2010-05-14 / Columnists

School Scope

Extraordinary Interventions
Commentary By Norman Scott

Norman Scott Norman Scott Hearing Voices on NPR had a wonderful presentation on Sunday about a Washington DC student’s journey and the extraordinary intervention it took to help him get to his destination.

Getting Out: The Education of Jesse Jean is the story of Jesse Jean, whose father murdered his mother and committed suicide when Jesse was two years old – in front of him. Jesse tried to avoid all the “stuff” that happens to kids on the streets of Washington and luckily met these two ladies – Teri and Tony, who I believe worked for some White House connected group – who took him under their wing. I mean seriously under their wing. Like it led to their becoming his legal guardian. A more down home version of The Blind Side. (I liked the movie, but want to read Michael Lewis’ book.)

I posted this story on my blog for two reasons. First because it indicates that even with this extraordinary intervention – including a partial scholarship to a boarding school that cost $28,000 a year – there were still some touch and go moments. Meaning – things like charter schools are merely a drop in the bucket as solutions relative to the overwhelming issues so many kids face.

The second reason is that there were a few times when I was on the edge of temptation to take a path of similar extraordinary intervention with a few kids that I grew close to over the years. But I just couldn’t bite that bullet. One of the students ended up shot in the head five times while selling drugs in the wrong territory at the age of 18 – and that after serving three years in prison (when he was 15) after fathering a child with a woman in her 20s. I spent a lot of hard time thinking at his funeral. It was like I had seen a truck heading for a child in the middle of the street and was helpless to stop the accident from happening.

Some of the kids I worked with in that era of the late ’80s to early ’90s, did experience an extraordinary intervention by a high school teacher in Williamsburg, Brooklyn who took in loads of kids to live with her, her husband and a band of adopted kids from just about every nationality. They are some of the true heroes in this world. My particular student was a top-level basketball player and a very nice kid who avoided trouble when he could. Things basically turned out all right though they might have anyway. But even with that level of intervention, the academic problems never went away and college was not his thing.

I was peripherally involved with these kids – attending their basketball games, taking them to sporting events and having them out to my house – and learned a hell of a lot from the experience, understanding just how far I was willing and able to go as a teacher. In the world of today’s education deform that teacher who took kids in to live with her would have her effectiveness judged mainly by her test scores.

When I hear these stories I often think of what it would take and would even echo Joel Klein with my own call for No Excuses – but on whose part? If you listen to the Getting Out – a well spent 52 minutes – you have to ask about the education deform focus only on academic “outcomes” without all that goes with it. What is needed is a lot of extraordinary interventions and this society only wants to take the cheap way out. Envisioning the Urban School System of the Future

So, here is a vision of the future. A future which is not linear, but a circle back to the past. With all the heavyhanded Wall St./hedge fund/Gates/- Walmart/Broad money, how do the relative pipsqueak unions compete for public support? The unions are outspent and outflanked. The “choice” argument will win out, while suburban parents are free from choice as they get some say in determining what kind of schools their kids go to.

Another funded anti-public ed film is coming this fall. http://trailers. apple.com/trailers/paramount _vantage/waitingforsuperman/

When a trailer opens up with Michelle Rhee, you know what’s coming. The onslaught continues. With the teacher unions fighting a rearguard action and not confronting things head on, there are few forces to counter the propaganda.

What we are faced with is nationwide chains of charter schools with a cinder of a public school system left.

It will take a generation – at least – for the reality of what has been done to have an impact.

When there are no teacher unions left for them to blame. When they find that no matter how much they churn the teachers they will always have teachers who are not supermen and women. When student performance will be stagnant. When parents begin to see “choice” as bogus as their “choice” is limited to a few massive charter chains.

And we will have to start all over again in trying to rebuild a public education system with a semblance of public oversight.

Here is a picture of the urban school landscape of the future:

A few big charter chains, all increasingly controlled from national headquarters, thus totally removing local control of schools in any manner servicing Black and Latino/a students who will be trained in the testing culture to prepare them for jobs in the employ of the largest job creators in the nation – Walmart and McDonald’s.

You see, what the parents of the “scholars” who charter schools are telling will all go to college are not being told is that only a quarter of future jobs are for college grads. They are also not assuring them of funding for their scholars to go to college.

Suburban white kids and parents will have a totally different experience, actually preparing them for the college level jobs by offering a broader educational experience not grounded in test prep.

For example, KIPP will have a nationwide chain of charters where policy will be controlled from headquarters. So will Harlem Success with their own policies. Maybe even our own Malcolm Smith can get a chain of charters - if he can find enough dilapidated trailers to house them in.

Multiply this by all the competing chains. Imagine a neighborhood where parents will have a choice – of the different charter schools that will use the lottery to limit who gets in. Look for special education focused charters that will take the onus off these schools having to accept the most difficult students.

Small, independent charter schools will be gobbled up as the big chains compete for their teachers and students and funding sources. (One small scale Harlem charter school operator at the Bill Perkins hearings was even lamenting the fact that he had to compete with the Harlem Success juggernaut.)

Of course there will be some public schools left to take the unwanted. Remember the old “600” schools that used to exist?

Remember the days when there was no union and teachers earned paltry salaries while having no rights?

We will be back to the beginning. New Teacher Evaluation System based on test scores: BAD

This story hit as we approached deadline. Follow developments to counter the UFT spin that this is the best thing since the 2005 contract at my blog (http://ednotesonline.blogspot. com/) where I posted a piece called “UFT: Bleak House.” I pointed to Mulgrew’s 91 percent vote as a green light for further sellouts. I’m proud to be a 9 percent dissenter.

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