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John Thompson, historian and retired teacher in Oklahoma, wrote a three part series on education “Reform” and politics in his state.
This is part 2.
The Fordham Institute’s Mike Petrilli seemed to be whistling through the graveyard in “The End of Education Policy.” The corporate reformer argued that “Our own Cold War pitted reformers against traditional education groups; we have fought each other to a draw, and reached something approaching homeostasis. Resistance to education reform has not collapsed like the Soviet Union did. Far from it. But there have been major changes that are now institutionalized and won’t be easily undone, at least for the next decade.”
In fact, the failed school “reform” experiment is losing politically as the public rejects test-driven, competition-driven reform. The Billionaires Boys Club and federal and state governments have wasted billions of dollars on their theories. Now their political campaign is stumbling.
Not surprisingly, the attempt to use the stresses of high stakes testing and nonstop competition between schools to remedy the stresses of poverty and trauma, created a fiasco. They used increased segregation by charter schools to counter the stress of racial segregation. They even used untested and unreliable value-added models, that are biased against teachers in high-challenge schools, in order to recruit more talent to those schools!?!?!
The Obama administration and edu-philanthropists tried to entice charters into serving more high-poverty students with hundreds of millions of dollars of grants. As the reliable Hechinger Report’s Jill Barshay explains, only 18 percent on the era’s innovations produced “any positive impact on student achievement,” and “some of these positive impacts were very tiny.” And even in many charters that initially claimed to produce big test scores gains, the result was “‘quiet churn’ of students from year to year, which slows achievement for both students who change schools and those who stay.”
High student mobility in Milwaukee stalls achievement, despite well-planned school reforms
The Hechinger Report’s Caroline Preston describes a state-authorized charter school in Seminole, Ok. as a test case as to “whether these privately operated, publicly funded schools can open in small communities without eroding public education.” The article’s title, “A rural Charter School Splits an Oklahoma Town.” The subtitle is: A businessman makes an end run around community opponents. Now, he wants to expand others like it,” should serve as a warning.
Even though it seems inexplicable, especially in a state that has too many rural school systems, Oklahoma allows charters in small towns like Seminole that only has around 1,600 students. If the charter school could meet its goal of serving as many as 700 students, the public school system would be wrecked.
Even more illogical is a law that allows the state Board of Education to override local decisions on granting charters. And due to one of the “reforms” in the full corporate reform agenda which was adopted at the beginning of the decade, the board is dominated in true believers by choice and the edu-politics of destruction for blowing up the “status quo.” It’s unlikely that the board will ever meet a charter application that it doesn’t love. Even if the charter isn’t capable of helping kids, it hurts the privatizers’ opponents.
Preston explains that the charter founder, Paul Campbell, runs a company, Enviro Systems, that wants graduates who could staff his business. She notes that Campbell lacked knowledge about schools, but his “can-do, pro-business attitude fits in with the ethos of this working class, Trump-supporting town.”
However, many patrons believed:
It could inappropriately blur the lines between schools and the workplace. Opponents also felt that Campbell, who had no background in education, had put together a proposal pockmarked with problems, one that didn’t offer students any opportunities they couldn’t already get from existing programs. Church services grew tense. Friendships soured.
At first glance, it might seem like Seminole is lucky that the charter’s goal was 60 students in the first year, and it only served 29. But the overall threat remains. As a former school board member said, “she worried the charter school would be a private school ‘in sheep’s clothing,’ benefiting only students of families with the means to sort out the school’s application process and ferry their kids to and from school.” And sure enough, about 45 percent the charter’s inaugural class qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, in contrast to 73 percent in the Seminole district.
And once again, Fordham’s Mike Petrilli stakes out a position about schools, a community, and a state he doesn’t know. Petrilli says of Campbell, “More power to him.” He endorses Campbell’s “vision of helping lift local school performance with market-style inducements. ‘Here is a person who is trying to bring up the quality of education in the community. He’s an employer; this is where a lot of the energy for education reform has come from, the employers who find they are just not getting the workers they need or they don’t have the schools to recruit people into the community.’”
The point should be clear. Charters have failed in terms of school improvement. Regardless of whether charter expansion is spun as a “portfolio” or an “innovation” school, it is a tool for economic gain as opposed to an education investment.
In urban districts, privatization is a means to spur gentrification, as well as to break unions. My approach has been to schmooze with Oklahoma City leaders, hoping to ground policy decisions in at least some education facts. As one of the most powerful and candid business leaders told me in response, “You may be right. I don’t know that much about education.” But low-performing schools make economic development more difficult, and “I believe economic growth will lift all boats.”
As will be explained in the next post, political and business leaders are still hearing nonstop spin from Fordham, edu-philanthropists, and portfolio advocates, and their pitch often sounds pretty good to business people who don’t know much about education.