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

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Massachusetts and the Patrick Plan: More Apartheid Schooling for the Poor

Horace Mann must be rolling in his grave this morning here in the Commonwealth, where the Common School was born, and where philanthro-capitalism and weak politicians now take a big leap forward in replacing the public schools with corporate charters. Patrick's bow to the Bush/Obama plan to segregate the poor and the brown in test prep total control chain gangs will no doubt earn him enough federal money from Dunc's bribery fund to avoid raising state taxes on the rich as the economy continues to crumble, but we may wonder what effect this capitulation to the Oligarchy will have on Patrick's political future in the Commonwealth.

The timing of this shift toward more charters does nothing to quell the suspicion that Patrick has become another puppet of the Oligarchs, especially with the recent peer-reviewed study out of Stanford showing only 17% of charters in their sample of 2,403 were outperforming public schools, and that poor and brown children were suffering the most in the others that are performing no better (42%) or worse (37%) than the public schools.

With school committees already scratching their heads on where else to cut in order to stay afloat in the current Depression, which is brought to you by the same merchants of greed who are now bankrolling the charter movement, the removal of the charter cap in poor/brown districts could cause school chaos and a political backlash like we have not seen elsewhere in the nation.

Rather than taking the lead in crafting policy to stem the steady resegregation of American schools, it is ironic, indeed, that African-American political leaders are now intent upon throwing gasoline onto the American apartheid fire. Greed and power are, indeed, colorblind. But, then, principles went out the window some time back--otherwise, we would not hear the cacaphonous silence from the the office of once-liberal lion, Ted Kennedy.

May the citizens of Massachusetts send a message that we want to save and improve our public schools, not hand them over to CEO wannabes to run into the ground with the punishing stupidity of the anti-cultural "no excuses" reform schools. Any aspiring governor types out there who will stand up for public education?

From the Boston Globe:

Governor Deval Patrick will unveil a proposal today to nearly double the number of charter school seats allowed in the state’s worst-performing districts, a move expected to trigger a fierce debate on Beacon Hill and send tremors through local school systems.

The proposal, which requires legislative approval, would create an estimated 27,000 new charter school seats in about 30 districts across the state, from Boston to the Berkshires, according to a copy of draft legislation obtained by the Globe. Lawmakers were briefed on the plan yesterday.

Doubling the charter school seats in those districts is far more aggressive than the initial plan Patrick outlined in January, and represents a dramatic departure for a governor who had previously resisted calls to lift the state-imposed limit on new charters.

The governor’s push comes as President Obama is threatening to withhold millions in federal stimulus dollars from states that hinder charter school growth. The US secretary of education, Arne Duncan, will join the governor at a press conference today unveiling the legislation, which will be filed today.

The governor’s office declined to comment yesterday through a spokesman for the state’s secretary of education. . . .

. . . .Education leaders said the scope of the proposed charter expansion is far more dramatic than the Patrick administration had discussed with them as recently as earlier this week.

“I’m surprised and disappointed,’’ said Thomas Scott, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents, contending that the state needs to overhaul charter school funding. “We are stripping the neediest districts of necessary resources.’’

The state’s 62 existing charter schools, authorized under the 1993 education reform act, generally operate independently of local school districts and are not unionized. That has earned them the ire of local education leaders, who lose money to the schools, but have no control over them, and of the teacher unions, who have been key allies for Patrick.

While many legislators see value in charter schools, some are reluctant to support expansion without changing the way charter schools are funded so it is less harmful to local districts, said Representative Martha Walz, cochairwoman of the Joint Committee on Education. She said the committee is researching methods used by other states to fund charter schools and is considering whether to require a change in the formula for funding schools before the limit on charter schools can be lifted.

“If too much money leaves the district for charter schools, students who remain in the district could be disadvantaged,’’ said Walz, who has not taken a position on the governor’s proposal.

The state places a limit on the number of charter schools statewide, as well as limits in individual districts. While about 60 more charter schools statewide can open under current law, many urban districts, such as Boston, are near the local cap, which limits each district’s spending on charter tuition to 9 percent of its annual net school spending. The governor’s proposal would increase that limit to 18 percent, 6 percentage points higher than he proposed in January.

In Boston, the increase would add more than 5,000 seats, enabling many of the city’s approximately 16 charter schools to expand and opening the door for many new charter schools.

Statewide, districts eligible for more charters, chosen because of low scores on state standardized tests, have capacity for another 10,000 charter school seats under current law. Patrick’s proposal would raise that to about 37,000 seats.

Last month, Mayor Thomas M. Menino, a longtime charter school critic, attempted to counter the possible change, advocating creation of a type of in-district charter school that could be controlled by cities and towns, instead of by the state. The Boston school district expects to see about $50 million in state aid diverted next year to charter schools, which will enroll more than 5,200 city children. The Legislature will hold a hearing on Menino’s bill next week.

Earlier this year in his state budget proposal, Patrick attempted to link raising the charter school cap to changes in the funding formula, such as creating a separate pool of state aid for charters. But charter school advocates objected, fearing it could put them at greater risk of state budget cuts, and the governor later abandoned the plan.

That was not the only concession Patrick made to charter advocates in the revised legislation, showing just how much he has warmed to charter advocates, a group that includes several prominent business and civic leaders.

Initially, Patrick had proposed quotas for certain groups of students, such as those who are in special education or are English language learners, but he is now settling for establishing guidelines. Charter advocates worried that quotas would compromise the fairness of its open lottery system for student admission; they still have some concerns about the guidelines.

Glenn Koocher, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees, said Patrick is conceding far too much to charter school supporters.

“What can it possibly be but another indication that the charter school lobby is dictating state policy?’’ Koocher said. “Districts will lose more money, and the charter schools will laugh all the way to the bank.’’

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