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

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Duncan Favors Shutting Down Elected School Boards

I remember ten years ago when state education officials in Louisiana were going around the state to brief education faculties on the new testing system called LEAP. Accustomed to being the last in education or just above Guam and Mississippi, Louisiana was going to be the first to use the "no excuses" excuse to punish poor children for being poor, i. e., to use a single test to determine if elementary age children would move to the next grade.

And having just come from Long Island U. where I had done work in the Roosevelt Schools that New York's Department of Ed had taken over in hopes of boosting academic performance, I assumed that the State of Louisiana would soon be in the business of taking over bunches of elementary schools across the state, because all of us in the room knew there would be widespread failures--and we even knew where the failures were going to occur. Drive through any city and you can tell with 90+% certainty where the failing schools are by casting a casual eye on the level of poverty reflected in the neighborhood. So when I piped up with my question, What is the state going to do with all the schools that are going to have large number of failures, I remember the response exactly: The State doesn't want them.

By the time that NCLB was being put together two years later, it had become obvious what the State was wanting to do with the schools that it didn't want: it wanted to offer vouchers to parents for a marginal private school education, or it wanted to turn schools into charter schools that would be run by private companies. That hasn't changed, even though it has taken hundreds of thousands of 4th grade and 8th grade failures and a Category 5 hurricane to finally bring that political aspiration to the brink of fruition. Soon after Katrina when it became obvious that the hurricane had wiped out the public school system, Orleans Parish School Board President Phyllis Landrieu expressed the sentiments of those in the State who had been waiting for God, or George Bush, or both, to put their privatization plans into high gear: "I say, Thank you, Katrina' all the time."

So now we have Paul Vallas as overseer of the charterization of NOLA Schools, and the Vallas protege, Arne Duncan, as the Secretary of Eduction. My, my. And the young Mr. Duncan has $5 billion in his pocket to make sure the privatization job that was only wishful thinking ten years ago gets finished, in New Orleans and elsewhere in the state where there are high concentrations of poor kids. Not only that, but we have a Secretary who wants to make sure that the big business model of schooling gets instituted and that public governance through the election of school board members becomes a thing of the past. So that without torches and pitchforks, there will little recourse to accepting what ignorant businessmen offer through their "no excuses" schoolhouse chain gangs that are built on the abuse model of KIPP. Download SUCCESS AT SCALE IN CHARTER SCHOOLING to see the future that Arne and Paul and Phyllis see. And let's not forget to give credit to slick Paul Pastorek, the State Superintendent for Louisiana.

Here is a clip from the Times-Picayune coverage of the Duncan visit to New Orleans yesterday:

Duncan said New Orleans schools benefit from a "set of adults that are pushing a very strong reform agenda" in concert with one another.

"I am a huge fan of Paul Pastorek, " he said of the state superintendent of education.

Along with Vallas, Pastorek has governed the lion's share of the city's public schools with unprecedented power and money during the past two years. The Recovery School District operates 33 schools directly and oversees another 33 charter schools.

Since a state takeover of the city's lower-performing schools, the Orleans Parish School Board has operated five schools directly and has overseen 12 charter schools.

The teachers union lost its collective-bargaining rights after Hurricane Katrina. So, politically, Pastorek and Vallas answer only to the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, with members who come from across the state and have varying degrees of familiarity with the school issues and landscape in New Orleans.

Duncan came down squarely against local elected boards as the governance structure for large, urban districts. He said he favors mayoral control, appointed school boards or some type of top-down authority of the type Pastorek exerts.

"You need leadership from the top, " he said.

He argues that elected school boards in urban districts lead to a perpetual churn of superintendents, leadership and policies. . . .
Notice that democratically-elected school boards are not in question here for the leafy suburbs--it is only for the large urban districts, you see. Yes, yes, that dangerous churning of democratic action among the black and the brown--the same kind of action that allowed this fool, Arne Duncan, to be appointed to his present position, through an election that was all about restoring our democracy, we all thought. Now that hope, that last hope, is on life support, and the oligarchs are smiling all the way to the Treasury once again.

1 comment:

  1. I've been swamped by grief over this all day. Yes, hope is on life support. Here is a mistake I think Duncan's puppetmaster may have made, though.
    Here is an interview where Eli Broad brags to the Economist that he has leveraged control of public education, and will now use the same fake-nonprofit strategy to leverage political control. It has a picture, so brace yourself:

    More bad news: the Title I stimulus money is reserved for the eduprofiteers. I teach chemistry in a Title I high school in Massachusetts, and my heart is broken today. I've been crying.