Chicago Again Imposes ‘Reconstitution’ As Though It Will Cure School Ills

The school board in Chicago will turn three more schools over to the Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL), its contractor of choice, when the turnaround ax falls this spring.  Arne Duncan, the U.S. Secretary of Education, began his career in Chicago, where he launched the turnaround options that have now been prescribed for the public schools across the country that score in the bottom 5 percent: reconstitution, closure, charterization, and one gentler option, transformation.  Last year Chicago used closure—of 50 schools.

This year it is reconstitution. The Chicago Sun Times reports, “Staff—down to janitors and lunchroom workers—must reapply for their positions…”  The principal must leave, and in most instances the entire staff will be replaced.  Three Chicago schools are being reconstituted because of low standardized test scores and low attendance rates.

But turnarounds by reconstitution haven’t always worked, according to a recent investigation by Catalyst-Chicago: “In CPS, however, more than half of turnaround schools are still among the lowest-performing schools. Some started badly and had to undergo another turnaround.  Others have improved more than other schools, yet are still far from meeting district averages, much less the statewide averages.   What’s more, large chunks of the new staff—teachers who were hand-picked and spent weeks over the summer getting to know each other, becoming a team and learning how to spark improvement when the school reopened—leave within a few years.”

AUSL is awarded extra money to turn around a school, reports the Sun Times.  The district awards  AUSL an additional $300,000 for start-up and an extra $420 per-student, per-year for five years.

Diane Ravitch devotes six pages of Reign of Error (pp. 214-219) to examining the school reforms launched in Chicago when Arne Duncan ran the school district.  She examines two very well known 2012 studies that tracked the impact of school reconstitution.  The first by the Consortium on Chicago School Research found that schools that had been turned around with significant investment and new staff did improve, though not nearly as significantly as had been promised by AUSL.  The second investigation by Designs for Change found that while schools turned around by AUSL improved, a significant number of neighborhood schools that lacked the enormous financial investment provided for AUSL turnarounds but that were governed by very effective Local School Councils—involving community members, parents, teachers, and administrators working collaboratively—improved even more.  Designs for Change titled its 2012 report, Chicago’s Democratically-Led Elementary Schools Far Out-Perform Chicago’s ‘Turnaround Schools.’

Today as Catalyst-Chicago is reporting new data about ongoing staff turnover at schools that have been reconstituted by AUSL, the conclusion of the Designs for Change report seems especially prophetic: “Given the meager academic progress of Elementary Turnaround Schools and their high teacher turnover rate, which undermines the basic culture of the school, the researchers conclude that the resources devoted to Turnaround Schools can be better spent by supporting the alternative research-based strategies.”

One of the essays in a Harvard-published collection edited by Thomas Timar, Narrowing the Achievement Gap (2012) speaks to the challenges in Chicago and other communities where schools struggle in neighborhoods with intensely concentrated poverty.  In “Reframing the Ecology of Opportunity and Achievement Gaps: Why ‘No Excuses’ Reforms Have Failed to Narrow Student Group Differences in Educational Outcomes,” the researchers Robert Ream, Sarah Ryan, and Jose Espinoza remind us:

“The plain fact is that the gaps between minority or poor students and otherwise socially enfranchised children is already at roughly a year with regard to educational outcomes for math and reading by the time children enter kindergarten.  These differences at the group level remain fairly constant between the first and the twelfth grades, so it is safe to say that it is not generally the schools themselves that create or even foster the inequity.  Indeed, while children are in school, the gap typically narrows, but when they’re outside the classroom, it widens.  In short, there is no getting around that fact that children are beings embedded in social networks, nested in families, navigating relatively complex social lives with peers, and functioning as members of neighborhoods and communities in which school is one important social institution among many shaping their reality.” (pp. 39-40)

That Sinking Feeling: The Way We Are Thinking About Teachers Is All Wrong

Occasionally I wake in the night with the sinking feeling that maybe I’ve been living my life by all the wrong rules and making bad choices that hurt those I love.  It’s a terrible feeling that makes it hard to go back to sleep, but usually in the morning with some light and reason I can calm down, readjust a bit and move on.  With public policy, the sinking feeling usually comes with the news, as it gets clearer that we are moving in the wrong direction. Then the challenge is to get more information and figure out how to help change the public will.  It isn’t always so easy.

This month important information has been published about the punitive policies our federal government and states are using to evaluate public school teachers and to determine whether they are qualified.  Have we been operating by the wrong rules and making bad choices that hurt those we depend on?  But first a little history…

The public education policies of President Barack Obama’s administration have featured “holding teachers accountable” for their students’ accomplishments at school.  The policies of Race to the Top and School Improvement Grants have required that states impose prescribed turnaround plans for schools with low test scores, including one called “reconstitution” that fires the principal and at least half the staff.

Then in 2012, when it became clear that Congress was unlikely to agree on any kind of reauthorization of  No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the omnibus (and very punitive) 2002 federal law on public education, Obama’s Department of Education began offering states waivers from some of NCLB’s deeply flawed and  onerous consequences.  The law had set utopian and unrealistic benchmarks by which all schools would bring their students to tested proficiency by 2014, or the schools would be declared failing and be forced into an ever deepening cycle of punishments.  It had become apparent that, because scores were required to rise so quickly, a vast majority of schools across the United States would be doomed to severe punishment.

In 2012 the federal Department of Education set very specific rules by which states could qualify to apply for a NCLB waiver.  States had to promise to use one of the prescribed “turnarounds” for the lowest-scoring 5 percent of public schools (We see the school closures and growth of charters in many big city school districts.); states had to adopt college and career-ready standards (We see the rush to adopt the Common Core Standards.); and states had to agree to evaluate teachers using, in part, students’ standardized test scores.  These are the conditions states had to meet in order to apply for a federal waiver from NCLB.  Just about all the states have applied for waivers and most of the applicants have been granted their waiver.  Almost all the states have been incorporating students’ test scores into teacher evaluations, and many policy makers have come to judge effectiveness as measured by test scores as a substitute for credentialed and well-qualified teachers.

So…  about the sinking feeling.  What do we see in the news this month to warn us about the way we’ve come to think about teachers?

Writing for Catalyst Chicago  Sarah Karp reports that in Chicago, where “reconstitution” (fire the principal and at least half the staff) has been used as a strategy for low-scoring schools, “At 16 of the 17 schools that underwent a turnaround between 2007 and 2011, more than half of teachers hired in the first year of the turnaround left by the third year.  In the 10 schools that were turned around last year, a third of the faculty left by the start of the current school year.”  Among the 32 schools that have undergone “reconstitution” as a turnaround strategy, two-thirds of new teachers left by the third year.  “Prior to the turnarounds, more than two-thirds of teachers at the targeted schools were black; among black teachers two-thirds had more than 10 years of experience…. In the year after the turnaround, less than half the the teacher were black….”  Discounting the need for faculty stability, Jarvis Sanford who manages the Academy for Urban School Leadership—the not-for-profit Chicago hires to manage school turnarounds—defends his agency’s policies:  “It has never been our model that staff stay for three to five years.  We want to put the effective teachers in front of students.  It does not have to be the same teacher.”  In contrast, Karp quotes the Consortium on Chicago School Research that has criticized instability and rapid turnover in school staff:  “It can produce a range of organizational problems at schools, such as discontinuity in professional development, shortages in key subjects and loss of teacher leadership.”

This month there was also the American Statistical Association’s warning about using econometric Value-Added Models (VAM) for evaluating teachers.  The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has invested millions of dollars in the development of these VAM formulas, and they have been widely adopted by states seeking to apply for NCLB waivers (Remember one condition for a waiver is that states must promise to use measurements of students’ achievement to evaluate teachers.).  The American Statistical Association uses the careful language of the social sciences, but among the warnings in its report is: “The measure of student achievement is typically a score on a standardized test, and VAMs are only as good as the data fed into them.  Ideally, tests should fully measure student achievement with respect to the curriculum objectives and content standards adopted by the state, in both breadth and depth.  In practice, no test meets this stringent standard, and it needs to be recognized that, at best, most VAMs predict only performance on the test and not necessarily long-range learning outcomes.  Other student outcomes are predicted only to the extent that they are correlated with test scores.  A teacher’s efforts to encourage students’ creativity or to help colleagues improve their instruction, for example, are not explicitly recognized in VAMs.

Finally, there is the new examination of Teach for America by Alexandra Hootnick, writing for the Hechinger Report (This piece was also published in The Nation.): Teachers Are Losing their Jobs, but Teach for America’s Expanding.  What’s Wrong with That?   Teach for America (TFA) is an alternative five-week certification program that prepares recruits for two-year, Peace Corps-like stints in school districts where there is a shortage of fully qualified candidates.  Hootnick reminds us that TFA won a $50 million competitive I3  innovation grant from Arne Duncan’s Department of Education; now a third of its funding comes from tax payer dollars.  As a condition for the innovation grant, TFA promised to serve the “highest-poverty districts in the country.”  While TFA has sought to grow rapidly the number of its recruits, “since the recession, with education funding across the country drying up, teacher layoffs have become more of an issue than teacher shortages.  Between 2008 and 2013, 324,000 teaching positions in local school districts were eliminated, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.” Hootnick reports serious criticism of TFA when school districts hire TFA recruits for prized positions when experienced teachers would be more expensive.  She also quotes parents and other critics who wonder why inexperienced TFA recruits are being placed to teach children in impoverished communities instead of better qualified professionals:  “How dare you send these applicants to teach our kids?  Just because they’re kids of color, you think you can dump anyone on us.”  Hootnick describes something new—an uprising in the ranks of California’s TFA recruits themselves, after TFA argued that additional training was unnecessary for recruits being placed in classrooms filled with English language learners.  The protesters within TFA’s ranks reject TFA’s claim that they are qualified to teach English language learners, “While we deeply value our commitment to TFA, we must stand up for the 1.4 million EL students today struggling in California’s classrooms.”

It Is Spring and Big-Money Conferences on School “Reform” Bloom

I  was educated in the public schools of small town Havre, Montana, and my children were educated in the public schools of inner-ring suburban Cleveland Heights, Ohio.  I am a strong believer in public education—publicly funded, universally available, required to accept all children who present themselves at the door, and accountable to the public. A public system seems to me the optimal way to balance the needs of each particular child and family with the need to create a system that secures the rights and addresses the needs of all children. While public education is not a utopia, I believe it has fewer structural flaws, from the point of view of the common good, than privatized alternatives.

How quaint seem my attitudes this month when the money blooming around privatizing public schools is far more lush than the flowers of spring.   Privatization—privately managed charters, vouchers,  all the private contracting that creates and services all the standardized testing, and the education technology sector—is rapidly expanding.  There is money to be made and power to be wielded.

Two national conferences in the next couple of weeks demonstrate the impact of money in education this spring.  Beginning yesterday, the Arizona State University and Global Silicon Valley Education Innovation Summit is meeting in Scottsdale, Arizona.  Diane Ravitch quotes the sponsors of the conference:  “Our founders have spent the past two decades focused on the Megatrends that are disrupting the $4 trillion global education market along with the innovators who are transforming the industry.”

The long list of speakers includes a who’s who of supporters of “corporate” education reform: Margaret Spellings (George Bush’s Secretary of Education), Penny Pritzker (portfolio school reform supporter in Chicago before she became Secretary of Commerce), Jim Shelton (formerly director of education at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, now Assistant Secretary of Education), Jeb Bush (former Florida Governor and through his Foundation for Excellence in Education a proponent of awarding schools and school districts A-F grades), Christopher Cerf (now with Rupert Murdoch’s Amplify ed tech company, formerly Governor Chris Christie’s New Jersey commissioner of education), and Reed Hastings (CEO of Netflix and vocal supporter of the elimination of elected boards of education).  The 49 sponsors of the conference include publishers, test designers and data processors like Pearson, McGraw Hill Education, and Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt; for-profit universities like Apollo, DeVry, and Kaplan; tech companies like Microsoft, and philanthropies like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Over 100 companies are slated to present their wares.

Maggie Severns at Politico describes the reason for the conference: “Capital flows into companies serving the K-12 and higher education markets jumped to $650 million last near—nearly double the $331 million invested in those spheres in 2009.”

Or if you want a different kind of education “reform” experience, you can make your way to an Adirondack Camp at Lake Placid, New York on May 4-6 to “reform, relax, retreat.”  Your host will be the Honorable Andrew Cuomo, New York’s charter-friendly governor.  Hofstra professor Alan Singer describes what is to be called Camp Philos in this fascinating piece at Huffington Post. The fee for normal participants is $1,000, but VIPs can pay $2,500 for the three day event being sponsored by Education Reform Now, which Singer describes as closely but unofficially tied to Democrats for Education Reform, the pro-charter, hedge fund-supported, pro-privatization national PAC.

This event isn’t about making money from education; instead it is about using money to shape education policy.  The sponsors are the people who, for example, used their money to ensure that Governor Cuomo blocked New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s attempt to reign in the Success Academy charter school network of powerful Eva Moskowitz.  Singer notes that Education Reform Now has made campaign gifts to Cuomo since 2010 that add up to $65,000.  “The Education Reform Now Board of Directors,” writes Singer, “reads like a list of hedge fund royalty.”  Board members head up Highfields Capital Management, Cornwall Capital, Bain & Company, Sessa Capital, Gotham Capital, Covey Capital, Maverick Capital, Charter Bridge Capital… and the list goes on.

M. Night Shyamalan, the film maker, is also a sponsor.  According to Singer, Shyamalan “attended elite private schools as a youth, decided he is an education expert and wrote a book about saving public schools after filming in a Philadelphia public high school.”  Shyamalan’s preferred genre, however, is not the public education documentary;  Singer lists Shyamalan’s Hollywood horror films: After Earth, Devil, The Happening, The Village, and The Sixth Sense.

Singer concludes: “According to the online agenda, break-out sessions include discussions on ‘The Next Big Thing: Groundbreaking Approaches to Teacher Preparation,’ ‘Up, Down, and Sideways: Building an Effective School Reform Coalition,’ ‘Tight-Lose Options for Ensuring All Kids Have Access to a Great Education,’ and ‘Collaborative Models for Changing State and Local Teacher Policies.’ But really only one topic will be discussed — How to promote and profit from the privatization of public education in the United States.”

Community Schools: The Basic and Radical Way to Address Child Poverty

Trip Gabriel’s story in this morning’s NY Times, 50 Years Into the War on Poverty, Hardship Hits Back, describes tiny towns left behind by years of jobs lost in the coal mines, the ravages of meth addition, and families bereft of opportunity in McDowell County— West Virginia’s poorest county.  Education has long been one of the sole paths for escape from the towns and villages of Appalachia, but the fact that those who can make it do leave has only compounded rural isolation and poverty.

Toward the end of Gabriel’s article, however, we learn about a Community School effort being developed to coordinate social services and family supports with the public schools: “Reconnecting McDowell, led by the American Federation of Teachers…  is working to turn schools into community centers offering health care, adult literacy classes and other services.  Its leaders hope to convert an abandoned furniture store in Welch to apartments in order to attract teachers. ‘Someone from Indiana or Pennsylvania, they’re not going to come to McDowell County and live in a house trailer on top of a mountain,’ said Bob Brown, a union official.”

On May 18, 2013, Reconnecting McDowell was approved by the state board of education of West Virginia.  In West Virginia, according to a press release from the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) the Community Schools plan became possible in 2012 after the state legislature established “collective innovation zones.”  Commenting on the formation of Reconnecting McDowell, AFT President Randi Weingarten declared, “The evidence is clear that Community Schools greatly improve disadvantaged children’s chances of success because the services and programs help overcome the ravages of poverty that affect academic achievement.”

In McDowell County, the Community School collaboration will include the West Virginia Healthy Kids and Families Coalition to visit homes of new parents, IBM to increase the number of computers at school, Shentel Communications to reduce internet rates for families with children at school, and several job expansion efforts including a National Guard materials-repair program and a retraining effort of the United Mine Workers.  A Community Schools “vision” reflects the reality that parents’ employment helps children thrive.

According to the National Center for Community Schools, a division of New York City’s Children’s Aid Society, Community Schools are defined by three “interconnected support systems: a strong core instructional program designed to help all students meet high academic standards; expanded learning opportunities designed to enrich the learning environment for students and their families; and a full range of health, mental health and social services designed to promote children’s well-being and remove barriers to learning.” Community Schools are formal contractual arrangements among agency partners.  Usually a lead partner coordinates the services that surround the academic program and that secures and coordinates the funding streams that support all this activity.  Community Schools are open before and after school, on weekends, and during the summer with expanded learning experiences; they set out to engage the family in myriad ways.

In early April, the Washington, D.C.–based Coalition for Community Schools held its national forum in Cincinnati, Ohio, a school district that has worked closely with AFT to transform local schools into what Cincinnati calls Community Learning Centers.  (In Ohio, the legislature chose an Orwellian term for privatized charter schools—community schools—which has caused the Community Schools movement thriving today in Cincinnati to choose the name Community Learning Centers instead of the name used in the rest of the country for full-service, wrap-around schools.)  In a Cincinnati Enquirer column, Marty Blank, director of the Coalition for Community Schools, describes what has been quietly happening in Cincinnati: “During the 2012-13 academic year, 34 Community Learning Centers in Cincinnati mobilized more than 445 community partners to provide support to 17,898 students.  Extra personalized supports have gone to 3,290 students who demonstrated one or more risk factors, such as chronic absence, behavior problems or poor academic performance.”

Blank describes what he understands to be the core mission of the Community Schools movement: “provide a focal point for states, counties, cities, and private-sector agencies to work together with school districts to use resources more effectively, coordinate fragmented services, and break bureaucratic silos and gridlock to help children and youth succeed.”

Last Saturday in the Washington Post, Valerie Strauss reprinted a fascinating column by Brock Cohen, a California teacher and researcher who participated in the recent Cincinnati national forum on Community Schools.  “As a doctoral student and former Los Angeles high school English teacher, I had already become aware of the ways in which a child’s learning trajectory is acutely impacted by social, emotional, and environmental factors.  Seeing the intentionality with which schools in high-poverty rural and urban communities were leveraging partnerships to cultivate programs and interventions for children gave me hope.”  Cohen doesn’t underestimate the challenges, however: “But working with schools across a tumultuous urban school district as an academic coach has given me a broader view of the systems and attitudes that impede positive change and, thus, threaten to undermine the movement.”

At the conference Cohen comes to know Eddy Estrada—also from Los Angeles,  a student at a Community School, and in Cincinnati to speak about his own experience as part of a panel.  “Our conversations over a three-day span—2,000 miles away from our home—made me realize that Community Schools can be impactful in ways that are almost impossible to see…  Because of countless hardships and setbacks, both of Eddy Estrada’s parents were unable to progress beyond elementary school; nonetheless, Eddy will be attending Cal-State Northridge next fall, where he plans on majoring in music education…  Skeptics might dismiss Eddy’s story as yet another case of a gifted outlier defeating the odds, but he’s had a good deal of help along the way.  Specifically Torres (high school’s) Community Schools coordinator Christina Patricio, has been a nurturing, unwavering, force in Eddy’s life.”

I urge you to read this column to learn more about what Cohen believes are the almost intractable challenges for public schools in very poor communities and to explore with Cohen how Community Schools can help.

Hucksterism In Education Exposed

I was serving on a panel at an evening event last week about the growth of privatization of education here in Ohio, when someone asked, “Why do parents grab at the chance to send their children to these schools?  Most of them don’t do nearly as well academically as public schools.”

People speculated about the lure of the freedom to choose and the conversation wandered a bit.  But finally came a comment that stopped many of us:  “Public schools can’t advertise, but all the voucher and charter schools advertise all the time, especially the cyber charters—Ohio Virtual Academy (K12) and the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow.”

Hucksterism in education is the subject of a new piece by Ruth Conniff: The Sharks are Circling Our Public Schools.  Ruth Conniff is the editor of The Progressive, a journal that champions the public good including a current project known as Public School ShakedownThe Progressive has recently merged with the Center for Media and Democracy which has persistently exposed the far right attack on the public good, including ALEC Exposed.

Conniff describes robocalls promoting Wisconsin vouchers.  A woman’s voice describes, “free tuition to send your child to a private or religious school.”  “We at School Choice Wisconsin are proud to pay for this call, because we want the very best for you and your child.” The calls, writes Conniff, are coming in the midst of the application process for Wisconsin’s new  statewide voucher program.

Conniff reports that School Choice Wisconsin is an arm of the American Education Reform Council (funded by John Walton) and the far right Bradley Foundation of Milwaukee.  This spring Americans for Prosperity, the Koch brothers’ PAC, has also been sponsoring pro-voucher events across Wisconsin.

Cyber charters are advertising across Wisconsin right now, too.  Conniff describes postcards (with gorgeous photos of adolescents at scho0l) being mailed during Wisconsin’s e-school open enrollment season.  She notes that cyber schools do not, as pictured, educate students with their peers in a brick and mortar building, and, “According to the state’s school report cards for the 2012-2013 academic year, half of the children in virtual schools were attending one that was not meeting performance expectations.”

Conniff concludes: “So as parents are sorting the mail and checking messages and hearing about all these great choices you can make—free tuition! flexible! individualized learning! laptop provided!—keep in mind that you are paying for these businesses with the money that used to sustain our public schools.  They are still performing better than all of these new, alternative options.”

Check out Public School Shakedown and ALEC Exposed and the other great investigative journalism at The Progressive. What is happening in public education in Wisconsin is very likely also relevant in your state.  Vouchers.  Charters.  The impact of the American Legislative Exchange Council on your legislature.  Public School Shakedown even has a new project: Teach for America Truth Squad.

Economic and Racial Inequality Obliterate Opportunity in America: Do We Care?

The 50th anniversary this month of the passage of the Civil Rights Act has produced some soul-searching journalism.  How is it our society has made so little progress?

In an early April interview at, Stanford University professor and education writer Linda Darling-Hammond describes the injustices in public education in the United States: “First of all, we have a dramatically unequal allocation of wealth in the society, which is getting worse…. Then we need schools that are equitably funded, with more money going to the students who have the greatest needs…And then beyond that, I think we have to be sure that the state builds a high-quality teaching force, well-prepared for all candidates… It’s a fundamental problem of the red-lining… around those schools that allowed them to become such poor places for teaching and learning.  That is the real problem that has to be addressed.”

During the same week, Valerie Strauss printed in the Washington Post a column by Economic Policy Institute advocate Elaine Weiss and New York University sociologist Patrick Sharkey in which they declared: “Stuck in place. That seems the most accurate description for the circumstances in which many African-American children and their families find themselves today… When it comes to neighborhood and school inequality, the federal government has always had a short attention span.  Small-scale, short-term initiatives to address urban disadvantage have come and gone, but our nation has never made a commitment to durable policies with the capacity to transform communities, schools, and the lives of families within them.  As a result, neighborhood inequality has been passed down to the current generation.  About two out of three African Americans who were raised in poor neighborhoods grow up and raise their own children in similarly poor neighborhoods compared to just two out of five whites… These disturbing statistics indicate that racial inequality is multi-generational.  The challenges facing black children today are a continuation of the disadvantages experienced by generations of their family members. And the cumulative experience of life in the nation’s most disadvantaged neighborhoods is most severe.”

Then  last Saturday’s NY Times published a disturbing and moving reflection on racial segregation by columnist Charles M. Blow:  “The landmark act brought an end to legal racial segregation in public places.  But now we are facing another, worsening kind of segregation, one not codified but cultural: We are self-sorting, not only along racial lines but also along educational and income ones, particularly in our big cities.  Our cities are increasingly becoming vast outposts of homogeneity and advantage, arcing ever upward, interspersed by deserts of despair, all of which produces in them some of the highest levels of income inequality ever seen in this country.”  Blow quotes the research from sociologists Sean Reardon and Kendra Bischoff that the proportion of American families living in extremely affluent communities has grown from 7 to 15 percent between 1970 and 2009, while in the same period the percentage of families segregated in extremely poor neighborhoods has grown from 8 to 18 percent.  And Blow reports on new research from the Civil Rights Project that, “New York has the most segregated schools in the country.”  He reports that, according to Reuters, “About 40 percent of white Americans and about 25 percent of nonwhite Americans are surrounded exclusively by friends of their own race.”

We are left to contemplate the reality that none of these writers confronts head-on: those making our education policy from the U.S. Department of Education (working closely with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and other mega-philanthropies), to the Congress, to the legislators in our statehouses (increasingly working hand-in-glove with the American Legislative Exchange Council) are not honestly talking about any of this.  The education press is filled with discussions of Value Added (econometric) Measures for teacher evaluation and the pros and cons of the Common Core Standards and portfolio school reform theory that emphasizes school closures and privatization.  But we hardly ever read about steps that might be taken to ameliorate poverty.  We almost never talk about creating disincentives for the kind of self-sorting Blow describes—the growing economic segregation overlaid on racial segregation in urban America.  And talk about increasing investment in public education and targeting public investment to schools in our nation’s most desperate communities seems more and more limited to the school finance experts.

All this is the sobering reality this month as America marks the 50th Anniversary of the passage of the Civil Rights Act.




Inviting the Fox Right Into the Henhouse

Ohio sends $1 billion every year out of its public education budget to charter schools and vouchers.  According to Doug Livingston at the Akron Beacon-Journal, Ohio’s charter schools and their sponsors are so poorly regulated by the state legislature that the private companies hired by nonprofits to manage their charter schools have been known to recruit (and fire) members of the boards whose responsibility it is to oversee and regulate the management companies.  “In Ohio, charter schools are required to satisfy strict federal guidelines as nonprofit organizations under Section 501(c)3 of the Internal Revenue code, including board autonomy.  If the board is not independent of the company, the IRS is supposed to throw up a red flag.  But state law allows private companies to throw out non-profit boards that challenge them.”  White Hat Management is known for such practices.

Leaders in the state legislature that brought Ohio this lucrative arrangement for wealthy White Hat charter czar David Brennan and cyber-charter parasite William Lager, the owner of two privately-held companies that siphon $100 million annually from Ohio’s school budget for the services provided to the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow, now want to remove the constitutional checks and balances that protect the allocation and distribution of the state’s public school budget.

The legislature has created a Constitutional Modernization Commission that seeks to remove the state’s public education clause from the 160-year-old Ohio Constitution.  Writing for the Akron Beacon-Journal, Carol Biliczky reports that the Commission’s education committee chair, Chad Readler, a Columbus attorney who has prominently represented the interests of charter schools in recent years, “suggested removing the ‘thorough and efficient’ clause because it is hard to define and interpret and has produced a series of closely decided court decisions.”

The clause to which Readler refers is the very constitutional language that protects adequate and equitably distributed funding across the over 600 school districts in Ohio.  Biliczky quotes Nick Pittner, the attorney who argued the DeRolph school funding litigation for 500 plaintiff school districts who brought the case to demand that Ohio school funding be increased and distributed fairly.  According to Pittner, Readler’s proposal now before the Constitutional Modernization Commission would “remove the courts from any role in determining the appropriateness of public education provided by the Ohio General Assembly.  It’s not in the interest of Ohio in general or school children to remove the courts from oversight.”

The proposal now before the Commission would render school funding in Ohio not subject to judicial review by removing the language that establishes judicial oversight.  Columbus Dispatch reporter Darrel Roland reminds us that in the past those who sought to reduce the state’s investment in public education have made the case that school funding be left solely up to the legislature and be rendered non-justiciable:

“In a March 1997 ruling that later became known as DeRolph I after its lead plaintiff, Ohio Supreme Court Justice Francis Sweeney determined that ‘the facts documented in the record lead to one inescapable conclusion—Ohio’s elementary and secondary public schools are neither thorough nor efficient.’ ‘In reaching this conclusion, we dismiss as unfounded any suggestion that the problems presented by this case should be left for the General Assembly to resolve.’”  Sweeney’s words were prophetic. In 2002, after the elected Ohio Supreme Court changed parties and subsequently released jurisdiction in the DeRolph case, the legislature of Ohio has never felt obliged to design a remedy that would address voluntarily “the problems presented by this case.”

There is no reason to imagine that the Constitutional Modernization Commission’s proposal to remove the court’s protection of school funding equity and adequacy—by removing the court’s check and balance on the legislature—would serve Ohio’s children as well as leaving the state constitution alone.  The Education Law Center points out that in a recent school funding decision in Kansas, the supreme court of Kansas described the importance of the language that is in our state constitutions.  “Matters intended for permanence are placed in constitutions for a reason—to protect them from the vagaries of politics….”