Saturday, October 31, 2015

Petrilli: Creaming Is a Feature

You have to give Mike Petrilli, Head Honcho of the Very Reformy Fordham Foundation, credit. He will say what many charter supporters will not.

The standard charter claim is that charters can do what public schools cannot-- take the same kids and get them to score well on standardized tests raise their achievement levels. They have been hemming and hawing all week over the revelation that Eva Moskowitz's Success Academy was caught keeping a "Got To Go" list of students who were to be driven out of their Very Special Test Score Factory. Success Academy has thrown that principal under the bus, and then had him publicly drive the bus over himself, and then underline it with a classic Moskowitz quote:

At Success, we simply don't believe in throwing people on the trash heap for the sake of public relations.

Success Academy simply doesn't just toss human beings aside because those people don't serve Moskowitz's purpose. Of course, that still leaves the mystery of how SA loses half of each cohort on the way to graduation. But all those parents talking about their experience of being pushed out? Liars or deluded or something.

Mike Petrilli calls "bullshit." In fact, he calls bullshit on everybody, including the people who have been howling at the Success Academy revelations, in particular taking a shot at Randi Weingarten of AFT:

What makes this sort of demagoguery more disappointing than usual is the nature of the issue at hand. As Weingarten’s own members know all too well, classroom disruption is a major problem. In a Public Agenda survey, 85% of public school teachers said that the experience of most students suffers because of a few chronic offenders.

Petrilli's position has been consistent and clear for years--  some students are a Big Problem, and schools should be able to make those students go away, so that the deserving, worthy students can have an education untroubled by troublemakers. I have a couple of problems with Petrilli's position:

1) After we get rid of trouble students, where do they go?
2) It's a mistake to assume that being a problem student is a static, immutable, hardwired, consistent condition.
3) The whole American public education deal is that we educate everybody, not just the "deserving."

For Petrilli, the whole point of charters is to give a space where "strivers" can stop being held back by all those Other Students who create disruption and trouble. And instead of yelling at people like Eva Moskowitz who are doing such a good job of winnowing out the non-strivers, we should give public schools the same sorts of powers.

This is exactly the wrong approach. Rather than piling old restrictions on charter schools, we should be working to reduce the restrictions on traditional public schools. 

Well, sort of. Though I have to ask-- if we actually did that, why would we need charters at all? But when you say it that way, it doesn't sound so bad. But then, as his closer, Petrilli says it this way.

By all means, we should work to serve all kids well, including the serial disrupters, but not necessarily in the same classrooms or schools.

Rather than blast Moskowitz, Weingarten and others should ask that district teachers have the ability to prioritize the vast majority of their students, too. That would be worth crowing about.

Prioritize our students? Like, decide which students deserve how much education?

Petrilli's point is not completely without merit, and as teachers often lack sufficient time and resources, many do perform a certain amount of educational triage by considering which students need us most. And every teacher knows the frustration of having a classroom tyrannized by one serial disrupter. But "prioritize" students? That sounds like a level of judgmental school administration that I'm not comfy with, and I suspect would provide an avenue for biases and concerns for compliance to run roughshod over actual care and concerns for the well-being of students.

Look-- Success Academy is not nobly rescuing the top strivers from difficult situations. They are picking winners and losers based on the school's preferences and the school's convenience, based on Moskowitz's two guiding values-- compliance and test scores. When a six year old cracks under that sort of misguided pressure, that's not revealing some sort of character deficiency or lack of striverness. It's revealing an institutional incompetence in dealing with six year olds.

But I appreciate Petrilli's willingness to just say it-- charters are only for the chosen few, those that the school finds deserving. What I'd really like to know next is how a system in which a school is the final arbiter of what level of education a child deserves fits together with the reformy ideals of school choice?


  1. I'm not a supporter of the current charter school model sweeping the country, but what is your solution to the serial disruptive student? My kids are high-achieving. They aren't the disrupting student. If they had a reprobate student in their class, why wouldn't I want that rebellious kid removed from my high achieving son's class until he/she was ready to tow the basic line of decency within the classroom environment? Why kowtow to the troubled kid that's sucking all the attention from my kid getting what he deserves as the respectful student? We are seeing the idiocy of forcing "equity" and "diversity" playing out before our eyes. What's your solution?

    1. Just to note that high-achieving and disruptive reprobates are not mutually exclusive. But I discussed my solution previously

      The short answer-- make sure students get what they need, including the troubled ones and the hard-working ones.

    2. Another read for Toni:

    3. Do you think your kids are never going to encounter disruptive reprobates the rest of their lives? Don't you think there's value in learning to deal with them early on in life?

    4. Thanks for the link, CrunchyMama. Excellent article.

      Here is a link to a related article from the Creative by Nature blog from Peter's list on the right-hand margin, which is a blog I really like also:

  2. Those chronic disruptors are most likely victims/survivors of childhood trauma, either acute or complex. Our educational system is in know way trained or prepared to handle students with significant trauma. For a primer on trauma check out or Bessel Van der Kolk's "The Body Keeps the Score."

    Let's be clear our country was founded on the perpetuation of atrocities in the name of God, Manifest Destiny, racial/ethnic/cultural superiority. The neocolonial system that is capitalism thrives on division and the perpetuation of constant mild disruption and trauma. According to government statistics 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 6 boys are sexually assaulted before the age of 18. That is only one flavor of abuse and trauma. Trauma reactions can manifest in fight, flight, or freeze. So some of our most well behaved and compliant students are in fact frozen or have taken mental flight through daydreams and fantasy. Our disruptors may be fighting for a sense of safety and recognition of their needs or tragically on their way to becoming perpetrators in their effort to relieve the internal pain and pressure. Schools are positioned at the front lines for dealing with trauma and its effects,but are so ill prepare. What's required is many of the things we already know are necessary for excellent education: funding for full-time school social workers and psychologists, smaller class sizes so that teacher can foster deeper connections with each of their students, basic education on trauma, trauma reactions, and the underlying neural biology, a return to play-based pre-k and k that fosters children's development of self and community in the world, grounding them in their bodies and in necessary social skills.

    1. I hope you are not a teacher. Maybe a psychobabblist? School is for learning math, science, English, history and the arts. Is that too much to ask today? Our kids have to sit there and be subjected to this social and emotional bull shit? There isn't a parent I know - and I know MANY - who want what you are peddling. "Let's be clear our country was founded on the perpetuation of atrocities in the name of God, Manifest Destiny, racial/ethnic/cultural superiority. The neocolonial system that is capitalism thrives on division and the perpetuation of constant mild disruption and trauma." What a steaming, stinking pile of crap!!

    2. Toni, I don't think you have a very deep knowledge of history, psychology, or socio-economics. Unknown is just saying that institutional racism exists, which is common knowledge, that families suffer from this, and that the societal system as a whole isn't set up to care or intervene. Unknown isn't planning to lecture the students on this. Children can be suffering from all different sorts of trauma, and schools, since they spend so much time with them, are uniquely situated to recognize this and help, but teachers need to be able to recognize the signs (the "basic education on trauma" is for the teachers, not the students.) A lot of students need help, but the family doesn't have access to it, and teachers, or even counselors, are not psychologists, so there needs to be access to psychologists, and social workers can also get the family help if they need it. If children are disruptive it's usually because they're hurting in some way, or are wrestling with personal problems they don't know how to solve, not because their parents didn't teach them discipline. Though children who are not disruptive can also have problems. We have to address the whole child. Children are not computers or robots. If we didn't have feelings we wouldn't be human.

  3. BASIS charter schools has comprehensive finals starting in 6th grade. Six finals over 3 days. Fail even one of them, even if you have an A going into the final and you either have to redo the entire school year or try to pass the final over the summer. Sounds like winnowing to find good test takers.

  4. BASIS charter schools has comprehensive finals starting in 6th grade. Six finals over 3 days. Fail even one of them, even if you have an A going into the final and you either have to redo the entire school year or try to pass the final over the summer. Sounds like winnowing to find good test takers.

  5. Peter, your last paragraph says it all in the two word phrase "school choice." When many charter schools engage in skimming, as Petrilli recommends. then the schools are the ones choosing. Not the parents. Note that the term policy makers rarely use is parental choice. Because the parents can choose and the charters can un-choose.

    We experience this on a regular basis at my high school. I teach in an inner ring suburb of Detroit which is highly charterized. We don't have a charter competitor in our district and we are an open enrollment school. Every year we get a small batch of students after Count Day (so charters get the funding for the student) but before state testing (so we get their test score). 90% of the former charter kids are terrible academically but well-behaved. A few have told me they were regularly suspended at their charter and I'm confused because they are genuinely good kids. Then I see their first writing assignments and I know why they were shown the door at the charter. Can't spoil those test scores!

    Ultimately the charter used tactics designed to drive these kids out. And it's garbage. Serving the public means serving the public, not serving who you feel like or those who "deserve" it.

  6. The champion "creamers" are the qualified admission high schools like Stuyvesant and Thomas Jefferson High School. Creaming is certainly a feature of these "public" schools.