The people who bust unions before most of us have even had breakfast yet claim they have nothing to do with this anti-union movement. It is all the parents doing. The Walmart heirs just put up the money to let these parents live their dream of union free schools – as if schools where educators have no rights or intellectual freedom were somehow in the best interests of students.
The group is set to officially launch operations on Thursday, Jan. 16.
Teachers aren’t just fighting for higher wages. They’re fighting for smaller class sizes, more tutors, counselors and librarians. They’re fighting for more funding and resources for students. They’re fighting for relief from school privatization and high stakes standardized testing.
And my favorite character is the computer HAL 9000.
In the future (now past) of the movie, HAL is paradoxically the most human personality. Tasked with running the day-to-day operations of a spaceship, HAL becomes strained to the breaking point when he’s given a command to lie about the mission’s true objectives. He ends up having a psychotic break and killing most of the people he was supposed to protect.
It’s heartbreaking finally when Dave Bowman slowly turns off the higher functions of HAL’s brain and the supercomputer regresses in intelligence while singing “A Bicycle Built for Two” – one of the first things he was programmed to do.
I’m gonna’ be honest here – I cry like a baby at that point.
But once I clean up my face and blow my nose, I realize this is science fiction – emphasis on the fiction.
I am well aware that today’s calendar reads 2020, yet our efforts at artificial intelligence are not nearly as advanced as HAL and may never be.
That hasn’t stopped supposedly serious publications like Education Week – “The American Education News Site of Record” – from continuously pretending HAL is right around the corner and ready to take over my classroom.
What’s worse, this isn’t fear mongering – beware the coming robo-apocalypse. It’s an invitation!
It was truly one of the dumbest things I’ve read in a long time.
Bushweller, an assistant managing editor at Education Week and Executive Editor at both the Ed Tech Leader and Ed Week’s Market Brief, seems to think it is inevitable that robots will replace classroom teachers.
These are kids without all the advantages of wealth and class, kids with fewer books in the home and fewer native English speakers as role models, kids suffering from food, housing and healthcare insecurity, kids navigating the immigration system and fearing they or someone they love could be deported, kids faced with institutional racism, kids who’ve lost parents, friends and family to the for-profit prison industry and the inequitable justice system.
So “chronically low-performing” teachers would be those who can’t overcome all these obstacles for their students by just teaching more good.
I can’t imagine why such educators can’t get the same results as their colleagues who teach richer, whiter kids without all these issues. It’s almost like teachers can’t do it all, themselves, — and the solution? Robots.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Bushweller suggests we fire all the human beings who work in the most impoverished and segregated schools and replace them… with an army of robots.
“It makes sense that teachers might think that machines would be even worse than bad human educators. And just the idea of a human teacher being replaced by a robot is likely too much for many of us, and especially educators, to believe at this point.”
“…educators should not be putting their heads in the sand and hoping they never get replaced by an AI-powered robot. They need to play a big role in the development of these technologies so that whatever is produced is ethical and unbiased, improves student learning, and helps teachers spend more time inspiring students, building strong relationships with them, and focusing on the priorities that matter most. If designed with educator input, these technologies could free up teachers to do what they do best: inspire students to learn and coach them along the way.”
Forgive me if I am not sufficiently grateful for that privilege.
Maybe I should be relieved that he at least admits robots may not be able to replace EVERYTHING teachers do. At least, not yet. In the meantime, he expects robots could become co-teachers or effective tools in the classroom to improve student learning by taking over administrative tasks, grading, and classroom management.
And this is the kind of nonsense teachers often get from administrators who’ve fallen under the spell of the Next Big Thing – iPads, software packages, data management systems, etc.
Bushweller cites a plethora of examples of how robots are used in other parts of the world to improve learning that are of just this type – gimmicky and shallow.
It reminds me of IBM’s Watson computing system that in 2011 famously beat Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter, some of the best players, at the game show Jeopardy.
What is overhyped bullcrap, Alex?
Now that Watson has been applied to the medical field diagnosing cancer patients, doctors are seeing that the emperor has no clothes. Its diagnoses have been dangerous and incorrect – for instance recommending medication that can cause increased bleeding to a hypothetical patient who already suffered from intense bleeding.
Do we really want to apply the same kind of artificial intelligence to children’s learning?
AI will never be able to replace human beings. They can only displace us.
What I mean by that is this: We can put an AI system in the same position as a human being but it will never be of the same high quality.
Watson (no relation to IBM’s supercomputer) of the Oxford Internet Institute and the Alan Touring Institute, writes that AI do not think in the same way humans do – if what they do can even accurately be described as thinking at all.
These are algorithms, not minds. They are sets of rules not contemplations.
An algorithm of a smile would specify which muscles to move and when. But it wouldn’t be anything a live human being would mistake for an authentic expression of a person’s emotion. At best it would be a parabola, at worst a rictus.
1) DNN’s are easily fooled. While both humans and AIs can recognize things like a picture of an apple, computers are much more easily led astray. Computers are more likely to misconstrue part of the background and foreground, for instance, while human beings naturally comprehend this difference. As a result, humans are less distracted by background noise.
2) DNN’s need much more information to learn than human beings. People need relatively fewer examples of a concept like “apple” to be able to recognize one. DNN’s need thousands of examples to be able to do the same thing. Human toddlers demonstrate a much easier capacity for learning than the most advanced AI.
“It would be a mistake to say that these algorithms recreate human intelligence,” Watson says. “Instead, they introduce some new mode of inference that outperforms us in some ways and falls short in others.”
Obviously the technology may improve and change, but it seems more likely that AI’s will always be different. In fact, that’s kind of what we want from them – to outperform human minds in some ways.
However, the gap between humanity and AI should never be glossed over.
I think that’s what technophiles like Bushweller are doing when they suggest robots could adequately replace teachers. Robots will never do that. They can only be tools.
For instance, only the most lonely people frequently have long conversations with SIRI or Alexa. After all, we know there is no one else really there. These wireless Internet voice services are just a trick – an illusion of another person. We turn to them for information but not friendship.
And that includes a commitment to never even attempting to forgo human teachers as guides for the most precious things in our lives – our children.
“Algorithms are not ‘just like us’… by anthropomorphizing a statistical model, we implicitly grant it a degree of agency that not only overstates its true abilities, but robs us of our own autonomy… It is always humans who choose whether or not to abdicate this authority, to empower some piece of technology to intervene on our behalf. It would be a mistake to presume that this transfer of authority involves a simultaneous absolution of responsibility. It does not.”
“Life can only be understood backwards,” wrote Søren Kierkegaard, “but it must be lived forwards.”
I remember reading the Danish philosopher’s “Fear and Trembling” in my philosophy of religion class back in college.
To be honest I was never a big fan of his work – I thought if the only way to truth was taking a leap of faith, how many madmen have already reached enlightenment?
But he had a point when he wrote about the backwards order of perspective – that we can only understand the meaning of our lives once those moments have passed. How cruel that we must live our lives without knowing the importance of those moments until later.
The only times I remember knowing – really knowing – that I was living through an important moment were when I was married and when my daughter was born.
Other than those few instants of my life, I’ve wandered forward like an infant – unaware of whether this would really leave an indelible mark on the fabric of my reality or not.
And that’s not even mentioning what I’ve done – if anything – that has had an effect – any effect – on our larger shared reality.
It’s the same with writing a blog. I wrote 77 posts in 2019 – a full 32 less than last year. Yet my blog got 297,000 hits – 82,000 more than the year before.
However, which articles – if any – will have any staying power?
Will anything I wrote this year still be read in the days to come? Has any of it made a difference?
Maybe it’s foolish but that is what I’m trying to do.
I sit at my laptop pounding away at the keys as if any of it has an impact on the world.
A few weeks ago at the Education Forum in Pittsburgh – when the leading Democratic candidates for President actually seemed to have heard the education activist community’s concerns – it felt like what I had been writing really HAD made some sort of mark.
Does no one care about school children – if they’re poor and black?
Anyway, to the best of my knowledge, if anything I’ve written this year has made a difference, it was probably one of these articles.
I’ll include the usual top 10 list – a countdown of my most popular works this year – but I’ll end with six honorable mentions. These are articles that I feel personally proud of that wouldn’t qualify based just on sheer numbers alone.
I hope you enjoy this stroll down memory lane, and here’s hoping 2020 will leave the negativity behind while still continuing the positive change that may have crept in this year that was.
Description: Here’s the story of how standardized testing went from the eugenicist movement to the Barack Obama administration to continually enforce white power. High stakes testing is an instance of being color blind – when “post racial” just means racist and ignorant.
Fun Fact: I think the title really captured people’s attention. Black people have been saying this for decades, but the so-called mainstream has refused to listen. This article still gets a lot of readers in its incarnation on commondreams.org. I hope it provides easy proof of this point to stop the constant gas lighting from naysayers in every walk of life who can’t seem to grasp how something so pervasive can be so pernicious to people of color.
Description: One of the most frequent excuses given for high stakes testing is that we can substitute growth for achievement. However, that idea has its own problems.
Fun Fact: A lot of folks have guzzled so much of the testing Kool-Aid that they simply refuse to accept the facts about cognition and development here. Growth has its place – but it doesn’t fit at all in a pedagogy based on standardized testing.
Description: Question – If standardized testing doesn’t assess student learning, what does it assess?Answer – not much. And certainly not what you thought it did.
Fun Fact: There will come a day when standardized tests are rightly considered pseudoscientific. This is my attempt to get this idea across to a larger audience. Audience reactions have ranged from giving me looks like I’m deranged to sighs at how obvious this is.
Description: The world finally seems to be realizing that charter schools are deeply problematic. But what to do with them? My answer is to shut them all down and any that actually provide value to their students should be transitioned to becoming authentic public schools.
Fun Fact: This article was partially in response to charter school critics who would say things on Twitter like “No one wants to shut down all charter schools, but…” No. I really do want to shut them all down. I think their time is up. We need to abolish this failed concept and move on to real education policies that actually have a chance at helping students.
Description: Before Elizabeth Warren introduced her education policy, no one really knew where she stood on the issue. So many of us in the education activist community became worried when she had former charter school teacher Sonya Mehta introduce her at a California Rally.
Description: Teachers can’t make students learn. We can’t even make them grow. We can do lots of things to optimize the conditions for growth, but we are not ultimately responsible for the result. We’re only responsible for what we do to help bring it about.
Fun Fact: Lots of folks hate me for writing this article. Lots of folks love me for writing it. However, it was past time someone said it. Teachers make a huge impact on their students, but we are not magical. When you expect us to be wizards, you end up destroying our ability to do our jobs and you enable all the corporate testing and privatization hacks who build themselves up by tearing down our profession because we’re not magic.
Description: Where did charter schools come from and what was their original purpose? Read here to find the facts.
Fun Fact: I wrote this article because of the common lie that charter schools were created by union president Albert Shanker to empower teachers. WRONG. They were created by Minnesota “policy entrepreneur” Ted Kolderie and privatization cheerleader Joe Nathan. This is an attempt to get the record straight. I hope it succeeds.
Description: It’s kind of a simple question. Many administrators and school boards treat teachers like robots to be programmed and do what they’re told. But we’re also expected to display a large degree of autonomy. Which one is the real expectation because we can’t ultimately be both.
Fun Fact: This article was republished in the Washington Post and continues to be hugely popular. I think that’s partially because it calls out the elephant in the room in every faculty meeting, school board meeting and education policy session at local, state and the federal government. Maybe allow teachers to be part of the conversation if you really want to bring about positive change.
Description: Answer – on average, teachers make at least 1,500 decisions a day. That comes out to about 4 decisions a minute given six hours of class time.
Fun Fact: This fact has been around since at least the 1980s. It represents the kinds of things we were interested in education before standardized testing and school privatization took over. And it has implications that go on for miles and miles and miles…
Description: In California, 30,000 Los Angeles teachers were on strike because charter schools are gobbling up their funding without providing the same level of quality services or accountability. Meanwhile in New Orleans, Sen. Cory Booker was giving the keynote address at a charter school rally.
Fun Fact: This raised the question of where the Democrats stand on education policy. And thankfully the Booker branch of neoliberals has been overpowered by the Sanders-Warren wing. We’ll see if this continues through the Presidential nomination and (hopefully) the next administration. Could it be a sea change in Democratic support for real, authentic education policy and away from standardization and privatization? Time will tell.
Description: Mayor Bill Peduto refuses to give back millions of dollars in tax revenue to city schools that could help close budget gaps and provide the services students need. The money was given to the city when it was in financial distress, but now that the city situation has improved, the schools are calling for that money to be returned. Just simple fairness.
Fun Fact: This was one of the first times I really addressed Pittsburgh politics especially as it branches out from the schools. Readers were extremely interested and I seemed to have tapped into a real conversation about the mayor’s role in school politics.
Description: The Propel charter school chain keeps getting more and more of Steel Valley Schools budget despite enrolling around the same number of kids. It is expected to get away with 16% of Steel Valley Schools’ entire $37 million yearly budget in the coming year. How is that fair?
Fun Fact: This is one of the first times I have written so openly about the district where I teach. The result was extremely positive. It really got people talking and put together a lot of information that – sadly – our local media has failed to compile. With the loss of neighborhood papers and the consolidation of newspaper budgets, it’s left to bloggers like me to do actual journalism.
Description: Standardized tests only assess ability at taking standardized tests. So if we misconstrue test scores for learning, we’re leaving out the entire universe of concepts and skills that are not and cannot be captured by those tests.
Fun Fact: I think this is an important point that can’t be emphasized enough. It frustrated some readers because they wanted the easy conflation between test scores and learning. But few things in education are that easy. This article outlines exactly where the tests go wrong. It’s a tour of the sausage factory that will leave anyone less hungry for standardization.
Description: We have become too reliant on technology in schools. We’ve welcomed and incorporated it without testing it, or even reflecting upon whether it promises to offer better pathways toward student comprehension and discovery or whether it merely offers flash and novelty devoid of substance. And perhaps even more frightening, we have not investigated the ways in which using these technologies actually puts student privacy and intellectual growth at risk.
Fun Fact: It is essential we question our assumptions – especially about technology. Many teachers fund this article a breath of fresh air. Others condemned me as a technophobe. You be the judge.
Description: I had a stronger connection with last year’s students than any group I’ve ever taught. I was their Language Arts teacher for two consecutive years – 7th and 8th grade. When our time ended, they even re-enacted the closing scene of “The Dead Poet’s Society” – a movie we had watched together in class.
Fun Fact: I will always treasure the two years I had with these children. They changed my life for the better and made me a better teacher. I am honored by their reviews of my teaching.
Description: The dark secret of my district is how deeply segregated our elementary schools are. I wrote about what the problem is and how I think we can solve it. This is about as real and raw as policy making gets.
Fun Fact: Again this was one of the first times I let myself talk so openly about my district and what I thought needed to be done to improve it. Community members have come forward to talk with me about it but the response from anyone in the district has been total silence. I hope we’re actually serious about making a change here. The community is crying out for it. Teachers want to help. Where we go in the future is anyone’s guess.
Businesses are on every corner, but they aren’t set up for the convenience of those living there.
Ethnic isolation – whether caused by poverty, legal coercion, safety in numbers or white flight – often puts the segregated at a disadvantage. It creates a quarantined economy set up for profiteers and carpetbaggers to get rich off the misery of the poor.
The system is set up to wring as much blood as it can from people forced to live as stones.
These businesses aren’t located in the suburbs or wealthy parts of town. You find them typically in the inner cities and poor black neighborhoods. They promise temporary help with one-time purchases and unexpected expenses, but in truth most are used to pay for necessities like rent or food.
They end up trapping users in a debt spiral where they have to take out payday loans to pay off previous payday loans. This is mostly because these loans are made based on the lender’s ability to collect, not the borrower’s ability to repay while meeting other financial obligations.
And these are just two of the most common features of this predatory economy – capitalist enterprises designed to enrich businesses for exploiting consumers beyond their ability to cope.
Others include high priced but limited stock grocery markets, fast food restaurants, gun stores, inner city rental properties and charter schools.
Think about it: (1) charter schools disproportionately locate in poor black communities, (2) offer the promise of relief from inequality but end up recreating or worsening the same unjust circumstances and (3) they are often owned by rich white folks from outside the neighborhood who profit off the venture.
Who attends charter schools and where are they located?
The charter sector represents only a tiny fraction of students attending public school.
This doesn’t come close to a majority for any racial group. Consider the fact that authentic public schools enroll approximately:
•7 million black students (14% of the total)
•12 million Hispanic students (24% of the total)
•24 million white students (48% of the total)
More students of all ethnicities attend authentic public schools than charter schools – by orders of magnitude. However, those that are enrolled at charter schools are not distributed evenly. Charter schools do educate a disproportionate percentage of students of color – especially among Hispanic students.
Why? Do black and brown families seek them out or is it just the opposite – charters seek out melanin abundant children.
So like liquor stores and payday lenders, charter schools are disproportionately located in highly segregated, urban communities often with a majority black and Hispanic population. And since they are businesses (unlike their authentic public school counterparts), they literally target this demographic because it fits their profit model.
These are the people they think they can sell on the charter model. And they often do.
How do charter schools disadvantage the students enrolled there?
Like other vulture capitalist enterprises, they exploit the students they purport to serve by convincing people of color to accept fewer services than they already get at authentic public schools.
Charter schools are permitted to run without elected school boards. Decisions are often made by appointed bureaucrats behind closed doors. They are not required to hold public meetings or present school documents as public records. Parents have no way of having their voices heard except that they can take it or leave it.
Authentic public schools have to accept all students who live within their boundaries.
Charter schools are not required to accept all students who live in their coverage areas or even all who apply for enrollment. They can and often do cherry pick the easiest students to educate. The can dissuade special needs students or students with less stable families from applying by forgoing special services and/or requiring prerequisites like costly uniforms and parental voluntarism. Or they can simply choose whomever they wish from the applicant pool and claim the decision was based on a lottery that never needs to be audited for fairness.
But that’s just academics. There are even clearer economic indications of how charter schools squander the tax dollars that fund them while authentic public schools are more stable and provide better value for the money.
•In 2011 and 2012, the federal government gave $3.7 million in taxpayer dollars to 25 Michigan “ghost” schools that never even opened to students.
•In California, more than $4.7 million in federal taxpayer money was handed out to create charter schools that subsequently closed within a few years.
•In Ohio, out of the 88 schools created by planning and implementation grants under the federal “Charter School Program” (CSP) for state education agencies between 2008 and 2013, at least 15 closed within a few years; a further seven schools never even opened. These charters received more than $4 million in federal taxpayer dollars.
There is even more evidence that charter schools are not nearly as stable as authentic public schools.
So charter schools provide fewer services, worse results, and a greater chance of closure or wasting limited funding without even opening at all – not a good return on investment for students of color.
And who owns and operates these charter schools?
There has been very little research on this topic.
The most detailed information I could find comes from the charter school industry, itself, specifically the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (NAPCS), a nonprofit that describes itself as “committed to advancing the public charter school movement.”
According to the NAPCS, about one-third of charter schools in 2016-17 were operated by management organizations that run multiple schools. This includes KIPP, Success Academy, Green Dot Charter Schools, Uncommon Schools and Rocketship Charter Schools.
The remainder (57%) are owned by what they call freestanding charter schools – which just means organizations that run only one school.
These institutions can be run by a wide range of groups including religious organizations and local business organizations such as chambers of commerce or economic development authorities.
They are a kind of “false consciousness,” an extension of the segregation economy exploiting black and brown children.
They are disproportionately located in poor and minority neighborhoods because operators think they can sell their educational model to people of color fed up with the inequality of their neighborhoods.
Yet they provide fewer services at greater cost to black communities – they convince impoverished minorities to give up the few educational guarantees they already have in favor of a worse situation. And the result is a continuation or worsening of the status quo while enriching vulture capitalists.
It’s a scam, a flimflam ripoff, a bamboozling hoax.
Like the liquor stores and payday lenders that dot the inner city landscape, charter schools are yet another way to exploit black people for the crime of putting their faith once again in capitalism to break their chains.
The city has a surplus due to construction of new high-end apartments. City Council could have budgeted some of this money to pay for the parks. Instead, leaders like Peduto were too cowardly to take the blame, themselves, and put it out as a question to voters.
When the city was placed under Act 47 state oversight, the formula was changed to give a quarter percent more to the city from the school’s allotment – thus 1.75% went to the schools and 1.25% went to the city.
Pittsburgh left Act 47 in 2018 but the wage tax distribution has remained the same.
“Why in the heck can’t the school board balance their budget?” Peduto said. “Where is all this money going?”
Answer: Some of it is still going unnecessarily to fill your municipal coffers.
“If they are looking to have part of the city’s wage tax, then they should be willing to open the books and let the state come in and do exactly what we had to do through Act 47, which was difficult restructuring for the future. If we didn’t have that, the city would be bankrupt.”
So let me get this straight. In order to give back the revenue the schools generously loaned the city, you need a look at their finances? I sure wouldn’t lend you a dollar or else I’d have to show you my tax returns and checking account just to get the loan repaid.
“If they simply say, ‘We’re going to take your revenue to fix our hole,’ and not be the leaders that they were elected to be in making tough decisions like raising taxes, then I have no time for that, absolutely none, and I will fight them in Harrisburg.”
How generous! That’s like threatening to go to Mom and Dad to settle your dispute. A real leader would know he was in the wrong and just pay up.
This isn’t the first time Peduto has clashed with city schools.
He seems to think his role as mayor supersedes that of the school district which operates independently through an elected nine-member board.
“They have to remember they’re a board. They’re not a government. They’re no different than the water board or the Port Authority board or the airport board. They’re a board of education. Their job should be solely making sure that kids are getting a good education. When there becomes labor strife in the city, labor strife that could affect the economic development of the city for years to come, they need to move out of the way and let [elected] leaders lead.”
Dr, Hamlet said this was a “bargaining process, not a political” one, and that Peduto needed to let administration continue the process of bargaining with the teachers – a process that resulted in a new contract without a strike.
The relationship has been chilly even before Hamlet was hired in 2016.
Like many charter schools, the Hill District institution is incredibly segregated. According to ProPublica, 96% of students are children of color. It has no gifted program, offers no AP courses, has no students taking the SAT or ACT test, no calculus classes, no advanced math, no physics, geometry, chemistry or 8th grade algebra courses.
Peduto said he would lobby for additional funding for city schools in Harrisburg but district solicitor Ira Weiss said the mayor never followed through.
Peduto proposed increasing school revenue by helping to rent out unused school space. That hasn’t happened, either, said Weiss.
Peduto suggested increasing student after school programs by working together with the district and others like the YMCA and the Student Conservation Association. While a few such programs do exist, there is no broad collaboration, said Errika Fearby Jones, the executive director of Dr. Hamlet’s office.
Peduto’s summer reading program with the city and the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh likewise never materialized – though the library runs its own program.
Moreover, Peduto’s plan to restart the Generations Together program with the University of Pittsburgh to promote cross-generational learning never happened either. Pitt shut down the program in 2002.
Curtiss Porter, who served as Peduto’s chief education and neighborhood reinvestment officer during the first year of his administration, blames the problem on a disagreement about who should be in charge.
The city and school district had a good working relationship when he was there, he said, but there was “a clear demarcation” between the two bodies, which made it difficult to implement some of Peduto’s ideas.
“At critical junctures…the school district made it clear that they were willing partners but that they did not have to bow to the city,” he said. “[They] made it clear the city had no jurisdiction over education.”
And that disconnect appears to continue today.
Peduto is engaged in an ignorant and arrogant power struggle with city schools that helps no one.
These schools serve students from K-4th grade. By 5th grade they are integrated once again when they all come to the middle school and then the high school. There the mix is about 40% black to 60% white.
But having each group start their education in distinctly segregated fashion has long lasting effects.
Maybe it has something to do with the differences in services we provide at each elementary school. Maybe it has to do with the resources we allocate to each school. Maybe it has something to do with how modern each building is, how new the textbooks, the prevalence of extracurricular activities, tutoring and support each school provides.
Likewise, we know what needs to be done to fix it.
We need a new elementary complex for all students K-4. (I’d actually like to see 5th grade there, too.) And we need busing to get these kids to school regardless of where they live.
The excuse for having two segregated elementary schools has typically been our segregated communities and lack of adequate public transportation.
We’re just a school district. We can’t fix the complex web of economic, social and racial issues behind where people live (though these are matters our local, state and federal governments can and should address). However, we can take steps to minimize their impact at least so far as education is concerned.
In short, our kids have always walked to school. Kids at the bottom of the hill in Homestead and West Homestead walk to Barrett. Kids at the top in Munhall walk to Park. But we never required elementary kids to traverse that hill up to the middle and high school until they were at least 10 years old.
We didn’t think it fair to ask young kids to walk all the way up the hill. Neighborhood schools reduced the distance – but kept the races mostly separate.
We need busing to remove this excuse.
I’ve heard many people deny both propositions. They say we can jury rig a solution where certain grades go to certain schools that already exist just not on a segregated basis. Maybe K-2 could go to Park and 3-4 could go to Barrett.
It wouldn’t work. The existent buildings will not accommodate all the children we have. Frankly, the facilities at Barrett just aren’t up to standard. Even Park has seen better days.
We could renovate and build new wings onto existing schools, but it just makes more sense to build a new school.
After all, we want a solution that will last for years to come. We don’t want a Band-Aid that only lasts for a few years.
I’m sure McKeesport administrators and school board members along with those at other neighboring districts could provide Steel Valley with the expertise we need to get this done. I’m sure we could find the political will to help us get this done.
And that’s really my point: our problem is less about what needs to happen than how to do it.
We should at least try to do this right!
We can’t just give up before we’ve even begun.
Debates can and should be had about where to build the new school, how extensive to have the busing and other details. But the main plan is obvious.
Sure, some fools will complain about sending their little white kids to class with black kids. We heard similar comments at the town hall meeting. But – frankly – who cares what people like that think? The best thing we could do for their children would be to integrate the schools so that parental prejudices come smack into conflict with the realities of life.
And if doing so makes them pull out of Steel Valley, good riddance. You never need to justify doing the right thing.
It’s like permitting a bank to work on the honor system – the safe being unlocked, people could just walk in and make withdrawals and deposits on their own. Not everyone would cheat, but that doesn’t make this a good way to safeguard your finances.
And that’s the situation at charter schools. Operators can pick and choose which students to enroll – so many do.
Charter school supporters usually respond to this critique in one of two ways. They either deny it happens or admit the truth while deflecting its importance.
However, they claim that this is a practice at authentic public schools as well. After all, public schools expel students for all sorts of reasons and even have special magnet schools that enroll only certain students.
One of the most frequent criticisms of authentic public schools is that they don’t give students and families enough choice. But that’s exactly what magnet schools are – institutions WITHINthe district that cater to individual choice and needs.
Magnet schools are organized around a theme. This could be STEM – science, technology, engineering and mathematics – or fine and performing arts. As such, they cater to students with an interest and ability in that theme. This is not true of most charter schools, which have no particular theme or specialty.
The goal in magnet schools is to attract so many applicants that the school can select a racially diverse student body. However, this is exactly the opposite of what we find at charter schools where racial integration is extremely rare. As we’ve seen, many charter schools have students of one-race or ethnicity. Charters increase – not decrease – segregation wherever they are located.
Moreover, though a particular magnet school DOES allow only certain students enrollment, the public district does not. The district accepts everyone at SOME school within its boundaries. By comparison, charter schools are usually just one building and even when they are chains of schools owned and operated by the same people, they generally make no effort to accept all who apply.
There are many other differences between charter schools and magnet schools not the least of which is who runs them. Charters are often managed by appointed bureaucrats. Magnet schools are still run by the elected school board of the district. As such, they are still subject to all the rules and regulations of authentic public school districts. As we’ve seen, this is not true of charters.
One similarity about the two types of school, at least superficially, is enrollment. At both magnets and charters, admission is often determined by the use of a lottery system, due to high demand for limited seats.
Magnet schools are like first class restaurants where the health inspector comes in and writes a glowing report of the kitchens. Charter schools are shady dives where the health inspector is not allowed where the food is prepared – ever.
Where would you take your family for dinner?
DISCIPLINE AND EXPULSIONS
Putting aside the issue of magnet schools, some critics of authentic public schools claim that they still engage in selective enrollment through discipline and expulsion policies.
But there are big differences in the ways both types of school engage in disciplinary actions.
Authentic public schools are restrained by state and federal law in this regard coupled with increased transparency. There’s less they’re legally allowed to do and a greater chance they’d get caught if they tried to do it anyway.
However, the biggest difference is one of motivation.
If a child goes to a neighborhood charter school, the public school district has to pay that charter school to educate him or her. If the child has such special needs that make it necessary for him or her to attend a school outside of the district that specializes in ways to meet those needs, the district is responsible for paying. And in this case the cost will almost definitely be greater than the district receives in tax revenue – by orders of magnitude.
Even a child who attacked classmates in school with a weapon and ended up in jail would be the district’s responsibility. The district would still have to pay to educate that child at an alternative sight – probably in the prison system.
Not so at your local, neighborhood authentic public school.
So we’ve seen that charter schools really do cherry pick which students to enroll.
It’s all about the Benjamins.
Families with the easiest kids to educate are encouraged to enroll and all others are dissuaded away. Charters pick and choose between applicants often relying on test scores and academic records. And they kick out or otherwise encourage difficult students to find an education elsewhere – usually the local neighborhood authentic public school.
Moreover, these practices are radically different than what you find at authentic public schools.
It’s true that public districts sometimes include magnet schools organized around a theme that use lotteries to determine which kids get enrolled there. However, the standards of transparency are so much higher at public schools and the results so much more equitable that any charge of unfairness is much harder to support.
In addition, it’s true that public schools also discipline and sometimes expel students. But the discipline policies at public schools are never as extreme as the zero tolerance policies you’ll find at many charter schools.
Finally, expelling a difficult student is all gain for a charter school and all cost at authentic public districts. No matter which school a student attends, the district where that child resides is still responsible for FAPE, and the cost of educating that child outside the district is nearly always greater than inside the district.
Schools paid for with tax dollars need to be accountable and transparent. And the only way to do that is to rip up every bogus charter contract in the country and make them all abide by the same rules and regulations that ensure every child gets the high quality education he or she deserves.
In other words, reverse the privatization. Public-ize them all.