Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Washington district abandons small schools

Opts for spying on and firing teachers instead

I usually hate all these insufferable news reviews of the past year. But for obvious reasons, I found these irresistible. They're from the Montlake, Washington Enterprise:
Mountlake Terrace High School decided to abandon its controversial small schools model for fall 2008 and return to being a traditional high school, due to declining enrollment. Terrace broke itself into five small schools in fall 2003 with a grant from the Gates Foundation...

...Kay Powers, a journalism teacher fired for helping students publish an underground newspaper, returned to the classroom under an agreement reached April 11 with the Everett School District. Powers was to receive full back pay for her time away and take an assignment at Jackson High School. Powers in June 2007 was placed on administrative leave from Cascade High School. The English and journalism teacher was accused of helping students produce an underground paper, The Free Stehekin, during school hours and on school computers despite being warned not to do so. She was fired in November...

...The Everett Herald newspaper reported that Everett School District officials used a secret surveillance device to monitor the classroom of teacher Kay Powers, a Cascade High School teacher who was fired for helping students publish an underground newspaper with school resources during school hours.

Power philanthropy

'Unaccountable power...'

Gates Keepers, a blog that keeps a critical eye on the world’s most powerful philanthropist, gets into a tiff with Matthew Bishop and Michael Green, authors of , Philanthrocapitalism. Bishop and Green go out of their way to defend the Gates Foundation’s top-down approach to social change, and call critics, “Gates attackers.” Ouch!

The tiff begins with a report from Global Health Watch 2:

The report reveals widespread unease about the immense but unaccountable power and influence of the Gates Foundation. It says that although the Gates Foundation has injected vast sums of money into global health, it operates in an undemocratic way and reinforces a medical-technical approach.

To those of us who have had to deal with Gates’ unfettered power in the area of public school reform, this charge comes as no surprise.

But B & G write: That may be the point - it gives Gates the freedom to do risky things that global consensus policy-making would not permit…

Gates Keepers obviously doesn't think that "freedom" for Gates is necessarily the top priority. They go on to accuse B&G of trying to silence legitimate critical voices.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

More on Chicago 'miracles'

Following up on my previous post on the Chicago Miracle, I am running Julie Woestehoff's (PURE) commentary in today's Sun-Times, in full. I do so, not only because Julie has written a strong piece calling for an end to Renaissance 2010 school closings, but also so you can see first-hand, the Sun-Times' unabashed complicity with CPS bureaucrats in defense of the school-closings (not fixings). As you will see below, S-T editors, using unnamed CPS sources, insert no less than 4 bracketed attempts to undermine Julie's arguments, right into the body of her own signed commentary. Who does this! How petty and unethical of this failed city newspaper! How cowardly of the CPS bureaucrats not to defend their own failed school-closing policies openly! Given all this mischief, Julie's arguments remain solid.

It's Time For a Moratorium on Renaissance 2010 School Closings

December 30, 2008

A Dec. 18 Sun-Times article, "Charter schools Obama praised ripped at board meeting" quoted Donald Feinstein, director of Chicago's Academy for Urban School Leadership, dismissing teacher concerns about Renaissance 2010 in testimony to the Chicago Board of Education.

Feinstein said complaints came from teachers who could be displaced. He also said parents support the changes.

Feinstein is wrong about parents' wishes. Polls show that parents overwhelmingly want their neighborhood schools to be fixed rather than replaced.

More disturbing, though, is that the teachers who spoke at the board meeting are some of the best in the system. Feinstein's contempt for their concerns is emblematic of the way privatizers [groups hired to revamp Chicago schools under the Renaissance 2010 reform plan] treat experienced, dedicated, under-resourced classroom teachers in Chicago's neighborhood schools.

This level of arrogance has been a factor in the dangerous misrepresentations of the "success" of Renaissance 2010 schools, one more reason why my organization, Parents United for Responsible Education, is calling for a moratorium on Renaissance 2010.

On Feb. 28, 2008, the Sun-Times published an editorial that threw down the gauntlet on Renaissance 2010 and challenged the Chicago Public Schools to "prove its detractors wrong. . . . CPS must prove it can close schools humanely, with as little disruption as possible. It must also show that it can create successful schools out of failed ones, and that all this upheaval and heartache is worth it."

Well, it's been 10 months since then, and evidence has come in to suggest that CPS has lost the Sun-Times' challenge.

We know school closings continue to be unduly disruptive, particularly for less "wanted" students who are refused enrollment or pushed out of Renaissance 2010 schools. This comes from the stories of students who attended the small schools at Orr High School, but who received letters at the beginning of the 2008-09 school year stating they would not be able to enroll in the new Orr school run by the Academy for Urban School Leadership. [Editor's note: CPS officials deny this, saying Orr instituted contracts with students who were struggling or were behind in credits. "In some cases, those conversations resulted in the student and/or parent/guardian requesting a transfer to an alternative school or GED program," CPS said.]

More evidence comes from a look at the Sherman School of Excellence, also run by the academy since the 2006-07 school year, and considered by CPS to be their current "turnaround" model (there have been several). Although the hallmark of the Sherman model was supposed to be keeping all the students in place while changing the staff, enrollment at Sherman dropped 20 percent between October 2007 and October 2008 [Note: 80 more students enrolled after October]. And student mobility also has risen, from 44.2 percent in 2006 to 50.5 percent in 2008. [Note: CPS attributes some of the mobility to the presence of nearby homeless shelters and improved record keeping.]

So, is the upheaval and heartache worth it? Hardly.

A close look at Sherman shows less than exciting results, which also are compromised by a significant alteration in the student population as evidenced by the enrollment drop and the drop in the school's low-income rate, from 99 percent in 2006, the year before the takeover, to 84.2 percent in 2008.

Overall ISAT scores increased 5.8 percentage points from last year [Note: The districtwide increase was 1.3 points. Sherman's gains were fueled by large increases in reading and math].

But in science -- where there is less opportunity for teaching to the test -- scores dropped dramatically. The percentage of students meeting and exceeding state standards in science dropped from 32 percent in 2006 to 20 percent in 2008.

Keep in mind that Sherman has more resources than typical CPS schools. These perks are unlikely to be economically feasible on a larger scale, which is one more reason to question its usefulness as a model.

We urge Sun-Times editors and readers to take a look at the data and decide if CPS should continue the fast pace of school closings and replacements. Another round is due to be considered at the January 2009 board meeting.

As parents, we believe that the cost to our children of more risky experimentation and failure is far too high and we call for a moratorium on Renaissance 2010.

Julie Woestehoff runs Parents United for Responsible Education.

Drinking the 'Chicago Miracle' kool-aid

Here we go with this Chicago "model" stuff again.

Armed only with a few feel-good stories about individual teachers or charter school successes, WaPo's Maria Glod, "Chicago School Reform Could Be a U.S. Model," can't gulp down the Chicago Miracle kool-aid fast enough.

Glod claims:
The wide-ranging reforms he [Duncan] has pushed appeal to struggling school systems and highly regarded suburban districts looking to boost performance.
Sorry Maria, but I just can't imagine many "highly regarded suburban districts" finding Renaissance 2010 school closings, private management of charter schools, pay-for-grades, massive teacher firings, or NCLB testing madness very appealing. Parents in wealthy white suburbs would toss school board members out on their ass if they dared push such "reforms".

While Glod is in the dark about conditions in Chicago, she sort of gets it right on Duncan:
He has straddled the reform divide: On one side are advocates of dramatic shake-ups and tough accountability, and on the other are teachers unions and some educators who want more flexibility, support and money.
She really gets it wrong here:
For the most part, the changes came with little organized opposition, except for some skirmishes with the teachers union.
She may be right about the "organized" part, but the opposition to Ren10 (like its national counter-part NCLB), especially in communities affected the most by school closings, and massive school budget cuts, is deep and wide. I hope Obama's new team gets that.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Looking back on '08

There’s not a hell of a lot to celebrate in the world of schooling beyond the collapse of the neocon/ownership-society school-stomping machine, including NCLB. As for news stories that still resonate, how about the farcical Ed in ’08 initiative where Gates and Broad promised to put up $60 million between them, to push education to the “top of the presidential campaign agenda?”

What they ended up pushing was the conservative business model of corporate reform, merit pay and NCLB testing madness. Of course both foundations would later renege on $30 million of their pledge Education reform, sadly was hardly even mentioned by any of the candidates throughout the course of the campaign. Another Gates/Broad big-money flop and Ed in ’08 became a running joke.

Remember the two guys Gates picked to run the operation? It was the fired, former do-nothing school superintendent from L.A., Roy Romer and the Republican political hack Marc Lampkin (he was Bush’s deputy campaign mgr. in 2000 and worked for Rove).

Lampkin still runs what’s left of the Ed in ’08 group—now called Strong American Schools—grrrr. Even though the initiative was supposed to be “non-partisan,” Lampkin uses his position to defend the badly discredited, punitive/testing approach to NCLB and to lob verbal grenades at Obama, for being “too friendly to teacher unions. “ He also used his Gates-funded position to pump a Klein/Rhee type for Sec. of Education. I guess that’s non-partisan in a way. Lampkin likes Republicans in both parties.


“It is a good time to be me…”

This from John L. Douglas, a partner in Atlanta at the law firm Paul Hastings and a former lawyer for bank regulators who helped create the agency that administered the last federal bailout, the Resolution Trust Corporation. “Fortunes will be made here, no doubt about it,” said Gary J. Silversmith, one of more than a dozen former R.T.C. officials interviewed who now are involved in enterprises seeking to profit from bank bailouts. The Paul Hastings firm has been involved in insider-trading scandals and a member of the firm has just been charged in a multi-million-dollar scheme involving Lehman Bros.

Rudy Giuliani’s law firm Bracewell & Giuliani is also among the biggest of the bailout profiteers. Guess where else they cash-in? New York charter schools, of course. Giuliani was the most outspoken proponent of a federal school voucher program of any of the presidential candidates. The firm stood to make a fortune with voucher clients and negotiations. But they're still doing ok with charter contracts.