Hard to Win Back Hijacked Schools

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source:theneworleansadvocate.com

New Orleans    One of the ongoing crises of the 21st century thus far has been the struggle to control schools with all sides of this massive political and cultural war pretending and presuming that they are best capable of speaking for children. Schools have been batted about like ping pongs. Some school districts have been taken over by city mayors, Chicago being the best example, and others by the state in Michigan, Arkansas, New Jersey, Louisiana, and elsewhere empowered by the Bush passage of No Child Left Behind. The so-called “charter school” movement has controversially allowed public schools to be run by private companies, some for-profit and some nonprofit, in many districts around the country with various degrees of accountability and a contentious argument over the results. Foundations from Gates to Walmart to Eli Broad and others have put their beaks deeply into the mess funding pilots, lawsuits, and various initiatives to unwind the role of teacher unions. The short conclusion of years of these struggles is undoubtedly that no one has really won, few are happy, and it’s still “god save the child.”

One thing that should be clear though is that two things speak to the foundation blocks of almost everyone’s view of America: free public education and direct election of local officials. The “privatization” of many public schools through the charter “movement” challenges the guarantee of education and the accountability of elections of public officials empowered to hold charters accountable, since they create in often mysterious and opaque ways, a separate governance structure at arms’ length from the voters and taxpayers, more often than not populated by the appointment of friends and family of principals and charter operators. Even more unsettling is the loss of local democratic control of schools when the state takes over a system. Lawsuits are still raging in Little Rock after the state was prodded to take over their system despite the fact that only a couple of schools were failing. Detroit school parents and the district are suing the State of Michigan for mismanaging the system and starving it of resources under its management. The Supreme Court in Kansas has been at loggerheads with the state legislature and governor there for starving the school system of resources.

Then there’s New Orleans, the largest charter pilot in the country in the wake of the state seizure of schools after Katrina from the local school board. Now ten years later with a new Democratic governor in office supported by the teachers’ union, married to a teacher, and not a fan of charter schools and appalled by the poor success rate of the voucher program, there have finally be a flurry of different bills that would return all the schools to the taxpayers and voters of New Orleans. That should be good news, but in these days and times, it’s not so easy to claw back schools once they have been hijacked and pirated away. Close inspection of many of the bills, supposedly returning the schools, finds numerous escape clauses and buried mechanisms seeking to allow many of the charters to ostensibly be part of the school district and under the fiscal and political control of the elected school board, while continuing to be totally unaccountable. The bill being reported as closest to passage trickles the schools back almost on a trial basis with ten the first year and then more over several years until they are all returned to local control.

At the hearing a spokesperson for one of the larger charters, Firstline, wanted to make sure they could go back to state control if somehow “things didn’t work out.” The unbridled arrogance of entitlement and contempt for the democratic process of local school control and the property tax dollars of local citizens that pay the bills won’t be so quickly ended given the fact that the tug of war on even our most basic principles is still raging. Where people simply ought to be ashamed of themselves, they have ridden the high horse so far and long over the last ten years that they have lost sight of any solid ground where they might have stood. Meanwhile politicians, currying contributions and favor, join in the conspiracy to coopt the process without a shed of embarrassment either.

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No Account and No Accountability Charter Schools

New aabramsonOrleans Few do not know that New Orleans schools are “ground zero” in the so-called “reform” movement to privatize public school systems with charter schools.  With the excuse of Hurricane Katrina the State of Louisiana, which had never run a school (never, ever!) in a wink-and-nod deal took a $20 million federal carrot to clobber the Orleans Parish School Board, which was slow to reopen, and gobbled up almost two-thirds of our schools to reopen as charters.  This was supposed to be a five year deal.  These schools usurped democratic accountability since they were no longer responsible to a citizen elected school board, and essentially got to “invent” their own boards.  Now at almost Katrina Plus 6 (K+6), both the city and the experts are split over the analysis of whether or not the schools have gotten better or not with the States Recovery School District (RSD) czar swearing so, and former superintendents and other researchers looking at the same data and saying, “no!”  Worse, some of these charter operators are solidifying their control with new 10-year extensions of their original takeovers.

That’s the necessary background for you to understand that now the wheels are totally coming off of this pimpmobile!

Two months ago the New York Times ran a front page story raising a wide variety of disturbing questions about a Turkish-related company (Cosmos Foundation and Atlas Texas Construction and Trading) connected to a religious movement in that country running a vast network of charter schools in Texas and others states, including in Louisiana and specifically Abramson Science and Technology Charter, a local high school.  Nothing stirred in New Orleans at this news, not even a mouse.  Suddenly, a whistleblower report inside the state Department of Education came into the hands of the local paper, The Times-Picayune. Some pretty serious allegations involving potential bribes, possible rapes, cheating on science projects by teachers, teachers missing in action, and more all came out as grist for the mill.  Oh, and then the state and the city seemed to realize that this school was also linked to the Turkish movement and acted surprised.   The state and its puppet, the RSD, reversed course and suspended the charter, leaving parents and students scrambling with only weeks to go before the opening of the 2011-12 school year.

Today the state fired the whistleblower, who had raised questions about Abramson and its operator over a year ago, along with his boss.  What?!?  No explanation given of course, just a call for a “change in direction.”  Egads!

Critics, or frankly anyone who thinks about any of these no account and no accountability charters, have long questioned how in the world the state could effectively supervise thirty (30!) different school charter operators under either the RSD or the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) Board.  Now it is clear from the squirming that the DOE didn’t really bother to tell the BESE board or others about the problems they were finding here.  And, remember there is no elected school board control and the charters appoint their own, self-perpetuating boards who never face the citizens.

This is a prescription for disaster, so who should really be surprised when disaster unfolds?

Now everyone who should have known and should have acted is playing “he said, she said,” and I dunno nada!  The local RSD superintendent is now claiming Abramson will reopen in a month or so with some kind of new operator, but there still are no assurances that anyone is on first, and I’ll guarantee that no one is on second.  Meanwhile these are all taxpayer supported playgrounds for so-called reformers and play-pretend “experts” who know better than parents and citizens, while flaunting and making a farce of democratic standards and traditions.

Hasn’t New Orleans suffered enough already?

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