"A child's learning is the funtion more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Friday, March 31, 2006

NCLB Said I Could

The story gets more interesting in Baltimore, with the Maryland General Assembly ready to block the politicized state takeover of 11 Baltimore public schools. Governor Ehrlich seems shocked that there are elected officials who might try to preserve the public schools:

Ehrlich said he was stunned that lawmakers would seek to postpone steps -- authorized by the federal No Child Left Behind law -- designed to improve schools with long track records of failure.

"I'm not going to sentence another generation of kids to dysfunctional schools," the governor said. "We have one school system that's not cutting it."

With for-profit corporate welfare charters as one of the preferred alternatives by Ehrlich and other conservative privatizers, it is worth remembering that it was just 10 years ago that EAI (Education Alternatives, Inc.) was sent packing after a four-year failed takeover experiment in Baltimore that left academic performance no better off than it had been before the "bold experiment."

What was left better off was CEO John Golle's bank account, since he took advantage of cashing in about $1. 7 million in stock options before the eventual belly up and booting of EAI by the Nasdaq. Golle went on to head the Arizona-based Tesseract Schools, which flamed out as well, leaving thousands of parents stranded with no schools for their kids.


This morning I found this oldish piece from Business Week on for-profit schools. It has this interesting clip that reminds us of the dangerous assumption that education is simply a business and that children and teachers can be treated as equipment and widgets:
For-profits are also tearing up the rule book on hiring. Michigan's largest for-profit, Leona Group, tapped a former General Motors Corp. marketing manager, Rod Atkins, to be principal of its Voyageur Academy, a Detroit elementary school. Atkins got the job after serving on the school's board, which includes managers from GM and Ford Motor Co. He has no previous teaching experience and hardly acts like a traditional principal. Last year, he fired a kindergarten teacher for poor performance, which almost never happens in unionized public schools. And after discovering many kids were having trouble with multiplication tables, ''we decided to put everybody in lockdown from 3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m.'' for additional work, he says. When parents arrived to pick up their kids, Atkins told them to come back later. They said ''fine,'' he recalls.

Most for-profits claim such methods are producing impressive results. ''After one year, we're showing 10% to 15% gains'' on student test scores, says Advantage CEO Steven F. Wilson. National Heritage says its students have been advancing the equivalent of 1.4 grades in a year. Some educators remain dubious. ''Each of these developers pulls out its best school and says that's what is happening,'' says Harry Levin, director of the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education at Columbia University's Teacher College. Until rigorous studies are done over more time, he cautions, such claims can't fairly be judged.

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