The following is a speech that I never got to finish last Fall, as the Shelby County Schools were contemplating the latest plans to turn over public schools to the skinheads of the Achievement School District.
Since 2009 when Bill Gates bought his way into Memphis with $90 million, the business plan for Memphis schools has been based on public school closures and corporate charter start-ups and takeovers to replace them. A dozen schools are on the hit list for the coming year, and the charter operators are lined up waiting for the buildings to become empty. Parents and teachers, however, are not nearly as uninformed as county officials who are doing the Gates dirty work believe.
In fact, they know how the charter school takeover cycle works. They know that first you need public schools isolated by years of neglect, segregation, and poverty--schools that everyone outside the affected communities would rather forget about. Memphis has an ample supply of these schools in the poorest neighborhoods, and politicians are eager to make them someone else’s responsibility.
These neighborhood schools make easy targets for profiteers and politicians convinced (or pretending to believe) that these public schools have low test scores because of lazy teachers, public bureaucracy, unconcerned parents, unions, or other reasons having nothing do with the reality of poverty, racism, or a sordid history of inequality.
Since 2002, NCLB’s impossible demand for schools to reach 100 percent proficiency manufactured a state of crisis for public education, beginning with the poorest schools where students’ scores were the lowest.
Parents who could afford to moved or sent their children to schools not in the dreaded “Needs Improvement” zones, thus leaving the poorest schools with smaller and academically weaker student populations and with even less capacity to make test score targets. Further deprived, then, these schools are eventually labeled “underperforming” and “priority,” thus clearing the way for school closure.
Waiting in the wings are the corporate operators and their manager, the ASD, ready to open total compliance charter schools staffed with temporary corporate missionaries from Teach for America, or one of the other organizations that emulate the TFA practice of placing white privileged young women with 20 days of classroom practice and no teacher prep into schools that require the most professional and mature teachers.
With empty buildings from the lowest scoring public schools scheduled to sit idle, the charter operators step up to claim them by offering a token payment to the County.
Further weakening of the surviving schools comes from further austerity measures by the County to pay the $9,500 for every student lost to a charter school. If another 2,000 students are lost to new charters next year in Memphis, that amounts to $11,400,000 leaving the public schools and going to corporate welfare charter operators getting rich on public money. Meanwhile, the SCS deficit is used to justify more cuts and further weakening of the surviving public school’s capacity to meet testing expectations.
None of this planned austerity is a surprise. In 2012, the Transition Planning Commission Report predicted a $212 million hole in Shelby County's school budget from charter expansion in 2016. That $212 million will be headed into the pockets of out-of-state corporate charter operators:
However, with the projected share of students in non-district operated schools [will be] expanding rapidly in the next few years—from approximately 4% in FY2012 to 19% by FY2016 (equivalent to approximately $212M of revenues shifted to charter schools and the ASD in FY2016). . .
With a State and federal commitment to close the bottom five percent of schools each year based on invalid, unreliable, and unfair test scores, it is easy to see that there will be a continuing supply of bottom five percent-ers until all public schools labeled for corporate reform takeover are “turned around,” or turned over.
I am reading this now because some of you are new to the Board, and some of you continue to pretend to be ignorant about what is going on, and some of you are supporters of it all, even though I doubt that you have any inkling of the social fallout from turning public schools into corporate run penal-style testing camps that you would never consider offering to middle class parents for their children.
Parents and teachers at South Side, American Way, Raleigh-Egypt, and Wooddale deserve better. I am glad they are among those who have been awakened to the threat to their neighborhood schools by corporate takeover, as they have decided to SKIP the KIPP and offer a loud NO to YES Prep and put a big red light in front of the Green Dot.
Frederick Douglas knew that power concedes nothing without a demand. It is time for Shelby County to concede what these teachers and parents demand, and that is nothing more than quality public schools for all children.