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Whipping Post

Posted by Chuck Olynyk on November 20, 2016 at 11:45 AM

Today is Saturday, November 19, 2016 and Day 319 of Year Seven, Day 2226 since I began writing originally about LAUSD’s reconstitution of Fremont High, back when reconstitution was shiny and new and Arne Duncan ruled as the Secretary of Education. It is also Day 2158 PF (Post-Fremont), when I and at least half of my former colleagues were dispersed into what became known as the Fremont Diaspora.

The original intent of the writing was soul-searching, wondering what I had done wrong, what had my colleagues had done wrong to warrant the venom of then-LAUSD Superintendent Ramon Cortines and his then-hatchet man, Dr. George McKenna III, now member of LAUSD’s School Board, and labeled by my union the Teachers’ Friend. (What a changing world…). It became a cry of outrage and boots-on-the-ground (had to use that phrase with tongue firmly planted in my bearded cheek) coverage of the reconstitution process.

Only later, I realized there were other issues, other schools, other trends in education reform conducted by edu-robber-barons. I also wrote a bit about what was happening at my current home, Roosevelt High and the changes and dealings with the overlordship of the Mayor’s Partnership L.A. Schools (which many call PLAS, but their current leadership prefers The Partnership).

Now it seems to be about where PUBLIC (and I do stress that word) education is going.

Clearly, we should define words as they are being used. I don’t consider charters to be public. They are not the neighborhood schools which welcome children of the neighborhood. Certainly not all of them. In the world of education driven by test scores, who doesn’t want only star players to create a winning team? It certainly would make sense in sports, to build that winning franchise.

But this isn’t sports. This isn’t even the business model, except in the most misguided sense. This is dealing with the education and socialization of the youngest and most vulnerable members of our society: our children.

This is not a place where we can pick and choose who attends. This is not a place where we reject those who are English Language Learners (ELLs if you are in education) because they might lower a school’s test scores, if there is a high percentage of ELLs in the neighborhood. Nor is it a place you can “counsel out” special needs students because they’ll create hiccups in those tests scores.

As a former principal told us how he explained charters and test scores and suchlike to conservative in-laws extolling the virtues and wonders of getting “the bright kids away from those who don’t want to learn,”: “Imagine you are a contractor. Building materials get delivered your driveway. However, others companies are allowed to go through your driveway first and take what they want and you are expected to build with what’s left and remain competitive?”

That’s what is like now to work in a public school, where one has to put on recruiting drives while charters bloom.

And that’s why I fear the choices for Secretary of Education being floated about. “Trump’s possible choices for Education Secretary include charter boss Eva Moskowitz, but reveal little about his plan for schools” http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/trump-school-plans-unclear-eyes-education-secretary-article-1.2874773

“Word that President-elect Donald Trump was considering a couple of charter school champions for the nation's top education post took some experts by surprise Tuesday, but others said it revealed little about Trump's ambitions for American schools…

“According to CNN, Trump was considering Success Academy founder and former City Councilwoman Eva Moskowitz and former Washington, D.C. schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee for U.S. Secretary of Education…”

Both, while Democrats, are in favor of vouchers and school choice, as well as Common Core (something the President-elect dislikes), and are notoriously anti-teacher union. Well, that will sit well enough with the President-elect.

You might remember Michelle Rhee from the film, “Waiting For Superman.”

The film, released in September 2010, is built around the stories of five children stuck in failing schools, one of them in D.C, where Michelle Rhee was serving as Chancellor, and one at LAUSD’s Roosevelt, the one I arrived at in September 2010 and which was depicted as a “dropout factory.”

“While chronicling their parents' struggles to place them in coveted public charter schools, where admission is determined by lottery, director Davis Guggenheim recounts the history of failed attempts to improve the nation's education system. He uses Rhee's turbulent tenure in the District as a case study in the obstacles reformers face…” http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/06/24/AR2010062403390.html

She has been described, in the same Washington Post story, as “the super-hero of ‘Superman,’ a combination of Wonder Woman and Xena fighting to bring the D.C. bureaucracy and Washington Teachers' Union to heel…” The New Republic, in that same era, wrote that the film depicts her as “… a savior of schools and someone willing to make tough decisions others have bypassed… in large part thanks to her take-no-prisoners leadership style that the movie praises…” https://newrepublic.com/article/77716/davis-guggenheim-director-waiting-superman-michelle-rhees-fate

And, as to the film itself, which became the reference point of public school “reform,” Guggenheim was quoted as saying, “I think all of the frenzy over this [movie] is showing that people are paying attention and the stakes are really high. Over a million kids are dropping out of schools every year … [and are] walking the streets in this modern economy. We are failing millions of kids. Make no mistake, when people are doing all this political speculation—that’s a game…”

Michelle Rhee’s game continued. When she lost her position as Washington, D.C. Chancellor, she formed StudentsFirst, and between this and a memoir, she pushed to have states pass such reforms to education more school choice for parents (that means charters) as linking teacher assessments to student outcomes (that means merit pay—see the earlier analogy about charters raiding public schools, leaving behind what they’d consider the chaff and comparing those scores). And while she insisted that StudentsFirst was a “grassroots organization,” she relied heavily upon Rahm Emanuel, Eli Broad, the Aspen Institute, and the Hoover Institution, and has courted Oprah Winfrey, Theodore Forstmann, and the Gates Foundation in her self-dramatizing fight against beleaguered school superintendents and presidents of union chapters.

Guggenheim made “An Inconvenient Truth” as a warning about climate change. The incoming administration would ignore that, but embrace “Waiting For Superman” and its star as a more convenient truth.

This is a storm warning for public education.

 

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