Public education advocate and fellow commentator Wendy Lecker has an outstanding piece in this weekend’s Stamford Advocate and other Hearst Media outlets about Hartford’s recent “school choice” debacle.
You can find Wendy’s piece at: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Lecker-School-choice-or-extortion-5022275.php. Below is a somewhat longer version.
Both do an excellent job laying out the issues surrounding Achievement First, Inc., Capital Prep and Hartford’s Clark and SAND elementary schools.
The entire story is a great case study in how the corporate education reform industry is trying to destroying our public education system and how parents, teachers and communities can fight back.
School Choice or Extortion (By Wendy Lecker)
Driven by their Madison Avenue advertising mentality, the corporate education “reform” industry’s narrative seeks to convince our nation’s citizens that our public education system is failing,” parents need market-based “ school choice” so their children can escape dismal neighborhood schools.
A primary solution, according to these education reformers is to remove public schools out of the control of local community school boards and hand them over to boards made up of corporate leaders or even hand them over to private management companies.
As a result of this business first mentality, rather than properly fund neighborhood schools, officials in Chicago, Philadelphia, New Orleans, New York and even right here in Connecticut push a political agenda in which underfunded community schools are closed and replaced with privately-run “schools of choice.” In nearly every case, our most vulnerable children are the first to be excluded from these “new” schools, while the remaining students are faced with barely-trained, inexperienced and often temporary teachers.
One of the most interesting developments has been the fact that voters simply don’t buy the corporate education industry’s version of the world.
In a recent 2013 Phi Delta Kappan/Gallup national poll on public education, the largest majority of parents ever recorded gave their community schools a grade of A or B.
The fact is most parents do not think their schools are failing their children. The poll revealed that the majority of parents trust teachers. The most serious problem facing public schools, according to parents polled, contrary to claims by reformers, is the fundamental lack of adequate funding, with school overcrowding being the second most serious concern cited by parents.
Rather than close and replace their schools or fire their children’s teachers, the vast majority of parents in the United States want their schools funded sufficiently so they have the capacity to provide all children with the resources, services and support they need to succeed.
A powerful example of the clash between reformer rhetoric and parent reality can be found in Connecticut’s Capital City.
In recent weeks, parents from two community schools have risen up to successfully oppose proposals by Christina Kishimoto, Hartford’s outgoing “reform” superintendent, and Governor Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor to hand over their neighborhood schools over to private companies. Neither school community was consulted before the plans were developed.
The reformers initial proposal was to hand Hartford’s Clark Elementary school over to Achievement First, Inc. the charter school management company co-founded by Commissioner Stefan Pryor.
Almost 18% of Clark’s students have disabilities, and 15.2% are English Language Learners. Clark’s school governance council has begged the district, in vain, for additional resources, including teachers, a psychologist, a guidance counselor and basic school repairs such as a functional heating and cooling system.
Only 6.7% of Achievement First’s students have special needs, 6.7% are English Language Learners. Moreover, Achievement First has the highest rate of suspensions in the state for children under 6 years old, and has been investigated and cited for federal violations in mistreating students with disabilities.
Upon hearing of the proposed Achievement First takeover, Clark’s parents fought back. They openly feared that their special needs children would “not have a place” at an Achievement First school. One parent said “Our teachers work very hard and they love our kids.” Another remarked that when children do not listen, Achievement First suspends them. “Our teachers find a way to keep them in school, find out what is behind their [behavior].” Noting the school was praised by the district in 2013 for its academic progress, a parent declared, “We didn’t ask for our school to be redesigned but only for supports to keep making improvements.”
In the face of the strong opposition from parents, the mayoral-controlled majority of the school board backed down.
The same scene recurred about a week later. This time the Hartford BOE was presented with a plan to hand the SAND elementary school over to Steve Perry’s new private management company. Perry currently heads Hartford’s Capital Prep Magnet School. Kishimoto and Pryor tried to shift both SAND and Capital Prep to Perry’s company.
At Capital Prep, 6.3% of the students have disabilities, 3.4% of the students are English Language Learners, and 51.4% are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. Mr. Perry bills Capital Prep as a “no excuses” school. The school has a high attrition rate for teachers and students; and allegations of bullying abound.
Mr. Perry has been absent for almost 20% of the year so far, traveling and giving speeches. In one speech, he claimed that public schools are “over-feminized.”
In SAND school, 14.9% of the children have disabilities, 21.4% are English Language Learners, and over 95% of the children are eligible for free-or-reduced-priced lunch.
Parents came out to contest the “hostile takeover” of their school. One student claimed that “Capital Prep does not understand the [SAND] students” and feared that Capital Prep would “kick [neighborhood kids] out.” Another remarked that “We know these teachers and they know us.” He continued,” If you want kids at SAND to learn better, give kids the same support you do at fancy schools like Capital Prep. If I had fifteen kids in my classroom and two teachers, I would learn better too.”
The school board backed down again.
But this retreat may only be temporary. The school board subsequently met in private, in executive session, and emerged with another “turnaround plan.” Digging up an obscure law, the board suggested finding a school to become a “lighthouse” school. A lighthouse school is an existing school that is “redesigned” to have a specialized curriculum and be open to intradistrict and interdistrict choice. Such a school would be eligible for additional funding if it is subjected to this “redesign.”
According to approach being taken by the corporate education reformers, the only way parents will get more resources for their inadequately funded schools to acquiesce to a redesign- a redesign that will necessarily disrupt their school community – fire teachers, exclude children.
But of course, that is not really school choice- in the real world it’s called extortion.
It remains to be seen whether Hartford officials will listen to parents- those who know best what their children need. If they don’t, as one parent reminded Hartford officials- “We voted you in. We can vote you out.”
You can read the piece in the Stamford Advocate here: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Lecker-School-choice-or-extortion-5022275.php