Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Debunking Reformy Logic One Tweet At A Time Part 2

As I reported in Part 1 of this 3-part series, I recently got into a Twitter debate with Laura Waters, Derrell Bradford and Ryan Hill which turned into an all-day affair, with Save Our Schools NJ, Jersey Jazzman and a few other pro-public education advocates chiming in. It was a 3-pronged discussion focusing on:

  1. Waters' continuous, illogical reasoning (Part 1)
  2. Hill's assertions that:
    - charter schools are underfunded compared to district schools
    - every child should have choice but only when that choice is a charter school
  3. Bradford's assertions that:
    - I'm a teacher, therefore I am not an expert on public education
    - I'm a white, suburban woman so I should "say nothing"
Today's post brings you...

Part 2: Ryan Hill: "All You Need Is [Choice]"

My exchange with Ryan Hill, founder and executive director of TEAM/KIPP charter schools, centered on school choice and funding. My beef isn't with whether charter schools are better or worse than TPS. That's not an either-or argument because recent research has shown that some are better; some are worse; many are about the same. 

What I have a problem with is 'charter school choice' being sold as the miracle cure when there is no proof whatsoever that market-driven reforms benefit all students. And if we're going to call charter schools 'public', then we have to talk about all students because traditional public schools educate all of them and charters simply do not. 

False Advertising: Charters don't do 'more with less'

During the exchange, Hill pulled out the 'charters do more with less' talking point, and even mentioned Zuckerberg's $100 million donation to NPS (which largely went to $1000/day consultants although Superintendent Cerf now says he's giving a whopping $100 to teachers for classroom supplies). It didn't take long for Jersey Jazzman to jump into the fray with his magic bag of charts and data—something 'reformers' are sorely lacking. (Note: to follow the exchange, read the text in the box first, then my reply):

Writing about Jonathan Alter's near religious zeal for all things charter, Jersey Jazzman also had this to say:
[Alter] won't acknowledge KIPP enjoys a resource advantage, both through being the recipient of large amounts of philanthropic giving, and through an employment policy that keeps a younger, less experienced, and therefore less-expensive teaching workforce on its payroll. 
It's nice that KIPP enjoys this advantage, but it's highly questionable as to whether it can be extended to all urban schools (at least not while we refuse to raise revenues through taxes for these districts). (emphasis mine)

For a definitive look at how charter schools miraculously do 'more with less', read Jazzman's 4-part series on the Hola Charter School in Hoboken:
  • Part I - Hoboken's charters amass social and political capital, helping them thrive.
  • Part II - Hoboken's charters raise substantial outside funds, casting doubt on the claim"we do more with less."
  • Part III - Hoboken's charters pay their teachers less, because they have less experience. 
  • Part IV - We can't have a serious conversation about charters -- in Hoboken or elsewhere -- until we are honest.

With 'choice' like this, who needs choice? 

From coast to coast, we have seen what the unincumberance of bureaucratic control has freed many charters to do: fiscal mismanagement, high staff turnover, fraud, waste, lack of transparency, nepotism, cronyism, segregation, failure and community disruption. And they call that 'innovation'? Granted, not all charters are like this. Some do an excellent job of educating their students, but if charter schools and school choice are being pushed as the Viagra of education 'reform', why are any of them allowed to operate like this? Why aren't state and federal governments swarming all over them the way they do 'failing schools'? Where is the outrage? Could it be that somebody along the food chain is actually profiting from them?

Back in 2011, The Miami Herald uncovered the seedy underbelly of the Florida charter school industry with an in-depth report on the blatant corruption and lack of oversight that turned education into another get-rich-quick scheme. One charter even tried to do double duty as a lewd after hours nightclub. (Did they remove the pasties and g-strings before students arrived the next morning?) Just the other day, Diane Ravitch posted this:

Last month as the country marked the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina (aka. "the best thing to happen to the education system of New Orleans" according to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan) much was written about the progress (or lack thereof) in New Orleans' Recovery School District (RSD), the poster child for education 'reform', which is 100% charter. Dr. Julian Vasquez Heilig weighed in with a policy brief which concluded that:

Louisiana charter schools perform worse than any other state when compared to traditional schools. This finding is highly problematic for the conventional narrative of charter success in Louisiana and the RSD. Also, the RSD dropout, push out, and graduation rates are of concern— placing last and nearly last in the state. After ten years of education reform it is a disappointment that only 5% of RSD students score high enough on AP tests to get credit. The review of data also demonstrates that neither the Louisiana ACT nor RSD ACT scores are positive evidence of success.
In conclusion, the national comparative data suggest that there is a dearth of evidence supporting a decade of test-score-driven, state-takeover, charter-conversion model as being implemented in New Orleans. The predominance of the data suggest that the top-down, privately controlled education reforms imposed on New Orleans have failed. The state and RSD place last and nearly last in national and federal data. These results do not deserve accolades. (emphasis mine)
Louisianna public education advocate and founding member of Parents Across America, Karran Harper Royal, frequently speaks about how NOLA charter schools come and go like a corner deli. When one doesn't quite work out, it closes and is quickly replaced by another school. New name, new owner/operator, same m.o.: disruption and churn. Writing on the PAA website, she said this about the RSD:
The Recovery School District was supposed to improve the schools and give them back to our local board; however, it seems that the only method that the RSD is utilizing to improve the schools is to maintain the schools’ failure so that the schools will qualify to become charter schools. The RSD has not improved any of its direct operated schools enough to qualify for return to the local board, and it’s imperative to question the validity of the RSD. One has to ask “was this by design?” Has the RSD deliberately trapped the lowest performing students in schools under their jurisdiction so that the charter schools would have more access to the higher performing students in New Orleans? (emphasis mine)

And former Newark Mayor Cory Booker wanted to remake the Newark school district in the image and likeness of New Orleans.

The horror stories of charters sucking the life out of local school districts in the name of 'choice' is seemingly endless, but perhaps the worst is what's happening right now in the Chester (PA) Uplands School District:

Peter Greene writes: 
Some districts can weather the budget storm. CUSD, sucked dry of money by charter schools, cannot. So while the state's elected officials cannot get their jobs done for pay, Chester Upland teachers and staff will get their jobs done for free. Tell me again about how teachers and their unions are the big obstacle to education in this country. (emphasis mine)

In reporting on research about school 'choice' in Chicago, Rebecca Klein writes in the Huffington Post, that it's not necessarily a good thing. While low income students have much more 'choice' than their higher income counterparts, the latter group is much more likely to attend a local neighborhood school, while the former group is more likely to travel across town thereby disrupting neighborhood connections and fostering social isolation. And while many low income children end up choosing successful schools, some don't. 'Choice' means nothing when you struggle to get through the 'choice' maze either because of a lack of English proficiency or reading ability or simply of time. 

The idea that poor Chicagoans frequently leave their neighborhood for education contradicts the perception that low-income kids are often "trapped in underperforming local schools," according to Burdick-Will's paper on the subject. This perception often drives the arguments of school reform advocates in Chicago who push for greater school choice options 
[T]he fact that low-income families are more likely to exercise school choice should not be seen as a positive. The ability to not have to search for schools outside your neighborhood is the real privilege, said Burdick-Will.  
"Not having to participate in this complicated system is really a privilege. The most advantaged people really don’t have to figure out how to read the Chicago high school book. They don’t have to gather the information or spend a lot of time figuring out if charter school A is better than charter school B."
When kids live in areas where most people opt not to attend a neighborhood school, they are more likely to choose poorly and attend a school that is worse than the one to which they've been assigned, Burdick-Will found.
For those of  you who are old enough to remember, Listerine was once marketed and sold as a cure for the common cold. When that claim was disproved, they had to stop saying it. When will charters be forced to do the same?

It's not the 'choice', it's the poverty 

Charter cheerleaders love to say their schools give students in 'failing schools' 'choice', but Jersey Journal reporter Earl Morgan writes about the real problem: funding inequities:
In Jersey City, the dirty little secret is that there are actually two schools systems; the one that exists north of Montgomery Street and the other south of that educational demarcation.

For decades, schools south of Montgomery Street to a large extent lacked, and still lack, the resources of those north of Montgomery. For many years there were few if any gifted and talented or accelerated enrichment programs in schools south of Montgomery. In their stead was a surfeit of special education and Title I classes.

North of Montgomery, teachers would routinely order needed supplies or items that their colleagues would have to purchase themselves.

If the state wants these troubled school systems to succeed, they’re not going to make that happen in the 5 1/2-hour school day. They will have to go deep into the weeds, to where students in low-performing schools live. It will take time to unravel the Gordian knot of turmoil, anxiety and despair these young people grapple with every minute of every day of their lives.
Ride the Amtrak past Camden and you’ll see something resembling the aftermath of a disaster movie with one dilapidated and abandoned neighborhood and building after another. If you want to improve education, it’s not charter schools or a few “vouchers” used to transfer a handful of students to more affluent districts. It’s the soul destroying poverty that must be confronted in Jersey City, Paterson, Newark and Camden. That’s where you need to start. (emphasis mine)

Ah, yes, poverty—that dirty little word that 'reformers' deny is really the problem in 'failing schools'.

Choice for some, just not for you

But what about the people who choose their neighborhood public school, but are denied that choice because education 'reformers' want to close it, flip it to a charter or, in the case of the One Newark plan, send siblings to different schools all over the city—in the name of choice? Where is their choice? Why don't they have a say? Why is their choice not valued as much as those who choose a charter school? We've seen it in Newark not only with parent and student protests to save Hawthorne Ave. School, West Side High School and Barringer High School, but with the protests and boycotts of One Newark. Blogger Bob Braun's extensive coverage of the Newark school district insanity included this scathing report:

“Why are they doing this to us?” cried Richardson, an immigrant from Dominica who raised six grandchildren, two of them war veterans. “Are they doing it because we are poor?” 
A helpful school security officer  found Richardson a chair and moved it to place outside Newark Vocational Sc hool–the so-called “enrollment center”– where there was just a little shade. The woman had dressed in formal clothes, a long-sleeve top and a long, black skirt because, well, that’s how you dress when you are dealing with people in government. You showed them respect and you hoped they would show it in return. But to Deseret Richardson, the  school system, under Gov. Chris Christie and his superintendent, Cami Anderson, wasn’t showing anyone respect. 
“I tried to explain to them that I have watched these children all their lives,” said Richardson of her grandchildren. “I have taken care of them when there was no one else. And I will do that until I die. But they didn’t want to listen.” 
Richardson lives near Barringer High School. Has for years. That’s where her other grandchildren had gone, including the sailor and the solider and the young man who made it into Cheney State. That’s where she intended to send her youngest granddaughter, also Deseret, Deseret Segura. 
But [former Newark Superintendent] Cami said no. Cami has a plan she calls “One Newark.” She won’t tell anyone how she devised the plan. Cami–who lives far away with rich friends in Glen Ridge and has enough money not to worry about such things–insisted this woman somehow find a way to get her namesake all the way across town to Shabazz High School. 
Thousands of children  are being forced to attend schools outside their neighborhoods. It is destroying the system. It is destroying the city.
And this is what this cruel woman calls “school choice.”
(emphasis mine)
We see it in Chicago with the hunger strike still going on to save Dyett High School. Parents are willing to literally fight to the death to save their neighborhood school. In all of these instances, and others, parents, students and the community have no choice in what is happening to their local school. Where is their 'choice'? Why is it ok that they have none?

Ryan Hill, please answer this question:

If 'choice' is so great and wonderful, why was former Central HS Principal Ras Baraka elected Mayor of Newark based on his platform of rejecting Cami Anderson's One Newark plan? Why did Baraka have to set up this to help parents who couldn't get their children into the school of their 'choice': 

Why did the President of the Newark Teachers Union post this on Facebook:

If 'choice' is the miracle cure-all for low income communities, what are 'reformers' doing about the fact that these people are being their denied choice?

If school 'choice' will miraculously level the playing field; if it will truly provide a pathway to a more enriching education for every child, then it's a farce, a joke, a crime if even one child is denied their school of choice. Ryan, if charters are really, truly public schools as you and other charter supporters claim, if they really, truly are a better option than 'failing schools', then why have a lottery? Why won't you accept every, single child who wants to attend, first come, first served. Start a waiting list that is verifiable, accurate and open to public scrutiny. Serve the needs of every, single child—no exceptions. That is a real public school. That is real choice. Anything less just... isn't.