Charter School Takeover Success Myth Shattered

charter-schoolNew Orleans    Call it what you may, charterization, privatization, or whatever the opposition of business and other elites to the public education system in the United States has gotten the kind of superficial analysis normally reserved for fashion trends and fall season television shows. The basic analysis is contentious and conducted at the high decibels of yelling voices arguing either that public schools suck, teachers are worthless and greedy, unions are obstacles, or on the other side that schools are suffering from inadequate funding, poor physical plants, and systemic racism that is abandoning many urban districts.

All of which made it a relief to finally see a sober, factual analysis of the largest charter school system experiment in the country that New Orleans has been subjected to in the wake of the post-Katrina takeover of the schools by Andrea Gabor, a professor at Baruch College of the City University of New York published in the New York Times.

Looking at the Recovery School District, as the charter takeover schools were called, Gabor finds that this so-called experiment has meant that the “reforms have come at the expense of the city’s most disadvantaged children, who often disappear from school entirely and, thus, are no longer included in the data.” Plain English: the charters only look good because they have been allowed to “cook the books.” Gabor quotes one of the few black charter-school leaders in the city saying, “There were pretty nefarious things done in the pursuit of academic gain” including “suspensions, pushouts, skimming, counseling out, and not handling special needs kids well.” This is the inevitable result of a system designed to teach to the test to survive. If you aren’t willing or able to educate the children, then get rid of them so that they don’t count against you in the scoring.

What’s going on? Gabor documents the following:

· After schools are taken over by charters, less than a third of the students in the previous school are enrolling.
· “In the decentralized charter system, no agency is responsible for keeping track of all kids,” meaning dropout rates are unreliable. An outside agency using Census Data from 2013, “found that over 26000 people in the metropolitan area between the ages of 16 and 24 are counted as ‘disconnected,’ because neither working or in school.”
· Takeover schools that were rated “F” as falling once charterized become “T” for turnaround, and thus are not counted as “failing,” “nor would 16 “D” schools. In fact “40 percent of RSD schools were graded ‘D,’ ‘T’ or ‘F’” in 2013-14.
· Most of charter performance have been “doled out selectively, mostly to pro-charter researchers, and much of the research has been flawed.” She cites a humiliating incident last year when the Cowen Institute had to retract a study claiming that “most New Orleans charters were posting higher-than-expected graduation rates and test scores.” Cowen had been the former head of Tulane University and unabashedly a charter cheerleader, including putting a million of Tulane’s money in a post-Katrina charter that would give preference to the children of professors and employees.
· A Stanford University center claimed progress with a flawed methodology that compared charter school performance to a supposed “twin,” even though there are no non-charter schools in New Orleans now.
· African-American educators argue that “the charter movement won’t have ‘any type of long-term sustainability’ without meaningful participation from the black community,” which in New Orleans is 60% of the city.

It goes on and on, but Gabor’s bottom line is worth remembering:

“For outsiders, the biggest lesson in New Orleans is this: It is wiser to invest in improving existing education systems than to start from scratch. Privatization may improve outcomes for most students, but it has hurt the most disadvantaged pupils”

In a city like New Orleans and many other urban districts throughout the country, the public school system is populated with “disadvantaged pupils” and minorities. Time to stop proselytizing and start educating.

Malcolm Gladwell’s Pop Science is Whitewashing Katrina Pain and People

Canadaville

Canadaville

New Orleans     President Obama here’s some advice before you come to New Orleans to commemorate the 10th anniversary of Katrina: no matter what happens please, please ignore every bit of advice you might possibly get from the author and The New Yorker writer, Malcolm Gladwell about what to say about New Orleans and Katrina, and probably any other advice he ever gives you any the future. Recently, Gladwell was cited as one of the wise and rich men and women that Obama was consulting about his future post-Pennsylvania Avenue.

Gladwell has been on a bit of a roll the last number of years as the highly popular author of a number of books that might be characterized as “applied pop psychology” books including The Tipping Point, The Outliers, and others. Don’t tell me you haven’t read anything he’s written or I’ll ask you to give me the address of your cave. I’ve certainly read several. He specializes in pseudo-science stories that act like brain candy. You can’t read them quickly enough and they all seem smooth and sweet until you make the mistake of actually thinking about them and then you’re not sure. Whatever? It’s candy, so what might be the harm, right? Well, having just finished reading his most recent piece, “Starting Over” in The New Yorker labeled “Dept. of Social Studies,” which goes past candy, approaches unmitigated drivel, and then swerves into just plain dangerous, I’m convinced we need to get a petition together to the Secret Service to keep Gladwell as far away from the President as possible. Who knew Canadians could be so diabolical!

The thin reed Gladwell tries to grasp starts by trying to look at Katrina as a social experiment that might measure the impact of mobility on survivor families torn away from their homes by the devastation of Katrina, who were dropped or came to shore in other communities, and how they fared. Ok, that might be interesting, but then he tries to expropriate a seminal study done by economists indicting the United States at large for decades of abandoning urban America and perpetuating inequality by pretending the only thing under that shell was the issue of mobility, rather than disinvestment, racism, a deteriorated and mean-spirited social safety net, deindustrialization, and tax policies that have stagnated most of us while creating the super-rich. I could go on.

And, Gladwell knows he’s treading on dangerous ground throughout the piece. He tries to act like Katrina was bad news and that he would not have been riding with the business interests and social elites who were avowedly trying to whitewash the city, but unfortunately he wears his neo-conservative, neo-liberal biases on his sleeves. Implicitly, he totally supports every effort to prevent families from being able to return home from closing the schools to denying rebuilding funds to providing no healthcare. He pretty much sees the economy and population of New Orleans as a horror. He rationalizes this with a pseudo-science argument that the odds of lower income families “moving on up” are better in Houston, which he insults by calling it the “Salt Lake City” of the south, because the odds are slightly better that someone might crawl out of poverty, so darned are they lucky they were in a hurricane, surrounded by water and dead bodies, separated from family, friends, community and culture so they have a little teeny bit better chance in an economically stratified country to make it out. Spoiler alert: Please remember that there was no real way to read the study as arguing anything other than the odds were almost impossibly low for upward mobility anywhere!

Canadaville

How do you unravel this preposterous pretzel of an argument? We need public policies for cities and their population which create equity, not that forcibly relocate people on buses, planes, and trains. And, those policies need to be applied to every city. If Gladwell, wants to pretend to look at the impact of mobility and social science, it is interesting that nowhere in the article is there mention of Canadaville, a post-Katrina project of his fellow Canadian, the huge auto parts gazillionaire Frank Stronach from Magma International and his 300-family relocation project of lower income families to Simmesport, Louisiana several parishes up the river. Perhaps he avoided that because it is universally seen as a disaster and was abandoned by Magma and Stronach.

Gladwell finally ends his piece saying with this monument to sophistry:

In the past ten years, much has been said, rightly, about the resilience and spirit of those who chose to rebuild the neighborhoods they had lost. It is time to appreciate as well the courage of those who, faced with the same disaster, decided to make a fresh start.

Balderdash!

Courage is triggered by choice, not a combination of disaster and coercion that for many families continues to this day. The overwhelming number of families still not able to return home are African-American. Where there was choice – and resources – in higher income white families, as has been well documented and even Gladwell seems to acknowledge, people overwhelming came home. On one count after another for lower income families Katrina was a pure and simple devastation that continues to this day. Gladwell would undoubtedly line up in favor of putting the Cherokees on the Trail of Tears, supporting pogroms forcing Jews to flee, and any number of outrages in the name of a few percentage points of progress in the by and by, rather than hunkering down and doing what’s right to support widespread progress for all the people where they live, including in urban areas like New Orleans.

Mr. President, don’t listen to Malcolm Gladwell. He may sell books, but that doesn’t change the fact that he’s a sycophantic apologist for the rich and, sadly, turns out to be a fool.

one of the homes at Canadaville

one of the homes in Canadaville

Banksy’s Dismaland

Announcing: ACORN are an official part of Banskys Dismaland! And you can too - we need your help! Visit http://www.acorncommunities.org.uk/disma_volunteer to get involved!

Announcing: ACORN are an official part of Banskys Dismaland! And you can too – we need your help! Visit http://www.acorncommunities.org.uk/disma_volunteer to get involved!

New Orleans      At the end of a long catch-up Skype call with Stuart Melvin, ACORN United Kingdom’s national organizer, he mentioned he and some of the members were going to be spending some time at an odd street festival of sorts not far from our folks in Bristol, England along the coast in a town called Weston-super-Mare. Stu kinda laughed about it, said he couldn’t really describe it, but I should just Google the name of the town, and I’d get a sense of it. I meant to do so of course, but I didn’t, you know how these things go, there’s only so much time in the day.

A couple of mornings later I scan a piece in the New York Times about the latest mashup from world famous street and graffiti artist, and Bristol-native, the ever elusive, Banksy. The art community had been wondering what he had been up to during an unusually quiet stretch and suddenly, and in his typical way, secretly it seemed, he had opened a massive thing he called Dismaland on the English seaside. Interesting, I thought and kept on pushing.

Later at work an email from Stu says this bizarre experience went well. Ah, that’s right the gang was going to the shore, I’d almost forgotten. Finally, the pieces came together when I saw a Facebook picture of our crack ACORN Bristol organizer, Nick Ballard, waving an ACORN flag standing next to one of our volunteers, and in the background was, yes, you guessed it, Dismaland! Damned if Banksy and his people, whoever they might be, hadn’t invited ACORN to be one of the street attractions for this 5-week extravaganza that observers believe might attract as many as 400,000 people. No wonder Stu was excited that in his first afternoon out there in a couple of hours we had enrolled 50 provisional ACORN members, all of whom wanted ACORN in their towns!

The Guardian refers to Dismaland as a mixture of anarchism and amusement park. I’m Ok with that. Just days before the Bristol ACORN crew had posted pictures of a typical summer day and it was basically a shot of dark, cold, and rain. Now reading the descriptions of Dismaland and looking at some of the pictures, what can I say, I wish I were there!

For the art lovers, Banksy is displaying 58 artists’ work, and says these are pieces from the best contemporary artists in the world, “apart from the two that turned him down.” He has 10 new pieces on display including a thing on Cinderella where her carriage has crashed killing her and her horses. You buy your 3 pound ticket online except that the huge demand has crashed the dismaland.org.uk website of course when I first visited, and then you have to endure a cardboard security station with guards in pink hi-viz vests who tell you that you cannot bring squid into the park. There is a warning that no officials or lawyers from Disneyland are allowed entry of course.

There are the normal amusement park features with a twist. The isn’t an ATM but there is a “loan shop” for children that satirically jabs at 5000% interest rates and payday lending. There’s a portrait artist, but you can only get a portrait of the back of your head, which the promo says “is surprisingly revealing.” In a takeoff of the longstanding English institution, the Citizens Advice Bureau, the Comrade’s Advice Bureau teaches all interested in how they can unlock the bus display advertising posters and sells a special 5 pound tool to do the job. When asked whether this was legal, the Dismaland guide told The Guardian, “it is not illegal.”

How great is this? ACORN is honored and excited to be a part of this whole affair. But, hey, Banksy, what does it take for us to put this show on the road, so we can all go, have some laughs, be part of the fun, and shove our funny bones into the fat guts of the powers that be here and elsewhere around the world?

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These pictures credited to The Guardian. . .

banksey2 banksey5 banksey1 banksey8 banksey4 banksey7 banksey9 banksey3 banksey6 banksey11 banksey10

Free Advice for Organizing McDonalds’ Workers

 Scott Courtney, a leader of the Fight for 15 campaign, with protesters in Brazil. Credit Fernando Cavalcanti

Scott Courtney, a leader of the Fight for 15 campaign, with protesters in Brazil. Credit Fernando Cavalcanti

New Orleans    There was SEIU’s organizing director Scott Courtney, friend and comrade, in a picture in The New York Times, rallying with Brazilian unions before preparing to testify on the evils of McDonalds’ franchisees in Brazil to their government. Even more surprisingly, he was quoted in the Times essentially saying he was throwing everything against the wall hoping to find some critical vulnerability.

By pushing fast food companies, particularly McDonalds, on its Fight for $15 campaign, the union has succeeded in pressuring the company to raise wages in corporate stores to $9 already and soon to $10 early in 2016. Charges at the National Labor Relations Board have also led to real concerns on whether or not the union has successfully pierced the veil between the corporate locations and its franchisees as co-employers, which has led to mass hand wringing throughout corporate America.

Perhaps the biggest victory though was the success of the campaign in New York State, where the wage board has recommended accelerated increases to $15 in New York City and not long afterwards throughout the state for fast food workers. Several months ago Brother Courtney was quoted as, perhaps too transparently and too willingly, expressing the hope that action by the wage board might have given the union sufficient leverage to be able to make a deal with the company somewhere, somehow to allow the union in on some piecemeal basis. In organizing circles, the New York wage board and a powder keg supposedly ready to explode in Brazil were touted as the one-two punches that were going to bring the company to the mat. One punch seems to have fallen short, and now Brazil is in the ring and though arms are flailing, much of the heat seems addressed at a big franchisee and potential tax scams in that country, which is already reeling from political payoff scandals that have weakened the left, governing Workers Party.

Observers are clearly worried that SEIU might be coming to the end of their rope unless they can deliver a knockout soon, just as UFCW has pulled the plug on its expensive OUR Walmart effort. When blood is in the water, even friends line up to offer advice. Steven Greenhouse, long time labor reporter for the Times in an unusual step weighed in at The Atlantic recommending that SEIU start picking off McDonalds’ “hot shops,” though he undoubtedly knows the statistics on the relatively low success rate in NLRB representative elections for such shops. Wilma Liebman, former chair of the NLRB, recommended that SEIU direct all of its organizing energy at corporate stores rather than franchisees to advance the cause, which is curious advice as well. To the public, McDonalds is McDonalds, and unquestionably many of the franchisees, as SEIU has found in Brazil, are way more vulnerable to organizing and pressure. Eighteen months ago a big franchisee in Houston with more than 50 locations flirted briefly with Local 100 for us to sign up his workers for Obamacare. There are athletes and others who own hundreds of locations who might be leveraged as well.

Regardless, the notion of organizing stores one-by-one has been the opposite of SEIU’s strategy in this campaign and many others over the last twenty years. One senior SEIU organizer in Los Angeles commented to me several years ago that there’s an entire generation of SEIU’s organizers that have never run an NLRB election and would be fish out of water trying to do so. SEIU knows that there were 14350 McDonalds in the USA in 2014 and 21908 internationally. The last thing they are looking for is a Vietnam style quagmire where they are locked into a struggle to organize store by store. How many would they have to organize successfully to have the moral rectitude that converts into the equivalent pressure of their current Fight for $15 Campaign? What could they deliver in collective bargaining to the first couple of hundred stores? These are hard problems, and Courtney and SEIU are clearly intent on doubling down before caving in.

It’s one thing for unions, even SEIU, to decide to throw everything up against the wall against a company for a couple of years to see if they can win. It’s another thing to decide that you are willing to make a 20, 30, or 50 year commitment to actually unionize the workers step by step, block by block, or in this case store by store.

SEIU may have to face that decision soon, but it won’t be today, while they’re still swinging hard, and the bell hasn’t rung.

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Please Enjoy Bruce’s Springsteen’s Working on a Dream

The Storm Next Time: How Safe is New Orleans?

120828073556-katrina-ann-01-horizontal-large-galleryNew Orleans   President Obama announced that he is visiting New Orleans on the eve of the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Reportedly he wants to use the event to underline his climate change initiatives. The local papers are full of discussion about what needs to be done with many reviving the original President George W. Bush promise for 500-year storm protection. The cost is guesstimated at $100 billion. New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu says “let’s go!” Congress has repeatedly said, “no go!”

The question continues to be “How Safe is New Orleans?” The New Orleans on-line news service, The Lens, convened a question and answer session with Dr. Paul Kemp, a geologist and oceanographer connected to Louisiana State University who was involved in the inspection of the levees after the storm, the now-closed Hurricane Center at LSU, and a controversial commissioner on the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority, moderated by award winning reporter, Bob Marshall. To summarize the answer in one word from the experts: maybe.

This was not a crowd pleasing response, partially due to all of the “ifs, ands, and buts”, but let’s look at what Dr. Kemp offered. The levee system and the new gates leave the city better protected than it was at the storm. Kemp minced no words, saying that at the storm, there was “no system,” but an unfinished dirt patchwork. Now, he claims the pieces are put together, “armor,” meaning plastic sealing both sides of the levee is being added, and there’s an understanding that there has to be progress every day to maintain and advance the system.

Many were not assured. Saying something requires daily attention in the city “that care forgot” is a stretch. And, so is money in this broke ass community. St. Bernard Parish below New Orleans is already trying to scrimp on their share and they are often the first place on a storm’s path. Kemp under questioning said a minimum maintenance budget is $15 million, but no one really knows what the real costs are to maintain a multi-billion dollar system. Furthermore Kemp was clear that budget was not in hand, and repeated the need to keep improving daily or protection would be eroding.

Marshall’s questions were tinged with skepticism. In his introductory remarks he was clear that the minimal requirements to qualify homeowners for the national flood insurance program drove the levee protection plan, not the future safety of the residents. Metaphor mayhem broke out. Homeowners were reminded that they had fire insurance not to stop a fire, but to rebuild what they could after a fire and that this situation was similarly not about prevention, but potentially rebuilding. We needed a well-built third story house for protection and what we had might have is a decent one story dwelling.

Kemp on the other hand was more scientist than advocate or politician which was reassuring. Unfortunately most of the science and technology is rapidly developing and unsteady so there’s no solid ground there. He clarified the misconceptions on storm surge articulately as not one 20-foot wall of water but a bulge that rose to a level and then fell with the task being to prevent the highest crest from hitting the levee protection.

Bottom line Kemp argued that no matter the storm, if it were just a matter of over-topping the levees whether five feet or whatever, the city would survive. There would be water in the streets and low lying areas but it would run in and out, and be similar to terrible New Orleans thunderstorms. There was a big “if” though constantly repeated: if the levees are not breached.

The real battle of New Orleans is being fought now on whether or not everything is being done to prevent the levees from being breached and identifying the most vulnerable spots and gaps, then shoring and closing them. There lies the answer to the question, “is New Orleans safe?”

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Please enjoy Widespread Panic’s Steven’s Cat.

Techies are Turning White Collars Dark Blue

Amazon warehouse

Amazon warehouse

New Orleans    The first shots are being fired in a workplace battleground where workers have been living the myth that their status was protected and their bosses were their protectors. Modern technology, tech companies, and perhaps even the government are on the verge of completing the process of turning white collar workers into blue collar wage slaves and observers are taking note of the war, even as it may have already been lost.

Driving to work, I heard a radio disc jockey express so much horror about what he was hearing and reading about workplace practices for white collar workers at Amazon that he was claiming reservations about continuing to shop there. More Amazon workers were parsing the problem of workers breaking down in the intense competition in tears at their desk cubicles with the number weeping in the women’s bathrooms, which must define a distinction without a difference. Cartoonists at newspapers are having a field day on Amazon. Jeff Bezos, the billionaire owner of Amazon took his hand off the whip for a minute, after refusing to be interviewed, and wrote a note to his 180,000 workers and said he didn’t “recognize” the “Amazon where he works” with the cries of current and former white collar worker abuse. He suggested they email him personally if they felt under the gun, which is about as likely as hell freezing over.

Blue collar workers have endured more than a century of tight time management by the clock and by the task, usually with a supervisor hovering over them. Now it’s coming to white collar workers, and there won’t be happiness in corporate land.

Part of this is attributed to new technology devices and applications that allow white collars to be as tightly tracked as blue collars have long been. At the simplest level workers are having to punch in on their smartphones and computers, but at the most sophisticated level their computers and devices have an extra set of eyes nudging, clocking, and monitoring them constantly. In many situations, white collar workers are being converted into drones managed by joy stick jockeys miles away in Silicon Valley, Seattle, Bentonville, and beyond.

As more white-collar tasks have also been globalized and made redundant, and tech has become wildly competitive, bosses are naturally going to want to make sure that their mid-managers and white collar workers are as productive as their blue collar workers. General Electric is moving real time evaluations for white collar workers on smartphones. Apps and companies called Workday, Timesheets, BetterWorks, and Anytime Feedback have institutionalized Big Brother in the workplace. In fact the founder of Timesheets.com was quoted in the Times saying, “We tell people not to focus on the Big Brother aspect. This is all efficiency.” Wow, buddy, is there a pill for that to go with the app?

A majority of salaried workers are saying that they work over 50 hours per week. New DOL rules that have been proposed would make workers paid less than $50,000 per year eligible for overtime. Undoubtedly, in coming months micromanagement of white collars will accelerate in anticipation of the new regulations and clearer penalties. Bosses will say the government requires tighter time records now for such workers, and they will feel even more righteous about getting every minute of work they can get squeeze out of these white collars.

Millions are going to be singing the blue collar blues soon. Some may even start to understand why unions are important and wish those kind of things were knocking on their doors these days.