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Grand Theft of Education - Thursday, September 8, 2011

Hear the Echoes No. 27


Grand Theft of Education



"What started as a reasonable attempt at political rebalancing turned into a jihad against all regulation, all taxes and all government, waged by right-wing zealots who want to privatize the public schools that educate your workers, cut back on the basic research on which your products are based, shut down the regulatory agencies that protect you from unscrupulous competitors and privatize the public infrastructure that transports your supplies and your finished goods. For them, this isn’t just a tactic to brush back government. It’s a holy war to destroy it — and one that is now out of your control.” (Washington Post Pulitzer Prize-winning business columnist Steven Pearlstein)

Right he is.

"What’s wrong with profit?” (Paul Pastorek-The Island stakeholder meeting)


Nothing is wrong with profit if it doesn’t result in reducing the budgets of  take-over schools by 12.5%,  up front and result in chaotic conditions within those schools.


Education is one of the most complex activities known to mankind.  Contracting with a commercial firm to operate a school is, mostly, an open invitation to cut costs regardless of the deleterious effects in the classroom.


Contracting such a complex service as education defies adequately describing the contractible qualities that fill school buildings.  This allows for-profit education management organizations (EMO’s) to take advantage of freedoms enabled by vague contract language.


So the school hires lowly-paid teachers who spend as much time looking forward to their next better-paying job as to preparing for their children in the next class.  So the school doesn’t provide those teachers with simple tools such as copiers with which to reproduce lesson plans to hand out to their children.  So the profiteer school leader defers maintenance and toilets don’t work.


Bobby Jindal, Paul Pastorek, Chas Roemer and Jim Garvey all worked to put CMO’s in a position to operate that way.  Lafayette Academy in New Orleans had to sue its CMO to recover $350,000 of the profit taken.  Then there was Langston Hughes’ loss of $759,000 to a staff member’s larceny, and the Abramson loss of its charter over unreported child abuse and purported cheating on tests.  In all, there have been nine school closings in New Orleans alone.  Then there is the case of Capitol High in Baton Rouge where Edison Learning’s contract was cancelled when the 100 Black Men charter board found there wasn’t sufficient funding left to meet payroll.  Edison didn’t give up any of its profit!  100 Black Men gave up its charter.  Now we await grant of a charter in Lake Charles to CS USA, a Florida company, that has made campaign contributions aimed at unseating Dale Bayard in that BESE district.


Private contractors are less concerned about the deleterious effects of such cost-cutting measures than are school board-operated schools because private firms are not beholding to the public.  Try to find a board member in a Recovery School District (RSD) charter and he may not even reside in your town.


The Jindal-Pastorek-Roemer-Garvey consortium has been free to ignore laws in order to advance their privatization cause.  The decision, in December, to renew the charters of a dozen New Orleans RSD charter schools ignored the fact that none of them met the academic terms of their contracts, and only one met the financial reporting requirements.


While there is vast agreement that LA-4 pre-K is a most valuable tool that enables poverty-stricken children to get to grade level by grade three, some RSD charters have sought waivers of the requirement to offer LA4 because they claim the state doesn’t provide sufficient money to cover cost. 


Ignoring the teacher and student turnover along with the fiscal and governance problems in the ‘choice’ schools, the academic achievement should give cause for concern.  While the national forces that are represented by Jindal-Pastorek-Roemer-Garvey loudly claim successes, the facts are loudly contradictory.


The lowest performing schools in Louisiana, this year, are "choice” schools operated by the RSD in New Orleans.  Even after five years the majority of them fail to reach  the basic performance level.  About 65% of Orleans RSD charters this year will be reported as "F” schools.


The internationally recognized lightening rod for privatization is Michelle Rhee, the former chancellor of Washington D.C. schools.  After five years, her mass firing of teachers, closing of schools, and startup of numerous charters has brought little difference in achievement than was present pre-Rhee.  In fact, in one D.C. area, only 28% of children in elementary schools read at proficiency level or better—down 2% from 2010 and almost identical to 2007 scores.


The vaunted Stanford University CREDO study that showed but 17% of charters operating as well as public schools in their areas has been touted, in Louisiana, because it seemed to show the charters in New Orleans did provide better records.  However, the report was based only on school-reported data. Additionally, the data for both RSD and Orleans Parish School Board-operated scores were combined.  The OPSB schools are among the best performing in the state, thus inflating the results.  Moreover, most of the New Orleans charters are not true open admission schools.


A new study from Western Michigan University reports that even the reputedly high-performing Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) is not living up to its reputation.  The report found that 40% of black males enrolled in KIPP leave between the 6th and 8th grades, and annual attrition rates of 15% compare unfavorably to the 3% rate in comparable public school districts.


Jindal has pronounced his intention to make education reform a top issue if he is reelected.  He leads a movement that admits it will spend $1.4 million to buy seats on the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.  Those seats, if filled by privateers, will elect a superintendent cut from the same mold as was Pastorek, and will be dedicated to accelerating the theft of public schools.


The question is are Louisiana voters going to notice that the medicine injected into our schools isn’t working and that the "reforms” are operating on delusions of adequacy.


Don Whittinghill




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