Alliance for Quality Education

Urban Youth Collaborative

Philadelphia, PA

Philadelphia Student Union

MEMBERS:

National

Leadership Center for the Common Good

Oakland, CA

Oakland Public Education Network

Los Angeles, CA

Labor Community Strategy Center

Hartford, CT

Parent Power

Atlanta, GA

Project South

Miami, FL

Power U

Chicago, IL

Action Now

Wichita, KS

Kansas Justice Advocates

New Orleans, LA

Concerned Conscious Citizens Controlling Community Changes

Coalition for Community Schools

Boston, MA

Boston Youth Organizing Project

Boston Parent Organizing Network

Detroit, MI

Detroit LIFE Coalition

Minneapolis, MN

Neighborhoods Organizing for Change

Eupora, MS

Fannie Lou Hamer Center for Change

Camden, NJ

Camden Education Association

Englewood, NJ

Citizens for Public Education

Jersey City, NJ

Parent Advocates for Children’s Education

Concerned Citizens Coalition

Paterson, NJ

Paterson Education Organizing Committee

Philadelphia, PA

Action United

Youth United for Change

ALLIED MEMBERS

National

Annenberg Institute for School Reform

Chicago, IL

Teachers for Social Justice

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

Laurie R. Glenn

Phone: 773.704.7246

E-mail:lrglenn@thinkincstrategy.com

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

THURSDAY, AUGUST 22, 2013

MEDIA ALERT 

25 CITIES KICK OFF NATIONAL CAMPAIGN CALLING FOR RESIGNATION OF U.S. SECRETARY OF EDUCATION DUNCAN
Journey for Justice Demonstrations Spearhead Campaign To Restore United Nations’ Proclaimed Human Right To Education
 

WHAT:   In light of a rash of school closings targeting low income communities of color in cities throughout the country, a national 25-city coalition is calling for U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s resignation. In the midst of the 50th anniversary for the March On Washington, which sought to end segregation and job discrimination, members of the Journey for Justice Alliance have banded together to fight the continued privatization of public schools under Secretary Duncan’s leadership.

Students, parents and advocacy representatives all over the country will come together in local actions to demand a stop to the destabilization of low-income communities of color and restore the human and civil right to a quality and safe education for all children.

National Journey for Justice Alliance demands include:

  • ·         Moratorium on school closings, turnarounds, phase-outs, and charter expansions.
  • ·         It’s proposal for sustainable school transformation to replace failed, market-driven interventions as support for struggling schools.
  • ·         Resignation of U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

WHO/WHERE:   Journey for Justice members and groups will hold local actions in 25 cities across the country including: Oakland, Calif.; San Jose, Calif.; Los Angeles; Hartford, Conn.; District of Columbia; Atlanta; Miami; Chicago; Wichita, Kan.; New Orleans; Baltimore; Minneapolis; Camden, N.J.; Englewood, N.J.; Paterson, N.J.; Jersey City, N.J.; Newark; New York; North Carolina, Boston; Detroit; Eupora, Miss.; Jackson, Miss.; Philadelphia; South Carolina.

WHEN:   Events will be held Monday, August 27th – Thursday, August 29th, 2013

WHY:  A clear pattern of racial and economic discrimination documented by the Annenberg Institute for School Reform has demonstrated that while there have been advances in the nation, as shown by the election of the nation’s first black president, the federal administration’s policies have embodied education strategies that continue to perpetuate racial and class bias and support inequality in education.

Despite research showing that closing public schools does not improve test scores or graduation rates, the federal agenda has incentivized the privatization of schools with primary fall out on low-income communities of color. Explosive school closings resulting from this agenda violates the United Nations proclamation of 1948, Article 26 (http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/index.shtml) establishing the inalienable human right of every child – regardless of race, income or community — to receive a quality education in a safe environment.

JOURNEY FOR JUSTICE ALLIANCE
Journey for Justice is a national grassroots alliance whose goal is to bring the voice of those directly impacted by discriminatory school actions into the debate about the direction for public education in the 21st century and to promote equality in education for all students and sustainable, community-driven school reform for all school districts across the country.

####

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 167,252 other followers