Thursday, September 8, 2011

The lies of Texas...

When Chicago's mayor and school boss, Rahm Emanuel, held up Houston as his model for school reform, it gave me the creeps. His rationale was that Houston schools are superior because of their longer school day and year. Rahm claimed that kids in Houston wound up with 4 more years of instruction. It was a political talking point admittedly fed to him by Jonah Edelman and Children First.

Now it's left to Rahm to explain why Houston's Lee High School is currently being made to emulate some Texas charter schools that have --wait, hold your breath-- A LONGER SCHOOL DAY.

But Rahm, I thought you said they already had a longer school day. I mean, how much longer can the day get in Lee's overheated classrooms before the school gets off the NCLB sh*t list. How about 10 hours? 12?

Of course more seat time is not a cure for the problems facing Lee High or any other high school in Houston (or Chicago). I know. I worked in the Houston schools back in the '90s -- two previous reform waves ago. Some of you might recall those as the "Texas Miracle" days.

Texas' football-crazy schools were all too big and we were trying to create smaller learning communities within them. While some important gains were made, we learned then that no single reform can fundamentally change and improve urban school systems so long as the majority of the kids were living in poverty. The SLCs were soon dismantled when Gates pulled the plug on funding. Many were turned into selective enrollment programs that creamed middle-class white kids and racially segregated the high performing students from the rest.


Sam Dillon's NYT story about Lee H.S. , "Troubled Schools Try Mimicking the Charters," has many holes in it. First off, Dillon claims that this current charter school reform experiment, where traditional schools attempt to model some charter school innovation, "is the first of its kind in the country." Doesn't he know that the early teacher-led small and charter schools were created with that exact purpose in mind? The real problem has been that very few charters are doing anything so innovative that regular public schools couldn't or hadn't been doing for decades and without becoming privatized. Charters were just doing more (or less) of it and with different kids and coming out with basically the same (or worse) results.

What Dillon left out was the context and whole history of the reform at Lee (formerly called Robert E. Lee when it opened in 1962 as a bastion of racial segregation and white supremacy, even carrying the battle flag of the Confederacy). In past decade, whites fled from Lee as HISD's population grew poorer and more Hispanic. Lee was labeled by Arne Duncan as "a dropout factory." It wasn't. Houston was.

The real "problem." as Texas schools chief Robert Scott  complains about in this interview with AEI's Rick Hess, was Houston's "changing demographics."  I'll interpret: As more poor, black and brown kids attend city schools, resources are cut and test scores go down. Why? Because the tests, as Duncan has recently admitted, are more a measure of parents income than they are of anything going on in classrooms. Scott, who opted out of both rounds of Duncan's Race To The Top, tells Hess, "there is no such thing as a magic bullet in education. Anyone that tells you this one thing will change the course of your education system is either delusional or is lying to you."

Scott is right of course. That includes Rahm's magic bullet of a longer school day. What Scott doesn't address (and Hess never asks about) is Texas' concentrations of child poverty and how that impacts teaching, learning, and yes -- test scores. The teaching at Lee High School hasn't gotten worse. The school day hasn't gotten shorter. It's poverty and segregation that is plaguing Houston schools.

1 comment:

  1. Re the claim about Houston kids' supposedly getting 4 more years of instruction -- the infamous Jonah Edelman video makes it clear that that was a lie, just in case this point has escaped anyone. Edelman gleefully announces that it was made up.

    Re Sam Dillon's "first of its kind" gaffe -- that's surprising, because veteran journalists know how very risky it is to claim that anything is "a first" or "the only." 100% guaranteed, someone will pop up with a previous or another. ... Here in San Francisco, former Sup. Arlene Ackerman turned several struggling schools into a model that she called Dream Schools, way back around 2003. Though she and other district leaders didn't openly acknowledge this, it was clear that the Dream Schools were intended to emulate KIPP schools. They weren't successful. The process sharp-elbowed the teachers' union rather than getting buy-in (which I think could have happened) -- but more revealingly, a teacher at one of the schools told me, angrily, that they weren't allowed to kick out students who caused problems. That was, obviously, a night-and-day difference from KIPP schools.


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