Wendy Lecker is a civil rights lawyer who writes frequently about education issues.
In this article, published in the Stamford (Ct.) Advocate, Lecker describes the imposed reforms that breed resentment and failure, not better education.
Corporate reform has been a disaster. Its day of reckoning cannot be indefinitely postponed. The corporate reformers fail and fail and fail, and continue to push their failed ideas.
Connecticut is a state that experienced major corruption in the charter industry. It is also a state with excellent public schools. Why not use the depth of knowledge and experience to help the neediest districts instead of parceling students out to private management?
The State Board of Education’s recent rubber-stamping of Capital Prep Harbor charter school’s expansion in Bridgeport is yet another example of a common theme in education reform: trampling community will. Capital Prep, which opened in 2015 over the objection the Bridgeport’s Board of education and community members, does not reflect the community. The school serves no English Language Learners, though 15 percent of Bridgeport’s students are ELL. The school has a 37 percent out-of-school suspension rate, over twice the rate in Bridgeport’s public schools.
Bridgeport’s Board of Education unanimously opposed the school’s expansion. Bridgeport already must pay several million dollars annually to charters. As the superintendent testified, the expansion will drain an additional $200,000 from Bridgeport’s budget; money it cannot afford. Last year, owing to decreased state funding, Bridgeport had to fill a $16 million budget gap. The state board ignored Bridgeport’s needs.
As recent education reform failures demonstrate, robbing local districts of decision-making power over education policies is a recipe for disaster. By contrast, reforms that emanate from the school districts themselves have shown success.
The ultimate in top-down reform for struggling districts is state takeover. Two much-hyped state takeovers occurred in Tennessee — the Achievement School District (“ASD”), and Detroit — the Educational Achievement Authority (“EAA”). After years of consistent failure, both recently closed, returning control of schools to the districts.
ASD and EAA employed reform’s “greatest hits.” Outside managers were hired to run the districts. Charter schools proliferated. They used ill-trained Teach for America recruits.
EAA also employed “student-centered” “personalized” computer-based learning, which caused 10,000 struggling students to fall further behind academically.
Both “reform districts” were plagued with high teacher turnover, a major factor in their failures, and rampant financial mismanagement.
State takeover made things worse for students in the ASD and EAA. In 2015, only one fourth-grader in Detroit’s EAA passed the state math test. After years of EAA control, only three of the 15 EAA schools moved off the list of the lowest 5 percent in the state. In Tennessee, the results were similar, with the ASD’s charter schools performing the worst.
At the same time, officials ignore the slow and steady progress made by districts that engage in home-grown educational improvement. Long Beach, California, and Union City, New Jersey, are good examples. Both districts are diverse and majority economically disadvantaged. Yet both have been able to sustain improvement by focusing on the unique needs and strengths of their communities…
In contrast to failed state takeovers, that leave children and communities behind in their wake, district-led improvement methods have staying power precisely because they use the needs of their children and communities as their starting point. It is a shame that Connecticut officials ignore our own local, well-informed voices.
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