Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Sarah Carr on the Obstacles of School Reform

This may win the most-idiotic-article-of-the-year award… Written by the author of a book on New Orleans schools post-Katrina, it does hit on very real racial issues that are an obstacle to reform, but rather than address this up front, it just makes a whole bunch of random, defamatory assertions, without a shred of evidence to back them up… I wish I had time to rebut this line by line – maybe somebody else will…

New Orleans may be the extreme test case, but reforms like these are reshaping public education across the country. The movement is rooted in the notion that “fixing” schools is the strongest lever for lifting communities out of poverty. The criminal justice and health care systems may be broken, living-wage jobs in short supply, and families forced to live in unstable or unsafe conditions. But the buck supposedly stops in the classroom. Thus teachers can find themselves charged with remedying an impossibly broad set of challenges that go far beyond reading at grade level.

In New Orleans, this single-minded focus on school improvement has given new hope to many low-income families, but it has also destabilized the broader community in some unanticipated ways. Consider the cost to many veteran educators, who formed the core of the city’s black middle class. After the flood, officials fired 7,500 school employees. An unknown number were ultimately rehired by the reconstituted traditional and charter schools, but they often found themselves working in a very different environment.

The growth in charter schools has fostered an unrelenting focus on preparation for standardized tests and college. Some classes begin with students as young as 5 chanting: “This is the way — hey! — we start the day — hey! We get the knowledge — hey! — to go to college — hey!” At the end of the summer, this year’s incoming kindergartners will most likely be told that they are members of the class of 2030, for the year they will graduate from college.
The obstacles that stand in the way of this goal — poverty, trauma, parental ambivalence — are considered “excuses” that must not distract from the quest. Watching this mentality play out in the lives of families and educators can be both inspiring and frightening.

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