Archives for category: Poverty

This is quite a remarkable admission. Nicholas Kristof writes today in the New York Times that the “reform” efforts have “peaked.” I read that and the rest of the column to mean that they have failed to make a difference. Think of it: Bill Gates, the Walton family, Eli Broad, Wendy Kopp, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, Florida Governor Rick Scott, Ohio Governor John Kasich, Indiana Governor Mike Pence, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, President George W. Bush, President Barack Obama, Michelle Rhee, Campbell Brown, and a host of other luminaries have been singing the same song for the past 15 years: Our schools are broken, and we can fix them with charters, vouchers, high-stakes testing, merit pay, elimination of unions, elimination of tenure, and rigorous efforts to remove teachers who can’t produce ever-rising test scores.

Despite the billions of dollars that the federal government, the states, and philanthropies have poured into this formula, it hasn’t worked, says Kristof. It is time to admit it and to focus instead on the early years from birth to kindergarten.

He writes:

For the last dozen years, waves of idealistic Americans have campaigned to reform and improve K-12 education.

Armies of college graduates joined Teach for America. Zillionaires invested in charter schools. Liberals and conservatives, holding their noses and agreeing on nothing else, cooperated to proclaim education the civil rights issue of our time.

Yet I wonder if the education reform movement hasn’t peaked.

The zillionaires are bruised. The idealists are dispirited. The number of young people applying for Teach for America, after 15 years of growth, has droppedfor the last two years. The Common Core curriculum is now an orphan, with politicians vigorously denying paternity.

K-12 education is an exhausted, bloodsoaked battlefield. It’s Agincourt, the day after. So a suggestion: Refocus some reformist passions on early childhood.

Wow! That is exactly what I wrote in “Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools,” along with recommendations for reduced class sizes, a full curriculum, a de-emphasis on high-stakes testing, a revival of public policies to reduce poverty and segregation, and a recommitment to the importance of public education.

When I look at the Tea Party legislature in North Carolina or the hard-right politicians in the Midwest or the new for-profit education industry, I don’t think of them as idealistic but as ideologues. Aside from that, I think that Kristof gives hope to all those parents and teachers who have been working for years to stop these ideologues from destroying public education. Yes, it should be improved, it must be improved. There should be a good public school in every neighborhood, regardless of zip code. But that won’t happen unless our leaders dedicate themselves to changing the conditions in which families and children live so that all may have equal opportunity in education and in life.

Civil rights groups, led by Kati Hatcock of Education Trust, assert that standardized testing is a civil right. Without it, they say, black and brown children would be overlooked, neglected, forgotten. No one would know about the achievement gaps.

Of course, we do know about the achievement gaps in the nation, states and major cities whose NAEP scores are reported every other year. It is not necessary to test every child every year to report what is already known.

Nonetheless:

““Removing the requirement for annual testing would be a devastating step backward, for it is very hard to make sure our education system is serving every child well when we don’t have reliable, comparable achievement data on every child every year,” Kati Haycock, president of the Education Trust, said in recent testimony before the Senate education panel. Her group joined 20 civil rights organizations to lobby Congress to keep the requirement to test all children each year in math and ­reading.

“The civil rights argument adds a new dimension to one of the most contentious education issues in decades: whether standardized testing is good for students. Congress is wrestling with that question as it reauthorizes No Child Left Behind. The Senate education panel is expected to begin debating a bipartisan bill next week that would maintain annual testing, but it is unclear how the bill will fare in the House, where conservative Republicans want to drastically scale back the federal role in education.”

But Gary Orfield, a long-time civil rights watchdog, says that testing does not help minorities:

““The main victims of this misguided policy are exactly the people the civil rights groups want to help: teachers and students in high-poverty schools,” said Gary Orfield, co-director of the Civil Rights Project at UCLA. The focus on math and reading has squeezed out science, social studies and the arts from high-poverty schools, he said.

“Tests don’t address the social problems that poor children bring to school or the fact that many start kindergarten already lagging behind more affluent children, he said.

“They also don’t fix the inequality of a public education system funded primarily by real estate taxes, where schools in wealthy communities are well equipped and attract the strongest teachers, while high-poverty schools often have fewer resources and weaker teachers, he said.

“The idea that you can just ignore the conditions that create inequality in schools and just put more and more pressure on schools and if that doesn’t work, add more sanctions, makes no sense,” Orfield said. “As if it’s just a matter of will for the students and teachers in these schools of concentrated poverty.”

The civil rights groups apparently are unaware if the history of standardized testing, and its ties to the eugenics movement. I wrote about that in chapter 4 of “Left Back.” Historically, standardized tests were used to deny educational opportunities to under served groups and to re-enforce theories of white supremacy, based on test scores.

Like school choice, standardized testing was a weapon used by racists to deny civil rights, not a force for civil rights.

Tim Slekar is dean of Edgewood College in Wisconsin. He is a tireless activist against mindless reform. He blogs at Busted Pencils. He explained in a comment why he was disappointed with the Senate version of the reauthorization of ESEA/NCLB:

Slekar writes:

“I’m not really that thrilled because while it addresses the excessive authority of the DOE, I can not find anything that recognizes the role poverty plays in the achievement gap and once again we have a bill that thinks improving schools is primarily the job of standards, curriculum, teachers and tests. Tests, Tests, Tests. Is it an improvement to get the federal government out of the school improvement business? Yes.

“However, why do we have any faith that state governments will actually attack the achievement gap without the status quo “test and punish” approach. Remember test and punish is an ideology that is still rooted in a hatred and disdain for public schools.

“This hatred and disdain is clearly present here in WI with “accountability” legislation being introduced at the state level that gives the finger to the feds but then simply puts in place a state level “test and punish” accountability system that will never help children, teachers and schools.

“It continues the system—test and punish—approach that blames public schools for the achievement gap. And there is nothing that allows the people to hold the state legislature accountable for purposely ignoring poverty and in a lot of cases creating the political culture that creates poverty.”

One of the central narratives of the faux “reform” movement is that poverty is just an excuse for bad teachers. In my book “Reign of Error,” I documented many reformers claiming that poverty can be overcome by high expectations and great teachers. The fact that test scores reflect family income, they say, demonstrates that poor kids are not getting great teachers.

But social science research has demonstrated for decades that poverty hurts children and families. It means less access to medical care, good nutrition, and good housing. It means that families lack economic security, a decent home, and the many advantages that middle-income and upper-income families take for granted.

Now, new studies of brain development are showing that poverty has even deeper effects on children’s health and well-being than previously suspected. The effects of living without the basic necessities of life can damage children’s life prospects. In this age of affluence and austerity, it seems wildly radical to say it, but I will: education will improve if we reduce poverty. Poverty will decrease if the federal government creates real jobs. Real jobs will be created if the federal government invests in rebuilding our nation’s crumbling infrastructure.

The problems of our society should be addressed by action. Demonizing teachers does not help children or improve education.

To learn more, read Bob Herbert’s powerful book, Losing Our Way.

Edward Placke is Superintendent of the Greenburgh-North Castle Unified School District, which serves students from urban areas who are primarily of African, Caribbean and Spanish heritage. All students are eligible for the federal free lunch program and are identified as disabled, primarily emotionally disabled. He wants the public to know that these students have been shamefully neglected in the state budget, for years.
There is a small yet growing cohort of students in our State that are identified as disabled with significant behavioral and psychological challenges, live in urban poverty and have found little success in their home public schools and other public schools such as District 75 and BOCES. As a result, there are few alternatives for these students. The ten New York State Public Special Act School Districts in our State have traditionally been the sole alternative; student live on the campuses in light of their family situation or commute daily from their communities. They provide a comprehensive education for these students to assist them to cross “The Bridge to Adulthood” with graduation rates that are significantly higher than the State average for student with disabilities. For most it is the last option before leaving school and facing those negative outcomes associated with not earning a high school diploma. Clearly Public Special Act School play a role in educational options for student with disabilities.

The Public Special Act School Districts are funded via a tuition rate in which the methodology is established by the New York State Education Department and all increases are approved by the Division of Budget overseen by the Governor. Four of the last five years the Public Special Act School Districts have not received an increase in tuition. As Teacher Retirement, Employee Retirement, New York State Health Insurance, utilities, materials and supplies have all significantly increased, the support from the Governor and our representatives have not. Our students do not have a voice as do the community school districts and charter schools. We do not have the resources to purchase billboards, run ads in the media and most disappointingly have very little parent involvement and advocacy. Therefore it is our elected representatives in Albany to be the voice for these most vulnerable students. They had an opportunity this week to include the Public Special Act School Districts in the budget to ensure our sustainability but they chose not to and once again ignored the most needy student cohort in our State.

As a former New York State Education Department Assistant Commissioner, public school administrator and teacher for over thirty years I have face a variety of challenges and disappointments. The unwillingness of our so-called representatives to advocate for the Public Special Act School Districts is certainly disappointing but repressible. The message this week from Albany is clear—community public school districts for the most part received an increase in State Aid and the Public Special Act School Districts that educate our most disabled poorest cohort of students were disregarded. My greatest fear based on Albany’s outright disregard for these key public districts and the students they educate is they will not exist in the very near future. At that point there will be a new generation of students. With time running out my only hope is the Governor will have the courage to be the voice for our students.

Paul Rosenberg, writing at Salon, is outraged that many super-wealthy people–and their apologists at the NY Times–blame poverty on the lifestyles of the poor.

He writes:

“There they go again. Conservatives are back again with their “war on poverty,” which is to say, their war on poor people and any liberals, or sympathizers, who try to help them.

“Unlike Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty, which despite 50 years of demonization and policy reversals has cut U.S. poverty by 40 percent (see No. 3 here), the conservative version has little hope of doing anything about poverty. But that’s not the point. Neither is attacking poor people and liberals, for that matter. The point is defending the obscenely rich, and the massive upward redistribution of wealth America has seen going on since the 1970s. At the same time the broad-based increase in affluence of the early post-World War II era has been decisively shut off.

“IRS data compiled by Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saenz and their colleagues at the top incomes database shows how stark America’s shift from a broad-based prosperity model has been. From 1947 to 1973, the average incomes of the bottom 90 percent increased 99.2 percent, compared to 88.9 percent for the top 10 percent, and a mere 7.4 percent for the top 0.1 percent. But from 1973 to 2008, the average incomes of the bottom 90 percent fell 6.1 percent, while the average incomes of the top 10 percent continued rising by another 70.8 percent, and average incomes of the top 0.1 percent skyrocketed an astronomical 706.4 percent.

“With the bottom 90 percent losing ground, on average, and the top 0.1 percent gobbling those losses up like candy, it makes perfect sense to try to distract attention by finger-pointing at the poor—as well as those who might be inclined to help them. Whether it actually makes sense or not is irrelevant. All it has to be believable—for those with a powerful-enough motive to believe.

“A case in point is the recent David Brooks Op-Ed blaming poor folks for their poverty, which Salon’s Elias Isquith wrote about here recently, along with a disturbingly similar poor-bashing piece by neoliberal Nicholas Kristof. Given his high-profile perch at the so-called liberal New York Times, Brooks drew some rather pointed data-informed responses, including ones by Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig at the New Republic (“Poor People Don’t Need Better Social Norms. They Need Better Social Policies. What David Brooks doesn’t understand about poverty,” Connor Williams at Talking Points Memo, who argued that “David Brooks Is Mistaking Poverty’s Symptoms For Its Causes,” and Noah Smith who responded with a short blog post, providing the links to make his point that “Americans are better behaved than ever.”

All the references are linked to their sources in the article.

How does this connect to education? The leading funders if the charter school movement are billionaires and multi-millionaires who are beneficiaries of income inequality. Their spokesmen, like Governor Cuomo say that money is not the answer to the problems of education. He refuses to pay the schools the billions of dollars the state owes after losing the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit. He imposed a tax cap so districts can’t raise taxes to cover rising costs unless it is approved by 60% of voters in the district–59% won’t do.

His answer to the needs if districts: open charter schools. That satisfies his patrons, but drains the budgets of public schools even more.

Skeptics suspect that the 1% prefer charter schools as a means of avoiding discussion of taxing the 1% to reduce inequality. When hedge fund managers show as much interest in fully funding the public schools as they do in privatizing them, the skepticism will disappear.

As long as they continue to treat privately managed charters as society’s best (and cheapest) way to fight poverty, they will appear to be paraphrasing the old line misattributed to Marie Antoinette: “Let them Eat Charters.”

A post yesterday reported that Florida is considering eliminating district lines so that students may choose to attend any public school, so long as there is space available and parents provide transportation. Michigan has such a system, and districts spend millions of dollars advertising to “poach” students from other districts because every new student means additional money.

 

As reader Chiara points out, Ohio has the same system, and it has intensified racial and economic segregation.

 

Open enrollment, which allows children to transfer from one school district to another, leads to widespread racial segregation and concentrates poverty in many of Ohio’s urban school districts, including Cleveland and Akron.
That’s one finding of a Beacon Journal study of more than 8,000 Ohio students who left city schools last year for an education in wealthier suburban communities.
The majority of students who participated in Ohio’s oldest school choice program are disproportionately white and middle class. Students attending the schools they left, however, are nearly twice as likely to be minority and seven times more likely to be poor.
The program gives parents the option to enroll children in nearby school districts without changing their home address. By doing so, parents must find their own transportation — an act that in itself narrows who is able to make the change.

 

Where is the NAACP, the Legal Defense Fund, the ACLU? If a state adopts a policy that demonstrably promotes segregation, shouldn’t someone sue them for knowingly enacting a program to segregate children by race and income?

George Joseph in The Nation has written a sharply researched article about the nine billionaires who have been planning to impose their ideas on New York state since at least 2010.

 

They are, as you might expect, hedge fund billionaires. They have given millions of dollars to Andrew Cuomo in both his election campaigns. They have also given millions to a group called New Yorkers for a Balanced Albany that campaigned to maintain Republican control of the State Senate. Their handiwork can be seen in organizations such as Families for Excellent Schools (no, these are not families of children in the public schools, they are the families of hedge-fund billionaires), StudentsFirst, Education Reform Now, and Democrats for Education Reform. Their goal: More privately-managed charter schools.

 

Joseph has done a stunning job of connecting the dots, showing the collaboration among the billionaires, Joel Klein (then chancellor of the New York City public schools), and John White (then an employee of New York City public schools, now state superintendent of Louisiana).

 

Why do they want more charter schools? Well, you could say, as some do, that they care deeply about the poor children of New York City and want each and every one of them to be in an excellent charter school (although most charters are not willing to take certain children, like those with severe disabilities, those who don’t read and speak English, and those with behavioral problems).

 

But Joseph thinks there is another reason for Wall Street’s passion for charter schools. They claim that charter schools are the best way to end poverty. It is certainly cheaper to open more charter schools with state money than to pay the billions that the state owes to New York City as a result of a court decision in a case called the Campaign for Fiscal Equity.

 

Cuomo has said that he is tired of spending more money on the schools. We tried that, he says, and it didn’t work. But a parent advocate does not agree: “Zakiyah Ansari, a parent and public schools advocate with the labor-backed Alliance for Quality Education, called such reasoning shameful, “Why do Cuomo and these hedge funders say money doesn’t matter? I’m sure it matters in Scarsdale. I’m sure it matters where the Waltons send their kids. They don’t send their kids to schools with overcrowded classrooms, over-testing, no art, no music, no sports programs, etc. Does money only ‘not matter’ when it comes to black and brown kids?”

 

Joseph explores the question of why the New York hedge fund leaders are passionate about charter schools, test-based teacher evaluation, and ending teacher tenure.

 

He writes:

 

Their policy prescriptions—basing 50 percent of teacher evaluations on student test scores, for instance—are not in any way grounded in mainstream education research.

 

“The problem is that Cuomo’s backers aren’t paying much attention to the people who actually understand how Value-Added Modeling works,” explains Professor Julian Vasquez Heilig, an education policy researcher at California State University. “Education statisticians have come out many times saying these models are being used inappropriately and are unstable because other things happen in students’ lives outside of the teachers they encounter. When a kids’ parents in a high needs district are deported, and their achievement plummets, this actually has nothing to do with the teacher.”

 

Vasquez Heilig added that the reform proposals seem founded on a desire to destroy the development of long-term professional educators, rather than any empirical analysis: “We know 70 percent of teachers will bounce between high performing and low performing from year to year. So this is creating an impossible high stakes testing gauntlet between a young excited teacher and their path to quality, veteran expertise. If you’re looking for a cheap churn-and-burn teaching force, this is your policy, but if you want experienced, qualified teachers, committed to a schools’ long-term success, this is a disaster.”

 

From a purely business standpoint, however, such cost-effective education reform proposals do make sense for the hedge-fund community, especially given the alternative education reform option: the legally required equitable funding of New York public schools, as mandated by the state’s highest court in 2007. Low-income New York school districts haven’t received their legally mandated funding since 2009 and the state owes its schools a whopping $5.9 billion, according to a recent study by the labor-backed group Alliance for Quality Education. Yet somehow in this prolonged period of economic necessity, billionaire hedge-fund managers continue to enjoy lower tax rates than the bottom 20 percent of taxpayers.

 

As a recent Hedge Clippers report pointed out, the hedge-fund community has achieved these gains over the last decade and a half by buying political influence and carving out absurd breaks and loopholes in the New York state tax code. Since 2000, 570 hedge fund managers and top executives have poured $39.6 million into the campaign coffers of New York state politicians. Thus, despite New York’s progressive reputation, its school-district funding-distribution system is actually one of the most regressive nationwide, similar to that of states like Texas, North Carolina and Missouri.

 

According to Michael Kink, an advocate of fair share taxes with the labor-backed Strong Economy For All Coalition, “We could fund the court order completely with fair share taxes.” This would include closing the carried interest loophole that allows hedge funds to pay a smaller share of their income in taxes than, according to Hedge Clippers, “their limousine drivers, dry cleaners, servants, helicopter pilots, and doormen.” Taxing hedge fund fees and profits fairly would bring New York hundreds of millions of dollars that could go straight to local schools. A recent Hedge Clippers analysis found that fair-share taxes and fees targeting hedge funds, billionaires, high-income LLCs and major corporations could raise between $3.1 and $4.2 billion dollars per year—well over the annual minimum required by state law’s school funding formula. But Cuomo’s hedge fund–backed proposals fail to even approach these standards, instead parroting the convenient logic of corporate education reformers that the problem is not the lack of school funding, but the way in which it is spent.

 

“It was outrageous when the governor said the lack of school funding was not an issue,” explains New York State Senator Liz Krueger (D). “And it’s consistent with his attempts to fail to make good on the CFE lawsuit commitment, somehow ignoring the fact that the poorest-achieving schools are also the most underfunded.” Commenting on the hedge fund forces backing such proposals, Krueger continued, “I can never know what people’s actual intentions are. But it does seem that there is a pattern of spending enormous lobbying money in lobbying and attempting to influence campaigns…. Hedge funds seem in particular to have made a fine art of not paying their taxes, allowing fundamental public services to be inadequately funded.”

 

Putting it more explicitly, Jonathan Westin of the labor-backed New York Communities for Change, argues the main point of the hedge fund–backed education reform push is thus “about shaping and controlling the public school system so that they will continue to get away with not paying hundreds of millions in taxes.”

 

In this light, the hedge-fund community’s fervent advocacy of the charter-school movement reflects its neoliberal social vision for the state and society. Charter schools are imagined as institutions where students can be reshaped to prevail against structural barriers like racism and poverty. As hedge-fund billionaire Paul Tudor Jones II claimed, contrary to decades of empirical evidence, “We proved with the charter school that the achievement gap was a myth, that with the right schools, kids from the poorest neighborhoods could do every bit as well as kids from the richest ones.”

 

To “make up for” pervasive inequality, in lieu of correcting it, hedge-fund billionaires like Daniel Loeb of Success Academy and Larry Robbins of KIPP have promoted charter schools that envelop students in hyper-disciplined and surveilled school environments in which their every decision, down to their most minute physical movement, can be measured, assessed and addressed. This “no excuses” pedagogical approach signals to students that the only barrier to their success is their character. In other words, as Cuomo put in his the State of the State address, students under the charter school paradigm should understand their educational opportunity as “the great equalizer.”

 

Read the article to see the links. Everything is carefully researched and sourced. It confirms what many of us have long known about the role of Wall Street in financing privatization and other policies that hurt teachers and public schools. And it is still scary. And anti-democratic.

 

I recall reading Robert Putnam’s previous book, Bowling Alone, about the decline of civic life in America. It caused quite a stir. I am looking forward to reading his new book, Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis. It seems certain to upset the “reformers,” as it blows away their assumptions that the schools are failing our children. As I read this review in Education Week, our society is failing our children, and we are not funding our schools in ways that help the neediest kids.

 

Sarah D. Sparks writes that Putnam “gathers a flood of research on the unraveling web of formal and informal supports that help students in poverty succeed academically and in life.

 

“If it takes a village to raise a child, the prognosis for America’s children isn’t good: In recent years, villages all over America, rich and poor, have deteriorated as we’ve shirked collective responsibility for our kids,” Mr. Putnam wrote. “And most Americans don’t have the resources … to replace collective provision with private provision.”

 

The attack on public education by the elites funding privatization is part of the shirking of collective responsibility. The drumbeating for “choice” is a way to replace collective responsibility with individual preferences, which are sure to intensify racial and economic segregation.

 

Sparks writes:

 

Mr. Putnam directly ties education to economic and social class; he speaks interchangeably of poverty and earning a high school degree or less, and of wealth and earning at least a four-year college degree.

 

Schools are not to blame for the academic gap between rich and poor students that starts before kindergarten, but, Mr. Putnam said, “the American public school today is as a kind of echo chamber in which the advantages or disadvantages that children bring with them to school have effects on other kids.”

 

He pointed to an analysis by the School Funding Law Center which found that as of 2009, 16 states had funding systems that provided less money per pupil to high-poverty school districts, while only 17 provided more per-pupil spending for districts with greater poverty. (An update of the study suggests those trends have worsened, with only 14 states providing significantly more money to high-poverty schools, and 19 states providing significantly less.)

 

Schools with 75 percent poverty or more offered one-third the number of Advanced Placement courses in 2009-10 than did wealthier schools—four each year on average compared to nearly a dozen each year at schools with 25 percent poverty or less.

 

Even where high-poverty schools get compensatory funding, Mr. Putnam told me: “Equalizing inputs is not equalizing outputs. Just because you have the same student-teacher ratio, just because you are investing the same dollars per kid, does not mean you are closing those gaps.”

 

For example, he noted in the book that high-poverty schools have more than twice as many disciplinary problems as low-poverty schools, and “equal numbers of guidance counselors cannot produce equal college readiness if the counselors in poor schools are tied up all day in disciplinary hearings.”

 

As a result, nearly 15 years after the federal education law was revised to “leave no child behind,” an analysis of the National Education Longitudinal Study data finds that even the brightest students in poverty can’t get ahead. Students in the poorest quarter of families who performed in the top third on national mathematics achievement were slightly less likely to graduate college than the worst math performers in the wealthiest quarter of families, 29 percent versus 30 percent.

 

The graph reproduced in this article starkly shows how poverty affects academic achievement and college graduation rates. This is not a problem that can be solved one student at a time. It requires a rearrangement of school funding so that schools enrolling poor students get the resources they need, not equal funding but more funding. It requires that the federal government invest in infrastructure programs that rebuild our crumbling highways and bridges and tunnels and sewers while creating meaningful work for men and women who can’t find jobs. That’s a tall order, but sooner or later our society must make decisions to do something significant to reduce poverty and inequality or to continue with the illusion that more high-stakes testing and more privatization of public education will solve those problems.

For some reason, the New York Council of School Superintendents invited Mike Petrilli of the conservative Fordham Institute to attend their annual meeting in Albany and tell them how to end the war over school reform.

 

I say “for some reason,” because Mike is one of the most determined warriors in the war over school reform. His idea of ending the “war over school reform” is for people to share his views. He loves charters, he hates unions, he is a fierce advocate for the Common Core, he thinks that poverty doesn’t matter, and he believes that charters are for strivers, not for unmotivated students. I know Mike fairly well, or I did, since I used to be on the board of the Fordham Institute. I don’t think we have had a conversation since I left the board in 2009. So far as I know, he has never been a teacher or a principal or a superintendent. He is not a scholar of education; he has no experience as a researcher in any discipline. He has worked for a conservative think tank with a strongly partisan point of view, and he worked as a political appointee of the George W. Bush administration in charge of “innovation.” He is now president of the Fordham Institute, which makes him a big player inside the Beltway and in conservative circles.

 

Peter Greene read his speech (I have not) and called Mike out on a number of points. Mike dissed defenders of public education (like me) because we think that poverty is an obstacle for poor kids and affects their ability to attain high test scores. People like me think that schools that enroll high numbers of poor kids need smaller class sizes, and more of everything that is taken for granted in well-resourced suburban schools. He thinks we are making excuses, despite the fact that standardized tests everywhere serve as measures of family wealth–with children of the affluent at the top and children of the poor at the bottom. However, as Peter points out, Mike is quite willing to exclude kids from charters who don’t meet their expectations.

 

Peter Greene writes that Petrilli’s views are:

 

……also insulting to the millions of teachers who are in the classroom day after day, doing the best they can with the resources they have. Hey, teachers– if you’re not succeeding with all of your students, it has nothing to do with obstacles and challenges in your path. You just don’t believe enough.

 

Then Petrilli pivots to criticize reformers, mostly for creating unrealistic definitions of success and failure. All students will not be ready to go to college, and not all schools labeled failing are, in fact, failing. 

 

He suggests that superintendents advocate for growth measures in evaluating schools. He calls on them to call out schools that are failing, because it will increase their credibility. He does not take any time explaining what standards the individual student growth should be measured against, nor why.

 

He also throws in a plug for vocational education, and on this I’m in complete agreement with him.

 

But in this section Petrilli has mapped out a “sensible center” that I do not recognize. On the one side, an extreme straw-man version of reform opponents, and on the other, a tiny concession that assumes the fundamentals of reform are sound. Petrilli’s sensible middle has nothing to say about the destructiveness of test-driven accountability, the warping of the system that comes from making schools accountable to the federal government, or the lack of full funding and support. On the one hand he dismisses anyone who wants to talk about the effects of poverty on education, but on the other, he acknowledges the unfairness of comparing schools where students arrive already behind on their first day. Petrilli’s sensible middle is a bit of a muddle….

 

Petrilli acknowledges that his charter love might be why eyebrows have been raised to ceiling height for his appearance at the supers’ gathering, but he says New York is charter territory because Albany leads the nation in production of education red tape. The awesome thing about charters is that they get to run without all that tapiness, and the superintendents should agitate for the same tapeless freedom. And if they can’t get it, they should get in on the charter fun.

 

This third point is brief, perhaps because there are no details to add to this. How does one elaborate on these points. Ask Albany for freedom that they won’t grant you in a zillion years? Join the charter game by finding millionaires to back you? Stop being so resentful that politicians, with the backing and encouragement of outfits like the Fordham Foundation, have been steadily stacking the deck against public schools and in favor of charteristas? Yes, it’s probably just as well that Petrilli didn’t dwell too long on this point.

 

I am sure Mike didn’t mention that two of Albany’s most celebrated charters–the Brighter Choice middle schools–were closed a day or so before Petrilli spoke to the superintendents–for poor performance.

 

 

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