by Wendy Lecker, cross-posted from the Stamford Advocate.
The Connecticut Education Commissioner, Stefan Pryor, is a co-founder and former board member of Achievement First chain of charter schools. If the Governor’s bill passes, Pryor will have the power to take over any struggling school in the state, eviscerating the power of the local school governance council, made up of parents and staff, as well as the district’s elected school board. This proposal reveals clearly how the corporate reformers have no interest in parent empowerment or choice, but are intent on eliminating any public input which gets in their way of their ultimate goal: privatization of our public schools.
The same bill would also eliminate the requirement of charters like Achievement First to use lotteries for admission, and would award them considerably more public funding, with AF alone due to receive an extra $6 million for its 2,440 students. See also this recent analysis by Bruce Baker of Rutgers, showing how CT charters enroll far fewer of the state’s highest needs kids, while spending more funds, meaning that charter school expansion will likely lead to further inequities in a state where the achievement gap is already the largest in the nation.
They say, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Family and community engagement is integral to a quality education. Ensuring participation is especially important in communities where poverty, language barriers or discrimination have resulted in disenfranchisement.
Apparently, this lesson is lost on our governor, whose SB 24 will strip the neediest communities of any meaningful participation in their public schools with the creation of a “Commissioner’s Network” of schools.
Community engagement was supposedly the heart of a 2010 law establishing “school governance councils” for struggling schools. State Rep. Holder Winfield explained that the councils were to create “a new relationship between parents, teachers and administrators — to look at everything that’s going on in a school.”
I serve on my children’s high school’s school governance council, consisting of a diverse group of parents, students, community leaders, teachers and administrators. We take our roles seriously and work together to devise ways to support the school’s efforts to close the achievement gap.
Parents can also attend public board of education meetings, and can vote out any member who does not serve the community’s children.
SB 24 will render school governance councils, and our democratically elected boards of education, irrelevant.
The bill gives sweeping powers over schools with the lowest test scores to the state education commissioner in establishing a Commissioner’s Network. The commissioner will decide how and by whom these schools are run. He can assume the powers of the board of education and waive any board of education rule that interferes with his plan for the school. He can withhold funding if the school doesn’t comply with his plan.
He can bring in any “entity,” even a private company, to run the school.
The proponents of the Commissioner’s Network repeatedly declare that “the status quo isn’t working” and “some schools” are “fundamentally broken.”
Which schools are “fundamentally broken”? State Sen. Donald Williams recently noted that our lowest performing schools are also our poorest; the ones most in need of additional resources.
These schools also serve predominately our communities of color; communities that are traditionally disenfranchised.
The contention, by those pushing the bill, that these communities are complacent, is insulting and untrue. My district and others have been focused on the achievement gap for at least as long as my children have been in school.
Connecticut has long deprived the neediest schools of billions of dollars in resources. That is the true, shameful status quo.
Instead of leveling the playing field for needy districts, this bill strips away any ability for these communities to move themselves forward.
Proponents cite New York and New Orleans as examples of the success achieved by giving all power to one man.
Was New York City a success under mayoral control? Bloomberg’s rule has been marked by state test score inflation and national scores that are no better than they were in 2001.
In the New Orleans’ Recovery School District, “success” was achieved through manipulation of state standards and student population. In 2005, the state adjusted upward the cut-off score for “successful” schools so that more public schools would fail and be converted to charters. Then, in 2009, when the schools were set to revert back to local school boards, the score was adjusted downward so that the charter schools were now labeled “successful” and remained charters. In 2012 the cut-off score was adjusted upward again, still below the state average, and most schools in the Recovery School District are now “failing.”
The Louisiana legislative auditor found that the RSD failed to monitor its charter schools, financially or educationally. The charter schools have been criticized for failing to comply with open meeting rules and some for outright corruption.
Moreover, a University of Minnesota study found that the RSD created “a separate but unequal tiered system of schools that steers a minority of students, including virtually all of the city’s white students, into a set of selective, higher-performing schools and another group, including most of the city’s students of color, into a group of lower-performing schools.”
Opacity, segregation, inequity, school failure — this is our model?
The Commissioner’s Network is not about school improvement or community engagement. It is about power.
It takes a village? It seems only certain villages in Connecticut are allowed to participate in raising their children. For the rest, I guess it takes a commissioner.
Wendy Lecker is a former president of the Stamford Parent Teacher Council and was staff attorney at the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, plaintiffs in a school funding lawsuit in New York.