blog stars: on ed reform, black politicians and quality control in public schools

Editor’s note: Blog stars is our occasional roundup of compelling, provocative or just downright good stuff from other ed blogs (although sometimes we throw in op-eds from newspapers and magazines, too). Enjoy.

Geoffrey Canada: Death to Education Reform

Canada

To know me is to know that no one feels more strongly than I do about the importance of transforming our current absurd, destructive educational system.

But the way education reform advocates are going about it is wrong. The problem is that you’re never going to get people motivated to be awesome teachers if they’re part of a giant bureaucracy. The only way you’re going to get people to be motivated to be awesome teachers is, yes, if you give them enough money, but also if they are part of a STRUCTURE and a CULTURE that breathes this kind of achievement and rewards it–rewards it not only financially, but also through an environment that encourages it every day. Why do small startups kick the ass of giant technology companies every day? It’s because, yes, these startups have payoffs, but anyone who knows them will tell you that what really makes them tick is the fact that they are small, tight-knit, and everyone is extremely focused. Information loops close really fast. It’s also what made Harlem Children’s Zone a success. It’s what makes neoliberal attempts to “reform” schools centrally via spreadsheet fail.

The only way you’re going to get good schools, in other words, is if you have a system where the people who have the biggest stake in the education, also have a very direct say in how things are run.

To put it another way, you need radical decentralization and a radical shift to power to parents and children in how schools are run. This can be accomplished through vouchers or through other means. (I actually have my misgivings about vouchers, for a bunch of complex reasons, but I’ve come to believe decentralization really is the key.) You could have a 100% public system if it was also structured so as to enable choice and competition. But the crucial thing is to let a thousand flowers bloom. Full post here. (Image from the thebestschools.org)

Andrew J. Coulson: Uh … the ‘Quality Controlled’ Schools Are Worse

Sunday’s Washington Post ran a story titled “Quality controls lacking for D.C. schools accepting federal vouchers.” These are the particular failings chosen for the story’s lede:

schools that are unaccredited or are in unconventional settings, such as a family-run K-12 school operating out of a storefront, a Nation of Islam school based in a converted Deanwood residence, and a school built around the philosophy of a Bulgarian psychotherapist.

It is remarkable that more serious transgressions were omitted. Why not mention the schools in which current and former staff brawl in the parking lot, or students start vicious fights at sporting events? Why not discuss the schools spending nearly $30,000 per pupil annually and yet graduating barely half of their students on time?

The reason the WaPo didn’t mention them is that they are not voucher schools.

These are District of Columbia public schools and they already have in place all the “quality controls” that the Washington Post seems to prize—on fiscal disclosure, testing, teacher certification, etc.

But though it appeared on the news pages, the WaPo story is really an opinion piece, and one whose central opinion—that government regulations can guarantee educational quality and efficiency—is demonstrably false. Full post here.

Dropout Nation: When Black Politicians Fail Black Children, Georgia Edition

Black families, especially those in urban communities served by dropout factories and failure mills, long ago figured out, as Harvard professor Charles Ogletree did, that integration was little more than a “false promise. They have also figured out that integration did little to end Zip Code Education policies, and in fact, exacerbated the pernicious consequences of those policies (along with that of  suburban flight, poor school district leadership and the economic malaise that took hold after the Great Society era) by letting the schools in their own communities fall into questionable status as educational going concerns (when they weren’t shut down altogether), leading to poor and minority neighborhoods fall into wretched disrepair.

It is why black families in Georgia, to the dismay of state Sen. Emanuel Jones and his colleagues, voted overwhelmingly for Amendment 1. They certainly understand that charters are just one part of the solution for transforming American public education, and know that not every charter will offer high-quality education for their kids. But they also realize that expanding charters and other forms of choice will not only help improve the quality of education, it can even break down systemic barriers to integration (if not the self-selected segregation even students practice in school). More importantly, by sending their kids to high-quality charters with peers who look like them, these families also realize that their kids can also gain the self-pride needed in order to succeed in an economic and social landscape that, though better than the Jim Crow era, is hardly post-racial.

By continuing to oppose the expansion of charters and other forms of choice, Jones and his colleagues are merely supporting the condemnation of black children and their communities to the economic and social abyss in an age in which knowledge equals survival. In doing the bidding of NEA affiliates and traditional district bureaucracies, Jones and his fellow black politicians are maintaining alliances that perpetuate the very failed policies that damage the lives of the children they are supposed to represent. And in accusing school reformers — including black politicians who support expanding charters — of perpetuating “voter fraud” Jones and his allies are engaging in unacceptable demagoguery. Full post here.

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