Sunday, May 1, 2011

Closing and Opening Schools – Just Another Shell Game

“But failed urban school districts don’t need stiffening; they need to be taken apart, given a good scrubbing and reassembled.”

- Richard Whitmore

Author of The Bee Eater: Michelle Rhee Takes On The Nation’s Worst School District

"When test scores go up, we should worry, because of how poor a measure they are of what matters, and what you typically sacrifice in a desperate effort to raise scores.”

- Alfie Kohn

Author of The Case Against Standardized Testing: Raising the Scores, Ruining the Schools

“Reform is no use anymore because that’s simply improving a broken model.”

- Sir Ken Robinson

Bring on the Learning Revolution

The movie documentary Waiting For Superman was originally $29.99 in 2008. I just bought it for $5 in a Blockbuster video store going out of business sale. What was once a powerful business model for video stores in the 1980’s became obsolete by the new technology used in the business models of Netflix, Redbox, and other video on-demand services. Blockbuster declared bankruptcy in 2010 and is now being closed down and restructured by new ownership.

The message of Waiting For Superman is similar. No one is coming with the power to save our schools. Our education system is outdated and broken. The only solution is to close schools and reopen them as charter schools. Unfortunately, charter schools on average have not shown to be outperforming public schools. Top high performing charter schools are so few that they turn away with lotteries many times the students they can accommodate each year. And, despite the hype, charter schools are still really public schools.

The concept behind charter schools is simple. Charter schools are public schools operating under a charter. They have the freedom to experiment with different pedagogical approaches to raise student test scores. If they are successful, they may keep their charter. If they are not successful, they are closed down. Many of them are not successful and are shut down. We do not hear much about them.

Charter schools may have limited autonomy and side stepped the thorny issue of union contracts, but they still have the same political strings, outdated funding model, and the ill advised standardized test-based accountability of the traditional public schools. They still have to sacrifice curriculum to prep students for state testing. And there have been no researched studies showing that the closing and reopening of schools is an effective means of public education reform.

The closing and reopening of schools, however, can work really well in hiding test scores. Sheppard Middle School of the Adelanto School District for example no longer exists. It was an underperforming school with a high expulsion rate. Next-door was George Visual & Performing Arts, a high performing magnet elementary school. Both schools were on paper officially closed and reopened as one school, George Visual & Performing Arts Magnet Elementary and Middle School. Nothing else was changed other than the district saved money by allocating the two campus school only one principal, one office staffing, one day custodian, and one librarian whereas before there were two of each.

Sheppard Middle School no longer existed. The low performing test scores from that school no longer reflected badly on the district. The combined test scores of the two schools temporarily dashed the hopes of George School of being recognized as a California Distinguished School, but were higher than what had been produced from Sheppard School.

After two years, the middle school campus (formerly Sheppard School) was closed. Approximately 370 middle school students were scattered across the district. The testing population of George Visual & Performing Arts Magnet Elementary and Middle School was returned to the smaller high performing magnet elementary school. Unsurprisingly, the new test scores rose dramatically. The County Superintendent of Schools gave the Adelanto School District special recognition for this dramatic rise in test scores. It was essentially a fraudulent lie, but officials still accept the accolades and refer to the event as an achievement.

The closing and reopening of schools is not going to be an effective means of implementing public education reform. The federal government take over of public education through purse strings, No Child Left Behind, and Race To The Top legislations is not going to be an effective means of reforming public schools. Different from charter schools, we need to privatize public education without the use of public funds. We now have the technology to create hybrid online schools with learning centers that can be paid for with ads and commercialism and not cost parents tuition.

This approach will save states and the federal government billions of dollars they can no longer afford anyway. It will free educators to radically transform education to meet the needs of 21st century society without the bureaucratic interference of government. The current school system is too broken to be fixed. And we don’t need federal government support or approval to create this new system.

Please visit me at Facebook – Carlos Mendoza

New York Times – Despite Push, Success at Charter Schools Is Mixed

Sample news stories of charter schools closing:

The Columbus Dispatch – 31 Charter Schools Risk Closure in 2011

WSJ – Facing Closure, Charter School Fires Teachers

Education Voters of Ohio – Charter Schools on “Watch List” for Closure

JSOnline – Charter School Faces Closure

Voice of San Diego – When Charters Close, Public Schools Foot The Bill

San Diego Tribune – Charter School May Close

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