Jan 2, 2013

The Black and White of School Closures

By Candi Peterson

As 2012 comes to an end,  two unmistakable trends have emerged from studies that public schools are being sold down the river to private interests and the rush to close schools has not resulted in any measurable improvement in standardized test scores. The Chicago Teacher’s Union (CTU) just issued The Black and White of Education in Chicago’s Public Schools report on the “underutilization crisis” in the Chicago Public Schools system. CTU contends that this crisis that has been manufactured largely to justify the replacement of neighborhood schools by privatized charters.
“When it comes to matters of race and education in Chicago, the attack on public schools is endemic,” said CTU President Karen GJ Lewis.  “Chicago is the most segregated city in the country, and our students of color are routinely deemed as second-class by a system that does nothing but present one failed policy after the next.”

More specifically, Chicago Teachers' Union highlights what  the policy of neighborhood closings and charter openings has led to:

- Increased racial segregation

- Depletion of stable schools in black neighborhoods
- Disrespect and poor treatment of teachers
- Expansion of unnecessary testing
- Decreased opportunities for deep conceptual learning
- Increased punitive student discipline
- Increased student mobility
- Minimal educational outcomes
Locally, DC Action for Children, a non-profit advocacy organization came to a similar conclusion that educational outcomes have been minimal in the District of Columbia.  Their newly released study, DC KIDS COUNT, Third Grade Proficiency in DC: Little Progress (2007-2011) , looked at five years of third grade reading and math test scores from the DC Comprehensive Assessment System, (DC CAS) for insights about citywide proficiency, the achievement gap and neighborhood disparities.
Their results? “We could not prove any statistically significant citywide progress from 2007-2011 in reading or math proficiency. The same held true when we broke scores down by race, by DCPS schools, DC public charter schools, students from economically advantaged or students from economically disadvantaged families."
This study neutralizes the rationale used by Chancellor Henderson and her predecessor Michelle Rhee which is embedded in the first goal of the five-year plan DC Public Schools ) which is: “To improve achievement rates.”
I personally don’t believe that Henderson's under-utilization argument makes any sense. What we know is that the policy of closing schools has not saved DC Public Schools (DCPS)  any money. The evidence shows us that closing our schools has driven more parents out of our public schools to charters and elsewhere. It's a no brainer that less students in our public schools equals less money for DCPS.  

DC Public Schools cannot demonstrate that their continued failed policy of closing 20 plus schools every 4 years, is not achieving its number one goal of improving test scores. So why then is Henderson and other heads of school districts stuck on stupid nationally, one might ask?

The answer lies in CTU's report, "A crisis has been manufactured to justify the replacement of neighborhood schools. There  is a real economic benefit to real estate investors, charter school operators, philanthropists and wealthy bankers."

An August 2012 Reuters article spells out the reason for the national push to privatize. " The U.S. spends more than $500 billion a year to educate kids from 5-18. The entire education sector represents 9 percent of the gross domestic product, more than energy or technology sectors. Traditionally, public education had been a tough market for private firms to break into- fraught with politics, tangled in bureaucracy..... Now investors are signaling optimism that a golden moment has arrived. They're pouring private equity and venture capital into scores of companies that aim to profit by taking over broad swaths of public education."
When the smoke clears in 2013 and all the policy arguments are made, DCPS will close another 20 schools give or take a few concessions and 12,000 students and an estimated 1,200 teachers and school staff members will be thrown under the bus.

© Candi Peterson 2013


Anonymous said...

Chicago Teachers Union has serious leadership in Karen Lewis. I'm impressed.

zulma said...

As long as there's a DC teachers' union president not looking out for the students, teachers, and the communities, closures in low-income, minority neighborhoods will continue.

What is the Union President Saunder doing for his people and the children that he must protect from any further shame?

Anonymous said...

Interesting article

Margie said...

You are like Alicia Keys new song, On Fire! Love it.

Anonymous said...

The article states that “the rush to close schools has not resulted in any measurable improvement in standardized test scores.”
Comment: I don’t know what the intended goals were for the school closures but I hope that the improvement of test scores was not one of them. This would mean that the decision makers do not understand the cause of the achievement gap.

I understand why many teachers are upset over the closings and “the replacement of neighborhood schools by privatized charters.” However, my suspicion is that this replacement would not have happened if the neighborhood schools had met the needs of the students.

Article: “Chicago is the most segregated city in the country, and our students of color are routinely deemed as second-class by a system that does nothing but present one failed policy after the next.”
1. A segregated city or school is not necessarily bad for the students. Some would even say that such a belief is racist. The implication is that blacks and other minorities cannot achieve on their own and need to associate with whites – a very disturbing idea.
2. Some would argue that segregation is bad because minorities do not get the benefits that are so common among whites. However, as we see from the famous case of the Kansas City schools, money will not fix those problems that are due to non-environmental causes. http://www.cato.org/pubs/pas/pa-298.html
3. Interestingly enough and contrary to popular belief, the cost per student is fairly consistent for all races/ethnic groups. But, as we see from Table 1 of this link, the expenditure per black student is consistently higher than that for whites. http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2011/04/the-myth-of-racial-disparities-in-public-school-funding
4. However, I do agree that Chicago and much of the United States have had “one failed [education] policy after the next.” The reason that these policies have failed is that they are not based on reality. These policies fail because they assume that the achievement gap as well as a multitude of other social problems can be fixed by fixing the environment. But, in reality, the major contributor to these problems is often non-environmental.

The article lists a whole bunch of issues that are due to the “policy of neighborhood closings and charter openings….”
1. Yes – many of the problems that the public schools are having are due to the opening of charter schools. The next question is, “Why do parents want to send their children to charter schools?” Answer: It is because parents believe that the charter schools will be more beneficial (and less harmful) to their children.
2. The states could make charter schools illegal but this will be a very temporary fix to the problems of the public schools. And, of course, the very wealthy would either send their children to private schools or they would be homeschooled.