|Democracy Now! had a segment this week, "Education Secretary Arne Duncan Pushes to Aggressively Expand Charter Schools While Admitting Problems". They played some clips of Duncan addressing the annual gathering of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools in Washington, DC, and they spoke with one of the lead authors of the CREDO report, Kenneth Surratt. Both sort of half-heartedly tried to spin things, but didn't really seem that bothered with all the egg on their faces. Bob Peterson, founding editor of Rethinking Schools was their other guest, and Gerald Bracey posted at Huffington Post, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/... in his inimitable manner. A few scattered jewels from these various venues:
Democracy Now tape:
ARNE DUNCAN: The CREDO report last week was absolutely a wake-up call, even if you dispute some of its conclusions or its language. The charter movement is putting itself at risk by allowing too many second-rate and even third-rate schools to continue to exist. Your goal should always be quality, not quantity.
Charter authorizers need to do a better job of holding schools accountable, and the charter schools need to support them loudly and sincerely. I absolutely applaud the work that the Alliance is doing with the National Association of Charter Schools Authorizers to strengthen academic and operational quality. We need that. We also need to be willing to hold low-performing charters accountable.
Well, problem solved. Thank goodness for that!
An illuminating interchange from Democracy Now:
KENNETH SURRATT: The major finding is that, on average, charter school students in the sixteen states that we looked at are performing a little bit below their traditional public school peers.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And, Bob Peterson, could you expand on that? Because that is definitely going against the grain of what most charter school-the charter school movement is telling the public.
BOB PETERSON: Yeah. I think it's really important to see that, on page thirty-two of their report, they reported that black and Hispanic students scored significantly lower in charter schools, significantly lower than their counterparts in public schools. That's just in math and reading.
[BOB PETERSON: (cont)] I mean, there's good charter schools, and there's bad charter schools, just like there's good public schools and bad public schools. The question is whether or not charter schools can be an engine for reform of public education. Obama and Duncan seem to think so. I'd completely disagree.
AMY GOODMAN: Kenneth Surratt, this report that you came out with, it was more being framed by Arne Duncan that there are some problem schools. But the fact that your report found that, on average, kids in these schools across the country are doing worse, isn't this a major blow to the charter school movement?
KENNETH SURRATT: I don't think so. One of the findings-we looked at over 2,400 schools within our study, and on average-and we did what we call a quality curve, and 46 percent of the charter schools are doing statistically insignificant differently than their traditional public school peers. Seventeen percent are outperforming. But the sobering part is that 37 percent are underperforming compared to their peers.
But, you know, what we feel is that charters, once they get back to this focus of the trade-off that they had for flexibility, for accountability, you know, and closing those underperforming schools and finding ways to replicate the higher-performing ones, that the movement could continue to grow.
No one really doubts that the movement could continue to grow. Deregulation continued to grow after the S&L debacle, abject failure never stops the growth of conservative policy agendas. There just too much money at stake. But there's just no reason even attempted to explain why it should be easier to improve charter schools as a whole than it is to improve public schools.
Seems like someone wasn't paying attention during his lessons on critical thinking.
Here's Bracey, commenting on one of the more fatuous things Duncan had to say:
Duncan: "We also need to work together to help people better understand charters. Many people equate charters with privatization, and part of the problem is that some charters overtly separate themselves from the surrounding district. This is why opponents often say that charters take money away from public schools. And we all know that's absolutely misleading."
No, Arne, we don't all know that because it's not true. Some, and Arne appears to be one of them, contend that since charter schools are public schools, then Q.E.D., they don't take money away from the publics. The more usual argument is that the money going to charters is offset by reduced costs at the remaining public schools. But this is not the case. It might be true if all the kids going to the charter left from Mrs. Smith's class in P. S. 101. Then we could fire Mrs. Smith. Even so, the school operating costs, transportation costs, administrative costs, etc., would remain the same. But, in fact, maybe only 3 kids leave from Mrs. Smith's class. Because money is allocated on a per-pupil basis, that's three fewer allocations. Costs are not lowered but resources are reduced. And if the three kids return to the pubic school, as happens in many cases, the money does not come back with them.
See, the problem is that charter schools are all about marketing. And marketing means short, zippy, memorable sentences. The failure of charter schools is all about facts. And facts take longer sentences, usually less zippy and less memorable. It's almost like you might be tested afterwards to see if you actually were listeninig. But all that boring droning on that Bracey did is basically telling you how charter schools are raiding the public till.
Gosh, if only Dillinger had been that boring, he could have robbed banks until he was rich enough to own one!
And from Rethinking Schools, "Arne Duncan and the Chicago Success Story: Myth or Reality?" here's a few choice passages:
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."
Of course, as the CREDO report just shows, being a national model doesn't mean the thing you're pushing actually works.
It does work, of course. Just not for educating children, especially blacks and Latinos. But for furthering corporate profits as part of corporate-friendly economic development scams?
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.
Education for the corporate elite, and the children of its professional workforce. For the working class communities that once lived in the newly liberated zones? Not so much:
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....
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!)....
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."
It's pretty clear who counts and who doesn't. This is Republican governance done right. And since Republicans don't believe in governance anymore, they have to get the Democrats to do it for them.