JIM CROW, 21ST CENTURY VERSION: If poverty doesn't matter, why don't public schools in wealthy areas 'fail'? A California teacher's study confirms what we already learned in Chicago and Illinois

Virtually all of the public schools that have faced the vicious "turnaround" policies of the Duncan administration — first in Chicago and now across the USA — are schools that served a population that was almost exclusively (a) very poor and (b) all-African American. One of the dirtiest little secrets of Barack Obama's education secretary is that he was responsible for closing the schools and ruining the lives of tens of thousands of poor black children in his home town — and for destroying the lives and careers of thousands of black teachers and principals. With this story, Substance begins a new series on the new Jim Crow and the new segregationists (who can be black (Adrian Fenty; Corey Booker; Barack Obama), white (Richard M. Daley, Arne Duncan, Ron Huberman, or other (Michelle Rhee).

At the time the above photo was taken (January 31, 2008), Arne Duncan was serving as Chief Executive Officer of Chicago's public schools. He was announcing that the Gates Foundation was changing its focus from "Small Schools" as the solution to educating the urban poor and putting more than $19 million into "turnaround", which Duncan and other assured the press at the above event would certainly and surely repair the damage done to the children of urban schools (which they had begun blaming exclusively on urban teachers). The above photograph was taken during a carefully orchestrated media event held at the so-called "Sherman School of Excellence" on Chicago's south side, with representatives of the Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL), Mayor Richard M. Daley, and members of the Chicago City Council (alderman JoAnn Thompson, who has long supported AUSL and school closings under "turnaround") present. The Sherman "turnaround" was the second major one claimed by AUSL (the first was Dodge on Chicago's west side, which has long been cited by Barack Obama as proof that "turnaround" works). Ironically, at the time Duncan, Daley and others were citing the supposed success of Sherman, where they were standing, one entire building of the Sherman site was nearly out of control, but the carefully scripted media event above barred reporters from the school's south building (which housed the school's upper grades) and forced them to go through a dog and pony show in the school's north building (which had the little children of the lower grades) only. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt. Truly, as I have written before, no attack on black teachers by white supremacists — since the days the 13 Jim Crow states and their border allies tried to head of Brown v. Board of Education by firing black teachers as they got rid of the all-black public schools of Mississippi and other states — was as vicious and serious as the work of Arne Duncan and the Chicago Board of Education during the years of "Renaissance 2010" (2002 through 2009, when Ron Huberman added a tiny footnote). CORE, PURE, and others in Chicago have documented the impact of these, and Substance reported it, year after year, including photographs of the teachers, parents, and children who protested in vain against Duncan's school closing policies. They were racist, as I reported as early as 2002, from the beginning, and they became more bold and more racist as they continued.

Finally, in 2010, Duncan's successor Ron Huberman was able to get away with turning over the legendary Marshall High School and Phillips High School to the white "turnaround" guys (for Marshall, Donald Fraynd's "Office of School Turnaround" at CPS; for Phillips, the Academy for Urban School Leadership, that outpost of venture capital and privatization within CPS).

But while the evidence was visual and clear in Chicago as early as the attacks on the teachers of Williams Elementary and Dodge Elementary in 2002. Williams and Dodge were Duncan's first "renaissance" — two years before Mayor Daley read the scripted version as "Renaissance 2010" straight from the Civic Committee report written by millionaire Eden Martin. By 2008, Barack Obama was using the so-called "Dodge Renaissance Academy" as an example of how good things could be — instead of an example of the vicious racism that was accompanying the rhetoric of corporate "school reform" in Obama's hometown — at the 2008 convention of the American Federation of Teachers at Chicago's Navy Pier. And only Substance and CORE were challenging the Obama - Duncan version of reality. In December 2009, Duncan and Obama posed at Dodge for the front page of The New York Times the day Obama announced that Duncan was his choice for U.S. Secretary of Education.

But while the evidence mounted in Chicago about the true nature of "turnaround" and the other teacher bashing corporate approaches to dealing with "failing schools," a side of the research that we could also have used was not used in Chicago or the Chicago area. During a couple of those years, I visited some of Chicago's most affluent high schools (including Stevenson in Lincolnshire and New Trier High School in Wilmette and Winnetka) while job hunting (I only realized a bit late that the Chicago DO NOT HIRE list was being honored, against me at least, in Chicago's suburbs as well, despite my degree from the University of Chicago and my extensive teaching resume and massive amounts of lessons taught).

Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley isn't the only Daley promoting corporate "school reform" and privatization of public schools and other public assets. Daley's brother William (above) serves as co-chairman of "Advance Illinois," one of dozens of "astro turf" (i.e., phony "grass roots") organizations across the USA promoting corporate models for school reform. Above, William Daley was speaking at the June 19, 2009 breakfast of Advance Illinois. Among his other contributions to rampant privatization before he returned to public service in January 2011 after being appointed Barack Obama's White House Chief of Staff, Daley was responsible for the privatization of Chicago's downtown parking lots and the parking meters across the city. The result was enormous profits for those represented by William Daley (who at the time was a vice president of J.P. Morgan Chase) and prohibitive parking costs for the majority of Chicago residents. (One day of parking in the city's downtown lots costs at least $28; an hour at the privatized meters now costs at least $2.50). Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.The contrast to the Marshalls and Bowens of the world, where I had spent my career, was amazing, and it was necessary for people from Chicago to see the difference to fully appreciate how far American had segregated from the "Have Very Muches" from the "Have Little or Nothings". But like many things, the research showing these "Other America" gulfs was not to be done. The Gates Foundation and those who fund research weren't about to prove that in the USA the game is rigged on behalf of the wealthiest, and that public school "reform" is part of that rigging process.

Now, however, we have an article out of California where on researcher checked out whether there were any "failing" public schools in some of the state's wealthiest counties (the California equivalent of comparing such matters between Chicago's general high schools and, say, Glenbard, New Trier, and Stevenson high schools).

Thanks to Katie Hogan (who is still teaching at Social Justice High School in Chicago) for forwarding this through CORE:

Must read!

Martha Infante. History Teacher in Los Angeles, Former Teacher of the Year, Posted: January 3, 2011 03:58 PM, at Huffington Post

The Affluent, Failing, Public School: Does It Really Exist?

It is impossible to open up a magazine, click on a website, or listen to talk radio without hearing about the issue of education reform. As citizens, it frightens us to hear that out the Chinese are overtaking our place as top test takers, or that the state of public schools is so dismal that only a superhero can save it.

How much of this talk is accurate? How much is just a faulty interpretation of facts which then get repeated ad nauseum?

One of the major stories we are hearing here in California (and across the nation) is the issue of teacher quality, and how some say it is the number one determinant in student academic outcomes. On this issue hinges key decisions that will be decided this year such as seniority-based layoffs vs. performance-based layoffs, merit pay, and teacher evaluation based on test scores (also known as value-added measure). It is an important issue, and some of the leading figures in education reform today will tell you the entire future of America's education system rests on making a fundamental change in how we define teacher quality.

Does the viability of our public school system truly rest on the shoulders of America's classroom teachers?

I got to thinking about schools labeled as failing, as mine was a few months ago, and how the label contains the implicit belief that were it not for such low teacher quality, my school would not be failing. But all public schools in California are under the umbrella of the teachers' union, and no teacher is (yet) assigned to teach at a public school based on value added scores. "Bad" teachers then, should appear on the radar all over the state. They must exist in wealthy public schools too because forced teaching assignments are not the norm in this state. If bad teachers are everywhere, then failing schools must be everywhere too. Thus I began my search for affluent, failing schools with the information available on the world wide web.

My methodology was to research the 10 wealthiest communities in California based on per capita income. They were:

Belvedere, Marin County113,595

Rancho Santa Fe, San Diego County113,132

Atherton, San Mateo County112,408

Rolling Hills, Los Angeles County111,031

Woodside, San Mateo County104,667

Portola Valley, San Mateo County99,621

Newport Coast, Orange County98,770

Hillsborough, San Mateo County98,643

Diablo, Contra Costa County95,419

Fairbanks Ranch, San Diego County94,150

Figures from Census, 2000

Using the website, I located all the public schools located within the attendance boundaries of these areas, and double checked their free and reduced price population, a national measure of economic status, to verify that they did indeed serve an affluent population.

Finding: there was not a single, failing, public school located in the wealthiest communities. In fact, the wealthiest communities produced schools with the highest possible score, a 10, in the GreatSchools rating system.

All of these schools, with the exception of Menlo-Atherton High School, had a free or reduced lunch rate of less than 10 percent. Not coincidentally, the average class size was below 20 for most of these schools (how are they affording this during the recession?)

Now skeptics will say that the wealthier schools' parents would not tolerate the presence of an ineffective teacher. They would pressure the principal for their removal, pull their child out of the school, etc. But if that is the case, we are saying that parent education level does matter and that parental participation in school does make a difference in the academic achievement of students. Most likely families in wealthy schools have had experiences with lackluster teachers but the effect was mitigated because Johnny has grown up in an environment filled with all the resources he needs to be successful in school, with or without a stellar teacher.

While the correlation between family income levels and student achievement is not news to educators and those in the education field, the American public, by and large, does not keep up with the minutiae of education reform. They do not have the luxury to be connected to Twitter for hours at a time, to interpret the academic papers published by universities and think tanks, to fact check movies like Waiting for "Superman". Who is telling the truth, who is twisting it, and what's their motivation? Sometimes it is easier to just watch a movie that turns a complicated issue into a simple good guys vs. bad guys narrative, with the solution neatly presented to the audience in a bow-tied box.

But I believe that the general, inquisitive reader who has stumbled upon this education page wants to dig a little deeper, wants to make up his or her own mind about what is really happening in schools. Does teacher quality matter? According to several studies teacher quality is the most important in-school factor that impacts student performance. But the most important factor overall is socioeconomic class, and this trumps even the most spectacular teachers on any given day. Any classroom will tell you that it is more difficult (but not impossible) to teach students who are not well fed, have not had a good night's sleep. It is hard to concentrate on the lesson when your toothache is so painful you just want to put your head down and cry. And more frequently today, many of our students do not even have the simple comfort of having a roof over their head and must travel from place to place each night, looking for shelter. Even the greatest of teachers cannot teach a child, who for reasons like these, is unable to even make it to the classroom.

Does knowledge of the impact of poverty mean teachers have given up on high expectations for students who live in it? Absolutely not. In fact, it is the knowledge of these inequalities that drives many teachers who work in impacted communities to go above and beyond what their colleagues in Beverly Hills and Malibu do, out of necessity. They have made a conscious decision to teach in communities that struggle with the issue of poverty, crime, and violence expecting no praise, fame, or acknowledgment for it. They don't let students use their hard knocks as a crutch.

Are there ineffective teachers that exist in these schools? Yes, there are ineffective workers everywhere. But common sense will tell you that firing all of them, and they should be fired, will still not put food on a child's table, will not pay the rent at the end of the month.

Today, it is controversial to state obvious truths such as these. It is easier to blame the very teachers who have committed to working in impacted schools for the achievement gap that exists across the country. The federal government has instituted policies that in some cases call for the firing of entire faculties when a school does not make the appropriate gains in schoolwide test scores, and has labeled calls to heed socioeconomic factors as "making excuses."

There is no denying that public schools have been neglected for too long, and have much room left for improvement. Instead of hunkering down to do the hard work of educating students, states argue with each other over the standard of proficiency in exams, parcel taxes allow affluent communities to raise more funds for their school than others, and unions and management have made contentious contract negotiations a way of life. Additionally, in California, schools are reeling from over $21 billion dollars in education cuts over the last two years. As we begin 2011 with a renewed commitment to improving public schools, let us hope that the people who are most charged with this task will fulfill it based on solid, logical truths and not on political ideologies.


January 12, 2011 at 10:44 PM

By: No Failing Schools...?


OMG! This is so true and apt. What I've been sayin' all along, it's poverty, stupid! The United States is becoming so polarized. It's depressing, frustrating, and maddening. Not to mention racist.

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