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The hope and the hopeless

Within the same 24 hours we’ve seen a story of hope that lifts the spirits of education activists who contend that poor students of color can succeed, and conversely, a story of shame that deflates believers of urban school districts as portals for widespread academic success.

First, the story of hope.

Urban Prep Academies in Chicago are generating the kind of buzz that we want for all of our children:

For a remarkable fourth consecutive year, all 167 seniors at Urban Prep Academies schools have been accepted at four-year colleges or universities this fall.

Students of the two Chicago public charter high schools — located in the city’s Englewood and University Village neighborhoods — gathered Thursday morning to celebrate the achievement of their schools, which some have dubbed “Hogwarts in the Hood” for their impressive, seemingly magical rates of success, CBS Chicago reports.

At the same time, sadly, all the wrong kind of buzz and a story to prove the hopeless right is coming out of Atlanta:

The supposed transformation of Atlanta Public Schools overseen by former Superintendent Beverly Hall resulted from a criminal enterprise that victimized thousands of struggling students for years, authorities alleged Friday.

Capping a series of investigations that spanned four years, a Fulton County grand jury indicted Hall and 34 others on charges that they conspired to cheat on federally mandated standardized tests from at least 2005 to 2010. Further, the grand jury charged, Hall, several top aides, principals and teachers engaged in the scheme for their own financial gain. And with investigators closing in, the jury said, Hall and others lied to cover up their crimes.

Responses to these two stories are predictable.

Activists for better schools seize on the Urban Prep story because they see it as vindication for their nearly religious belief that students, regardless of how poor or how black, can succeed at very high levels when adults work hard to make it happen.

Contrarily, education traditionalists are capitalizing on the scandal in Atlanta because, for them, it substantiates their belief that when poor children of color show great academic results in the current reform environment it can only be the result of fraud.

One advocacy camp lives in hope, the other in hopelessness. Their primary arguments bifurcate into two ceaselessly discordant ways of seeing the world.

Of the two camps, Planet Ravitch, led by the polemicist Diane Ravitch, is the most rigid, caustic, and resistant to an alternative future. She is the Rush Limbaugh of education commentary, yet, because of her devotion to unionism, she is elevated above many more authoritative voices. Given the consistent subtext of her messages, that children are the problem, and her anglophile view of public education overall, I see no value in pretending she is a friend to black or brown education. Since the 1960s she has pushed assimilation as a core principle, and denounced culturally affirmative education. It’s a position she still has not reversed today.

In her book “The Death and Life of the Great American School System,” she reveals a high-level of not-getting-it.

Let us instead read, reflect on, and debate the ideas of Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., Henry David Thoreau, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Ralph Waldo Emerson, W. E. B. Du Bois, Herman Melville, Nathaniel Hawthorne, William Shakespeare, John Milton, John Locke, John Stuart Mill, Lewis Carroll, and many others whose writings remain important because of their ideas, their beauty, or their eloquence. Let us be sure that our students read the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and other basic documents of our nation’s founding and development.

While I thank her for graciously including Martin Luther King and W.E.B. Du Bois on the list of readings that she feels should be standard for all American children, I’d like to point out that her list sucks. Where is Zora Neal Hurston, James Baldwin, Langston Hughes? What about authors that speak to the humanity of America’s diverse students?

In Ravitch’s world there is one way to order a school system; one way to prepare teachers; one way to create a school; and that way is her way. Like the petulant teenager unable to see how the world revolves around something other than self, she spends all of her time invalidating the views of others while avoiding any of the high-stakes responsibility assumed by those she criticizes. At least the movement of individuals creating new schools, or helping to fix old ones, are accountable by virtue of having actual students in their care. Though Ravitch loves to lament about school reformers who have never taught a day in their life, there is no record of her having any success with students.

That is not an omission, it’s a credibility killer.

We should be outraged by the glee with which some of our nations teachers, and their pop icons like Ravitch, spread stories of our failure. It’s as if they need us to fail for their movement to have authority. The reality is that many schools nationally are succeeding with poor kids and kids of color. These schools are both traditional and non-traditional. It is being done, so endeavoring to prove poverty and race are insurmountable can only be a premise for those incapable of getting the job done.

In short, the loser’s movement.

In the perfect world, folks like Ravitch, Linda Darling-Hammond, Deb Meier, Gloria Landson-Billings, and the rest of the ebony and ivory tower would demonstrate rather than merely illuminate. They would start schools based upon the premises of their many finger-waving books, and they would prove themselves to be more than critics of what is wrong in the reform world, or consultants for some abstract level of educational perfection that only exists in the socialist fantasies they discuss at wine and cheese parties.

Clearly, we have a choice to make in which movement we want to join.

Those of us that believe our children are brilliant, worthy, and under-appreciated by the dominant education system must give fuel to the side characterized by the Urban Preps of the world.

Those that believe our children, because of the color and social status, are doomed until the impossible task of overhauling capitalism is complete, well they can clearly join the Ravitch hate club.

Pursuing the power of self-sovereignty and personalized learning to create secure citizens and abundant communities. #TheOppositeOfSchool #AllPowerToThePupil

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Short note about Network of Public Education’s (NOPE) focus on education fraud

My friends at NOPE need to broaden their scope of fraud reveals.

My friends at the Network of Public Education (NOPE) have an ongoing series under the hashtag #AnotherDayAnotherCharterSchool that aims to keep your eyes trained on the supposed never-ending abuses and fraud case in charter schools.

I applaud their commitment to public integrity and I share their vigilance in rooting out grift in public systems. Yet, their myopic focus on a small subset of public schools, in this case charters, is suspicious.

Why not expose all fraud, especially in the bigger system?

Well, you’ll have to ask them. They’ve mostly blocked me on twitter for asking such questions.

I guess their unionist funders and the privileged parents they cater to in America’s suburban hoarding schools want a clean message. Traditional schools with union teachers that work with privileged parents to rig the system in favor of white, middle-class, pampered children, well, that’s good.

Schools built for, by, or in favor of children so unfortunate as not to have suburban, white, progressive, college-educated families capable of obtaining mortgages for houses near the best hoarding schools, well, you know the drill, they must be stopped.

Thus, the campaign to turn public opinion against the most popular competitor to sputtering state-run schools that employ more people than they educate, and drown in so much pension debt that they can ill-afford parents choosing anything other than district failure farms.

In the interest of truth I should tell you that fraud in public education is indeed every bit the problem that NOPE says it is, but it’s much broader than they admit.

I’ve offered examples before, but here’s another from today’s reading list. In this article on lax oversight of millions of dollars of expenditures in Pittsburgh Public Schools:

a KDKA investigation has found that the Pittsburgh Public Schools have issued no less than 650 of these cards to teachers and staff, who are racking up millions of dollars of purchases every year.


And while the cards are not supposed to be used for personal purchases, Controller Michael Lamb says it’s a system of loose oversight and controls that IS based mainly on trust.


“When you have that many cards, you lose control,” Lamb said. “And when the proper procedures aren’t in place, you create the opportunity for fraud. And that’s what you have in the school district right now.”
KDKA filed a right-to-know request for purchases made over the last three years and the results were eye-popping.


Last year alone, teachers and staff rang up a total of $3,254,000 in p-card purchases, with some putting upwards of $20,000 or $30,000 on their individual cards.


The summaries obtained by KDKA show purchases from Amazon, Sam’s Club, Staples and Giant Eagle.


And while employees are supposed to submit receipts and the stated reason for each purchase, controller office audits have found that it is hard to tell if all or most of those purchases are legitimate.

But at Faison School, for example, the controller’s office found no p-card reports for half of the 12 months audited and missing documentation for dozens of the purchases that were listed.


And KDKA’s review found questionable expenditures, as well.
Records show that teachers and staff at Oliver Academy used cards on a weekly and bi-weekly basis at both Wiseguys Pizza and Kuhn’s supermarket — raising the question of whether they were using the cards for their own lunches and groceries.

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Fuller to charter advocates: You’re in a fight, don’t run home to Mama!

Dr. Howard Fuller has been on the vanguard of the fight for educational options, and today he has a message for education advocates: fight for your lives!

Charter schools came to the education game as a bipartisan plan to force a “bold departure” from the failure trap that caught too many students in traditional public schools.

Creating alternatives to assigned district schools for families that wanted them was picking a fight with the educational establishment that lives or dies on the student headcount that drives per pupil revenue. Now, after years of losing market share, the empire is striking back with organized moves to establish moratoriums on charter growth, forge attacks on the the integrity of charter supporters, and calcifying public narratives about the supposed negative impacts of charters on public education.

So what do reform advocates do when the opponent finally hits back (hard) and our cherished reforms take a public whooping like they stole something?

According to lifelong freedom fighter Dr. Howard Fuller we firm our spines and fight like we mean it. That’s what he told attendees at a recent conference for the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools.

“You can’t go running home to your mama,” he says. “There are people out there who don’t care that you all have created good schools. They don’t care that you are going to teach computer science. They don’t care.”

His message comes at a time when weary charter school supporters are feeling drained from constant attacks, and many are vacillating between wanting to stand their ground and wanting to accommodate anti-charter organizers by finding fleeting common ground.

“They want you to not exist,” Fuller said of the organized opponents of charter schools.

See his powerful speech below.

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It’s time to admit Diane Ravitch’s troubled crusade derails honest debate about public education

The longstanding arguments for charters could still be had in clean exchanges between judicious people – sans Ravitch – if we seek understanding and progress.

I should start adding a qualifier when I say the former scholar and historian Diane Ravitch is the Ann Coulter of education commentary.

In fairness, Coulter has better manners and makes more attempts to employ logic as she “owns” the libs with verbal Jujitsu.

Ravitch, by contrast, has fallen irreparably into polemics so much that her daily blogs put her in league with Alex Jones’ made-for-YouTube Info Wars.

Along those lines, her blog-fart today ties “the charter industry” to the “infamous pedophile and “super-rich” Jeffrey Epstein.

“In 2013, his foundation issued a press release announcing that he looked forward to the dominance of charter schools in Washington, D.C. and predicted that they would succeed because they were unregulated,” she crows.

Then she offers crude analysis of why people like Epstein would want to privatize schools in D.C.:

People often ask me, “Why do the super-rich cluster to the cause of privatization?” The Answer is not simple because many different motives are at work. Some see giving to charters as a charitable endeavor, and their friends assure them that they are “giving back,” helping poor children escape poverty. Others want to impress their friends in their social strata, their colleagues in the world of high finance. Being a supporter of charter schools is like belonging to the right clubs, going to the right parties, sharing a cause with other very rich people.

If you are reading this you probably know that Ravitch was once a charter school supporter, and that makes it fair to ask which camp of nincompoops she fell into?

Did she see charters as a “charitable endeavor,” or was charter support her attempt to “impress [her] friends in [her] social strata, [and her] colleagues in the world of high finance.”

Only she can say, but as an established scholar of education history (and a player in policy) it’s doubtful her support was so in want of a factual basis.

During testimony to Congress conservative William Bennett gave decades ago he invoked Ravitch as a bipartisan voice for school choice.

Regarding the school reforms that were advancing in Chicago under Mayor Daley and Paul Vallas Bennett declared “[t]he empirical evidence, now widely available, is irrefutable: Not only are many of our public-schools not getting better, they are getting worse. American students finish in the bottom half, and often near the bottom, in comparison to students from other industrialized nations.”

Then, after promoting the benefits of charter schools, he asked lawmakers to “follow my friend Diane Ravitch’s prescript” to:

…make Title I into a “portable entitlement” that would aid all poor kids regardless of what school they attend. This is the one way to assure that every single Title I child will receive Title I services at the school they currently attend. This is also the best way to assure accountability. If a parent is not satisfied with the Title I services they are getting, they can take their Title I dollars with them to the school or provider of choice; power to the parents, and not bureaucrats, in other words.

Was Ravitch’s support for school choice back then the result of suspicious philanthropy, or glossy marketing to mindless parents, or, more logically,  the result of her considerable scholarship by that point in her life?

Again, only she can say.

In the spring of 1997 she praised then-New York Pataki’s proposed charter school policies that allowed groups other than local boards to grant charters, allowed for an un-capped number of charters to open, and allowed these schools to hire teachers who weren’t state certified.

Why?

In supporting Pataki’s push she said:

It’s impossible to know whether a law permitting charter schools will emerge from this session of the Legislature; the opposition of the teachers’ union, which is the most powerful voice in Albany on education issues, is certainly not encouraging. This is unfortunate, for a large and vital network of charter schools in New York would offer hope to educators, parents, and students in troubled school districts and would promote higher academic standards for all the state’s public schools.

Why would she support such craven policies of such anti-democratic that today she maligns as wealthy pedophiles and privatizers? Projection much?

Forget that teachers’ unions – the ones Ravitch herself once admitted were the “most powerful voices in education” – today block legislation making it a crime for teachers to sexualize students, defeat resolutions that called for them to re-dedicate their profession to student achievement, and pay retail civil rights organizations to defeat the voices of their grassroots members.

Here’s the real kick to the taco, when Lamar Alexander pitched the idea that every D.C. school should be converted to a charter (in 1997, six years before Epstein arrived at the same conclusion) he ascribed this definition of charter schools to his friend Diane Ravitch:

Think of a charter school as a public school district with only one school. It receives public funds, agrees to meet clear academic standards and accepts all students who apply. Unlike existing public schools, it has a contract that can be revoked if the school fails to make good on its commitments.

If she were at all generous she would at very least admit the decency of long-term charter backers who hold valid theories for why charters improve the educational landscape. The longstanding arguments for charters could still be had in clean exchanges between judicious people – sans Ravitch – if we seek understanding and progress. The tensions between autonomy and regulation, local control and federal oversight, and public education as an institution or as a service to American learners could still be exercised by smart people truly seeking solutions to the inarguable problems of public schooling.

But not if we follow the zero-sum and divisive lead of Ravitch whose enemy-imaging toward those who differ on policy has escalated so far she no longer sees them as human. We’ll predictably end up in her abyss of false binaries, intellectual excursions, and forlorn paralysis.

Given Ms. Ravitch’s clever wits and stockpile of information I can’t imagine she leads us to that confused, somber place by accident. There is no better way to ensure the education establishment’s special interests – those who are among Ravitch’s most ardent disciples – are never brought to account than to ignore the brisk but level Ravitch of yesteryear and listen to the caustic and battled one before us now.

 

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