Schooling and the Rise of The Authoritarian

 Schooling and the Rise of The Authoritarian

Today it was announced that the designated secretary of the US Department of Education is a person with no experience or affiliation with public education.  Her principle connection to education is the HUGE amounts of money and influence donated to further the privatization of public schools. She is an arch advocate of vouchers and charters.  In fact her efforts have resulted in the decimation of many public schools districts in Michigan.

Appointed by The Authoritarian** who won the electoral college, but lost to the people by more than 2,000,000 votes and rising, she fits the mold of the other appointees, and that is to dismantle, stoke fear, and remove the vestiges of a democratic society.

**I do not want to use his name on my blog; instead in this post he is The Authoritarian to be chosen by the Electoral College, but not the voters.

That said, I turn my attention to the writing of Ed Johnson, the most prolific and astute critic of privatization and school turn around policies.

In this guest post, Ed Johnson asks us to look at what has driven education in the past three decades and how this might have contributed to the rise of The Authoritarian.

Schooling and The Authoritarian’s rise

Want to understand a bit of why perhaps the authoritarian is the POTUS-elect?

Then simply consider the miseducation school choice proponents got from schooling that had no or limited concern with civil society, namely: civics, citizenship, fellow citizens, democracy, the common good, cooperation, hard-won freedoms and civil rights, representative government, ethics, mores, and such. Consider their miseducation has given them a worldview that serves corporatists’ and corporate school reformers’ always profits-driven, free-market global competition ways of thinking and behaving.

However, for deeper insight into why The Authoritarian got elected POTUS, consider America’s Schools Could Be Partly To Blame for The Authoritarian’s Rise.

This report also offers insight into how currently serving Atlanta school board members and superintendent – most of whom are millennials and African-Americans – contributed to The Authoritarian’s rise, à la their School Turnaround Strategy compounded with selfie culture.

After all, one has only to critically consider the vision and mission the board and superintendent imposed upon Atlanta public schools sans the public’s consensus:

Mission: With a caring culture of trust and collaboration, every student will graduate ready for college and career.

Vision: A high-performance school district where students love to learn, educators inspire, families engage, and the community trusts the system.

Where in their Vision and Mission for APS is there any core concern for civil society, expressed or implied? Where is there any concern with the purpose of Atlanta public schools that represents public interests and consensus? Well, there is none. Instead, there is only concern with “college and career,” in an amoral sense.

The currently serving Atlanta school board members have demonstrated time and time again that holding to and fulfilling civil society responsibilities is something they do not do in any overarching sense. Instead, time and time again they have shown they mainly serve to represent the superintendent’s school turnaround ambitions, hence corporate school reformers’ machinations to privatize public schools, hence The Authoritarian’s rise.

Consequently, all that Atlanta school board members and superintendent have done, and are likely to ever do, amounts to costly tampering with the structure of APS void of leading and providing for teachers and others to develop for APS requisite systemic, sustainable internal capabilities to continually improve pedagogic practices grounded in purposes that support civil society rather than tear it down. Clearly, what they do reveals they believe they need only install and reinstall, as necessary, omniscient school turnaround “sparkplugs” in order to gain requisite capabilities, jackrabbit fast.

The point, though, is that what Atlanta school board members and superintendent do and why and how they do it should come as no surprise. Indeed, few, if any, of their whys, whats, and hows come as a surprise to the civil society-minded.

Nor does The Authoritarian’s rise.


Ed Johnson
Advocate for Quality in Public Education
Atlanta GA
(404) 505-8176 | edwjohnson@aol.com


 

Let’s Privatize American Education Even If There Is Little to No Research to Support School Choice

The new administration-elect in Washington has a plan. Take $20 billion from public education, possibly destroying a core idea of democracy, and then distribute it as vouchers that could that could be used at a host of private institutions, especially charter schools.

You might say that this seems like a democratic way to education our youth.

However, its my view that education needs to be in the public domain, and citizens need to fight to make sure that the slow creep of privatization does not turn into an avalanche. The democratic values that are the centerpiece of our society have been under assault, especially with the rise of the extreme conservative movement that began with Barry Goldwater, and continues today with the take over of the Republican party by extreme right-wing ideologues, who took the White House on November 8, 2016.

Although we don’t know if Twimpie* (I’m using George Lakoff’s sound symbolic renaming of the president-elect) will follow through with his campaign ideas (he’s backed off some, but then he hasn’t appointed anyone for his cabinet).

Privatizing public education will be a big push of Twimpie’s administration, even if the research on privatization of education tends either to show that private ventures such as charter schools do not outperform public schools, or that the research is rather limited, such as when we look at virtual schools.

School choice has been around, but accelerated after the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka ruling (1954), when white parents wanted to continue with the segregation of schools by sending their children to private schools.

None of these initiatives is as effective or more so than public schools in boosting student achievement on standardized tests. And the research on some forms of choice, such as home schooling and virtual schools is meager.

Research on School Choice

According to G. Miron and J.L. Urschel, research on school choice needs to improve, as well as how it is interpreted. In their chapter on the impact of school choice on school achievement published in Learning From the Federal Market-Based Reforms (Library Copy), they survey the research on the effect of the following types of school choice on student achievement:

  • Vouchers
  • Home schooling
  • Interdistrict, Intradistrict and Magnet schools
  • Charter schools,
  • Virtual schools.

Considering the quality of the research (the authors analyzed each study using a weighting scheme) and effect on achievement, the researchers found that overall, the effect on learning was mixed, and in some cases (virtual schools) almost nonexistent. The the impact on achievement and the quality of the studies was lowest for home schooling, and mixed for vouchers, inter-intra-magnet, and charters.

Of the types of choice, charters and virtual schools are more apt to be pushed on public schools as a way to privatize and thereby weaken public education.

The new administration is sure to push vouchers, charters and virtual schools on American public schools. However, they will face fierce resistance as evidence by two ballot initiatives in Georgia and Massachusetts. In these case, the people of these two states rejected overwhelmingly initiatives which would have established recovery type charter schools for struggling public schools. In Georgia, for instance, 2,369,476 voters rejected Amendment 1 representing 60.2 of the electorate.

It’s at this level that the resistance to the privatizers will take place. It will be fierce, and it will involve a lot money from corporations and private school operators who are waiting for the flood gates to open. We need to stick a finger somewhere.

*I will not use his real name, if I can help it. My reasons for this are outlined here.

The Scary Language of Crisis and the Seductive Language of Choice and Accountability by Alfredo Gaete and Stephanie Jones

Latest Story by Alfredo Gaete of the Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile and Stephanie Jones of the University of Georgia.

The Georgia General Assembly is one vote away from approving Governor Nathan Deal’s plan to take over the state’s “chronically failing” public schools by privatizing them with charter schools.  It’s a plan that demolishes the public sphere of education, which should be protected like our national parks from the grip of corporate privateers.

Professors Gaete and Jones detail the effects of privatization on education in Chile, and warn that the Chile experiment of corporatization was not successful in improving education there.  We should argue with extreme veracity against the Governor’s Opportunity School District which would essentially privatize struggling schools.

The authors have written a brilliant article.  Please share and distribute.

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IMAGINE a country that was once committed to quality public education, but began to treat that public good like a market economy with the introduction of charter schools and voucher systems.

Imagine that after a few years, most students in this country attended private schools and there was public funding for most of such schools, which must compete for that funding by improving their results. Imagine the state fostered this competition by publishing school rankings, so parents were informed of the results obtained by each institution.

Imagine, finally, that school owners were allowed to charge extra fees to parents, thereby rendering education a quite profitable business.

But let’s stop imagining, because this country already exists.

After a series of policies implemented from the 1980s onward, Chilean governments have managed to develop one of the most deregulated, market-oriented educational schemes in the world.

Inspired by the ideas of such neoliberal economists as Hayek and Friedman, the “Chilean experiment” was meant to prove that education can achieve its highest quality when its administration is handed over mainly to the private sector and, therefore, to the forces of the market.

How did they do this?

Basically by creating charter schools with a voucher system and a number of mechanisms for ensuring both the competition among them and the profitability of their business. In this scenario, the state has a subsidiary but still important role, namely, to introduce national standards and assess schools by virtue of them (in such a way that national rankings can be produced).

This accountability job, along with the provision of funding, is almost everything that was left to the Chilean state regarding education, in the hope that competition, marketing, and the like would lead the country to develop the best possible educational system.

So what happened? Here are some facts after about three decades of the “Chilean experiment” that, chillingly, has also been called the “Chilean Miracle” like the more recent U.S. “New Orleans Miracle.”

  • First, there is no clear evidence that students have significantly improved their performance on standardized tests, the preferred measurement used to assess schools within this scenario of the free market.
  • Second, there is now consensus among researchers that both the educational and the socioeconomic gaps have been increased. Chile is now a far more unequal society than it was before the privatization of education – and there is a clear correlation between family income and student achievement according to standardized testing and similar measures.
  • Third, studies have shown that schools serving the more underprivileged students have greater difficulties not only for responding competitively but also for innovating and improving school attractiveness in a way to acquire students and therefore funding.
  • Fourth, many schools are now investing more in marketing strategies than in actually improving their services.
  • Fifth, the accountability culture required by the market has yielded a teach-to-the-test schema that is progressively neglecting the variety and richness of more integral educational practices.
  • Sixth, some researchers believe that all this has negatively affected teachers’ professional autonomy, which in turn has triggered feelings of demoralization, anxiety, and in the end poor teaching practices inside schools and an unattractive profession from the outside.
  • Seventh, a general sense of frustration and dissatisfaction has arisen not only among school communities but actually in the great majority of the population. Indeed, the ‘Penguins Revolution’ – a secondary students’ revolt driven by complaints about the quality and equity of Chilean education – led to the most massive social protest movement in the country during the last 20 years.
    So even though there still are advocates of the private model of education, especially among those who have profited from it, an immense majority of the Chilean society is now urging the government for radical, deep reforms in the educational system of the country.

Very recently, in fact, an announcement was made that public university would be free for students, paid for by a 24 percent tax on corporations.

The ‘Chilean Miracle’ – like the ‘New Orleans Miracle’ – it seems, is not a miracle of student growth, achievement, equity, and high quality education for all. Rather, it is a miracle that a once protected public good was finally exploited as a competitive private market where profit-seeking corporations could receive a greater and greater share of public tax dollars.

It is also a miracle that such profit-seeking private companies and corporations, including publishing giants that produce educational materials and tests, have managed to keep the target of accountability on teachers and schools and not on their own backs.

Their treasure trove of funding – state and federal tax monies – continues to flow even as their materials, technological innovations, products, services, and tests fail to provide positive results.

So we don’t have to guess what the result will be of the current “U.S. experiment” with competition-infused education reform that includes school choice, charter schools, charter systems, voucher systems, state-funded education savings accounts for families, tax credits for “donations” to private schools, state takeover school districts, merit pay, value-added models for teacher evaluation, Common Core national standards, PARCC and Smarter Balanced national tests, edTPA national teacher education evaluations, and federal “rewards” such as Race to the Top for states that come aboard.

Indeed, Chilean education reform from the 1980s to the present provides the writing on the wall, so to speak, for the United States and we should take heed. Chile is now engaged in what will be a long struggle to dig its way out of the educational disaster created by failed experimentation and falsely produced miracles.

The United States still has time to reverse course, to turn away from the scary language of crisis and the seductive language of choice and accountability used in educational reform, and turn toward a fully funded and protected public education for our nation.

Permission to re-publish this article was granted by Stephanie Jones with many thanks.

Are the Deep Pockets of Gates, Walton, and Broad Contrary to the Ideals of Education in a Democracy?

Latest Story

Creative Commons Deep Pockets by paul-henri is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0
Creative Commons Deep Pockets by paul-henri is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

According to the Foundation Center, The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation, and the Eli & Edythe Broad Foundation are ranked 1, 13, and 38 respectively on the top 100 U.S. foundations by total giving.  The total assets of these three foundations as of April 2014 was $37 billion for the Gates Foundation, $1.9 billion for the Walton Foundation, and $1.6 billion for the Broad Foundation.

The total grant making in 2012 for these organizations was:

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation        $3.18 billion

The Walton Family Foundation                   $423 million

The Eli & Edythe Broad Foundation           $153 million

If you count up the number of people who call the shots in these three foundations, here’s the math:

(Gates x 2) + (Walton x 6) + (Broad x 2) = 10 people

These three foundations are identified as the “Big Three Foundations” by Mercedes K. Schneider in her new book, A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who in the Implosion of American Public Education (Public Library).  Dr. Schneider explores in-depth how Gates, Walton and Broad grant billions of dollars to organizations that meet their personal views of what education should be in America.

Diane Ravitch assigns the “big three” to the Billionaire Boys Club.  No matter how you look at it, these organizations’ money and political influence rudder American education reform toward the privatization of public education, and Common Core State Standards-High-Stakes Assessments accountability.

To be sure, there are many other Foundations that give grants to a variety of organizations whose goals merge with the Big Three, but it is the Big Three that dominate the agenda of education reform today.

Education for the People, by the People

In this blog post, I wonder if the deep pockets of just 10 people can be consistent with the ideals of public education.  Most of you know that Diane Ravitch published her recent book, Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools (Public Library).  On one of the end pages of her book she included a 1785 quote by President John Adams that I believe exposes the crux of the problem caused by the influx of money and influence from people such as the Gates, Waltons and Broads.  Adams is quoted as saying this:

The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expense of it.  There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves.

Adams would be shocked by the “charitable” behavior these 10 people.

The funded organizations that are identified on the Big Three websites are pawn’s or infantry sent into schools with lots of money, political influence, and carefully laid plans  to carry out the aims of the Big Three.  Although there are differences and some overlap among those who receive their marching orders from the Big Three, it becomes obvious what the end game is when you learn who is funded.  Let’s take a look at the Big Three.

Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

In an earlier post (Why Bill Gates Defends the Common Core), I reported that more than 1800 “college-ready” projects have been funded by the Gates Foundation over the past five years.  Some organizations have been awarded multiple grants, and in some cases, these amounts exceeded $60 million.  In the world of Charter Schools, Gates has awarded more than $279 million.  In teacher education, Gates has given millions to Teach for America and the New Teacher Project, yet very little in funding to improve teacher education in American universities.  In the research I’ve done analyzing the Gates Awarded Grants, it can be estimated that more than $2.3 billion has been allocated to the “college-ready” category.

If you look at the names of organizations that receive Gates awards, you soon discover how education is being shaped: charter schools, temp teacher training, common standards, venture capitalism, and market-based reforms.  Figure 1 identifies some of the organizations that have received grants, as well as the amount they garnered over the past five years.

Figure 1.  Gates Funding for Corporate Reform 2010-2013.  Source of data: http://www.gatesfoundation.org/How-We-Work/Quick-Links/Grants-Database
Figure 1. Gates Funding for Corporate Reform 2010-2013. Source of data: http://www.gatesfoundation.org/How-We-Work/Quick-Links/Grants-Database

Here the grant focal points for the Gates Foundation.

Charter Schools

When I searched the Awarded Grants site at the Gates Foundation for “charter schools” it returned 134 hits.  For example in 2014, the Pacific Charter School Development, Inc. received an award totaling $3,998,633.  They joined a long list of recipients whose total amount came to $279,428,324 (see Figure 1).  Gates gives more to support charters than does Walton and Broad combined.

Common Core

Without question, the Gates Foundation leads all organizations in the U.S. to develop and implant a common set of standards in public schools.  Achieve, Inc., the organization that wrote the Common Core State Standards in Math and Language Arts, and the Next Generation Science Standards received more than $36 million from Gates. But this is only a tip of the common core iceberg. To find out the extent of the funding for the common core is not as straightforward as you might think.

Table 1. Program Categories Funded by the Gates Foundation.  Source: The Gates Foundation Website.
Table 1. Program Categories Funded by the Gates Foundation. Source: The Gates Foundation Website.

Achieve is part of a network of organizations that have spearheaded the drive to set up a common core of subjects in American schools that share the same set of performances for all students.   As you can see in Table 1, the Gates Foundation funds projects in five program areas.  You will find common core projects in the US Program, Global Policy & Advocacy and other program areas.  For example, the New Schools Venture Fund has received more than $60 million from the Gates Foundation.  As a venture capitalist organization, “their investors are betting hundreds of millions on the digital revolution in the classroom. (NewSchools Venture Fund website, extracted, May 29, 2014).”

One of the grants NewSchools received from Gates was for more than $10 million “to support the successful implementation of the Common Core State Standards and related assessments through comprehensive and targeted communications and advocacy in key states and the District of Columbia” (Gates Foundation Website, extracted May 29, 2014).

Implementing common core standards is a cornerstone of the Gates Foundation efforts to change American education.

Teacher Training

Teacher training is supported by the Gates Foundation through its grants to Teach for America (TFA) and The New Teacher Project (TNTP).  Based on my experience and research with alternative certification programs, these programs are at simply alternative ways to get people into classrooms, even while lacking profession teaching qualifications.

Is there is a similar plan to train élite college students in six weeks in medicine for the Doctor for America (DFA) program who will be hired for two years as paid doctors in local hospitals and clinics where they will practice medicine, even though they are uncertified? Medical and teaching projects, like these, set up a pipeline of inexperienced and uncertified college graduates to teach in American school, and bolster the over stretched medical profession.  Students in these programs need to commit two years, and then move up or out of the system.

TNTP is a step-child of TFA having been founded by Michelle Rhee, who was a TFA “graduate.”  TFA has net assets of $419,098,314 for fiscal year 2012.  It receives 76% of its money from grants and gifts, and 22.3% from government grants.

In a separate investigation of TFA’s and TNTP’s role in the Race to the Top (RT3), I looked at Georgia’s RT3 Program and discovered that these organizations were receiving $15.6 million and $9.1 million to supply uncertified teachers in the greater Atlanta area, where there is no shortage of certified teachers.

The language used to describe this effort is tied up in the notion of increasing the pipeline of effective educators.

From the RT3 budget is this statement:

Increase the pipeline of effective teachers through partnership with Teach for America in Atlanta Public Schools, Clayton County, DeKalb County and Gwinnett with the first class of new TFA recruits beginning in the school year 2011-2012.  Funding included in section E project 24: $15,6000,000).

A separate line in the budget points to the same kind of arrangement with The New Teacher Project, which will provide new teachers in Savannah, Augusta, and Southwest Georgia, for $7,568,395 million.

Although these two organization provide a small share of teachers to American public schools, that the Gates Foundation and the Race to Top programs support them is troubling.  There is already legislation that supports redefining a certified teacher that includes teachers that have received minimal education, and no classroom experience.  In areas where experienced teachers are clearly more successful, Gates and even the U.S. Department of Education (ED) ignores the research on teacher effectiveness.

What about the Medical program? DFA doesn’t exist, does it? But I wonder if such a program would be accepted by the medical profession and the local community?

Teacher Evaluation

The Gates Foundation in its funded Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) theorized that it was going to be easy to identify effective teaching, especially with the use of video tapes and student test scores.  As John Thompson pointed out on Anthony Cody’s Living in Dialogue website over on Education Week,

The MET is a $45 million component of the “teacher quality” movement which studies test scores, teacher observations, and student survey data to isolate the elements of effective teaching. That’s great. But the MET’s assumptions about the outcomes they anticipated have been the basis for Arne Duncan’s test-driven policies — which require test scores to be a “significant part” of teacher evaluations in order for states to receive waivers for NCLB. Then, as evidence was gathered, preliminary reports noted problems with using test score growth for evaluations. The MET has continued to affirm the need for value-added (VAM) as a necessary component of their unified system of using improved instruction to drive reform, even as it reported disappointing findings.

Even though researchers have shown (using Gates Foundation data from the MET Study) that there are very low correlations between teachers instruction with state standards and state and alternative assessments, policy makers ignore such data and believe that teachers should be evaluated using student test scores.  This study reported there is no evidence of relationships curriculum alignment and composite measures of teacher effectiveness.  And they reported that lack of relationship between Danielson’s Framework of Teaching (used to measure teacher classroom behavior), Tripod (student surveys) to VAM scores.

One of the groups that Gates funds is the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ).  Since 2009, NCTQ has received more than $11 million in grants.  The name of this organization is an oxymoron, yet with millions in funding from Gates, NCTQ publishes biased reports on teacher effectiveness and teacher education.  In an earlier post I showed that NCTQ reporting is nothing short of junk science, yet here we have the billionaire funding such nonsense.

And then the Colorado Legacy Foundation has received more than $20 million to carry out the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) & pursue teacher evaluation systems using student test score growth.

The Walton Family Foundation

The Walton Family Foundation made grants totaling $423 million in 2013.  According to the Walton Family Foundation website, its purpose in funding is to “infuse competitive pressure into America’s K-12 education system by increasing the quantity and quality of school choices available to parents, especially in low-income communities.”

The Walton Family Foundation funds school projects that shape public policy, lead to the creation of “quality schools,” and improve existing schools. The California Charter Schools Association and the Alliance for School Choice were the top two recipients of grants from Walton in 2013.  Coming in third and fourth was The New Teacher Project and Teach for America.

The focus of funding of the Walton Foundation is school choice and parental choice (parent trigger) as policies supporting charter schools.

 

Figure 2. Walton Funding for Corporate Reform 2009 - 2013. Data Source: http://www.waltonfamilyfoundation.org/
Figure 2. Walton Funding for Corporate Reform 2009 – 2013. Data Source: http://www.waltonfamilyfoundation.org/

 

The Eli & Edythe Broad Foundation

The Broad funding was $153 million in 2013.  The Broad Foundation, just like Gates and Walton accuses public schools of being in distress.  They all use the same statistics to claim that American students are not able to compete for jobs in a global market, and that corporations can’t find the “workers” who possess the skills  needed to fill their positions.  The Broad Foundation highlights the value of competition by the giving of various “Broad Prizes.”  The Broad Prize, and Broad Prize for Public Charters is an annual competitions among applicants.

The Broad Foundation also supports its Broad Residency in Urban Education and the Broad Superintendents Academy.

Each of these strategies is very much like the model used by Teach for America and The New Teacher Project.  These are part-time training programs that train college graduates in five weeks to be full-time teachers.

The Broad programs trains people to be principals and superintendents, who according to many writers, tend to be confrontative with teachers and their unions, and have no problem in closing schools, and then turning around and opening schools managed by charter companies.

The Broad Foundation funds in more than fifty organizations in four larger categories as listed below.  I’ve also included two funded projects or organizations representative of each grouping.

The corporate reform funded by Gates, Walton and Broad is a cobweb of organizations that has snared public schools by means of an accountability system that uses student achievement scores as the bottom line.  The web also includes organizations whose goal is to shape policy by writing and rewriting state laws that benefit vouchers, choice, charters, and teacher evaluation.

In the next post, we enhance the web by examining the machinations of the American Legislative Exchange Council and the Foundation for Excellence in Education.

If education in the United States is to be for the people, by the people, these three organizations are the antithesis of public education in a democratic society.  What do you think?

Georgia Charter School Clusters: “Under the Dome”

On August 13, about  eleven-hundred citizens from the Druid Hills area of DeKalb County, Georgia voted on a petition to create the Druid Hills Charter Cluster (DHCC).  The cluster consist of seven schools, five elementary, one middle, and Druid Hills High School.  The purpose of the charter is raise student achievement by creating a cluster of charter schools.

A few miles further to the north, a group of “concerned parents” is working on a petition to form the Dunwoody High School Charter Cluster.  According to one report, the organizing parental group decided to put off a letter of intent to the DeKalb County Board of Education until next year.

Figure 1. Druid Hills Charter Cluster Dome: Image Source: CBS News

So, in DeKalb County, Georgia, there are two efforts underway to create charter clusters, or what I am calling charter schools “Under the Dome” (Special thanks to Cita Cook for suggesting the notion of a dome in this context).   These domed neighborhoods will have autonomy from the county board of education, and will have complete and comprehensive power to work out its own business plan, establish curriculum, and hire teachers that meet its own criteria.

The document describing the petition (75 pages and appendices) outlines the rationale and goals of the DHCC.  School choice, teacher policy, high-stakes testing and academic achievement dominate the DHCC.

Druid Hills Dome

I know the Druid Hills Dome very well.  I lived there for ten years, but for more than 30 years I worked with schools, teachers and administrators in all DeKalb County.  Indeed, one of the schools that I had a twenty year relationship with was Dunwoody High School.  Dunwoody was a partner school with Georgia State University’s Global Thinking Project, and under the principalship of Dr. Jenny Springer, Dunwoody participated in more than ten student and teacher exchanges with partner schools in Russia.

Druid Hills High School and Dunwoody High School are outstanding schools, and for years have been important to their respective communities.   Why would this group of parents want to segregate the schools in each cluster from the rest of the DeKalb Schools?  Yes, there is a new school board, and an interim Superintendent, and the county has had problems.  Is now the time to break up the district?

Convincing the board of education to let a group take away schools and land to form their school system is unbelievable.  Imagine.  You get a group of like-minded parents together (mostly white) and decide that creating your own cluster of schools would be in the best interests of all the parents and students under the dome.  It’s a real deal.  Not only do you set up a power-based structure, but you take over school properties owned by DeKalb County.  And it doesn’t cost you a dime.  The Druid Hills Charter Cluster, Inc., is a Georgia non-profit corporation, and as such, has already begun a campaign of raising money through its website. The current officer of the DHCC and chair of the Druid Hills High School Council is Mathew S. Lewis.  Mr. Lewis will also become a member of the charter board of directors of the DHCC.

Location of Schools in the Druid Hills Charter Cluster.  View as a larger map.
Figure 2. Location of Schools in the Druid Hills Charter Cluster. View as a larger map.

So in the Druid Hills Charter Cluster “under the dome,” some residents have banded together to try and form their own mini-school district, essentially cut off from the larger public school district. When you read the DHCC petition, it is clearly stated that this group seeks academic autonomy, including their own hired staffs, food service, transportation, and financial independence.  Now keep in mind, that the funds to support the DHCC will come from DeKalb County and the state of Georgia.  It is also possible that venture capital will find its way into the dome, and most likely out-of-state investors and “school” reform organizations such as the Gates Foundation, The Walton Family Foundation, and the Broad Foundations will appear.

In time, there will be huge problems when teachers realize that their jobs are at risk. They will discover that in the long run it will be more cost effective for the DHCC to partner up with Teach for America who will supply inexpensive teachers who will leave after two years.

For example, after Hurricane Katrina, many New Orleans schools were converted to charter schools, with thousands of employees fired, and then replaced by recruits from Teach for America who have a 5-week program to learn how to teach.  Instead of innovation (I use this word because it is used in the DHCC petition), New Orleans schools were set up to be managed by data and numbers, not critical thinking, inquiry and problem solving.  The DHCC will follow the same path.  The DHCC will test the daylights out of students, and will use data in unsubstantiated ways to evaluate teachers.  This is clearly a set up.  Teachers will be replaced on the basis of faulty data and fraudulent assessment methods.  Indeed one of the tests included in the lineup of formative assessments is MAP (Measure of Academic Progress), the same test that teachers in Washington refused to administer to their students because it was unrelated to their curriculum.  And it goes on and on.  Summative assessments are no different.  There is complete line up of end of course and criterion referenced tests.

Will this be the future for the DHCC?

Is the DHCC a Parent Trigger in Disguise?

Another question I have is this.  Is the DHCC using the “parent trigger” strategy disguised as a cluster of conversion charters?

Under Georgia law, a group can petition to create a conversion or start-up charter school.  Unfortunately, most of the laws on the books were really not written with Georgia students, parents and teachers in mind.  In fact, I asked last year, Why don’t our elected representatives write their own legislation?  Well, it’s because ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) writes them, brings like minded (mostly Republicans) together, and passes out “model bills” that our elected ones take back to the legislature, put their names on them, and submit them as a bill.  The charter bill that passed in the last session was written by ALEC, and in fact you can go here to read the bill.  Notice that the bill is written so that all that our elected officials have to do is fill in the blanks (with their names, dates, etc.).  That bill was used to strike down a Georgia Supreme Court Decision in the previous year that ruled unconstitutional, a statewide charter authorizer.  The commission on charter schools was reinstated.

In the last legislative session, the Parent Trigger Bill (which would enable disgruntled parents of low-performing schools to fire teacher and administrative staff and turn the school over to for-profit management company paid with district funds) made its way through the House, but was held up in the Senate after some very courageous citizens of Georgia (Empowered Georgia) said, enough is enough.  The people behind the Parent Trigger simply imported the same ALEC bill that had been floating around in California, Florida and Oklahoma.  It comes in many names, one of which the Parent Empowerment Act.  There is no parent empowerment.  The parents are pawns in a shifty business deal in which failing schools can be replaced with charter schools. Now, if you think parents at the local level will set up the charter school, I’ll sell you a bridge.

But here is the problem with the Druid Hill Charter Cluster.  It is being submitted under the law which defines the nature of conversion charters.  It smells like its a parent trigger.  When independent reporters attended the polling site for the DHCC, most of those in attendance where white, and by all estimates, very few teachers were there.  Yet only 18% of the students in the Druid Hills Dome are white, while 61% are African-American, 10% Asian, and 7% Hispanic/Latino.

Is a Charter Cluster the Answer?

Well, that depends upon the question.  In the present age, the question is how can we make American students more competitive in the global market place and how can we improve the academic scores of students on yearly national and international tests (TIMSS and PISA)?  That is the question that most charter petitions use to claim that their approach will exceed the expectations of regular public school students.  Charter schools actually do worse than regular public schools on end-of-year or other benchmark tests used for national assessments.

Percentage of high school graduates meeting Texas SAT/ACT College Readiness Criterion plotted as a function of concentration of poverty. Every disk is a high school, with the area of the disk proportional to the number of graduates. Charter schools are highlighted; non-charters are grey. Source: Dr. Michael Marder, Used with Permission. Click on the graph for more visualizations.
Figure 3. Percentage of high school graduates meeting Texas SAT/ACT College Readiness Criterion plotted as a function of concentration of poverty. Every disk is a high school, with the area of the disk proportional to the number of graduates. Charter schools are highlighted; non-charters are grey. Source: Dr. Michael Marder, Used with Permission. Click on the graph for more visualizations.

Professor Michael Marder at the University of Texas has looked at the type of school, charter vs regular public school, he found the results to be quite dramatic.  If you look at Figure 3, there are 140 charter schools in Texas with 11th grade data.  As you can see in Figure 3, most of the charters form a flat line at the bottom of the graph indicating that except for 7 charters off the flat line, the rest of the charters are doing worse than the regular public schools. Dr. Marder has analyzed data from California, New York, and New Jersey and found that charter schools do not do better than regular public schools in any of these states.

Georgia has opened the door to the charter management world, and there is no doubt that the DHCC is capitalizing on this moment in history.

If you listen to the politicians and owners of a charter schools, public schools do not know how to meet the divergent needs of Georgia students.  You often hear, “one size does not fit all.”  Professional educators know this instinctively.  Furthermore, teachers in public schools (and independent schools, by the way) have worked with researchers who are on the cutting edge of the learning sciences.  This two-way interaction between teachers who have experiential knowledge of the classroom and students, and researchers who take themselves out of the ivory tower to work with teachers to seek answers to questions about how students learn is much more powerful way to improve schooling.

The managers of charter schools do not have the interests of parents or students in mind.  They make the false claim that charters will put schooling back into the hands of parents, when in fact the charter school movement has led to putting taxpayer money in the accounts and hands of charter management companies.  Parents and students are being used to secure this end.

Democratic Schools?

Last week I published Dr. Chip Carey’s report on the Druid Hills Charter Cluster election.  In Dr. Carey’s words:

In all the elections that I have observed around the world, in Nicaragua, El Salvador, Haiti, Pakistan, Romania and the Philippines, I have never seen such a sham election within a polling area.

If the election was a sham, then this is evidence that a bogus attempt to manipulate the law, and set up a collection of conversion charter schools using the parent trigger strategy is being made.

What we are observing in DHCC is an un-democratic activity that purports to represent the opinions and needs of thousands of parents and children.  If there is not a broad cross-section of constituents involved in the DHCC, then what we are witnessing is simply another attempt by school choice advocates to privatize public education.

Unless the election is investigated to find out if democratic voting rights were in place for all citizens, then how can a small group of advocates claim to represent, and then later control education in this corner of DeKalb County. A new bureaucracy will be established managed by the DHCC, Inc, with the real decision makers being at the bottom of the hierarchy.

One More Thing

The notion of a charter school, when originally conceived 20 years ago, was an innovative idea.  It was a teacher led initiative which resulted in creative and new approaches to teaching and learning.  The idea was hijacked by corporations who saw the charter school provision as back door into local public schools.  Coupled with the support of conservative politicians and their corporate allies to privatize government agencies and activities, schools have become the target of this effort.  Charter schools are seen as a way to privatize education, and devastate public education as we know it.

The thing is that charter schools do not nearly do as well as regular public schools.  The research reported in this post casts a vague eye on the efficacy of charter schools in fulfilling the promise that charters, because they can run more flexibly than their public school counterparts, will create environments where students will not only do as well as public school students, but out do them on achievement tests. The massive amount of data that has been analyzed by Dr. Marder’s team at the University of Texas, and the results of charter school performance in 16 states does not paint a very pretty picture of charter schools.

In a major study done at Stanford University, the researchers concluded that the majority of students attending charter schools would have fared better if they are gone to a public school.

Yet, most of our legislators in the Georgia House and Senate refuse to look at the research that clearly shows that public schools should be supported even more than they are now because they not only do a better job in the academic department, but they work with all students.  All families.  Regardless.

I hope that the DeKalb Board of Education reads this post, and questions the legitimacy of the DHCC, Inc. to establish a schools “under the dome.”