The privatizers got badly beaten in 2016, when they tried to lift the cap on charter schools in Massachusetts. Funded by the Waltons and the usual coven of billionaires, they asked the public to endorse a proposal to launch 12 charter schools every year, wherever they wanted to open. The referendum was overwhelmingly defeated, much to the surprise of its sponsors.

Governor Charlie Baker is a Republican who has appointed a choice-friendly State Board, so the privatizers have not given up hope for undermining democracy.

Now they are back with a proposal for “innovation zones.” 

Jonathan Rodrigues writes:

In a world where we’re more and more accustomed to jargon inherited from corporate start up world like “disruption” and “big data”, “innovation” stands out as one of the most empty vessels in which we project meaning without much thought of it.

In the education world in particular, almost anything can be “innovative”. Even bringing back purposeful segregation and differential treatment under the guise of educational opportunity. Governor Baker’s latest “Innovation Partnership Zones” may be clever, but it’s certainly not very innovative.

If only segregationist Alabama Governor George Wallace had known it would be this easy to fool people, he’d had changed his 1963 speech to “innovation today, innovation tomorrow, innovation forever!”.

So what are “Innovation Partnership Zones” (IPZs), and what would the governor’s bill do? It’s important to note here this idea has prominent Democratic support as well, it was only last year that Education Committee co-chair Alice Peisch (D-Wellesley) and Senator Eric Lesser (D-Longmeadow) sponsored very similar legislation.

The bill allows groups of 2 schools or more (or one school with more than 1,000 students) to create an IPZ which would allow an outside organization to manage these schools and give the “zone” autonomy over things like budget, hiring, curriculum, etc. Essentially third-partying away the public good, but doesn’t “partnership” sounds so much better than “takeover”?

The IPZ can be triggered in two main ways.

  1. Through local initiative of school committee members, a superintendent, a mayor, a teachers group or union, and parents. .
  2. Through the state’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) Commissioner’s choice from schools determined to be “underperforming” by high stakes testing metrics.

The process would then call for proposals jointly with an outside entity that may include nonprofit charter operators and higher ed institutions….

If past is prologue, the results should look familiar. Brown University Annenberg Institute’s 2016 report “Whose Schools?” analyzed the board composition of charter schools in Massachusetts. 60% of charter schools in the Commonwealth had no parent representation at all. 31% of charter board members were from the corporate sector, heavily from finance.

We should all look forward to our IPZs filled with executives from places like TD Bank, who certainly might live in the “region,”, but have no respect for Boston’s biggest neighborhood.

It is especially worrisome that IPZs will be inevitably pushed on communities of color, continuing a nationwide trend of stripping away voice from families of color from Philadelphia to Chicago, Detroit to New Orleans.

A 2015 Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools “Out Of Control” report examined the disenfranchisement of black and brown families through mechanisms such as appointed school boards, and state and district turnovers. In their 2014–15 analysis, there were 113 state takeover districts nationwide. 96 were handed to charter operators. 98% of affected students were Black and/or Latinx. In New Orleans, parents had to navigate 44 different governing authorities; in Detroit, 45.

The most important innovation of all would be the full funding of schools in poor communities.

He concludes:

In no place where black and brown families are the majority in the school district is the innovation of a fully funded quality public school with adequate staffing, special education services, mental health supports, art and music, full-time librarians, and school nurses ever even attempted.