Dear Gentleman and Gentlewomen:
In one of the final episodes of “West Wing” newly elected President-elect Matt Santos (played by Jimmy Smits) and his wife are visiting possible schools for their daughters, they feel uncomfortable with elite private schools, and, in a poignant moment select a public school for their children.
A year later President-elect Obama and his wife visit schools and select Sidwell Friends, among the most elite private schools in Washington. Frankly, I was disappointed. Washington does have excellent public schools, it should have many more.
For reasons which elude me President Obama and Secretary Duncan have chosen a destructive path. In their view the “solution” to the problems confronting schools is to close, convert to charter or fire principals and teachers from the “persistently lowest achieving” schools, you can substitute “inner city schools for children of color across the nation.”
The administration dangles billions of dollars through the Race to the Top, State Incentive Grants and other programs. In order to receive these billions states must adopt the mantra of the administration. In these difficult financial times states are racing to change regulations, “to get on board.”
At yesterday’s speech at America’s Promise the President cited, with praise, the decision of a superintendent in Rhode Island to close a school and fire teachers. What is so distressing is that in April, 2009, the Rhode Island Department of Education praised the progress of the school, and criticized the principal and the school board, the very people who chose to close the school.
A National Public Radio (NPR) reporter questions the President’s judgment,
…. a state report written last April that focused on the high school’s reading and writing proficiency, which have gone up 22 percent and 14 percent respectively over the past two years. Nowhere in the report is there any criticism of teachers’ efforts, skills or dedication to their job or their students. The report does, however, point to problems with constantly changing programs and the instability of school leadership. The report reinforces the fact that, today, teachers are being blamed unfairly for the schools’ problems.
Are we trashing a policy because we don’t like it? Was Arne Duncan’s policy of closing schools in Chicago a success? Not according to the an October, 2009 Consortium on Chicago School Reseach report,
When displaced students (students from the closed schools) reached high school, their on-track rates to graduate were no different than the rates of students who attended schools similar to those closed schools.
We know from report after report that students in charter schools do about the same as students in public schools. The President is fond of citing Geoffrey Canada and his Harlem Children’s Zone, and, included millions to replicate the NCZ in other cities. Yet HCZ fails to track students into high school . Does his program have any impact on student achievement? Canada doesn’t know, doesn’t appear to care, but has the right friends in high places.
The next step is to embed the Obama education school closing policies into Title I of the re-authorization of No Child Left Behind. Rather than disperse funds in accordance with a formula based on the needs of communities the administration plans to dispense dollars based upon their compliance with his policies.
Do we know what works?
The answer is a strong “yes.”
Pedro Noguera, a nationally renown sociologist at New York University, and a leader of the Bolder, Broader Coalition calls for holding us all accountable, calls for a bottom-up approach that begins at schools,
Since there is no one-size-fits-all plan for improving and supporting public schools, it is the conversations in our neighborhoods and communities that are most important. You, your neighbors, the teachers in your town or city – you are the people who can best design school reform strategies that work for your children, and create, nurture, and support high quality schools across the country.
The current federal policy framework holds schools to unreasonable targets, using narrow assessment tools, with punishments that do little to improve school performance. Ignoring decades of research on engaging, challenging learning environments, the strategies for school improvement mandated under current federal law show little promise of helping children learn. Instead, the new vision for ESEA should hold everyone accountable to just one thing: Providing the most engaging, challenging, and equitable learning environment for each child.
How many children come to school worrying about their unemployed parent, about losing their home? How many parents can’t afford medical care? How many families can’t afford dental or optical care for their kids? Kids with elderly grandparents as primary caregivers, kids who walk around or through gang infested neighborhoods, the tidal wave of the economic downturn is a tsunami for communities of color.
Scattered around the nation are community schools, schools that contain health clinics, job training and GED programs, that provide legal and family counseling.
A young teacher I know tells me “the issues of the community meet in the school building.”
As the elected represenatives of the familes and children impacted by this adminstration’s ill-advisd policies I hope you will stand up for your consitutents.
In New York City thousands of parents came to a meeting of the mayoral appointed Board of Education to protest plans to close 19 schools. For over eight hours over three hundred speakers opposed the closings. At 3:30 am the mayor’s Board members, without comment, voted to close the schools. One of the speakers was Dr. Annie Martin, President of the New York City NAACP, as she was finishing her allotted two minutes the Board cut off her microphone, and, in spite of the cries of the thousands in the audience to allow her to finish, the mayor’s appointees refused.
Don’t be silenced.
The President and his Education Secretary are moving down a path that will be a disaster for families and children that you represent. We know what works, community schools are a prime example, stand up for your constituents and make sure that the re-authorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act truly benefits families and kids, and is not yet another top-down, ill-devised, one size fits all plan. Washington, for all their good intentions, does not know better than your constituents. The road to good intentions only leads to one place.