School Turnarounds Prompt Community Backlash

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  • LOS ANGELES (AP) — The federal government’s push for drastic reforms at chronically low achieving schools has led to takeovers by charter operators, overhauls of staff and curriculum, and even school shutdowns across the country.

    It’s also generated a growing backlash among the mostly low-income, minority communities where some see the reforms as not only disruptive in struggling neighborhoods, but also as civil rights violations since turnaround efforts primarily affect black and Latino students.

    “Our concern is that these reforms have further destabilized our communities,” said Jitu Brown, education organizer of Chicago’s Kenwood-Oakwood Community Organization. “It’s clear there’s a different set of rules for African-American and Latino children than for their white counterparts.”

    The U.S. Department of Education‘s civil rights office has opened investigations into 33 complaints from parents and community members, representing 29 school districts ranging from big city systems such as Chicago, Detroit and Washington D.C. to smaller cities including Wichita and Ambler, Penn., said spokesman Daren Briscoe. Two additional complaints are under evaluation, and more cities, including Los Angeles, are preparing their filings.

    Last week, Secretary Arne Duncan fielded complaints at a public forum in Washington. The forum was attended by some 250 people who boarded buses, vans and planes from around the country to demand a moratorium on school closings and present a reform model that calls for more community input, among other items.

    The recurrent theme is that communities are fed up with substandard education, but want solutions that will not create upheaval at the schools, which are often seen as pillars of stability in neighborhoods where social fabric is fragile.

    Instead of focusing on dramatically changing the structure of a school, officials should invest in improving teaching, learning, equipment, and community engagement, which happens more often at schools in white, affluent neighborhoods, Brown said.

    “But the response of the school district is to throw a grenade into our schools,” Brown said.

    Reformers say civil rights complaints are misguided because school failure disproportionately impacts minorities in the first place. Turnarounds are efforts to improve that, said Michael Petrilli, executive vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an education think tank.

    However, he noted that turnarounds are often a “Band-Aid solution. Most of the turnarounds aren’t going to succeed because the school continues to exist in a dysfunctional school system. Radical change at the district may be what’s needed.”

    Federal officials said they are open to working with communities to lessen the impact of turnarounds.

    “On the ground, these policies can have an impact we don’t see,” Briscoe said. “But there’s no promise that we’ll be able to satisfy all people.”

    Overhauling the nation’s 5,000 lowest-performing schools is a cornerstone of the Obama administration’s education policy. To do that, the federal government revamped the existing School Improvement Grant program, boosting it from a $125 million annual initiative in 2007 to $535 million for the current school year.

    Under the renewed program, which launched in 2010 with a onetime $3.5 billion infusion, districts receive grants to institute one of four school jumpstart models. They can turn the school over to a charter or other operator, replace at least half of the staff and principal, transform the school with a new principal and learning strategy, or simply close the school. Improvement schools can receive up to $2 million annually for three years.

    Results have been mixed.

    In Chicago, where the nation’s third largest school system has undertaken one of the more extensive turnaround programs, a study of 36 schools by the University of Chicago found some improvement in academic achievement in elementary and middle schools but not until the second or third year of either a principal or staff replacement or a charter conversion.

    “They’re closing the gap but it’s taking some time to do so,” said Marisa de la Torre, who directed the study.

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    4 thoughts on “School Turnarounds Prompt Community Backlash

    1. I have a simple solution to all of this….PARENTS. Parents do not send their children to school prepared and ready to learn. Most kindergarten students can’t even identify or write the letters of their names. Some call every animal with four legs and a tail a dog. The schools can only work with the hand they have been dealt. For example: how can I ask you to make peanut butter cookies when the only ingredients I give you are for chocolate chip cookies? Parents send schools the ingredients for chocolate chip cookies and the DOE wants peanut butter cookies. Until states tie rewards and penalties to parents for their child’s test scores, you will not see change. If parents thought that they were going to get cash rewards for their children’s high test scores, you would see better behaved children, better prepared children, and better attendance. Vice-versa with penalties. The state could withhold financial assistance or suspend drivers licenses. The government could garnish income tax refunds from the parents of low performing children to help pay for extra time and tutoring spent on their child. That would wake a few people up.

    2. People should know and understand this about Education Secretary Duncan and President Obama: Early on, their plan was to reform schools by recruiting and training better school Administrators. They quickly abandoned this plan – concluded it was undoable/hopeless. So instead of getting at the root of the problem (poor leadership), they’ve turned to bashing teachers and tearing apart schools with massive (and pointless) restructuring in order to look like they are doing something. These restructures simply have not worked in the past and appear to who few signs of providing any meaningful help now. The problem is POOR LEADERSHIP in our schools. Fix that, and our schools will improve. Ignore it, and all Duncan is doing is wasting everyone’s time with temporary band-aid measures that don’t work over the long haul.

    3. There is a fundamental flaw with the entire argument put forth by opponents of the current school reform initiative, including the “Turn-Around” model. That flaw is: Why are they crying foul now? I worked in a school with Jitu Brown in 2006 that was part of a school reform initiative similar to the turn-around model. That initiative was the “small schools within a school” model and the school was South Shore School of Entrepreneurship. Mr. Brown was a community service provider and he was very happy to pimp the system that was pimping our kids: The Bill and Malinda Gates Foundation. You see the Gates Foundation was pumping money into an experimental model in Chicago and a few other school districts until they found out (through their own data) that it was not working.

      Now the Gates foundation and others (the Walton Foundation and the Broad Foundation) have re-packaged school reform into a plethora of other experiments including charter schools and the turn-around model. However, this experimental pimping was predicted years ago, but it fell on deaf ears (including Jitu Brown’s). When President Obama was elected four years ago, his first choice for Secretary of Education was his basketball buddy and neighbor Arne Duncan. What many didn’t realize is that Duncan used to sit on the board of the Broad Foundation, and when he was CEO of Chicago Public Schools he became a very strong advocate for Alternative Certification of Teachers (I call many of them, teachers without credibility); Charter Schools (the educational disenfranchisement of our Black and Brown children); and the turn-around model (the greatest of the reform jokes). If Duncan was for them then, did Mr. Brown not think that he was going to push that same agenda from Washington?

      What Mr. Jitu Brown and other opponents fail to realize is that they have already endorsed the turn-around school model in their failure to recognize how they were being pimped during the inception of the reform movement. The issue is much larger than what Mr. Brown is shouting about and their shouts will fall on deaf ears. You see, the President of the CPS board of education is the founder of a charter school network: Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL). The former co-founder of AUSL is a top administrator in CPS; and AUSL has been operating the turn-around schools initiative for the past seven years …the very schools that Mr. Brown is fighting against. This is something that I tried to warn Mr. Brown of in 2006 (he probably doesn’t remember South Shore’s Small School within a School model), but he shouted me down that it was the best thing since the Emancipation Proclamation for African American kids. I guess now he also realized that Lincoln didn’t free the slaves out of sympathy…rather out of necessity.

      Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not totally against charter schools and school reform. However, in relation to charter schools, I believe that success should be replicated. The problem with AUSL is that they cannot boast any success. For example, AUSL is one of the largest and the oldest charter networks in the city of Chicago, but they have consistently (as a network) failed to meet adequate yearly progress. Out of all of their charter schools, only one has met AYP and their oldest charter school has NEVER met AYP. But CPS is willing to put the fox (AUSL) in charge of the henhouse (CPS). The Turn-Around Schools Initiative is not any better. They are simply a bureaucratic wing of CPS that receives double the budget to pay idiots who have never taught a class a day in their lives; but try to tell teachers how to teach. Even when you look at the turn-around schools and their data, you don’t see any marked improvement. Most often they will see minimal to modest gains over the first three to four years; then the score begin to plateau. For example Harper High School is the oldest turn-around high school. Currently only 12% of students at Harper High School are meeting AYP in Reading and Language Arts; while only 8.5% of students at Harper are meeting AYP in math. Couple this information with a graduation rate of only 47%. Harper has been a turn-around school for the past seven years. But they failed to turn around the socioeconomic and psychosocial problems of the neighborhoods. So what makes the model a success when all of their data shows otherwise?

      So Mr. Jitu Brown is correct in his assertion that the turn-around schools model is creating instability in our schools and community, but Mr. Brown didn’t heed my warning in 2006. At that time I implored that he read the book by Sanford Reitman: The Educational Messiah Complex. In 1992, Reitman predicated everything that is happening now in education in relation to school reform. Mr. Brown failed to realize this when he was happy to get his grant money and contracts from Arne Duncan when he was CEO, so now they think that Duncan is going to give some credence to their plight….REALLY? So what are we going to do about the experimental pimping of our children? In the coming years, CPS will have a student population of 90% African America, while African American teachers will struggle to comprise 50% of the workforce. Now is the time that we really wake up Mr. Brown and see the larger picture. It’s all about the MONEY and RACE.

      “The ink of a scholar is worth more than the blood of a martyr”

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