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

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Throw Your Shoes Today in Chicago

The new front group for the privateers and profiteers of the education industry is called Democrats For Education Reform (DFER), and it is was hot last evening to offer their quick and hearty endorsement of Duncan as Secretary of ED. This outfit is run by the charter school industry and parasitic pols like ELC alum, Andy Rotherham, and it is funded from capital investments by "social entrepreneurs" who (from Gates on down) enjoy federal tax credits for funding the deconstruction of public education via charter schools managed, of course, by corporations--both for profit and non-profit.

DFER's website says the group was "founded in June of 2007 by a group of Democratic contributors and education reformers who were frustrated that the Democratic Party appeared to be unfairly resistant to positive change in schools. http://www.dfer.org/"

Here is the "positive change" that Gates, Broad, and the impatient "disruptor" profiteers would like to see:
DFER supports Democratic candidates committed to progressive ideas like greater mayoral accountability [mayoral takeover] for schools; adjustments in teacher licensing requirements [make teacher preparation even weaker]; changes to teacher compensation to reward our best educators [bonus pay for test scores]; and a renewed focus on early childhood education (in particular, linking early childhood education with charter schools, which usually do not include Pre-K) [pre-K charter schools based on the scripted chain gang model].
Now if the new education reform sounds just like the old educatioin reform, you would be right, of course. More testing, more scripted teaching, more corporate control, erasure of teacher rights--just the kind of change you can believe in. Why else would Spellings be showing Arne around the Office and offering glowing endorsements?

The big announcement will be at the Dodge Renaiisance Academy today around noon. Dodge is one of those turnaround projects that has received at least $2.5 million in tax-credited dollars from the Gates inspired investor funds, so it is exactly the kind of example that makes good political theatre but can hardly be replicated on a national scale--or even a city-wide scale. Without, of course, the kind of federal funding that the Business Roundtable will not support. And the huge gains in test scores at Dodge that Obama will probably get poetic about? Due largely to a change in the test.

Here is part of a piece from Catalyst on the "triumphs" in Chicago Schools by the next Secretary. Scan it and you will see why the charter industry and the Business Roundtable are popping the champagne corks early this year:

School choice and competition

The district’s new schools initiative—Renaissance 2010—has garnered much national attention for Duncan. The idea is to close low-performing schools and replace them with smaller, entrepreneurial schools, many of them free from union contracts and some state regulations.

So far, Duncan has presided over the opening of 75 such schools, 42 of them in areas that have been identified as most in need of better schools. Early on, though, a Catalyst analysis found that of the students who were displaced by school closings, only 2 percent were enrolled the next fall in new Renaissance schools. Nearly half of the displaced students landed at schools that were on academic probation. . . .

Catalyst also found that not all students are making the best choices. Nearly 23 percent of African Americans who opt out of their neighborhood high school go to schools that are not much better. . . .

The effort has caused tension on the labor front, as the bulk of new schools are run by charter or other education management outfits that do not hire union members. Add to that, displaced teachers have no seniority rights on the job hunt, due to state legislation dealing with Chicago schools only.

New on the scene is the district’s turnaround strategy, a response to community uproar over students who were displaced by school closings. Turnarounds, as they are called, allow the children to stay put while the district cleans house among staff, firing teachers and principals wholesale. To date, there are eight such schools, two of them high schools.

Despite the early claims of success, this model is largely untested. Sherman, the first turnaround school is in its 3rd year. Experts predict it will take three to five years to know whether this strategy produces solid academic gains.

Accountability and performance culture

Another hallmark of Duncan’s tenure is bringing business-oriented reformers into the fold, taking cues from Harvard University’s business and education schools. Their input has shaped a data-driven, performance-based culture that rewards well-run schools and their teachers and leaders, and penalizes schools that make no progress.

Star schools and principals have been granted more flexibility and autonomy, and often financial freedom and bonus pay. Teachers in 40 pilot schools can earn bonuses based on how well they teach and their student do. (As important, this modest program offers extra support and training for teachers.)

On the other hand, struggling schools have seen their decision-making powers greatly reduced. Probationary schools, for example, have little say over how they can spend poverty funding, an area otherwise controlled by elected local school councils. LSCs at struggling schools have also lost the right to hire or fire principals—restrictions that have outraged some parent activists. . . .


  1. Anonymous1:58 PM

    So, I've been reading this blog a bit, as I've started working at an education company (one of the ones you decry). As a run-of-the-mill liberal, I'm sympathetic to unions and a strong commitment to public education, and perfectly willing to believe that nefarious corporate interests are up to no good.

    I've learned that you're terribly against anything "corporate" or "scripted teaching" or test-driven performance measurement. OK, I guess. I suppose I'd rather see an interest in the research come first, and tentative conclusions about the above issues come second, with an explicit willingness to change your mind if evidence indicates otherwise. But I can accept that these are heuristics that you've distilled.

    But so what are you for? Other than not any of those things?

  2. Anonymous6:20 PM

    The research is overwhelmingly against testing.