08 October 2015

The Wicked Witch is Dead, Long Live the Wicked Witch

When I exulted over the exit of Arne Duncan from the Department of Education,  I paid very little attention to who might succeed him.

It now appears that Obama is replacing a man dedicated to a corporate for profit takeover of education with a man who actually ran schools on based on that all of the least savory aspects of blueprint.

In particular, it appears that he is a big fan of expulsions and suspensions to get low scoring children out of his charter schools.

The details are unbelievably grim:
If you read the news reports following the announcement of John King as our new Secretary of Education, you'd think he had run some of the most successful schools in the country. Here, for example, is Vox:
1) He's the founder of a successful charter school chain

Unlike Duncan, King has been a classroom teacher: He taught for three years, two of them in a charter school, after getting his master's degree in teaching from Columbia University. In 1999, he became co-director of Roxbury Prep, a Boston charter school renowned for getting high test scores despite serving an exclusively low-income black and Latino student body. King, the New York Times wrote in 2011, was instrumental in designing the charter school's curriculum and disciplinary structure — including required school uniforms and rules against talking in the hallways. [emphasis mine]
John King, hand-picked by President Obama to lead our nation's schools, took the lead in designing Roxbury Prep's discipline policies. How has that played out?

These are the latest out-of-school suspension rates for school districts in the Boston area, from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.* Roxbury Prep not only has the second highest suspension rate in greater Boston; it's the second largest in the state. The only school with a higher suspension rate is City On Hill; guess who used to teach there (p.12)?

This isn't at all a surprise; as the Boston Globe reported in 2014, Roxbury Prep had previously held the top spot with a suspension rate in 2012-13 of nearly 60 percent.

Later on, Roxbury moved under the umbrella of Uncommon Schools, a charter management organization with schools in New York and New Jersey as well as Massachusetts. John King, consequently, rose to become Managing Director for the entire Uncommon chain. Soon, the high suspension rates that were a hallmark of Roxbury Prep became common in all of Uncommon's schools.

In Brooklyn, for example, Uncommon runs several charters; here are their relative suspension rates, as reported by the NY State Education Department:


High suspension rates are not good for students. You know who says so? The very USDOE John King is now going to lead:


Recently, King defended the "no excuses" discipline found in Uncommon Schools to noted education scholar Pedro Noguera:

I'm not against charter schools, let me be clear, I'm in favor of any good school that's good for kids. But some of the charter schools that are being held up as a model believe that their goal is to regiment, to completely control their students. To control how they sit, control their eye contact, control their movements in the hallway. Many of them have silence in the hallway and no talking in the lunch room. John King, the new commissioner of education of New York state, is held up as a real reformer because he founded a very successful charter school in Boston called Roxbury Prep and went on to found a network the called Uncommon Schools. And I would say that academically this school is far out-performing many public schools that are serving the same population of kids. So I would acknowledge that they are doing a much better job. I would also acknowledge that the model they use does not appeal to me.

I've visited this school, and I noticed that children are not allowed to talk in the hall, and they get punished for the most minor infraction. And when I talked with John King afterwards, I said, "I've never seen a school that serves affluent children where they're not allowed to talk in the hall." And he said, "Well, that might be true, but this is the model that works for us, we've found that this is the model that our kids need."
So I asked him, "Are you preparing these kids to be leaders or followers? Because leaders get to talk in the hall. They get to talk over lunch, they get to go to the bathroom, and people can trust them. They don't need surveillance and police officers in the bathroom." And he looked at me like I was talking Latin, because his mindset is that these children couldn't do that. [emphasis mine]

Apparently, John King believes that schools can and should have high suspension rates -- in contradiction to the stated policies of the department he will now lead.

From what I read, King will not be officially nominated, serving as the "acting" secretary for the remainder of Obama's term. That's a damn shame. I would have dearly loved to have had a senator bring all this up. I would have loved to hear King explain whether he supports current USDOE policy on suspensions and, if so, how he can align that with his own career history as a school leader.
One of the commenters on this post explains the real dynamics here:
Of course the suspension rates are high: one reason the favored charter chains (KIPP, Success Academies, Uncommon schools, et.al.) receive the subsidies and media promotion they do is because they insist on their schools being a cross between prison, boot camp and a behavior-modification Skinner Box for Those Children.

You know Those Children, don't you? They are ones who must be conditioned and trained, rather than educated (notwithstanding all the false, insipid talk about "scholars"), the ones society has seen as dangerous since they were toddlers, and which these schools are determined to neuter, emotionally and culturally, before trying to re-make them as passive, unquestioning vessels of future labor productivity.

Needless to say, Those Children are subjected to authoritarian, repressive school environments that King and his ilk would never in a million years subject their own children to, as seen when it was revealed that he sent his own young children to a Montessori school that doesn't use Common Core (though, naturally, he lied about that).

On a more practical basis, high suspension rates are a way for the schools to grease the skids for removing Those Children who might undermine their precious test scores, thereby threatening the false "miracle school" narratives they peddle.

Damn. What a piece of work.

The inestimable Charlie Pierce notes that it appears that his educational goal is to create, "Tiny automatons with good test scores. This is not what Horace Mann had in mind. "


Post a Comment