Thursday, October 14

Readin', Ritin', Retrenchment

Sharon Otterman, "Lauded Harlem Schools Have Their Own Problems". October 12

LISTEN, I admit that some of this is personal: I know how hard my Poor Wife works. I know how few people--including 99% of the sidewalk education reformers I come into contact with--could handle it for a week. I know what's happened to her, professionally, over the past two decades of our using schools as political soccer balls (and, particularly, with Indianapolis, and the state of Indiana, using the Separate but Unequal Not Exactly Indianapolis Public Schools as a punching bag): ceaseless churning of educational practices by local and state governments, megalomaniacal district superintendents and their fellow Education Leaders, and the education "establishment" they cow. Six years ago she spent most of her free time in the final two months of school, and all of her summer (unpaid) rewriting curriculum and planning new classes so Indianapolis Public Schools (and the School of Education at IUPUI) could rake in millions of Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation largess for something called the Small Schools Initiative. IPS was the only major school district in the country to jump into the thing with both feet. All of the Foundation money went to the university, to administer the program, and to training administrators and teachers in how to run the program; in other words, it provided junkets for administrators and an extra work load for the people actually doing the educating. Not one dime ever made it to a classroom. Not one dime was every supposed to. It lasted two years, before being killed. Quietly, if you need to ask.

She has, in her career, seen Indianapolis Public Schools go from Junior High schools (7th and 8th grades) to Middle Schools (6th, 7th, and 8th, a combination only a blind sadist could have concocted), back to two-year schools, and on to integrating them into some high schools. (Isn't this how GM got to be where it is today?) Four changes in lesson plan procedure, which basically changed whose desk all those papers would sit on, unread; three complete overhauls of the online grading system, including the most recent, which prevents her from entering data from her own machine at home (because it's a Mac, and you know what sort of cross-platform compatibility problems we have in 2010) and, instead, forced a sweet technophobe and Luddite painter to learn whatever version of DOS the official system employs; and the Magnetification of half of IPS high schools, the granddaughter of School CHOICE (pick your school and we'll bus you there), daughter of that Small Schools Initiative and junior-middle-school Chinese fire drill, which, among other things, required my Poor seniority-laden, union featherbedding Wife to reapply for the job she already had, the one she'd just been named Teacher of the Year for doing, the one where by every objective standard you could apply she was one of the premier teachers in the state. Thank god they didn't require a PowerPoint presentation.

That's without mentioning how successive mayors of Indianapolis have been given the power to open Charters next to every Starbucks, or the three different procedures (In the Spring! No, in the Fall! No, in the Spring!) for the statewide, high-stakes ISTEP testing which grinds everything to a halt for two weeks every year, or the time the Indiana state legislature stripped the IPS union, and only the IPS union, of its collective bargaining rights, or the current threat that the Great State of Indiana, Mitch Daniels, Governor, Tony Bennett, Personal Anti-Union Educational Hatchet Man, will take over Indianapolis' "failing" public school system, and run it as well as it has the Family and Social Services Administration and the Indiana Utilities Regulatory Commission, those other major programs it cares so deeply about.

My wife teaches six classes in a seven-period day; that's one more than her contract permits, and she's been doing this for three years, because the school can't afford to hire the proper number of teachers. It's six different classes, not one class six times. She created a curriculum on the fly two years ago, because some idiot administrator (gotta stop repeating myself) offered a class the school didn't actually have. She took on a class last year that was created ten days after the year began. She's a mentor, official and unofficial, to her younger colleagues. She--not the entrepreneurs in the front office--is the one they call when they're going to be absent and haven't left a lesson plan for the substitute; she goes in early to see it's taken care of. She sponsored an after-school club last year despite having been told there was no money for it; when her Wobbly husband asked why, she said, "Because the kids want it." She's the one who arranges student shows, and generally the one who hangs and/or takes them down, because her colleagues have other things to do with their weekends. She mans booths at art fairs and such three or four times a year so that students can show their work. A few years back she got a Public Passenger Chauffeur's License with Special School Bus Cluster, because the district eliminated drivers for field trips and after-school events for a couple of years.

Her reward for this (Reader, do not get ahead of me!) is being treated like she was awarded a sinecure by some Borgia pope. Like she's a place-kicker one missed chip shot from being released. Like she should justify, every school year, maybe every grading period, having a job, let alone some small accrued benefits over some rookie know-it-all Ivie Teach for America boss-fucker with a two-year stint and $300,000 per administration post after in her crosshairs.

And--you may have heard--by being condemned because the century of second-class citizenship for African-Americans and their schools, if any, following three centuries of no citizenship at all (void where required by Apportionment), is now the fault of tenure in New York City schools.
But back home and out of the spotlight, Mr. Canada and his charter schools have struggled with the same difficulties faced by other urban schools, even as they outspend them. After a rocky start several years ago typical of many new schools, Mr. Canada’s two charter schools, featured as unqualified successes in “Waiting for ‘Superman,’ ” the new documentary, again hit choppy waters this summer, when New York State made its exams harder to pass.

A drop-off occurred, in spite of private donations that keep class sizes small, allow for an extended school day and an 11-month school year, and offer students incentives for good performance like trips to the Galápagos Islands or Disney World.

Y'know, I wonder if the drop-off was identical to the drop-off in climbing splits once the Tour de France started actually drug testing riders? I wonder if it's the same as the drop-off in 100m times between Ben Johnson setting the World Record, and Ben Johnson taking a urine test? I wonder if I could get a grant to check on this.
And the cost of its charter schools — around $16,000 per student in the classroom each year, as well as thousands of dollars in out-of-class spending — has raised questions about their utility as a nationwide model.

Raised questions? Really? I didn't hear Brian Williams ask Mr. Canada about it. I didn't hear Colbert ask That Guggenheim Fellow about the discrepancy, or where the money was supposed to come from while barking mad crowds complain about paying any taxes at all (Defense expenditures and personal benefits excepted). I don't recall Joel Klein, Michelle Rhee, "Cufflinks" White, and a dozen of their cohort saying anything about doubling spending in that Post Op-Ed. In fact, I'm fucking waiting for someone to say it. I'm fucking waiting for The Mitch Daniels Education Miracle to announce we're raising educational expense by a third, except that will no longer include property and maintenance costs, and we're slashing teacher pay and benefits so we can put social workers and Registered Nurses in every classroom. Yup. Any day now.
In 2009, the Harlem Children’s Zone had assets of nearly $200 million, and the project’s operating budget this year is $84 million, two-thirds of it from private donations. Last month, the Goldman Sachs Foundation pledged $20 million toward constructing an additional school building. With two billionaires, Stanley Druckenmiller and Kenneth Langone, on the board, its access to capital is unusually strong.

In case you've forgotten, it was Ambrose Bierce who noted that if you steal a man's money and keep it, you're a thief, but if you steal his money and give 10% of it back you're a philanthropist.
The zone’s two charter schools are open to all city children by lottery. Officially, the schools spend, per student, $12,443 in public money and $3,482 in private financing each year. But that does not include the costs of a 4 p.m.-to-6 p.m. after-school program, rewards for student performance, a chef who prepares healthy meals, central administration and most building costs, and the students’ free health and dental care, which comes out of the zone’s overall budget, said Marty Lipp, the zone’s communications director.

I wonder if it includes the cost of psychiatric help for whomever put this on the HCZ website:
The budget for the HCZ Project for fiscal year 2010 is over $48 million, costing an average of $5,000 per child.

Again, I'm all for the work of the Harlem Children's Zone, regardless of that persistent feeling of being stabbed in the shorts; I'm all for fighting poverty. But not with a lottery, not by robbing the worst off to aid the bad off, not by giving Goldman Sachs a seat on the board, but by giving it an equitable tax bill that goes towards improving everyone's lot. Supposedly "we" decided thirty years ago that the Disney version of Entrepreneurship was the model for Everything. So when does this altruistic concern for the well-being of the impoverished actually touch the real engine of all this misery? Goldman Sachs has had a hundred and forty years to worry about the Poor. It doesn't need Geoffrey Canada's help. It doesn't have to pony up a few stolen dimes to a nonprofit to improve things; it could do so by paying an equitable amount of taxes and not gaming the fucking political system. And it--and we--don't need to help destroy what's left of trades unionism in this country just so a few children can show improvement on some dumbed-down test, given enough practice first.


mp said...

6 different preps, 5 days a week. My God. It's hard to say whether she's a saint or a masochist. I suppose the one is a qualification for the other.

And a "yes" all the way around for everything in the post.

grouchomarxist said...

Yes, yes, a thousand times yes, with a hundred or so yea, verily-s thrown in for good measure. I say this as the son of a teacher (my mom), and one whose Poor Wife is also a teacher, who is herself the daughter of a former teacher and superintendent of schools.

This penny-pinching and harshly punitive approach to education and educators is one of those things that edges me ever closer to the conclusion that this country deserves everything it's going to get. Yes, the people who'll suffer the worst didn't create this particular species of snake-oil peddlers, but nobody said they had to buy the crap, either.

Djur said...

Bravo. Bravo!

Anonymous said...

Long time commenter, first time reader.

I like your work, but I love your wife.

Weird part is: the Jesus people think they're going to heaven. But they do bigotry and violence and hypocrisy, keep their two tunics, hate their neighbor, all that--not too much heaven-quality stuff. But the people who aren't so sure about heaven tend to be the ones who earn it.

ps sorry if your wife is a jesus-person.


ThresherK said...

But not with a lottery

Speaking of lotteries and education, does that new NBC program about rebuilding crapped-out, neglected schools make anyone else think "It's like a charter school for schoolbuildings"?

M. Krebs said...

grouchomarxist said: This penny-pinching and harshly punitive approach to education and educators is one of those things that edges me ever closer to the conclusion that this country deserves everything it's going to get.


Fearguth said...

My wife survived 22 years teaching seventh-grade Texas history. I wouldn't have survived one day.