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

Thursday, November 29, 2012

"Reform Churn"

These days, urban school systems change their "reforms" as often as I change my underwear:
Global Village had arrived in Newark with great fanfare just three years earlier. During its short life, it extended the school day for many children at the seven schools it served, provided eyeglasses to students who needed them, distributed books to build home libraries, and connected parents with a variety of social services, from mental health care to housing assistance.
Much like the highly publicized Harlem Children’s Zone, Global Village focused on the needs of entire families. It aimed to strengthen academics and help lift children in one of Newark’s toughest neighborhoods out of poverty.
The partnership between Newark public schools and NYU would be less expensive than the one in Harlem, potentially making it a model to be replicated nationwide. During the 2008 presidential campaign, then-candidate Barack Obama said he wanted to create 20 such zones around the country. Foundations were willing to pay for it.
But as with so many prior attempts at reform, things didn’t go according to plan.
On the national scale, President Obama shifted strategy to provide immediate direct aid through an economic stimulus package rather than investing a few billion dollars a year to create anti-poverty zones that would take longer to show results.
And in Newark, what had been billed as one of this downtrodden city’s most ambitious reforms collapsed just before this school year started. NYU blamed the failure on a lack of support from Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson and Mayor Cory Booker. Anderson has since begun a new reform initiative absorbing many Global Village concepts, notably the extended school day. [emphasis mine]
Superintendent Anderson has a three-year contract in Newark. Yet she has decided to disband the Global Village program and replace it with her own. Who knows if she will stay beyond her three years? Who knows if a new superintendent will come in and start his own program after she leaves?

The average tenure of an urban superintendent is now about three-and-a-half years. This means a community like Newark can be quite confident a high school student will have at least two supers within her four-year career. It means many of the teachers hired under one super will gain their tenure under another. It means a program like Global Village will never receive the long-term support it needs to prove itself.

It means that urban school districts - particularly ones like Newark that are under state control - can count on a regularly changing diet of new "reforms."

This is yet another cue America's public schools are being forced to take from the corporate world, where CEO churn has accelerated. Apparently, what's good for stock prices and profit margins is good for our cities' children. Except it isn't:
Low-performing schools tend to get stuck in what Noguera calls “reform churn,” where nothing stays in place long enough to take hold. Although components of Global Village continue under the renewal school initiative, services were disrupted during the transition and parents felt let down again.
“Newark’s been through so much in terms of having promises made and not fulfilled, and I think that’s the worst part of this,” Noguera said.
At the same time, schools like those in the Global Village zone are often subject to many reform efforts at once, resulting in inefficient and impractical measures that can be confusing and maddening for staff.
 Gosh, you think?

Read the whole article, which is quite good. You'll find a tale of an urban school system - like so many others in America - whose primary function seems to be burnishing the resumes of ambitious school administrators and politicians, and not educating kids.

There is, of course, a solution to all of this: put control of the schools back into the hands of the communities they serve. A local school board with a healthy representation of parents whose children actually attend the schools is much more likely to hire a superintendent who is committed to the long haul.

Unfortunately, given the buying off of school board elections and rise of the new, autocratic, 21st century mayor, we're moving in exactly the opposite direction. Be prepared for more of this:
Back at Science High, even the Facebook gift was regarded with suspicion.
“The foundations are interfering with public education and dividing our community,” says Cassandra Dock, a local resident. “Leave us alone. We don’t want white people coming in here and doing what they do — taking over. Destroy and leave.” [emphasis mine]
Affluent white "excellence" will be the death of our cities yet.

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