Saturday, March 21, 2015

Resisting School Closures

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.

Friday, March 20, 2015

CREDO Charter Numbers for Memphis Don't Match Reality for Special Education and Poverty

from Schools Matter:

The Memphis Corporate Appeal has an article on the announced CREDO study of charter test scores for urban areas, including Memphis and Nashville.  The data are from 2006-2012, even though the charteristas in TN and other venues that show higher scores are pretending as if this is new and up-to-date data.  For Tennesseans, the first thing to notice is that these numbers show test score comparisons from before the time that the ASD brought its special formula for failure to Memphis and Nashville.

Secondly, the report shows charter schools with a larger percentage of special education students than the public schools (6% and 5%). This is absurd on its face. The real percentage of special ed kids in Shelby County is 20 percent, and it higher than that in the remaining public schools in Memphis.  

The same situation prevails for the "student poverty" numbers, which are based on kids qualifying for free and reduced price lunch.  CREDO shows public school students who qualify at 45 percent, when the real number is over 70 percent for free lunch and nearly 80 percent for reduced-price lunch in public schools. 

See below from p. 6 of the CREDO study, available here:

We have to wonder what else CREDO got wrong in its Walmart sponsored research.

The CREDO report, of course, does not acknowledge other charter advantages for churning out test scores, which include longer school days, year-round test prep, brutal behavioral systems, 70 hour teacher work weeks, self-selecting parents, funding advantages from corporate and hedge fund donations, dumping of low performers and other "bad" students back into the public schools, little or no back-filling of lost students, and fewer males students. 

Given all these charter advantages and the state of total demoralization in public schools serving poor kids now targeted for future shut down and conversion, how could charter schools not show a test score advantage of some kind??

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Charter School Takeover Cycle Kicks into Gear for Another Year

The SCS School Board is now weighing more cuts for school children of Shelby County in order to pay for the billionaires' plan to replace public schools for the poor with corporate reform schools designed to deliver a more passive and compliant work force for the dead end job markets of Memphis.  Foreign language programs are on the chopping block, along with teachers and the few remaining librarians in the system.  When middle class parents of Shelby County come to realize that Caitlin and Seth are being affected by the Gates plan to put black children into lockdown zero tolerance hell schools, maybe something will happen to bring an end to the mockery of democracy that the Shelby County School Board epitomizes. 

The Transition Planning Commission report, which includes details of the $212 million donut hole created by the Hyde/Gates plan, has been scrubbed from the Web.  If you want a copy of the Report, email me at

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Will Shelby County Commission Oppose Charter Schools?

The Shelby County Commissioners voted recently to oppose the voucher bills that are chasing each other through the TN state legislature this year.  They are concerned, they say, about the $70 million in public ed dollars that would be lost as students attend private schools with their $5,000 per child vouchers.

There has to be another reason for the opposition.  If the Commission was concerned about the financial integrity of the public school system, why have they not already passed a resolution against charter schools?

 After all, Shelby County already has approximately 18,000 students in charter schools now.  At $9,000 per child, that's $162,000,000 per year in public dollars going to privately-managed corporate charter schools.  By next year, we could see that number go over $200 million.  

Which Commissioner's hair is on fire about that hole in funding donut??