Archives for category: Closing schools

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.

As readers know, I met Hillary Clinton at a fund-raiser on August 28. It was not the in-depth meeting I had hoped for, but it was better than nothing.

I endorsed Hillary after she secured the Democratic nomination. I assured you that I would support the winner of the Democratic nomination. I consider Trump to be an ignorant buffoon and a danger to our nation and the world. I wrote an even stronger endorsement in July.

As I watch this bizarre campaign unfold, I feel even stronger about the importance of stopping Donald Trump. His admiration for Putin, who murders journalists, stifles a free press, harasses homosexuals, invades another nation, and is re-establishing a dictatorship–makes me feel that what Trump admires in leadership is a disrespect for human rights, a commanding style that censors opposition: in short, dictatorship. Nothing in Trump’s background is reassuring. He should return to reality television to rant and boast.

So, I reiterate, on every issue that matters, I’m with her. Given Trump’s desire to turn $20 billion of federal spending into support for school choice, I now am certain that she will be far better than he on education, even if she doesn’t stand up to fight all forms of privatization

Valerie Strauss invited me to elaborate on my brief meeting with Hillary, which I did here.

As the response from the campaign makes clear, she is walking a fine line between major donors who support charters and the teachers’ unions, which know that the charter movement is meant to demolish them (90% or more of the nation’s charters are non-union).

As I have said to readers on many occasions in the comments, I don’t know what Hillary will do on education, although after Trump revealed his full-throated support for school choice, I am sure that Trump will be a wrecking ball for public education. She said that she would stop federal funding for for-profit charter schools, and that would be a big step forward.

But on every other issue, from climate change to gun control to civil rights to Supteme Court appointments to international relations, I support her enthusiastically and without reservation.

Arne Duncan left his post last winter, after serving for seven years as Secretary of Education. In this post, Zoe Carpenter reviews his legacy.

The short version is that he opened doors for the booming education business. The longer version is that he did nothing to reverse the resegregation of American schools, but his efforts have been a boon to the testing industry and the charter industry.

Thanks to Arne, many entrepreneurs were encouraged to sell stuff to schools. The U.S. Department of Education is a marketing machine for the tech industry. Wanna buy a new ap? Check with ED. How else to explain the transition of almost every public school in the nation to online testing, even though studies show that students test better when they use paper and pen/pencil? Did anyone ask for that?

Other changes that Arne was responsible for: an explosion of publicly funded private schools (charter schools); Common Core; closing thousands of public schools in black and brown communities; massive collection of personally identifiable student data; data mining.

How many billions were wasted on ed tech and Common Core that might have been spent to reduce class sizes and improve teachers’ salaries or to encourage desegregation?

Carpenter credits Duncan with cracking down on the for-profit higher education industry, but this is an exaggerated claim. Corinthian Colleges collapsed, not because Duncan forced it to, but because it lost market share. Other for-profit colleges continue to lure veterans, minorities, and poor people with promises that will never be kept and to send them off with high debts and a worthless degree. The for-profit higher education industry is still making profits and ripping off veterans and poor people with false promises and worthless degrees.

Arne may have left us with a time-limited parlor game: what was the dumbest thing Arne said?

“Hurricane Katrina was the best thing that happened to the public schools of Néw Orleans.”

“I want to be able to look into a second graders’ eyes and tell whether he is headed for a good college.”

“Teachers have to stop lying to their students and dummying down the standards.”

“The opt out movement consists of white suburban moms who are disappointed to discover that their child is not as brilliant as they thought he was.”

Can we ever forget Arne and his campaign to open public education to the needs of edu-business?

Several members of the Democratic party’s platform committee sent me the draft of the platform. It is linked below so we can all reflect on what is being considered. This is a draft so it can be changed. Please read it and send your best ideas.

The section on education contains a lot of reformer lingo. Zip codes. Options. Accountability. The Democratic party favors “high academic standards.” Who favors “low academic standards?” The party opposes too much testing; who favors too much testing?

The rhetoric about “high academic standards” brings echoes of No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top. Wouldn’t it have been refreshing to see a statement about meeting the needs of all children? Or ensuring that all schools have the staff and resources they need for the children they enroll?

And then there’s the section on charters. The party is against for-profit charters: so far, so good, but how about saying that a Clinton administration will stop federal funding of for-profit schools and colleges, because they are low-quality and predatory, with profit as their top priority?

The party favors “high quality charters.” Does that mean corporate charter chains like KIPP, Achievement First, and Success Academy? Probably. How about a statement opposing corporate replacements for neighborhood public schools? How about a statement insisting that charters accept English language learners and students with disabilities at the same rate as the neighborhood public school? How about a statement opposing draconian disciplinary policies and suspensions?

How about a clear statement that the Clinton administration will no longer permit school closings as academic punishment? How about a clear signal that the Clinton administration intends to protect and strengthen our nation’s essential traditional public schools, which serve all children. How about signaling a new direction for federal education policy, one that promises to support schools and educators, not to punish them.

Please read and share yours reactions. I will pass ideas along to platform committee members.

See the entire pdf here.

Joseph Ricciotti, veteran educator in Connecticut, wonders if Hillary Clinton will forge a different path from that of the Obama administration. He points out that Race to the Top and Common Core were both major disasters. Race to the Top was built on the assumptions of George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind, and proved even more harmful to public education and to children.

He notes that she benefited in her campaign by the early endorsements of the two teachers’ unions, the NEA and AFT.

He writes:

She can be thankful in no small part to the major role that the teacher organizations in the nation such as the National Educational Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) played in their early endorsement of her presidency. Public school teachers and parents are fighting the battle of their lives in attempting to hold off the forces of privatization along with the onslaught of charter schools in the nation.


Sadly, theses forces of privatization received major support from Arne Duncan, the former Secretary of Education appointed by President Barack Obama. No other Education Secretary, especially Democratic, has done more to privatize and weaken public education than Arne Duncan who was also obsessed with standardized testing. Under his regime, public schools across the nation experienced two failed programs with Race to the Top (RTTT) and Common Core State Standards (CCSS). His so-called “testocracy” grossly neglected the impact of childhood poverty on learning for children from impoverished homes.

Likewise, under Duncan’s time in office, we have witnessed the demise of the neighborhood school and the growth of charter schools, all with corporate sponsors. Hence, it was obvious that former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan was not a public school advocate but rather a paid shill who was in the pockets of the corporate reformers and the testing industry.

If Clinton is elected as president in 2016, it will not take very long for both the NEA and the AFT to know whether their early presidential endorsement has been wasted, as was the case following Barack Obama’s nomination eight years ago in his selection of Duncan as Secretary of Education. Whether Clinton chooses someone to serve as Secretary of Education who will undo the disastrous harm that Duncan has inflicted on public education in his eight years remains to be seen. Will she choose another corporate reformer or will she surprise everyone with an appointment of someone who will be a true advocate of public education and who is widely respected by the supporters of public education in the nation?

I can’t bring myself to tell you whom he recommends to lead the Department of Education.

Jay Greene, chairman of the Department of Educational Reform at the University of Arkansas, reaches a startling conclusion: Higher test do not necessarily translate into higher graduation rates or other life outcomes that matter.

This post pretty much blows away the rationale for corporate reform. How many times did we hear from Michelle Rhee, Joel Klein, Wendy Kopp, Arne Duncan, Bill Gates, and other “reform” leaders that charter schools get higher test scores than public schools? How many times have we heard from the Friedman Foundation and other cheerleaders for vouchers that vouchers are the key to higher test scores? But what if the higher test scores do not translate into better outcomes for students? What if Jay Greene is right? Perhaps the goal of schooling should be to teach a well-rounded education, character, and citizenship? Test scores don’t measure that.

This is one of the most important posts I have read in a very long time. I encourage you to read it.

Greene writes:

I’ve written several times recently about how short term gains in test scores are not associated with improved later life outcomes for students. Schools and programs that increase test score quite often do not yield higher high school graduation or college attendance rates. Conversely, schools and programs that fail to produce greater gains in test scores sometimes produce impressive improvements in high school graduation and college attendance rates, college completion rates, and even higher employment and earnings. I’ve described at least 8 studies that show a disconnect between raising test scores and stronger later life outcomes.

Well, now we have a 9th. Earlier this month MDRC quietly released a long-term randomized experiment of the effects of the SEED boarding charter school in Washington, DC. Because SEED is a boarding school, there was a lot of hope among reformers that it might be able to make a more profound difference for very disadvantaged students by having significantly more time to influence students and structure their lives. Of course, boarding schools also cost significantly more — in this case roughly twice as much as traditional non-residential schools.

While the initial test score results are very encouraging, the later life outcomes are disappointing. After two years students admitted to SEED by lottery outperformed those denied admission by lottery by 33% of a standard deviation in math and 23% in reading. If we judged the quality of schools entirely based on short term changes in test scores, as many reformers would like to do, we’d say this school was doing a great job.

In fact, SEED may be doing a great job in a variety of ways, but when we look at longer term outcomes for students on a variety of measures the evidence demonstrating SEED’s success disappears or even turns negative. Of the students accepted by lottery to SEED 69.3% graduate from high school after four years compared to 74.1% for the control group, a difference that is not statistically significant. And when asked about their likelihood of attending college, there was no significant difference between the two groups. SEED students also score significantly higher on a measure of engaging in risky behavior and lower on the grit scale….

If we think we can know which schools of choice are good and ought to be expanded and which are bad and ought to be closed based primarily on annual test score gains, we are sadly mistaken. Various portfolio management and “accountability” regimes depend almost entirely on this false belief that test scores reveal which are the good and bad schools. The evidence is growing quite strong that these strategies cannot properly distinguish good from bad schools and may be inflicting great harm on students. Given the disconnect between test scores and later life outcomes we need significantly greater humility about knowing which schools are succeeding.

The last time I checked (when reviewing “Waiting for ‘Superman'” in 2010, the cost of a SEED education was $35,000 per child; it is probably more now.

Be sure to open the link to read the full post, which is very informative.

Paul Thomas reacts to an editorial in the Charleston (S.C.) “Post and Courier,” which recommended closing a high-poverty school with low test scores and turning it over to private operators.

Thomas asks a few questions:

So there are actually some very important questions that the editors at the P&C are failing to ask:

Why have some students been allowed ever to languish in school conditions that are subpar when compared to vibrant schools and opportunities for other students in the same city? Burns Elementary with a poverty index of 96 is but one school that represents a long history in SC of how negligent we have been as a state in terms of providing anything close to equity in the opportunities poor and racial minority children are afforded.

Why does any public school board need a private partnership to do what is needed to offer these students the sort of school all children deserve? If what is needed is so obvious, and so easy to do (which is a subtext of the editorial), the truth is that the school board simply does not have the political will to do what is right for some children.

And this is very important: What third party, not invested in the Meeting Street Academy, has examined the claims of academic success in the so-called “successful” schools that are being promised as fixes for Burns? I cannot find any data on test scores (setting aside that test scores aren’t even that good for making these claims), but I have analyzed claims of “miracle” charter schools in SC—finding that these claims are always false. Always. I do not trust that Meeting Street is going to prove to be the first actual miracle school in a long line of those that have been unmasked before.

He notes that politicians are easily bamboozled and follow the crowd, without asking where they are going.

SC political leaders have pushed for school choice, charter schools, VAM evaluations of teachers, ever-new standards and high-stakes testing, exit exams, third-grade retention, and now takeover policies for so-called “failing schools”—yet all of these have no basis for policy in the body of research refuting the effectiveness of each one.

For the editors of the P&C, as well as our political leaders and the public, the real questions are why do we persist in ignoring the stark realities of our inequitable society, why do we then continue to play politics with our schools that are just as inequitable as our society, and then why do we refuse to consider the evidence about addressing social and educational inequity directly in our policies?

Why do politicians continue to push for policies that have failed elsewhere, again and again? Because they don’t care. Because they are happy to maintain the status quo. Their eager embrace of “school choice” and other failed policies is a smokescreen. They know such policies will change nothing.

Closing schools, renaming schools, shuffling students—these are the practices of those who are invested in the status quo regardless of the consequences for “other people’s children.”