I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Monday, July 4, 2011

Corporate Reformers: Truly Clueless

Bob Braun's interview with South Jersey Democratic boss George Norcross focuses on education. It is a trainwreck:
In his ideal world, the parents of children enrolled in charter and other privatized schools will be "mandatorily" engaged in helping those schools, he says, or their children will be asked to leave. "That’s exactly the way charters operate," he says.
He concedes that, under such a scheme, most urban children, maybe as many as 60 percent, will be left behind in traditional schools — private, parochial and charter schools are not obliged to take or retain everyone — and those children are more likely to have problems and "less engaged" parents than those in privatized schools. Their needs will cost more per pupil.
"But we have an obligation to save children who are reaching out to us. You can’t keep the status quo simply because you don’t have an answer for what to do with the 60 percent or so that might remain in the public schools."
You know, 'cause kids are like fish: don't like the one you caught, throw it back. Simple! Just like the corporate reformers have done down in New Orleans:
New Orleans is one of the best examples of what national experts increasingly describe as a school "portfolio management model": a structure where schools that do not meet standards get closed or new management, much like an investor might drop or sell underperforming stocks.
Advocates of such an approach argue that it weeds out poor school operators and rewards successful ones. They say it guards against low-performing schools poorly educating students for years, or generations. Critics say that struggling schools should be helped, not treated like disposable property. 
Ariel started the 2005-06 school year at John McDonogh High School. She spent about two weeks there before Katrina exiled her family to San Antonio, where she attended a school her mother liked. When the family returned to New Orleans, Acker enrolled Ariel at Clark High School. In the fall of 2008, RSD officials moved Ariel's entire class, including the teacher, from Clark to Douglass, with the assurance that the students could finish their educations there.
At the end of the 2008-09 school year, the district moved Ariel's teacher back to Clark, leaving many of his students at Douglass. Ariel grew attached to her new teacher the next school year. But then, in June, word came that Douglass would close. The school posted abysmal results for years prior to Katrina, and did not improve significantly under the RSD's administration after the flood.
It's just too bad that George Norcross doesn't live in New Orleans. He would have laid down the law to Ariel's parents about how they need people like Norcross to force them to become more "engaged" with her schools - you know, the ones that change every five minutes.. But, hey, she's one of the 60-percenters... what can you do?

(By the way, that "60%" figure undoubtedly was pulled from the Institute of George Norcross's Ass.)

The Sage of South Jersey continues:
Resulting higher per-pupil costs can be handled by reducing staff and consolidating buildings, he says. While he wants to reform conventional schools, he is against any reform plan that would result in increased spending for public schools.
He admits poor children need more resources than more affluent children. "Certainly, it costs more money but, even with spending all that money, the results are inexcusable. You’re not seeing any effective results. None. Zero."
Organizations like Newark’s Education Law Center — backed by national studies — disagree, but never mind. 
Norcross wants a "dual strategy": While some children are placed in charter and voucher schools, the state should improve traditional public schools. But, beyond "substantial bonuses" for good teachers, he didn’t offer any solutions that would be part of his "strategy." [emphasis mine] 
This has to be my favorite logical inconsistency within the reform movement. Everybody loves - LOVES - the idea of "good teachers should get paid more," but they also say "we don't have more money to spend on schools." So it all comes down to one problem: where are you going to get the money?

"Reducing class sizes!" Yeah, right - even as the private schools they send their own kids to brag about small class sizes. Even as we have tons of evidence that smaller class sizes help student learning, and tons of evidence that "merit pay" does nothing to help student learning.

"No more masters bumps!" So, the teachers who earned degrees just need to accept they threw their money away?  "No pay scales!" So the 25-year veteran takes a huge pay cut?

The sad fact is that George Norcross - and, for that matter, most corporate reformers - has no idea what he is talking about. He hasn't done the work; he hasn't given this topic more than a minute's worth of his time. But he's rich, and this is America, so he's taken seriously on issues he has no right to opine on.

Which leads to embarrassments like this:
Norcross concedes he is unfamiliar with studies showing charter or voucher schools in places like Milwaukee have done no better than conventional schools. "I’m not disputing the fact there are reasons some things have worked and some things haven’t worked," he says, "but you cannot put your entire level of confidence in the way public schools are operating."
Besides, he says, Milwaukee can’t be compared to Camden.
He wouldn’t touch the issue of racial segregation in urban schools, saying "economic issues" are more important. The most he would say about racial isolation is that "any and all ideas should be discussed and explored," maybe in an "education summit.’’
Oh, great idea - why hasn't anyone thought of having a "summit" before? (I am banging my head on my desk right now...)
Norcross says he is a big fan of bringing private companies and other institutions into the operation of schools. He talks about the "brilliant doctors and nurses" at Cooper University Hospital in Camden "who could lend themselves" to the operation of charter schools. He is the chairman of the hospital’s board.
But then he backed away from suggesting "brilliant doctors and nurses" would have any time or interest in running, or teaching at, charter schools. He suggested they could be "mentors" to the children, finally insisting that simply lending the name of a famous person or institution to a privatized school would result in its improvement.
Like, say, his name: "If the name Norcross was on a charter school, you can be damned sure the education there will be provided at the highest level."
Now he's like his good bud Donald Trump: he's marketing his brand. What's next, "Celebrity Political Boss," Tuesdays on NBC?

This is absurd. This man has absolutely no right to have an opinion on school reform, as he is clearly uninformed on the central issues. He disrespects the people of Camden by dismissing racial prejudice as a serious problem in their lives. And yet, by virtue of the enormous wealth he's acquired by overcharging for health insurance, he gets to set education policy for the state.

More "white people... destroying and leaving." It's sickening. When are we going to stop putting up with this?

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