Posted tagged ‘Charter Schools’

Lex Luthor is Waiting for Superman

September 20, 2010

I never really cared for comic book revisionism.  When they replaced Hal Jordan as Green Lantern I screamed bloody murder.  However, when John Byrne took bumbling mad scientist Lex Luthor and turned him into a corporate fiend, it was a brilliant move.  In the past, Luthor had build giant robots, death rays, a green and purple armored suit, but none of these posed a threat to the Man of Steel.  As a reader I knew this.   What John Byrne did in 1986 was to find a foe that Superman couldn’t face in a fair fight—a corporate executive.   Superman couldn’t just fly into a board room and haul Luthor off to prison, he had to catch Luthor in the act and to the public Luthor was corporate hero.  He hid his crimes behind a facade of good works.

For me, the new movie Waiting for Superman is very aptly titled for the movie is little more than propaganda designed to be  a happy face on those who seek to profit at our children’s expense.  To truly appreciate the movie you must accept three claims:

1. Public teacher unions are so powerful people like Bill Gates and the folks who run Walmart can’t figure out a way around them.

2. Countries like Finland and Sweden that have much more powerful teachers unions than we do and are considered the world’s top school systems have nothing we can learn from

3. Schools in the South are a utopia since they do not have teacher’s unions or have right to work laws that make them useless.

4. Public school teachers don’t care about kids, only corporations do.

5. The people pushing education reform based on standardized tests and strict discipline like KIPP seek education opportunities for their own children directly opposite the KIPP philosophy by mere coincidence

6. That a failed teacher like Michelle Rhee after 2 years of struggling to control her own classroom suddenly found the magic formula for teaching and abruptly left the classroom to recruit teachers.  She now is capable of running a big city school district despite the parents that live there seeing her as one of the main reasons to vote against the mayor that hired her.

I could go on, but really if you can look at those 6 and tell me that the movie still makes a lot of good points, there really is no reason to continue.   We want a first world education system and we should have it, but we do not have first world health care for children, we have third world levels of childhood poverty, we are no longer a country that values our lower class or most of our middle class.   Our poverty numbers exceed what they were in the 1960s when Lyndon Johnson declared his war on poverty.   Jim Horn has some wonderful information here on just why this movie is so blatantly propaganda most vile.  I would also recommend checking out Charter School Scandals before holding them  as the panacea that the movie makers want you to.

It’s sad when children don’t make the lottery to get into the school they want or when they are called into the office to be told that they are a discipline problem, have special needs, or just are too low to remain at the charter school.   Fortunately, they can always go to the public school.   They take everybody.

J.P. Morgan Chase Anounces Plans to Launder Tax Payer Money

May 5, 2010

The Chicago Public Schools are facing a financial crisis.  Now, all the evidence points to this being a largely manufactured crisis to pry concessions from their employees and dollars from the state.  One thing is certain and that is that $250 million dollars that should be going to the Chicago Public Schools have been siphoned off this year from property taxes for Mayor Daley’s TIF fund.  This fund is basically his personal nest egg to spend where he sees fit.

One of the beneficiaries of this program is J.P. Morgan Chase.  Now, the use of the TIF fund is generally kept hush hush, but in December of last year, the developer of the $100 million Cabrini-Green redevelopment found himself unable to pay back a construction loan from J.P. Morgan Chase and the city came to the rescue so that he would not have to default on the loan.   The amount that J.P. Morgan Chase made on this deal was in excess of $8,000,000.

J.P. Morgan Chase, which is no stranger to corporate welfare has partnered with the city on a large number of projects using TIF funds and has benefited enormously.  Whether we’re talking about the $50 million Wilson Yard Project or sweetheart deals with individual alderman.   The big question though is what is J.P. Morgan Chase doing with that money that should have been directed to public school students in Chicago?  I’m glad you asked.

Today, J.P. Morgan Chase announced that they would be setting up a $325 million dollar program to fund charter schools.  In the ultimate indignity, public school students are now subsidizing charter schools with J.P. Morgan Chase basically serving as middle man.   With up to 300,000 public school teachers expected to lose their jobs next year and many others making big salary concessions it may be very tempting to live off the credit card a little.   If you are a teacher and you do have to do that, I just hope it’s not a Chase credit card.

A Tale of Two Cities

January 21, 2010

AES Proposed Phase-Out: Shop Classes put to music by Mark Noakes from Save AES CTE HS on Vimeo.

It started in Chicago, but New York really seems to have the hang of this whole resistance to privatization movement and has hit the ground running as they attempt to stand up to Mayor Bloomberg’s attempts to experiment on the children of the city he bought.    The above link (in orange) is to an amazing music video that was created by students at Alfred E. Smith High School to draw attention to their situation. At the January 26th board hearings, which like Chicago will most undoubtedly be a rubber stamp sham, a huge protest of thousands is expected.

The protesters have also won a court case giving them the right to picket the mayor’s house on January 21st. The protests have been massive with over 500 people at the Jamaica High School Hearing alone. It is great to see the students, parents, teachers, and community members of New York so actively engaged in this struggle. Mayor Bloomberg like Mayor Daley in Chicago is going after schools in predominately working class minority neighborhoods for gentrification purposes.

In Chicago, this process has been going on since Mayor Daley got total control of the city’s public schools in 1995 or at least since he and Arne Duncan rolled out the Renaissance 2010 in 2004. Hey, that reminds me–we’re in a Renaissance!! Resistance has been slowly, but surely picking up steam. Last year, protesters even camped out in front of the Board of Education.

It remains to be seen if Chicago can stay united and fight these closings.   In 2009, groups like GEM and CORE saved 6 schools.   They’ve tasted the blood in the water and they will be trying to fight it again.  New York provides a lot of inspiration.   Speaking of inspiration, the video at the top of this article is from Sam Cooke.  He was a graduate of Wendel Phillips High School in Chicago–one of the schools that is on the block.

There've been times that I thought I couldn't last for long
Now I think I'm able to carry on
It's been a long
A long time coming but I know a change gon' come
Oh Yes it will

Fighting Privatization

January 4, 2010

I’ve made a resolution to do a better job keeping this blog updated this year.  The assault on education in this country and in my own city of Chicago is too pressing not to be vocal about what’s going on.  I’ve mentioned before that I am a member of CORE (The Caucus of Rank and File Educators), a group that has been trying to stop the privatization efforts in the Chicago Public Schools.   I’ve only been a member for a few months, but last year the organization and several community activist groups staged a big summit to protest school closings at Malcolm X College.   We’re having another summit this Saturday January 9th to continue the fight.   Last January, 500 people came out in a blizzard.  This year, I’m hoping we can draw 1,000 committed activists.  I have a lot of problems with Chicago’s program of turnaround schools.   Studies have shown that they do nothing positive for the students in the school that is closed and instead increase dropouts, overcrowding, and student violence.   I took the liberty of reposting here, an article I wrote on the criteria Chicago is using to determine which schools stay and which ones go.

For the third time in three years Chicago has changed the criteria by which schools are eligible for closing.   The ever changing criteria are supposed to help the schools separate which schools are “failing”.  However, despite closing over 70 schools, the administration continues to show a lack of faith in their own ability to come up with fair criteria while their lack of consistency has schools scrambling to find out if they’re on the chopping block.

There are so many problems with judging schools based almost entirely on attendance and the ISAT test.   One culturally biased multiple choice test administered by a politically connected company that was awarded the contract under shady circumstances by the Blagojevich administration is hardly a scientific way to evaluate schools.   Major trends like neighborhood demographics and student mobility can play havoc with test scores, but so can small things like who had a good night’s sleep or ate a breakfast before taking the test.

Elementary schools are judged based on ISAT reading, math, and science scores meeting and exceeding standards; attendance; and value-added scores and composite scores in both reading in math.   Charts have been created for all schools that make it appear very scientific as schools are rated in 8 different categories.   However, three of those categories are determined from the same math test and another three are determined by the same reading test.   Schools which fail to gain 1/3 of the achievable points are then eligible to be closed.

The constantly changing target makes it difficult for schools to succeed.   McKay Elementary School on the South West Side is on the bubble having earned 14 of 42 points.   Like all schools potentially facing the chopping block, they are in a working class neighborhood and service a minority population.  In 2007 38% of their students met or exceeded standards in math, but in 2008 they improved that number to 46%^ of their students, and last year they were up to 54%.   They showed similar gains in reading and science.   Under the 2007 and 2008 scoring systems, McKay would have been safe.   With the new system, they are not.

High Schools use a more complex system that evaluates schools based on average ACT, one year drop out rate, attendance, freshman on track, AP enrollment, AP success,  and PSAE scores.   Again, there are liars and then there are statistics.   At a time when the College Board is pointing out massive flaws in the entire AP program, CPS continues to push it.  The Prarie State Exams have led to a four year program in many suburbs where students are never given junior status so that they never take the examination.   These are the two main criteria Chicago uses to judge high school quality.

Schools can also be closed if a school’s enrollment is less than 250 and it is using less than 40% of available space or if in the opinion of the board, the infrastructure of the building is unsound.   These rules are applied unevenly.   De la Cruz middle school’s unsafe building was rented to UNO for $1 this year.   Carver Military Academy’s “need” for a small program in their large school has prevented Fenger parents from having a safe place to send their kids.   Of course, the test score data is also not rated equally or several of the city’s charter schools would find themselves facing the axe.

When decided something as important as the future of the children in this city, we owe it to them to find an effective way to measure the quality of schools and a fair and open process for deciding which schools are not making the grade.  These criteria are neither fair nor open.  There have been no positive gains demonstrated by Chicago’s program of closing schools, but we have seen the danger it brings for students forced to travel to other neighborhoods for their education.   Our students deserve better.

Why Teacher Accountability Flounders

November 30, 2009

“If you catch a man a fish you can sell it to him. If you teach a man to fish you lose a wonderful business opportunity.” -Groucho Marx.

There was a blog post that I saw on twitter today from the ironically named Charter School Insights blog.   The post was entitled Michelangelo with a fillet knife and in it, the author makes a very compelling case why people who gut fish should be paid different rates based on their abilities.   Unfortunately, his post falls apart when he attempts to make an analogy between gutting fish and teaching children.

The problem with accountability is that in a school system like Chicago which is controlled by the mayor, the mayor is really not accountable for the schools.   Voters elect candidates based on a whole host of variables and the quality schools tends to be a very small part of any big city mayoral election.   Underneath our mayor is the Chief Executive Officer.  Despite a record of failure, our CEO went to Washington to run the Department of Education.  No accountability there.  Then you have the people who write the curriculum, the administrators, the area officers–nope, no accountability there.  In fact, the only people expected to be accountable are the classroom teachers.

Can you imagine the public outrage  if Obama gave his speech on Afghanistan this week and announced that the problem wasn’t our strategy, but the lazy and incompetent soldiers on the ground?  If only the grunts are accountable, you don’t have accountability.  What you have is a great place to pass the buck.

One example of the lack of accountability is the math curriculum mess in the city of Chicago.   The city’s teachers are required to use an ineffective curriculum that is based on the idea of not teaching to mastery, but of cycling through different topics.   That means that at any time if you were to ask a 4th grader if she knew what three times 12 was, she could tell you, “That’s multiplication.  I’m familiar with that”, but probably couldn’t tell you the correct answer.   Why do we have this curriculum?  The main reason is because the person who developed it at one of our local universities had a high ranking position in the city’s math department.  He then retired and sold this program to every school in the city.  Can you smell the accountability yet?

From teachers of young students who are left to potty train their students to teachers of older students breaking up gang fights, there is a large part of a teacher’s day that is not measurable by any standardized test.   If we really intend to make a move for accountability, let’s start with Washington where they continue to completely bungle health care.   Let’s look at childhood poverty.   Finland is supposed to have the best school system in the world.   Here’s a chart showing childhood poverty by country and tell me that it makes no difference in a child’s education:

Now, lest anybody think that I am making up excuses for teachers and arguing that teachers shouldn’t be held accountable because of all the difficulties they face in educating our nation’s youth, I must say I am not.   When we signed up to be teachers, we signed up for this.  From our first day of student teaching, we knew what we were getting into.   It is the job of a school’s administration to get rid of bad teachers.   I am simply saying that it’s real easy to scape goat teachers and demand accountability from them, but if we really want to make an improvement in our schools, we need to be better than that.