15 October 2010

A Tragedy, indeed.

"In the tiny high school of the zone’s Promise Academy I, which teaches 66 sophomores and 65 juniors (it grows by one grade per year), the average class size is under 15, generally with two licensed teachers in every room. There are three student advocates to provide guidance and advice, as well as a social worker, a guidance counselor and a college counselor, and one-on-one tutoring after school.

"The school, which opened in 2004 in a gleaming new building on 125th Street, should have had a senior class by now, but the batch of students that started then, as sixth graders, was dismissed by the board en masse before reaching the ninth grade after it judged the students’ performance too weak to found a high school on. Mr. Canada called the dismissal “a tragedy.”' - The New York Times, 12 October 2010
I want you to think about this quote from an article on the Billionaire Boys' Club's "Superman," Geoffrey Canada and his much "lauded" Harlem Children's Zone schools.

"...but the batch of students that started then, as sixth graders, was dismissed by the board en masse before reaching the ninth grade after it judged the students’ performance too weak to found a high school on." How lovely.

Superman just left Jimmy Olsen out there to die, and he says, "hey, it's a tragedy."

"We start with children from birth and stay with them until they graduate," unless their test scores might embarrass you and your Wall Street donors. Yes, that's the alternative to public education we are being offered.

Now, I like much of what the Harlem Children's Zone represents. I like the Euro Socialist vision for America. Big corporations and the very rich should re-distribute large amounts of their obscene wealth to those born without silver spoons. Americans should have a right to affordable health care, no matter what their income level. U.S. parents should get support from birth as parents in France, Denmark, Germany, and Finland do.

I agree with Canada, the solution to education lies in solving the problems of poverty, not the reverse.

But Canada's education model is less impressive. Despite having a teacher for every 8 students, despite massive funding, his students tend to do - on average - a little bit better than kids in some of the most poorly supported public schools in New York City.

Like Teach for America and KIPP he makes rich people feel good, expends a lot of cash, and still has to set the bar incredibly low in order to show any results at all. [According to KIPP's favorite study, about 10% of KIPP schools show significant improvement after 4 years when compared to America's worst schools. According to TFA's favorite study (oddly by the same research group) TFA teachers were a tiny bit better than completely unprepared, untrained novice teachers - if you don't count English Language Learners or Special Education students.]

But the trick to all - the politically aggressive part of the charter school movement, the Harlem Children's Zone, KIPP, TFA, Democrats for Education Reform, is student selectivity, and the ability to dump kids - as Canada did - who fail to measure up.

Which is not what public educators do.

In a fight with KIPP Press Agent Jay Mathews a month or so ago I mentioned the Godfrey-Lee Public Schools near Grand Rapids, MI. Godfrey-Lee has real demographic problems - very low parental income, very low parental English proficiency, very low parental education, the lowest property tax base in the state. And Godfrey-Lee gets no massive funding support from Goldman-Sachs and others. So students may struggle, and the Middle School might get declared to be "in need of improvement." But what Godfrey-Lee does not do is toss out kids who struggle.

Godfrey-Lee doesn't do it. Nor do thousands and thousands of public school districts with similar demographics across America. They open their doors to every child who walks in. No complex parent application process. No publicly humiliating lottery. No "we're full" signs. No conversations about how "a student with these kinds of issues might be better in a public school." No limits on transportation services. Just a door which opens and stays open, for some students until they are 25.

This is what separates real educators from the "school reformers." Public educators don't kick out a grade because the kids might make you look bad. Public educators don't discourage special ed kids. Public educators don't fail to provide transportation. Public educators don't pick and choose their results.

Educating all children is hard. But the solution does not lie in the Geoffrey Canada model, the KIPP model, the charter model. The solution lies in child-centered education, and in reforming our national priorities, so we become a nation where every child matters.

- Ira Socol


Mr. D said...

Excellent post, Ira! Although I am less of a Euro socialist in most other areas, education is the true exception. We NEED a level playing field, an equalizer so that kids rich and poor get the same start. What happens after school is up to them, but we shouldn't deprive any child of a quality education.

The reformers will never learn, and Geoffrey Canada is an unfortunate field hand on the NCLB plantation. It's sad, because his ideas are important. Those kids need that kind of structure--yet what makes some kids worth saving and others left to rot?

That isn't how I was brought up. We we taught to help whoever couldn't keep up.

Anonymous said...
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narrator said...

Anonymous comments will not be accepted from the IP addresses of KIPP, TFA, or other paid promoters of political agendas. There is no reason for those types of commenters to hide their identity except to confuse readers. - Ira Socol

charlie roy said...

@ Ira
Another great post. Something about starting Sunday with seeing your blog in bold on my google reader that makes it a good day.