Sunday, November 18, 2007

Bringing In The EMO's

Washington D.C. School Chancellor Michelle Rhee is thinking about bringing in Education Management Organizations (EMO's) to run 27 failing schools in the District.

Under the No Child Left Behind law, schools that fail to meet academic targets for five consecutive years have to be restructured or lose federal funds.

Rhee, a former deputy chancellor in New York City's public school system under School Chancellor Joel Klein, has to decide how she will restructure these 27 failing schools in D.C.

Under the NCLB law, Rhee can bring in private firms to manage the schools, turn them into charters, keep them under the system's control but replace the principals and teachers, allow the state - or in Washington, the D.C. Office of the State Superintendent of Education - to seize the schools, or devise a unique solution.

The Washington Post reports that most districts with schools that need restructuring usually replace staff and create their own unique solutions, such as developing teacher training programs, lengthening the school day and school year, and introducing new curricula to the schools.

But Rhee is leaning toward bringing in Sacramento-based St. HOPE Public Schools, where Rhee previously served as a board member, Mastery Charter Schools in Philadelphia, or Green Dot Public Schools, based in Los Angeles.

Charter school advocates and EMO operators are applauding Rhee's moves in DC so far:

"The chancellor has identified some of the best organizations nationally doing this kind of work," said William H. Guenther, president and founder of Mass Insight Education and Research Institute in Boston, which studies school reform. "The challenge is how fast and how far you can go."

But the Post notes that Philadelphia turned over 38 academically challenged schools to six different EMO's including Mastery Charter Schools and gave these schools more money to operate than regular public schools, yet test data showed that the EMO-operated schools "didn't fare any better than the rest of the district," according to school system spokeswoman Felecia D. Ward.

As a result of the dismal results at the EMO-operated schools, Philadelphia is going to take a closer look at the schools and the school operators before deciding what course of action to take next to improve them

Henry M. Levin, director of the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education at Columbia University's Teachers College, agrees that turning public schools over to EMO's like Green Dot or Mastery Charter Schools is not a magic bullet solution:

"There's nothing in the literature [to suggest] that privatization will get you revolutionary results," he said.

Indeed, if the city of Philadelphia is used as a test subject, that surely seems to be the case.

Yet Chancellor Rhee, a former member of Teach For America and the darling of charter school advocates and education reformers everywhere, is looking to bring in one of the Education Management Organizations that has failed so miserably in Philadelphia to run failing schools in D.C.

That seems counterproductive to me.

I can understand the need to drastically change the way the 27 chronically failing D.C. schools operate, but why bring in a company that has a track record of failure in another urban city running failing schools to run yours?

You have to wonder if this push towards school privatization is less about actually improving schools and more about simple privatization.

Many of the "reformers" behind the education reform movement - Mayor Moneybags Bloomberg, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Eli Broad, Whitney Tilson, for example - are wealthy businessmen with vested interests in privatizing government to lower their own tax bills and increase profits for themselves and their business cronies.

Think about the hundreds of millions of dollars in no-bid contracts Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein have handed out to business cronies in New York City for things like test prep, test development, tutoring services, food services, curricula, and computer systems.

Do you think there aren't huge profits to be made by demonizing public schools and privatizing as many as you can while you and a bunch of your business cronies lap at the public tax money trough all the while proclaiming that you're "doing it for the kids"?

The ironic thing is that the education privatization movement is still gaining steam while the privatization movements of health care, military services, and Social Security are under attack.

Most Americans now see that HMO's, Blackwater/KBR/Halliburton, and a Wall Street-run Social Security program are neither more effective nor more efficient in providing the services they purport to provide.

They are, however, very efficient and very effective at providing profits for their investors, their boards, and their CEO's.

Which is perhaps why so many of the so-called education reformers are very efficient, very effective and very wealthy men who stand to make lots of money from education reform and privatization.
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