Change a School’s Structure, Change the World: An Exchange

In which Empower School’s Brett Alessi and I go back and forth about whether the Springfield Empowerment Zone is *all that*… 

Image result for unicornEditor’s note: I recently wrote about the much-hyped Springfield Empowerment Zone, arguing that there isn’t enough *there there* to merit its coronation as the next big thing, and that the zone’s eye-popping suspension numbers are a serious red flag. Brett Alessi, head of Empower Schools, the nonprofit that is helping to empower the Empowerment Zone, responded and asked if he might respond to my piece, giving readers a fuller account of what’s happening in Springfield than my *negative Nancy* portrayal. (My description, not his). I eagerly obliged but requested that Alessi focus on the two specific issues I raised: the high student suspension numbers in the Zone’s schools, and whether the push to *scale up* the Zone is warranted given that the Zone has yet to do what its architects claimed that it would do. Alessi’s response is below, and my response to his response is below that… Continue reading →

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What is Worth $1 Million?

A middle school serving some of Boston’s most vulnerable students faces a $1 million budget cut. Teacher Adina Schecter reflects on what that says about the city and its priorities…

By Adina Schecter
It is 6:45am and I’ve just pulled into the parking lot of the McCormack Middle School in Dorchester, MA.  I can already hear our sixth, seventh and eighth graders entering the building, their chattering voices somewhere between childhood and adulthood. This morning, like every morning, the staff at the McCormack—teachers, administrators, paraprofessionals, and City Year corps members—are lined up outside to greet each student individually. Once inside, students make their way to the cafeteria for a hot breakfast. Many of them depend on our school for two meals a day. The staff at the McCormack understands that the best way to get our students ready to learn is to make sure they have food in their bellies and personal attention from an adult who cares.  

But the McCormack, a traditional Boston Public School that serves a diverse group of middle school students, faces a budget reduction of more than a million dollars next year.  We have serious concerns about our school’s fate.  Already lacking the resources to meet the complex needs of our students, my colleagues and I now fear for the survival of our school community, and for our students who are losing high-quality teachers and programs. Continue reading →

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School Choice Meltdown in Motown

I talked to parents in Detroit who are living through that city’s experiment in unregulated school choice…

Since Betsy DeVos was nominated to serve as the top edu-official in the land, her role in shaping Detroit as an education laboratory in which an out-of-control lab fire now burns, has been subject to plenty of scrutiny. But we haven’t heard enough from parents who are living through the city’s experiment in unregulated school choice. In this episode of Have You Heard, the final installment of my ten-part series with collaborator Aaron French, I headed to Detroit to talk to parents about Motown’s school choice meltdown. They describe what it’s like when schools shut down without notice, leaving them to fend for themselves in the “education marketplace,” while mass school closures have left whole neighborhoods without schools. It’s a hard story to hear, and yet these parents, and the advocacy group they’re part of, 482Forward, will leave you feeling hopeful—something we could all use a little more of these days!

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The White Choice

The push for school vouchers is spreading across the South, even as the legacy of private schools as *segregation academies* lives on…

Image result for segregation academies arkansasToday begins our school choice tour, reader, and judging from the speed with which various choice choices are popping up across the land, the tour will be of some duration. We’re starting in Arkansas, because it begins with ‘A’ and also it because it represents a less-palatable part of the school choice *conversation.* Before school choice became the *civil rights issue of our time,* it was the chosen choice of white parents who were fleeing newly desegregated schools for private schools. In fact, the legacy of that ugly history hangs heavy enough over Arkansas’ private schools today that the Walton family, America’s first family of all things school choice, chose not to push for private school vouchers in its home state. Here’s an excerpt from an interview I did in 2015 with Walton Family Foundation senior program officer Kathy Smith, who oversees the foundation’s Arkansas portfolio:

There are some differences in what you can do in a rural state and what’s appropriate to do, frankly, in a rural state vs a larger urban environment. And so some of the things we do in terms of policy support in some of our larger urban environments are not even appropriate in Arkansas. For example, I know in some other jurisdictions where we work we’re very very keen about school choice, perhaps in regards to a voucher program or education savings accounts. In Arkansas we don’t even have an adequate supply of private school options to where it would have the same impact. And many of our private schools, for example in the Delta, were originally formed to be academies that would segregate. Many of them probably today wouldn’t accept scholarship kids.    Continue reading →

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Rate My Teacher

In the latest episode of Have You Heard, Jack Schneider and I have a spirited back-and-forth with none other than Michelle Rhee. Jack asks her if she’s ready to admit that evaluating teachers on the basis of their student test scores has been a bad idea. I channel Gary Rubinstein and ask Rhee if the teaching profession has suffered as a result of the policies she and her advocacy group, Students First, pushed across the country. And we talk about what’s next for education reform in the time of Trump. So what does Rhee have to say to our questions? Well, you’ll have to listen to find out! Or you can skip ahead and read the transcript.

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