Plea for Bushwick High:
Give Last-Chance School Another
Bushwick Community High School's threatened closing is creating howls of outrage. The school serves the highest needs students. At the "Teacher Evaluation Nightmare" forum on April 17, 2012, BCHS teacher Khalilah Brann made a powerful statement regarding her school which is slated for closure....
Kirsten Luce for The New York Times
Aniah McAllister, 20; Justin Soto, 21; and Kassandra Barrientos, 18, outside Bushwick Community High School
in Brooklyn in March.
April 23, 2012- nytimes.com
By Ernest A. Logan
I’m an old fashioned guy, so on my first visit to Bushwick Community High School a few years ago, I flinched when the students called their principal and teachers by their first names.
Now that I’ve been back a few times, I don’t flinch anymore. These students look very young, but fate stole their youth long ago. There are no children here.
“We were messed up in other schools,” said Ramale, a handsome 20-year-old, who looks 16. “I was on a crazy path; I dropped out in ninth grade.”
Bushwick High, officially known as a transfer school and informally as a “last chance” school, enrolls only students who have dropped out of traditional schools. Most of them find their way here at 17 or 18, with as few as seven credits under their belts and plenty of scars on their psyches from life on the street.
Given that its mission is to educate and transform these fragile young people into productive community members, the school is a success in its category.
It came as a blow to them when, last January, mayor decided to close the place. He was measuring Bushwick as if it had conventional four-year student cohorts. They were trying to fit a conventional template over the school.
As an advocate against the wholesale shuttering of schools, I am immune to shock. But I’m not immune to outrage, and when I recently read Michael Powell’s New York Times column on the impending closing, I headed straight back to Bushwick.
Closing Bushwick means throwing out the principal, Tira Randall, and half the teachers, changing its name and then reopening and lowering the enrollment age. That would shut out 17- and 18-year-olds and send them the message that they are beyond hope.
Not one student I encountered on my recent visit could figure out how losing their principal, teachers and cherished school name was going to help them.
“The teachers and especially Tira let us touch our creativity,” said Ramale, who intends to study child development in college and work with kids in Brooklyn. “There’s love in this school. Where will that love go when she’s gone?”
“Many of these students never had an adult role model till they came here,” Ms. Randall said, in her office, which is full of African drums and a poster of a very young Barack Obama.
When she arrived in 2004, it was a community outreach center that prepared dropouts for the G.E.D. Instead of closing the center down as she was sent to do, she helped turn it into an actual high school.
“We start with this orientation: understand that you’re a member of the community being taught and cared for by other members of the community, and your mission is to get educated and go back into this community and serve the people,” Ms. Randall said.
Evidence of this belief system is everywhere. Even the two guidance counselors, Millie and Andrew, met in this school, married and came back to work here.
When you walk through the halls of Bushwick, you see glistening floors, a big colorful Peruvian/Inca combo mural splashed across one wall, and a table where students waited in an orderly line.
It was Social Work Day, the assistant principal, Max Catala, explained; students were lined up to be tested voluntarily for H.I.V./AIDS. Every few years, the disease takes the lives of some students.
Not everyone has a hard-knock life. Alan, who dropped by to talk to his young science teachers, Kachentha and Edelyne, was never in trouble in his previous schools.
“I just wasn’t connected,” he said. “I became a different person here. I saw this school save many people’s lives. They come back and talk to us about it.”
His goal after he graduates in June is to go to SUNY-Albany, major in political science and eventually become an entertainment lawyer.
As we walked on, I was struck by the free and easy feeling. There is only one school safety officer and no scanner. Ms. Randall explained: “We’re still on the safe school list. The students follow strict rules of conduct, though many carry anger and rage with them.
We have gang members here, but we’ve never had to remove a weapon or stop a serious fight or tell someone to remove their beads.”
Their hats and phones are another story.
“Sombrero,” said Mr. Catala to one student, and suddenly the student whisked the hat off his head and stuffed it inside his pocket.
“Phone,” Ms. Randall said, and a young woman dropped her pink phone into her purse.
Aniah, also graduating in June, wants to major in education at Howard University and return as a teacher at Bushwick if it doesn’t close. What inspired her, she said, is that “the staff is here for you mentally, emotionally and physically.”
To these young people, the staff is irreplaceable because it has longevity, comes largely out of the community and has proven its commitment to the code of community service.
As Ms. Randall put it, when commenting on the Turnaround Model that is being used by the Education Department to close her school and remove her and half the faculty: “Who will replace them? Teachers from the other 26 schools they’re closing down?”
As school leaders, I believe we should all oppose the closing of schools simply for the sake of meeting numbers. My memory of Bushwick speaks for itself and against the mayor’s policy of closing schools for disadvantaged children just because he can.
Last week, the community came out in force to a public hearing to give Deputy Chancellor Shael Polakow-Suransky all of the reasons I gave here against closing the school. I hope Tasia, an angelic-looking B.C.H.S. social worker was there; I’d like to give her the last word now:
“My fear is that some of the kids will walk away because of losing some of the relationships they’ve built here. They’re trying to turn this into a race to graduation, and that’s not the way our kids are. They need the time, and then they make it.”
Ernest A. Logan is president of the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators.
Blackfolk Say NO! To Ms. Black!
Black New Yorkers for Educational Excellence and the National Black Education Agenda urge parents, educators, communities of color in New York City and other citizens of conscience who expect educational excellence for all of New York City’s students to call and petition New York State Commissioner of Education David Steiner to deny Cathleen Black a waiver which would allow Ms. Black, devoid of any education experience, to head the New York City Public Schools.
Cathleen Black’s appointment as chancellor of the New York City Public Schools is far more sinister and far more long reaching than early criticism would seem to recognize. Aside from Ms. Black’s disqualifying personal characteristics of having no experience or training in public education, little or no contact with the children and communities of color of New York City, her own early education being parochial schools and her children attending private schools, her appointment by Mayor Michael Bloomberg should sound an alarm to all parents and communities of color in New York City.
Yet, the appointment of Cathleen Black is not solely a New York City issue. It is a national issue of great importance. The appointment of Ms. Black must be clearly understood in the context of a national plan intended to control the soon-to-be new US majority. It is a plan for the new European minority US population to continue to control the economics and the politics of the nation. Her appointment is another example of the super-rich placing the public school system in the hands of a person who can be trusted not to allow an education of cultural, political and economic liberation for people of color and the poor.
For years US think tanks, both liberal and conservative, have been aware that in less than twenty years Americans of Hispanic, African, Asian and Native American ancestry, in that order, will be the new majority population. White Americans, the beneficiaries of unearned economic resources and political power will be the new minority. White American thinkers have long been at work devising plans to keep white people in control economically and politically once the American population turns over.
Other than guns, such as the minority Afrikaners used to control the majority Black South Africans, there are three other major devices that have long been planned to control the minds and labors of the new majority: education, the media and prisons.
Billionaires such as the Walton family (Wal-Mart). Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Michael Bloomberg and recently Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook) and many hedge fund millionaires have placed their bets on reconstituting public schools to conform to the corporate model to train people to be compliant workers, rather than critical thinkers and doers. Privitization is intended to serve two purposes: even more profit for the wealthy and social control over the rest society. Citizens who are capable of critical thinking don’t become pliable and non-questioning.
The United States has the greatest inequality of income of any other western nation. The richest one-fifth of Americans own four-fifths of the wealth. The new school reforms are intended to keep it that way.
Mayoral rather than community-parental control, the appointment of business rather than educational leaders, the proliferation of charter schools rather than improving regular schools, the elimination of culturally supportive curriculum, which would affirm people of color and the poor, teaching for test taking rather than critical thinking, punishment of teachers and administrators who attempt to instruct liberation pedagogy and rewards for educators who teach an enhanced white supremacy are all part of the “education reform” endorsed by the White House and administered by a former basketball player with no education credentials.
The classic example of use of the media to distribute propaganda beneficial to the rich is the release and national acclaim of the movie “Waiting for Superman”, which depicts an emotional but untruthful example of how the dire destruction of children in the American public schools can be changed. Neither the movie nor newspaper or radio/television communication tell the truth about the alleged success of charters; certainly not the failures, of many charter schools.
Public schools which historically and in the present have been and are successful in educating poor children of color are rarely if ever celebrated in the press. There are known and available documentaries which detail exemplary high achievement of all-Black schools in poor neighborhoods. An example is the Robert L. Vann Elementary School in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania which led all public elementary schools in achievement for several years in the 1980s. Yet such information is rarely publicized, certainly not communicated nationally. The media are complicit in failing to report on regular high achieving Black schools and in reporting untruths about the alleged successes of many charter schools. The media are complicit in spreading the untruth that the only way to save education in America, particularly among the poor and students of color, is to close schools, fire administrators and faculties and turn the schools over to private corporations. The late Dr. Barbara A. Sizemore, first African American woman to head a major school system, Washington, D.C., once wrote an article entitled “Hardly Anybody Wants Something All-Black to Be Excellent”. Dr. Sizemore included brainwashed Black educators in her assertion.
The ultimate destinations for many poor Black children and other children of color who are mis-educated and forced to drop out of schools are prisons and sometimes the grave. Michelle Alexander in her recent book: “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness” documents the intentional expansion of the US prison system as a means of controlling the minds and labors of African American youth and adults, particularly, but not exclusively, males. Attorney Alexander documents the difference in sentencing of Black and white youths, that Black youths are six times more likely than white youths to be incarcerated for the same crimes, that 58% of youths sentenced to adult prisons are Black.
There is little doubt that the controlling population of rich white Americans will use whatever means at their disposal - - education, media and incarceration - - to continue to control the minds and the labors of people of color, even poor whites, to maintain and solidify their wealth.
The unbridled power of mayors to appoint education chiefs like Joel Klein, Cathleen Black and the recently deposed Michelle Rhee of the Washington D.C. Public Schools may temporarily assure the continued economic and political dominance of European Americans who secured their wealth from the unpaid labors of enslaved Africans, but a possible ultimate result could be the destruction of America, economically, spiritually, politically and physically.
Again, Black New Yorkers for Educational Excellence and the National Black Education Agenda urge parents, educators, communities of color in New York City and other citizens of conscience who expect educational excellence for all of New York City’s students to call and petition New York State Commissioner of Education David Steiner to deny Cathleen Black a waiver which would allow Ms. Black, devoid of any education experience, to head the New York City Public Schools.
We further assert that mayoral control of our public schools must end NOW! We will fight for the NY State Senate and Assembly to swiftly replace this current mayoral dictatorship with a parent-educator-student collaboration that has at the very center of all of its policies, structures and curriculum the idea that education is a human right and an antiracist democratic process. Our children cannot wait until 2015- when Mayoral Control will sunset -while Education Genocide is committed upon them every single school day.
In a school system that is overwhelmingly children of color and the poor, where all data indicate the disastrous results with children of African ancestry, especially males, this is no time for the appointment of Cathleen Black or any other amateur.
NO TO MAYORAL CONTROL!
Times is running out for Mayoral Dictatorship!
DON’T BELIEVE THE BLOOMBERG/KLEIN ED SPIN;
EXAMINE THE REALITY!
SPIN: Graduation rates have increased 20% and student achievement has improved
• New York State’s Education statistics report that 52% of NYC students graduate. That’s a full 10 points below what Bloomberg/Klein claim. Why? Because the SED condemns the inclusion of
IEP certificates (special education students get an IEP certificate, while the NYC DOE counts it as a full diploma in their graduation statistics), GED’s, and students graduating through“ credit recovery” -- a practice being investigated by the SED.
• 32 percent of black male students graduated from high school in 2005-06 compared to 75 percent of white male students (Schott Foundation).
• The Bloomberg/Klein “equity spin” reports fewer dropouts. That’s because “dropouts” often masquerade as “discharges,” (removing them from the official count).
• In 2007, the discharge rate rose to 20.8%, compared to 17.6% in 2001.
SPIN: Test scores have skyrocketed under Bloomberg/Klein.
• National test scores (the NAEP – considered the gold standard for testing) show far different results for New York City than what Bloomberg/Klein report. NAEP found that 4th and 8th grade reading and 8th grade math show no gains since 2003, and no closing of the achievement gap in any subject or any grade. NO GAINS IN 6 YEARS OF THE BLOOMBERG/KLEIN ADMINISTRATION.
• State-wide test scores have risen everywhere in New York State – a result, testing experts believe, of excessive teaching to the test. In fact, of the 5 major cities in the state, NYC scores have gone up the least. Also, test experts state that continuous test prep in the schools invalidates the results of the test.
SPIN: New York City schools have vastly improved under Bloomberg and Klein.
• Despite billions of state dollars being allocated for city schools to rescue class size, more schools and classrooms are overcrowded
• More than 40% of NYC students are now in schools that are officially overcrowded; between 62-87% of students (depending on the grade level) are now crowded into classes that exceed the goals of the city’s state-mandated class size reduction plan; New York City has class size averages larger than in the rest of the state.
• Harsh accountability measures have been mandated, leading to increased test prep and excessive standardized testing. Some elementary students have as many as 12 tests in one year!
• Special education services have been diminished, and with the elimination of the local districts, parents no longer know where to turn for help.
• Millions of dollars are paid for data systems that are duplicative. $80m has been paid to IBM for a data system that duplicates nySTART, the state data system
• Cuts at the school level force principals to slash supplemental services for at-risk students, after-school programs, and enrichment activities. It is reported that only 3 percent of children’s school day is spent in enrichment activities (sports, art, music, drama) compared to more than 30 percent found in the school attended by the Obama children.
END Mayoral Control Of Our Schools!!
The current situation is killing our children spiritually and intellectually!!
BLACK HISTORY = BETTER GRADES = BETTER TEST SCORES !!
BNYEE Bloomberg-Klein Department of Education
YES Comprehensive African American and African Diaspora Curricula NO
YES Teaching children Critical Thinking Skills instead of producing thousands of functionally illiterate young adults. NO
YES Teaching children about their Human Rights and Civics NO
YES Eliminating High Stakes Testing* and using performance-based methods that truly assess student learning. NO
YES Supporting teachers in teaching children with creativity and vision NO
YES Truthful reports and data about students’ accomplishments – not dishonest, public relations hype. NO
YES Involving and engaging parents in real decision-making- Not ‘for-show’ maneuvers that render parents powerless. NO
NO Practices and policies, school environments that treat children like criminals and militarize schools and students. YES
The fate and future of People Of African Descent hinges on
instituting REAL education of ALL New York’s children!!
Contact your elected officials, especially NY State Assembly-people and Senators
– tell them that Mayoral control has been a disaster – for education processes and has locked parents out from meaningful involvement!!
Black New Yorkers for Educational Excellence (BNYEE), through several task groups, is working on turning around the current situation, including:
• curricula that provide comprehensive education about African American, Indigenous and Latin contributions in u.s. and the world • turning around the devastating expulsion of teachers and administrators Of Color in the NYDOE – especially under the Bloomberg-Klein regime • parent-involvement and education initiatives • support of efforts to turn back the devastating militarization and criminalization of schools • instituting education that is framed in human rights; and more.
Voice Mail: (212) 252-2997
A New Free Book Exposes the Horrors of Mayoral Dictatorship
NYC School Under Bloomberg & Klein
EXCERPT/ Chapter Three:
On July 17, 2008, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein appeared before the US House Committee on Education and Labor and argued that New York City's school reform efforts had substantially closed the racial achievement gap. Klein said: Since we started this work in 2002....our African-American and Latino students have gained on their White and Asian peers. In fourth-grade math, for example, the gap separating our African-American and White students has narrowed by more than 16 points. In eighth-grade math, African-American students have closed the gap with White students by almost 5 points. In fourth-grade reading, the gap between African- American and White students has narrowed by more than 6 points. In eighth-grade reading, the gap has closed by about 4 points.1 Bloomberg echoed that claim, arguing that "over the past six years, we've done everything possible to narrow the achievement gap—and we have. In some cases, we've reduced it by half."2
Over a brief interval of five years, was it possible that New York City schools had made more progress in closing the racial achievement gap than the rest of the country had in the previous thirty? In reality, the average African American and Hispanic student in New York City is as far behind his or her White and Asian peers as in January 2003 when the "Children First" reforms were announced. Only for eighth-grade English Language Arts (ELA) has there been a reduction in the achievement gap–and the size of the reduction is 6 percent rather than the 50 percent reduction Bloomberg claimed. What's worse, the achievement gap in mathematics in both fourth and eighth grades has grown by 12 percent and 22 percent, respectively.
Measuring Achievement Gaps
Government agencies and media observers often use proficiency rates, or the percentage of students passing state tests, to describe the gaps in academic performance between racial and ethnic groups. For example, if 90 percent of White students passed a state test and 65 percent of African-Americans students 31 did, some observers will say that the achievement gap is "25 points." If the gap in proficiency between Black and White students declines from 25 to 22 percentage points, some observers will report that the gap has "closed by 3 points." Bloomberg and Klein's claim that achievement gaps have closed is based on the difference between the percentages of students that are proficient in each group over time. Proficiency rates can be misleading, though, and educational researchers and testing experts agree that proficiency rates provide an inaccurate measure of achievement gaps.3 The main problem with this way of assessing the achievement gap is that we cannot differentiate between students who just made it over the proficiency bar and those who scored well above it. Imagine, for example, two classrooms of students: Classroom A is made up of students who start out as high achievers, and Classroom B of students with middling performance. If every student in both classes answered two more questions correctly than she had in the previous year, it's pretty clear that both classrooms made equal amounts of academic progress. If 95 percent of the students were already proficient when they entered Classroom A, then the additional two questions each child got right is unlikely to have much impact on the passing rate. But in Classroom B, where only 50 percent of the students entered as proficient, the additional two questions answered correctly might boost Classroom B's proficiency rate from 50 percent to 70 percent. Comparing proficiency rates from last year and this year would make Classroom B look more effective than Classroom A, even though the students in both classes actually made the same amount of progress.
Now, imagine that the students in Classroom A are all white or Asian, whereas the students in Classroom B are all African-American or Hispanic.
The gap in proficiency rates between the two classrooms at the beginning of the year is 95-50E percentage points, and at the end of the year it is 95-70% percentage points. It might appear that Classroom B substantially closed the racial/ethnic achievement gap, but that's an illusion: all students made the same academic progress.
In short, proficiency rates can increase substantially by moving a small number of students up a few points—just enough to make the so-called "cut score" for proficiency. In the case of racial achievement gaps, African-American and Hispanic students may still lag far behind their peers even as their proficiency rates increase. Because of this, a more valid way to measure inequality between groups is to compare the average scale scores of White/Asian and Black/Hispanic students.4 A familiar example of a scale score comes from the SAT, where a student might score a 600 on the verbal section's scale of 0 to 800. Scale scores provide information about how students are progressing both above and below the proficiency bar, and thus are preferable for assessing trends in the racial achievement gap. 32
Have Racial / Ethnic Achievement Gaps Closed in New York City?
To track achievement gap trends, we analyzed fourth- and eighth-grade test score data from New York State ELA and mathematics tests from 2003 to 2008. We focus on these grade levels because only the fourth- and eighth-grade state tests were consistently administered over this entire time period; until state tests were introduced in 2006, a different set of city tests were administered to New York City students in grades 3, 5, 6, and 7. Moreover, we focus on the years 2003 through 2008 because the "Children First" reforms were announced in January 2003, just as students were taking their state tests that year, and were not introduced into the city's classrooms until September 2003; 2003 thus provides an appropriate baseline for measuring progress in closing the achievement gap under mayoral control.
The data are reported as citywide group average scale scores by grade for Asian, Black, Hispanic and White ethnic groups, along with the citywide average scale scores and standard deviations, for the ELA and mathematics exams. Historically, educational researchers have expressed achievement gaps in standard deviation units as they allow for comparisons across many different tests and time periods.5 Following this tradition, for each grade and year combination, we calculated the relative position of each ethnic group in relation to the citywide mean. Computationally, this involves subtracting the citywide mean from the ethnic group mean, and dividing by the citywide standard deviation. The resulting value represents the distance of the ethnic group mean from the citywide mean in standard deviation units, which is commonly referred to as a z-score. A standard deviation gap between White and Black students would imply that approximately 84 percent of White students performed above the average Black student.6
We start by considering the claim made by Klein above that "our African- American and Latino students have gained on their White and Asian peers." Using the average scale scores of each ethnic group and the number of test takers in each group, we compute a weighted average of White/Asian and Black/Hispanic students' scores for both fourth and eighth grade, and then standardize these scores as described above. (The results of this analysis are displayed in Table 1 on the following page.)
These results show that the achievement gap separating White/Asian from Black/Hispanic students has declined somewhat in eighth-grade ELA (a 6 percent reduction), but is almost the same in fourth-grade ELA as it was in 2003 (a 1 percent reduction). Since many readers will find standard deviation units unfamiliar, we translate these findings to percentile units. The most promising achievement gap reduction that we found in New York City between 2003 and 2008–the achievement gap decline from .71 to .66 standard deviations for eighth grade ELA—can be summed up as follows: 76 percent of White and Asian students performed above the average Black and Hispanic student in eighth 33 grade ELA in 2003; in 2008, 75 percent of White/Asian students did. Unfortunately for New York City's Black and Hispanic children, this reduction falls considerably short of the substantial progress claimed by Klein and Bloomberg.
The results are more sobering for fourth- and eighth-grade mathematics, where the gaps separating White/Asian and Black/Hispanic students have grown in both cases. In fourth-grade mathematics, there has been a 12 percent increase in the size of the achievement gap, and in eighth-grade mathematics, there has been a 22 percent increase. Put differently, in 2003, 77 percent of White/Asian students performed above the average Black/Hispanic 8th grader; now 81 percent of White/Asian students do.
In Table 2,we display more detailed achievement comparisons and report Black- White, Black-Asian, Hispanic-White, and Hispanic-Asian achievement gaps. We offer a summary of these trends below:
For fourth-grade New York City students:
• The Black-White achievement gap has increased in both ELA (5 percent) and mathematics (8 percent);
• The Black-Asian achievement gap has decreased slightly in ELA (2 percent) and increased in mathematics (15 percent);
• The Hispanic-White achievement gap has decreased slightly in ELA (2 percent) and increased in mathematics (6 percent);
• The Hispanic-Asian achievement gap has decreased for ELA (7 percent) and increased in mathematics (14 percent).
For eighth-grade New York City students:
• The Black-White achievement gap has decreased in ELA (8 percent) and increased in mathematics (15 percent);
• The Black-Asian achievement gap has decreased in ELA (16 percent) and increased in mathematics (33 percent); • The Hispanic-White achievement gap has increased slightly in both ELA (1 percent) and mathematics (4 percent);
• The Hispanic-Asian achievement gap has decreased for ELA (7 percent) and increased in mathematics (25 percent).
In addition, New York City students' average scale scores from NAEP's Trial Urban District Assessment (TUDA) show no progress in closing racial achievement gaps. In 2003, 2005, and 2007—the time period that can be plausibly attributed to the Bloomberg administration's policies—a sample of fourth-and eighth-grade students in New York City participated in NAEP's urban testing program in both reading and mathematics. The National Center for Educational Statistics' own analyses demonstrated that there were no statistically significant changes in African American-White or Hispanic-White gaps between 2003 and 2007. Based on our own calculations, we find that African American-Asian and Hispanic-Asian gaps in eighth-grade reading, and the Hispanic-Asian gap in mathematics, have grown substantially and these differences are statistically significant.
Finally, in Table 3 we compare change in the White/Asian versus Black/Hispanic achievement gap between 2002 and 2003 and 2003 and 2008.7 For all tests,we find that the achievement gap closed substantially more between 2002 and 2003 than it did between 2003 and 2008. Specifically, we find:
• In fourth-grade ELA, the gap closed 9 percent between 2002 and 2003, and 1 percent between 2003 and 2008;
• In fourth-grade mathematics, the gap closed 10 percent between 2002- 2003, and increased 12 percent between 2003 and 2008;
• In eighth-grade ELA, the gap closed 13 percent between 2002 and 2003, and 6 percent between 2003 and 08;
• In eighth-grade mathematics, the gap closed 18 percent between 2002 and 2003, and increased 22 percent between 2003 and 2008.
In this chapter, we have demonstrated that racial achievement gaps in New York City have remained stubbornly persistent between 2003 and 2008. Contrary to the frequent claims of Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein that they have substantially reduced the achievement gap, we show that these gaps are largely unchanged or, in many cases, growing.
When confronted with these calculations in summer 2008, Klein "said the achievement gap is 'an issue,' but he said it should not obscure the significant gains Black and Hispanic students have made under his watch."8 However, most coveted opportunities—jobs, college admission, a good grade in a college course, or a positive evaluation in the workplace—are not divvied up based on students crossing an arbitrary line of proficiency or competence. Educational institutions and workplaces do not have an unlimited number of positions or slots—rather, individuals are competing against one another for access. Everyone who has passed a basic reading test is not assured a job, nor are all students scoring more than a 450 on the verbal SAT assured admission to SUNY-Albany. These decisions are made by comparing the performance of applicants in a pool, and choosing applicants who perform better relative to their peers.
If the goal of the New York City education system is to ensure that every demographic and socioeconomic group is equally prepared to compete in higher education and the workplace, relative achievement measured on a continuous scale is what matters, not proficiency rates. Raising the scores of all groups does not change the representation of minority groups among those who are selected to take advantage of educational and employment opportunities.
Only by reducing the real achievement gap can we increase the chances that New York City's Black and Hispanic students have the same opportunities to get ahead as their White and Asian peers. Unfortunately, New York City has made little progress in closing that gap in the last five years.
1. Testimony by Joel I. Klein, during U.S. Congress, House Committee on Education and Labor hearings,"Mayor and Superintendant Partnerships in Education: Closing the Achievement Gap," July 17, 2008 (retrieved August 26, 2008), http:// edlabor.house.gov/testimony/2008-07-17-JoelKlein.pdf, p. 3.
2. Testimony by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, during U.S. Congress, House Committee on Education and Labor hearings, "Mayor and Superintendant Partnerships in Education: Closing the Achievement Gap," July 17, 2008 (retrieved August 26, 2008), http://edlabor.house.gov/testimony/2008-07-17-Michael Bloomberg.pdf, p. 2.
3. Paul E. Barton, "The Right Way to Measure Growth," Educational Leadership December/January (2007), pp. 70-73; Andrew D. Ho, "The Problem with 'Proficiency': Limitations of Statistics and Policy Under No Child Left Behind," Educational Researcher 37 (2008), pp. 351-360; Daniel Koretz, Measuring Up:What Education Testing Really Tells Us (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2008); Robert L. Linn, "Validity of Inferences from Test-Based Educational Accountability Systems," Journal of Personnel Evaluation in Education 19 (2007), pp 5-15.
4. Ideally, we would be able to compare the test score distributions of the group— that is, compare average scale scores as well as differences between low-scoring White/Asian and Hispanic/Black students (i.e., students scoring at the 10th percentile of their respective groups) and differences between high-scoring students (i.e., students scoring at the 90th percentile of their respective groups). Unfortunately, New York City has not reported these data.
5. See, for example, Christopher Jencks and Meredith Phillips (editors), The Black- White Test Score Gap (Washington, DC: Brookings, 1998) and Roland Fryer and Steven Levitt,"The Black-White Test Score Gap Through Third Grade," American Law and Economics Review 8: 249-281. 6. This is assuming a normal distribution.
7. Though we would prefer to compare changes in the achievement gap in New York City from 1999-2003 and 2003-2008, the Department of Education has only released scale score data for different racial/ethnic groups from 2002-2008.
8. Elizabeth Green, "'Achievement Gap' in City Schools is Scrutinized: Slight Gains in English are Reported," New York Sun, August 5, 2008.
Arne Duncan and the Chicago Success Story:
Myth or Reality?
Spring 2009-- rethinkingschools.org
By Jitu Brown, Eric (Rico) Gutstein, and Pauline Lipman
When ex-President Bush was elected in 2000, he brought with him former Houston Superintendent of Education Rod Paige to be Secretary of Education. He also brought the "Texas miracle"—supposedly increased test scores attributed to Texas' strict accountability system. All eyes smiled on Texas as those measures quickly became part of No Child Left Behind, passed into law in 2001 by both political parties. Before the end of Bush's first term, Paige would leave in disgrace, thanks to revelations of cooked scores, forced-out students, and other barely legal means of inflating test results.
With the appointment by Barack Obama of Arne Duncan—a noneducator from the business sector who was Chicago's "chief executive officer"—as U.S. Secretary of Education, this phenomenon may repeat itself. For the past several years, Chicago's model of school closings and education privatization has received national attention as another beacon of urban education reform. This may have special relevance as the number of schools "identified for improvement" by NCLB criteria grows, numbering 11,547 nationally in the 2007-08 school year. Other school districts across the U.S. have already undertaken programs similar to Chicago's—New Orleans, in the wake of Katrina, has had a massive privatization of schools (see the special report on New Orleans in Rethinking Schools Vol. 21, No. 1), New York City has proposed closing and phasing out schools using criteria similar to Chicago's (e.g., test scores), and Philadelphia has followed suit as well, with a number of new charter schools. As Chicago Mayor Daley said in a 2006 press conference, "Together, in 12 years we have taken the Chicago Public School system from the worst in the nation to the national model for urban school reform." The Chicago Commercial Club's Renaissance Schools Fund Symposium, "Free to Choose, Free to Succeed: The New Market in Public Education," in May 2008, was attended by school officials from 15 states. The headline for a Dec. 30 article in the Washington Post claimed, "Chicago School Reform Could Be a U.S. Model." And outgoing Secretary Margaret Spellings praised Duncan as a national leader for his teacher incentive pay program.
However, Chicago school policy has not really been set by Duncan—Chicago's education agenda is bigger than him and is about more than schools. Of course, he brought to the job his own strengths and weaknesses, and undoubtedly his own perspectives. We do not argue with those who claim that there have been some constructive steps while Duncan was CEO of Chicago's schools. We recognize that his administration has responded to some initiatives that have emerged from the community and been organized by grassroots organizations. These include, for example, support for the state-funded Grow Your Own Teachers program, designed to recruit community members to be credentialed in order to teach in local schools and a program to help 8th graders make a smoother transition to high school. However, the larger agenda has been corporate and privatizing.
But Chicago Public Schools (CPS) policies are not really about Duncan or his successor. The biggest threat to finally achieving equitable and quality education in Chicago's low-income African American and Latino/a schools is not the individual who carries out the policy but a system of mayoral control and corporate power that locks out democracy. The impact of those policies includes thousands of children displaced by school closings, spiked violence as they transferred to other schools, and the deterioration of public education in many neighborhoods into a crisis situation.
So it is important to describe the agenda in which Duncan is complicit. Two powerful, interconnected forces drive education policy in the city: 1) Mayor Daley, who was given official authority over CPS by the Illinois State Legislature in 1995 and who appoints the CEO and the Board of Education, and 2) powerful financial and corporate interests, particularly the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago whose reports and direct intervention shape current policy. As Pauline documented in her book, High Stakes Education, the mayor and Civic Committee are operating from a larger blueprint to make Chicago a "world-class city" of global finance and business services, real estate development, and tourism, and education is part of this plan. Quality schools (and attractive housing) are essential to draw high-paid, creative workers for business and finance. Schools are also anchors in gentrifying communities and signals to investors of the market potential of new development sites. For Chicago's working-class and low-income communities, particularly those of color, this has meant gentrification and displacement, including of thousands of public housing residents. As in other U.S. cities, Chicago has also handed over public services (public housing, schools, public infrastructure) to the market and privatized them, and public education has been in the forefront. Although not the architect, Duncan has shown himself to be the central messenger, manager, and staunch defender of corporate involvement in, and privatization of, public schools, closing schools in low-income neighborhoods of color with little community input, limiting local democratic control, undermining the teachers union, and promoting competitive merit pay for teachers.
On the Ground in Chicago
CPS is the nation's third largest public school system, behind New York and Los Angeles. According to the CPS website, the slightly over 400,000 students attend around 655 schools (including 56 charter campuses), and are 46.5 percent African American, 39.1 percent Latino/a, 8.0 percent white, 3.5 percent Asian/Pacific Islander/Native American, and 2.9 percent multiracial. The student body is 85 percent low-income. Chicago's principals are majority African American (54.1 percent), and 13.2 percent Latino/a, and 31.3 percent white. The almost 25,000 teachers are 35.8 percent African American, 13.2 percent Latino/a, 47.3 percent white, and 3.7 percent Asian/Pacific Islander/Native American. And Chicago is well-known for having one of the most segregated school systems (and housing patterns) in the nation; literally hundreds of schools are 90 percent or more African American or Latino/a (e.g., 216 are 99 percent or more black!).
Let's separate myth from reality. The myth is that Chicago has created a new, innovative way to improve education—Renaissance 2010. The heroes in this myth are Mayor Daley, who introduced Renaissance 2010 in June 2004 at a Commercial Club event, and Arne Duncan, who oversaw its implementation and was its chief spokesperson. Renaissance 2010 was touted as the future of education in Chicago, with a plan to close 60 schools and open 100 new, state-of-the-art, 21st-century schools. These schools would be either small, charter, or contract schools. Renaissance 2010 was (and is) marketed as an opportunity to bring in new partners with creative approaches to education. That's the myth.
There is a completely different reality on the ground. For affected communities who have longed for change, Renaissance 2010 has been traumatic, largely ineffective, and destabilizing to communities owed a significant "education debt" (to quote Gloria Ladson-Billings) due to decades of being underserved.
The first phase of Renaissance 2010 was called the Mid-South Plan, announced in 2004. The Mid-South is a historic, primarily African American community on the South Side. It is also important to know that the Mid-South Plan ran parallel to the Chicago Housing Authority Plan for Transformation—the dismantling of public housing, a large concentration of which was in the Mid-South and on the African American West Side.
The Mid-South Plan was designed to close 20 of its 22 schools, almost entirely African American, over a four-year period, replacing them with Renaissance 2010 schools. Parents received notice from the Board the final day of school in 2004 that their children's schools were closing. Children have been treated as cattle, shuffled around from school to school. One Mid-South school, Doolittle East, received over 500 students from June to September 2005 without additional resources to facilitate this change. This resulted in spiked violence. On the west side, the closing of Austin High School (another African American school) resulted in over 100 students who used to walk to school having to leave their community to go to Roberto Clemente High School, a primarily Latino school over five miles away. The results were spiked violence. When Englewood High School closed in 2006, hundreds of students were parceled out to Robeson, Dyett, Hyde Park, and Hirsch High Schools—all are African American. The community warned CPS that these moves would result in increased violence and put children's lives at risk due to crossing neighborhood and gang boundaries. As usual, Duncan and CPS ignored community wisdom, and the results at all of these schools were destabilizing spikes in student violence.
Arne Duncan has overseen the beginning destruction of neighborhood schools with neighborhood students. Schools are no longer community pillars because many students no longer live in the area. When CPS closes schools and reopens them as Renaissance 2010 charter or contract schools, there is no guarantee or requirement that students who attended the old schools will go to the new ones—and many don't. For example, not all new schools are the same grade level as the old schools. There are complicated applications and deadlines, limits on enrollment, requirements of families, and informal selection processes that may disadvantage some students.
Families with multiple children who used to attend one school have had to scramble as schools close and their children are split up. Young children who walked to their neighborhood school have had to leave their community and cross heavily trafficked streets. Schools that are "turned around" terminate all adults in the building, including security, custodial, clerical, paraprofessional, and kitchen staff (as if they contributed to students' poor performance), causing severe dislocation and job loss in the community. Tenured teachers who are released are reassigned for 10 months as negotiated in the union contract. During this time, they receive their salary and benefits, sub some days of the week, and look for a position on other days. At the end of the 10 months if they have not found a position, they can be "honorably terminated." As one parent of a child in a closing school said, "when you close a school, you kill the heart of the community."
In a democratic society, instruments of engagement allow citizen voice in decision-making processes. In Chicago education, that instrument is Local School Councils (LSCs). The most powerful parent, community, and teacher, local-school, decision-making structures in the country, LSCs' responsibilities include hiring principals, monitoring budgets, and developing school improvement plans. With support, LSCs have demonstrated that they are effective models of local school decision-making. A 2005 Designs for Change study of 144 of the most successful neighborhood schools in Chicago serving primarily low-income students listed effective LSCs as a key reason for success. Despite this and other evidence documenting LSC effectiveness, CPS, under Duncan, has worked tirelessly to weaken LSCs by whittling away at their authority.
The LSCs came out of the grassroots movement to elect Harold Washington, Chicago's first black mayor, in 1983. Parents and community members across the city made alliances and worked with school reformers to fight for local school councils, which the state legislature created when they passed the 1988 Chicago School Reform Act. Chicago's LSCs are probably the most radical school reform in the country and are the largest body of elected, low-income people of color (especially women) in the United States.
In implementing Renaissance 2010, CPS ignored LSCs in the decision-making process. In many instances, the LSC at a school targeted for closure played a major role in the resistance to the school being closed. Why is CPS working to eliminate LSCs? Consider this: Chicago has almost 7,000 LSC members. If they were organized, they would be a major force in the struggle for equity in education. In fact, CPS has worked extremely hard to underserve LSCs. When LSCs started in 1988, CPS provided all the training to LSC members. However, over the years, literally thousands of LSC members have complained about that training. CPS provides no information on the general history of Chicago school reform, nor specifically how LSCs came into being as we explain above. CPS also does not provide any specific training to students on LSCs (each high school has one student member). In response, a number of community organizations have done their own, independent LSC training for years.
Duncan publicly stated in April 2007 that he wanted to break the "monopoly" of the LSCs, and in October 2007, Board of Education president Rufus Williams, in a speech to the City Club of Chicago—a major grouping of business people—likened LSCs running schools to having a chain of hotels being run by "those who sleep in the hotels." Nor is this attitude merely rhetorical. Until 2007, when public scrutiny exposed them, Duncan's office overseeing LSCs had a staff of 7 facilitators to train and develop LSCs at nearly 600 schools. This leaves LSCs operating at a structural deficit—set up to fail.
In a democracy there must be opportunities to impact decision-making. CPS has refined sham hearings to a twisted art form. When schools are slated to close, CPS is supposed to hold public hearings (which Duncan never attended) so that a hearing officer and board members (who almost never attend) can engage the school community and listen to their rationale as to why the school should not be closed, or other alternatives should be explored. In virtually every case, parents, students, teachers, and community pour out their hearts. In many cases, they document how their school has been drastically underserved by CPS or that their school has consistently improved. Tears are shed out of fear for their children's safety or the destruction of a family atmosphere in a school building; yet the CPS Board—on Duncan's recommendation—consistently votes unanimously to close the school. This has prompted a revitalized effort by community members and organizations to remove the mayor's authority to appoint the CEO and the school board and move towards an elected school board.
Militarizing Public Education
To justify Renaissance 2010, Duncan has been a strong proponent of school choice—including military schools. He was quoted in the Nov. 2, 2007, issue of USA Today saying: "These are positive learning environments. I love the sense of leadership. I love the sense of discipline."
According to the CPS website, Chicago has "the largest JROTC program in the country in number of cadets and total programs." CPS has five military high schools, more than any city in the nation, and 21 "middle school cadet corps" programs. The military high schools teach military history and have military-style discipline. Students wear military uniforms, do military drills, and participate in summer boot camps. The hierarchical authority structure mirrors the Army, Navy, and Marines, with new students ("cadets") under the command of senior students who work their way up and require obedience from those in "lower ranks." Like in the military itself, questioning, let alone challenging, authority is not looked upon kindly. In a city where barely 50 percent of entering high school students graduate (Swanson, 2008), and in a country involved in two wars, the option of military service tempts many, especially in a period of economic crisis. All but one of the military high schools are in African American communities, and all the middle school cadet programs are in overwhelmingly black or Latina/o schools. The rapid increase in these programs has occurred largely under Duncan's watch, and CPS plans additional ones in the future.
Narrowing the Curriculum
Although gutting bilingual education, curtailing culturally relevant and critical pedagogies, and teaching to the test were byproducts of Chicago's high-stakes accountability policies before Duncan, since he took over, accountability has increased. Before Duncan, schools could be put on probation and have external partners forced upon them, but now schools are phased out, closed, or "turned around" by private contractors (some funded by the Gates Foundation). In the turn-around model, everyone is removed from their position, from principal to custodial workers. Accountability measures drastically increase pressure to do well on standardized tests. "Extracurriculars" rapidly disappear, like art, physical education, and recess, as reported in an Aug. 25, 2008, Chicago Sun Times article.
Attacking the CTU
Two thirds of the 76 Renaissance 2010 schools are charter or contract schools. Not only do charter schools (since 2003) need only 50 percent certified teachers, but their teachers cannot be part of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) bargaining unit of 32,000 members. As one might expect, the union opposes Renaissance 2010. Contract school teachers can join the CTU—but only if their administration permits it. Chicago is losing its certified, union teachers as schools are closed or "turned around," and displaced teachers with long-time seniority are becoming common. At a January 10, 2009, public forum on school closings attended by 500 people, veteran and award-winning teachers testified that they had lost their jobs through school closings and had not been rehired. As it is, charter schools pay thousands of dollars less, on average, for teachers with equal longevity, and many new schools substitute younger, less-expensive teachers for veteran, experienced union members.
Chicago's policies have no doubt influenced Obama's recommendations to double charter-school funding, institute merit pay for teachers, and emphasize standards and accountability. With Duncan as Secretary of Education, Chicago's so-called successes and model of privatization, disinvestment, corporate/charter schools, and neighborhood school closings linked to displacement will garner attention and likely shape the discourse, policy, and practices of the Department of Education for the nation's schools. Since Duncan was an eloquent proponent of all these in Chicago, we should assume that he would continue to be so—unless other voices make themselves heard.
Lessons from Chicago
Every time CPS proposes closing a neighborhood school, Chicago parents, teachers, and students organize, resist, and fight hard. Across the city, for the past several years, at every so-called hearing CPS has organized, the community turns out to fight—not for school choice and Renaissance 2010 schools, but for quality schools with qualified, conscious, caring teachers and adequate resources, in the existing school buildings in their neighborhood. Chicago's experiences demonstrate that when people organize around their needs, victories can be won. Community organizations and residents, joined by progressive teacher and school reform groups, fought back and derailed most of the plan to close 20 of the 22 schools in the Mid-South (see "We're Not Blind. Just Follow the Dollar Sign," Rethinking Schools, Vol. 19, No. 4). But we have also seen the school closings shift to other parts of the city, some of which are less organized.
This speaks to how we understand our current tasks. We know that we have to continue to be involved in local educational issues while demanding that our communities be paid the education debt they are owed. And with the Obama administration, we should open the window of opportunity to demand that education be a top-tier issue in the U.S.
But we also understand two other key points. First, while we fight hard against educational privatization as well as displacement, we have to collectively develop a positive alternative, a strong and unifying vision of what education should be and a program that makes it real. We have to work for, and rally people around, what they themselves have repeatedly expressed—quality schools in every neighborhood that any resident can attend, adequate and equitable funding, qualified and caring teachers, genuine opportunity for parent input and decision-making, smaller class sizes, multiple and authentic assessments, and socially just and culturally relevant curriculum that prepares students to take their rightful place as makers of history and actors in the world. A critical means to this end is a community-based, democratic process of school improvement.
Second, it will take a social movement to push this agenda, no matter who is in the White House and Office of Secretary of Education. Our experiences and observations tell us that genuine partnerships between educators and engaged communities, and links between community wisdom and academic knowledge, can contribute to this social movement. We cannot build toward education for social justice without real partnerships in which teachers understand that their interests and those of their students' neighborhoods are fundamentally aligned and that they need to express real solidarity with the ongoing struggles of those communities. This is needed not only to defend but also to transform public education in the real interests of all students, families, and their communities.
Designs for Change (2005). The big picture: School-initiated reforms, centrally initiated reforms, and elementary school achievement in Chicago (1990 to 2005). Chicago: Author.
Swanson, C. B. (2008). Cities in crisis: A special analytic report on high school graduation. Bethesda, MD: Editorial Projects in Education, Inc.
From the Authors
Jitu, Rico, and Pauline are all involved in studying education in Chicago and in grassroots education struggles with youth, families, community members, teachers, and administrators. The analysis that we develop in this article is based on our shared knowledge and experiences. Our collaboration over the past five years, based on mutual respect and learning, solidarity, and shared political understandings, redefines traditional relationships between academics and community organizers. We believe that these kinds of principled relationships across boundaries are part of what is needed to win the fight for education justice.
Eric (Rico) Gutstein (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Pauline Lipman (email@example.com) are activist-scholars in Chicago. Rico also teaches high school math. Jitu Brown is a community organizer with the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization. He can be reached at 773-548-7500.
The Corporatization of Public Education
Wednesday 15 April 2009
by: Andy Kroll, t r u t h o u t | Perspective
Education Secretary Arne Duncan
Education Secretary Arne Duncan's pledge to put more big-city mayors in charge of their school districts would exclude democratic forms of school governance and let big businesses decide the fate of public schools.
Before an audience of big-city mayors and school superintendents in late March, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan offered an early - and troubling - indication of his vision for the future of public K-12 education in the United States. Duncan told audience members at the Mayors' National Forum on Education in Washington, DC, that more mayors need to take control of low-performing, urban school districts, and that he was prepared to do whatever it takes to shift leadership of urban districts from school boards to City Halls. "I'll come to your cities. I'll meet with your editorial boards. I'll talk with your business communities," Duncan said. "I will be there."(1)
Right now, seven major cities have complete mayoral control over their public school systems, including Washington, DC; New York, and Chicago, where Duncan spent eight years as the CEO of the Chicago Public Schools system working under Mayor Richard Daley. These districts under mayoral control, Duncan explained, are more stable and benefit from stronger leadership. "Part of the reason urban education has struggled historically is you haven't had that leadership from the top," Duncan said. "Where you've seen real progress in the sense of innovation, guess what the common denominator is? Mayoral control."
For those familiar with Duncan's controversial legacy in Chicago, one that emphasized the privatization and militarization (2) of that city's mayor-led public schools, Duncan's vow to give more big-city mayors control over their city's schools is a worrying harbinger of reforms to come. His vocal support of mayoral control in underperforming urban school districts looks an awful lot like an attempt to replicate the Chicago education model of shuttering public schools, replacing them with privatized or militarized schools, shutting out teachers' unions and taking power away from community members and citizens - all on the recommendation of the city's corporate elite - on a national scale.
This is hardly the kind of "change" needed to boost student achievement, encourage more young people to become teachers and turn around this country's underperforming schools. Instead of empowering local school boards in urban districts to better govern their schools, promoting mayoral control of schools would likely consolidate power in the hands of a single leader - and a politician at that, someone beholden to wealthy supporters and special interests, always with an eye on reelection. By giving more big-city mayors control over their school districts, Duncan is essentially handing that control to the corporate elite of these big cities to craft educational reforms with their own interests in mind.
Look no further than Chicago's divisive Renaissance 2010 reform model for evidence of why increased mayoral control is a poor idea. The centerpiece education reform for both Mayor Daley and former Chicago Public Schools CEO Duncan, Renaissance 2010 is a sweeping program that seeks to close underperforming schools or schools with low enrollment and replace them with multiple new, smaller, "entrepreneurial" schools. Many of these new Renaissance 2010 schools are "contract" or charter schools operated by independent nonprofit organizations which can - and mostly do - eliminate the teachers' union. What's more, these nonprofit organizations can, in turn, outsource management of their new schools to for-profit education management organizations, privatizing what used to be a public school.
Under Daley and Duncan's Renaissance 2010, elected local school councils, made up of democratically elected community leaders and parents, have lost much of their influence. Many Renaissance 2010 schools can opt out of having local school councils, choking off a community's ability to govern its schools. Largely replacing these councils is the Renaissance Schools Fund, a body comprised of unelected business leaders, the school system's CEO, and the Chicago Board of Education president. Once described as a "secret cabinet,"(3) this group of Chicago's corporate elite selects and evaluates new Renaissance 2010 schools and decides how much or how little funding they receive. With new schools competing against each other for limited resources doled out by the Renaissance Schools Fund, it ensures that while some schools in this us-versus-them system will succeed and receive funding, others will be left behind in crumbling facilities with fewer resources and fewer talented teachers.
Though Mayor Daley first announced(4) the Renaissance 2010 plan in a major press conference in 2004, it was by no means his idea. As DePaul University Professor Kenneth Saltman writes, the Commercial Club of Chicago, a long-standing organization of the city's most powerful corporations, had given the plan to Daley, who, at the unveiling event for Renaissance 2010 hosted by the Commercial Club, essentially repeated back what he had been given. "Business power in the city," Saltman writes, "spoke through the mayor."(5)
Thus, by saying he wants to give more mayors control over their schools, Duncan could very well open the door for big businesses to assume de facto control over schools. It happened on his watch in Chicago, where the corporate elite simply used the mayor and his authority over the school system as an avenue to privatize and militarize Chicago's schools under the guise of Renaissance 2010, a program that so far has seen, at best, very mixed results.
In New York City, schools chancellor Joel Klein, an appointee of Mayor Michael Bloomberg who controls the city's school district, has been criticized by politicians and citizens alike for his inaccessibility and lack of accountability. At a hearing of the New York State Assembly's Education Committee on February 6, an assemblywoman said the hearing was the first time in four years the committee had been able to question Klein. William Thompson Jr., the New York City comptroller, was more pointed in his remarks to Klein. "Failure to involve parents in the education policy process has reinforced a widespread perception that the department is arrogant and out of touch." Thompson said. "With its top-down approach, the current administration has sought to avoid debate and public scrutiny, while fundamental decisions regarding reform have been made by executives with no education background."(6)
And it's not only big businesses and wealthy individuals that see mayoral control over schools as an opportunity to push an agenda of privatization and increased competition among schools, either. The Broad Foundations, which supports school districts using charter management organizations and performance-based compensation models, sees a common thread running through the districts in which it invests. "We have found that the conditions to dramatically improve K-12 education are often ripe under mayoral or state control," the foundations' 2008 annual report said.(7)
There's no question that wide-ranging changes are needed in our schools. American students continue to fall behind their international peers in assessments like the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, which provides data on the math and science achievement of fourth and eighth graders in the US and abroad.(8) But is giving mayors more control over underperforming urban school districts the answer? A step in the right direction even? Put simply, it's hard to see how sweeping aside more democratic forms of school governance and transferring that power to unaccountable corporate leaders and school chancellors and politicians, all of whom appear to favor privatizing public schools, eliminating teachers' unions and treating young people like customers, will improve our public school systems and empower our students and teachers.
(1) Libby Quaid, "School chief: Mayors need control of urban schools," The Associated Press (March 31, 2009). http://www.kansascity.com/440/story/1116083.html
(2) Andy Kroll, "The Duncan Doctrine: The Military-Corporate Legacy of the New Secretary of Education," TomDispatch.com (January 18, 2009). http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175022/andy_kroll_will_public_education_be_militarized_
(3) Pauline Lipman, "From Accountability to Privatization and African American Exclusion: Chicago's 'Renaissance 2010'," Educational Policy (April 24, 2007). http://epx.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/21/3/471
(4) "Mayor Daley Announces Renaissance 2010 Neighborhood Schools Program," City of Chicago (June 24, 2004). http://egov.cityofchicago.org:80/city/webportal/portalContentItemAction.do?blockName=Mayors+Office%2fJune%2fI+Want+To&deptMainCategoryOID=-536882034&channelId=0&programId=0&entityName=Mayors+Office&topChannelName=Dept&contentOID=536909820&Failed_Reason=Invalid+timestamp,+engine+has+been+restarted&contenTypeName=COC_EDITORIAL&com.broadvision.session.new=Yes&Failed_Page=%2fwebportal%2fportalContentItemAction.do&context=dept
(5) Kenneth J. Saltman, "Chapter 3: Renaissance 2010 and No Child Left Behind Capitalizing on Disaster: Taking and Breaking Public Schools" (Boulder: Paradigm Publishers, 2007).
(6) Jennifer Medina, "Klein Defends Mayoral Control of Public Schools," The New York Times (February 6, 2009). http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/07/education/07klein.html?emc=rss&partner=rss
(7) "The Broad Foundations 2008 annual report," (2008). http://www.broadfoundation.org/asset/101-124-2008tbfsannualreportfinal.pdf
(8) Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), National Center for Education Statistics. http://nces.ed.gov/timss/index.asp
Andy Kroll is a writer based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and a soon-to-be graduate of the University of Michigan. His writing has appeared at TomDispatch.com, TheNation.com, Alternet.org, CNN.com and Salon, among other places. He welcomes feedback, and can be reached at his web site.