Thursday, January 20, 2011

CNN Charter School Advocate Blames Schools

CNN's Education contributor, Steve Perry was interviewed recently by a CNN reporter about the achievement gap between minority and non-minority students. Perry was asked to comment on a recent study by the Council of Great City Schools which shows a continuation of this achievement gap for the years since No Child Left Behind was implemented. (Click on the above highlighted link to access the full study) His conclusions about student achievement and the causes of low student achievement are outrageous at best and slanderous of public schools at worst. Here are the two incredible conclusions made by Perry in the interview:
  • When asked by the reporter about the affect of environment on the low achievement of some students, Perry stated flatly that the students' poor performance had nothing to do with the students' backgrounds. The main problem he said is that many underprivledged students are usually assigned to “some of the worst schools”.  The Great City Schools study which was conducted by highly qualified researchers in no way supports Perry's charge. The study instead cites several socioeconomic factors affecting minority students' readiness for learning. Perry went on to say that we need to consider vouchers or regional zoning of schools as a way of getting these kids into better schools. Apparently Perry is not aware that such an approach was tried by Arne Duncan when he served as Superintendent of Chicago schools. Duncan closed many schools with low student test scores and sent the students to schools that were considered better. Studies of the performance of those students after their transfers showed that they continued to perform exactly as they had at their previous school. To state that the student's environment or poverty level has nothing to do with performance is to contradict all recent credible studies of this issue including the most recent Council of Great City Schools study.
  •   Perry then went on to conclude that the performance of 38% proficient or above for the non-minority students was also unacceptable. He proceeded to give an interpretation of the NEAP test results which is in total contradiction to the design and meaning of NEAP scores. He said 38% proficient shows that our schools are failing all students. He seems to assume that proficient or above is the only acceptable performance. Diane Ravitch who served for 7 years on the governing board for NEAP has described the proficient rating as an above average score or approximately the same as a “B” rating. There is a lower rating of “basic” that translates into a “C” grade according to Ravitch. This would mean that many more of these students would be considered as having achieved at least a satisfactory or grade level score. This interpretation is also backed up by the achievement ranking of these students as measured by the PISA international assessment. Ravitch has pointed out that the same misinterpretation of grade level or acceptable performance was made in the film Waiting For Superman.
Unfortunatly Perry, who is a charter school advocate, contributes a weekly segment on education for CNN called Perry's Principles. His contribution usually consists of  criticisims of public schools and a recommendation of charter schools as the most viable alternative to traditional schools.
By allowing Perry to make these false interpretations of critical educational data, CNN is doing a severe disservice to the cause of improving our educational system.

School Takeover Efforts Continue
The latest scheme to take over public schools and convert them to privately managed charters was announced by Governor Jindal to a meeting of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI). Jindal said his administration plans to introduce legislation that would allow the formation of new charter schools sponsored by individual businesses. These private companies would hold major positions on the board of directors of the charter and their employees would have preferential treatment in enrolling their children to attend these new charters. There is no indication yet whether these new schools would be state authorized charters or locally authorized. Jindal claims the legislation will be patterned after similar plans already in operation in several other states.

This new charter scheme could be more destructive of our public education system because unlike some of the Recovery District charters, such schools may be in a better position to “cream” the best and most motivated students from local school systems. As we have seen in New Orleans and other places, the most effective way to create a better performing school is to recruit better performing students. Once such higher performing students are attracted away from a local school system, it becomes that much harder for the local public school system to thrive. The remaining public schools will have difficulty raising their performance scores and will have trouble retaining voter support for the school system's tax base. This is just one more step in the destruction of our public school system which has traditionally been run by democratically elected representatives of the people. I believe we are headed toward a much less democratic system where opportunities for the poor to receive a good education will be severely limited. This will be very bad for the entire nation, because it will result in less opportunity, more poverty, more crime, more welfare, and more class warfare.

Red Tape Reduction Act is A Red Herring!
The Jindal and Pastorek controlled BESE is agonizing over why no school systems have grabbed at the opportunity to utilize the Red Tape Reduction Act as a way to retain and improve local schools. If you want to know what is really in the law and why it is objectionable to those who believe in local elected control of local schools, just click on this link to our May 18 post to review our analysis of the law.