Say hello to Marco Petruzzi, CEO of Green Dot Public Schools. Today he made his first blog entry at Green Dot's Website of Bloggy Goodness.
If you're unfamiliar with the Green Dot charter chain, I can tell you that it's one more fine example of the modern charter movement, depending on student skimming, political connections, and the pushing aside of public schools, as well as demonstrating the ways in which a non-profit can be used to generate profits. Petruzzi himself came to the charter world from a partnership at Bain, and makes sure that he himself is well paid for his great-hearted work for the poor. If you want a long, hard look at Green Dot from an insider, try this piece which notes both their liberal use of TFA staffing and their spectacularly bad teacher retention issues. Read here for a discussion of their "issues" with students with special needs.
So the fact that he bills himself as the CEO of a "public" school lets us know right off the bat that we have entered some sort of alternate universe. I must be sure to let my superintendent know that she is missing out by not calling herself "CEO" and setting her own ginormous salary.
Petruzzi, contemplating his entry into blogland, decides that he will tackle some Big Questions. So let's see how these Big Questions are answered in Petruzzi's alternate universe.
A Very Little History
Before the 1980's, public education and the economy fit hand in glove. Manufacturing and service jobs provided "reasonable, if not lavish" middle class lives (thanks to those unions). Upper class students went to college. Poor students did not. And poor, lower class students often ended up in crappy jobs.
In our universe, these sorts of trends were the result of many socio-economic trends, from a loss of cheap energy to the outsourcing of jobs to save corporate a buck. In Petruzzi's universe, there was only one reason for the spread in inequity-- "We failed to ask why a public school system intended to create equal
access to opportunity consistently failed low-income students and
minorities." Yuppers-- in Petruuziverse, nobody was screwing with access to opportunity except those damn failing schools.
The Birth of "Ed Reform" (I once went out with his sister, Susie Reform)
Blah blah blah "Nation at Risk."
By 2020, two-thirds of jobs will require a college degree. Yet our
education system maintains a college completion rate well below 40%,
with clear and dramatic differences between ethnicities and
socio-economic backgrounds. Despite all our advances, the historic
concepts of “class” and “race” still predetermine a student’s outcomes.
Again, in this universe this might be a good prelude to a serious discussion about growing income gaps, the unbalanced distribution of wealth, the move from a Maker economy to a Bean Counter and Investment Bankster economy, not to mention of a deep and difficult conversation about how class and race shape the American experience. But no-- there's only one factor to discuss.
So why is it so controversial to readjust our education system to give
our students a real shot at succeeding in the rapidly emerging
knowledge-economy? And why is it still so controversial to challenge the
clear socio-economic inequity of access to those opportunities?
Answer in our universe: it's not, really, unless you insist on pretending that the education system is somehow the cause of the tidal wave of inequity and not one of the many institutions that's caught in the crushing watery wall of onslaught.
A Call for Unity
Can't we all just get along. Petruzzi thinks we should stop saying that union members only care about their jobs and reformsters only want to make a buck. It is not clear whether he is trying to argue that both those things are actually true.
Aren’t we all “reformers” to some degree? Don’t we all want to improve
the system for the benefit of students? Can’t the continuing debate
about methodology be one of honesty and mutual respect?
These are good questions. Unfortunately, in this universe it certainly appears that the answer to the second question is, "no." When you're using political connections to smash public schools and doing your best to turn teaching inside your own schools into a low-paying low-skills temp job, it's hard to feel the waves of love and respect.
I agree that an atmosphere of mutual respect is a good thing, and there are reformsters I actually respect even as I believe they're wrong about almost anything. But too many reformsters have displayed an attitude of zero respect for teachers from the first moment they showed up on the scene, shouldering aside teachers with accusations that public schools sucked and teachers were the problem. And Green Dot's record of love and respect for public education and the teachers who woirk there is not great. So pardon me for being standoffish until I have reason not to be.
The Challenges of Reform
Oh, boy. In the Petruzziverse, reform "has unleashed a wave of innovations that have jolted the current system and forced it to confront some hard truths." Um, name one. Charters were billed as laboratories of educational innovation, like a scholastic space program. But as yet, we cannot point to a single solitary development, not so much as a jar of educational Tang, that made the rest of the education world sit up and say, "Wow! Slice us off a piece of that." Nothing.
There have also been, apparently, "talented and passionate individuals," and I think it's just as well he didn't name names. Petruzzi admits that some ideas didn't pan out (in his universe "some" and "all" are apparently synonyms). And here's a fun quote: "Some talented individuals have failed to make the announced progress with students." I bet back at Bain, when corporate bosses of companies they were invested in "failed to make the announced progress," that was an occasion for laughter and parties.
Petruzzi objects to having these failures called failures.
Or, even worse, there is an outcry that we are “experimenting” on
children’s futures. Nothing infuriates me more. Allowing low-income
students of color to languish in a system that fails them generation
after generation is NEVER a preferable choice to the uncertainty of a
noble attempt to change such students’ life trajectories!
See, when the public school does it, it's okay to call it a failure. And experimenting on poor kids is okay because A) they're poor kids and B) you're thinking noble thoughts while you do it.
The Charter Movement
Now here's a fun new argument. See, in Petruzziverse, he's learned a cool thing- students are not all the same. And I'm trying not to be too dismissive, but seriously, dude-- this is like being back in a freshman dorm room listening to Melanie Potter explain how she suddenly realized that an atom could be like, you know, a little solar system. And did you ever realize that water is, like, wet?
This is the most entertaining brand of ego-- if I just figured something out, I must be the first person to ever figure it out!
The idea is that charters can provide variety better than a big school district. This must be another way that things are backwards over there, because over here, the fact that a large school has ten English teachers means there are ten ways to learn English in that building; unless, of course, you force them all to teach to the same stupid script and follow the same cementified standards, so thanks for helping argue against Ed Reform's Common Core, Mr. Petruzzi.
Petruzzi is once again claiming that charters are engines of transformational innovation, so I will once again ask-- name one. Just one.
In the Petruzziverse, Green Dot has "always embraced the complexity and messiness of ed reform," and I don't want to diss complexity and messiness (I'm very attached to them, as students in my room can tell you) but do you suppose that reform has been so messy and complex is because so many of the people running it don't know what the hell they're doing but just figured that because they could be a partner in a hedge fund they could certainly manage a school after all how hard can it be?
But he is proud that Green Dot has focused on the big problem schools, because I guess they did that out of nobility and not because low performing schools are low hanging fruit for privatizers, like in this universe. He thinks LAUSD and the President totally got it right when they called on charters to focus on the lowest schools and so that's why they took on those schools and this is where I would expect the stories about how they totally turned those places around, but, um, no... nope. No such story here. Probably a first-time blogger rookie mistake. Oh, hell, I'll give him a break here. He could have just lied to us, and he didn't, so that's kind of a win for both universes.
This is the work that Green Dot is interested in doing. This is how
we’re interested in speaking about the complexities of education and
sharing the lessons as we learn from them. This is the point of our
We hope you join us as we explore our successes and our struggles, with honesty and transparency.
I probably won't. Alternate universes are hard on my brain (they make it all ouchy) and this particular alternate universe seems pretty far removed from our own. But it's always fun to have a new neighbor in the edubloggoverse. We'll see what these folks come up with next.