Archives for category: Closing schools

The citizens of Massachusetts spoke loudly and clearly on November 8 when they overwhelmingly rejected Question 2. They don’t want more charter schools. They want strong and well-resourced public schools.

 

But the state of Massachusetts and the Boston school superintendent Tommy Chang have decided to close Mattahunt Elementary School despite the pleas of the parents and the local community. 

 

The state Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester has threatened to take over the school, although state takeovers have seldom been successful at improving schools. Boston superintendent Chang says that the only way to save the school is to close it. Read that sentence over two or three times and see if it makes any sense to you. It reminds me of the saying during the Vietnam War that “we had to destroy the village in order to save it.” This is insane.

 

Test scores are low. Kids are poor. Why not come up with a strategy to improve the school? Chang, who worked for John Deasy’s in Los Angeles, seems to have no idea how to help the school other than to close it. Neither does Mitchell Chester.

 

Citizens for Public Schools writes:

 

Does Boston have to close a school to save its children from suffering harm at the hands of the state?

 

That startling question was the focus of nearly four hours of passionate debate last week, pitting 100 parents and other supporters of the Mattahunt School against Superintendent Tommy Chang.

 

In the end, the School Committee voted to close the school at the end of June to head off state takeover, even after parents said they were willing to take the risk and would join with the School Committee in fighting for their school.

 

The Mattahunt students are 95 percent Black and Latino, and over 25 percent English language learners. Many come from Haiti and have already experienced trauma and instability. School Department officials said 17 of the students came to the Mattahunt from other schools that the department closed.

 

“You would never do this in a white community,” said Peggy Wiesenberg, a white parent who came to support the Mattahunt parents…

 

All sides agreed that state intervention would be a tragedy for the children. Speakers said the state takeover of the Dever and Holland schools had hurt the children in those schools, using terms like “disaster.”

 

Have public officials in charge of education in Massachusetts lost their minds? Why would they close a school to avoid a state takeover that everyone agrees would be a disaster? Would they do this in a white neighborhood? Why are they treating these children like they are inanimate objects? Like they don’t matter? Like their well-being is unimportant? They are not doing this for the kids. Why are they doing it? What is the point? This is not education reform. This is community destruction and child abuse.

 

Where is the accountability for Mitchell Chester and Tommy Chang? They are guilty of educational malpractice. They should be held accountable.

 

 

Jelani Cobb graduated from Jamaica High School, as did many other distinguished Americans. In a powerful story that appeared in The New Yorker, Cobb tells the history of Jamaica High School as a paradigm for the clash between race and reform. Jamaica High School was long considered one of the best high schools in New York City in the 1980s. As the city adopted reform after reform, the school went from an integrated model to a highly segregated school; it enrolled growing numbers of students who were learning English or had disabilities. Other schools lured away top-achieving students. When the Bloomberg-Klein regime took over, Jamaica’s days were numbered. The staff and the local community fought for the survival of the school, but Bloomberg-Klein gloried in closing large high schools and stuffing them with multiple small schools with multiple principals. The school that once enrolled over 3,000 students held its last graduation ceremony in 2014, with a graduating class of only 24 students. This is a very sad story about the abandonment of schools that suffered from the reformer conceit that low scores=bad schools. Jamaica in its final years was serving the neediest of the city’s students; it was put to death by the authorities.

Cobb writes:

Underscoring the indignities that attended the school’s last days was a difficult irony: for much of its time, Jamaica was a gemstone of the city’s public-education system. In 1981, the schools chancellor, Frank Macchiarola, decided to take on the additional role of an interim high-school principal, in order to better appreciate the daily demands of school administration. He chose Jamaica, and was roundly criticized for picking such an easy school to lead. Four years later, the U.S. Department of Education named it one of the most outstanding public secondary schools in the nation. Alumni include Stephen Jay Gould, Attorney General John Mitchell, Representative Sheila Jackson Lee, Walter O’Malley, Paul Bowles, and three winners of the Pulitzer Prize: Gunther Schuller, Art Buchwald, and Alan Dugan. Bob Beamon, who set a world record for the long jump in the 1968 Olympics, graduated with the class of ’65. The school’s closure felt less like the shuttering of a perennial emblem of stagnation than like the erasure of a once great institution that had somehow ceased to be so.

Jamaica had become an institution of the type that has vexed city policymakers and educators: one charged with serving a majority-minority student body, most of whose members qualified as poor, and whose record was defined by chronic underachievement and academic failure. Even so, word of the school’s closure angered students and their families, the community, and alumni. I was among them—I graduated with the class of ’87—and for me, as for many former students, the school was a figment of recollection, frozen in its academic glory. George Vecsey, the former Times sports columnist and a member of the class of ’56, accused Joel Klein, Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s schools chancellor, of “cooking the books,” to make schools slated for closure appear worse than they were, and compared the Department of Education’s closure policies to the nihilism of Pol Pot. Vecsey later apologized for having slighted the suffering of Cambodia, but he held to his contention that Klein ruled by dictatorial fiat. He wrote, in a blog, “The city destroyed a piece of history because of its own failure.”

Thanks to Michael Paul Goldenberg for sending this nifty graphic explanation of why schools cant operate like businesses, opening and closing, fighting for competitive advantage, and celebrating the few that survive competition.

No one mourns when the local shoe store fails and relocates or goes into a different line of work. But think of the disruption and anguish when the doors to the local school are closed, and it is replaced by a corporate charter school.

The national board of the NAACP is meeting tomorrow.

Please call as soon as possible to urge them to support their conference’s resolution calling for a moratorium on new charter schools.

The number is: 410 580 5777

The national board will vote on whether to confirm the resolution passed by its convention this past summer calling for a moratorium on new charter schools because of their negative effects on African-American communities. This resolution shook up the billionaire-funded corporate reform movement because it pretends to be in league with the civil rights movement. The resolution stripped away this pretense, as the 1% have never been allies of the civil rights movement. Consider charter school leaders like the Waltons of Arkansas, whose Walmart stores employ over one million people and are resolutely non-union (make that anti-union). The best way for them to advance the rights of black and brown people is to pay them good wages so their children can be well fed and live in decent housing with good medical care.

The NAACP resolution recognizes that charter schools are a distraction from the income inequality that harms children and families. Address root causes. Help schools and children. Don’t close schools and destroy communities.

Before the second debate tonight, the Journey for Justice asks the candidates to respond to these questions:


NEWS RELEASE MEDIA CONTACT: Jaribu Lee
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

(773) 548-7500
October 8, 2016
info@j4jalliance.com

Education activists release statement ahead of second presidential debate: “Will the next president be tone deaf…”

CHICAGO – Today, Jitu Brown, national director of the Journey for Justice Alliance (J4JA) released the following statement ahead of the second presidential debate in St. Louis on Sunday, September 9th. Thousands of African American and Latino parents, students and activists have challenged both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump (and third-party candidates) to release their K-through-12 public education platforms, as well as identify how, if elected, they will work to end federal education policies that have destabilized communities and hurt students of color:

“As parents, students and residents of communities impacted by corporate education interventions in 24 cities across this nation, we are dismayed by the omission of public education as an issue during this presidential election season. Public education repeatedly polls as a top tier issue, but has been largely ignored by both major and third party candidates,” said Brown.

“Will the next president be tone deaf to the tremors from the ground? As a national network of grassroots community organizations across America, we have seen first-hand a determined resistance to failed, top-down corporate education interventions that cannot be ignored; Title VI civil rights complaints filed in 12 cities, thousands of people in determined protest against school closings, sit-ins and traffic blockades, students occupying the superintendent’s office in Newark, a 34-day hunger strike to save a neighborhood’s last open-enrollment high school in Chicago, the rejection of punitive standardized test across the nation and from those who wish to be the leader of the free world; silence.

“The next president must base their advocacy in relationship with people’s lived reality, not corporate relationships. When a mother cries in Detroit because her child’s school is being closed, or students walk-out by the thousands in Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Camden and Newark, Baltimore and Philadelphia; it matters. The next president must understand that the United States ranks 19th in the world in public education among OECD countries but when you remove poverty we are number 2. The next president must have the courage to stare down inequity in public education with a commitment to hear the voices of the people directly impacted. The next president must understand that we do not have failing schools in America, as a public we have been failed,” he continued.

“We are asking the next president to meet with the Journey for Justice Alliance and adopt our education platform. Include J4J on your education transition team so that public policy can be rooted in our lived experiences, not someone’s opinion of our communities. We were disappointed that the vice-presidential candidates said nothing about public education in their October 4th debate. We want to hear from both candidates on October 9th about their education agenda. Will they be honest about the harm inflicted on our communities by school closings and the unwarranted expansion of charter schools? Will they acknowledge that the “illusion of choice” must be erased by the reality of strong, high quality neighborhood schools within safe walking distance of our homes? We will be watching.”

​###

The Journey for Justice Alliance (J4J) (www.j4jalliance.org) is a national network of inter-generational, grassroots community organizations led primarily by Black and Brown people in 24 U.S. cities. With more than 40,000 active members, we assert that the lack of equity is one of the major failures of the American education system. Current U.S. education policies have led to states’ policies that lead to school privatization through school closings and charter school expansion which has energized school segregation, the school-to-prison pipeline; and has subjected children to mediocre education interventions that over the past 15 years have not resulted in sustained, improved education outcomes in urban communities.

Journey For Justice Alliance
4242 S. Cottage Grove
Chicago, IL 60653
773-548-7500

State Commissioner of Education MaryEllen Elia announced that only one school in the state had failed to meet the arbitrary benchmarks she set. It is J.H.S. 162 Lola Rodriguez De Tio.

Elia is directing NYC Chancellor Carmen Fariña to take dramatic action.

“J.H.S. 162 did not hit its targets, the State Education Department announced Wednesday afternoon. That means schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña has 60 days to appoint an outside entity, such as a school improvement expert or nonprofit, to oversee the school. The city could also decide to close or merge the school.

“Each persistently struggling school had to make at least 40 percent progress on a “demonstrable improvement index” to avoid independent receivership — and J.H.S. 162 reached 38 percent, missing some indicators by less than one point.”

So the school may be closed because it missed Elia’/ goals by less than a point.

Here’s an idea.

Elia should take control of the school, personally. Don’t give it to a charter chain or some turnaround firm. Let Elia do it. She set the goals. She should show the rest of the state what she can do. JHS 162 is on her conscience. Let her take responsibility for fixing it.

Julie Woestehoff is interim director of Parents Across America. For many years, she ran a parent group in Chicago called Parents United for Responsible Education.

In PAA’s newsletter, she recalls how parents warned Chicago Superintendent Arne Duncan that his public school-closing/charter-opening program called Renaissance 2010 would likely lead to violence. Do you remember Renaissance 2010? Arne Duncan said that Chicago schools would enjoy a dramatic renaissance by the year 2010. Julie sent me her newsletter after reading a similar post that I had written about the possible connection between school closings, neighborhood destabilization, and increased violence. Arne Duncan learned nothing from the failure of Renaissance 2010; he brought the same policies to Washington and embedded them in Race to the Top.

She writes:


It has been more than 10 years since I and many of my former colleagues began warning Chicago that massive school closings would not improve education and would most likely lead to increased violence. It gives me no pleasure to see that this prediction has come true, and to such a tragic extent.

We began to sound the alarm about school closures in 2004, as Mayor Daley and Arne Duncan touted their Renaissance 2010 program, an attempt to satisfy the business community’s call to create 100 charter schools. Some of us slept on the sidewalk outside of the Board of Education headquarters the night before the August 2004 board meeting so that we could present a steady stream of testimony the next morning against the plan’s proposed 60 closures.

While Arne Duncan dismissed parent and community concerns, affected schools and neighborhoods became increasingly dangerous. In 2006, the media reported that violence had soared at five of the nine high schools that accepted most of the students transferred out of the high schools closed under Renaissance 2010. West side activists rose in anger in 2007 when 27 children were killed within a few months of the closure of the only open enrollment high school in Austin, the city’s largest neighborhood, forcing their children to travel across several gang lines to get to school. The nation was gripped by the horrific 2009 recorded murder of Fenger High School honor student Derrion Albert by a few youth from a faction of students transferred to Fenger after their neighborhood high school was closed.

In 2012, I wrote an article for Huffington Post, “Are Charter Schools the Answer to — or One Reason for – Chicago’s Violence?” The number of shootings and homicides had taken another alarming leap, and a charter school official suggested that the solution was opening more charter schools. The studies and reports I cited made it clear that this idea was exactly the wrong approach.

Along with the warnings and protests, advocates also tirelessly developed school improvement proposals in collaboration with recognized education experts, parents, teachers, students, and neighbors. All of these community-generated proposals were dismissed and disrespected by district officials.

Rhode Island voters elected several progressive candidates to the legislature.

Most startling was that a public school teacher in Providence beat the House Majority leader!

The votes were close, but a victory is a victory.

Rhode Island is a small but important state. In 2010, Central Falls fired every employee in the high school, with the support of the State Superintendent Deborah Gist (now superintendent in Tulsa). Rhode Island win a Race to the Top grant. The Governor supports corporate reform.

Bernie’s movement just notched some wins.

This is a powerful, deeply moving article by Kristina Riga about the loss of black teachers in the school districts that have embraced “reform.” It appears in Mother Jones, where Rizga has been a staff writer for many years.

Rizga focuses on the story of one teacher, Darlene Lomax. But the story she tells is about the widespread shedding of black teachers, women and men who were the backbones of their communities. In Philadelphia, almost 20% of black teachers are gone; in New Orleans, 62%; in Chicago, 40%; in Cleveland, 34%. School closings have been concentrated in historically black communities. Black teachers have been disproportionately displaced by “reform.”

She begins:

One spring morning this year, Darlene Lomax was driving to her father’s house in northwest Philadelphia. She took a right onto Germantown Avenue, one of the city’s oldest streets, and pulled up to Germantown High School, a stately brick-and-stone building. Empty whiskey bottles and candy cartons were piled around the benches in the school’s front yard. Posters of the mascot, a green and white bear, had browned and curled. In what was once the teachers’ parking lot, spindly weeds shot up through the concrete. Across the street, above the front door of the also-shuttered Robert Fulton Elementary School, a banner read, “Welcome, President Barack Obama, October 10, 2010.”

It had been almost three years since the Philadelphia school district closed Germantown High, and 35 years since Lomax was a student there. But the sight of the dead building, stretching over an entire city block, still pained her. She looked at her old classroom windows, tinted in greasy brown dust, and thought about Dr. Grabert, the philosophy teacher who pushed her to think critically and consider becoming the first in her family to go to college. She thought of Ms. Stoeckle, the English teacher, whose red-pen corrections and encouraging comments convinced her to enroll in a program for gifted students. Lomax remembers the predominantly black school—she had only one white and one Asian American classmate—as a rigorous place, with college preparatory honors courses and arts and sports programs. Ten years after taking Ms. Stoeckle’s class, Lomax had dropped by Germantown High to tell her that she was planning to become a teacher herself.

A historic Georgian Revival building, Germantown High opened its doors in 1915 as a vocational training ground for the industrial era, with the children of blue-collar European immigrants populating its classrooms. In the late 1950s, the district added a wing to provide capacity for the growing population of a rapidly integrating neighborhood.

By 1972, Lomax’s father, a factory worker, had saved up enough to move his family of eight from a two-bedroom apartment in one of the poorest parts of Philadelphia into a four-bedroom brick house in Germantown. Each month, Darlene and her younger sister would walk 15 blocks to the mortgage company’s gray stucco building, climb up to the second floor, and press a big envelope with money orders into the receptionist’s hand. The new house had a dining room and a living room, sparkling glass doorknobs, French doors that opened into a large sunroom, an herb garden, and a backyard with soft grass and big trees. Darlene and her father planted tomatoes and made salads with the sweet, juicy fruit every Friday, all summer long.

To the Lomax children, the fenceless backyard was ripe for exploration, and it funneled them right to the yards of their neighbors. One yard belonged to two sisters who worked as special-education teachers—the first black people Darlene had met who had college degrees. As Lomax got to know these sisters, she began to think that perhaps her philosophy teacher was right: She, too, could go to college and someday buy a house of her own with glass doorknobs and a garden. She graduated from Rosemont College in 1985, and after a stint as a social worker, she enrolled at Temple University and got her teaching credential.

On February 19, 2013, Lomax was in the weekly faculty leadership meeting at Fairhill Elementary, a 126-year-old school in a historic Puerto Rican neighborhood of Philadelphia where she served as principal. A counselor was giving his report, but Lomax couldn’t hear what he said. She just stared at her computer screen, frozen, as she read a letter from the school superintendent. She read it again and again to make sure she understood what it said.

Then, slowly, she turned to Robert Harris, Fairhill’s special-education teacher for 20 years, and his wife, the counselor and gym teacher. “They are closing our school,” she said quietly. They all broke down weeping. Then they walked to the front of the building in silence and unlocked the doors to open the school for the day.

Five miles away, as Germantown High School prepared for its 100th anniversary, its principal was digesting the same letter. In all, 24 Philadelphia schools would be closed that year. These days, when Lomax visits her father in the house with the glass doorknobs, she drives by four shuttered school buildings, each with a “Property Available for Sale” sign.

Back when Lomax was a student in Philadelphia in the 1970s, local, state, and federal governments poured extra resources into these racially isolated schools—grand, elegant buildings that might look like palaces or city halls—to compensate for a long history of segregation. And they invested in the staff inside those schools, pushing to expand the teaching workforce and bring in more black and Latino teachers with roots in the community. Teaching was an essential path into the middle class, especially for African American women; it was also a nexus of organizing. During the civil rights movement, black educators were leaders in fighting for increased opportunity, including more equitable school funding and a greater voice for communities in running schools and districts.

For many years, parents and education activists in Chicago have warned that the deliberate destruction of neighborhood public schools was causing a rise in violence. The city, first under Arne Duncan, now under Rahm Emanuel, ignored the critics, and made a virtue of closing public schools, opening charter schools, and sending kids long distances to new schools. Mayor Emanuel recognized that the critics’ complaints had some validity. He didn’t stop the school closings–in fact, he closed 50 public schools in a single day, an unprecedented action in American history. But to assuage the critics, he established “safe passages,” supposedly to assure students’ safety as they adapted to new and longer routes to their new schools. In 2013, a student was raped while walking to school on a “safe passage” route.

Nonetheless, murders and violence in Chicago are at a 20-year high this year.

Arne Duncan expressed his sorrow about the spike in violence, but still sees no connection between his policies as City Superintendent and Secretary of Education and the nasty consequences of destabilizing neighborhoods and communities.

Duncan was first to use school closings as “reform.” The first school he closed and restaffed was Dodge Elementary School. He was proud of Dodge, which was his first turnaround. When President Obama announced that he was appointing Duncan as Secretary of Education in 2008, he did the announcement at Dodge. The president said Duncan had the “courage” to close the school and start over. A few years later, Dodge was rated a failing school and closed again. https://www.wbez.org/shows/wbez-news/cps-wants-to-close-first-renaissance-schools/16f619df-5820-464d-bbcb-5fc308daf1a0

Opening schools, closing schools, breaking up neighborhoods and communities. Making children walk through unfamiliar neighborhoods and gang territory to get to school. Not a recipe for safety or success.