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

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

LAUSD, Green Dot, and the Voice of a Teacher

The corporate charter school movement is getting ready to rear it's ugliest face as LAUSD prepares to action off 250 schools (with part of this process headed by former Broad Resident Parker Hudnut). Media outlets in LA have frozen out the voice of teachers, painted union members as totally crazy, and refused to take any kind of critical look at this rapid expansion of charter schools despite a growing body of evidence that should give us reason to pause.
The story of Green Dot story is much, much deeper and disturbing than mainstream media outlets let on. In the article below, Emerson Middle School teacher Carolyn Jacobson highlights some of the more questionable aspects of the Green Dot narrative constructed by PR whizzes, corporate honchos, and philanthrocapitalists backing the expansion of charters:
The Revolution of Separate, but Equal

By: Carolyn Jacobson, Emerson Middle School teacher

Westwood's Emerson Middle School, where I teach, is the target of a hostile takeover by the most powerful charter school corporation in Los Angeles. We were singled out because Emerson is the neighborhood school for one of the charter revolution leaders, Ben Austin. He is a paid consultant for Green Dot as well as a city official with strong ties to the mayor. It's no coincidence that he is also an organizer of the most vocal parent group advocating privatization of our schools.

For many years, some neighborhood parents visiting our campus have expressed fear when they see our diverse student population. They ask if it is true we've stopped busing in kids from Pico-La Brea. They want their children in our gifted classes because children from other cultures "do not have good work habits" and "those children" would be a negative influence on their own. They accuse Emerson of having both a "culture of failure" and a "gang problem," and have been rude enough to say these things directly to me and to others who work here, often with our students within earshot.

Frankly, they are afraid of the very thing that the teachers, administrators, staff members, and neighborhood parents who choose to send their children to Emerson believe is one of our greatest assets: we are a true microcosm of Los Angeles. Thirty different languages are spoken on our campus. Our students are growing up without racial prejudices and cultural biases because they are personally familiar with the variety of cultures, sub-cultures and ethnicities that exist in this city - the very thing desegregation was to promote. Diversity is working on our campus!

We are a Program Improvement school on the list for potential takeover through the Public School Choice Initiative primarily due to lower test scores for our English learners, our learning disabled, and our students living on the edge in poverty.

Their scores have little to do with their learning. We get them to read and critically discuss Shakespeare, to come up with solutions for global warming, and to get involved in their communities by tackling the issues of poverty at home and abroad. Most go on to very successful high school and college careers. And yet we are a "failing" school.

In a recent article regarding the charter school movement and its affiliated Parent Revolution, Mr. Austin stated that he was excited to send his child to his exemplary neighborhood Warner Elementary School, but Emerson is "failing," and he is working on that. Some neighborhood students are on waiting lists to enroll at Revere Middle School in Brentwood because it is a "better school" with "higher test scores." What all are aware of, but won't publicly discuss, are the demographics:

Warner: 75% White, 17% Asian, 2% African American, 6% Hispanic, 6% English Learners, 7% Learning Disabled, 3% Living in Poverty. 2009 Academic Performance Index (API) 971.

Revere: 45% White, 10% Asian, 16% African American, 26% Hispanic, 6% English Learners, 10% Learning Disabled, 27% Living in Poverty. 2009 (API) 848.

Emerson: 17% White, 5% Asian, 22% African American, 54% Hispanic, 19% English Learners, 12% Learning Disabled, 57% Living in Poverty. 2009 (API) 709.

The corporate privatization of public schools, the school choice initiative, is the latest form of segregation on the Westside. It is the final push-back, the last, bitter act of the "white flight" that began in the 1970's with public schools desegregation and the busing that accompanied it. Those who advocate for "school choice" are merely repeating a slogan used by segregationists from the past.

It seems that the soldiers for equity and true advocates for children are now left to fight this monster alone. We are fighting to educate all the children of the neighborhood, including the children of maids, mechanics, gardeners, and the homeless. With both city daily newspapers supporting charter takeovers, we do not have many friendly outlets to allow our voices to be heard above the clamor of special interests that would like to monopolize our schools for profit, jobs, and/or political gain.

The rhetoric ingrained through continuous recitation of "failing schools" and "No Child Left Behind" has clearly worked. Schools are judged strictly by the results of one standardized test and not by what goes on in the schools themselves.


  1. Anonymous3:13 PM

    Kenneth: Thank you (and Carolyn) for this moving post.

  2. I am not a resident of this area and I fully accept that, I am from Maine, other side of the country. Here in Bangor we have elementary schools which have much smaller enrollment, but more schools, and as you go up to middle school there are two primary schools, and one high school. Is it possible the same principle applies in the West Side? I mean, look at Manhattan: every few blocks you go from Caucasian neighborhoods, to Hispanic, to African-America, to Asian. Is it possible the same community self-separation, as is seen by black congregations in the South, could apply here?

    The elementary schools may apply to smaller areas, which may have self-segregated themselves like other parts of the country and the privatization is not a reflection of this? If the ultimate goal is met by privatization, which I believe would be all schools to be privatized, is there an expectation that segregation would be allowed again? We already have laws against that.

    I think the ethnic composition of the schools is reflective of their local communities, and not some plot to racially purify the nation.

  3. Thank you for your frankness and courage in speaking out. America will not like the end result of this oncoming Privatization horror---An educational system as expen$ive, unmanageable and unaccountable as our healthcare system is now.

    Ironically, perhaps in 20 years, an education-starved population will long for a "public option" in education, and, again, may WATCH IT GET BURIED, just like the public option in HC is being today.

    America's ignorance may be genetic,
    and so, uncurable.

  4. Anonymous2:14 AM

    Excellent...I wish the people who need to read this, see it, but I think they're too busy applying for private schools.

  5. Anonymous2:27 AM

    High stakes testing and privatization thrive on the achievement gap. Instead of looking to close it, to strive for equity and ultimately strengthen our democracy, politicians, school boards, businesses, and professional education do-gooders are doing everything in their power to make sure that everyone believes public schools are in complete failure.

    The crisis isn't our test scores. The crisis is our lack of concern for the dismantling of public education.

  6. Anonymous8:52 PM

    When I visited Maine at Christmas, I went to a church service to sing Christmas carols. The pastor told his congregation that, "Jesus was created in the image of a white man as a sign of purity." I walked out at that point. My travels in Maine are extensive since I visit family there - only in Portland do you see a few people of color. RH King, I am sorry, but considering where you live, how could you possibly understand this issue? You already live in an area that is "racially pure."

  7. Randy HK10:35 PM

    I live in a city and went to a school where we have a large Somali, Indian (from India), and some Chinese. The churches in Maine have been making jokes of themselves for the past five years, that is why 7 are closing this year alone. Yes, Maine is 99.9 percent white, but does that mean we have no understanding of other skin tones? I think not.

  8. Anonymous8:58 AM

    Lewiston, Maine has a booming Somali population. They are wonderful people, who seek a better life, but they are being "imported" as part of a program in which the city is getting paid for. I personally feel that is a bit wrong? They are doing well for themselves though, I must say, and driving nicer cars than most of the native Lewiston residents. Maybe getting aid? Good people though. My husband made a few friends in the factory where he worked, which easily became 45% Somali. They often spoke of their families back home and shared stories about their goat farms. One said he had a brother who was also here living and working in Georgia.

    And to the comment about people in Maine not able to understand the ethnic issues in Los Angeles schools: think again. Not everyone in Maine has lived their entire life in Maine. Maybe they went to college at UCLA? Maybe they are from a military family? Maybe they visit their other parent in California (or other state) over the summertime as a joint custody arrangement? And not everyone in Maine was born in Maine either. Many people are there from Florida it seems. There is just a larger white population because of the French Canadian influence (the early Mainers.) Lots of French Canadians there. ;)

    If anything, you should listen to what people of Maine have to say about public education since they have some of the best schools in the country. Aren't they like in the top 5 for education out of the whole dang country? ;)

  9. I also wrote about this in Code Words and Green Dot’s Pandering to Westside Racism. Ben Austin is more than just a closeted racist though, he's a liar for hire.