Archives for category: Closing schools

Mark Weber, who blogs as Jersey Jazzman, here describes the legacy of Chris Cerf’s three years as State Commissioner of Education in New Jersey.

Cerf has announced that he is leaving to join Amplify, the education division of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, which is headed by Cerf’s former boss Joel Klein. Cerf was deputy chancellor in New York City when Klein was chancellor. Together, they will sell hardware and software to the nation’s schools on behalf of Murdoch.

Weber sums Cerf’s legacy thus:

More state control.
More emphasis on standardized testing.
More inequitably funded districts.
More inexperienced district leaders.
More intensely segregated districts.
More unfunded mandates.
More demoralized and burned out teachers.

In this post, Mark Naison explains why so many parents seek to place their children in charters in New York City. Fr 12 years, the Bloomberg administration showered preferential treatment on the charters and ignored the needs of the public schools tat enroll 94% of the city’s children.

He predicts that the policies of Mayor de Blasio and Chancellor Farina will reverse some or most of the damage done to public schools by the policies of the past dozen years:

He writes:

Charter School Growth, Bloomberg Style, Creates Dilemma for the de Blasio Administration- A Special Report to BK Nation
January 31, 2014

By Dr. Mark Naison

In today’s New York Post, an article appeared claiming that Charter School Applications in New York City were 56 percent ahead of what they were at this time last year, putting pressure on the de Blasio administration to re-evaluate its efforts to slow charter expansion.

Those numbers are REAL. They reflect the desperation of inner city and working class parents who hope to find high performing, safe schools for their children and see charters as the best hope for that.

However, they are making that judgment, based on what they observe in their own neighborhoods, not because of the inherent superiority of charter schools, but because the Bloomberg Administration rigged the game by giving huge preference to charter schools, both substantively and symbolically, and using charters not as a strategy to improve public education in the city, but as a wedge to privatize it and smash the influence of the city’s teachers union.

The challenge of the de Blasio administration is see what happens when the competition is even, and when public schools are given the resources, encouragement and support charters were given in the Bloomberg years. When and if that happens, the demand for charters is likely to decrease as parents see public schools in their neighborhood improve dramatically and innovative new public schools open in their neighborhoods.

Under the Bloomberg administration, aided and abetted by police systems of the U.S. and NY State Departments of Education, charter schools were consciously selected over public schools as the preferred alternative when low performing public schools were closed. This preference was manifested in several important ways:

• Charters were given facilities in public schools rent free.

• In schools where they were co-located with public schools, the charters were given preferential access to auditoriums, gymnasiums, laboratories, and often put in the most desirable locations in the buildings.

• Although charters selected their students by lottery, they were allowed to weed out students who had disciplinary problems, or who performed poorly on standardized tests. As a result, according to Ben Chapman of the Daily News, only 6 percent of charter students are ELL students and 9 percent special needs students, far lower than the city average for public schools.

• When you count space, charters received more city funding than public schools, and when you add to that private contributions that they solicited, charters spent significantly more per student than public schools.

• Community organizations and universities willing to start new schools were encouraged by the NYC Department of Education to start charter schools rather than public schools.

These preferences had an absolutely devastating effect on inner city public schools, which were in the same neighborhood as the charters. In the case of schools who had charter co-location, it led to humiliating exclusion from school facilities which they once had access to, leaving their students starved of essential resources. But in the case of all inner city public schools, it led to a drain of high performing students, whose parents put them in charters, and an influx of ELL students, special needs students and students pushed out of charters for disciplinary problems, taxing those schools resources and making it much more difficult for them to perform well on standardized tests. The school closing policies of the Bloomberg administration added to the stress on those already hard pressed schools, forcing their staffs to work under the threat of closure and exile to the infamous “rubber room” for teachers who were in excess when schools were closed.

What occurred was a “tale of two school systems” within inner city neighborhoods- one favored, given preferential access to scare resources, hailed as the “savior” of inner city youth; the others demonized, stigmatized, deprived of resources, threatened with closure and deluged with students charter schools did not want.

If you were a parent, which school would you want to send your child to?

But what happens when the game is no longer rigged? When charter schools have to pay rent? When they can’t push out ELL and Special needs students? When facilities in co-located schools are fairly distributed? When schools are no longer given letter grades and threatened with closing, but are given added resources when they serve students with greater needs? When universities and community organizations are encouraged to start innovative public schools, not just create charters?

If all those things happen, and I expect some of them will during the next few years of a de Blasio/Farina Department of Education, then public schools in the inner city will gradually improve, charters in those neighborhoods will become less selective, and students, on the whole, will have enhanced choice and opportunity because there will be more good schools in the city.

The current hunger to enroll students in charter schools is understandable, given the policies pursued by the Bloomberg Administration, but those policies, which undermined public education, did not enhance opportunity for all students, and pitted parent against parent and school against school in a competition for scarce resources.

The de Blasio policy of restoring public schools to public favor is a sound one, and should be pursued carefully, humanely, and with respect for the hunger of parents and students of New York City for good educational options

Mark D Naison
Professor of African American Studies and History
Fordham University
Co-Founder, Badass Teachers Association

It is hard to be sure who first had the idea that the way to improve schools was to fire the staff and start all over again.

When No Child Left Behind was written, it set an impossible goal of 100% proficiency, then set out a series of escalating sanctions for schools that were unable to do the impossible. The ultimate sanction–based on no research, experience, or wisdom–was to close the school. Fire everybody and close the school. Throw in the towel.

Then along came Arne Duncan, who gave the throw-up-your-hands routine a nice euphemistic name. He called it a “turnaround.” Sounds sweet and fun, not brutal. So now we have companies that specialize in turnarounds, and consultants who will show you how to do it.

In this post, EduShyster tells the stirring tale of two Boston schools that are being turned around for the second time! But this time, the state officials won’t make the same mistake. They won’t just bring in a whole new staff. No, indeed, they will hire “proven providers.” You can guess what that means. I bet it is a corporation that will make a whole lot of money and has a slender track record.

And so goes “reform.”

Senator Kathleen Vinehout revealed a plan hatched behind closed doors to close 5% of thestate’s schools every year and turn them over to private corporations.

She wrote:

“The latest version of the bill was crafted behind closed doors; unlike three years ago when a wide-ranging group developed a system to test and report the progress of all students attending school with public money. Private school advocates publically agreed to the same public school accountability standards but privately lobbied for something different.

“The bill reversed current law requiring all students be tested using the same type of exam. This bill allowed private schools to choose their own type of assessment and even choose the students who took the test – allowing them to game the system.

“Concealed in the bill was a way to gradually close more and more public schools or turn them over to independent private charter operators.

“For the next several years, 5% of public schools must be named as failing – even if those schools weren’t failing by current standards. With few exceptions, schools that failed for three years would be required to close or be operated by an independent private charter management company with a minimum five-year contract. Local school boards would have little authority over this company for five years. For Milwaukee, this change would apply to schools that failed for just one year.”

She said the bill is “a dream for out-of-state charter management companies.”

Deborah Meier, one of the great education thinkers of our time, says we were duped.

The corporate reformers stole the good words like “reform” and “choice,” to cover their intentions. They borrowed language from the civil rights movement but not its noble goals.

What do they want?

Bust the unions.

Make money.

Their favorite vehicle: charter schools.

She writes:

“However, the idea of Charter Schools opened the eyes and ears of folks with quite different intentions. They saw that there was money to be made right and left and center. Buildings were “sold off” for nothing or nearly nothing. Public funds were used to start schools whose principals and leaders were paid a half million and more for being the principal” or “superintendent.” Publishing companies and private tech companies saw $$$$$ everywhere. By the time we wake up to what is happening we will no longer have a public education system in reality. Some charters will be legit—truly serving public purposes with public money and boards made up of educators, community members, etc. But most will be in the hands of folks with no other connection to the schools they “serve” than they have to anything else stockholders have—how much money can be made off of this! Meanwhile… that their revolutionary ideas will have demonstrated no significant improvement in the situation facing America’s poor children in terms of test scores is just fine without them.

“They did this with language resonating with the valiant words of “borrowed” from the civil rights movement. Except they seemed to have left out terms like “equal funding” or “integration.” They did it despite the cost to teachers of color, to public unions which Martin Luther King Jr. died defending. And on and on. They did this by adopting noble words (mea culpa) like choice and autonomy and self-governance and small scale and on and on. They did this by playing with data to confuse our judgment.

“Shame on us for being duped.”

Parents in Newark have rallied to save their schools from the hostile corporate takeover planned by the Chris Christie administration and (typically) given the deceptive name “One Newark.”

Parents in equally beleaguered Camden, New Jersey, know that they are next in the line of fire.

This post, by a Camden resident, expresses their fear, frustration, and outrage as the state lays the groundwork to privatize their schools.

Their only hope at this point is legislative intervention to stop the assault on their community.

Veteran journalist Bob Braun cites a report by New Jersey’s Education Law Center that the planned school closings in Newark may well be illegal.

Superintendent Cami Anderson, appointed by the Chris Christie Administration, plans to close as many as half the city’s public schools and turn the students over to charter corporations.

The Education Law Center cites the lack of compliance with state laws governing facilities planning as reason to believe that Anderson’s proposal is illegal.

Furthermore, a law to block school closings without local approval is moving through the state senate.

Corporate reform just hit another obstacle in Newark.

From a New Jersey public school activist:

“I am very happy to report that the Stop Forced Public School Closures legislation sailed through the Senate Ed Committee with 4 yes votes and 1 abstention. This is no small feat. But we had a lot of grass-roots support and it worked!

Here’s a bit of the coverage.”

The Indiana State Teachers Association reports on a bill to privatize more public schools in Indianapolis. Privatization is not new. It is the theme song of the Obama administration in collaboration with libertarian think tanks and far-right governors.

What is new here is that the legislature is passing this plan with no evidence that it will benefit children or improve education. No, wait, there IS. Evidence. The evidence shows that all such turnovers have failed. This is faith-based policy.

The House Education Committee passed HB 1321 (Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis) 9-4 along party lines.

The bill gives the IPS School Board power to enter into contracts with “special management teams” (i.e. outside vendors) to create “innovation schools,” formerly called under the bill “portfolio schools.” These terms are simply euphemisms for takeover schools.

HB 1321 is being pushed and supported by the IPS Superintendent Lewis Ferebee and IPS school board, Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard, Stand for Children, and the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce.

It is being promoted as an opportunity for collaboration between the school board and charter schools in exchange for “flexibility” with IPS schools earning a grade of D or F. However, the chief bit of flexibility the bill focuses in on is the elimination of teacher rights and input. The superintendent talked about best practices and teacher buy-in, yet his bill models neither.

The main talking points against this bill are:

The IPS School Board was elected and the IPS Superintendent was hired to operate the schools in their school district—not pay middlemen to do their work.

The performance record of these outside private companies taking over schools in this state has been a failure—all 5 schools that have been taken over (now in their 3rd year of operation) remain “F” schools (4 in IPS, 1 in Gary). Taxpayers have paid millions of dollars so far to these companies with no discernible return.

Blaming teachers and their unions is a cop-out and indefensible: in 2011, the General Assembly narrowed bargaining and discussion topics and timelines and created new teacher evaluation and due process laws heavily favoring school employers. It is clear that the intent is to make these teachers “at will” employees.

HB 1321 is an insult to teachers working in some of the most challenging schools in the state and “giving away” students and teachers in these schools is shameful.

David Sciarra of the Education Law Center in Néw Jersey wrote this description of a legislative proposal that would slow or stop school closings in state-controlled districts such as Newark. The key change is that schools may not be closed without the approval of the local board.

Sciarra writes:

NJ Parents Push New Bill to Regulate School Closings

The wave of school closings continues to sweep across the nation, primarily in low income communities. In New Jersey, the State-operated Newark district closed schools last year and has proposed another round for 2014. Camden, another State-operated district, is likely to follow suit. In Newark, one shuttered school was sold to the KIPP charter group, and the State wants to let charters operate other Newark public schools after they’re shut down.

With support from parents and advocates, a bill to regulate school closings was recently introduced in the NJ Legislature, sponsored by Senator Ron Rice (D-Newark) and Assemblywomen Bonnie Watson-Coleman (D-Trenton).

The bill codifies and strengthens existing NJ Education Department rules requiring the State Commissioner of Education sign off before a district can close a school. To obtain State approval under the bill, a district has to demonstrate:

1) The closing is consistent with the district’s State-mandated facilities plan and will not result in overcrowding or the use of temporary space in the remaining schools

2) If the school is being closed to make way for constructing a new school, the benefits of new construction outweigh rehabilitating the school slated for closure

3) The reassignment of students to other schools will not “produce, sustain, or contribute to the unlawful segregation of student populations on the basis of race, socio-economic status, disability or English-language proficiency” and does not impose unreasonable transportation burdens on students and families.

4) The district’s school board approves the closing, including the school boards in State-operated districts

Board approval in State-run districts is crucial, since school closings and charter school expansion have emerged as a key strategy in Newark, Camden and Paterson under Governor Chris Christie and Commissioner Chris Cerf. Under existing law, the school boards of these districts, while elected, are advisory, with no binding voting power. This bill creates an exception, authorizing boards in these communities to decide whether to close neighborhood public schools.

The bill is pending in the NJ Legislature. Parents and public school advocates are pressing to have the legislation move forward.

Closing a neighborhood school is a dramatic step, one that has serious short and long term impacts on students, families and neighborhoods. School closings can shred the very fabric of the public education system in disadvantaged communities. This legislation provides critical safeguards to ensure these decisions are based on sound reasons, with community support, and only as a last resort.

David G. Sciarra, Executive Director
Education Law Center
60 Park Place, Suite 300
Newark, NJ 07102
973-624-1815, ext. 16
973-624-7339 (fax)