An article by Kate Taylor in today’s NYTimes explicitly emphasized the fantastical notion that “failing schools” can be “turned around” in three years and implicitly highlighted the flaws in the “reformer’s” notion that grading schools will help school improvement.
The notion that a “failing school” can miraculously change in three years is rebutted by Megan Hester, a principal associate at the Annenberg Institute for School Reform, an organization that is working closely with community organizations involved in the turnaround effort. She said,
“There’s no school improvement initiative in the country that shows long-term success that showed improvement within two or three years.”
Giving schools the time they might need… “is at odds with the political cycle and the political attention span.”
But politics is everything in NYC schools and since mayors are elected every four years and it took Mr. de Blasio a year to get his leadership team in place he needed to set a three year timetable. In my judgment, the mayor missed a teachable moment and picked the wrong battle at the outset. In his first months in office he could have taken on the wrongheaded idea that labelling schools as “failing” based on test scores when the effects of poverty account for nearly all the variance in those scores. He could have emphasized that when a school is labelled as “failing” it is difficult to recruit students and even more difficult to recruit teachers. And while the article points out these realities, it does not explicitly link the realities to the flawed idea of classifying the schools as “failing”, an idea the “reformers” love because it enables them to close the schools and replace them with for-profit charters that repackage the schools, draw engaged parents and hire new teachers, but make no difference whatsoever when it comes to test scores or graduation rates.
Improving schools and addressing the effects of poverty takes time and requires more resources. That combination is a poison pill for politicians… but it is the only medicine that will cure the ills of public education in urban areas. Until a politician is willing to explain this to voters and voters are willing to listen the vicious cycle of “failing” schools for children raised in poverty will continue.
Charles Blow’s column in today’s NYTimes is the first one I’ve read that speaks the blunt truth about what is needed to address the racism in our culture.
Interpersonal racism, when it exists, is only one part of the equation. Another part is systemic, structurally racist policies, and yet another is class conflict between the police and the poorest, most dangerous communities they patrol, and between those who are better off and those who are not. That strand is nearly absent from this conversation altogether….
(T)his issue is about everyone. We have areas of concentrated poverty in our cities in part because of a long legacy of discriminatory urban policies. We don’t sufficiently address the effects of that legacy, in part because it is rooted in a myth of racial pathology and endemic poor choice. We choose to be blind to the policy choices our politicians have made — and that many have benefited from, while others suffered — while simultaneously holding firmly to the belief that all of our own successes and comforts are simply the result of our and our families’ drive, ambition and resourcefulness. Other people lack physical comforts because they lack our character strength.
Mr. Blow offers lengthy quotes from the police chiefs in Dallas where five police were assassinated protecting Black Lives Matter demonstrators and Baton Rouge where police murdered an unarmed black man. Both chiefs lamented the low pay their police forces receive and the increased expectations placed on the police because social services and schools are short-changed. Blow concludes with this indictment:
You may think that you are not a part of this, but you are wrong. That’s just a lie that your willful ignorance and purposeful blindness perpetuates, to protect your conscience. This is absolutely about you, many, many of you. There are more bloody hands than meet the eye.
Mr. Blow is absolutely right. We need more resources for under-resourced communities and under-resourced families. We need to dig into our pockets and pay more taxes. We need to stop being resentful of public employees who have benefits and pensions that the “free market” denies to most employees and ensure that all Americans get health care and social security. We need to ensure that everyone has the food, clothing, and shelter they need even if it reduces the profits of the corporations.
Unfortunately neither Presidential candidate is advocating this… one wants to build walls and one wants to have more “conversations”… We don’t need walls or talk: we need higher taxes at all levels.
I read all of Diane Ravitch’s posts yesterday and found one common theme: democratic governance of public education works but is in peril. A summary of the several of the posts illustrates how this is so:
- One post covered the ongoing struggle in NYS over whether the mayor should control the schools or not. As Ms. Ravitch notes, even though Mayor de Blasio is willing to push back against the effort in Albany to expand charters, the notion of the mayor controlling the schools is an anethema and there is no evidence whatsoever that it leads to the improvement of student performance as measured by standardized achievement tests scores.
- Two posts dealt with Eli Broad’s second iteration of a “plan” to bring Great Public Schools Now (GPSN) to Los Angeles. The original plan explicitly called for the replacement of all democratically governed public schools with deregulated private schools overseen by businessmen…. and she suggests several things that are likely to go wrong if that happened.
- One post dealt with a recent NYTimes article suggesting the best way for Liberia to introduce a high quality public education was the introduction of deregulated for-profit charters. Ms. Ravitch noted that the writer of this articles funded by— you guessed it— a group of tech billionaires who stand to profit when 200 million poor third world children are eventually enrolled. While the governance of Liberia is kleptocratic and dictatorial, the introduction of equally kleptocratic and dictatorial for-profit charters does not seem to be the direction to move if one hopes to see democracy eventually flourish.
- Two posts deal with TX cities (Houston and Dallas) where pro-democracy board members have virtually recaptured control of the school boards where pro-privatization forces were in control. In both cases pivotal elections are on the horizon and the future of public education hangs in the balance. In both cases, privatization has not yielded the results expected… unsurprising given the tendency of those who impose business models on schooling tend to focus on the “incompetent teachers” while ignoring the challenges of poverty.
- One post deals with a group of Idaho students who put together a video being circulated on social media that undercuts the PR campaign of the pro-privatization Albertson Foundation.
As a Superintendent for 29 years, I know that democracy is painfully slow and seemingly incapable of seizing the opportunities that technology makes possible. I also know from experience that there are inherent inefficiencies in the way publicly governed organizations function… but I also know that privately operated organizations and bureaucracies have the same inefficiencies. Running schools like a business, replacing the plodding democratic operation with supposedly “nimble” business model, has not resulted in any improvement whatsoever to our schools. We haven’t succeeded in improving our so-called “failing schools” because we haven’t made the investment needed to make them as successful as our “elite public schools”. Until we get full and complete engagement of all parents in the education process, full funding for all public schools, and a strong safety net for children raised in poverty we can expect schools to fall short of the standards set for them.