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

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Rocketship: Poor Kids Don't Deserve Music & Art!

UPDATE: Apparently, some are vexed at the thought that I used quotes in the title of this post. I thought the hyperbole was fairly clear, and I thought paraphrases are used in quotes in headlines; however, I don't want an argument about journalistic conventions to get in the way of the message here. I'm a citizen-journalist and learning as I go along; I do make mistakes. Maybe I made one here; if I did, I apologize.

So, no, Rocketship doesn't literally say "Poor kids don't deserve music and art"; they just act like poor kids don't. Hence, I'm removing the quotes. I am under no delusion this will satiate the folks who don't want to confront what I'm saying, but it's the best I can do to get people to address my central point.

As a lifelong music educator, this is one of the most despicable education stories I've ever heard:
JEFFREY BROWN: Now we look to a California education experiment called the Rocketship Model that involves teachers, kids and parents and aims to expand one day to serve a million students.
NewsHour's special correspondent for education, John Merrow, has our report.
JOHN MERROW: For about one hour every day, students practice math and literacy skills. They work independently at their own pace. The computer is able to track and guide the progress of each student. 
It's something educators call differentiated learning. Some students work on basic skills, while others advance to more challenging lessons. 
The learning lab allows a school to hire six fewer teachers, which Rocketship says results in savings of up to half a million dollars. That money is used to pay teachers higher salaries, fund academic deans who help teachers get better, and train principals for future Rocketship schools. 
But one thing the savings are not used for, art and music classes. 
VERONICA BARBOSA: I wish we could have art and music in the school, but at the same time if you want your child to have that in their life, you can make the effort to try and get it, like, after school or on the weekends. [emphasis mine]
Understand that Rocketship explicitly states that its mission is "...to become a national network to eliminate the achievement gap in low-income neighborhoods." They are a school for poor kids - and, according to Rocketship, poor kids don't need art and music education.

Apparently, poor kids also don't need a computerized curriculum that actually works:

JOHN MERROW: A problem we saw is that some students in the lab do not appear to be engaged. They sit at their computers for long periods of time, seemingly just guessing.

JUDY LAVI: That's definitely not the ideal situation. The ideal situation would be that they'd get help from somebody in the learning lab who would explain the concept to them. Then they would go back and practice it.

JOHN MERROW: Rocketship says it's about to make a big change to its model.

ADAM NADEAU: If I had to guess, I would say you come back in a year, you won't see a learning lab.

ANDREW ELLIOTT-CHANDLER: Next year, we're -- we're thinking of bringing the computers back to the classrooms and the kids back to the classrooms.

JOHN MERROW: What this new model might look like and how it may affect the school's bottom line is unknown, but the leaders are not worried.

ANDREW ELLIOTT-CHANDLER: Innovation, I think, is one of the most exciting reasons to be at Rocketship. It's exhausting, but it's also exhilarating. Things change dramatically every year.
Yes, because it's so "exhilarating" to deny poor children the opportunity to have a comprehensive education...

California has well-defined standards in the visual and performing arts. Rocketship, if it wants to be known as a group of "public" schools, has an obligation to follow those standards. That they don't even make an attempt to do so speaks volumes about the low standards they set for themselves in the name of educating poor children.

Because this garbage would never fly in affluent areas. Arts education in California is highly inequitable, as affluent white students are far more likely to get music and art than their poor and/or minority peers. Of course, California isn't alone in this:

One would think a school like Rocketship, which aims to "eliminate the achievement gap in low-income neighborhoods," would care about this achievement gap.

One would be wrong.

There's lots more to say about Rocketship, and I'll try to get to it at some point. Larry Miller has done some preliminary work on the chain's student demographics and attrition rates that ought to give everyone pause. Rocketship has responded to Miller here: one thing I've noticed right away about Rocketship's claims is that they don't disaggregate their data for student poverty as well as they could.

But let's suppose that Rocketship's rebuttal actually holds up under scrutiny. What they would be telling us is that the key to increasing the test scores of poor and minority children is to take away music and art (and maybe some other curricular areas as well) and use the time and money saved to plop the kids in front of a computer screen for hours on end.

This is exactly the sort of thing the Chicago Teachers Union fought against this past year. CTU won concessions from the school board to hire hundreds of arts teachers so that Chicago's children would receive a broad-based education, just like children in the affluent suburbs. It was a unionized teaching force that brought the arts to their deserving students.

Maybe that's why Rocketship doesn't like the idea of their staff becoming unionized:
JOHN MERROW: If the unions came to you and said, John, we'd like to unionize Rocketship, what would you say?
JOHN DANNER: I would say absolutely not. We're a startup. You know, in startups, you basically do something different every day. Any major school district has a 450-page kind of contract that literally says minute by minute what teachers are supposed to do. So the fit between how that's evolved and what Rocketship is like is just a bad fit. 
Yes, it's certainly a "bad fit": a unionized Rocketship staff might start demanding the schools do the right thing for their poor students and give them the same educational opportunities as affluent students.

Can't have that, can we?

Sorry, Mr. Holland, but we're a startup...


Marie said...

"Things change dramatically every year."...
"We're a startup. You know, in startups, you basically do something different every day."

No art, no music, but TONS of change. Just what kids need... instability, unpredictability and no opportunities for creative self expression—research be damned!

Stephen said...

Simple, predictable, ongoing = solid environment for steady growth. Unpredictable, sporadic, ideological guessing = confusion and coercion.

"Things change dramatically every year"...Just the thing for children from an unpredictable, sporadic, environment.

The corporate reform model is about what corporations need, not children. Corporations need the freedom to "innovate" without burdensome "regulations".
In their eyes, children don't need the same freedom to innovate without "burdensome regulations". Children don't need a chance to innovate...as in art or music. Children just need to score high on their tests so they get bragging rights to justify their "innovation".

The Corporate Education Reform Movement should be called the Corporate Education Control Movement. It's not actually about education, it is about power, money, and control.

giuseppe said...

"That money is used to pay teachers higher salaries,..." Higher salaries, as compared to what, Walmart? Higher salaries than the surrounding actual public schools? Do the teachers get any health benefits? Pensions? They probably have a very high turnover rate to make sure that no one gets too high on the pay scale. I just caught a few minutes of this program because I thought it was going to be another puff piece but I'm glad to see that the reporter actually asked some probing questions. I did catch the part at the beginning where the founder says that the regular public schools don't allow for innovation. Oh, bullshale on that nonsense. That is the favorite reformy speak propaganda item #278. It's hideous and disgusting. I wonder what the salaries are for the CEO and top execs in the company?

berickt said...

I was dumbfounded by the non sequitur of this Rocketship fluff story. After many minutes describing how they can improve outcomes with the computer lab, and cut costs by staffing the lab with lower-paid helpers instead of teachers, they immediately turn around and say "Oh, yes, the lab isn't working so next year we're abolishing it and moving computers into the classrooms." That isn't brilliant innovation, it's admitting fundamental failure and a pivot to .... something else. I guess the students are guinea pigs, er, I mean, venture investors who are ready to take a big loss in 90% of the cases if 10% end up doing especially well.

Anonymous said...

So, when a child is on or above grade level, do they get music and art?

Alec said...

This is the same argument we had 100 years ago between W.E.B. DuBois and Booker T. Washington. Washington believed the poor kids needed to get just a vocational education first to move up in economic ranks, and worry about becoming part of the leadership class later.

W.E.B. DuBois knew personally that if you limited a person to only their economic variable you would truly limit their complete human potential.

Booker T won the debate. Or rather, the industrialists won the debate for a cheap labor force with Booker T as the acceptable face. Almost exactly one century later the industrialists are winning again, with their pretty faces out front like Michelle Rhee as cover for their exploitive schemes.

Meanwhile, just as in W.E.B. DuBois day, the future leaders of this country are getting a broad based education in arts, language, logic, and critical thinking. The achievement gap exists because Booker T won the debate, among other things. Will we spend another century deciding the poor, black, brown, and yellow do not get the same education as our future leadership class?