Friday, February 12, 2010

ICEers Pass the Info: Goldstein at Gotham, Fiorillo On Obama, Lawhead on Charters, North on New Orleans Privatization, JW Emails

Ok, so I all too often wax poetic about my ICE colleagues. But the fact that so many thoughtful, independent voices work with ICE is meaningful to me. That they have a wide range of interests and play a major role in sharing information is what differentiates ICE, more than a caucus bit an education tool.

Make sure to check out ICE HS Ex Bd candidate, Francis Lewis HS CL Arthur Goldstein's brilliant piece at Gotham Schools.

ICE stalwart JW and Ex Bd candidate at-large sends outamazingly informative emails on a regular basis which I post on Norms Notes. Get on her list. See her last 3:

Michael Fiorillo, also an ICE candidate for HS EB always goes deep an dug up this interesting factoid: Check out Adolph Reed on Barack Obama, circa 1996 (!!)

"In Chicago we've gotten a foretaste of the new breed of foundation- hatched black communitarian voices; one of them, a smooth Harvard lawyer with impeccable do-good credentials and vacuous to repressive neoliberal politics, has won a state senate seat on a base mainly in the liberal foundation and development worlds. His fundamentally bootstrap line was softened by a patina of the rhetoric of authentic community, talk about meeting in kitchens, small-scale solutions to social problems, and the predictable elevation of process over program, the point where identity politics converges with old- fashioned middle-class reform in favoring form over substance. I suspect his ilk is the wave of the future in U.S. black politics."

Michael Fiorillo

John Lawhead, Tilden HS CL and our third HS EB candidate along with Fiorillo and Goldstein attended last night's Cyprus Hills charter school hearing, spoke and took pics. See them at GEM.
John sends this one:

Study: Charter Schools Increasing Racial Segregation in Classrooms Charter-schools Encouraged by the Obama administration, efforts to expand the number of charter schools are being organized around the country. But concerns are being raised about the system. We speak to UCLA’s Civil Rights Project co-director Gary Orfield about a new study that suggests charter school growth is increasing classroom segregation. [includes rush transcript].

Lisa North, ICE-TJC candidate for one of the 11 UFT Officer positions, sends this along from Lance Hill at Tulane:

This is an excellent publication on privatization and government prepared by the Congressional Research Service. It's definition of privatization places charters and vouchers clearly in the privatization category. I think that it is crucial in the debate on school reform to not allow charter advocates to obscure their free market theory theoretical foundation with the use of the word "charters" (Fannie Mae was not a "charter" mortgage company--it is a privatized public service).

The author defines privatization as the use of the private sector in the provision of good or service. Private sector is defined as any non-government entity, including non-profits, religious organizations, and volunteer groups. The heart of the definition is that with the transfer of services comes, to some degree, a transfer of power, i.e. the public loses some measure of control over the service.

I find it very useful that the author, Kevin Korsar, lists the preconditions of free market benefits to prevail, such as that the consumer has to have full knowledge of the quality of the service or good in order to make rational choices. Rational consumer behavior is what brings about efficiency in the market; consumers use services that deliver the most for the least cost. Thus, when we transfer a government service to a private entity (and non-profits are private entities by his definition) we have to have complete transparency, e.g. school operators can't hide special funding that gives them a temporary advantage in the market--which drives out better operators and results in inferior products.

Even food consumers have that kind of transparency necessary for free markets to produce the best product for the least cost: every can of beans has to list it's nutritional qualities on the label so that consumers can make rational, informed decisions on which brand is the best buy. In contrast, charter schools are not bound by that kind of transparency; they don't have to advertise test scores, low school evaluations, accurate teacher-student ratios, etc.

Competition breeds marketing and, as the author points out, while government does only what the law permits and proscribes, private entities may do whatever the law does not forbid. While we are in the midst of a revolution in cognitive science and neuroscience that is making tremendous advances in our understanding of how humans learn, little of this has made its way into the charter reform movement. Free market forces favor marketing over science.
I also like his notion that only government has the common weal at interest (ideally). Private entities, be they profit or non-profit, are driven by narrower goals such as profits, organizational mission, and bureaucratic self-preservation (no one likes putting themselves out of a job, even if they are doing a bad job.)

The issue at stake in New Orleans is privatization, not "chartering." To properly evaluate the charter reforms, as well as the privatization of teacher recruitment (TFA), we need to know the underlying "process change theory." In this case, it is privatization. Understanding the underlying change theory will help us understand the potential benefits and dangers of the reform strategy and how best to measure it against alternative strategies. As we have seen locally, when we privatize teacher recruitment, we lose the government's mandate for equitable employment with respect to race and age.

That outcome was a predictable outcome of free market theory emphasis on lowering overhead costs. The exclusion of special education children from charter schools was also a predictable free market outcome of the tendency of private entities to reduce services to increase profits or to operate within a limited revenue stream. BESE's mandate forcing charters to enroll special education students reflects their understanding that they, as an elected body, had to compensate for the narrow goal focus of privatized groups.

"Which activities are essential to the state and should remain directly accountable to the elected representatives and which may be carried out by the private sector." That's the central question of the public education debate. Children are not municipal services, like garbage collection or parking- fine collections. Bad schooling affects children for a lifetime and can consign them to a life of despair. Education is ultimately a social service that affects the equitable allocation of future resources. To what degree can we safely surrender accountability to the public in this realm?

So, I would propose that in the public debate on charter schools, the following definition is the most useful:

Charter schools are publicly funded schools operated by private businesses or non-profit organizations.

Hence the debate in New Orleans, on both school operation and teacher recruitment, is a debate on the privatization of public services. If the experiment in New Orleans succeeds in bringing about excellent and equitable education, then privatization deserves the credit and the theory can be replicated elsewhere. If it fails to achieve better and equitable outcomes for the same inputs, then privatization, as a theory of educational reform, must be reconsidered.

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