Here's an emblematic quote from a parent of child who has been in not one but two schools closed by the policy:
Josephine Norwood, a Bronzeville mother of three Chicago public school students, has rebounded from two rounds of school closings that displaced her children from their schools. As she watched the Board of Education approve another set of schools for closing or turnaround last week, Mrs. Norwood had a simple question: Can Chicago Public Schools officials promise that the new schools will be better?
“If this process could guarantee the child the best and they would benefit from the school closing, then maybe it is a positive thing,” Mrs. Norwood said. But she spoke out last week, along with many others, about the need for more transparency and proof that the disruptions are warranted.
Ahh yes, transparency and proof that the disruptions are warranted.
Well, we know from the two articles published by Juan Gonzalez in the New York Daily News on Thursday and Friday that there is neither transparency nor proof that the disruptions are warranted in the school closure process here in New York City.
Using 125 emails between New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein and charter school operator and former city councilwoman Eva Moskowitz, Gonzalez documented the ease of access and cozy relationship that borders on quid pro quo between the schools chancellor and a woman who sees her life's mission to privatize public schools.
You really need special access and a cozy relationship with Klein to write this sort of thing that Eva Moskowitz wrote on August 3, 2007:
Hope all is well. Wanted to invite you to be the guest speaker at our first annual poker tournament fundraiser for the Success Charter Network and for Harlem Success. When I asked the hedge fund folks who they wanted to speak, your name was unanimously agreed upon. You seem to have a lot of fans in that crowd!
But the relationship between Klein and Moskowitz goes beyond a WHAT CAN YOU DO FOR EVA? thing and more into a HOW CAN EVA HARM PUBLIC SCHOOLS? thing.
In fact, as NYC Educator found in the Klein/Eva emails here, she tells Klein how important it is for him to "distinguish the good guys from bad. And yes take away resources from institutions that are harming children and give to those who are truly putting children first."
As Gonzalez reported, she actually got Klein to agree to close two regular public schools whose space she coveted even though those schools were later given A ratings by the NYCDOE:
On Oct. 3, 2008, Eva Moskowitz, a former city councilwoman and head of four charter schools in Harlem, e-mailed schools Chancellor Joel Klein for help.
Moskowitz wanted more space to expand her Harlem Success academies and she had two specific public school buildings in mind.
"Those schools are ps194 and ps241," she wrote to Klein. "It would be extremely helpful to move quickly on."
Less than two months later, the Department of Education announced plans to phase out those schools and use the space to expand two Harlem Success academies.
DOE officials deny Moskowitz's appeal for more space had anything to do with their decision to close the public schools.
"We based [it] ... solely on the determination that they could not turn around years of poor performance," DOE spokesman David Cantor said.
The chancellor's e-mail address is publicly known and many people often write to him, his aides add.
Asked if Klein directly participated in choosing those particular schools, Cantor said: "The Chancellor signs off on all closure decisions."
Moskowitz rejected any suggestion that she received special treatment.
"I have repeatedly not gotten what I wanted," she said, adding that some of her schools have been forced to relocate "like some nomadic tribe." Harlem Success 2, for example, has moved twice in two years.
Public School 194 and Public School 241 were failing schools, she said, and should have been closed.
Both received a "D" in 2008 on the DOE's performance evaluation. The closing announcement drew the ire of parents and political leaders.
That's because they were the only zoned public schools for their respective neighborhoods, and Klein had not submitted the closings to a vote of the community district education councils, as required by state law.
His action led the United Federation of Teachers to sue, after which the DOE suddenly withdrew its decision and let the schools stay open.
Amazingly, both PS 194 and PS 241 received "A" ratings from Klein's evaluators later in the year, contradicting the DOE's claim the schools could not be turned around.
The Harlem Success academies had to find other space to grow.
Students and staff at PS 194 and PS 241 were fortunate that Eva Moskowitz didn't get her way, but students and staff at other schools slated for closure have not been so lucky.
Now that Juan Gonzalez has provided us with just a little transparency in the process of school closings and the cozy relationship between charter operators and the government officials that administer the public school system and run those school closings, we can see that the charter operators are looking to declare public schools "failing" whether they are or not so that they can grab the resources, space and students (albeit, only the ones who aren't behavior problems or low test scorers) from the regular public schools.
We have absolute proof of this.
Yet because Mayor Bloomberg has sole control over the schools system and as he soon often likes to tell us, accountability moments only come once every four years when he spends $108 million to run for re-election, there seems to be little that is being done by other elected officials to mitigate this disaster.
More needs to happen.
State Senator Bill Perkins (D-Harlem) plans to hold hearings up in Albany to review DOE policy toward charter schools.
But that's not enough.
The city council, Eva's former playground, needs to also hold hearings and both City Controller John Liu and Public Advocate Bill De Blasio need to investigate the relationship between the NYCDOE and the charter school operators in general and between Klein and Eva in particular.
We all need to call Liu, De Blasio, and our city council members a few times a week to remind them how important these investigations are, especially with Klein and Bloomberg closing 19 schools this year, the state readying more closures as part of Obama's Race to the Top policy, and more closures to come from both the city and the state next year.
You can get the numbers for those calls right hear.
And this brings me back to the story about the school closures in Chicago.
It is the Chicago education deform mafia that started this policy and has now forced it upon the nation as a whole through Obama's RttT policy and maybe even when NCLB gets re-authorized later this year.
There is no proof whatsoever that the turnaround policy actually does what it is purported to do, i.e., improve the education students receive. Rather, it adds more chaos to an already chaotic system, but provide no changes in either test scores or graduation rates.
Here's how the Times story puts it:
As the public schools system entered its annual process of selecting schools for closing or turnarounds, parents, teachers and community groups leveled criticism at school officials for the lack of communication with the communities involved and questioned data from the central office that does not match the reality in the schools. Some also pleaded for the district to delay any action until the corrective measures taken at the lowest-performing schools — the wholesale turnover of administrators and teachers — could be better evaluated and a comprehensive plan for school facilities could be developed by a new task force.
Parents and people in the communities where these schools are feel completely disenfranchised from the process which is being run by political appointees like the schools CEO (yeah, that's what they call the schools chief in Chicago) and education deform non-profits like The Academy for Urban School Leadership.
The Academy for Urban School Leadership was founded by venture capitalist, Martin J. Koldyke, whose investments include for-profit colleges like Devry Institute and Rasmussen College.
Politicians in Chicago and in Illinois say that they have no power or oversight over the school closure process, yet the politician who does - the mayor - has turned the process over to a "non-profit" founded by a guy who makes his money off for-profit colleges.
Quite a cozy relationship between the venture capitalists, the for-profit schools and the politicians who say their "reform" policies are developed to help kids even though the groups the policies seem to help the most are the hedge fund/finance/for-profit schools industries.
Like the cozy relationship between Klein, Moskowitz and the hedge fund managers she lovingly refers to for her FIRST ANNUAL POKER TOURNAMENT FUNDRAISER here in New York, you can see the cozy relationship in Chicago between the financial industry and the government officials charged with running the schools, but the complete disenfranchisement of other elected officials or even people in the community themselves to weigh in on policy.
In fact, if anything, Eva's FIRST ANNUAL POKER TOURNAMENT FUNDRAISER that brought together the charter operators, the hedge fund managers, and the schools chancellor is a perfect emblem for how the school closure policy is being run.
You have a smoke-filled back room, unelected officials, former elected officials using their access to enrich themselves, and a bunch of wealthy guys looking to open up public education to private profit.
This is the process that President Obama thinks works so well in Chicago and New York that he has used it as a model for national policy in Race to the Top and wants to enshrine it permanently in the NCLB re-authorization.
This is also the process that brought us the closure of a Rhode Island high school and the firing of over 100 teachers and administrators last week that is highly controversial because it is Obama's preferred education policy of the future (Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said he "applauded" the firing of the teachers.)
Close the schools, fire the teachers (especially if unionized), turn the school over to for-profit operators like Mr. Koldyke or Eva Moskowitz and keep it up until you "reform" the entire public school system so that it looks like South Korea's (10 hour school days, 6 day school weeks, 48 week school years.)
This despite the fact that South Korea's education system which President Obama seems to be so enamored of is one of the worst performing in Asia:
I live in Korea. I've taught in Korea for three years. My wife is Korean, and my in-laws are parents of children in the Korean education system. And I'm here to warn President Obama that Korea is a model to treat with way more skepticism than he shows above.
I'll start with Samuel S. Kim’s doctoral dissertation, “First and Second Generation Conflict in Education of the Asian American Community,” Columbia University, October 2008 (reported in The Korea Times, 10/3/2008). In a nutshell, Kim's research suggests that all that hyper-schooling in Korea does not result in high university performance. On the contrary, Korean students who enter "top" American universities drop out before graduating at the staggering rate of 44%. China and India, with populations 20 times larger than Korea's, post drop-out rates almost half as low: China at 25%, India at 21%. (American drop-out rates at the same colleges were at 34%.)
Let me drive the point home: Koreans are so good on international test scores because they work overtime being taught to pass these tests. When they hit the real academic world in college, they don't have the skills necessary to succeed. They're great at acing college admissions tests - that's what their k-12 education emphasizes - but they're America's worst at actually getting through college. And Obama and Duncan are sorely disappointing for not understanding this.
And I'll end with my own observations and readings while living and teaching here in Korea: Korean students are forced to study in "hagwons" - private night- and weekend-classes, and yes, full summer classes too. The overwhelming emphasis is on learning English.
I see these kids in their school uniforms at midnight outside my apartment, going home after their night classes at the English hagwon down the block. And the funny thing? Koreans spend all this time and money on English, but they don't learn it. They don't speak it to foreigners, they write and read it horribly for all the time invested. A westerner who teaches English at Korean universities blogs about the problem here. I'll just add that most of that study is worksheet-based, scripted, and devoted to passing college examination tests, the SAT, TOEFL, and all the other tests these classes teach to.
The president is pushing for a school turnaround policy honed in his hometown that has demonstrated plenty of systemic chaos and teacher firings but very little improvement (and some would argue none) in outcomes for students and wants to use a failed South Korean education model to reform America's public school system.
And of course he wants to turn as many public schools as he can to for-profit charter school operators run by hedge fund managers and finance guys.
It sounds like Secretary Duncan and President Obama were the two other guys sitting at the poker table in the backroom of Eva's FIRST ANNUAL POKER TOURNAMENT FUNDRAISER with Eva, Chancellor Klein and the hedge fund guys.
On the other side of the door to that smoke-filled backroom where the wheeling and dealing is going on over education policy are the students, parents, teachers, administrators, and communities disenfranchised from the democratic process over schools policy.
I guess we shouldn't be surprised that this is what a couple of connected guys from Chicago brought us nation-wide.
Or what a bully billionaire who bought himself an illegal third term brought us in here New York City.
So much for the democratic process.
It has been replaced by wheeling and dealing at the poker table in the smoke-filled backroom.
UPDATE: I should note that Devry Institute, the for-proft school that Martin Koldyke, founder of the "non-profit" entity that is running Chicago's turnaround process, has his money in ought to be shut down and everybody running it tossed in jail.
Here is a sampling of the consumer complaints against Devry Institute.
Devry wasn't any better ten years ago when students filed a class action lawsuit against the college/company for "widespread deception and unlawful business practices, and charges that contrary to advertising claims, DeVry students are not being prepared for high-tech jobs."
So Secretary Arne Duncan steered the Chicago public school turnaround business to a non-profit run by a guy who made lots of his money from one of the most notorious for-profit schools with a track record of consumer complaint and fraud a mile long.
And President Obama put Duncan in charge of running the nation's education policy.
How is this CHANGE WE CAN BELIEVE?
Sounds more like old style, smoke-filled backroom Chicago politics to me.