Monday, February 16, 2015

Katrina Is Headed for Atlanta

Over the weekend, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution ran an advertisement for article about New Orleans charterfied school district, because the Governor Nathan Deal of Georgia would like to get rid of his own public school system. He's just not fortunate enough to have a major hurricane tear up his state. But don't worry, Georgians-- you, too, can have your own disaster area.

The article, among other things, shows that charter marketing is improving. For instance, they've learned that they need to talk more about being connected to the community and less about escaping the tyranny of zip codes. This helps them conceal that charter schools are not neighborhood schools, disconnected from any particular community (if you want to read a scholarly look at this in New Orleans, here's Brian Beabout's "Reconciling Student Outcomes and Community Self-Reliance in Modern School Reform Contexts.") Sarrio says that unnamed Louisiana educators recommend making the community part of the decisions, which seems to conflict with this NPR coverage of the district entitled "The End of Neighborhood Schools."

But the basic sales pitch is the same as always. Talking about the Arthur Ashe charter, Jaime Sarrio writes:

Advocates of the model say Ashe and schools like it show what’s possible when elected school boards, unions and poorly run school systems get out of the way and let school leaders decide how to educate students.

How exactly does one square getting rid of locally elected school boards with being connected to your community? "We are happy to work with members of the community just so long as they never get to make any decisions"? It's that damned democracy-- it so cramps a "school leader's" style.

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal wants voters to create a state-run district to take over struggling schools.

This sort of thing must give hard-core conservatives a fit. Replace schools with a state-run system?! Who runs the current system? Keebler elves? But of course, Deal means to cut local control out of the loop, so that state-level bureaucrats can apply their higher levels of wisdom, because local school boards are all tied up in elections and regulations and such. Also, it's easier for charter operators to have one stop shopping.

The "freedom from rules" argument is an old one for charters, and after all these years it still makes zero sense. The government has tied public schools' hands with all these terrible rules, so we need new schools, say the legislators who tied schools' hands in the first place. Couldn't we just, I don't know, untie some hands? This is like locking a bunch of people in a room, throwing a molotov cocktail in there with them, then standing outside the door with the keys and saying, "Well, I guess we have to build another set of doors." Use the damn keys (and stop throwing molotov cocktails)!

Sarrio's article includes a short history of NOLA's Recovery School District. I've read a lot about the district; this history seems like the version you would get only by reading the press releases of the charter boosters. Here's state board member and charter cheerleader Leslie Jacobs:

“The philosophy behind the recovery school district is very simple: Take the same kids, the same building, the same amount of money, give it to someone else to operate to prove we can do better,” Jacobs said. They wanted to make “the risk of doing nothing in the face of failure more painful than the risk of trying something that doesn’t work.”

Let's be honest-- we're talking about sub-contracting a government function to a money-making entity. And unless I missed something, this "same building, same kids" stuff is high grade baloney.

Sarrio's article includes the same old charter dog whistles:

“You have to have people who believe all kids can learn regardless of where they come from, and we believe that,” said Erin Hames, education policy advisor for Gov. Nathan Deal.

Right. Because teachers don't believe any such thing. If you want people who really believe in the educational promise of children, you don't want adults who have dedicated their professional lives to teaching-- you want businessmen and bureaucrats.

Sarrio visits a KIPP school and takes a hard-hitting guided tour and discovers that-- surprise-- KIPP school is awesome! Computers! And most importantly, autonomy-- KIPP school leaders can do whatever the hell they want! Because democracy is a drag, and accountability is for lesser operations tied to that foolish democracy model.

The article also talks to "consultant" Paul Pastorek, former LA state superintendent now cashing in as an "expert" in how to charterize a school system. He indicates that such a system isn't a good fit for just any state (only the special ones, I guess). He notes that Georgia has the advantage of a "strong accountability system," which in privatization-speak means "good system for labeling schools failures so that they can be targeted for takeover."

Unnamed Louisiana school leader types also note that Georgia would need to grow itself some more school leaders, which in charter-speak usually seems to mean "people who are prepared to operate like CEOs rather than professional educators." I recommend a system like the one being launched in Ohio, which will give candidates one year of interning resulting in an MBA and a principal's certificate.

Did Sarrio discover anything in New Orleans that would suggest that the charterization was anything less than awesome. Well, she did note that some folks claimed that charters were " unevenly expelling or threatening to expel problem students in an attempt to inflate test scores." But we can relax, because "the district has made changes to address these concerns." Oh, and that lawsuit brought by parents of students with disabilities was totally settled, so that's okay now.

She did get a quote from parent advocate Karen Harper Royal suggesting that there are better ways to improve "as opposed to this game we’re playing with school roulette, closing schools and opening schools." Which is just confusing because I thought charters were totes community schools now.

Sarrio also talked to Erika McConduit-Diggs, president of the Urban League of Greater New Orleans, who "said the speed of the changes and the the dismissal of almost 7,000 Orleans Parish teachers, which courts later ruled unlawful, left a scar on the community that hasn’t healed."

The overall tone, however, is to suggest that the RSD is a success. Sarrio and her sources are careful not to call it a miracle, but settle for the impression that it's a modest success that is ever-so-much-better than what it replaced, and surely it will be a great idea for Georgia. I would recommend that before the next time she writes about New Orleans, Sarrio read through the works of Mercedes Schneider, Crazy Crawfish and Geauxteacher, just for starters.

Sarrio has missed a lot. A lot. In fact, if you are only going to read one other account of what's going on in NOLA, I recommend that NPR article mentioned above. In that article you can read about just how cut off these schools are from any community. You can read about the horrific process of trying to get your child into a school (and the hope that you won't be putting your child on a bus at 6 AM for a hour-plus ride). You can read about Douglass Harris and Beth Sondel and their findings that what tiny test improvements shown by RSD are the result of a narrowing of curriculum, a growing skill in teaching to the test. You can read about the hyper-repressive test-prep atmosphere of a KIPP school. You can read about how counseling out students helps grow test scores. You can read about the system's dependence on outside money to support its higher-than-state-average per pupil spending.

And this is NPR, which has not proven to be particularly loyal to the traditional public school model. And yet it seems clear that Leslie Jacobs characterization of the NOLA plan given a close-to-lede spot in Sarrio's article-- Take the same kids, the same building, the same amount of money, give it to someone else to operate to prove we can do better-- is incorrect on all counts. They sorted the kids, closed the buildings, and spent more money to hire charter operators who have not, as yet, shown any great measure of success.

The business interests who want to take a big bite of Georgia peach did a nice job with this coverage, but the voters, taxpayers, parents, children, and community members of Georgia deserve a better, clearer, more accurate look at the public education disaster headed their way.

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