Sunday, December 22, 2013

Will Memphis Parents Turn Their Children Over to Corporate Charter Schools?

Unless the public stops the corrupt capitulation by Memphis politicians to the Gates agenda for privatizing American schools, the children of Memphis will soon become the educational property of corporate charter schools that receive public money to subject the poorest children to their cultural and behavioral neutering programs.  Here is a telling chunk of a piece on the developments in New Orleans, whose Recovery School District was the model used Tennessee's Tea Party hustlers:

. . . . Of the 89 public schools in New Orleans, only five will not be charters next fall, all under the local Orleans Parish School Board. The city already has by far the highest charter school enrollment in the country, with 85 percent of its public school students in the schools, which are publicly funded but run by largely independent boards.
The state's decision to go all-charter in New Orleans has implications for the rest of Louisiana. Dobard said the Recovery School District would run fewer and fewer schools in Louisiana, and would either close schools or do full-school charter transformations rather than trying to gradually phase out schools, because district officials have learned that doesn't work.
And it has implications for the rest of the country as well, because the system has become a national example. Tennessee and Michigan have created their own state takeover districts, and other states are considering it.
Michael Petrilli, executive vice president of the conservative Fordham Institute think tank, marveled at the news. "Don't mess with success!" he said. "We will now have a full experiment" for others to learn from. "There will be important lessons -- once the charter sector is the main game in town."
The Recovery School District was created in Louisiana in 2003 to transform persistently failing schools. It started small in New Orleans, taking and chartering only five of the many eligible schools. However, Hurricane Katrina triggered a massive takeover: All but 17 of the city's schools were handed over to the state. And while the initial goal was to create charters, the system found itself having to open and run schools to meet demand. At its peak, the Recovery School District ran 34 schools directly.
The balance began to shift, however, as the charter community's capacity increased. This year, the system has five traditional schools and 59 charter schools. The Recovery School District also runs or oversees schools in Shreveport, Pointe Coupee, St. Helena and East Baton Rouge.
Dobard acknowledged that he had previously promised Carver and Reed juniors they would be able to graduate with their class in June 2015. However, he said administrators realized that gradually cutting down the schools grade by grade wasn't giving anyone a good experience. Reed was unable to field a football team this September, and the schools cannot offer a full range of classes.
Discussion has raged this month about the future of Sarah T. Reed, with community members pleading with the Orleans Parish School Board to find a way to take the school back and keep it open.
Still, "I don't anticipate much pushback, if any, because everyone is expecting it," Dobard said. "Everyone knows the transition was happening. The transition is just happening a year earlier."
Alumni and some community members have decried the loss of many of the city's historic high schools, which the Recovery School District has closed, merged or never reopened after the storm, including L.E. Rabouin, John F. Kennedy and Booker T. Washington.
Dobard emphasized that neither Reed nor Carter is disappearing. Two new charters are operating in eastern New Orleans under the Carver imprimatur: Carver Collegiate Academy and Carver Preparatory Academy. Design work will start this winter on the new Carver High School campus in the Desire area.
As for Reed, Dobard said there would be a school in that building in the long term. "We want to create a great high school at the Sarah T. Reed site," he said. No charter operator has been chosen; Dobard said he is open to talking with the School Board or anyone who has a plan. KIPP Renaissance will continue to use the Reed building temporarily next year.
At least one force behind the Reed protests still felt optimistic. "It's definitely a setback for us, for the community, but we're very hopeful for the future of Sarah T. Reed," said Minh Nguyen, director of the Vietnamese American Youth Leaders Association. He said they looked forward to developing a vision for the school with the Recovery School District and Orleans Parish School Board.
Petrilli, of the Fordham Institute, said the Recovery School District has succeeded in improving education in New Orleans, and also has made important strides toward guaranteeing fairness, including equal opportunity for students in special education to choose their schools. "These leaders in New Orleans have been very thoughtful about the infrastructure you need to make this kind of a system work well," he said.
He foresaw the same all-charter future for other school systems that are leaning heavily toward charters, including Detroit, Washington D.C. and possibly Kansas City. "New Orleans is getting there first, but I'm suspecting it won't be the only one" in five years, Petrilli said.
Taking the local perspective, advocate Karran Harper Royal thought the decisions showed "a total disrespect" for children in the Village de l'Est neighborhood of eastern New Orleans, where Reed is located. "This is a clear indication of how the Recovery School District in New Orleans is not listening to the public," she said. "I guess this is what you get when you don't have elected control of your school dollars."
The Recovery School District is nominally overseen by the partially elected, partially appointed state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. . . . .

Friday, December 6, 2013

SCS Cry about Reading Problems As They Hand Over Schools to Corporate Charters Without Libraries or Librarians

Having handed over 29 public schools to charter reform schools without libraries or librarians, and with 8 more on the way by 2015, Superintendent Dorsey Hopson and the Shelby County School Board all of sudden have noticed that these children are far behind in reading.  Since poor children get their books more often from libraries, and since the research has demonstrated over the past 25 years that schools with library programs and librarians have more proficient readers than school that don't (go figure!), it should not come as a surprise to anyone that Shelby County's plan to cut librarians to pay for corporate charter schools without libraries is about the worst policy decision that the Gates Foundation could come up with for the rubber stamps on the school board to implement.

And yet there is much gnashing of teeth and beating of chests at the school board, not to mention new "moral imperatives" around literacy.  Superintendent Hopson has even gone so far as to notice “there’s a parade of horribles that goes along with kids who can’t read by the time they leave third grade.”  What Hopson apparently has not noticed is the parade of horribles (no jobs, hope, respect, housing, safety, etc.) that predict the future of impoverished three-year-olds long before they even enter school in the segregated Bluff City of King Cotton where politicians continue to thump their chests about "moral imperatives" while ignoring the vestiges of slavery.

When you read the reporter's account below, you have to wonder how deep the disconnect can get and how ethically blind and humanly callous the corporate ideology can express itself.  Is autonomy within schools really the answer to literacy problems, or is it an easy way of washing your hands clean of the problem when you know the newly "autonomous" charter schools will get rid of the school librarian to put more money into the school CEO's pocket?  Are "literacy coaches" with clip boards and fascist efficiency goals preferable to caring, mature librarians who know how to connect children with great books?  What can we expect from "pilot" interventions by the University of Memphis, where the Gospel According to Gates rules? And which slime balls from the education industry are selling their oppressive scripted bullshit lessons to the newly-concerned Shelby County School Board?  How much stupider to the effects of segregation and poverty can politicians get?

. . . .“We have a problem,” Deputy Superintendent David Stephens, who is leading the literacy effort, told school board members last month at their first briefing on the plan that is still taking shape. “To me it’s a moral imperative for every one of us to say that every one of our third-graders, by the time they leave third grade, they are going to be proficient or advanced.”
The first look was also Superintendent Dorsey Hopson’s first indication that the pursuit of that goal will mean changes in the school system’s budget that starts to take shape in the spring.
Hopson has repeatedly made a simple statement of a basic problem even more basic.
“Our kids can’t read,” he has said numerous times since this year’s Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program test scores showed that on average only 36 percent of students in the district are proficient in reading and language arts.
“When you dive deeper in the numbers and look at the areas with a higher poverty rate … the numbers are more like 28 percent proficient,” Hopson told the school board last month. “There’s a parade of horribles that goes along with kids who can’t read by the time they leave third grade.”
And Hopson has been equally blunt about the price tag for a comprehensive intervention in classrooms to raise the percentage as well as efforts outside classrooms and that bring volunteers into classrooms.
“At the end of the day, the school district has resources to do some of this, but it’s going to take much more,” he said. “We need everybody to roll up their sleeves.”
School board member David Pickler urged the board in its upcoming budget season to use “a different lens and decide what business we are in.”
“Clear the landscape and put sufficient resources into making this a reality,” he added. “This has got to be a focus that brings everyone together. It’s got to transcend urban and suburban.”
School board member Billy Orgel said there should at least be an assistant for teachers in every school. But he also said budgets to carry out the goal of third-grade proficiency shouldn’t be the same from school to school.
“The pushback that we’re going to get is we can’t fund that,” he said. “Why do we have the same treatment at a 2 percent proficient school that we do at an 80 percent proficient school? All budgets for these schools should not be equal.”
Hopson agreed, citing the need for more autonomy at schools.
“Teaching reading is rocket science,” said Dr. Linda Kennard, Shelby County Schools director of curriculum and instruction. “This is tough work.” [Very interesting meeting minutes here involving Dr. Kennard]
The move toward more specific instruction for teachers on how to teach a classroom of students with varying levels of reading proficiency began this past summer. From the teachers who took part in that summer training, the school system is now offering the same training at all of its Innovation Zone Schools and 23 high priority schools where student achievement levels remain low. When the current school year ends, the same training will be offered to all Shelby County Schools teachers.
The other measures being considered include adding a literacy coach to the school system’s coaching model and coming up with a common assessment every three weeks or so focused on the literacy skills of students in kindergarten through third grade.
Classroom observations of teachers that are part of teacher evaluations could shift to make half of the observations in reading for teachers who teach all subjects and the observation standards would include specific “look fors” in the way the teachers tackle reading.
A small-scale “team read” program at Treadwell Elementary School in which volunteers help with vocabulary could expand. [Suggested additions to vocal list: exploitation, oppression, apartheid, marginalization]
Outside the teacher-student relationship, Kennard said the school system is considering items like sponsors to provide incentives to students for meeting reading goals, a literacy calendar for parents and nonprofit literacy organizations to show activities for each week of the year and parental training on literacy outside the school day.

Kennard said the University of Memphis education college is proposing a partnership on literacy efforts that could begin as a pilot program. . . .

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Harry and the Common Core

A couple of nights ago I was at a small gathering where Harry's mom was responding to comments about how much Harry, now "five and a half" as he is quick to tell you, has shot up in the past few months.

Oh, he's doing great, says Harry's mom, except for a bit of a dexterity problem in his hands.  

And how do we know of this problem?  It has been pointed out by Harry's kindergarten teacher when he does his practice tests by clicking with the mouse pointer.  (Unlike most of Tennessee's schools, Harry's Germantown school already has all the technology in place that will be needed to take all the new tests online).

And since the tests are timed, well, any glitch in Harry's motor skills can bring down his score on the real test later on, which can bring down his teacher's evaluation scores, and you see where this is going.

Harry's mom is learning a great deal, too, during his first year of school.  She has learned already of something called the Common Core that makes it necessary for the kindergarten teachers to eliminate nap time in order to get across all those skills that Harry is doing his best at clicking in to prove he has learned them.  She has learned of the detailed report cards that have noted how Harry does not track the teacher at all times and that he prefers to do things at his own pace.  Areas to work on, the teacher says.

Harry's mom and the other moms are not happy about the loss of nap time and all the practice testing.  The children come home tired and cranky and not up to enjoying play and family time.

Without looking up from his Legos over near the fireplace, Harry says, "I don't like hands, but I like football."

Monday, December 2, 2013

Why I Won't Be Buying a Subaru in Memphis or Anywhere Else

A letter I sent to a very nice salesman at the Memphis Subaru dealership this morning:


Dear David,

I saw a friend the other night who bought a new Subaru from you earlier this Fall, and I was admiring his car.  With one of my cars on the verge of needing a new timing belt, I was planning to visit your place just after the Christmas rush to take advantage, perhaps, of any kind of year-end deals.  

All that changed, however, when I saw the Subaru ad yesterday that listed the miseducative outfit, Teach for America, as a recipient of your corporate giving program. Because TFA is one of the most destructive corporate education reform initiatives yet established to further limit access of urban children to the possibility of mature caring teachers, I wanted to let you know that I won't be visiting your showroom. You see, I am an educator who believes that untrained corporate temps are not the solution to the problems facing poor urban and rural public schools.

Just as I do not buy my groceries or incidentals at Walmart because of their TFA sponsorship, and just as I do not send my goods via FedEx because of their TFA support, I will not be test driving or buying a new Subaru--even though I like your product line very much.  

If your company wants to do something for education and children, Subaru might consider offering teacher education scholarships for the best, brightest, and poorest minority students to become professional teachers, ones with some real understanding of the challenges of being poor, rather than the cultivated misunderstanding of white post-adolescent missionaries coached to believe that their privileged guilt naturally carries with it some superior capacity to cure cancer with aspirin.  

Or better yet--your company may consider relocating some of your Subaru production to areas of America where large swaths of our population are contained by joblessness, racism, and a loss of hope.  Now that would be some real teaching for America that could yield benefits beyond what we mere educators could ever accomplish.

Jim Horn

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Selmer Teacher Speaks Out

Jeff Lipford
Selmer, Tenn.
As a lifelong educator who has taught in public schools for almost 28 years, I find it very troubling to see what is happening in public education in regard to assessing students. We need to re-evaluate what we are doing in Tennessee.
At a recent public forum in Jackson, students and parents told of testing anxiety to the point that children were becoming physically ill from the pressure to do well on standardized tests. Teachers expressed concern about the amount of time spent preparing students for the tests. In many cases, as much as six weeks of instruction time is lost to preparing students for standardized tests.
I believe that Tennessee is spending too much time and money on testing. Tennessee spent $40 million on testing in 2013 and with the new PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career) assessment for the Common Core standards the cost will rise. All of these tax dollars for testing are going to out-of-state vendors rather than staying in our state to help children.
In addition to being a teacher, I am also a county commissioner. My county could use more help from the state in providing just the basics that our students need, such as textbooks, technology, science labs, career technology programs and buildings.
I work at a school that has as many as 15 floating teachers in any given year because there are not enough classrooms. Tennessee’s school reforms are placing more of the funding burden on local government and limit our ability to provide basic services.

I am not opposed to assessments, but it has clearly gotten out of hand. Assessments shouldn’t be the sole indicator of success. Most of the school reform is being advocated by outside sources that will benefit financially. The quality and depth of learning are being sacrificed in Tennessee for an assessment score. That is a shame. Why not take a more safe approach in implementing proven educational policies, and then fund them accordingly? Nothing will change until parents begin to say enough is enough.