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

Friday, May 14, 2010

Teachers, Parents, Students Revolt in Duncan's Backyard

From CORE:

Download this flyer and distribute to teachers, parents, and other community members.

For a set of large, glossy posters for your school (or community), contact your area captain:

* North of Fullerton — Jesse Sharkey 773/791-7006

* Between Fullerton and Roosevelt – Liz Brown 773/606-4876

* South of Roosevelt, East of State – Michael E. Brunson 708/903-7061

* South of Roosevelt, West of State — Alix Gueverra-Gonzalez 773-988-2252
Despite Arne Duncan's delusion that he has "zero" opposition to the Walmart plan for public education, Chicago is getting organized to wage war on corporate ed reform in Chicago. Here's some details from a great report from Chicago Labor and Arts Festival Blog:

Teachers, parents, and students are not happy at Chicago’s education leadership–there is mounting frustration with the Board of Education, the CPS bureaucracy, and the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) leadership. As President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan take the Chicago model of slow-burn privatization national, Chicago may just be seeing a full fledged revolt against it. With the recent revelation that there are now no educators among the CPS’ top leadership, scrutiny of a reform program dominated by entrepreneurs and private interests (including a Board of Education stacked with financiers and real estate developers) is likely to sour people further.

Teachers, Parents, and Students, Oh My

Chicago’s teachers are angry; but that matters less than the fact that even more are discouraged, leaving the profession, burning out and warning the next generation away from teaching all together. Teachers have been under a full assault by corporate interests and the disingenuous reformers they underwrite for decades, and this assault has only intensified since the election of Barack Obama to the White House and the elevation of former CPS CEO Arne Duncan to the top of the Department of Education. Obama and Duncan have undertaken to bring Chicago-style education reform to the level of national policy, without any evidence whatsoever that that reform works.

The (arguably illegal) Race to the Top program, which embodies Chicago Renaissance 2010 model of school turnarounds, privatization, and “pay-for-performance” incentives, is just getting underway, and teachers around the country are finding out, too late, that Obama et al are hostile to public educators.

But here in Chicago, where the method to this madness was born, teachers and parents are organizing revolts to protect their schools. Unhappy teachers are lining up to challenge a union leadership they characterize as ineffective or accommodationist and an insular Board of Education, as parents and students are fighting to keep their schools public and democratically controlled. And what happens here, at ground zero of school privatization, could presage what happens nationally as the federal government tries to strong arm school districts into dismantling their public schools; a policy instituted as a sop to “centrism” could end up sparking a serious fight in the moderate liberal wing of the Democratic Party as urban community groups and teachers union factions resist.

. . . .

Despite efforts to deploy typical false equivalence in characterizing the fight against privatization as one between free market “reformers” and teachers union “special interests”, CPS families have been in the vanguard of the fight against school closures and privatization schemes.

While the free market zealots hype the “warchest” of teachers unions (funded by small dollar amounts contributed by tens of thousands of people), their underwriters are few but with enormous pockets. Families have seen the painful results of school turnarounds, as students lose long-time mentors, communities lose the institutional memory of master teachers, and students are forced to cross neighborhood lines–and gang territories–to attend alien schools, all with no evidence that this trauma has any positive effect.

It is not trivial that these traumas are not accompanied by any attendant increase in positive results; free market reformers are acting on faith, not data, and in fact are often working against data.

Results are trickling in that the suite of privatization schemes–including vouchers and charter school expansion, based on the outright harmful No Child Left Behind testing metrics–have done little or nothing to improve education, while also undermining public education and favoring students with already active parents. Even if we charitably assume that more time is needed to gauge the effectiveness of school privatization, the explosion of privatization schemes–and its official, heavy-handed sanction by the federal government–is hardly justifiable. For the state to bring so much pressure on states to privatize their school systems, you’d assume that there was hard data behind the move; but there isn’t, just new economy sloganeering about “efficiency”, and execrable race-baiting.

No Child Left Behind has led to an obsession with testing that has enriched the test making companies but done nothing to improve critical thinking or education. In fact, the standardized tests themselves often verge on the meaningless. The ed reformers’ major proposal is that teachers should be judged solely or primarily on standardized test scores, which is patently absurd. Is there any other profession where pay and job security rests solely on one measure?

Intellectual fuel flowing from several quarters is adding to the growing conflagration, perhaps none so combustible as that coming from Diane Ravitch, a universally respected scholar of education policy and history in the United States. Her latest book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System, details how a good-faith effort to inject accountability into failing urban school systems was exploited and eventually transmogrified into a scheme to “measure and punish” schools.

Ravitch took direct aim at the Renaissance 2010 failure in a recent appearance on WBEZ, as catalogued by Progress Illinois:

It’s 2010. Has Chicago had a renaissance yet? … Usually when you set a goal, that’s the goal you plan to meet. I’ve looked at the evaluations of the Chicago plans and what I’ve seen is that when schools are closed, communities are disrupted — in some cases, shattered. Kids are sent to unfamiliar neighborhoods. Gang activity intensifies. About half the kids in the closed schools are sent to other low-performing schools. And overall, there is no difference in performance. I’ve seen the same thing in New York City, where small schools are created, old schools are closed, and in the meanwhile the existing schools get overloaded with the most low-performing kids because the new, small schools don’t want them. So they push them off and they destabilize yet another school.

I think this is a terrible way to reform schools. The results are certainly not impressive. I don’t know of any place that can say kids are learning better, that education is better. And we’ve at the same time created this aggressive private sector that wants to take over public schools. And I don’t think that’s a good thing for the future of public education.

In her Washington Post editorial, Ravitch lays it out:

The districts with the most choice for the longest period — Cleveland and Milwaukee — have seen no improvement in their public schools nor in their choice schools. Charter schools have been compared to regular public schools on the National Assessment of Educational Progress in 2003, 2005, 2007 and 2009, and have never outperformed them.

The public discussion about school reform, since its hijacking, has never been about outcomes, but about process. School district leaders like Duncan and Washington D.C.’s Michelle Rhee get lauded in the petit liberal press not for improving outcomes but for “having guts” in “taking on” special interests. While scholars have been waiting to see if the wave of privatization that swelled to a tsunami with the passage of NCLB would be effective, the popular political discourse got hooked on the “social entrepreneurs versus the self-interested unions” and began rewarding those who picked a fight just for the fact of picking a fight; Michelle Rhee was the patron saint of school reformers because she promised to go after unionized teachers. Duncan similarly was praised in December of 2008 basically for publicity stunts:

Chicago has become a laboratory for reform in Duncan’s seven-year tenure. Officials here court new charter schools, teacher training is being reinvented, and some low-performing schools have been shuttered and reopened with new staff. Officials are also offering some students cash for good grades and seeking proposals for boarding schools. In addition, Duncan backed a plan to start a gay-friendly high school.

As a supporter of the sciences, I’m all for laboratories. But generally scientists conduct experiments pursuing educated hypotheses based on past findings. Not a premise that the experiment itself is a de facto good. (Not to mention using human subjects against their will is generally frowned upon.) Changes need to be instituted: but simply unraveling publicly funded and guided primary and secondary education does not seem to be the answer.

Here is what is facing us from the petri dish: public education in Chicago has been seriously undermined as charter schools have proliferated and neighborhood schools deeply stigmatized. . . .

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