Archive for ‘Public Information’

October 27, 2012

Another Blow to the Teacher-Quality-Trumps-Poverty Meme

Two weeks ago, The American Prospect published an article that used Joel Klein’s life story as a counter-argument to his proposition that teacher quality is the most important determinant of educational outcomes. A study released this week by the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University also packs a punch.

“Is Demography Still Destiny: Neighborhood Demographics and Public High School Students’ Readiness for College in New York City” was released to the public October 23, 2012. It shows that the effort to create a portfolio of options for city public school students has not made an impact on the gross disparity of outcomes in a city that cleaves along the lines of class and race – especially race. The study should be called “Demography Is Destiny,” which is what AISR titled the PDF itself.

Click to read the AISR’s abstract and to download the PDF.

October 12, 2012

Is Teacher Quality a Bigger Influence Than Poverty? New Joel Klein Biography Sheds Some Light

New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan visit
with students at Explore Charter School in Brooklyn, N.Y.
By U.S. Department of Education [Public domain],
via Wikimedia Commons

Joel Klein may be the mastermind behind the meme that teacher quality, not a student’s socioeconomic status, is the biggest predictor of academic success. He has used his own streets-to-riches story to make the case.

In the November/December issue of The American Prospect, Richard Rothstein turns Klein’s argument on its head by telling a very different story of how Klein grew up. It’s a must read.

I suggest you start here, at the Economic Policy Institute blog, with Richard Rothstein’s own introduction to his piece. He maps out the thinking behind it. He also underscores the story’s emphasis on the role of public housing policy in segregating American cities. The impact of housing policy on public education is something no teacher can unwind. (This is as good a place as any to plug Antero Pietila’s book, Not in My Neighborhood: How Bigotry Shaped an American City, which untangles the history of racism, redlining, and white flight in Baltimore.) If Joel Klein succeeded because he did not grow up among poor minorities, then there has to be more to improving outcomes for American public school children than firing bad teachers. City planning, zoning, and housing policy all need to be part of the conversation.

You can read the article itself here: Joel Klein’s Misleading Autobiography: What the former chancellor of New York City schools’ sleight of hand tells us about education reform. You might also get something from this piece, “Joel Klein’s Hidden Legacy” by PBS education correspondent John Merrow, which traces Klein’s influence on American public education and education reform. That influence is multiplied by Klein’s former deputies,  Baltimore City Public Schools CEO Andres Alonso among them.

October 11, 2012

Shock and Audits: Clocking Five Days of Baltimore City Public Schools News

I offer the following timeline of publications with no comment:

Saturday, October 6, 2012, 3:35 p.m.
The Baltimore Sun publishes City schools criticized in financial audit: Legislative audit from 2010 finds millions in uncollected debts, unjustified payouts, unreported conflicts of interest by Erica L. Green.

Monday, October 8, 2012, 11:41 a.m.
Andres A. Alonso, Ed.D., Baltimore City Public Schools CEO, sends out a mass email with the subject line, “First External Evaluation of Major City Schools Reform.” The email, which is addressed to City Schools Colleagues, Staff, Partners and Friends, summarizes the findings of a report by Education Resource Strategies on Fair Student Funding. The report had been released to the public on September 6, 2012.

Later that day, at 9:23 p.m.
The Baltimore Sun publishes Schools audit alarms state, city lawmakers by Julie Scharper.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012, 3:14 p.m.
The Baltimore Sun publishes Mayor calls on Alonso, school board to fix broken financial management: Rawlings-Blake said lack of public confidence could hinder Annapolis funding campaign by Erica L. Green.

Later that day, at 7:56 p.m.
The Baltimore Sun publishes this: City to pilot new evaluations for all teachers: New model will include student performance, by Erica L. Green.

Thursday, October 11, 2012 (Today), 12:05 p.m.
Andres A. Alonso, Ed.D., Baltimore City Public Schools CEO, sends out a mass email with the subject line, “2012 State Audit of City Schools: Findings and Actions.” The email, which is addressed to City Schools Colleagues, Staff, Partners and Friends, is intended to share the results of second audit of Baltimore City Public Schools by the Maryland Office of Legislative Audits (OLA), which you can download here. The email notes that “the state restricted the district from commenting on the audit and any of its findings until today’s release.”

June 28, 2012

Hebrew Language Charter Schools: Who Knew?

The language spread of Hebrew in the United States according to U. S. Census 2000 and other resources interpreted by research of U. S. ENGLISH Foundation, percentage of home speakers, via Wikimedia Commons

A Hebrew language charter school won approval last week to open in Harlem. In April, Washington, D.C., approved its first Hebrew language charter school. In March, San Diego approved one for a September 2012 opening. There is a Hebrew language charter school movement afoot. When I wrote my last post, on teaching identity in traditional public schools, I had no idea how current the Hebrew charter school issue would turn out to be. I obviously hadn’t been keeping up with Jewish Week.

I bring up this movement not because I have an opinion as to whether it’s good or evil, but because (to my mind, at least) it raises interesting questions not just about public schooling and who charter schools are meant to serve, but more specifically about:

  • the ways in which the charter school movement parallels the big sort, the geographic clustering of like-minded people – people with similar political beliefs and values – that some argue is tearing America apart
  • what’s happening to the role American public schools have long played in assimilating the children of immigrants (Antero Pietila, author of Not in My Neighborhood: How Bigotry Shaped a Great American City, brought up this topic in this comment on my last post.)
  • what happens when charter schools – quasi-public, quasi-private institutions – become an out for independent schools that are incapable of sustaining their operations through tuition and fundraising

What follows is a set of links to articles and websites meant to give anyone new to the subject of Hebrew charter schools a running start. I’ve divided them by location.

New York City 

  1. Sara Berman, 35, Hebrew charter school pioneer, Julie Wiener, Jewish Week, June 15, 2010 New Yorker
    Sara Berman founded the first Hebrew language charter school in New York City and now runs the Hebrew Charter School Center. Berman’s father is Michael Steinhardt, a philanthropist who made his money in hedge funds. He is an atheist, but he backs Birthright Israel and other Jewish organizations. (In our secular age, you don’t have to believe in God to be Jewish.) Her background is much like mine – New York City independent schools followed by the Ivy League. She sends her kids (she has six) to the yeshiva where I went through sixth grade. I met her after a panel she was on at the PEJE conference in 2010, at which she introduced the Hebrew charter she founded in Brooklyn. She was unfazed by angry representatives of Jewish day schools in Florida who bore witness to significant drops in enrollment when Hebrew charter schools emerged on the scene. She is on a mission.
  2. Here is the proposal from the Harlem Hebrew folks. I won’t say anything about it except that the leading is a tad tight: http://www.p12.nysed.gov/psc/documents/HHLACSAppRedacted.pdf. The website: Harlem Hebrew Charter School.
  3. A new Hebrew Charter School approved for NYC District 3 in Harlem! Alina Adams, examiner.com, June 21, 2012 This is an excited post from a mom who is well-informed of the work of Sara Berman and the Hebrew Charter School Center. The mom sends her child to a Jewish day school, but she would consider Harlem Hebrew if she could.
  4. Hebrew Language Charter School Approved for Harlem, JTA (Jewish Telegraphic Agency), The Times of Israel, June  21, 2012, originally published as Hebrew-language charter school in N.Y.’s Harlem gets go-ahead, JTA website, June 20, 2012
  5. Harlem Hebrew Charter Ok’ed, Julie Wiener, Jewish Week, June 19, 2012
  6. Hebrew School: The Hebrew Language Academy, New York City’s first Hebrew-language charter school, opened two years ago. Now its backers – including financier Michael Steinhardt – want to replicate the model nationwide, Anna Phillips, Tablet, March 9, 2011
  7. Outcry over plan for Hebrew language school in Harlem, Michael J. Feeney, New York Daily News, March 3, 2011

Northern New Jersey

  1. Hebrew Charter School Seeking Approval for Teaneck Location School files application for space on Galway Place, Noah Cohen, Teaneck Patch, June 14, 2012
    This article is about Shalom Academy’s struggle to find a building.
  2. Hebrew charter school prevails in state Supreme Court (Decision ends dispute with East Brunswick Board of Education), Debra Rubin, New Jersey Jewish News, April 3, 2012
    This is on Hatikvah International Academy Hebrew charter school.
  3. Hatikvah Charter Still Facing Legal Challenges, Julie Wiener, Jewish Week, January 31, 2012 This article is on much more than Hatikvah. It also covers Tikun Olam, a proposed high school that does not have the backing of the Hebrew Charter School Center. Its application for charter was rejected multiple times. Still, they received a $600,000 grant from the federal government for the project, as discussed in this next link:
  4. Rejected 3 Times, School May Still Open Soon, and With a Grant, Too, Michael Winerip, New York Times, January 8, 2012

San Diego, California

  1. Kavod Elementary will open in fall 2012. Their website has stock photography of blond and brown children in a school setting together. Given that the Brooklyn Hebrew charter on which it is modeled is around 40 percent minority, this dream may be realized.
  2. The RosenRant This is a blog by one of the school’s founders, Michael Rosen. (I think all the founders are Jewish.)
  3. New Hebrew Charter School Approved in San Diego, Julie Wiener, Jewish Week, March 28, 2012
  4. Kol Ha Kavod Moment for San Diego Charter, Julie Wiener, Jewish Week, April 17, 2012 (Is it me, or has Julie Wiener become completely sold on the Jewish, er, Hebrew charter school trend over the years?)

Washington, D.C.

  1. Hebrew Charter School Approved in D.C., JTA, Jewish Daily Forward, April 24, 2012 Originally published by JTA as Hebrew-language charter school gets OK in D.C.
  2. Sela, a Hebrew language charter school, will strengthen D.C. Jewish community, Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld, Washington Post (Opinion), June 24, 2012 (This rabbi is looking to populate his after school programs with the children of secularly minded Jewish parents, if you ask me.)
  3. Hebrew Charter Schools Focus on Israel; New Crop of Public Schools Groom Generation of Advocates, Nathan Guttman and Naomi Zeveloff, Forward, May 8, 2012 – The leap from charter school founding to advocacy for Israel isn’t so far fetched given the connection between Modern Hebrew and Zionism.

South Florida

  1. Ben Gamla charter school website  Here’s the website of the first Hebrew charter school in the country, which opened when a private Jewish day school in the neighborhood closed. An estimated 80 percent of the private school’s attendees enrolled in the charter school. It’s located in Hollywood, Fl.
  2. Hebrew Charter School as Growth Industry: Former Florida Rep. Peter Deutsch’s burgeoning network of schools is toeing the church-state line, and could greatly affect American Jewish life, Julie Wiener, Jewish Week, March 20, 2012
  3. A Charter Network’s Emerging Imprint: Across South Florida Jewish institutions learn to live with – and embrace – Hebrew language schools, Julie Wiener, Jewish Week, March 27, 2012
  4. Hebrew Charter School Spurs Dispute in Florida, Abby Goodnough, New York Times, August 24, 2007

Miscellaneous Related Links

As an Israeli-born Jew married to a Catholic, I am personally interested in the secularization of American Jewry and Jewish leaders’ responses to it. Here are some pieces I found intriguing as I slogged through putting together the post you are reading right now:

  1. Across Differing Faiths, Shared Holidays, Michael Winerip, New York Times, December 17, 2008 This article has some good stats on the rise of interfaith marriage. It’s also a good read.
  2. The Next Jew blog by drdan, August 13, 2011 There are some interesting thoughts on the Hebrew charter school trend here, from someone much more in on the Jewish scene than I. Worth reading.

Like this post? Or not? Let me know in the comments section. (In English, please.) And feel free to share it. Toda raba!

-Edit Barry

May 31, 2012

Some Thoughts on Public Schooling and Segregated Cities

Cities cleave along racial and ethnic lines, and every city I’ve ever lived in proves it. When I grew up in Manhattan, there was Harlem, which was black. And East Harlem, which was Hispanic. And the Upper East and Upper West sides, which was where I and most of my friends lived. I’m white and they were, too. Over the years, I watched the formerly Jewish Lower East Side, where my grandpa used to own a textile shop with a handful of his brothers, turn Chinese. Later on I lived in Oakland, where the hills were white. There’s a Chinatown there, too.

In Baltimore the racial divide feels more extreme. Small numbers of young Jews are moving back to town, but the Jewish community at large worships outside the beltway. The Spanish speaking population is growing but per the 2010 U.S. Census only 4.2 percent of Baltimoreans are of Hispanic or Latino origin. The racial split is almost purely Black and White, 63.7 to 29.6 percent. And a fifth of people here live below the poverty line.

Baltimore City School demographics are another indication of how segregated and poor this city has become. This school year, 2011-2012, the public school student population is 86 percent black, though there are still individual neighborhood public schools – like the one in Hampden – where the racial breakdown looks more like that of a New England liberal arts college than of an HBCU. That is, the percentage of students of color in Baltimore’s predominantly white public schools is large enough that an elite college with similar numbers would tout itself as highly diverse. (Everything’s relative.) The big difference: 84 percent of kids in Baltimore City Schools come from low income backgrounds.

Given my private school background, my thoughts on public schooling are skewed. My thoughts on  integrated elementary schooling are just as funky. I was born in Israel. Before my first birthday, my mother took me from Tel Aviv to New York, where I attended a yeshiva from kindergarten through sixth grade. I learned all the things most public school students would learn. I also learned about my cultural heritage and Jewish identity.

My background colored my thinking about the reports and opinions in the New York Times a few weeks ago – they came out around the time of the May 17 anniversary of the decision in Brown v. Board – about what is effectively segregated public schooling in New York City schools. My thoughts went something like this: If the de facto segregation in predominantly Black or Latino or Asian elementary schools included curricula that engaged students in learning about their heritage and grappling with the meaning of their identity as Black or Latino or Chinese, wouldn’t our pluralistic society be better off? Is it enough to prepare students for “democratic citizenship” (if that is what public schools are doing) by teaching them about the Declaration of Independence and Constitution? Maybe we would have a more vibrant political culture if we also prepared students by teaching them about themselves.*

Learning about where I came from when I was young shaped my thinking for life. Is there a better place to do that than in school? Is whitewashing personal and cultural history part of the tragic legacy of the separate but equal logic that led to forced and legally enforced desegregation?

Can public schools teach us about our complex identities? Should they? Do they?** Can it be done in schools where integration is forced?*** I have many questions and few answers. So I read.

* Baltimore-based writer Stacey Patton’s piece on Black studies in the Chronicle of Higher Education also got me thinking about disciplined approaches to teaching identity. The piece kindled a well contained conflagration of controversy when a blogger for the CHE not only questioned the merit of dissertations in the field but outright ridiculed them based on their titles. She was fired.

** Hebrew charter schools are ruffling feathers in the private Jewish day school world. I attended a panel at the Project for Excellence in Jewish Education (PEJE) conference in 2010 that included the founder of the Hebrew Language Academy Charter School in Brooklyn. The school cannot teach prayers or engage students in religious study. They can teach Hebrew and cover topics such as Israeli independence. (Nevertheless, I found it online by searching “Jewish charter school.”) Washington D.C. approved a Hebrew language charter school on April 25, 2012.

*** In thinking about all this, I returned to the 20th century political philosopher Hannah Arendt’s controversial essay, “Reflections on Little Rock.” It’s difficult to make sense of her thinking without knowing something about her allegiance to distinctions between the private and public realms and her critique of the rise of the murky region she calls “the social,” but it’s worth a look.

Up next, some curated links to posts on and around these issues.

May 5, 2012

Map It! It’s Painting Day at Hampden Elementary/Middle School #55 in Baltimore!

The time has come. Today, the Wham! Parent Co-op will be at Hampden Elementary/Middle School #55 on Chestnut Ave between 36th and 37th streets painting a giant U.S. map on the playground blacktop.

Chris from Budeke’s in Fells Point helped choose the colors: Pool party (for water), purple lace, perfect peach, jasper yellow, and green coral. These are really intense in direct sunlight despite being in the pastel range. They also each look great next to every other color. I can’t wait to see how it looks on the ground.

Lots of volunteers will be there. Ciclovia 5 will be racing down the neighborhood a couple blocks to the east – so if you’re going to that, or you’re planning on strolling down The Avenue, take a short detour and check this out. The fun starts at 9:30 a.m.

Colors by Benjamin Moore 
April 29, 2012

Ten Things You Should’ve Read About Education This Week (in case you haven’t already)

Illustration from 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica. Original caption: Fig. 1.–Fruit of the pine-apple (”Ananas sativa”), consisting of numerous flowers and bracts united together so as to form a collective or anthocarpous fruit.

This is one of those weeks where there was too much going on to reflect. So, I collect:

1. Housing Policy and Educational Opportunity: Some Notes, Rachel Levy, All Things Education blog, April 24, 2012

If you’re interested in the questions that come up in the debates around zoned versus citywide elementary schools – issues about access and prohibitive housing costs and the importance of socioeconomic diversity to student achievement – this is chock full of important links. (Loosely related to this was a piece in the New York Times about a housing fight in Texas. Then there’s this, on political discussions in Washington, D.C., about whether charters schools can be neighborhood schools. (I don’t have time to connect the dots at the moment.)

2. Believing in City Schools, Adam Bednar, North Baltimore Patch, April 26, 2012

The Village Parents have been models of active citizenship when it comes to informing the community about the public school options in Charles Village. This week they brought a panel of parents from Roland Park, Mt. Washington, and Federal Hill – attractive neighborhoods with zoned elementary schools that have managed to lure scores of middle and upper-middle class families into their classrooms – to tell their stories. It was a great small event. Glad Adam Bednar was there to cover it. (There are obvious connections between this story and the housing concerns in the previous post, but I’ll leave that for another day.)

3. As school facilities crumble, executive suites get remodeled, Erica L. Green, Baltimore Sun, April 26, 2012

After the heady effects of the Village Parents event, this story was a downer. The District spent $500,000 on renovations to the central office, half of which went to spruce up the executive suite of the chief of information technology. This story comes against the backdrop of a push to raise $1.2 billion – a fraction of the total needed – to fix crumbling public schools. City Schools CEO Andres Alonso chalked it up to “a bad judgment call.” Right. The story makes me question my willingness to work within a system whose leaders’ have their priorities so crooked. I’m sure I’m not alone.

UPDATE: BCPSS Chief of Information Technology Jerome Olberton resigned his post in January 2013 and took a $185,000 chief-of-staff position in the Dallas public school system.

4. Critics seek more oversight of renovations at school district headquarters, Erica L. Green, Baltimore Sun, April 27, 2012.

City Schools advocates who have to fight for funding in Annapolis have more to be disappointed about than I do. The choicest part of this follow-up piece is where the chief information officer, Jerome Olberton, explains himself by claiming that the reason he needs to improve his department’s work space is to attract more highly qualified applicants. Um, to ask the obvious, how about upgrading school facilities to attract highly qualified teachers?

5. The suite life on North Ave., Sun editorial, Baltimore Sun, April 29, 2012

As a follow-up to Erica Green’s breaking news story, the editorial board weighed in with their view on why the allocations were “more than just bad judgment.”

6. Politics and Education Don’t Mix, P.D. Thomas, The Atlantic, April 26, 2012

News of the crazy renovation expenditures for North Avenue got my mind singing a refrain that’s been in the back of my head for a long time. It goes like this: “It’s the Bureaucracy, Stupid.” I have yet to write that post. Thomas’s opinion sort of takes care of it for me.

7. PD, Jess Gartner, jessgartner.com, April 22, 2012

The newest voice in Baltimore education blogging belongs to Jess Gartner, a teacher who has way more than the average level of commitment to her students. She took on Professional Development a week ago. Ms. Gartner is optimistic about the potential of the Common Core Standards to give teachers more autonomy. She is also far more positive than I am about the potential of the free market to solve problems that I would argue are of the free market’s own making. I commented with a note on Pearson, the educational content powerhouse that is making the kind of tailored instruction that Jess Gartner imagines a difficult dream to realize. She commented back. More on that below.

8. Mass Localism for Improving America’s Education, Yong Zhao, April 24, 2012

I think Jess Gartner would like this post. God knows I do. It talks about creativity, about autocratic rule, about radical localization of decision making. It should be required reading for anyone who works at North Avenue. Especially the ones at the top who moved here from New York and Boston and Atlanta via the Dallas/Fort Worth area and… you catch my drift. Is it me, or is Baltimore run by out-of-towners?

9. A Very Pricey Pineapple, Gail Collins, New York Times, April 27, 2012

Picking up on that Pearson thread I brought up earlier was Gail Collins, who uses a pineapple as a juicy pretext for talking about privatization of public schools. The topic is a yawner otherwise, isn’t it?

10. New York’s Bargain Basement Tests, Diane Ravitch, Diane Ravitch’s blog, April 28, 2012

Diane Ravitch started her own personal blog this week. In this post, she explains the appearance of said pineapple in a test item on a New York state test that Pearson had produced, originally for Texas. Pearson seems to be the goose that laid the golden pineapple.

SPECIAL BONUS: The Common Core: The Technocracts Re-engineer Learning, Anthony Cody, Education Week Teachers’ “Living in Dialogue” blog, April 27, 2012

Like everyone else who reads opinions online, I gravitate toward those that articulate what I already believe. I try to do more than that – to read people I disagree with, to argue with people I wish I agreed with, to question my own positions, which are highly flexible on all but my worst days. This piece articulated all my misgivings about the Common Core. It also made me want to move to Nebraska, a state that held out against No Child Left Behind because its education commissioner values local-level initiative. Just like me. (Not that I have anything against imported fruit.)

September 27, 2011

Parent Trigger: Straight Outta Compton?

You can buy an N.W.A.-inspired Straight Outta Compton cap today from Zazzle.com. Word.

Two stories of class ventriloquism jumped out at me last week. You probably heard about Mitt Romney’s delusions of middle class brotherhood. Romney, who has a net worth of at least $190 million, called himself one of “us.” (Which was, if you think about it, a nice acknowledgment that you ought to be if you’re going to attempt to represent “us.”)

Then there’s a story of political inauthenticity you may not have heard. It’s about an experiment in Compton, California, with a piece of legislation called the parent trigger. Here’s the story: ‘Parent Trigger’ Law to Reform Schools Faces Challenges.

Here’s some background, organized as a sort of Q & A.

What’s the “parent trigger”?

It’s a California law that “empowers” public school parents to do one of four things:

  1. Allow a charter school nearby that is “doing better” than the local school to take it over. That’s called a charter school conversion.
  2. Have half the staff fired, bring in new leadership, and get more local community control over making changes. That’s called turnaround.
  3. Force the school district to find a new principal and make a few other small fixes. That’s called transformation.
  4. Gain “collective bargaining rights” by collecting names on petitions.

(If this is raising questions in your mind about the person firing people, finding new leadership, and granting community control – or why you need a law to create a petition – we’re in the same boat. Grab a paddle.)

How do parents get their finger on the “trigger”?

First they find out if they’re school is failing. (Apparently, they might not know that.) Next, they organize more parents. “Parents” may be current parents, future parents zoned for the school, and parents whose children are set to feed into that school. Who calculates the total, I don’t know, but if 51 percent signs a petition demanding one of the four prefab options that the authors of the law built into it, bang. They’ve pulled the trigger.

Who drafted the parent trigger law, and who got it passed in California?

The parent trigger law was introduced by Gloria Romero, a former California state senator. She is now the director of the California branch of Democrats for Education Reform, or DFER. Ben Austin drafted the law. Austin is a former deputy mayor of Los Angeles and a policy consultant at Green Dot Public Schools, a charter school operator. Austin has a seat on the Los Angeles school board – California governor Jerry Brown dismissed him from the state education board – and he is the executive director of a nonprofit called Parent Revolution.

What’s DFER? And why should I care?

DFER is a political action committee run by hedge-fund managers and investment bankers. Closely tied to KIPP charter schools and Teach for America (the single largest donor to which is now the Walton Family Foundation), DFER’s aim is to close the “achievement gap” between students in poor black Harlem and their peers in rich white Scarsdale. To that end, the PAC raises money for Democrats who push an education agenda that includes the closure of “failing” public schools and the proliferation of charter schools. It’s an agenda shared by the Obama administration, and it’s being pushed by their education reform competition, Race to the Top.

In Baltimore, DFER has supported two candidates for public office (that I know of). One is Bill Ferguson, a Teach for America alumnus who worked for Baltimore City Public Schools CEO Dr. Andres Alonso before running for state senate. (You can watch him tell the story of how he got elected here. It’s cool.) He put forward a version of the parent trigger law called “The Parent Empowerment Act” this year. (You can see Senator Ferguson’s legislative agenda from February on his Facebook page.) It didn’t pass. DFER also backed mayoral candidate Otis Rolley, whose platform included mayoral control of the public school system, making charter laws more amenable to outside operators, and providing means-tested vouchers to children in the lowest performing middle schools. He didn’t win.

What’s remarkable about DFER is less its political track record than its rhetorical strategy. DFER presents its interests as the interests of children. (In effect, its spokespeople have appointed themselves spokespeople for America’s mainly urban, mainly black and brown public school children.) DFER pits the interests of these children against the interests of unionized teachers, who are, in the DFER narrative, ultimately responsible for high dropout rates and abysmal performance on high-stakes standardized tests. DFER does not admit that lack of school funding or poverty is an important determinant of academic performance, citing academic outcomes at KIPP and Harlem Children’s Zone as evidence of what great instruction can do. DFER’s critics point out that the PAC has a stake in undermining the pull of teachers’ unions, the largest single source of funding for the Democratic Party, in order to wrest power and political influence in its favor. Many on the right support their aims. Indeed, their agenda was effectively authored by George W. Bush.

What’s the deal with Parent Revolution?

When Diane Ravitch warned her Twitter followers to watch out for “astroturf” parent groups, I bristled. How can anyone question the authenticity of parents who are organizing on behalf of their own children? But I didn’t understand what she meant by “astroturf” – a group that adopts the populist guise of a grassroots organization in the interests of parties that are neither populist nor grassroots. Independent bloggers at Solidaridad have been calling Parent Revolution “astroturf” for years. This story in a March 2011 article in Mother Jones magazine is more mainstream, explaining the group’s corporate ties.

Parent Revolution operates on a $1 million budget, funded primarily by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Wasserman Foundation, the Eli and Edyth Broad Foundation, the Hewlett Foundation, and the Walton Family Foundation. Education historian Diane Ravitch argues that the Gates, Walton Family, and the Broad Foundation combined invest far more funding in education reform than any foundations before them, with unchecked power to expand charters, vouchers, and other business-inspired reforms.

In Compton, Parent Revolution paid organizers from outside the community to gather signatures in support of a charter school conversion at McKinley Elementary School. Their second-in-command allegedly invented a group called “McKinley Parents for Change” and claimed on its behalf a desire to open under new management. The group never told the P.T.A. at McKinley that they were circulating a petition.

Volumes of news stories and opinions have already been published on the battles over the parent trigger law and its expansion across the country. (I particularly like California community organizer-turned-teacher Larry Ferlazzo’s take.) Ben Austin’s summary of the Compton results in that story I mentioned from the Times shows a level of awareness that ought to lead to a major course correction:

We came in with a prepackaged solution of a charter school and didn’t have enough of a deep buy-in from enough parents, and we didn’t develop enough leadership,” Mr. Austin said.

This year, he said, the organization will rely on the local parents’ unions to ask for the specific changes they want. In some cases, it may be as simple as more consultation from school leaders.

Now what?

DFER and Parent Revolution continue to organize “parent unions” across the country from the top down. The rhetoric pitting teachers against “kids” drones on. Billionaire philanthropists keep throwing money at a problem that they argue a shift of wealth from the top can’t fix. And Diane Ravitch keeps tweeting her fingertips ablister to keep concerned citizens up to date on the latest expressions of all this misguided reform.

Meanwhile, off the national radar, middle class parents like me are taking notes on cautionary tales like the one from Compton. We’re trying to learn how to breathe new life into local public schools that already have lives of their own.

Please share your own suggestions and cautionary tales in the comments section.

May 25, 2011

Ten Things Everyone Should Know About Baltimore City Charter Schools

Someone stumbled upon this blog the other day by Googling the words “i want to make my own charter school.” I’m sure the Googler didn’t find this site of much use. This post is my attempt to make that search worthwhile if it’s ever repeated. Here are two handfuls of info that this curious Baltimore City mom has come to learn over the course of the last 18 months.

1 Baltimore City’s charter schools are part of the Baltimore City Public School System (BCPSS). They are run by nonprofit boards with 501(c)(3) status. They are all not for profit and tuition free.

2 There is no legal cap on the number of charter schools that can open and operate in Baltimore City. As of this posting, 34 of Maryland’s 44 charter schools are in Baltimore City. There were 12 charter schools in Baltimore City in 2005-06. There are around 200 Baltimore City public schools. The percentage jump in the proportion of charter schools over the last five years reflects the exponential growth formula being pushed by the Progressive Policy Institute, with support from the Walton Family Foundation. See http://www.progressivefix.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/2.2011_Hassel_Going-Exponential_WEB1.pdf

3 Charter school students are required to take standardized tests. Charter schools administer the same high stakes tests that all other public schools in Baltimore City administer. Test results are used to keep schools accountable for students’ academic progress, particularly in math and reading.

4 Baltimore City charter school teachers are bound to union contracts. Maryland is one of the few states in which that is the case. Some people would like to see that change. The Baltimore Teacher’s Union recently came into conflict with KIPP’s demands for a 9.5 hour school day and summer classes. The union and KIPP negotiated an agreement in March 2011 that will keep KIPP in Baltimore for the next 10 years.

5 Enrollment is open to students citywide. This stands in contrast to what BCPSS and the charter movement call “traditional” schools, which give priority to students who live within a zoned neighborhood.

6 If the number of applications to a given charter school is greater than the number of available slots, the school holds a public lottery. The names that are not chosen are placed on a waiting list for that year. The list does not roll over to the following school year.

7 Many charter schools do not offer pre-kindergarten because of state mandates on PK enrollment. Charter schools that offer PK must give priority for PK enrollment to students with need (i.e., homeless students, students living in poverty, students who need Individualized Education Plans (IEPs), students from military families).

8 Charter schools set their own enrollment restrictions regarding priority for the children of founders and staff and the siblings of current students. Whether the sibling of an enrolled student can attend without being subject to the lottery is up to the governing board of the charter school. Up to ten percent of students in a charter school can be the children of founders. The definition of a founder is determined by the governing board of the charter school. These points are significant because the more enrollment exceptions and restrictions, the fewer slots there are for students from the “random” citywide pool of applicants.

9 If you want to send your child to a charter school, you must complete and submit an application by the stated deadline. Each charter school has a separate application process. There is no limit on the number of charter schools to which one student may apply. If the deadline is missed but there are still spaces in the next year’s class, the application will be accepted and the student permitted to enroll. It is up to the parent or guardian to obtain and complete applications.

10 Charter schools are supposed to receive the same per pupil funding as “traditional” public schools. For various reasons, it’s difficult to make an apples-to-apples comparison of cost per pupil at charter schools versus neighborhood schools. The FY12 BCPSS budget – released only a few days ago – allocates more than $4,000 more per pupil for students in charter schools than in neighborhood schools. (The Sun’s InsideEd blog attempted to make sense of that yesterday.) One major difference is that neighborhood schools receive in services what charter schools receive in cash. Unused services cannot be rolled into the following year’s budget, while unused cash can. But the question of fairness has yet to be answered.

I want this blog to be – among other things – a source of valid and useful information for parents who are trying to make informed choices and Baltimore residents who want to understand what’s at stake when it comes to education reform in Baltimore City. If you have questions or corrections please let me know by posting a comment. If you would rather that your comment not go public, let me know that, too.

SOURCES:

BCPSS Charter School Report 2005-06 to 2007-08 School Years, April 16, 2009 (doc)

Maryland Charter School Law 2003 (link)

Maryland State Board of Education Charter School Program Policy (PDF)

Maryland Charter Schools Founders’ Manual, Third Edition (PDF)

May 21, 2011

Obama Pushes to Replace ‘No Child Left Behind’ with ‘Race to the Top’ This Year

Obama’s weekly address, on education reform, comes on the heels of his commencement address to this year’s graduates of Booker T. Washington High School in Memphis, Tennessee.

Change from the bottom up sounds good. But critics of the reform movement point to a contradiction: Obama talks about giving principals, teachers, and parents control at the local level, but Race to the Top (RTTT) is a top-down strategy.

Need to get up to speed? Some links:

  • Obama’s Weekly Address, May 21, 2011 (link)
  • Race to the Top Program Guidance and Frequently Asked Questions (PDF)
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