Thursday, May 2, 2013

Dana Goldstein on L.A. Teacher Alex Caputo-Pearl and the Real Deal Behind Closing Schools

On Monday, half the teachers at Crenshaw High School in Los Angeles found out they had been dismissed from their jobs as part of a "conversion" process. Among them was Alex Caputo-Pearl, who I first met two years ago when I reported on Crenshaw. This isn't the first time the district has attempted to remove Caputo-Pearl, an outspoken activist, from Crenshaw. In 2006, as he was organizing neighborhood parents to fight for better school resources, such as up-to-date computers, he was forcibly transfered to a more affluent school across town. Parents complained and he was eventually reinstated. Caputo-Pearl is part of a dissident, left caucus within the L.A. teachers' union, and he has written in the New York Times about why he has become a critic of Teach for America. He opposes tying teacher evaluation and pay to student test scores, and is critical of the expansion of the charter school sector. 
---- Dana Goldstein"An Activist Teacher, a Struggling School, and the School Closure Movement: A Story from L.A."
I met Alex Caputo-Pearl in July 2009 at a conference in L.A. of education activists from around the nation, including 5 members of Chicago's fairly new CORE Caucus which would win the Chicago Teachers union election just 10 months later and 3 of us from NYC, all of whom were involved in the early stages of forming MORE here in NYC, partly inspired by the social justice work done by Alex. Alex was serving on the union exec board at that time I believe and we met at the LATU offices. Alex was with a social justice caucus within the LA union.

On our last day Alex was kind enough to invite some of us to his home not far from Crenshaw for breakfast and we got a chance to talk about his initial struggle to get back to Crenshaw and the work he was doing and teacher union work in general. Being in the same room with him and Chicago's Jackson Potter, Kristine Mayle, Kenzo Shibata, all high level officials of the CTU now, was a learning experience for me. I did some brief reports but was sensitive to not handing out too much info. Future DC President Nathan Saunders was there too as was the always wonderful Candi Peterson, who at a later date broke with Nathan.
The fact that Alex won't be teaching at Crenshaw and possibly not in the LA school system makes him a poster boy for the ravages of ed deform which, while claiming to want quality teachers, proves once again what it is all about: shutting down a great teacher if he opens his mouth. That Alex was part of the first Teach for America cohort over 20 years ago and still wants to teach instead of "making policy" makes this story all the more ironic.

Kudos to Dana Goldstein for reporting this story where she points out the contradictions of the school closing policy where the kids they claim they are trying to help often end up in schools that are worse. She points to Chicago where
only 6 percent of students whose schools are shut down end up enrolled in a school within the top achievement quartile, and 40 percent of students from closed schools ended up at schools on academic probation. 
Unfortunately Dana Goldstein seems to buy the Bloomberg/Gates hype about small schools being higher quality school:
What's happening at Crenshaw is representative of the death of the large, urban comprehensive high school all across the country. In New York, research from the New School suggests that Mayor Bloomberg's efforts to break up large, underperforming high schools have, in fact, led to the founding of higher-quality schools.
Sorry Dana, using the word "fact" and Bloomberg in the same sentence is a contradiction. We know the game to make them appear so by leaving out a whole class of students and removing more senior teachers like Alex, many of whom are teachers of color, a pattern we have seen here in NYC.
That school, in turn, will eventually be shut down, creating what the New School researchers call a "domino effect," in which the most disadvantaged teenagers are shuttled from failing school to failing school, while those with more active, involved parents win spots at new schools.
The problem is that students whose schools close may not end up enrolled in those better schools; instead, a significant number of them will be enrolled by default in the nearest large high school that is still open, which itself has extremely low test scores. That school, in turn, will eventually be shut down, creating what the New School researchers call a "domino effect," in which the most disadvantaged teenagers are shuttled from failing school to failing school, while those with more active, involved parents win spots at new schools.
I think Ed Notes was one of the early users of the termn "domino effect" when Klein began closing the large schools in the Bronx and you could follow the trail of fallen schools.
 If smaller, themed schools are better for kids -- and there is significant evidence they are --
Tainted evidence -- just consider credit recovery, pressure on teachers to pass kids, etc as "significant" evidence.
the question then becomes, how can districts transition to such a system without leaving behind those students who most need help? Crenshaw was already pursuing a themed school-within-a-school reform plan, and it is discouraging, I think, that the Social Justice and Law Academy, whose work was politically and intellectually challenging, will be discontinued, with its leaders dispersed.
That's the name of the game. Disperse the teachers and leave the kids in most help behind.
The problem is that students whose schools close may not end up enrolled in those better schools; instead, a significant number of them will be enrolled by default in the nearest large high school that is still open, which itself has extremely low test scores. That school, in turn, will eventually be shut down, creating what the New School researchers call a "domino effect," in which the most disadvantaged teenagers are shuttled from failing school to failing school, while those with more active, involved parents win spots at new schools.  
In Jan. 2011 we wrote about  the LA Supt: Greasy Deasy to Head LA Schools - Black Redux  based on work Susan Ohanian had done.

Goldstein makes a crucial point given the ed deformers "civil rights struggle of our times" claims:
 21 of the 33 are African American, and 27 have over 10 years of experience.
I'll be putting up a post soon based on the work MORE member Sean Ahern has done on this issue.

It is not clear if Alex can become an ATR with a guaranteed job, one of the Unity Caucus bragging points that at least ATRs get paid when they get screwed by both the UFT and DOE given the UFT gave up the seniority rules in 2005 that would have stopped this crap in its tracks. I don't know enough about the LA contract to judge. Goldstein provides this bio of Alex:
Caputo-Pearl was a member of the very first class of Teach for America recruits, in 1990. He has spent two decades teaching in high-poverty L.A.-area schools, first in Compton and then at Crenshaw, where he helped craft a reform plan known as the Extended Learning Cultural Model. ELCM won sizable grants from the Obama administration, the Ford Foundation, and other philanthropies to pursue school improvement driven by the higher expectations of the Common Core, yet built around a curriculum tied to addressing the challenges of the low-income South L.A. neighborhood where Crenshaw resides. Click here to read more about the research that backs this reform vision. Teachers like Caputo-Pearl led the turnaround work at Crenshaw, in part because the school has seen massive management turnover -- over 30 different administrators in seven years. Test scores remain below district averages, though they have shown some growth, especially for African American and disabled students. I've reported here on some of the unique demographic challenges Crenshaw faces, including higher-than-average numbers of students living in foster care.
It is so clear that what is happening in LA and NYC is part of the national assault on public education, something that should be stressed repeatedly by our local union here instead of walking around with pins that say Dec. 31, 2013 pointing to the end of Bloomberg's reign of error when "all will be well." It won't not matter who gets in as mayor as long as we have mayoral control. 

Goldstein posted this Statement from Alex Caputo-Pearl
It's a sign of the times that a 'turn schools into businesses' superintendent like Deasy uses a bunch of District and corporate resources to crush a successful, student-centered, research-based, social justice-driven model, after being invited for over a year by parents, teachers, and community members to actually partner in deepening that model.  He crushed it over the organized protests of the community because it competed with him philosophically. Deasy violated common sense free speech and labor practices in making sure to remove union leaders and those who advocated for stability at the school -- often the same people who were key to building the model.  As the administration now moves to crush important student programs in the context of many youth feeling unsure of what school they will be at next year, our immediate priority has to be ensuring all students have the right to a neighborhood school in the Crenshaw area, and the right to equitable treatment at that school.
And below a Letter from union reps

The last few days have been hard to bear—especially for those of us who want UTLA to become an organizing union, which puts forth our vision for how we can best educate our kids.  Last night, teachers at Crenshaw High School—who, despite the most valiant and strategic fight we’ve seen yet against a reconstitution, had been forced to reapply for their jobs under the district’s “magnet conversion”—began receiving news about whether they’d been rehired for year.   The news has been very bad.
More than 30 teachers at Crenshaw -- half the faculty -- have been “rejected” by the hiring committee so far, including UTLA Chair Cathy Garcia, West Area UTLA Board member Alex Caputo-Pearl, and multiple veteran African-American teachers, who not only teach at Crenshaw, but make the area their home, and who, now, will not be allowed back to teach the kids at their own “home school.”
In addition to being a part of militant actions against the reconstitution, once the re-application process started, the faculty organized the majority of teachers to re-apply, believing that “that this is our school, we are part of this community, and we won’t be pushed out without going through every piece of this struggle we can, even a re-application process.”  Everyone was clear-eyed about the process – that it would be a kangaroo court, with decisions essentially a forgone conclusion.  But teachers agreed to go through it anyway, and push it into the light of day, because stability was important for the students.  They're why we're all here in the first place.
This news about Crenshaw is devastating, not only because it further destabilizes another inner-city school that serves students of color.  It’s worse because Crenshaw, despite ongoing district neglect, had worked, through years of organizing and investment in instructional innovation, to become a model for bottom-up, genuine reform.  The teachers at Crenshaw, working in partnership with students, parents, community members, and university scholars, had created a nationally-recognized model for educating students of color:  The Extended Learning Cultural Model (ELCM).
The ELCM is the single most groundbreaking, all-encompassing model for genuine education transformation attempted at an urban high school.  The ELCM combines cutting edge instructional pedagogy with community-based internships, leadership opportunities, and activities that connect to the students’ classroom learning.  This “extends learning” out into the community.  The model also included parent workshops to further support student learning and development.  The ELCM was a model to educate the whole child in each and every one of his/her ecosystems:  classroom, home, and community.
And the model was working!  The work of the students, teachers, parents, and community members at Crenshaw had garnered the attention of the Ford Foundation, who awarded Crenshaw a $250,000.00 grant to pilot their work, with the promise of more money to come.  In addition, WASC, the accrediting board, who threatened to remove Crenshaw’s accreditation just a few years before, praised the work of the faculty and staff, and the newly created stability and “espirit d’corps” of the entire Crenshaw community under this new model.  Test scores rose significantly in 2011-12.  All of this success occurred in spite of years of district neglect, and a virtual revolving door of administrators (more than 30 in the seven years since Crenshaw’s accreditation was threatened).  The ELCM was turning Crenshaw around.  All that was needed was stability, and perhaps (dare we say it) even some district support.
What did LAUSD do instead?  They destroyed it.  Superintendent Deasy went after Crenshaw this past year, ignoring all of the gains recognized by the Ford Foundation, WASC, and the actual data (which spoke for itself).   Deasy HAD to destroy the Extended Learning Cultural Model.  And, he made Crenshaw High School a huge political priority.  The ELCM was a direct threat to him, his top-down philosophy of education, and his authority as superintendent.   The ELCM was not created by him or the District.  It operated largely independently of him and the District (though the school invited him to be involved in a positive manner, several times over the last two years).  Teachers and parents raised their own money for it, which must have been upsetting for our superintendent—to know that peon teachers and parents had direct lines to international foundations over him.  The ELCM is based on education as a tool for critical thinking and contribution to social justice, not education to create more workers for a market and business model, as Deasy promotes.  It had the support of prominent academics of color, with whom Deasy could not stand toe-to-toe.  It was led by progressive unionists, not District hacks.  The ELCM was, pure and simple, a direct threat to Deasy, and he knew he had to destroy it.  So he did.
Deasy blamed the years of inadequate progress not on district ineptitude (as WASC clearly noted), but on the teachers.  He called the school a failure, and decided to institute more of the same: reconstitution.  This time – cleverly, because it brings in more resources and connotes positive change -- under the guise of a “magnet conversion.”  He very specifically obliterated the Social Justice and Law Academy, by rejecting ALL of its architect teachers – this was the Academy that had planted the seeds for the ELCM more than any.
The results so far have been the same as at Fremont, Jordan, Manual Arts, and Muir:  teachers were forced to reapply for their jobs, and almost all of the veteran/activist teachers have not been rehired.  And just like all the other reconstitutions that came before it, big UTLA did not have the power or strategy to stop it.  While some officers have provided valuable but limited support in communicating with District officials, the two big things that the Crenshaw community needed UTLA's help with were not able to be put together – help to organize the other 6 schools that are being magnetized so that the relatively strong 7th school, Crenshaw, won’t be left out on a limb; and investment in public relations, community ads, etc., to frame the whole “magnet conversion” city-wide as a destabilizer.  Just like with Public School Choice, teacher evaluations, etc. – when UTLA goes issue by issue, one by one, school by school, we lost.
The ELC Model at Crenshaw is what the Schools LA Students Deserve Campaign is really about.  This is the kind of work community partners and UTLA can be showcasing.  But as dark as this time has been, the fight is not yet over.  We may have lost a key part of this battle at Crenshaw, but the fight to preserve the ELCM is just beginning.  And, students and parents, again, are finding their footing after this blow.  Again, this is an incredibly innovative, student-centered educational model.  It was attempted by teachers, working in partnership with students, parents, and community members.  And it worked.  Remember that.  Remember what WE can do to counter the fake reform proposed by the district, the billionaire Boys Club, and the neoliberals who want to impose a corporate model on public education.  
More to come on the ELCM soon.
In Unity,
Cathy Garcia
UTLA Chapter Chair, Crenshaw High School
Joseph Zeccola
UTLA Year-Round Director
Design Team Leader, The Social Justice Schools at Maya Angelou Community High School


  1. Michael sent in this comment:

    Goldstein has done a lot of credulous and awful reporting on so-called ed reform, accepting many of its premises and lies. She's also a fellow at the neoliberal New America Foundation.

    I gave up my subscription to The Nation after many years because she and Noguera were the main voices on the topic.

    1. Could you site some of the reporting transgressions, with referenced facts please.

  2. Great post. Here's my take:


Comments are welcome. Irrelevant and abusive comments will be deleted, as will all commercial links. Comment moderation is on, so if your comment does not appear it is because I have not been at my computer (I do not do cell phone moderating).