Monday, December 27, 2004


Some excerpts from a book introduction:

"In the chapters that follow, I will depict the fall of one particular school and the way in which the inherent structure of our public schools made its decline possible. The school in question is the one at which I have worked for the majority of my career. It is called the Eastlands Center (EC) and lies in a suburb that is just slightly north of the city of Chicago. The Eastlands Center is an alternative education facility that meets the needs of about 250 students who were referred to us by one of five general education high schools1 that directly fund our operations. Around 200 of these students are eligible for special education services and the rest are regular education students who were expelled or transferred to our facility due to disciplinary violations. All of our students have one thing in common, which is that they cannot reintegrate to their home schools without meeting general behavioral conditions and requirements. I first began working at Eastlands in August of 1998 and resigned my position in July of 2004.

My school was jokingly referred to as "Gangsta Island" by its employees, but we were no mere island. The individuals who staffed the building were the product of the same education schools that have produced teachers all over the land. Their training differed little from the training of the staff at your local primary and secondary schools. Our staff was exposed to the same contemporary fads and trends that that are now all the rage in facilities across the nation. They never received a segregated "alternative education." Indeed, most of the characters I discuss never even specialized in special education. They are general educators who found themselves as special educators through the transfer or hiring process. Finding teachers with all the right credentials is no small trick, and administrators often have to hire under-qualified personnel just to ensure that there are bodies in the classroom. It used to be that these general educators were allowed to take a few classes and receive "a letter" from the state which allowed them to teach disabled students. Nowadays, they are required to do much more in order for the school to be classified as possessing properly certified personnel.

Since 2000, our own district discovered that a lethal combination of rampant spending and declining tax revenues has placed it firmly in the fiscal red to the tune of ten million dollars per annum. Its solution, although it took them awhile, was to begin cutting programs and staff. We were targeted along with the general education buildings. Every time, the proposed budgetary reductions started out as being very severe, yet, every time, the cuts eventually were reduced to a miniscule amount. This was due to the fact that the high schools quickly found that they couldn't live without us. Last year one teacher was laid off but come November, he suddenly reappeared in his classroom with a fresh group of students before him. Our regular education program is a frequent target for eradication, as it doesn't bring in reimbursement dollars from the state. In February of 2004 it was considered doomed, but by May of 2004, it was restored. In this era of zero tolerance, school principals and deans simply cannot survive without the services offered by an alternative school. How often have I heard, "What would they do with these kids without us?" It is a crucial question, as the home schools have little stomach for arsonists, thieves, batterers, and drug pushers congregating in their hallways. I firmly support the proposition that schools like ours are here to stay. Alternative schools are growing and they'll be in the news more and more in the decades to come.

Another challenge to Gangsta Island's universality is the character of Principal Chin. I readily admit that it is extremely rare to have someone with a full-blown personality disorder working as a principal in the public schools. She is comical, cruel, and unusual, but undeniably she is an aberration. I wish I could state that she is a figment of my imagination, but any of ten employees she ran out of our building this year would avidly testify that she is not. In my nine year career, I have worked under seven other principals, and they in no way were ever, even for a brief period, ever as dysfunctional as Mrs. Chin. Yet, while she stands in notable contrast with most of her administrative peers in the United States, the way in which she was protected by the bureaucrats above her is indicative of much that is wrong in contemporary education, because in countless situations around the country, the educational elite polices itself, which often means that there is no policing at all.

Several sources have thoroughly documented the deficiencies present in today's teachers and also in the teacher unions that represent them, but few address the psychology of the mediocre nobility that oversees the empire. This book showcases a tandem of administrators whose sole goal is to protect their jobs regardless of the harm they inflicted upon students or staff. While such a blatant refusal to act in the interests of others is undoubtedly abnormal, the fact is that, due to the lack of overseeing legal authorities, there is practically no one for whom insiders can appeal when administrators chose to deny that a Chernobyl has transpired on their watch. In the case of school, we were not directly subject to the purview of a school board, as our building was monitored by a gaggle of superintendents who had their own school boards with which to contend. It was highly unlikely that any of the parents on their boards had students at the Eastlands Center, so there would be no reason why any members would take even a casual interest in the specifics of what went on at our location. Yet, even in the case of school boards that represent non-alternative schools, it is sometimes difficult for them to know exactly what is going on behind closed doors. They rely on information that is relayed to them via the administrators who are seated before them during school board meetings, and if they wish to cover up something, it is not very hard for them to do so.

In this story, what is unswervingly transferable to the rest of the educational world is the unaccountability of our managers and leaders. As admittedly absurd as the character of Principal Chin is, what should most appall the average reader is that no one above her seeks to censure or reprimand her for any of the outrageous acts she commits. Her superiors made excuses for her at every opportunity and minimized the severity of the vendettas she directed towards staff. Nearly any person off the street could easily point out that running a couple of motor vehicles in an enclosed gymnasium in the presence of 250 children is a feat of criminal negligence (at the very least) and that Chin's choosing to bring an assault rifle to school as a present for another administrator was "a lawsuit waiting to happen." Yet, our magnates could not be bothered to supervise an individual whose history would enrich many a trial lawyer. In their minds, I suppose the fact that the district has its own legal protections and insurance in place dissuaded them from having to take a personal interest in the unbalanced behaviors of their prot‚g‚. Precious few individuals who I've met have ever worried about being sued personally.

In the chapter "Denial as Religion," we witness the supremos above Chin possessing a plethora of facts and testimony at their fingertips regarding her failures, but they consciously choose to disregard it in its entirety. Why would such highly educated adults purposely evade the truth? I would suggest three reasons. First, if you deny that a problem exists then, by definition, there is absolutely no need to address it because there is nothing for you to address. A second factor is plain and simple human greed. Our directors made over 100 grand every year and were as fat and happy as they could possibly be, so the last thing they would do is risk throwing it all away by uncovering the snake that they had accidentally deposited in the garden they were supposed to be tending. Mr. Ichada is the perfect embodiment of this kind of corrupt mentality. Many individuals are simply pleased to have their own office, but Jorge Ichada inhabited his own building, and it luckily placed him far away from us on the other side of the compound. It was a submarine without a periscope, and that was the way he liked it. A third and final justification for inaction regarding Chin was that she was one of them. She was an administrator, and as such had to be defended. It was not out of love for Louis XVI that the monarchies of Europe waged war against revolutionary France. It was due to their realization that when one dynasty falls, every royal domain is imperiled. Our aristocracy told everyone and anyone who'd listen to them that they were caring, "progressive educators," but, in the final analysis, they had no interest whatsoever in changing a thing. When it became more and more obvious to even disinterested observers that our principal had a bad case of sanity tremens, the ruling cabal sought to defend her against all foes because, if they didn't by that point, then people would wonder what kind of supervision they were performing for the first two years of her reign. Their habitual avoidance and denial of problems is yet another reason why this tale should resonate across educational circles.

Gangsta Island surveys the fall of an alternative school, and the events and characters within it are factually based and not fictitious props that enable the author to prove his point. The fact is that I have few intractable theorems to share regarding public education. My suggestions and solutions are often quite specific, and even when they are not, my tone is never strident. This topic is not like some of the broad-based political topics I mention above. It is apparent that we must work towards bettering the public schools. In my mind there are no simple, magical solutions-i.e., voting for my candidate will not solve the problems of public education. I know of no single partisan answer to the drama that will soon be laid out before you. This tale is true, and while there are lessons to be learned, those lessons do not include always voting for the Republican Party (although I would appreciate it if you did).

Earlier I mentioned the "prevailing sentiment" in education, and what I was referring to there is the reality that most of the educators I have known tend to associate themselves with the Democratic Party and would regard themselves as being "liberals." At one time I was no different from they. It was not until 2000 that I finally formally joined the side I was representing in spirit. Before then, I had voted for Democratic candidates in every election since I was first eligible to vote in 1988. I did so because my mother and father were Democrats and because, at an early age, it was explained to me that Democrats wanted to help the poor while Republicans only wanted to help the rich. This was something I learned from my father, who probably first heard it from his hero, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. That such a grotesque, fallacious view could remain entrenched in my mind for so many years is absolutely related to my never taking the time to listen to what the opposition was saying. Had I ever done so, I would have probably joined the GOP many years earlier.

I have found that numerous people in education are cognizant of their own political views but are ignorantly blissful as to what others believe. Without knowing what is thought on the other side of the hill, it is all too easy to paint others as extremists or caricatures. I recall being in a Counselors' meeting in December of 2000 and hearing a social worker exclaim, "I sure hope Al Gore wins because if he doesn't, the schools are in big trouble." I asked her why she thought so and she said that George Bush was going to de-fund education. Ironically, between the time he took office and February of 2004, President Bush has increased federal education outlays to the tune of $533 billion. Indeed, Bush seems to allocate vast amounts of money to any federal program that winks or begs in his direction, but many of my peers are unaware of his big government tendencies because they don't read about the specifics.

Unfortunately, sometimes the political ideas of teachers find their way into the classroom. My friend Ari loves to tell the story about the time, while walking down the hallway where he works (Southern High School), that he overheard a teacher inform his class that "Democrats are for the little guy, whereas Republicans support the rich." It was the exact same advice that my father gave to me nearly 30 years ago, but, unlike my father, the teacher had an obligation to keep his biases to himself. Ari, of course, was tactful enough to not interrupt the teacher's class to rebut him, but did try to engage him in a dialogue at a later date.

More here:


"About the same time TIMSS and PISA came out, two reports about charter schools were released. The more prominent of the two was a National Assessment of Educational Performance (NAEP) study, which showed fourth grade charter students performing slightly lower in math and reading assessments than their traditional public school peers -- not bad considering that charters attract students who've struggled in traditional public schools. None of the results, though, were terribly encouraging. Not even one third of students, either in charter or regular public schools, were proficient in math or reading.

In the second report, Harvard University economist Caroline Hoxby showed that elementary charter school kids were 5.2 percent more likely to be proficient in reading, and 3.2 percent more likely to be proficient in math, than children in the nearest public schools with similar racial compositions. Of course, the normal public schools had set a low bar for charters to clear. Despite the importance of these results, numbers can only tell us so much. In his remarks at the NAEP unveiling, U.S. Deputy Secretary of Education Eugene Hickok acknowledged this, and highlighted an unquantifiable characteristic of charters that sets them apart: a "sense of ownership," a dedication to a school and its mission that charter parents and students have because they've chosen the school.

Unfortunately, a "sense" of ownership is about as close to real ownership as charter schools are likely to get, because in almost every other respect, they are renters, not owners, and their landlord is out for blood. Charter schools can't even exist without the permission of their government landlords: state governments must pass laws permitting them, and once state governments have spoken, other entities must grant the charters. In many states, those other entities are public school districts, which are often charter schools' primary competition - and chief antagonists. In the 2002-03 school year, according to the Center for Education Reform (CER), almost 43 percent of charters were issued by local school boards, and another 28 percent by state boards. So charters often start with their necks already between Dracula's fangs, and they have the teeth marks to prove it: CER reports that on average, charters receive smaller per-pupil allotments than traditional public schools, and, unlike traditional public schools, often must pay for facilities with those funds. Moreover, hostile politicians are constantly threatening to force new standards on charters, to shrink them, or to shut them down completely.

Even under the current, dismal circumstances, many charter schools provide at least some refuge from failed traditional public schools. But that's as far as charters will be allowed to go. As long as the Dracula landlords retain control, and treat competition like so many cloves of garlic, choice will be hobbled, restricted to cash-strapped charter schools or even worse public schools. For truly powerful choice to occur, the dark forces must be circumvented. Parents must be able to select their child's school - charter, private, or traditional public - and schools must be free to operate without the permission of antagonistic landlords. In other words, parents must have real ownership.

More here


For greatest efficiency, lowest cost and maximum choice, ALL schools should be privately owned and run -- with government-paid vouchers for the poor and minimal regulation.

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