With guest, Louder Than a Bomb poet Nate Marshall

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Green Dot's takeover at Locke

Locke, which holds its graduation today, remains a troubled school, and Green Dot's strategy has relied on extra funds that may not be sustainable or readily replicable. But despite those caveats, a qualified turnaround appears to be emerging....

...Academic growth over the last year has been uneven, according to Green Dot data. And that has prompted concern. "My nightmare is that the state test scores come in and you're judged by that," said Green Dot founder Steve Barr. Leaders of traditional schools frequently complain about being evaluated mainly by test results; such concerns are often dismissed by charter school operators, including Green Dot. (L.A. Times)


  1. I know we differ about Green Dot, because I'm as skeptical about it as I am about the KIPP brand.

    For starters, I completely don't get how Green Dot can be viewed as pro-labor. In the Locke takeover, Steve Barr forced all the the teachers to reapply for their jobs and rehired only a small percentage, replacing the rest with young, mostly uncredentialed newcomers who (according to the L.A. Times) are working 12-hour days.

    In my school district, San Francisco Unified, our former Superintendent Arlene Ackerman started a small subset of specialized schools modeled somewhat after KIPP practices. She made the teachers reapply for their jobs, and our teachers union, United Educators of San Francisco, viewed this as a direct attack and had openly antagonistic relations with her forever after. (Disclosure: My husband is a UESF member.)

    But why is it considered labor-friendly for Barr to do it and anti-union for Ackerman to do the same thing?

    As far as I can tell, Green Dot's supposedly labor-friendly policies are the reason it's not viewed with skepticism by advocates who are not fans of KIPP, Edison, White Hat et al. But are they really labor-friendly? I'm confused.

    Something that really troubles me about Green Dot is Steve Barr's open disdain for professional educators, and also for experience and knowledge about education. The recent New Yorker profile of Barr portrayed him as gleefully ignorant of such points as how to determine from test scores if his schools were doing well -- along with his obvious contempt for experienced teachers. To me, that kind of disdain for understanding, information and experience is an inappropriate attitude in an educator.

    All that said, I guess if his Locke experiment is successful (Locke being the one Green Dot school that doesn't cream for more-success-oriented students), I'll be eating my words.

  2. Yes Caroline. You are confused. I never said Green Dot or Barr were "pro-labor." Barr is a charter school chain operator. He represents management in the collective bargaining process. The union, at least theoretically, represents the interests of labor--in this case, the classroom teachers and staff. The difference with Green Dot schools as compared to other CMO-run chartersis, they at least have a union and a collective bargaining agreement.

  3. I didn't necessarily say you had said that, Mike -- but in general, my observation is that Green Dot is often described as labor-friendly. The recent New Yorker article described the organization as supported by labor.

    But I'm questioning whether the schools' actions actually are deserving of union support, especially having watched close-up when our district's former superintendent took the exact same actions, which in that case were viewed as ANTI-union. This just doesn't compute to me.

  4. Caroline,
    I'm afraid you're still confused. The question isn't whether or not Green Dot is "labor friendly" or not. And when teachers unionize, it's not because they are "supporting" the management company. When Cesar Chavez organized the farm workers in California, he wasn't exactly supporting the growers. The issue remains, the right of teachers to bargain collectively. The Green Dot contract affirms that right.

  5. Thanks Caroline and Mike for this interesting debate. I don't think Caroline is confused. I think she is right. Though you are correct, Mike, that it is good that Green Dot teachers can bargain collectively do you think it was also good that the teachers before them were fired? What happened to THEIR rights? I'm also intrigued by Steve Barr's statement. It's interesting that being judged by test scores is his biggest nightmare. Didn't he use test scores to take over Locke? Isn't Secretary Duncan using them to promote charters?

  6. Cal,

    Actually it was Caroline who said she was "confused." I was only agreeing with her. Your last point about Barr's "nightmare" of having Locke judged by test scores is a good one. Now that charters are a fait accompli, CMO's like Barr are suddenly complaining about test-based accountability. It will be interesting to see how the new k-12 law is rewritten in this regard.

    As for teachers losing positions in the Locke takeover...of course I'm against teachers being fired from their jobs without due process. Is this what happened at Locke? What has happened to the teachers who weren't rehired by Barr? Are they teaching somewhere else? Isn't the real threat to teachers' jobs the massive lay-offs combined with failed schools. Wasn't Locke targeted for closing if something drastic wasn't done? What was your alternative to Green Dot?

    Finally, I don't hear you or Caroline saying anything about Locke, Jefferson, etc... before Green Dot. Do you think that those schools should have been allowed to keep functioning as they were? What do you say to all those tenured teachers who said, "we've had enough" and left UTLA and LAUSD and signed on with Green Dot in an attempt to make Locke a better school?

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  8. Thanks, Mike. Were the former teachers at Locke given due process? Do you know? Is being allowed to reapply at a school that has just fired you due process? I'm not an expert in any of this. I just know that I work at a Program Improvement school where 99% of the teachers bust their chops. Should we be fired and replaced if our scores don't go up? I don't think we should. I think we need more teachers and aides in the classroom. I think the kids need more help. I don't think we need to be taken over by a charter. I believe our school can succeed.

  9. {Continued from previous post...)

    In Locke's case, the third point (a creamed student population) is not supposed to apply, as neighborhood kids are being assigned there by default. It remains to be seen whether the percentage of English-language learners and special-education students will be dropping.

    I'm all for the renovated facility and increased security (though it's troubling to read that they've been tear-gassing students). Great PR can't hurt either, presumably inspiring more private donations to help the school. Could those improvements be bestowed upon a non-charter troubled urban school? I'm not sure how that would be managed, but it would be great to try if so.

    I'm bothered by the teacher purge, though. Here's what Susan Neuman, one of the architects of No Child Left Behind, told Time Magazine last year: "Vilifying teachers and saying we are going to shame them was not the right approach." Not only do I not see how Green Dot's teacher purge at Locke could possibly be viewed as anything but anti-labor, I also don't think it's beneficial to education and students. Making teaching a less desirable, less stable profession is harmful, not helpful, in the long run.

    And here's a quote from a Rethinking Schools publication about the practice of hiring young beginners and expecting them to work superhuman hours:

    “Reforms are bound to fail if they rely on the voluntarism of idealistic, overworked teachers who burn out and leave the school once they decide to have a family or want any semblance of a meaningful personal life.” (From the introduction to the March 2008 book "Keeping the Promise? The debate over charter schools," published by Rethinking Schools in collaboration with the Center for Community Change. The introduction was written by Leigh Dingerson, Barbara Miner, Bob Peterson and Stephanie Walters.)

    That practice too helps make teaching a less desirable profession. In this case I think the short-term gain of getting rid of what Green Dot obviously viewed as deadwood teachers (including, as noted, those who voted Green Dot in to operate the school) is outweighed by its long-term harm.

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