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

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Stand on Children's Exec. Dir. Responds to Critique of Memphis Debacle

Diane Ravitch mentioned an earlier post I did on the resegregation plan that the corporate ed boys have put together for the unsuspecting citizens of Memphis and Shelby County, TN; it has set off quite a storm of reaction, particularly from the local and national Standistas.  
With Stand on Children doing the back room political deals for Gates and Broad, the "players" in this Kabuki drama seem to think that their production is flawless and the audience is entranced.  Even Michelle Rhee's ex, TN Commish of Ed Kevin Huffman, showed up in Memphis last week to tout the calmness and deliberate rationality in the Plan presented by what appears to be a Prozac-induced TPC merger commission.  

And of course, keeping everyone on the sunny side are the Standistas with endless amounts of positivity and missionary zeal.  From the collected comments at the Ravitch blog by the loyal followers of Gates and Jonah Edelman, I am getting a sense that these are the Junior Leaguers (from Memphis to Ripley) with a clear social engineering mission to school the urban natives, using the best techniques that corporate America can offer, i. e., apartheid charter schools.   Will Standista members' kids go to these total compliance corporate schools they are planning for urban poor children?  Never.

Here is the the intro to the letter posted by the Executive Director of Stand, Kenya Bradshaw, who is obviously doing a good job of making the middle class ladies of the area feel as if the Gates plan was something of their own design.  Comments interspersed.
July 3, 2012 at 10:00 amDear Mrs. Ravitch,
My name is Kenya Bradshaw, I am the TN Executive Director of Stand For Children. First let me thank you and Jim Horn for your analysis of the Transition Plan that the Transition Planning Commission developed for the Merger of Memphis and Shelby County Schools although I disagree with your attempt to use one data point as an attempt to showcase the flaws in the plan. I believe that you both should highlight the strengths and weaknesses of the plan and let us know. But to call out one item lacks journalistic integrity and does not offer a fair prospective [sic] to the people who read your blogs. To do an in depth analysis of the process I would urge you to read the over 10,000 pages of documents every member poured [sic] through or read the transcripts of the over 400 hours worth of meetings. I would also ask that you research the history behind how this happened and read Professor Daniel Keil’s report on schools in Memphis and Dr. Marcus Polhman’s recent book on education in our county then come visit Memphis. 

Really, Ms. Bradshaw?  10,000 pages of documents every member read?  Hmm.  

So I am wondering why my review of the strengths and weaknesses should be submitted for your review, even if I were to write one.  The plan is done, as it has been done for some time, even as the TPC was going around the county doing one-time meetings in all those communities that are now trying desperately to create their own school systems so that they can keep them in public hands.  So my writing a detailed review, and your reading it, would just be more wasted time.

I did, indeed, check out Dr. Polhmann, whose book based his study of consolidations in TN is called Opportunity Lost: The Convergence of Race and Poverty in the Memphis City Schools.  Most troubling about what I read by Dr. Pohlmann was this paragraph from his abstract of the book (my bolds):
In his 1944 inaugural address, Franklin Roosevelt stated that his goal was “to make a country in which no one is left out.” That same general principle would appear to lie beneath the notion of “No Child Left Behind.” It is society’s duty to educate every child, not just provide education. It is hard to argue that this is not an amiable egalitarian goal. A sad truth, however, is that some children come to school in such a state of academic disrepair that there may be little the public schools can do for them by that point.
Hmm.  Could this explain why the TPC plan is more attuned to improving the standing of corporate ed reformers and their business interests than improving learning opportunities for kids who they believe to be destined for failure, regardless?  

From what I can tell, Pohlmann, a political scientist, bases many of his social and educational assumptions a limited reading of Christopher Jenck's interpretation of James Coleman's research of 1966, without ever reading Coleman.   What both Pohlmann and Jencks missed was the core finding by Coleman related to the power of social capital that is created and shared when poor kids go to school and have classes with middle class kids.  Poor kids' achievement goes way up, and middle class kids are not negatively affected.  Coleman spent the rest of his life trying to get people to understand that what matters most to student achievement is SES and who you go to school with.

Pohlmann, following Jencks, focuses almost exclusively on the part of Coleman's finding that focused on the powerful effects of home life and poverty.  If Pohlmann had looked at another consolidated school system on the other side of the mountain from Knoxville, he would have found Wake County, which consciously integrated their county and city schools starting in 2000 based on socioeconomic status and achievement levels. That story is documented in Gerald Grant's book, Hope and despair in the American city: Why there are no bad schools in Raleigh.  Shelby Co./Memphis could do the same thing if they had not been hijacked by the charter industry and the Billionaire Boys Club.

Pohlmann does have the following recommendations in his abstract, most of which the Standistas and the Gates Boys have ignored:
We can, however, begin to address those conditions which contribute to severe educational disadvantage, many of which appear to be poverty-related. For Horatio Alger’s Ragged Janes and Tattered Toms to have equal opportunity in 21st century Memphis, there will need to be a multi-faceted approach that focuses on the earliest possible intervention in poor children’s lives, while at the same time both directly and indirectly reducing inter-generational poverty. Such conclusions are not new. The Memphis branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) recommended many of these reforms in a 1988 report to Judge Robert McCrae. Their recommendations included early childhood programs, smaller classes, year-round schooling, enhanced teacher preparation, school consolidation, and using school buildings for child care, social services, and adult education. Such an approach will come with a considerable national, state, and local price tag. Nonetheless, each element we adopt, however small, will move us in the direction supported by the best available research.
The progress of public education in New Orleans is important beyond the boundaries of Orleans Parish. Post-Katrina New Orleans serves as the pivotal proving ground for the use of increased choice and charter schools to provide more equitable access to quality education. With 61% of New Orleans public school students enrolled in 51 charter schools (both numbers by far the highest in the nation), post-Katrina New Orleans represents an opportunity for the choice movement to demonstrate success on a large scale. Success in New Orleans will lead to broader choice in struggling urban districts across the country. Conversely, failure to deliver improved access to quality education will reverse the current upward trajectory of the choice movement.
If reformers in New Orleans are able to focus on the goal of increasing access to quality educational opportunities, then the chance created out of the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina will not be wasted. It would be beautifully ironic if, thanks in part to a hurricane, the schools in the city whose segregated railcars gave us Plessy v. Ferguson could finally deliver on that elusive promise of Brown to provide more equitable access to quality educational opportunities. 
Got it.  So did you all down there use any educational research, scholarship, or educational experience to provide data for this plan?  So far as I can see, the two academic sources you cite are not educators or ed researchers and likely have never been in a public school of Memphis or Shelby County?

In terms of  your invitation, I would love to have interview you the next time I come to Memphis, which will be in the Fall.  Thank you for the invitation.

Jim Horn

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous1:00 PM

    I've been following this blog as well as Diane Ravitch's - hoping that Memphis would finally hit your radar. I'm ready to see some meaningful analysis of Memphis's implementation of the DCImpact model in the form of the Teacher Effectiveness Initiative - along with the TPC's failure to protect teachers in any way, shape, or form.

    There's lots going on in public education down here, and we're ready for some academic review.

    But I have to say that I'm distracted, and somewhat disappointed, with some of the errors in the reporting so far. I get it, Ms. Bradshaw put herself out there, but let's keep the discussion focused on policy.

    It is easily verifiable that before Daniel Kiel went off to Harvard Law School, he graduated from White Station High School, an MCS "optional" school. He's a city school kid.

    But back to the policy - before former Mayor Herenton became the first black mayor of Memphis, he was the superintendent. Prior to that, he was the administrator at MCS who came up with optional schools as a way to keep white families in MCS while many were fleeing. White Station High School is an optional school - a magnet school for gifted kids - really, a school within a school. Its best kids still do better than the best county kids - more of them still get into better schools. However, optional schools have contributed to inequities - let's talk about that and Herenton's role in that.

    Then let's talk about the nine charter schools that Herenton just got approved by the state - after denial by the local school board. Different target audience, different inequities.

    Stand is a problem, and I want to know more.

    And back to Daniel Kiel, I actually agree with most of what he wrote. But I take it more as a warning of coming disappointment, rather than some sort of support for the school choice movement.

    The ASD - the statewide school district designed to turn around schools in the bottom 5% of the state - will be another proving ground. I suspect they'll fail. Between Chris Barbic and the charter management organizations they're bring in - for the first time, these groups will have to serve the communities in which they are housed. They can still recruit outside of their zone, but they have to take the kids that are zoned for that school. It will be a different environment for them, altogether. Albeit, with extra funding from philanthropists, but closer to an apples-to-apples enrollment comparison than we've seen in many places.